Used Dog Food

According to a good many modern authors, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” changed how dialog drives story. Even new guys like David Levine and old hats like Nelson Demille. So if you can do this bit at 65% narrative, without travelogue and excessive tags, and keep the people personal I’d like to see it. Otherwise, save the lengthy bear chased the dog sled over the hill and through the woods for Jack London. My people talk because they can tell their stories better than I can.

Jackson’s  old apartment, Long Beach, CA – late summer 1982

“There’s a long story about why I hate musicians, Jackson.”

Kaitlin Everson, the actress responsible for the lawsuits that roared like background noise on cheap tape through almost five months of his life stood on the other side of his small kitchen divider, nervously tapping her fingers on the tile top. She looked good. Dangerous. The perfect, swept up cascade of ringlets over dark waves, sprayed-on yellow capris and a snug, lacy sleeves to her elbows top. He stayed with his back against the counter on the opposite wall of his narrow kitchen, arms folded like a shield. As if it would help if she went full Tasmanian devil.

“I’ve heard some of them. Variations on a theme of the real one, probably. That’s why you’re here, Kait? To tell me a long story?”

“Alix didn’t call you?”

“She said ‘My love, the delightful Kaitlin has telephoned. Speak with her, s’il vous plaît?’ No one living has ignored Alix’s s’il vous plaît. So here you are. We could have gone neutral somewhere. Or was that the point, to stay out of public places?”

“No. I heard about this old apartment of yours. What happens here. How comfortable and real it is. The open windows, the sounds, the sweet monster dog. I heard you put eleven top-shelf L.A. women in here on Saturday mornings all summer and there was no trippy bullshit. I wanted to see it.” She stopped her fingers, took a surprise deep breath for someone usually cooler than a bucket of ice. “I sat with Randi Navarro and Cicily Warren at a Women in Broadcast lunch last week. They showed me their personal bio packs and they were the shit. The real shit. Custom color folders, custom cards, embossed calligraphy, perfect complementary colors, not overdone. Definitely not office supply print shop ready-to-wear. They said massive taste, and they would be the first ones out of any pile. I asked Randi where it came from and she said you were involved and that…That I should contact the French lawyer who untied our two-little-bitches-in-Hollywood knot, and you might let me in on who does their work.”

He got close to “Your little bitch in Hollywood knot” and let it slide. “Any of them could have sent you straight to the source. No one needed to send you to me like I clear who gets access to that talent. It doesn’t matter how you and I feel about each other, the point is that a talented person who has something to offer and could make a difference gets what they need to advance their career.” He turned, put the unopened beer he’d been about to drink back in the fridge. “If I had to be ape shit happy with everyone I worked with I’d be screwed. And so would you and so would everyone else in this town.”

“How do we feel about each other?”

“You carried the movie that made us both temporarily insane, and at long last, some money. You’re way too good looking and too talented and your bitch factor is too high for you to disappear. And you’re too smart not to care about something. So I’m down. Like I said, not that it matters what I think.”

She’d leaned both arms on the divider, he stepped up to the counter attached to the other side, thought for a second.

“Look, Kait, I was a green, dopey, shaggy flatland college boy with a deal that fell in my lap. You gave me that shit on your shoes look the day we met Shannon and I figured okay, fair enough. I’m not actress bait, drop it and get on down the road. I always wonder why girls who bail on me do it, but I get it. It’s happened so much my dude to dude failure excuse is that I’m an acquired taste.” They looked at each other for few, like a lion tamer and a lion, trying to figure out who was which.

“It wasn’t personal, Jax. Musicians were like a bad habit until I started getting real work.” She did that thing he thought was a universal girl move, averting her eyes to look at her fingers absently doodling on his tile-topped divider. “After I got the job on the soap and I put that part of me down, some of those guys did some really stupid, mean shit. I went off on one at the Whiskey one night and it got turned into ‘ex-groupie soap star goes off’ press. With pictures of me looking fucked up and mad as hell screaming about all their lying bullshit. I had to sue them all to stop it.”

“So suing musicians is just how you get through your day?”

She didn’t want to buy it. The humor in his voice, his eyes. “Randi warned me you’d find a way to get around me, no matter what I put up.”

“Randi warns every female that’s about to talk to me.”

