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FICTION / Twinkle, Twinkle / Ellen P. Bloomenstein

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There was Eileen – standing outside The Lee Strasberg Theater Institute smoking a cigarette. Her skinny jeans hugging her tiny hips, a short black camisole on top with her pierced belly button exposed for the entire world to see.

Eileen wanted to be a star and that was why she was taking acting classes at Lee Strasburg. She was currently working on a scene from Saturday Night Live with a guy who she thought was real cute – and he was from Paris. Only one of the most glamorous places she could think of, that is, besides New York City. Jean Claude was tall and striking – he had black hair and blue eyes and carried himself in a royal manner – holding his tea cup, if he had one, with his pinky extended.

Jean Claude didn’t much care for Eileen personally, but as an actress he thought she was good and respected her “craft.” The problem was that one they had been assigned this scene in class by their instructor, Eileen was just so thrilled to have a chance to work with Jean Claude that she would forget her “technique” and dissolve into fits of laughter every time he said his lines.

 

Eileen was nineteen and had come to acting when she was eighteen after exploring oil painting. Although she had some talent as an oil painter, she found the whole process of painting too lonely and dirty. Actually filthy – she didn’t like the way her fingers had paint caked into each nail bed and although she scrubbed and scrubbed, it would never quite come out.

Eileen had long hair that she cut into layers the year before and she had started wearing more makeup.  Guys actually stopped her on the street these days and said, “Hey, beautiful slow down!” One guy even stopped and said, “Selena Gomez, darling, talk to me.” Eileen felt a pang of excitement when these men shouted to her on the street. And these comments fueled her need to become a star, because, she believed, this is what beautiful people did.

Much to her parents’ chagrin, Eileen had dropped out of The School of Visual Arts as a painting major and had started taking classes non-matriculated at Lee Strasberg. With no hope of getting a degree, not to mention a diploma, her parents had pleaded with her: “Think about the future, Eileen.” Eileen would just say, “Sure,” and smile to herself then and think: So silly, I won’t need a degree when I’m a star.

Her parents felt annoyed to no end, but they also felt defeated, As a matter of fact, they had wondered what type of life Eileen would have had as a painter, but they agreed that she would be getting a degree and could decide from there. They hoped she might go on to graduate school and then maybe teach art. Ever since Eileen was a small girl, they realized they could never force her to do anything she didn’t want to do. Indeed, when Eileen was two, she used to climb out of her stroller and pick up cigarette butts from the street and put them in her mouth. (In those days, there were plenty of them on the street.) Her mother would say, “No, Eileen, put those down!” Eileen would just laugh at her mother and pick up another butt and stick it her mouth.

When Eileen turned three, she insisted on wearing shorts even in the dead of winter. Eileen’s mother would suffer the comments of the elderly ladies who sat on the stoop of their apartment building in the Bronx and shake their heads: tsk tsk tsk. What was Eileen’s mother supposed to do? If she tried to get Eileen into a pair of pants, Eileen would howl so loud that the downstairs neighbors would bang on the ceiling to get the noise to end. Certainly, Eileen was stubborn throughout her entire childhood – often yelling so loud she’d get her way. So, although her parents thought she was foolish to leave The School of Visual Arts, they gave in – as best they could.

They told Eileen that she had to work part time while she studied acting. Eileen was hardly fazed by this and got a job as a cocktail waitress at a night club. She was happy to think she was working in the tradition of other actors who had done the same when they were starting out.

Her boss at the club was a middle-aged man from the Middle East. He demanded that his waiters carry as many drinks as possible on their trays. There were two male waiters and the rest were female – like Eileen. The boys wore black tank tops with black pants. The girls wore black bodysuits with fish net stockings and heels. Clad in this costume, Eileen would carry as many drinks as she possibly could on her tray – she would deliver these drinks while precariously balancing on her heels. Often her tray would slide and she would spill drinks down the back of some man or woman who wasn’t paying attention. Many times, during this winter, she spilled drinks on the fur coats draped on the back of a customer’s chair. Often, no one would notice. On occasion, someone would notice. And, Eileen almost got fired on more than one occasion when the customer got irate and complained. And once, a woman found her sometime during the night and said, “I know it’s hard to be a waitress, honey,” and passed her a hundred dollar bill.

The scene from Saturday Night Live, originally performed by Bruce Willis and Katy Perry, was going horribly. Jean Claude and Eileen were up on stage performing for the acting class. Eileen couldn’t stop breaking up into fits of laughter when she said her line, “You ever seen anything as beautiful? Except me, I mean?...” Jean-Claude was trying desperately to keep his composure. “… Houston, we’ve been hit by debris, you copy? …”And, even though the scene was supposed to be funny – it was up to the audience to laugh - and Eileen couldn’t stop giggling.  Jean Claude, couldn’t help himself either; he was also breaking up.

The instructor, a white haired man in his late fifties clenched his teeth and then stood up and yelled, “Enough, enough– get offthe stage!”

Eileen and Jean-Claude slunk back down the stairs and off the stage and returned to their seats.

“That was among the worst scenes I have ever seen. You two should be ashamed of yourselves!”

