Best to Laugh

Best to Laugh: A Novel

Lorna Landvik
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 296
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt7zw6m3
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    Best to Laugh
    Book Description:

    No one steps up to life's banquet, holds out her tray, and orders, "Grief, please!" But as a child, Candy Pekkala was served a heaping helping of it. Every buffet line has a dessert section, however, and when a cousin calls with a Hollywood apartment to sublet, it seems as though Candy is finally offered something sweet. It's good-bye to Minnesota and hello to California, where a girl who has always lived by her wits has a real chance of making a living with them. With that, the irrepressible Lorna Landvik launches her latest irresistible character onto the world stage-or at least onto the dimly lit small stage where stand-up comedy gets its start.

    Herself a comic performer, Landvik taps her own adventurous past and Minnesota roots to conjure Candy's life in this strange new Technicolor home. Her fellow tenants at Peyton Hall include a female bodybuilder, a ruined nightclub impresario, and a well-connected old Romanian fortune-teller. There are game show appearances and temp jobs at a record company and an establishment suspiciously like the Playboy Mansion, and of course the alluring but not always welcoming stage of stand-up comedy. As she hones her act, Candy is tested by humiliation, hecklers, and the inherent sexism that insists "chicks aren't funny."

    Written with the light touch and quiet wisdom that have made her works so popular, this is classic Lorna Landvik-sometimes so funny, you'll cry; sometimes so sad, you might as well laugh; and always impossible to put down.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4328-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. PROLOGUE
    (pp. 1-4)

    A black cocktail dress, decorated with a smattering of sequins across the neckline, hangs like an art piece on my bedroom wall. Although the integrity of the seams might be compromised, I could probably still squeeze into it, but for me the greater pleasure is looking at it every day and remembering its lessons.

    For that same reason, I have two pictures of Hollywood Boulevard in my bathroom, right above the towel rack. One is black and white, circa the 1940s, and in it bulbous limousines are lined up in front of the Roosevelt Hotel. A party has spilled onto...

  3. PART I

    • 1 1978
      (pp. 7-13)

      Of the untold mysteries in this great wide world, the one confounding me at the moment was why none of my neighbors stocked what I considered a kitchen staple. In fact, from Maeve Mullman’s reaction, you’d have thought I was asking to borrow a kilo of heroin.

      “Are you aware that sugar ispoison?” she said, hogging the doorway, as a six-foot female bodybuilder is wont to do. “Are you aware that sugar’s responsible for everything from cancer to sexual dysfunction? Never forget, your body is your temple!”

      As she slammed the door in my face, I murmured my thanks...

    • 2
      (pp. 14-17)

      My dad met my mother, Jong Oh, during his tour of duty in Seoul, Korea, several months after the Armistice had been signed. PFC Arne Pekkala had been enjoying a weekend liberty with his friend, the similarly ranked Kermit Carlson, and exiting the PuPu Club on Itaewon Street had grabbed two bikes from a pile near the door. Having toasted several times to peace and prosperity, as well as their plans of becoming partners in the expanding Carlson family hardware empire in Hoboken, New Jersey, the soldiers weren’t in any condition to ride bicycles, but it was being in that...

    • 3
      (pp. 18-23)

      “You’re Charlotte Fields’s cousin?”

      This was asked by a guy greasy with suntan lotion, whose abdominal muscles popped out in two rows as he sat up in one of the chaise longues that ringed the swimming pool.

      His surprise was a reaction I was used to; what wasn’t familiar was the name Fields. My cousin’s last name was Fjeldsman. I was about to correct the error, but I didn’t have to channel Sherlock Holmes to deduce that my actress/dancer/singer cousin had given herself a stage name.

      “Are you from Minneapolis, too?” asked Oily Man’s pal, a rangy guy who didn’t...

    • 4
      (pp. 24-28)

      Technically, I lived in the upper half of the duplex with my dad, but because he worked nights at the Ford Plant, I was most often downstairs at my grandma’s, taking over her guest room as my own.

