7.03 / March 2012

Girl in America


The Makeup Artist summoned the whore in her.  It was surprisingly easy and quick.  For most girls it took more prodding, but Mexican Whore #2 arrived eagerly, as if she’d spent her whole life waiting for this moment.

“Good girl.  Perfection,” he says, spinning her toward the mirror.

For a moment Pippa is startled by the transformation.  Underneath the thick foundation, black eye shadow, and red lipstick, she’s a white girl from the Midwest with a fake tan.  She’s still pretty (one must always be pretty unless playing ugly for an award nomination), but it’s a reckless sort of pretty that frees Pippa from herself and leaves her wanting to scream obscenities into the air, bare her breasts, fall to her knees sobbing while tearing at her hair – some improvisation that would release into the world Mexican Whore #2’s true character and suffering, which Pippa had come to understand during many hours spent considering the script by the pool at her dingy apartment complex in West Hollywood.

The script didn’t specify a back-story so Pippa wrote one.  Under the weight of the makeup, it feels impossibly close to the truth. She reviews it in her mind.  Mexican Whore #2 is from a remote village in the shadow of Aztec ruins.  She has an abusive step-father and dreams of escape.  She hitchhikes to Mexico City and falls under the spell of a sexy pimp, Juan-Diego.  At first Mexican Whore #2 loves her work because it makes her feel powerful and sensual and alive.  Eventually she likes it less because people see her only as a whore.  In this scene she is willing to do whatever it takes to get the money for her escape to America because she knows that her real life – the one where all her talents are recognized – is there.

“They’re ready,” The Assistant calls into the trailer.

The Makeup Artist squeezes her shoulder.  “Break a leg,” he says, and she smiles widely at him, an excited and hopeful whore.  He likes her, yet decides to leave the smear of red lipstick that she doesn’t notice across her front tooth, his own artistic nod towards realism.

Bright, hot lights surround the set and Pippa has to close her eyes for a moment against the glare.  The clarity of light in her eyes, the way that it almost sears them, speeds her mind up as it searches for a reference.  Her subconscious races through a rolodex of moving images until the light conjures up a boom – nuclear fallout – and for a millisecond she pictures it happening, the ground shaking, the lines of the world drifting and smearing.  But before she can understand where, or from what movie, the image comes from, it’s gone; the moment just a micro-coupling of the real and the subliminal.

“Pippa, Pippa, alright, how’re we doing?” The Director says to her now.  He’s a frenetic and fat man, always shuffling papers, yelling obscenities, sweating, swearing, smoking.  He picks at his teeth with his tongue as he speaks to her, his lips and cheeks a constant contortion of moving bulges.  “Here’s how this is going to go down.  There’s your mark,” he points to a makeshift plank floor in a makeshift saloon.  “You’re going to get down on your knees and wait there for The Movie Star.  Don’t touch him too much during the scene, he’s the one fucking you, alright?  You’re the whore.”

She nods.  Critics call him “The Action Auteur,” the go-to-guy for opening multi-million dollar blockbusters every summer.  And there was something artistic about him, Pippa could see that.  He paid attention to detail.  Most directors would treat her like an extra, send the AD over to explain her mark or character motivation, and she understands how to act then is to be quiet, smile, and nod intently.  But The Director seems to take an interest in her that’s almost paternal and she wants him be pleased with her, for him to value her, and to see that she is special.

“We’re going to start in a long shot and truck in, so watch your mark and watch your face.  I need to see whore-face, you know, look like you like it, but also like you’re a whore.  Know what I mean?”  He turns to her and she nods.  “You look good.  They’ve done a good job with you.  How do you feel?  Ready?”

“Ready.  Definitely.”

“Get that fucking boom out of my shot, asshole!” he yells towards the set before turning back to her.  A bead of sweat runs down his fat nose.  “Suspension of disbelief.  Do you know what that is?  That’s acting.  That’s movies.”