 

Several days later, the secretary at Lee Strasberg called Eileen into her office for a meeting. Eileen was thinking the worst and was wondering if she would be kicked out of school because of that disastrous scene. She thought about blowing off the meeting, but then hesitated. She decided she would face whatever this was. The secretary actually thought Eileen was pretty cute and had noticed her when she had helped her register.

The next day, Eileen took a deep breath and entered the office. The secretary, a woman is her early forties, wearing a pink dress with a strand of pearls looked happy and relaxed. Eileen was tense. ‘Sit,” she said to Eileen.

Eileen sat in the chair next to her desk.

“Eileen,” she said, “I want to send you on an audition for a McDonald’s commercial tomorrow. Here’s the address.” She passed Eileen a card with neat print, “They’re looking for an unknown for a national commercial. If you don’t have a headshot, no worries, they’ll take one of you when you get there.”

Eileen was ecstatic. “Thank you, thank you!” she sang out to the secretary.

That night, in her studio apartment in alphabet city, she could not sleep. While she lay in bed, she thought of all the people she had known in her life and tried to think how she would thank each one of them when she won an Academy Award.

The next morning, Eileen, having maybe slept an hour, was up at 7 am. She showered and dressed in a pair of cropped low-rise tan corduroys and a skimpy white t-shirt that showed off her belly button. She slipped on some Ugg boots. She blow-dried her hair and carefully applied lots of makeup in the bathroom mirror. Once she was ready, she admired herself in her full length mirror leaning against a wall by the strip of kitchen between her bathtub and the front door. She thought she looked great and noted that her bright red lips and dark black mascara completed her look to perfection. She left for the audition feeling more than confident.

Eileen got to the address. She lit up a cigarette and leaned against the side of the building and smoked. She stamped out the cigarette in the gutter, went into the building and told the security guard in the lobby, “I have an audition for a McDonald’s commercial.” 

She was directed up to the 6thfloor.

A man in a tan button up shirt, jeans and yellow baseball hat with dirty blond hair greeted Eileen when she got there. “I’m the casting agent,” he said and pulled a cell phone out of his pocket and took a picture of her. He pressed some buttons and said, “Great, I just sent this off to the director.” He looked her up and down, which made Eileen a little uncomfortable and said, “You can have a seat in the waiting area.” He pointed to some chairs around a coffee table strewn with gossip magazines near the reception desk.

There were two other people seated around the coffee table – a woman, who Eileen guessed must be in her thirties with unnaturally heavy blush on her cheeks, and a man, probably about sixty with a shock of white hair and little tortoise rimmed glasses. No one spoke to each other. And basically, Eileen thought these people weren’t her competition so she didn’t need to make any effort to be pleasant or size them up.

They all waited for about half an hour. The woman in her thirties was called in first. Eileen was called in shortly after that.

There was a bare room, except for the camera equipment, a stool and a table littered with McDonald’s bags. The director, a slim man with blond hair and squinty green eyes, shook hands with Eileen and said, “I saw your picture – Scott texted it to me,” he winked, “So, why don’t you take a seat on that stool over there.”

Eileen sat. A mousy women with grey hair came out of the back of the room and passed her a paper, “Here’s the script.”  

Eileen looked at it and saw that the only words printed on the page were: Take a bite of a Big Mac. Say: “I’m lovin’ it.” 

“Are you ready? Let’s do a take.” The director smiled. He fished through the bags on the table and pulled out a Big Mac. “Here you go!” He handed it to Eileen.

“Take one,” the guy behind the camera said.

Eileen didn’t particularly like to eat, mostly because she thought it would make her fat. So, she bit into the burger, which was cold and swallowed with difficulty then squeaked out the words, “I’m lovin’ it.”

“Again! Say it like you love it!” the director said. 

“Take two.”

Eileen bit into the burger again and tried to act like there was nothing better. She confidently said, “I’m lovin’ it.”

The director seemed pleased, “Very good. That’s a take. We’ll be in touch. Thanks for coming in.”

Eileen rode down in the elevator feeling great. She took the subway downtown to her apartment. An elderly man who smelled of strong liquor stood in front of her on the train; his body swayed and his whiskey breath lingered in the air each time the train jerked to a stop at a station.

 

Later that afternoon, Eileen had an appointment for her annual physical. She took an uneventful ride up Lexington Avenue on the bus to go see her doctor.

She flipped through a People Magazine while in the waiting room. She read an article about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry – she thought they were old and vowed to get married somehow before she turned twenty-five. Her mother had had her when she was thirty – Eileen thought she’d like to have her children in her early to mid-twenties. Her mind wandered to her last boyfriend, a painter from Poland. He had said she was making a huge mistake to leave painting, “You’ll be ruined in the theater!” were his final words.  She thought of Jean Claude: He might make a good husband…

The nurse practitioner, Hilda, called Eileen into an examining room.

After taking her blood pressure, her temperature and pulse, weighing her and checking her height, Hilda asked if there were any complaints. Eileen shook her head no. 

“In that case, we can just take some blood, check your breasts and we’ll be done. I’ll report back to Dr. Dull.”

