The flashbulbs were exploding on Main Street. Trent Steele paid no mind to the blinding orbs of light. He was used to the attention -- and he was wearing dark sunglasses. Surrounded by an entourage of personal assistants, bodyguards and hangers-on, this guy definitely didn't look like he planned to wait in line.
Out of the entourage stepped forth a thin, determined man in a black jacket. He walked up to the bouncer behind the red rope. The rabble looked on in disbelief.
"This is Trent Steele," he said, pointing to the man behind him in sunglasses. "We're going to need a VIP table."
"Who?" replied the bald bouncer.
"Trent Steele," he repeated, in a tone full of annoyance. "Haven't you heard of him? Mr. Steele is a producer. We need a VIP table."
After a befuddled pause, the bouncer unhooked the rope and watched the entourage roll into the club -- to the dismay of those still waiting in line. They obviously didn't know about the magic of Trent Steele.
Trent Steele is H-town's biggest player. Trent Steele always travels with an entourage, a crew of toughs and beauties who are willing to do anything he asks. Trent Steele is the man-about-town.
Trent Steele is me.
I used to joke with my friends about how easy it would be to pretend that you're famous. All you really needed was a couple of big dudes in black suits and another guy -- the player -- in a dark pair of sunglasses. It seemed like a surefire way to pick up chicks.
So we finally did it, with a little help from my friends at the Houston Press.
In the span of five weeks we went to five different clubs, never had to pay cover and had a helluva time. Anybody can do it. All it takes is a few friends, some nice clothes and a whole lot of nerve. That, and these ten lessons.
Lesson 1: It's all about the entourage
Through a drunken process of trial and error, we eventually came up with the perfect formula. First and foremost you need the famous guy. The whole gambit was my idea, so I got to be Trent Steele. I dressed up in a decent suit that had been hanging haphazardly in my closet -- thus giving it that slightly worn-in look -- and popped on a $5 pair of sunglasses.
Next up you have the brutes. You're nobody unless somebody wants to kick your ass, so you'd better have some protection. Two big dudes in black suits should suffice. If finding muscle is a problem, then you can substitute one of the big boys with a guy who looks like he knows karate -- or one that just looks downright crazy.
And then you've got the personal assistants. You need at least one. Famous people don't deal with the general public. They hire well-dressed soldiers armed with pens and clipboards to take their bullets. This is where you want to station your most aggressive friends, the ones who always treat service people with a little less respect than they should. These are the guys and gals who are going to be opening doors for the entire crew.
You also need a couple of gratuitous hot chicks. No one wants to hang out with a traveling sausage fest. I know this might seem like a catch-22, but you need hot chicks to get hot chicks. Every guy knows a few moderately attractive women who won't sleep with him. The problem is finding one who will. Your friends' wives or girlfriends are a good place to start. After all, they're the ones who are always trying to set you up.
Last and probably least are the random hangers-on. These are the friends who don't really fit anywhere else. You need at least one or two (otherwise it'd look pretty lonely at the top), but keep the number to a minimum. Too many random buddies weigh down a posse. (See above about the sausage fest.) Make sure they understand what kind of favor you're doing them by letting them tag along, and pound it into their heads that they have to dress appropriately -- no scrubs allowed.
And then it's time to hit the streets.
Big-pimpin', the crew of unknowns flipped up their DVD screens and piled out of the Ford Exhibition. They clumped together in the crisp night air and strutted up to the Red Door on Brazos.
Press writer Craig Malisow stepped up as Marshall Simmons, the personal assistant to Mr. Steele. Simmons had been with Steele from the beginning. Tall, thin and unabashed, he was the only one whom Steele truly trusted. Like a cat loyal to only its master, Simmons was an asshole.
He walked up to a bouncer and announced the presence of Mr. Steele and company. Trent Steele remained true to his name, standing there in the streetlight with an aloof sense of impatience -- and a woman on each arm.
The entourage was not ushered in.
"What the hell is going on?" echoed throughout the crowd.
Then one bouncer turned to the other: "That's Trent Steele."
And they were in.
The club was especially bumping that evening, with gaggles of hotties and the guys who love them hanging out around the circular bar. A pair of waifs wearing handkerchief tops turned to look at the man in sunglasses as he walked by. Trent Steele couldn't see a damn thing.
The doorman escorted them upstairs to the patio, where they were given a table with a view of the smart twentysomethings and the downtown skyline behind them. Steele took the center seat, with a lady on each side and the hangers-on across from him. The two big dudes in black suits straddled the group, constantly scanning the crowd for trouble (and honeys). Two other slick dudes stood behind Steele.
