Chapter Five of Below the Line, which begins with a prologue—a little life, interrupted
"The sun has risen, he who gives warmth,
the precious child, the eagle which rises;
how will he go on his way?
How will he make the day?
Perhaps something will happen to us
who are his tail, his wings?"
They say to him:
"Deign to fulfill your function,
to complete your mission, our lord."
And this is said each day when the sun rises.
________________Codice Matritense del Real Palacio, fol. 271 v.
Genius Designer Jacques De Cuir avoided the left turn that would have brought him face to face with Production Accountant Don North for the second time that morning. He could talk to Wardrobe in the afternoon, he decided, after his lunch of tea, Stone Mill Ground Wafers, pate and nopal.
He entered, instead, the office of his First Art Director, Jessica Salkin. Hundreds of sketches, renderings, elevations and New Yorker cartoons were plastered over three of the walls. And on the fourth wall, before the young woman seated there, there was a beautiful airbrushed rendering of the tonalpohualli, what has come to be called the Aztec Calendar Stone—at least five feet in diameter, predominantly orange, with its fantastic creatures and intricately carved interstices of cobalt and jade on a field of azure fading to white. A single candle warmed a small incense burner below it. The room felt holy, but it was, of course, only an artist's studio. Jessica had painted this during prep, on her own time, and it was just beautiful.
Jessica Salkin looked up from her drawing board, large kind brown intelligent Semitic eyes peering over thick tortoise shells inquisitively.
"Back so soon?"
"It's Donny," said Jacques, rolling his crewcut towards the hall. "I didn't want to go through all that again."
Jessica smiled and nodded sympathetically. She had been trying to finish a rendering of the Bunker Complex all morning. Life with Jacques was fraught with interruptions. She gently and methodically applied her electric eraser to a section of the control panel that just wasn't working. It kept coming out like something from FANTASY SPACE STATION, a period in her career she would rather forget.
Jacques collapsed heavily in Jessica's chintz loveseat, a piece left over from the Brownstone Set that Anthony had vetoed on his last trip over.
"Sanctuary!" he croaked.
Jessica spread her arms wide. If that was what he really wanted, she had sanctuary tattooed on her soul. She fine-pointed a pencil in the sharpener and squinted comically at the rendering.
Jacques watched her work in silence for a while, delighting in her concentration and dexterity. He had never hired a woman before, but Jessica was working out fine. Won Huong Lo had recommended her several years ago, after she had done a couple of sets at D.C.'s Arena Centre. At the time, Jacques was living with a young set designer who had since gone on to work exclusively for Glee & Ghee. Louis considered the succession of exploitation pictures at Howitzer Pictures his big break, and Jacques had paid for the termination of their "arrange-ment" with what he would rather not call a broken heart.
Jessica's work at Planetary was exemplary and, though she'd never done a feature, her sense of scale and color excited Jacques immensely.
Jessica had stopped working and was staring at Jacques again with those eyes.
"You know, you're very beautiful," he said, totally sincere.
She swiveled her chair around and stretched towards her cassette player on the table behind her. She was five foot-nine or ten, perhaps. She might have weighed a hundred and fifty on a bad day before her period.
If he were a woman, he would want to look like Jessica, Jacques decided. Jessica pulled her hair away from her face, unconsciously childlike as she poured over her small collectionof pre-recorded tapes. Her features in profile were outsized, though refined, as in classi-cal sculpture, meant for viewing from a distance and below, but without the coldness such a face implies. Her breasts hung close together—heavy and maternal for such a young woman—swaying braless inside her smock.
Jessica was broad-beamed, with thick calves and strong ankles that stretched the Levi 501's she favored—a woman designed to cut her way through a man's world the way an ocean liner parts the sea. Yes. In his dreams he could definitely be Jessica Salkin. Jacques smiled at the irony. In a way, he had hired himself.
The cassette yawned open and Jessica inserted that tape Jacques liked, the solo flamenco guitar recorded in the Alhambra. She smiled at Jacques, turning and leaning on the drawing board with her chin in her hands.