Pippa still remembers the first time she saw herself on TV.  She was five and her Mother had signed her up for ballet and during the first recital her Mother held a video camera, bought expressly for this event, and kept it trained on her girl.  Afterwards she gathered Pippa’s Father and Brother to watch the tape.  They sat together on the couch, surrounded by family photographs that Pippa’s Mother had taken and framed and hung as a visual testament to their lives.  After much fiddling with cords, the television flickered and suddenly Pippa was onscreen wearing her pink tutu, standing at the end of a line of girls in pink tutus.  The camera then zoomed to Pippa, whose cheeks were flushed with blood, cutting the other girls away until it was only Pippa dancing across the screen.  This left her with the impression that she was more important than the other girls, her five-year-old mind unable to connect television, to camera, to operator, to bias.  No, what Pippa understood was that her family stared reverentially at this big square box every day for hours on end.  Now she was in the box and they stared only at her.  On TV she was more important than in real life.



In the way of most celebrities, Pippa is uniquely beautiful.  Look at her now as she stands in her robe next to the plank floor of the makeshift saloon.  Press the hollow of your skull against the camera’s stiff rubber eyepiece and feel the cool air press against your retina.  Stare into the lens and see the saloon, the entire world reduced to a rectangle.  Zoom to Pippa and study her face.  Most of her features are average and unremarkable (forehead, ears, cheeks, nose), while others appear just a bit off and almost grotesque: eyes that are too round and too far apart, giving her the appearance of being perpetually startled; an extra large mouth that when smiling stretches back to her perfectly white molars.  When her features are still, the round eyes and full pillow-lips lend an innocent sexiness to her face.  But when she is animated, everything suddenly appears too large and overcrowded.  This face is infinitely magnetic; it contorts from beautiful to grotesque in the blink of an eye.



There is a sudden electric hum in the air as a crowd of people escort The Movie Star onto the set.  His effect is immediate and instinctual.  The Stagehands look to the floor, the Lighting Men suddenly have last minute adjustments, the Costume and Prop Team stare from the corner of their eyes, unable to look at his magnificence directly.  Most stars are smaller in real life, but standing next to the frenetic and fat Director, The Movie Star is grand and luminescent, as if the adoration has lit him from within and his skin, hair, teeth, glow with it, casting a pall on everyone else.

Pippa, stripped nude, kneels on the plank floor in the makeshift saloon.  Her eyes are big and round and her mouth softly parted as she watches him stride toward the set. Underneath the apple-round breasts that bob from her unnaturally, her chest feels like a flock of startled birds taking flight from a tree.  He steps onto the plank floor and strips himself of his robe.  He wears only a flesh colored cup over his genitals, held in place by thin strips of elastic that cross over his hips.  Pippa looks at his body, at the tanned skin taut over hard muscles, bones, organs, and thinks it’s as if his body is literally engorged with it – fame – blood carrying it to every inch of him.  She has an impulse to run her hands all over his body, to dig her fingernails into his sides, to release pin-pricks of him onto the makeshift plank floor and lap it up.

Instead she remains calm and aloof, as if his presence were nothing to her.  Pippa understands that the way to handle celebrities is to act like you don’t care.  Then the mystery reverses itself – then they are interested in you.  They can’t handle it.  They desperately want to know, who is this person who doesn’t give a shit about me?  She tosses her hair over her shoulder.  Stretches her neck from side to side.  The lighting is tested.  A camera is rolled closer.  He steps behind her.  The Assistant runs over with a clapboard and the scene begins.

The Movie Star roughly grabs Pippa’s hips from behind and pushes her forward onto her hands and knees.  For a moment she is shocked by the force of it, by her hands soundly hitting the plank floor, her head and neck snapping forward and back, but then it feels strangely familiar, this taking, and she realizes she has connected to Mexican Whore #2, for whom this must be an ordinary reality.  She is an actress!  His large hands encircle her waist as he thrusts his hips and the cold, plastic, flesh-colored cup smacks against her ass.  He says things to her, asks if she likes it, calls her a dirty cunt, and since this wasn’t in the script she belatedly realizes he’s improvising and that she’s already behind.  She looks up and is blinded by the lights.  The cup repeatedly smacks her ass.  Whore-face.  Whore-face.  Make the whore-face.  The Movie Star works a hand up and tugs angrily at her right breast.  Instinctively she yelps against the pain.  In one swift movement he pulls off her and she loses her balance, crumples face first onto the floor.

Everything smells bare, like freshly cut plywood.  She’d thought it would be different; it had all happened so quickly.  She hadn’t even had the chance to act at all.