The waitress timidly approached the table and asked for drink orders.
"Do you have fresh peaches?" asked Simmons. "Mr. Steele needs fresh peaches for his bellinis."
"I'm sorry," she replied, "but we don't have any peaches."
"Well, can you at least bring him a bowl of cherries?" he snapped. "Mr. Steele has very particular tastes."
Lesson 2: Be a dick
With a drink in his hand and a cupful of cherries before him, Trent Steele kicked back and surveyed the scene. The Red Door wasn't what it used to be. There was still a lot of talent to scout, no doubt, but the place was on a downward slope from its heyday. Trent Steele didn't plan to stay long.
But for now, the game was on. Up walked Kelly and April, two young women with stars in their eyes. Trent Steele, of course, ignored them.
"Who is that?" said April to the lady on Steele's right.
"That's Trent Steele," she replied.
"Oh." The two interlopers looked at each other in confused admiration while Steele's entourage made room for them.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," said April. "Who are you?"
"I'm Trent Steele," he said, while a personal assistant whispered something in his ear.
"What do you do?" she continued.
"I'm a producer."
And then came the question: "What do you produce?"
A cell phone was thrust into Steele's face. Steele looked up at Simmons in disdain.
"It's Jerry," said Simmons.
Steele got up immediately and excused himself from the table. One of the big boys in black followed close behind as he took the call.
"What do you mean?" Trent screamed into the phone.
Lesson 3: You're the most important person in the room, but not in the world
"No, no, no. That's just not going to work. I can't do that," Steele said while gesticulating about in obvious unease. "Fine. I'll see what I can do."
He returned to the table and the ladies.
"Is everything okay with Jerry?" asked Simmons.
"I don't want to talk about it." Steele turned to April and Kelly. "How are you girls doing?"
They were doing fine, apparently, but their timid conversation quickly bored Trent Steele. He was paying far more attention to the whispers in his ear than to the banter of the ladies before him.
And then a gratuitous hot chick saved him. She wedged herself between Steele and the ladies, giving Steele the chance to get up. "Buy them a drink," he said to no one in particular. "Get me a bodyguard. I'm going to the bathroom."
By the time Steele returned, the laconic ladies were gone and the group had set its sights on a more suitable target.
Her name was Violeta. She was gorgeous. A bodyguard had recruited her with the simple words "Trent Steele would like an audience with you." She floated over and sat down next to Steele.
"Excuse me," Simmons said to her. "You don't have any cameras, do you? Mr. Steele would appreciate it if you didn't take any pictures."
Steele lightly shoved aside his personal assistant, shrugged sheepishly and got down to business. "So tell me a little more about yourself," he said to the girl with the almond skin and onyx tresses.
Lesson 4: People love to talk about themselves
Violeta was no less intelligent than she was beautiful. She was a Ph.D. student in a complicated medical field, and she knew a lot about a lot of things. But she still couldn't figure out exactly what made Trent Steele so famous.
Steele knew all about her childhood in El Paso and her plans for the future, but she knew nothing about him. He rarely answered her questions. He was too busy listening to his assistants' whispers or arguing on the phone. But Violeta hung around. She was caught up in the magic of Trent Steele.
"We're going dancing now, if you'd like to come," he told her.
"I'd love to," she said, "but I should stay here with my friends."
"No problem," he said.
Trent Steele waits for no woman. He rallied the troops and strutted out the door. A random camera flash followed him into the night.
We had gotten away with it.
I don't think any of us thought we were going to pull it off. Nobody had prepared at any great length, but everyone stepped it up and lived the part. The bodyguards had been tough, the personal assistants persistent, and the hot chicks hot. Proof positive that you can learn at least one thing from watching TV: how to be famous.
With alcohol and adrenaline spiking through our veins, we loaded up the Expedition and headed over to our next stop, the Lounge on Montrose. The line was substantial that night, but we marched straight to the front of the joint and had a bodyguard accost the doorman.
"This is Trent Steele," he said. "Mr. Steele is a producer from out of town. He would like a VIP table immediately."
It was getting easier.
As we strolled in, someone in line yelled out, "Hey, I'm from out of town. Why don't I get to go ahead?" This fellow was traveling too light and couldn't understand that his whining bore no weight.
Most upscale bars have a small section of reserved tables. Those little white cards don't mean a damn thing when you're Trent Steele. We made our entrance and were led through the crowd to a private table. The cup of cherries arrived shortly thereafter.
