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The day before my fortieth birthday was my last day as Mrs. Gone. For nine years, every American who turned on a television set knew me as their wacky neighbor with the solution to their household cleaning problems. They’re Gone! That’s right! Gone cleans everything! Which it didn’t. I bought it once (not that the Gone! company would ever give me a free bottle) and never bought it again. That didn’t mean I wouldn’t endorse it on national television for a cut above union scale.
Being a product spokesperson was good work. I owned a sunny condo in the fashionable Los Angeles suburb of Toluca Lake. I drove a relatively new BMW coupe. The cleaning lady came on Tuesdays. I ate take-out or in restaurants and never cooked. I took yoga occasionally, and occasionally showed up at acting class. I auditioned for and sometimes got parts in low-budget films.
I thought of it as a career until the day before my fortieth birthday when, on the set of my latest Gone! commercial, the director shouted, “That’s a wrap!”
As usual, I handed over the empty product bottle to the props guy, returned my earrings to the costume girl and, avoiding the candy bowl at the craft services table, strode directly out the studio doors.
The director followed me to my trailer. “Casey,” he said.
He dug his Nike toe into the asphalt of the studio lot. I waited. He cleared his throat and stared at his feet, like a kid who’s afraid to tell his mom he got a bad report card. Finally he looked me in the eye and squinted, moving his scalp and making his lonely forehead hairs sprout like weeds.
“This is our last spot. They fired us.”
“Wow. What’d you do?”
“All of us. The client’s ‘re-thinking’ the campaign.”
My empty stomach flinched. “Can we talk to them?”
“They left already. Whaddaya gonna do, call ‘em?”
Actors don’t call clients. Actors call their agents, agents call casting directors, casting directors call producers and producers call clients. Or nobody calls anybody.
“I’ll work for scale.”
“It’s not about money, Casey. They want to appeal to a new demographic.” He looked away and rubbed his temples. “You gonna be all right?”
“Sure,” I lied, the acid level building in my stomach inch by inch. “I’ve got irons in the fire.”
“Yeah, irons,” he grumbled. “That’s what I feed my family on.” He slumped away.
I gripped the handrail that ran alongside the trailer’s metal steps. I knew what it meant to re-think a campaign. I knew what a “new demographic” was. It was younger. I lied about my age but it didn’t matter. Hollywood had discovered the truth and lost interest in me. Actually, no. Hollywood had never been interested in the first place.
Inside the trailer my hands shook while I changed from Mrs. Gone’s flowered, cotton blouse and pressed khakis into my long-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. I zipped on my gorgeous, high-heeled boots (a Rodeo Drive splurge), slung my giant, lime green purse/bag/thing over my shoulder and stepped out into the Hollywood sun, hoping to get off the lot without talking to anyone.
The props guy wheeled a cart across the tarmac. “Have a good Fourth!” he called after me. Obviously, he hadn’t gotten the word. Another voice, I think it was the make-up woman, said, “Happy birthday, Casey!”
It would have been nice of me to respond. But I was in a hurry to get lost.
I turned the BMW north on Cahuenga Boulevard, blasting the air conditioner. Traffic was heavy so I cut east on Fountain to take Vine Street to the freeway. A bad idea. That route took me past the Motion Picture Academy’s Pickford Center, a nicely-timed reminder that I would never win an Oscar.
Vine wasn’t much better than Cahuenga. Forced to wait at light after light, I gazed out of my tinted windows at billboards advertising Hollywood blockbusters to the trapped traffic. A hapless beggar pirouetted amidst the cars, singing and shaking his 7-11 cup of coins. For a backdrop he had an old pawn shop, an empty bookstore and a brand new Schwab’s Pharmacy, two miles east of where the famous original had been demolished long before I moved to Los Angeles.
I inched the car uphill past Sunset toward Hollywood Boulevard. Out-of-towners cruised the streets, hoping to spot a movie star. It amused my cynical side that among the tourists a girl (always a girl) teetered in high heels and tight pants, glancing from side to side to see who was seeing her. Girls like her paraded through Hollywood every day, hoping to be discovered.
I had not been prey on the streets of Hollywood. I’d been smart. Having been born on Independence Day was significant to me only in that I depended on no one. But Hollywood was a business, and my only current credit was Mrs. Gone. It wasn’t exactly awards show material, but it was what I had, and even that would soon be as valid as last year’s box office flop. If nothing else came up I’d eventually have to get a real job. I didn’t know how to do anything except act and I’d proven to be less than stellar at that. Could I make mortgage payments waiting tables? People would recognize me, and the thought of Mrs. Gone saying, “Would you like fresh ground pepper on that?” was too horrible to contemplate.
My nose tingled as the BMW finally burst onto the freeway. Would a normal person cry? I wouldn’t. In less than two hours, Mike was returning from the set of his reality show in Mexico City. He might stop by on his way home from the airport. A forty-year-old woman whose boyfriend thinks she’s thirty-seven doesn’t need puffy eyes.
I grabbed a tissue from the box on the console and blew my nose. Then I had a great idea: surprise Mike at the airport! Even if he couldn’t get away that evening, we’d have a few minutes together. I hadn’t seen him in a week. I’d just lost my job. I deserved a dose of comfort before he went home to his wife.