Boogie Nightmare

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Last night, I happened upon the 1997 film, Boogie Nights, and because I liked it in 1997, decided to settle in and watch it again. It’s truly a great cult-genre film with an intriguing script, great acting, and a magnificent soundtrack of one super hit after another.  I’d place the film right up there with Pulp Fiction.

The story begins in 1977 against the backdrop of the pornography industry in the San Fernando Valley (“The Valley”) in Los Angeles. Burt Reynolds stars as a self-styled, auteur filmmaker who’s always got his eye out for new talent. He spots that new talent in 17-year-old Eddie Adams (Mark Wahlberg) who delivers a magnificent performance as a young man desperate to be valued and seen.

Both Reynolds and Wahlberg regretted being involved in the film. Before shooting even started, Reynolds had serious reservations about participating, due to the subject matter, which he abhorred.

He also had a powerful aversion to real-life porn performers. “I don’t like those people,” he stated. “I feel that they’re due for a very hard time because they’re trying to do legitimate film and they’re never going to be able to. It’s sad. They were very sad people. They showed up a lot of times on set. It’s a one-way street. If you go down that road as an actor, you’re finished.”

Even when nominated for an Oscar, Reynolds continued to make it abundantly clear that he would regret his participation in Boogie Nights until his dying day.

This is a rather sad outcome, given that Reynolds became a huge star from performing in a long list of unremarkable films. In my opinion, besides Deliverance, Boogie Nights was the best dramatic work Reynolds ever did over a career spanning several decades.

The film is not about pornography, per se; rather, it’s the vehicle through which the story’s lost, broken, traumatized characters wend their way through their own personal shadowlands. Some survive, some don’t.

After the film ended and the credits were rolling, I recalled an incident that occurred when I was living in The Valley around 15 years ago, when, one Saturday morning, my dear friend, Leo, and I went out for a cup at one of his favorite small coffee roasters on Ventura Boulevard.

The moment we walked in, we were greeted by the warm embrace of whatever bean happened to be spinning around in the roaster. Because Leo was a bit of an honored and respected guest in these parts, it was normal to see everyone who knew him light up like a Christmas tree whenever he came around.

The owner, a bright-eyed, intellectual type, stepped away from his roasting duties to spend a few minutes catching up with Leo before we went to the back to place our order.

Only a few stools sat in front of a short length of counter adjacent to the cash register.  Unfortunately, they were all occupied with some of the regulars Leo knew so we walked over to have a nice, friendly chat.

Whenever Leo and I were out and about, he initiated conversations with strangers that oftentimes went deep, fast. He was a world-class flirt, a former college professor for nearly 40 years, and was beloved by all. Because both of us were natural social and conversational butterflies, the whole world – no matter where we found ourselves – was our fast and fleeting friend.

When it came time to take our leave, we were about to pass a small table for two placed flush against the wall when Leo stopped dead in his tracks to start talking to the guy sitting there.  Leo  loved asking people in L.A. if they were “in the business” (show business), but I don’t think that was his opening question that day.

Because Leo tended to loquaciousness, I knew I’d be standing there behind him for at least a few minutes, so I looked over at the fresh-faced young woman sharing the table.

“What are you doing?” I asked, like it was any of my business.

“We’re having an interview,” she offered freely.

“Oh? What for?” I asked, like it was any of my business.

“I want to be a Playboy model,” she offered freely.

I admit that I was surprised by her answer. She was from somewhere in the Midwest, green as a freshly-hatched grasshopper, and likely, I surmised (recalling my own 18-year-oldness) deeply naïve.

And then I did something I had never done in my life, either before or since that day: My eyes dropped down from hers and started scanning every inch of her entire body as if I were an MRI machine. When I reached her toes, I reversed direction and did the same thing on my way back up. I didn’t consciously decide to scan her body. My eyes just did it automatically!

When our eyes next met, she had a look on her face as if she were insulted – as if I had no right to be scrutinizing her body like that. Under other circumstances, she would’ve been right, but when a woman tells you she wants to be a Playboy model, it seems like a natural thing to do, don’t you agree? And like I just told you: my eyes just did it, even though I didn’t want my eyes to do it.

“Are you kidding?” I thought. “If you’re planning to be a Playboy model, you better get used to men – plenty of men – putting every inch of your flesh under a microscope. And by the way, nearly no one makes it as a Playboy model.”

I didn’t say any of this out loud, of course, because I didn’t want to crush her. But she was so young, so unaware, her eyes so clear and bright, her light brown hair so cornsilk-shiny. Because of all of this and more, she was also easy prey.

I looked across the table at the guy talking to Leo who was more than twice her age. Then I looked back at her, all perfect in her flawless skin and shining eyes.  And that’s when I opened my mouth to share a fun fact I had recently learned since I, myself, had moved to Los Angeles.

“Did you know that the San Fernando Valley is the pornography capital of the world?”

The look on her face asked, “Why, exactly, are you telling me this, Lady?”

“So many young women come to L.A. to be models or actresses and they end up in the porn industry,” I informed her.

A scared and stunned look quickly flashed through her clear brown eyes as Leo ended his conversation and started moving towards the front door. “Be careful,” were my last words.

As I contemplate this incident all these years later, I realize that that chance meeting had an unusual quality to it. Leo kept his back to me the whole time and stood in front of the man who was “interviewing” the young woman, essentially blocking his view of her.

It was only because I was completely shut out of their conversation that I struck one up with the young woman.

I never saw her again and I have no idea what became of her.

I do know that the conversation we had that day was divinely orchestrated.

And I’d like to believe that the same Divine Presence that brought us together for that tiny blip in time, also led her back to her Midwest home, intact – her skin still flawless and her eyes still clear.

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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