Current Occupation: Divorceé
Former Occupation: Child rearer, cat box scooper, landscaper, cook, laundress errand runner, social planner, travel agent and all-around indentured servant of high-powered attorney.
Contact Information: Denise Emanuel Clemen became a mother at the age of 16—but it’s a lot more complicated than that. Since then she’s worked as an art model, an au pair in Paris, a merchant of her own blood plasma, and a worker in a toy factory where she was expert at assembling miniature manure spreaders. Her fiction and essays have been published in several literary magazines (most recently “The Rattling Wall.”) and in the anthology “Saying Goodbye” from Dream of Things Publication. She blogs as if she were getting paid for it at http://hisbigfatindianwedding.blogspot.com, http://deniseemanuelclemen.blogspot.com, and http://myfrenchunderpants.blogspot.com.
The Dead and The Naked
“You would be the dead girl,” the director said. I nodded, hoping to appear unfazed. I could do dead. A low-budget independent film was a step up from the student films I’d been doing. There would be pay.
The director had graduated from USC film school and made sure to insert this impressive bit of his resume into our conversation. To support his claim, a framed diploma was hanging from a nail the size of a railroad spike protruding from the cracked plaster behind his desk. He had industry connections, he said. He didn’t want to drop names, but he had an uncle in the business that would set him up with something bigger if this project went well.
I wondered if his uncle had rented his office for him, furnished it and hooked up the phone. The two-room suite was on the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga in a partially vacant bank building, and the metal desk and filing cabinet looked like survivors of a moving van accident. You could see the Hollywood sign if you pressed your face against the grimy window and looked north. It was 1977, and Hollywood was badly in need of a face-lift. The Hollywood sign itself also craved some cosmetic intervention. One of its L’s was sagging.
In the adjoining room, I could see four blond girls sitting on cockeyed folding chairs. They were being called back for the lead, but I was already cast based on the audition I’d done a few days ago. The director was still going on about how my part was really the most interesting one. “There’s a lot of meat in the two scenes you have before you die,” he said.
“We’ll need you to fill this out for us,” his assistant said, handing me a clipboard. “And there’s no problem with the nudity, right?”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “My character is nude?”
“Well, she has clothes on for the first couple of minutes,” the director replied, “but then the killers force her to strip. We’ve done a re-write. It makes the scene where she pleads for her life so much more powerful.” I would be dead and naked.
I could hear the blond girls rustling their scripts and imagined them craning their necks for a better view of me. Two hundred dollars a week for three weeks of work was a small fortune. And I wouldn’t have to work very hard after my first two scenes were shot. After that I just had to lie around and be dead.
I’d done worse. I’d sold my own blood plasma. I’d auditioned for a humiliating TV talent show with a friend where we’d worn tube tops and mini-skirts and did a juggling act while singing an Irish drinking song containing the lyrics, “The Saxons have stolen my balls.” Balls. Juggling. We’d found it funny. Nudity wasn’t exactly virgin territory for me. I’d been an art model for figure drawing classes in college and had even free-lanced for a certain photography professor. He’d taken pictures of me lying nude on a fake zebra rug, my body striped with light and shadow from the venetian blinds that he had tilted just so. If that was art, then maybe this would be too.
“The nudity will be shot very tastefully,” the director said.
“Your long hair will help a lot,” the assistant director said, staring at the spot where my long hair fell across my breasts. His eyes lingered for a moment on my neck.
“Is that a birth mark?” he asked.
“I burned myself with the curling iron this morning,” I said.
He smirked ever so slightly, and I knew what he was thinking because I’d had the same thought. The mark looked like a hickey.
The voice inside my head was talking to me now, and I didn’t like what it was saying. The director seemed like a nice guy, but there was something about his assistant that gave me the creeps. A girl had to be careful—but not too careful or she’d never get work. Maybe I was nervous because I was still getting over Jerry coming on to me.
Jerry was one of those teachers everyone recommended. He had a famous ex-wife and a reputation that stretched back to Broadway’s heyday when he’d directed her in a big hit before she’d gained a hundred pounds. I’d been in the prop room behind the stage preparing for the final showing of a scene I was about to do for his class, when he sidled in and started talking to me. “You have an off-beat sexiness that’s perfect for this scene,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said, trying not to think what I was already thinking. Jerry was nodding appreciatively at my costume, and I silently congratulated myself for finding the authentic 1940’s satin slip I’d bought for next to nothing in a thrift store.
“Your work gets better all the time,” Jerry said as he touched my hair and let his fingers graze the fabric above my left breast. I stepped back and bumped into a shelf full of prop teapots and wineglasses that crashed to the floor along with any aspirations I’d had about using Jerry as a connection.
