With an overstuffed Trader Joe’s grocery sack in one hand and three extra-large vegetable trays in the other, Sinful Films vice president Alexa Smith struggled up the concrete steps of the former dry cleaning plant. Confronted with a row of buzzers at the front door, she slipped her right foot out of a kitten-heeled sandal. Then, in a move that would have made her yoga instructor proud, she bent her left knee as she raised her right leg, pointing a French-manicured big toe toward the button marked GALLOWAY.
As her toe made contact, Alexa lurched to the left. The top veggie platter skidded to the concrete stoop, bouncing once before making a swan dive to the sidewalk.
As she tried to balance on one two-inch heel, Alexa could feel her freshly woven blonde hair extensions sticking to her back. Finally, Chad Palomino – or, as Alexa knew him off set, Ralph Galloway – opened the door. In his black jeans, matching muscle shirt and shaved head, you could almost forget that he was only 5’7”. Ralph smiled at the sight of her, but then his face fell.
“Jesus, Alexa, where’s Jennifer?” He took the hors d’oevures off her hands as Alexa put down the grocery sack and limped in search of her stray shoe. “I wouldn’t have asked you to bring so much stuff if I knew you were by yourself.”
“Unfortunately, today Jennifer Hawkins is Nevada Nyle,” Alexa said, brushing off the sole of her foot. “She’s acting like a porn star flake instead of a human being.”
“What do you mean?” Ralph pried open the top tray and retrieved a carrot stick.
“The usual,” Alexa said. “It’s boring even talking about it.” She took off her blue-tinted sunglasses and put them in her new cigar box purse. Sweat was getting in her eyes and making them sting. She wanted to dab them with her shirt, but her tube top was already stretched to its limits.
“Is there anything else?” Ralph said. “For the party, I mean. Whatever for Jennifer.”
“There’s always plenty about Jennifer, but no, that’s it,” Alexa said. “Unless you want to save those vegetables.”
“God, no,” Ralph said, looking down on the carnage. The ranch dressing had exploded inside the plastic dome and a few red pepper slices were strewn on the sidewalk. “There’s so many street people who walk by, they’ll pick it up faster than we could. And besides,” he added, holding the door open for Alexa as she walked into the cool building, “it’s an orgy. No one will be coming here for the roughage.”
“It’s fantastic!” Alexa spread her arms and spun herself around a few times as she looked at the 7,000 square-foot expanse of Ralph’s new home. “Was any of this here when you moved in?”
“Nope.” Ralph was crouched in front of his refrigerator, trying to find space for the vegetables on one of the overstuffed shelves. He finally gave up and transferred the trays to a butcher-block table. “It was a big, dirty room with a toilet in the corner,” Ralph said. “And it didn’t flush.”
“I can’t believe you did all this in a month.” In one corner was a sleek office with walls defined by a 10-foot-high chain-link fence. He’d also built a second-floor loft bedroom and library that could be clearly viewed from the first floor (ideal for the voyeurs, no doubt), a metal cage that dangled 30 feet from the ceiling (impressive for those in the BDSM scene, although that wasn’t Alexa’s trip) and a full kitchen, with a set of Caphalon pans hanging neatly over a gas range. Alexa was jealous.
Ralph smiled with pride. “There’s another loft in the building that’s going to be ready next month if you want to take a look,” he said. “And that one won’t need any work.”
Alexa made a face and said, “I couldn’t be that far from the beach.” She wondered how he managed the down payment. Between her Malibu apartment and the lease on her new Audi convertible, there wasn’t a month she didn’t have to dip into her credit card to make ends meet.
It just wasn’t fair, Alexa thought as she looked up at the 100-year-old windows now filtering the late afternoon sun to cinematic effect. How did loose-cannon Ralph manage the Holy Grail of becoming a Los Angeles homeowner?
He may have been Sinful’s top director, but he also forgot his passport on the company’s last two trips to Cannes. And his hobby was taking on the rest of the porn industry with abusive on-line shouting matches.
Meanwhile, Alexa made sure everyone at Sinful had lives that remained in good working order. She only looked like a porn star. So why was she 35, single and still living in a tiny, overpriced one-bedroom rental?
As Alexa had thought so often over the last few months, this version of her life wasn’t right.
She watched Ralph spring high in the air and grab a metal ring that glided down a track that hung from the ceiling. “It’s how the dry cleaning moved around,” Ralph said as he let gravity carry him toward Alexa. He kissed her on the lips before he dropped back to the floor. “So what happened to Jennifer?”
“I keep telling you, I don’t know,” Alexa said, annoyed. Dear God, she thought, don’t let tonight be a repeat of the AVN Awards. Back in January, Ralph made an ass of himself by standing up and yelling at Jennifer – that is, Nevada Nyle – when she walked on stage in Las Vegas to accept the Starlet of the Year award. At that point, it had been six months since Jennifer filed for divorce from Ralph - a period six times as long as their actual marriage.
