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Bird’s Nest In Your Hair

Chapter Ten

Helen and Roger had arranged to have a meeting about the state of the business, and of course Tom, under Helen’s careful tutelage, would be sitting in. Helen seemed to like having him around, and Roger didn’t seem to mind. Tom himself wasn’t exactly sure what his role there really was. The fact was that he felt more like a pet around Helen in this environment than anything else, but he wasn’t entirely unhappy in this role either. If he wasn’t entirely happy with his lot in life, he realized that he’d now lost the energy and enthusiasm to find a way out of it.

So one dreary Wednesday morning the three of them were seated at one of Eastlake’s finest establishments, Louisa’s, waiting for their eggs and hash browns and trying to figure out how to remain positive about their prospects.

The problem was simply that business wasn’t going well. It wasn’t going very well at all. As Helen explained, there was simply too much free stuff out there. No longer was it necessary to sign up for one of the various Club Memberships, when college girls were offering streaming videos from there dorm rooms, and sometimes for free. The market doesn’t just get any freer than that, and if they were to make any money at this they needed to find a new angle.

“And this is where I think Tom could really help us out here,” said Helen.

Tom couldn’t hold back his surprise, and said “What?”

For his part, Roger didn’t seem at all surprised or even the least bit resentful that a guy who was there only because he was married to Helen, who’d been in the picture for about six months and about as many shoots, was all of a sudden being offered up as an expert on a subject he knew strictly as an observer. For the truth was that while Roger wasn’t entirely happy with the financial returns of late, he was happy enough with the business itself to go along with just about anything. In fact, he was developing a number of ideas himself that he was anxious to share with Helen. The problem was that people just weren’t buying the stuff anymore – and not because the country had all of a sudden turned into a nation of prigs. As Helen had remarked several times, everyone and their girlfriend was trying to get into the pornography business, while people in the pornography business were still dreaming of a way to get out of it. That’s what this meeting was all about.

Roger looked from Helen to Tom, and when Tom didn’t say anything, back to Helen. Tom looked at Helen too, and tried to provide an answer that would break the ice.

“Gosh, hon, I appreciate that and all, but I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do about the company problems. It seems like you and Roger have a pretty good handle on that. I’m more at home in the store.” He fiddled with the napkin in his hands, weaving it between the tines of his fork.

“What I think you don’t understand, Tom, is just how much all of us in the porn business really want to go legitimate.”

Roger looked up over a forkful of steaming scrambled eggs. “What do you mean, ‘all of us’?”

“C’mon Roger. You remember telling me how much you wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg when you started,” reminded Helen. “And that you just sort of fell into skin flicks, like all the rest of us.”

“Yeah, but that was a long time ago. Things have changed. I just don’t see …”

“And that’s why Tom is here,” said Helen.

“That’s the part I don’t really get,” said Tom. “The part about why I’m here.”

“Like it or not, Tom, you’re the one who can help us become legitimate.”

“I don’t get that.”

“Only because you don’t want to. You’ve been watching movies, renting movies and screening movies for twenty years or more. You’ve got that viewing thing going, and some pretty big names have been in the store. You’ve got a pretty good idea of how a movie is supposed to look and what it’s supposed to sound like.”

“Well, maybe. But that’s still a long ways from being able to make one.”

“And that’s what Roger is for.”

Roger and Tom both looked at Helen.

“What are you up to here, Helen?” asked Roger.

“Roger, you have all the practical experience. You know how all the equipment is supposed to work – for shooting, for sound, for editing. You’ve done it all. And you’ve got a pretty good feel for the technology of the new stuff. And more than that, you know how to deal with actors.”

“I’m not so sure that strippers really count as actors,” said Roger, sounding the skeptical note. In fact, he sounded a little exasperated. “And besides, I’ve never been in it for the money, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the money. Are you suggesting that we can finance some sort of independent film project? Like we’re just going to show up at the Sundance festival, win a couple of awards, and then turn into big time movie makers?”

“More or less, yes,” said Helen, nodding her head up and down, ignoring both his skepticism and exasperation. “I mean have you seen some of these movies? They’re total crap.”

And here she pulled out the most recent copy of the Stranger, opened it up to a page filled with movie ads, and began reading from a list of titles for an upcoming film festival. Not the annual Seattle International Film Festival, now becoming its own version of Cannes in the Northwest, but one of the countless other, smaller forums that now occurred with steady regularity throughout the year. This one was dedicated to half a dozen locally and recently produced horror flicks.

“Here’s a remake of The Vivisection of Vera,’ which is sure to be awful. I think there’s something wrong with remaking movies. And ‘Japan’s gift to world cinema’, Hiromitsu Matsuda, is back in the Northwest, introducing one of his gross-out terror flicks.” She read the quotation as sarcastically as possible. Looking over the page from Tom to Roger, and then back to the page she continued, ‘The Minotaur’s Revenge is a cinematic revelation in which East meets West and the resulting offspring runs roughshod over all our misconceived cultural assumptions. Once again he delivers an orgiastic explosion of violence at the end that will leave you feeling about your bedroom the same way you felt about the ocean after seeing Jaws.”

After dramatically letting the paper collapse in her lap, she looked at her two companions and asked, “What the hell is that?” Her two companions stared back at her dumbly.

