Hi. My name is Gertie McDowell. I was born in Turkey Roost, Kentucky, which ain’t much to brag about. The town, if you want to call it that, has half a dozen streets, a whole bunch of bars, and a McDonald’s whose arches are always powdered with coal dust. Just a typical strip-mining town is all. On Saturday night, a girl can’t do much except stroll up and down the main drag. Or maybe gather a few girlfriends for a slumber party and watch movies on the Turner channel. I watch a lot of movies, and I like the old musicals best. My favorite is West Side Story—Natalie Wood sure could sing. But I’m kinda getting off the subject.
Most girls marry young in Turkey Roost—that’s just the way it is. A lot of them are mothers at sixteen—grandmothers when they reach their thirties. Folks got a saying in Turkey Roost if ya don’t want to hang around. “You got three choices here,” they say. “Coal mine, moonshine, or see you on down the line.” I chose see you on down the line, but it didn’t work out too well.
I don’t want to talk no more about Turkey Roost—the town is just a whole lot of nothing. What I want to tell you about is this crazy summer I spent in Los Angeles. I went there to become a movie star because I have singing and acting talent. I played the lead in Annie when I was only a junior in high school. I got a standing ovation too. Everyone in the school auditorium, all fifty people, were on their feet pounding their palms when I took the curtain call.
People tell me I’m the prettiest girl that Turkey Roost ever sprouted. I think they might be exaggerating a tad—my bust is just thirty-one inches. So when I went to a photographer in Nashville to get some glossies made, I wore a padded bra that I stuffed with tissue paper. I also tucked in my chin like Lauren Bacall did in To Have and Have Not. That made me look so sexy the photographer gave me a discount. He took three glossies of me and charged me just five hundred dollars.
After graduating from high school—I was eighth in a class of thirteen—I sent my glossies and acting resumé to all the big studios in Hollywood. When I didn’t get an answer from them, I took matters into my own hands. I dyed my hair strawberry blonde, I bought a one-way Greyhound ticket to Los Angeles, and I said goodbye to everyone who watched me perform in Annie. Most of them said I would soon be a star because I remembered almost all my lines. They asked me to remember them when I was starring opposite Brad Pitt.
When I got to Los Angeles, I rented a room in a Super 8 Motel in Koreatown. It’s a pretty cool place with a kidney-shaped swimming pool and fifty cable channels. And I got a part time job at Wendy’s—twenty hours a week. That left me enough time to beat the pavement and land a movie role.
Well, I went to a lot of agencies and gave them my glossies and resumé. But none of them wanted to take me on. They said I needed more experience, they said I needed a theatrical degree, they said I needed to become a member of the Screen Actors Guild. And when I went to a couple of casting calls, that didn’t go well either. The directors said they wouldn’t audition me until I had an agent.
Well, to cheer myself up, I went to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. It was neat to see the stars’ names in the sidewalk, but the street was pretty dirty. It was also full of homeless folks, pickpockets, and pushy hawkers wearing movie star costumes. When this girl dressed like Shirley Temple tried to snatch my purse, I hopped onto a metro bus and returned to Koreatown.
But the really weird stuff didn’t happen to me until I’d been in Los Angeles a month. I was sitting on the grass in Griffith Park, sipping a diet cola, and I kicked off my Birkenstock sandals because my feet were kinda sore. That’s when I saw this gentleman filming me with a cellphone. He was skinnier than an otter and he had this little goat beard, and he was wearing these mirror sunglasses that spat the sun into my eyes. He wasn’t even trying to hide the fact that he was filming me. He just stood on the park path, cool as you please, and pointed his cellphone at me.
“Whatcha doin’, mister?” I asked him.
The dude tucked his cellphone into his shirt pocket and grinned like a possum eatin’ grapes. Then he opened up his wallet and handed me a business card. The card said The Nose, Foothold Agency, 200 South San Pedro Street. It had a picture of a stiletto shoe and website and Facebook links.
“You a talent scout, Mister?” I said because I was feeling kind of flattered.
“A talent scout?!” he said—his voice was so warm and syrupy it coulda been poured over waffles. “Why do you ask, little missy? Did you star in some high school production?”
“Yeah,” I said in my huskiest tone, and I turned my good side toward him. “I got a standing ovation too.”
The dude looked at me kinda funny then he snorted like a mule. “Standing ovations—pah!” he said. “They’re as common as pepper and salt.”
“Well, I got as much talent as Wendy has burgers,” I said, and I straightened my dress.
“Do you?” he said. The dude bowed his head as though he was at a funeral. He musta been an outta work actor who needed himself a stage. “In that case I weep for you, little missy,” he said. “You will soon be hamburger too.”
“Whatcha mean by that?” I said.
The dude he started talking to me like he was livin’ in a play. “’As much talent as Wendy has burgers’,” he repeated. “What a gullible thing to say. Wendy isn’t real, you know—she’s crimson-haired will-’o-the-wisp. Her siren song will lure you to fall upon barnacled rocks.”