At the awards show, he'd been so drunk that no one could understand what he was saying. It had been easy to pull him back into his seat. Now Ralph was an AA member or, as he liked to say, “I’m working the program.” Alexa wasn’t sure what that meant as far as tonight was concerned. Maybe the 12 steps would help him get over Nevada, or at least admit he hadn’t.
“You know how she is,” Alexa said breezily. “Says she’ll do something, be somewhere and calls six hours later from a private plane heading to Vegas.”
“Oh, yeah, I know,” Ralph said, his voice dripping with resentment. “Just kidding.” Nope, AA hadn’t helped.
In a bid to change the subject, Alexa said, “So what time are people supposed to show up?”
“Not for another hour or two, at least.” Ralph started heading up to the second floor, taking the steps two at a time. “I’m going to start grilling around six, which means I should probably start assembling the Weber. I built a whole picnic area on the roof. Wanna see?”
Alexa suddenly noticed she was exhausted. The heat, Ralph, Jennifer - if she was going to last tonight, much less hook up with anyone, she needed a moment to herself. “OK if I take a quick nap instead?” Alexa stretched her arms above her head. “I promise I’ll come see as soon as I get up.”
“Mi casa, su casa.” Ralph bounded up a second staircase and out of sight.
Alexa collapsed in an oversized black denim lounger. It sat opposite an old-fashioned dentist’s chair recovered in the red and glittery vinyl popular in retro diners. Here, the upholstery’s effect was more menacing than cute; its current environment suggested those who sat in it wouldn’t be receiving a dental exam.
One chair for Ralph Galloway; another for Chad Palomino, Alexa thought as she kicked off her shoes. That’s the problem with people who have two names. You can never be sure which one you’re going to get.
To be fair, her own first name was Sharon. She began using an abbreviation of her middle name, Alexandra, when she began working at Sinful 12 years ago. However, unlike her pseudonymous colleagues, she didn’t use it to maintain a double life. Sinful was Alexa’s life and she wanted her name to reflect that. A life that reflected the name “Sharon Smith,” she thought as she began to drift off, wasn’t a life worth having.
“You think she’ll wake up if I go down on her?”
Curled into a fetal position, Alexa opened one eye and looked up to see Jennifer, her star employee and sometime best friend, giggling. She looked very un-Nevada Nyle in a pair of well-worn Levi’s, a faded red baby T-shirt and no makeup.
Then Alexa noticed a man’s hand on Jennifer’s waist and saw that Ralph was standing behind his estranged wife with a big smile. Oh, shit. How long had she been asleep?
“What’s up, girlfriend?” Alexa tried act casual as she opened her arms for a hug from Jennifer, a greeting that had the added benefit of getting her out of Ralph’s grip. “Where were you, sweetie?”
“I’m soo sorry,” Jennifer said, who had already snapped back into Ralph’s arms with the precision of a magnet. “I went to Melrose and totally got carried away. See?” She leaned on Ralph for support as she held up a foot clad in a pointy-toed fabric sandal printed in red and white flowers with a four-inch heel. “I wanted something summery.”
“I told her she was forgiven,” Ralph said, guiding Jennifer back to her feet before giving her tiny tanned waist a confident pat. Now Alexa was almost sure Ralph and Jennifer had fucked while she was napping, which was dreadful news for everyone except Jennifer. How could she do that to him? Or for that matter, Alexa thought, to me? A bad party was one thing, but the hangover from a bad orgy could last for weeks.
Then again, Jennifer’s pretty loud in bed, Alexa thought. I would have heard them.
“Oh! And I got the coolest pair of hoops.” Jennifer turned and tapped up the stairs, seeming to wear the stilettos with the comfort of flip-flops. Alexa watched her walk to Ralph’s night table, pick up a pair of earrings and hold them up for her approval.
I must have been really tired, Alexa thought as she smiled and nodded at Jennifer. I slept right through it.
Alexa wondered why she got psychic only when she didn’t want to know what happened next. She could already see the disastrous evening stretching before her. And tomorrow, Jennifer would call her late, bitch about Ralph and beg to meet for a quick drink that would last until 2 a.m. Alexa would be exhausted on Monday while Ralph, in full Chad Palomino mode, would spend the rest of the week screaming at people and picking fights. And Jennifer would respond in classic Nevada Nyle form by missing every call time by at least two hours.
So much for my week, Alexa thought. Who’s to say I’m not living the life of Sharon Smith?
Jennifer came back down the stairs, fixing the hoops back in her ears. “I’m starved,” she said. “Are the hamburgers done yet?” Alexa was still trying to figure out what she could say to Jennifer when she heard a noise that sounded like a firehouse’s alarm.
