PART I: BEFORE // Chapter Four: How He Grew Up: 7

Natalie hung up the phone and looked around her apartment. There was lots to do, she realized, and only about twenty-four hours in which to get it done. It was worth it though, she felt. Her plan, Operation Gil Grab, seemed to be working to perfection. Humming happily to herself she tied on an apron, grabbed the necessary implements of destruction, and began to do some serious housecleaning.

While her hands worked automatically in long-practiced movements of sweeping and cleaning, her mind was free to recall why what she had facetiously called Operation Gil Grab was so important to her. It was all tied up with a desire she had had since her college days—to be an agent and messenger of progressive social change.

She had attempted this in a number of ways during the past better than a decade and had seen her first three attempts come to naught, while her fourth attempt held only a glimmer of hope which was fading rapidly with the passage of time. She fervently hoped the fifth time, unlike the proverbial third time, would be the charm.

Let us examine, she thought for no reason other than to get her mind off a particularly nasty sink-cleaning job, her first venture into the area of progressive social reform. Immediately upon graduating from Columbia with an MSW degree, she had spent the next three years as a social worker on the streets of New York. She had given it up in frustration after being alternately overwhelmed by the conditions of the families that constituted her cases and the often insensitive bureaucracy with which she had to deal on a daily basis. She had finally thrown up her hands in despair when she realized that she was spending more time writing reports that likely would never be read, let alone taken seriously, than she was spending out on the street giving poor and hopeless families some little comfort.

In attempt number two, she had decided to go the other way—to put her thoughts and message into what amounted to a political manifesto all-too-thinly disguised as a novel. What she had created was a novel that no one wanted to publish—a sort of socialistic version of The Fountainhead. She had given up her writing career after discovering that not only was she preaching to the choir, but that it appeared to be a very small choir indeed.

These thoughts occurred to her while she was quickly closing and holding at arm’s length a very disgusting and very ripe-smelling bag of organic garbage. As she marched it toward the dumpster out back she considered her third attempt. After giving up on her novel in 1965 she had been looking about for something to rekindle her old revolutionary fire. Late in the spring she had gone to a class reunion at Columbia, although she had graduated only three years previously. At one of the inevitable let’s-talk-revolution-while-we-sip-cocktails party, she had noticed and been attracted to a handsome and young radical professor. Though only in his thirties to her not-yet twenty-four, Professor Eric Farber seemed to her to be all that was right with the academic revolutionary. He had already attained a full professorship and was teaching several undergraduate classes in such courses as Political Science and Advanced Economic Theory. That he was flattered by her attention, for he was a self-admitted bookish sort without much of a social life, caused their friendship to heat up to such an extent that by fall they were married. At first she thought she had it all—a young professor who she felt would soon be famous in his field and who possessed all the political and social attitudes she held dear.

But alas, it was not to be. As they settled into the roles of husband and wife in that bitter New York winter of ’65 to ’66, it soon became evident that Professor Farber had his own agenda and had become increasingly patronizing and occasionally downright dismissive of his little helpmeet’s social and political ambitions. He began constantly referring to her college degrees as one of those degrees they give right-minded people for not doing any work in an academic discipline. Thus they struggled for a few years, but by 1968 they both knew it wasn’t going to work, and they filed for an amicable divorce on grounds of irreconcilable differences.

So by the spring of 1969, after working at various mindless but reasonably well-paying secretarial jobs and living as frugally as she could in a cheap studio apartment on the Lower East Side, she managed to save up enough money to put a down payment on a used VW bug and make the cross-country trek to Hollywood USA. There, after quickly finding her dream job as secretary and sole assistant to the maverick indie filmmaker Rod Gorman, she lost no time in planning strategy number four. Why, she reasoned, write a novel that no one would read except maybe a few close friends and idealistic compatriots, when you could write a screenplay, get it produced into a movie, and have thousands or even millions of people receive her message in impressive and easy-to-digest Technicolor stories on the big screen. Looking around at her now nearly presentable apartment, she waved a hand disgustedly towards the bottom drawer of a battered old unfinished wooden desk. In this drawer were at least eight screenplays, some fully conceived and completely finished that she had shopped around to no avail for years; others were in various stages of development and completion. As she had been at this task for over five years, it was understandable that her glimmer of hope in attempt number four was fast entering the gloaming.

