Jack Booker: Verifier of the Stars
by Chris DeBolt
I spot him in line, while I wait to purchase my shoe-black. They always think they can get away with shopping in public. Please. And Michael didn't even take off his leather head band, just changed into a non-descript cardigan sweater and corduroys. Not good enough my fleet-footed friend. Besides: pancake make-up, Dr. Scholls anti-fungal spray, a six-pack of Slimfast. The goods on the counter are a dead give away.
I look around. Hmm. Only an older lady is in line with me. I notice she's paying for her Metamucil with a credit card. She'll never be able to afford my services. Ah well. A professional's duty includes some pro bono work now and then.
"Excuse me, ma'am," I say. The lady clutches her pocketbook. "Do you know who that gentleman is in front of me?"
"Just as I thought," I say sympathetically. "That, ma'am, is Michael Flatley, the Lord of the Dance."
She looks around my waist, gives the Lord a once over. "So what?" she says.
I hand her my card, give her a wink. "My treat," I say.
She looks at it and whispers, "Jack Booker: Verifier of the Stars."
"At your service," I say and tip my hat, satisfied I've again helped someone in need.
Monday. 2:30 pm. Buckhead YMCA. Atlanta, GA
Called for an out-of-town assignment. My client tried to negotiate my per diem, but I asked, "Sir, do you want the best?" He complied.
This one tests my full range of skills. For starters the location is a sauna. Near zero visibility, plus I'm out of my suit and wingtips for awhile. Then there's the fact the target isn't wearing his hairpiece or glasses. Tough.
So I dig deep--real deep--and get creative. I stand next to him, let my towel fall to the floor. Then I think of all the people I've helped in my long career, the letters of recommendation, the awards, and let that certain tingle travel to my privates. When I hear the target next to me begin humming "Rocket Man," I know another mission has been completed.
I leave the sauna, report back to my client. He's eagerly waiting in the locker room.
"Affirmative," I say.
The client says, "You mean ... That really is Elton John?"
I exhale, "Affirmative, sir. Now, if you will excuse me, I have other stars to verify."
Friday. 7:10 pm, Seven-Eleven, Gardner and Third.
The Academy Award nominees have just been announced. Cell phone, beeper, PDA, all going 24-7. I'm loading up on the Vitamin C and drinking an additional Yoo-hoo once a day, just to make sure my endurance stays top-notch all the way to the ceremony.
But I'll make it. I'm a professional.
Today's completed schedule:
1. Paulie Shore behind the counter at Starbucks? Negative.
2. Alec Baldwin telling a story too loudly, too confidently at Spago? Affirmative.
3. Penelope Cruz renting the apartment upstairs? Um ... negative.
4. Kevin Spacey being chased by a rabid Rottweiler? Affirmative.
Saturday, 4:30 pm. Laurel Canyon.
I spot another woeful, handpainted "Star Maps" sign. I park my Buick, step out, tip my hat to the young girl sitting in a chaise lounge, face partially in shadow by an umbrella. From the looks of the neon toe polish, the exposed mid-riff, I'm guessing she's 12, 13 years old.
"Two bucks," she says, handing me a map without looking up from her Cosmo.
I take it silently, unfold it. "I notice Bea Arthur's house is nearby." I wait to let me test sink in, "I wonder which show she was on."
The young girl pushes her Persols to the edge of her button nose and gives me a look. "Maude," she answers and resumes reading.
"M-hm," I say. "And, let's see, oh here's Valerie Bertinelli. Jeez, what was that guy's name, the guy with the tool belt?"
She exhales loudly. "Schneider. Hey pal, what's the deal? You want the map or not. Two bucks.
And she's feisty. Yes, this one just might work. I need some help. An apprentice to carry on after I retire.
One last question. "Young lady, you know who you remind me of?"
"Whoopi Goldberg. Yeah, I get that all the time."
"No," I laugh, "You remind me of someone, jeez I can't remember her name. But she was in a movie called "Bad News Bears." You know who I'm talking about?"
"Christ, what a softball. OK so I'm Tatum O'Neal. That makes you Jack Klugman?"
