Brian Gallatin, at Diana Inn, turned off his lights. He had a room on the third floor. Across the street, in Hotel Women, a handsome man stood with his rear-end to the window. Brian Gallatin didn’t want to be seen looking. Brian was staying alone at Diana Inn for an open-ended period of time. He had recently been in prison for a sex offense, and was now on probation. His parents owned a jam factory (Gallatin Jams) in Modesto, California, and had forgiven him for his crime, a not very serious sex offense. “We think you’re rehabilitated,” his mother, Irene Gallatin, had said to him, on the phone, after his release from prison. His father, on the other extension, had uttered “Yup.” His parents, tolerant of sex offenses, had suggested that he move back to Modesto, but Brian had argued that a short or medium-length vacation was in order, after three years of incarceration, and so his mother had booked him a room at Diana Inn -- “just a few blocks from the ocean,” she’d said. “That way you can get in shape again, and work on your tan.” Brian was in his first week of residency at Diana Inn when he saw, in the facing window, the naked man’s rear-end.
The man was still standing at the Hotel Women window. Slowly he turned around. Brian could see that the man was wearing a jockstrap. Brian went to his suitcase and took out a pair of binoculars. Through them he looked and saw more details of the naked man’s physique. The binoculars allowed immediacy: Brian felt as if he were standing close to a cactus in Death Valley, and studying the exact pattern of needles sticking out of the plant’s rubbery torso. The naked man did not resemble a cactus, but Brian had spent much of his childhood in the vicinity of deserts, and, if he ever succeeded in putting his life back together, after the sex offense and the incarceration, he planned to go back to college and study biology, and perhaps eventually work in a national park.
Upon closer inspection, Brian realized that the man across the street in Hotel Women looked exactly like the actor George Hamilton, whom Brian had admired in Angel Baby. Brian had been hard pressed to know whether he preferred Burt Reynolds or George Hamilton in that film; the co-stars resembled each other, and had parallel intensity. After seeing the film, Brian had gone home and written in his diary: Saw a film with two new stars -- new to me, that is. Burt Reynolds. George Hamilton. They’re my type. I’m going to watch out for their future films. Make a note of it. If this man across the street were really George Hamilton, then Brian was in luck. The man -- George Hamilton? -- disappeared from the window. Brian put away his binoculars and pulled down his shade. He lay on the double bed and turned on the Magic Fingers. The bed vibrated. Brian reached his hands into his pants, pulled them down, and played with himself for a good half-hour. He was experimenting with taking a long time to come. A half-hour was a long time. In prison he had been rushed, goal-oriented, furtive. Perhaps by the time his tenancy in Diana Inn was up, he would be able to jerk off for a full hour without coming.
An attractive young man with a crew-cut was standing in front of the reception desk.
“Welcome to Hotel Women,” said Whitehead. “May I help you?”
“I’m staying across the street, at Diana Inn, but I was thinking of changing hotels.”
Whitehead pretended to consult his reservations book. He knew that there were several openings on the second floor.
“We have a nice room on the second floor, looking out to Dolores Avenue,” said Whitehead.
“I’ll take it,” said Brian Gallatin.
“Do you want to check in now?” said Whitehead.
“This afternoon,” said Brian.
Brian’s parents had recently sent him a check for one thousand dollars as a reward for good behavior and in celebration of his first successful month of probation. With the check came a note: “Spend it any way you want! You’re the best! XOXOX Mom and Pop.” Brian had decided that it would be remarkable to stay in two hotels simultaneously, even if only for one or two nights. So he planned to spend tonight, Friday, in Hotel Women, meanwhile keeping his room in Diana Inn open, in case he woke up with a panic attack and needed to flee Hotel Women and seek the familiar succor of Diana Inn.
Brian returned that afternoon and Whitehead showed him to his room.
“Handsome,” said Brian, examining the bedspread’s tiny white and yellow balls of thread, a chaotic pattern that he assumed was Shaker. “I’d like more stationery,” he said, after looking in the desk drawer and finding only a single sheet of HOTEL WOMEN letterhead.
“We can provide typewriters, if you like,” said Whitehead.
