© Jaclyn Holland-Strauss
AN EXCERPT FROM MELISANDE DE SAULNIER’S
HOLLYWOOD ACCESS BLOG
I was always excited about attending the annual Academy Awards ceremony. There were never enough opportunities, with all of our hectic schedules, to truly take the necessary time to congratulate each other as artistic professionals on the valuable work we do each and every day. I personally didn’t need the glory associated with winning such an award. In fact, I was very glad that I had not won because I wanted to give others a chance. I knew others were less secure in their artistic achievements than I, and so each year when the nominations were announced, I held my breath, hoping against hope that I would not be mentioned. Year after year, my wishes came true. I was also afraid that because of the adulation already bestowed upon me by fans, that if I won too many awards, I would begin to be hated by my peers. I didn’t want my colleagues to be jealous of me. I was always on the watch for people who were aggravated by my talent. I don’t want people to get the wrong idea, though. I am certainly not perfect. If anyone is confused on that score, let me be perfectly frank. I have done things of which I am not proud. I have a horrible naivete when it comes to the world around me.
This night, I had a feeling that the affair would be extra special, and I was not to be disappointed. I want my fans to know me so well that it is like there is nothing to me. I want them to be able to draw the most intimate parts of my body. I want them to be able to see every emotion I experience, and feel everything I feel. Then I will be at one with them, and we will be unified. In this way, those who haven’t shared in my success will have an extra treat for their otherwise humdrum lives. This explains the outfit I decided to wear at this year’s awards ceremony. Because I want to be transparent, I decided to be brave. The outfit that I wore that year showed practically my crotch. I knew that the papers would be full of it the next day. I wondered to myself excitedly how many front pages I would be on.
I adored the looks I got from everyone as I walked down the red carpet. It was my night, and everyone knew it. Some people played the game of being disgusted. We’re all actors sometimes. It was really hard to sit at the table in my ‘dress,’ but I somehow managed it. I wrote down where everyone was sitting so that I knew who to invite for lunch over the next few months and I knew I would never remember. Because I was so fashionably late on the red carpet, I didn’t have time to do anything more than write down people’s names before the show began. The first couple of presenters were kind of boring, but the third livened things up considerably. Ridge Kafemont came onstage and said, “Are we having the #$_)$((#)$)$ best night of our lives?” I instinctively gave him a standing ovation, as did everyone in the audience, for his bravery. I chuckled out loud at his courage for showing that the First Amendment was still something respected in America. “You go, Ridge!,” I screamed at the top of my lungs. Everyone looked at me, and I revelled in every bloody second of it. Nothing excites me more than someone challenging the moronic conservative media in this country. I am so tired of unthinking people trying to take away our right to say what we need to say in order to make ourselves heard. Finally, someone believed again in free speech. Suddenly, in a panic, I realized that Ridge’s ovation had lasted from twenty after 9 to twenty-three minutes after 9. Because I had forgotten my watch in my excitement over my dress, I couldn’t calculate it exactly, but I quickly figured that since his ovation had already lasted for almost ten minutes, I possibly would not get the longest standing ovation of the night (I was due to present later). Let me make clear that I don’t care about such things, but I wanted my fans to have the honour of seeing me enjoy such a reward, especially since I hadn’t even been nominated for an award (although I didn’t want one because I wanted others to have the chance to win). Fortunately, the excitement died down, and we got on with things. I don’t mind showing appreciation, but enough is enough. I mean, really.
I cannot even begin to tell you how thrilled I was that the next presenter mentioned me personally. In what must be the largest fluke in Academy Award history, each of my supporting actresses was nominated in that area. That adorable little sprite Pamela Wessonsmith referred to this when she said, “Melisande de Saulnier received wonderful support in her latest film—which is probably a good thing, since it doesn’t look as though her dress is affording her much tonight.” No one laughed more loudly than I at this joke. It’s important to have a sense of humour in this life, especially about oneself. I turned my head and laughed in each direction so that everyone could see me. I wondered if I should stand to acknowledge the mention, but I thought if everyone stood now, I might not get an ovation later, so I remained seated.
