HOLLYWOOD—In the post-binge haze, Jason discovered a toughness in himself that he didn’t know he had. He actually went down the aisle and ripped two students’ answer sheets. They had been jabbering away and sharing test answers. Then the sound of velcro separating filled the hushed classroom. Faces turned, pencils ceased scratching.

“Why you do that teach?” cried one. The other’s face fell, suffused by red shame. There would never be any way of knowing who had contaminated whose answers. They were shocked, all right, but not as much as Jason at his own harshness.

At night, after scooping the blizzard of test documents and booklets, Jason ran into Abby Fenwick in the open-air hallway. She looked drawn and stressed out.

“Oh it’s these tests,” she chuckled her yolky chuckle. It sounded false and devoid of mirth. “I forgot how tedious they are. All the paperwork.”

“I forget, too,” Jason said. “I expect a vacation. And it’s like juggling plates. One smart student finishes in ten minutes and has nothing to do,” Jason said. Abby was looking away from Jason and fidgeted with the handle to her rolling milk cart of books. She started walking away from him. And Jason’s voice trailed off.

On his way to the Colex Apartments, he stopped at the market on Cahuenga and made himself privy to news that explained the presence of his ex, Suzanne, at a Cleveland-Lakers’ game and subsequently at a Miami-Lakers game and at Dallas. The tabloid tattlers described her head over heels with Igor Gregorian, the seven-foot-tall Armenian wonder.

“Suzanne is one smart doughnut,” Candy told Jason. “When they show her on TV at the basketball game, she’s wearing designer clothes. The designers pays her to wear their clothes.”

“She sure is a smart doughnut,” Jason mouthed.

The weeks flitted past, now, and March tilted to April. Showtime was only a few weeks away. During one particularly trying rehearsal at San Anselmo, Jason had a yen for herbal relief. He summoned Juventino, who came before the night’s end and was instantly struck by the majesty of the theater. Now in the final weeks, the shaky cast had been joined by a few musicians recruited from the ragtag ranks of the high school and the ESL student body—squawky clarinets and guitars and accordions whose cacophonous crowing seldom merged into sweet chords. From the back of the social hall Juventino gazed:

“It’s still very rough around the edges,” Jason said, receiving his special baggie from Juventino.

“Immigrant Blues” was shaping up. The verses, set to the tune of Hawaii 5-0, Eraclito sang on bended knee:

I’ll become one of you guys/and wed a Valley Girl from Van Nuys/

Oh, it’s the American dree-eam!/ It’s really a scream!

“What do I owe you. . .?” Jason said.

“Teach, you owe me nothing,” Juventino said, “I owe you everything.”

Jason continued to reach deep inside a pocket.

“It’s okay. You wanna help me, get me some tickets for the show.”

Meanwhile, the tabloids charted Suzanne’s heart’s progress, shaky and jogged as an ICU patient’s chart. The painful breakup with Igor Gregorian. Her face crumpled in a crying jag, plastered in supermarkets across the land. The tabloids confessed her love on the mend in the healing embrace of Rusty, the jarhead, back from the Arab wars. The tabloids gloated over his lack of table manners, slurping from soup bowls and picking his nose, and getting into trouble for calling the president (of Paramount Pictures) “dawg.”

“I wouldn’t want to have a little brother,” Kit said one morning.

“Looks like you’ve got a new Daddy,” Jason said and immediately regretted it.

The Jarhead soon moved into the Hollywood Hills, or rather foothills, and into Suzanne’s glassy new abode that had oddly enough belonged to Jules Kaminsky in his heyday as writer-director. New luxury has a very short shelf life. Soon Kit and Jason had the breakfast routine down pat. The only difference was Suzanne now had a stainless steel, double refrigerator instead of the old white Frigidaire, and outside, tour buses paused and from behind yucca plants paparazzi sprang like jack-in-the-boxes.

(To be continued…)

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Hollywood humorist Grady grew up in the heart of Steinbeck Country on the Central California coast. More Bombeck than Steinbeck, Grady Miller has been compared to T.C. Boyle, Joel Stein, and Voltaire. He briefly attended Columbia University in New York and came to Los Angeles to study filmmaking, but discovered literature instead, in T.C. Boyle’s fiction writing workshop at USC. In addition to A Very Grady Christmas, he has written the humorous diet book, Lighten Up Now: The Grady Diet and the popular humor collection, Late Bloomer (both on Amazon) and its follow-up, Later Bloomer: Tales from Darkest Hollywood. (https://amzn.to/3bGBLB8) His humor column, Miller Time, appears weekly in The Canyon News (www.canyon-news.com)