“My letters are handwritten,” said Brian. “And at the moment I have few correspondents.”
Whitehead noticed that the two top buttons of Brian’s shirt were unfastened, and that he had a pleasantly hairy chest.
“I’m here twenty-four hours a day to help,” said Whitehead. “Call any time.”
Brian gave Whitehead a few coins as tip.
Whitehead said, “Are you sure there’s nothing else you need?”
“Not now,” said Brian. “I want to settle into the room.”
After spending an hour in his new room, he left it, and returned to Diana Inn, to spend an hour there, so he could make a fresh comparison of virtues.
Brian Gallatin took the stairs to Hotel Women’s roofdeck. He was wearing his Hotel Women terry robe over a Speedo bathing suit. He carried a bottle of Hawaiian tanning oil, SPF factor 6. He hadn’t been exposed to the sun during his years in prison, and his skin was sensitive.
On the roofdeck he noticed the presence of George Hamilton. The star’s eyes were closed. He was nude, as was his wont, his body covered with baby oil. Brian could see the bottle of Johnson and Johnson by George’s chaise longue. Brian stepped up to George and sat on the adjacent chaise.
George Hamilton, sound asleep, didn’t respond.
Brian took off his terry robe. He put the SPF 6 lotion under the chaise and instead decided to borrow George’s baby oil. Brian reached under the Speedo to oil his genitals and his buttocks, in case ultraviolet rays penetrated the fabric. Brian wanted to avoid burns, but he wanted to achieve a strong, attractive tan, to remove the pallor of prison, and to correct the lifelong sense of not belonging to the race of passionate people. George Hamilton matched Brian’s ideal of a swarthy person, mechanically yet intrinsically molten. Brian lay back on his own chaise longue and absorbed the heat. He drifted to sleep and then back to wakefulness, which he regretted.
What’s to regret? Brian thought. Didn’t Dr. Rank say I was rehabilitated? Didn’t he say that my tendencies were under control?
“Hi George,” said Brian, who noticed that the star had woken up.
“Do I know you?” asked George.
“We met, earlier today.”
“I can’t recall,” said George.
“In the lobby, when I was checking in. You walked by. I introduced myself, told you how much I’d loved your performance in Angel Baby. You’d seemed resentful that I didn’t mention recent pictures.”
“Not true,” said George. “I appreciate any attention from fans.”
“I’m now a permanent guest at Hotel Women. What about you?”
“I go back and forth to Beverly Hills,” said George. “At the moment, I’m in a period of deep relaxation and retreat, and I find the atmosphere of Hotel Women incomparably healing. I plan to return to my regular life in Beverly Hills within the year, but I’m in no hurry, and my agent says that it’s okay if I languish here as long as possible.”
George did not seem embarrassed to be nude, Brian noticed. He observed the absence of tan line and admired the nicely sized penis, with its abundant growth of hair. Brian had firm opinions, nursed in prison, about the different echelons of men, and though much of his life he had pursued far younger men, dangerously young, now he was beginning to appreciate the higher classes of virility, the older men, the ones called, in prison lingo, “masters.” George Hamilton was clearly a master.
“Have you been working out a long time?” asked Brian.
“I go to the gym every day. That’s more important than acting classes or networking.”
Brian began touching his own genitals through the Speedo.
George said, “I don’t mind what you’re doing, but don’t expect me to get involved.”
Brian continued to stroke, through the Speedo, his penis, which bulged against the suit’s limits.
George said, “Don’t be shy. Just don’t expect me to participate.”
Brian noticed that George’s penis had not changed shape or size, and he was chagrined not to have had the power to affect it.
“I’ll keep my bathing suit on,” said Brian, “in case other guests show up unexpectedly.”
“That’s smart,” said George. “You don’t want to get evicted.”
“Is there a policy against display?”
“As long as you keep on your bathing suit, you’re safe,” said George.
“You set a great example,” said Brian, “in the nudity department, and as a mature role model.”
“I don’t know how to take that,” said George.
“You lie there without embarrassment, and you’re a great actor, with lots of pictures in the can, waiting to be released. You must have the phone number of everyone in Hollywood.”
