PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 8

When she awoke the next morning completely refreshed, she looked at her alarm clock and immediately knew the reason for her feeling of regeneration. After the plane trip and the labors and anxieties of the previous day, she discovered that it was nearly noon and she had slept for over fourteen hours.

Stretching and yawning, she changed out of her sleep-rumpled clothes and replaced them with an ancient Columbia University sweatshirt and a pair of skin-tight faded blue jeans. She quickly made and ate a light breakfast of black coffee and toast, then set about her final strategic evaluation of the condition of her apartment and the sufficiency of food and drink. Her careful attention to detail would have done credit to any military commander about to launch a major offensive, which in her case was not far from the truth.

After having satisfied herself that everything was as ready as it could be, she realized that she still had several hours to wait before she could pick up Gil. So, nervous with anticipation, she turned on the television and tried to interest herself in the seemingly endless college bowl games traditionally played on New Year’s Eve. By four o’clock she realized that she was so preoccupied with other matters that she couldn’t tell whether she was still watching the Hula Bowl or whether it had somehow sequed into the Gator Bowl. So she gave up, turned off the TV, and decided that she needed something to calm her nerves.

She went to the refrigerator and after rummaging around for several minutes was able to locate and extract a can of Olympia beer. Then she returned to her chair in the living room and, with the calming effects of the beer was able to pass the remaining few hours scanning the trades for any juicy gossip about filmdom they might contain.

On the other side of town in a dingy little garden-level room on Alvarado Street, the same hour of six o’clock found Gil once again nervously pacing its narrow confines.

This is getting to be a habit, he thought, after glancing at his alarm clock for the tenth time in less than two minutes. He felt both nervous and excited with anticipation, and every few minutes one would predominate over the other. Finally he realized it came to the same thing: He was, for the first time in his life, going to spend the night with a person of the opposite sex not related to him. He wondered how he could feel both worried and elated about the same thing.
But just as he was about to launch into a painful psychological self-examination of his hopes, fears, desires and trepidations, he was literally saved by the bell. That is, the bell of the telephone ringing in the hall. His always quick reflexes sprang into action and he was able to lift the phone’s receiver just as the second ring had begun.

“Hello?” he said, his breathlessness not wholly due to physical exertion.

“Hi Gil,” purred a soft voice on the other end, “remember me?” Not waiting for an answer she continued, “Just about to jump into my car, pick you up in twenty minutes. So make like a Boy Scout and be prepared.”

He was becoming more used to her flippant manner of speech by now so he replied in a steady voice “Sure, Nat. I’m ready now. Should I bring anything with me?”
“No,” she replied, “yourself and the clothes on your back are all that is required.” And she hung up.

After hearing the dial tone Gil hung up the phone and returned to his room. Looking out the window he saw that it was cool and gray but there was no sign of any rain, so he decided on just a light jacket to cover his thin sports shirt and what he called his good pair of jeans, the ones that only had one small hole in the left knee.

Not too many minutes later he heard the unmistakable sound of Natalie’s horn and responded quickly, locking his door and bounding up the few steps and out of the building, then slowing to what he hoped would appear a casual walk towards the curb where she was parked.

Reaching the car he opened the door and slid into the passenger seat.

“Miss me?” Natalie sweetly inquired.

“Sure did,” Gil mumbled.

Without further comment an apparently satisfied Natalie put the bug in gear and accelerated away from the curb. Within half an hour they were on Vermont and crossing Hollywood Boulevard into that fashionably bohemian section of town which was called Los Feliz and where Natalie lived. A few moments later she had pulled up to the front of a modest but respectable-looking apartment building on Franklin just off Vermont. As it was only a few minutes after seven the winter sun had long since set. It seemed much later however as the shouts of early revelers and loud music coming from the nearby bars were already in full swing.
As they started up the walk to her building Natalie casually turned to Gil and, gesturing toward the sounds of celebration told him, “I always stay home on New Year’s Eve. I mean, who wants to get caught up in all that drunken idiocy. How about you, Gil? What do you usually do on New Year’s Eve?”

“Not much,” he admitted as they reached the building’s entrance and walked through the outer door and across the foyer to the elevator. “I’ve only been here a couple of years and I didn’t have much choice, not having any money to celebrate with.”

“That so?” she replied as the elevator arrived. They entered it and she pushed the button for the third floor. “Well,” she continued, “all that’s about to change, isn’t it?”

“I hope so,” said Gil.

“How about back home?” she persisted. “What did you do in that little town you told me you came from?”

The elevator had stopped. As Natalie led him down the hall to her apartment, number 304, he told her, “New Year’s Eve wasn’t a really big deal there. Mostly what we did was about the same thing we did on Christmas Eve—go to the Cathedral, sing hymns, then have coffee and cake at midnight and go home.”

