Jake

Starting out
Wind whistled down Seventh from Central Park. The young man checked his watch, pushed open the glass door. “Meeting Alice Taylor” he told the hostess and followed her. Conscious of admiring glances and anxious to make a good impression, he lifted his chin (undaunted but not aggressive he thought) and straightened his back (adding two inches to his height). The woman at the table was talking to her phone. As he slid into the seat across from her, she looked at him, lifted her eyebrows in greeting and went on talking. Finally, she put the phone on the table in easy reach and smiled. “Jacob?” she asked. She glanced at the resume and photo he had put in front of her, scanning the photo, the text. Leading roles in college, understudy here, touring company there -the usual- skimpy, a beginner, she thought. He should be a character actor, but he was too young. Not handsome enough for a romantic lead, not to mention his name. Who would ever remember Jacob, what was it? -Strelitz? No, he should age fast, change his name – maybe Jon without an H or Jake – his hair too – shorter, and blonder.
Alice wondered how much of this she should say. Deciding not to (why invest the time and energy?), she shook her head and looked dispassionately at the young hopeful on the other side of the table, thinking this lunch was a mistake, what comes of doing a favor for a friend. He talked on about what he’d done, what he hoped for. She’d heard it all before.
She was about to signal for the bill when he said ” It’s all taken care of. I really appreciate your time.” She shook her head again and said, “You shouldn’t unless you’re getting more work than your resume says.” He smiled. “It’s all right. I’m up for a new series.”
‘Up for’ is one thing, ‘cast’ is another she thought. She was uncomfortable, ill-at-ease letting a poor actor pay for lunch. She thanked him, found herself telling him to call again.
As she left the cafe, she thought the name ‘s wrong. Jay wouldn’t be bad. Maybe JJ. A rock star? No, just Jay would be better, easy to remember too. He was still in her head. Maybe he did have something after all, this kid from Philly.
Jacob turned up his collar. He hated Fifty-seventh St. but it was a chance he couldn’t refuse. The corner cafe was her idea. Alice Taylor was the big-time, a real agent, not like that joker he had a contract with. His thoughts ran on. Amazing that Rick had really fixed it up. That’s if there’s no price tag. Maybe he was straight, maybe even just a nice guy? Maybe he really wanted to help a fellow Philadelphian. Just a shame he couldn’t give him the part. Said he needed someone older, weightier- whatever that meant. It would have been so great. Despite the weather, he kept walking downtown on Seventh, every cross street a gust from the pampas. God, he hated the cold. He felt the paper with her number in his pocket. Would she help if he asked? His next audition was on Twenty-third – a long walk.

Audition
He stood in the middle of the room facing them. “Whenever you’re ready.” He smiled, scanned the page, trying to fit what he saw with what Manny had told him. “It’s perfect for you, kid. Maybe try a little older.” “How do I do that?” he’d answered, irritated. “How should I know? You’re the actor.” That’s right. I’m the actor. 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 role – a critically ill hospital patient who dies in the second episode – was a joke. Not a lot of acting there. 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.
The older man interrupted. “You’re from Philadelphia?” Damn. “We’re actually looking for an authentic New York accent.” He shifted gears, answered. Sounding good he thought. “And a lot older.” He took a breath, hunched his shoulders, slouched, frowned, peered out from under imaginary bushy eyebrows, started again. “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.

A Fork in the Road
The message on his answering machine was jubilant. “Hey, Hey, Jakey, we got it, man. The gig we been waiting for – this weekend, Friday and Saturday. So we’ll see ya at the garage to get the set together. Don’t be late, man. This time it’s real bread!”
Frowning, shaking his head, pacing the strip of worn carpet in front of the sleep-on couch, he re-played the message, hoping against hope there was a mistake. Not this weekend, maybe next or even later.
He collapsed on the couch, his head in his hands. It was the decision he’d put off so long. he had to choose – was he musician or actor? Maybe the band could get someone else. But he knew that wasn’t possible. He’d been the motor since they started in high school, lead singer, front man. It was bad enough when he moved to the city. He had to promise he’d still be available for gigs. It was just a short trip to Philly.
OK, let’s be sensible here, he thought to himself, pacing again. What will happen if I don’t show up for the gig? The others would hate him, say he was selfish, snooty, conceited. But how often did he see them anyway. He didn’t really live in Philly anymore, even though most of his stuff was still in his aunt’s garage. The Germantown Rockers – their first name. He winced. Pretty weak but they couldn’t then think of anything better. He found himself looking out of the window at the brick wall opposite, a brick wall, a dead end, closed his eyes.
Just his luck the showcase was this weekend. Alice Taylor had put in a good word, this was one showcase that casting agents really came to, looking for new talent. It could be good for him.
How could he miss the performance- or – which one could he afford to miss?
Stay in New York and lose his band? his friends? their loyalty? Or go to Philly and Lose his first break in show business?