“You’d be surprised,” said George, “by the hard knocks I take.”
“But not compared to prison,” said Brian.
“Prison?” said George.
“I did time,” said Brian. “Three years. I’m cured now, though. I’m doing a dry run of healthy living by staying at Hotel Women for a month or more.”
“I get a prison script every month,” said George, “and I turn them all down.”
“Why?” asked Brian.
“I don’t want to be typecast. And I don’t want to be filmed as a victim or an oppressor. I don’t want to play pansy, and I don’t want to play thug. I’m trying to stay in the middle, and to avoid stereotype.”
“That’s why you’re my role model,” said Brian, no longer stroking his penis, which had ceased to be hard.
George’s penis, however, seemed to have lengthened and thickened, though its angle had not changed.
“Great roles slip through my fingers,” said George, “because of my fear of stereotype.”
“You mean you think a role is a stereotype so you don’t accept it but then you realize that it was only pretending to be a stereotype but was secretly three-dimensional and Oscar-worthy?”
“I’ve given up John Steinbeck and John O’Hara parts,” said George. “I’ve given up Sinclair Lewis and John Dos Passos parts. I regret them all. Each part I gave up is a fetus I snuffed out before its time in the sun.”
“Do you want to have children?” asked Brian.
“Once I’ve worked out my destiny, then I can have kids, and show them how to find equivalent destinies. But there’s no greater tragedy than becoming a father before you’ve figured out your fate.”
The door to the roofdeck opened and Lana Turner appeared, wearing a white one-piece bathing suit, her hair wrapped in a white turban. She wore silver cat-eye sunglasses with rhinestones on the wings and lens-edges.
“Sweetie,” she said to George. “Where have you been hiding?”
“Hi, Lana,” said George. He sat up but made no effort to mask his nudity or his semi-hardness. “I’ve been resting here most of the time.”
“Your tan is gorgeous,” she said, pulling up a chaise longue from the western corner of the large roofdeck, and bringing it alongside George’s. “I’m jealous,” she said. “I need to be tan for my new picture.”
“Be careful,” George said. “You could wreck your skin.”
“Oh, I’m a tanner,” she said. “You should have seen me at the beach when I was sixteen.”
“I remember publicity shots of you, tanned, at the beach.”
“Would you rub baby oil on my back?” said Lana.
George obliged. His penis remained exactly the same length and thickness, a decorous in-between.
After George oiled her shoulders and upper back, Lana lay on her stomach.
Brian sat up and extended a hand toward Lana, who did not accept it, but not because she was rude: rather, she was confused by what this stranger intended.
Explaining, too late, his gesture, Brian said, “Hi. I’m Brian Gallatin. I’m a friend of George’s, too. I moved into Hotel Women a couple of days ago.”
Lana said, “Pleased to meet you.”
“Of course I know who you are,” said Brian, awkwardly.
“You don’t need to explain,” George said, to Brian. And to Lana, he said, “Brian’s not used to meeting stars.”
“You could say that again!” said Brian. “I’ve set a personal record -- two stars in one afternoon.”
“What do you expect to get out of your time at Hotel Women?” Lana asked Brian.
“I’d like to get lots of sleep,” said Brian. “And I want to complete my recovery. I’ve just been released from prison, and my time in Hotel Women is a trial run for normalcy.”
“He’s actually a nice guy,” said George, quietly, to Lana.
“I don’t know,” whispered Lana.
“Why don’t you take off your bathing suit, Lana?” suggested George.
“I’m not like you, George,” she said. “I have a reputation. Plus, I don’t like the way my breasts are shaped.”
“Lana, your breasts are the most beautiful in Hollywood.”
“Thanks, George, but I’d rather be discreet.”
“If it would make you more comfortable,” said Brian, “I’ll go downstairs.”
“No,” said George. “This is communal space.”
“I hope I didn’t interrupt something private,” said Lana.
“Hardly,” said George. He did not want Lana to get the wrong impression.
The three of them napped for a few minutes, enjoying the strong sunshine. Then Lana woke, and said, mostly to George, though she didn’t mind if Brian overheard, “I’m almost done shooting The Bad and the Beautiful. It’s the hardest part I’ve ever attempted. I’d better achieve serious recognition with it.”
