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 still decadence in a nutshell, although it doesn't quite have the effect it had the first time out. Representing as it does to Buglaroni a measure of failure, it is now slightly less than everything everyone strives for when push comes to shove or it's dog eat dog or every man for himself and the devil take the hindmost. But it is still tied into cell phones and laptops and personal trainers and private nutritionists on call twenty-four by seven. It is still the Me Decade on wheels.
It is that stretch limousine again. The one the movie people sent up the last time, white, with dozens of darkened passenger windows, slightly longer than the Concorde, but with more amenities.
It parks in front of the Buglaroni house.
The 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.
"Hi" is all the young man can think of in comment.
"Mr. Buglaroni," the chauffeur says, coming up the front stairs.
Buglaroni nods, unsure of why he has agreed to this repeat performance.
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 with all the enthusiasm of Mike Tyson testifying in front of the boxing commission. A concerned, wrinkled face appears in the living room window of the house.
Buglaroni has seen this limo before, seemingly taking up half the block, sparkling like a polished pearl in the sunlight. He smiles wanly at the chauffeur as he bends down and enters the vehicle.
The room-on-wheels inside has an occupant on one of the couches, a hearty looking, well tanned bald man in a dark suit and wearing aviator sun glasses. Buglaroni takes a seat in one of the easy chairs as the door closes behind him.
"My name is Starbuck. Tom Starbuck." With the gentlest of motions the limo pulls away from the curb.
"Are you one of the Hollywood people?" Buglaroni asks.
Starbuck shakes his head. "Quite the contrary, Ham. People do call you Ham, don't they?"
"Yes, sir." Buglaroni feels a natural need to be respectful of this man.
"That's what I thought. Well, Ham, I am a lawyer, and in the proceedings we are about to undergo, I represent you."
"You. I am here to insure that you are treated fairly during this audition." The man leans in closer and raises an index finger toward Buglaroni's mouth. "I understand there was some swelling there. It doesn't look too bad now."
"It's mostly gone away." Buglaroni involuntarily raises his own hand to his mouth to pat the damage. "You're my lawyer? I don't understand."
"You don't have to understand, Ham. Just take advantage of it and enjoy it."
"Are you the reason they're giving me another chance?"
"You could say that."
"How did you get them to change their minds?"
"Well, Ham, let's just say I reminded them of their salad days."
Buglaroni's eyes widen.
"Would you like something to drink?" Starbuck asks, pointing toward the refrigerator. Buglaroni nods, leans forward to open the refrigerator, and pulls out a bottle of water.
"Make that two," Starbuck says.
Buglaroni hands the lawyer the first bottle, and pulls out another for himself.
"Nuts?" Starbuck asks, nodding toward the individual packages of roasted almonds in the small bowl above the refrigerator.
Buglaroni grabs one package for himself and hands another to the lawyer.
"I've got some work to do," the lawyer says, opening his brief case. "Feel free to entertain yourself however you wish. We should be there in an hour or so."
Buglaroni stares out the window for the remainder of the trip, while Starbuck industriously works on whatever it is that Mafia lawyers spend their time working on when they're escorting debaters to film auditions.
"Well, you look a little bit better." Clavdia Chauchet is evaluating Buglaroni like a veterinarian guessing the age of a suspiciously closed-mouth horse.
"Yeah." Buglaroni taps his lip. "It's mostly gone away."
"The eye looks better too." The woman stands up and comes around from behind her desk. She addresses herself to Starbuck, who has entered her office behind Buglaroni. "And you are... the..." The correct word escapes her.
"Mr. Buglaroni's legal representative. Tom Starbuck."
He extends his hand to her. After the briefest hesitation, she takes it.
"Mr. Starbuck," she says. "And what about...uh... Mr. Vitelli?"
"I expect him to be here momentarily. He has expressed great interest in these proceedings."
"So I gather," she says. "I'm going to have to bring Hamlet here to makeup. You might want to meet Mr. Vitelli back in the reception area. I can have someone bring you back."
"That won't be necessary. I'll find it. Thank you, Miss Chauchet." He turns to Buglaroni. "Good luck, Ham. I'll see you later."
Buglaroni nods, and the lawyer, with one last acknowledgment of Clavdia, exits the office.
"A real piece of work, that one," Clavdia says softly. "Nasty. Very nasty."
"I don't really understand what's going on here," Buglaroni says. "I thought you wanted to audition me again. What does Don Vitelli have to do with it."
The casting director looks up into the boy's face. "You don't know?"
He shakes his head. "No."
She snorts. "You have some interesting friends, young Buglaroni. I told you this last week: 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, let's go into makeup."