I was so excited, however, at the mention of my name that I started hugging myself instinctively. I always do this when I am enervated. I started playing with my hair, luxuriating in how it made me feel. After about an hour of this, I found myself so sensually energized that I had to visit the ladies’ room to splash cold water on my face. This didn’t really work as playing with my hair always has a huge effect on me, and so I was forced to pop a Valium. On my way out of the washroom, I passed by Cynthia Strident. I smiled excitedly and said hello before I suddenly remembered that I hate her because she took a film role that I wanted. I turned back to say I didn’t mean the smile but she had disappeared. I headed back into the bathroom where I had to take a downer so as to equilibriumize myself. In a moment of horror, I realized that someone else might have mentioned my name while I was indisposed, and so I hurried back (not too quickly so as not to excite myself again) to my chair. I asked everyone around me if anyone had mentioned me, but they all assured me that no one had.
Such was not the case for long, though. Somehow my co-star in my latest film had managed to secure for himself a nomination for Best Actor. Stream Rocco baited me on purpose, for publicity, when he thanked me in his acceptance speech for “making him look good.” He added, “Her playing was so consistently…well, consistent, that she couldn’t help but make me look good.” I knew what he meant. I am not stupid. Just because I never got further in school than Grade 5, everyone thinks I don’t understand what they mean. They refuse to take into account that I had teachers who hated me, and resented the fact that I looked so good, even at a very young age. My female teachers were threatened by my early puberty, and my male teachers were tortured because they knew they couldn’t have me until I turned 18. Stream was just mad because I wouldn’t indulge in an affair with him during the making of our movie. And my supporting actresses were so jealous of me because they all wanted him, but he wanted me more. They couldn’t begin to handle it. They thought just because they were a few years younger than I am, that they could walk all over me. Well, they were in for a major surprise. I did not get to where I am today by letting people treat me like I’m some kind of pushover. What was even worse about Stream’s speech is that he showed himself as little more than a tool of conservative propaganda. The last words he said were, “And, of course, I want to thank God, without whom I would not be here.” I was amazed that there were not outright boos at this point. I can never get over how some people take the first opportunity to prattle on about their own ideological agenda. No one wants to hear it. He is an actor; it is not like we are in Church. Of course, we all believe in God, except for those who don’t. Where was God when the nominations were handed out? I didn’t want one, because I wanted others to have a chance to win, but still, the argument could easily be made that if a perfect being dictated everything in our lives, why didn’t I receive a nomination for my best performance yet?
I decided to write this book about Melisande de Saulnier with reluctance because this is the only way I have to communicate with her now. Her friends will not relay messages because they do not have her best interests at heart. Several rumours have also surfaced with regard to me, because of my relationship with Melisande. Important people in my social circle do not view my character the same way as they have in the past, which is unacceptable in my line of business as I am an investor of wealthy people’s money. Of course, I am also very wealthy myself, unlike what has been reported in the tabloids. I was never after Melisande’s money. This is slander and libel. It is important that people I interact with on a regular basis believe I have integrity. I was Melisande’s companion for over a year and because of this she gave me access to her journals and deepest thoughts. This shows the level of trust she has in me, or had in me, and I would never have compromised her privacy unless it had been absolutely necessary. This is my cry to the world that Melisande is not who you think she is. She is not some dumb liberal celebrity. She is not stupid. I did everything I could for her, but even though I was incredibly patient with her, she did not always understood how much I helped her. I treated Melisande as a real woman, not as a movie and television star. No one knows the real Melisande except for me, and it is an example of her poor decision-making abilities that she turned her back on me because I am the best friend she ever had. She is surrounded by people who agree with everything she says before she even says it. The funny thing is, she says that the most important thing in her life is the ability to progress but with the circle of ‘friends’ she has around her, she is doomed to failure. This book is my call to her, my attempt to rescue her from the abyss that she has found herself in because she in some ways is like a little girl, someone who does not understand the world around her. I’m street smart; I could have been her bouncer. Her friends did not like me because I told the truth, what she needed to hear. She needed me around because I gave her exactly what no one else would, enough love to be a mirror to her soul. I didn’t ask for much in return, except for her to be honest with me and treat me with respect. For Melisande, I was like a drug. She couldn’t get enough of me because she had never met anyone like me. Melisande, I am writing directly to you. Let me back into your life. I am the only one who can help you, and I don’t say that because it is the classic ploy of the abuser who isolates you from the rest of the world and then proceeds to wreak havoc on his victim. I am not your abuser; I am your friend who wants you to reach the potential I know you to have.
