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But instead of hanging up, he put a hand over the receiver and grinned at me. He counted silently: one, two, three - then removed the muffling hand.
"Oh, it's you! Sorry." But his nasty cackle said he wasn't. At full volume, he informed me, "It's our fearless agent, Marc - with a "C" - Pariser."
(Marc Pariser was head of the television department at CAA, which at the time was the most powerful talent agency in Hollywood - which meant the world. For more about this fascinating subject, see: Screwed By The Mouse.)
Back to Chris on the phone: "What's up, Marc?" He listened. Then, "You're shitting me." He started laughing, then stopped, except for occasional snorts of mirth. "Okay, okay, I won't laugh. Tell me what the fuck happened... Okay... Okay..."
He looked up at me, speaking overly loud, letting Pariser know he was spilling the beans to the room at large.
"...So, let me get this straight... You got a new garage door opener. Check! But then you went and left the fucking remote along with all your keys in the house. Check! Check!
"And now you are in the garage, but the kitchen door is self-locking and it did its fucking self-locking job as advertised... and now you can't get back in the house. Check! Check! And Check again!
"On top of that, you don't know how to open the garage door without the remote, so you can't get out of the garage, either. In short, you are well and truly up the brown creek without a rowing device... I forget how many Checks I'm up to, but am I right so far?"
More listening... Chris chortling, enjoying the hell out of Marc's plight. Then he asked, "So, exactly by what means are you calling me, Marc? Got a phone in the garage, or something?" (This was at the tail end of the barbaric 80's and cell phones hadn't - gasp - been invented.)
Another laugh from Chris. "What, the fuck? You got yourself a car phone! Shit, Marc. We know you're an arugula-eating Yuppie, but do you have to be so obvious about it?" He snorted. "Fucking figures. Guy who spells Marc with a wimped-out Yuppie "C" gets himself a fucking car phone."
He started singing a way off-key version of the new Yuppie-mocking novelty song, "Car Phone." (To the tune of "Convoy," the old long haul trucker's anthem.)
He's got a bitchin' car phone,
He thinks he owns the road.
Yeah, he's got a brand-new car phone,
He's stuck in the yuppie mode.
Since he has a brand-new car phone,
You better not get in his way.
He's gonna use that car phone,
To make his name in L.A.
I was in stitches. Marc apparently was not and was telling Chris that this was a God Damned emergency! And to get him out of the garage, please, before his boss fired him for missing the regular Monday a.m. CAA Power Breakfast.
Marc's fear for his job made Chris feel sorry for him and so he quit laughing (mostly) and quizzed him about the garage door opener. Then he instructed Marc how to manually operate the thing. A few minutes passed, and I heard a tinny shout of triumph from Marc. Then he was back on the phone, thanking Chris.
"Yeah, Yeah, you owe me... blah, blah..." Chris said. "Now, before I tell everybody in the whole town what a putz you are... where are we on the job front? I've got ten cats to support (only a slight exaggeration) and we could use a gig."
He listened. And then listened some more. Finally, he snorted disgust. "You're shitting me. That asshole?" More listening. Several groans later he said, "Okay. Okay. We'll get back to you. I've gotta talk to Cole about this first. "
Chris hung up. Shook his head, then announced, "Marc wants us to fucking Take A Meeting with that royal fucking blowhard, Steve Seagal."
"Is that the same Seagal who has been going around telling everybody that he's a former CIA assassin?" I asked.
Chris sighed, "Yeah, yeah. That's the guy. The Double Oh-Oh-Fuck! wannabe."
"Why the hell would we want to get involved with a dipshit like that?" I asked, quite reasonably.
"As a favor for Marc," Chris explained. "He's trying to help out Richard Lovett with a director they're wooing." (At the time Lovett was a rising young star in the Agency's movie division.)
"So, what the hell do we need Seagal for?" I asked. "Why not just meet with the director?"
