Authors: Jonathan Tropper
“Especially if it’s an intervention for you,” Lindsey said.
“Can I get you a drink, Chuck?” I said.
“Well,” Chuck said, “I guess if Jack’s going to show up high as a kite, we have to do something to level the playing field.”
After I’d made Chuck a screwdriver Alison announced that it was time to discuss strategy. She wanted us all to be at the door
when she let Jack in, but I thought that doing it that way, we might never actually get Jack into the apartment. Lindsey suggested that Alison let Jack in and tell him we were all in the living room and wanted to talk to him, but Chuck thought that gave him too much of an edge. “I know it sounds odd,” he said, “but we do need to catch him off guard.” In the end it was decided that Alison would open the door alone, and then walk Jack into the living room, where we would be waiting.
Alison went to mix herself a second drink. Chuck lit up a cigarette, and when Alison didn’t snap at him to put it out, I knew that she was extremely agitated.
“We’re all nervous,” I said quietly, coming up behind her at the bar. “It’ll be okay.”
“I passed nervous about an hour ago,” she said. “I’m somewhere between sheer terror and calling the whole thing off.”
Just then the buzzer rang twice, Oscar the doorman’s signal. We all looked at each other, suddenly feeling a little ridiculous and greatly out of our depth. Even Lindsey, usually unflappable, looked uncomfortable. A minute later the doorbell rang.
“Showtime,” Chuck whispered, and plopped down on the couch.
We heard Alison open the door and Jack’s voice came floating into the living room. The three of us on the couch looked at each other, the guilt and unease we were feeling readable on our faces, a tangible manifestation that thickened the air of Alison’s living room. Jack was our friend, and we had conspired against him and now were hiding from him. As Alison’s and Jack’s footsteps approached the living room, I actually felt a shiver in my stomach lining, as if I’d rubbed velvet.
And then, suddenly, he was there. Wearing blue jeans and a navy blazer over a white oxford, Jack looked every inch the movie
star at ease. He was clean shaven and freshly showered, a far cry from the greasy, puking mess he’d been when we last saw him. I suddenly wondered if we’d made a huge mistake. Jack looked at us, his face a blank mask. He was clearly surprised, but managed to keep his cool and look only slightly puzzled. His eyes were only slightly hidden behind the green, minimally tinted lenses of his black-rimmed Gucci shades, the hot new accessory of the postmodern celebrity, their message: “I don’t have to hide behind dark glasses to remain inaccessible.”
It occurred to me that we hadn’t discussed who should do the talking.
“Hi guys,” Jack said, his tone friendly, but guarded.
We all stammered out helios. It was a testament to Jack’s presence that, walking into a situation in which he was the one surprised, he could nevertheless render us all equally nonplussed.
“Well,” Jack said, removing the sunglasses, “I know it’s not my birthday.” I noted his eyes were significantly bloodshot, a complex network of pink scribbling in the whites beneath the iris.
“Jack,” Alison said, her voice not quite steady, “everyone’s here because we need to talk to you about something.”
He walked into the center of the room with no hesitation and took a seat on the rug, Indian style. “Well, by all means,” he said. “Don’t keep me in suspense.”
Alison cleared her throat and looked over at us, her eyes pleading for someone else to take it from there. When we all remained silent, Jack’s eyes shifted to me. “Ben?” he said.
I looked at him, then at Alison, and then back at him. “This isn’t easy, Jack,” I said. “But the first thing I think that should be said is that we all care about you and consider you one of our closest friends.” Even as I said it I knew it was coming out wrong. To speak in terms ‘we’ was to put Jack on one side and the rest of us on the other. We needed to say things in a way that formed
more of a circle, with all of us on the circumference and Jack in the center. Of course, knowing what to do didn’t mean I actually knew how to do it.
“Are you breaking up with me, Ben?” Jack said, with a sarcastic smile.
“We’re worried about you, Jack,” Lindsey said. “We think you might need some help.”
His eyebrows went up as the meaning behind our gathering finally dawned on him. “What,” he said. “I get a little fucked up one night and you think I can’t handle myself anymore?”
“You know it’s a lot more than just that last night,” Alison said.
“No,” Jack said. “I don’t. I’ll tell you what the problem is here.” He got to his feet, his face suddenly flushed with anger. “The problem is that my friends read all the Hollywood glamour trades, the bullshit magazines that don’t know shit from a shoe box, and they read about how all these movie stars are getting fucked up on heroin, like River Phoenix and Robert Downey Jr. and Christian Slater. So naturally, if Jack shows up hammered one night, he must be in the same fucking boat! Poor Jack can’t handle the pressures of stardom, got himself a little heroin problem, but then, he never was the bright one. Jesus Christ!”
“Cocaine,” Chuck said to him.
“It’s cocaine. Your aggression and increased energy are consistent with an acute intoxication from a sympathomimetic-like drug such as cocaine. Heroin is an opiate. Much tougher to function with. You’re keeping way too busy to be nursing a heroin habit. Not to mention the ulcerated tissue in your nose.”
“Thank you,” Jack said to Chuck as he began to back out of the living room, his eyes blazing. “That was genuinely informative, and I think we’ve all learned something. But I’ve got a show to get to and this is getting very boring.”
“Jack, don’t go,” said Alison. “Please, stay and talk to us. We’re your friends.”
“Fuck you, Alison,” he spat at her, and she winced visibly as if slapped. “Fuck you and your little feel-good therapy session. If you were my friend you’d be able to talk to me as a friend instead of ambushing me.”
“You know that’s not what this is,” Alison said softly, her lower lip quavering.
“Hey!” Lindsey said, jumping to Alison’s defense. “How the hell can she talk to you when you’re either stoned, puking, or being carried out the back door by your agent?”