The watery pleasure of Granainas flowed from the machine, a shimmer of sound without discernable rhythm. Jacques was staring at Jessica's breasts.
"So you wanna talk, or what?" said Jessica. "What's the matter? You're not suddenly turned on by tits I hope?" She pulled that same hank of lustrous black-brown hair behind her neck and twirled it playfully around her fingers. Jacques wet his lips and shook his head.
"It's nothing. I'm feeling pressure, is all."
"Well imagine how I feel!" she said, grinning. "It's not like Gerry isn't my sister's ex-husband!"
"Puhleaze! Don't remind me! If he hadn't begged me to put you on this picture, I'd've hired you anyway, just to haunt him."
"Marilyn says he believes in ghosts, you know," she offered. "He used to wake up in the middle of the night screaming. He bought a gun. She had to sleep downstairs."
"Darling, I'd sleep downstairs, and I like the macho manner our leader affects!"
"You know they still see each other? Every time he comes to New York, they have a go for old times' sake. He doesn't even book a hotel room. She says it's better now than it ever was."
"And he still sees ghosts?"
"I guess. Marilyn says it beats jerking off."
"I imagine Jerry'd talk a ghost to death before he'd shoot it."
"He used to hit on me when they were married."
"He's never hit on me. He's so hetero, it's disgraceful."
"When he was in his photojournalism phase. I was into tie-dye. I was staying with them while I worked for Joe at the PT. I used to work topless late at night cause it was so darn hot. Gerry wanted to do 'art' pictures, kind of 'an artist at work' thing. He used to try to catch me coming out of the shower. One night he and Marilyn had a fight and he showed me his putz. It was gross and disgusting and I told him so. We ended up drinking tequila all night, me topless and him with his little thing in his hand. That was when I knew I was a woman."
"You're kidding! You didn't—"
"—Of course not! Are you kidding?! I knew I was a woman, cause we finished a bottle of Cuervo Gold and fell asleep; Marilyn found us in each other's arms the next morning and kicked me out. She told me she didn't need the competition."
"And you were—?"
"—I was pissed!"
"I don't know. Seventeen. Eighteen. It was the summer I graduated." Marilyn had an abortion for Christmas. She said she wasn't sure whether the baby was his or his ghost's."
"That son of a bitch!"
"Gerry? Hey, Gerry's a mess, Jacques. You can't blame Gerry. I don't blame Gerry for anything. I blame Marilyn. She's a cocktease. And I blame Gerry's mother."
Prototype JAP. She still hangs his baby booties off her rear-view mirror. She lives up the river, in Valhalla. She works at this nursing school they have there. She still calls Marilyn everyday. She can't understand why they don't get back together."
"But they are back together, in a way."
"Sophie doesn't know that. She'd kill Gerry if she found out he was still schtupping Marilyn. She doesn't believe in sex after marriage. She's been going with a guy, a chiropodist she met at the hospital, for fifteen years. I'm sure they haven't done it."
"So will they get married?"
"I doubt it. He's only a chiropodist. She's holding out for a neurosurgeon. Which I hope to God she finds, because the woman needs brainwork, she really does."
Jessica opened a sterling silver and turquoise cigarette case, the kind that has a top you slide off and holds a full pack of smokes. She extracted a cigarette, lit it with a matching lighter, and leaned back in her chair, placing her feet on the rendering of the Bunker Complex.
"You smoke too much."
"Sex substitute. I've been ruined for any kind of a normal life by Gerry Gold. It is so sad."
Jessica looked at Jacques, her idol, her mentor, her amigo, and her kind eyes danced.
"Won't you save me from this fate, Kind Sir?"
"I wish," said Jacques De Cuir, "totally and from the bottom of my heart, that I could."
He stared back at her and she thought she could see a great sadness in him.
"Lemme have one of those!" said Jacques, as Eduardo Galindez appeared at Jessica's door for their meeting.