"Beats the hell out of me," Chris said. "But here's the thing. Marc sort of implied that if we helped him on this he'd put us together with William Friedkin."
I sat up straight. "No shit?" I said, impressed.
"I shit thee not," Chris replied.
Friedkin - The French Connection, The Exorcist - was a director Chris and I admired. Hell, any writer in Town would jump at the chance to work with him.
"Seagal must have some kind of pay or play deal," I mused. (Meaning, the Studio - in this case, Warner Bros. - had to pay Seagal a bunch of money, whether he starred in one of their movies, or not.) "And CAA is waving that at the director to entice him to sign."
"That's what I figured," Chris said.
We fell silent for a couple of beats, thinking. Then I said, "We'd better find out more about what's going on."
So we called Al Godfrey and made him buy us lunch at Morton's Steak House. Godfrey was wise in the ways of many things, including Agency politics. Hell, he was usually stringing along three or four agencies at a time. Godfrey also had a weekly poker meet with the top money men in Town, and the fact that he regularly won in that bloody pool of sharks had a lot to say about our friend.
After we finished eating, had some cigarettes going, and were sucking on a couple of drinks, Godfrey asked, "So, who is this director CAA is trying to impress?"
We said it was a guy named Avi Nescher.
Godfrey nodded, and said, "He's that hot young Israeli director everybody's talking about. From what I heard, I think you'll like him." He thought a minute, then added, "Before he got into the Business he was some kind of Israeli commando. One of the guys with big brass ones." (In fact, Nescher had been a member of the super elite Sayeret Matkal.)
I said, "It wasn't the director we were worried about, Al. What about this asshole Steve Seagal?"
Godfrey sighed. "Aw, fucking hell, boys, he's an even bigger piece of work than you've heard. A real legend in his own mind. But he's got Ovitz behind him for some really weird reasons we probably don't want to think on too long."
"Isn't Seagal supposed to be some kind of fifth degree Aikido black belt, or something?" I said. "And Ovitz joined his dojo or something?"
"Or, something," Godfrey said. "As for the black belt business, I'd give very good odds that four of those five degrees are total phonies, and the first was a gift that he didn't have to do shit for except marry Poppasan's daughter."
Chris grunted. "He's no fucking Bruce Lee or even Chuck Norris, that's for sure." Chris had seen the trailer of Seagal's movie and was less than impressed with his martial arts skills.
Godfrey said, "Like me, he's a Jewish/Italian kid. But unlike me, he's ashamed of the Jewish part. Claims he was raised in one of the tough Brooklyn neighborhoods and is tight with the Wise Guys. But in fact, he was raised in a white bread Buena Vista, California burb, by a nice middle-class couple... His dad was a high school teacher or something. I think his mom did some kind of medical work.
"Somehow, in his twenties, he ended up in Japan. Don't know how, or why, but I'll bet it's not a pretty story. Ended up marrying a lady who really is an Aikido star and whose daddy owned a chain of dojos in Japan. Poppasan was stuck with a bum for a son in law, so he put him to work managing one of the dojos. Of course, you can't do that without a black belt, so good old Poppasan wrangled one for the kid."
Godfrey paused to light another smoke, then said, "After that, he charmed his wife into backing his triumphant return to the States as a big time dojo owner. It was in San Diego, I think - but it went tits up after a few months. Then he opened the one on Mulholland, which just happened to be in plain view of Ovitz when he drove home every night. And that is where Seagal's luck took a big fucking jump."
"What happened to the Japanese wife?" I asked.
Godfrey shrugged. "That's 'wife' in the past tense," he said. "Although a few people told me that Seagal might have been married to two women at one time. The Japanese broad and some American." He shrugged. "But, hell, I'm not one to throw rocks at a guy for tripping over his schlong when it comes to women."
This was true. Godfrey had the incredibly expensive habit of marrying and then divorcing starlets. These days he paid for everything cash, leaving no credit card trail for their lawyers or their shamuses to follow.
