SLEEPIN’ WITH THE VINTAGE
Once upon a time, in the land of Hollyweird, there lived a simple carpenter with a not so simple a story to tell.
Selling pencils at 6 am from a storage trailer in the Sloane Bros. Industrial Park (a new low in sweatshop benefits) was my bottoming out. I mean, peddling pills in a health food store wasn’t much better, or playing the guardian bit with kid TV actors whose old man and old lady were too busy to be there. Little fuckers. Pencils, pills and pre-pubescent assholes. All the same. But hey...not complainin'. It’s not everyday 50-year-olds get to start over, right?
So, out of the fuckin’ sky it drops. Wasn’t any kind of effort, either. After all those years tryin’ to satisfy the bitch, givin’ her three kids, sweatin’ my balls off building one fuckin B movie set after another for the college tuition, goin’ half broke with her hair and nails shit, not to mention the credit cards, and…. Oh, Christ. The credit cards. There ought to be a law. Yeah, I know, there is. The "integrity" kind of rules that the bitch never paid any attention to. Having IOUs ignored by party B, leaves party A with either some broken kneecaps, or with luck, some community service in lieu of rest time in the clink. But…oh, fuck, that’s behind me now.
So...here I am. You try to plan somethin’ like this, and forget it. Doesn’t happen. Like a bad reality show, I walk out of divorce court, plop down on the corner of the granite stairs leading to the street, drop my head in my hands, stare longingly at... what? Blanker than checks I wished I still had before the attorney’s took... Oh well, some would tell me, “Live and let live.” Fuck that shit. Fuck it all. Then, this, like out of a dream lookin’ knock off of the ‘31 Isotta Fraschini limo pulls up…like, you know, the one used in the movie Sunset Boulevard. Then, we’re talkin’ a lanky English driver jumping out in a Von Stroheim look-alike costume, opening the door. With an oh, so, British aplomb wave of his hand, he beckons to the top of the stairs. I think he’s notifying some mucky muck attorney that his car awaited, but no. He was waving, then pointing, then waving again... at me. I curiously meander down to the curb.
“Mr. Spyros, this is your well earned day to freedom.” I look at him like he’s got the wrong Spyros, then quickly I think, shit, two Spyros’s comin’ outta the divorce court same day? Possible, but not probable. No way. He gestures again to enter the limo. So, I lean down and take a peek into the antique, thinkin’ somebody’s pullin’ my chain big time. I smile, just a little. Some funky jazz playin’ on the sound system, all kinda sexy quiet like, and…
“Mr. Spyros?” the driver asks—standing erect like a Central Casting ad with spit-shined boots, jacket and cap atop a head stiffly protruding from dark blue driver-duds—“If you’ll just climb in, Mr. DraKula has a job for you.”
All I could think was hell of a way for a rent-an-actor to pay the rent. I grin. "Mr. Who?"
"DraKula, Sir...with a K."
"With a K. Uh huh. Well that makes it legit for sure."
I’m thinkin’ I’m just out of a twenty-two year marriage, free and clear, she didn’t try to get nothin’, cause nothin’ was there, after the attorney fees. I’m broke and... shit. Busted and this DraKula guy, with a K, has got a job for me. I start to step in, then stop. So close to goin' the distance on this temptation. For a moment I picture myself closing the door, sinking into… Damn. Always wondered, what the hell the rich do to keep this fragrance of sumptuous leather always smelling show room and… but no.
I back up to the steps I’d just come down and slowly sit. The chauffeur remains standing at the door, stiff as a stick. WTF seems appropriate as I sit here, listening to the music faintly coming from the car…the even more persuasive waft of the leather reaching me.
I sit. Smile to myself. Entertain the thought that one of the guys on the set did this...set me up for a some kind of "surprise! Happy Divorce Day!" or some other kind of stupid shit. Having learned long ago that set carpenters are the biggest practical jokers on any production, high or low budget, I console myself with a smile. Yeah. Gotta be. So I sit, let the stick know I'm not buying. Am I? Course not.
This driver of sorts, remains upright and steadfast. He's not moving. So, after a few minutes, I stand up and move to him again. "Okay. So, what's this all about? Got a cake at the other end with some big-bosomed rent-a-chick popping out, huh?"
He doesn't react, except to say, "Take as long as you need. Mr. DraKula is a patient man, indeed.”
I can't help it. I laugh. "You expect me to just jump in here and gamble that I'm gonna like the end game, eh?"