"¡Hola, Eduardo!;" chirped Jessica, always happy to see this essential cog in the wheel. She rose to kiss him on both cheeks, genuine and fraternal. Eduardo frowned at Jessica's cigarette.
"You should probably check this out," said Jessica, not wanting to get into it, nodding towards the calendar. Eduardo pulled up a chair in front of the candle and incense, squinted and started to compute. In his head.
This is always worth the trip, thought Jacques. Along with all his other talents, Eduardo could read the Aztec tonalpohualli. Like it was a TV set or something.
"It's a day count, you guys, that's all" said Eduardo. "It was sacred to them because they used it for divination."
"And…?" said Jessica.
"And...hang in there a minute."
"My future in film?"
"No, no," said Jacques, like a perpetual five-year-old, "tell me about the philosophy again."
"You want Aztec Philosophy Lite, instead of a cost report on the statue?" said Eduardo dryly
"Absolutely!" said Jacques. Blow my mind."
Jessica continued to work on the bunker complex. She had a good working knowledge of the calendar herself, after all. Jacques was only going to be depressed again, which was hardly the point.
Without taking his eyes off the tonalpohualli, Eduardo began:
"This thing divided the days and rituals of the ancients up, among all their gods. For the Aztecs, it was extremely important to do this, because without a...a...division of labor I guess you could say, the world would soon come to an end.
Jessica nodded as her electric eraser whirled. Jacques stared directly into the eyes of the creature—man, god?—at the center of the tonalpohualli. Eduardo was very serious now, transported perhaps a little, like any amateur historian suspended in a complex matter might be:
"They believed that the Universe is in a very delicate equilibrium—"
"Unh hunh," agreed the woman.
"Opposing forces are competing for power, and this equilibrium is in constant danger of being disrupted by the shifting powers of the gods."
"Like the Greeks," said Jacques.
"Right, the shifting of the elemental forces that influence our lives, and this...struggle...cannot be allowed to be won by any one god, or the whole thing falls apart."
"Everything ultimately consists of two opposing forces," simplified Jessica.
"And the world is always on the brink of going under in a spiritual war, so to prevent that from happening the gods have been given their own space, their own time, their own social groups, et cetera, to rule over."
Gazing fondly on the tonalpohualli: "this little baby tells us how time is divided up among the gods."
Use the air...
Do not waste it...
He thought he could hear music. He listened harder, holding his fingertips on his carotid artery lest the effort of listening cause his pulse to rise. Yes. His pulse was steady. About eighty-six or so. And there was music. Underneath the soothing voice of the disembodied woman. A kind of...tintinnabulation. A glissando of harp strings. Soft, so soft. Peaceful. Friendly. The woman continued, like a beautiful viola playing the melody:
You are lying beside a sun-dappled stream...the soft buzz of insects plays distantly across your consciousness but you pay them no mind...you are at peace...you are relaxed....
Gerry Gold's left eyelid snapped open surreptitiously. The driver wasn't watching him. He snuck a glance at his Rolex Oyster®, turning his wrist because he wore it on the inside: it was a quarter to twelve. Where does the time go? He adjusted his headset and turned up the volume on his Sony Walkman Pro®, which was a remarkable machine, running all day on four AA batteries the way it did.
Relaxation comes easily to you now...
the tape continued. It was Number Two in a series of four he would be receiving in the mail from Type A Productions® out of Mamaroneck, Long Island, New York—Relaxation for the Extremely Successful. The harp music gave way to gently lapping ocean sounds.
...in the time it takes a hummingbird's wing to beat once, you can be left...totally...wonderfully...Relaxed.... Breathe...Use the air...Do not waste it...Relax....
The girl had a kind of sexy voice. Gerry closed his eyes tighter and wondered what it would be like cuddling up next to her, silverspoon-style, after she came home from a tough day at the recording studio.
Blonde, he thought.
"Breathe...Use the air...."