“Recognition isn’t why we act,” said George.
“We act because we have no choice,” said Lana.
“If we weren’t in pictures, or on television, we’d die,” said George.
“I don’t want ever to appear on TV,” said Lana. “The very thought depresses me. It seems a living death.”
“TV’s not so bad,” said George. “It’s the future.”
“I watch a lot of TV,” said Brian.
“See?” said George. “We can’t afford to be snobs.”
“Oh,” said Lana, “the thought of my image being cheapened! Entering any old person’s living room! I want control.”
“We gave up control the first time we stepped in front of the camera,” said George.
“I didn’t know you stars were so self-conscious,” said Brian. “I thought you took everything for granted.”
George’s penis had thickened and lengthened slightly, Brian observed. He wondered if Lana noticed.
“I feel honored to be part of your conversation,” said Brian.
“I’m worried about my daughter,” said Lana. “She wants me to stay home all week. She doesn’t like me holing up in a hotel. But what can I say? I can’t defend myself. I could slap her, or lock her in her room, or turn her over to her father.”
“I’m sure you’re doing a great job,” said George. “You don’t need to explain to Cheryl why you’re staying in Hotel Women. Eventually she’ll understand.”
“But what if she never does?” asked Lana.
“You mean what if she grows up and resents you for your hotel proclivities?” asked Brian.
“You’re catching on,” said Lana.
“Give him a few days,” said George, “and he’ll outwit us all.”
“Do you mind if I take off my bathing suit?” asked Brian.
“I don’t mind,” said George. “What about you, Lana?”
“Oh, come on,” said Lana.
“I guess you’ve been around the block,” said Brian, sheepishly removing his bathing suit and laying it on the wooden deck beside his chaise.
“There you go,” said Lana. “That didn’t hurt.”
“Good job,” said George.
“How does it feel?” asked Lana.
“Swell,” said Brian.
Lana looked over at Brian’s body. It was a normal frame, not spectacular, but not unattractive. It was the typical Black Irish physique, a kind she’d known several times, as an adolescent, and as a young starlet. One of her first beaux had been Black Irish, and she’d never forgotten his broad shoulders, his long prick, and his fine pelt.
Lana noticed that Brian’s penis had begun to thicken and lengthen; she also noticed that it was, in size and shape, remarkably similar to George Hamilton’s. Both were impressive members, though neither suited her mood this afternoon. She was in the midst of a temporary retreat from sex.
The door to the roofdeck opened. Whitehead appeared.
“Phone call for you, Miss Turner,” he said.
“Jesus,” said Lana. “Why the hell are you bothering me while I’m on the roofdeck?”
“Your daughter’s on the phone,” said Whitehead. “She tried your room several times and when no one picked up she asked me to page you. So I thought I’d check up here.”
“Tell her I’m busy,” said Lana.
“Okay,” said Whitehead. “Hi, George, hi, Brian.” Whitehead noticed, with pleasure and envy, their nudity. He regretted that he was working the front desk this afternoon, so that he couldn’t linger with them on the roofdeck.
After he left, Lana said, “The nerve. How the hell did Cheryl figure out where I was?”
“Didn’t you tell her that you’re staying at Hotel Women?” asked George.
“She has a list of my phone numbers. Hotel Women is one of them. She must have gone down the whole list.”
“Do you think she’s sick?” asked George.
“She’s insane,” said Lana. “She doesn’t understand my need for privacy.”
“Most non-stars don’t get it,” said George.
“They don’t get how desperate we are for a few moments to ourselves,” said Lana.
“You like to shut out the world, right?” asked Brian.
“We don’t want to be bothered,” said Lana, “when we leave our regular lives and check into a hotel.”
“Time to turn over on my stomach,” said Brian. “George, would you mind oiling my back?”
George sat up and cooperated. While this ministration was taking place, Lana looked over to see if George Hamilton’s prick expressed an opinion. She noticed that the organ stayed exactly the same, a polite state of in-between. Brian’s penis she couldn’t see, because he was lying on his stomach, but she assumed it was expressing hearty arousal.
