Every man, every woman is a star.
WHITE SMOG BILLOWS…BREAKING THROUGH TO PAN LOS ANGELES BASIN. THE ORDERLY STREET GRID, BEACHES SCARRED BY POLLUTION, DROUGHT STRICKEN MOUNTAINS. ZOOM IN ON THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN. BOLD. GLEAMING WHITE. A BEACON WELCOMING ALL TRAVELERS TO A PARADISE GONE BAD.
PAN TO AIRPLANE IN FLIGHT. THROUGH WINDOW WE C.U. ON A FACE OF A GIRL/WOMAN IN A FLIGHT SUIT. HOLD ON HER WISTFUL GAZE.
WE HEAR THE ROAR OF THE AIRPLANE AS WE C.U. ON HOLLYWOOD SIGN AT SUNSET. FLASH TO DUSK AND THE SHADOWS CAST BY THE SIGN ON THE DROUGHT RAVAGED HILLSIDE, EARTH SCARRED BY TREMORS. PAN THE BEACON FROM BEHIND, REVEALING THE SCAFFOLDING UPHOLDING THE MAGNIFICENT BACKDROP TO THE STAGE THAT IS HOLLYWOOD.
IT IS 1986…A LOW YEAR FOR AMERICAN CINEMA…BUT ONE IN WHICH STARGAZING HIT A PEAK…
She was soaring in her white parachute flight suit, through wisps of a neon sunset, trailing pink cotton candy clouds, more free than she ever dreamed…
A rumbling thrust her forward. Restrained by the seat belt, she turned her face to the window. Ready to land. At last. But she was headed to Hollywood and the smog was blocking her view. Smoke and fog offering an LA welcome: a movie screen in the sky awaiting an archetypal projection. Some new myth–or perhaps a cliche ridden nightmare.
A single image appeared.
A girlish mouth awaiting fantasy lips to satisfy an insatiable hunger for living. Lulled by the illusion, she drifted off to sleep. In her lap was her boarding pass, the single visible trace of a former identity. Air was her element and Astara was her new name. She intended to put it into effect as soon as she landed. If not before.
Hollywood was where people went to recreate themselves and Astara had come on a mission: to write, produce, direct and star in her own erotically charged movie.
“Do you have any dope?” a voice asked.
She opened an eyelid, trying to recall what movie.
“Do you have any dope?” the voice asked again. The accent was more pronounced and she believed it must be one of those delightful English romances filmed on a country estate, a period piece with horses and a chauffeur and…”Pardon!”
Jolted out of her reverie, Astara turned her face from the window. The young man in the aisle seat was looking at her. “I need some dope…”
Blinking the film from her eyes, she tried, unsuccessfully, to get him into focus, though this proved impossible since she had taken out her contact lenses at the start of the flight in order to sleep. As he leaned over the space between them, she got an instantaneous charge which sent her back against her seat with a groan. She didn’t have to see to recognize the type. Extremely charming. Oozing with charm, in fact. He wore his tweeds with a continental scowl and a very proper, utterly English, air of disdain. “What for?” she mumbled, still too dazed to be sure of her bearings. Through a far window, she could see gray mountains emerging from the clouds. Suddenly, it all came back to her. She had been lost in an illusion on her way to Hollywood, fantasyland where dreams come true in celluloid.
“To smoke of course.” There was a cocky impertinence to his voice. And his accent was unmistakably from the British upper class. She wondered why she hadn’t noticed him earlier. The captain’s voice boomed from the intercom. “Passengers…we are making our approach intoLos Angeles International Airport.” The plane lurched into the ghastly smog, seat belt signs flashing. Her traveling companion removed his with a cocky grin, in proud defiance of safety rules.
“Now?” she asked him. “Just before landing?” He responded by bringing his face close to hers and delicately brushing a blonde lock from his brow. She felt another charge of energy. Even in a blur, she knew he was stunning, with exquisite bones to match the haughty elegance of his voice.
“Precisely,” he replied, while turning up the voltage of his charisma.
She understood. He needed the dope to calm him down. The anticipation of landing in La La Land and all. Astara didn’t have intimate knowledge of the world that awaited her in Los Angeles but she did know about the men she attracted. Grown up boys who expected to be young forever. Boys who seemed to further their pleasure by engaging in her destruction. And she always let them in…because at some time in her unconventional teens, she decided sex stemming from an instantaneous attraction was religion.
Not anymore. No more of the sizzles that inevitably turn to duds, she thought as she stirred in her seat. She was about to dismiss him with a wave of her hand when she remembered the gift slipped into her bag by a friend just prior to taking flight. “I might. Wait a second.” She stuck her hand into the dark crevices of her leather bag and felt around. Out came a small wad of tin foil which she placed into his waiting palm. “Here. You can have it.”