      Tired of repeating “Lights out!” to someone who was a natural night owl, Grandma became lax in policing a bedtime she knew I wasn’t tired enough to obey, and by the time I was nine all attempts at enforcement had been thrown out the window and the two of us had a regular date on the couch with Johnny Carson.

      We both...

    • 5
      (pp. 29-32)

      Although she held a nightly cocktail party for herself, my grandmother didn’t set an example of medication by alcohol. She strictly enforced a one-drink-only rule, and while she was prudent with portions, she was lavish with ingenuity and ingredients. Monday she might shake up a martini, Tuesday stir a Manhattan, but what put her into the realm of a true mixologist were her invented drinks. A nippy autumn evening inspired Liquid Apple Crisp, a hot drink combining apple schnapps, rum, and a cinnamon stick; one humid summer night she blended what she dubbed a Banana Sangria Slush.

      It was 5:30...

    • 6
      (pp. 33-38)

      Our host’s apartment was a surprise.

      “Goll-eee,” said Maeve, imitating the actor who played Gomer Pyle on the old TV sitcom. “These are some fancy digs.”

      “Thanks,” said Ed. “Want a tour?”

      We oohed and ahhed over the fact his bedroom not only looked like an adult slept in it—there were no orange crates serving as nightstands, no mattresses on the floor—but that it seemed restful, as if thought had gone into its design and decoration. His bathroom had the same octagonal white tile as the one in my apartment did, but his towels matched and hung from...

    • 7
      (pp. 39-47)

      Here’s some good advice: don’t read your old diaries when you’re depressed. Earlier that summer I had holed up in my bedroom doing that, and believe me, you can’t win: the bright and cheery entries will make you wonder why you don’t feel like that anymore, and the sad and whiny ones will make you think nothing changes.

      5/12/68

      >Dear Cal,

      Dad gave Grandma a box of chocolate-covered cherries and we drove out to Aunt Pauline’s for lunch. I didn’t want to go because I had a stomachache.

      I hate Mother’s Day.

      2/24/69

      Dear Cal,

      One word for the Nokomis...

    • 8
      (pp. 48-53)

      In an office building on Highland Avenue, I asked the temp agent if she were named after Zelda Fitzgerald.

      “Nope. Zelda Kleinman, my mother’s best friend. Although I do have an uncle who worked on the Paramount lot the same time as F. Scott Fitzgerald did. He said they went out for drinks a couple times.”

      “Your uncle went out for drinks with F. Scott Fitzgerald? I love F. Scott Fitzgerald! He could make a whole poem out of one sentence.”

      Zelda shrugged. “I prefer less poetry and a little more connection to the characters.”

      I knew a good debate...

    • 9
      (pp. 54-60)

      “Look at my gooseflesh!” said the woman next to me, offering for view her textured forearm.

      “Yes, it is cool in here,” said Chip, the freckled game show coordinator. “Research shows it keeps the energy up.”

      “If we freeze to death,” said a man behind me, “won’t that bring the energy down?”

      “All right, people,” said Chip, “let’s try to forget about the temperature. You’ve got more important things to worry about.”

      He led the small group of contestants into a room furnished like a den with vending machines.

      “This is the greenroom. This is where you’ll take your breaks...

    • 10
      (pp. 61-65)

      It was past five when I got home. I changed into my swimsuit and found Ed by the nearly deserted pool.

      “Ah,The Warren Commission Sham,” I said, reading the title of the book resting on his Styrofoam cooler. “More light poolside entertainment.”

      Ed didn’t answer.

      “I know you’re not sleeping,” I said, situating myself on the chaise longue next to his. “And by the way, you’re peeling.”

      “Where’ve you been all weekend?” he asked, not opening his eyes.

      “Oh, here, there,” I said casually. “Could be that I was on the ABC lot, tapingWord Wise.

      Ed sprang up...

