Jacob turned up his collar. Fifty-seventh and Sixth must be the windiest place in Manhattan. The corner cafe was her suggestion. He could hardly argue. Alice Taylor was the big-time, a real agent, not like the jokers who claimed to get him auditions. Ben said she could help him get started. Brushing past the hostess, feeling important, he murmured “Appointment with Miss Taylor”.

She looked at him. “Jacob Strelitz?” “How do you do, Miss Taylor.” His best smile. “Alice, please. So, you’re Ben’s discovery. Your resume,” holding out her hand. She scanned the single sheet, the headshot on the reverse side. He felt vulnerable, knew he didn’t have much experience. “I’m also up for a TV series. That’s new. Not definite yet.” He volunteered, feeling useless, inept. He never should have followed Ben’s advice.

“Coffee?” she asked, gestured for the waitress. He held up his hand – no thanks. She shook her head, looked at the young man on the other side of the table, smiled. “Did Ben ever suggest you change your name? Jacob Strelitz is a mouthful.” Long pause. Did she expect an answer? Should he say something? “Let me think it over.” Was that good? Or an empty promise?
“I’ll keep this. You have more? Why don’t you call my office in a week or so. Maybe by then….” He tried to say thank you, she waved it off, gestured for the bill.
He followed her out of the café, opening the doors, polite. They parted with a handshake on the corner.
He walked downtown on Eighth to the audition, every cross street a gust from the pampas. God, he hated the cold. And what now?
If he nothing turned up, he would call her again. After all, it was her suggestion.

He stood in the middle of the room facing them. “Whenever you’re ready.” He smiled, scanned the page. He knew it wasn’t right for him, but he couldn’t afford to let this chance go by.
The serial had not been picked up after the pilot. His health insurance lapsed with the series. The rent was due. He took a deep breath and launched himself, a full register lower than usual, a convincing copy of a hardened cop.

“I think we get the idea. Thank you for coming. You’ll hear from us.” He straightened up, smiled, nodded. “Thank you”, polite, hiding his disappointment, left the room.

The message on his answering machine was jubilant. “Hey Jakey, we got it, man. The gig we been waiting for – this weekend, Friday and Saturday. we’ll see ya at the garage to get the set together. Don’t be late, man. This time it’s real bread!” Frowning, he re-played the message shaking his head then paced the strip of worn carpet in front of the sleep-on couch.

How could he miss the gig? But could he afford to miss the showcase this weekend, the one casting agents really came to. Alice Taylor had put in a good word. It could be good for him.

Stay in New York and lose his band? his friends? Or go to Philly and lose his first break in show business?

Jake was used to show business – the auditions, the waiting, the charm he’d learned to turn on when needed – like at Roger and Lili’s engagement party. Jake almost had something going with Lili, talking in the kitchen, nothing serious but it seemed Lili was up for it. Then that woman came in – strict, like an aunt or mother. He’d beat a fast exit. Too bad. Lili was Alice’s PA. It would have been an in, someone in the office who’d pass his calls on to Alice faster. Never mind, take the bad with the good. There’d been plenty of liquor and lots of young women. He’d had a good time.

He stood in front of the mirror in his underwear. Thirty now, feeling his age. Turned sideways, pulled in his stomach. Helped a little. Disgusted he turned his back. Then looked again – maybe he should start wearing his shirt tails out? Was that a giveaway? or just cool? He’d try it out at the theater on that kid, the wardrobe assistant. She was young, hip. See how she reacted.

Getting dressed, he thought about slowing down on the beer – or the drinks after. It was just such a good way to come down after the show, almost as good as a toke. It had been a while since he gave that up, ever since Alice Taylor warned him it was a dead end. And she should know. The word was she’d had a go ’round with the stuff herself. Well, he’d tried it all and decided on the long run, the beer was better for him, cheaper too, and not illegal. Maybe he should join a gym. He had the money now, at least as long as the show was running. Now, if that contract in LA came through, he could go to a gym out there.Time to go. He checked the mirror once more – smoothed his hair, shirt tails in or out. He wasn’t sure.

Jake was tired of calling casting directors, deafened by the silence on his phone- ‘Nothing today, sorry ‘. Out of alternatives, out of money – he’d reached the bottom and he didn’t like it there. Time to clean up, pay the reckoning, ride off into the sunset.

He started with his bios, the latest ones, bundled them into a pot, lit a corner. The photo of his youthful face – a re-touched headshot – began to curl in the heat. Cheaper than plastic surgery. Catching suddenly, the bundle burned bright then slowly died. He poured water on the ashes, dumped the mess, pot and all (he wouldn’t need it) into the garbage. He’d get to the garbage later. Now for the suitcase.

It was on the top shelf, way in back. He never used it even though it looked so good – or maybe because it looked so good, a gift from his aunt.
Even when he gave up the band and moved to New York, concentrating on his ‘career in the theater’ as his aunt called it, even then he never used it – except when he went home for a visit, which wasn’t often. He hadn’t toured much – Chicago, Boston and one summer in the Poconos – but the suitcase always came with him when he moved, and he did a lot of that. He dusted it off, checked the lining, left it open on the narrow bed. It was still in pretty good shape. He should get something for the suitcase alone, never mind what he planned to put in it.

