Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
It is decadence in a nutshell. It is everything everyone strives for when push comes to shove and it's dog eat dog and every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. It is the ne plus ultra after cell phones and laptops and personal trainers and a private nutritionist on call twenty-four by seven. It is the Me Decade on wheels.
It is a stretch limousine.
It is white, with dozens of darkened passenger windows. It is longer than the Concorde, with more amenities.
And it is parked in front of the Buglaroni house.
A liveried driver with his nose eight feet in the air exits and makes his lordly way up the path to the front door. Buglaroni has the door open before the man reaches the three quarter mark.
"Wow!" is all the young man can think of in comment.
"Mr. Buglaroni?" the chauffeur asks.
Buglaroni nods with his mouth agape, "catching flies" as his grandmother might say.
The driver returns the nod with a brief dip of his head, then pivots and heads back to the car. He opens the back door and stands there, awaiting his charge's arrival.
"I'm leaving, Grandma," Buglaroni calls into the house, then he closes the door behind him and walks out to the limo like Cinderella ambling into the transmogrified pumpkin. An incredulous, wrinkled face appears in the front window of the house to watch.
Buglaroni has seem limos before, but never anything like this. Even the donmobiles at the Vitelli funeral had nothing on this baby. It seems to take up half the block, sparkling like a polished pearl in the sunlight. He smiles at the chauffeur as he bends down and enters the vehicle.
Inside, it is like a living room. There are couches, easy chairs, a TV, a bar. There is a small kitchen with a refrigerator and a microwave. The floor is carpeted in a thick, blue pile more plush than anywhere in Buglaroni's house. The door closes behind him, and Buglaroni slides onto one of the couches.
"The trip should take about an hour and a half, sir," the chauffeur announces through an intercom as the limo pulls away from the curb. "Feel free to help yourself to anything in the bar. There are a variety of films available for the VCR, plus there's a CD player and music if you prefer, and a number of books and magazines. And the computer is logged on to the Internet if you wish to take advantage of it."
"Okay," Buglaroni replies to the ceiling. He cannot figure out where the microphone might be, and the TV blocks his view forward of the driver.
Taking a deep breath, Buglaroni leans toward the refrigerator and opens it. There is champagne, wine, beer, soda, the works. He takes out a bottle of water. Individual packages of roasted almonds are in a small bowl above the refrigerator, and he grabs a couple of them too. Just like the airlines, he thinks, settling back into his couch.
I could get use to this, he tells himself. Real easy. Real fast.
He reaches for the remote.
I wonder what the simple folk are doing tonight...
"What the hell happened to you?" Clavdia Chauchet is staring at Buglaroni roughly the way Buglaroni stared at the limousine, with dropped jaw, catching flies.
"Oh." Buglaroni's hand comes up to his split lip. "I had a little trouble."
"You look like you had a lot of trouble." The woman stands up and comes around from behind her desk. She gently places a finger on the edge of Buglaroni's black eye. "Nasty. Very nasty."
"It's not going to be a problem, is it?" Buglaroni asks.
"We can cover the eye. But the lip... I don't know. Couldn't you have behaved yourself for one lousy week."
"I did behave myself! It wasn't my fault."
"And Monica Lewinsky wasn't Clinton's fault, either. Where I come from, we have a saying. If you go around carrying a lightning rod, don't be surprised when you get hit by lightning. All right, we'll take you into makeup and see what we can do. Come with me."
"I really have to get made up?"
"I explained this to you already. It's theatrical makeup. And with that mouse, you're going to need all the makeup you can get."
Clavdia Chauchet is wearing one of her large, shapeless dresses that so efficiently complements her large, shapeless body. Buglaroni follows her out of her office and down a long corridor of bustling activity that appears to have nothing to do with anything theatrical. They wait for a moment in the elevator bay, and when the elevator arrives, they ride down to the basement. Buglaroni feels like the proverbial pig being led to the bacon machine.
"This way." She takes his hand when the door opens and quickly guides him past a large area quite unlike what they saw upstairs. This place definitely looks like acting. There are dozens of cameras and lights and general apparatus that signify movies or television, and a handful of people sorting around through them. "The stages are on either side of us; makeup's down at the end."
As they walk down this corridor, they pass a series of double doors on either side. Some of the doors are open, and Buglaroni can look in and see actual filming. He thinks that he recognizes some actors from ER.