“No papers. I don’t smoke…”
“No problem,” he assured her as he stood. “I’ll be right back,” he said with a delectable wink. “Don’t go anywhere.”
As he disappeared down the aisle, Astara removed her makeup bag from her purse and applied some ruby lipstick in flushed anticipation of his return. The face in the mirror of her compact revealed all. What a silly, silly girl.
The captain announced the impending landing as her golden boy returned to his seat, reeking of pot. “Thanks,” he said. “I have to go to a society function when I get off the plane and this will help me get through.”
“Do up your seat belt,” she said. “We’re about to land.”
He entered his drug induced world without showing her any further interest. She rebelled at the slight, deciding she didn’t need any man to be the star of her movie. SHE was the star. “Attention passengers. We are caught in a holding pattern awaiting the signal to land. Please remain in your seats with your seat belts on.”
Caught in a holding pattern…pretty well summed up her story with men. She once believed her life to be exciting. All the far flung journeys and the exotic men who inflated like Disney balloons in her presence. Yet, the air of detachment surrounding this one was intriguing. Why wouldn’t it be when it so beautifully mirrored her newly created self–Astara–a heavenly body ready to be discovered in the land where such discoveries are made. “Are you British?” she asked.
“English,” was the heavy lidded reply.
The plane lurched out of the smog, to reveal the concrete grid of the city. Her companion moved to the empty seat between them for a better look. Leaning over her to peer through the window, he was apparently unconcerned with the close proximity of flesh, obsessive in his search. “Are you looking for anything in particular?” she asked while pressing her knees together in an attempt to contain her excitement. Boundless youth. Beauty. Hip. Energy. Newness. This one was nearly in her lap and dozens more lay under the palms below.
The anticipation was simply too, too much.
“The Hollywood sign,” he mumbled, darting his head around like a hyperkinetic pinball. “When I see it, I will know I have arrived.”
She laughed. “You won’t know you have arrived until you have a hit.”
He looked at her in amazement. “How did you know…?”
“Just a guess,” she said coyly. Her body was feeling like a pinball now, vibrating against his gyrations. Like she was on cocaine high, never mind that he was slipping into oblivion from the dope.
His naked stare shattered all remaining barriers. He asked if they had met somewhere before. “Maybe.” She shrugged again. Did it matter? He settled against his seat, using body language and a delightful scowl to relay the message that the sighting of the beacon wasn’t really all that important. He was far too grand for Hollywood.
“In New York they had me doing commercials. I told them to fuck off and I packed my knapsack and got on the plane.”
She nodded. The notion of acting never appealed to her. First of all, it was too much of a cliché: hopeful ingenue lands under the palms in search of discovery. More important, she was too busy searching for herself to get lost in someone else’s role.
He stared into the window where she could see his reflection beside her own. There was something too familiar about him…the timelessness of an androgynous beauty which truly seemed to have no need of a woman. And his innate contradictions…the friendly aloofness coupled with a devilish charm. A perfect combination of traits for effortlessly sliding in and out of sticky little affairs. Like human relationships.
He leaned towards her as the plane circled the airport, awaiting the command to land. “Why are you going to Los Angeles?” he asked. She withdrew a paperback from her handbag and revealed the title: “Write a Screenplay in Thirty Days”.
“Are you a writer?”
“Sort of,” she replied. No way was she going to reveal her dream: to be the writer, director and actress in a movie of her own making. “I have a job reading scripts.”
He leaned closer. “How did you get a job like that?”
“Connections,” she said, bestowing him with a smile reserved for seductions on airplanes. The rich tweed of his jacket was inviting. She rubbed it between her fingers. “Nice attitude. From England?”
The scowl returned. “Bought it second hand in the East Village.”
“You won’t be needing it here.”
She grinned while imagining the effect of Los Angeles on this splendid specimen of Englishman. Would his intellect start to falter? Would he trade in his boyish body for movie star muscle? Bounce around superficial people in pursuit of easy pleasures until he no longer recognizes himself? She hoped not. Although she had experienced the superficiality of Los Angeles, she believed that true artists, and well cast Englishmen, could survive anywhere.
He was oblivious to her scrutiny, apparently unconcerned with the effects of his charismatic personality. Perhaps, she considered, he was accustomed to stares.
“I can see you stage acting,” she told him. “Why do you want to work on an American film? Get worse every year.”
“You have to improvise. If you think scripts are so bad, write something better.”
She was quick with a comeback: “I doubt Hollywood would be interested in my story.”