"Precisely," he says. “Mr. DraKula never wastes an offer.”
I walk around the back of the limo and take in the license plate. No help there. No vanity plate. No nothin’ of a hint. Coming back around I ask him one more time. "You gonna tell me what this is all about? And what's your name, anyway?"
"Ludlow, Sir. And what it's ‘all about,’ Sir, is a job."
"With Mr. DraKula."
I peek into the back seat one more time. Damn...now it’s Miles with a soulful blues. Trumpet like that is hard to..."Ah, fuck it." I climb in. "What's the worst that can happen, Ludlow? DraKula sucks my blood?"
Ludlow closes the door, venturing ever so slight a grin. "You have such an imagination, Sir. Enjoy your choice of beverage. We'll be there in sixty-eight minutes."
He closes the door and I sink into the leather that feels like a very large freshly opened marshmallow. The leathery-leather. The sounds of that trumpet. I grin to myself. Probably Bernie. Yeah, bet it's friend Bernie pullin' my chain. Oh, well. Enjoy your first day of freedom, Mr. Spyros, I think to myself.
I lean forward from the plush cocoon I'm beginning to covet and slide open the burled oak bar. Three identical cut crystal decanters sparkle with the overhead pin lights. "This guy likes his red wine, for sure," I mumble.
"Indeed," comes Ludlow’s voice through the speaker above me. "Very red, Indeed."
And sixty-eight minutes it is. By the time we are through the winding San Bernardino Mountain roads, I have managed to make a severe alteration to one of the decanters and am feeling little pain. Now, that is unusual for me, being the shot-chaser maniac I’m sometimes called. Just a little over an hour of sipping simple red, and I’m under—sinking further into this pillowed luxury, caring less about the job, and more about the high I’m getting. But, damn, this is good tastin’. I mean, real good.
We enter an electronic gate that has to be a first. No bars. No filigree this or filigree that Hollyweird crazy shit. Just a sliding slab of concrete with a logo-like primitive carving in the center. “Hey, Ludlow, what’s that carving mean?”
“Just a ‘K’ lying down, Sir.” Mr. DraKula’s logo.”
“Uh huh. So, this isn’t Ernie’s doing, eh?”
As we pass through the entrance, it becomes abundantly clear. This isn’t an Ernie-styled practical joke. He doesn’t know anybody this eccentric, and certainly not anyone this far away from his digs in Venice Beach.
And we are purring along a switchback driveway lined with overhanging weird-ass pine trees that seem to go on forever. I lean forward and peer through the partition separating us. “Ludlow?”
“What kind of business your guy in?”
“Mr. DraKula? Oh, he prefers not to call it a business, Sir. Rather a pleasure.”
“And that would be…”
“You’ve been drinking it, Sir.”
I sit back, smiling to my getting-higher-by-the-minute self. I look at the half empty decanter. No wonder his logo K is lying on its ass.
We pull up to another slab of concrete, only this one is an entrance to a hill. Like a fuckin’ bunker it is, beneath a grassy hill populated with all kinds of K’s on their ass. Granite Ks, large and larger; forged-iron Ks, black and blacker; and even a two story big-ass glass, crystal-like K—on its ass too. This guy really likes himself in a prone position. But, what the hell do I care. I’m startin’ to enjoy this.
Once through the sliding slab, it is one hell of a trip. All along another long-ass driveway, underground, a fuckin’ sconce of sorts every twenty, thirty feet. You got it. K’s-on-their-ass sconces.
“So, Ludlow, this red shit I’ve been drinkin’, your K guy got lots of vineyards?”
“Oh, no Sir. He manufactures it himself.”
“And what does he do with it? I mean, he sells it as wine, right?”
“He doesn’t sell it, Sir.”
“No sales. No vineyards. So, even in LA, you gotta admit, this bunker shit is…well, not your everyday location for makin’ wine.”
“Quite right, Sir…I never said it was wine. That would perturb Mr. K if he thought that of me.”
I looked at the bottle again. “So…”
We pull around a corner of the tunnel and enter a…
“Shit, Ludlow. What the fuck is this?”
“Welcome, Mr. Spyros, to The Kript, with a K.”
Even these last few yards are spookier than… “Where the hell are we?”
Ludlow pulls the limo up to an incline revealing what looks like a palace-sized mausoleum. “Atop his entrance, Mr. Spyros, extends a twenty-three acre piece of wilderness, a rather large innocent expanse appearing to the inquisitive eyes of any airplane passengers as just another hill in the mountains.”
