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During pilot season, June Dietz’s husband Mitch Gold becomes another man—a man who doesn’t notice her delicious Farmers Market homemade dinners, who mumbles responses around the tooth-whitening trays in his mouth, who is consumed with envy for his fellow television actors, who pants for a return phone call from his agent. And who wants to be married to an abject, paranoid, oblivious mess? Possibly not June, whose job as a poetry professor at UCLA makes her in but not of Los Angeles, with its illogical pecking order and relentless tribal customs. Even their daughter Nora’s allegedly innocent world isn’t immune from one upsmanship: while Mitch is bested for acting jobs by the casually confident (and so very L.A.) Willie Dermot, June is tormented by Willie’s insufferably uptight wife Larissa and the other stay-at-home exercisers in the preschool.
Could Rich Friend be the answer? Smart, age-appropriate, bookish—and a wildly successful television producer—Rich focuses on June the way nobody has since she moved to Los Angeles, and there’s nothing for June to do but wallow in what she’s been missing. But what’s the next step? How does a regular person decide between husband and lover, family and fantasy?
Set in a Los Angeles you haven’t read about before, Beverly Hills Adjacent is that rare thing: a laugh-out-loud novel with heart.
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JENNIFER STEINHAUER is the Los Angeles bureau chief of The New York Times, where she began working as a copygirl in college. Her reporting on Hurricane Katrina won the Newswoman’s Club of New York Front Page Deadline Reporting Award in 2006. JESSICA HENDRA is the author of How to Cook Your Daughter: A Memoir. She is married to a working television actor. Beverly Hills Adjacent is the first fiction for each. They live in the real west L.A., in Rancho Park.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Beverley Hills Adjacent
CHAPTER 1The trouble with starring in a network television show about a bipolar dentist who is looking for love on the Internet is that no matter how deft the flossing puns, or how diverting the high jinks with your Puerto Rican hygienist, it all comes down to the time slot. For Mitch Gold, this was the unpleasant axis upon which his world spun."Hello?""Mitch Gold, please""This is Mitch.""Hello, Fiona from Creative Artists here. Can you hold for Tim Zelnick?""Sure.""Hi, Mitch, it's Tim, and Angie Varone is on the line too. How's our favorite bipolar dentist?""Hi, guys! So how did Molar Opposites do last night?""Well," Tim answered, "it came in fourth."Mitch stared out the window and noticed the parched garden. "Fourth? Yikes.""Hey," Tim said, "what do you want? You're up against American Idol. But I talked to ABC. They're still very committed. They're gonna run a bunch of promos during Brothers & Sisters and see if they can bring in more women. They just want it to do a little better every week."Mitch took a breath. "What were the numbers?""Well, it's a blue-state show, no question. The Hispanic audience eighteen to forty-nine was good, you were strong there. But you droppedin the second fifteen minutes. You pulled a 1.8. I think the network would like to see a 2.5.""Wow." Mitch was quiet for a second. "They want a million more people. How can we do that?""Hey, you never know. It's a good show," Tim said. "And you're fantastic in it, Mitch, seriously."Angie Varone piped up. "I do have to wonder why they put Rosie in that purple skirt. Wardrobe really dropped the ball there. She looked like a walking Jamba Juice.""Really?" Mitch asked."Totally. Anyway, hang in there, Mitch.""Thanks, Angie. And Tim. See ya."Mitch went to hang up from the call with his agents but hit the mute button instead. In this fateful move--one that led Tim and Angie to believe that Mitch had hung up when in fact he was still listening--the truth leaped out from behind the telephonic curtain."Tim, you still there?" Angie asked."I'm here. Did you actually see that piece of shit last night?""No, I watched Idol. I saw that skirt on one of the ads.""Well, it blows." Tim said. "That never stopped a hit, but with a 1.8, I bet it was behind the Weather Channel. I can't believe the network's gonna let it go more than another week."Mitch heard someone--probably Angie--take a deep slurp from what he imagined was a venti vanilla latte, with Splenda."They won't dump that many Hispanic viewers just like that. But I agree it's a long shot." She continued, "Mitch books a lot. But man, what is this, his eighth failed series? He's had his chances. If Molar Opposites gets canceled and Mitch doesn't get another pilot this season, I think we should drop him.""Yeah." Tim agreed. "Plus Mitch is a conflict with Willie Dermot, and Willie's got more cachet and a higher quote.""Right, but if I have to take one more call from Willie's bony-ass wife sniveling about her husband getting passed over for Jack Black, I'm gonna open a vein. I'd love to know which fucking intern gave that freakazoid my cell number.""Angie, that's why God invented caller ID. So anyway, let's give ittill the end of pilot season. If Gold doesn't get anything, we cut him loose.""Okay." Slurp. "Where do ya wanna go for lunch? Craft?"Mitch hung up the phone, lunged for his nine iron hidden behind the door, and began smashing it on the sofa. Fucked. He was fucked. Willie Dermot was going to get a hit this season and Molar Opposites would be canceled. That would mean the end of Mitch Gold at CAA, and perhaps the end of his career. And that he could not afford.Six months ago, the Golds had embarked on badly needed renovations to their 1926 Spanish-style house, but the contractor had run off with the $150,000 deposit--perhaps back to Russia, who knew?--and now they had no savings. Plus, the writers' strike had added further financial pain.A character actor such as Mitch might easily go two years between jobs. So having no savings and no steady income was a calamity waiting to befall the Gold family.Should Mitch be dropped from his agency, he would have damaged-goods disease, and everyone in town would fear catching it. His auditions would diminish, and the ones he got would become perilously fraught, enveloped with the stench of desperation. Desperation was repellent to already desperate producers. Mitch would be reduced to Viagra commercials and trade shows to keep the bank from foreclosing.June must never know.