Pre-teen Pippa came of age surrounded by billboards featuring bikini-clad women reposed across sports-cars and feeding cheeseburgers into their gaping mouths; magazine covers advertising the best ten-day colonic cleanses endorsed by celebrities, foolproof cellulite blasting techniques, and blowjobs he’ll love; reality television shows featuring twenty-five women in a hot tub vying for the affections of one man; websites that rated whether one was hot, or sadly, not.  She collected this information in a notebook of tearsheets and written observations that she came to think of as a sort of Owner’s Manual to Womanhood, understanding that the goals were 1) be beautiful 2) get a man and 3) be adored (preferably famous, i.e., adored by many), and that the manual contained all the secrets she needed to get there.

Pippa watched movies so she would know what to expect out of life.  She took notes on the proper emotional responses to romantic events.  How To Say I Love You: The man always says it first.  The woman looks at him quietly, as if in shock, then slowly looks away, pondering, then slowly back, enamored, a small smile across her face.  She bites her lower lip sweetly.  They kiss.  How To Kiss: Stare in the eyes for a long moment.  Don’t rush.  He lifts his hand and cups her chin tenderly, pulls her in.  No tongue at first.  How To Break Up.  How To Get Back Together.  How To Be Sad.  How To Be Happy.

At some point during all this research, Pippa became a teenager, stopped watching so many romantic comedies, took up with sex-cats like Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, learned how to masturbate to a highly vivid fantasy featuring a backstage rendezvous at an Eminem concert, and subsequently she wanted to know How To Fuck.  She reviewed her articles on “What Men Want in Bed” and showered, shaved, and perfumed her body, and lost her virginity to a rebellious but Nietzsche-smart boy who didn’t tell her he loved her or hold her chin tenderly in his hand, but who wore a condom, the medicinal odor of which wafted from the weight-bearing hand next to her face, and who stabbed at her quickly with his eyes squeezed firmly shut, releasing a short little grunt at the end.  This didn’t fit the picture in her mind of passion.

So she went back to the book and learned how to suck his cock and he learned how to scream.  This triumph lead to others.  Once on her mother’s sofa, he bounced Pippa up and down on his lap and muttered into her ear about tragedy being the only true affirmation of life, which she liked because she felt it gave the scene a certain something.  With each backstroke she rose up to meet the framed portraits that hung on the wall.  Images of herself, her Father, her Mother, her Brother posed around birthday cakes and Christmas trees – her Mother’s proud display of a boring existence.  Pippa was certain the world contained more for her.

“Life has no true purpose.  God is dead.  Love is dead,” he said.

With her five, seven, twelve, and fifteen year-old selves watching, she had to know if she was doing it right and had an overwhelming desire to see her face, for if there was anything Pippa understood from the hours spent inspecting herself in front of the mirror, it was her face’s tendency towards the grotesque.  The overhead lights dulled her reflection in the glass of the framed pictures.  “Fuck me from behind,” she said to him as she stood.  Pippa faced out into the living room and he shoved her forward onto the floor, her hands soundly hitting the hardwood, her head and neck snapping forward and back.

She searched for a reflection.  Her eyes landed on the glass screen of the television, which produced a gray-smeared image of them, a real-time representation of the physical sensation.  As he fucked her, she turned her face from side to side, looking for her best angle.  Her mouth was pulled into a grimace, so she relaxed it.  Her eyes looked startled, so she half-closed the lids.  Now she was sexy.  He dug his hands into the flesh of her ass and her nerves sent little alerts to her brain.  But in the screen she remained weightless, spectral.  She was both in, and separate from, her body.  It both mattered, and didn’t.



Suddenly Pippa can see herself there, as if looking through a camera from above.  Her body is collapsed on the plank floor, her face turned in profile.  Zooming closer, her mouth is lax, her eye is still and glassy like a dead fish.  Long shot, the other characters move around, covering their whispers behind their hands, talking about her as if she were just an extra, thumbing scripts, tweaking lights, pretending not to stare.

She imagines what will happen when she sits up.  She will stand and walk to The Director confidently.  She will not be fired from this film.  Like in any movie, the heroine must fall, must break a bit, before she can be redeemed, exalted.  Pippa can see herself moving, nipples and back erect, walking on her toes like some beautiful bird to The Director, and she will beg him – cry if she has to – and he will have to let her try again.