“Sounds exciting,” she said, putting the key in the lock and opening the door. She led him in and Gil looked around.

“Nice place,” he said. “But then anything looks good compared to my place,” he joked feebly.

“I’ve got a feeling,” said Natalie, removing her coat and draping it over one of the room’s two armchairs, “that that’s about to change as well. Have a seat,” she continued quickly, pointing a puzzled-looking Gil towards the overstuffed sofa. Then she added, “Give me your coat.” Gil did and she tossed it on top of hers. “Well,” she said brightly, “hungry yet? I’ve got all kinds of deli—corned beef, pastrami, roast beef, turkey, you name it. And a surprisingly complete array of deli salads. Or,” she said in a lower mock seductive tone, “maybe a little drink first.”
Surprising himself Gil said, “Yeah, a drink sounds good. What have you got?”

“I’ve got some not disgustingly cheap vodka and orange juice or 7-Up.”

“That would be great,” said Gil. “How about vodka and 7-Up not too strong?”

“Coming right up,” she said professionally and walked briskly over to the kitchenette and returned a scant few moments later with a couple of tall vodka cocktails. Handing one to Gil she sat down beside him on the sofa and raised her glass in a toast.

“Well,” she said, “here’s to a Happy New Year. Which,” she checked her watch as if for verification, “is scheduled to occur in a little more than five hours from now.”

“I’ll drink to that,” said Gil, quickly taking a sip of his drink and nodding to her appreciatively. “What a weird year,” he commented. “I’ve gone from being totally broke as recently as Halloween to being filthy rich. At least for the moment,” he amended. Then he blushed. “And on top of that, taking a pretty girl to a fancy Hollywood restaurant and bullshitting with Jack Nicholson.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” she said, taking a large gulp of her drink and making a little bow. “Unless you’re talking about some other girl.”

“No, no,” said Gil hastily, blushing more furiously than ever. “I meant you.”
She looked at him with mock relief. “Oh, well. That’s all right then.”

As Gil worked his way toward the bottom of his glass with increasingly steady progress he began to relax more in her presence and they spent the next couple of hours talking animatedly about their mutually favorite subjects—films, actors, and Hollywood gossip. Gil had the slight edge on films and film history, but Natalie had him beat hands down when it came to the doings of actors and other Hollywood gossip.

By nine they were still conversing animatedly, having paused only to allow Natalie to refill their drinks twice. Finally she sighed and put down her glass, which was nearly empty again, on a nearby end table then turned to him and said, “I don’t mind admitting I’m getting a little high. So I could sure go for some substantial food. What do you say?”

“That would be great,” said Gil. “I’m sorry I got so wrapped up in the talk I completely forgot about food.”

“Well, now that you’ve realized it, what do you want?”

“I just noticed I’m pretty hungry,” he admitted. “But I’m not particular. Whatever you’ve got is okay with me.”

“Tell you what,” she said, rising. “Why don’t we do it the easy way—buffet-style. I’ll put all the meat and breads and salads and stuff on the table and you can make for yourself whatever you want. I’ll also put out the ketchup, the mustard and, if you’re a philistine, the mayonnaise, and you can take your pick of whatever.”

“Sounds great,” said Gil, leaning his head back on a large sofa pillow and emitting something between a belch and a hiccup. “Oops,” he said, “pardon me.” He was beginning to slur his words slightly but Natalie appeared not to notice and once again headed toward the kitchenette.

Within half an hour they had both waded in and laid waste to nearly half the food, at which point they both staggered back to the sofa and collapsed there, sighing and belching contentedly. Gil found to his relief that the consumption of mass quantities of food had taken the edge off of his alcoholic near-stupor and he could once again think and speak reasonably intelligibly.

After a few minutes Natalie remarked, “Well, that was good. You want some coffee, Gil? You do you want to continue the party?”

“I guess I’m up for just about anything,” replied Gil, surprising himself once again.

“That’s the spirit!” she exclaimed. “But let’s stretch it out a little. We’ve got nearly two and a half hours to go until midnight and the vodka bottle is almost empty. However, I’ve got a six-pack of Heineken in the fridge that I’m going to need help with.”

“Sure, I’m game, give me one.”

Obediently she rose, went to the fridge, and popped the caps from two bottles of Heineken, then returned, handed one to Gil, and settled herself beside him once again.

And so for the next couple of hours they fell to talking about more serious matters—their futures, both alone and together, in terms of what they each thought they could bring to the table. Natalie began talking about her screenplays in general and what she hoped to accomplish by getting them filmed and released so that they would find a specific but hopefully large and receptive audience.

“Why don’t you let me read a couple,” offered Gil, “and I’ll tell you what I think.”