Yeah, definitely. A blonde with ears like the inside of some intricate seashell, all pearly pink and soft and...
"Do not waste it...Relax..."
The driver chanced a glance in his rearview mirror. The gringo looked like he was asleep. The driver wanted his music. He looked longingly at the Blaupunkt stereo Bernardo had installed in the limousine. She had a hundred watts of power. She could make the limo sound like Disco Cero Cero. He had never been to Cero Cero, it was in el Hotel Camino Real, but the driver could imagine what it was like. A disco for the young and the deaf. Las muchachas dancing all night long in short skirts. Tequila would flow like water. The girls would sweat and their breasts would glisten and your hand would slide off their breasts if you touched them. After you danced, you could take the girls back to your place and have them any way you liked. You could have them and they would thank you for it. They would stay till morning and you would drive them home on the way back to the studio. And they would kiss you goodnight, but it would be day and they would still be wearing their disco gown. And their legs would be long and their stockings would be music to your ears as they rubbed together while their high-heeled shoes reached for the pavement outside of your limousine And you would drive back to Chiliverde and Bernardo would laugh and ask you if you had a good time. And Miyayah.... Miyahyah, she would look at you and be jealous because you did not take her to Disco Cero Cero. And all day long, Miyahyah would flirt with you, more than she flirted with the others, because you had been to Cero Cero and danced all night long with the gringo girls.
Noon-time traffic was thickening, like a big steel snake with many scales winding its way torturously through the city. A professional driver in District Federal was by definition a madman.
She was blonde with sun-tanned knockers that she got because she vacationed—once a month for four days—in St. Croix, because her voice-overs were very lucrative. She was all over the New York Radio stations. She did ads for Bloomingdale's and ads for the Museum of Modern Art. And her best ads, the most lucrative ones, were for that beer, where she plays the girl who's working at the border crossing when a truck full of brew pulls up and she asks the driver what's in the truck, and they have a laugh together and he probably gets to schtup her, because she has a great voice. And a great laugh, throaty. Cause she's blonde and tall.
Use the air...Do not waste it...Relax...
They thought traffic would improve when the Metro was built but it didn't, and the Anillo Periférico—a highway circling the city like a noose around the snake—was supposed to help too, but it is unfinished and it won't.
She went to Mt. Holyoke, or maybe Vassar, but probably not Vassar cause she's too classy for Vassar. Too blonde and she has too many Angora sweaters for Vassar. And a dog. She has a dog that runs up to her when she comes home from cheerleading practice and gets her cheerleader skirt all dirty with his paws, and the dog licks her face, and maybe she's pissed off cause she has just the tiniest zit on her cheek and she's worried about it cause the prom is coming up and she might not get to go with the quarterback and maybe she will go with him. And the dog—his name is Muffin—jumps up again and licks her face and she kneels down and the dog puts his paws on her knees, and her pantyhose covers her knees and they're kind of shiny, but she's wearing socks and Adidas®. And the dog licks her ear. Her tiny, convoluted pink-shell ear....
The gringo had to be asleep. The driver had one last look in the mirror. For the fifteen minutes it would take them to reach Libertidad he would have music. He reached down to the Blaupunkt and turned the knob. There was nothing but static. He punched the FM button. A torrent of Mariachi flooded the limo's recessed speakers, near the threshold of pain.
Gerry was jolted from his reverie:
"What the fu—!"
His Walkman Pro® sailed off the seat, arcing through the open partition between him and the driver as the driver hit his brakes. He hadn't seen the light change. A Moctezuma Brewery truck screeched through the intersection and caught the limo on the right front quarter panel. The brewery truck's horn jammed, underscoring the horrific crash and the rattle of broken glass, shattered chrome, and angry epithets that were now being tossed between the two drivers.
Gerry found himself on his knees, his left headphone smashed against the left jumpseat. He didn't think he was hurt, but he couldn't find his Walkman Pro®. He looked for the driver, ready to give him a piece of his mind which was no longer relaxed, but, rather, perfectly steamed.
