This story was my entry in the Finn McCool’s Irish Pub Short Story Contest March 2014. Stephen Rea and Ian McNulty judged the contest. It won an Honorable Mention, and will be included in the 2014 Finn McCool’s Irish Pub Short Story Collection.
These are the 10 words we had to use:
ethereal (a word that I can not pronounce, no matter how hard I try, just like entrepreneur)
note: This story was inspired by all the friends I have who are working in the film industry in New Orleans. They are the working class of Hollywood South—they work hard but the work is sporadic so they often have to work other jobs to pay the rent and make groceries. And they don’t get all the perks that the pezzonovante do. They are the propmakers, carpenters, electricians, grips, scenic painters, utility workers, seamstresses, wardrobe, set decorators, hair/make-up artists, extras, etc.
The Extra Part
Copyright © 2014 by Sara Jacobelli (first printing rights Finn McCool’s Irish Pub)
published with permission of Finn McCool’s Irish Pub New Orleans
The shooting site was an abandoned motel on Tulane. It looked to be a better location for a zombie apocalypse than the Bruce Willis type action flick promised by the craigslist ad but Sean was desperate for work. He and a dozen other bored extras milled around waiting waiting waiting. Several young guys wearing T-shirts, cargo shorts and overpriced tennis shoes strutted back and forth, barking into walkie talkies with clipped voices that echoed with the hollow sound of their presumed self importance. He hated them on principle. He took a plastic comb out of his back jeans pocket and ran it through his hair. No mirrors, but he knew he looked good.
The extras were told to lean against the wall, smoke cigarettes, drink beer, look nonchalant. Sean wasn’t sure what nonchalant meant, but if it meant bored, he wasn’t acting. An old guy in a sequined purple suit danced listlessly on the sidewalk, twirling a second line umbrella while two actors portraying New Orleans cops brought out a dead-eyed drug crazed looking couple, each in handcuffs, from room number 17. They walked them down the stairs and shoved them into the police car. They filmed the scene over so many times Sean gave up counting. It made no sense. Why would somebody be second lining when there was no fucking parade? He wondered how much the cameras were worth, fantasized about stealing them, but two massive nonspeaking armed security guards never veered far from the expensive equipment.
Lunch break. Sean gobbled his food. Would these movie jerks ever notice him? Didn’t Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford get discovered working as extras?
He looked like a young Paul Newman, some said. Well, one person said, and that was Ginger, a drunk middle aged bottle blonde he shot darts with one night at Finn’s. You look like Paul Newman, if I’m lyin I’m dyin. Buy me a shot a Cuervo, wontcha honey?
A hobbit–looking guy about sixty, sixty-five, with bright green eyes and a startlingly silvery beard turned over a blue plastic milk crate and sat next to him. Silver Beard mixed four packets of sugar into his coffee as if performing a chemistry experiment, then chewed on the stirrer.
“First movie you done, is it? I done so many, I have. Squeak.” An indecipherable accent, a high pitched voice, every paragraph punctuated by an annoying little squeak.
Sean took a swig of water. “Nah, done two others. It’s boring, but brah, a hundred bucks a day for three days. Plus lunch. Behind on the rent and light bill and shit.” He didn’t want to get evicted from his Banks Street shotgun, not with rents going sky high because of that bitch Katrina and that lame medical complex. Besides, it was a double and his neighbor was hot. He lit an American Spirit.
“NO SMOKING ON THE SET!” barked one of the Walkie Talkie guys.
“What’re you talkin bout? We been smoking and drinkin Dixie beer in this scene about a thousand times. What is this shit?” Sean took a few hits on the cigarette. “And why Dixie? Tastes like dog piss. Don’tch you guys have any Abita?”
“Smoking’s for filming only. It’s like, cuz of the insurance.” Walkie Talkie guy glared at him, waving his clipboard in the air. He looked about twelve years old. “Look, we gotta waiting list a mile long, you don’t want this gig, like, you can split.” He bustled off.
Sean stood up. He put out the cigarette and placed it back in the pack, stuffed the pack into his worn denim shirt pocket, looked at his watch.
“We don’t get outta here til midnight. These twelve hour days suck.”
“What kinda work you usually do, d’ya say? Squeak.”
“I pick up work here and there, painting houses, here and there.” Sean didn’t add that he picked up cute college girls with Rich Parents here and there, although that hadn’t happened for over a year. A dry spell. They happen. Even famous ball players have them.
“Look strong, ya do. Strong and healthy, you are. With fortitude to spare, I’d say. Squeak.”
“Yeah, I’m strong. Leading man material. If casting agents had any sense, I’d be perfect for a Tarantino flick.”
“Work slow, d’ya say? No house painting jobs on the horizon, d’ya see? Squeak.”
“Nah, been slow. Ever since Mardi Gras. Now, St. Patrick’s, St. Joseph’s coming up. Nobody wants their place painted now. Nothin’s happening off-shore neither.”
“But I gotta tip for ya, I do. Squeak.” He leaned in closer to Sean and attempted a whisper, but had difficulty lowering his pitch. He ended up sounding like an asthmatic Chihuahua. “They’s other ways to make money on the set, besides extra, there is. Squeak.” Silver Beard winked at Sean.
“Hey, brah, you’re not some prev-ert, per-vert, whatever, are you?”
“Nothing like that, son, I’m not. But sometimes these Big Stars need stand-ins, they do. You got the look about you of the Big One in this film, you do. You got his height and weight, I’d say. You’ll fit his clothes, you will. Squeak.”
Sean always suspected he’d get discovered one day. He had the looks. A Young Paul Newman. Or was it a Young Steve McQueen? No matter. His name was just right, too. Sean Murphy. And his voice too, his fifth grade teacher said he had a good voice, that he projected. He could do Eastwood on a dime. He cleared his throat. “Go ahead. Make my day.” Damned if he didn’t sound like a movie star already.
