Monday, November 9, 2009

“Uncle Buddy’s House”, Chapter 23: revelations

Our hero Buddy Best, that self-described “middle-aged Hollywood hack”, finds himself in the strange position of having dinner with the lovely Cordelia, daughter of the Ancient Mariner...

(Go here to see our previous thrilling chapter, or click here to return to the beginning of this “blatant and unashamed pot-boiler” -- (J.J. Hunsecker, in Daily Variety.)

So they started with what turned out to be very good artichoke croquettes and something that Buddy thought was going to be a shrimp paté but which turned out to be more like shrimp paté turnovers, but they were good too. The croquettes had truffles in them somewhere, which meant they were probably absurdly expensive, and they came with a bowl of some white sauce that was delicious and probably ninety percent butter, and so Buddy would probably die of a heart attack that night; on the other hand the turnover stuffing was only about fifty percent butter.

They had been talking in a free-associative way, about the Los Angeles public transport system and L.A.’s racial stratification, about SARS, about the war in Iraq, and terrorism, and the Palestinian question, and neither of them had said anything interesting. There was a pause in the conversation. Buddy was a little bored, and he could tell she was too. Of course from Buddy’s point of view all this blather was bearable because she was a good-looking girl with a rocking body; he had put up with hundreds of far more excruciating conversations in the past as part of the price he had to pay to have sex with bimbos -- and, hey, come to think of it -- oh, but wait, this chick with the body was the daughter of the asshole his wife had run away with, so just fucking forget about it.

She looked at the appetizer plates, which were both empty. A waiter came and took them away. Buddy took a sip of wine. Cordelia looked at him and cocked her head.

“So -- how are you holding up, anyway?” she asked. “I mean really.”

“Holding up?”

“Yeah.”

“You mean with Joan leaving me?”

“Uh-huh.”

“The million dollar question.”

“Oh. You don’t have to answer,” she said.

“I don’t mind.”

“Really?”

“Really,” he said, although he did mind a little.

“Okay,” she said. “So --”

“I’m holding up okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t -- miss her?”

Buddy paused here. He was thinking about his answer but he was also thinking about the way her question had dissolved into a watery growl. His first impulse had been to be glib, but --

“Do I miss Joan. At first I did. Which is kind of weird really, because Joan -- I don’t know how well you know her, but -- Joan is -- kind of a -- a --”

“A bitch?”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say that --”

“Sorry. What were you going to say?”

“I was going to say ‘piece of work’.”

“’Piece of work.’”

“Right.”

“But you missed her anyway.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah what?” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“You said yeah in a funny way.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Funny how?”

“Funny like you weren’t so sure.”

“That I missed her?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay,” said Buddy.

“What?”

“Well -- I wonder now if -- oh, forget it, who gives a shit.”

“I do,” she said. “Tell me.”

“Okay,” said Buddy. “I wonder now if maybe the biggest thing that bothered me about her leaving was that, was that, was that it was with, uh --”

“My father,” she said.

“Yeah,” said Buddy.

Her face relaxed into a picture of complete understanding, her head nodding.

“I mean, it’s tough enough playing the cuckold,” said Buddy.

“Mm-hmm.”

“But when the one who’s cuckolding you is --”

“Someone like my father.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“That must have been really tough,” she said.

“Well --”

“So what about now?”

“What about about now?”

“How do you feel about it now?”

“Well --” Buddy was the sort of guy who didn’t like to talk about how he felt. But now for some reason he didn’t mind. Too much. “I guess the main thing that bothers me now is my stepdaughter. Deirdre.”

“Why does she bother you?”

“She doesn’t bother me. What bothers me is that Joan is no doubt going to take her. That bothers me.”

“So you’re -- fond of Deirdre?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.”

“That’s nice,” she said.

“Yeah, well.”

“So,” she said.

“So,” said Buddy.

“You’re probably wondering.”

“Am I?”

“Yes!”

“About what?”

“About why I needed to talk to you. Or wanted to talk to you.”

“Oh, right,” said Buddy. “I forgot. So, what’s up?”

She looked down at her wine.

All in good time, thought Buddy.

She looked up at him, then brought her face closer over the table.

“It’s about my father.”

“Yeah?”

Another pause. She was breathing deeply, and the way she leaned across the table Buddy couldn’t help but notice again the beauty of her breasts, that tiny dime-sized tattoo of Saturn that didn’t really look like Saturn --

“My father and Joan --” she stage-whispered.

“Yes?” Buddy tried to keep his eyes on her face.

“Well --”

She sat upright. The waiter was there with their main course, skinny spaghetti with vegetables for Buddy, fatter spaghetti with little meatballs for her.

“Oh, wow,” she said, “This looks great.”

And she dug in.