I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that—I ain’t good with fancy talk. So I said to him, “I seen Ghost Busters six or seven times.”
I guess I shouldn’t have started no chat with a dude that weren’t right in the head. Especially when he was staring at me like I was the crazy one. “So how come you’re filming me, mister?” I said.
Well, he grabbed my hand and shook it like a pigeon snatchin’ a fry. “Call it a fated attraction,” he said, “or the noble heart of Ulysses. I leap to the rescue of damsels as though summoned by Circe’s spell.”
Dern, if that wasn’t a gobful, and I guess I shoulda been impressed. But Ulysses looks like George Clooney—I seen him in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? So I said to the dude, “You ain’t Ulysses” ’cause I didn’t want him to think I was dumb.
Well, he puffed out his chest like a banty rooster then pressed my hand to his heart. “And yet you are my Penelope,” he said. “My golden-haired Ithaca queen.”
“If ya wanna be my agent,” I said, “ya don’t gotta act all mushy.”
He slapped his chest as though wounded—I guess I insulted him. “Your agent?” he said. “I will be more than that. I will beat off false suitors, safeguard your virtue, empower you to walk among stars. If you need a guardian angel, miss, you need look no further than me.”
Dern, if I didn’t start liking the fella in spite of his crazy talk. Or maybe I felt kinda sorry for him ’cause he reminded me of a stray dog. When I was a girl, I was all the time bringing home dogs that were on the loose. Beagles, terriers, mongrels—you name it—they was all the time following me home. Ma said it was like I had a pork chop tied ’round my neck. So I didn’t make no objection when the dude kept on filming me. I just posed like I was Penelope Cruz and wiggled my toes in the grass.
The man told me to come to his studio apartment at 200 South San Pedro Street. He wrote out some directions and said to meet him there the next day. He even kissed my hand, like Maurice Chevalier mighta done, and said that deep in his heart a candle burned for me. Well, I ain’t quite sure what he had in mind, but I suppose he was planning a screen test. After all, he had promised me that I was gonna walk among stars.
When I got off the metro at South San Pedro Street, I didn’t feel particularly impressed. The neighborhood was full of homeless camps, tattoo parlors, and gated houses. There were gangs of boys in hoodies lurking in front of warehouses, and folks were making drug deals all up and down the street. And whenever a cop car cruised by—which happened ’bout every five minute—some of them people made police siren noises and shouted out, “Five Oh!”
When I found the dude’s address, I was tempted to walk away. He lived in some tiny hovel beside a porno shop. But I pressed the buzzer on the door ’cause I wanted to get off the street, and I recognized his voice when it came on the intercom.
“Keep your eyes on the stars, your feet on the ground,” he said in this garbled tone. I guess he was maybe quotin’ someone, but I ain’t sure who it was. All I knew is my feet had blisters, and I wanted to give them a soak.
I spoke my name into the intercom, and he said, “Come in, my child.” The door lock popped open like a chestnut explodin’ on a hearth.
Well, I pushed my way into the building and I ran a comb through my hair, and I walked up this flight of stars so narrow it felt like I was wearing a girdle. The apartment was cluttered and dirty and didn’t look too inviting. There weren’t much furniture in it—just a couch and a dining room set—and this creepy movie camera on stilts was propped up next to the window.
The dude he was sitting at the table, still wearing them mirrored sunglasses, and he was sniffing a woman’s stiletto and watching a monitor. Well, I decided right then and there that I was gonna get out of that place. But before I could walk back down the stairs, the dude whipped out a checkbook.
“Shoot for the moon, little missy,” he shouted. “If you miss you will land among stars.” And he wrote me a check for five hundred dollars and slapped it into the palm of my hand.
“What’s this for?” I asked him.
“It’s a tribute,” he said. “Alms to a waif who will soon shine as bright as Polaris. Just like Eliza Doolittle, you will soar to celestial heights.”
I think he was talking ’bout My Fair Lady—I saw that on the Turner channel once. But it still didn’t make no sense to me, so I handed him back the check.
“Do little?” I said. “I done nothing for this.”
“Au contraire, little cherub,” he said, and he shoved the check back into my hand. “Does the Mona Lisa do nothing? Does Diana the Huntress do nothing? Does Botticelli’s Venus do nothing as she rises from the sea? These are not still-life paintings, my dear, but angels arrested in flight. The mere image of such goddesses amounts to a symphony.”
Well, I ain’t never heard no symphony, but I seen David Bowie on YouTube. ’Cept he called himself Ziggy Stardust, and his band was called The Spiders from Mars. When I told the dude about this, he gave me a smooch on the cheek. “Consider it a premonition,” he said. “A portent of starlight to come.”
The dude went to this tiny refrigerator and came back with a bottle of champagne. And he poured us each a glass, and we toasted to my future success. Then he typed some stuff on a keyboard, and this website popped up on the monitor. And he kissed his fingers just like a Frenchman and shouted, “Venus arise!”
