I wanted to leave. I think. But I didn’t know where or what I was leaving. I tried to hop off the single Craftmatic adjustable, but I couldn’t move. I looked down, only able to lower my eyes, but couldn’t quite see myself.
I could see the room, but as though I was looking through a peephole, all fish-eyed with no peripheral vision. Not one of those cool oil painting peepholes where a Duchess’ eyes are cut out allowing me to spy from a secret damp hidden tunnel, peering into the Queen’s chambers, mine was just your average apartment door peephole.
A couple times I heard a door open and close, but couldn’t see it. Maybe it wasn’t even a door. How should I know, like I mentioned, I couldn’t see much. But what else sounds like a door opening and closing? A master at sound effects? Was there a guy in the room perfecting his door opening and closing vocal effects? Was the next Rich Little at the end of my bed performing for me? I hoped not, because next would probably be his impression of George Burns, and who wouldn’t love that.
I was asked how I was, not by Rich Little, someone else, he asked like he was interested. But I knew he was just punching the clock for the graveyard shift.
The place sort of looked like a hospital, brightly lit and clean. But higher-end; with crown moldings. I guess I moved my head, because I then knew what the floors were like, shiny, hardwood, like a high school gym before Labor Day. And, thankfully, the next Rich Little was no where to be found.
I looked back up through the apartment peephole at him. He asked again, concern on his face. Fake concern, the kind a sociopath learns from studying Lifetime movies. Trust me, I know, I’m a secret Lifetime lover. If Meredith Baxter Burney’s in it, it’s a goody. Remember the one where she was a bulimic, compulsive exerciser? Priceless.
My thoughts were breaking up into Shrinky-Dinks.
Where was I? What was wrong with me? Who was this guy? And what was his angle?
* * * * *
When I was a little kid, my father explained to me that there was always an angle. Everyone had an agenda, he said, and I was ahead of the game if I knew that.
He said it to me at Macy’s, on 34th street in New York, standing in line to see the guy he called the old fart with the beard and red suit. My father was holding my hand, because I’d forgotten my mittens. He wasn’t big on hand holding, said it made his hand clammy and got in the way of us walking fast. But he held it that day. His hands were always warm, on the verge of hot, and he would tell people that it was because of his Indian blood, that it was why he tanned so quickly. But we were Irish.
Jerry Carlton let go of my right hand, picked up my cold little six-year-old left, and blew coffee and buttered-roll warmth on it. It was cold, and the line was stock-still. I apologized for shivering, told him I was just pretending. He looked at my pink face, my teeth doing the Woody Woodpecker.
With a big smile, like it was the best present a girl could get for Christmas, my father told me there was no Santa, that Macy’s agenda was to sell toys, and now that I knew, we could go over to the OTB and quit wasting our time standing in line with these fucking morons. And that he’d place a bet for me, I could pick the horse, because betting would teach me about life, Santa would get in the way of me knowing about the real world.
* * * * *
The guy with the daytime drama bedside manner asked me how I was for a third time; I only know it was for the third time because that’s what he told me. And then I remembered, he still hadn’t told me where I was, or maybe he had, but I was trying to remember which horses I placed bets on that day with my dad. There were so many days like that, and so many lame race horse names, “And It’s neck to neck! Uncle Willie’s Pajama’s and Puttin’ on the Ritz! And the winner isUncle Willie’s Pajama’s!”
I did know who I was, but only because my new plastic-and-paper bracelet said GWEN CARLTON on it. It was nice to finally be given a piece of jewelry that wouldn’t give me a rash. I’m allergic to metal, didn't matter how much you spent on it.
The guy asking the same question repeatedly was named Milo. He must have been under the impression that repetition works. I’m not into that, just tell me once, and I’ve got it, unless I’m not listening.
I knew his name because the official-looking tag on his white, cotton-blend lapel said “MILO”…unless, of course, he was wearing someone else’s jacket. That happened to Greg Brady, remember, the whole cigarette fiasco?
Milo was waiting for my reply, patient. Extremely patient; I could never be that patient. His bedside manner was great, with the exception of when I said, I was fine. He acted like I didn’t say a word. Wait, did I say I was fine? I can’t remember, but it seemed like it, so that’s proof enough for me.
