Authors: Jonathan Tropper
Alison explained that Jack had called her to apologize a few days after the Torre’s incident, told her that he’d be coming to New York
a week from Tuesday for a premiere, and offered to take her out to dinner. “I’ll have him come pick me up at my apartment,” she said.
“And we’ll all be waiting there,” Lindsey said.
“Yeah,” Alison said.
“He’ll be pissed,” Lindsey said.
“Let him be pissed,” I said.
“He’ll be ashamed,” Lindsey said. “It sounds kind of cruel. It’s like we’re all conspiring against him.”
“He has to know we’re doing it out of concern for him. Out of love,” Alison said.
“Lindsey has a point,” Chuck said. “Maybe it shouldn’t be all of us. That might be too much for him to handle.”
“If you don’t want to come—” Alison began.
“That’s not what I said,” Chuck said hotly. “But you have no idea what you’re dealing with, so why don’t you let me give you a clue. Cocaine screws up your endocrine system. It triggers a hypersecretion of norepinephrine in the brain, which will often cause the addict to suffer hallucinations and psychoses, the most common of which is extreme paranoia. It’s a textbook symptom. Lindsey’s right, there’s a good chance he’ll misinterpret our intentions.”
“I’m sorry, Chuck,” Alison said. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“Listen,” Lindsey said. “We have a few days to decide if there’s a better way to do it. For now, I think we should agree that we’ll all be there for him.” There were murmurs of acquiescence. “But I think we should all accept the severity of this intervention,” Lindsey said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We may lose him,” she said softly. “if he gets angry enough, or is so far gone that he can’t face up to it, he’ll storm out of there and that might be the last we see of him.” She was saying “us,”
but we all knew that she was really talking to Alison. “What I’m trying to say is that I don’t think this is one of those things that may work or may not work, but either way we’re all back to being his buddies a month later. There will be consequences.”
“I agree with Lindsey,” said Chuck.
Alison let out a deep breath. “Look. As far as I’m concerned, he’s on the path to self-destruction. We can’t sit idly by out of fear that we’ll lose his friendship. What’s the point of staying friends if he’s dead in six months?”
“Could it really be that serious, Chuck?” I asked.
“It’s an idiosyncratic drug,” Chuck said. “It affects everyone differently, and I don’t even know how long he’s been on it. He could go another year or he could already have an edema in the brain, which is bleeding. He could die of a hemorrhage tomorrow.”
That silenced us all for a minute, and all that could be heard was the static hiss of Bell Atlantic. Someone began nervously tapping their desk with a pencil. We’d all smoked our share of weed back at NYU, obtained in twenty- and fifty-dollar bags from the Rasta guys that trolled Washington Square Park, but we were completely inexperienced when it came to anything harder. Nancy Reagan had taught us to “Just Say No,” and we’d been trained instinctively to loathe drugs, but that didn’t mean we fully understood the dangers. Hearing Chuck put the drug into concrete medical terms that involved the possibility of death made it suddenly a much more real and imminent danger. I remembered that commercial from a few years ago, the one with the egg and the frying pan.
This is your brain, this is your brain on drugs. Any questions?
“We’re his friends,” Alison finally said. “We have to do what we think is best, regardless of how unpleasant it may be.” She sounded like she was trying to convince herself along with us.
“So we’re going to do this,” I said. “We all agree?” We did.
On my way home from work that day I actually spent sixty-five bucks on a full-sized Darth Vader mask, the kind that goes completely over your head. There was no rational reason for buying it. I saw it in the window of the Star Magic Shop and just walked in and bought it. It had that delicious smell of new plastic, the smell of childhood. When Luke Skywalker unmasked Darth Vader in
Return of the Jedi
, I felt as if something had been stolen from me irretrievably. Allowing Vader to relinquish the Dark Side of the Force would forever compromise his evil presence in the first two films.
The Empire Strikes Back
would never be the same for me, which meant one more link had been severed between me and the boy that I was.
Over the years, though, Vader had weathered the storm, and managed to establish himself as the most prominent icon from the trilogy, and while I did take some comfort in that, it didn’t make me feel any less self-conscious about my purchase as I handed the teenage salesgirl my American Express card. I walked home with the mask in a bag, feeling embarrassed, nostalgic, and strangely insubordinate. When I got to my apartment, I pulled it out of the bag and put it on my kitchen table, and we just stared at each other for a little while, as if neither of us could quite figure out what the other one was doing there.
Thirty . . . shit
That was my silent mantra during the weeks leading up to my birthday and following it. As far as I knew they hadn’t removed any hours from the day or days from the year, yet the milestone had sneaked up on me, like a giant, silent wave swelling behind you while you’re facing the shore. It had come way too fast. Some days it felt like I was still thinking like a nineteen-year-old, and here I was, more than a decade older.
was over twenty years ago. I can still remember seeing it in the theater when it first came out. I went four times. In 1977 VCRs were still a few years away from the mainstream, and you never knew when you would get a chance to see a movie again. You had to internalize the film so you could take it with you.
Thirty. . . shit
. It was like one of those inane lists I compiled for
. Mick Jagger, Roger Daltry, and the Beatles are all over fifty. Billy Joel and Elton John are pretty much there, too, as are Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone. Gary Coleman and all of
the Bradys are grown men. Magic and Bird are retired, Jordan’s already retired twice, and Shaquille O’Neal is six years younger than me. I graduated college eight years ago. My parents are in their sixties, which is the age I always associated with grandparents, not parents. Any day now I’m going to walk into a doctor’s office and discover that he’s younger than me.
