Octavia’s Day

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Octavia walks down the stairs of her Hollywood Hills home followed by a fluffy Bichon Frise. She checks her hair in the mirror in the hallway before turning into the kitchen. She’s smartly dressed in a black pencil skirt, a white silk blouse and an animal print shawl.

“Good morning, Lupe,” she says to an Hispanic woman in an apron who stands in front of the sink and next to the open dishwasher.

“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the housekeeper, in a mild Spanish accent. “You look nice. No personal trainer today?”

“Unfortunately, he’s still coming. I moved him to this afternoon.”

“You should at least have some breakfast.”

“No time. I’m running out to see my agent and then to USC. I’m giving a talk at the film school. I also will probably stop at the Post Office.”

“I don’t suppose you’re taking El Diablo with you,” says Lupe while jerking her thumb toward the dog.

“No, and it’s Dorothea. The groomer should be here to pick her up at 10:30 so she’ll be out of your hair for a few hours.”

Octavia takes her keys and handbag off of a hook near the door and heads out. Lupe sticks her tongue out at the dog.

*****

Octavia gets into the elevator at the parking garage level at a downtown office building. She pushes the button for the sixteenth floor. Just before the door closes, a man in a suit runs up and sticks his hand in the door causing it to reopen. He gets in and pushes the button marked 12. Octavia can tell that the man is looking at her, something she has gotten used to.

“Would you mind terribly if I asked to get a picture of us together?” he asks. “It’s just that my daughter did a project on you for her third grade class and she’d be so thrilled.”

“Sure, of course,” says Octavia.

The man holds his phone selfie-style, moves in next to her and snaps the picture. “Thank you so much,” he says as the door opens on twelve. As he leaves the elevator, he adds, “She’ll be so inspired that I met you.”

On the way up to sixteen, Octavia wonders what kind of curriculum would have a third grader do a project on an actress.  She exits the elevator and walks into the office of Solomon Berger, her agent since arriving in Hollywood.

“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” says the receptionist. “My, you look wonderful. Mr. Burger is in his office. You’re usual?”

“Good morning and thank you for noticing, Allison. It almost makes the dieting and exercise worthwhile. Fortunately, I can still have a latte, if I use Splenda instead of sugar, but I’m fasting until my weigh-in this afternoon. Thanks for offering, Allison.”

Octavia heads into the office. Solomon Berger is standing at his desk and is holding his arms open. Grinning, he says, “There’s my superstar. Let’s have a hug!”

Octavia strolls past him and sits in one of the client chairs. She puts her bag on the other. “You know what you need to do in order to get a hug, Buster,” she says.

“Sweetheart, the Rosa Parks film is still just a rumor.”

“And Spielberg? I suppose his interest is just a rumor, too? I’m not losing all this weight for nothing.”

“Octavia, you gotta trust Solly. Who got you Millie in The Help, Fruitvale Station and Hidden Figures?”

“I know, I know, but you also got me Car Dogs, Herpes Boy and Bad Santa 2.”

“Look, sweetheart. I promise you that when Spielberg makes a decision, I’ll know it even before Kate Capshaw. I’ll even spread some bad rumors about Viola Davis. With the new figure, you’ll be a shoo-in. By the way, are you sure you’re eating enough?”

“Just never you mind and get me that part. I’ve got to get to my USC gig.”

She gives him a hug on the way out.

*****

Octavia looks at the printed instructions from her email. She’s been to USC several times, but this route is different. She assumes that this particular film class just happens to be in a different building. Maybe the crowd is big enough to require a large lecture hall. “Check that ego, sister,” she says to herself. It’s just as likely that they’re in a seminar room. She fails to notice that this particular building has “Department of Computer Science” in large letters screwed into the brick façade.

She finds the room and enters. It is indeed a large lecture hall filled to capacity and beyond with several students standing along the walls. Her entrance is met with a standing ovation and thunderous applause. Octavia is both surprised and humbled as she graciously smiles and curtsies.

A young woman steps to the podium and waits for the noise to die down. “It is with great pleasure that I introduce our special guest to the Department of Computer Science students as well as our fellow students from the College of Urban Studies.”

Octavia is surprised to hear that these are not film students.

“Please welcome, Dorothy Vaughan!”

Octavia shoots a look of panic toward her host, who is applauding as vehemently as the students in the crowd. The young woman appears to be crying. Octavia moves to the podium and has another full five minutes of applause to think about what to do next. She realizes that her planned presentation will simply not do. After the students return to a seated position, she begins to speak.

“It is a privilege to address you fine examples of our future. It is as much of a privilege as when I was asked to portray Ms. Vaughan in the film Hidden Figures.”