Well, I saw myself on the website, and I didn’t look like no goddess. I was slurpin’ a diet cola and wiggling my toes in the grass. But it weren’t the video that made me feel like I’d come to Crazytown. It was the logo he put on the website—the looniest thing I seen. It seemed that I was gonna be known as Little Miss Twinkle Toes.
The Nose—that’s what I’m gonna call the dude since I seen him sniffing that shoe—the Nose told me I had over a hundred subscribers, and they were paying ten dollars a month. He had also prepared me a Facebook page, and he said I had lots of friend requests. When I asked him if posing shoeless was going to make me a movie star, he said Meryl Streep, Audrey Hepburn, and Charo all got their start the same way. The trick, he said, was to engage with my fans and to offer ’em new stuff each day.
So every day for a month, I went to his pad and he made a video of me. I stood barefoot on sheets of bubble rap and popped them under my heels. I stood up to my ankles in strawberry Jell-O and sprayed Reddi-wip on my soles. I even stood in a tub of nightcrawlers—worms you use for fishing—and I waved a fishing pole around while I picked up the worms with my toes.
Eventually, the Nose gave me some sparkly nail polish—he said I needed a trademark look. When I painted it on my toenails, they glittered just like opals. He also made me go to a doctor to get a wart on my big toe removed. I gotta admit that smarted—the doc used an electric needle. But you have to suffer a little if you’re gonna become a star. So I gritted my teeth like Katharine Hepburn and didn’t complain at all.
By the end of the month, my website had over two thousand subscribers. And I spent hours each day on my Facebook page answering questions from fans. A lot of them wanted to buy my shoes, but I only had one pair of sandals. So the Nose bought fifty pairs of stilettos—he got a deal on Craigslist—and he had me carve my initials on ’em then he sold ’em to my fans.
Well, soon I had more money than Kentucky has lumps of coal. So I quit my job at Wendy’s and moved into Beverly Hills Hilton. And I rented a limousine every night to take me to a fancy restaurant. I always ordered pork chops ’cause they made me think of home, and I always gave the waiter a fifty-dollar tip.
The money kept piling up on me no matter how much I spent. The Nose said my incomparable talent had made me a household name. So I went to Rothstein Jewelers and bought a pair of diamond-studded sunglasses. They glittered as bright as my toenails, and they made me feel like Elizabeth Taylor. And I wore them whenever I was out in the sun ’cause that’s what big stars do.
My website soon picked up four thousand subscribers, but no movie offers came in. So the Nose he kept making videos of me to get me more exposure. He filmed me standing in a vat of mashed potatoes, pouring gravy onto my arches. He filmed me putting mustard on my toes then wrappin’ them sideways in hotdog buns. He also filmed me wearing Valentino stilettos and stomping on balloons. But I didn’t hear from no studios except for one called Caballero Productions. They wanted me to star in a remake of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. ’Cept they were gonna call it One Bride for Seven Brothers. Well, I turned ’em down flat ’cause I don’t think that movie would play well in Turkey Roost.
Well, another month passed and no offers came in, and my toes started getting chapped. So I told the Nose I wanted to take a vacation and soak my feet in milk. The Nose told me there weren’t no time for that ’cause I had too busy a schedule. He said he’d booked me to do a commercial for Dr. Scholl’s Corn Remover. He told me my fans had nominated me for the Shiniest Arches Award, and I had to attend this awards celebration that was gonna be held in Palmdale. He also told me this politician, some fellow running for the state senate, wanted me to pay him a visit at his home in Beverly Hills. The guy wanted me to step in peanut butter then walk all over his back.
Well, I ain’t quite sure what got into me—guess I lost my feel for my fans. Or maybe I got temperamental like Joan Crawford and Lindsay Lohan. ’Cause when the Nose told me to wax my arches, I got as mean as a snake. I bought me a pair of combat boots and I laced them up past my ankles, and when he asked me to take them off, I told him the knots were too tight.
The Nose said I had a divine obligation to share my gift with the world. He said he’d commissioned a portrait of me that would be on a postage stamp, and he said he could smell a star for me on The Hollywood Walk of Fame. Well, I thanked the Nose for making me famous, and I gave him a kiss on the cheek. And I told him them big ol’ combat boots were staying on my feet.
I’m living back in Turkey Roost now and I work in the Walmart in Bowling Green, and I still watch the movie classics when they come on the Turner channel. The town is still a whole lot of nothing, and that kinda bothers me. But a whole lot of nothing beats going to Palmdale to receive some pervert award.
The Nose he phoned me the other day—I ain’t blocked my cellphone yet. He said he bought me a new pair of slingbacks ’cause my fans were begging for me. He said he lives in darkness now—his candle don’t burn no more—and he asked me to pose for more videos so he could once again bathe in the light.
Well, I told the Nose he could send back them shoes, and I hope he kept the receipt. I told him my feet were retired and to find another star.
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