Selene’s Sunset Boulevard apartment was the two-bedroom on the left, away from the traffic, hidden behind hibiscus and bougainvillea. She’d moved in years ago when she married Hal, a Foley artist who’d had the place soundproofed to “save his ears for work.” Back then, like now, the building had been filled with wannabe actors, actresses, writers, the occasional “best boy,” industry people, one and all.
Everyone except for Selene, who’d worked instead for The Broadway department store on Hollywood and Vine in the handbag department. She never kidded herself about being a movie star. Her claim to fame, she liked to whisper in people’s ears, was having once sold a wallet to Marilyn Monroe. “Eelskin. Soft as a caterpillar.”
“Everyone has a dream. I lived mine,” is what she told each new batch of waitresses waiting for their big breaks.
“There’s something very satisfying about selling the right purse to the right woman,” she told the starlet who fretted about her grabby agent. “You, my dear, should find something with weight to it. Metal zippers, a woven leather and chain shoulder strap, that kind of thing.”
Other tenants sought her out, both male and female, because walking into Selene’s living room was like stepping back to 1949, the chartreuse sectional, the blond wood coffee table with its matching cigarette box and lighter, the bold floral wallpaper. They would hover at the door, taking it all in, then let their faces split with grins. Selene made them sit down at the dinette and turn off their cells while she poured them mugs of Maxwell House coffee.
But what they really came for wasn’t the apartment’s ambience, although that too was a treat. What they wanted was Selene herself. They liked to watch her move around the kitchen. They liked to let the little almond snack cake she served melt in their mouths. They leaned toward her as she pulled out a chair for herself, her polyester pants and blouse as crisp as a day without smog, her perfume light and woody.
She asked them what was going on in the movie biz these days. Who was hot and who was not. They told her everything, and she listened, genuine interest in her fading blue eyes. There was something soft and gentle in her wrinkled face, her stained porcelain skin, the bob of gray hair that allowed them to settle against the plastic seat-backs and tell her about the blown fuse on set, the blown audition, their own blown minds.
When it was her turn, she talked about purses and satchels, totes and messenger bags, suede v. fabric, Coach or Hobo or knock-offs. “The most important thing about quality leather goods,” she said as she patted their hands, “is what they carry inside.”
published 21 December 2011