She looked at her watch. Nearly six and black as night out there, but at least it wasn’t raining. Quickly throwing on a raincoat and headscarf she hurried out to her car, wanting to make sure she got to her favorite deli in Glendale before it closed at seven. It was a small independent shop and had the best kosher meats and cheeses in the area as well as thick German bread and bagels freshly baked on the premises. The shop’s owner and sole employee however was notorious for keeping irregular hours and she could not count on it being open on New Year’s Eve, a Friday no less, even before sunset.

She had done so much driving since she had come to LA that the oft-traveled route could be followed automatically without the necessity of any concentrated attention. So it was natural that her thoughts should stray to a debate with herself about the probable effect of the serious plan she was now setting in motion. Her negative and wary side emphasized to her that she had known this guy for little more than a month, and had only actually done anything with him twice. How on earth, she complained to herself, could she be any more positive that this was the guy for her than she had been about stuck-up Professor Farber?

Good question, she addressed her querulous personality. For starters, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m thirty-three, and not only am I not getting anywhere with what I choose to call my mission in life, but I’m not getting any younger either. I obviously have run out of options to get this done by myself, so what better than a union with a like-minded, naïve young man, not yet full of himself, who has aspirations to be a great Hollywood director and quite probably, considering the way things work out here, just needs a little push and a little pretense?

You saw, she pointedly told her disbelieving self, how he acted with Nicholson the other night, with my expert guidance. That could well be only the beginning. Not only that, she continued, not letting up on her opponent while she had the advantage, he’s not really a bad-looking guy. Sure, he looks like he just fell off the turnip truck when he insists on wearing those thrift store castoffs he calls a wardrobe, but on the other hand he did look very nice in that suit he wore at Chasen’s. I mean, even though it was obviously a cheap suit to begin with and had certainly seen better days, he really looked almost handsome. He’s obviously a hayseed from a small town in Pennsylvania, but he’s only twenty-five and hasn’t really been out of that environment for more than a couple of years. Certainly not long enough, considering his self-admitted lack of a social or romantic life, to learn the ropes. That is what it really takes to make it out here.

Swinging into one of the few small parking spaces in front of the deli, she noted with dismay that it was now nearly quarter to seven, but then was relieved to see the lights still on and old Mr. Goldblatt the proprietor still fiddling around with something behind the counter. Hurrying in she handed him her carefully worded and legibly printed shopping list and helped herself to a fresh cinnamon bagel while she was waiting for her order to be filled. Deftly slicing it, toasting it in the handy toaster Mr. Goldblatt put out for his best customers, she then grabbed it and, administering a shmear, began to contentedly wash it down with a complimentary paper cup of coffee from the big metal urn on the counter.

Mr. Goldblatt paid no attention to this as she was an old and valued customer, but busied himself with slicing, weighing, and wrapping meats and shoveling them into a large shopping bag along with various cheeses, salads, breads, and other necessary ingredients for a New Year’s Eve kosher feast.

Paying for her purchases with the last of her East Coast travel money (she had planned for this event by spending as little money as possible while in New York; this was easy as her rich parents always fed her and housed her and otherwise chauffeured her around New York) she quickly wished Mr. Goldblatt a Happy New Year and, jumping into her car and dumping the huge shopping bag on the passenger seat, she started the car, put it in gear, backed out of the parking lot, and sped for home.

By the time she arrived, and having lugged the heavy shopping bag into her small kitchenette, she placed it on the counter and began tossing various items into her equally small refrigerator, so that after she had finished it was so packed with food she had trouble closing its door.

Plopping down on her sofa with a sigh of relief, she realized she was extremely tired and not a little sleepy. The jet lag, housework, anxious arguing with herself, and the long drive to the deli had all conspired to rob her of her usual alertness and vitality. One last thing, she said to herself sleepily, and forced herself up on her feet again. She went back into the kitchenette and opened a small cupboard in which she was reassured to see a bottle of good champagne, a full quart of vodka, and a six-pack of Heineken beer. Satisfied, she closed the cupboard and went back into the living room to the aforementioned desk. Opening the center drawer, she was again reassured to see that her secret weapon had not been disturbed. Smiling happily to herself she went the few feet to the bedroom, dropped her coat, scarf and shoes onto the rather threadbare rug, launched herself at the bed, and without undressing any further was asleep in a few moments.

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