“You’re not a couple?” I regret the question as soon as it leaves my mouth. There hasn’t been any sign of romance between them, but I chalked that up to the age of their relationship. Kelley smiled reassuringly at me.
“Michael is a rube.” She slaps her hand on his thigh and leaves it there for a moment. “Like any rube he doesn’t touch what he isn’t willing to pay for.”
Michael’s expression doesn’t change throughout this cryptic statement, so I assume they’ve been over this subject before. Still there seems to be a certain disquiet in the air, so I try to shift the conversation by asking how they met. Even though they worked the Boulevard at the same time they never noticed each other. Instead they met at a stage production of The Rocky Horror Show, as it turned out, not in Los Angeles, but a small production put on by a community theater group in a church in Pasadena. By pure coincidence they both attended the same afternoon matinee, which was mainly attended by older people, so perhaps it wasn’t such a strange coincidence that they were the only ones who came dressed up: Kelly as Riff Raff, and Michael, on a dare from some friends, as Magenta. They may not have become lovers, but they became instant friends, and embarked on conquering Hollywood. The Rocky Horror connection, it turned out, went even deeper. Both had been fans of Tim Curry since childhood, his portrayal of Long John Silver making an odd impression on both of them when they saw Muppet Treasure Island. Seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show a few years later Michael was been impressed by Curry’s range. Kelley was intrigued by the way simple makeup and costume could transform the short, swarthy pirate into pale, lean Dr. Frank N. Furter.
In the morning I get to see Kelley and Michael transformed again. Adjoining stools and a brightly lit makeup table have been placed in an area behind their TV. Michael, a tight skullcap pulled over his hair, is dressed as Spyral, sans coat. He sits down and pulls a sheet up over his front. Kelley sits opposite him and opens a black case with metal trim. She takes out small canisters of yellow and blue makeup and begins carefully applying and mixing. His skin begins to turn green.
“Why do you mix the colors on his skin instead of using green makeup?” I ask.
Kelly continues applying, but explains, “Skin isn’t all one even tone. This allows me to add subtle shade differences.” She then takes out a canister of white and blends it into Michaels cheeks and forehead, which lightens those areas and makes his eyes appear darker. The horns are applied, as is the pointed chin. Kelley then stands and covers his head with the silver mane that reaches to his shoulders. The whole process takes over an hour. She then turns to the makeup table and begins the transformation into Mordella. She tucks her hair under a skullcap, applies heavy white makeup, lipstick, and the scar. I notice her false eyelashes are attached to false eyelids. Karloff wore similar false eyelids as Frankenstein’s monster, but Mordella’s, or Kelley’s, are thinner, giving her a sinister, haunted look, rather than the shambling creatures dazed stare. The whole process takes less than twenty minutes. Before she excuses herself to change I ask if her makeup is simpler out of deference to Michael.
“No.” Kelley looks over at him as he puts on his jacket and slips contacts into his eyes. ”Makeup is my passion. I love making up others, even when its become routine. We both get what we want.”
We part ways at the Boulevard. I resume my post at the coffee shop, where the baristas are starting to know me by name. I watch Kelley and Michael continue working over the tourists. I also take advantage of a mid-morning lull to walk up the street and talk to some of the other costumed characters. I try to talk to Spider-Man, since I was a fan as a kid, but he seems to be doing an homage to his appearances on The Electric Company and remains mute. I ask if I can take a picture with him. He nods vigorously, and we put our heads together for a selfie. I reach into my pocket and offer him a five, but he waves it away. Then he slides his hands down his legs. It never occurred to me that Spider-Man has no pockets. Where did Peter Parker keep his camera?
Thor is more chatty.
”Nine months. Thats how long I’ve been doing this. So I’m green. Still learning.”
“What do you like about it?”
He grins. “Beats the hell outta working. Plus I talk to people. And the ladies love the muscles.” He flexes a heavily padded arm. “Check out these guns. Come on. Give ‘em a squeeze.”
My fingers sink into inches of foam rubber. He nods.
“So what do you do when you’re not doing this?”
“I’m a comedian. My agent got me doing this, told me to do it for a couple of months so I could loosen up, get used to dealing with strangers. I had a bad time with hecklers.”
He tells me he’s kept doing it, and plans to keep doing it, possibly even investing in some other costumes because it’s fun and its a wealth of material. It gives his comedy an odd angle it lacked before. He tells me I should come see him at a place called The Chuckle Wagon on Sepulveda.
I cross the street and head back toward the coffee shop. It appears trouble is brewing near Kelley and Michael. A man dressed in a plain white t-shirt and jeans, shoeless, is carrying a sheet with what appear to be streaks of blue and red spray paint. “Whoo!” he cries. He stops and ties the sheet around his neck, spreading it out like a cape. I briefly wonder if I should scrap journalistic objectivity and go offer to help, but I think maybe Kelley and Michael are used to this sort of thing. Then, stopping several cars, the man crosses the street in the middle of the block and joins me.
Up close he’s young, blonde, not bad looking. He’s clean-shaven, and too clean to have been on the streets long. He pulls out a prescription pill bottle and inhales deeply from it, then offers it to me.
“You want some?”
It’s full of what look like dead wasps.
“No, thank you, Im trying to cut down.”
He nods gravely, bows, then runs down the street. ”Whoo!”
It’s time for a latte.
In the evening, after dinner (Michael’s own tuna casserole), I can’t sleep. I sit up on the couch to do some work by the light of their aquarium where neon tetras and black mollies dart back and forth. Im so engrossed in the tap tap tap of the keys that I don’t hear Kelley come into the room. She glides into my field of vision, her pale robe wrapped tightly around her up to her throat. She looks ethereal, moving through the semi-darkness.
She sits down next to me. I wait for her to say something else, but she doesn’t. The buzz from the wine has worn off and my head is achy, but I think now might be the time to ask something thats been preying on my mind.
“The other night, when you said Michael couldn’t touch what he hadn’t paid for–” Nervously I glance over at her. Have we had enough time to establish this level of trust? I plunge ahead. ”Are there others who have paid?” I have a speech on the tip of my tongue, that I’m only angling for information, that for my story I want a fuller background picture, something, perhaps, that could contrast her success with the cliché tragedies of Hollywood Boulevard. It never gets out.
“Don’t make me into something I’m not.”
Kelley reaches over and closes my laptop.