If I were an athlete I’d be past my prime. If I were a dog I’d be dead.
Thirty . . . shit
It’s a nice round number to arrive at if you have it all together. Success, love, a family, the overall sense that you actually belong on the planet. If you have all that, you can wear thirty well. But if you don’t, it feels like you’ve missed the deadline, and suddenly your chances of ever getting it right, of ever achieving true happiness and fulfillment, are fading fast. You realize that all your hopes and dreams up until this point were actually expectations that, still unrealized, have become desperate prayers to a god you were certain you didn’t believe in anymore. Please, let me have an easy mind and a pretty girl to hold my hand, or however the song goes. Is that so much to ask?
Thirty . . . shit
Old enough to suddenly see forty, the Prozac birthday, shimmering on the horizon in your rearview mirror, a metallic, glinting speck, gaining steadily. Old enough to start seeing the small, subtle signs of aging in your friends and in your mirror. Old enough, needless to say, to have a friend with a cocaine habit, and to realize that everything might not be all right in the end.
Alison lived on Central Park West, five blocks downtown and three blocks east of my apartment, but it might as well have been
another world. I lived in a walk-up on Ninety-second between West End and Riverside, a nice enough area during the day, but at night it became a sinister trading post for drug dealers and pock-marked, anorexic junkies who transacted intimately on the stoops and sidewalks. Whenever I uneasily walked that gauntlet at night to or from my apartment, I felt like a conspicuous interloper, and prayed not for happiness and fulfillment, but simply to be left alone.
Over on Central Park West, you didn’t have any of that. The co-op boards wouldn’t stand for it. Each building lobby had at least two doormen to keep the neighborhood peaceful and the sidewalks clear of the urban dredges that found my neighborhood so appealing. Alison’s neighbors were Mia Farrow, Diane Keaton, Tony Randall, Carly Simon, Madonna, and a host of other celebrities who could often be spotted between their canopied lobbies and their taxis, hailed for them by uniformed doormen with silver whistles. There was even a button in Alison’s elevator with a little car etched onto it that signaled to the doorman that you wanted a cab, so that by the time you stepped out of the elevator, depending on how high up you lived, he was already out there hailing you one. If you lived in the penthouse, there might already be a taxi waiting for you by the time you got down, which was only fair. To get a cab from my apartment you had to walk over to West End and flag one down yourself, but more often than not you just walked up to Broadway and used the subway.
Alison’s apartment was an expansive two-bedroom deal, with a separate dining room and eat-in kitchen, two large bathrooms and a view of Central Park. It had been a gift from her parents, so she didn’t even have rent to worry about. Not that she
have worried about it with her six-figure salary and trust fund portfolio. The rich really do get richer. Her furnishings were spare but tasteful, although I’m sure the jade green, L-shaped leather couch in
her living room had probably cost more than every stick of furniture in my apartment, stereo and VCR included.
When I got to the apartment, Lindsey and Alison had been sitting on said couch, under a framed Magritte, drinking apricot sours. Lindsey was casual in black Banana Republic jeans and a sleeveless denim vest, still sporting a fading summer tan, while Alison wore a short plaid skirt and a white T-shirt, with her hair back in a loose pony tail. Both women were beautiful, I thought, but like night and day. Lindsey was sexy but intimidating, while Alison was inviting but vulnerable.
“We were just saying,” Lindsey said, “that our generation is the first for whom pop culture is our sole frame of reference. The way we assimilate every experience is through the lens of pop culture. We’ve been raised on it to the point that it’s all we have to draw upon.”
“Give an example,” I said, joining her on the couch and resisting the impulse to kiss her. I settled for inhaling her perfume while I ordered a rum and soda from Alison. I had seen Lindsey only a handful of times in the past two years, so I still experienced a bittersweet flutter in my chest each time I saw her. The bitter-to-sweet ratio varied depending on my mood, but not surprisingly, bitter had been coming on a bit stronger lately.
“I know what she means,” Alison said, getting up to mix me a drink at her bar. “It’s like when we describe people in terms of movie stars. Our parents would never have described someone in terms of a movie star unless there was an uncanny resemblance. Movie stars weren’t as universal, and there weren’t nearly as many.”
“And back then, not everyone would necessarily know what every star looked like,” Lindsey added. “But now, thanks to the media-fed hunger for celebrity news, we’re confident that when using those types of descriptions, anyone we speak to will understand.
We might say someone is extremely large and muscular, but we can just as easily say he looks like a Schwarzenegger. People’s names are becoming common, descriptive nouns that are universally recognized. Our language is evolving along with our frame of reference. It’s becoming less descriptive and more visual. We don’t describe with words. We describe by referencing a comparable image.”
“It’s an interesting notion,” I said. “But it isn’t exclusively limited to images. We can also describe people based on the kind of music or movies they like, or the books and magazines they read.”
“Right,” Alison said, handing me my drink and curling up on the other side of the L. “If you’re telling me about a guy and you say he reads
Soldier of Fortune
magazine and listens to Van Halen or Anthrax, I begin to form a picture and an opinion in my mind, and I already know enough about him to know I wouldn’t like him.”
“Chuck loves Van Halen,” Lindsey pointed out.
“I know,” Alison said in just the right way to make us crack up.
Chuck arrived a few minutes later, still wearing his scrubs, although I was sure he’d had enough time to change. It was pure vanity, but after going through seven years of medical school, I figured he was entitled. He looked at our empty glasses on the coffee table and said, “Is it good form to get plastered for an intervention?”
“Definitely,” Alison said.