Her childhood had been difficult in some ways, but made easier because of the close relationship she had with her parents. Her mother had worked as an electrical engineer, and her father helped to supplement the family income by running a baby store out of the basement. Although Melisande would never directly admit to it, I know that her mother’s numerous affairs hurt her father. He consoled himself as best he could by immersing himself in a variety of domestic affairs, such as babysitting and knitting. Melisande has often recalled with pride to me memories of knitting with her father, while glossing over the fact that her mother was out drinking with her friends. Her mother served as Melisande’s first feminist ideal; no matter how many times her father threatened to leave her, Melisande’s mother refused to stop frequenting male strip clubs. She would say, when confronted, that these excursions had nothing to do with her feelings for him, and that he was becoming nothing more than a nag.
“I didn’t really know the meaning of money,” Melisande confided in me when we first met. “I just didn’t feel it really mattered. I guess it was my way of pretending it didn’t matter, so that I could be happy. I hate being unhappy. I’m not good at it, like some people are. I remember one time when I was quite little, about six years old, I was in a store. I was really good at math already, but I pretended I didn’t have enough money when it came time to pay. The cashier felt sorry for me, and was going to give me the candy anyway, but my father said, “Melisande can count better than most 10 year olds.” He laughed and laughed at how I’d tried to trick the cashier. He told me that I could accomplish anything I wanted in life, because I wasn’t foolishly constrained by other people’s so-called morality. My sister, who was almost as rambunctious as I was, loved to do similar stuff until she converted and became a Christian. After that, she was a lot less fun.”
“Did the store owner think you were adorable?”
Melisande impatiently waved away the store owner. “He was just your typical capitalist, exploiting people for money. I think that was about when I realized just how wrong capitalism is. Imagine calling a little girl a thief and a criminal just because she tried to not pay full price for some candy!”
“You were brave, though, in challenging him!”
“I have always been brave. I will not let people walk all over me. I will fight until my dying day to help oppressed people stand up to people in power.”
“Is that your mission in life?”
“I think that’s part of it. I think that God creates different people for different reasons. Some people are given circumstances where they are outsiders because they can evaluate better what people with more normal circumstances are doing.”
“What do you mean by normal? Isn’t that hard to define?”
“I mean that most people live lives that are similar to other people’s. The details might be different, but most people have two normal parents, a certain number of relatives, and one or more friends.”
I didn’t bother arguing with her. “Didn’t you have those things?”, I questioned her.
“Not really. I have never had an intimate conversation with many of my relatives. They are more like acquaintances to me than actual family. You know the songs Looking In and Outside by Mariah Carey? She sings of an invisible barrier between her and the rest of the world. I know exactly how she felt. In her case she’s talking about being biracial, but in my case, it was just being different in terms of personality and the way my mind worked. You feel as though you are going through the motions, that because your thoughts are different other people’s, that your experiences end up being totally dissimilar. So you get married, but you don’t really feel married. Because you are not really marrying, you’re just going ahead with the idea of it all. Without commitment to the reality, at the first sign of trouble, you run, because you want to start the search all over again for some semblance of normalcy. I…can’t believe I’m telling you all this. Last night I didn’t know you at all.”
“I’m glad that you opened up to me,” I said. “You need to know that I will never abandon you.”
“Really?” At the first sign of impatience that I displayed, Melisande rushed to apologize. “And I know I can trust you to be discreet. I feel so safe with you,” Melisande stretched her body fully as if to display her comfort level with me. With an actress, you never know if what she is doing represents a natural impulse, or if she is acting to make a point or to manipulate you somehow.
She continued, almost in a dreamlike state, “I guess what makes it difficult to be a superstar like me is that unlike a normal career, where you are promoted gradually, in the movies, one minute no one knows you, and in the next, it feels like everyone does. It’s like if a new hire suddenly became the CEO of a company overnight. You don’t have the necessary experience to deal with stuff in a healthy way.”
“That makes sense. So how do you compensate for that?”
“You manage as best you can. That’s what people love about Greta Garbo. She chose to be the outsider. She turned it all around to her own great advantage. She made being on the outside looking in glamorous rather than pathetic. She made people inside look out to her, but they could never find her.”
