Joanna and Matt have a son named Russ, a sophomore in college. He lives on-campus even though the college is only 20 minutes from their house, because Russ has strict rules about things and believes that living with your parents when you’re 19 is lame.
It’s not against his code, however, to have his parents buy him a good meal (which to him is mozzarella sticks, a plain burger, onion rings, and fries); on this Thursday evening he has joined them at Stenny’s.
Russ pulls an onion from its ring and hands it to Joanna; he doesn’t eat the onions in onion rings. One of his most traumatic eating experiences was being served onion rings with minced onions; he is now careful to ask if the onion is whole and therefore wholly removable before ordering.
He says to his father, “See that guy at the end of the bar? Blue shirt?”
Matt glances down the bar, and says, “Yeah, that’s Hank. Do you know him?”
“He was a substitute at our high school. I never knew his real name, we all called him Hollywood.”
Joanna asks her son why that nickname, as Hank is fortyish, middling-looking and has no star quality whatsoever.
“Brian had him as a substitute, in Health I think. Brian said he spent the whole class talking about working in the movie business.” As he says this, Hank is making his way toward them.
“Matt. Joanna. Russ, is it?”
“Hi, Hank,” Matt and Joanna say in unison.
“You know me?” Russ asks.
“Yeah, from the high school. I was a substitute there. You weren’t in any of my classes, but I knew who you were. I didn’t know that these two were your parents, though.”
“Oh, ok,” Russ says, while thinking That’s weird, why would he know me?
As if reading his thoughts, Hank says, “I seize whatever opportunity I can to improve my powers of observation and strengthen my memory.”
“Any particular reason?” Joanna asks. “Aside from it being a good thing in general?”
“I’m sure I’ve shared with you, Joanna, that I am forging a career as an actor. That’s why I only take short-term jobs. I need to keep my schedule flexible.”
Joanna does not recall being told this, but she looks at Matt, who nods slightly. He retains information about people much better than Joanna does, one of the many things that make him good in sales, his chosen profession.
“Oh, yes, of course, right,” she says.
“Any interesting roles lately?” Matt asks.
“The last big thing was my work in an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It aired this past spring.”
Russ watches that show and likes it a lot. None of the characters has a single redeeming quality, which he finds refreshing.
“Wait,” he says. “I thought they filmed that in California.”
“They film a few episodes here, to give it a sense of place,” Hank says.
“What part did you play?” Joanna asks.
“In the industry we call it atmosphere. A critical artistic element of any moving picture.”
“Atmosphere? You mean background? You were an extra?” Joanna asks.
Matt shoots her a look which says Can’t you leave the man his dignity?
“Outdated term, Joanna. And I am a full dues-paying member of the Screen Actors Guild, which us insiders call SAG.”
Matt, being kind, says “That sounds great, Hank. Like a lot of fun.”
“It’s hard work entertaining the masses,” Hank says. “I’m heading out. I may have an early call tomorrow. Nice seeing you again, Russ.”
“So long, Hollywood,” Russ says. His father scowls, but his mother laughs, and Hank smiles with obvious pleasure.