“Indubitably, Mr. Spyros,” he says with an impish grin.
Shit, I thought. That kind of smile usually means you’re fucked for any reason whatsoever. But why? Why me? “What is this red, whatever-it-is, shit I drank, Ludlow?”
I don’t feel drunk. I feel, well, different. As we walk to the front door of DraKula’s little cave, I ask, “Do I get the recipe eventually for this concoction you bottle?”
“Perhaps. That is up to Mr. DraKula.” He swings the bunker-like door open and gestures I follow.
We enter this…God, what do you call it? Marble and red teak pillars like contemporary miniature replicates of the Grecian Parthenon. “Nice digs.”
“To the left, Mr. Spyros. I think you’ll find the library comfortable while I summon Mr. DraKula.”
I step into another Back To The Future setting. A circular domed room lit from above with fake sunlight through stained glass. Wall to ceiling books housed in what appears to be carved bookshelves. Yeah. Marble. This guy likes his heavy lifting. In the center, a massive sun dial. I walk over, and damned if it isn’t shadowing the same time as my watch, 3:30.
I hear the shuffling of feet outside, and suddenly, yeah, that must be him. The Count himself. Not like the movies, though. This guy walking into the room is with toga and bangles and sandals. “Mr. Spyros. Welcome to my humble abode,” he says, his voice resonating like James Earl Jones.
I stand, about ready to pee my pants.
“Could we interest you in some refreshment after your long journey?”
I look at him, wondering... oh, what the hell. “Look, Mr. DraKula. This has been a very entertaining afternoon, but after my ‘long journey’, all I want is to know what this is all about.”
“Didn’t Ludlow tell you?” He gestures for me to join him on the giant pillowed couch. “It’s a job, Mr. Spyros. The best paying job you’ve ever had, and... you get to sleep.”
I tilt my head, making sure I’m hearing right, and ask, “Why does that sound peculiar?”
He smiles, adjusts his toga. “Probably because of my ‘peculiar’ name.”
“Yeah. That could have a bearing on it.”
“Well, philanthropic people are many times eccentric, with eccentric names, yes?”
“If I say no, you’re gonna correct me, aren’t you?”
“You are a wit, Mr. Spyros. It’s going to serve you well. Come.”
He rises and walks toward the rear of the library where upon clapping his hands, the wall of books performs the old haunted house secret room routine. “Gotta love it,” I say.
“Oh, indubitably, Mr. Spyros. Indubitably. Please, follow me.”
I do. Now, when a guy called DraKula starts leading a guy like me down a corridor of castle-like stone and sconces lighting the way, well, come on, it’s not long when you anticipate you might be shitting yourself. Then… all is, well, not what you’d expect. He leads me through this humongous door and voila... a chamber of the unexpected. Beds. Yeah, like a huge hospital ward, there’s single beds. Queens, Kings, Round, Water... you name it. “So...what’s this?”
My host rearranges his toga, stretches out on the round bed like Nero about ready to... “No way, Drakky baby. You hoodwinked the wrong guy. I don’t do togas.”
DraKula roars with laughter, claps his hands, reclines further and in walks this amazon of a woman.
“Now this kind of toga I do,” I say. To which my friend shakes his head, grins and says, “We are getting off track aren’t we. I don’t do you, you don’t do me, and she doesn’t do either of us. Miss LaShow is merely an assistant for your sleeping.”
“Yeah,” I say with a grin. “Miss LaShow. Quaint name. That’s what I’m talking about.”
DraKula rises and thoughtfully walks in a circle, while I maintain full attention on... “Did you say she was my assistant?”
He nods and then steps up to me, and calmly looks me in the eye. “You’re going to enjoy a lot of sleep, Mr. Spyros. Alone, I’m afraid. You’ll be paid handsomely to sleep ‘alone,’ Five hundred dollars per hour. Your awake time is yours to use as you wish. Wander the grounds, pick kumquats, if you’d like. Enjoy a swim in the pool, sharpen your intellectual wares in the library, or eat. We eat a lot here. Seems the Slumber Time Juice does wonders for the rest needs of our customers, but we need to find a way to lesson the urge for food. That’s why you’ve been selected to help us with the research.”
And that is how my first day divorced played out.
ONE YEAR LATER
I’m a lot to look at now. Forty pounds overweight, a million and a half dollars richer, still drinking Slumber Time Juice, version sixty-three, and just beginning to feel... trapped.
