Phoenix Entertainment and Development

Phoenix Entertainment and Development

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bathing & the Single Girl Excerpt

Welcome everyone to a brand new edition of the Writer's Revolution. I am your host, the author of The Phoenix Blade, Andrew Hess. This week we have a special guest with us. She is an actress, a director, a blogger, a photographer and now an author. She is Christine Elise McCarthy. Today we have a treat for everyone; an excerpt from Bathing & the Single Girl.


I wasn’t always a man repellent. I once had several successful relationships in a row. I use the term “successful” in the sense that these relationships were of the live-in variety and had lasted five or more years each. Several. If, you know, you allow that several can mean two. Each of the men in question was sent off into the world well trained in the arts of “why you call when you are running late” and “what happens in Vegas isn’t going to happen in Vegas because you aren’t going to that asshole’s bachelor party” and other key tools required to maintain a happy pairing. Each of the men have subsequently met and married gorgeous and charming women (both European, by odd coincidence) who are ten or more years their junior. Each of the men has several children and even the late-blooming dreamer has a booming, prosperous business. In Paris. As a chef, no less. Where, though he is from Boston originally, his outrageously beautiful toddler speaks English as a second language and can order moules frites in French without feeling like a pretentious fraud.

Still, I don’t know when exactly I became defined by the fact that I never have sex but it’s safe to say that it happened. Okay, fine. Never might be an overstatement but when the periods of unwitting celibacy are measured in years and the periods of awkward, gratification-free sex are measured in weeks—I don’t think a jury of my peers would convict me in the court of hyperbole.

Anyway, I look upon these men from my past and am genuinely happy that they are happy. I was invited to their weddings. I love their wives. I swear to God. But where the fuck is my sexy European guy who is ten years my junior and who is witty and quick and makes hand-cut pasta and loves dogs and seems to live only to help facilitate my dreams, both personal and professional? I’ll tell you. 

Nowhere. European men are notorious cads who are raised in a culture that—while it teaches them to see beauty in women of all ages—teaches them to see beauty in women of all ages. That’s a problem. Think about it. Do you really want the responsibility of keeping a hot French or Italian or Spanish guy so satisfied that he has no need to engage in the affairs his culture has taught him are his due? And with these guys, they might even cheat on you with a woman older than you are. Or a woman with hairy armpits. Or an older woman with hairy armpits. That is sure to devastate any self-esteem his initial interest in you cultivated. No. You can keep your Javier Bardem, Penelope. I don’t need that shit.

I explain all this to illustrate—or maybe convince myself—that my celibacy is not the result of my having tastes too exotic or ambitious to be realized. Just gimme a dude close to my age, with a job, without a wife and hopefully carrying the same extra ten pounds that I am carrying and in the same denial I am in because, really, it is twenty pounds, who am I kidding? I have the great fortune of having always been drawn to guys my age and that has held true to this day. I see a paunch or a receding hairline or graying hair and I interpret that to mean he will not see my paunch, receding hairline and graying hairs. Spelled out like that, it is hard to miss the absurdity of such a leap of logic but fuck it. It doesn’t matter because there is no such guy in my life to forgive or by whom to be forgiven. I am the girl who never has sex with anyone at all so I can participate in any kind of ridiculous fantasy of men my age and how they think, if I feel like it.

Recently, I made a grave mistake and Wikipedia’d “middle-aged.” I’d looked the term up in an effort to comfort myself as I got ready for the birthday dinner my friends were forcing on me. I thought I’d see middle age defined as no younger than forty-five and go to—I don’t know—retirement age. I thought I’d bask for a moment, pleasantly pondering the years I had before me that could still be defined simply as adulthood—years before menopause, Viagra, Depends and Denture Grip became the topics du jour. Years before Lifetime programmers were seeing me as their target audience. This is what I found:
“Middle Age is the period of age beyond young adulthood but before the onset of old age. Various attempts have been made to define this age, which is around the third quarter of the average lifespan of human beings.

“The US Census lists middle age as including both the age categories 35 to 44 and 45 to 50, while prominent social scientist, Erik Erikson, sees it ending a little later and defines middle adulthood as between 40 and 65.

“Prominent pundit Mit Xuamerf defines middle age as ‘the period of 35 to 55.’”

