By the time Daniel Fisher had reached The Dryden School for Gifted Children, the three-mile mark of his morning run, he was running at his fastest pace. He whizzed past the circus of soccer moms busily unloading their children from an assortment of oversized SUVs and Mini Vans. They grabbed and pulled and cajoled their children out of their cars and into their backpacks, gesticulating like a crowd of female Tourreters.
One of the women was trying to balance her baby and a briefcase as she struggled to fix her daughter’s unruly braids. She held her infant inside the crook of one arm, desperately trying to manage the job and still keep the wailing, writhing baby from tumbling out of her grip and squishing her soft skull onto the pavement like an overripe tomato dropped from the hands of a clumsy shopper. Meanwhile, her petulant, half-braided little girl remained stiff-necked and poised to bolt at the last snap of her mother’s handiwork.
Their eyes met in the moment between Daniel’s passing and her last snap. In three seconds, he was yards down the road. The woman took one more moment to watch him as he ran, her eyes following his lithe muscular body, his ponytail swaying to the rhythm of his run. He could feel her eyes on him. Lately, he thought to himself, they always looked.
That afternoon, Judith had come by unannounced. She knew Daniel hated when she did that, but she didn’t care. She had recently described herself as a “woman of a certain age,” while trying to be glib and ironic at a lunch with some old college friends at the Tavern on the Green in New York City, but was surprised by their lack of incredulity at her remark. They were all married and had since buried themselves in a stultifying suburban busy-life, she rationalized, while she still had her mojo. She was not going to give herself up to middle age so easily, she thought, as she knocked down her third Cosmo. Her vitality and sexuality had defined her, and she knew that without them she would be lost.
But she had already been experiencing frequent spells of emotional vertigo. In the last ten years, Judith had become a very successful businesswoman by carefully combining her sexy looks with a laser-like ability to ferret out the weakness in her opponents. She had always been as ruthless with her own self-assessment as well. If she had to change something in her approach to a problem, professional or sexual, she could switch gears as easily as a test driver working through the gearbox of a $200,000 Maserati. But somehow, since her last birthday, she had lost her edge. The woman in the mirror was becoming less and less familiar. She was harder, softer in the wrong places, and her flashy smile had taken on a clownish quality.
But she had placed the disturbing lunch in the city in a box and locked it up tight. Now she was ageless and horny. She reached over and slid her long fingers down Daniel’s naked chest to his pubic hair. He watched her push his leg with her foot to give herself some more room in which to work.
Daniel watched with his usual detachment. It didn’t even matter to him that he looked fifteen years younger than he really was and that girls half his age found him charming. He just didn’t give a shit any more. It didn’t help. Fifteen years ago, the coos and compliments had made him feel invulnerable. Now sex just made him feel hopeless – he knew exactly how old he was, but he also knew he was no longer handsome and charming enough-whatever that meant. Afterward, the two lay in each other’s arms. Judith was serene. Daniel was desolate.
On the set the next day, Daniel was even more irritable than usual. Marylou Bastini, the woman who protected him from the daily complaints of petulant actors or nervous clients, picked up on his mood even before he had gotten out of his car. There was a cup of tea waiting for him as he got to the stage.
He took the tea gratefully and went to huddle with his long time cameraman, Johnny Sinclair and John’s gaffer, Jim McDonald. The three had worked together on and off for more than fifteen years. He relaxed immediately. Ironically, their conversation was not about the day’s work—shot set up, or lighting placement. The very first conversation of the day, unless there was a crisis, was always, about cooking. They all loved to cook and they all loved to talk about it. It was always a contest.
Daniel, liked to work on top of the stove,
“If I it wasn’t just killed or caught, and I can’t cook it in 30 minutes, then I’m not interested.”
Jimmy’s thing was slow cooking.
“To gently mix the flavors, baby carrots, new potatoes, a veal shank, now that’s the recipe of the gods.”
Johnny Sinclair was the baker in the group. Concise, measured, clean–the perfect pastry chef. On the set and in the kitchen Johnny Sinclair was meticulous. It was the rest of his life that was a mess.
Marylou interrupted the debate just as Daniel was finishing his tea. The day had officially begun.
“Daniel, can you go into the dressing room and talk to Deborah Mack, our mom? She’s a little nervous. Deborah was playing the role of the “young, attractive, career-mom,” in the commercial that they were shooting.
“Fine,” Daniel growled. But, do me a favor,” he pointed across the set to the craft services table. It was as busy as a coffee shop at morning rush, “Grab me one of those big carrot muffins from craft services before they disappear.” Marylou, an anorexic woman on the other side of forty, couldn’t help but smile. She knew how Daniel felt about script conferences when it came to shooting commercials.
He crossed the stage, moving a prop ironing board a foot to the left (nearer to the fake washing machine) while the gaffers were working a 12k around the grid.
“Hey Johnny,” he called out to his cameraman, “do we really need this?” He pointed at the light.
“If you want actually see the product we do,” replied Johnny with his usual smiling sarcasm.
Daniel grinned. “Yeah, I think I do,” he said, then walked off the set to the dressing room. He hadn’t talked to Deborah since he cast her during the session from hell. He’d seen fifty young women that day, and they were all terrible. He wasn’t surprised by this, since it was a non-sag shoot and the pay wasn’t great. He basically got a lot of models trying to break in to speaking roles. “Deb” was nearly the only one who could actually remember the lines. She was pretty enough–and would do just fine. But he knew she had less than a zero chance of becoming a good actress. When he reached the door, Daniel painted a smile on his face and threw open the door.
“Hi Darling, good to see you,” he said enthusiastically. “Deb” turned around; her robe open in a couple of improbable places. She smiled as well and lit up her high beams.
“Daniel, I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” the half- naked girl breathed as he shut the door. It was only seven thirty in the morning but it was pretty clear that the cameras wouldn’t be rolling until the breathy wanna-be worked out some of her nervousness–one way or another.
“Don’t worry, you were fantastic at the casting session. Let’s run through the lines real quick, whaddya say?”
Daniel figured this would take about fifteen minutes no matter what it took for her to gain her confidence back.
They had 8 hours to finish the shoot, without going into overtime. The time clock was now running, and for Daniel Fisher, the clock was now running out.
…to be continued…