Clavdia Chauchet is wearing another of her large, shapeless dresses over her large, shapeless body. Buglaroni follows her out of her office and down the long corridor of bustling activity that he walked down last week. They ride the elevator down to the basement, then past the working stages to the makeup department.
"Here we are again," Clavdia says, opening the door.
The room is even busier than last time. There is at least one and sometimes two or three technicians working on someone in nearly every one of the twenty barber chairs. Clavdia walks Buglaroni along the row of bustling cosmetic activity, which he eyes in the mirror as he passes. There isn't this much paint in a hardware store, he thinks, as he is put into the one empty chair. In the seat closest to him is a young man of about twenty wearing only the briefest of briefs and looking like a supermodel with an abdomen that would have kept Michelangelo up way into the night. He is having his hair tousled by the young woman wearing coveralls who last week was performing the same ritual on a female model. Buglaroni gulps as this week's model gives him a wink.
"Here he is again," Clavdia says to the woman in the coveralls.
"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 man looks Buglaroni up and down and allows the top of his tongue to touch his upper lip.
"Don't do that," the woman in coveralls says. "Can't you behave yourself for five minutes?"
"Sorry, love," the model says in a sing-songy voice, as he gives Buglaroni one last wink and goes off toward the door.
Welcome to the Bahamas.
The coverall lady turns to Buglaroni. " Well, you look a little bit better," she says. She drapes a towel around Buglaroni's neck, then pulls a tray from the ledge in front of the mirror."What was your name again?"
"Hamlet. Right. How could I forget? How are Troilus and Cressida?"
"Nothing. The eye is almost back to normal, the lip will work out." She starts working with her people paints. "So why are we back again?"
"Retesting," Clavdia replies.
"Retesting? That's a good sign." She has her nose inches away from Buglaroni's. He can smell the sweetness of her breath, tinged by the slight scent of cinnamon and coffee. He doesn't remember noticing her this much last week, but he finds her appearance, and her closeness, arousing. Almost too arousing. Or maybe it's just the feel of safety now that Underwear Man has gone.
It doesn't take as long this time for the woman to get Buglaroni into shape, and after less than five minutes she rotates the chair so that he can get a good look at himself. Once again he has been brought to whatever peak of appearance of which he is capable. He cocks an eyebrow at his reflection. He is beginning to enjoy not only the attention of being a star, but the results of the attention. And maybe this time he actually will become a star. That's why he's here again, isn't it? Because maybe he didn't act so well the first time, but it must have been that whatever got caught on the film was so convincing that Hans Castorp, the director, had to give it another shot. They say that some people, the camera just loves them...
But what does any of this have to do with Don Vitelli? Is the Whale actually going to be here in person today?
"Go get 'em, kid." The cosmetics lady pats him on the knee, which is almost too much on the arouse-o-meter. Clavdia takes his hand and leads him out.
"We're right on time," she says, ushering him through the third door on the left.
This room is the same soundstage as last week. Coming through the door, they are again immediately surrounded by cameras, at which probably the same handful of people are fussing mysteriously. Ahead of them there is the 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 Brady Bunch living room set.
In the middle of all this Buglaroni recognizes three figures. The first is Hans Castorp, with his pony tail and baseball hat. Standing next to him is the lawyer, Tom Starbuck. And sitting down on what must be a specially enlarged canvas chair, is Proscenio ("The Whale") Vitelli.
"Ah, there you are!" Hans Castorp says, breaking away from the tableau de cosa nostra and walking across the set to Clavdia and Buglaroni. He takes Buglaroni to the center of the set, far out of earshot of Starbuck and Vitelli. Clavdia is right beside him.
"You have very powerful friends,Hamlet," Castorp whispers menacingly.
"I don't understand," Buglaroni says.
"A lettuce died for you, Hamlet. A damned good lettuce. You are not an actor. You will never be an actor. But you are being shoved down my throat like a hot, buttered ferret. I am not used to this treatment, but as you no doubt well know, if I don't cooperate, I may never make another picture with union workers again. But I am not going to compromise myself any further. Do we understand each other?"
Buglaroni stares at him. "No."
"You are going to act the way you act, and I am going to direct you to the best of my abilities. And you will prove once and for all that you do not belong here. Is that understood?"
"I don't know." Buglaroni is starting to feel as scared at the day he faced Bark Santorelli.
"How are we doing?" Starbuck asks, sidling up to them.
"Fine," Castorp says. "I am just giving the young man some final instructions."
"Good," Starbuck says. "Where should we go?"
"Just stay where you are. Don Vitelli can see everything fine from where he is."
"Excellent." The lawyer smiles at Buglaroni. "Break a leg, Hamlet," he says as he turns away.
"And if you don't, they'll break it for you," Clavdia adds to his receding back.
