I’m balancing two Starbuck’s cups on a hardbound copy of Hemingway’s Snows of Kilimanjaro. The upper tier, my grande half-sweet extra hot non-fat Tazo chai latte is leaking down the bottom cup and pooling on the library’s plastic book protector. I fumble my apartment key in the general direction of the door lock. It slips in. A quick turn and an elbow to the door lever and I’m over the threshold. I can see Dave’s back, crooked and forced, as he works to free up his sacroiliac in front of the stove. He’ll be making an egg-white omelet. I drop Hemingway in the key basket and wipe him off with my jacket sleeve. Tomorrow Dave shoots the second of four domestic Wipex spots. Dave is a sponge pocket. I’ve been dating him for six months.
He attended Paxton’s acting school in New York and received a scholarship to the Bourgeois Academy. I went to public school and eschewed college to write the great American novel. He played Gus in Cats for four years. I wrote three versions of an esoteric literary work that nobody understands (and five fluff pieces for the local fashion mag). While working in L.A. he found himself at an audition for a paper towel commercial. He doesn’t know how it happened, but the spot was a hit. Now he’s the official media sponge pocket. A sponge pocket is a guy in a round white costume with rabbit slippers and a cotton-batting headdress and mittens who bops around the house sopping up kitchen spills, pet footprints, and social wine catastrophes. Stupid, I know.
Dave has a ten-year contract that keeps him in a condo on the beach, a platinum coloured Porsche, and Kobe beef. I work in a diner and write literature on my kitchen table at night. Dave says he’s got the only gig in Hollywood that doesn’t require a low-cal diet or a personal trainer. I eat practically nothing and blow up like a mushroom cap if I put sugar in my coffee. The Wipex people like Dave pudgy. Max at the diner likes me when I show up.
There are other sponge pockets—Dave never appears alone—but while the other sponge pockets rotate through commercial spots, Dave is the constant. As the head sponge pocket, Dave shoots in two or three markets every month, often on different continents. I rehearse the daily specials at Max’s on West 14th.
“Hey,” I say.
“One vanilla bean frappé with extra whipped cream.”
“Great honey, bring it over please. I don’t want to overcook my eggs.” He blows me a kiss over his shoulder. Dave is quite a sight in his white flannel feet pajamas. His agent had them custom made. They don’t make feet-pajamas for 5’6”, 210 lb., 40-year-old men. I lick my chai off of his frappé and put it on the linoleum table in the breakfast nook.
“Want some?” Dave asks. It’s a rhetorical question. He walks the omelet pan to the table and slides his egg-white omelet between the stack of eleven green beans and the mound of fried rice he’ll eat with a spoon.
“So, how’d it go today?” I ask.
Dave is making faces. Stretching his mouth side-to-side and grimacing with each motion. He scrunches up his face, making it as small as possible and then raises his eyebrows to make it big and tries to push his ears back. “Are they moving?” He’s talking about his ears. Dave can’t really move his ears.
“Just a bit, yeah.”
“I think I’m getting a rash.”
“Yeah. I must be allergic to my mittens. They’re made of recycled plastic.”
He holds out his hand, complete with fork and dangling egg white. His eyes are closed and he’s making giant ‘Os’ and ‘Es’ with his lips. “I don’t see anything,” I say.
“Look closer. I’m rashing. Trust me. Rashing.” He sticks out his tongue, rolls it up, rolls it out. Now he’s making guttural sounds, like a rutting elk.
“They gave you speaking parts?” I ask.
He stops dead, blinks emphatically, and throws his head back. He begins to gurgle.
“You’re going to choke on your eggs.” I say. “And I don’t think you can be allergic to recycled plastic.” He continues gurgling. Dave’s been pissed at his agent for weeks, because Lou won’t approach Wipex about getting some lines. Dave has ideas about where he can take this sponge pocket thing. The grotesque drowning noises stop and Dave gets back to his dinner. He pulls the top off his drink and takes a swig. With a frappé moustache, he winds up:
“What would it cost them to get fur-lined mittens? It’s not like I’m asking for chinchilla or mink. Rabbit or Arctic fox would be fine. Ermine. Yes, ermine. Memo to self: ermine. Don’t you think I’d be more convincing without that headdress? The regular sponge pockets wear them. The head sponge pocket shouldn’t be stuck with the same costume. That’s just not realistic.”
“Realistic for a sponge pocket, or realistic that the part-timers wear the same outfit as you?”
“I find your attitude disconcerting in the extreme,” Dave says. He casually gets up with his dish, notices a bit of egg white on his sleepers, picks it off and eats it. “I’m going to get some rest. Early morning, tomorrow.”
“Did you bring your stuff?” I ask.
“I put it in your room. Do you mind if I get some shut-eye?”
I kiss him on his big dumb nose. “Of course not.” He heads off to the bedroom, doesn’t brush his teeth.
I call after him: “You can change your mittens, but you have to eat the same meal every night?”
“Just before a shoot,” he corrects. “Just before a shoot.”
