Ephemeralia by Gordon Highland
“You make me come true.”
He’d used the line dozens of times. Not even counting the dozens of takes and rehearsals and hundreds of feet of film stock wasted perfecting its iconic version twenty years ago. And though the words and sentiment were not the actor’s own invention, screenwriters aren’t mobbed by dewy stargazers and hounded to perform their greatest hits.
We reminded one another of these facts daily.
Sex—non-simulated sex, anyway—wasn’t part of the arrangement, but one cowgirl’s fantasy sprung to life when she impaled herself in stealth during their re-enactment of her favorite scene from her fifteenth-favorite movie. Besides, laying the occasional fan reinvigorated his floundering vitality. (I’m paraphrasing here.) He rationalized that it wasn’t prostitution by using the “escort defense,” the same way cagey ticket scalpers throw in their wares for free with the purchase of a three-hundred-dollar football.
The word was his. I tried explaining that it should simply be called ephemera, even coining the oh-so-clever ephemerrata. But a man renting out his legacy deserves to choose his own username, if not title. And though its memorabilia could fetch a hefty sum, nothing in his condo was for sale yet. That would remain for his sister to decide. You essentially paid for his time, in whatever form that took: companionship, conversation, or expertise. No artifacts, no souvenirs—only your memory of the experience. That was the concession, he told me, for fragmenting the remnants of his soul.
At his peak, he had lived within his considerable means—until he was no longer being considered. The psychosexual thrillers of the early ’90s fell from studio favor, leaving him neither sensitive enough for rom-coms nor name enough to shoulder the action tentpoles that monopolize today’s marquees. Financing biannual stints in rehab reduced him to local television commercials, voiceovers, and the frugality of unassisted living.
When told of the brain tumor that would end him before his forty-third birthday, he first thought of his parents. They never profited from his celebrity. Sure, his gifts had once bordered on ludicrous, yet thoughtless: nothing that upgraded their spartan lifestyle. They could not become beneficiaries, since no one insured terminal cases. So he would dedicate his final months to earning all he could for them without making a spectacle of himself. Without a booking agent. Any publicity would merely stoke the schadenfreude he’d engendered in the media over the years, sparking headlines of karmic retribution. Even I only earned his confidence about the matter after avowing my premortem silence.
The idea came from Bill Murray. He didn’t know the man, had never worked with him, nor did he particularly care for that deadpan delivery style. But his fan encounters are the stuff of legend, urban or otherwise. “No one will ever believe you,” he’s often reported to conspire with a wink after the most bizarre, intrusive, and altruistic acts. My friend wondered if anyone might one day speak of himself with such reverence. Most of you—nay, us—have only heard about that prick who wouldn’t sign autographs or arrive on time for engagements. The one who accepted his Razzie award in person, nostril ringed with blow, then dropped trough right there on the rostrum and slapped his own mocking ass. So, in pursuit of amended immortality, and cash, he registered a few online accounts, posting his availability and terms. Identity undisclosed but hinted at, until after someone made contact. All activities limited to the greater Los Angeles area.
One guy paid seven hundred bucks just to berate the actor for half an hour uninterrupted, weepily blaming a movie for his ex-wife’s affair and his subsequent emasculation. It didn’t matter that James Spader had actually been the cinematic perpetrator.
Then there was the twink who bought three days of one-on-one theatre workshopping, only to spend most of it batting his lashes and goading our hero into performing a series of monologues from Tyler Perry scripts.
Someone else had him deliver groceries, from which he prepared (and scorched) an Italian feast while complimenting her figure as she modeled mothballed dresses from waistlines past.
He narrated live DVD commentaries. Walked and curbed showdogs. Heard confessions. Wrestled.
Cuckolds and spinsters and revisionist historians, each of them signed confidentiality agreements: one-way, of course. This kept his name out of the tabloids while providing me with enough whimsical anecdotes to sate your appetite for untold memoir. Rest assured, he would’ve wanted it this way. The man was lucky to retain his acumen through most of his final days, though I admit, differentiating between random bouts of dementia and these fool’s errands, one might suspect a cause/effect kinship.
Any plans he’d made—whether for single-serving public relations, or for the afterlife—unspooled like a jammed videocassette when he recognized that cowgirl on a newsmagazine show with a quiver in her confession and a lavalier mic pinned to her maternity blouse. My imagination had previously rendered a more flattering lass as he’d described grinding in the bronze candlelight atop her dining room table, not the stout matron seen there in the high-definition flesh. He shrugged, offering a sheepish chuckle at his exaggeration, then exhaled with a relief I’d neither witnessed before nor experienced myself.
All he’d endured just to cultivate some semblance of a grassroots legacy, now overshadowed and ephemeral in light of the new life that would finally make him come true.
That’s what I’ve got for a sample chapter; will send the full synopsis later. Please make sure interested publishers understand there is no royalty split with the family. Those geriatric hayseeds denied my interview requests … and their own son’s cancer. Can you believe that?
See you at the auction.
Gordon Highland is the author of the novels Flashover and Major Inversions, with short stories in such publications/anthologies as Word Riot, Noir at the Bar Vol. 2, Warmed and Bound, In Search of a City, and Solarcide, among others. He lives in the Kansas City area, where he makes videos by day and music by night. Visit him at gordonhighland.com.