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Hallie Ephron Monday
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HALLIE EPHRON: I AM(!) writing the final 50 pages of a book set in Beverly Hills where I grew up in the early 60s. Yes, I went to Beverly Hills High School. Oh, all right -- classmates included Richard Dreyfuss and Albert Brooks (these are their pictures in my 1965 yearbook).
But seriously, folks, back then Beverly Hills was just another neighborhood. Well, another a wealthy neighborhood. But nothing like it is today.
Whenever I admit to someone that I grew up there, they perk up and say, "Oh, 90210!" I remind them: We didn't use zip codes back the olden days. Ditto no pantyhose. We wore skirts to school, nylons, girdles, and padded bras. And we smoked. It was a gentler time, just a scoche before marijuana and drugs became widely available and long before anyone had even coined the term "safe sex." We used the word "scoche."
The main character in my work in progress (working title: Night Night, Sleep Tight) is Deirdre Unger. She left Beverly Hills, as I did, after graduating high school in '65. Unlike me, her best friend back then was a movie star's daughter who dropped out of sight after she murdered her mother's gangster boyfriend. (This may sound familiar to some of you.)
Twenty years later, in 1985, Deirdre drives home to help her aging father, a screenwriter (as my father was) who still lives in the house where she grew up. She doesn't know it, but she's about reconnect with her one-time best friend and encounter another murder, this time even closer to home.
So here it is, TA DAH! A preview from the opening pages of my work in progress, working title "Night, Night, Sleep Tight" --
By the time Deirdre Unger reached the Sunset Boulevard exit off the 405 and sat at the light, waiting to turn toward Beverly Hills, her stomach burned. The egg McMuffin she'd wolfed down an hour earlier had been a mistake. She took a sip of what was left of tepid coffee. It tasted mostly of waxy cardboard and only made her stomach seethe.
"How hot is it, kiddies?" The voice on the radio sounded maniacally overjoyed. "So hot trees are whistling for dogs!" A buzzer sounded, then hollow laughter. "Seriously, it's hot out there so drink plenty of water. Red flag warnings have been issued for today and tomorrow. Heat and dry winds are expected to turn Los Angeles and Ventura County mountains and valleys into a tinderbox."
Yippee. Dierdre snapped the radio off and gripped the wheel. Another reason to have stayed home in San Diego.
At last there was a break in the traffic and she turned onto Sunset. Accelerated. All the time asking herself why on earth was she doing this? Couldn't her brother Henry have stepped up to the plate for once in his life? He'd been living in that house, sponging off their father ever he dropped out of college. The least he could have done was offered to help Dad get the place cleaned up and ready for viewing.
But no, Henry was "tied up" -- probably his euphemism for all night poker games or hanging out with his biker buddies at Neptune's Net.
The loud blat came from a passing car that she'd nearly sideswiped. Deirdre jerked her car back in its lane. Get a grip, she told herself. Besides, what was the point of churning over someone else's mishegas. Her father had asked for her help and, good daughter that she was, she'd agreed to roll up her sleeves and do what she could. Just a weekend, not a lifetime thank God.
No big deal, right? she thought as she unclenched her teeth and loosened her grip on the steering wheel. Speed -- that was what she needed.
She crossed into the left lane and floored it. She felt power surge as the car automatically downshifted and shot forward. Her Mercedes SL hugged the road as she pushed it around a bend, weaving between cars on the windy two-lane road. She braked into the curves and accelerated coming out. Forty, forty-five, fifty.
The end of her crutch slid across the passenger seat, the cuff banging against the door. Her water bottled rolled off the passenger seat.
She allowed the car to drift into the right lane coming around a tight curve and then had to slam on the brakes behind a red bus that straddled both lanes and poked along at twenty miles an hour, idling just outside walled estates. STARLINE TOURS was painted in slanting white script across the back.
She gritted her teeth and crept along behind the bus, past pink stucco walls that surround the estate where Jayne Mansfield had supposedly once lived. It had been a big deal when the actress died, had to have been at least twenty years ago. And still tourists lined up to gawp at her wall. Breasts the size of watermelons and a car accident that decapitated her -- those were the kinds of achievements that merited lasting celebrity in Hollywood. That or kill someone.
In her less snarky moments, Deirdre sympathized deeply with Jayne Manfield's children. She thought there was a daughter about her own age, and Deirdre could easily imagine how painful it was for her, grieving and at the same time having her mother's notoriety stuck to her like a bad smell.
For some reason she never understood, buses like the one now belching exhaust in front of her now, used to pull up in front of her family's house, its passengers glued to the windows. Deirdre liked to dress up in her mother's silver fox stole and wave at the bus from the window seat of their dining room. She perfected an open handed, tilt-to-tilt wave like one of those gowned-up girls in the Rose Parade. Back then she could dream of being in the royal court. Queen, even. But beauty queens didn't have withered legs.
Most of her parents' neighbors lacked the star power to warrant a bus stop. In the flats between Sunset and Santa Monica, notables were TV actors, writers, and agents, tucked in like plump raisins among the nouveau riche non-celebrity types who'd moved to Beverly Hills, so they'd say, because of the public schools. You had to live north of Sunset to score neighbors like Lucille Ball or Jack Benny or Milton Berle. Move up even further, into the canyons to where one of those ultra-modern, ultra-expensive homes to find yourself with neighbors like Frank Sinatra and Fred Astaire.
Finally the bus pulled over enough so that Deirdre and all the cars backed up behind her could pass. A little further along, she cruised past the familiar brown shield with gold letters, "Beverly Hills."
After that, the twisty road straightened into a divided parkway and the speed limit dropped to thirty, as if chastened by the wealth surrounding it. There was not a single pedestrian on the sidewalks. Not a soul crossed in the crosswalks or waited at bus stops.So here's my question as I try to keep anachronisms from popping up in 1985: Is it okay to have bottled water in a chapter set in 1985? And what else besides cell phones and and spray-on tanner do I need to be sure I don't try to insert into a 1985 narrative with flashbacks to '65?