What the fuck? Thirty-five? You are already middle-aged, screamed the voice in my head. That doesn’t even seem fair. You turn thirty and then, just as you are waving good-bye to your youth behind you, you turn around and bam! Slam right into middle age? Why would forty even be an important milestone anymore? You’re already middle-aged and slipping into the grave—so who cares? I wonder how old this Mit Xuamerf is. I imagine he is some snarky Asian-German (Mit Xuamerf?) Doogie Howser boy wonder type with a maturity beyond his years but without the life experience and resulting perspective of a freshman frat boy. How dare he even pretend to understand, let alone define, what middle age is? These are peoples’ lives he is playing with by cavalierly tossing thirty-five out into the ether as the beginning of the end. The fucker. I’d like to kick his ass.

To compound my sense of lost youth, my theatrical manager of five years had texted me earlier that day, awkwardly—even for a text—dropping me as a client. Something about not being “able to do anything more” for me. He seemed to feel another manager might have more luck breaking down the increasing number of doors in Hollywood that had decided I no longer warranted access beyond the velvet rope. This is a depressing enough scenario when it is just a trendy nightclub deeming you unfit. When it is access to producers, directors, casting directors or, in short, work as an actress of any kind, then this rejection has a special and profound sting. It is a sting that strikes you right in the ego, certainly, but if your ego has taken the beating mine has in the last ten or fifteen years and is already punch drunk and on the ropes, it’s the pain in the wallet that threatens to drop you to the canvas, and by “canvas,” I mean “life under a bridge living out of a shopping cart.”

So, here I found myself resentfully getting ready for a birthday dinner that had sounded like a Hellish idea even before I was aware that I had already squandered a measurable portion of my middle age. Now that I was so much closer to the grave than I had previously thought, I wanted to give up all pretenses of effort and just buy a pair of Pajama Jeans and a box of wine, curl up on the sofa and wait for my Social Security to kick in.

Stupid birthday dinner. I told my friend Eliza I was not interested in recognizing the passing of another year… another year without work, another year without a relationship and, scandalously, another year without even the most meaningless sex and now—another year down the dark side of the slope of middle age. Still, I had to make some gesture at giving a fuck so I tried on a few dresses. Horrified, I found that even my fat outfits were clinging to my mid-section like horny leg-humpers but without that exciting sexual element. Just clinging in every ugly, desperate sense of the word. Was this the result of the sudden-onset middle age of which I now counted myself a bitter victim? More likely it was a result of the all-carbs-all-the-time diet I had been on for weeks. Extended unemployment and property taxes are a brutal combination.

Fortunately, I had become rather adept at a complicated financial shell game, shuffling short-term-interest-free credit card cash advances around between my other credit cards and my checking account. Sure, this was a slippery slope and my unsecured debt was mounting at a frightful pace but, so far, I had avoided paying the exorbitant interest rates that kick in if you aren’t paying attention to dates. Still, despite my financial wizardry, I had literally found myself facing the choice between room (my mortgage) and board (fresh produce). So, I decided to embrace being part of the 99% and occupy my pantry. I was now several weeks into this self-imposed challenge to spend absolutely nothing more on groceries and, instead, eat all the food I already had taking up room in my cabinets and freezer. Initially, it was kind of an adventure in culinary imagination. Weeks into it, as my diet began to consist entirely of either brown rice or whole wheat pasta aglio olio (pasta, olive oil and garlic), my imagination was put to use imagining that I was eating something else. One might expect that I would delight in an excuse to get out, act like I was part of the 1% and add some roughage to the monotony of my diet… if only to stop my poop from looking the color of a hotdog bun. Sorry if that is TMI but an all beige diet has consequences and I don’t see any reason I should shield you from that fact. Anyway, even the promise of multi-colored foods did not improve the appeal of this forcible birthday dinner.

Disgusted, I chose the least offensive dress I’d tried and added a forgiving, long sweater to mask my thickness. My tallest heels added enough length to my silhouette that I hoped the sweater lost its stink of “over thirty, camouflaging flaws” and achieved more of an air of “hot chicks get chilly, too.” I was grasping. I knew it.