The assistant director was on the make too. I filled out the form with a made-up home address, my answering service phone number, and checked the box saying I would perform nude. Then I handed the clipboard back to him.
“You have absolutely incredible hair,” he said.
“Thanks,” I said. The news coverage from the Son of Sam killings in New York buzzed inside my head. The killer had a thing for girls with long dark hair. Just one more reason blonds have it easier, I thought. I leaned back in my chair so I could see into the next room. Three of the four blonds still sat fumbling with their scripts. The fourth had apparently made a break for it.
Bodies of strangled, raped, and tortured young women had recently been turning up on the hillsides just a few miles from my apartment. A couple of them had been abducted in broad daylight. And here we were, a bevy of attractive actresses, in a decrepit building with two guys we didn’t know from Adam.
“So, we’ll be contacting you with the schedule in a couple of days,” the director said.
“Great!” I smiled and tossed my hair. There was just enough time to get to my regular job.
I taught English as a foreign language for the Berlitz School of Languages on Wilshire Boulevard. Last week I’d said good-bye to a “total immersion” student I’d been teaching for a month. He was the head of the Buenos Aries office for a big accounting firm and had taken a private lesson for six hours every day including lunch. Getting paid to eat with a gorgeous sophisticated guy who had eyes the color of turquoise was way better than getting paid to play dead, even if the pay wasn’t anywhere near as good.
We had learned a lot about each other in our month of lunches. He was married and had two grown daughters. He loved poetry and music and the theater. He knew that I was married, but that hadn’t stopped him from asking me to go back to Argentina with him. “Life is different in Argentina,” he explained as we sipped our post-dessert espresso at what had become our table on the patio at the Ambassador Hotel Café. He couldn’t consider getting a divorce, but he would set me up in a beautiful apartment with whatever I wanted. I declined Mr. Turquoise Eyes’ offer. He took it like a perfect gentleman.
Then on his last day of class he brought me flowers and an expensive box of chocolates. As we chatted in the cramped coffee room during the break, he tried to kiss me. Later that night, he called me from the airport. “Are you having second thoughts?” he asked, pronouncing each word in an accent that made my knees feel wobbly.
Life is full of second thoughts, I thought. I was standing in my cramped apartment bedroom next to the bed, and I could hear my husband humming in the bathroom while he brushed his teeth. “It was really nice meeting you,” I said. “I especially enjoyed our lunches.” What I wanted to say was, I really like you, but I’m totally in love with my husband, and I’d never consider being your mistress though I could really get used to a job where my every need would be met.
“Adios then,” he said as the announcements over the airport P.A. system squawked in the background.
So I could be stepping out of a stylish building with a doorman in beautiful Buenos Aries. Instead I smelled urine, and the famed Hollywood Walk of Stars was littered with cigarette butts and wads of chewing gum. A filthy homeless man was vomiting into a trashcan on the corner, and a hooker sauntered towards me in the highest platform heels I had ever seen. Love. Money. Art. Work. Everything I wanted seemed to be stranded on its own separate continent in some un-navigable sea. Except for sex. That was available anywhere.
I’d nearly gotten fired from the job I had back in Minnesota because I’d refused to shorten my uniform skirt to my boss’s specifications. Why anyone wanted to look at my behind when he had a perfect T-bone on his plate and a panoramic view of the Mississippi River was beyond me. The Frito-Lay man who’d delivered the chips and Cheetos and Fritos to the restaurant bar was even worse. He came on to all the waitresses. Behind his back we called him the “free-to-lay man.”
I was lucky to have been offered a part in a film and lucky to have a decent day job. The Berlitz hours were flexible so it was easy to schedule my auditions. Mr. Shimoto was a night student—very advanced. We were concentrating on idioms, but he never got them quite right. When he tried to say that someone was unenthusiastic or “dragging their feet,” he would get confused and say they were “dragging their legs.” Or if he wanted to say that he had done something well, that “he had nailed it,” he would say that he had “hammered it.”
After Mr. Shimoto’s lesson, I checked the answering service. There was a message from the assistant director. He wanted to finalize some scheduling with me, and I could call him at home, the message said. I scrawled down the number, and then hesitated. I’m dragging my legs, I thought, laughing to myself at Mr. Shimoto’s expense.
It took me a couple of days, but I turned down the role of the naked dead girl. I auditioned for other things and continued to teach English. Meanwhile more bodies turned up in the Hollywood hills. Mr. Shimoto went back to Japan. My student with the turquoise eyes never tried again to reach me. I got a part in a play, and then another, and another. My husband left me for another woman. And I never made it big in Hollywood.