She sees herself doing it but The Makeup Artist arrives first and sits her up.  “Oh, sweetie, you have lipstick on your teeth,” he says, feeling responsible for her now.  “Hold on, I’ll fix you,” and he wipes at her teeth with his thumb, removes a brush from the kit on his hip and sweeps powder across her nose.  He brushes her hair from her ear and rests a hand on her bare shoulder.  “Girl, The Movie Star may be the Sexiest Man Alive, but don’t let him intimidate you.  This is your scene.  This scene doesn’t exist without Mexican Whore #2.  And she doesn’t exist without you, does she, girl?”  Pippa loves him for this kindness and hugs him to her, her hard breasts pushing against his t-shirt.

The Director appears at the plank floor, his right hand holding a clipboard he taps quickly against the palm of his left.  “Pippa, Pippa, alright, are we ready to go again?”

“Ready.  Definitely.  I know I need to make the whore-face sooner, so I’ll do that. And I’m not sure my face was catching the light at the right angle, so I’ll fix that.”

“Great, perfect.  So listen, The Movie Star doesn’t feel like the scene is really working for him the way we’re set up.  We need to make some adjustments.”  He stops moving the clipboard and holds very still for a moment, asking seriously, “Can you make some adjustments, Pippa?”

“Of course,” she says.

“It’s not that unorthodox really,” he looks over his shoulder towards The Movie Star who sits in a chair, a powder-puff poised over his nose.  “So The Movie Star doesn’t feel like he can really get into character, really get into the scene – method acting it’s called – if he’s wearing the cup.  He has a problem with it cutting into his legs and it’s upsetting him.  So we’re going to do another take without the cup.  You don’t have a problem with that, do you?”

“Of course not.”

“Good girl.”  He scratches his round belly beneath his sweaty shirt.  “This is your first movie?  Huh.  You know, I’m starting to like you, Pippa.  And that’s all a director can really ask for, people who are easy to work with.”  He begins to walk away, but after a moment he turns back to her.  He has an almost paternal look in his eyes.  “Do you know who Charlie Chaplin is?  You’re probably too young for Chaplin films, but surely you know what he looked like.  When Hitler first came around, reporters asked him why he had a moustache like Chaplin.  Not the other way around.  The evil dictator looked like Chaplin, the movie star.  That’s the power of movies.  People don’t know if movies come from reality, or reality comes from movies.  Everyone believes what we say.  So sell it.  Make it believable.”



The world convinced Pippa that if she went out looking for Life! Adventure! Fame! she would find it.  (As long as she never gave up the dream!)  So after graduating from high school, Pippa packed up her Mother’s old minivan and drove it to Hollywood, dreaming the whole way of her face, beautiful and serene, staring out from the glossy magazine covers that lined the checkout aisle of her hometown Jewel/Osco.  All of the people who’d underestimated her would see her, their carts filled with gallons of milk and Saltines and bread, their peanut-butter and jellied children pulling at them, whining for a candy bar.

She’d auditioned for other supporting roles in this film but was eventually cast as Mexican Whore #2 because The Casting Director deemed her “too pretty to be shot at, blown up, or set on fire, and just pretty enough to get fucked.”  Pippa’s agent said she should be grateful.  “You’ve been in this business, what, a year?  What’ve you done?  A few commercials?  Some stand-in TV work?  Look, you’re only successful when other people say that you are.  That’s success.  If the Director of this film says you’re worth something, then you are.  So this is your big fucking chance.  Don’t fuck it up,” he’d told her.  “Fuck, look what Pretty Woman did for Julia Roberts.  Playing a whore sure paid off for her.”

At first The Director couldn’t decide what he wanted to do with Pippa’s pubic hair.  He’d had her grow it out while he thought about it.  He’d wondered to her in pre-production, in the way that people speak without any interest in response, “Would a real Mexican Whore have a trimmed bush?”  Somehow that didn’t seem realistic to him.  Did a trimmed bush, waxed up the sides with a tiny, furry strip in the middle, protect the integrity of the Mexican Whore?  He didn’t think so.  He thought that it should be hairy, wild, free.  But once he saw the test shots of Pippa standing naked before a white wall and the reality of an ungroomed, natural bush – wickedly alien from all the images of naked women he’d seen on TV, or in movies, or in Playboy, and most of the actual women he’d fucked in real life – he’d decided that the integrity of the film was better served by having a clean mound.  So it was all waxed away, Pippa left as bare and fresh as a newborn babe.  She had appreciated his attention to detail.