If he hears this, the lawyer pays no attention.
"Okay," Castorp says loudly. "Let's do it, people." He walks back behind the cameras.
Clavdia points down to the floor, to the foot-long white chalk line. "Remember that?" she asks Buglaroni."
"My mark," he replies.
"Your mark. Exactly. Do you think you can remember it this time?"
It is still the only white line in the place. "I know I can do it this time," Buglaroni says.
"Susan Lucci says the same thing before every Emmy broadcast." Clavdia walks off the set.
"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. The bright glow of spotlights completely blinds Buglaroni, so he can see neither Castorp nor Starbuck or Vitelli.
"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.
"Gott in himmel," the director cries. "We're doing it again!"
"Maybe the boy is nervous." The voice is Starbuck's, and it is warm and soothing.
"Maybe the boy is not an actor," Castorp replies angrily.
"You will give him the chance to prove that for himself, of course."
There is a moment of silence.
"Of course," Castorp finally responds.
The technician with the clapper comes forward. "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." Buglaroni has sworn to himself up and down since learning about the re-audition to pay attention, that all he has to do is remember where the line is, and that remembering where the line is will be the difference between Nighten Day School and receiving the Academy Award for Best Actor.
"In front of the coffee table."
"Oh, yeah. There it is."
"And try not to look down when you walk? You don't have to guide your feet every step of the way. They're used to the job. Now turn around and try it again."
"I'm okay now that I know where my mark is."
"I'm glad to hear it."
"You're doing fine, son." It is Starbuck's voice again. The reassurance is comforting.
Buglaroni walks back to the end of the room, turns, and this time easily finds his mark.
"Could you stand up straight when you walk?" Castorp again.
"He's not much of a walker, is he?" It is another voice. Buglaroni recognizes it.
"One more time?" Hans asks in the Don's direction.
"Please," Vitelli responds.
"All right, let's do it again," Hans calls to Buglaroni. "And please try to walk normally."
Buglaroni does the round trip to his mark again.
"I didn't know he couldn't even walk," Vitelli says. "You're not much of a walker, are you, Ham?"
"Maybe not," the boy says nervously.
"But you're a smart boy. I know that. We should see you act now."
"We'll give him some lines," Hans says.
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. "It's the same as last week. Walt Whitman."
"The guy that built that mall?" Vitelli asks.
Buglaroni begins. "Oh captain, my captain..."
The next few minutes are as painful for Buglaroni as the first time. If he was nervous in front of unknown people, he is doubly so in front of the mafiosi. He doesn't trip over as many of the words this time -- if anything, he is almost letter perfect -- but there is no way he can get into the spirit of the piece. He is a debater, he thinks. He can't act. This is a job for a Speechie.
But you can never find a Speechie when you need one.
As before, the director tries to guide him through the reading, but it continues to sound hollow, even to Buglaroni. The boy tries to emote more, he tries to emote less, he tries to put some life into it, he tries to put less life into it, but nothing works.
And finally it is over.
The room is silent. For one minute. For two minutes. Almost five minutes.
"You like to debate, don't you, Hamlet?" It is Don Vitelli.
"You're not much of an actor, kid, if you want to know the truth."
Buglaroni shakes his head.
"Don't give up debate, is my advice to you."
Buglaroni nods again.
"Mr. Castorp, we appreciate what you've done for us here. We will not forget it. We are in your debt." Buglaroni can see a large, looming shadow as Vitelli rises to his feet on the other side of the lights. "You deserve an Oscar for this."
"They don't give Oscars for screen tests," Castorp says, his voice a complex mixture of fear and hauteur.
"You misunderstand me, Mr. Castorp. You will be getting an Oscar next year. You can count on it."
"But you don't--"
"I don't what?"
"The Academy Awards?"
"Wait. Watch. Learn." He raises his voice. "Take the boy home, Tom. I'll see you later."
There is silence on the huge set again, broken only by Don Proscenio Vitelli's soft retreating footsteps.
"That's a wrap, everybody," Hans says.
The blinding lights are switched off. Suddenly Clavdia is standing next to Buglaroni again. The lawyer Starbuck is standing on his other side.
For the second time in less than a week, Hamlet P. Buglaroni's Hollywood career has ended before it has begun.
Things don't look so bad for Hans Castorp, however....
Will Hans Castorp really win an Oscar, thanks to Don Vitelli?
Will Buglaroni go back to debate where he belongs?
Does Buglaroni actually belong in debate?
Can we start calling this the Picasso Nostrum?
Isn't it about time we cancelled Darryl Strawberry's subscription?
Kiss the Chef when we barbecue our next episode: "Couscous: Semolina in a bowl or prelude to hughug?"
Go to the next episode due May 5, 1999.