Notes From The Coast

The beach does funny things to the brain

Chapter 1 – Jump into my nightmare, the water’s warm.

alligator

THREE WEEKS EARLIER…

“Jesus Christ, Carl. It’s not rocket science. Just pick one,” Amanda barked, the exasperation clear in her voice.

Staring at the three pairs of breast implants on his kitchen counter, Carl ran his hand through his scruffy beard and reflected quietly how much it took the romance out of the Girls Gone Wild videos. All six breast implants were lined up like an absurd artificial boob smorgasbord, increasing in size from left to the right. The final pair in the parade was so impossibly large they could have been mistaken for washed up jellyfish. Carl tried hard to find the right answer for his impossibly hot wife as she stood there, hand on her hip, tapping her foot in her designer wedges impatiently waiting for his response. All he could come up with was, “I need more coffee.”

Amanda, his wife of almost five years, had been growing increasingly hostile in the last few months. He thought it would pass like most of their petty fights but this time there was something driving her. Some kind of turmoil bordering on contempt that he hadn’t felt before. Her anger was quick and ferocious but usually it ended up with great makeup sex. This morning, he was getting a Pavlovian erection assuming her appetite for sex correlated to her level of fury. As usual, the fight stemmed from something he could not provide to his lovely, demanding wife. This time, it was a choice of mammaries.

“Why do you want fake boobs?” Carl mounted a protest. “No man likes Plastic Fantastic over the real thing.”

“Don’t start this shit. It’s not all about you. I brought these implants from Dr. Saks’ office to give you the illusion you had a vote but as usual you bring your little black cloud of negativity to rain on my parade,” she snapped.

“Amanda, you don’t need these. Yours are perfect. I love them. See?” He set down his coffee cup and lovingly cupped his wife’s perfect C-sized breasts and smiled.

Amanda stood there and glared at him. “Carl, I want a divorce.”

As if on seven-second delay, Carl dropped his hands and raised his eyebrows, emitting a slow sad whistle trying to catch the fast moving words as they bounced off his mind like bugs off a windshield.

“Whoa,” he mumbled trying desperately to catch up to the immediate catastrophe. “How did we go from choosing your future breast size to ending our marriage?”

“It’s been five years,” she said dispassionately from stern lips. ”We’ve given it a good go. But the truth is, we don’t want the same things.”

“We want the same things. We just don’t want the same size,” he declared, pointing to her real boobs versus the gigantic implants on the kitchen counter.

“Dr. Saks says I have nearly a perfect body and with a small augmentation, I could easily be a perfect ten.”

“You are a perfect ten. And why the fuck are we talking about Dr. Saks and since when does his opinion mean more than mine, the guy you’re sleeping with?”

Amanda stood silent and looked at the floor. And a small, unnamed worry that had been working its way silently through Carl’s brain began to surface, like an alligator out of a swamp.

Finally, the unnamed worry reared it’s ugly head. “Ah. I see. Saks is the one you’re sleeping with.”

Amanda softened and looked at him. “I’m sorry, Carl. I really am, but you had to see part of this coming right? I mean, with your…condition.”

“It’s not a condition!” Carl spat back. “It was one time when we had too much of that shitty Oregon Pinot Noir at your Mom’s house! It didn’t help that she put us in your grandmother’s room for Christ’ sake, surrounded by her porcelain doll collection. Any normal penis would have declined to perform in front of sixty pairs of soulless eyes! And I thought you said you understood?”

“I did – but it’s been a month. How long does a woman have to wait?”

“How about longer than a month?”

But Amanda replied coolly, “It’s grounds for divorce. My manicurist told me.”

“Ah! Remind me to hit Angel’s Nail Salon when I need to know my legal rights!” Carl reeled, trying desperately to keep his head. “How long have you been thinking about this?”

“That’s what you want to focus on? How long?”

“How long! How long has Dr. Saks been, shall we say, asserting his opinion?” Carl’s voice raised an octave which, he sensed, was making him sound hysterical. Keep it together, buddy he told himself.

There was a knock on the door.

“Um, I’ll get that,” Amanda said, eyeing the front door, an expression of alarm on her face. “Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to work?”

“’Marriage in shambles’ takes precedent over reporting the daily news.” Carl looked at her perfect ass as she walked nervously toward the door.

She walked to the front door of their mid-century modern home as he stood in the kitchen, with the wretched words “I want a divorce” still hanging in the air like an oily fart, when he heard a man’s voice at the door.

“Hi there, I’m Stan from Sea Coast Realty!” A short, squat man in an ill-fitting suit stood at the door, holding a cheap briefcase, adjusting his glasses, and smiling like an idiot. “I’m here to give you an appraisal on your home’s value?” Stan said, a little too cheerfully.