June squinted up Sunset Boulevard from out the passenger window of the town car, which had slowed in front of a low-rise strip mall. She saw a liquor store with the R in LIQUOR hanging from its sign like a fallen rock climber, a Shakey's Pizza, and a twenty-four-hour tattoo parlor. There was no evidence of a swanky nightclub. "Are you sure this is the block?" she asked her husband."I don't think those security guards are here to protect the pepperoni," Mitch said as the car slid through a line of beefy, beckoning men in black T-shirts gesturing determinedly like ground controllers at Andrews Air Force Base. Mitch and June had indeed arrived at their destination, that rite of winter, the ABC All Star Round Up Party, a repository of cast members from all the network shows who gather to walk the redcarpet and bask in the glory of good ratings, network executive adoration, and media scrutiny.From the backseat of their town car Mitch and June took in the mass of clipboard-bearing interns standing on the sidewalk, and beyond them, a troupe of entertainment reporters crowded around the front of the unmarked nightclub. Young women in something approximating prom wear, their faces twisted with joy at being at a Hollywood event courtesy of a college friend who worked as a production assistant on The View, gathered near the door.June felt something scratching her back. She reached behind her, and pulled a caramel-coated candy wrapper from the crack in the seat. She wanted out of the dingy car. "Mitch, why are we sitting here?""Let's see if someone comes."Mitch looked hopefully out the smoked window to the spot where, last year, at this very same event, one of the ubiquitous network girls had instantly materialized. At that time he had been on the massive hit Beverly Hills Adjacent, on which he played an alcoholic plastic surgeon. But that was last year. (After Mitch made a crack about the head writer's bald spot, his character, Dr. Hyatt, was killed off by a patient whose left breast he had rendered sans nipple.)For three minutes June itched behind the T-strap of her sandal, mulled the difference between parody and allegory, prayed that her four-year-old daughter, Nora, would not wake up at 5 a.m. again, and wondered with vague alarm if she had remembered to buy cake flour. Mitch chewed frantically on a wooden coffee stirrer that he had pulled from his pocket, one of the many he collected at Starbucks each week. It was a habit only slightly less off-putting than his proclivity for chewing the corners of used Post-it notes."Enough!" said June, grabbing the masticated stirrer and shoving it in her open evening bag. "I think we are more than capable of alighting from this car unassisted."Mitch sighed. "We got an intern last year." He craned his neck out the town car window. "I mean, look at America Ferrera over there--she's got three!"June heard a voice in her head trilling in a loop that had become increasingly familiar after a decade of network television parties. Whofucking cares? Who fucking cares? But her mouth uttered the words she had also come to memorize for these occasions. "Oh, sweetie, you're reading too much into this." She leaned over and opened the car door.On the sidewalk, eyeing the red carpet, Mitch and June were stymied. Where to go? Finally a network intern, her name badge askew (Syndee, a curious name for a pudgy white girl clearly from the Inland Empire), loped toward them."Uhhhhhhh ... hi. Remind me who you are?""Mitch Gold.""And friend?" Syndee said, glancing toward June."June Deitz. I'm his wife actually. Thanks, Syndee.""Ah, it's SynDEE. So, do you wanna do the carpet?" SynDEE had already turned her eyes toward the limos arriving behind them."All right," Mitch said, and walked to the rug's crimson edge like a woman facing her bikini waxer. June trailed behind him. Suddenly the Golds were abandoned by SynDEE, who rushed toward a steel blue Prius pulling up to the curb. From the driver's seat emerged the TV megastar Michael Thomas O'Shea. His car was quickly commandeered by the valet, who ushered it away.With the help of SynDEE, now animated, Michael Thomas and his wife, the actress Cass Martin, were escorted toward the carpet. Just finishing an eight-year run on a hospital drama, Eye See You, for which he had won four Emmys, Michael Thomas was instantly enveloped in a swirl of flashing bulbs and reporters screaming his name. As one of the few African American actresses who could open a movie, Cass was a singular draw herself. Her espresso-toned skin seemed untouched by a makeup artist, and she was inches taller than her shorter-than-you-would-have-thought husband.With Cass in tow Michael Thomas ambled past Mitch and June, his phalanx of interns clearing a path around him. He wore dark jeans and a cotton T-shirt bearing the single word GREEN."Michael Thomas," squawked a tiny television reporter from E! "Who will Dr. Armstrong end up with in the final episode? Deb or Sandra?"Michael Thomas countered, "You know, Brandy, tonight I really want to focus on what we in the Industry can do to heal our planet.""Of course, Michael. So ... um, Deb?"June and Mitch bravely pushed on down the carpet. A shout rang out