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Joe Gillis

This took place in Hollywood on an evening in May of 1958 and let’s be clear about one thing right at the top: Dixie Kincaid (name at birth Emaline Shimelplatzer) was not a hooker. She was a working actress. A fully paid member of the Screen Actors Guild, she earned no less than six thousand dollars a year for each of the four years since she moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Los Angeles, California. She worked regularly. In the six weeks prior to the evening we’ll be discussing, she appeared as the pre-title victim of a werewolf, two cigarette girls, a hat check-girl, a secretary who has to lean provocatively over a filing cabinet to retrieve a pencil, and had been promoted from Fourth Harem-Girl to Second Harem-Girl (with additional dialogue) in a Bowery Boys picture when the original actress cast refused to work with the camel.

Dixie Kincaid had no illusions of stardom. She realized very quickly after arriving in town that she simply didn’t have the ambition…and maybe not the talent…to make it really big in Hollywood. But, to her relief, she also learned quickly that there are ways to be in Hollywood without being a star. That you can have some fun and get paid. The money she was making now was better than what she got paid when she started, mainly because she was smart and got a lot of upgrades on the set, like the Harem-Girl boost. Casting people liked her because she wasn’t a bitch and assistant directors liked her because she was dependable, sober, and not looking to fuck anything on a set that could get her work.

But, to be completely honest, she wished she was getting paid more for her acting. Fortunately, Dixie was dependable in other ways. This lead to a situation where some might, without examining the situation, consider Dixie a hooker.

Her name and phone number were in the back pocket of several talent promoters. Dixie Kincaid would take money from agents and managers for something that looked like sex but wasn’t. That is to say it was supposed to look like sex. She was prepared, in anticipation of cash payment, to be seen in the company of young actors…and some not so young…who were either queer or suspected of being queer. In all the time Dixie went out with these men, she never met one who wasn’t as queer as the day is long.

She was not revolted to be in the company of homosexual men. She just thought it was a terrible waste that these good looking boys and men couldn’t get it up for girls. It seemed, from Dixie’s perspective, a darn shame.

She would get dressed to the nines in something designed to hug her impressive curves and go out with these actors who were always terrific dancers. She would cling to them during the evening, smile at the photographers the press agents sent around to make sure their client was seen with his arm around a good looking girl. She went to parties and premieres, which did her good with the casting people, too. She even got a couple of nice weekends in Palm Springs out of the arrangement.

Yes, she received payment for her time with these gentlemen, and she was seen in public with so many of them some thought the polished blonde with the alabaster bosom was, at best, promiscuous. But the absolute truth was that Dixie Kincaid was not a hooker. So there.

Which brings us to the evening in question. Dixie had contracted to be at the side of a dazzlingly attractive, astonishingly virile Universal contract player who was deeply in love with an equally handsome, unchallengeably masculine actor signed at Paramount. Dixie wore the Schiaparelli she and three other girls chipped in to buy and now shared with a detailed schedule. Of the four, no one wore it better than Dixie.

The hem fell to the floor with the drama of a black waterfall, majestically parted by Dixie’s fabulous gams when she walked. The satin shimmered across her hips, cinched her waist then turned to rise and present her breathtaking cleavage as if it were a gift from the gods. There was also a mink stole leased from another consortium of actresses.

So attired, Dixie Kincaid and an actor who shall remain nameless walked along a red carpet to attend a CinemaScope premiere at Grauman’s Chinese on Hollywood Boulevard at 6:45 P.M. The house lights went down at 7:15 and by 7:30, Dixie was saying goodbye to her escort at the theater’s loading dock. He graciously gave her an additional one hundred dollars from his own pocket, an honorarium on top of what she was getting from the actor’s representation, and wished her well before leaving for an assignation at the Tropicana Inn on Fountain Avenue.

It was a beautiful evening and there was still plenty of light in the sky. It seemed to Dixie, as I’m sure you’d agree, a terrible waste to take herself back to her apartment so early, shimmy out of the dress she had expanded considerable effort to climb into, wash off her make-up, put up her hair, and settle down to read the comics in the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

It had been a good week. She’d played a girl of clearly loose morals in a police line-up and the sweetheart of a sailor shipping off on a submarine. The sailor had onions on his hamburger before their kissing scene, but she got extra lines in the police show when the director realized she was the only girl who could climb the steps to the line-up stage in high heels without looking down at her feet. And now she had an extra hundred dollars in her purse and the evening to herself. This was a night for indulgence and self congratulation.