“If a person has a need to become a star,” Melisande continued, “they know deep down that it’s probably not the healthiest of career choices. It takes you away from what’s normal. But if it’s what you’re good at, then what choice do you really have? A person who’s good with numbers becomes an accountant. Someone who is good with his hands becomes a carpenter. Someone who is good at pretending, at deluding herself, becomes an actress.”
“I never thought of it like that,” I admitted. “I give credit where it’s due. When it comes to stuff like this, you know what you’re talking about, Melisande.”
Melisande beamed. Although I never minded complimenting her, it was a shame to see how readily she accepted them, how eagerly she craved them. I told her on a number of occasions that people should accept compliments stoically and not like they need them. But some lessons Melisande found extremely difficult to learn. “If this happens to be your chosen career,” Melisande continued, “and you realize the odds are stacked against you in having a normal family life, then it’s understandable that a star wants to become as successful as possible. After all, it’s hard to give up the dream of experiencing unconditional love in a romantic sense and you try to fill up your life with as much replacement happiness as possible. That’s why I want to use my stardom to help the human condition.” Shyness suddenly arrested her, and handcuffed her to temporary silence. She gave a nervous little laugh.
“Well, you know what I mean, Gabriel. It can be lovely to mingle with the world, but if you never really make yourself a part of it, you have to dress up your own universe and make it as livable as possible.”
“People always make fun of stars who announce their political positions. But you’d have to be a pretty lousy person to have millions of dollars and not have a desire to help people get the same chances you’ve had. And politicians are always complaining about how low voter turnout is now. Well, if I can use my superstardom to help shine attention on a problem, and get the public interested in it, then I will die trying!”
“Don’t you think you’re exaggerating just a tad bit?”, I asked.
“It’s not me who exaggerates; it’s the press! They can’t just speak of you normally. They can’t say, ‘she’s a good actress with a lot of talent,’ they always must hyperbolize. You have to be the greatest actress of the generation or the worst dressed ever. They run out of ridiculous superlatives eventually and when they do, they pounce on you with no mercy. Again, they take you away from what’s normal. You’re never just a normal human being with a talent that the public sees, you’re the devil incarnate or you’re Mother Teresa in high heels.”
“I guess it wouldn’t sell a lot of papers if they just said mediocre stuff,” I pointed out.
“That’s what it all comes down to in our capitalistic society. Money,” Melisande said, bitterly.
“But you make a lot out of it too.”
“Yes, but I make it from doing my own work, not fantasizing about someone’s personal life.”
“What if they’re good at it?”, I asked, mischievously.
Melisande smiled, and her charm was suddenly blinding. “Touche.”
I said, “I guess that’s what you sign up for when you become a star.”
“Wrong. I signed up to act, and knew there would be times I’d have to face publicity, whether I felt like it or not. It irritates me to no end when people say, “Well you signed up to forsake your privacy. Well, there are different ways to intrude upon someone’s privacy. Yes, when you become a star, or a figure in the public eye, you have to realize that if you’re eating dinner in public, then you will have times where people will interrupt you while your fork is in mid-air. That is par for the course, and stars should expect it. They shouldn’t complain because if they do they’re ungrateful. But that’s a far cry from having reporters sort through your garbage so that they can electrify the world with news of your dietary habits. And I’ve never needed people to like me, just my work…”
This was another of those times when I knew there was no point arguing with her. If she was deluded enough to think that she was not desperate with the need to be loved, there was nothing to be gained from my pointing it out because she would not listen. “But why do you think people feel the way they do about you? Some people hate you…actually, a lot of people do!”
Melisande shrugged. “People don’t know me. If they did, they’d like me. I am a decent person. People have to like you or they won’t continue to see your movies. People go to movies mainly for entertainment, but also I think they like the fact that unlike people in real life, who are so complex, people up there on the screen are stripped down to easily comprehended essentials. They like to say, ‘Oh, that’s a good person,’ or ‘That’s an awful human being’ without having to deal with … well, the nuances, I guess you’d say.”