from the pack of press gathered along the side. "Mitch! Molar Opposites guy!" Mitch realized the voice was coming from a photographer, and he turned instinctively toward him, his face exploding into a giant smile. "Mitch, can you move? You're blocking Marta," the photographer, moons of sweat soaking his underarms, said, referring to an arriving hot newcomer from Beverly Hills Adjacent. Turning bright red, Mitch tried to erase from his brain what had just happened.Once inside, the first person they saw was a stunning Thai server sporting a long ponytail and white yoga pants and a loose shirt embellished with a large sun. Ah, Ra, sun god, June noted to herself, recognizing the preferred polytheistic deity for Angelenos' yoga wear and nightclubs."Uh-oh, this place is full of wactors," Mitch said, his word for waiter/actor.June looked around. "Sweetie, this is a great sign for you! Ra protected his people from the dangerous primordial waters of the underworld. Maybe that is why the network had the party here.""Two years ago Ra was a dangerous primordial 7-Eleven on this very same corner," Mitch shouted over the din of music. He grabbed a glass of pinot noir off a passing wactor's tray."Touché." June laughed. Finding humor in the face of humiliation was one of Mitch's enduring charms."But you know what," Mitch said, draping his arm over his wife's shoulders, "your point is well taken. This is still going to be a fun night. Let's drink the network's wine, or try to find some scotch. Anyway, I'd go to a cement-mixer trade show as long as I got a night out with you." June reached up and squeezed his hand.The room, which June noted was loosely--very loosely--modeled on the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor, was almost entirely white. Vinyl banquettes were arranged in circles around giant plaster lions in a crouch. The walls were adorned with relief sculptures depicting small cats and topless women dancing in what appeared to be a festival of Hathor, but who were probably modeled on a scene from that orgy movie starring Tom Cruise.Mitch looked around to see if he could spot any of his fellow cast members from Molar Opposites. The show had been a midseason replacement for a failed comedy starring an extraordinarily expensive celebrity as a self-help-book publisher whose life was perfect in every way but one: relationships. Mitch feared tonight would confirm what his agents had presaged last week: Molar Opposites would be losing its time slot to yet another show, this one about a failing sex-crimes detective who is successful in only one way: relationships. There remained a glimmer of hope, of course, that his show would not be canceled, but the lack of an intern was the first dismal augury."Hey, I see Rich Friend over there," Mitch said."Who?""Rich Friend and his wife, Justine Fein. They wrote that lesbian show, Hi Moms I'm Home.""You play golf with him, right? Isn't he the one who wrapped his putter around a tree at Riviera?"Mitch chuckled. "It was a five iron, June. But yeah, I shot a seventy-eight that day. He didn't take it well.""Isn't it hard to write with one's spouse?""People do it all the time," Mitch said. "Sometimes writers divide it up by genre, say action or comedy, sometimes the man writes the guy parts, sometimes the woman writes the female parts. It just depends."Bored by the idea of chatting up yet another television visionary, but intrigued with the idea of meeting the man attached to the absurd name Rich Friend, June agreeably grabbed Mitch's hand. They sauntered over to the food station, where Rich and Justine were debating the choice of sashimi or Yorkshire pudding."Hey, Rich, how's it going?" Mitch said. "Nice to see you, Justine. This is my wife, June."June studied Rich. He had the body of tennis player, thin, muscular, but without those weird bulging biceps that men in Hollywood often sported. In short: a handsome man who looked his age.After a quick hello with Mitch, Rich Friend turned his gaze to June, looking at her with what seemed utter fascination. "Mitch told me you teach poetry at UCLA?""I do." June waited for him to look behind her for someone else totalk to. At network parties, few people even asked what she did for a living, and once they heard, they suddenly had to use the restroom.Rich remained focused on her. "Is it true that you actually studied Nibelungenlied in its original German?""Did Mitch tell you that?""No, I Googled you."Slightly stunned, June felt her face get hot. "I thought people in this town only Googled themselves."Rich laughed. "Well, research first, and then conclude. So did you?""It was a long time ago. You forget Middle High German once you pay off your student loans.""Well, I'm awed."The corners of Rich Friend's azure eyes crinkled up and seemed to animate his entire face. June noticed his teeth. They did not blind her with bleach tones, and his lips seemed alert with impending cleverness. He looked like someone she knew, but she could not quite place him.Rich's wife chimed in: "After Berkeley I devoted a summer to reading all ninety thousand verses of the Mahabharata. I think I did ten."<...
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