    • 11
      (pp. 66-70)

      My cousin Charlotte had left the keys to her 1973 Maverick, along with the instructions: “Use only for emergencies—like if the garage catches fire!” Finger wagging like that most often provoked me to do the opposite, but instead of patching out in the driveway, picking up a group of hairy hitchhikers, and taking pedal-to-the-metal joyrides down to Tijuana for tequila shots, I uncharacteristically obeyed.

      I was one of those odd ducks who liked to get around by my good old-fashioned feet or good old-fashioned public transit. At an early age, I had learned to appreciate taking the bus not...

    • 12
      (pp. 71-73)

      The Beat Street staff huddled around the portable TV in the break room, surprisingly excited to see me onWord Wise.

      “My boyfriend’s watching it at home,” said Ellie Pop, racing in. “He loves this show.”

      As the snappyWord Wisemusic began, Greg Wyatt, the attorney, turned to Neil Thurman and said, “Idea: a novelty album of game show theme songs played by rock-and-roll bands.”

      “I love it!” said A&R Tony. “Imagine Black Death’s bassist playing this—” he strummed an imaginary guitar along with the bright chipper TV music—“or better yet, theDating Gametheme song!”

      “Shh,”...

    • 13
      (pp. 74-80)

      I was so out of practice letting people get to know me that when I did, it took on the weight of confession, as if to reveal personal information about myself was a sin. That’s how I felt when I shared with Ed and Maeve at the pool what I had with Solange, that I wanted to do stand-up comedy. Their reactions couldn’t have been more positive; Maeve surmised I’d probably have my own sitcom by next year, and Ed said he’d head up my fan club.

      “So how long have you been thinking of doing this?” Ed asked, after...

    • 14
      (pp. 81-85)

      Nobody was interested in joining me at the Masque. Ed had his usual Friday night first date that never seemed to lead to a second; Maeve was going to a movie screening with her mother, and Solange had told me she’d rather lean out her bedroom window and listen to her neighbor’s cat, who was in heat and was hellbent on letting both the feline and human worlds know.

      “Come on,” I said. “It’ll be fun.”

      The look on Solange’s face could have recurdled buttermilk. “No, it won’t be.”

      On the way to the pool after work, rehearsing the excuse...

    • 15
      (pp. 86-90)

      Francis—he insisted all of us dispense with the Mr. Flover and call him by his first name—was the consummate host, piling reheated and tasty spaghetti on our plates and passing around a big wooden salad bowl with the directive, “Mangia! Mangia!”

      “My father was in Italy in World War II,” said Frank (who’d also given me permission to drop the adjective Blank) as we sat at the heavy oak dining room table. “He orders this from Two Guys on Sunset because he says it tastes closest to the spaghetti of his old Italian girlfriend.”

      “Maria Donatelli,” said Francis,...

    • 16
      (pp. 91-97)

      10/13/1978

      Dear Grandma,

      My friend Maeve and I were at the Comedy Store tonight, watching a lineup of “regulars”—comics who’ve moved past Amateur Night and have their own slot. On the way home, Maeve said she felt bad that the female comics weren’t her favorites.

      “Well, there were only two,” I said.

      “That’s exactly my point. We’ve got to stick up for the few that there are.”

      I reminded her that there were ten men and asked if she liked all of their acts, which she didn’t. And neither did I; in fact, there were only three who I...

    • 17
      (pp. 98-102)

      10/28/78

      Dear Cal,

      If there were a newspaper for comedians, here’s what today’s headlines would read: “Guts, Prepare to Get Busted: Candy Finishes Writing Her Killer Five-Minute Act!”

      To celebrate this momentous accomplishment, I decided to bake a cake. It had been ages since I had solicited my neighbors for sugar, and I had long ago stocked up on ingredients but hadn’t had the time or inclination to make use of them. Now I did.

      My kitchen skills were inspired by my grandmother, not because she herself was a good cook (elbow macaroni and orange processed cheese had steady and...