The driver was outside the limo already, launching himself across the front of the car in the direction of his counterpart from the beer truck. The two men collided like a pair of engorged stags fighting over Bambi's mother. Gerry couldn't make out what they were screaming in Spanish of course as he shouldered the heavy limo door open. Apparently nobody was hurt.
He emerged finally from the car. Onlookers had begun to gather, chattering and pointing excitedly at the vaqueros who rolled over and over in the intersection, through the broken glass and chrome and radiator coolant that was spreading in a sickly-green pool towards the curb.
Gerry thought he'd break up the fight, then thought better of it as five or six burly cholos jumped off the sidewalk and hurtled towards the scene. Nobody seemed to be paying any attention to him. Could he hear sirens coming towards the accident?
"Fuck!" was the first word that finally came to Gerry's lips. He smashed his left hand angrily against the limo, nearly crushing his Rolex Oyster® in the process. He checked the time: he was going to be late.
"Shit shit shit!"
There was a battle raging now in the intersection. The neighborhood cholos had chosen up sides. They seemed to be pretty evenly matched. There was something sort of formal about it, almost like this was a noontime ritual, like soccer or that stupid game of kick the little sack of birdseed or whatever it was. Gerry's head had begun to throb and the mariachi music was driving him nuts, mostly because he thought he might be beginning to like it.
Sirens grew louder. There was nothing Gerry could—or wanted—to do but get the hell out of there, though, he supposed, if he was dressed for it, he could hold his own on this instant battlefield before him. The cholos seemed to be having a good time almost, and the bystanders definitely were. Families had begun to gather; some of them had lunches in bags with names of department stores on them.
Grandmothers had placed intricately patterned blankets or sheets on the ground for people to sit on. There were ice cream vendors with carts with painted flowers on them. The kids, the smallest ones, had chosen up sides too and now there were other little formalized battles going on, ringing the perimeter of the intersection, interspersed with pretty young women selling flowers, spilling over into a vacant lot that seemed to be like a place where the subs waited to be sent into the game.
Gerry turned around: there was a phone on the corner near a gas station next to another sun-baked weed-choked open field. Gerry ran to the phone. He fumbled for change in his pocket. How much did a fucking Mexican telephone cost? The slot was big enough for a silver dollar. Gerry had no coins that size.
He stopped a boy who was running towards the flowery little war.
The boy looked at him. He wanted in on the action in the street. Gerry gripped him by his shirtfront.
"¡¿Cambio?! Change?! ¡¿Tu tenga dinero?!"
Gerry held up a five hundred peso note and pointed to the phone. The boy caught on and pulled a large silver-looking coin from his pocket.
"¡Si! Si!" screamed Gerry.
The boy grabbed the five hundred pesos, tossed the coin at Gerry, and ran towards the fight. Gerry placed his call.
It took five rings for the Production Office to pick up:
He was put on hold. Judy was on her way to lunch. She was halfway down the stairs to meet Don when Rosita called her:
She hurried back upstairs and took the call.
"Judy, it's me!"
"Bullshit! This fucking driver cracked up the car!"
"Are you all right?!"
"Fuck me! Yes! I guess I'm all right!" He looked back towards the scene. It was like the Sharks and the Jets in Westside Story produced and directed by Vincente Minelli with Vincent Van Gogh on production design, photographed in Technicolor Imbibition by James Wong Howe.
Shit, I just got a great idea, he thought he thought.
The police arrived. The limo driver was pointing at him.
"Listen, you gotta get somebody out here." begged Gerry. "I gotta meet Eduardo and I need to give dictation!"
"Gerry, calm down!"
"Don't tell me to calm down, Goddammit! I know how to 'calm down' Judy! Get somebody out here!"
"Ok, Ok! Where are you?"
"How the fuck should I know where I am?!" He looked around for a street sign:
"Goddamn country hasn't got a goddamn sign!" He stopped an old woman carrying a plastic bag from Sanborn's. She was startled.
