BY DL SHIREY
Copyright is held by the author.
THE DAY of the screen test, Gary got up early. He was so excited, sleep had evaded him most of the night. It had been a good eighteen months since he had made the decision to take Hollywood by storm. The classes, the training and creating the perfect look, all of it was going to pay off today.
When Gary’s feet hit the upstairs floor, Wanda barked. She was always excited to see Gary, no matter the day. She didn’t know this one was circled on the calendar. And Gary started the morning like any other, giving the dog a good brushing and a big bowl of kibble.
As he put on the florid purple jacket, Gary couldn’t decide if he felt a fool for agreeing to the attire or for his dreams of stardom. Either way, he was immediately bolstered by a happy bark.
“That’s my good Wanda. Who’s my best girl? What is it you want to do today my sweet, my bestest girl? Go for a ride?”
Gary grabbed his keys, the leash and Mr. Pickle, Wanda’s favourite squeaky toy.
Gary drove past the park and Wanda watched it go past. With the green grass was out of sight, the dog whimpered and turned to Gary with a question in her eyes. Wanda had a lively face and expressive ears atop an enormous pile of long, clean hair. Half sheepdog, half whatever, she was irresistibly dorky with her soulful stare and don’t-you-want-to-hug-me fluff.
“Not today, my good girl, we’re off on an adventure. It’s an adventure, yes. You and me and Mr. Pickle. And you know what?”
Wanda was haunched down in the front seat, but stood on all fours when Gary, in his most enthusiastic voice, asked his last question.
“That’s right. We’re going to meet Marco. Won’t that be nice. Marco, Marco, everybody bark-o.”
And Wanda did.
Eighteen months, that’s how long it took to train Wanda to pee on people’s feet. Actually, it only took a year to teach the dog to find the target and assume the pee position. The trick she did afterwards took another six months to teach, a special moment that would assure Wanda’s place in the pantheon of motion picture pets. And it wasn’t just Gary who thought this, his good friend Lydia was simply floored when she saw Wanda’s act.
“My God, they’re gonna pee themselves themselves,” were Lydia’s exact words.
She had the contacts in Hollywood and was acting as Wanda’s agent. Lydia finally found the right producer and the right script, a high-profile rom-com in need of a wonderful gag. Once Wanda did her stuff, Lydia was certain she could convince the producer to write in more scenes for the dog.
They were all to meet on location this morning. It was Lydia’s idea for Gary and Marco to dress in uniform, as if they were part of a team. So as Gary parked the car, down a residential street lined with portable dressing rooms and catering trucks, he zipped up his satiny jacket with Team Wanda embroidered on the chest.
“Are you ready my girl, my good-good girl?” Gary cooed and squeezed Mr. Pickle just for luck.
“That must be her now.” Lydia looked up at the sound and excused herself from a knot of people. The navy suit and skirt made her look professional, but the color was too dark for her pale complexion. Dark clothes made her limp hair, brows and lashes look colourless.
Gary, on the other hand, had skin full of colour, a perpetual bloom of Rosacea flushed his cheeks and neck. It always made him look like he had come from a workout, which he hadn’t. Wanda heeled easily, the leash slack as they walked up to Lydia.
“Where’s Marco?” Gary asked, his dark mop of hair flopping in every direction as he looked for his friend.
“I thought he was with you.”
“Probably should have picked him up instead of meeting here. I’m a little late as it is.”
“You’re fine.” Lydia said and then scruffed the dog’s head, “How’s missy? You got all your lines memorized, huh girl?”
“Sit,” Gary commanded and Wanda did, looking up at the pair and wagging her tail.
“They’re setting up for another take. When that’s done they’re going to try it with Wanda. I’ll make introductions when it’s appropriate. You keep Wanda quiet and out of the way. And if Marco . . .”
“Is that Nicole Kidman?” Gary had spotted the actress, being lead to her spot by a shorter, shaved-headed man who was obviously the Director. “She’s a lot taller than I thought.”
“Yep. It’s her shoes Wanda will pee on,” Lydia said as a matter of fact, “Or her stand-in’s at least, until we get the gig.”
