Excerpt from Celestial Dogs

copyright Jay Russell 1995

     "Hot enough for you?"
     The beer was almost in my mouth.  I flinched,
sending a lukewarm, amber wave sloshing over
the lip of the glass and down my wrist.  I sighed, then
completed the all-too-familiar motion,draining the
flat Budweiser in a gulp. 
     I looked over at the sweaty, grinning face of the fat
man to my right. His flesh was doughy and discolored,
flushed red with heat and alcohol. His mud-brown eyes
gaped wide with expectation, his thin lips curled in
a cheap salesman's smirk that screamed "Gotcha!"
     "Fuck off," I told him.
     His smile jerked into a twitch and he snorted something
green out one nostril.  He quickly wiped it with the back of
his hand then turned away from me, back to his drink.
     "Turd," I muttered.
     My name is Marty Burns and once, a million or so
years ago, I was a minor celebrity.  Sometimes I think
there isn't any other kind.  At the ripe age of sixteen
I'd starred in a situation comedy called Salt & Pepper. 
You probably remember.  It was one of those godawful
sixties atrocities about two white-bread suburban
families with apple-pie perfect moms and zany, feuding
dads.  It's best remembered as the answer to a Trivial
Pursuit question: what show did Russell Johnson star in
after Gilligan's Island?
     I played Sandy Salt, the teenage son who was
secretly in love -- a la Romeo and Juliet; ain't TV
writers clever? -- with Penny, the ever-so-perky Pepper
daughter.  There was a precocious little sister, a fat
baby brother, a grumpy old grandpa -- Gale Gordon, no
less -- and more pratfalls than you could shake a
keystone kop at. 
     At least once every episode I was obliged to shriek
the line "Hot enough for you?" to the howling delight of
a goosed laugh track.  It became a catchphrase, like
Mork's "Nanu-nanu," or Maxwell Smart's "Sorry about that,
chief."  It caught on with the public for a while, too,
at least until Judy Carne and "Sock it to me" came along. 
I even got to say it to Carson on the Tonight Show once,
during my brief tenure as a teen heartthrob, but then
Salt & Pepper was sent to its proper resting place in
sit-com hell by All in the Family.  And before you could
say "receding hairline" David Cassidy took my place on
the cover of Tiger Beat.
     The show did last almost three full seasons.  Along
with my personal 900 seconds in the Kleigs, Salt & Pepper
netted me a spiffy Jaguar XKE and more teenage twat than
any horny American boy could ever have dreamed about. 
But the money had been blown before the last episode even
aired and my acting career pretty well took to the skids
thereafter.  I made a passel of low-budget flicks and a
couple of dreadful network pilots before my scumbag agent
ditched me.  I gave up the life for good one day when I
found myself playing yet another pizza-faced high school
virgin in a woeful titty movie opposite one of the girls
from The Brady Bunch.  Or was it Family Affair?  In any
case, I walked off the set halfway through the shoot and
swore I'd never work in front of a camera again. 
     I hoped and thought that I'd slipped into
comfortable obscurity only to find Salt & Pepper cursed
with eternal life in cable syndication.  I still look
pretty young for my age and thanks to the lovely folks at
Nickelodeon, who run the show every damn night, I still
get recognized all these years after the fact.  It's the
only residual I do get.  Hardly a week goes by that I
don't run into some pathetic simp thinking he's god's
gift to the art of wit demanding to know if it's "Hot
enough for me."  I've been busted twice for assault as a
result, though I was pretty drunk each time and neither
case went to trial.
     I usually drink for good reason -- Immanuel Kant's
birthday, the anniversary of my third paternity suit --
but I was just trying to pass the time while I waited for
the client.  I generally feel obliged to maintain the
illusion of sobriety on such auspicious occasions, at
least until I have a cash retainer in hand.  After all,
who'd want to hire a private investigator who wasn't hard
drinking?  God bless that Raymond Chandler for making it
easy for all the woeful sots who've come into the racket
since The Big Sleep.