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Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. A partial collection of his short stories may be found within “Hearts Without Sleeves. Twenty-Three Stories” at Amazon. Jonathan received his MFA in motion picture and television production from UCLA.


Trigger Warning

Hey, hey, hey
What ya got to say?
Hollywood swinging
Hollywood swinging

Cindy lived alone a block from the movie studio which enabled her to walk to and from work; convenient given the long days extending into late night. She arrived Monday morning at 8:00 AM sharp to the studio commissary as was her custom and met by the General Manager, “Tisha,” handing Cindy a tall black coffee and plain bagel with light schmear all carefully packed “To Go.”

“Hey, Cindy, got ‘my girl’s’ breakfast ready.”

“I see you have the ‘Monday morning blues’ under control with your seventies playlist on high volume inside the commissary.”

“Yeah, ‘Kool and the Gang. Hollywood Swinging’ puts a ‘spring’ in everybody’s step, mine too.”

“It seems like yesterday you were waiting tables, and I was typing memos, Teisha.”

“Our slogan was ‘We chicks learned the tricks’ for surviving studio life. It seemed to work out for a girl just out of Compton High School and an overeducated college grad workin’ in the typing pool. Here’s another oldie for ya’, ‘Don’t let the bastards get you down!’”

“Never did and never will, Teisha.”

Cindy found her personal golf cart freshly detailed and parked out front of the commissary awaiting her. On the seat, she found a rose with a hand scribbled note reading, “Have a Good Week.”

A member of the transportation union who are responsible for driving all of the heavy vehicles about the studio lot, Pepe, had made certain Cindy’s cart was ready for a long week of driving from set to set. Years earlier, Pepe’s son was returning from the Iraq war, and Cindy arranged for Hector to work himself into the transportation union on the lot. Pepe never forgot Cindy’s kindness which was legend among the silent, and rarely recognized legions of carpenters, electricians, painters, stage hands, janitors, and many more who work within the “Dream Factory.”

Cindy rose up through the motion picture studio ranks into the position of “Vice President, Facilities Management.” She knew every square foot of the massive studio lot including stages, electrical, plumbing, lighting, and numerous mechanical systems keeping the dream factory humming. She was “married” to her job and loyal to the venerable old studio providing her a first job out of college. Cindy routinely refused lucrative offers at competing studios.

She saw a parade of studio executives come and go, but her skill in getting film and television sets completed on-time and under budget made her indispensable. Cindy knew everybody from the President to the janitors on a first name basis.

Cindy exercised “soft power” which enabled her to successfully handle the egos and temperaments of the cast and crews responsible for construction and demolition of the sets. She was a champion of the unheralded crew members who respected her.

She reported to the “Senior Vice President of Production” who, like many before him, was just another “suit” passing through the revolving door onto their next opportunity. Cindy had a symbiotic relationship with these mostly male, ego-driven, often times arrogant, executives, making it clear through her dedication, attention to detail, and long hours that if they left her alone, she would make them shine. They provided her the opportunity to work independently and without supervision.

Cindy wasn’t a politician, the primary requisite for the SVP job, but preferred to work closely on a first name basis with the crews who did the “heavy lifting.” There was no Academy Award category for her job except personal satisfaction.

She pulled up to the trailer which served as her office while the two-way radio barked and two cellphones chimed. Cindy was supervising the construction of a dozen motion picture sets and far more being demolished, the stages readied for the next productions. She was frugal with the studios construction budget and salvaged every scrap of wood, metal, and hardware for the next production. She maintained a studio “grave yard” of sorts at the extreme rear of the studio lot and could readily recall materials which could be salvaged for another production. The crews jokingly referred to Cindy as the “Ice Queen” because she treated even a single dime of construction money like it was frozen to her fingers, a reference to her frugality.

Cindy answered one of her cellphones and was summoned to the set where the production designer and producer were having a “melt down” because the popular lead actress of the film was demanding a last-minute change of stairwell.

“Cindy, we don’t have time to build a corkscrew style stairwell for the ‘Princess.’ She claims the current staircase doesn’t ‘do justice’ to her Italian high-heel shoes. She’s threatening to hold up production!”

“The production designer is correct. We’ll blow the budget.”

Cindy recalled a swirling staircase which was disintegrating within the graveyard used for a swashbuckling film of the thirties.

“Everybody calm down and I’ll take a drive out to the graveyard and see what I can do.”

An announcement came over the two-way radio,

“There has been a sighting of a coyote on the lot. Please do not attempt to approach as it may be violent and carry rabies. Notify Security at once.”

Animals roaming the lot wasn’t uncommon as they would venture down from the hillsides near the studio attracted to the savory food smells carried by the breeze. Cindy phoned her friend “Teddy” the Chief of Security about the animal.

“What’s with the coyote, Teddy?”

“I was expecting your call, Cindy. You’re always on top of things. The coyote looks fierce and has one eye mangled. The animal is emaciated. My crew will put it out of its misery when sighted, don’t worry. By the way, rumor is spreading throughout the lot the animal is the ghost of the famous movie star dog, ‘Rin-Tin-Tin.’”