Carl walked toward the door in his green, ratty bathrobe, black fuzzy slippers and coffee in hand. “Appraisal?” he asked, blinking in disbelief.

“Look,” Amanda said nervously, “This would be a lot easier if you would just get on board…”

“On board? Is that what you want? Okay.” He walked back into the kitchen, picked up one of the implants, noticed how surprisingly soft it felt in his hand and then whipped it at the kitchen window. The fake boob immediately exploded with a huge splat against the glass. Gooey globs of implant slid down the glass. “I vote NO on the Double Ds,” he yelled.

“Excuse me for a moment,” she said to Stan the Realtor and turned toward the kitchen.

“Not a fan of these either!” he yelled, his comment echoing from the kitchen. He wound up like a pitcher on a mound and launched another implant at his soon-to-be-ex-wife. She ducked and the implant hit the realtor squarely in the face, liberating the gelatinous saline all over his glasses.

Stan from Sea Coast Realty wiped the implant flotsam off his glasses and ran for cover behind a credenza in the foyer.

“Carl!” Amanda rushed into the kitchen trying to stop another assault. “What the hell are you doing? Chill the fuck out!”

“Chill? Did you say ‘chill’?” Carl asked in a hostile, sardonic tone as he stood there like bathrobe-clad warrior armed with transparent saline-filled grenades. “What is that, some universal Californian way to smooth everything out? Make everything okay? My wife is sleeping with her plastic surgeon! I’m a walking LA cliché,” he bellowed.

“Congratulations. Maybe this is the Midwest calling you back home,” Amanda said dryly.

“At least back in Detroit, a man knows his wife is leaving him before the fucking realtors do,” he pointed to Stan. Stan shrugged in embarrassment. “I’m from Ohio,” Stan said.

“Carl, the simple truth is I want the life you promised me,” Amanda said. “And you just didn’t deliver.”

Carl stood silent for a moment and then said, “I did deliver. I thought we were happy. We have a house, we vacation in Cabo, you love my Chicken Paprika. What more could you want? Breast implants and a Mercedes?”

“No,” she said flatly. “A BMW.” She grabbed the keys to her Honda, dangled them disappointingly, walked out and slammed the front door. Stan the realtor scurried behind her.

Carl ambled slowly back to the kitchen sink, poured out the coffee, took out a bottle of bourbon and poured it into his coffee cup just as the phone rang.

He looked at the caller ID. It read LA Times. He groaned and picked it up. “Yeah?”

“Grubbs?” The familiar growl of his managing editor, Ed Coleward emanated from the landline.

“Where the hell is the rest of your expose on the eroding state of Emergency Room healthcare?”

“Hey, Ed, yeah, I know it’s due,” he held the phone in the crick of his neck and rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand which was still holding a size 300cc implant. “The thing is…”

“Carl,” Ed interrupted in an even, threatening tone, ”Resist the urge to lie to me right now. I do not want to hear about car problems, dead relatives or injured pets.”

“But Ed, this time I …” he tried to specify but Ed cut him off.

“Beyond shooting yourself in the head, no excuse is gonna cut it, kid. So, cut the shit. For the moment, just today in fact, pretend that you are a competent, working journalist for one of the finest papers in the free world and get your goddamn story here and polished by 3pm.” Ed hung up.

Carl stood at the counter for a moment thinking about the irony of his situation. Finally armed with a legitimate excuse and it was wasted. He slid down the kitchen cabinetry and contemplated how he got here. On this spotless floor of his big empty Southern California house sipping bourbon at 9am in a ratty green bathrobe holding a fistful of artificial boob with no wife, no article, and no motivation.

###

At forty-one, Carl’s life was in a holding pattern of apathy. A streetwise kid from Detroit, Carl earned a scholarship to the University of Michigan and then took a job as a beat reporter for the Detroit News. In his first year, when other fresh-faced reporters were writing about Kite Festivals and City Council meetings, he had been working on a hunch that exposed corruption inside the mayor’s office. His intelligence and street smarts served him well as a reporter. He was hungry and eager to make his mark. With a series of nationally recognized stories and several official death threats, it wasn’t long before the offers came in. Washington Post, New York Times, Chicago Tribune. But it was the lure of sunny beaches and California lifestyle that drew him out west. He took a job as a senior reporter working for the Los Angeles Times.

When it came to his job, it was his instincts that were his real gift. Carl was a born skeptic and he had a good nose for the truth. This trait served him well as an investigative reporter. He could instantly tell when someone was lying to him. Which is why the blind-siding news that Amanda was boffing her plastic surgeon was so unsettling. Was he losing his edge?

