As Cidalia disappeared down the iron and cement cavern of 54th Street with Hakim, Greyson made his way up the stairs, using his hands to steady himself and stopping to catch his breath before proceeding to his small studio apartment. Outside the door to his apartment, he reached into his pocket for his iPhone, stared at it briefly and then pointed it at the doorknob. With a twitch of his thumb, the lock buzzed to the unlock position and he pushed the door open.
He lumbered through the doorway and dropped his winter wool fluidly as he crossed the area rug between the door and his Italian leather couch. Greyson leaned further forward with each step closer to the couch until falling like a tree, face-first.
He deftly rolled over onto his back and slid down the side of the couch to the floor. He clumsily slipped out of his chocolate knit cardigan sweater and grey slim jeans, leaving a breadcrumb trail from the doorway. The apartment consisted of a 20-foot by 20-foot wide living area featuring a giant 54-inch LED flat-screen TV opposite the couch. Two bedrooms hid around the corner of the wall with the TV and a modest galley kitchen wrapped around the corner by the couch like a walk-in closet stocked with kitchen appliances.
Reduced to his button-down shirt, open and flowing atop a white t-shirt and loose boxers, Greyson rose from the floor with just enough energy to flop backwards and lay face up, staring at the ceiling. The room spun. He drifted in and out of a sleepy haze. The instinct to roll toward the kitchen and fix a pot of coffee competed with the stronger inclination to lay still and wait out the spins.
Four hours of pounding club music continued to vibrate his inner ear along with a constant ringing that amplified every time he turned his head from side to side. He closed his eyes to escape the blinding glow from the low watt light fixtures on either side of his TV that seared into his brain. Fields of blue and red dots projected against the inside of his eyelids, dancing sideways and darting up and down as his eyeballs rolled around in their sockets.
Greyson and his friends met sometimes monthly and other times every night of a week mostly at bars and night clubs anywhere between Times Square and Battery Park. For many of them, their frequency depended on their participation in television and movie productions in town. They drank and danced. They hooked up. They commiserated. They helped each other forget the hardships of their professions - if for even just an evening at a time. Their late-night conversations often revolved around sharing leads and lamenting missed opportunities that could have propelled their careers.
Greyson watched his friends with a cloudy detachment. He had found his own contentment by moving one step outside the hunt for the spotlight, a lesson that most of his friends had yet to discover. Coming out of NYU, he had the same dreams of acting, writing, producing and starring. But the politics, the compromises and the grind of the New York entertainment engine ultimately sucked him in, churned his heart and shredded his will to continue banging his head against the same walls week after week.
He tasted success in the industry for a few fleeting years, securing a regular spot on a prime-time television show as a cute, rambunctious teenager in a family comedy. But after cancellation, he faced four years of failed auditions, rejected screenplays and bit parts before changing direction and seeking a behind the scenes role. His tiny bit of stardom enabled him to make just enough connections to establish himself as a freelance talent scout for the big casting agencies in the city. It paid his bills, made him a living and kept him connected to the fringe of his chosen profession.
Cidalia stood out from his regular crowd of friends. She had an unusual realness to her, a kind of virginal quality. She maintained her optimism in the sea of New York pessimism. She still appreciated, without petty jealousy, any meager luxury she could afford in the face of the celebrity-fueled opulence around her.
Once a month, Cidalia styled Greyson’s hair for free in exchange for him steering his budding young actors and actresses her way. Greyson found that when she leaned tantalizingly close to him as she tweaked and teased his hair - he felt an ambient warmth that didn’t otherwise exist in his world.
Of all the actresses and models he had seen, with their plastic skin, their saline-filled breasts, their steroid-aided legs and their clownish, oversized smiles, none could summon a performance to capture the particular warmth that Cidalia emitted.
She had worked on the set for some inane B-rated movie where she met Greyson several years back. He had a small but memorable part and she worked as an apprentice to the professional hairdressers that tended to the talent. They were the same age and both had migrated to the big apple from places as far from the glitz of New York City as possible. Greyson came from Nowhere, Iowa and Cidalia haled from a tiny dot of a town on the Bayou.
Having also attended NYU, Greyson recalled sitting in an English class for weeks before realizing the cute little hairdresser that he had met on the set was the very same little bookworm with librarian glasses and a gingham sweater in the front row with her pencil across her lips and her hand raised at each possible opportunity.
Neither had recognized the other outside of the movie set until literally bumping into each other in line at the cafeteria.
“I’m trying to get out,” she had explained to him over a wilted chicken salad lunch. “I’m not cut out for this business. I need to do something more worthwhile with my time.”
In the middle of the TV screen, CNN showed footage of unrest and demonstration in a Tehran square. Students angrily chanted and threw stones. Police in riot gear inched the crowd slowly back. Reporters scrambled, dodging and weaving through the crowd to film the remnants of the “Arab uprisings” that had flared like a Colorado wildfire. Helicopters zoomed above the city to reveal thousands of protesters ebbing and flowing through the streets in random unison like an angry tidal sea.
Greyson peered right past the action in the center of the screen. The television viewing area for the program was bordered by a series of little boxes, like windows on a computer monitor or cell phone. One box flashed that he had 11 new e-mail messages, another cascaded a series of cryptic comments posted onto a bulletin board. Small pictures of various people dotted the bottom of the screen. Other windows displayed video posts and news links.
