PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 13

In the ensuing few weeks Gil proved to be an apt student. He settled in behind the wheel comfortably enough once he managed to find the lever that moved the front seat back, for in its original position he found his knees only a scant few inches from the steering wheel. But very quickly he learned the fundamentals. The car he thought was ridiculously easy to drive. It was so unlike his only previous automobile experience, that of watching his father wrestle the big Buicks and Oldsmobiles that he favored, and marveling that his father could even see over the immense expanse of hood. In the Honda Gil, by sitting upright behind the wheel, could literally see the pavement eighteen inches in front of him. Furthermore he found the car to be so maneuverable that he could make a U-turn in only two lanes of traffic without having to stop and change direction.

By the middle of June, after having driven in just about any condition—days and nights in town, days and nights on the freeways—Natalie pronounced him ready. As he was between productions she drove him to the nearest DMV office on the following Wednesday morning, having been able to get the morning off from her job. Gorman had been remarkably easy to persuade, having said, “Hell, let the damn phones ring. It’s no skin off my nose.”

So Natalie waited in the DMV office while Gil took the written test and passed it, then waited while they scheduled him for a driver’s test. By four that afternoon he had passed both tests and was now the proud possessor of a shiny new California state driver’s license.

To celebrate he drove Natalie in the Honda to the nearest drive-in restaurant where they wolfed down large cheeseburgers, copious amounts of french fries, and a chocolate shake for each.

Natalie was not unaware of the fact that by literally giving Gil the keys to his freedom he would no longer have to depend on her chauffeuring. So she set about for other ways to keep him close to her since by late June they had pretty much exhausted the script project and he was waiting for her rewrites which, between spending time with Gil and working at her job, were taking more time than she had had expected.

So, holding her breath and crossing her fingers, she decided to take the next big step.

As Gil had quickly found a parking garage in his neighborhood near the Westlake shopping center, he was now able to drive himself to Natalie’s apartment. He arrived there as usual around 6PM on the last Friday in June. After she buzzed the entrance door open and he had gone up to her apartment and rapped on the door, she flung it open and immediately informed him that she had some great news.

“Okay,” Gil said noncommittally, entering the apartment and going over to sit in his usual place on the sofa. “What is it?”

Natalie was obviously in one of her frenetic moods for she was pacing around the living room and waving her hands with excitement. “I found us a great place to live!” she blurted out. “You’re going to love it! It’s a great two-bedroom luxury apartment over in a great part of town, just inside West Hollywood. It’s great, it’s got parking, it’s got wall-to-wall carpeting, it’s got a sundeck, it’s even got a swimming pool!”

Gil looked at her steadily. “That sounds great, Natalie. But do I get to see this place before you move me in?”

She didn’t like the slight edge to his voice so she immediately backpedaled. “Why of course, Gil, don’t be ridiculous. After all,” she said with what might be construed as helpless femininity, “I’m depending on you to write the check.”

Gil appeared slightly mollified. “Well, okay,” he said. “When can we go see it. And, oh, give me some details, will you.” He wasn’t really worried about the money because even though he had worked only sporadically since December he had lived fairly frugally, his only expenses being dinners out with Natalie, his new car, and the new wardrobe she had picked out for him in the spring. So he still had, he thought without looking at his checkbook, somewhere around ten thousand left in his account.

“Of course,” she said, now becoming more businesslike as Gil seemed to relax. “Well, as I told you, it’s a two-bedroom apartment, wall-to-wall carpet, luxury—well, anyway, you’ll see it for yourself. The facts are, it’s located on Santa Monica near Fairfax. It’s three hundred dollars a month—I know, I know, that sounds like a lot, but I’m spending a hundred seventy-five a month and you’re probably spending a hundred, so it’s really not that much more if we split it. Oh, and in order to get an extra parking place for your car, it’s an extra twenty-five. So, with first, last, and deposit, we can move in for eight hundred. How does that sound?”