At this she shook her head violently. “No, no,” she cautioned, “not yet.” She put a finger on his lips. “Tonight is for pleasure. Next year is for work. We’ll start trying to find you jobs as soon as I get back to the office and deal with the piled-up correspondence. Then after that we’ll make some time for us to both go over the screenplays and you can tell me how you think they can be improved. Sound okay?”

“Sure,” agreed Gil. “Whatever you think best, Natalie.”

By this time it was eleven and they had each nearly finished two bottles of beer. “Tell you what,” said Natalie. “I’m gonna turn on the TV if that’s okay with you and see if we can catch a recap of the Times Square festivities.”
Without waiting for an answer she did so and sure enough, NBC was showing the taped events leading up to the dropping of the ball. As the crowd on the TV began to chant the countdown, both Gil and Natalie raised their fists over their heads, pumping them as they both yelled with mock fervor, “Ten! Nine! Eight!…”
By the time NBC had switched back to the local festivities they were both giggling inanely. “I still get a kick out of that,” confessed Natalie, wiping the merriment from her eyes. “But that’s just the prelim. Pretty soon I’m going to switch over to Guy Lumbago.”

Gil on the other hand was just sitting there grinning stupidly and splitting his attention between the events on the TV screen and this suddenly manic female he somehow had gotten involved with.

Soon they were both making fun of the serious but antiquated music as Guy Lombardo and his orchestra played their specialties—mostly sedate swing music from the ’40s.

And then it was almost midnight. Jumping up once again, Natalie rushed to the kitchenette and returned with a bottle of champagne and two plastic martini glasses. On the stroke of midnight, as the Royal Canadians obligingly played “Auld Lang Syne” she popped the cork of the champagne, watched the foam overflow onto the carpet, giggled as it did so, and poured them each a glass.

“Here’s to fame and fortune in 1975,” she intoned as solemnly as she was able, raising her glass toward Gil. Gil followed suit by repeating her toast solemnly. They both drained their glasses and she poured them each another before getting up and switching off the television at the conclusion of the New Year’s standard.

She did not return immediately to the sofa but went instead to the battered old desk against the wall, opened the center drawer, and quickly extracted something from it. As she turned to look at Gil he noticed a certain defiant ferocity in her expression as she said, “This party ain’t over yet, Gilbert Hallenbeck. I’ve got something really special for you.” Now she moved over to the sofa, sat down again and unclenched her fist, revealing to Gil its contents.

Looking at her hand curiously Gil saw that it held what looked like two large hand-rolled cigarettes. He was about to say thanks a lot Natalie but I don’t smoke, when she offered him one, saying, “This is the good stuff. It’s pure Thai stick. If this don’t knock you on your ass nothing will.”

Gil took the proffered cigarette-like thing and turned it over in his fingers, looking at it curiously as if it were some strange but interesting insect. “Thai stick?” he muttered in confusion.

Natalie snorted, whether in amusement or disgust Gil was unable to divine. “Yeah,” she said, “you know. Pot. Grass. Smoke. Mary-ju-wana.”

Oh,” said Gil brightly, “I know what that is. Some of my roommates in college had some and that guy that did sound for us when I did the college film, I forget his name, tried to sell me some, but as usual I didn’t have any money, so, uh, the truth is, well, I’ve never really done it before.”

Natalie now looked at him with an expression somewhere between disbelief and resignation. “First time for everything, big boy,” she remarked. Then she grabbed a pack of matches from the pocket of her jeans. “Allow me to fire you up.”

Gil put the joint between his lips and allowed Natalie to light it for him. He took a deep drag but then immediately removed it from his mouth until his spasm of coughing had subsided.

Natalie nodded her head. “Good start,” she said soothingly, as one might encourage a two-year old who was just learning how to feed himself. “This time however try to hold the smoke in your lungs for a while before letting it go.”
“Okay,” agreed Gil obediently, putting the joint back in his mouth and sucking. This time he managed to control a few slight coughs while keeping his mouth closed. After several seconds he exhaled with relief.

“Good boy,” she said, reaching over and taking the joint from his trembling fingers. “I’ll take some of that.” She put the joint in her mouth and sucked on it for a few moments with a practiced ease while watching Gil intently at the same time. She noticed that he had stood up and was starting to pace around the room, his eyes wider than she had ever seen them. “So, nu?” she remarked casually.

Gil stopped his pacing near the kitchenette, turned around almost suddenly and looked at her. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “I think the top of my head is coming off. I feel like I’m way taller than I should be.”

Natalie gave an appreciative chuckle. “Smile when you say that, pardner.”

This broke Gil up. He fell on the floor and began to roll back and forth, pounding his fists into the carpet and laughing maniacally.

“Hmm,” she said dreamily, “the effect I have on men.”