Pippa steadies herself on the plank floor, propped up by her hands and knees, and waits for him.  She is Mexican Whore #2.  The Movie Star returns, removes his robe, and his penis is there, lying still and beautiful, like a sweet pink addendum.  In a different place and time Pippa thinks she would take him in her mouth, lick him, please him, and he would call out her name.  He cups her unnatural, apple-round breasts in both hands and pulls her up so they are both on their knees on the makeshift plank floor, her back against the ridges of his chest.  The clapboard is slapped, and he’s gentler this time, moving his hips slowly, raking his hands down her back in a way that is sweet.

She makes light-puffing sounds with her breath and her best whore-face as the camera watches from a few feet away.  Pippa feels him get hard against her thigh and she’s proud that she’s turned The Movie Star on, that he’s felt something special about her.  She rocks her ass and hips against him harder, making her whore-face and moaning.  The Movie Star kisses, sucks, bites, pulls, and Pippa allows herself to be manipulated in any way that he chooses, digging her nails into his thighs, harder now, releasing pin-pricks of him that slide wet against her fingertips.  Out of the corner of her eye she sees The Director is pleased, sees the bulge in his pants that he absentmindedly pinches and swats at.  She moans loudly and can’t wait to see this movie, to see herself spewed across the big screen, this glorious girl with her whole life in front of her.

Pippa bites her lower lip tenderly and tilts her head so he can kiss her.  The Movie Star pulls her by the hair and whispers into her ear before shoving her forward onto the floor.  After her hands have soundly hit the planked floor and her head and neck have snapped forward and back, her eyes focus on the slightest smear of pink blood under her fingertips.  He pulls her to him and is quickly inside of her.  With all the Stagehands, Cinematographers, Lighting, Costume and Prop, and Makeup people watching, The Movie Star’s slippery penis slides in and out of her.

He blows a foul smelling steam into her ear and an oniony taste is excreted upon her tongue.  A rush of thoughts come to her.  The first is triggered by the light pink smears that have rubbed from her fingertips onto the plywood.  Fame is like blood, she thinks.  Something that everyone believes courses through their veins, that’s just inexplicably there, that they were born with.  Fame is like blood.  But few people are ready to slice their arms open and let it gush out freely.  Few will risk permanent scarring to release their potential for future recognition, for future applause.  Who will do whatever it takes.

The second comes to her like a movie.  Up until this moment, Pippa’s life, which she’d watched avidly through pictures and videos ever since that first ballet recital, could only be categorized as a predictably boring suburban drama.  She’s just a Waitress, a Secretary, a Retail Clerk, or someday a Wife and Mother – a supporting character.  Her face doesn’t stare out from billboards, her body doesn’t lounge across men’s magazines, her name doesn’t headline important films.  Yet.

She moans loudly and pushes against him.  There is a camera, big and gray and steel, lurking inches from her face.  It’s so close that she can see her reflection in the tiny glass eye.  She is distorted, but unmistakably there.  Unmistakably real.

As The Movie Star comes he slaps Mexican Whore #2 hard across the side of her head, leaving her ears ringing.  She lies starfished on the makeshift plank floor.  The Movie Star rises, takes the proffered robe, and walks away.

The Director yells, “That’s it – wrap it!” and turns to the Assistant Director and whispers, “What the fuck was that?  Fuck.  The Movie Star, ya know?  He’s fucking unpredictable.”  He runs a hand through his thinning hair, picks a tooth with his tongue.  “Tell Editing I want to see a rough cut in the morning and to keep the cock and pussy out of it.  We need to find a way to use this shit, we’re already behind schedule.”  With the back of his hand he wipes sweat from his forehead and adjusts the crotch of his pants.  He closes his eyes and is silent for a moment.  “Fuck it.  Keep the cock and pussy in.  It is what it is.  It’ll generate buzz and we’ll deny anything inappropriate.  Give a heads up to PR and have Accounting throw the girl an extra five grand.  This is a business.  This is entertainment.”

Adrienne Gunn is the author of fiction, essays, and screenplays. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, TriQuarterly, PANK, andNewCity. She has a Master of Arts in Creative Writing degree from Northwestern University and is currently completing her thesis in the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at the University of Oregon, where she also serves as an undergraduate instructor of fiction, composition, and humanities. She is from Chicago, Illinois and currently lives in Eugene, Oregon with her son, Max. Visit Adrienne at www.adriennegunn.com.
7.03 / March 2012