So Dixie walked over to Highland then down to Hollywood, savoring the whistles from various and sundry wolves, and over to Cherokee to a little bar she liked called Benny’s Rendezvous.

She pulled open the heavy door with its three diamond-shaped windows of green glass and stepped into the bar. Hector the owner looked up from the bar and Dixie posed in the doorway for him.

“Is this the YWCA?” she asked.

“It sure is, Miss. Come on in and have a seat,” Hector smiled and gestured toward the stool closest the cash register.

Dixie liked to be appreciated, acknowledged for the effort she put into being a knock-out. And she never tired of demonstrating how much good a long-legged gal could do for herself and the world just be walking across a room. She perched on the stool, turning to let the slit of the skirt find her left leg, and ordered a martini.

It was early. A handful of serious drinkers folded into two of the booths, a man with the swift angularity of a process-server keeping the brim of his hat low over his eyes at the far end of the bar.

Dixie watched Hector make her drink. For all the time she’d been coming here there’d never been a Benny at Benny’s Rendezvous. Hector bought the place when he got out of the Army after Korea. He wasn’t sure he could make a go of it, so the expense of changing the name on the neon sign felt like asking for bad luck. Hector left it alone and business had been just swell ever since.

Hector set a glass on a napkin in front of Dixie and poured her drink from a shaker. There’s nothing this side of the north pole as cold as a martini the way Hector makes them.

“What’s Cinderella doing all dressed up for the ball with no prince?”

“The prince had personal business back at the castle. I’m stag. Going to have one or two of these delightful martinis, then go home and see how Dick Tracy is doing.”

Hector shook his head. “What a waste.”

“You’re a doll, Hector,” and then she lifted her glass and sipped her drink.

Things are about to change in this story, so take a moment now to consider Dixie Kincaid in a low-cut slinky dress, balanced on a bar stool like a figure on-top of a music box. A beautiful girl, sipping a martini, red tipped nails holding the stem, faint ghost of her lipstick on the rim of the glass when she puts it down on the bar and sighs. Take your time with that, and move on when you’re ready.

The door to the street opened behind Dixie, evening light pushing the process server’s fedora lower over his eyes.

“What have we here?” Hector mumbled out of the side of his mouth as he moved along the bar.

Dixie kept her eyes on her drink. You don’t want to turn around and look at every guy who walks in a bar. Makes it look like you’re worried about getting stood-up.

The feet of the bar stool two down from Dixie dragged across the floor and somebody dropped himself into the red leather seat like he was dropping a bag of cement.

A man’s voice said, “I’d like a drink.”

“You’ve come to the right place,” Hector told him. “You want to narrow that down for me a little?”

“Oh, yeah, Sure. I guess. How about gin and tonic?”

“I can manage that.”

Hector went off to make the drink. Dixie made like she was adjusting the mink around her shoulders and snuck a look at the newcomer. He was unique, you had to give him that. Maybe thirty, shaved head, silver looped earring in the ear Dixie could see. What looked like a bowling shirt under a pale blue sports jacket. Dungarees and funny shoes that looked like sneakers with overgrown laces. Crazy. Nice looking, but looking kinda nervous. Like he went in the nearest bar he could find after almost getting run over by a taxi cab.

Hector brought the tall glass of gin and tonic and put it on a napkin in front of the guy. The young man reached into his back pocket, took out his wallet, slipped a red plastic card, about the size of a playing card, out of the wallet and put it on the bar. Hector looked at the card.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” Hector said, flicking the card with his finger.

“I’ll start a tab,” the young man said.

“Not with that thing, you won’t. Seventy-five cents American.”

The young man seemed very confused by this.

“Seventy-five…cents?” he asked.

Hector concluded that whoever or whatever this guy was, it amounted to trouble.

“Okay, pal…”

Dixie slipped off her stool and moved next to the young man. She pulled a five out of her bag and put it on the bar in front of Hector.

“I’m buying,” she said.

Hector picked up the bill. He looked from Lincoln to the nervous young man to Dixie.

“Okay,” he said. “I’m going to suppose you know what you’re doing.”

Hector took the bill to the cash register.

The young man looked at Dixie. Or he tried to look at her. It was as if he was having trouble focusing, staying in the room he was in. He picked up the red plastic card.

