The setting of our story: New Hollywood.
As if Hollywood could ever be other than new. They should have named it, "Another Hollywood." Or, better yet, "More Hollywood." Hollywood never grows, it never moves or evolves; itÕs everywhere, all the time. Once you are in, there is no outside.
You may be thinking: Marilyn grew old, Bogart died of cancer, Schwarzenegger finally got weak. I too suffered from this confusion once. But think it through: someone named "Marilyn" died young, the necessity of a biological script -- but this death was incidental, as was her body, her individual mind. ItÕs the films that we know, that we refer to, that we care about. The thing that died -- it was just a fleshy shadow, obscured always by the more concrete cosmos of images, by the virtual and eternal (and so, most real) world of light and pictures.
I should know. IÕm a Marilyn.
I was once the concubine of Byron Keeps, richest man in the city, some say. Genuine Gordon Gecko, without the prosecution. Keeps found me down in the Flickering District, running from Stick. The rich old manÕs impossibly long limousine defied the narrow alleys and twisted its way right to my side, a door opened, I slipped inside....
Reel back two minutes. I was eating a quick sushi at a dark street bar under an awning that kept off the dirty spray of air conditioners a kilometer above. Stick came out of the crowd quietly: that was his style, to wait and get you when you were bent over pulling up your stocking, or in an alley squatting to pee, or were eating and just about half done with your food. But I never finish sushi, so I was actually getting up, and I saw him pushing against the flow of people. He was a small man, with a thin, ugly face, pitted with old acne scars. His mouth hung always open, displaying chipped yellow teeth. He pushed some old woman aside, and then our eyes met.
"DonÕt run!" He shouted, still a few meters away, jabbing one angry index finger at me. A stupid thing that Stick had picked up on the street, or more likely in some old film, maybe De Niro: shouting commands with an attitude of explosive self-importance. And, unfortunately, it worked sometimes -- it worked the first time he used it on me. But not anymore. I ran.
It was a dance of a kind: he declared himself my pimp soon after I arrived in the Flickering District. From that time on, I resisted him because he would, if I let him, take everything I earned, and leave me to starve. So he chased me down sometimes, raped me, beat me and took whatever I was holding, and promised to do worse to me the next time.
Looking back now, I can see that, in his own way, he was attracted to me. Stick, like everyone else in the Flickering, had some horror story in his past that made him what he was. Some slasher-flick childhood that ruined him so he didnÕt know any other way to relate to people but to beat them. Or rape them.
But IÕm still glad heÕs dead. IÕm still glad I killed him.
I turned down one narrow alley, and then another, slipping between people and diving under low signs. Something must have held him up -- a surge in the crowd, or a door opening in the way, because when I turned out into the dark, but wider, avenue of the market, I looked back and I couldnÕt see him in the crowd. I decided to slow down to a walk, so that I wouldnÕt be obvious from a distance, pushing my way through. But also the panic settled into me then, as the adrenaline caught up, and it was worse not to know where he was. Should I dive back into an alley? Stay here on the avenue?
Then KeepsÕs endless limousine miraculously bent and flowed around a corner: a black, inscrutable snake pushing through the crowd, opaque windows like shiny scales. I stopped to look, wondered if I should get on the other side of it to keep the limo between myself and the alley I just came out of. But I hesitated, and then it slipped up next to me. And somehow, for some reason, Keeps slowed to take a second look at me: one of a thousand Marilyns (although, I should add, one of the best) trying to scratch a living in the New Hollywood slums, trying to make it there on the scar tissue of the world where the virtual and the concrete cut against each other. I saw myself in the black glass, frightened, eyes wide and flashing erratically about; and then I realized what was happening, since I was long accustomed to the subtle motions of cars on the cruise. I dropped the panicked look, started to walk. The limo followed along behind me, slowly, watching as I crossed from one projection-district over into another. He was waiting to see if I was a local projection, but I didnÕt dissolve at the hyperline, walked right on instead, and the limo pulled up, a door slid open, and I stepped in, as if expecting it.
It was dark inside. Empty but for the silhouette of an old man in the corner. The window to the front was down, and I saw the driverÕs eyes as he looked at me in the mirror. He had shoulders too big to allow for a neck. I smiled into the gloom, said something like, "Gee, what a fine roadster!" and then, in a glance out the dark window, saw that Stick was waiting there for me, behind the next corner, a leather cord wrapped tight over his knuckles.
Like a lot of rich men, Keeps avoided the virtual porn that lesser men sopped off line. Keeps wanted the three-d, breathing, smelling actuality. An interesting guy, Keeps. Reminds me of those people who still go see stage plays, out in Very New York; the few faithful at an ancient, primitive rite. And he was old, with purple hands and thin gray hair, blue eyes gone rheumy dark, and a quiet voice like tearing paper.
He moved me into the CheopÕs tower, into a big suite with a waterfall in the bedroom and a real window looking onto giant videoscreens circling in the smog above the city. That first night we ate tiger steaks wrapped in molecule-thin gold, drank wine from platinum goblets. The driver turned out to be his bodyguard; he stood always just around the corner, or just outside the door. When he came into the room, he watched me even more closely than Keeps did, with a simple, hungry stare.
After dinner Keeps had me bathe in the waterfall. Then, with wet hair, in a bathrobe, I talked up scenes from Marilyn flicks for him, until finally he called out -- "Alexi"-- to the bodygaurd. Then he turned down the lights and sat back to watch.
