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Excerpt from "American Dream Machine"

Excerpt from "American Dream Machine"

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Published by KQED News
Hollywood has inspired plenty of writers, from Joan Didion to Harold Robbins and Gore Vidal. Author Matthew Specktor didn't have to look far for his inspiration -- he grew up in Hollywood with two parents working in and around the film industry. The California Report's book critic Oscar Villalon says Specktor's new novel, "American Dream Machine," goes beyond Hollywood's underbelly of ambition and greed. Reporter: Oscar Villalon

http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201304051630/d
Hollywood has inspired plenty of writers, from Joan Didion to Harold Robbins and Gore Vidal. Author Matthew Specktor didn't have to look far for his inspiration -- he grew up in Hollywood with two parents working in and around the film industry. The California Report's book critic Oscar Villalon says Specktor's new novel, "American Dream Machine," goes beyond Hollywood's underbelly of ambition and greed. Reporter: Oscar Villalon

http://www.californiareport.org/archive/R201304051630/d

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Published by: KQED News on Apr 06, 2013
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08/05/2013

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They closed down
the Hamlet on Sunset last night. That old plush pal-ace, place where Dean Martin drank himsel to death on Tuesdays,where my ather and his riends once had lunch every weekend andthe maître d’ was quick to kiss my old man’s hand. Like the one theycalled “the other Hamlet” in Beverly Hills, and “the regular otherHamlet” in Century City . . . all o these places now long gone. Hol-lywood is like that. Its orever institutions, so quick to disappear. TheHamburger Hamlet, the one on Sunset, was in a class by itsel. Redleather upholstery, dark booths, the carpets patterned with a radicaland problematic intaglio. Big windows ung sun in ront, but artherin the interior was dim, swampy. Waitresses patrolled the tables, therecessed depths where my ather’s clients, men like Stacy Keach andArthur Hill, sat away rom human scrutiny. Most oten their hairwas mussed and they were weeping. Or they were exultant, ash-ing lavish smiles and gold watches, their bands’ mesh grain mutedby the ruinous lighting, those overhead bulbs that shone down justar enough to make the waitresses’ aces look like they were meltingunder heat lamps. And yet the things that were consummated there:divorces, deals! I saw George Clooney puking in one o the fcusesback by the men’s room, one time when I was in.Unless it was somebody else. The one thing I’ve learned, growingup in Los Angeles: it’s always someone else. Even i it
is
the personyou thought it was the frst time. I helped him up. I laid my handon the back o George Clooney’s collar. He was wearing a blue jack-et with a deeper velveteen lapel, like an expensive wedding singer.This, and white bucks.
 
Matthew Specktor
8
“Are you all right?”“Yeah.” He spat. “They make the Manhattans here really strong.”“Do they?”We were near the kitchen, too, and could smell bacon, ryingmeat, other delicacies—like Welsh rarebit—I would describe i theystill had any meaning, i they existed any longer.“I’ll buy you one and you can check it out.”I helped him back to his table. I remember his touch was eathery.He clutched my arm like a shy bride. Clooney wasn’t Clooney yet,but I, unortunately, was mysel. ’91? ’92? The evening wound on,and on and on and on: Little Peter’s, the Havoc House. Eventually,Clooney and I ended up back at someone’s place in the Bird Streets,above Doheny.“Why are you dressed like that?” I said.“Like what?” In my mind, the smile is Clooney’s exactly, but atthe time all he’d said was that he was an actor named Sam or Daveor (in act, I think he actually did say) George, but I’ll never know.“Why am I dressed like what?”“Like a ucking prom date rom the retro uture. Like an Italiansinger who stumbled into a gol shop.” I pointed. “What the hellis with those shoes?”“Hey,” he said. “Check the stitching. Hand-soled.”We were out back o this house, whosever it was, drinking te-quila. Cantilevered up above the city, lolling in director’s chairs.Those houses sell or a bajillion dollars nowadays, but then it wasjust some crappy rental where a riend o a riend was chasing agirl around a roomul o mix-and-match urniture, listening to theAghan Whigs or the Horny Horns or the Beach Boys—my avor-ite band o all time, by the way—or else a bunch o people werecrowded around a
TV
watching
 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls
on vid-eocassette. It didn’t matter. Mr. Not-Quite-or-Not-Yet-Clooney andI were outside watching the sun come up, and we were either twoguys who would someday be amous or two rudderless uck-ups inour midtwenties. He was staring out at the holy panorama o LosAngeles at dawn, and I couldn’t get my eyes o his shoes.“Why am I dressed like this?” My new riend wrung his hands to-gether limply. I ought to sell that act to a tabloid, to prove Clooneyis gay. “I was at a unction,” he said.
 
American Dream Machine
9
“What kind o unction? A convention o Tony Bennett ans? Amob wedding?”I don’t remember what he said next. I think he said, I was in Vegas,and I asked him how much he’d lost. I probably gave him a sloppykiss.
 I knew it was you, Fredo!
There was an empty swimming poolnearby. It must’ve been February. Italian cypresses rose up in invitingcones, the scalloped houses dropped o in stages beneath us, andeventually the whole hill attened out into that ash-colored plane,that grand and gray infnity that is Los Angeles rom up above: God’spalm, checkered with twinkling lights and crossed with hot wind.“I can never remember the words to this one . . . ”“What?” I said. “It’s mostly moaning.”“They’re all mostly moaning.”George and I went digging into the old soul music catalog, toprove our masculine bona fdes. None o those Motown lite,
 Big Chill
-type classics that turdscaped so many o my ather’s lateeighties productions. We went or the nonsense numbers, the realobscurities. We sang “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um,” “The WhapWhap Song,” “Oogum Boogum,” “Lobster Betty.” A couple o thosemight not have been real, but we did ’em anyway.“Nice pipes.”“Thanks,” he said. “I was up or
The Doors
but I never got a callback.”We spent the rest o the night drinking and singing. People blameLos Angeles or so many things, but my own view is tender, orgiv-ing. I love
LA
with all o my heart. This story I have to tell doesn’thave much to do with me, but it isn’t about some bored actressand her existential crises, a troubled screenwriter who comes to hissenses and hightails it back to Illinois. It’s not about the vacuoushorror o the Caliornia dream. It’s something that could’ve hap-pened anywhere else in the world, but instead settled, inexplicably,here. This city, with its unortunate rap. It deserves warmer witnessthan dear old Joan Didion.“Don’t do that, man.” My voice echoed. I clapped my riend onthe shoulder. “Don’t do the pleading-and-testiying thing. You’llhurt your knees!”“I’m all right.”By the time we were done, we were deep into the duos, thosereaky-deaky pairs rom Texas or Mississippi: Mel
&
Tim; Maurice
&
 

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