    • 18
      (pp. 103-108)

      It was early spring of my senior year of high school, my dad had been gone for over a year and I was living the fractured life of a party girl/pot smoker/academic standout. It was as the latter incarnation that I was visiting a small private college in St. Paul that had offered me a big fat scholarship. I had been paired off with an earnest young woman whose name tag read, “Hi! I’m Ellen!” and whose baggy corduroy pants had been worn free of wale at the knees and seat. As we walked through the tree-filled campus, she recited...

    • 19
      (pp. 109-112)

      My grandmother had given me such a gift with that letter that I decided to give her one back, and by the time the residue of my hangover headache subsided, I resolved to give the boot to my profligate ways.

      It wasn’t exactly cold turkey, but a rearrangement of priorities. Less imbibing of pot and alcohol and more of books. Classes began and I stopped going to parties and started studying. Hard. The more credits I took, the more books I had to read and the more papers I had to write and the busier I was, the better.

      That...

    • 20
      (pp. 113-117)

      The Natural Fudge was a vegetarian restaurant on Fountain Avenue that offered comics a small stage on which to perform while waitresses wearing long madras skirts and not enough deodorant served tofu omelets and vegetable burgers that looked like patties of gravel.

      Owing to the general laissez-faire atmosphere, there was not a strict time limit, although if an act was truly dying, the emcee might wander onstage and kindly pull the plug.

      The audience had been “entertained” by a guy who fashioned out of balloons lumpy shapes he claimed were aardvarks or bears; a wan guitarist who sang a song...

    • 21
      (pp. 118-122)

      9/27/68

      Dear Cal,

      Grandma and I went to the movies today—she said she wanted to take her funny girl to seeFunny Girl! It was really good, although that song about a girl not being pretty was dumb—who wouldn’t pick being funny over being pretty?

      I usually went to the pool after work, and more often than not Maeve and Ed had the same bright idea. We were sprawled out on chaise longues, but instead of regaling each other with what had happened during our workday, I was painfully replaying my night at the Natural Fudge. My feelings...

    • 22
      (pp. 123-128)

      Taryn Powell’s famous voice rose from the hot tub as we passed through the high wooden gate and entered the candlelit patio.

      “Hail the conquering heroine, everyone,” she said, “the new Valley Vixen!”

      “I didn’t exactly win the title, Ma,” said Maeve, “but I did come in third!”

      “Well, come on in and celebrate! The water’s fine.”

      “We don’t have suits, Ma.”

      “Well, neither do we,” said the TV star sweetly.

      “Taryn, you’re terrible!” said a man whose silver goatee and mustache were the only hair on his head. He looked at Maeve. “We’ve all got suits on, hon. At...

    • 23
      (pp. 129-133)

      11/9/78

      Dear Cal,

      While my “bombing” wasn’t exactly lethal, a week and a half’s gone by and I still feel like I’m picking shrapnel out of my heart. That dead air after my laugh lines, that sense of scrambled panic—uh, I’ll have the root canal instead, please. The roar of confidence that had gotten me onstage is now a feeble little meow, and I seriously wonder when and if I’ll have the guts to get on stage again.

      “Candy, you’re kidding me, right?” said Solange when I confessed as much to her. “You don’t strike me as that big...

    • 24
      (pp. 134-138)

      “What about that place?” asked Maeve, pointing.

      “Looks good to me,” said Solange. “Okay with you, Candy?”

      I nodded; my senses flooded.

      We were walking along Olympic Boulevard, a street whose shop signs were written in Korean characters and underneath them, what I could read, their English translations.

      “Korean Bar-B-Q!”

      “Nam’s Liquor Bar!”

      “Jung’s Pharmacy!”

      While there were white, black, and Hispanic people on the street in Korea Town, they were a minority amid the people who looked like my mother, who looked like me.

      “You all right, Candy?” asked Solange.

      “It’s just so weird. I have never, ever been...

    • 25
      (pp. 139-143)

      “Look at what my cousin sent me.”

      “Greetings from Ravenna!!” Solange read aloud. “(See pic of it on other side!)”