The gringo looked very pale. He was dressed in a tennis outfit, shorts, with a hummingbird on his shirt, on the left, over his heart. He had knobby knees. His knees were bleeding. There was a bump on his head the size of an artificial eyeball.
"¿Señora? Por favor. Donde esta?"
The old woman stared at him. Gerry pointed at the phone booth, at the crash scene/gang war/fiesta, at himself.
"¿Donde esta aqui? Senñora. ¡El nombre del calle! ¡¿El nombre?!"
She didn't understand. Gerry held up another five hundred pesos. The old woman took it, bowed and thanked him.
"¡No! ¡No! ¡¿Donde esta?!"
It finally sunk in.
"Ahh! Viaducto y Anillo Periferico Sur!"
She pointed at the intersection, nodded in gratitude and started to shuffle away.
"No! No! Wait!" The police were headed towards him. "¡Momentito!" He spoke to Judy:
"Honey, put Rosita on and tell her to ask this woman where the fuck I'm at!"
"Señora," he held up the phone, placing it in her gnarled old hand. "Por favor—" He gestured for her to listen. The woman looked at the phone as though perhaps she'd never used one before. The cops were getting closer. The woman's ancient face brightened as she listened tentatively. She began to laugh heartily, avoiding Gerry's eyes. She clutched the five hundred peso note and answered finally:
"Si, señorita. Si. Si. Viaducto y Anillo Periferico Sur." She nodded and smiled happily at Gerry. "Si. Si. De nada. ¡Adios!"
"Wait!" Gerry lunged at the phone. "Judy—ah Rosita—gimmee Judy!"
"Gerry, Miyahyah says she doesn't have a car. The Art Department's gone to lunch, Eduardo has left already to meet you, and we're leaving for lunch, and there just isn't—"
"Judy, don't give me that shit!"
"Well Gerry, I'm just telling—"
"And I'm telling you—" Two policemen grabbed him roughly, speaking in fractured English and angry Spanish.
"Judy, goddammit, the cops are grabbing me here! ¡Momento, Señores! ¡Por favor!"
The cops held him tight but they allowed him to continue:
"Judy, get Miyahyah to call Ana Maria in the bird."
"Don't fuck with me now!" Gerry screamed. The two cops looked at each other—another loco gringo. "She's scouting Desierto Leones—" he checked his Rolex®—"right now!"
"Just divert the goddamn chopper, Judy! I want somebody here who speaks fucking English now! And Spanish! Somebody who speaks Spanish!"
"Ok! Ok! Just try to relax!"
A swarthy policia hand took the phone and placed it firmly on the hook. The old lady nodded to the officers and went away humming a snatch of popular Mexican song.
Gerry raised his hands defensively:
"Ok! Ok! Let's take it easy, boys! I'm an American citizen! ¡Lente! ¡Lentemente! ¡Yo soy Americano!"
Ana Maria Cadena held no great affection for these location scouts by helicopter. There was something fundamentally unsound about a flying machine that had no wings. Still she had flown with Gabilán for many hours without a mishap. It was, after all, her job.
Gabilán smiled and gave her thumbs up. He was a small and muscular man, very dark, with features hewn from cypress and hands like talons. Gabilán was a good pilot, and he treated his aircraft the way a new teenaged driver treats his car, like the newest most important member of the family.
Ana Maria saw herself and the sky behind and all around her, blue as a dream, reflected in Gabilán's American aviator gafas de sol. She looked good today she guessed: high Indian cheekbones, liquid green-flecked brown eyes hidden behind her own gafas, chestnut-black hair tied back, careless but sexy, who cares?, strong chin, good teeth, straight nose, slightly freckled. Was she getting too much sun? Sun ages, Esteban's mother always said. So do gringo movies.
