Fan Mail Flames

Submitted into Contest #212 in response to: Write a story about a pair of pen pals.... view prompt

6 comments

Contemporary Funny Friendship

Ira Stanford told his assistant, “Seen it all.” He’d glanced at the fan letter for about five seconds. “A rubber stamp would suffice to answer most of these scribbles.” He tossed the letter onto the stack. “Yes. Answer them, but you’re not Miss Lonely-hearts, Shane. More important things on your plate.”

Shane Delacroix was relieved he needn’t answer each fan letter in depth.

Ira said. “Did you book those flights next week? And hotels? How about the press? Anyone meeting me at the airport? Any talk shows? Radio? TV? Cable?”

Shane answered each question.

“What cities? How many hotels?”

Shane gave him a folder with printouts of everything he inquired about. Ira didn’t so much want the information as to quiz him, to catch him unawares, or lying.

“You like my kids, right?”

“Of course, Ira.” What else could he say?

“I have meetings today. You need you to take them to the park. Work remotely on your phone.”

Working for ‘America’s favorite neighbor’ was exhausting. Shane thought, ‘If they only knew.’ He understood why Ira always needed new assistants. He should be known as America’s favorite burn-out. It wasn’t only the relentless schedule and workflow. Ira could not bear to treat people well. He’d never thanked Shane for anything. After a month, Shane had put feelers out for other work.

The studio insisted that they answer fan mail in a timely fashion. Ira refused to do it so the job fell to Shane.

Most of them read like trite form letters. ‘Dear Ira, You are amazing! I love you! I wish you were my father/brother/boyfriend/lover. I know you don’t have time to answer me. But I had to let you know how much I loved your movie, ‘The Dear Father,’/ ‘The Dear Brother,’ / ‘The Dearest Boyfriend,’ or ‘My Favorite Lover,’ etc.…’

He would sign Ira’s name.

Copying and pasting, Shane responded with brief, stock answers. He ended with, ‘Thank you for your interest. I hope you’ll see my latest movie, due out this summer / winter / fall / spring…’

Shane printed the letters and stuffed the envelopes assembly line fashion. He handled the daily arrivals of about fifty letters in about an hour.

But one letter demanded further attention. Ira would never consider it generic.

It read, ‘Dear Ira, You don’t know me but I admire your work so much. Your characters are so believable and loveable. You make them come alive.

It got interesting after that.

‘I also admire your walking away from a beloved character. You don’t sell out to the temptation of milking one role for movie after movie.

One sequel suggests a story too rich to fit into the standard format of a feature film. If a film’s title contains Roman numerals, the original tale is nothing but a desiccated corpse. Only the most rabid fans bother to see sequels. One might as well sign on to performing in a weekly sitcom.

In farm country, ‘sequelling’ means beating a dead horse. This term is rarely used (never, actually, ‘cause I just made it up! LOL).

I know you can’t reply to everyone in depth. Win some, lose some.

Sincerely,

Ella’

Ella sat in the coffee shop owned by her friend, Gabriella. She told her, “I did something really stupid.”

“How stupid?”

“So stupid… Beyond stupid.”

“So, tell me.”

“I wrote a fan letter to Ira Stanford.”

“You and eighty million other people. Big deal.”

“But I heard back.”

“No!”

“He’s nice.”

“He wrote you?”

She nodded. They laughed and embraced.

“Do you have it?” Giggling, she nodded. “Read it to me. Hurry!”

Ella read, ‘Thanks for your interesting letter, Winsome. I’ll give you that nickname based on your comment, ‘win some, lose some.’ You win.

It’s true. Sequels are a mixed blessing. The work is steady. But many examples show the law of diminishing returns in force.

I enjoy creating new roles for new stories and I’ve been blessed by a public which rewards that variety.

Sincerely,

Ira’

Ella wasted no time. She answered his note and sent it that day.

Thank you, Ira, for your unexpected reply.

I have a question. Answer if you wish.

