On the wall of the blonde’s living room is a painting that says “BLONDE” in seven-inch black lettering. In the painting is a brunette, smiling dumbly. That the blonde should have a painting that says “BLONDE” in her apartment – which is situated in the L.A. hills, and resembles a film set if a film set happened to have been designed to telegraph a certain lack of personhood – suggests a failure of imagination, or a little too much self-awareness to be credible. That the painting is not of a blonde at all suggests a failure of the English language, or a semiotic joke being made at the blonde’s expense. Either way, it would be accurate to say that she was much like many other L.A. blondes, and that her home was much like many other homes in Hollywood; that, as in many other homes in Hollywood, she looked most often like – at best – the only guest in an exceptionally lonely, reassuringly expensive boutique hotel, or – at worst – the only guest in an exceptionally lonely, reassuringly expensive rehabilitation centre. All her furniture is made from something dead. The calf-skin zebra pouf is hip and très exotic, and identical to every other hip and très exotic calf-skin zebra pouf in Southern California. The three-foot white marble Buddha in the hallway might suggest that the blonde has at one time or another travelled, or more likely, that she self-identifies as being “spiritual.” “Not religious,” she would no doubt clarify, “but spiritual.” Now and then, she says things and believes she may have read them somewhere, even as they are occurring to her for the very first time.
Seated underneath the painting that says “BLONDE,” she takes a phone call from her driver. Very carefully, and with the practiced movements of a woman used to situations in which any error might call for a second take, she puts on one high and blood-soled sandal, then the other. It is practically balletic. Momentarily, she makes the putting-on of sandals look devotional. “Okay,” she says out loud. “Oh man.” To know oneself as a hot blonde in Hollywood is, on the surface, very easy – there are any number of examples one can emulate, some living and some very dead. The blonde has not decided to embody anyone especially articulate, or interesting, or special. She does not have the elemental sexual genius Marilyn once had, nor the chill divinity of Tippi Hedren or Grace Kelly. She is the obvious product of her mother’s genes, her father’s Wall Street money, a good plastic surgeon’s deftness, and her yogi’s absolute commitment to both her enlightenment and paying off his hefty student loans.
Increasingly, the blonde feels alienated from the hip and très exotic calf-skin zebra pouf and the white marble Buddha in the hallway. She does not remember buying either of them. On the lease of the apartment is a name that does not seem to be the blonde’s name; it does not appear to be a person’s name at all, in fact, but the name of a corporation. There are moments when the blonde feels almost certain that at one time she had studied chemistry, or engineering; that she had been Valedictorian at high school, and a brunette like the woman in the painting, and at least ten pounds too heavy to look adequately ravenous on camera. She remembers being unremarkable to look at in a different way entirely. She is not sure that she was even born in Southern California, as when she thinks back to childhood, all that comes to her is the unceasing sound of heavy rain. She has no memory of her mother, or her father, or her gifted plastic surgeon, or of how she met the high-cost and supposedly high-ranking yogi with the low-rent ashram and the hefty student loans. She is not sure exactly how she knew that the man she just spoke to was her driver, or where she had told him he needed to take her. Although it has only been one or two minutes, she cannot be certain if she spoke at all.
There is a disregard for physics in the way that the blonde is inside the big, black SUV, and then outside it. There is no word for a jump-cut outside cinema or television, in real life, she thinks, extremely suddenly and with unease, but ought there to be? On the pavement, she feels like an actress waiting for a cue whose meaning is unclear to her, in a strange language that she does not read or speak. Behind her, we can plainly see the ineluctable, indelible white letters of the classic HOLLYWOOD sign, despite the fact that this street in particular should not be overlooking it. The sign looks flat and insincere, in the same way as the hip calf-skin zebra pouf, and the three-foot white marble Buddha, and the painting of the brunette that says “BLONDE.” Is this the right street? It is absolutely not the right street; there is nothing right about it.