I decided I deserved a glass of wine while I prepped. It isn’t called front-loading when it is your birthday. It is called celebrating. Wine was one thing I had decided did not fall into the category of groceries. That would be uncivilized. It would also be fiscally irresponsible because this was a Bevmo five cent sale week and it would be willful and silly not to stock up when I could get two-for-one bottles of Syrah. For my birthday, I had splurged and stepped it up a bit. I bought myself a two-for-one twenty dollar bottle rather than the dirty chard I am normally restricted to in the five dollar range. I gotta say, it still feels pretty ghetto unscrewing wine, even if you know it is a twenty dollar bottle. I comforted myself by pouring a glass far deeper than the polite five and a half ounces the airport bartenders and sushi bars cheap you out with. I could afford to, after all. I still had another unopened bottle winking at me from the counter.

I literally winked back because that is just exactly how much of a lonely loser I have become. I openly flirted with a bottle of red wine. At least I didn’t talk to it. Talking is reserved for my three dogs: a French Bulldog, a pug and a Boston Terrier named, respectively: Crews, Fante and Ellroy.

“Who’s the best mommy in the world?”

“You are, Mama! You’re the best mommy!”

Yeah, that’s me, too. Both voices. Out loud. The first line is spoken in my pet voice that I use not only with my own dogs but with any dogs to whom I speak in public. I am a bit of a breed snob so I don’t just talk to any dog but if you have a pit-bull or a mastiff or any bully breed or a puppy—I use the international pet voice that dogs of all cultures recognize.
The second line is the answer to my question and uttered in a baby voice that I attribute indiscriminately to all my dogs. Don’t worry. This voice is private. I won’t walk up to you at the park and say, “Who’s a good dog?” in the pet voice to your American Bulldog and then be presumptuous enough to put a voice—and words—into his mouth. And, frankly, I know the baby voice I use is kinda crazy. Come on. I do possess some degree of self-awareness.

Wine soothing my crankiness, I began to address my hair. Just because this is how my life works these days, when I plugged in the blow dryer, the socket spit sparks and smoke out at me and the bathroom went dark. Jesus Christ, I thought. I fumbled my way through the blackness to the circuit breakers and flipped my way back to illumination. Again in the bathroom, I tried the dryer once more. This time the outlet made no objection to penetration but the dryer was dead. I threw a dirty look at the heavens and cursed whatever God there might be for forsaking me yet again. If this dryer still worked, I’d take a bath with it right now and end this bullshit nightmare of a life, I thought. That might sound melodramatic but, over the last several months, some sort of slow-burn mutiny had been going on in my house. My last working television was a thirteen-inch, tubed number with a growing neon-green, blown-out area in the lower left corner. The DVD player hooked up to it had frozen a few days ago, jealously clutching the last disc of the last season of The Wire. Unable to coax the machine open, I’d had to tell Netflix I’d never received it. Last week my dishwasher hemorrhaged soapy, grey water onto my kitchen floor and shuddered its final cycle to an end, just as dinner guests knocked on my door. Yesterday, I’d accidentally hooked a toe in a small L-shaped tear in my duvet and tore the thinning, cotton fabric irreparably. My comforter now straddled my bed naked and ashamed, safety-pinned corner spitting down into the room every time I moved in the night. Today, the light in my refrigerator blew and I couldn’t figure out how to replace the bulb. That was somewhat of a blessing, however, because at least it kept me from being able to see the growing, frosty ice patch on the back wall between the second and third shelves. Ice isn’t supposed to formulate inside the non-freezer section of a Sub Zero. Its existence there is a dark promise that this item, too, is about to join the ranks of the stainless steel tombstones of functionless appliances in my kitchen. A month ago, the last time I’d had an audition, my printer decided to give up the ghost before I could print out the material I needed to take with me on the appointment. Among the other items in my house on strike or retired permanently are: my three-hole punch, my landline telephone, my Dualit toaster, the dishwasher, the knob on my underwear drawer (which is packed so tight with shit I’ll never wear again, it is nearly impossible to pry open), my doorbell, the zippers on every pillow and dog bed on the premises (because one of my dogs has a powerful zipper-chewing fetish), my showerhead and the drain in my tub, one of the little legs on my wireless keyboard and the CD player in my truck. And now, my hair dryer. Just another “fuck you” from the universe at yet another unbelievably inconvenient moment. The hair dryer bummed me out particularly because it was a really expensive one that I had been given for free at a celebrity swag event, an event I’d been shameless enough to scam my way into. Sure, I’d had to explain to all the vendors who it was I used to be and that was humiliating, and then I had to pose for a photograph holding each of the free items I was given but I got to go home with a huge gym bag full of stuff I could no longer afford to buy for myself. Important things like an old-time popcorn popper, a hundred dollar aromatherapy candle, some hideous jewelry, a handmade, knobby scarf, a dog-friendly cap for water bottles, a pen that could translate whatever you wrote down and then say whatever you’d written out loud in one of five languages, sunglasses with a built-in Bluetooth device and a remote-operated, flying, Mylar fish. These things were the only barrier left in my life between me and an absolute crisis of self-worth. I’d gotten them for free, after all. Because somebody had been convinced, if even for just a few moments, that I was the kind of person you wanted your customers to see using your product. More likely, they had no idea who I was but were afraid of admitting that and of potentially offending an actual celebrity. I preferred to let these useless freebies serve as proof that I was still relevant, a style-maker and not just a hustler out there snagging items meant for the likes of the Kardashians and the casts of all forty Law and Order and CSI series.