This place might've been called the Lounge, but there weren't many places to chill. Think cigar bar meets pool hall meets disco, and then imagine the awkward conversation that comes about when you lock all three of them together in the same room. But the club did have the one thing a player needs: ladies.
Kate had shoulder-length brown hair, creamy skin and incredibly pert breasts. She also had an attitude.
"I'm having trouble believing all this," she said. "Who are you?"
"I'm Trent Steele," I said.
"And who is Trent Steele?"
"I'm a producer."
"Hmm." She paused. "Do you ever watch Curb Your Enthusiasm?"
"Sure, I love that show."
"Well, there's one episode where Larry David walks up to a guy wearing sunglasses and says, 'The only people who wear sunglasses indoors are either blind or assholes. Which one are you?' "
This chick had balls.
"So what do you produce?" she asked.
Cue the cell phone. After a prolonged and exaggerated conversation with Jerry, I returned to the table and to an annoyed Kate.
"I don't believe any of this shit," she said. "These little white cards, the sunglasses, that fake phone conversation, all these goons -- is this really necessary? Who are you trying to fool?"
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," I replied.
"Whatever, I'm going to go dance." And then she paused. "You're welcome to come, if you can stand to step out of your little bubble for a second."
"I'll chill here, but thanks."
Kate walked off and I got back to the business of looking cool. Thanks to my asshole sunglasses, no one could tell how shaken up I was by her interrogation. I chalked up the whole shakedown to the fact that she was a law student, one of the few things I'd managed to learn before she went on the attack.
As the night progressed, I tired of being Trent Steele. I wanted to be me again. I leaned against the wall and watched one of my big dudes playing pool with one of my hot chicks.
And then Kate returned.
"I see you're still here," she said to Trent.
"Of course I am."
Trent Steele is the man.
He strutted down Main Street with his babes by his side and his boys behind him. His entourage seemed to be growing. The usual toughs were there, but he'd picked up a few more hangers-on along the way. A man in a Nikon jacket and baggy pants scurried about, lighting up the street with pyrotechnic flashes.
Lesson 5: Photographers are your friends
Two uniformed cops, aimlessly patrolling their beat, turned to look at the commotion. A passerby yelled and pointed at the entourage. The entourage, of course, ignored him. It was then that the burly officers began tailing the group.
Trent and company strolled past the line to the front of Opus Night Club on Main. They waited impatiently outside downtown's newest hot spot, oblivious to the continued flashes from the paparazzo. Simmons stepped forth from the pack and walked up to the doorman. Slick as hell, the group rolled into the club.
And then someone dared to ask Trent Steele for cover.
"Excuse me," snapped Simmons, "but I just spoke with the doorman."
Lesson 6: New clubs are easier
Flustered, the girl behind the counter waved the group in. Trent Steele wasn't about to pay $10 for cover. They should be paying him for the honor.
On the way to the VIP area, Trent paused to look at the scantily clad ladies on the dance floor. This place had some talent. Too bad most of them were hired guns, paid to hang out and pretty up the place. Steele knew better than to bother playing the game with these honeys, so he headed downstairs.
Very disappointing. The VIP lounge was a dungeon. Located underneath the club, it was dark and depressing, with a few white couches arranged along the concrete walls. There was no point in asking for cherries; they would not be staying long.
But for now, it was time for Trent Steele to do his thing. He kicked back in the middle of a couch and gestured to his ladies, who immediately flanked him and ordered a drink. The photographer had managed to follow them in, refusing to give the entourage a moment's peace. The flashes bounced off the concrete walls, all the more stark with no one standing in front of them.
"Mr. Steele, why don't we go to Suede?" said Joe, a man of immeasurable size and loyalty. "You can order a bottle."
Trent looked at his bodyguard and made a quick motion with his eyes. Everyone stood up, clumped together and headed for the stairs. There's no point in being famous if no one is there to see it, so Trent Steele headed out the door and down the road.
No matter how long you've known your friends, they still have the ability to surprise. Most of my lot were a bunch of slackers, guys and gals who'd rather chill on the couch than hit the clubs. But everyone enjoyed being famous for a few days. Not only that, but they were getting better at it. These introverts were turning themselves inside out.
Chuck, Todd, Lisa and Shea -- these were friends from back in the day. When we hung out, we'd usually just sit around and, well, do a whole lot of nothing. But they stepped it up as some of the best slick dudes and hot chicks I'd ever seen. They made Trent Steele.
Opus had been a drag, so we set our sights on a bigger target, Suede Lounge on Prairie. Suede had been hot for a while, thanks in part to clever marketing.