      “Is she serious? She really thinks you don’t understand the concept of a postcard?”

      I shook my head. “Read the rest.”

      In a breathy voice, Solange brought to life Charlotte’s childish handwriting:

      “Got a couple hours in port so I thought I’d write to tell youi’ve fallen in love!!!Cray’s his name, and he’ll be coming home with me, helping me to turn the apartment into alove shack!!!We’ll be getting in on the 30th and you have...

    • 26
      (pp. 144-148)

      12/12/78

      Dear Cal,

      Progress has been made! My second time on stage (at Pickles, a deli in Glendale with an open mike) and I didn’t bomb! I didn’t kill either—but still: i didn’t bomb. Only Ed was able to come, and he proved an astute audience member, telling me I raced through my lines (good to know; I’ll slow down) and that sometimes I sounded apologetic rather than really believing in what I said. (Same thing that Mike guy said.) So I’ll take the criticism and use it to get more of what I got tonight: laughs!

      While the...

    • 27
      (pp. 149-157)

      December 20, 1978

      Dear Candy,

      Our first Christmas apart! I sure miss you, girl—and all the good smells that would be coming out of the kitchen if you were here. Mrs. Clark brought over a fruitcake, but it’s not the same thing.

      Candy, thank you so much for the Summit Hill photo with all the actors’ autographs! I get such a kick telling my friends that you’re a friend of Taryn Powers and Sharla West! (Oh kid, did you see last week’s episode where Serena Summit announced she wanted to adopt the quadruplets the family maid is carrying, not...

    • 28
      (pp. 158-164)

      “Charlotte!” I said, opening the door to the tall blonde. “What are you doing here?”

      “Just making sure you haven’t pawned all my stuff,” she said, strolling into the apartment.

      “The pawn store wouldn’t take it,” I said, slipping as easily as she had into our push-pull relationship. “But, really, what are you doing here?” My voice was light, even as I seemed to have broken out in a sweat.

      She twirled once before flopping on the plaid couch. “I forgot how sunny this room gets. Do you have anything to drink? Pop, iced tea? Anything cold?”

      Like a compliant...

    • 29
      (pp. 165-172)

      It had been my intention to start out 1979 by greeting the dawn with an early-morning swim, but on the way to the pool I came across Madame Pepper taking out her garbage.

      Startled, we both gasped, and after we caught our breaths she whispered, “What are you doing up so early?” just as I asked, “What are you doing?”

      I gave my explanation and she held up a plastic garbage bag.

      “I always empty the trash on January first. It’s good for the soul—and for the apartment.”

      “But you didn’t feel a need,” I said, gesturing at her...

  4. PART II

    • 30
      (pp. 175-185)

      Maeve picked an odd place to lecture me on the need to get tough and go on a “comedy regime.”

      “Like when you were swimming for your high school team, you’d practice every day, right? Do a certain amount of laps, some sprints, try to better your times, apply yourself daily to the goal of doing your best at the next meet.”

      I could only giggle.

      “Really, Candy,” said Maeve, examining the padded cups of a red lace bra, “if I called myself a weightlifter but only lifted weights now and then, what kind of weightlifter do you think I’d...

    • 31
      (pp. 186-189)

      “I can’t believe you’re going inside the Rogue Mansion,” Ed said, grinding the gears of his Volkswagen as we climbed a hilly section of Bel Air. “It’s every boy’s dream to spend a day—make that a night—at the Rogue Mansion.”

      He was between teaching assignments and beyond happy to drive me to my temp job.

      “I’m surprised you haven’t been here with Sharla. Doesn’ttoutHollywood come to Donald Doffel’s parties?”

      “If she’s been invited, she hasn’t brought me along.”

      “Maybe she doesn’t want to subject you to all that temptation.”

      Ed smiled. “Maybe.”

      After driving alongside a...