"Yeah, but what's with all this CIA hit man, Gar-Bahge?" Chris asked. "I've heard Stevie-poo claims that he was in a Phoenix wet work team in Vietnam, and a hundred other bullshit things."
Godfrey laughed. "One of my poker buddies said Seagal brags that he had a secret backstairs meeting at the White House with none other than John Fucking Kennedy. And that he'd personally gone on killing missions to Vietnam under direct orders from JFK. Says he was back and forth to Vietnam throughout the whole war."
I held my breath. Chris looked like he was going to explode. The one thing he couldn't bear was a guy who made false claims about his military experience.
Through clenched teeth, Chris said, "Why the fuck would anybody believe such incredible lies?"
Godfrey gave him a look of great pity. "For fuck's sake, Chris," he said, "this whole Town was founded on lies. Any lie you tell that makes you look marketable to the Studios will be believed instantly."
"And nobody checks?" Chris said, disgusted.
"What, and find out that it's not true?" Godfrey said. "Where's the profit in that? Look, Chris, in this Town everybody believes any lie you tell, even though they know for a fact that you are lying." He shrugged. "Takes one to fucking know one, and all that."
A long silence. Then, "What do we do, Godfrey?" My tone was pleading.
Godfrey shrugged. "Take the meeting," he said. "Nescher's a big boy. He'll know CAA is stroking him. Plus - and here's the main reason - Pariser's going to hook you up with Billy Friedkin."
Chris nodded. "If he doesn't," he said, "I'll stick his fucking car phone up his Yuppie ass."
The restaurant was directly across from CAA's new headquarters, at Santa Monica and Wilshire. The building was an incredible testament to the out-of-control ego of Michael Ovitz. Seventy five thousand square feet of office space in three stories, with a 75-foot high atrium. An enormous Ficus tree was transported by ship all the way from Australia to decorate that atrium. The tale of how that huge tree came to find its way to Beverly Hills would fill volumes on wrong-headed corporate economics and even more volumes on Psycho analyses.
Chris and I used a science fiction version of that tree and the grandiose building in Sten #6 - Return Of The Emperor - to illustrate just how fucked up a group of politicians became when The Eternal Emperor was out of town. (To get the audio version, click here.)
Anyway, we were a few minutes early to the meeting, as was the director, the aforementioned Avi Nescher. He was a great guy and we hit it off right away. Especially he and Chris, whose shared military backgrounds made them immediate paisanos. We got the idea that Avi knew he was being bullshitted by CAA but was playing along to advance his own agenda.
Finally, Seagal came strolling in. He was a big guy - at six foot four he was just a little taller than Chris. For a supposed athlete he was a kind of hefty, with an unseemly roll around his gut. He also had a face like a sheep and wore his hair in a short ponytail. I almost burst out laughing when he shook Nescher's hand, ponytail bobbing up and down like a pudgy ungulate with a tick in its butt.
I managed to cover the laugh when he shook my hand, then he turned to Chris and although Stevie-poo was smiling, you could tell he was feeling challenged. Obviously, someone at CAA had told him all about my partner.
His face tightened with effort as he tried to crush Chris' hand, but my partner just squeezed back, grinning at the jerk in that mocking way he had when he was less than impressed with a guy's macho act.
Introductions over, we repaired to the dining room and the way the maître d and waiters fawned on Seagal you knew he was a big-tipping regular. (We were told later that he had an open tab - with CAA picking up the bills. They said Steve never spent his own money on anything.)
Seagal spread himself across one whole side of the table, elbows stretching as far as they could - making himself appear bigger, in the manner of a blowfish.
When a waiter approached to offer menus, Seagal rudely waved him aside. He thumped his chest with both hands, declaring, "In this place, I'M the menu. Anything you want, ask me."
Ignoring him, Chris gestured to the waiter, saying, "I hear you guys make a great cannibal sandwich."