Lana’s intuition was correct. Brian felt his penis throb and swell, pushing against the chaise’s scratchy fabric.
“You have a nice butt,” Lana told Brian.
“Thanks,” said Brian, his voice muffled by excitement.
“It’s his best feature,” said George, lightly slapping it.
“Ow,” said Brian. “Do it again.”
“Don’t dare try that with me,” said Lana.
“You’re strict, Lana,” said George.
“No one pushes me around,” said Lana.
“I’d like to lie on my stomach, too,” said George. “Lana, would you oblige?”
“My pleasure,” she said. She smoothly applied baby oil to George’s shoulders, which she admired: they were as virile as any pair of shoulders she had seen since Cary Grant’s. She considered them superior, in breadth and appeal, to Rock Hudson’s, Burt Lancaster’s, or Kirk Douglas’s.
Lana rested her delicate hand, its nails fiery red with polish, on George’s tanned posterior.
“Hmmmm,” said George.
Brian took note. His penis continued to vibrate and pulsate, though he knew that climax would be inappropriate in this circumstance -- exactly the risk that Dr. Rank had taught him to avoid, at peril of his liberty.
Lana lay back on her chaise, face up this time. She applied lotion to her legs, her arms, and the fine plump soft skin above her breasts. She would have liked George Hamilton to express a more direct appreciation of her beauty, but she understood that the afternoon had not ended, and that the future remained uncertain.
“Sayonara,” said Brian, standing up. He had a full erection, which Lana and George both noticed. Brian stuffed it, as best he could, into his Speedo, and put on his bathrobe. But, while doing so, he did not turn his back to Lana and George. Had he been truly rehabilitated, he would have behaved more modestly, and slipped on the Speedo and bathrobe without revealing his arousal.
“This was the most important afternoon of my entire life,” Brian blurted out.
“Don’t exaggerate,” said Lana.
Brian noticed that a cloud had come over the sun, temporarily shadowing it. Lana and George sat up.
“Damn,” said Lana.
“What’s going on here?” said George.
“A sudden cloud,” said Brian.
“This isn’t supposed to happen,” said Lana.
“The sun will return,” said George, lying back down on his stomach.
“I’ll give it five minutes,” said Lana, “then I’m leaving.”
“Goodbye, folks,” said Brian.
Lana and George did not utter a further farewell.
Jubilant, Brian trotted down the staircase to his room on the second floor. Sun-blinded, he couldn’t properly see the steps, and he tripped, before reaching his floor. He flew out into space, and landed on his hands and face. When he returned to his room, he noticed that his hands were bleeding. He looked in the bathroom mirror and realized that he had badly bruised his face. He dabbed Mercurochrome on the wounds. The pain and humiliation from the fall were so absorbing (not to mention his third-degree sunburn) that he completely forgot his glorious afternoon on the roofdeck with Lana Turner and George Hamilton. Discomfort from burns and fall was too intense to allow him to masturbate. He turned on the television -- each room in Hotel Women was equipped with a small black-and-white set -- and watched the evening news. Two South American countries were at war. High murder rates deluged the west and east coasts. Brian ordered up a hamburger and fries from the Regency Room. Whitehead delivered the order but did not inquire about Brian’s visible wounds.
On the day the bomb was supposed to drop (according to the newspapers and radio), Brian Gallatin’s parents came to Hotel Women to visit their son and congratulate him on his rehabilitation.
His parents drove into town in the morning. Their guess was that the bomb would drop in the late afternoon. Brian, on the phone, had told them about the first-class bomb shelter in the hotel, and the Gallatins were looking forward to using it.
Irene and Ted Gallatin checked in for one night only. They planned to drive back home the next day. They didn’t want to be a burden to their son, who was tasting the first fruits of freedom, after three years in prison. And yet Brian had welcomed their visit.
Whitehead gave the Gallatins a room right next to their son’s on the second floor. The Gallatin’s room had the same view as Brian’s. Brian stood with his parents in their hotel room and looked out the window. Together the three of them admired the view of Diana Inn, though Brian regretted that he was not on a high enough floor to see the hills that lay some distance beyond the rival establishment.