Hilda drew the blood then kneaded Eileen’s breasts – Eileen took a deep breath and then it was over. 

“You smoke, don’t you?”

“Yeah, I,  uh…”

You’ve got to quit smoking,” Hilda gave Eileen a stern look, “You’re young now, but it only gets worse as you age.”

 

That night, Eileen worked at the bar.

First she got a run in her fishnets that quickly tuned to a gaping hole. Then her heel from her shoe came off right while she was making her way across the dance floor with a tray of drinks. She went flying past customers at tables and those dancing – she slid right across the dance floor. Broken glass and multi colored drinks covered the floor. Nina and Georgia, also cocktail waitresses came flying to Eileen’s side. “Are you alright?”

The manager told her to go home for the night.

Eileen had only made forty dollars in tips so far - so, she’d have to be very careful with money for the next couple of days – until she could earn more tips…

Once home, she called Jean Claude:

“Allo? Bonjour!”

“Hi,” Eileen said in a deep voice,

“Oh, Eileen. What’s up?”

“Just seeing how you felt about the scene –“

“Was a disaster, no?”

“I guess so,” Eileen giggled.

“Excusez moi, Eileen, I have company, I must go –“

“Maybe we can talk about the scene in acting class? I’ll text you – maybe we can have coffee some-“

“D’accord. I mean, okay. Bye-bye.”

 

The next few days went by uneventfully. Eileen was checking her phone constantly in the hopes that the director would call about the audition. As each day passed, she was losing faith. She did get some calls and texts: her mother, her brother and a call from Dr. Dull saying her blood tests had come back just fine.

On Friday, Eileen’s friend, Felicia found her outside Lee Strasberg smoking a cigarette. Eileen was dressed in a denim mini skirt and a black and white striped top. Her black Converse high tops were what she believed were the perfect finishing touch topped off with chunky hot pink socks.

 “Have you seen Backstage today?”

“No.”

“Well,” she held up her phone, “there’s a call for a national commercial for McDonald’s. I’m gonna go, even if it is a cattle call.”

“Really?” Eileen pulled deeply on her cigarette, blew smoke and then on an impulse, put it out on the side of the building.

Felicia stuffed her phone into her jeans pocket, retrieved a packet of Marlboro and lit up a cigarette, “It says they want someone who’s All-American. I think I may fit the bill.”

Felicia was heavy set with Nordic blond hair and blue eyes. Today she was sausaged into a pair of skinny jeans and a tank top. She looked like a younger and heavier version of Hilary Duff. 

“Maybe I’ll go to-“

“We can go together,” she exhaled smoked than crushed the cigarette onto the bottom of her shoe.

 

In acting class during the warmup, Felicia made a guttural sound while she rolled her head around. Eileen sang in a very soft voice: Twinkle, twinkle little star. How I wonder where you are?

Jean Claude starred at Eileen from the back of the room – she flashed him a dazzling smile; he looked away.

 

The next afternoon was the cattle call audition for McDonald’s. Eileen had resigned herself to the fact that she would never get a call from the director. Felicia texted to make plans to meet up for the audition.

They decided to meet at 2pm in front of the building.

Eileen put on bright cobalt blue eyeshadow and outlined her eyes with a navy blue pencil. She inspected herself in the mirror and was delighted to see that she looked fantastic. She dressed in a black mini dress and a short jean jacket and paired it with short black Uggs. She stared at herself in the full length mirror and felt pretty satisfied.

On the way to the audition, a short man with a goatee stopped in front of Eileen and said, “Hey, gorgeous.”

There was a line around the block for the audition – it really was a cattle call. Felicia was standing toward the end of the line. Eileen waved and then hurried over.

Felicia said, ‘It’ll probably be hours before we get in. I’ll just play on my phone.”

Eileen looked around at the people standing on line: there was a girl, about her age standing ahead in a white jumper with a pink tee and white go-go boots. Eileen took note of this retro style and thought she might try and find something like that the next time she went shopping.

The same casting agent from the audition days ago was handing out numbers to the people on line. There were none left by the time they got to Felicia and Eileen.

“I guess that’s that,” Felicia said then lit up a cigarette. She squinted to keep the smoke from directly going into her eyes.

Eileen felt sick. She opened up a pack of Marlboro and lit one up. “I’m sure if we could see the director, we might have a chance-“

“Forget it,” Felicia said, “Everybody’s here. There’s no way we’re going to get in at all.”

“I suppose,” Eileen was choking back a tear.

“They’ll be other chances,” Felicia breathed deeply.

“Sure,” Eileen found herself saying as she turned from the line and began to walk briskly away. 
“There you are!” Felicia caught up to Eileen and hugged her.

Then the two made their way up West Broadway smoking cigarettes and shielding their eyes from the sun.


Ellen P. Bloomenstein lives in NYC with her favorite person, her boyfriend Adam. Armed with an MFA in Poetry and Fiction from the New School, her work has appeared in many journals and websites including Rosebud, Zeek, Good Foot and Referential. She has self-published a novel and novella and currently works as a Fashion Copywriter.