Dirty Scoundrel(9)

By: Jessica Clare

I have to admit, the present isn’t exactly my favorite, either.

Back then he was world-famous, rich, and popular. Now he’s just a senile old guy with a too-young daughter and a mountain of bills. I glance at the overflowing inbox on my desk, tucked into the corner of the kitchen, and try not to shudder. I’ll look at them later. Maybe.

I make three dozen oatmeal-walnut cookies—the Chap Weston favorite—for the gift shop and wrap them with colorful Saran wrap and stickers of my dad’s face from a black-and-white Western movie, Big Sky Callin’. I put them in a basket, take them to the front parlor (which has been completely revamped as the gift shop) and then begin the process of cleaning up our large ranch since tour groups will be coming in starting at ten in the morning. There’s a lot to do between now and then. I move through the twenty rooms of our twenty-five-room ranch that have been designated as the “Chap Weston museum tour” and begin picking up trash from the night before. There’s always crap that guests have left behind—gum stuck to antique furniture, candy wrappers tucked away in corners, cigarette butts . . . I even found a used condom in a bedroom once.

People are freaks.

I continue on, dusting props, vacuuming, straighten up the velvet cordoned ropes that guide the guests through the home, and make sure that none of the movie props been moved to the wrong room. Each of the rooms is set up with a theme from one of Dad’s biggest movies, complete with cardboard cutouts of my dad in the appropriate costumes. It’s corny as hell but people get a kick out of it. As I pass through each room, I turn on the music from each of the movies. Big Sky Callin’s soundtrack in the Western parlor, Little Tiki Princess in the hula room, Ahoy, My Lady in the submarine room, and so on. Even the guest restrooms have a theme—The Adventures of Roy Danger, another cowboy movie musical that made my dad a star. Unfortunately, the restrooms also have leaky toilets and tend to get clogged, and so I spend a good portion of the morning scrubbing the horseshoe-pattern tiles on the floors before heading upstairs to change into my work uniform.

Oh, the work uniform. How I hate it. It’s humiliating to have to dress like Loretta Paige from Roy Danger, but it sells tickets and makes people open their wallets in the gift shop more than the regular dumpy, too-young daughter of Chap Weston does. And these days, everything I do is designed to bring money in. So I suck up my pride and dress like the redneck cousin of Elly May Clampett, because that’s what makes people really enjoy the “experience.”

I have to do all of this to pay for my father’s medical bills. Because even though he was a huge star in the fifties and sixties, my dad also lived like a movie star all his life. Before his stroke, he had a constant entourage of at least five to six people at all times—accountants, agents, assistants, publicists, you name it. There were lavish vacations to private islands and endless gifts for wives, ex-wives, girlfriends, and anyone else Chap Weston wanted to impress. After a string of questionable life choices and a string of even more questionable ex-wives, he’s flat broke, senile, and has to rely on his daughter turning his home into a museum in order to keep the lights on.

It’s not exactly how I envisioned my dynamic father’s twilight years.

For a moment, I stare into the mirror at my reflection—the brunette in a shirt that looks like a cross between a fringe explosion and a pink sausage casing—and I feel so much older and far more tired than I should be. Sometimes I just want to get up and run out the door and never look back. I can’t, though. I’m trapped. My skin prickles and I feel hot.

Trapped. Twenty-five years old and trapped. There’s no escaping the crap-fest my life has become.

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and then exhale, calming myself. There’s nothing I can do. My dad doesn’t have anyone else to lean on. Managers, agents—those people disappeared when the money did. All he’s got left are a few ex-wives that call once a month for their support checks—and his lonely, lonely daughter.

So I suck it up and take care of things the best I can. Chap Weston’s got no one else.

Every now and then, I think about the life I might have had if my dad hadn’t had his stroke that night and everything came crashing down. If Johanna hadn’t run for the hills and left me with an elderly, ailing father, and his accountants hadn’t called to inquire about the mountain of debt that was slowly crushing my father’s legacy. I’d been blissfully unaware of such things. Johanna would have stayed, maybe. I would have gone to Stanford and pursued a career in psychology or anthropology.

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