That is why I am writing this book, to explain Melisande’s nuances. Not for money. Some of the proceeds will go to charity, after all. I am just getting pennies for any copies that sell. Actually, you know what? I am going to accept no money for this book. I am going to donate it all to the charity of Melisande’s choice. If there is one important message that I wish for Melisande to take from this book, it is that money is no longer going to be an issue between us. It is not going to be the unspoken issue that underlies every conversation we have. Melisande will pay attention to this book because it is in her language, the media. She pays attention to what people say about her in print because she wants people to love her. She is far too emotional, and I’m convinced that if she doesn’t listen to me, that she will end up alone and miserable forever. Her damage will not come from drugs, as she doesn’t take them. They won’t come from liquor, because she doesn’t drink. Melisande’s damage will come from herself if she does not let me in. I am pounding on her door. I don’t want in her bank account. I want in her life. I am writing this book mainly to show Melisande that money is not why I have spent a lot of time with her. Money is not why I was her companion, even though it may have seemed that way. Danger is all around her in that regard, but it is not coming from me. She should take me back. But she is unsure, confused, afraid. For those of you who are her supposed friends . . . tell her about this book if she doesn’t already know about it. Make her read it. Do something noble for once in your life and help her understand that she needs me. Do the right thing for once. I know it works against your financial interests, but if you have ever cared about Melisande at all, as you say you have, fight for her. What’s more important, money or a person’s soul?
All I wanted from Melisande was the chance to take care of her and protect her from those around her. When it came to drugs, on several occasions that I remember, she refused anything to do with them, which can be seen as sensible. But often our strengths are tied up with our weaknesses, and this is true for Melisande as well. The main reason she didn’t want to do drugs was because of her egoism. She felt that drugs ‘change your mind’ and she wanted her mind to be at its best so that she could still memorize lines easily. Which is great, but she attached far too much importance to her mind to begin with. She is not a brilliant politician, even though she’d love to be thought of that way. She is gorgeous, and that’s where her importance lay for the public, as I continually reminded her. Most people go for soundbites. What they see is what they get, and it’s all they’re interested in.
And in case anyone is wondering, I have never sold stories to the tabloids or any other publication that had to do directly with Melisande. I’ve had many offers, but I would never betray Melisande that way. And not for nothing, but I have also have never pursued other women while I have been around Melisande. Melisande and I have never been romantic, because I am not interested in her that way. But I fully realize how attached she has been to me. And I knew how much it would hurt her if I appeared to be interested in anyone else while I was her companion. She is very sensitive about the stereotype that rich women in Hollywood have hangers-on who use them for money. She can never lay that charge at my door, because I have always been honourable in my dealings with her, and she knows it. And for the record, I’ve never understood why it’s so awful to sell photos to the press. Everyone is up in arms now over Larry Birkhead allegedly selling photos of Dannie Lynn to magazines, but what is the big deal? It’s not hurting the child, and if it means Larry can bring in more money to help raise her, then why not? The public is often hypocritical when it comes to matters like this.
My opinions, though, aren’t important. All that matters in the telling of this story is that the reader gets an idea of what living with Melisande de Saulnier is really like and that Melisande recognizes, after she reads this, that she needs to make some important changes in her life. That’s why I have written this book, to help her, to continue in my role as protector and confidante of one of the most charismatic actresses of all time. And she will shiver with pleasure when she reads that. She wants to be remembered that way. But I can offer her so much more. From the time we met, I knew that she was special and that there is no one else like her. That has advantages associated with it, and disadvantages as well. Melisande, trust me. Believe in me. I am here for you and I will protect you against all those who would hurt you.
Now is as good a time as any to tell about my introduction to Melisande. I had been trying to meet her for a while, because she had always fascinated me. As luck would have it, one day I was sitting in a restaurant, the name of which I will keep private because it is extremely exclusive, I spotted her. As I often do when trying to figure out what makes a person tick, I sat at some distance from Melisande and observed her closely. I noticed with some interest that she was joined a couple of minutes later by a man who was obviously drunk. I instinctively rose from my chair to be of some service to her, but as I approached them and overheard their conversation, I was surprised to hear that far from encouraging him to leave her alone, she was flirting with him rather seductively. Although she wasn’t saying anything specifically vulgar, I could tell that she was enjoying the back and forth.
Melisande was surreptitiously looking around as she quietly engaged the man: “Are you drunk?”
“A bit tipsy, but I wouldn’t say I’m drunk,” the man grinned at her.