“She should. And Cicily told me what you did to that piece of work pussy-bait lover boy of hers. I worked a laundromat-on-acid fabric softener spot with that rat fart when I first started, back in high school.”

“Whoa. No shit? The one where the girl pulls her clothes out of the dryer, a guy dumps his clothes all over to run help ‘cause she’s so cute and her clothes smell so good, everything goes all wiggly and BAM, they’re holding hands in a field somewhere?”

“You saw it?”

“Hell yeah. I can’t believe that was you and Gibson. That’s sad, because a lot of us guys wanted to be the dude in the laundromat. You probably started a whole humongous urban myth about picking up chicks with fabric softener, being way wet-dreamable in that almost see-through dress. In fact, I need to call a couple of people and tell them the ‘Smells like sunshine and happy’ chick filed a lawsuit to keep from going out with me.”

“You’re not supposed to be funny, Jax. Or nice. Or easy for me to be with, or work with. I emptied my humility piggy bank and rehearsed some deep southern fried Scarlett O’Hara damsel in distress for this.” She crossed her arms, grabbed her blouse with both hands in the center of her chest. “Oh puh-leeeeease, Mistuh Jay-uc-son, you just hay-uv tuh help poor little ol’ me.” She let go, relaxed her arms back onto the divider.

“That has to be the smallest humility piggy bank on the planet and the best Scarlett O’Hara I’ve seen since some guys explained cotillions to me when I was sixteen. You’re helped, Kaitlin. The only rule is don’t try to be smarter than the people who will help you. That about killed the control freak in Navarro, but if you like her package, that’s how it happens.”

“Screw that stress. Let whoever it is clean up my press world and drop a quarter in my direction when it’s time to pick it up.” She tapped the counter again, caught herself, took another deep breath. “Okay, coming here is what about killed me. And that’s all there is? No ‘who’s on top now.’ No insincere apologies, no games? No pinch my left butt cheek until it’s purple?”

“That’s it. Well…”

She raised one eyebrow.

“Is that your hair?”

“For fuck’s…Yes it’s mine. It’s cut longer down the back so I can put the center curls in and it balances. If I don’t put the curls in I have to do all kinds of crap with clips or my hair looks like a horse’s ass from behind. Godammit, I see it. Don’t you even think it. What is it with everyone and my fucking hair?”

“Everybody says it’s a fall. That bass player you got so pissed off at had a curly fall just like your hair tied to his antenna and lime green crotchless panties taped to his back window. He said both of them belonged to you.”

“They weren’t mine. Not my hair, for damn sure not my panties. I mean give a girl some credit for taste. And that waste of air with all of his phony Kaitlin’s groupie swag taped to his car got his ass sued with the rest of them. I am not a groupie and never was and this is my hair. Once upon a time I liked to hit a fatty and dance and I liked to go out with band guys. Until a few years ago turning twenty-one and regular employment raised my IQ.”

“So you didn’t pull a train after the —”

“NO!” He thought her eyes might catch fire. “You can eat shit and fucking die, Jackson. You’re as bad as all the rest of them.” She spun, steamed for the door.

That’s the Kaitlin I know.” He couldn’t hold the laugh. “Day-um, bitch. Chill. You hungry?”

She stopped at the door, turned halfway around. “You hillbilly asshole. I’m starving.” She did the index finger flip between them. “You? And me? Now?”

“Let’s go. I can hang with a hot actress, and we can bust each other’s chops a little longer. You forgot these.” He held out two business cards, tugged on her ringlets when she got close enough to take them. He laughed again, she yanked the cards with one hand, punched him on the shoulder, hard, with the other.

“Fuck you, you, you,” a laugh of her own got out. “You goofy, pickle dick hick.” She shook her hair, checked out Paula’s and Stacey’s Morisé Women’s Initiatives cards, dropped them in a clutch not much bigger than they were. “You’re driving. Because I like your old car and want to be seen riding in it. Since that is so incredibly shallow of me, I’ll buy. But only if you take us somewhere in Hollywood or Beverly.”

She looked up, caught him grinning. “And all that ‘I’m really just a cute, fun guy’ shit you’re working like it would make La Brea belch Elvis back? Buy it a coffin. If anyone asks? We still hate each other. Got it?”