“Later today if the bomb doesn’t drop let’s go to the beach,” said Brian.
“I don’t want to burn,” said Irene.
“Honey, you never burn,” said Ted.
“We’re so proud of you,” said Irene, to her son.
“Your rehabilitation seems one hundred percent,” said Ted.
“What accounts for its speed?” asked Irene.
“Your presence helps,” said Brian. “I’ve wanted this visit for a long time.”
“Shall we walk by the beach as we talk?” asked Ted.
“Sure,” said Brian.
“I’d rather not,” said Irene. “I don’t want to burn.”
“Honey, you’re safe. We’ll give you some creme.”
“Mom, you don’t need to worry about the sun,” said Brian.
“I guess I trust you,” said Irene, “though I’ve never trusted you before.”
Irene spread some creme on her arms and her bare legs. She was wearing a denim skirt. Brian was wearing short pants. He spread creme on his legs and on his arms. Ted was wearing khakis and a short-sleeved sports shirt. He spread creme on his arms, which were hairy. Brian’s arms were also hairy, but not as hairy as his father’s. Brian thought his father resembled George Hamilton, but this was not entirely the case: Brian had a tendency to see resemblances when they were not actual.
Brian offered his parents a face cream that did not clog the pores. His parents accepted it. The three of them spread the fine cream on their faces and put on sun hats. Then they walked out of the hotel and, already individually regretting the decision but not knowing how to change it and turn back, they headed to the beach.
Once they reached the sand, they took off their shoes and held them in their hands. They no longer regretted their decision to walk by the beach. Sudden optimism coursed through the veins of all three Gallatins.
“I’m not worried about the bomb,” said Brian.
“Isn’t it foolish of the newspapers to go on and on about something that might not occur?” said Irene. “Am I too mean? I like public institutions and want them to continue functioning, but sometimes the newspapers make me furious.”
“You have a good head for public affairs,” said Ted.
“Dad,” said Brian, “why do you always compliment Mom so stiffly?”
“We used to get in these kinds of arguments before you were sent away to prison,” said Ted. “I thought that the rehabilitation was complete and that you would have lost your surliness.”
“I’ll try not to be surly,” said Brian. “But I’m tense about the bomb.”
“Honey,” said Irene, “I think it’s fine if Brian criticizes me. It’s good for him to express his feelings.”
“There is too much expression of feelings in this country today,” Ted said. “That’s the problem. That’s why we’re on the verge of war.”
“I get most flooded with feelings right before I fall asleep,” said Brian, “and I don’t know what to do except wake up some other guests in the hotel, to tell them about my feelings.”
“When you were a boy,” said Irene, “you used to wake us up with your feelings.”
“In Hotel Women I get late-night feeling jags,” said Brian. “I didn’t have feeling jags when I was in prison.”
“That’s the good thing about prison,” said Ted. “It shuts down the feeling centers, replaces them with more realistic structures.”
“But when I checked into Hotel Women,” said Brian, “my feelings came back. Especially late at night.”
“Why don’t you keep a journal?” said Irene.
“I’m not interested in perpetuity,” said Brian.
“Perpetuity,” said Ted. “That’s heady stuff.”
“I’ve gotten smarter since I checked into Hotel Women,” said Brian.
“I’ve noticed,” said Irene, “that you are very abstract when I call the hotel. All I get from you is words like ‘perpetuity.’”
A seagull flew low and almost hit Irene, or she thought it almost hit her. She ducked, shouted.
“It’s nothing,” said Ted. “Just a gull.”
“That gull was going to eat me alive!” shouted Irene.
“Do you have the heart to continue walking?” said Ted.
“Yes,” said Irene. “Just protect me from the gulls.”
“I think we’re having a nice visit, so far,” said Brian. “I think our visit is a success.”
“What if it isn’t?” said Irene. “How will we know if our visit isn’t a success?”
“We’ll know,” said Ted, “because we won’t want to spend the night in the hotel. We’ll be in a hurry to leave.”
“I feel like staying overnight,” said Irene. “Whether or not the bomb drops, I’m convinced that I want to sleep in a hotel room right next to my rehabilitated son.”