“They’ll throw you out if they think you’re disturbing me,” Melisande said primly. “Am I disturbing you?” the man asked smilingly, with an expression on his face that said he plainly knew disturbing her was the last thing he was doing.
“I’ll tell you in a few minutes,” Melisande said, smiling slightly but encouragingly.
“Can I sit down? I’m tired. I want to relax.”
“You sure can.”
“Thanks, sweetheart! I promise I’ll behave myself.”
“Then I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”
“Ah, you like misbehaving, huh?”
“Under the appropriate circumstances, yes,” Melisande said, carefully.
“And what might those circumstances be?”
“You will have to find out.”
“I’ll ask you questions. People can’t help but say who they are when you talk to them long enough.”
“That’s probably true. But I’m an actress. I’m trained to reveal only what I want people to know about me or the character I’m playing.”
“You’re an actress, are you? Which one? They all look alike these days.”
Melisande was not amused. “I’m Melisande de Saulnier.”
“You are, huh? Well, pleased to meet you, Melisande de Saulnier. I remember you now. You were in that soft porn flick.”
“I certainly was not! If you’re speaking of Melisande in Chains, that was a movie for women that celebrated our freedom from the patriarchal system of our contemporary society! I was named Mary in that movie in honour of Mary Wollstonecraft. It was not a soft porn flick, as you call it. It was a movie about women, for women, thank you very much. You may leave now.”
“Well, I saw tons of guys in the theatre when I saw it. And I didn’t hear them talking about the feminist movement when they were leaving. All they could talk about was how when you were in that basement, all decked out in that bondage get up…”
“Obviously you don’t know what you’re talking about, so this conversation is over.”
“So you like to be in control, huh? Maybe you like to put the man in chains instead? Maybe you need a man who can control you. I could make you happy for sure if you gave me half a chance.”
The man looked pleasantly surprised that Melisande was appearing suddenly so agreeable, but it did encourage him to continue. “Yeah, really. I know what makes women like you tick.”
“I doubt you know much about me at all, Mr…what’s your name?”
“Well, Danny, seeing as how you didn’t even know my name, I highly doubt that you know that much about me.”
“I think I remember an interview with you, come to think of it.”
“Oh, really? What was it about? What were they saying about me?”, Melisande asked, eagerly.
“I don’t really remember. Just something about how you said that women shouldn’t be judged if they like casual sex as much as men do.”
“Of course we shouldn’t. I don’t know why men are scared of women with high sex drives. Well, actually, I do know. It’s because they are so scared that…”
“I’m not scared. I could swing by your place right now if you want me to prove it.”
Melisande looked hesitant.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart? Are you all talk?”
“Of course I’m not. Like all women, I say what I mean and mean what I say.”
“You need to introduce me to your women friends! They sound like a fresh lot!”
“Aren’t I enough for you? Or are you all talk?”
“Take me to your place and you’ll see exactly what I’m made of, baby.”
“Well, you see, I generally have affairs with men I know. I’m not really into strangers.”
“Oh, yeah? Then you don’t think like a man. We like strangers. Less emotional attachment that way.”
“I didn’t say women were men. Just that we shouldn’t be judged if we like affairs as much as men do.”
“Well, you can’t be too raring to go if a nice looking guy like myself isn’t good enough for you. Or maybe you only do rich guys?”
“I don’t care about money. I have enough money to support ten men.”
“I’ll bet you do, baby. I’ll just bet you do,” Danny’s eyes gleamed. “I don’t care about money, either. I just want to show you what I can do for you.”
“Sorry, I’m not interested.”
“I don’t know… I just . . . ” Melisande didn’t get the chance to finish her sentence, because I suddenly intervened and said, “Hey buddy, you heard the lady. She isn’t interested. So scram!”
“And who the hell are you?” Danny demanded, getting up from his chair.
“I’m her dinner date.” I signaled to the waiter that there was a problem, and Danny, seeing this, as well as my sheer physical size (I used to be a bouncer), decided he’d better leave.
Melisande was grateful. “Oh, thank you so much, Mr…?”
“Aumento. Gabriel Aumento. At your service, madam.” I offered a little bow to go with the respectful words. Women like manners.
“Sit down,” Melisande encouraged me. “Let me buy you something to eat.”
“That’s all right. No woman has ever bought my meal, and no woman ever will. Unlike that guy who was just at your table.”