“The card’s good. I pay my balance every month,” he said, as if that explained anything.

“I’m sure you do, Honey. Cheers.”

Dixie tapped the base of her martini glass against the side of the stranger’s gin and tonic and took a sip. Her new friend lifted his glass and took a significant swallow.

“What the hell happened to you?” she found herself asking.

The stranger laughed.

“I’m not sure. Actually, I have no idea what’s happened to me.”

“How about we move over to a booth and make this private?”

Dixie didn’t wait for an answer. She picked up the gin and tonic and with a drink in each hand, moved toward the booths, leaving the young man to follow the trail cut by her rolling hips.

The two strangers sat across from each other in the back booth. The young man finished his gin and tonic in three swallows. Dixie sipped her martini and then gestured to Hector to prepare another round. Hector made a sour face, but started making the drinks.

“I’m Dixie. Who are you?”

“Ralph. Ralph Donnegen. Thanks for the drink.”

“I don’t get to buy drinks for a lot of guys. You look like you needed some support.”

“Yeah, well…” and it seemed to Dixie that the young man named Ralph was really looking at her for the first time. It was like watching the sun burn through a cloud.

“Wow,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said.

Hector arrived with the fresh drinks.

They drank.

The young man put his glass back on the table then lifted his eyes from the glass to Dixie. Dixie smiled.

“Can you get drunk in a dream?” he asked her.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “I once dreamt I was a mermaid, but I still don’t know how to swim when I woke up.”

“Well, I guess we’re going to find out.” And he took another deep swallow.

“Go slow, Honey. The night is young. You drink like something was chasing you.”

“I just hope it is a dream and not a fever. Or something worse.”

She reached across the table and touched the young man’s forehead with her hand.

“You’re cool as a cucumber.”

The young man inhaled.

“That’s amazing. I can smell your perfume.”

“For what it cost me, I hope to heck you can smell it.”

“Smelling things that aren’t there, that's something that happens when you’re having a stroke. Wouldn’t that be something? Getting this far and falling down in the middle of Hollywood, dead from a stroke.”

“You don’t look sick, Honey. Just a little confused.”

She let the mink slide off her shoulders to help him focus on things.

Dixie took the cigarette case out of her bag, opened it, tapped out an extra long Fatima and held it in front of her.

“Do a lady the honor, would you?”

He didn’t seem to know what she was talking about at first. Dixie dropped her eyes to the ash-tray between them on the table and tapped the book of paper matches with a crimson nail.

“Oh, wow,” he said then picked up the matches. “Sure. That makes sense. I suppose.”

He lit a match and held the flame to Dixie’s cigarette as she touched the filter to her lips. As the young man was about to take the match away, she reached for his hand and drew it close to her face. She parted her lips ever so slightly and blew out the match he was holding.

The young man studied Dixie’s face.

“I feel like I’ve seen you someplace. I mean, I must have. I must have seen a picture of you or something.”

“Well, I am an actress.”

“That makes sense. I must be remembering you from something. Something old. Something in black and white.”

Dixie artfully exhaled blue smoke between them. Then she picked up her glass.

“Here’s to us, Mr. Donnegen.”

They drank. She put her hands on the table. He reached out and touched the back of her right hand, touched the fake emerald planted in the ring she wore.

“It’s going to be tough waking up from this,” he sighed. He looked at her, taking in every inch of her, and ended up looking her clean in the eye. “I couldn’t take it anymore. Understand. I hit the limit a long time ago. Don’t know when. Time’s all screwed up. All stretched out and sticky like taffy. I’ve got an apartment over on Ivar. Little box of a place. It’s okay, really. It’s just you’re not suppose to stay in it day after day after day, never getting out unless you put a mask on your face and gloves on your hands, go out for what you need and then run back like something was chasing you. Something is chasing you. Just like you said. All the people in masks…all you can see are their eyes. Some of them look angry. Most of them look scared. Scared of getting sick. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Nobody knows when it’s going to end. Nobody knows who’s going to be left to see it end. It’s too much. And he doesn’t seem to care. He’s just looking for somebody to blame. He talks and talks and you can’t believe how incredibly stupid he is. And, God, stupid would be okay, if he weren’t so…so… I mean, people are dying, and he sounds like they’re doing it on purpose just to make him look bad. That’s not stupid, that’s crazy. And I haven’t been sleeping so I guess it makes sense when you can’t sleep your dreams have to show up somewhere else. I had to walk around, get out of the apartment and just walk someplace.”