She put her arm around Brian and hugged him sideways. Another gull came flying in their direction. Brian raised his hand and diverted the gull’s attention from his mother’s head.
The cold weather of the previous day had changed to a light balmy spring temperature that pleased the Gallatins and made Brian proud of his new location. He wanted his parents to understand that his time at Hotel Women was the most important part of his life so far, but he was afraid that his parents, though they pretended to think that his stay at Hotel Women was a valuable interstice, were actually impatient, and wanted him to return to Modesto, where the Gallatins owned segments of a compound.
The Gallatins, including Brian, went back to the hotel. Irene was pleased that she wasn’t burned. In the lobby they saw Joan Crawford, seated on an armchair and waiting for her car to be brought round by the valet-parking attendant.
“Excuse me,” said Irene, “but are you Joan Crawford?”
“Yes,” said Joan.
“I’m very excited to meet you,” said Irene. “My name is Irene Gallatin, and this is my husband Ted, and our son Brian.”
“Hi, Joan,” said Brian.
“Are you staying in this hotel, Miss Crawford?” asked Ted.
“Yes,” said Joan, “but I’d rather you not spread the news around.”
“Most stars feel the same way,” said Brian. “Mom, Dad, I told you that a lot of stars live in this hotel, but they stay here on the sly.”
“You express yourself well,” said Ted. “My son is a genius.”
“Dad,” said Brian.
Irene felt self-conscious in front of Joan Crawford, because Irene was wearing a denim skirt, which seemed inappropriate for the occasion, though Irene had not known, in advance, that such an occasion would arise.
“Are you worried about the bomb, Miss Crawford?” asked Ted.
“No,” said Joan. “I’m pretty sure it won’t drop today. In fact, I’m driving to the studio for a fitting. I’m proceeding just as if it were an ordinary day.”
“If the bomb had dropped,” said Brian, “it would have done so by now.”
Irene said, “Newspaper writers should be shot in the head for publishing false rumors.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she regretted them. She didn’t want to appear violent in front of Joan Crawford.
“How are your emotions?” Ted asked his son.
“Dad,” said Brian, embarrassed. “I’d rather not talk about them now.”
“My son is in shaky emotional condition,” said Ted, to Joan. “But he’s handling it excellently.”
Brian regretted having invited his parents to spend the night in Hotel Women.
Joan Crawford was amused by the Gallatins. She felt that they were old-fashioned parents, the kind that had gone out of style. She wished that her parents had been throwbacks, like the Gallatins; her own childrearing practices were cautious and conservative. Today at the studio Joan was fitting costumes for a war picture, in which she played a widow. She was afraid that the picture would never be made. She suspected that the studio had lost the desire to cast her but wanted to string her along, preventing her from quitting and heading to RKO, Republic, or one of the new independents.
The Gallatins migrated upstairs, en masse. Though Irene had carefully applied creme, she felt that her face was on fire. She remembered feeling the same, twenty years ago; she remembered saying, to her husband, “My face is on fire,” and she remembered Ted’s amusement and disbelief. In fact, she had woken up the next morning with a dangerous burn, which prescription drugs had alleviated.
“How are your emotions?” asked Ted, when they were in Brian’s room. Brian was sitting on his bed, and his parents were sitting in the twin Naugahyde armchairs, facing Dolores.
“My feelings are low-key now,” said Brian. “The flare-ups happen right before I fall asleep.”
“Don’t you wish you were experiencing a flare-up right now?” asked Irene.
“Sort of,” said Brian. “I like the jags. They make me feel alive.”
“You seem pretty alive to me,” said Ted. “Irene, do you think your son is alive?”
“Yes,” said Irene. “He’s alive.
“I know I’m alive,” said Brian, “but I look forward to feeling more alive, though also more troubled. Tonight, before I fall asleep, I might get panicked and need to call my friend George Hamilton, but that will be fun, too, and full of feeling.”
“George Hamilton?” said Ted. “Are you friends with George Hamilton?”
“Dad, I told you already. He lives in the hotel.”