The meatballs did look good. But a year before Buddy had decided to cut out red meat, and he mostly had done this. Like an asshole, he thought, because now he really wanted some of those meatballs. He tasted his pasta. Surprisingly it was okay, they’d done something good with the sauce. Usually pasta with vegetables was incredibly boring, just something the chef tossed out to keep the veges happy and the women of course and pathetic middle-aged men who wanted not to be middle-aged. What was it about the sauce? Oh, right, butter. And garlic and pine nuts and whatnot. But butter, and lots of it. So he was definitely giving himself a heart attack anyway. He should’ve just lived it up and gone for the meatballs.

“What was I saying?” she asked after eating about a quarter of her dish.

Damned if Buddy could remember. He’d been thrown off by those meatballs. He could smell them across the table and they smelled damn good. But you couldn’t just tell someone you couldn’t remember what they were talking about just a few minutes ago. The thing to do was to stall.

“Well, let’s see, you were talking about, uh -- hey, how’s your food? Okay?“

“Oh my God, it’s great. Hey, you want some?”

Normally Buddy despised the American custom of everyone offering everyone else at the table a taste of every fucking dish -- it drove him crazy in fact, but he was a man full of contradictions among other things and so he said, “Uh, I wouldn’t mind trying one of those meatballs.”

“Help yourself,” and she held out her bowl, and he did. And --

“Wow, these are good,” he said.

She took a good drink of wine and smiled at him.

“You can’t remember what I was saying, can you?” she asked.

Fortunately the meatball had cleared his brain.

“Um, something about your dad?”

“Right, well --” She had popped a meatball into her own mouth, and was chewing. “God, these meatballs are good.”

“Yeah, they are.”

“Do you want another one?”

He did, but he said he didn’t.

She finished chewing and swallowing and then took a healthy drink of wine.

“My dad didn’t want Joan to leave you for him.”

“What?”

She leaned her face forward.

“He didn’t want her to leave you. That’s what I wanted to tell you over the phone. Why I asked you to meet with me.” She leaned back again, and said, ”He didn’t want her to move in because he was hoping he’d get more parts in your movies.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Nope.”

She went back to work on her pasta. Buddy had laid his fork down.

“He actually thought I would hire him again?”

“Well, obviously not after you found out about him and Joan. That’s why he didn’t want you to find out, why he didn’t want Joan to leave you.”

“Okay. Y’know, no offense, Cordelia, but I would’ve never hired his sorry ass again in a million years, not even as a fucking extra.”

“I love hearing that.”

“So your dad got more than he bargained for.”

“He sure did. You should have heard him the night Joan came over and told him she’d told you about them and that she’d left you. And then you should have heard her.”

“So -- you heard all this?”

“I was hiding in my room, my head under the covers.”

“Uh-huh.”

“He tried to tell her what he tells all his girlfriends, which is that he’s never gotten over my mother dying, which is bullshit, but women are such idiots they usually swallow it.”

“But not Joan.”

“No, she just told him that it was high time he fucking got over my mother and stopped acting like a little faggot pussy and made a commitment to a real living woman.”

Good old Joan. Even after fifteen years in California she was still a hard-nosed Nebraska girl when you got right down to it.

Buddy noticed his wineglass, with wine in it. He took a drink.

“So that’s what you wanted to tell me?”

“Yeah,” she said. “What?”

“Uh --”

“What?” she said.

“Well, I was just wondering -- why you wanted to tell me all this?”

“Why?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“Well, um, because, like -- I don’t know -- maybe you would want to get back with her? And -- if you knew, like, that my father never really wanted her to leave you and move in with him, then, uh --”

“Oh, I see. But I don’t want to get back with her.”

“Oh.”

“He can have her.”

“Oh.”

“But, hey, thanks for the thought, Cordelia.”

“You’re welcome.”

She had stopped eating. She glanced at him and then looked down at her plate. She started to gnaw the lower right quadrant of her upper lip.

“Hey, eat your spaghetti,” said Buddy.

She picked up her fork and started eating again.

She seemed upset, and Buddy wanted to cheer her up. Flattery worked with women about a hundred percent of the time, so he said, “Y’know, Cordelia, at the risk of sounding like our mafia friend, you know you really are an unusually beautiful --”

“Oh, stop it,” she said, chewing.

“No, really, you really are a very, uh --”

“Please, stop.”

“Well, okay.”

“I mean,” still chewing, “thanks for the compliment. But I know what I look like.” She swallowed her food and took a drink of wine. “Men,” she said.

“Men what?”

“You know men what.”

“You mean we -- like women?”

“Women’s bodies.”

“Well -- sure.”

So, was she going to get all feminist on his ass now, and wearing that dress, with that fantastic décolletage, that little tattoo Saturn that really didn’t look like Saturn --

“See? Right now you’re looking at my boobs.”