“Do me a favor, Teddy, give me a call before your sharpshooters take it down, please. I can’t afford stray bullets flying around the lot. It’s a war zone around here already!”

“Well, if it’s a war zone, we’re lucky to have you as our general. I’ll reach out to you, Cindy.”

It was already late afternoon and the setting sun was creating shadows throughout the studio lot when Cindy reached the graveyard relegated to storing decaying vestiges of fabulous ballrooms of thirties musicals, big city neighborhoods, elaborate mansions, and old western towns all revealing the painted wood and framing which is the alchemy of Hollywood set designers, carpenters, and painters.

She entered the maze of discarded movie sets and into a bygone era of Hollywood.

Cindy caught a glimpse of the coyote darting towards the back of the lot. She knew it was no coyote but a German Shepherd which reminded her of a beloved stray she rescued and was her closest friend for fifteen years until the dog’s death. She felt a connection to the stray dog and was determined to rescue and get it off the lot before studio security intervened.

Cindy passed the rusting vintage camping trailers which had served as dressing rooms and a home away from home for actors on location or on the lot. She was startled by a voice, “Hi Cindy. It’s Bennie.”

Bennie Blink was a kid actor growing up on the lot doing bit parts in the fifties and sixties. As an adult in the seventies and eighties, he continued to get bit parts but his career was over by the nineties. Like many of these bit actors, he was squeaking by on his actors guild pension and Social Security benefits.

“Bennie, you can’t live in that old trailer and use the portable toilets. I thought you were happy living at the group home I found you.”

“I don’t like it there. They’re not movie people, and I have nothing to talk to them about. This is my home, Cindy.”

“I told you Bennie if studio security finds you, they’ll have you arrested for trespassing, and you’ll be placed within the criminal justice system which will discover your cognitive decline resulting in placement within the state hospital.”

“I ran a hose to the faucet and have running water, Cindy. The toilets are fine. I crawl through a hole in the back fence and buy my food at the convenience market.”

Cindy was sympathetic to Bennie’s plight. She knew how difficult it was to leave the lot having seen fired studio executives escorted off crying like babies. She held the two-way radio to her mouth, “Pepe, Cindy calling. Please meet me at the graveyard, alone, asap!”

“Yes, ma’am. On my way!”

“Bennie, I’ll have Pepe deliver meals to you every day until I can figure this out. Under no circumstance are you to wander down into the studio. Understand?”

“Yes, Cindy, but what about ‘Lot Dog’?”

Cindy glanced about the pavement and gravel spotting scat knowing immediately Bennie was referring to the coyote.

“Do you have a pet with a mangled eye and is very skinny like a coyote, Bennie?”

“He’s not a coyote. He’s a German Shepherd. My friend from the group home worked for a traveling carnival which mistreated the dog. He arranged for somebody to bring the dog here to keep me company.”

“You have to keep Lot Dog from roaming the studio, Bennie. Security has orders to kill him believing he’s a rabid coyote.”

“They can’t kill Lot Dog, Cindy. He’s a good dog and very curious about the movie business. When I fall asleep, he slips out at night and follows the aromas from craft services placing out all the food for the talent and crews on the sets.”

“I’ll have Pepe pick up some dog food and a rope but keep the dog here!”

“Come, Lot Dog. Come to Bennie and meet Cindy.”

Lot Dog cautiously crept out of the shadows. Cindy knelt and Lot Dog knew it was safe to approach her.

“The dog requires medical attention. Keep him here with you. I’ll take him to the emergency veterinarian to check him out after work.”

“No, you won’t take Lot Dog. We’ll both leave out the back of the fence and you won’t see us again. If security comes for us, I’ll fight until the death.”

Cindy was both impressed with Bennie’s determination and humored by his reference to fighting “until the death” having heard him recite the line in an old pirate movie.

“I warned you Bennie. Lot Dog is your responsibility until I make permanent arrangements for you both to find shelter off the lot.”

In the ensuing days, Cindy dealt with the usual construction and demolition of sets, late delivery of building materials, last minute changes of directors and set designers, each misstep inflating budgets. She was accustomed to this mayhem and thrived on it, but Bennie and Lot Dog weighed heavy on her mind. Word was spreading amongst the crews of sighting Lot Dog and pressure from Teddy to remove Lot Dog was mounting.

Cindy successfully arranged for the renovation of the corkscrew staircase from the graveyard appeasing the starlet while saving money and time. Production began and all was quiet for days until Cindy was called to the set by the producer and dressed down about a one of a kind set of handmade Italian high-heel’s owned by the starlet. Teddy arrived holding one of the shoes which had been chewed up by an animal.

“Cindy, I have orders from the President of the studio to get the coyote off the lot. My detail has placed poisoned meat throughout the studio. I’m sorry, I have no choice. If it was up to me….”

“I understand, Teddy. I appreciate your patience.”