She held her breath while Gil thought about it for a moment. “Okay,” he said, “you’re right. I’ve got enough money now, why shouldn’t I have a better place to live? So, okay,” he said again, “when can we see this place?”

“I made an appointment for us to see it tomorrow at eleven,” she admitted. “I hope that’s okay.”

“Yeah,” he said, “sounds good.”

So the next morning they did go see it, and Gil did love it, and Gil did write the check for the full amount on the spot, which the real estate agent quickly snatched and stashed in her purse, all the time talking a mile a minute about how much they were going to love the apartment, the building, the neighborhood, the shopping—she would have gone on like this for quite some time if Natalie hadn’t taken her by the shoulders and subtly moved her toward the apartment door. After surrendering the keys the woman exited, and from Natalie’s point of view hopefully never to be seen again.

The only drawback was that the apartment was unfurnished except for appliances, carpets, and drapes. So Natalie helpfully extracted another five hundred dollars from Gil and said she would take care of furnishing the place.

Gil, for his part now fully sold on not only the apartment but the idea of being able to sleep every night with his first girlfriend and sex partner, brushed her off with an offhand “Sure, Natalie, whatever you say,” as he continued looking around the apartment in awe. He had never seen a place this luxurious before, unless you counted his few brief hours at DeVille’s Thanksgiving party. He had been brought up from birth in a large but ramshackle old wood-framed farmhouse on the outskirts of Ben Allyn, Pennsylvania, and at the age of eighteen had gone straight to a severe dormitory room at Eastern Pennsylvania University in Philadelphia. Upon his move to Los Angeles he had stayed in a crummy but cheap hotel room for a few nights before locating his present hovel on Alvarado Street. So this place to him was luxury indeed. After he had finished visiting the five rooms (six, if you counted the bathroom) at least three times each, he grinned his boyish grin at Natalie, took her in his arms and said, “Come on, Nat, let’s go check out the pool.”

The next weekend being Fourth of July weekend Natalie had no problem in organizing the move. Gil had given her the keys to his old apartment and Natalie had hired for forty bucks a guy with a big truck. He was a huge black man named Jimbo who looked like something out of Uncle Remus. Though he wore a trim T-shirt, blue jeans, and work boots, Natalie had no trouble picturing him bare-chested in a one-strap over-the-shoulder overalls and barefoot. When she told him to do something his unvarying reply was “Yess’um.”

So by Friday night she had managed not only to get the new furniture that she had bought at odd-lot and discount furniture stores, but had moved the contents of her apartment and Gil’s apartment as well.

Gil had been otherwise engaged that Friday since he was still making the rounds and searching for work. Natalie had told him to come to the new place by Friday evening and when he arrived she showed him where to park his car. Then together they went into their new home and began the task of settling in.

Natalie had also thoughtfully had the phone service activated and a couple of phones put in, one for the living room and one for the kitchen. “We can always get one for the bedroom later,” she said and Gil agreed. She had already decided that since they would be sleeping together anyway on their new sexy king-sized bed, that they would use the other bedroom as a kind of study for both of them.

She had also decided to give a big housewarming party the next day and spent much of Friday evening testing out the new phones by calling up potential invitees. The next day, Saturday, by one o’clock in the afternoon Gil found himself hosting his first party ever. In attendance were Mr. Goldblatt from Natalie’s deli, who had thoughtfully brought with him a large selection of cold cuts and salads in exchange for Natalie’s promise not to desert him now that she lived way out here, to which she readily agreed. After all, driving to a store thirty miles away or more is not an uncommon practice for Angelinos.

Derek was in attendance, having brought with him a lid of some very respectable and powerful pot which everyone enjoyed, even old Mr. Goldblatt. Even the perpetually grinning Jimbo was in attendance, having supplied a case of Lucky Lager for the event.

So, after several hours of alternately smoking, drinking, giggling, speed rapping, and satisfying severe cases of the munchies, the revelers departed and Gil and Natalie found themselves alone in their very own apartment. Gil grinned his boyish grin once more at Natalie and said, “Hey, let’s go break in the bed.”

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