It was genius, really. Most clubs hire hot chicks to tend bar. Nothing new there. But the owners of Suede had taken it a step further. They sent their bartenders out to poach customers from other bars.
Imagine a lonely guy sipping a pint at some random pub. Suddenly, in walks a gaggle of hotties who are all over him. They think he's so interesting. They'd love to find out more about him. By the way, they work at Suede. Wouldn't he love to drop by sometime and visit them?
Before I became Trent Steele, I had been duped by these ladies. I wanted Suede bad. It was time to outplay the players.
We walked down Main Street in full effect. The cops were back on our tail, a stroke of serendipity -- we were being watched. We walked up to the mouth of the beast, and the photographer started popping off shots like crazy.
Escorted to a set of couches near the window, we settled in and started the routine. The bodyguards fanned out; people began whispering things in my ear; we ordered a bottle of vodka; my gratuitous hot chicks began dancing in front of me.
Lesson 7: A little girl-on-girl action never hurts
And then the gratuitous hot chicks began dancing with each other. On each other. All over each other. The bar was ours.
A bottle of Grey Goose was promptly delivered, along with a bucket of ice, a pitcher of cranberry juice, a pitcher of soda water, a tub of lemons and a cup of cherries. (The cherries, of course, were by special request.)
Two ladies walked up and plopped down on the couch. They could have been sisters; the same curly black hair draped down over their bare shoulders. These two had piggybacked our entrance into the bar, following closely behind us in order to avoid the line.
"So who exactly are you?" asked Victoria, the more talkative of the two.
"Why, I'm Trent Steele."
"And who is Trent Steele?"
"I'm a producer."
Simmons knew what was coming next, so he took preemptive action and shoved the cell phone in my face.
"It's Jerry," he said.
"Pardon me, ladies," I said, standing up to answer the call.
"No, no, no! How can you expect me to do that?" I yelled into the phone. "You know I'm good for it. I just need a little more time."
By the time I was done with the call, my new friends had poured themselves a drink.
"So what do you produce?" asked Victoria.
"You know what?" I said. "I get tired of talking about myself all the time. Why don't you tell me a little something about yourself?"
She was born in Beaumont and her family was from Guam. I slid down my sunglasses and stared into her warm eyes. She knew I was full of shit.
"So what exactly does it mean to be a producer?" she asked.
"Excuse me," I replied as I got up to talk to one of my hangers-on. I bounced around the crowd, chitchatting with bodyguards and potential investors.
"This is bullshit!" Victoria spouted on my return.
I stood up and told Simmons that I couldn't deal with her, that she had to go. He turned to her and said, "Mr. Steele no longer has any need for you."
And away she and her friend went in a huff.
Up next came a delicious little number in black slacks and a shimmering top. She bounced her way over and poured herself a drink.
"Hello," I said.
She bounced away without a word.
Third time's the charm. My gratuitous hot chicks had continued their female bonding on the dance floor, where they found a group of four ladies who loved the idea of a free drink.
One of them had the bluest eyes I'd ever seen.
"Are those real?" I asked her.
"No, but thanks for noticing," she said. "My real eyes are hazel."
In a moment of inexplicable adoration, Simmons began feeding me cherries. He was taking the whole Burns-Smithers dynamic way too far. I pushed him aside and continued my conversation.
Her name was Caroline. She was from Austin. She'd just finished up a stint with AmeriCorps, teaching kids in the ghetto. She was an angel.
Which, of course, meant that I didn't want to blow my cover. Jerry called again and I got up to rant. As I stood there flailing my arms about, I noticed that the photographer had moved outside and was snapping pics of us through the window. The paparazzi never quit.
I sat back down next to Caroline and stared at the depth of her fake eyes. She stared back and, per my suggestion, kept talking about herself. She wanted to be a social worker. She hadn't spent much time in Houston. She'd never met anyone famous.
A bodyguard tapped me on the back and I ignored him. Trent Steele was busy. The bodyguard tapped again.
"What?" I snapped.
"There's a lady outside who would like to meet you."
Some chick had seen the photographer taking pics through the window and asked him who was in there.
"That's Trent Steele," he had replied.
Naturally, this gal immediately scaled the railing outside the club and was waiting to meet the man, the legend. She was going to have to keep waiting. Caroline was still talking.
"So, I've told you all about myself," she finished up. "Now it's your turn."
"Excuse me for a moment while I deal with a fan," I said. "You know how it is."
I shook the interloper's hand and posed for a picture. She smiled, hugged me and crawled back over the railing -- a drunk in the night. That was that.