“You know what I think?” Jack said, turning to leave the room. “I think your lives are all so boring and empty that you’ll do anything to create a little drama for yourselves, to feel a little better about your pathetic, little lives. Even if it means trashing mine.”
“You know that’s bullshit,” I said, getting angry in spite of myself. “Just because we don’t have glamorous cocaine habits like you doesn’t make our lives pathetic.”
“Really, Ben? Why don’t you talk to me when you publish something a little more substantial than ‘Five Essential Evening Accessories.’”
“Shut up, Jack,” Lindsey said.
“I’ll do you one better,” Jack said. “I’m out of here.”
He spun around and a few seconds later we heard the door slam. Alison, standing in the center of the room, stared after him, her jaw hanging open in disbelief. The rest of us sat on the couch, feeling like shit.
“I think we handled that pretty well,” Chuck said.
Later that night I sat in front of the blank screen of my computer, as was my habit, waiting in vain for inspiration to strike. It didn’t, as was its habit, and as my mind drifted I found myself remembering my earlier conversation with Alison and Lindsey concerning our generation’s utter reliance on pop culture as our common frame of reference. It was like this game we often played back at NYU, describing people in terms of the movie star they resembled. If art imitated life, we wanted to make sure that we were all represented. We were big cinema-heads back then, which is probably what drew the five of us together in the first place. Movies tend to go out of style in college, especially for NYU students who feel a moral obligation to seek out the more avant-garde forms of entertainment available in the cultural smorgasbord of New York’s Greenwich Village. Those of us who eschewed the drag-queen coffee shops, tattoo parlors and art-house flicks for good old-fashioned cinema were bound to find each other.
If Lindsey were a movie star, she would be a young Michelle Pfeiffer, with soft, mocha skin, emerald eyes, and an exquisitely full upper lip curling into a lazy smile that’s somehow both seductive and sincere. When I met Lindsey in our freshman year, she was so wildly desirable that I instantly decided I had no right to be friends with her. Beneath her beauty and in-your-face sexuality was a sharp intelligence and spirituality, which did nothing to make her less desirable. If resisting sexual impulses toward a close friend was an Olympic event, I would have a few gold medals hanging on the wall next to my diploma.
Alison would be Mia Farrow in her early Woody Allen days. There’s something about her that makes you want to kiss her on the forehead and tell her that everything will be all right. At twenty-nine she still seems impossibly innocent despite her Connecticut, white-bread sophistication, wide eyes, perfect teeth and a bearing that bespeaks a childhood of violin lessons and country clubs.
Chuck is Jack Nicholson, down to the widow’s peak. He also has Nicholson’s mischievous-bordering-on-mad smile, his infinite reserve of confidence and penchant for incessant flirtation. Chuck admits with no shame that he’s in surgery for the money. He views the current trend toward what he calls the socialization of medicine with open distaste and quiet alarm. He is a staunch, unapologetic Republican to the point of caricature. He’s actually read Rush Limbaugh’s book. I don’t know Jack Nicholson’s politics, but somewhere in the eighties I read an interview in
where Jack said that he would vote for Gary Hart “because Gary Hart fucks and I think we should have a president who fucks.” That’s Chuck.
If I were a movie star, I’d want to be a young Mel Gibson, but who wouldn’t? The cold hard truth is that I’m probably closer to
Dustin Hoffman in
The Marathon Man
, although without the schnozola, thank you very much. Athletic, optimistic, sarcastic, although my heart’s not always in it, and only mildly introverted. On the plus side, like Hoffman, I, too, have had marginal success with women who, from a Darwinian standpoint, shouldn’t have given me the time of day.
Jack is the easiest. If Jack were a movie star he’d be himself.
I looked up at the monitor in order to make sure that I hadn’t gone into a trance and written some award-winning fiction while lost in thought, and after confirming that my screen remained stubbornly blank, I hit return for good measure and began to type a list.
After doing the lists at
for a while, you get into the habit of thinking about everything in terms of lists, .especially stuff like this.
Ten CDs you’d be likely to find in Chuck’s car:
1. Van Halen:
Best of Van Halen
2. Led Zeppelin:
(A greatest hits album)
4. Guns N’ Roses:
Use Your Illusion 1
Aerosmith’s Greatest Hits
7. Def Leppard:
Saints & Sinners
Look What the Cat Dragged In
right. There might really be something to this whole pop culture thing.
Ten CDs you’d probably find in Lindsey’s car:
1. Juliana Hatfield:
Become What You Are
2. The Ramones:
Too Tough to Die
3. No Doubt:
4. Joe Jackson:
Joe Jackson’s Greatest Hits
Life’s Rich Pageant
6. Barenaked Ladies:
7. Peter Gabriel:
Shaking the Tree
8. Crash Test Dummies:
God Shuffled His Feet
9. Liz Phair:
10. Sheryl Crow:
Tuesday Night Music Club
Here’s what you’d find in my car, in the unlikely event that I had a car, and in the further unlikely event that it had a CD player:
1. Billy Joel:
The Nylon Curtain
2. Joe Jackson:
3. Ben Folds Five:
Whatever & Ever Amen
4. John Hiatt:
Hanging Around the Observatory
5. Elton John:
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
6. The Beatles:
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
7. Elvis Costello:
This Year’s Model
8. Bruce Springsteen:
Born to Run
The Soul Cages
10. Peter Himmelman:
Flown This Acid World
Alison, predictably, is into what Chuck calls “vagina music”:
1. The Indigo Girls:
Rites of Passage
2. 10,000 Maniacs:
Our Time in Eden
Pieces of You
4. Sarah McLachlan:
Fumbling Towards Ecstasy