I clean up his dinner and scan the fridge for something easy to make myself. There’s leftover lemon chicken. I peel off the cellophane and pick at it with my fingers as I start down the hall. I grab Kilimanjaro on the way by. Dave is lying in the dark. I hear waves, sea birds. Deep Ocean Sounds is playing. He’s wearing a faux-fur-lined mask and looks like a giant dead fluff-ball on top of the duvet.
I pass the bedroom and see a pile of his things in the living room. I sit among them and imagine Dave in his sponge pocket suit surrounded by thirty technicians and professionals. I notice something in his bunny slippers. Lifts.
“I can’t believe he’s got lifts in his slippers.” I shake my head and take a slipper to the bedroom. Dave’s snoring. I drop my arm and return to the living room. I flop onto the couch and finger the plastic library cover. It protects Hemingway from grit.
I wake up on the couch. My arm is still asleep. I dreamt about rooting through the kitchen compost for old lettuce. People in tuxedos and evening gowns feasted on fine wine and pheasant in my dining room under a giant stuffed sailfish. Dave’s already gone. That’s evident by the mess in the bedroom, the mess in the kitchen, and the mess that is my schedule for today. I drag myself into the kitchen, rubbing my face. When the fog clears I can make out a yellow sticky on the fridge: ‘Call me.’ I pick up my phone to text Dave. I’ve got a message. It’s him. ‘Don’t text. Call.’ I look at my distorted reflection in the toaster. Giant mouth. Teensy head. I dial Dave and he picks up without saying hello.
“I swear this suit is fatter. WHO MADE THIS FUCKING SUIT? IT’S HUGE!” Then he whispers into the phone: “They’re making me fatter! The suits are getting fatter! Hold on, Honey… Hey, you there! You, with the muscles! Are these the wrong suits? These must be for the other sponge pockets. My suits are the thin ones. I’m the main guy. YOU! HELLO! HELLO! HABLAR EN ENGLAIS? The fucking peons here are impossible, I tell you. Honey, I have to go. I really have to go.” And he hangs up.
I down some juice, shower and dress, grab a couple of loose-leaf chapters to rewrite on the bus, and head out for another stimulating day of waiting tables. On my way out of the apartment I notice a letter stuck to the corkboard.
I’ve had a meeting with the executives at Wipex. They’re prepared to make the amendments to your contract that we discussed. Congrats!
As for the Letterman show, I really think you should consider it. We can have you already in place, sitting down after a commercial break, and you can be introduced that way. You don’t have to stand up beside Dave. Think about it. I don’t think we can get the Tonight Show. Leno’s just not that into the whole sponge pocket thing. He’s behind in the ratings too. No shit!
Have fun in Amsterdam with the Romanians. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!
The Romanians. The last time Dave did Holland, the local sponge pocket contingent was so tall and thin that Dave looked like a croquet ball surrounded by mallets. He walked off the set and demanded that Romanian sponge pockets fill the supporting roles. Romanians! Dave never met a Romanian in his life. He just made that up on the spot.
And these guys are like: “Where do we find Romanian actors? Get me some Romanian sponge pockets before lunch!” Now Romanian sponge pockets are imported for all of the Dutch and Scandinavian shoots. He flies to London Thursday, and from there to Amsterdam for the weekend.
There are two kinds of customers at the diner: junior employees from the publishing house down the block, and the lawyers from Bick, Jutson, and Firth. The publishing people are always reading, scanning, noting. Their heads pop around like sparrows’. They always know who’s where, who’s watching, who’s moving. And they’re always working at something. The lawyers are like lazy cats. They eat and drink and fluff their coats and lounge around with no timetable until a young publishing bird flits into their field of vision. Then they pounce.
I do some banking and pick up the ingredients for Dave’s favorite crab dip for the get-together at his place tonight. It’ll be a quiet do, with just the two of us and Lou and his lawyer. My phone rings. I’ve been summoned. The limo smells funny today and the driver’s too stuck-up to acknowledge it. Of course. I can swing by.
On the set, Dave has settled for one of the six sponge pocket suits he always has standing at the ready. He’s called cut! seven times despite the newbie director’s protests. The videographer and makeup people come and go on Dave’s command and the young director is helpless to do anything about it. The poor soul is going to have a heart attack. He’s sitting in the second assistant director’s chair with his head in his hands while Dave changes to a fresh headdress with the help of two charming and boyish assistants.
“Thanks, lovelies. You’re the best,” Dave croons.
Dave has them eating out of his pudgy manicured hands. One of the assistants turns red and trips over his own feet as he turns to skip away.
“Heh, heh. That boy’s going to remember this day,” Dave says.
“Can we kindly get back to shooting now?” pleads the director.
“Bababababababababababab. Dadadadadadadadadadada. Lalalalalalalalalalalala.” Dave does his diction exercises.
“Please?” The director asks again.
“Now, I’m ready,” says Dave.