When a handsome man pulls up in a Mercedes, she knows instantly, the way she knew that the voice on the telephone earlier had been her driver, that he is her former boyfriend. She does not remember kissing him or being intimate with him, but the air is newly and mysteriously melancholic, as if something were about to happen. She attempts to picture him undressed, or dressed in a different way, or treating her with tenderness. There is no memory on file; in her mind, there is no version of him other than the one she is observing at this moment, in a plaid shirt and a vest and a black trucker cap emblazoned (for some reason) with “I’M LOST.” It is hard for her to tell whether he recognises her, although he happens to be smiling – a wide, television smile, so clean and white and veneer-perfect that it is as if he’s starring in an ad for having teeth.
“Look who it is,” he says. Who is it? What comes after is the kind of lovers’ conversation that is so rote that the listener feels as though they know the lines by heart. The blonde knows all the lines by heart. She can picture them in shorthand. Now and then, she says things and believes she may have read them somewhere, even as they are occurring to her for the very first time.
“Wow, look who showed up.”
“What are you doing?”
“I can’t believe you came.”
“If I would have known that if I were to go and see somebody else, that you would leave town because of that? I probably wouldn’t even have done it. I don’t want you leaving.”
“Well, that’s good hearing that. That’s all I’ve wanted to hear from you. But I still have to go.”
“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
“Goodbye, I guess.”
“I can’t believe this is really goodbye.”
When they embrace, it becomes clear that the man has a bad tattoo of a butterfly on his thumb, and that the blonde has a worse tattoo of a Chinese character on the bronzed, airbrush-smooth expanse of skin above her shoulder-blade. For a split-second, it occurs to her that this man is the opposite of her sexual type, and that she would not under any circumstances get an awful Chinese character tattoo. In that moment, she is more afraid than she has ever been. She feels, inside her lizard brain, a cornered animal’s vibratory alarm. “I’m gonna miss you,” says the man. The blonde says something barely audible that sounds at first like “help, I need help,” but which actually turns out – she notices with some surprise, and then with horror – to be “yeah, I’m gonna miss you, too.”
“Be good,” he tells the blonde, pulling away from her abruptly enough that she has no time to consider whether or not this is a threat. Gently and compliantly, a little dazed, she lowers herself back down into the SUV, her eyes remaining on him as if staring long enough might help her solve the puzzle. As the car begins to move, a rush of images flash suddenly before her hazel eyes: a brunette woman gazing out of the glass windows of a beach house; two blonde women clinking coupe champagne glasses in a hot tub; the ex-boyfriend kissing her with one arm thrown around her shoulder, both of them dressed as if they are advertising Anthropologie; endless faces, all with the same white teeth as the former boyfriend, all the same bright and synthetic shade of spray-on tanner as her perfect body, all laughing and smiling stupidly, albeit attractively, at nothing in particular. Okay, she thinks, digging her French-manicured nails into her tiny, golden palm. Oh man.
The SUV reaches a standstill, and although they have been driving for some minutes, the blonde looks out of the window and sees that they have not moved more than three feet from her ex-boyfriend, who is standing with a look of solemn contemplation in his plaid shirt and his ugly slogan cap. They exchange a frightened glance, and at that moment the sizzling L.A. road and the assemblage of palm trees and the curiously flat Hollywood sign that were behind him slide immediately and smoothly to the left, a motion that reminds the blonde of the shuffling of a deck of playing cards, and in their place there is a lot, teeming with cameramen and best boys and middle-aged men in t-shirts clapping loudly. The blonde slides her hand over her mouth and tries to scream, a silent shout that the whooping and cheering men immediately mistake for an expression of delight; they are all shaking hands and hugging now, the celebration going on for so long that the blonde begins to worry that it might never conclude, her vision failing as if both her eyes were cameras panning out and fading to the closing credits. She remembers that the brunette in the painting that says “BLONDE” is, in fact, her, and that her real name is Veronica, not Kristen, and then after that she does not think or see or hear anything else at all.