    • 32
      (pp. 190-194)

      By day I typed movie synopses and cast lists, passing Rascalettes in the hallways, pressing myself against the wall so as to not bump into their mammoth fake breasts (I hadn’t even known things like fake breasts existed, but Terry told me Rascalettes had silicone implants as casually as the rest of us had our teeth cleaned). And once I passed Donald Doffel, who, befitting his legend, always wore a silk robe over silk pajamas, a bottle of Dad’s Root Beer clamped in his hand.

      By night—at least Sunday, Monday, and Thursday nights—I appeared at my favorite open...

    • 33
      (pp. 195-199)

      3/30/79

      Dear Cal,

      Comedians are striking against the Comedy Store! The strike was so short, I only got a chance to join the picket line once. The comics prevailed, though, and even though their victory won’t affect those of us performing on Amateur Night, my goal of course is to get a regular slot there, which will now be a regular PAID slot!

      Emergency vehicles lights pulsed and my heart pounded as I stood off to the side, watching the paramedics shove the stretcher into the back of the ambulance.

      “What happened?” I whispered.

      “I don’t know. He seemed fine...

    • 34
      (pp. 200-203)

      “Zo, how is showbiz treating you?”

      “You tell me. You’re the soothsayer.”

      “That is true,” said Madame Pepper with an acidic smile. “And that is why I am foretelling that you will be picking up the check.”

      We were sitting in one of the dark booths at C.C. Brown’s, treating ourselves after having seen the movieThe China Syndrome.

      “For all we know, planet might explode tomorrow,” Madame Pepper had said glumly as we left the theater. “Might as well eat ice cream.”

      When our aproned waitress served our hot fudge sundaes, we dug our spoons into them, pushing aside...

    • 35
      (pp. 204-207)

      Occasionally, I had to make a certain delivery that millions of American men would have paid cash—and lots of it—to make for me. Unfortunately, I had no idea how to tap that market, and so it was I alone who had to enter Donald Doffel’s bedroom.

      Never lingering, I always felt slightly creepy and mildly panicked as I race-walked across the expanse of thick carpet, trying not to look up at the mirrored ceiling. Flanking his round bed draped with its fur throw were two nightstands, and it was on the nearest nightstand I was instructed to place...

    • 36
      (pp. 208-213)

      From the conscientious bookkeeper’s ledger:

      4/18/79

      Dear Cal,

      Solange invited me to Beat Street for Summer Stephenson’s record launch and after Summer had lip-synched what the record company hopes will be her big hit, I asked Neil why Summer’s manager was wearing a tiny spoon on a chain around his neck.

      “Is he on a baby foot diet or something?”

      “Uh, Candy … that’s a coke spoon.”

      “Why doesn’t he just drink it out of the bottle like the rest of us?”

      A look of pity flashed on his face before he realized I was kidding.

      “Oh, ha ha,” he...

    • 37
      (pp. 214-220)

      I signed with the talent agency the Starlight Group, and my agent was Eric Hellman, who had, on the recommendation of his sister, Claire, come to see me perform. During our very first meeting, Eric was surprised when I told him I didn’t want to do TV commercials.

      “You mind telling me why?”

      “I figure if I wanted to be a salesperson, I would have applied at Dayton’s.”

      Now his face (fairly handsome and, like Claire’s, fairly mole ridden) registered blankness.

      “It’s the best department store in America. It’s based in Minneapolis.”

      “Candy, surely you’re aware,” said Eric, no doubt...

    • 38
      (pp. 221-225)

      Not only did Claire Hellman have lots of ideas, she acted on them. She was her own high-voltage transformer, humming with so much energy that I joked I didn’t dare touch her for fear of getting shocked. Within months of thinking of making a documentary about Francis and the Bel Mondo, she had managed to get a public television contract and funding and had already begun interviewing him.

      “He is so excited,” said Frank. “He met with Claire again yesterday at the Chateau Marmont, and he comes home whistling. He’s whistling more than he’s talking!”

      We were in a guitar...

