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  • Samantha Der

Reality Bites, Dear Kristen

She couldn’t put her finger on it. What was it? Could she have known that restlessness and a je ne sais quoi draw would lure her down this grunge-dressed rabbit’s hole? Don’t be tempted by the evil bunny who both teeters on the edge and dwells in den, cocooned, wrapped up, in utero. Oh, but maybe she plays anyway. She’s young, it’s fun—and this is LA!


It was half past midnight in North Hollywood. Kristen Chien turned up 'Come as You Are' from Nirvana’s Nevermind. She pulled off her black and white lace choker necklace, undressed, threw on a flowy nightgown, and went downstairs to get some water. As she walked by a window, someone—or something—caught her eye and she let out a blood-curdling scream. When she moved, it moved, mocking her. Okay, so it turned out to be her own translucent reflection that appeared like an apparition in the darkness outside. Who could read twelve to fifteen horror screenplays a week and not feel a little on edge?  


When her friend, Ethan Hong, an actor, called her the next day about a CAPE party on the Columbia Pictures lot, she was like, “Yeah, let’s do it! I need to forge a new path.”


“You don’t want to be a script reader anymore?” he asked.


“I don’t know. I feel a need to explore and change things up a bit.“


“Let’s just go and meet some cool people!” said Ethan encouragingly.


“Are you talkin’ men?”


“Heck, yeah!” And they both chortled.


The events put on by the Coalition of Asian Pacifics in Entertainment (CAPE) were always a blast. Kristen made her way through the crowds of hip, beautiful people—minglers who worked in 'the industry'—actors, producers, assistants and such. The Asian community in Hollywood is such a small world, she thought to herself. Kristen got herself a Midori sour from the bar and caught up with Ethan, her college pal who had graduated a year after her. Ethan had always made Kristin chuckle. His parents thought he was studying pre-med at Pepperdine, but he had actually transferred and was studying theater at UCLA.


“So I assume you eventually told your parents about your major and all?”


“Oh, Kristin, sweetheart. I had to come clean! My dad’s a pastor. They were gonna find out anyway. But we’re good now. I’m actually helping them make the coolest t-shirts for the youth summer camp.” Ethan laughed. “I think they always knew…”


“That’s awesome, Ethan.”


“Hey, girl, we gotta mix and mingle. We need jobs—and guys!”


They laughed as they looked out at the busy room around them. A young man surrounded by a group of people caught Kristen’s eye. He was tall, slim built, and clad all in black—t-shirt, jeans, and steel-toed Doc Martens.


“I wonder who that is,” commented Kristin.

Even from a distance, this mysterious man gave off a laid back, silent type vibe—and oh, that subtle but noticeable mischievous smile.


“Oof, what a hottie!” remarked Ethan, checking him out.


Kristen tried to play it cool as she didn’t want the guy to see them gawking. Her heart skipped a beat. Something about him seemed almost devilishly alluring.


Ethan stole another glimpse out of the corner of his eye. “What an enigma. Soo cute!” he remarked, trying hard not to stare.


Hunter was totally bad-boy cute. In fact, in today’s terms you could say he was 'K-pop' cute. But this was the '90s. Kristen would later learn almost his entire wardrobe was black. Hunter chain smoked and listened endlessly to Kurt Cobain. He had vices. But Kristen didn’t know about any of that yet.


“Ugh, but too straight for me,” said Ethan, dejected. “I can tell.”


Hunter seemed to notice Ethan and Kristen. He looked over their way again. “Oh, those eyes!” gushed Ethan. “Like a dagger to my heart!” Ethan shot another glance at Hunter and then turned to Kristen; his face brightened, eyes wide open. “Oh, it looks like he’s coming over to talk to you!” He leaned into Kristen and whispered, “That’s my cue to skedaddle!”


“Ethan!” squeaked Kristen, but Ethan had already left. Inside she was screaming, but she tried to remain calm. She tossed her long hair over her head and knocked over her drink. And then he was there right in front of her.


“Whatcha doin’?” said the guy dressed in black, sporting a sly, boyish smile.


Kristen looked up and was struck by his dark, silky eyes. Kristen nonchalantly turned her cup back upright and took a sip of what was left. “Huh?” she responded. It was as if a spell was being cast over her. Her mind was already mush. But then she remembered that this attractive human came over to talk to her, and she regained her confidence and composure. His name was Hunter Ro. He was twenty-four, like Kristen, and had studied filmmaking in college, like Kristen as well. Hunter was visiting from New York and was thinking about moving to LA as he was trying to get his latest film made.


“You definitely should move here,” said Kristen trying to hide her expectant eyes. “LA is where it’s at.”


Hunter flew back to the East Coast, but they stayed in touch and talked a few times on the phone. With student film and French film festival awards to his name, Kristen realized what a true talent he was. Hunter, in turn, encouraged Kristen not to quit her job, not to give up. By the end of the month, Hunter had left New York City and had moved into a place off of Melrose in West Hollywood.


“Are ya gonna come over and visit me?” teased Hunter. “I can make you my famous hot dog fettuccine Alfredo.” How endearing and charming, Kristen mused. Her office was nearby and she agreed to stop over after work.