Buddy looked up.

“No, I was -- just thinking,” he lied.

“Oh, I’ll bet. Is this thing too low-cut? I bought it when I was skinnier, but now I’m so fat the only way I could get it on was by lowering the straps --”

And she buttoned the top two buttons of her cardigan, damn her, and went back to work on what was left of her spaghetti-and-meatballs.

Buddy took a drink of the wine. It was good. But even better was the buzz.

“Y’know,” he said, “if I can say so -- and please don’t take this the wrong way --”

“What?”

“You -- you looked -- very -- different that night of your father’s party.”

She got that stricken look again.

“In what way? You mean I looked skinnier?”

“No --”

She looked conditionally relieved.

“So I was fatter then?”

“No!” And he very quickly added, “I mean, it had nothing to do with how fat or skinny you looked --”

“Well -- do you think I’m fatter now --?”

“Cordelia, I was talking about how you -- looked that night -- and it had nothing to do with your --”

“You mean I looked ugly.”

“No!”

“Plain?”

“No, not at all --” although she actually had looked kind of plain now that she mentioned it --

“Oh my God it really showed, didn’t it?”

“What?”

“I was miserable. I’d had this awful thing with my father. He accused me of fucking up his precious food somehow, of not following his precious recipes to the letter, God, I was in tears, I really didn’t want to be there. And the thing was I did follow his recipes.”

“Did you?”

“To the letter!”

“Well, you shouldn’t have. The food sucked.”

She smiled.

“I’m so glad you said that.”

She’d finished all her spaghetti and meatballs and now she broke off some bread and swished it around in the sauce.

“So,” said Buddy -- he felt the need somehow for a major subject-change -- “what do you do?” He got a fairly blank stare so he elaborated: “I mean, for a living, you know. Unless you’re still in school, or --”

“Oh, no, I’ve finished school. I mean I still take classes, but -- well, anyway, right now I’m working part-time in a coffee shop.”

“Ah.”

“And in the meantime I’ve been trying for a lot of jobs, but, well, you know what it’s like.”

She took a bite of the bread.

“Yeah,” said Buddy, ready to be bored again, but what the hell. “What kind of jobs?”

“Anything. I’ve even been going for industrials, radio voice-overs --”

Buddy felt his mind lurching toward some great revelation. And his expression must have showed this, because Cordelia said, seeming slightly alarmed:

“What?”

“You -- you’re an actress.”

“Well -- yeah --”

“Would -- you have been in anything I’ve -- anything I would have -- seen?”

He had a falling sensation.

“You’re kidding, right?” she said.

“I -- I don’t think so --”

“Mr. Best --”

“Buddy --” he said, weakly.

“Buddy, you’ve seen me act. You saw me in the showcase. In La Voix Humaine. God, was I that forgettable?”

“Oh Christ.”

“What?”

“Cordelia, don’t take this the wrong way --”

“What?”

“That was you?”

“Of course it was me. Who did you think it was?”

“I -- I -- shit.”

“Oh my God you didn’t recognize me.”

“Well, you had blond hair, and all that make-up, streaked down your face. And you were speaking French.”

“You are weird.”

“I didn’t know that was you.”

She looked at him.

“I’m going to take that as a compliment.”

“It is a compliment. I thought you were great. I thought you were French, and blond, and -- and -- and really sexy for one thing --”

“Really? Even in that slip? I was so worried about that slip.”

“Why?”

“Why? Because of my fat ass and fat thighs of course.”

“You didn’t have a fat ass and fat thighs. You looked great. And you were great in the piece. You were -- you were very authentic.”

“Really? I thought I overdid it a bit that night.”

“No, you were great.”

“Well, thank you.”

“Have you -- have you done much other work?”

“Mostly stage stuff. I went to school in New York and I did some Off-off Broadway and one Off, and I did one musical tour. The stage is what I really truly love, but I did have a pretty good part in this one low-budget movie that never went anywhere as far as I know, and then I had a recurring under-five on One Life to Live for a couple of months until my character got murdered, but then I had to move out of my apartment because my roommate got married, and I was offered a part on a sitcom here in L.A., so against my better judgment just to make money for a new apartment in New York I came back and moved back in with Papa, and then the sitcom got canceled after two weeks. That was last fall, and all I’ve done since is collect unemployment and work in the coffee shop and -- oh!”

“What?”

“Oh my God please don’t think I asked to have dinner with you just so I could ask you for a job!”

“I didn’t think that.”

“Oh my God!”

“Hey, Cordelia, it’s okay. I mean, I wouldn’t have minded anyway.”

“Really?”

“No. I mean, it’s hard to get acting jobs. Schmoozing is all part of the game. I do it all the time.”

“Really?”

“I’m fucking shameless.”

“But that wasn’t the reason I wanted to talk to you.”

