Two weeks passed and I was playing and singing nightly at Nick’s. I’d also learned how to pour a stiff drink or two, and cook up Nick’s extraordinary tacos. The hours were great—six to eleven every night but Monday (bar was closed. Nick said he needed a day off, but I had a sneaking suspicion there was more to it than that. Not sure at all what that was or why I felt it, but I did). The pay wasn’t great. I made eight bucks an hour plus tips, and the tips were, well, a bit meager. Nick’s didn’t exactly attract the big tippers, but the clientele did know how to have a good time, except a few of the regulars who sat slumped on the stools for hours on end.
One guy who went by Mac, I had to rename Mumbles, and it stuck. Mumbles only gave answers to questions or made conversation (if it could be called that) by mumbling. He was a stout old character with deep lines across his forehead and around his eye. Yes, I did say, eye. He was nearly bald and wore an eye patch. As I said, he’s a character. Don’t know how he got the eye patch, but one day I’m sure I’ll decipher that. I think his accent is Irish—I do believe I’ll get that one figured out, too. It just takes some time to be able to translate mumbling.
One evening I slapped him on the shoulder as I came in, guitar strung on my back, Cass tailing me. “Hey, Mumbles. What’s up? How’s it going?”
I think his answer was something like, “Uh, huh, yeah. Good. Hell. Yep. Okay. Don’t know. You?”
I decided to mumble my response, “Me. Too, uh huh. Good. Okay. Think so anyway.”
That was how my friendship began with Mumbles. I think we communicate quite well actually.
Candy who preferred to be called Candace--even though she revealed to me one night that her name was really Candy and not a nickname at all--was also a regular who sat two seats away from Mumbles. I think Candace was once beautiful. She has deep set green eyes, long white blonde hair and a terrific smile when she smiles, but time, a hard life and booze have taken its toll on her. It’s funny what people will reveal after they have a few drinks. I knew all about Candace’s four husbands, hopes of being an actress, her daughter who hadn’t spoken to her in eight years and her cat named Goldy.
And I had learned a bit about Nick himself. He didn’t so much have a ton of show biz contacts as he’d initially indicated. Turns out that Nick was the star of a 1960’s show called “Next Door Neighbors.” He didn’t talk much about it, but I know he played the precocious child on the show.
“How long has it been since you had an acting gig?” I asked during close one night.
He sighed heavily. “Gosh. Long time. I think 1980. Played a bit piece in a The Rockford Files. That was it. Can’t tell you what went wrong, kid, but it did.”
I had a feeling I might have known what went wrong. I’m one to keep my eyes and ears open and I’d noticed Nick on the phone a few times and I over heard him placing bets. Like Mumbles and Candace, Nick liked his liquor too, and something told me his addictions got the best of him. But I wasn’t one to judge. Nick had given me a job and he encouraged me just like Betty LaRue had.
Problem was, the money factor. I loved singing nightly at Nick’s. I loved to sing. Period. And play the guitar. But fifty bucks a night at best was not going to get me far. Cass and I were still holed up in that motel. It stank. It was loud and I was way over it. However, choices were few and far between. I’d been on the apartment hunt on a daily basis. Not much luck with that. Studio apartments in L.A. ran at least twelve hundred bucks a month and then renters wanted first and last month’s rent. On top of that most didn’t rent to dog owners and if they did, they wanted at least a month’s worth of cash for the deposit. You do the math. Yep. That five grand was looking like chump change.
Late at night, lying on the creaking, uncomfortable motel bed with Cass, I found myself in tears. Cass scooched closer to me and licked my hand practically off. She knew I was sad. When the tears didn’t stop coming, she stood and licked my entire face dry (so to speak). I couldn’t help but start laughing, which only wound Cass up even more as she twirled in a circle, her tail swinging back and forth wildly and smacking me in the face with each twirl. “Easy girl. Easy. Stop. Stop it.” I laughed even harder, and then a knock at the door made me stop. Midnight. I’m in a dumpy motel room and a knock at my door. Thank God I had Cass. However, Cass started barking and the knocking grew louder. Uh oh. “Just a minute,” I yelled. “Cass, stop, stop, shhh.”
“This is the manager. Open up the door. Do you have a dog in there?”
“No. No. It’s the TV.”
“Open this door, or I will call the cops.”