“Uh, don’t be afraid of my roommate,” cautioned Hunter.


“Why, what do you mean?”


“Harley doesn’t have eyebrows. He’s cool, though,” he chuckled.


“Um, okay,” said Kristen. “I won’t call him out on it.”


Kristen was starving, but she tried not to eat too much. Hunter’s habits weren’t exactly healthy. Plus, all that sour cream. Dairy often caused Kristen to become dangerously bloated. After dinner, Hunter sat on the couch and they watched some films. Kristen was fascinated by Hunter’s avant garde storytelling style. His directorial skills were creative genius, an auteur in the making. Hunter even allowed her to read his script about a girl living in dystopian times. Kristen was in awe.


Image: Pixabay

Hunter sat down and played some Nirvana CDs. The smoke from his cigarettes churned and twisted like paisley snakes. Its wisps wound its way through the air, moved in lockstep to the moody, light and dark beats of 'Heart Shaped Box' and 'All Apologies'.


Kristen’s heart was pounding in her chest.


Hunter leaned in and playfully pushed Kristen with his shoulder. “You’re too good for me,” he said.


“Why do you say that?”


“I’ll be nothin’ but trouble for ya.”


“You don’t seem bad,” offered Kristen.


Hunter paused and took a drag from his cigarette. Billowing clouds of smoke unfurled from his mouth like a dragon. “I once stole a little baby Jesus from the Catholic church. I stuffed it in my pocket and I never got caught.” He chuckled and glanced over at Kristen who sat next to him, clothed in a soft grunge, flower patterned, babydoll dress. Hunter took another drag. When the air cleared, he squinted his eyes and added, “I was a bad kid. I caused a lot of heartache. I’ll be no good for ya, Kristen.”


But it was already too late. She could feel herself falling into his world of addictive, tragic emptiness. The seductive charms of this angst-ridden, talented soul had already taken hold of her. When he kissed her, she could feel herself drifting among the ethereal clouds he created with his magical Marlboro lights.


Hunter was a brooding film artist, who had an aura about him a lot of people were attracted to. Kristen introduced him to her film school connections and contacts she had in the industry. He made friends easily and hung out while Kristen worked all the time. With his easy nature and X factor charms, he made even more friends. Next thing you knew, a well-known director was reading his script, and then he was partying with another famous director and an actress about to debut in a television show featuring her character. Kristen wondered what risqué things Hunter might be doing with these famous people.


Hunter bought Kristen a candy pop ring and told her that he loved her. Kristen was enamored, but when she turned twenty-five, an uneasiness began to nag at her. She wasn’t really looking for a job—that had stalled—and as the months wore on, she wondered about her future with Hunter. He had joked that they were opposites, and she knew that it wasn’t totally untrue. She wondered what Hunter would be like at her extended family events back home in the Midwest. She envisioned Hunter at her grandmother’s home, around her baby niece, smoking cigarettes around the corner outside, being antisocial, just wanting to do his own thing. How was that going to work?


One day, Hunter called Kristen and told her that he would be busy that Saturday night and not to be alarmed if he didn’t pick up. When Kristen asked why, he admitted that he was hosting a birthday party for his roommate, but he felt Kristen wouldn’t have fun if she came. Of course, Kristen was upset.


“Why? Why wouldn’t I have fun? What’re you all doing?”


“Stuff.”


“What stuff?” demanded Kristen.


“Just stuff.” Hunter wouldn’t say.


Kristen called Ethan for moral support.


“If you want me to go with you to crash that party, girlfriend, you just let me know!” said Ethan.


“You know, that’s a great idea,” said Kristen. “You’re the best, Ethan. It’s time to pay these party people a surprise visit.”


On Saturday, Ethan drove up to Kristen’s place in a brand new Polo Green Chevy Corvette convertible.


“Sweet mother muscle car!” howled Kristen.


“Took it from Daddy’s garage,” said Ethan beaming.


“Nice ride, Pastor Hong,” said Kristen. “Only in LA!” She laughed.


Ethan was wearing a white t-shirt that read in bold letters, 'AGAPE, Godly Love'.


Kristen smiled. “And I love that t-shirt, Ethan!”


“Thanks! We’ve got loads of these in the church basement,” explained Ethan showing off his shirt.


“That shirt gives me strength for whatever we find over there.”


“Well, let’s go!” exclaimed Ethan as he stepped on the accelerator causing their heads to fly back. And, off they raced to the party in West Hollywood!


As they came up to the front door of Hunter’s apartment, Kristen could hear music playing and lots of people talking and laughing inside. They knocked and rang the door bell and waited. Finally, Hunter answered the door. He was surprised to see Ethan and Kristen. He told them to wait a minute and closed the door. What the heck was happening in there, Kristen wondered. Her heart was racing and her adrenalin was so high, she could taste the acid reflux in her mouth. After what seemed a good amount of time longer, the door reopened.


Hunter looked Ethan up and down. “Who’s he?” he asked.


“My friend, Ethan,” replied Kristen.


“Nice shirt,” remarked Hunter.