    • 39
      (pp. 226-230)

      In old movies, to denote the passage of time, calendar pages shuffle and fly out of frame as if propelled by a good stiff wind. We were in a new decade—had anything ever sounded as modern as 1980?—and it seemed I had barely scribbled notes on a month’s first day when I’d scribble notes for its last. The pages of my own datebook flew as if in a tornado, with the usual notations of business—3/1/80—Weekend gig up in San Francisco at the Holy City Zoo!—and pleasure—6/4/80—Lunch at Barney’s Beanery with Solange; maybe I...

    • 40
      (pp. 231-236)

      “Oh, Candy, that was absolutely wonderful! I knew you were going to be good, but I didn’t know you were going to be that good.”

      “Thanks … I think.”

      “I’ve never seen her laugh so hard,” said Sven. “And that’s the God’s honest truth.”

      “Thanks, Sven.”

      My grandmother and step-grandfather (it had never crossed my mind that I’d ever use that term) were on what they called an extended honeymoon, which included a trip to the West Coast.

      Having them in the audience was an odd experience, and after repeating my life saber over and over as I walked up...

    • 41
      (pp. 237-239)

      The first big change that Madame Pepper predicted had to do with Peyton Hall.

      “Did you see this?” asked Melvin Slyke, after banging on my door. He thrust a piece of paper in my face. “Did you read this goddamned letter?”

      I hadn’t seen or read anything, including the newspaper, due to the fact it was seven a.m., and I had only gotten home a few hours earlier, having gone to Canter’s Deli with several comedians after our sets.

      Stepping back—Melvin was shaking the letter in front of my face and I didn’t want to get a paper cut—...

    • 42
      (pp. 240-244)

      During the first meeting I had with Melanie Breyer, I confessed how I thought my childhood dream of hosting a television talk show was coming true, and how disappointed I’d felt upon learning the show was meant for the stage.

      “But now that I’ve thought about it, I’m excited. I think it’ll be a blast.”

      “Great,” said Melanie. “That’s what we want it to be.”

      Sitting in her office at the Swan Theater, we batted around ideas.

      “Certainly we want an element of improv in the show,” said Claire, “but we see it as a scripted show.”

      “So it would...

    • 43
      (pp. 245-250)

      The flyer tucked under my door gave the particulars of the first meeting of Tenants United!

      About thirty people were assembled on the east side of the pool, under Billy Gray Green’s apartment windows, and the talk as I entered through the gate ran more to shouting than conversational.

      “This place is a landmark!” said Melvin Slyke. “You don’t tear down landmarks!”

      “What about the lease I signed?” said Bastien. “I must honor the lease, but you don’t have to?”

      “This is our home!” said June, holding up her mangy white dog.

      “Yeah!” said Vince Perrogio. “I’ve been here since...

    • 44
      (pp. 251-254)

      “Perfect,” said Madame Pepper, admiring the old pink taffeta gown I’d found in a used clothing store on Vermont Avenue and a cardboard tiara I made out of a cereal box.

      The old seer wore the same shawl over her copper-colored beaded dress, and we left the complex with a giddiness reserved for those seizing the New Year while the rest of the world—at least Los Angeles—slept.

      It was our third annual stroll down Hollywood Boulevard, and I was happy to usher in a year already full of promise.

      But Madame Pepper’s mood, I soon surmised, had not...

    • 45
      (pp. 255-258)

      “Candy!” came the less-than-dulcet tones of my cousin’s voice over the telephone. “What’s this Grandma says about a ‘talk show show’?”

      “I’m in a show about a talk show. It’s opening in two weeks.”

      “Where at?” asked Charlotte, the way an investigative detective might question a suspect she’d rather slap.

      “At the Swan Theater.”

      “The Swan Theater? I saw James Taylor there!”

      There was a long pause, and in it I imagined her exhaling out of her nostrils smoke that had nothing to do with a cigarette.

      “So how’ve you been?” I said, figuring as long as she called me,...

    • 46
      (pp. 259-264)

      “Did I tell you how fantastic you look?” Mike whispered.