A great word “fine” – it means absolutely nothing, but everyone actually thinks it means “good.” You could be bleeding like a hemophiliac and say you’re fine, and everyone would go on their merry way. Maybe that’s an exaggeration, but isn’t fun to exaggerate? I even like to hear exaggerations. Kind of like, the Bible. God, if you’re up there and all those stories are true, like how women originated from barbequed ribs at Adam’s cook out, I was just kidding.
You waking up yet? He wanted to know.
This Milo dude didn’t even blink. What he did was, he whipped out one of those mini-flashlights and checked my eyes. First one, then the other, like he was on the show “ER”. He nodded seriously, like it was just about what he expected…not good news, but I was gonna live. Then, adding to the general hospital-type drama, he jotted some notes in a manila folder I couldn’t quite make out. But my vision was clearing, and I could see normally again…the fish-eye apartment peep-hole action was gone.
Gwen Carlton, he said, but kind of to himself, like I wasn’t two feet away and wide awake, and seeing…thank God. What did you do to end up here?
I knew I was awake. I mean, maybe for a second I doubted it, only because things had been so weird. But then I heard my voice, much more clearly this time.
What do you mean, end up here? I asked, befuddled. Isn’t that one of the lamest words in the world? I love using idiotic words to get reactions out of people, sometimes I’ll make up words, to see if they’ll cop to the fact that they’ve never heard the word, like, say, “delyling” is.
No one ever does, people love to pretend they know everything, especially the things they don’t know.
He kept paging through his very thin, GWEN CARLTON file; that was a good sign, I decided it meant nothing was wrong with me. If it was loaded like a phone book, I’d be a Lifetime movie. Who would play me? The only actresses my age that do Lifetime are ex 90210 girls, and they just wouldn’t do the role justice. Plus, there’s no actress tall enough in the Lifetime selection. Those actresses are tiny, and I’m very tall, but I suck at basketball. Maybe Meredith Baxter Burney has a daughter who’s an actress.
Milo just kept ignoring me. Which was fine with me, being an only child, you learn to entertain yourself with less than a stick.
He sighed, put down his manila folder and walked out the door, which he left ajar. I hate that word too, “ajar.” No, it’s “slightly open.”
She’s all right, he said, I couldn’t see who he was talking to. Maybe he was like a Norman Bates doctor, and was talking to a nurse that was really himself.
I just don’t think she knows where she is.
He could have told me where I is…where I be…where I be at.
Then I did something really dumb, but I couldn’t help it. I started screaming, then I went beyond that and really let my lungs loose. I heard the efficient-rubber footsteps and saw spanky-clean high top sneakers walk into frame, and then this Milo guy’s face was in my face again, but closer this time, and I could see the tiny pores in his nose and smell his breath, minty. That’s not true. I couldn’t smell his breath. I couldn’t smell anything. But he seemed the kind of guy who’d always have clean hands and TV commercial, new and improved, minty fresh breath.
You waking up, there, Gwen? He asked.
Waking up? How could you think I was sleeping?
You still need some rest, don’t you? He asked.
No, I need you to tell me what’s going on. I have cancer don’t I? I knew it. No one ever listened to me, and now it’s to late, right? What kind? The worst kind, right? Lymphoma? No, I have Ebola…no, both. I’m riddled with deadly ailments. Tell me the truth.”
He didn’t answer, it was as though I didn’t say a word, but I knew I did. I’ll admit, there have been times when I didn’t, but I was on top of my cancer/Ebola riddled reality.
But then something happened. I didn’t feel a pinprick or anything, but they must have pumped me with the juice. Suddenly the world started going blue-gray, pigeon-colored, and I couldn't feel my feet.
It wasn't so bad, actually. I hate my feet.
The smell of peppermint from his mouth was like his own secret hypnosis scent, he was breathing pure Binaca, and it was making me sleepy.
I fought it, trying to figure everything out. Again, like a dance, 1,2,3…
Who was he?
Where was I?
What the fuck happened to me?