Kristen and Ethan walked in. A sweet, smoky smell permeated the air. Asian American Hollywood Gen-Xers were crammed into the two bedroom unit. Up ahead, Kristen saw there were people in Hunter’s bedroom as well. Hunter himself was standing in the doorway. He seemed to be trying to shield Kristen from something. Kristen pushed her way past him and went in. Ethan followed.


“Hey, Kristen!” greeted Hunter’s roommate.


Kristen was startled by Harley’s sudden appearance. His eyes looked a bit wild, framed by his hairless eyebrows and a goofy smile. “You want some tequila? We got plenty in the kitchen.”


“You look red, Harley. Are you okay?” asked Kristen.


And then she saw her. Standing behind Harley was a late middle–aged woman with long, frizzy hair. Hunter’s black leather jacket hung on the woman’s sagging frame. Kristen stared at the woman’s bare, leathery legs. The woman turned and revealed a big, wrinkled belly. She was naked! Kristen’s mouth dropped. She was stunned. She turned to Hunter.


“I’m not cheating. She’s a stripper!” explained Hunter. He had hired her as a present for Harley’s birthday.


Kristen gave Hunter a dirty look.


“What?” he protested. “She’s all I could afford. You know how much the younger ones cost?”


Kristen spat on Hunter and walked out of the room.


“Shame on you!” scolded Ethan as Hunter wiped the spittle off his face. “You…you…adorable scoundrel. Geez, you’re cute.”


“Ethan!” Kristen had re-entered the room.


“Geez, uh, Jesus. You need Jesus!” said Ethan to Hunter.


Hunter looked at Ethan. “I know I’ve seen you somewhere. You’re the pastor’s kid at the church in Diamond Bar, right?”


“Small world—” giggled Ethan.


“Ethan!” yelled Kristen.


Ethan and Kristen hurried out of the apartment as Hunter yelled after them, “Jesus loves me too!”


The next day, Kristen got a call from Hunter. He wanted to check up on her.


“We need to talk,” said Kristen. Hunter agreed and Kristen made her way back to his apartment after work.


Before Kristen could begin, Hunter sat down and said, “I have something to tell you, too.”


“What is it?” demanded Kristen.


Hunter looked down on the floor. Finally, he confessed, “Well, I kinda met this girl…and I kissed her.”


Kristen stared at Hunter. “Are you kidding me? Who?”


Hunter didn’t readily respond.


“Who is she?”


“She’s just a girl I met. I kept running into her at different film festivals in different cities around the world. We finally hung out at an Asian film event in Honolulu, the Hawaii International Film Festival. She’s a filmmaker.”


“Well, so, what is it about her?”


“I dunno. She’s a lot like me. It’s like she’s running and running. And if she stops, she’ll die.”


Kristen was in shock, despondent. Hunter’s charming looks meant nothing to her at that moment. They both sat in silence for what seemed like an eternity as Hunter smoked cigarette after cigarette.


Finally, Kristen said, “Perfect. You’re like two dramatic peas in a pod.” Kristen started to laugh, but suddenly felt sick to her stomach and had to focus on not barfing on that stinky, brown, shag carpet Hunter had tacked in, wall-to-wall, in his apartment.


Kristen got up. “I have to go. Good luck with everything.”


“I’m sorry, Kristen,” said Hunter. But Kristen was already out the door. For some reason, the tears didn’t come, but she felt queasy throughout the drive home and threw up on the desert plant near the steps outside her front door.


Kristen went inside and cleaned up.  She told herself that Hunter was nothing but a sad rabbit in a beanie cap. How could she have been charmed by this trickster clad in poser anti-fashion? Kristen looked at the huge pile of scripts she still had to read for work. She wasn’t sure she could stomach any more horror stories. She had planned on finding a new job, but had taken a detour and was at the same place where she started. Kristen went to her PC and typed up a resignation letter. The next morning she turned it in. 


Image: Pixabay

The warm afternoon sun was comforting. The sky was a hazy, baby blue. Kristen jumped into her Laguna Blue Mazda Miata convertible, made her way to the Pacific Coast Highway and slammed on the accelerator. The tears that streamed down her face were immediately dried by the arid winds, warmed by the distant fires that burned in the Santa Monica mountain range backdrop. The rolling, misty ocean waves cooed and hushed her quiet gasps.


As miles of velvet asphalt stretched out before her, she began to feel a vibration in her feet. The sounds of rhythmic beats grew louder from her car body’s chest; it was New Order’s 'Blue Monday'. Soon a wash of colorful New Wave vibes energized her synthpop drive. The playful, tumbling bars of 'Bizarre Love Triangle', 'Blue Savannah', and 'West End Girls' surrounded her in a moving, open air club. The rush of melodies and uptempo beats cheered her on along the lush, scenic highway. Kristen didn’t know what she really wanted. She still felt dazed and confused. But at least she knew what she did not want. Kristen held onto the wheel, pressed on, and navigated the beautiful, winding road. The California sun kissed her and the invigorating coastal winds gave life to her hair. The high tech, futuristic sounds of Erasure’s 'Chains of Love' felt like a song announcing the promise of days to come. Kristen felt relief, and all at once a sense of hope and even excitement. She felt free.

 

Cover image: David Mark

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