Wednesday, May 06, 2015

still lucky

The audience-participation component of my Ask Me a Question/Give Me a Prompt series hasn’t totally panned out (although it’s not too late, Breadketeers!), so today I borrowed one from Brian Kiteley’s The 4 a.m. Breakthrough. In my case, it’s more like the 5 a.m. Just Write Something.

Write a short piece of fiction that depends on a character’s precise perception of or reaction to the color red.

We pulled our van up to the white-curbed loading zone, that sacred space, at noon. Gomez was driving and being a dick. He was usually a pretty kick-back guy, but something about Sunset Boulevard and all its valets darting into lanes like deer brought out the worst in him. He’d been shouting at the windshield since La Cienega.

“You think you can haul the carpet up all these stairs, Shannon?” We all called each other by our last names, and Shannon was mine, but when Gomez said it, it sounded like a first name. A girl’s name. And that’s fine, I am a girl, but he made it sound like a bad thing.

“Did the traffic make you extra sexist?” I said.

“What, I’m looking out for you.”

Gomez was from New York. One of the boroughs, I don’t know which. I was from Bakersfield. If you’re not from L.A., you might think Bakersfield was the equivalent of a borough, but the mountain range between the cities makes all the difference in the world. When you drive over the Grapevine, praying your brakes don’t fail, and you see the city below like a handful of fairy dust in God’s cupped palm, you think anything is possible. It’s not like that going in the other direction.

Gomez popped the doors and there were the rolls of carpet. They reminded me of those little scrolls of paper they used to sell at the supermarket checkout counter when I was a kid. I always asked my mom for one, because they looked like maps to tiny treasures, and she always told me to stop messing around and let her concentrate on her coupons and which credit card to use.

A woman in tight pants and a black blazer in some kind of nice fabric clacked our way. Who would wear heels during this part of the event? I was kind of envious, though. I was wearing my old Pumas. She had a clipboard and a headset and acted like you’d expect.

“Start up there by the doors, and hurry, because E! just said they want some shots of set-up.”

“Hear that, Shannon, this is gonna be your big break,” Gomez said.

I’d made the mistake of telling him I came here to be an actress. We’d had drinks after work one day. I told him how for a while I’d spelled my name Hayleigh instead of Haley. He tried to grind his crotch into the side of my leg when he hopped down off the bar stool. I made him drive me home in the company van, and I lay awake that night wondering if he’d get a DUI as he headed back over the hill.

The headset woman wrinkled her nose at me. I’d seen that look enough times to know what it meant: that she wasn’t expecting to see an almost-pretty white female on this side of things. The set-up side. But also that she didn’t really want to see anyone at all on the set-up side. Anyone who had to be here before 5 pm was a tax on her eyeballs.

Gomez and I are almost the exact same height—he’s short for a guy and I’m average for a girl—so we’re a good team in that way. We each took an end of the first roll and jogged up the shallow stairs to the doors of the auditorium. The velvet ropes were already set up, so we had lines to color between.

“Gary, let’s get a shot of them rolling out the red carpet,” said a reporter, maybe the person from E! She super skinny, like she’d tried to diet away the shape of her face, and she wore a strapless red gown that didn’t allow her to take big steps.

In my Pumas and leggings and hoodie, I could have done cartwheels. All of a sudden, I felt free. When I was a kid I did cartwheels every chance I got. The park, the mall when it wasn’t crowded. I’d seen a TV movie about a girl who got discovered as a gymnast in Communist Romania, and I was always hoping that the coach who’d whip me into shape was just chilling outside Wet Seal.

Almost like we’d choreographed it, Gomez and I squatted down and gave the roll a shove to get it started. It’s heavy stuff, rubberized at the bottom, so you have to push it the whole way. Red is a terrible color for carpet, but so is every other color, if you think about it. Can you picture “green-carpet glamour”? Black carpet? Blue? And white would get filthy.

It was starting to get hot already. I guess that’s why award season was winter. Anything later in the year and people’s makeup would melt off. I unzipped my hoodie and flung it over a velvet rope.

On the radio the day before, I’d heard a thing about an opening at the Costume Institute in New York, for an exhibit about Chinese something-or-other. Costumes, I guess. A lot of the invitees wore red. For luck. Rihanna wore canary yellow. I wondered if Chinese people still thought of red as a lucky color, since it was also the color of communism, and that didn’t seem to be working out so well.

As we headed back to the van for the second roll, Gomez chattered at me about the strip club he went to last night. For some reason he thought I liked to hear that shit. At least he wasn’t star-struck like some of the people at our company. He liked tits and he didn’t care who they belonged to.

I tuned him out and let myself daydream, just for a second, about what I’d wear. Not black—too boring. Not red, because of possible clashing with the carpet. I’m a blonde, so I couldn’t pull off yellow. White is too bridal. Maybe blue-green. Something with a little sparkle but nothing too showy.

“This one Mexican chick with these, like, retro kind of tattoos, I could tell she had a thing for me,” Gomez was saying.

“Keep telling yourself that,” I said.

“And she had those straight-across bangs and fishnets,” Gomez said. “Man, I fucking love that look.”

“China is still communist, right?” I asked.

“In name only,” he said. I could tell he’d heard that somewhere and was repeating it.

“So it’s kind of like a compromise,” I said, “between communism and…freedom, or whatever.”

We reached the van and hauled out the second roll. They get soft when they’re warm, and it drooped now when we carried it. It would probably take five or six rolls to reach from the auditorium to the sidewalk. We’d come back tomorrow and roll it all back up. There would be oily footprints and gum, and it would be hot, and tourists would look at us and be glad they didn’t have our jobs. It’s okay. I probably wouldn’t want their jobs either.

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