The Devil Vine

“If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.” Ray Bradbury / Fahrenheit 451

 

Chapter 1

It is one of the few golf courses in LA that is still being watered so that it is green in the middle of California’s water crisis. It’s a large public golf course on the west side of town and a television commercial is now being shot on the course. A number of people are busy setting up light reflectors and a rail for a tracking shot. The famous old Latino television star Diablo Cortez wears a red polo shirt and sits in a golf cart as a make-up person dusts his face with powder.

“I want to look like I did forty years ago,” he tells the make-up person.

“You look more distinguished at your age,” the make-up person says.

“More trustworthy,” adds Bernie Greenberg. “You’re the perfect spokesman for the product.”

Bernie is a short, stocky man in his mid-70s. He was the writer and producer of Diablo Cortez’s famous television show Trouble in the Tropics and has been Diablo’s agent and manager since the show went off the air forty years ago.

“I think it’s just another dumb product Bernie,” Diablo says. “I’m getting a bad reputation with the guys at the coffee shop. When are you gonna’ get me that movie deal?”

“When you get forty years younger,” Bernie says.

“These product endorsements are driving me crazy,” Diablo says.

“They pay the bills,” Bernie says. “With your royalties cut you know there’s lots of bills to pay.”

The director of the commercial is a kid in his twenties. He comes over to the golf cart.

“We’re ready to shoot the commercial Mr. Cortez,” he says.

“Let’s do it,” Diablo Cortez says.

People move back from the golf cart.

“Action,” the director says.

Diablo starts the golf cart up and drives it twenty feet. The camera moves on the rails, following the golf cart on a tracking shot. The golf cart stops and Diablo gets out and looks down the fairway and takes a club out of his golf bag. As he walks to where his golf ball would be, he looks up at the camera.

“I’m Diablo Cortez,” he says. “You might remember my television show Trouble in the Tropics. That was almost forty years ago. A long time has passed. Much has changed. But one thing that hasn’t changed. I feel as vigorous today as I did when I was in my television show.”

After Diablo says this, he brings a bottle up from his hand not holding the golf club and holds it in front of himself.

“My secret? It’s Super Male Enhancement Formula, made exclusively for guys like me who were heroes a long time ago and want to be heroes today. I take it everyday. I’m still a hero.”

A young woman suddenly appears next to him and puts her arms around him.

“Cut,” says the director. “We can use that.”

Diablo tosses the bottle of Super Male Enhancement Formula onto the grass and goes back to the golf cart and pulls out a flask and takes a long swig on it.

“This is the real secret for male enhancement,” he mumbles to himself.

In the background, the crew is knocking down the tracking rails and the light reflectors. Bernie walks quickly up to him and tries to take the flask away but Diablo has put it into his pocket.

“You’re drinking way too much these days,” Bernie says.

“Who writes this crap,” Diablo says. “I mean what the hell. No real golfer would be walking around with a damn bottle of this crap in his golf cart. I tell you Bernie. I can’t do these product endorsements anymore.”

Bernie gets in the golf cart and they drive down the fairway of the golf course toward the parking lot of the golf club. On the way, Diablo pulls the golf cart over to the fence of the course and stops and looks at a huge black monolithic building a few hundred yards away. It is the first water desalination plant in California built at a cost of five billion dollars.

“Maybe the new water plant will be the answer to our water crisis,” Diablo says. “I hear it’ll supply drinking water for the whole city.”

“I think California has run out of answers,” Bernie says. “Everything seems no more than temporary solutions. Holding back the big bang until the next administration.”

“I’m with you on that,” Diablo says as he starts the golf cart up and they head down the fairway to the parking lot. Diablo pulls his flask out and has another hit on it.

“What do you have going on for the rest of the day?” Bernie asks. “We need to talk about your appearance in the the 4th of July parade on the float with the high school cheerleaders. And, there’s this company with a product for joint pain that wants to talk to us about a series of commercials.”

“I can’t take any more of this today,” Diablo says. “I’m stopping by the car dealership to see my son.”

“He still trying to get into the film business?” Bernie asks.

“Trying to by selling cars all day and doing some stupid independent films in his free time,” Diablo says. “I told him he’s gotta’ go to acting school if he really wants to get serious about the business.”

“Just because you had all that classical training doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone,” Bernie says.

“He thinks he can just get by on his looks,” Diablo says.

“He is a good-looking kid,” Bernie says. “Looks exactly like you did forty years ago. When you were still a hero.”

Bernie laughs at the small joke he makes but Diablo does not think its funny.

“It’s too hot to make stupid jokes Bernie,” he says as they drive into the parking lot of the golf club.

 

(First chapter of The Devil Vine by John Fraim)

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