“What is your story?”
“I dunno. I haven’t written it yet.”
His expression was bewildered. Good, she thought. Confusion was her best weapon when caught in a holding pattern. She felt no need to promote her story–simply the tale of journey–not to be scribed for the sake of fame or monetary gain. A story too precious to be bought up by some sleazy, fast talking producer promising the cosmos while cheating her out of Writer’s Guild minimum.
“Attention. We have just received our positioning. We will be landing shortly.”
The plane dipped downward and the actor shouted above the roar: “Hey, why don’t you write my story!”
She squinted. “Fantasy or real?”
“Really! I lived on a boat in Long Island. Had strange experiences on that boat.”
“Did you live alone?”
He was looking earnest now. Wasn’t every actor’s idea of heaven a script elevating their story to myth? “Birds would come to stay.”
“Girls. Keep me warm at night. Winters are cold on the water…hey, if you come back we should hook up. We can get stoned and cruise around the island.”
She laughed and told him she didn’t plan on returning to New York anytime soon. “Going to stay in LA, are you?” he asked.
“Dunno. Can’t stay anywhere too long. It only feels safe in one place when I have a ticket somewhere else.”
“Too many things to experience in life. A daily routine would make me crazy.”
“I hear you.”
They looked at one another. Again that look of instant recognition…stripping away all barriers. Astara’s tone turned confidential. “A psychic told me I could find happiness if I would just stay in one place.”
He nodded. A rare fellow traveler, who got lost in her space. “When you find the place, let me know…maybe I’ll go there too.”
Silence. The plane circled, awaiting the signal to land. She picked up her book and turned away from him, mourning the loss of something she was never meant to have. Yet, as he restlessly stirred beside her, time appeared to stop. The electrical connection had flung her out of body. Suspended under the ceiling of the plane.
“What were you doing in New York?” he asked.
He straightened his back against the seat, looking very sad. And so serious. “Maybe I should get some therapy.”
The unexpected display of vulnerability was appealing and she felt an urge to reassure him. “Seem pretty healthy to me.”
“No, really. I have this incredible need for love,” he said in a reflective, melancholic tone. “Insatiable….I was brought up by a nanny. Never got the love I needed from my parents.”
“Oh, you poor thing,” she cried in her most soothing voice as she leaned towards him. “You navigate the oceans in search of the love your parents never gave you…?”
He sulked. She liked this sudden change in him. How she would love to wrap him up in a bundle and take him home. Show all her friends the trophy won in flight. Why land, she wondered, when such marvelous things happened in the air?
“…And what is wrong with that?” he demanded.
She breathed a long sigh of resignation. The encounter felt like a scene from a film and she had the urge to check and see if her makeup was still in place. Instead, she said: “Perfect love doesn’t exist.”
“How do you know? You don’t know that!”
When she didn’t respond, he slouched into his seat to brood. She turned towards the window and gazed at the ocean. He won back her attention by brushing against her arm, a touch so light she might not have noticed if her senses weren’t so heightened at that moment. She thought he must be ready to confess. It was part of the holding pattern; she invaded their boundaries and they confessed their wound. There was always a wound. Some sad saga to reveal that flying isn’t the best of all possible worlds.
“You know what my problem is,” he said in a most confessional tone, pausing in the act to send her a disarming grin. Only experienced fliers like Astara could read the seduction in such a purposefully innocent gaze.
“Tell me,” she said, drawing him in with a compassionate smile to which he replied: “I make love to a woman and as soon as I get an orgasm, I get hard again. It’s like I never get satisfied.”
“AN ORGASM!” she cried. “So that’s it! You aren’t searching for the perfect love. You are on a quest for the perfect orgasm!”
Heads turned. His hand covered his face. She regretted making him feel self‑conscious. An inhibited silence passed between them but she managed to win him back with a shy smile.
He pondered into space. There was more to confess. “I have a girlfriend in Florida. She really loves me but she wants me to move in with her and I am really worried that she won’t be able to satisfy me sexually.”
“Sex isn’t THAT important.”
Silence. The plane continued to circle.
“How long have you known her?” she asked.
“Not very long. You couldn’t know her well.”
“But she is special. I know she really cares about me.”
“Good news passengers. We have just been cleared for landing. In a few moments we begin our descent into Los Angeles International Airport…”
The passengers cheered. Astara was secretly relieved. She hated the strings that obligated her to these guys once the full extent of their pain was revealed.
“What you are looking for can’t be found in a relationship,” she said simply. “You have to find it in yourself.”
His blue eyes flashed brilliantly. “Have you?”
“Have I what?”
“Have you found what you are looking for in yourself?”