“And stand-in pays better than extra, it does. It’s a move up, a bit of a move up, I’d say. And a Special stand in can make, well, nigh two thousand dollars, I’d say. Squeak.”
Two grand! Sean mentally spent the windfall. Back rent, Entergy bill. A haircut. A bottle of Jamesons, hell, a case of Jamesons. Some good weed, get his scooter fixed. A long leisurely breakfast at the Irish House with that cute neighbor Tiffany or Melody or Ashley or whatever her name was.
“But Walkie Talkie dude can’t stand me.” Sean pointed in his direction. He was waving the clipboard around at another interloper. Even the back of his arrogant blond head irritated Sean.
“He’s nobody, he isn’t. Just a PA, is all. Not to worry, you shouldn’t. It’s the big’uns that matter, they do. If they want you, that’s what counts, it does. Follow me then, you will. Squeak.”
This was it. His Big Break. Sean followed Silver Beard into the depths of the ethereal zombie motel. Maybe he would be paired with a hot actress, like Drew Barrymore or Cameron Diaz.
“Who’s this famous star I’m supposeta stand in for? Brad Pitt? Leonardo da Vinci? Matt Damon? Matthew Maconay or however-ya-say-it?”
“Aye, one a them big’uns, I’d say. I gettem all mixed up, I do. Squeak.”
Silver Beard led him through the motel walkway, up one set of stairs and down another, into a parking lot on the other side of the motel. A row of glinting new white trailers were lined up behind twelve foot tall barbed wire fencing. An elaborate security system with cameras and alarms protected the lot. A beefy guard nodded at Silver Beard.
Sean followed him to the largest trailer. Silver Beard placed his right index finger on a keypad, a red light flashed and the device beeped happily, allowing him to open the door.
This must be the star’s trailer. He straightened out his shirt collar, walked inside expecting to see some famous actor and his entourage.
A white-coated doctor grabbed Sean’s hand. “Let me have your finger, son. Just a quick prick, doesn’t hurt a bit, does it? We just need a blood sample.”
“OUCH. Hey, whattaya doin?” Sean looked around the tidy portable medical lab. “Hey, where’s —?” No sign of Silver Beard. “Wait a minute, Dr. House, or whoever you are? What’s this about? Thought I just had to fit inna guy’s clothes is all, Doc.”
“Hmmm. Yes. Well. We need to make sure that you are healthy.” The doctor pressed a cotton ball to Sean’s bleeding finger and wrapped a Band-aid around it, then scribbled something on a pad. He walked out the trailer door with a vial of Sean’s blood, clicking the lock behind him.
A busty bubbly redheaded nurse in hot pink scrubs wearing a name tag identifying herself as “Mindy” came in carrying a tray of medical supplies. She made Sean open his mouth, swiftly scooped out saliva with a huge cotton swab. She placed the spit wad into a Ziploc bag and wrote numbers on it.
“What’s that for?”
“We just want to make sure your DNA is a good match for him.”
DNA? All he knew about DNA was what he’d seen on Law and Order.
She handed Sean a plastic cup. “There’s the rest room, Mr. Murphy.”
“Drug tests! Whaddafuck? Come on, Mindy.”
“Oh, not so much a drug test, sir, more like a drug quiz!” She rolled her eyes and let loose a Betty Boop giggle. “We just want to make sure you don’t have diabetes or any infections. Just bring us a nice fresh urine sample. “
“It’ll be nice and fresh all right, sweetheart. Gotta piss like a racehorse at the Fairgrounds on Thanksgiving Day.” Sean smiled. “But, Hey, darlin’.” He touched her shoulder, turned on the easy charm. “Uh, they ain’t gonna fire me for smokin a little skinny doobie, Mindy, like, for example, if I smoked last night with my cute neighbor? No good, by the way. Ragweed.”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that, sir.”
Sean dutifully went into the can and took a leak. When he came out, he handed the warm plastic cup to Mindy.
“Man, this sure is a lot of trouble to go through just for being a stand in. I mean, I thought you just stood there, and they adjusted the lights and shadows around you and shit, while the movie star chilled in his trailer with a pitcher a martinis, James Bond style.”
Mindy giggled. “Oh, there’s more than one type of stand in, you know. This one, the Special stand in, pays much better than those used for adjusting the lights. Now get on the scale so I can weigh you.”
“Do I get to meet this star? I mean, who IS this dude?”
“That’s not how it’s usually done, sir. The important thing is that the procedure goes well and that there’s no rejection, no infections. He’s a major talent, a very famous movie star. Drinks too much though. . . but he makes the Studio a great deal of money, he’s insured by Lloyd’s of London for fifty million dollars.”
“By the way, babe, when do I get my two grand?”
“Lie down.” She firmly indicated a stretcher brought in by a young orderly.
“A good lookin woman who knows what she wants. I respect that.” Sean obeyed her because she looked sexy in her snugly fitting scrubbies. “We need to get together, Mindy. Chow down at Five Happiness, catch a movie.”
She giggled again, rolled up his sleeve and gave him a quick, sharp shot. “Now, sir, you’ll fall asleep quickly. And what an honor! You’ll provide an Oscar Winning star with a brand new kidney! There should be minimal scarring. And hopefully. . . no side effects.” She touched his hair. “Sir? Mr. Murphy? Did anyone ever tell you, you look kinda like that actor Paul Newman when he was young? In Cool Hand Luke?”
Sean closed his eyes and saw a wad of crisp hundreds. “Two thousand dollars, when do I get my two thou. . .”
Picture Credit: 4-vector, movie clapper board free clip art.