Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Rockville On My Mind


By Rodger Jacobs

Trace wanted to go to Rockville and get drunk at Fitzgerald’s grave but Marcel wouldn’t hear of it.

“The magazine doesn’t have that kind of money,” Marcel said.

“How much is it going to cost? Three hundred dollars? Four? I won’t even need a hotel. I’ll sleep on a park bench. Better yet, I’ll sleep in the cemetery.”

“Why do you want to do this?” Marcel asked. He was skimming Trace’s latest contribution to the leftist journal Kidnap. It was an interview with anti-porn crusader Duke Sebastian that promised to be quite provocative.

“It would make a great story for Kidnap, Marcel.”

“No, there’s more to it than that.” Marcel laid the article aside and slid his reading glasses off his face and clasped his hands on his desk like a benign psychiatrist confronting his patient head-on. “You’re in a melancholy mood today.”

“I’m in a morbid mood.”

Trace reached to the floor for his canvas bag and rummaged around between the books and notepads and pens and assorted cell phones until he found the empty Altoids tin that held his joints.

“Morbid melancholy,” Trace said, firing up a tightly rolled joint. “I think I’ll use that as a title someday.”

“You already did.” Marcel smiled. “That trade magazine piece about people profiting from dead celebrities.”

“Oh right.” He took in a lungful of smoke and passed the joint to Marcel. “I forgot about that one. You’re my biggest fan, aren’t you, Marcel?”

“I keep up with your work,” Marcel replied nonchalantly, bringing the joint to his thin lips. Trace noted that Marcel’s fingers were always stained with indelible red ink from the Sharpee he wielded as an editors tool.

“Am I any good?”

“You’re better than most.”

Trace nodded thoughtfully. Better than most was acceptable.

“What’s really going on, Trace? How’s Lisa?”

“Lisa’s great. I just want to go to Rockville and get -- ”

“Stop with this craziness about dancing on Fitzgerald’s --”

“Not dancing. Drinking. Getting drunk. On Fitzgerald’s grave. In Rockville, Maryland.”

Marcel passed the joint across the desk.

“I met this guy in a bar on Hollywood Boulevard today,” Trace started.

Marcel rolled his eyes.

“What? You can’t meet interesting people in a bar, Marcel? Anyway, I stopped in for a beer and I had a copy of ‘Gatsby’ with me.”

“Do you always bring reading material to bars? Doesn’t that inhibit the social process?”

“Quite the opposite, Marcel. It’s a sure conversation starter. You need to get out more often. So, I’m sitting there having a Red Hook and leafing through ‘Gatsby’, trying to remember what it was old Owl Eyes says at Gatsby’s funeral --”

“Poor sonofabitch,” Marcel quoted from memory. “It was also what Dorothy Parker said when she viewed Fitzgerald’s body.”

“Uh-huh. So there’s a guy sitting there, kind of a nondescript fellow, around thirty maybe, and we start talking about Fitzgerald and it turns out this guy went to Richard Montgomery High School, which is in Rockville, Maryland, right off a major road called Rockville Pike.”

“Wasn’t there a novel called ‘Rockville Pike’?”

“Yes, by Susan Coll. Am I going to get through this pitch without interruption? Christ, Marcel.”

“I’m sorry, Trace. Go ahead.”

Trace fumbled in his bag until he found his wirebound memo book and leafed through it manically until he found the tattered pages carrying his hastily-drawn notes.

“On one side of the pike there’s the high school campus, this guy tells me. If you walk up the campus and cross the pike, there's a very small church on a very, very small hill.” He checked his notes for a moment before proceeding. “To the left of the church there’s a small graveyard on the hill. It's not protected by any gates or stone wall or anything. You can just walk up in it. All the grave stones are small, he tells me, except for one towards the back center. It towers above all the others, and that's Fitzgerald's. The headstone stands up in the traditional upside down u-shape, and then a slab of stone lays flat with an inscription from ‘Gatsby’. Scott and Zelda's names are on the headstone.”

Trace lit the joint again and took another huge toke while studying his notes.

“Here’s the thing, Marcel, here’s the fucking story, okay? His creative writing teacher used to take the class to write by the stone sometimes when the weather was nice. He said all the kids that were into literature were fascinated to have his stone right there; so whenever they passed through the graveyard -- which was pretty often, since the short-cut from the school to the subway station was directly through the graveyard – they would leave a token of esteem, a cigarette or a joint or sometimes they’d plan ahead and get him a bottle of something. He said they assumed other kids took them as they passed as needed, and left their own gifts when they could.”

Marcel accepted the joint and stared at Trace blankly. “I’m sorry. I don’t see the story here.”

“What? Kids leaving joints and bottles of gin on Fitzgerald’s headstone? You don’t see the story?”

“What’s really going on, Trace?”

Trace closed the notebook and slumped in the chair.

“Is everything okay with you and Lisa? Things moved awfully fast you know and sometimes -- ”

“Sometimes what? I’m 47 years old, Marcel. I know what I’m doing. I feel like I’m in love for the first time in my life and I’m excited and --” He bit down on the remainder of the sentence.

“And what?”

Trace’s breath caught in his chest for a moment. “I had to start clearing out Gina’s stuff to make room for Lisa. She’s moving in tomorrow, you know. And I just don’t … how, Marcel? I don’t understand. I need someone to explain to me how two people who presumably were in love with each other could be so toxic to each other. That question has been bothering me. What the fuck happens?”

“If I knew the answer to that question do you think I would be running a third rate leftist journal from a loft in Long Beach?”

Trace reached for a cigar in his bag, lit it, and smiled at Marcel. “I suppose not. So, do you want to send me to Rockville?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Shit.” He took a long pull on the cigar. “Life really fucking sucks sometimes.”

“If that’s how you feel,” Marcel smiled, “I won’t tell you how it ends. You might not like it.”

Rodger Jacobs is an award-winning screenwriter, journalist, author, and feature documentary producer. He lives in Los Angeles.


At 10:18 AM, Blogger Rodger Jacobs said...

Not an official entry. Posted for inspiration only.


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