I closed my eyes and cringed. “Cass get down, “I whispered. “Down.” She growled. Not at me, but at the door, and usually my dog minds me, but come on, it was midnight and the voice on the other end did not sound happy. I got her off the bed and locked her in the bathroom. I cracked the door and there stood the manager—ugly, overweight, spectacled and in a wife beater and grey sweats. “Hi.” I put on my best fake smile. “Is there a problem?”
He crossed his arms. “You have a dog here.”
“No. It’s the TV. Animal Planet channel.”
“We don’t get the Animal Planet Channel. And the dog is scratching on the bathroom door. I’m not deaf. Plus the maid saw you with the dog. You need to get out.”
“No dogs. No cats. No birds. No lizards. No pets! Get out.”
“Did I stutter?”
“I, I can put her in the van for the night.”
“Nope. Out. Bye bye.” He wiggled his pudgy fingers at me. “You got ten minutes.”
I slammed the door in his face and could hear him say, “I’m charging you for the night as well. I can’t rent the room until it’s fully cleaned and debugged, which I’ll charge you for.”
I swung the door back open. “You can’t do that.”
“Read your contract, honey. I can. No pets. Pets have fleas and I am running a nice place here. I can’t allow someone to stay in this room after a dog has been in it.”
“My dog does not have fleas.” She probably did. I have seen one or two on her, but seriously, this guy was not running the Ritz Carlton by any stretch of the imagination.
“Credit card on file will be charged for fumigation. Good night. You now have eight minutes.”
I slammed the door again, sighed, had no time to cry, and took Cass out of the bathroom. I quickly threw my things into my suitcase and Cass and I left the motel without a clue as to where we would go.
We drove around for thirty minutes with me in a daze and Cass curled up in the back seat. I finally decided the best idea would be to park in a residential area and just get up early in the morning and move. I found a quiet street that was well lit, parked and climbed in back with my dog. Was this how people wound up on the streets? I couldn’t go back home. Not after all the faith Betty had in me, and I didn’t want to prove to my dad that I couldn’t make it on my own. I also didn’t want to wind up on the streets pan handling with Cass, looking sad and desperate. I could ask Nick for more money. I could ask him if I could work the day shift, but I knew that wouldn’t work either. Nick had hired a nice man to bartend during the day. His name was Juan and he had three children to take care of because his wife was very ill. I could not do that and I knew that Nick did not have the money to pay me more. I also knew that I didn’t want to give up the singing. It was all I had besides Cass and she counted on me.
I put a blanket over me and Cass and eventually I slept, only to be woken as the sun came up with someone mowing the lawn. Who mows their lawn at seven in the morning? It didn’t matter. I needed to move anyway before the neighbors wondered about the beat up van with the homeless lady and her dog inside it. Reality hit me then that we were living out of my van. Reality also hit that I needed a shower. I was determined today was the day I got a day job and found a new place for me and Cass.
I washed up and put on some war paint inside a McDonald’s restroom and got me and Cass a couple of egg McMuffins. I put U2 into my tape player. I needed to update and upgrade to an Ipod but the tape player still worked, and I played Beautiful Day, singing all the lyrics as Cass howled out along with me.
Full stomach, sort of clean and an attitude adjustment by none other than Bono himself, and I was ready to take on the day. Little did I know what was in store for me. By eleven o’ clock I received a phone call from Nordstrom. They needed a new MAC girl! For the record, MAC is the best, the best makeup in the world. Everyone who is anyone wears MAC. Madonna wears MAC. I don’t, but that’s because I can’t afford to wear MAC, but thank my lucky stars that my mother took such great pride in teaching me how to make up my face and hers and everyone else’s who lived in Brady. And we didn’t do gaudy. We seriously tore pages out of the fashion magazines and immolated the faces on those pages, and I gotta say that although I don’t wear much of the stuff myself, I’m good at putting it on others. I jumped on it. I was going to get this job. I almost got the van up to sixty on the freeway. It was shaking.
I walked in, tried to be as sophisticated as possible wearing all black because black is the MAC theme and I got hired. I did. That night I celebrated at Nick’s with a glass of cheap Merlot and a hamburger.
Nick toasted me. “You’re on your way, kid. You are, and speaking of, I have a guy who is a producer. One of the best, coming in next week to hear you.”
