Butterbugs is a nobody, a nothing. But that’s not why he’s compelled to drive to Hollywood and hurl himself upon the mercy of the cinematic capital. His only dream is to act. Without any plans, resources or friends, he throws caution to the wind and embarks on a journey to the City of Angels. The trials that result pose only one question: will Butterbugs remain a non-entity, or will his big dream come true?
Facing the movie monolith’s prospects alone, Butterbugs attempts to perform dramatic scenes in front of the homeless and amongst the inebriated. Living in his car, and with dwindling reserves, he searches for opportunities, takes on a hazardous scaffolding job, and makes desperate pleas to bankers for clemency. Isolation leads to alienation, from fringe existence to bare survival, all in a city which cradles high achievement and bottomless failure. Despite his rough start, Butterbugs is strangely attractive to other outcasts turned possible allies: Heatherette – a mysterious force for good whom he weirdly rejects, and who in turn, rejects him; Starling – the thief who tries to love him; ProwlerCat – who might indeed save him, though it is far too early to know for sure. At one of his bleakest moments, Butterbugs receives his first sign of hope that his dreams remain alive: a screen test and the chance to be an extra in a major production. But now, with his first opportunity in hand, nothing seems as it should, except his going forward.
Abundant with movie lore and invention, Forward to Glory I: Tempering by Brian Paul Bach is an ode to the cinema and the bewitching power of entertainment.
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About the Author
Brian Paul Bach is a writer, artist, filmmaker and photographer; he has worked across the entertainment business, in theatre, music and as an academic. He now lives in central Washington State with his wife, Sandra. His previous works include The Grand Trunk Road From the Front Seat, Calcutta’s Edifice: The Buildings of a Great City, and Busted Boom: The Bummer of Being a Boomer.
The FORWARD TO GLORY Quartet
Butterbugs, the chief protagonist in this four-part saga – of which TEMPERING is the first – is a nobody from nowhere, who comes to Hollywood to try his chances at acting in films. His initial experiences are forbidding and dispiriting. After some artistic success performing dramatic scenes for derelicts and street people from the tailgate ‘stage’ of his station wagon, which also serves as his home, he runs out of money and is starving. As his vulnerabilities increase, he is nevertheless being watched over by a mysterious young woman, Heatherette. Will his quest for artistic success and freedom end in colossal failure? Or will there be a breakthrough?
In Chapter 9: ‘An Enigma Awakes’, Butterbugs has just arrived in Los Angeles. He knows no one and is totally without a plan, so he finds an obscure alleyway and camps out in his car. Upon awakening at an unconventional hour, he surveys his surroundings.
Then he gazed out, and saw her.
She was Heatherette, who tarried within the biggest of the Yniguez Terrace mansions, once owned by Sookie Bupp, the noted child star of the Silent Era. In the silence of the evening, the young lady viewed the darkling skies. She was an arresting presence, viewable by anyone who might occupy a routine residence in her alley, as no veiled barriers were present in such a proven-to-be-obscure zone. Even though the starry colonies of Beverly Hills and Mazamah Close were far off, the Bupp mansion was an indicator of ancient filmic heritage. Heatherette’s family had been in pictures for six generations, and because of this, there was a semblance of the surreal about her.
Butterbugs stared at her now, as she stood there on the rear verandah’s fourth floor terrace.
It was her longstanding but casual assumption that the forest of Gothic pinnacles and Armenian domes of the surrounding skyline might conceal her from any alley dwellers known to camp along there. She was perfectly aware of the changeable presence of drifters, and if she saw some derelict, passed out in the weeds by the postern, she would make sure they were still breathing and retire, knowing they’d soon be gone. When the mood moved her, she would sneak scraps of crisps and veggie burgers from her own poor-fare table, to be left for any and all eligible denizens. The safe-harbor vibes along here were recognized and highly appreciated by the homeless, who never abused them. Peace reigned as a way of life.
With such a history, how could she, up on the terrace, possibly know that Butterbugs was at this moment peering at her through those layers of bird waste that had been visited upon the DeSoto’s lowering roof? Fortunately for him, the gesso-like crap made for a camouflage of sorts, and the growing twilight was helpful.