“Oh, he said he wasn’t interested in money.”
“And you believed that? You are so naïve, Miss de Saulnier.”
“Oh, you know who I am?” Melisande was so pleased that she forgot to get angry over being called naïve.
“Of course I do. Everyone is familiar with the great Melisande de Saulnier.”
“Not everyone,” Melisande said, dryly.
“Everyone who is at all cultured,” I smiled at her. Just then, a waiter approached and asked if there was anything he could get either of us. After these details were taken care of, I resumed my conversation: “He was out for your money. It was obvious. That’s why I interrupted.”
Melisande looked at me with a look of “Oh, really?” “If you must know the truth,” she said, “he wanted to have sex with me.” It was like she was proud of this information, and would have liked to relay it to the world if she’d had the opportunity right then and there.
I dismissed the sex. “No man is going to turn down sex with a beautiful movie star, but what that gentleman, and I use the word loosely, was after, was a good chunk of change.”
“I think it’s less that I’m naïve and that you’re too pessimistic, Mr. Aumento,” Melisande offered.
“If he was so interested in you, then why did he bring up money?”
“How do you know what we were talking about? Do you make a habit of eavesdropping on people’s personal conversations?”
“It’s a lot more fun than eavesdropping on people’s professional conversations,” I admitted slyly.
“For your information, I brought up the issue of money. I’m very open about everything. I have no secrets.”
“Maybe you should have some?”
“I don’t see why. My life is an open book. One of the worst things I hate about people is when they are hypocrites.”
“Isn’t there a middle ground?”, I wondered.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, can’t you retain some mystery but at the same time not be dishonest and hypocritical?”
“I suppose so, but I’m a busy woman! I don’t have time for nuances!”
“Hmmm,” I pondered this new information. “I guess that explains some of your more political interviews.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Melisande said in frustration.
“Don’t worry, my dear. By the time I’m through with you, you’re going to be extremely knowledgeable about all the important stuff in life.” I grinned.
I could tell that Melisande didn’t know whether to be pleased or annoyed, but she did like my boldness. Women like Melisande are not used to men being frank with them. She was used to people agreeing with everything she said before she said it. This was an exciting new change for her. “You’re going to teach me, are you?” she said derisively. “That seems odd, considering I’m the movie star and you are…” She let her facial expression finish the rest of her sentence.
“I’m going to teach you about human nature and about politics. From your interviews, I can tell that you need help in both areas.”
“Well, aren’t you presumptuous!”
“Nah, not at all. I’m just thinking that since you’re so close to the destination of perfection, why not travel the whole road?”
Melisande didn’t even attempt to argue with this. She was actually rendered speechless for the first time in her life, something I immensely enjoyed watching.
“I think today we’ll start out with a political lesson.”
“Fantastic,” Melisande said sarcastically.
“Have you been to university?” I asked her.
“A person can know a lot about politics without having had to go to college,” Melisande said, immediately on the defensive.
“Now, now, calm down. I’m not saying you don’t know anything. I’m saying that you haven’t reached intelligent conclusions based on what you know.”
“Is that so? So just because you disagree with me, suddenly I’m not intelligent?”
“If you haven’t been to university, then you probably haven’t learned how to argue critically.”
“I mean, you haven’t had a professor return a paper you’ve written, with red marks all over it, to illustrate where your argument’s weak. If a person doesn’t have that experience, then they are not as efficient in mounting and sustaining an argument.”
“Are you a professor?”
“No, I’m in finance.”
“Then you do care about money,” Melisande pointed out, rather pleased with herself.
“I don’t care about your money,” I said. “And there is all the difference.”
“And why should I believe you if I didn’t believe that other guy?”
I smiled hugely. “You’re learning, my dear, you’re learning. Already exposure to my guidance is paying off!”
Melisande rolled her eyes. “Whatever.”
I laughed. Melisande liked that, because she needed a man who laughed at life, rather than took it too seriously. She herself did that, and it was nice to meet someone who was easygoing without being overly agreeable. She had enough of those people in her life. If it seems like sometimes I am saying what Melisande thought, it is because I am good at reading people.
I said, “For our first political lesson, we are going to discuss the Iraq war.”
Melisande said, “You’re not going to change my mind about that, I’m afraid.”
“Why not?”, I asked.