“Can’t say, but I can tell you he’s the man and I told him you were terrific. He’s excited to meet you.”
“Great,” I said but a little uncomfortable that Nick wouldn’t tell me who the guy was. Why the secret? Why the mystery? But that was Nick. Sort of a mystery himself.
Nick held up his beer and hollered, “Everyone…” (everyone consisted of Mumbles and Candace and three other people I didn’t know), “Cheers to Evie. She got a great new job today and she’s going to be the next music sensation!”
Mumbles stood up then and mumbled something like, “Evie, good deal girl. The best. Good girl.”
“To Evie,” everyone sang out.
Maybe this was the City of Angels of after all.
Cass and I offered to lock up that night and although it felt sneaky, we slept in one of the booths inside the bar and I got ready for my first day of work the next morning in the bathroom at Nick’s. I knew that Nick wouldn’t be opening until ten, so I had time to get ready and get out. The one problem was, what was I going to do with Cass? I decided that I didn’t have a choice and I would have to leave her in the van and crack the windows for her. I’d check on her at lunch.
So, I started my new job working at the Nordstrom on La Cieniga at The MAC counter. I liked it. I really did. However, I was exhausted by the third day. Here I was sleeping with my dog in a booth at Nick’s every night, closing the bar for him, and trying hard to get out of there in the mornings before he came in. Then I checked on Cass on my breaks and took her out for quick walks. I hated leaving her in the van all day. I was still trying to find a place but my hours at MAC and then playing at Nick’s weren’t too conducive for finding an apartment.
At the end of the week, I was at my wit’s end and thankful that only two days away and I would have a day off. I was determined to take the first apartment I could find and now that I had two steady jobs I felt reasonably comfortable that I could make it.
I was finishing up for the day. The store would be closing in thirty minutes, which meant that I would be running from the store to Nick’s.
A young woman approached the counter. “Hi. I need a new look. My sister is the gorgeous one and I’m tired of being called cute Brenda. Can you do something for me? Can you make me hot?”
“Well, we are getting ready to close.” I really did not want to do a makeover. I just wanted to get out of there, take care of Cass and eat something before I set up at Nick’s.
“This is important. I need your help. I want to look fabulous for a major party tonight.”
I eyed my boss who was watching me from the behind the cash register and smiled. “Of course I can make you look hot.” Thirty minutes later, and Brenda looked like a movie star. Even my boss said that she couldn’t have done it better. I gave the pixied haired blonde, blue-eyed girl that smoky eye shadow look to bring out the blue blue in her eyes and a soft pink brushed across the cheeks, with just the right peachy pink gloss to give her that pouty kissable look. What I did not know as I rushed out the doors to go to my second job that evening was that Brenda’s look would change my life and my lifestyle in less than twenty-four hours.
Next day back behind the counter, this guy approaches me (scared me half to death, too, because he was all decked out in black, real sleek like, slicked back hair, dark eyes—very Godfatheresque, but handsome in a slime-ball way). He cleared his throat and asked, “Are you Evie Duncan?”
“Who wants to know?” I replied.
He handed me a card with the name “Simone,” written on it. “Simone?”
Cute and slimy replied, “Yes, and I’m Dwight Jenkins and I represent Simone. You know, Simone.”
I took a step back. “Am I on one of those TV shows where y’all have hidden cameras? And are you talking about the Simone?”
“No hidden cameras I can assure you, and yes we are speaking of pop star Simone.”
My head started spinning because it had to be that Simone heard me playing at Nick’s. Maybe Nick really did know people in high places and maybe the producer guy who was coming to listen to me next week was her producer. Oh wow, would Betty La Rue be so proud and my mom and daddy! How had I missed seeing Simone at Nick’s? When had she come in and heard me? She had to have been in disguise. That’s how those celebs do it when they want to go out, they go all incognito.
“You made up her sister Brenda yesterday,” Jenkins said.
“Brenda was Simone’s sister?”
He nodded. “Simone was so impressed by the way you made Brenda look that she would like to meet you.”
“Okay,” I stuttered. “I have to sing tonight at this place called Nick’s. I’m off tomorrow.”
“I don’t think you understand,” he cut in. “She’d like to meet you now.”
“I have a job here. I can’t just leave. I have bills to pay and my dog to take care of.”