It was time to get the check.
Lesson 8: Don't get ahead of yourself
I stared at the slip of paper in awe: Table Service -- $350.
The price of fame might be incalculable, but the price of fake fame is $350.
The short life of Trent Steele flashed before my eyes. It had been a blast, really. We'd lived the good life and looked damn good while doing it, all with a cherry on top. But then I thought about how I was going to explain that $350 bill to my editors.
With one line written on a small slip of paper, Suede had taken it all away from us. We were broke. I wanted to crumple the bill in my hand, strike a cinematic pose and fade to black -- but I refused to let go. Trent Steele doesn't go down like that. Trent Steele is the man. Trent Steele was going to get laid.
"So, what are you ladies doing after this?" I asked Caroline.
Lesson 9: Keep it up till the end or go home alone
"No plans," she said. "What do you have in mind?"
I wasn't sure, but I knew it was time to think fast.
Trent Steele had to die. There was no other way. My editors weren't too pleased about the vodka fiasco, and my crew was tiring from the weight of fame. It was more poetic -- more James Dean, less Marlon Brando -- for Trent Steele to die.
Our first option was to shoot the bastard. This one went over well in discussion. Talk of squibs, blanks and blood flew around the table. But it can't be legal to fire a blank into a crowd. The cops wouldn't understand the art of killing Trent Steele.
Maybe we could stab him. But that wouldn't work, either. It was still too bloody, too prolonged, and when it comes down to it, I was starting to rethink any option that entailed ruining one of my nice shirts.
It had to be done quickly and it had to be done cheaply, but it also had to be done in style. We rounded up $200 and rented a limo for three hours, did a few rehearsals in the front yard and hit the road.
For the last time, I was Trent Steele.
The white limo stretched up to the front of the Roxy on West Alabama. First out was Press photographer Dan Kramer, who immediately found an opportune location to set up in front of the club. Next came the hangers-on, the crème de la crème from Steele's previous sojourns. There was DJ Glockenspiel, played by Press writer Mike Serazio, outfitted in a crooked visor and a Cardinals jersey. My buddy Corey, a.k.a. Preston Dansfield III, wore his usual pinstriped shirt and salmon-colored pants, hamming it up as a shipping magnate with a lot of money and little sense. And of course there was Marshall Simmons, the guy behind the guy.
The two gratuitous hot chicks filed out of the car and made way for Trent Steele (who, by the way, was looking especially dapper this evening). The photographer must've had his flash set on "machine gun," 'cause there wasn't a pupil to be seen. Simmons briskly walked up to the door.
As the doorman escorted the entourage around the side, he didn't even bother asking any of them for the $10 cover. He knew better.
But that's about when the VIP treatment screeched to a halt. Trent Steele was escorted to a straight-backed couch along the wall, right next to another group of guys. He was expected to sit with the commoners.
"What do you mean you don't have cherries?" Simmons said in disbelief.
Trent Steele had a feeling of dread in his stomach. There weren't any cherries. His phone hadn't rung for days. He was broke. The only thing he could afford to do was dance.
Luckily, the gratuitous hot chicks were happy to oblige. They led Trent Steele onto the floor full of throbbing bodies and pounding breakbeats. Knowing that this dance would be their last, they pulled out all the stops. Sweat can be so sweet, especially when it's someone else's.
With a quick flick of the hand, Trent Steele summoned his posse and headed for the door. It was time to retire. Even fake players need a little bit of dough.
Trent Steele walked out of the Roxy and into a lit parking garage. He flipped open his cell and turned the corner.
Lesson 10: Never fade away
"What the fuck are you doing here?" Steele said to the two men standing before him. One was tall and lean, the other short and stocky. They were walking caricatures of Quentin Tarantino characters.
"You know why we're here," said Omar, the lanky one. "Jerry needs his money."
"Fuck you," spat Steele. "You've got no right to bother me when I'm out. Tell Jerry he'll get his money when he gets it."
"I think you need to come with us," Omar said, grabbing Trent's arm.
"Don't fucking touch me!" yelled Steele.
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Trent Steele didn't see the blow coming. Doubled over and gasping for air, he was punched again, this time in the back of the head, and spun around. His entourage, all very hip but all very frail, looked on with gaping jaws.
Trent Steele was pummeled and dragged toward a white van. The two brutes tossed him in and slammed the doors. Tires screeched and women screamed.
Trent Steele was never seen again.
Trent Steele now parties with Tupac and Elvis in that great big VIP lounge in the sky. He will be missed, but I think I can live without him.