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Scouting Alternatives

by Walter Giersbach

Jason trudged up the steps of the Cobble Hill brownstone while every muscle in his feet screamed in pain. This was his third inspection today, and the bastard producers in Hollywood were shouting for him to nail the place where they would begin shooting next month. The entire fictional world of TV and movies depended on guys like him to scout locations and create their reality.

“You’re the second one today,” the homemaker told him with a laugh. “Guess this is a popular spot.”

“You advertised in the Locations Spotter website. Said your place was ideal for a domestic comedy.” Sure it is, he thought, scanning the pile of dishes in the sink and clothes littering the living room. This dump is a domestic tragedy.

“Oh, it is. Just sayin’, another woman came by an hour ago. Said the show is ‘Down with Susan.’ Goin’ to begin filmin’ next month.”

“But,” he spluttered, “that’s my show. How the hell—”

“No profanity, please. This is a religious home.”

Jason Baumeister dutifully snapped pictures. Too much furniture for the crew to move around. Small kitchen with outdated cabinets. “So, who was this other location scout?” he asked, putting the camera in his black messenger bag.

“Said her name was.... Wait, I’ll get her card. Okay, Jocelyn Broome it says.”

Outside on Brooklyn’s Seventh Avenue, Jason stopped to light a smoke and wondered if the homeowner was crazy or if he was. How could someone else invade his turf? Steal his exclusive agreement to scout a shooting location?

* * *

It happened then on Flushing Avenue. A marvelous open-architecture converted loft with immense rooms and a certain je ne sais quoi. He was ready to lock in an agreement with the artist who owned the loft when the man said, “I feel kinda guilty, but I promised this dame she could book it for May and maybe June.”

“Woman? What woman?” Jason almost shouted.

“Broome, I think she said her name was. Yeah. Good-looking babe, but not my type.”

“I don’t believe it! Someone’s killing me!”

The artist frowned and quickly closed the door behind Jason.

* * *

He was in Manhattan scanning his smart phone and walking up Rutgers Street when he spotted his next site. The 19th-century tenement had been rehabbed, with railings painted, window trim cleaned up, flowers. Perfect... so far, he thought.

“Excuse me for trying to get by you.”

The voice startled him. He looked into the face of a trim woman his age — mid-30s. Dark suit, New York-smart hairdo.

“Okay, you’re excused.... Hey, wait a minute. Who are you?”

“No,” she snapped, “who the hell are you?”

Oh, right, he thought. She had that New York snarl down pat. “I am the guy who has put these crappy properties into the limelight. Instant fame. Remember Seinfeld’s apartment? ‘30 Rock’s’ office? I spotted the locations and brought reality to millions of viewers.”

“I beg your pardon, jerk, but those were my finds. And, excuse me, but I think you’re a stalker. A corporate creep, which is the worst kind. How long is it going to take me to dial 9-1-1?”

“Wait, wait, wait. Jocelyn, right? Jocelyn, you preceded me all over the city today. In Brooklyn and now SoHo. Are you reading my mind?”

She walked slowly around Jason, surveying him with eyes like cameras. “I think,” she said slowly, “that you aren’t real. I saw you following me everywhere I went. And I have some disturbing news. You’re a ghost of me, trailing me.” She spoke dramatically, like an actor from central casting working under an amateur director.

Jason stared back, perplexed. “How’d you get the jump on me at every place I visited? How’d you read my mind?”

“Boo! It’s April Fool’s Day! It’s a trick!” She laughed and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.

“Oh, my God, I remember the doctor’s diagnosis. You almost fooled me!”

A strange look came over her face, a crafty smile built on some knowledge Jason didn’t want to know. “Don’t you remember what the therapist said?” she asked. “He called it hypnopompic hallucinations. Those visions you have when you’re wide awake. You imagined the people at those places you visited, imagined their conversations, and imagined me.”

This woman had to be in his imagination if she knew all that. Jason recalled the doctor’s explanation while holding that M.C. Escher picture, Der Traum eines Bischofs — “The Bishop’s Dream.” The bishop lying on a slab may be dead or sleeping. The locust sitting on his chest is dreaming about the bishop. According to the doctor, some critics — maybe Escher himself — asked whether it’s a picture of the bishop dreaming about a praying locust or whether the whole conception is a dream of the artist.

He reeled against the gate in front of the house. “Oh, Jesus, the doctor did explain. My wife told me. I didn’t believe them. You aren’t real.”

He seemed to hear an echo of Jocelyn’s words — April Fool — as he put his head in his hands, alone on Rutgers Street in the middle of the afternoon.

Her last words chilled him as she put her mouth close to his ear and whispered, “Perhaps, Jason, it’s you who aren’t real. I’m the one with the signed contracts.”

Copyright © 2013 by Walter Giersbach

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