“I kind of like Matsuda,” said Tom. “But Hama’s the best. Those movies he made with Shishido are great.”

“Orgy explosions are what we do,” said Roger.

At that moment someone called out their number and they stood up to retrieve their food from the pick-up counter. Back at the table Tom and Roger got busy salting and peppering their eggs and bacon while Helen addressed the issues just raised.

“My point is that all these are just dumb horror flicks,” said Helen. “Or cops and robbers. Just trying to earn new credibility by being edgy about sex, but they’re just plain dumb. And for that everybody loves them. Nobody’s as edgy about sex as we are, and yet we get editorials written about how we’re the ones destroying society. Every couple of months somebody starts up a campaign to try to run us out of town, and I’m getting tired of it. From what I see here, all we really need to do is put a few more clothes on, have Tom cook up some artsy-fartsy gangster stories, and we’ll get into all these film festivals ourselves. I’m tired of being a piranha.”

“I think you mean pariah,” said Roger.

“Whatever,” said Helen. “Some kind of fish.”

“Is this why you married me?” asked Tom.

Helen stared right back at Tom for a few seconds of silence. “Of course. Do you want to make movies or don’t you?”

“Don’t get me wrong,” said Tom. “Of course I want to make movies. And I’m all for making something better than porn. I just never really saw myself as legitimate. I just realized that you do.”

While Helen and Tom were engaged in their little contretemps, Roger was busy pushing the scrambled eggs around on his plate.

“Of course you’re legitimate,” said Helen. “You run Videosyncracy. And all those film forums.”

“No, it’s cool. I like it. It’s nice to hear you say that. So you don’t want to make any more skin flicks?”

“I never thought of myself as illegitimate, either,” mused Roger to himself. “Although strictly speaking, I guess it’s true. Mom never hardly knew Dad.” With his knife and the back of his fork he pushed his eggs into a pile somewhat in the shape of Africa.

“Don’t worry, hon, we need you too,” said Helen, patting the tail end of Roger’s dragon tattoo. “You’re the one who can hold everything together.”

“The thing is, I actually like making porn,” said Roger, getting to the root of the problem. “The money. The girls. The booze. The party never ends.”

“Well the money isn’t what it used to be,” said Helen. “That’s why we’re having this meeting.”

“Yeah, but I’ve got an idea of my own,” said Roger.

Now Tom and Helen looked expectantly at Roger.

“Do you remember all that trouble on the set of the Dentist movie?”

Tom and Helen both grimaced while nodding. They couldn’t help smiling as well.

“I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” said Helen. “I ended up laughing until I cried.”

“I just wasn’t sure if I should keep filming,” said Tom. “And then I remember the words of a famous hunter: “When in doubt, shoot it.”

“That’s my point,” said Roger. “We ended up taking most of the accident out of the ending, but I’ve watched those sections while doing the editing, and they are seriously funny.” Now he looked at Helen and Tom expectantly. They waited for more.

“My point is that we should have left it in!” He shook his hands in the cat’s cradle position to emphasize his point.

“Leave it in?” asked Helen. “It was complete humiliation. Dawn wouldn’t come out of the bathroom for hours.”

“That’s the point,” said Roger. “Slapstick Porn!”

“Slapstick porn?”

“Yeah, filled with all kinds of pranks and pratfalls, but the catch is: everybody’s naked!”

Tom and Helen were silent for a moment while they considered the idea.

“I don’t know,” said Helen. “What if somebody gets hurt?”

“Yeah, well, there’s always gonna be risk involved.”

“True,” said Helen.

“Think of water balloons and cream puff pies. That can’t hurt anyone. It’d be a riot!”

“Do you think the actors will go for it?”

“They will if they want to get paid.”

“I dunno. Seems kind of twisted to me. That’s the perspective of a former actress. As a producer I can almost see it.”

Everybody sat and stared at their plates as they pictured flying pies. Roger grabbed the ketsup squeeze bottle and put a pair of dollops in the middle of the eggs he’d piled up on the plate, then added a wavy line below the two dots. Helen looked at Tom while Tom looked at one of the waitresses and tried to imagine her running around the restaurant stark naked, maybe with her apron still on, but in fast motion, as in an old Benny Hill short.

“There’s nothing new under the sun,” said Tom. “But I think it’d be a good idea for about one film, at the absolute tops. It’d have to be a surprise for the actors.”

“I think Tom’s right,” said Helen. “But okay. I think we can do it. We’ll do it as our farewell film to the industry, before we rise again as legitimate movie makers.”

“I really don’t think it’ll be the last. But I’ll take that chance,” said Roger. “Now we just have to come up with a story leading up to it. Do you think Li’l Paul can get us into a bakery?”

“Where would we be without Li’l Paul?” said Helen, shaking her head from side to side before taking a sip of coffee.

“Even one in a grocery store would work. I’m not picky.” said Roger. He’d taken the two pieces of golden brown bacon and criss-crossed them underneath the eggs. Holding up the plate on display for Tom and Helen, he said “Look guys, a Jolly Roger!”

“Very jolly, Roger,” said Helen, dryly.

“It looks like a smiley face, Roger,” said Tom. “Jolly Rogers are supposed to look creepy. He looks happy.”

“I don’t see it that way,” said Roger. “I think we actually like something about Jolly Rogers. Something makes us happy. Something about’m makes me happy, at least.”

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