"Right in here," Clavdia says, opening a door to what looks like an elongated barber shop.There are easily twenty chairs, in a long row in front of a mirror. In some of the chairs men and women are being fussed over by people with combs and scissors and powders and pins and needles. In the seat closest to the door a young woman of about twenty wearing only panties and bra and looking like a supermodel is having her hair tousled by another young woman wearing coveralls as if she's working in a nuclear plant. Buglaroni gulps as Clavdia drops him into the chair next to the model. "This is him," Clavdia says to the woman in the radioactive protective gear.
"I'll be right there," she replies. "You okay?" she asks the model in the unmentionables.
The model nods. "If Richard doesn't like this, he won't like anything."
"You want a robe?"
The model stands up. Buglaroni gulps again as the woman in coveralls places a sheer dressing gown over those shapely shoulders, then kisses the model softly on the lips.
"Good luck, hon." The model walks away and the coverall lady turns to Buglaroni. "What the hell happened to you?" she asks, echoing Clavdia's initial reaction to his appearance.
"He tried to take a picture of Sean Penn," Clavdia explains. "You can do something about it?"
"The eye is no problem." She drapes a towel around Buglaroni's neck, then pulls a tray from the ledge in front of the mirror."The lip is something else altogether. What's your name?"
"Hamlet? Hmmm." She starts to dab his good eye with a cool liquid on the end of a soft brush. "I'll be putting this on your sore eye in a minute. With that lip, you might want to do Elvis, you know." She curls her own upper lip. "Thank you verrah much. Thank you, ma'am."
The coverall lady is in her mid-twenties, with short, dark hair and a pixieish face. She is like an artist, only her canvas is Buglaroni's face. He can watch her in the mirror as she works, dabbing, puffing, drawing a line here, a line there. She works her tools like a master, always the precise instrument, never a hesitation. She talks to Buglaroni non-stop during the procedure.
"So you're going to work for Hans? That's incredible. He's like the hottest thing around these days. King of the world, you know. So how did he find you, anyhow?"
"Don't talk. I can't do your lip if it's in motion."
"Hans scoured the country," Clavdia says. She has taken the seat vacated by the lingerie model and is absentmindedly reading the Post. "We found Hamlet right here in Manhattan."
"A city boy, huh?"
"No, he lives somewhere up in North Nowhere. We had to drive him down."
"You going back to LA soon?"
"As soon as we tie up this one very big loose end. I've still got an awful lot of parts to cast, and Hans will turn down half of the ones I come up with no matter how perfect they are."
"What about Hamlet here?"
"He was Hans's discovery. Found him in the bathroom."
"What were you doing in the bathroom, Hamlet?" the coverall lady asks. "On second thought, don't answer that." She spins his chair so that it is facing Clavdia's. "What do you think?"
"He still looks like death eating a fig newton, but the eye is okay."
"Like I said, I can't really do anything about the lip." She rotates the chair again, this time facing the mirror so that Buglaroni can get a look at himself. He is rather pleased that he doesn't look as if he's made up like some old lady who wants to look young or some grammar school girl who wants to look old, which had been his fear. He looks quite natural. His shiner, however, has all but disappeared, while his swollen and cut lip still looks swollen, although not cut. He does look a little like Elvis, with a permanent sneer.
"Pretty good," he says admiringly.
"It's the best I can do." She pulls away the towel around his shoulders. "Go get 'em, kid."
He stands up and wonders for a second if she'll kiss him on the lips too, when Clavdia takes his hand again and leads him out.
"We're right on time," she says, ushering him through the third door on the left.
This room is definitely a soundstage. Coming through the door, they are surrounded by cameras, at which a handful of people are fussing mysteriously. Ahead of them there is a sound booth, with two people sitting behind a large plate glass window and fiddling with a prepossessing console of buttons and gauges and dials. At the front of the room is a set that Buglaroni thinks he recognizes as the Brady Bunch living room. Maybe this is some sort of shrine or museum.
"Ah, there you are!" Hans Castorp walks across the set as Clavdia and Buglaroni emerge on the other end. The director stops in midstride. "What the hell happened to you?"
Buglaroni has heard this before. "There was like... a duel?"
"Mein Gott. What the hell happened here, Clavdia?" He leans his face into Buglaroni's as if he is pressing his nose against an aquarium window.
"It's nothing permanent, Hans. There's stitches in there; Molly covered them the best she could. He'll be as good as new in a week or two."
"But we're filming now!" The director steps back and sinks into, conveniently, a canvas-back director's chair. He sighs. "We must do what we must do. The camera will tell the truth, despite his disfigurations."