I looked ruefully at the deceased appliance and then tossed it, with a little more anger than was warranted, into the trash can. I looked at my reflection in the mirror, sighed deeply, tied my wet hair back at the nape of my neck and donned a hat. What other choice did I have? Air-drying my shapeless cut into an uncontrolled fright wig? No. I then had a twenty-minute struggle to get my liner on straight using a mini-sized, free sample, designer eyeliner I’d gotten at the mall. I poured another glass of wine for myself. Sometime over the years, my eyelids decided they were afraid of heights or something and began creeping lower and lower until it was almost impossible to use wet liner and not have a matching line transfer appear where I used to have a crease. Gravity is a motherfucker, man, and that pinky-sized applicator wasn’t helping the matter. Still, I insist on some standards and the hat and sweater were concessions enough to defeat so I applied and reapplied the liner until it was perfect.

Having come to half-hearted terms with my reflection, I said good-bye to my dogs (the kids) and got into the car to drive my fat ass to the damn birthday dinner. The restaurant they chose was a newish, hipster joint on Hollywood Boulevard. My friend Maxine had insisted that being seen in a local hotspot would be good for my career. As an actress, few things are more uncomfortable and demoralizing than well-wishing industry outsiders giving clueless advice.

“Do you have an agent?” asked in that mildly accusing tone that your dental hygienist uses when they ask if you have been flossing regularly and they are pretty sure you haven’t been.

Um—yeah. I’ve been a professional actress for twenty years. You’d think they would know that, for sure, I’d already thought of getting an agent.

“You know what you should do? Write and produce a really cool indie movie and direct it and star in it and then do the festival circuit then parlay that into an edgy HBO series like that Lena Dunham did. Or into a show like Friends. I hear those guys got a million dollars an episode!”

You would be amazed at how often some version of that is run past me as a realistic resolution to my immediate financial concerns. Why didn’t I think of being the highest paid actor on TV? It’s such an obvious solution, now that you mention it! They make suggestions like that and then look at me waiting for some kind of V8 moment while I struggle not to respond with physical violence.

Maxine felt that “being seen” at Pho Bich Nga (spoken out loud at your own risk)—the new Soul Food-Pacific Rim fusion restaurant/night club rumored to be owned by, among others, Dennis Rodman, Sharon Osborne, Mickey Rourke, William Hung, Andy Dick and some Maxim cover girl—was going to restore me to my former glory, B-list though it might have been. I rejected this idea as completely as a hoarder fights minimalism. I argued that publicly celebrating my advancing putrescence in a room full of working, twenty-year-old actresses and moronic reality stars was not only going to do nothing to help my career but was also likely to render me suicidal. Worse yet, Maxine had informed me that our reservation choice was either 5:30 PM or 9:30 PM. Most of my friends have real jobs and real lives and would be unable to make the 5:30 PM reservation. I, on the other hand—having no real life—have usually had my first glass of wine at 5 PM, eaten by 6, am half in the bag by 7 and curled up in bed with a book or a movie by 8 PM. A 9:30 dinner for me feels like setting the alarm at 3 AM to get up for breakfast. Just craziness. I expressed this to Maxine who laughed it off like I must be joking. This had the effect of making me feel even older than I already did and that pissed me off.