There were many things that attracted Carl to Amanda when they first met beyond her physical attributes. She represented a new perspective, a demarcation from his old life into his new one. She was Southern California personified. She was tall, blonde, and had a body that considered gravity a guideline rather than a law. She had long, wavy hair like a mermaid, and a one-sided smile that constantly suggested mischief. Amanda was also as beautiful as she was vapid. She was light. She was free. Unlike the grounded girls in Michigan that would call him on his bullshit. Unlike Carolyn.

At the age of thirty-two, Amanda worked as a stylist for a production company in Hollywood where she was responsible for putting the entire cast of Reno 911 in short shorts. Currently, she was working on an Adam Sandler movie. Carl loved looking at her and he tried to talk to her about higher-minded things or play Scrabble with her but she quickly lost interest and would come up with games like “Topless Tuesdays” in which she would perform chores around the house sans clothing. Deep conversations were overrated anyway. He had thought his Midwestern values would seep into Amanda’s consciousness but he sorely underestimated his adversary – the California Dream.

He should have suspected things were going spectacularly wrong when late last year, Amanda began getting Botox. She didn’t have a wrinkle on her perfect, sun-kissed complexion but she got it anyway. Looking back now, he realized that in the world of plastic surgery, Botox was a gateway procedure. It led to other increasingly unnecessary procedures including like collagen injections, spider vein removal, acid peels, cellulite scrubs, and liposuction to get rid of “saddle bags” whatever those were. Amanda was addicted; the boob job a clear inevitability. What distressed him most was that Amanda thought she needed this work. What kind of quack doctor could look at her terrific physical specimen and prescribe carving her up? One that wanted either money or control, Carl suspected. He could imagine this smug asshole sitting behind a desk assessing Amanda, telling her just how enticingly close she was to being perfect. Preying on her insecurities while his dick got hard watching her write the check. Carl’s started to seethe with anger and wondered just how many women had been manipulated by Dr. Saks. He vowed to find out. But, first, more bourbon.

Carl wandered out on the patio in his backyard and let the California sunshine warm him. Carl hadn’t lost his motivation all at once. It never happens like that. No, instead it was a steady and almost imperceptible wane as the California Dream seeped deeper into his psyche. He took up yoga. Learned to surf. Became a Lakers fan. He wrote less hard-hitting stories and flirted with the idea of writing a screenplay when Amanda suggested she could drop it in the right hands. The stories he did write for the paper were less focused and dealt with vague sprawling problems like homelessness and rolling blackouts. They were stories that didn’t need solutions, nor a point of view, and in some cases, even the deadline was nebulous. Carl started to write long, rambling character pieces that highlighted societal problems. He hadn’t done a real story, one that got his blood pumping in over four years. Los Angeles was a tricky mistress, hard to please and even harder to understand. But it was beginning to dawn on him that if you knew what you wanted from the City Of Angels, you could get it – in some form or another. But if you come to Los Angeles looking for answers, direction or, God forbid, yourself, you would remain forever lost in your own recreation and reinvention, much like the city itself. The promise was always there, beckoning, but like the horizon, it never got any closer.

He had fallen victim to that LA epidemic of hope, distraction, and self-loathing which made him just another monkey in the noisy desperate jungle of wannabes. He took a big swig and finished the bourbon in his coffee cup, walked to the bathroom and turned on the shower. At least he was employed. And, it could be worse, he thought. He could be a writer for reality TV.

 

Leave a comment »

No Imminent Plan – A serial novel

IMG_5453Attention Readers of this blog  (a small, wily group of people who are most likely related to me):

I’m going to try to commit to writing a serial novel. By commit, I mean I will post a short chapter every two weeks. This should give me enough time to write, edit and revise and follow my outline. The reason for the commitment publicly? I need to finish something. I can’t seem to finish anything. So, along with the voices in my head, I’m hoping you, dear reader, can encourage/chide/bully me on to the finish line.

The working title of the novel is No Imminent Plan and it’s a satirical novel about a hapless LA Times reporter who happens to stumble on to a story that’s almost too crazy to believe. But then again, it is Los Angeles. And while we’re not as off-the-fucking-rails as Florida, we have our own version of insanity going on here in La La Land. Here goes…

 

No Imminent Plan (a working title)

A story by Carrie Talick

PROLOGUE

“This town is full of zombies,” Trevor Nelson declared over an iced Frappucino on the outdoor patio of the Manhattan Beach Starbucks. He was smartly dressed in a faux army jacket, over-priced jeans, and a Dodgers flat-lid cap.

“Dude, not this again.” Jeremy Tillen, best friend and Trevor’s steadfast sounding board, sat across from his angst-ridden friend and shook his head slowly knowing that this was a direct result of Trevor’s latest screenplay having been rejected by every studio and agent in Los Angeles. Even the crappy ones.