      “A couple times,” I said. “But don’t let that stop you.”

      Finally, I was attending a special-enough occasion to wear the black dress Madame Pepper had bought for me.

      “He’s right,” said Ed, overhearing. “You look great, Candy.”

      “Amen,” said Taryn. “A dress like that’s an investment, and you invested well.”

      “If everyone can stop talking about Candy’s dress long enough to remember it’smyparty—” here Maeve winked at me—“I’d like to make a toast.”

      Maeve cleared her throat and held out her glass. “To the man...

    • 47
      (pp. 265-269)

      If I could have bottled my emotions during the first show, that bottle would have exploded from the sheer force of its effervescence.

      It was almost a full house (Melanie was good at publicity) and included in the audience were my favorite people: my grandmother and Sven, Madame Pepper, Ed, Maeve, Solange, Frank, and Melvin. The words of my secret power mantra rang in my head as Mike’s bouncy theme music began and his announcer’s voice filled the theater.

      “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s the Contessa of Comedy, the Duchess of Droll, the Empress of Entertainment—put your hands together for...

    • 48
      (pp. 270-274)

      The reporter fluffed her hair and ran a fingernail between two teeth, but when she was given the signal, she was camera-ready.

      “I’m standing here with Melvin Slyke,” she said earnestly, “long-term resident of Peyton Hall, the Hollywood Boulevard apartment complex that’s slated for demolition.”

      “Not if we’ve got any say about it!” said Melvin, leaning into the reporter’s microphone.

      “Yeah!” chorused the group of tenants standing under the Preserve Hollywood Landmarks! banner we had erected on the front lawn.

      “Yeah!” agreed Maeve and I, seated at a table offering the chocolate Preservation Cupcakes! we had spent a whole morning...

    • 49
      (pp. 275-280)

      I took a long swim before I gave Madame Pepper a ride to the airport. Typical for the early hour, the pool was empty and the water had the sting of chlorine not carefully measured. I liked that, though—it made it seem more of a cleansing ritual than exercise, although why I thought I needed to be cleansed I had no idea. Maybe I just liked the smell of bleach.

      The air was gray and misty, a secret to those who’d wake up later to a bright and sunny Los Angeles that had burned away the moisture, and for...

    • 50
      (pp. 281-284)

      Little Women!had a finished script, a finished libretto, an all-drag cast, and unlikeWaiting … for Godot!was ready for production at the Swan Theater, and although we still had great box office, Melanie had a contract to honor.

      There are some closing night parties in which the prevailing emotion is relief (whew, this dud is over!), but ours was filled with a mixture of pride, affection, and of course laughs.

      “To the most fun I’ve ever had as an actor!” said Harry Jansen, raising a glass.

      “Although I can’t say I’ll miss his Harry Chest character,” said his...

    • 51
      (pp. 285-292)

      After the closing ofThe Sorta Late Show, I was sorta in a funk. Grandma and Sven went back to Minnesota; Betty and John went back to Nebraska; Lowell went back to work at Book Soup; and PJ picked up more waitressing shifts at the Cock ’n Bull.

      “Actually, I don’t mind it,” she said. “I like the hustle of a restaurant. And I steal stuff from the customers all the time.”

      “Remind me never to sit in your section.”

      “You know what I mean. Character traits. Tics. Sometimes whole lines of dialogue.”

      I missed our writers’ meetings, the way...

  5. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 293-300)

    Today, there are a lot more women who wield real comedy power, but as of this writing there is still no one of the fairer sex hosting a major late-night talk show. Joan Rivers had a brief run at it, but in terms of not getting any respect she could teach Rodney Dangerfield a thing or two. Cable TV has begun to wise up, but as far as network television goes it’s still a petulant boys’ club that’s in no hurry to expand its membership.

    Melanie Breyer was right aboutThe Sorta Late Show with Candy Ohi: there was a...

  6. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 301-302)
  7. Back Matter
    (pp. 303-303)