Seagal broke in. "It's not on the men..."
The waiter cut in, "Sure, we can do that, Sir. No problem. Lots of onions and capers, Sir?"
Chris nodded. "And horseradish," he said. "Nice and fresh." (This was the first and only time I ever saw Chris eat a cannibal sandwich.)
While Steve sat back, stewing, Nescher and I asked the now beaming waiter about the specials and picked something from the list he rattled off.
|Topper In "Dilbert"|
At one point he was telling us how he and two members of his team had captured a dozen North Vietnamese soldiers, and led them back to American lines strung together with "det cord" (detonation cord) wrapped around their necks. One false move, Steve said, and he'd have fired the det cord. "...And off with their mother fucking heads."
Chris casually mentioned the speed at which det cord burns - which although fast, would allow plenty of time for all twelve guys to rip it away and take care of Steve and his mates.
But, even though Nescher snickered, Seagal didn't get it and continued spinning his tall tales of derring-do. We heard all about the midnight meeting with JFK, where he was personally recruited by the president only a few months before the assassination in Dallas. He made dark hints that he "knew things" about the assassination that were being kept from the ignorant masses.
And there were stories about his buddies in the Yakuza (the Japanese mob) and the Mafia in New York, and he even threw in a few adventures in the Middle East for good measure.
So, in a very short period time he had told three guys - me, a CIA brat, Chris and Avi, former commandos - elaborate lies that we were uniquely qualified to throw back in his face.
Instead, Chris and Avi started playing games with his head. Speaking past him, they "discussed" skills and tactics and weapons that were wholly made up. But, no matter what they said, Steve tried to play one-upmanship.
If Avi asked Chris if he'd ever fired the "9 mm Bagel," or the M-60 Kibbutz (I'm exaggerating, but not by much), Seagal would butt in and claim that he'd "field tested" early experimental models of the weapons for the CIA.
Finally, it started to dawn on old Stevie-Poo that he was being had. He was already a little in the bag, his features flushed from booze, but his sunlamp tan deepened as Avi and Chris continued their little game.
Suddenly, he could take no more. Out went the elbows again and he leaned across the table, his face inches from Chris'.
He said, "You know, I'm a trained killer."
A wicked grin spread across Chris' face. But he said nothing.
Growing more frustrated, Seagal raised both hands, displaying them.
"What would you say if I told you that right this minute I could reach over this table and kill you with my bare hands."
Chris laughed and said, "That's why God invented the .45, Steve."
Seagal gaped. A short bark of laughter from Nescher.
Steve's jaws snapped shut with an audible click and he shrank back in his seat.
So there the score stood Bunch 1 - Seagal 0.
And we never had a lick of trouble from old Stevie-poo after that.
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LUCKY IN CYPRUS:
A True Story About A Boy,
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- "Bravo, Allan! When I finished Lucky In Cyprus I wept." - Julie Mitchell, Hot Springs, Texas
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FREEDOM BIRD: 3 GI'S HOME FROM VIETNAM
Boys. How an alleged Mafia Don was very, very good to us. The guy who cornered the market on movie rocks. Andy Warhol's Fire Extinguisher. The Real Stars Of Hollywood. Why they don't make million dollar movies. See The Seven Pi$$ing Dwarfs. Learn: how to kill a "difficult" actor… And much, much more.
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What if the Cold War never ended -- but continued for a thousand years? Best-selling authors Allan Cole (an American) and Nick Perumov (a Russian) spin a mesmerizing "what if?" tale set a thousand years in the future, as an American and a Russian super-soldier -- together with a beautiful American detective working for the United Worlds Police -- must combine forces to defeat a secret cabal ... and prevent a galactic disaster! This is the first - and only - collaboration between American and Russian novelists. Narrated by John Hough. Click the title links below for the trade paperback and kindle editions. (Also available at iTunes.)
Venice Boardwalk Circa 1969