The Great Communicator

September 24th, 2007

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She picked me up from Princeton Junction station in a sporty Audi convertible. Her arm waved frantically over the windshield as she approached, stopping perfectly in front of me so I could simply put out my arm and open the door. Her hair was wavy and yellow, shocked from years of bleaching and the lace from her bra stuck out from the low cut neck line. The dress’s pattern reminded me of the fabrics used on charter buses and cheap hotels, miscellaneous colors and shapes confusing the eye to help hide stains and aging. Her lips and toe nails were both deep reds and her skin was leathery and tan, somehow both loose and tight at the same time. She asked me to put my seatbelt on and we headed to her place.

She told me about her boys, their lucrative, successful careers as child stars on Broadway, and about her daughter - the subject of my assignment - who in her opinion grew up in their shadow. I nodded politely and listened, trying to keep things professional, though sometimes I couldn’t help myself and when her eyes were on the road I would smile and shake my head and think how did I get here.

She asked if I was hungry, and I was, so she offered to make me a piece of tilapia fish while I got to know Juliet – you know, ask her a few questions and get a feel for her so I can help evoke her personality and spirit in my piece. We drove down a long driveway and parked next to the pool which was shallow, the first fallen leaves floating together in the near corner. The pool house was a modern design, a pyramid. As we walked inside the house she explained the details of her “dreadful divorce? and her apparent inability to identify alcoholism.

The house was tacky and messy and framed prints of generic sixteenth century artwork hung crooked on the walls. She called Juliet down to meet me, and told me that Juliet doesn’t think she’s beautiful, but she is, she’s built like a “brickhouse.? And she was pretty. To my eye I could see no evidence of blood relation. I hadn’t anticipated this formal interaction, but still, I had to keep things professional, so I sat down at the table with the young lady and furrowed my brow to show interest. I wasn’t sure where to start so I asked her about her summer. What subjects interest her in school. Favorite books? Favorite movies? Luckily my knack for human interaction took over and eventually we managed to develop a more relaxed conversation. Once the interview and fish were done, Juliet was excused and the mother and I went to review the materials.

I tried my best to pay attention to the old VHS footage of Juliet singing in church, participating in a shopping spree, acting in the school play, but my eyes kept wandering to the posters of Ronald Reagan on every wall, the Reagan monthly calendar (2007), and the framed picture of The Great Communicator mixed in with photos of her children. She also had several books by Charlton Heston and a few biographies of Nixon. I hadn’t planned on taking notes, but when she offered me a pencil and paper I knew I didn’t have a choice.

Two hours later we were back in the Audi driving to the train station. She explained how important it was for her daughter to have an acting reel with her college application. How she did this for the boys and she couldn’t do less by her little girl. Mother’s guilt she called it. I promised I could fulfill her request: I would capture Juliet’s essence, making her stand out from the anonymous mass of applicants.

Life is weird, Charlie.