Gabilán answered a radio call, from Juarez International she guessed. Pilot stuff confused her
Basically, they were looking for one shot, one top-shot of the military surrounding Jeff and Deirdre at the end of Act Two. They'd end up taking the scene at Popocatépetl, Ana knew that. They were boarded for three weeks in the vicinity of the 18,000 foot volcano, and they'd have every opportunity to get the big shot there, but Gerry Gold wanted her to scout locally in case they had to cut that expensive location for any reason. So, practically speaking, she was spending money—56,000 pesos an hour for Gabilán and the chopper—in case they ran out of money later on in the shoot.
Ana knew Desierto wouldn't work. Popo was surrounded by pine forests. Desierto had deciduous trees and their leaves were gone. It wouldn't match. Anthony would veto the location in a second—from the photographs. But hers was not to question why....
It was a good day for flying. Popo glistened in the sunlight, just fifteen minutes to the south, covered perpetually in snow and ice, ringed mystically by eternal cloud. Popocatépetl, the warrior prince in Aztec mythology, stood guard over Tlamacas, known later, of course, as Cortes Pass—the conqueror's route from Veracruz to Tenochtitlán. Winfield Scott led his American invaders over the same arduous route three hundred years later. To the east, Popo's sister volcano, Iztaccihuatl—the Sleeping Lady—stretched in her languorous majesty.
Ana Maria allowed herself a daydream as the smooth murmuring vibration of the chopper worked at her insides. She dreamed she was riding bareback along el Paso de Cortés.
As a girl, she had stood in the slums of Tlapan, in the southern quarter of Ciudad Mexico not far from the floating gardens of Xochimilco, and dreamed of riding horses someday, high above the city in the Zona San Angel where los gentes ricos lived. That she had achieved her ambition—by the age of seventeen—was a testament to the powers of fate. As time and her past began to roll sensuously over her, the helicopter made a sudden bank. Like a hungry raptor, they were headed suddenly away from Desierto.
Gabilán tapped her shoulder, motioning to his headset. He smiled. He enjoyed these location scouts with Ana Maria. She had beautiful legs. She was tall, five-eight in her stocking feet, with muscular thighs such as only real horsewomen—and their men—know. He banked the chopper, steeper yet, to the left, and they descended towards District Federal.
"¿Que tal?" Ana asked.
"Trouble," said Gabilán, working his chewing gum determinedly.
In a minute they were over an intersection on the west side of the city. Ana could see there had been a traffic accident—a beer truck and a black studio limousine had collided. There were a hundred people gathered, and two police cars.
Gabilán landed in a field next to a abandoned Pemex station. Ana could see Gerry Gold, looking miserable, dogged by Federales, hurrying towards the machine.
She slid out of her seatbelt, stepping gracefully from the chopper. Gerry reminded her of a lost little boy who was glad to see his mother.
"Ana Maria, thank God!" yelled Gerry over the helicopter's din. "Am I glad to see you! Tell these assholes who I am, will you?!"
A cop jabbed Gerry in the ribs with a baton.
"What's happening here?" Ana queried in Spanish. The Federales explained the situation. Ana listened politely, thoughtfully. The words of Spanish that Gerry knew rose and fell in the cyclone of the chopper's rotorwash. Next to the guttural words of the cops, Ana's voice was soft and gentle, and Gerry gradually lost track of it as it swam in the wind and the din all around him.
The helicopter engine noise sparred with the percussive snatches of music, mariachi trumpets, mind-numbing repetitious Mexican lyrics, violins, tubas (it sounded like), all of it coming from the boom boxes surrounding them, glistening in the sun like netted fishes, stretching away to infinity. The smell of cooking assailed Gerry's brain, unfamiliar mixtures of tart and sweet, chocolate and guacamole. Arroz y refritos. Gerry began to see animals he'd never seen before, flayed open upon family barbecues, long primal tongues lolling obscenely, fresh blood being drawn and drunk by naked men or women maybe.
Children swung in and out of his vision, urchins, barefoot, the little girls surprisingly nubile, little brown bodies, dancing, around and around.