“Because it is an illegal war that should never have been fought. Osama bin Laden and Al Queda are the ones who are responsible for September 11. They are the ones that Bush should be after, not the people of Iraq.”
“There are several reasons why Bush went into Iraq. But the main lesson I want to teach you about today is not necessarily about Iraq, but instead it’s that the middle road is often the one best taken in political life, actually, all of life.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that people get too concerned about only one answer being the correct one. There’s no reason why someone can’t say that Bush is wrong about the war in some aspects and right in others.”
“Like I said, I’m not all about the nuances. I think that’s a waste of time,” Melisande insisted.
“And like I said, the nuances are where life is lived. It’s the principles that are important, and after that, the realities associated with those principles.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, so maybe you should return to university and take another course on mounting an argument.”
“Clever. Anyway, my point is that we learn a lot about life when we realize that situations are complex and any answer based on just one perspective is doomed to be wrong,” I said forcefully.
“Well, I know I’m not wrong about the Iraq war. Don’t you care about the innocent civilians who die everyday because of this war?”
“Of course I do. But there are some battles that are worth giving your life for.”
“That’s awfully convenient when it’s other lives being lost, and not ones that matter to you,” Melisande said, quietly.
“Actually, I lost a nephew to the war. And I think of him everyday.”
“I’m sorry.” She didn’t know what to say.
“It’s ok. He died a hero.”
“But wouldn’t it be better if he were alive and heroically help people on earth like I…like everyone should do?”
“He did. He contributed to the eventual stabilization of the Middle East and their eventual democracy.”
“He could be getting married, raising a family, and doing good that way.”
“Sure he could. But people die everyday for stupid reasons. People smoke, for example. If dying is so horrible, then why do we all too often contribute to our own deaths? Far better to die for a cause than to die because you’re addicted to a cancer stick.”
“That’s disgusting that you would even make that connection,” Melisande insisted. “And furthermore, if the war is such a noble cause, then why don’t Bush’s kids sign up for it?”
“You are arguing two different points. One point is whether or not the Iraq war is something we should be engaged in. The second point is whether or not Bush’s children should go to war. You can debate either issue, but you shouldn’t conflate them into one issue, argued simultaneously.” I was enjoying this.
“Well, Bush can’t just attack a country if he feels it’s dangerous in some future way. What if everyone did that?”
“A lot of countries are doing that, Melisande. That’s why something has to be done. To be sure, you can argue that you can’t really force democracy on people, and I agree with that to a certain point. The war in heaven taught us that Satan’s way is the evil one that would try to control people into doing what was right, whereas Jesus Christ wanted people to have the power to choose the right path, so that they deserve any credit they receive for that act.”
“Not everyone believes in the ‘war in heaven,’” Melisande said, dismissively.
“That doesn’t mean it’s not true,” I countered.
Melisande said nothing to that.
I continued, “And if a person’s life is the be all and end all that informs any decisions that we make in life, what about abortion? Why shouldn’t we have the same dedication to life on that issue?”
“There you go arguing two totally different points.” Melisande was proud of herself. “We’re not talking about a woman’s right to choose. And anyway, didn’t you say the war in heaven was all about our having the right to choose?”
“We should indeed always have the right to choose. That doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t point out that it’s wrong when we believe that others are making the wrong choice, like when they have an abortion. Abortion is murder. Murder is acceptable sometimes when in the context of a person defending themselves. So too with abortion. It’s acceptable sometimes when a woman, for example, is defending her life because if she were to have the baby, she would die. Like I said before, you can’t just say ‘abortion is all right, or abortion is wrong.’ Every situation is different, and we need to stop talking in soundbites about issues like these.”
“I wasn’t talking in soundbites. I think I reasoned my case very well.”
“You didn’t do too badly, Melisande.”
“You’re not used to people evaluating you, are you?
Melisande thrilled to this. She loved that I seemed to understand her and pick up on things that most people didn’t. She probably cautioned herself not to get too excited, because it probably wouldn’t work out, but she certainly hoped that this was the beginning of a fantastic new relationship. Who knew what could happen? The possibilities were endless. I imagined that a little voice in the back of her head told her that nothing good would come of it, because nothing ever seemed to work out for her relationship-wise, but she would try not to be too pessimistic, in case that jinxed her.