Morisé – 1700 Oilman’s Bank Tower

“Kaitlin Everson?” Paula set the folder on top of everything on Stacey’s desk. “I missed the legal do-si-do, but I got the word upfront from Studley. Do we have right of refusal?”

“Alix said that we all underestimate the Director of Women’s Initiatives. That he has turned a negative into a positive and has now completed the process for which he has been in training.” She watched Paula’s face go question mark. “Yeah, me neither. Something about forgiveness and the big picture. Shannon has thinned Kaitlin’s bio to bullet points for me, and Kaitlin is ready for the initial preferences call. Which is you. They’ll shoot the interview in Zane’s green room, edit her aircheck, Jackson will smooth it out next door at Air Biscuit. It’s a genuine project.”

“Don’t you think it’s amazing how they do those interviews? It’s just two people in chairs in Tits’ small warehouse and it looks like someone’s badass living room or the Parthenon or some beach that’s too clean to be real.”

“What is more amazing, Paula, is that Alix threw him and Kaitlin together without an ambulance on standby and that you get away with calling Zane Rialta ‘Tits’.”

“Studley says Alix sent Kaitlin to him with a s’il vous plaît, and everybody out there calls Zane ‘Tits’. It’s like her unofficial celeb toe tag.”

“I’m not sure about the toe tag, but the s’il vous plaît explains this.” Stacey handed Paula a copy of True Star that had landed with the morning mail. “They’re a quarter page in the gossip section, on the patio at a burger place. Smiling. He must have had to send his soul out to the cleaners after.”

“The smile tells me the picture is doctored.” Paula pulled on the sides of her mouth with her index fingers and made a face before she opened the paper, shuffled through to the middle. “‘Heart Throb Actress Starring in Real-Life Romance!’ Who writes this used dog food?”

“People like us who don’t quite have total autonomy about what they publish?”

“Somewhere in that, I heard ‘We’re doing Kaitlin Everson, Paula. Get over it’.”


Anonymole has decided on a whiff of an idea from me that September is scene month. Not every day, but often, we should offer a short scene that stands alone and when you walk away you have a decent idea of what’s going on and might want to turn the page. This is number 8 or 9 or 10 of “Hukt awn seens werks fur mee!”

Published by

Phil Huston

10 thoughts on “Used Dog Food”

    1. Apologies – This was straight out of part 412 of some book I was writing, and by here (if one had read this far) you’d know the players. I actually went in and edited a few lines by adding name call-outs in the dialog. I once accepted a challenge (they’re out there) to write a book/novella/short in dialog only. One of the old how-to books I’ve got around here has a “Scared of dialog?” exercise that is dialog only. I sometimes feel that I’m on an island by myself in the semi-pro world with dialog, as the trend is to throw a string of words at the page in hope of evoking an “om-bee-onz.” I read somewhere, Leonard probably, that we (readers) know how it feels by what is being said, and if you can’t do that write travelog and man against the world head-time adventure stories. Moby Dick. No thanks. This was just a throw-it-out-there dialog bit because in these situations nobody but the characters can do it. Or that’s what I think, anyway. I mean how much fun would “And then two women in the newly revamped Public Relations department discussed Kaitlin’s history with Jackson over a grocery store celebutante rag and decided they had to do her publicity pack whether they wanted to or not.” Borrrrrr-ing.
      Elmore Leonard, again. “I’ll bet you don’t skip the parts with dialog.”


  1. Events happening to characters within a setting. That’s what we remember. (This is a recurring theme, but with a twist). Think back on any story (movie, novel, folktale, whatever) what you will remember is what happened, to whom, where.
    Decker shot the hot replicant wearing a plastic raincoat in the back.
    Agustus fell into the chocolate river and got stuck in the tube.
    Sally faked an orgasm in a diner.
    ET elevated the kids on bikes to evade the government.
    What was said during any of those situations? I have no idea. The dialog is lost.

    But without enging dialog, the events and people and environment mean nothing. Dialog is the glue that holds it all together.

    However, there is one situation which we’ve not discussed, which is, when the dialog itself is doing the telling of events and characters and setting. If people in the stories are describing events that happen to themselves or others, that type of dialog does double duty; you get the events and the conversation. (After which you’ll still remember only the events, but that’s just they way humans’ minds work.)