I heard a couple bars of that song: “La Cucaracha”, like it was coming from one of those barrio car horns.
The peppermint smell was too much. Now it wasn’t so much like Binaca as it was those germ coated chalky mints they have at the cash registers at every Chinese restaurant. I always wondered if it was the germs and bacterial schmegma on those chalky pastel candies that made me like them. Fear Factor fun.
I remembered someone. Someone I hadn’t thought about in probably ten years.
* * * * *
She said she was my aunt, but she wasn't really. My mother said she was a friend of the family. But she wasn’t really that either. As far as I could tell, she just lived next door and borrowed stuff. She did baby-sit me at no charge—unless you counted the schnapps. I think she chose the peach or peppermint because she thought no one would notice.
The truth was, Aunt Marie was the only one who called herself Aunt Marie.
Call me Aunt Marie, princess, she would say, in this kind of bar-floozy, double wide voice. I’m your Aunt Marie because I love you, Gwenny. God led your family to 2A so we would be together. God did this. God works in mysterious ways, even in this city of struggle and hopelessness.
She would punctuate these little nuggets of inspiration with a hug of uncomfortable Santa-Claus-closeness, not that I believed in the old fart anymore, and then the gold charm hanging from her neck that said “FOXY” snagged my Donald Duck sweat-shirt. After Donald was free of Foxy, Aunt Marie would go into the kitchen and make noises like she was casing the kitchen for a snack, along with lots of fake coughing, but I could see her reaching up above the avocado-green fridge. Then she'd come back, smelling like peaches. Or peppermint.
My mother loved that kitchen because it had a window, a rarity in a cheap New York apartment. Every time Mom went into the small, faded-yellow room, she’d smile and say what a difference the sunshine made. One New Year’s Eve, when my mother and I were clanging pots and pans out our kitchen window, I asked her if I could have a Peppermint Patty drink too, she was drinking it, but in coffee, not straight out of the bottle like Aunt Marie. Mom told me it was a drink for grown ups, not really candy. That’s how I knew, sort of. I really knew, because early that January, I was having a hard time believing my mother, that there was a candy drink for adults. So I stood on a chair and got it down and tasted it. Horrible, worse than cough medicine. I figured adults were crazy to drink medicine when they didn’t have to. And that when I was a grown up, I’d never drink grown up drinks.
The Cher Show was on TV.
I loved Cher. I wondered if God put Cher on TV so that she could be closer to me. I brushed my Cher doll’s hair as I watched television Cher, the most glamorous woman in the world. She wasn’t ordinary. She was beyond.
Gwenny, see that? Aunt Marie asked, pointing at Cher on the little black-and-white TV, as she went back to the kitchen for her fourth dose of medicine.
That’s not real--she’s not real. She had surgery to take out her ribs, the scratchy voice explained from the kitchen, accompanied by noises like she was shaking a bag of potato chips, then opening and shutting the fridge, again with more fake coughs. I didn’t understand why she was doing all that when all she wanted was gross adult crappy sips of gross adult crap. I didn’t care, if she were eating all the Mallomars, then I would care.
That’s why she’s so skinny, Aunt Marie continued as she sort of did this stumble, but pretended it was on purpose walk from the kitchen.
Even from across the room I could smell it.
I couldn't even imagine how bad that tasted. Peppermint was bad enough; peach was probably like cough medicine and vinegar mixed together.
Do you know how hard it is to make it in this world? Adults only Peach-Breath asked. It’s a pit of decay, and the moment you shine, some director says you’re right for the part--yeah, if you’ll sleep with him. That’s the only reason Cher has a show and I don’t. That’s why my dream died--because every dream has a price, Gwenny.
I watched her, through the perfectly-parted locks of my Cher doll, as she talked to me from the mirror, cupping her tits and sucking in her boozed-up belly, pretending she had her ribs cut out.
Aunt Marie, if you wanted to be an actress, you should have slept with the director, I told her, wishing she’d stop bothering me. She was wrecking the show.
Gwenny! she said, like she'd caught me trying her medicine.