Within a few minutes Gil’s laughter had subsided and he got up and returned to her on the couch. As he sat down she placed what was left of the joint between his unresisting lips and uncomplainingly he sucked at it again, this time having better luck holding in the smoke. Noticing that it was almost finger-burning time, she took the joint from his lips and carefully placed it in an ashtray on the end table.

Gil meanwhile was looking at her as if he had never seen her before. In a voice that sounded like it was coming from a hypnotist’s subject, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” he murmured. “Your eyes are just incredible.”

She batted her eyelashes at him coyly. “Thanks,” she said. “I get that from all the sailors.”

“No, no,” he said, and she could see he was serious. “I really mean that.”

Sensing that this was the moment, Natalie got to her feet and beckoned him up. On her desk was a small portable radio which she turned on. It was tuned to her favorite rock station which at that moment was obligingly playing, “These Eyes” by Three Dog Knight. “Care to dance?” she said softly.

Gil nodded, got up off the sofa and stumbled toward her. As he grasped her body he felt something he had not heretofore felt without being in the presence of a sexy film. Grabbing her, he held her unresisting body so close to his that she could feel his rapidly growing erection. “Easy, tiger,” she said. “Let’s do this right.” And turning the radio down to a barely audible volume, she waltzed him into the bedroom and as he stood there frankly and hungrily admiring her, she quickly began to strip off her clothes. Then she flung herself onto the bed and, opening her arms in a welcoming gesture, said, “I’m all yours.”

Gil apparently needed no other invitation as he began stripping and flinging his garments without regard as to what conditions they were in or where they would fall. Soon he was as naked as she was and he jumped onto her, feeing a surprising softness in between the hardness of her muscles. As she quickly guided him in he felt a terrific explosion that started in his head and quickly worked its way down to all other parts of his body. Within several seconds he had climaxed and he rolled off her, hot, sweaty, and breathing hard.

Natalie turned onto her side towards him and, raising herself to one elbow, remarked, “That’s pretty much the land speed record, isn’t it?”

Gil looked embarrassed as she continued, “Not too bad for the first time, however. That was your first time I take it.”

Blushing furiously, Gil nodded.

“Tell you what,” she said, as if she were offering him a piece of cake. “Why don’t we just lie here awhile, have some more champagne, smoke another joint, and when you’re ready we can do it again.”

Now relieved, Gil grinned at her and said, “That’s a great idea, Natalie.”
The rest of the night was eventful, but the events were unsurprising. Even though Gil had wolfed down three sandwiches and laid waste to the array of salads, by two o’clock he realized he was starving again. As Natalie explained patiently about something she called “the munchies”, they both hopped out of bed, threw on the minimum of clothing for out-of-bed decency, and padded to the kitchenette, where fortunately there was still a lot left of Natalie’s kosher smorgasbord.

While Gil worked his way hungrily through a couple more sandwiches Natalie stood beside him at the table, patting him on the head and murmuring, “Ess, ess, mein kind,” causing Gil to give her a puzzled look and say “Huh?” through a mouthful of pastrami.

“Oh, nothing,” replied Natalie, tousling his already love-messy hair. “It’s just something Jewish mothers say to encourage their kids’ appetites.”

Gil swallowed the last of his current sandwich and then said, “Don’t think I need any encouragement on that subject. I don’t think I’ve ever been this hungry, even when I had no money.”

They finished most of the rest of the food, then in turn finished the champagne, the beer, and the rest of the vodka. By three-thirty they were back in bed, smoking the other joint. By dawn they had made love twice more, each time gaining a more mutual satisfaction as Gil was able to slow down and Natalie concentrate on speeding up. By the third time, around six in the morning, they were able to meet somewhere in the middle, and finally they passed out together, holding each other tightly and wearing the stupid grins that come only from the three basic types of satisfaction—sex, food, and drugs.

They slept soundly until mid-afternoon and then decided to have one more fuck for the road, which they found topped off the previous night’s festivities very nicely. Then it was time to dress in long-forgotten clothes and Natalie to drive Gil back to the hovel he called home.

On the way they were uncharacteristically silent, each one thinking and trying to decide what this latest step in their budding relationship meant and what it would foretell about their futures, individually or together.

As she finally pulled up in front of Gil’s building the winter sun was just beginning to set, dipping below the roofs of the buildings and the tops of the trees. Gil grabbed Natalie and gave her an energetic hug and kiss. “Thanks for everything,” he said and was just about to get out of the car when Natalie replied with a serious look on her face, “Tell you what, Gil. I’ll call you in a couple weeks. I’m going to have lots to do at the office and after over two weeks away from it I have to start concentrating on my job again. Besides, we could both use a little cooling off period, get things in perspective, know what I mean?”

Gil looked slightly disappointed but with a reasonably cheerful voice he replied, “Sure Natalie, whatever you think best.”

Then she watched him get out of the car and waited till he had disappeared inside his entrance door before she started the car again and drove away.

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