I wasn’t looking forward to dinner. I didn’t want to drive to Malibu. I didn’t want to be social. But, Ben wanted to go. He was writing a new TV show and Susan, his executive producer, was hosting with her husband, Jim, a successful production designer. Pizza! Normally, I love pizza and I like Susan and her husband well enough, but I was cranky. I had recently been hired to write for a freshman sitcom called “Women in Jail” (not a topic that instantly springs to mind as a situation comedy) but, before my contract was even entered into a computer, surprise, surprise… the show was cancelled. Job security--- not a show biz perk.
So, not more than two hours after receiving this career-crushing news, we were going to an impromptu dinner with people who were gainfully employed. Who needed that?! Ben wasn’t trying to be insensitive. He truly thought that being with some friends, eating my favorite food and drinking some good California merlot would take my mind off my disappointment. Ha! We’d been married nearly ten years and it still bewildered me that he knew so little about my emotional vicissitudes. How could he not know that I wanted to wallow in my misery for at least 24 hours?
When we arrived and walked out to the beautiful flagstone terrace, I was surprised to see another couple standing by the bar. Now, not only did I have to put on a happy face for two people I knew, I’d have to smile and talk to two people I didn’t know and didn’t want to know. At least not tonight. They’d ask us what we did. We would tell them we’re writers. Ben would regale them with stories from the latest show he was working on, but when they asked me what I was working on, what would be my gracious and witty reply? Nothing?
The new couple was dressed in black, the uniform of wealthy west side L.A. The guy had on black trousers and a black polo shirt… she a black mini-skirt, black tee and black Jimmy Choo sandals. Ben at least blended in, with his black linen shirt and faded jeans (always appropriate in L.A.). With my faded jeans I’d worn a white linen shirt. I was wearing strappy leopard sandals, however, which gave my “ensemble” a throw-away Melrose Avenue “cred.” But being unemployed, which breeds insecurity (an L.A. malady), I mourned my lack of black.
Jim offered me a glass of merlot and I took a big gulp as Susan introduced us to Bob and Carol, friends from Susan’s Boston PBS days. A documentary producer, Bob had happily “sold out” to work in reality television, producing such shows as “Fantasy Family” and “Kids Take Over.” Carol worked in advertising. After the initial greeting and shaking of hands came the inevitable--- Bob asked me what I did. I told him I was a television writer.
“Really,” he replied. “What are you working on?”
I took another big gulp of wine. “I’m in development,” I answered… a euphemism for nothing.
Bob laughed. “Me, too. I’m developing my golf game.”
I decided the evening might be salvaged and sipped my wine with ladylike flourish.
Susan and Jim’s house sat on a cliff with a spectacular view of the ocean. And, if you looked down their sloping hillside property, you could see the Pacific Coast Highway and the rooftops of houses lower on the hill.
Ben and Susan were in the midst of some anecdote I’d heard a dozen times, so I grabbed a handful of chips (my second favorite food group) and walked over to the edge of the terrace. The sun was setting and the sky was filled with shocking pink clouds along the ocean horizon. Cars were rushing up and down PCH and I wondered if any of the drivers noticed the vivid sunset, or whether they were too busy talking on their cell phones. Directly below, black-clad guests at a catered party mingled around a lap pool in the middle of a drab cement patio attached to a sprawling 60’s “modern” house. Tall, skinny Cyprus trees surrounded the industrial-style terrace. I hate those trees… too thin, like most of L.A.
As if to coordinate with the house, 60’s rock music drifted upward as a few of the partygoers danced around the uninviting pool (though how the women managed in ridiculously skinny four inch heels was a mystery). I tried to imagine the owners of such an ugly house… definitely entertainment lawyers (who else would buy an over-priced Motel 6), when my eyes drifted to the neighboring rooftop of the faux-Neutra designed monstrosity. There, lying on his back, spread eagle in the middle of the roof was a man in jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. He wasn’t moving. I watched for a few minutes, but still no movement, so I called for everyone to come quickly, there was a dead body below. Why I said “quickly,” I haven’t a clue. If the man was dead, he certainly wasn’t going anywhere in the immediate future.
To be continued…