Dwight Jenkins called my boss Tisha over. “Evie will not be needing this job any longer. She’s going with me.”
“Wait a minute,” I said. “I can’t do that.”
“Simone would like you to be her personal makeup artist. The pay will be a bit more than here in the cosmetics department.” He cocked an eyebrow.
“What? Is this for real?”
Tish came around the counter and put her arm around me. “You have to go Evie. Something like this is a once in lifetime opportunity. Do it, girl.”
I hugged her goodbye and followed Jenkins. He escorted me to a limo where waiting inside was Simone and Brenda.
I was speechless as I sat down across from them. Jenkins climbed in the front with the chauffer. Simone smiled. “Thank you for coming.”
As if I had a choice, right? I studied Simone in total awe. She is a true beauty—long blonde hair, big blue eyes, a body men would love to ravish and women would kill for, and she had a voice that had arenas around the country sold out months in advance of her concerts. She was a cross between a younger Madonna and a Mariah Carey. To be sitting across from her was mind blowing and my stomach did this swirly gonna make me puke thing that I hate, and that always happens to me when I get nervous.
“You are so genius,” Simone said to me. She took Brenda’s face in her hands and squeezed, bunching it up like a fat goldfish trying to breathe. “The hottest guy at this party we were at came up to my sister last night and hooked up with her. Her not me, and I was so working it. Have no clue how he didn’t look my way, except for she did look hot. Usually she looks kind of like a dork. A cute dork, but a dork.” She let go of Brenda’s face.
Brenda rubbed her cheeks. “Thanks sis.”
“She was smoking hot and I asked her who did her face and she told me this chick at Nordy’s. I’m like I so have to meet this chick, and well here we are, and guess what? It is your fucking lucky biggest day of your life.” Simone smiled, shiny white teeth—had to have been to one of those teeth whitening places. Teeth are not naturally that white.
“Really?” I asked. “Thank you for the compliment.” I wasn’t sure what to say. I mean, what do you say to someone with an ego the size of Los Angeles itself, who has graced the cover of Vogue and Bizarre and also won a handful of Grammy’s, and talks like a truck driver? I almost had to pinch myself that I wasn’t dreaming, but then the car made a quick turn and Simone spilled her glass of champagne in my lap.
Without an apology, she said, “Yes, really. You are my new personal makeup chick and check this out…” she rolled down the glass between us and the driver. “Harvey, take us over to Blake’s place. I’m gonna show my new makeup chick here,” she glanced at me, “Hon, what the fuck is your name?”
“Right. Evie, my new makeup chick is getting new digs.” She rolled the window back up.
“I’m confused,” I said. Brenda poured me a glass of champagne. “It’s not even noon. I can’t drink. I don’t drink usually and not before noon, definitely not.”
“First, confusion around my sister happens a lot,” Brenda said.
Simone punched Brenda lightly in the arm. “Ha, ha, so funny. Little sis thinks she’s soooo funny.”
Brenda nodded. “And two…” She held up two fingers, “if you’re hanging with us, which you will be, because big sis doesn’t go far without her makeup and the one who puts it on her, you are going to have to learn to party like a rock star.”
“Drink up.” Simone clinked my glass. “Cheers. Here’s your new home.”
I looked out the window and my jaw dropped. I sucked back the champagne because I just knew this had to be some really weird reality TV show with hidden cameras everywhere. “What do you mean?”
“It’s like this Edie,” Simone started.
She waved a hand in my face. “My pal Blake who is this big producer guy, friend of mine, is in Europe for like a year or something stupid like that, and he needs a house sitter. I volunteered Brenda, but she says that she’s afraid of the house and won’t do it.”
“Duh. Place is creepy.” Brenda poured herself another glass of champagne.
“Shut-up,” Simone said. “So part of you coming on board as my makeup chick, you get to live in luxury baby. This place is way cool. Like hot.”
I had to agree with her. Palm trees and an iron gate, kind of had a 60’s retro, Palm Springs look going on. But what was the catch? I mean, was she serious? I could actually live in this place? “Can I bring my dog?”
“You can bring fifty fucking dogs for all I care. What do you say, Edie? You in, makeup chick, or what?”
Evie, Edie, makeup chick, whatever—I didn’t give a damn what she wanted to call me. I was definitely in.