Cindy had received orders earlier to have the graveyard cleared for studio expansion which she planned for after removing Bennie and Lot Dog.

Cindy feared she had run out of time to conjure up her customary “win-win” solution to problems.

She began receiving curious emails. The first was from a writer.

Dear Cindy:

A surreal event occurred last night. I was plagued with ‘writers block.’ I heard steps coming up the creaky old staircase of the writers building. It was a dog who laid at my feet and slept. His soft, furry, presence, provided inspiration freeing me from the block. I was reminded of my childhood dog ‘Rex’ who was always at my side through rejections of my writing until I caught my first break. My emotions overcame me, tears ran down my face, and the words spilled from my brain, into my fingers and onto the keypad. I was so ensconced in the writing I didn’t notice the dog quietly leave as the sun was rising in the early morning sky.



Dear Cindy:

Great job solving the staircase drama! I was in a late-night meeting of studio brass when the Executive Vice President was fired. The slob cried like a baby. I watched him walk the death march carrying a box of belongings to his car. A dog followed the poor bastard like his only friend on the lot, watching him drive off. I may be up for his job, wish me luck! Keep up the good work.


She muttered in reply, “Be careful what you wish for…”

Cindy arrived to work as usual at 8:00 AM but Pepe was waiting behind the wheel in the golf cart.

“Let’s hurry to the graveyard, Cindy. Junk crews are ready to clear it but found a homeless man and the sick dog.”

Cindy and Pepe arrived and found Bennie weeping over the motionless dog. The junk crew stood about, some noticeably crying.

“What’s the meaning of this? I haven’t scheduled this removal.”

“Yes, ma’am but we received an order last night by the new Executive Vice President to clear this area immediately.”

Teddy arrived.

“What’s the problem, Cindy?”

“Like a roulette wheel spinning, the revolving door of the executive suite landed on unlucky ‘13.’ We have a dilemma.”

“Is that the coyote?”

“You poisoned my dog, copper!”

“I’ll be damned; is that Bennie Blink?”

“Yes, Teddy. I’ve been secreting Bennie and the dog until I could arrange to find them shelter. I accept full responsibility.”

“I’m a fan Mr. Blink. I remember all of your kid movies. You’ gotta’ clear out of here but Cindy will get you and the dog to the emergency vet immediately. I won’t say a word about this to anybody.”

The veterinarian confirmed Lot Dog was poisoned by the food laid out by Teddy’s squad. Lot Dog was in renal failure and would die without costly dialysis treatment immediately. In addition, removal of the mangled eye, broken teeth, x-rays, and repair of fractured ribs raised the bill to $20,000.

“It’s a lot of money to treat the dog I estimate to be ten years old. I understand if you would like me to euthanize the animal.”

“You can’t kill Lot Dog, doctor, please. He’s all I have left in the world.”

“How long can you keep him alive until we resolve the financial matter, doctor?”

“Well, Cindy, I conservatively say twenty-four hours, but the quicker we get to work on the kidneys the better our chances.”

Cindy began typing a studio-wide text message alert reserved for emergencies. It was the only time she used it other than earthquakes, fires, and hazards.

Dear Dream Factory colleagues:

I’m at the veterinarian with a sweet dog you’ve come to know as a coyote. His name is ‘Lot Dog.’ I’m with his owner, a former child star on the lot, Bennie Blink.

Lot Dog requires emergency dialysis to save his life. The bill is twenty thousand dollars. 

I’m reaching out to my fellow show people to chip in and save a life and support two of our own.

We have twenty-four hours before it’s too late according to the vet.


Within minutes, Cindy received the following text replies,

“$1,000 from Lance.”

“Pepe, Hector, and the transportation team will pay $5,000.”

“Studio Security pledges $2,000, and we need a night watchman with a guard dog who can live in the bunkhouse above our headquarters.”

“Hey Cindy, carpenters, electricians, painters, and stage hands have raised $5,000!”

“Commissary staff have raised $3,000, Cindy.”

“Doctor, I’ve raised sixteen thousand dollars which will get you started. I’ll secure payment with my credit card for the balance.”

“Let’s get this canine into treatment, staff! Lot Dog will get the best treatment possible!”

“I want to be with Lot Dog. He needs me.”

“Bennie, let the doctor and his team do their work. I’ll stay with you.”

“Once we get Lot Dog stabilized, you’ll be able to visit with him as much as you want. In fact, we encourage it, Bennie.”

Cindy’s phone rang with a blocked caller ID. She was always hesitant to answer these blocked numbers but given the circumstances, she answered,

“Cindy, this is the ‘Princess.’ I understand that damn dog who destroyed my beautiful shoe needs veterinary treatment. I’m paying the entire vet bill provided Bennie Blink gives me his autograph.”

Cindy finished muttering her reply to the boss’s email, “…because ‘every dog shall have it’s day’.”

So here I am, here I am in this Hollywood city
The city of the stars, movies, women and cars
Well I guess, I guess I have to stay…

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