Ten Years under his Belt
He stood in front of the mirror in his underwear. Over thirty now, feeling his age. Turned sideways, pulled in his stomach. Helped a little. Disgusted he turned away, remembering how it felt last night. He’d picked up the guitar just wanting to diddle around a little. It was suddenly far away, propped on a new ledge of fat. “When did this happen?” he’d asked himself, picked up the Gibson, checked the strap. Nothing changed. That girl who gave it to him – what was her name? – nuzzling up to him suggestively, he had to smile. Funny he should remember that. So long ago, back in Philly, that last gig with the band. They’d loved him there, loved the whole band, to be honest. Remembering what happened, sad all over again, shook his head.
Turning back to the mirror – maybe he should start wearing his shirt tails out? Was that a giveaway? or just cool? He’d try it out in the studio 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.
Time to go. Just to be sure Jake picked up the phone, checked his answering service. No offers on the movie or the commercial. The waiting was the worst. He checked the mirror once more – smoothed his hair, shirt tails in or out. He wasn’t sure.

Late for the Party
Jake didn’t really want to go. He was up for a bachelor bash, but not an engagement party with less beer and more women, and all the chatting that entailed. But Rog was a friend and friends help friends as Roger had put it when he invited Jake to come. The party would be at Lili’s parents’ place, on the Upper West Side. Jake promised to come after the performance.
It was inconvenient, traveling from the theater in the Village and took longer than he had anticipated. By the time he arrived in the marbled entrance hall and identified himself to the uniformed doorman, Jake felt even more out of his element. Riding up in the elevator he wondered how Roger had fallen into such a well-upholstered bed.
The party was in full swing, awash with wine and champagne. Jake found some beer in the kitchen. He was trying to find a church key, opening and shutting drawers, when the prospective bride appeared beside him, holding a church key in her hand. Is this what you’re looking for? She was smiling, understandingly, Jake thought, not as if he was violating the drinking rules for engagement parties. She leaned against the counter. He smiled. So, you’re Roger’s friend from the theater. She said it as if theater was some kind of sickness, or maybe a place – like a leper colony. He felt duty-bound to defend his profession and began to explain the magic of theater. She was interested, he could tell. Without realizing it he began to come on to her, the way he would to any attractive, available woman. The door swung open. Ah, here you are, Lili. She was a tall, dark-haired woman, somewhere in her thirties, looking very surprised, censorial somehow. Jake, embarrassed, uncomfortable and out-numbered, thanked Lili and left the kitchen.
As he circulated through the crowd, filled with more couples than singles, he thought he should look for a steady date. It was just so hard to maintain a relationship in his business. He was often either out of town or out of work. It was easier to pick up whatever came along, avoiding long term things like engagements. On other hand, Lili was pleasant, easy, at least in a kitchen at a party. There were not many like her. As if on cue, he saw the surprised woman again, leaving the party with a man. Jake nodded to her, a mute acknowledgement of their non-meeting. Someone called out Bye, Eric. Bye, Dee. Jake turned away, disgusted, another alphabet name. These people here would probably call him J. He wondered how long the engagement would last.
Maybe he should take the offer from Hollywood. True, Alice wasn’t out there any more, retired to Nevada or someplace, out of the race now, no more helpful advice. At least the weather was better out there. He’d think it over.

“It was a dark and stormy night.”
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. Now they were 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.
Less patient than he used to be, Jake announced his opinion over the voices of the others. He knew that uphill route from the old days. He was sure there was a way around the seeming dead-end, a secret way he knew like the back of his hand.
He was pleased to notice how convincing he sounded, like a wise man, not just an old one.
The others, outfitted for all the dangers the Hollywood Hills might offer – alpine-ready heavy-soled boots, water bottles filled to capacity, a few bowie knives, even a handgun – agreed to follow the older man. Jake would know the way, they said. He’d been out here longer than any of them.
They started to climb. The path was stony but not impossible. For Jake, 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. Sooner than the map had indicated, they faced a solid stone wall extending to both sides as far as they could see in the approaching darkness.
About that beer, the clown among the group muttered. Frowning, the men turned toward Jake. Well? This way, he said, moving off to the left, ignoring the pain in his knees. They followed, Jim at the end of the group, trying to read the map by the light of 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. The muttering grew louder. One by one the men slowed down, stopped, immobility like a sickness, spreading one to the other.
Jake, despite his age by now far ahead of the group, called out. He’d reached the break, stopped, took a deep breath, looked out, remembered that first time, his first year, so beautiful, so promising.
The men came stumbling through the brambles, one by one. He waited, smiling, glad it was almost over, surveying 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. He turned away from them, his last audience.
Spread below them was the city at night, lights twinkling. Jake was smiling, nodding. Still there, he muttered and took the step.