“I didn’t think it was.”

She looked at her plate. It was empty and clean and the bread basket was empty. Then she looked at Buddy with a very serious expression.

“How was your pasta by the way?” she asked.

“Pretty good. I can’t eat any more if you want some.”

“Well -- maybe just a bite.”

Buddy picked up her spic-and-span plate and replaced it with his own one-third-full plate. And she dug in again. And he sat back and sipped his wine.

“But there was another reason,” she said after a minute.

“A reason? For what?”

“For why I asked you to meet with me.”

Twirling that spaghetti.

“Oh. I mean, ‘Oh’?”

And forking it in.

“It’s because when we met at that stupid party, you just -- impressed me.”

“Oh really?”

God this girl could eat.

“I thought you were really -- cool.”

“Thanks. I thought you were -- cool, too.”

“No you didn’t. You already said I was weird.”

“Well, I didn’t --”

“I wasn’t cool. I’m not a cool person.”

She’d cleaned the plate. She demurely patted her mouth with her napkin, and -- Buddy thanked his three drunken personal gods -- she absentmindedly unbuttoned those two top buttons of her cardigan and sat back. She looked around the restaurant with a satisfied air.

“I think you’re cool now,” said Buddy, making sure to look at her eyes and not at her breasts.

She met his gaze. Then she put her hand over her mouth and let out a little belch.

“Oh! Excuse me! That’s how cool I am.”

“That’s okay. In Arab countries belching is considered a compliment to the host.”

“Really?”

“Beats me, I heard it in some movie. Hey -- would you like some dessert --?”

There was a space in the last sentence because for an awful moment he forgot her name again. She picked up on this space but luckily for Buddy she misinterpreted it. A look of despair came over her face.

“Oh my God, you’re thinking, ‘How could she ever eat another morsel in her lifetime.’”

“No, not at all, I just thought maybe you would like
some --“

“No. I’m stuffed and I’m too fat.”

Fat, sprat, Jack, lean, David Lean, Lawrence, Arabia, labia, Lydia, la, la --

“Cordelia,” he said, triumphantly.

“Yes?”

And now having said her name he actually had to say something.

“Have some dessert.”

“No. I’m way too fat.”

“You’re not fat.”

“I shouldn’t have ordered those meatballs.”

“They were --”

“I could barely squeeze into this dress. I do look fat in it, don’t I?”

“No, you --”

“Okay, let me ask you a question. Mr. Best --”

“Please, Cordelia --” Ha, he’d remember that fucking name now if it killed him -- “call me Buddy. Buddy Buddy Buddy. Or Bud.”

“Okay, Bud -- but you have to promise to be absolutely honest with me.”

“Right.”

“I mean it.”

“Sure.”

“Okay, here’s my question. Buddy, if you saw me walking down the street -- and you didn’t know me -- would you say, ‘Hmm, she’s a little pudgy’?”

“Uh --”

“Or would you say, ‘She looks okay, but she’d look a lot better if she lost fifteen --”

“Cordelia?”

“Yes?”

“Uh --”

“Or -- would you say, ‘Okay, she’s all right, I mean she’s not absolutely hideous, but -- she could lose oh, say, ten --”

“Wait.”

“What?”

“Cordelia.”

“What?”

“Can we stop this?”

And suddenly she snapped out of it.

“Oh my God, I’m sorry -- I have these body-image --”

“Sure.”

“Issues.”

“Right. But look. You’re not fat and you do want dessert. Women always want dessert.”

“Do you know women all that well?”

“I know that they always want dessert. Other than that, well --”

“Go on.”

“They all think they’re too fat.”

“True. What else?”

“Well, I think that about sums it up, really.”

“That’s all you know about women? Or is that all there is to know about women?”

“Well, let me see --”

“Okay,” she said. “I think I’d like something chocolate.”


(Continued here, on the chance that something will actually happen.)

(Please go to the right hand column of this site for a listing of links to all other possible episodes of
Uncle Buddy’s House™, serialized Monday through Friday at six PM {Eastern Standard Time} on the DuMont Radio Network, starring William Bendix as Buddy.)

5 comments:

kathleenmaher said...

I'm reading this from the migraine circle, far worse than Dante's pale ninth.
And it's breath-taking, break-through Coltrane in dialog.

Dan Leo said...

Ah, you're too nice, Kathleen. I hope the Buddy-Cordelia duet helped ease the pain somewhat...

Bald Samson said...

Warning: meatballs are a known aphrodisiac!

dianne said...

Love it! Very perceptive.

Dan, you must be very old to have developed so many insights into both men and women.

Or, you've been stalking me and my husband for years.

:-)

Dan Leo said...

Di, whaddaya mean I must be very old???!!

I'm just a good listener...(AND old!)

Now I'm gonna go eat some meatballs.