“Quiet on the set,” said the lackey, eyes shaded by a baseball cap. He shadowed the Director’s every move.
Lydia whispered, “When the Director calls action, the crowd will start walking up and down the sidewalk. Nicole will rush to the lamppost, check her watch and look sad. She’s late meeting the man she’s fallen in love with.”
“Played by who?” Gary gushed.
“Keep your voice down. Dermot Mulroney, but he’s not on set today.”
Wanda’s eyebrows flicked back and forth as she watched the conversation. She panted happily as the lackey again asked for quiet, the Director called action and the cameras rolled.
“So, there’s your scene,” Lydia was all business, now. “Wanda is going to go up to Nicole Kidman, or whoever’s standing at the lamppost, and take a piss. Any concerns? Tell me now.”
Gary explained that the large crowd may be a problem, just a few pedestrians would not be an issue. He also needed to know from which direction Wanda was to enter the scene, so Marco could attach his gizmo on the side away from camera.
“Where is he anyway?” Lydia broke out her cell phone and with each poke of her finger bared more teeth.
Wanda barked and her tail thumped. Lydia slapped the phone to end the call as an XXL purple jacket jogged up.
“Don’t say it. Traffic was a nightmare,” Marco panted, then he dropped to his knees, putting his face close to Wanda’s. “There she is, there’s my star, my ingénue, my soon-to-be talk-of-the-town. Yes, you’re pretty, yes you are.” Marco was nearly as shaggy-looking as the dog.
Wanda yapped happily at the attention.
“The dog won’t bark like that, not unless we ask you to,” the lackey said, and it wasn’t phrased as a question. He didn’t look like he was old enough to drink, but knew how to check a clipboard. “Lydia? Follow me. You two, sit!”
Gary and Marco laughed when they realized Kid Clipboard was talking to them. The kid yanked the lid of his baseball cap to show he was serious, the flat brim clamped to his eyebrows. He led Lydia away, making a beeline to the Director. Between the three of them there was a flurry of finger-pointing to various spots on the city street corner that the movie-makers held captive. Suddenly, Lydia shouted Marco’s name and Gary was left alone with Wanda. Marco did nothing but nod as the Director continued to point, at the sidewalk, at the lamppost and repeatedly at Wanda.
Marco lumbered back and started pulling stuff from a ratty backpack. Gary ordered Wanda to heel and she stood at attention while Marco went to work. He placed three objects on the ground next to Wanda, an aluminum water bottle, a big jug of yellowish liquid and a remote-control handset. The cap of the water bottle was fitted with a small black box through which ran a length of plastic tube. When Marco unscrewed the cap a tiny red light on the black box began to blink red.
Gary was so engrossed watching Marco prepare Wanda that he didn’t even hear the other people approach.
“Winslow Parr, this is Gary Herbert,” Lydia said.
Gary flinched, but managed a smooth transition from recoil to friendly handshake. Marco suppressed a laugh as he poured liquid from the big jug into the aluminum bottle.
“That’s not real urine, is it?” the Director asked.
“No, of course not, mostly water, water mixed with lemon iced tea, we wouldn’t want to squirt real urine on people.” Gary halted mid-ramble and calmed himself the best way he knew how, by meeting the eyes of his dog.
“Okay, good,” said the Director. “When the time comes—if the time comes—I’ll have someone mix up something with a little more brown to it. The camera sees yellow better with a bit more brown, but this will do for now. How’s it work?”
Marco held the water bottle upside down and let the tube dangle. “The harness attaches to Wanda’s fur on the side away from camera. The tube runs down her hip. Once Wanda is in position, I take the remote control, push the button. Green light!”
He touched the controls and a yellow stream spritzed out. Marco slapped again at the button while trying to keep the liquid from splashing people’s shoes.
“Excellent,” the Director chirped, “So we won’t have to wait for the dog to go again when we need another take. Most excellent. And for the other trick Miss Lydia spoke of, will we need a second camera?”
Lydia hesitated but Gary didn’t. “You’ll definitely want a close up.”