Gerry's head began to pound, resonating with the music, the chopper, the sizzle of the Aztec animals, the burble of happy children, the chants of men in masks, the cries of women who looked like people he knew.
It was Ana Maria, come down from Heaven to save him from the naked Completion Guarantors. She was speaking and her words spun out of her mouth in notes of music, red and black, like barbecued ribs, and she was nodding at him and he felt so dizzy…"
"Gerry," he thought the notes combined to say his name. "Gerry," his name came from very far away. "They want to lock you up for a thousand years!"
"For what?!" he thought he heard himself say.
"For causing this accident. Accident. Accident. Accident…" Off the low and nearby hills the notes of Ana rolled, caught up in the helicopter spin, in the smell. He tried his best to say it in Spanish, in a language all of them could understand, a trumpet he was, one of those long long golden trumpets that speak the truth:
"I didn't cause the goddamn accident! Accident! Accident!" His melody modulated, beautifully, like something out of Abbey Road. "Abbey Road, el via Ableroso, amigos! Amigos! Amigos! I was riding in the fucking car! Car! That asshole—" and he pointed to the driver who was now badly bruised and bloody cause of the gang war over there—"was driving! He caused the goddamn accident!" And they were flaying the driver with long black knives, and the driver, he was liking it. And gradually life started to quiet down, bubbling like molé sauce in a ceramic pot brought fresh to your table. And Gerry wondered if he were dying. And he reached into his pocket, he thought, and he pulled out his silver money clip emblazoned with the Aztec Calendar Stone, and it was filled with fat Mexican bills in many colors. And he bought it in Oaxaca, and it floated away on a tide of golden notes and quacamole and there, there went his Rolex® too, his six thousand dollar Rolex Oyster® with the solid silver bracelet with the large turquoise stones that he bought in Oaxaca. And there was a curious keening of a choir of little children dressed in feathers and Ana Maria was taking him, she was grabbing him, and she grabbed him with considerable strength, and she dragged him into the chopper. And Gabilán had kept the engine running.
And Gerry stared queerly at Ana—his saviour—wide-eyed, distracted, perhaps in shock, as though he'd crossed some existential border line. He felt light as a hummingbird. The chopper blades made a sickening thumping sound inside his cocoon of Plexiglas and aluminum, like a synthesized bass drum in some faraway disco. The lights. The lights were red. And orange. And yellow. And black. The lights were black.
Ana did not like the way Gerry looked at all and directed Gabilán to a hospital. Gabilán nodded, and the pitch of the rotor whine increased, like a blender masticating citrus pulp.
Gerry felt himself rising, through no effort of his own, into heaven. He flashed on Jesus the Christ and started to giggle, thankful for the times he'd played hooky from Hebrew School and climbed the fence at Saint Cecilia's Catholic School for Girls to watch the volleyball games. He knew enough New Testament to get by. The memory of his pre-accident vision of the Meditation Madonna had begun to intercut with Ana Maria's beatific concern, like he was the lead singer in a new video on that MTV channel and both women wanted his body. He thought about the girl on the tape; how if he was dying, it was right that she should be the last thing he saw. If he relaxed hard enough. Ana stroked his head gently. He gazed into her eyes, feeling fortunate that after he was gone, Ana would still be there to keep UNTITLED safe from cops and cannibals.
Gerry burbled incoherently, something about a time to be born, a time to relax, a time to suffer a bit, a time to cheat on your expense account.
"Just be quiet," soothed Ana. "Gabilán! Vamanos!"
The chopper slipped the surly bonds of earth, light as a hummingbird, rose quickly to a hundred feet or so, banked, and headed towards what is left of the flowers of Xochimilco.
Down below, in front of the Pemex station whose pumps were empty, that old woman held her five hundred pesos tightly. A mariachi rendition of Carole King's Tapestry blared from the studio limousine's Blaupunkt, replacing in time the roar of the gringo's helicopter, which climbed, higher and higher into the sun.
What a very lucky day.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- And the machine ran backwards
a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon
I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
We Were Soldiers