Again, the crown erupts into applause.

“You know, I was planning to do the Q & A last, but since there are so many of you, I think I’d like to take some questions from the audience.”

Several of the students eagerly begin waving their hands. Octavia picks out the nerdiest-looking female, figuring that she at least looks non-threatening.

“What was it like to work for NASA in the early years of space flight?” asks the young woman.

“Um, good question. While I was able to portray a person from that time, I’m sure that it was quite exciting. Unfortunately, as an actress, I typically have to depend on the writers for most of the emotional motivation.”

The crowd erupts again.

Octavia decides to try a different approach. She chooses a young African-American man wearing a beret and a dashiki. “How about you, sir?”

“As an icon of the struggle against white oppression, can you describe your rise out of Jim Crow Mississippi?”

“Let me get a couple of things straight, young man. I did play a maid in a movie called The Help that was set in Mississippi and I am from the South, but I actually went to Jefferson Davis High School in Montgomery, Alabama. Also it was in the late 1980’s and then I received my degree from Auburn University.”

Again the crowd erupts.

Octavia is incredulous. She decides to give it one more try. This time she figures to go down the middle and picks an apparently mixed-race kid with thick glasses. “I have time for one more question. How about this young man on the aisle?”

The young man stands excitedly. “At NASA, you were a pioneer on the IBM 7090, which of course, operated using 50,000 transistors making it six times faster than its predecessor, the 709. With regard to the use of Assembly languages—“

“You all are going to have to excuse me. I just received an urgent message from Dr. Von Braun and Reverend King to save the world,” says Octavia. She turns, picks up her bag and heads out the way she came with the audience applauding the entire time.

*****

Octavia enters the Post Office on Wilcox. The line is short, but not enough to prevent a few furtive glances and whispers. Soon, a short-haired, middle-aged woman  calls out “Next,” and Octavia moves to the counter.

“How may I help you?” asks the woman.

Octavia makes a quick look at the worker’s nametag, something she learned to do after an awkward incident the first time she was recognized in a restaurant.  “Good morning, Angela. I’d like a book of stamps.”

Angela smiles at the personal gesture and adds, “Would you like to see any of our new commemoratives?” Just as suddenly, Angela’s face goes blank as she steps back and points to a sign above promoting the newest stamps.

Octavia casually looks at the sign depicting a new set of Black Heritage Commemorative Stamps. After a beat, her mouth drops open. “What the Hell…?”

All of the stamps represent a black person from the past, but all of the pictures are of Octavia in some sort of costume.

“Angela, is this some sort of Candid Camera type of joke? The six cents is a nice touch. Wait a minute…nobody even knew when I was coming here.”

“I-I never met anybody that was on a stamp before,” says Angela.

“I assume that’s because I think you’ve got to be dead ten tears to get on a stamp. That Harriet Tubman stamp, I played her on Drunk History, for God’s sake!”

“Maybe you look like the real Harriet Tubman,” says Angela.

By now, a crowd has gathered and several people are taking pictures. Octavia is becoming increasingly agitated.

“And I suppose I’m also a dead ringer for Hattie McDaniel and Dorothy Vaughan? Who made these stamps? I need to see a supervisor…actually I’d like to see the Postmaster General. And look at these other two…Slave woman? What the hell is that? That picture comes from Snowpiercer. It was a damned Sci-fi movie. What does this last one say? Shit Pie Maid? The character’s name was Minny! I’ll bet they got Aibileen right on Viola Davis’ fucking stamp!”

Suddenly, the room starts spinning and goes dark as Octavia hits the floor.

*****

Octavia wakens to see a man with a headset standing over her.  There is another young man kneeling next to her holding a cup. She hears a man’s voice say, “Come on, step back and give her some air.” An older man with a beard pushes through the crowd and kneels by Octavia’s side. He takes the water cup from the key grip and hands it to Octavia.

“Mr. Spielberg?” croaks out Octavia.

“Please, it’s Steven and please drink this. We can’t have our Rosa Parks falling out of her seat on the bus.”

“Rosa Parks? Where am I?”

“We’re on the set. It’s been a long and intense day of shooting. Can we get some of these lights turned off?”

“I-I must have gone too long without eating…Steven.”

Octavia takes a sip of water, and then shakes her head to regain her focus. The older man suddenly looks younger and no longer has a beard.

“Come on, people.” He says, brusquely. “We’ve got a schedule here and only another hour of daylight. If she can make it, get her back on her mark.”

“Steven?”

“Look, Octavia. I sure as hell ain’t Spielberg or I wouldn’t be directing this piece of crap. You’re on the set of Herpes Boy 2 and if you can’t make it, I’m sure we can always get Viola Davis.”

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