“Is that so?” The Director stroked his head as if hair was still on his shaved scalp. “I’ll be the judge of that. But for the purposes of the test, let’s have camera two behind the lamppost.”
The Director made a quick pivot and conferred with Kid Clipboard who then pinballed around the set, moving cameras, aiming lights, motioning for a willowy, blonde stand-in to take her place beneath the streetlight. Between each deed, the lackey would confer with the Director and make adjustments accordingly. Marco, in the mean time, affixed the harness and tested the waterworks twice. Finally, Kid Clipboard let out a shrill whistle and all eyes pointed his way, Wanda’s first.
Gary said, “Are you ready my sweet girl, my little lady? I can tell you’re ready, yes you are. This is what you’ve worked so hard for, you good doggie. Good, good dog.”
He grabbed Mr. Pickle and lead Wanda to an X of masking tape on the street next to Kid Clipboard. Wanda sat as commanded and watched Gary as he made his way across the sidewalk and behind the lamppost.
“Annnnnd action!” the Director called.
Extras began to mill the sidewalk, far fewer than in the original scene, but enough to make Gary nervous. The willowy blonde stood directly between he and Wanda, so Gary took a half-step sideways and squeaked Mr. Pickle to gain the dog’s attention.
The Director grabbed Kid Clipboard by the arm and had a few words. Gary dashed back to Wanda to make her sit again. The lackey yanked down his flat brim and speed-walked to Gary, who listened intently as he was being lead back to the lamppost.
“I hope you don’t intend on using that squeaky toy throughout the shot. Our director likes to use ambient sounds in his movie, gives the scene more realism, he says. The less audio effects we have to do in post, the better.”
“Oh, sorry. Yeah, I’ll need to do it at the beginning, at least, so Wanda can spot her target,” Gary said, “That’s the way I trained her, if that’s okay.”
Kid Clipboard pondered a moment. “That should be fine. A squeak at the beginning . . .”
“Two squeaks.” The lackey’s eyes flared beneath the cap brim. “And only at the beginning, so the dog can find its mark. Anything else?”
Gary juggled Mr. Pickle in his hands, hoping to hide his nervousness. He had always used a barrage of squeaks to guide Wanda to her spot, flailing Mr. Pickle to the left or right, tooting the toy all the while.
“Is it okay if I wave Mr. Pickle around?” Gary demonstrated. “Off camera, of course.”
Wanda cocked her head, but stayed seated like a good dog.
“Mr. Pickle is it.” Kid Clipboard’s voice was as flat as his ever-present accessory. “As long as there’s not one peep from the pickle after the first squeak.”
“Whatever,” the lackey grumbled, then shouted to the crew as he trotted back to his place, “Let’s do it again.”
A dozen extras took to the sidewalk and Wanda seemed interested in all of them. The stand-in thrust out her breasts and flipped her blonde hair behind her back. Gary stepped out from behind her and made Mr. Pickle squeak twice. Wanda stood up, making her way towards the lamppost. Gary watched Wanda’s eyebrows flick toward an oncoming pedestrian, so he shook Mr. Pickle over his head with more enthusiasm than a cheerleader’s pom-pom.
Wanda didn’t veer, instead, speeded up her gait as if to follow another extra down the sidewalk. Mr. Pickle went berserk, dancing back and forth, frantic for attention. Wanda’s eyes flicked again in recognition and she walked up to the willowy blonde. Gary fell to his knees, bringing Mr. Pickle with him, flailing the toy on the ground, back and forth like a scrub brush. Wanda squatted on the shoes and Marco’s contraption spilled a yellow stream, right on target.
A woman with a handheld camera nudged Gary aside, pulling in for a close-up on the dog. On cue, Wanda sat, raised her head and aimed a look at the victim. It was the most soulful, pitiable stare, eyebrows flickering with remorse and apology, ears laid back in shame.
“Annnnnd cut!” The Director was bounding over. “Excellent, just great. And the look on the dog’s face, simply precious. Why don’t we try it again, this time for real. Is that okay with you, Nicole?”