Seriously, I told her, grateful that the TV had gone to commercial, even if it was a commercial I liked, for popcorn in this tinfoil-pan thing that you put right on your stove. It sounded like a machine-gun when it puffed up, and the kids in the commercial looked like it made them almost ecstatic with joy, which I was willing to believe was possible. I believed all commercials. TV raised me, and you have to believe your parents.
I sleep with my whole class everyday at nap time, I explained. It’s hard to fall asleep sometimes, but I just pretend I’m sleeping so my teacher won’t get mad at me.
Gwenny, you don’t understand. I’m twenty-eight years old. It’s all over. Let me tell you something about my life. The blanket of horror that sleeps with me is darkness, and the blanket of horror that cries with me is light.
Well, maybe you should sleep with your director, or get a teddy bear, I told her. Or take a little less peppermint adult grossness, I thought, but wisely didn't say it. Even back then, I tended to keep my comments to myself. It must be an only child thing.
Oh, Gwenny, Aunt Marie sighed. Life isn’t so tough really. It’s good. It really is. If you make it through without getting a social disease, you’ve had a good life.
I didn't know what a social disease was, and didn't really care. There was a commercial on for a new movie called Jaws, about a shark, and decided I should catch my father when he came home late one night and make him promise to take me. I'd wait for a night when he was laughing the happy laugh, when he'd gloat about how he’d gotten "everything but this poor sucker's pink slip.” It always brought a funny picture to my mind, of my father and his friends, smoking and playing cards in identical pink-silk slips, just like my mother's. Except hers were more orangey, a pinkish-orange color I never really liked much, and only understood why later, when I learned what it was called.
* * * * *
I awoke, hoping it was one of “Wizzard of Oz” awakenings where you realize you’re home, and there’s no place like it. But it wasn’t. And I never had one of those kinds of homes. We were always moving, so the tornado resonated more as a home to me in that flick.
Milo was still there but now he was jabbering, random letters of the alphabet:
I couldn’t make sense of it. Duh, could anyone? But I was paying attention, a rarity. In fact, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. The thing was, he looked just like Tom Cruise. Doctors weren’t supposed to look like Tom Cruise. And I can’t help it if I find him attractive, I think it’s how weird he is. I love weirdness. It makes me feel so at ease. I suddenly hoped I was gonna be laid up for awhile. A protracted convalescence with a doctor that looked like Tom wouldn’t be the worst thing that’d happened to me. Unless I was actually at the Celebrity Scientology Centre, but I didn’t see any hidden cameras, so that was off the list. But if they were hidden, how would I know? Well, I mean there were no phony mirrors, no random plants, or those discrete small domes overhead like they have at department stores and casinos. I know a lot about that kind of stuff, I had a real nerdy boyfriend who thought he was James Bond, we’d always be shooting over to the spy store…he was like Norm there. Why does every guy think he’s James Bond?
Then I sort of zoned out again, and when I came back -- or woke up, or whatever it was -- Milo was gone.
Then another thought, yes, I was in some kind of a body-cast, not. I figured that out when I got up and started walking around. I thought I’d been in bed for a long time, but when I stood up my neck refused to crack and I didn't even feel like stretching. It was odd.
I felt like I was in a movie, or at least like I should have been, so I did the movie-thing and walked over to my window. There was this really beautiful sunny field outside.
It wasn't actually a window; it was just a window-frame built into the wall. And the sunny field wasn't a sunny field either. It was a poster of a sunny field, pulled down from a spring-loaded roller like those maps by the chalkboard in grade school. It was pretty convincing though. Or maybe that was real, and life was spring loaded.
Yeah, you pick your scenery, the voice said. It’s a sneaky way for them to get a read on how you’re feeling. So I always pull down the opposite. If I’m elated, it’s urban drizzle. Depressed, sunny pasture.
The voice behind me belonged to an antsy-looking guy with this kind of Trekkie-style delivery, like Captain Kirk staying nobly-calm on the bridge of his Romulan-infested spaceship. Not that I would ever watch Star Trek. Please. So if Romulans don’t infest, don’t get all uppity with me, I’m speaking of nothing I know of, okay?
