Read an Excerpt
Down the Rabbit Hole
Before dawn and already I’m off to a bad start. But then I could have guessed as much when I forgot to close the window last night and got jolted awake at 5 a.m. by the sprinkler system rattling to life. Sometimes, depending on my mood, if I can be said even to have a mood at 5 a.m., the sound of running water can be reassuring. Like a stream or a bath being drawn. But this morning it sounds like nothing so much as a bursting pipe. A taunt to my inability to bring anything to heel.
Not my job as a senior publicist to some of Hollywood’s lesser celebrities at DWP, a legendary if fading publicity agency. And certainly not Los Angeles, where I—raised in Philadelphia’s custardy Main Line—inexplicably found myself three years ago. My house with its dyspeptic sprinkler system is the least of my worries.
For one thing, it’s Thursday, which means the dual reveille of sprinkler and garbage truck. Just when I’m drifting off again, the city’s sanitation department begins its weekly assault, grinding along the street running below my modest but nonetheless desirable rental in the hills, followed by a second, noisier pass by my front gate.
“Thursday,” I groan, rolling over to peer crankily at the bedroom wall, which looks, in the dim, coffee-colored light, like it could stand a paint job. Thursday. Another weekend fast approaching with no plans unless you count a screening Friday night and a meeting with a stylist on Saturday. Maybe I can fill the hours looking at paint chips or something.
Thursday, I realize with a thud, the kick of adrenalin as my heart lurches back to its usual wracking pace. This isn’t just any Thursday with its annoying staff meeting, everyone sitting around waiting to carve one another up over nonfat vanilla lattes, but the Thursday of my big client meeting.
With Troy Madden.
Troy Madden. I haven’t even signed him yet and already he’s a problem. Actually, Troy is the problem, which is why he’s in the market for a new publicist. Someone to solve the problem of his just-back-from-court-ordered-rehab career reentry. Someone lower down the food chain. Someone like me. Which is why I’m taking a meeting with him in about—I roll over and attempt to focus on the silver-plated clock on my bedside table—six hours. With a sigh, I kick off the duvet and slide my feet to the sisal carpeting, which I notice, irritably, could stand replacing.
Staring at myself in the bathroom mirror, I mentally clock the distance I have to travel to go from how I look now—an overworked, underachieving single woman in her early thirties who could use a haircut and a boyfriend—to the kind of polished, savvy professional I’m supposed to be a few hours from now. Nobody looks their best at 7 a.m., no matter how many models were photographed in tangled bedsheets and dirty hair during the Slept-in Chic phase, which, if I have the chronology right, followed the Heroin Chic phase. I have Italian sheets, but they do little to erase the fact that 1.) I hate my job even though I’m frighteningly good at it, 2.) I hate my life because everyone thinks I have the most FABULOUS job and no one wants to hear anyone complaining about mopping up after stars, and 3.) I went to bed too late—which meant I had my requisite two glasses of white wine too late—after a screening, another relentlessly unfunny De Niro comedy that just makes you want to kill yourself.
Now, bleary eyed and grouchy, I have to come up with a game plan before my meeting with Troy this afternoon. Actually I should come up with a plan for the rest of my life. Like, what happened to my goal of becoming a top magazine editor by age thirty-five? Or my marriage? Like, where did that go?
I snap on the shower and pray the steam helps clear my head, if only about Troy. We at DWP specialize in resuscitating down-and-outers. Or at least we do now. At one time, DWP was the Tiffany’s of PR firms. But that was before my time. Now, we’re like Jesus working the crowds at the pool of Bethesda. Careers on the slow fade? A little trouble with the law? Can’t quite claw your way onto the B-list? The aging pretty boys. The actresses who spend more time at the dermatologist than at auditions. You’ve come to the right place. My bosses like them as clients. Their names still sound classy—like Sally Field and Cybill Shepherd, who everybody joked was the Old Maid, the card nobody wanted to hold—their fees are lower, and because they seldom have anything to promote, the workload is nothing. Just some handholding, the publicist’s equivalent of phone sex. Even the company’s acronym, after the partners—Davis, Woolfe, and the long-departed Peterman—is identical to that of the city’s utility company, the Department of Water and Power.
Troy is perfect DWP material. After his little stay in rehab— actually it was three stays, including swanky Promises out in Malibu, but nobody besides the judge was really counting—he needs to get back in the game. Recapture his heat, his wattage. He had plenty at one time, like three years ago, which makes him positively Paleolithic here. In L.A., you age faster than anywhere on the planet. In fact, Hollywood years are almost exactly the length of dog years. With an average life span about that of a dachshund or a Great Dane, you can expect to be professionally dead in fifteen years. Give or take.
Take Troy. At twenty-nine, or so he says, he still has a few miles left on him, even if he has tumbled from his Vanity Fair cover heights of a couple years back, when his dark eyes and cocksure grin had caught the eye of every gay director in town. Before he’d made a single studio picture, Troy had been crowned the new Steve McQueen. But that was before his last movie tanked—“Blow Your Mind” Games, a low-budget, pseudodocumentary horror flick about a reality show, a kind of Blair Witch-meets-Survivor—and before his run-in with the Portland cops when he was caught with a bong in a suite at the Heathman Hotel. Later there was some DUI incident in the Palisades, actually two of them, which meant Troy spent the better part of a month in the Beverly Hills courthouse. Then came the trio of rehab stays.
Now, nine months later, Troy is back, itching to get back in the game. And I—as the youngest and newest member of the DWP team—am the designated hitter. “You’re the girl to land Troy,” Suzanne Davis, my fifty-something boss (the D of DWP and one of the firms two remaining founding partners), had said, pausing for her usual nanosecond in my office before disappearing down the hall, a blur of one of the white Armani suits she always wore. “You’re the one who knows how to recycle the Gen Y crowd.” Recycle? Like I’m doing something good for the planet.
I step from the shower, grab a towel, and head into the kitchen. Troy might need a comeback campaign, but I’m in serious need of coffee. He’s already heard Hollywood’s death rattle. A TV producer with a network deal called his agent sniffing around about Troy’s post-rehab availability to shoot a pilot about a divorced dad who becomes a foster parent to a pair of Hispanic twins. “Cute kids, like Elian Gonzales,” the producer said. His agent naturally passed, but when Troy heard about the offer he panicked and fired everyone except his lawyer, an old friend from Iowa State, where the two of them played baseball until Troy started shooting too many beer commercials in Chicago to make it to class, let alone practice. Now, a few months after the sitcom scare, Troy has new representation, a slate of meetings around town. And me.