He scrolled through a series of “VidBit” voice mails, which linked voice messages and web cam video feeds in a window that operates much like an Outlook e-mail box. He deleted a message from Cidalia just before they met at the bar earlier. He bypassed several messages from clients and stopped at a communication left by his sister, Melanie, that he had missed from several days earlier.
“Greyson,” she beamed with the perpetual glow of a mid-westerner. “Michael just flew back to LA. We had such a nice time. I wish you would come visit. The kids would love to see you. They were so young the last time.”
Greyson looked off out his window as his sister appealed to him.
“You should really meet our houseguest, Jai. He is such a charming young man, and so helpful around the house. He has quite a following. Everyone in the congregation has been inspired by him and he’s even been asked to be a special guest lecturer at UNI.”
“He is really a special individual.”
“Right Sis,” he mumbled to the TV screen. “To a bleeding heart like you, Mom and Dad, they’re all special.”
Greyson’s head buzzed. He squinted to stop the double vision from obscuring the words on the TV screen before realizing that the ringing sound actually came from the iPhone. Time had passed. He had drifted to sleep. His phone had fallen to the floor and twisted half under the leg of the couch.
Greyson glanced at his phone and observed the incoming call. With a flip of his wrist, as if shaking excess paint off a paint brush, he sent the call to his television screen and a live Face Time feed took the place of the CNN program. A woman in her late 40s with carved out cheeks and a short spiky haircut appeared. Her head looked unnaturally large as she leaned into the tiny camera atop her iMac.
“What no video?” the woman on the screen said peering toward the camera in her phone. “Got something to hide?”
“I’ve seen guys in underwear before, hon.” She smiled, showing off the wrinkle lines in her forehead. “It’s 7:30am and I think your evening last night has not worn off quite yet.
“I wanted to make sure you made it home OK. I would have called earlier, but I know how Sunday is your day of rest.”
“I made it alright,” Greyson felt as if he had marbles in his mouth. He could feel himself stumble over certain words.
“Nothing worse than waking up still drunk,” He thought to himself.
“What’s up Judith?” Greyson asked as Judith’s eyes flinched briefly at the sight of Greyson sprawled out on his couch with his boxers only loosely covering his crotch.
“You’re out on business every night in New York,” Judith replied. “Even when you’re not out on business.”
“I know, you said that already.” Judith cut the silence, paused and then added an afterthought. “You don’t know why I am calling you? You don’t recall speaking to us last night? By the bar?”
“I remember you at the bar,” he mumbled as Judith patiently waited for him to pass the conversation back to her. “Something to do with Mr. King I think?”
Judith worked for Alonzo King, a major casting agent and mid-level music producer that specialized in recognizing unknown talent, producing their early works to build buzz about them and then feeding them into the pipeline for the big producers. Judith booked his meetings, dealt with his clients and kept him organized, kind of a personal assistant and business manager rolled into one package. Greyson showered her with gifts, concert tickets and any other perks he could dig up to maintain a positive connection. In exchange, she helped swing her boss toward clubs where his talent performed and connected with him often late at night or early the next morning to pass on feedback from the boss.
Greyson squinted trying to remember what he may have discussed with Judith, hoping that in his stupor he didn’t come on to her or bad-mouth her boss. Her words lingered in his head and then a sinking feeling caused him to blink. Don’t you even remember talking to us? Greyson couldn’t remember seeing Judith and hoped that the “us” would not include King.
“Mr. King was very pleased to run into you at Fever last night,” she shifted her tone into a more businesslike voice, although Greyson could sense the knowing twinkle in her eye hidden back behind her business face.
She paused again, trying to prompt Greyson to offer additional memories of their conversation. “He likes the kid you have been coaching … Latrell Hawkins. He has a spot for an understudy in an off-Broadway production. Remember? It’s kind of a hip hop ‘Jersey Boys’.”
“Yah, yah, ‘Jersey Boys’,” Greyson nodded, knowing that Judith saw through his faked recognition.
She laughed again and smiled.
“Right … Ten AM.” Greyson repeated as the lights just started to brighten in his mind. “Wait. Ten AM tomorrow morning? Damn, that is short notice.”
“Mr. King has many other prospects,” She jumped in. “But I like him. And I like you. I’d like you to get the shot with him.”
“Latrell is a good kid.” Greyson sat up and shifted his hips enough to tuck away his privates, which he realized had been peeking out considerably more than they should. “He will really make good on the opportunity. I’ll get him there.”
Greyson changed gears in his mind and shuttered to think what impression he may have left with Alonzo King downing shots at the bar like a College frat boy.
Judith’s lips parted in a secret smile and she blinked her eyes while nodding her head forward. She let the smile out of its cage and ran her hand through her short hair before answering with a deep breath.
Greyson dropped his gaze to the small fleece blanket under his legs and muttered a mild expletive under his breath. The room filled with her genuine, but slightly shrill laughter. But the softness of her smile reassured him.
“Make sure your client gets there on time tomorrow,” she said, more businesslike – almost maternal. “And make sure you don’t wake up at noon and miss it either.”
“I’ll be there,” Greyson spoke to his ceiling and scratched his three-day stubble, “Don’t worry about me. And I’ll get Latrell there too.”
"Do you need a wake up call?"
“No, thanks,” Greyson sat upright and cleared the drunk from his eyes. “I’m good now. You can count on me as always.”