After a few months, a whole week passed without Keeps showing up. Then Alexi the bodyguard came up to the room with a few other heavyweights. "Sorry," he whispered. I just nodded as they packed up the things that Keeps had bought me, and moved me out. I was grateful as it was: it had been an easy job. What followed was a pleasant surprise. They took me by limo across town, to a row of tall, humorless, but clean and safe towers.
Keeps got me a small room on the sprawling edge of New Hollywood, where it thrusts out into bare desert that had once been a forest where monkeys howled to each other. They carried my stuff into a one-room apartment on the thirtieth floor, with a wall of windows looking out at the thirtieth floor of the next building. The others stacked my stuff neatly by the bed -- I felt like Myrna Loy, checking into a New York hotel with the Thin Man -- and then they left, already talking about lunch. But Alexi paused in the door.
"Can I come see you sometime?"
"IÕd like that," I told him, and smiled coy Marilyn. He nodded and pulled the door closed.
I walked to the window. It was an ugly area, bleak and monolit, a bleached Bladerunner view, but I knew that from here there was easy transport down to the Flicker or up to Showtown. No complaints. I got a room. He left me an allowance. I got a thrid, with filming and generating capabilities. I could tape myself, and watch my movements. I felt almost virtual.
There was almost a there to my there.
I went back to the CheopÕs Tower the next day, just to see what was up; I waited, watching from a distance, until KeepÕs limo, 12 meters long, drove in. He had found another girl, a Madonna, circa 1983 E.C. Dark hair, too much make-up, too much black clothes piled on. She danced out of the car, music from one of her songs blaring from the open door, then poked Keeps in the ribs and ran for the door, giggling. I wondered if sheÕd last as long as me.
Alexi comes to see me on Tuesdays, after lunch. When I was staying in the rooms at the Cheops, Mondays and Tuesdays Keeps never came to see me, and so those must be the days when Alexi didnÕt have to perform. We didnÕt talk about this, of course; no more than I ever asked him for money. We were really in the same line of business, at least part of the time. And so I was flattered that he chose to spend his real time, his own time, with me. I think he felt the same way. It wasnÕt Pretty Woman but it was at least Wild at Heart.
One night, my head on his shoulder, I had the first of what was to become a re-occuring dream. Now that I was sleeping in a real bed regularly, IÕd started dreaming a lot, as if it were a luxury that only now I could afford. In the dream IÕm young, thirteen maybe, in a long and dark shower stall. A dozen shower heads on each wall pelt down steaming water. The walls are blackened with mildew. There are other boys, dimly visible through the steam. Water streams down their naked flanks. Their eyes flash over me, white, cruel, like the eyes of sharks. I have a penis -- IÕm one of them, a boy with them -- and it stiffens for their presence. Someone shouts my name -- Thomas? -- a reproach, and it echoes tightly in the tiled room. I turn, expecting the inevitable blow--
And I wake. Alexi is asleep. My room is dark, but lit in flickering gray by the thrid monitor, which is on but muted. Gielgud walks across the room, feet half a meter off of the floor, talking quietly to no one. For a moment, I am confused. It was like a wet dream thatÕs been truncated out of existence. I put one hand over the void between my legs.
Then I realize that this was not a dream. It was a memory.
As if there were a difference.
IÕve decided IÕm going to write my autobiography. Yeah, you say, "IsnÕt everyone?" Because no other way to get by in the slums but to think yourself virtual. But this now is better than that then because I have a place, and some time, and a good thrid. Makes it worth thinking about. I think about it often. IÕm sure it should be a screenplay, but how long, and what kind, I havenÕt decided yet.
The title is ironic: Autobiography of a New Marilyn.
INTERIOR. HOTEL ROOM.
A shot of water, golden sand glittering just 10 centimeters below the surface. We hear a waterfall. A beautiful female hand reaches into the water, scoops out a handful of sand, and then, gently shaking, sifts out nuggets of gold. The camera pulls away over the womanÕs shoulder; we see her blond hair, and then the waterfall, and then we see a wall, and realize we are inside a room: an extremely luxurious hotel suite.
A chime sounds.
MARILYN leaps up and runs back and forth. The camera remains aimed at the waterfall, so we see her criss-cross our field of vision, hurrying about, in various degrees of dressing and undressing. First in plain black underwear, then in white underwear, then in a blue dress, then in a white dress. The camera pans to follow her in the white dress, as she runs out the door.
Elevator door nearby opens and MARILYN steps out.
When she sees KEEPSÕs long limousine pull up to the curb, MARILYN walks out the front door.
EXTERIOR. HOTEL DOORS.
MARILYN stops just outside the doors, standing on a grill.
INTERIOR. HOTEL LOBBY.
BELLBOY flips a switch.
View from inside limousine.
A fan under the grate blows wind up under MARILYNÕs skirt, which flares and blows up in her face. MARILYN smiles, almost giggling, and pushes the skirt down. The camera pulls back, and we see KEEPS smiling also.
EXTERIOR. SPACE BETWEEN THE DOOR AND THE LIMO.
KEEPSÕs BODYGUARD gets out and holds the old manÕs door.
EXTERIOR. CLOSE-UP OF KEEPSÕS FACE.
Smiling, the BODYGUARD takes MARILYN by the arm. The three of them walk into the private elevator for the waterfall suite. They turn around in the elevator and face the camera, MARILYN flanked by the men. The door closes on her smile, centered in our view.
But I got bored. So I did something stupid. Incredibly stupid. I returned to the Flickering.