She smiled contentedly. “I’m working on it.”
He didn’t react and she mirrored him with a confession of her own. “I was in love. With a Brazilian. He writes me beautiful letters and I can’t read them because they are in Portuguese but I put them under my pillow and our romance continues in my dreams.”
“You weren’t really in love with him,” he said, a touch of cynicism creeping into his voice. “It was just an infatuation.” She smiled, delighted with her success in fooling him. If love was a game, she certainly engaged him. The safest time to play is just before landing.
“No, I was definitely in love,” she murmured as the familiar glow rose in her. But he challenged her with his gaze. “How do you define love?”
She turned to him with a questioning gaze. “Doesn’t real love, true love, have something to do with commitment?”
“Don’t know much about commitments,” he mumbled.
“Me neither,” was her sad reply.
He looked at her, all smiles. Liking what he saw. And why shouldn’t he? Nothing was more intriguing to Peter Pan than a Wendy who will partake in his dance. And why shouldn’t she dance a bit as long as their journey together was nearly at an end? The only other thing for her to do was repair her mask but she could do that in the Ladies Room at the airport.
“What does your New York shrink say?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” the little girl in Astara replied. “I don’t think she believes in love, not the kind I’m looking for. She talks too much about relationships and obligations and emotional investments. Boring things like that.”
True love is never boring, she thought. But she also knew that true love couldn’t be discovered in a holding pattern.
“Good thing you dumped her.”
She laughed. “I told her I needed more esoteric forms of therapy,” she said and he nodded, replying: “You’ve come to the right place.”
“Yes, something tells me that LA will be the right place for me,” she said with a giggle.
The roar of the landing gear precluded all further conversation. She withdrew her mirror from her bag and, while staring at her reflection, wondered how many hearts he had broken. The exquisite nature of his beauty extended far into space…a universe merely hinted at by his enigmatic grin. Astara pitied the deluded woman who would attempt to pull him to earth, for such a spirit would accept no limitations in its search for ultimate experience. Could anyone know this truth better than she?
Touch down at last! It was quite a landing. The wheels hit the runway with a roar. Astara turned from her mirror to ask her reflection his astrological sign. “Aquarius,” he said.
“I knew it,” she replied, beaming. “We are astral twins.”
He scoffed. “You don’t really believe in that stuff?”
He removed a tiny address book from his pocket and handed it to her, requesting her phone number. She removed a pen from her pocket. “No, not in pen,” he said.
A mantra repeated in her head: he doesn’t like commitments.
He handed her a pencil and she scribbled the telephone of the apartment she was to sublet in Hollywood. And her new name.
“Astara?” he said.
“Yes, A-STAR-A,” she repeated, rolling the syllables slowly off her tongue while getting used to the sound.
“Well Astara, can you cook?” he asked.
She laughed. “I try.”
“Good. I’ll bring the wine.”
He doesn’t like commitments! “When?”
“Let’s be spontaneous,” he replied, with a knowing grin.
The plane came to a slow halt and they removed their seat belts. She collected her books and magazines and black leather bag from under her seat. He removed his knapsack from the bin and she followed him off the plane and they silently strolled down the long walkway under the Los Angeles welcoming sign. They were together, yet apart, and when they reached the end, they looked at each other, mirroring each other’s discomfort. She pointed in the direction of the baggage claim and he motioned to his knapsack. The message was clear. He traveled light (to make quick getaways) and so they had to part. Astara opened her mouth to speak and he grabbed her arm as a farewell in a mad rush to escape. “The limo is waiting,” he said in a most affected voice. “I’ll be in touch!”
“Sure,” she mumbledwhile watching the golden boy disappear into the crowd. She didn’t expect to see him again. She had too much experience with boys who crashed and burned their way into her heart only to disappear on a whim.
Just as well, she said to herself, I will experience Los Angeles as a free woman. Still, she sighed at the passing of the illusion as she reached the baggage claim. In space all things were possible…how terrible was the jolt of landing!
As she dragged her suitcases off the bin (her entire life she had always carried her own baggage–not always out of choice), she consoled herself by thinking they would avoid each other if they ever met up again. Or worse, they would deny meeting at all. When one has unabashedly revealed their wound to a stranger, the embarrassment only sets in when the stranger becomes a friend. Such is the melancholy life of those who seem condemned to be forever in flight! Astara piled her luggage in a cart and walked outside to search for a taxi. She decided to let the Englishman have the melancholy life because she was ready to escape from the holding pattern. For good.
Not until the cab left the airport did she realize that she never even got his name.
c. excerpt from “Astara is Born” copyright 1995 Lisa Paul Streitfeld