“Doorbell came with the building,” Ralph said, jogging toward the front door. “Apparently dry cleaning is a very noisy business.”
In hopes of derailing disaster, Alexa decided to take face the situation head on. She looked at Jennifer, smiled and patted the lounger, inviting her to have a seat. Jennifer sat down and gave Alexa another hug.
“I really am sorry I was so late,” Jennifer said, looking at Alexa with the big blue eyes of one who knows she’s guaranteed absolution. “I didn’t mean to be, I promise.”
Alexa considered taking the opening, then rejected it. Why bother with what can’t be fixed? “No big deal, honey,” Alexa said. “But did you have to sleep with Ralph again?”
Alexa watched Jennifer making quick mental calculations, weighing the plausibility of a lie against the evidence at hand. When she realized the odds were in Alexa’s favor, Jennifer decided to punt.
“Like you’ve never done it,” she said with a shrug.
Here we go, Alexa thought.
“That’s not the point,” she said, trying not to sound like her own high school principal. “The point is, he’s still hung up on you and you’ve supposedly been divorcing him for the last year. Please, promise me?”
Jennifer looked up at Alexa, every bit the sulky teenager. “What?”
“That you’ll leave him alone for the rest of the night. No more false hope. He’s directing you all next week and I really don’t want to deal with the fallout.”
“Oh, totally,” Jennifer nodded with seeming seriousness. “It was just old times’ sake or whatever. Really.”
Like what, a warmup? But Alexa nodded and said, “Cool.” She could feel her neck muscles relax. Just in time, too; Ralph was ushering in new guests.
Jennifer jumped up from the couch to wave at the new Sinful girl, Joan. As far as Alexa knew, Joan was still deciding if she’d keep her old stage name or go for a new one. Alexa thought Desert Rose sounded too stripper-y and had suggested she go for something classy, like Tara Taylor.
“Besides,” Jennifer said to Alexa, still smiling at Joan, “Nate’s supposed to be here later.”
“What?” Alexa’s voice was much louder than she’d intended, but she almost didn’t care. “You’re bringing your boyfriend to your husband’s orgy? Nevada, what is wrong with you?”
Jennifer turned to look down on Alexa with scorn. “What, now there’s orgy rules? Give me a break, Sharon.”
Alexa knew she shouldn’t be surprised. Sure, why not invite the lead singer of some MTV metal band, ensuring that everyone’s eyes would be on you all night? What was good for Jennifer was good for everyone and if it wasn’t, well, you could fuck off. Such was life for the world’s second-most popular porn star.
“Jesus Christ,” Alexa hissed. “How can you have fucked so many people and still be so stupid about men?”
Jennifer pretended not to hear her and walked over to greet Joan, who had just taken off a T-shirt to reveal freshly enhanced breasts barely clad in a tiny red vinyl bikini top. Double Ds, Alexa guessed. She watched Jennifer and Joan air-hug; given the size of their chests, there wasn’t much of an option.
In a way, Alexa knew she had no one to blame but herself. She’d created this Nevada Nyle monster: discovered her, molded her and publicized her. She’d even named her. But now, she’d had enough of both Jennifer and Nevada.
So why not start over? Create a girl that would give Nevada Nyle a run for her money.
The idea was so genius, Alexa almost gasped. If she hadn’t spent so much time worrying about Nevada, she would have thought of this months, even years ago. Why not find another Jennifer and do it again? Alexa could learn from her mistakes. Maybe it would even get Ralph out of his slump; before Jennifer, he fell in love with every new girl Sinful hired. It would be great for Sinful, for Ralph and certainly, for Alexa. Not to mention the lucky starlet who would receive the benefit of Alexa’s experience.
But it couldn’t be someone like Joan, who was now walking to greet her new boss. Joan was great, but she came to Sinful after two years of working the feature-dancing circuit and shooting gonzo porn. Alexa needed someone brand-new. Of course, the whole industry looked for fresh faces. However, Alexa knew she had better eyes than anyone, at least when they weren’t devoted to watching every move made by her top star.
Not anymore, Alexa thought. She opened her arms to Joan, who was eager to give her Alexa her own airy embrace. As she looked over Joan’s tanned shoulder, Alexa felt like she could see the future. And for once, she liked what she saw.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
6.18.03 @ 10:36p
This is just getting better and better, Dana. I am SO enjoying watching this story unfold!
6.18.03 @ 11:29p
Hell, when this gets pusblished, we won't even have to buy the book!
I want a part in the movie version, though.
6.21.03 @ 1:04a
Gee, thanks. Hey - whaddaya mean you're not going to buy it?
6.25.03 @ 5:57p
A note to a critiquer (and thanks!) - regarding the loft layout, the second floor has no wall and you can see the activity from the floor below. (Anyone else find this confusing?) Also, I beg patience re: introing the characters. They'll start to mix it up soon enough.