He sat down heavily beside the suitcase. Gotten out of shape, without a doubt, all those evenings down at the bar, all those beers. Well, nothing else to do, no lines to learn, no thinking about his character. That had stopped a long time ago. Nowadays, if he had a one-liner, it was an event for him. More often just a walk-on. He pushed himself off the bed. No sense thinking about the past, getting depressed again. He walked to the open closet, peered inside. He’d made the big decision, now for the small ones.

The tux, that should bring in something. He pulled it out of the plastic garment bag, inspected it back and front – no gravy stains – threw it on the bed.
Anything else? He shifted the metal hangers back and forth. Those shirts he’d gotten from the wardrobe lady when he did the Westerns – maybe someone will want them. His audition shirt, the one that was supposed to bring him luck – he might as well throw that in. He wouldn’t need it. There wasn’t much. He’d dropped clothes in each of his moves like a snake sheds skin. Folding the tux as carefully as he could, laying the rest on top, he could just close it. He’d bring it down to the pawn shop as soon as the coast was clear. He could pay the back rent in cash, leave the pawn ticket money as an extra – thank you, Florence, for your patience. Always be polite – his aunt.

He looked at his naked wrist – bad habit. The fancy watch had gone for rent long ago. Enough time left to clean up. Always leave it clean, his aunt again.
As he scrubbed the hot plate, he remembered the kitchen in his condo – easier to clean probably, not that he ever did. He had help then, the glory days after the big part in the movie. He thought it would last forever. Forced to sell- probably too cheap. Then the apartment -still nice, modern kitchen and bath, terrace overlooking the pool, all that. This excuse for a kitchen – ‘kitchen facilities’ it was called in the ad – took more work. ‘Kitchen facilities’, he muttered out loud, snorted. He got the antique carpet sweeper out of the closet, pushed the old sweeper under the bed, angry, ignoring the pain in his back.

He was done before dark, threw himself down on the bed, waiting for the sound of the manager’s old jalopy, waiting for her to go. Didn’t want her to see him leaving with the suitcase. Florence-call-me-Flo is how he thought of her, withered old crow who’d ‘once been in pictures’ (like everyone out here), now manager of a crappy motel. He wouldn’t end like that – chasing rents, bragging of a past that never was. Maybe he should have stayed in New York. He’d had work then- small parts, sure, off-Broadway, just starting to make a name for himself, but Alice Taylor thought he’d do better in the movies, and he did – once, a one-trick-pony. Alice Taylor, who helped so much at the beginning, then – the vanishing agent, gone when he needed her. After the big movie, he’d looked too old for the ‘juvenile’ parts and too young for the good character parts. He’d done his best – bounced back up after every failed audition, kept trying – it hadn’t worked. No sense now even thinking about it.

Once he got rid of the suitcase, he’d start ‘painting in the colors’ in his plan. That’s what that director had said “Jake, you gotta paint in the colors, we gotta believe, ya know. I need more…” and did that funny hand thing, running thumb over fingertips like he was feeling silk. Jake hated that. He stared up at the old posters left by some previous tenant, a movie fan. Did Humphrey Bogart have to listen to that. No director would pull that stuff on Bogey, a real star. He’d test himself with the guys down at the bar, see if he could set them up, make them curious, make the hike up into the Hills irresistible – paint in the colors so they’d stay with him all the way, one last performance.

The weather turned stormy. He didn’t care. He’d made up his mind. It would be good to teach those jokers from the bar a lesson. All that crap about ‘wilderness training’ and ‘real men’. Good to give them a shock, wake ‘em up. At least the rain had stopped. They stood poring over the map, arguing – up or down. The road uphill looked like it ended in a dead-end. The other road looked more promising. He raised his voice, talked over them, less patient than he used to be. He knew that uphill route from the old days, was sure there was a way around that dead-end, a secret way he knew like the back of his hand. The others, with their heavy-soled boots, water bottles, even a handgun – agreed to follow him. Jake would know the way, they said. He’s been out here longer than any of us.

They started to climb. The path was stony, ‘Stony – like his career’ he thought. Every stone a lousy role in a worse movie – his big career in Hollywood. Would it have been different if he’d stayed in New York? All over now. Too late.
Soon they faced a solid stone wall extending to both sides as far as they could see in the darkness. About that beer, the clown in the group muttered. Frowning, the men turned toward Jake. Well? This way, he said, moving off to the left, ignoring the pain in his knee.

They followed, Jim at the end of the group, trying to read the map in his phone. The others marched on, exchanging looks, mumbling under their breath. The path was steeper here. Large stones, falling from the wall, made them nervous. He could feel it. The muttering grew louder. One by one the men slowed down, stopped, doubt spreading from one to the other. He was way ahead of them, despite his age. He called out, “Here’s the break!”

He stopped at the edge, took a deep breath, looked out, remembered that first time, his first year, so beautiful, so full of promise. They came stumbling through the brambles, one by one. He waited, glad it was almost over, turned to survey the small group – Smitty, always thirsty, always joking, Marty, too smart for his own good, shorty Max, barely tall enough to take aim at the pool table and nervous Jim – a motley crew, half his age at best, strangers. He smiled, nodded, and turned away from them, his last audience. Spread below him was the city at night, lights twinkling.

‘A great ending’ and took the step over the cliff.