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CHAPTER THREE:  THE VALENTINE'S DAY CONCERT

Stu Stuber stands on the street with the guys from the writing group. They like to watch the fancy cars in the Palisades and make fun of the drivers, envious, or just talk about their problems, which are plenty.

Paulie is always in debt; he has a gambling addiction. Stu tried to talk him off the ledge many times, but often just gets roped into Paulie’s latest scheme.

“When the Circa property opens in Vegas,” Paulie exclaims, “it’s going to be the largest Sportsbook in the world! Five media studios, triple-decker seating and a massive movie screen to watch all the games!”

“It’s gonna make the biggest splash in The Sportsbook industry since the Superbook opened in ’86!” another writer agrees.

“That’s right! The last Champion won 1.4 million dollars! It only costs $1,000 to enter this year and we need five selections every week against-the-spread. $50,000 goes to the top finisher of each quarter in the season.”

Stu listens but has no interest in participating.

“They have 660 entries meaning there is an $840,000 overlay!” Paulie adds.

“What’s an overlay?” Stu asks anyhow.

“That’s the difference between the total guaranteed prize-pool and the actual number of paid entries.”

Stu shakes his head. He was never big on getting rich quick schemes, but he has to admit, he’s running out of money.

His elderly landlady has been pestering him for the rent which is now past due. Sometimes Stu would luck out and she’d forget to ask because she was senile. But recently, she hired a new financial advisor, and he was keeping close score of Stu’s rent. He now owed $11,045 in back rent. He has some things cooking; a commercial he was slated to act in, but nothing is panning out.

Getting older in Hollywood is hard and Stu knows he really has no skills. He doesn’t have a social media following so he can’t be a brand ambassador or something like that to continue to make money off of his long ago stardom.

Stu Stuber hasn’t starred in a movie in over twenty years. He once had enough money where he could just exist and surf, but like most people in LA who didn’t work, his funds were dwindling. He had to do something. Fast.

He thought about investing in the stock market but didn’t know enough about it and he got burned like everybody else in 2008. He didn’t want to take that chance again.

In fact, Stu Stuber wasn’t a guy who took chances. Terrified of failure, he just wanted to skirt by and not be bothered; not by people, by a landlord, by a woman, or an employer.

He remembered Jolette’s writing and how she spoke so openly about this. She had a career on Wall Street and lived to tell about it. A part of him was intimidated by her success, but more than that, her confidence. Her naivety about the film industry and how inbred and corrupt it was, fell on deaf ears. Or maybe she just didn’t know anybody to tell her how things really operated, or maybe she didn’t care.

Stu didn’t want to crush her dreams because he enjoyed listening to her brag about how she was going to sell her script “and win the Oscar.”

When he started sitting next to her in the writing group after Laura, a senior member of the group, died, Jolette was so pumped up happy about it, she would not be deterred.

He would smile and nod, encouraging her, and she had good vibes. Good positive vibes, everything the leader, Martha, had nothing of.

At that, Stu sees Martha walking out of the building. She heads toward him.

“This is going to be epic,” Paulie stammers, “We can reap $1.5 million! The jackpot! Those odds are unheard of anywhere! Who’s in?!”

Martha interrupts, “Stu, can we talk?”

He nods and moves off with Martha.

She turns to face him. “So are you coming over?”

He has no interest in spending more time with Martha Levitz. She’s an odd control freak who orders him around in the bedroom as if he doesn’t have a clue as to what he’s doing.

But she has a hold on him; a financial hold. “I thought you said your client was going to give me the check for the painting last night. I waited up for his call.”

“Oh, your mother’s painting?!” Martha quips.

“Yes, my mother’s painting. You said your client wanted it, he has it, now where’s my money?”

“He doesn’t think it’s worth fifteen thousand, Stu. He says it’s worth three.”

“Three thousand?! You told me you could get fifteen. And there’s a cut in it for you too, so why the low ball price?!”

“I’ll see what I can do,” Martha promises. “Are you coming over? I made that lemon chicken that you like.”

Stu shakes his head and walks off. He rejoins the guys and Paulie takes one look at him and knows better not to ask him what’s up. Lately, Martha has been bringing out the worst in him.

“Okay, let’s just let the idea simmer, guys. There’s five of us. Five hundred a piece and this jackpot can be ours. They have the new app and everything can be done online,” Paulie concludes like a real pro.

“Sounds cool,” everyone says in unison. “I’m so sick of not getting paid for any of my writing.”

“Me too,” another sulks, “These odds are the best in Vegas!”

Everybody slaps hands, “Let’s do it!”

Even Stu nods. He feels the weight of his life on his shoulders and wonders where the light is at the end of the tunnel.

“See ya guys next week,” Stu waves. He turns and heads off.

He sees his car, a black and shiny Challenger, underneath the bright streetlights. It looks brand new. Probably because it still is. He spent a big portion of his dwindling money on it.

He gets in his car, and speeds off.

 

* * *

 

The next morning, Stu Stuber wakes up exhausted. It’s that kind of exhaustion, physical and emotional, that has you spitting venom. His tiny guesthouse is perched beneath a long, windy driveway that leads to a majestic estate. It is set into the cliffs of Malibu with stunning views of the ocean.

He grabs his surfboard and heads down to the ocean.

The water is like oil, there’s not a breath of wind, and its one of those rare days where it feels okay for him to just take in everything around him, and drink in the beauty of life.

He tries to fathom the sea with his intuition, the little voice inside his gut. He paddles out.

He feels a presence watching him and the sun glistens off the rocks, reflecting the green from the sea. A behemoth comes out of the sea and he takes the first one on the head. He races through the emerald wet smooth embryonic tube and pinches and turns, and gets barreled.

He’s too far out now.

Stu drops into another big lump using a side swell and since it’s so big, he comes off of the bottom with so much speed and pressure from the turn, that he reaches the next peak and crashes. He’s exhilarated. He’s in total control, but completely out of control.

Where else can you ride inside a spiral, tornado on earth, he wonders? To feel the weightlessness of being in a tube is to know ascension. Some waves refuse to be ridden, but all Stu thinks is, “Nail it!”

He becomes one with the water and stands in the vortex and let’s the universe spin him around and around. He does this again and again, until finally he begs the almighty sea, “Please, will you let me ride on your tail into shore?”

He comes out of the ocean with his surfboard and droplets of cool blue water scintillate off of his body; God’s blood. He’s learned the futility of declaring his surfing session over while he is still in the ocean.

It’s about the same as declaring a relationship over with someone he likes f*cking, futile.

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