There is no question in my mind that at least 82% of the San Fernando Valley is composed of people who consider themselves either actors or writers.
This does not mean they are actually working full time at it, only that they have "puttered" at performing, as one person told me, or "dabbled" in writing, as another said.
It may be all right to putter at performing, which is what I suspect most of them do anyhow, but it isn't smart to dabble in writing. I tried it once and an editor dabbled back. The result was chaos. I haven't dabbled since.
The 82% figure popped into my head near the end of a dinner party in Encino.
"Do you realize how many people here claim to be actors or writers?" I whispered to my wife.
"They're nice folks," she said, "leave them alone."
"I'm not about to physically assault them," I said, "though God knows we would all benefit from the exercise and excitement."
"But you are thinking of writing a column about them, right?"
"The thought did cross my mind."
"They'll never invite you back."
"When a satirist feeds on human folly," I said, "he often dines alone."
"Oh, brother," she said.
I talk that way when I've been drinking. Sometimes I raise one finger in Shakespearean style. Unfortunately, however, I also have a tendency to stare myopically, and it appears as though I am addressing the nose of the person I'm speaking to.
One couple we met at the party were typical of the others. Roger and Jeannie are not their real names, but should be. She would spell it Gini and he would precede his first name with an initial. J. Roger Pomeroy, Author.
We were thrust together in the grand caprice of party mingling and, for lack of anything better to say, J. Roger asked, "What do you do?"
"I'm a male prostitute," I said.
"He's a writer," my wife added pleasantly.
J. Roger studied me from under an arched eyebrow. He was bearded and wore a rumpled corduroy jacket and wool slacks. That's the way a real writer dresses. I, on the other hand, was thrown together in the styleless manner of a shoe clerk.
"Roger is a writer too!" Gini chirped. "I'm an actress!"
She cocked her head when she talked. I cocked my head back.
"Oh?" I said.
I felt as though the room were tilted.
In addition to cocking her head, Gini also thrust her breasts forward. They were pointed and angled upward, constituting a kind of screen resume.
All of Gini appeared delicately balanced. I had the feeling that if she uncocked her head before she unthrust her bosom, she'd fall to the floor.
"I'll bet," I said to J. Roger, "you have a full-time job somewhere and are working on a screenplay in your spare time and once had a story idea optioned for $500 but nothing came of it."
"Boy," Gini chirped, "are you good!"
J. Roger scowled.
"And you, Gini Bosoms," I said, "have probably done some soft porn for companies that knock 'em out in a week, and someday you want to play Grushenka, the tragic courtesan, in 'The Brothers Karamazov.' "
"The brothers who?" Gini said, puzzled.
The cock of her head increased, but thank God so did the thrust of her breasts, thus avoiding the dangerous overtilt-thrust factor that so often results in serious injury.
"Tell you what," my wife said, taking my arm, "why don't we mingle over this way, Martinez, or even that way."
"I'd like to know what he has written," J. Roger said to her.
"He has a right to know," I agreed.
My wife shrugged and said to J. Roger, "You're on your own."
J. Roger observed me. He put one hand in a pocket of his corduroy jacket. His left eyebrow arched. He was moving in for the kill.
"You know," I said, before he could speak, "I've always wanted to be able to arch an eyebrow. Were you born that way or did you study arching somewhere?"
"What have you written!" he demanded loudly.
I could feel the hot wind of his question rush past my ear. Silence. The eyebrow remained arched. Gini remained tilted. My wife shook her head.
"This really feels good," I said. "A silence laced with emotional tension. You don't find that too much anymore."
"What have you written!" J. Roger Pomeroy asked again.
My wife intervened. "He wrote 'Death of a Salesman,' 'A Midsummer Night's Dream,' 'E.T.' and 'Origin of the Species.' "
"God," Gini said, "that's really good."
J. Roger said nothing. He grabbed Gini's arm and jerked her away, causing an abrupt and uncoordinated torso realignment that often creates an effect not unlike sudden decompression in the punctured cabin of an orbiting spacecraft.
I prayed Gini would not explode.
"Did I really write 'Death of a Salesman'?" I asked my wife. "I hope so."
"Come on, Martinez," she said, leading me out, "I'll buy you a quiet cognac. When a satirist's wife joins in the feast on human folly, at least they can have a drink together later."
What a woman.