Though Heatherette was completely nude and stultifyingly attractive way up there, Butterbugs aimed his super-vision eyes solely on her upper person, cropping to a frame that took in her tresses and face. From this distance, both appeared somewhat vague, yet magnetically intriguing. Witnessing this gift of beauty was a brand new event for him. In fact, he couldn’t even be sure that the image up there wasn’t a continuation of his half-conscious arctic fantasy: a cinematic, entirely credible hallucination, experienced communally by the now-doomed explorers captured within his dream-scope. A benevolent Ice-Angel of Death, come to take her weary charges away into the final fade-out, perhaps…? After all, at this stage of the picture, the characters are in the latter stages of exposure, and since their demise is imminent, their labors are mercifully reduced to fleeting fantasies, a farewell visit to their innocent families back home maybe, before the Angel calls. Yet, within the reasonable perspectives of his ‘movie’, he viscerally felt heat, not cold. Another benefit of being close to the end of a freezing-to-death scenario: the fireside comforts of home. Merciful, nice, and toasty.
Later, in Chapter 25: ‘Sensations and Ideas’, Heatherette, who has anonymously facilitated Butterbugs in participating in the filming of an important sequence, encounters him and seeks his response to this, his first appearance in front of a camera.
She saw him through the viney overgrowth that dominated the great cast iron fence lining the alley at the back of her estate. Somewhat nervous, she hastened over and called out.
‘Butterbugs! You’re here. I’ve found you again!’
Taking notice, Butterbugs paused in his progression to his headquarters and drew near, he on one side of the barrier, she on the other. The day was mellow, and the sun passed gently through the bars, framing his face amongst the withered leaves in a manner, to her mind, of a 19th-century engraving.
But she found his face rather blank, his responsiveness flat. Nevertheless, she decided to be cheerful.
‘Butterbugs! So nice to see you again. How did it go?’
‘How did the big shoot go?’
She gave a social laugh.
‘The big shoot! I know it was only an ‘extra’ gig…’
‘Yes. Well, it went OK, I guess.’
Now she was confused.
‘Did something go wrong?’
He didn’t answer.
‘I know there’s about a two week pay lag, but if you need –’
‘Of course you are. It must’ve gone on for some time.’
He behaved dimly, drearily.
‘No, I guess not.’
Now he looked plainly disinterested. In fact, he was rather bound up in himself. He didn’t want to tell her much of anything. Such as, that he was virtually out of money. That the King Bill Bank branch, where he had so resoundingly impressed everyone, had finally, despite his fine performance the other day, jerked his privileges due to lack of income, and without a whisper of assets. And that he had hardly eaten anything in some indeterminate time. Finally, that he felt like dog waste – in more ways than one.
‘I just thought we might talk. You know, sort of a ‘check in’, as you might say. Thought I’d share some things with you.’
Now he looked like he wasn’t even listening.
‘New ideas!’ she added, trying to facilitate him. ‘They are quite intriguing. But if today isn’t a good opportunity, let me know as soon as you are able. Just ring the gong or give a call. I’ll be waiting.’
Strange, this blankness from such a fellow.
She was still ready to engage him, even now.
Goodness tended to rule her heart, but she was not unreceptive to the idea of being peeved over his lack of a responsive or even civil performance. Why, he hadn’t even bothered to thank her for her effort to get him the extra gig, nor did he have one whit to say about that mysterious card that got him in the door.
On top of that, he simply drifted off to his car, moving out of her carefully framed composition, that had been so endearing.
It might be said of Heatherette that flaws in her character were unknown, but in this instance, consideration and reason got short shrift in light of the fact that she interpreted his behavior as rudeness. If she was hasty in her decision to retreat across the garden and to the house (back of hand on forehead), and to not head directly through the pilasters and venture into the alley, to catch up with him and at least attempt to confer with him in depth, so as to help him, to seek answers, and get to the bottom of his obvious funk, then perhaps it could be said that right now, having encountered what she encountered, Heatherette had reached a limit of sorts.
Kindness was good, but maybe impatience and withdrawal were prudent as a safety measure, to protect her from further ingratitude and humiliation.
Perhaps it was rash, but a line kept going over and over in her mind.
‘It could be that he is not the one. It could be that he is not the one. Not the one. Not at all. You know?’
From this point, Butterbugs’ Hollywood existence devolves into a critical mass of uncertainty, though the tide will turn in FORWARD TO GLORY’s second Act: EXPOSITION.
Thus, the themes for each of FORWARD TO GLORY’s four Acts: I. TEMPERING [the Actor’s struggles], followed by II. EXPOSITION [the Actor’s rise], III. APOTHEOSIS [the Actor’s climax], and concluding with IV. BEYOND FIN [the Actor’s legend].