From a chair behind Gary, the actress stood and took long, slow strides in his direction. She gave a dismissive nod and the stand-in mannequin came to life and scampered off in the opposite direction. An aura of self-possessed brightness framed Nicole Kidman’s face even before she entered the set’s blazing lamps. The Director, Kid Clipboard, Lydia and Marco gathered, all but genuflecting before her.
Not Gary, he went to Wanda and lavished her with praise.
“What did you think?” The Director opened arms wide to his leading lady, then stroked his missing hair. “I liked it. And for your character, Nicole, I think the scene conveys that extra dash of added burden, an exclamation point on the worst day of your life: late to meet your lover, all alone, maybe forever, and then this.” His hands went splat, toward his feet.
All eyes looked to Nicole, except Wanda’s. She was busy licking Gary’s hand.
“In terms of pathos, I agree, the trick is fine. And there’s a slight sense of comic relief that will really set up my reaction shot nicely, I think.” Her cheekbones orchestrated a smile. “I’m game if you are.”
Kid Clipboard started to bounce around the set, readying the crew. Marco removed the waterworks from Wanda. The Director applauded Nicole’s comments, then prattled on about Wanda’s scene-stealing expression.
“There’s only one thing.” Nicole’s words stopped everyone in their tracks. “I’ve got a great idea for a line of dialog. Just a suggestion.”
She made sure everyone was listening. “What if, after my reaction, I say ‘I barely have a leg to stand on and now this.’ I mean, all the dog has to do is lift its leg instead of squat. I think the line would really pay-off the scene. Don’t you think?”
There was quiet on the set, unordered. Gary stood, panic blanching his face. Wanda cocked her head at him.
“We can try it that way. Sure, why not?” said the Director, which sent Kid Clipboard again into motion. The hair and makeup crew swarmed Ms. Kidman.
The Director caressed the memory of hair on his head. “Let’s do the second part first, a close up of Nicole’s reaction and the new line. Then reset and run the entire sequence with the dog again, Nicole at the lamppost, dog raises leg and camera two close on the dog. Everyone good? Let’s go.”
“I, uh.” Gary was the only one not smiling. “There’s a small issue. Wanda can’t, I mean doesn’t know how to lift her leg. She always does it, you know, the other way.”
“Well, that’s inconvenient.” The Director thought for a moment. “But not a showstopper. The look on the dog’s face is so perfectly precious that we’ll do it whatever way it pees, then . . .”
“Then my line doesn’t work.”
Nicole said it sweetly, but hacked away hands of the make-up people like she was wielding a machete. With the same honey in her voice, she explained the efficacy of the line and how it only worked following a dog’s hoisted leg.
“In fact,” she said with an extra dose of sugarcoating, “It seems to me that the dog’s close-up ruins the timing of the punch line. The dog pees, then I say ‘leg to stand on;’ action, reaction.”
Nicole’s dazzling smile didn’t match her eyes. The perfect brows tweaked downward and whites around her baby-blues enlarged.
“Well, we could work with the writer to come up with a line that fits better.” The Director then shouted for him, “Dan!”
“Fuck Dan,” Nicole growled, “We don’t need a better line. We need a dog to do a simple, goddamn trick. I’m sorry, but its close up and my close up don’t work side by side. And I’m only thinking of the movie, here, to bring truth to the scene.”
Nicole circumvented rebuttal by stooping down to rub Wanda behind the ears. The dog recoiled ever so slightly.
“Yes, you understand, don’t you precious. That’s a good doggie. Such a pretty, pretty thing, yes you are.”
All around, only eyeballs moved, watching the star and the bitch. It was apparent a decision had already been made, but the crew waited for the Director to say something. Instead, Nicole stepped on his line.
“I’ll be in my trailer,” she said, standing tall, look down on the Director. “Or would you care to discuss this scene further.”
It wasn’t a pin-drop heard, but Mr. Pickle. Gary had gone limp in resignation, inadvertently dropping the toy. Wanda heard the squeak and dutifully looked up. In front of her were a very tall blonde and a man with a shaved head. Wanda flicked her expressive brows at the woman, to the man and back to the woman again. She peed on the size nine Jimmy Choo pumps.
Nicole Kidman was the only one who raised a leg and yelped.