I feel like math and writing are the same thing. You’re putting together a lot of complex things to satisfy different requirements. It’s got to be aesthetically pleasing; it’s got to have subtext; it’s got to convey information. ~Shane Carruth~
With a wakening air brake hiss and metal-to-metal grind, Sammi Sue Ellis is welcomed to the downtown Greyhound terminal in Los Angeles, California, in the middle of July. The driver lets himself out first in order to pull luggage from the storage compartment at the side of the bus while Sammi Sue looks out the tinted window. I’m here, she thinks. I have arrived. She brings one suitcase and the honor of being Miss Topeka 1997 and it is proud parents who add five hundred dollars to the thousand dollar Chamber of Commerce prize and watch eighteen-year-old Sammi board the bus to Hollywood. Her parents are wheat farmers and the crop has not been bountiful the past several seasons, but they know she will quickly get a TV or movie part, or at worst a job modeling. She has her heart set on it. She had had the lead in class plays since she was a freshman and the local theater critic said she had performed Bus Stop with more sympathy than Marilyn did in the movie.
It takes her less than an hour to get from the bus terminal to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Boulevard. A furnished studio apartment renting by the week is quickly found as is an agent who specializes in starlet-types straight off a bus from the Midwest. He changes her name from Sammi Sue to Suzanne and spends several hundred of her dollars for a portrait portfolio. Six weeks later she gets a waitress job in a trendy West Hollywood restaurant where important people go to be seen. Young people in her situation can’t afford to date or even socialize, so she accepts a few dinner offers from customers, mainly actor types who have walk-on gigs but whom she nonetheless thinks can help her meet the right people. She cuts her shoulder length hair to just below her ears, adds highlights and soon begins dating faces she recognizes on TV. They buy her dinner and help her out with rent money and before long dinner is not part of the date. She begins putting on weight from nightclub cocktails, so alcohol is replaced with coke. Her breakthrough moment comes when one of her dates introduces her to the Sunset Strip soft porn movie king and she begins to appear in his movies, making enough for a month’s rent or a week’s worth of coke. The porn impresario changes her name to Suzette F’Lay.
When word spreads about her x-rated movie career, she loses her waitressing job and most of her clients. Instead of money, she asks her remaining regulars to pay her in lottery tickets and, against all odds, after several weeks she has a $50,000 winning ticket. She buys a one-way bus ticket to Topeka and sticks it on her vanity mirror, sends five hundred dollars to her parents and the rest of the winnings she spends on coke.
Ten years later, Suzette F’Lay is long gone from the studio apartment on the Boulevard, succeeded by a string of Greyhound bus arrivals from the Midwest. Each successive renter has left the one-way ticket to Topeka stuck in the vanity mirror.
Gene has had twenty books published, a mix of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. His writing regularly appears in small press publications throughout the United States and Europe. He has a novel, in narrative poetry form, coming out this fall from Middle Island Press: Obsessions. He also paints and has paintings in commercial and private collections nationwide. He has illustrated ten or so books (covers and interiors) and is the illustrator for Misfitmagazine.net.
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