“Seriously, how else do you explain ‘The Real Housewives phenomenon? Mindless drama.” Trevor was just getting going. His favorite targets were reality TV shows followed closely by talent shows, game shows, or any unscripted shows, really. “If zombies did exist the only city in which they would go completely unnoticed is Los Angeles. I’d put good money down that at least one of those housewives is an actual zombie!”

Trevor had won some small screenplay competitions but when it came to selling a movie, his material was generally considered ‘too cerebral for today’s audiences’, as one producer had put it. Having read every draft of every screenplay he’d written, Jeremy knew why Trevor’s work wasn’t embraced by Hollywood. It was bleak as hell. Even though dystopian novels were having a moment, all the successful ones seemed to end with either a shocking truth or a hopeful stance. Not Trevor’s. Trevor couldn’t nail the ending, no matter how many Robert Mckee seminars he signed up for. His stories all ended with a sad dissertation on human disappointment and pain. Deep? Yes. Entertaining? No. Hence, Jeremy understood Trevor’s contempt for humanity at large.

“Take a look around. Examine the faces,” Trevor motioned rashly to the innocent passersby. “The aimless wandering, the vacant expressions, the absence of thought. It’s a Xanax Anarchy limping slowly to their doom! They buy their expensive coffee, drive off in their shiny cars, and watch their reality shows. It’s the death of civilization.”

Jeremy glanced down at his expensive coffee but decided to not make a comment. He looked down the Manhattan Beach sidewalk toward the ocean. Another flawless sunny day. Then he frowned. Something off in the distance wasn’t quite right.

“Ah, yes my friend, it won’t be long until our brains are reduced to a translucent green Jell-o,” Trevor said in a sardonic tone. “GPS, iPhone apps, satellite TV, listing apps, reminder apps, even screenplay writing apps! Technology is taking the thinking out of living!”

“Uh-huh. Technology. Not our friend.” Jeremy squinted to try to make out what he was seeing down the street.

“We’re a bunch of lemmings. Constructing our own cliffs to hurl ourselves over. Great thinkers scream but no one can hear them over their Spotify playlist!” Trevor looked over at Jeremy. “Are you listening?”

“I’m with you, big guy. Lemmings.” But Jeremy wasn’t listening. He had leaned over to get a better angle on what appeared to be a man dressed in rags, without shoes that was pitching and weaving up the sidewalk in an awkward herky-jerky sort of way. He emitted a low drone causing a small group of spandex-clad cyclists to scamper out of his way.

“The best selling book in the country is self-help drivel written by Dr. Phil,” Trevor said, arms out, exasperated, “Dr. Phil!! Surely, that is one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse!”

“Uh, Trev,” Jeremy said, keeping an eye on the unbalanced man.

“We’re over-informed yet under-educated,” Trevor continued, unimpeded by Jeremy’s warning. “We reference Hollywood instead of history. It’s a slippery slope. And it’s only a matter of time before we become mindless zombie drones.”

Jeremy was slowly getting up from his chair, his eyes still locked on the lurching homeless guy, now only twenty feet away.

“Take heed, all ye zombies!” Trevor held up his coffee cup in a grand toast to the oblivious patrons. “Judgment day is coming. And I’m not referring to a new Xbox game!”

“Holy shit,” Jeremy said, scrambling to get out of the way. “I think that’s a freaking zombie.”

“No, it’s just my metaphor for our idiotic society,” Trevor calmly explained.

“No you idiot! A real zombie! The Evil Dead kind!” Trevor said, panic rising in his voice.

“See what I mean about Hollywood references?”

“Move!” Jeremy grabbed Trevor by his faux-army jacket and they ducked behind the coffee mixing station.

Trevor turned and saw the man lurch in his general direction. He ducked. But upon closer inspection, it was clear that something was scarily wrong with the guy. Beneath his stringy blond hair, his eyes looked swollen, almost bug-eyed, cloudy, and unfocused as if in a trance. The ghastly looking man launched an attack on an unsuspecting coffee klatch of housewives sitting at the next table. He groaned and snarled, and then with mouth open and rotted teeth bared, went for the neck of one of the housewives.

The housewives, strong and sinewy from societal pressure to lose post-baby weight, launched a counter attack with tartan baby bags, metal water bottles, and expensive toddler toys. A fierce battle raged with plastic giraffes and high-tech stroller equipment. The zombie uprooted an iron table and sent coffee cups and low-fat muffins flying. Finally, one of the housewives hit the zombie in the top of the head with a titanium tennis racket. With a sickening crack, he fell to the ground, unmoving. Black liquid oozed from the sliver in the zombie’s skull.

Trevor and Jeremy, along with a half dozen other stupefied citizens of the quiet beach community stood frozen trying to process what had just happened. Sirens wailed in the distance.

Trevor looked at Jeremy and said, “It’s a bitch being right all the time.”

 

 

 

 

6 Comments »