A cocktail party ensues. Dave and two backup sponge pockets lurk under the coffee table waiting for the inevitable spill. A dreadfully quaffed two-dimensional metrosexual with atrocious loafers laughs at some strumpet’s story and knocks over a glass of red wine. The wine slings out of the glass like a ski jumper and in slow motion describes an arc over the coffee table toward the snowy shag carpet. Dave and the Boys Wonder, leap to action: Dave launches himself arms outstretched, absorbent mitts homing in on the blood-red effluent. The junior sponge pockets skitter behind. Dave bends into a tuck and executes a perfect somersault, catches up to the wine in mid-air, and sacrifices his pure white puffiness to the cause of saving the rug. At least that’s what it will look like when the CGA people get through with it.
On this shoot, the cardboard yuppie unceremoniously spills the wine and Dave stumbles out from behind a fake wall and drops spread-eagle onto the wine-stained rug atop two queen-sized mattresses. He turns his head and winks to me from the floor before he yells. “Cut!”
The doorbell rings. Gongs, would be more appropriate.
“Would you get it dear?” Dave whines. I put down the toasted almond crust that I was applying to the cheese ball and do a Dave pastiche en route to the foyer and the main doors beyond. This apartment is huge. It’s Lou and a girl. A girl! Lou’s been auditioning for heterosexuality. If you knew Lou, you’d know how preposterous that is. And the girl is like some sort of plastic fantastic that he bought at a blow-up shop.
“Hi Lou. Welcome. Oh, this must be Fluffette? We’ve heard so much about you.”
She speaks. “Oh no, my name is Theresa.”
Theresa! Of course. Theresa. “Oh, sorry about that dear. Well, welcome Theresa. Can I take your, uh, is it a sweater, dear?”
“Oh no,” she says, “This is part of the outfit. Do you like it?”
“Like it? Well, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anything quite like it.” I saunter to the kitchen with Lou and Fluffette in tow.
“David!” Lou handles Dave roughly and kisses him on both cheeks. Dave hates being called that. Only his mother calls him David.
“Great to see you, Lou. Who’s the vision?”
“This is Theresa. We met at the salon on Saturday.”
“Pleased to meet you,” he says. Dave looks strangely interested.
“So, Lou,” Dave says, “What’s happening with Pawtucket?”
“Pawtucket?” I inquire. The gong goes off again.
“I’ll get it,” I say. I figure I’m going to be sent anyway.
“That’ll be Bernie.” Dave says.
I answer the door, take Bernie’s too-formal coat, and escort the always-overdressed lawyer back to the kitchen. Bernie of course, came alone: being a lawyer, his personality is wanting.
“Hey David, how’s it hangin’?”
David again. Am I missing something?
“Bernie baby!” Dave answers. “Speak of the devil. We were just talking of you.”
“My brilliance, or good looks?”
“Both, Bernie, of course both!”
Lou jumps in: “David was just asking me about Pawtucket.”
“There’s a story!” Bernie says. He looks at me. “You know about Pawtucket, of course.”
“No, actually I don’t.” I’m quite miffed. Left out as usual.
“Well,” Bernie starts, “We’re suing a girl in Pawtucket who went trick-or-treating in a sponge pocket suit that her mother made for her.”
“You’re kidding,” I say.
“No. Can you believe that bitch?” Dave laughs.
“The girl or the mother?” I ask. “How old is she?”
“The girl or the mother?” Lou mimics me. They all laugh.
“Hilarious,” I say. “How old is the girl?”
“You’re kidding,” I repeat.
“The bitch,” Dave says.
“So,” Bernie continues, “It was a homemade job. Clearly a rip-off of our intellectual property.”
Intellectual property. A sponge pocket suit. That’s rich. I’ve heard all about how Lou secured the rights to the suit: the use of, the representation of, the images of, yada, yada. Nobody gets the right to the suit. Dave is the only character in the history of 30-second spots that owns property in his image. Lou is the cat’s ass.
“You’re suing a little kid for wearing a Halloween costume.”
“Yup.” Dave’s proud. “And you should see the material. Totally bush. It’s cheap, cheap, cheap. No fur. No lining. Nothing. Bernie got the other lawyer to send it to us.
“To Bernie!” Bernie, Lou, and Dave, raise their glasses in honour of themselves. Or is it David?
“And it’s not even white. It’s like buff!
“You know,” Dave puts his finger to his lower lip. “Sometimes, I feel not quite in a white mood…”
“Well, we could have different shades of white for your lineup of suits,” Lou says.
“Yes. For different moods,” Dave adds.
“And lighting,” says Lou.
“Oh, oh! And different shades for different UV index readings!” Dave’s got a bone between his teeth. “Cloudy and sunny days, and when I drink too much the night before, or when my skin is less than its usual perfection. I could have sponge pocket suits of every shade of white.”
“Well, you’ll never wear that one,” I say. “You have beautiful skin.” Dave plays coy. He gives me a squeeze, puts his big furry arms around me. I can smell oak and Stilton and I forget everything.