In your most recent movie, ‘Dearest Father,’ you say the phrase ‘playing god’ twice. My little brother describes himself that way when killing ants. Besides being a cliché, such pleasures dwell far beneath what any sane person expects from a real god.

Who would worship a god so self-absorbed?

My question - why is ‘playing god’ always used to describe destructive acts? Creative types never define themselves as ‘playing god.’ They see their creations as self-generated, with no play and no god playing a part. Isn’t that also playing god?

Ira, I know you are busy. Please forgive my pestering you with questions. I feel like I know you. You’re like the father I never had.

I look forward to your next theatrical epic.

Sincerely,

Ella’

Shane stayed late to pen a reply. Reading it before sending, he struck his name off the bottom of the letter and signed it from Ira. Assigning Ira ownership of his ideas triggered Shane’s anxiety. He rationalized that he merely followed instructions. He attributed any third person references to himself as attempting to humanize Ira.

‘Dear Winsome,

You make a good point. Of course, you know my characters say the lines. I don’t write them. The director and editors felt ‘playing god’ was important enough to repeat.

Making movies must seem a desultory activity that begs the stability of most careers. It’s not boring, I assure you, but demands a voracious appetite for variety. Is listing ADHD on a resume a typical practice?

My children would agree with you about the father they never had. They pine for those I portray in movies. But my schedule does not allow me to be him.

Stage presence ceases when the director yells ‘Cut!’ Like a kite with a broken string, the actor’s mask becomes a lifeless artifact. And the wearer, the star, has another face and draws no attention. He’s another mortal fumbling through life. No one pays attention until ‘Action’ is called again. The inner light ignites and all eyes turn to him.

Fans write to a persona from a film they saw. They write to the role which moved them, which they know, not the person behind the role, whom they do not. The character portrays hopes and dreams in the scene with more depth than the actor has in private life. How many stars journey to foreign planets to battle aliens wielding superpowers? Certainly not me.

Of course, the actor may draw on personal experience in his portrayal. But what grabs the audience is projected by them onto the character from their imaginations and emotional needs.

You like my movies because your dreams appeal to you. An actor’s portrayals provide a visual focus to the audience’s fantasies.

I hope my random musing haven’t bored you. My not so handsome, or I should say, not as handsome assistant, Shane, goes on about this, ad nauseum. You might like him. His appeal lies deeper than shallow projected images.

Always,

Ira’

Ella shared the letter with Gabriella who commented, “He likes you. But why does he talk about his assistant? Who’s he?”

“I don’t know. It’s a pretty stream of conscious letter.”

Customers entered the coffee shop and announced a location scout for Ira Stanford’s production company was in town scheduling days, getting permits and securing hotel space.

‘Dear Ira,

I heard your production team will be gracing our fine city. These things are complex. So, I won’t toot my horn too loudly for bringing the show here.

But if I may… YAY!

Let me invite you for a coffee at a place even the most scrupulous location scout might miss. I know you’ll be busy, so that’s just a signal flare with no expectations attached. You know how to reach me if you have five minutes free for a shot of caffeine.

Sincerely,

Ella’

A few days later, a letter from Ira arrived.

‘Winsome,

The rumor you heard was largely true. I am invited on a publicity junket for a product promotion. I’m included to provide visual focus, in person and on camera. The eye goes to the familiar and therefore most trustworthy face. An actor who plays a doctor on TV sells more aspirin than the actual doctor down the street. Who better than America’s favorite neighbor? Me.

Once the mask falls away, you might not recognize me in passing. But if we cross paths, a coffee will be a pleasure.

Ira’

When the production company arrived, Ella was waiting. A large bus parked in the town square followed by several rental cars, a limo and a grip truck stocked with lights and camera equipment. People gathered to greet Ira and his production people. Everyone had purpose but to an outsider, they just milled about.

Ella stepped up to Ira.

“Hi Ira…”

He stared blankly. “Do I know you?”

“I’m Ella, or as you prefer, Winsome. Whenever you have time for that coffee I promised, I’m ready to go.”

