Douglas Coupland

Miss Wyoming

Chapter One

Susan Colgate sat with her agent, Adam Norwitz, on the rocky outdoor patio of the Ivy restaurant at the edge of Beverly Hills. Susan was slightly chilly and kept a fawn-colored cashmere sweater wrapped around her shoulders as she snuck bread crumbs to the birds darting about the ground. Her face was flawlessly made up and her hair was cut in the style of the era. She was a woman on a magazine cover, gazing out at the checkout-stand shopper, smiling, but locked in time and space, away from the real world of squalling babies, bank cards and casual shoplifting.

Susan and Adam were looking at two men across the busy restaurant. Adam was saying to Susan, «You see that guy on the left? That's “Jerr-Bear” Rogers, snack dealer to the stars and the human equivalent of an unflushed toilet.»


«Well, it's true.» Adam broke open a focaccia slice. «Oh God, Sooz, they're looking at us.»

«Thoughts have wings, Adam.»

«Whatever. They're both still staring at us.»

A waiter came and filled their water glasses. Adam said, «And that other guy — John Johnson. Semisleazebag movie producer. He vanished for a while earlier this year. Did you hear about that?»

«It sounds faintly familiar. But I stopped reading the dailies a while ago.You know that, Adam.»

«He totally vanished. Turns out he OD'd and had some kind of vision, and then afterward he gave away everything he had — his house and cars and copyrights and everything else, and turned himself into a bum. Walked across the Southwest eating hamburgers out of McDonald's dumpsters.»


«Oh yeah. Hey …» Adam lowered his voice and spoke out the side of his mouth. «Oh Lordy, it looks like John Johnson's fixated on you, Sooz, gawping at you like you were Fergie or something. Smile back like a trouper, will you? He may be gaga, but he's still got the power.»

«Adam, don't tell me what to do or not to do.»

«Oh God. He's standing up. He's coming over here, » said Adam. «Lana Turner, be a good girl and tuck in your sweater. Wow. John Johnson. Whatta sleazebag.»

Susan turned to Adam. «Don't be such a hypocrite, Adam, like you're so pure yourself? Know what I think? I think there's a touch 'o the 'bag in all of us.»

John was by then standing a close but respectful distance from Susan. He looked at her with the unsure smile of a high school junior bracing himself to ask a girl one social notch above him to dance at the prom, his hands behind his back like a penitent child.

«Hello,» he said. «I'm John Johnson.» He stuck out his right arm too quickly, surprising her, but she took his hand in hers and slid her chair back onto the flagstones so that she could survey him more fully — a sadly handsome man, dressed in clothes that looked like hand-me-downs: jeans and a frayed blue gingham shirt, shoes a pair of disintegrating desert boots with a different-colored lace on each foot.

«I'm Susan Colgate.»


«Hi to you. »

«I'm Adam Norwitz.» Adam lobbed his hand into the mix. John shook it, but not for a moment did he break his gaze on Susan.

«Yes,» ' said John. «Adam Norwitz. I've heard your name before.»

Adam blushed at this ambiguous praise. «Congratulations on Mega Force, » he said. Owing to John's radical decision of the previous winter, he was not making a single penny from his current blockbuster,Mega Force. In his pocket were ninety $20 bills, and this was all the money he had in the world.

«Thank you,» said John.

«Adam told me that you're a sleazebag,» said Susan. John, caught completely off guard, laughed. Adam froze in horror, and Susan smiled and said, «Well, you did say it, Adam.»

«Susan! How could you — »

«He's right, » said John. «Look at my track record and he'd be bang on. I saw you feeding birds under the table. That's nice.»

«You were doing it, too.»

«I like birds.» John's teeth were big and white, like pearls of baby corn. His eyes were the pale blue color of sun-bleached parking tickets, his skin like brown leather.

«Why?» Susan asked.

«They mind their own business. No bird has never tried to sneak me a screenplay or slagged me behind my back. And they still hang out with you even if your movies tank.»

«I certainly know that feeling.»

«Susan!» Adam interjected. «Your projects do well.»

«My movies are crap, Adam.»

Across the terrazzo, Jerr-Bear made the ah-oooo-gah, ah-oooo-gah noise of a drowning submarine in order to attract John's attention, but John and Susan, alone among the annoyed lunchtime crowd, ignored him.

Adam was trying to figure a way out of what he perceived as a dreadful collision of faux pas, mixed signals and badly tossed banana cream pies, and said, «Would you and your, er, colleague, like to join us for lunch, Mr. Johnson?»

John suddenly seemed to realize that he was in public, in a restaurant, surrounded by people bent on eating food and gossiping, and that this was the opposite of the place he wanted to be. He stammered, «I — »

«Yes?» Susan looked at him kindly.

«I really need to get out of here. You wouldn't want to come with me on a — I dunno — a walk, would you?»

Susan stood up, catching Adam's bewildered eyes. «I'll call you later, Adam.»

Staff scurried about, and in the space of what seemed like a badly edited film snippet, John and Susan were out on North Robertson Boulevard, amid sleeping Saabs and Audis, in dazzling sunlight that made the insides of their eyeballs bubble as though filled with ginger ale.

«Are you okay for walking in those shoes?» John asked.

«These? I could climb Alps in these puppies.» She smiled. «No man's ever asked me that before.»

«They look Italian.»

«I bought them in Rome in 1988, and they've never let me down once.»

«Rome, huh? What was going on in Rome?»

«I was doing a set of TV commercials for bottled spaghetti sauce. Maybe you saw them. They were on the air for years. They spent a fortune getting everybody over there and then they shot it inside a studio anyway, and then they propped it with cheesy Italian stuff, so it looked like it was filmed in New Jersey.»

«Welcome to film economics.»

«That wasn't my first lesson, but it was one of the strangest. You never did commercials, did you?»

«I went right into film.»

«Commercials are weird. You can go be in a reasonably successful TV weekly series for years and nobody mentions it to you, but appear at threeA.M. in some god-awful sauce plug, and people phone to wake you up and scream, “I just saw you on TV!” »

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