“Fine, Maxine! This dinner sounds like grinding broken glass into my eyeballs. But if making me feel really old and rubbing my face in my unemployment is your idea of a great way for us to spend my birthday, then fine!”

“Yay! I win!”

She actually said that. “Yay, I win!” So you can see what I was up against.

I pulled up to Pho Bich Nga and a valet waved me into the parking lot. Why do they have valets at restaurants with parking lots? I mean seriously. I have to spend ten dollars and tip a guy on top of that so he can move my car eight feet, change all the settings on my seat and steering wheel and steal my meter change? Fucking bullshit.

Another valet took a look at my seven-year-old Explorer and gestured that I should roll my window down, which I did. He was a giant Mexican badass, right off the set of Oz. He looked me in the eye for a count of several seconds, blinked a few times as if there was something I was supposed to say and then he asked me if I had a reservation. I assured him I did as I felt a flush of heat in my cheeks.

“A reservation at Pho Bich Nga?” he pressed, scrutinizing me like a poker competitor looking for tells.
Hearing “Pho Bich Nga” spoken out loud by a suspicious, fifty-year-old Mexican ex-con cheered me up. I laughed and said, “Yes. I know. I’m no happier about it than you are.”

Resigned, he reached for my door without clearing his expression of evident distaste from my view. What? Like his bottom line is impacted by old ladies being allowed to mingle with the beautiful people? I chose to ignore his editorializing. Instead, I eyed my cup holder in the console brimming with quarters and realized there was nothing I could do about them out there in the open now—what with the border patrol breathing down my neck and looking for any excuse to turn me back. A man with this level of self-importance couldn’t be a meter change thief and still feel superior, could he? Well, it was in Fate’s hands now.

I grabbed my purse and threw my interrogator a smile intended to charm him into realizing we were pals. It was my best “Oh, you know you like me and even if you didn’t know it before you know it now because I am irresistible” smile. He took it in and made me hold it until it twitched. Once he saw the crack in my veneer, he tipped his head and looked at me like I had just blamed a fart on the family dog.

“There goes your three dollar tip. Wanna keep going and whittle it down to one?”
I thought these things rather than uttering them aloud. I didn’t know where this guy got his balls but, wherever it was, he’d gotten his money’s worth. I felt like I owed him an apology or something but I was so baffled as to why, I couldn’t begin to form a sentence. I muttered some guttural gibberish and added a short laugh like I’d imparted a witty riposte.

“That will be twenty dollars,” Danny Trejo said, without even pretending to crack a polite smile.

“Twenty dollars?” I gasped before I could stop myself.

Danny Trejo didn’t actually roll his eyes, but his face made some just-perceptible adjustments that implied he and I had had this exact conversation forty thousand times already and he was in no mood to have it again.

I was pretty sure I didn’t have twenty dollars in cash.

“And I pay you now?”

“If you don’t mind,” he replied. He said it almost without inflection but it still sounded like a threat. Prison must be a terrifying place, I found myself reflecting.

I took out my wallet and found sixteen dollars there. Danny Trejo watched me count the money. He saw that I was short. Without looking up at him, I reached back into my meter change cup and counted out four dollars in quarters. Actually, it was three-seventy-five in quarters, two dimes and a nickel. I held my twenty dollars out, coins cradled in the bills, to the valet. The headlights of an incoming car swept over me and stopped like stage lights on my extended hands. I knew that my body language and cupped hands full of money made me look like I was in the act of begging from Danny Trejo. I thought for a moment about how much I hated Maxine for dragging me out here to this for what was sure to be only the first in a long night of similar humiliations.

Danny Trejo took my money and dropped it into a basket on his valet stand without bothering to count it. He ripped a parking stub and handed me my claim check. I stood staring up at him, waiting for some blessing, some absolution or something. I had to settle for what he gave me which was simply a quick jerk of his head, meant to flick me out of his eyesight.

Make sure you pickup your copy of Bathing & the Single Girl on

And a copy of The Phoenix Blade Project Justice

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