Blue Like Tom Cruise Jazz Clubs
Ron Riekki

While doing telemarketing I realized why the word phony begins with phone. This was L.A., so the room was filled with actors and directors and screenwriters and sculptors. Basically everyone artistic who wouldn't do porn. Everyone who wouldn't commit suicide. Who refused to move back home.

H.R., when they hire you, makes you feel like you're saving the world, raising money for leftist charities, but you do it in a hard-core capitalistic way. The quotas are brutal. They keep the top 25%. Everybody else gets dropped. New people every week.

At any time, Sheila can listen in on your phone conversations. The guy next to me is a punk rock drummer and he says he can hear the click when she comes on, but I don't know how punk rock hasn't taken his hearing.

I'm really good at being fake though. I'm one of the rare ones born and raised in Hollywood. All my friends are white rappers who pretend they're free-styling when they've practiced those rhymes ad nauseam. Or else they're actors who use monologue quotes to try to pick up girls in tiki bars in NoHo. There's no such thing as having a girlfriend in L.A. You only have someone you're fucking in hopes that they'll help out your career. The worst are the Christian actors. They have to pretend to believe in God while giving blowjobs to Christian directors.

On the day I know I'm quitting, I start talking with each person on the other end of the line like I'm insane. I use Daffy Duck voices and Christopher Walken impressions and tell people not to give me any money and so they give me more than you could imagine. Life is stupid. Life is the opposite of MENSA. Life is your uncle after he crashes on his Harley without wearing a helmet. I make the most money on the day that I want to quit. Sheila begs me to stay. She doesn't care about inappropriate behavior. She cares about results. All that matters in anti-corporate fundraising is corporate bottom lines. Money talks and sings and eats and whistles and showers and gets you pregnant.

I go out for bad drinks with the drummer and a Christian art-film actress and Kale, a friend of mine who's doing extra work on a Tom Cruise movie. He tells me he can get us background gigs on the set if we want. He's screwing a casting director assistant's assistant who can probably make things happen. He says if we all get in the same scene, we could probably kidnap Tom Cruise after the shoot. He says that the security is really lax. It's a Scientology thing. Tom has faith the extras won't throw him into the trunk of an on-location car. I call tell he really wants to do it. I say yes.

On the set, they tell us not to talk to Tom Cruise, not to look Tom Cruise in the eye, not to ask Tom Cruise any questions (which is technically talking to him), not to take any photos of him, definitely not to talk to any of the paparazzi accumulating in the park across the street from our building, not to even so much as walk near Suri Cruise if she happens to come to set, and the list keeps going on. I glance over at Kale, giving him a knowing look, but realizing in my heart and brain and other key Wizard of Oz body parts that there's no way in hell he's going to do it, but I want to see if he's going to make some kind of attempt. He's poker-faced, roulette-faced, Keno-faced.

We're in a jazz club. It's not really a jazz club. It's a warehouse they've made into a jazz club and the set is freaking amazing. L.A. feels like red-light district Louisiana. It smells like carpentry, but it looks so real you almost want to catch herpes from a prostitute.

After the fifth take, I see Tom Cruise approach Kale. I watch peripherally as Kale actually talks with Frank T.J. Mackey. Kale is speaking with Jerry Maguire, with Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, with Ron Fucking Kovic. I expect the plastic bag stuffed in his back pocket to come out and go over Maverick's head, but Kale just says a few words back, nods, and goddamn Charlie Babbitt pats Kale on the back and everyone goes back to one.

We do the scene over.

It's a dead scene.

An exposition scene.

Tom Cruise nods in the scene. He pats a guy on the back in the scene. It was almost like he was practicing on Kale.

I've been watching Thomas Cruise Mapother IV this entire time and I've noticed no difference from when we're filming and when we're not. At all times, he fucking glows. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people like me and Kale. We're going to live lives of background acting. We don't kidnap Tom Cruises. We don't have sex with Katie Holmeses. We'll never give birth to Suris.

We finish the scene and I go over to Kale and he tells me that Tom Cruise is the nicest human being to ever live. I ask what they talked about and Kale says, "You should see his gums. I mean up-close. He must put lipstick on them."

We do the scene a few more times.

Background acting is a very beautiful Hell. It's a safe Hades.

In the scene, with each take, over and over and over, I walk up to a fake girl dressed in a fake fur coat and I hand her a fake drink. She takes it and we fake-talk, our mouths moving in ways that wouldn't make any actual words if we were speaking.

Over and over, in the scene, we pretend we're real people in an amazing place with so much potential. And then we do it again and again.

Ron Riekki's most recent book is THE WAY NORTH, an edited volume of works from and/or about Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His short, "The Family Jewel," is included in the inaugural BEST SMALL FICTIONS volume, which is just out from Queen's Ferry Press.

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