“Dear,” said Irene, to her husband, “you know that George Hamilton lives here and is a friend of Brian’s.”
“I guess I do,” said Ted, “but it slipped my mind.”
“Can you introduce us to him?” asked Irene.
“Sure,” said Brian, “if he’s dining downstairs tonight in the Regency Room.”
Because of the bomb threat, most of the guests (Lana Turner excepted) chose to dine on the premises, so the Regency Room was bustling, and service was slow. Brian and his parents sat at a table by the window. Brian was overjoyed when George Hamilton walked in (Brian wished to introduce his parents to the star) but was disappointed to see him accompanied by a stranger, a woman whom Brian had never seen before, and who was probably not a guest at Hotel Women.
During dessert, Brian brought his parents to the star’s table.
“George,” said Brian, “I’d like you to meet Ted and Irene Gallatin.”
Irene shook the star’s hand. So did Ted. Ted sized him up as not very attractive, though Irene was smitten.
“George, aren’t you going to introduce me?” said George’s dinner date, an attractive blonde who seemed barely out of her teens.
To the Gallatins, George said, “This is Cheryl Crane, Lana Turner’s daughter.”
Brian felt an overpowering jealousy of Cheryl Crane and wanted her out of the Regency Room as soon as possible.
Cheryl was unimpressed by the Gallatins: they seemed rural. Accustomed to hanging out with stars and the children of stars, Cheryl had no time for hicks.
“Are you worried about the bomb, Mr. Hamilton?” asked Ted.
“No,” said George. “Cheryl, are you worried?”
“I’m terrified,” said Cheryl. “That’s why I got dressed up for dinner. Mom’s out of town -- she’s doing location work in the desert -- so I’m on my own. I borrowed this dress from her closet.” She stood up and modeled it. “And here is a purse I took from her drawer. The handle has real jewels. If you see Mom later, don’t tell her that I borrowed her stuff.” Cheryl sat down, breathless. She hoped that Lana would not return for a few days, so that she could try on more outfits and parade through the Regency Room and other restaurants with the borrowed finery.
“Brian,” said Irene, when they were seated again at their own table, “I envy your life here!”
“It’s spectacular, I know,” said Brian. “But after awhile you get used to it. The first week, it’s exciting, every time you run into George Hamilton or Lana Turner. But soon you take it for granted.”
“Doesn’t Cheryl seem common?” Irene asked.
“Certainly does,” said Ted. “She doesn’t have any business wearing her mother’s clothes.”
“I guess it’s my duty,” said Brian, “to tell Lana, when she returns from location, about her daughter’s disobedience. But somehow I don’t have the strength.”
“Good for you,” said Ted. “I can tell that you’re rehabilitated.”
“I’m taking strong medicines,” said Brian. “They haven’t been approved by the FDA. I’m part of a clinical trial.”
“Does hanging around with George Hamilton make you uncomfortable?” asked Ted.
“No,” said Brian. “Why do you ask?”
“I don’t know,” said Ted. “He’s quite a man. A man’s man.”
“What are you getting at?” asked Irene, genuinely puzzled by her husband’s drift.
“He’s a solid specimen of manhood,” said Ted. “And I thought that men who were built that way made you feel inferior.”
“I suppose you had lots of very manly friends when you were growing up,” Irene said to Brian. “And look at your father! He’s a real man.”
“I’m comfortable with he-men,” said Brian. “They don’t upset me. George Hamilton is like a brother to me. He’s a relaxing presence. He’s handsome, women find him attractive, and he’s more masculine than I am, but I don’t feel intimidated.”
“I’m proud of you, sweetheart,” said Irene.
“Me, too,” said Ted. “You’ve made great strides in the last few months.”
“Have you fallen back into old behavior patterns?” Irene asked her son.
“Not really,” said Brian. “I confess that I brought out the binoculars once or twice.”
“The binoculars aren’t the problem,” said Ted.
“It’s the behaviors that go with the binoculars,” said Irene.
Ted Gallatin put down a credit card to pay for the meal. The three Gallatins went upstairs to bed. It had been an exhausting day for Ted and Irene -- a long drive from Modesto, and, for Irene, a face burn.
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