I hadn’t seen cash since he got hair plugs. They were a sight to behold and painfully obvious, like thick brush bristles and two shades darker than his more natural, thinning hair. It was difficult not to stare—almost impossible—like looking at someone with a feral rodent affixed to their forehead. This was the latest in a series of maneuvers Cash had undertaken in his goal to achieve fame and celebrity as an actor.
Hair plugs were an apt metaphor for Cash: fake, obvious, and a sad attempt to throw money at a permanent problem. Cash dreamed of becoming a teen heartthrob. This was made difficult by his receding hairline, his disregard for physical fitness and the acting ability of unvarnished wood. Actually, that’s not fair; there’s far more nuance to unvarnished wood.
The nice way to say it would have been: “He’s not great,” or “He’s not the best actor.” Even putting words like “best” and “great” in a sentence about Cash implies he was within a light year of achieving average. In truth, Cash could not act—at all. Not even a little bit. He looked uncomfortable on camera. His delivery was flat. His eyes inexpressive. Cash didn’t just lack charisma, he absorbed it from everyone around him and snuffed it out like a black hole. He was the opposite of charismatic; he was repellant. Cash wouldn’t let a little thing like talent stand in his way of becoming a star.
Cash wasn’t completely without skills. Though his acting was noticeably awful even to the untrained eye, he was remarkably gifted at talking people out of money. I’ve never met anyone more capable of walking into a meeting with unknown strangers and exiting with a check. He was able to sell them on his dream of starring in a sexy teen drama with gorgeous people on sandy beaches. Much like Cash, the plan was almost idiotic in its simplicity.
He managed to convince a series of investors to bankroll his vision. Not just once, mind you, but four times. That’s truly the most amusing part of this tragedy—not that he was able to talk someone out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance terrible television programs but that he was able to replicate this con over again. And what a grift it was. Cash sold bored businessmen on the dream of being producers. He took them out drinking, introduced them to eager young actresses who swooned at the sight of an ATM receipt.
His investors were an odd collection of doctors, dentists and a few older Southern gentlemen for whom the word “dandy” was created. They were pleased as punch to be giving away large chunks of their disposable income for the prestige of being a producer. It was like buying a time share in show business.
I met Cash in Los Angeles when I was first settling in. He was looking for writers, and I was looking for a paycheck. We could never quite make those two things line up. But I had just gotten back to Los Angeles after five months in hell and was desperately searching for a distraction. His pitch was the same as it had been a few years earlier: Write him a pilot script for a TV show about hot teenagers who live at or around the beach. Of course, he would be one of the teenagers. This took the phrase “suspension of disbelief” to ridiculous new heights. I wasn’t sure how many high-school students had gotten hair plugs. I’m sure there had been a couple. I wondered if that was my angle: a teenage drama featuring kids who had undergone elective surgery.
Cash was an aspiring Hollywooder who believed you could reverse engineer fame. He had started living his own version of what he deemed to be “The Hollywood Lifestyle”—behaviors which he employed based on the false reality of TV shows and magazines showing what famous people did. His wardrobe was dictated by the hip-hop community and Abercrombie catalogs. He drank Cristal like it was an obligation. At night, he traveled only by limousine, even though most celebrities drove themselves to social outings. In his mind, these were things famous people did. If he was to become one, he had to adopt their behaviors or at least the cliché.
Sometimes in Hollywood one hears another declare, “you changed,” when talking to people who have achieved some level of success. It’s a declaration that a once honorable and well-intentioned soul had become corrupted by success, money, or compromise. Cash would never have that problem. No one would ever be able to say that Cash had become an asshole. Being an asshole was his starting point.
All I needed to do was smile and nod until we had ink to paper. After jettisoning from the burning cinder of my last project, I wasn’t exactly atop anyone’s list for another gig. I had to try and string together some small projects until one of the bigger chips cashed in. It would be a paying gig, and all I had to do was shut up and pacify him. But I couldn’t. I kept staring at the hair plugs, lost in the thick underbrush affixed to his forehead. I’m not sure if hair can be a metaphor, but it represented everything about L.A. that I loathed.
I passed on the job. Cash continued to produce terrible television for a couple of more years. Eventually the returns began to diminish. After alienating the casual investors, the doctors, dentists, and disposable-income set, he moved onto more sympathetic marks. At one point he started talking Marines out of their combat bonuses to fund his poorly conceived ideas. These were my peers: addicts and grifters. Deranged dreamers and reality-challenged, waywardly souls. Human hair plugs.