Stalking Jennifer Lawrence
by Rick Neumayer
So I’m sitting at the bar, looking for a cure for my writer’s block, when one walks through the front door.
At the time — late November, mid-week, mid-afternoon — I had only my trusty laptop and coffee for company. The Big Cheese Bar & Grille was certainly not Hemingway’s Good Cafe on the Place St.-Michel, but if I wasn’t here I’d probably have been at Starbucks or Heine Brothers. Brian, the owner, didn’t mind me hanging around — said I was local color.
After a morning of solitude and frustration, I would’ve welcomed a little civilized conversation. Maybe about who won the ball game. Or even the weather. So when the stranger with the briefcase took a seat at the bar, I nodded. I wondered what he did for a living. He could’ve been a lawyer, except for the black T-shirt and denim jacket he was wearing. A student then. Several colleges in this area. He was older, probably in his mid-thirties, but lots of non-traditionals went back to school these days.
After acknowledging me with a brief nod of his own, he turned away. Maybe he was the shy type, unable to connect with, or even acknowledge, other people. Or maybe I just looked pathetic. It was how I felt.
We were the only ones in the place, except for Brian, who was wiping off tables and booths with a bar rag. Before lifting my cup for a refill, I waited till Brian took the guy’s order and drew him a draft.
“How’s the writing going, Rusty?” Brian said.
As soon as the word “writing” was mentioned, I noticed the man on the barstool seemed to be paying more attention.
“Still blocked,” I said.
“What do you think is wrong?” Brian said.
“I don’t know, man. I’m just stuck. I have no clue what to write about. I sit here staring at this blank screen. I can’t come up with an idea, and even when I do, they all suck.”
Brian suggested that maybe I was putting too much pressure on myself. I countered with maybe I was not putting enough. Who knew? He wished me good luck and said he hoped I’d have a breakthrough soon.
“So, you’re a writer?” the stranger said, once Brian had wandered off to continue his table-wiping.
I looked at him and said I was.
“So am I.” He picked up his beer and came over. “Chase Luminary.”
Funny name, I thought. But who was I to talk? “Rusty Riddle.”
“Mind if I sit here, Rusty?” He pointed at the stool two seats over.
I told him to go ahead. He set down his briefcase.
Asked what I wrote, I said fiction. Short stories mostly. I’d had a few published, though none for a while. I had a novel going, too, but it was stalled along with everything else.
“I know how it is,” Chase said.
I asked what he wrote.
“Screenplays,” he said.
In Louisville? With my bullshit detector activated, I said, “You don’t live around here, do you? I know most of the writers in town.”
“Used to,” he said. “Grew up in Germantown. Live in Hollywood these days.”
Well, that made sense. But we were a long way from Santa Monica. I was about to ask if any of his work had been turned into movies when he said, “You’re a regular here, right?”
“What? Like Norm or Cliff on ‘Cheers?’”
He smiled. “Has Jennifer Lawrence been in here lately?”
I already thought this guy was strange, but his question stopped me cold. “The actress?”
Chase nodded. “I heard she stopped by sometimes while visiting her hometown.”
“Who told you that?”
“Why are you so interested in Jennifer Lawrence?” I said, imagining the cute white dress and long dangling earrings she wore to the Academy Awards. I remembered how young she looked cradling that statuette for best actress.
“Remember her first movie — the one set in the Ozarks?” he said.
“Yeah, only it reminded me of Eastern Kentucky.”
“That movie was my idea, based on my screenplay.”
“No shit?” I looked around for Brian, but he must’ve gone back to the kitchen.
“They stole it,” Chase said.
“Unbelievable.” By now, I was pretty sure this guy must be some kind of whacko.
“Yes, isn’t it? I submitted the piece in good faith. One year later, there’s Jennifer Lawrence up on the screen, trying to save her family’s home by finding her missing father, whose body turns up in a pond. You saw that movie, her father’s dead hand. That was my dead hand, my story, Rusty — and they ripped it off. I’d heard about things like this, but didn’t believe they really happened.”
Actually, despite my growing doubts about Luminary, I was pretty sure they did. A guy I’d been in a writing group with once claimed that his ice hockey story had been ripped off and turned into a Hollywood movie for a big star. Another writer I knew claimed his novel about the life of a world-famous sleuth had been stolen and turned into a movie about Shakespeare.
“Did you do anything about it?” I said. “How did that all turn out?”