"It's only a--" Buglaroni begins.
Hans Castorp raises his right hand to silence the boy. "Ssshhh!" Wearing his baseball cap with his long ponytail sticking out the aft hole, he looks more like a redneck pizza deliverer than one of the most successful film directors in the world.
Clavdia leads Buglaroni to the center of the set and points down to the floor, on which a foot-long white chalk line has been drawn. "That's your mark," she says to him. "Remember that."
It is the only white line in the place. "It shouldn't be hard," Buglaroni says.
"All right," Hans says loudly. "Marcella?"
A woman's voice booms across the stage. "Yes, Hans?"
"Make it happen."
"All right, people. Can we get those lights here? Sound? Fred, where are you?"
There is an immediate hubbub of lights coming on, machines going on and off, people scurrying here and there. All this, Buglaroni thinks, just for me. When he looks out now to where Hans Castorp is sitting, the bright glow of spotlights completely blinds him.
"To begin with, I just want you to move around a little bit," Hans says to Buglaroni. "I want you to walk to the back of the room, and then up and hit your mark. Not yet!"
Buglaroni stops almost as soon as he starts.
Someone comes between Buglaroni and the cameras with some sort of box with flashing red lights on top. "We've got sound, we've got speed, and... action." He claps the top of the box.
"All right, Hamlet." It is Castorp's voice. "Action."
Buglaroni walks to the back of the room, turns, and looks around.
"Don't just stand there. Walk."
"To your mark!"
"Oh. Yeah. Sorry." He looks down, amazed at how quickly it has become impossible to find that one lone chalk line.
"In front of the coffee table."
"Oh, yeah. There it is."
"Can you look up when you walk? Your feet are where they always were. They won't disappear on you. Turn around and try it again."
"I'm okay now that I know where my mark is."
"Fine. You're doing fine."
He walks back to the end of the room, turns, and this time easily finds his mark.
"Do you always walk like that?"
"Good God, he has the posture of three-legged giraffe." It is a new voice, a man, but not Hans.
"One more time, please." Hans again. "And stand up straight when you walk. Like a man. Like a star."
"Not like a schmuck," the other voice adds.
"Give him time, Joel," Hans says.
"Hell, Hans. He's a teenager," Joel replies. "If he can't walk now, when do you expect him to learn?"
Buglaroni does the round trip to his mark again.
"How about giving him some lines?" Joel asks.
A young woman wearing headphones comes forth with an open script. She hands it to Buglaroni then retreats into the darkness.
"Just read it from the top," Hans says.
"What is it?" Buglaroni asks.
"Walt Whitman," Hans says.
"The guy that built that mall out on Long Island," Joel adds.
Buglaroni begins. "Oh captain, my captain..."
The next few minutes are painful for Buglaroni. He is nervous in front of all these unseen people, and he trips over a lot of the words, even the easy words. Sometimes Hans asks him to put a little life into it, so he tries to act a little bit, then Joel tells him to leave the ham at the deli and say it like he means it, and Buglaroni is getting so confused he doesn't know what to do.
And finally it is over.
"That's not him, Hans," Joel says. "That's not the kid we want."
"He was so perfect in the high school bathroom."
"In a high school bathroom he's a star. In Hollywood, he belongs in a high school bathroom. Call me when you get someone we can work with."
There is silence in the huge set, broken only by Joel's retreating footsteps.
"That's a wrap, everybody," Hans says.
The blinding lights are switched off. Suddenly Clavdia is standing next to Buglaroni again.
"I'll take you and we'll clean you up," she says gently.
"I screwed it up, didn't I?" Buglaroni asks.
"You didn't screw up anything, Hamlet. None of this was your fault. You didn't ask to be here."
"But Mr. Castorp said I could be a star."
She shrugs. Castorp's director's chair is empty; the man has disappeared.
"Mr. Castorp says a lot of things."
"Who is Joel?"
"Joel? He's the producer."
"So he's really the man in charge, then?"
Clavdia leads Buglaroni past the technicians and out the door toward the makeup room. The depression is already beginning to set in.
His Hollywood career has ended before it has begun.
Who will get the Buglaroni part in Hans Castorp's movie?
What is producer Joel's last name?
Can we get another look at the babe in the scanties?
Does this mean that HPB won't be attending the Oscars with a nice piece of arm candy?
Can we get back now to the business of government?
I lost it at the movies in our next episode:"Echolalia, or, Whose Tongue is That?"
Go to the next episode due Feb 24, 1999.