    Dialog is glue. But too much glue is just glop—unless the dialog is there to tell the story. Like you’ve done here.


    1. “But without enging dialog, the events and people and environment mean nothing. Dialog is the glue that holds it all together.” Can’t have it both ways. You recall no dialog because the scenes were action/visually driven. When faced with dry or boring, add dialog. Paro woke up with a CIA drug hangover, rolled over , farted. Did some head time figuring out what he needed, gave us some internal Google research dialog on pay phones and where was he going to find one, went outside to discover he’d overslept and the flight services truck Gina had loaned was gone. Another day in humidity paradise. That sells like used dog food.
      I mentioned Butch Cassidy and the useless scene of the colorful miner. That could go as well for the sepia tone photo montage and the bicycle music video. The bike scene something both the studio and Robert Redford thought were stupid. The bike scene that got Bacharach one of his two Oscars for BC and proved to be Redford’s break out film. Okay, two attractive people on a bike. They took a bike ride, in a barnyard. What can you do for that scene, if you had to write it and didn’t have Bacharach? And you had to keep it because it sold a gazillion tickets. Why? Because people like filler that has some fun, personable content. You don’t like people shooting the shit, particularly smart ass women, and I get that. But it played well to those outside of WordPress, I was told that you turn the page and it’s linear without that BORING bunch of narrative stuff. We get enough narrative, never enough people. Even if they’re worried about nothing but a zit and payphones. A matter we are agreed to disagree on. And the editing was loose or non existent on the housekeeper, something to bump a little word count in revision.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. My point was what do you remember? What was memorable about yours or anyone’s story? Characters enduring events in settings. In the end it’s what we remember that’s important. If you don’t remember anything about a story then it failed.

        Humans, Homo Sapiens psychology is geared to remembering settings and within them, the events that impacted people. What happened where to whom. Grok killed the mammoth with his favorite spear three days walk past the crooked river. Humans are built that way.

        However, for us today, why the characters enduring events in settings are memorable is due in part to the interactions of characters through dialog.

        > Can’t have it both ways.
        Of course we can. That’s the point. Enjoyable, dynamic repartee is what keeps us attached to the characters, engaged with their toil and traumas. We won’t remember what they said, but we’ll remember enjoying reading of their adventures because of who they were as characters portrayed through dialog. You need both.


      2. We’re still almost at apples and oranges. Visual feedback memorable is on a different wavelength. Gina played a lot better to the non wordpressers who saw it for what it was – embedded allegory. So far she’s the only character who has jumped off the page. Chili is memorable because he’s John Travolta. The same could be said of all the other dialog you don’t like with Sam Jackson etc comparisons. When a dialog character does that it means they popped and the last thing you want to read is dialog that represents instead of sitting on the plate like mashed potatoes to hold the the loose peas together and keep them off the meat. Bottom line, and we’ve been here, is chicks sitting around talking, or anybody sitting around talking regardless of what is presented in the convo besides what’s the plan, Stan. Real people shoot the shit and expose themselves. They don’t just say well, here’s your gas receipt sonny, beat it. Ever walk into somebody’s office and the PA runs over you with personality and gum? Check into a motel and the same thing? My money is it pisses you off, shut up we need to transact. Like I said, agree to disagree. Write me a character without any of the Hollywood backup. No way you do Meg Ryan or ET in writing without making them larger than the page. Whether you like Gina or not, she got your attention. And like the the PA and motel girl and their gum you didn’t like her. Next!


      3. Agree to disagree—but I”m not really disagreeing. We remember people, Gina, Paro, or Cav from their personalities. We remember their personalities mostly from what they say (and somewhat from how they behave, sans dialog).
        And yeah, they’re memorable if they have big personalities.
        I’m not much of a dialog person, frankly, because I don’t like people.
        Here’s another admission: my wife is a small minded person. And when I say that I have this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt in mind: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.”
        I just tune out when she starts discussing other people, and this is primarily what she talks about. I don’t care about other people and their lives and their foibles and problems. This may be where I get my distaste for dialog. And why it’s such a chore for me to get people talking in my stories.

        Liked by 1 person

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