Luminary sipped his beer. “I tried to speak with the studio head, but he blew me off, said I had no proof. He was right, too. I didn’t. I tried to reach out to Jennifer, thinking all I’d have to do was tell her what happened and she’d make it right.”
“Obviously that didn’t happen.”
“No.” Rubbing his face vigorously as if trying to wake up, he said, “I couldn’t get her number — predictable, I guess. I needed a link to her family, so I Googled her. I couldn’t reach Jennifer’s parents, but eventually I managed to get her brother’s phone number. After a short conversation, during which I mentioned the theft of my screenplay, he stopped picking up. I tried texting him, as well, saying I needed to contact his famous sister. No dice.”
I was struck by how plausible Luminary’s account seemed. I also realized that I wanted to believe him. A story was forming in my head.
“That was three years ago. I never got hold of her. Nobody would talk to me. It got me down. I started watching a lot of day-time television. I was channel surfing when I saw this reality show where people were competing to ‘survive’ so they wouldn’t get thrown off the show. Later, I saw some Iraq invasion footage, and the two began to blur in my imagination. An image of Roman gladiators popped into my head, and an idea was born for a sort of post apocalyptic science fiction story where every year an oppressive state entertains its bored population by forcing youngsters to fight to the death on TV.”
“That’s a hell of a good idea.”
“You’re right. It was a hell of a good idea. I went to work on it. When it I finished, I knew this was the one, my breakthrough screen play. Overly optimistic, perhaps, but this was good. Better than good. I’d been burned once, but I was determined to be more careful this time so I put together a submission package and sent it to an agent I found online.”
Chase lowered his voice.
“Within a year, it happened again. There was Jennifer in a movie, fighting teenagers to the death in a futuristic society. Well, you can imagine how I felt — the rage and disappointment, the desire for vindication and, yes, revenge. I began having dreams of terrible violence.”
I was growing more and more uneasy, but couldn’t tear myself away from the guy. I could write this story.
“I’d awaken in a sweat,” Chase said, “feeling hopeless and lost. I was living hand to mouth at the time in a fleabag motel just off the Sunset Strip. While rooting through the nightstand for my meds, I had this epiphany like James Joyce — you know, a sudden realization when the true nature of things is unveiled-and in mine Jennifer Lawrence had become too famous too fast, and sooner or later some creep would start stalking her in the mistaken belief that she loved him — ‘erotomania,’ it’s called, and often leads to threats and violence. Think John Lennon. Sharon Tate.”
I started to rise, but Luminary, breathing rapidly, gripped my arm.
“I knew I had to rescue her. I repeatedly phoned and texted her brother. Then I thought, Wait. Suddenly I had this great idea for another screenplay: Stalking Jennifer Lawrence. It was brilliant — except to make it seem authentic I’d have to appear to be stalking Jennifer myself, when in reality I’d only be pretending to. This would also allow me to protect her from the real stalker. All I had to do was explain to her this great story for her next movie.”
“You’re hurting my arm, Chase.”
“Sorry.” He let go.
“Have you ever thought about getting some help?”
After a momentary far-away look, he said, “Are you asking if I’d willingly undergo a psychiatric examination?” Before I could answer, he said, “You bet I would because I’ve just had another epiphany. I can see it now. Schizoid man — no, man with bipolar disorder — is put into a psychiatric hospital. Released, he tries to straighten out his life by, oh, let’s say, winning a dance competition. Brilliant! But this time, I’m going to be smarter. This time, I’m going to make the goddamn movie myself — and cast Jennifer Lawrence as my dance partner.”
He looked at me. “Are you sure she never comes in here?”
“Pretty sure,” I said. “We could ask the owner.”
Now I had an idea of my own. I explained that Jennifer Lawrence’s family lived in a ritzy neighborhood, Indian Hills, only a ten-to-fifteen-minute drive away. I advised Luminary to go there. Any cab could find the police station on River Road. When Chase explained the danger Jennifer was in, the cops would surely warn her family.
Luminary loved the idea.
As soon as he’d excused himself and hurried away, I opened my laptop and began hitting the keys.
“So I’m sitting at the bar, looking for a cure for my writer’s block, when one walks through the front door … ”
Rick Neumayer is a Louisville native and has lived there most of his life. He received his bachelor’s from Western Kentucky University and his master’s from the University of Louisville. He has published short fiction in such journals as The Tulane Review, 34th PArallel, Euonia Review, Bartleby Snopes, new Southerner and Louisville Review. Three of his Broadway-style original musicals have been produced locally at RiverStage. He is currently a student in Spalding University’s MFA in writing program.