The young man reached into the pocket of his jacket and took out a red paisley bandana.

“So I put on my mask and walked out the door, walked down to the boulevard. Everyplace is closed. All the movie theaters are closed and that hurts more than I ever thought it could. Hurts like a toothache when you can’t get to the dentist.”

“Honey, maybe we should go someplace where you can get something to eat.”

“All the restaurants are closed. Only take out. People scurrying around with bags full of food, keeping their heads down, walking in the gutter to keep away from each other. Like mice scuttling back to their holes after stealing some cheese. I couldn’t take it anymore. I just couldn’t take it. How are we supposed to keep on being people? I felt kinda dizzy and I leaned against the side of a building…which you’re not supposed to do, you’re not supposed to touch anything because you don’t know who else might have touched it. And I cried. I’m ashamed to say it, but I just started crying at the corner of Wilcox and Hollywood. Crying for how everything was changing, everything was going away and would never come back. And then the building wasn’t there anymore. Instead there was this door with three diamond shaped windows with green glass. I pulled the door open and walked into this bar and asked for a drink and they wouldn’t take my credit card and you came up to talk to me. Now we’re sitting in a cozy booth in the back of a bar and I’m looking at you and smelling your perfume and cigarette smoke and starting to feel the gin and I think I saw you in a Bowery Boys picture. The one where Sach finds Aladdin’s lamp and wishes them all back to Arabia. You were in the harem. And Sach gets you off someplace and he gets ready to kiss you, but a camel sticks his head in the tent and gets between the two of you and Sach kisses the camel instead of you. That’s you, right?”

“Yeah, that was me. You liked that bit?”

“It was very funny. You looked terrific.”

Dixie smiled.

“Thanks,” she said. Then Dixie Kincaid (a.k.a. Emaline Shimelplatzer) blushed behind her powder and rouge.

In the middle of the smile and the blush, she remembered something.

“Wait a second,” she said. “I just shot that movie last week. Do you work at the studio? Did you see the rushes? Did the producer like me?”

“No, I don’t work at the studio. I saw the movie. A long time ago. When I was a kid and they’d show those movies on Saturday mornings on t.v. You were in a couple of those pictures.”

“No, I just did that one. Arabian Night Knock-Out.”

“No, you were in a couple. You were a secretary in Wall Street Rumble, and you were the queen of Venus in Flip Me That Flying Saucer.”

“I’m sorry, honey, you’ve got me mixed up with some other blonde.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think so.” The young man thought for a moment and wondered out loud: “Maybe you haven’t made those pictures yet.”

Dixie stubbed out her cigarette in the ash tray then reached across the table to take the young man’s hands in hers.

“Look, Ralph. I’m really thinking we should go someplace and get you a hamburger, maybe some chili. I don’t know what happened to you, but it don’t take Dr. Kildare to see you’ve been going through something bad. That place you’re talking about, with the crazy guy in charge and everybody wearing masks and getting sick? That sounds like a terrible place.”

“It is. It used to be really nice. Nobody knows if it’ll ever be nice again.”

“I know what you mean. I was just a kid during the big war and I was scared all the time. It was all happening somewhere else, but it was still scary wherever you were. My dad was in the Pacific, his brother was killed in France, and all I could do was hide under the covers every night and cry. Is this thing ever going to end and what are we supposed to do if it doesn’t end? And if it does end, what are we going to do then? Pretend it didn’t happen? Forget about everybody who was killed? It was awful and sad, but it did end and nothing was the same, but there was something else. And if something else is all you’ve got, you make the best of it.”

Ralph looked across the table to Dixie Kincaid. He was certain now: She was the queen of Venus in Flip Me That Flying Saucer. It was a big part, as these things go, and she was really good in it. Sexy and funny and amazingly regal for someone in a metallic space bikini and see-through plastic cape.

He knew this couldn’t last. Any second he was going to be yanked back to where he came from and he’d never see this girl again except in old movies and tv reruns. Maybe a lifetime of reruns in an apartment he’ll be stuck in forever.

Any second, it was all going to vanish.

Dixie gestured to Hector behind the bar that they were ready for another round.

Joe Gillis is a writer with a couple of B pictures to his credit.

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