“Oh, uhm, not right now… That’s my assistant’s job.” He called out. “Shane get me a half caf, no dairy… you know the drill.”

Ella turned to him. “You’re Shane?”

“You’re Winsome?”

She said, “Call me Ella. We need to talk.” She led him by the elbow to Gabriella’s café. “You know about Winsome?”

“Sure. I’ve heard of you. Your nickname…”

“I admire Ira’s eloquent promotion of you.”

He looked into her smiling eyes. He smiled back.

“Yes… I may have had a hand in that.” Her look questioned. “Okay. Let’s say we collaborated.”

They entered Gabriella’s café. She sat with them.

Ella pointed at Shane. “Gabriella, I want you to meet the… famous Shane, Ira’s assistant.”

She extended her hand. “I’ve heard so much...”

He sensed something. “Really?”

“Yes, Ira can’t say enough.”

“I’m not sure I understand. You know Ira?”

Ella said, “We’ve been corresponding for months.”

“Uhm, right. Let me explain.” The two women grinned. “I wrote all those letters. Part of my job is answering Ira’s fan mail. I’m the one who wrote you.”

“And signed his name…?”

“With his authorization. Your letters were so interesting, I couldn’t resist engaging in…”

“How many other pen pals do you have?”

“Ira gets hundreds of letters a month.” The women looked at each other. “And I only send stock replies. A few sentences at most.” He looked at them. “You’re different. It was so interesting, that’s why I called you Winsome. You’re the only Winsome.”

“Uh huh…”

Shane leaned in. “I’ll be honest.” Ella stifled a laugh. “Writing to you was the high point of my job. I hate this business. I want to relocate. Start again with real people. Who are honest.”

“Like you?”

“I didn’t mean to mislead. I liked our conversation and writing you was the only way I had. Uhm, Is there work around here?”

Ella looked at her friend.

Gabriella said, “Can you make coffee? We always need someone.”

“Uhm, sure. At least ‘til I find something…”

Ella said, “More your speed?”

“Uhm, yeah. Maybe…”

“Sure. Well, think about it. If you’re interested, fill out an application…”

“Yeah, well… I should get back with Ira’s coffee.”

He told Gabriella how Ira wanted his coffee. She prepared it and handed it to him.

“On the house…”

“You sure?” She nodded. “Well, thanks!”

Giggling, the women watched him leave.  

“If he sticks around, he’s probably okay.”

“I’d keep an eye on him.”

“Yeah… Bears watching…”

They gave each other a high five and laughed.

August 25, 2023 23:52

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6 comments

Amanda Lieser
13:52 Sep 21, 2023

Hi John, It’s an interesting idea-the hopes and dreams of two individuals who found a way to connect through letter writing. I confess, I have written a fan letter, but this actor was exceptionally generous and wrote back as a Christmas gift for my husband. It was incredibly kind of him. I loved that this assistant found a way to create joy in their thankless job. I sincerely hope that Ira has his own happiness. I’d love a sequel diving into his journey a bit more-that age old question: what is the definition of success?

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John K Adams
14:40 Sep 21, 2023

Amanda, Thanks for the kind words. I'm glad this story resonated with you. I have written some sequels. This one may nag at me until I do so. It's a good question and worth exploring further.

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Delbert Griffith
11:17 Aug 30, 2023

I really liked how you described what happens behind the scenes with a behind-the-scenes character. Nice. Winsome. Very clever, John. Writers always seem to come up with cleverness like this. The letter writers had such differing views, but somehow they seemed to mesh. That was well done, my friend. I thoroughly enjoyed the tale. Cheers!

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John K Adams
13:08 Aug 30, 2023

Thanks, Delbert. This was an interesting challenge. Kind of a lot of moving parts for a short piece. I'm glad it worked for you.

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Mary Bendickson
22:58 Aug 27, 2023

Looks like a romance brewing.☕

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John K Adams
23:16 Aug 27, 2023

Thanks Mary. One never knows.

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