Ouch. She got the first one right, but missed the Walter Matthau reference. Well, no apprentice is ever perfect.
"Nice try. Jack Klugman was Quincy. He lives in the Valley, by the way." I hand her my card.
"Jack Booker: Verifier of the Stars," she whispers.
I tip my hat. "I'm considering an understudy. You have potential, but you'll have to give up the nasty map business. Cover that navel. Wear sensible shoes. Think about it, give me a call."
"But ..." she tries.
"No buts. A professional never makes excuses."
Sunday 11:00 am. Los Feliz Coffee Bean.
The red carpet is only two weeks away. My entertainment antennae tell me it's going to be a bear this year, so I decide to take a quick break and catch up on some last minute homework. Hot cocoa, low-fat banana muffin, People, InStyle, Entertainment Weekly, all arrayed on my outdoor patio table. It's a beautiful morning, so I unbutton my jacket, loosen my tie. But I do wish the young folks sitting at the neighboring table would join me in turning off the ole' ball-and-chain, the cell phone. They keep cursing every five minutes, every time they check voice mail and realize they have none.
I refocus on my data, lose myself in the minutiae of each movie star, let their features burn into my memory. Soon I'm again interrupted by my neighbors. This time it's not cursing, it's whispering. And not just any whispering, the star-sighting kind, the special frequency my ears are dialed in to. Stop it Jack, I say. Don't look up, I tell myself. You're on break, Booker!
But of course a professional is never on break. I look up.
Hmm. Tough one. The subject is wearing a puffy jacket, a hat, sunglasses ... non-descript shoes. Very sneaky, my friend, yes you are. From the hair on his hands I answer question number one: Sex? It's a man. (In my line of work the basics are tricky).
The kids lean in to each other, attempt to make this call. Thankfully they keep
the volume down: even the new generation knows it's a major faux pas to let the star know
they're being discussed. Still, they are making things tougher, distracting my concentration.
Focus, Jack, focus.
"It's the kid from Eight is Enough," I hear one of the kids say. Way off. Watching Nick at Nite won't cut it in this town, bucko. I look closer at the star. He looks good, smooth skin, twinkle in the eye. Most people might guess late thirties. I'm not most people. I know the telltale signs of Botox. I know if you wear a hat chances are you're hiding a receding hairline.
Age: mid-fifties. Question #2 down.
"It's the boy from 'A Family Affair'," someone else vainly tries. Then, "I thought Jody died." Then, "No, idiot, the girl, Buffy, died not the boy." Hmm, my neighbors are clueless, yes, but they've stumbled onto the right medium, the correct era. Television, late 1960's. Questions three and four drop like pillars. The facade crumbles. My bottomless knowledge of entertainment cascades over me, and ... there it is.
You sir, have been verified.
Athletes call it the "zone." Accident victims call it the "light." Combine those two and it's how I feel at the moment of verification. But then, that's just me.
I look once more at the cherub, double-check my call. Professionals are not impulsive. Yes. It's the same eager grin, the same sincerity, the same comfortable demeanor at the console that offset Kirk's icy stare, Scotty's hot-tempered commands.
Chin up, voice firm, I say, "Chekhov."
"Chekhov?" they whisper to another. I hear a "who?" and an "it can't be" but when the star reaches the counter, turns to order his soy non-fat Latte, my verification is verified. There, on his jacket, is all the proof anyone might need. He is wearing a leather jacket with a wonderful design of the Starship Enterprise on the back. Just above it, in fancy lettering sewn right into the fabric, are the words, "Star Trek IV."
"Chekhov," my caffeinated comrades exhale, nodding in unison.
I pass out my card ("make sure you tell your parents"), accept their offer for a free cup of cocoa, and move purposefully back into the world. There are so many more needing my assistance. Someone has to make the tough call.
And I will.
Signing out. Jack Booker: Verifier of the Stars.
About the author:
Chris DeBolt is Jack Booker's manager, travel agent and gin rummy partner. Any requests for verification (RFV's) must be sent to his office for consideration.