“How’s it going, Mr. Spyros? You look depressed,” said Miss LaShow.
“What gave you that idea,” I glowered as I turned over on the king “Louie” as my favorite bed was known by. My alarm went off, I grabbed the goblet of my daily dose of Slumber Time Juice, sat up and began to sip. “You’re looking dreadful yourself.”
Miss LaShow glanced down at her split legged caftan, the silky crimson sheen catching the light of the skylight’s midday sun. “Oh, this old thing. Guess I could be a bit more selective when I visit, couldn’t I?”
“Better you remain ‘dreadful’.”
She sat down beside me. “My you are in a bad mood.”
“Sleep is a bit overrated, you know.”
“Oh, that. You should be used to it by now. In fact, you should be happy with such a non-demanding means of becoming a millionaire,” she offered as she reclined.
“Hey,” I blurted, bolting up and spilling a bit of the juice. “What the hell is that?”
“That… that on-the-bed that. What do you think?
Miss LaShow pouted and said, “Leonard... can I call you Leonard. It’s been a year, you know?”
“Hate Leonard. And get the hell off my bed. It’s time to go to work.”
“Lenny then. Lenny, it’s time you enjoyed your sleep more.”
I gulped down the last of my goblet, fluffed my pillow, reclined and started my breathing pattern. In, out, pause, in, out, pause.
“Ooo, you do that so well, Lenny,” she whispered, raising her knee through the split of her caftan. “Practice makes perfect, I guess.”
“You guess right. Now, how about you hook up the wires and let me get on with it.”
She pouted some more, nodded and rose. “I suppose it’s always going to be like this, right?”
She pulled out the drawer of the bedside table, retrieved the skullcap with attached wires, slid it carefully over my head, and sighed. “So little time, so much sleep.”
I nodded. “That’s the game I agreed to play. Just one more week, and I’m out of here.”
She shook her head and pulled out the console, its digital readout at the ready. Flipping the switch she whispered, “Mr. DraKula is so pleased with the results. I’m sure he would extend your contract.”
“I’m sure he would, but I’m looking forward to staying awake forever now.”
She adjusted his skullcap and giggled. “You’re such a kidder. You, know Lenny, Sleep-Away Mattresses doubled their sales last year. All because of you.”
I closed my eyes. “Well, the juice works, according to the readouts, the formula just kept getting better, or… I just got more tired.”
“Sleeping time hours without a move of your body. Wow… almost like you were dead. Sleep-Away’s customers buy Sleepy Time Juice by the cases now. Mr. DraKula is so happy.”
“Yeah. Now, could I get into my crypt phase and rack up another nine?”
“We should really get together sometime... I mean after next week. You’ll be lonely when this is over.”
“I won’t be lonely. I won’t be lonely,” I muttered as…
“Lenny?” I felt my shoulder being shook. “Lenny! Hey wake up. Sorry I’m late, I…”
I lifted my cheek from the granite step, sat up, shaking my head. “Shit. What the fuck?”
“Lenny. I’m really sorry. Christ, it’s after seven and…”
“Damn. I must have dosed off.”
“Well, hell, I would have too after the day you must have had. You said to pick you up around four, and…”
“That stage get finished? You know the producers will be all over us…”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday, Lenny. Got the weekend to finish it. No. No is the answer. I didn’t get it finished.”
I stood up. Wiped the drool from my cheek and blinked a few times. Just me, Bernie, and at the bottom of the stairs, his ’93 pickup, belching smoke of a long overdue ring job. “What time is it?”
Bernie sheepishly glances at his watch and offers, “Seven twenty.”
I start to walk down the stairs, when a big shit eatin’ grin takes over. “Bernie, how could a guy get lonely when he’s got you?”
I sleepily shake my head, the grin growing. “When’s the last time you saw a ‘31 Isotta Fraschini limo?”
Bernie laughed. “Funny you should ask. There was one idling at the curb when I pulled up. Took off as I parked.” He elbowed me. “Probably heading up to Sunset Boulevard.” He was enjoying his joke and elbowed me again. “Sunset Boulevard. Get it?”
I found it difficult to even grin.
As we drove away, Bernie turned to me. “You slept on those hard assed steps for hours. Some people might think you’re bonkers, buddy.”
“Yeah,” I muttered. “But they wouldn’t know the half of it. By the way, could we stop at an ATM?”
“Sure.” Bernie smiled. “A little short are you after she cleaned you out?”
I smiled back. “Yeah… could be.”