This freakshow was standing just outside my door, like a hovercraft awaiting the go-ahead for take-off. Just so you know, I’m a judger. But then there’s always room for me to like the person or thing later after proven cool or interesting. I’m the opposite of the judicial system…well, not really. Judges follow the same rules I do, let’s face it.
Wow, reverse psychology. They'll never figure that out, I retorted.
No, he told me seriously. It's reverse, reverse, reverse-psychology.
He gave my room a once-over.
Good room, he said with one eye brow up, very high, Nicholson high.
I guess he figured that since he'd said something nice and divulged his secret recipe of triple-reverse-psychology theory, he could come in. He walked over to my window that wasn't really a window.
May I? He hesitated. He actually didn’t hesitate, but just enough to seem like he did.
No. I don’t know why I cared, the truth of the matter was that maybe I could actually get some information about where the hell I was, or maybe I already knew, and really didn’t want to know.
He did anyway. Typical.
This guy acted as though he were deaf. Everyone hear did, it seemed. Maybe I was at some hearing impaired retreat, maybe I was deaf too, but I didn’t know, because I couldn’t hear, and no one wrote it out on a notepad for me. Maybe when you suddenly become deaf, they don’t let you in on it for awhile. I don’t know how it goes, this is the first time I’ve been deaf. At least he wasn't speaking in code and pretending he couldn't hear me; but it would have been cool if he were cute, let’s say Viggo Mortenson cute. Honestly, it would have been cool if every man looked like Viggo Mortenson, don’t you agree? He pulled down a different view that wasn't really a view. It was a sunset, real, I Love L.A., Wish You Were Here! Kinda postcardy bull.
This is always a good one, he confided in me, again, like it was a big special secret. When Milo meets with you he’ll ask you--is it a “rise” or a “set”? It's the old “half-empty, half-full” question.
He had lowered his voice like he was telling me Batman's true identity, and he was doing this annoying Nixon finger-pointing action to emphasize his words. You know, like how people use their fingers as quotes, but he didn’t, his finger quotes were real, “I am not a crook!” action.
It’s all tediously simple to play here. So much better than out there, don’t you think? If you play correctly, of course.
I didn’t know where I was, and I didn’t know what he was comparing this place to anyhow. I had no idea what he was talking about. At least I knew now that I wasn’t deaf. That was a relief. See, there’s always a positive. Hearing suddenly was a magical experience, I wanted to skip to my lou. Was Lou a person, or a bathroom?
What do you mean? Play what correctly? Where is here and where is out there?
He ignored my questions and was looking around my room like he was on an Easter-egg hunt.
Then I saw it. Or noticed it, or really looked at it for the first time, or whatever.
It was filled with stuff. My stuff, except that it wasn't. It looked like I’d decorated the place, but I was pretty sure I hadn't. Honestly, I don’t “decorate.” I just throw stuff together, and make whatever it is look cool.
There was a poster of Jim Morrison on the wall across from my window, a nice black-and-white, circa ‘71. I'd always wanted that poster, but I'd never actually bought it. Lots of books, some first editions, mostly your standard young educated anarchist post-romantic chick with a trust fund picks--Sylvia Plath, Stevie Smith, Pablo Neruda. Some Vonnegut, Bukowski, Burroughs. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing. And of course, Catcher in the Rye. Fuck Franny and Zoey, right? The bed was wrapped in Ralph Lauren, Out of Africa style, but in 400-count Egyptian cotton. The thing that was freaking me out was that I had always wanted pretentious sleep-drapery like that…but I would have never, ever admitted to it. I decided that if these people could psychically predict what kind of sheets I’d like, I’d be better off waiting until Lame-O left before checking any of the bedside-table drawers.
You know, he pronounced, wagging his index finger at me. You’re a lot like Barney, aren’t ya?
Again, I had no idea what he was talking about. And I didn’t really care. That’s not true. I did care. I always act like I don’t care, or think I don’t care, when I actually do.
I was still too freaked out by the room to really worry about him too much, although the Nixon finger-thing was irking me no to end.
Did you say something?
Barney. You're just like him, he nodded, slicking his greasy, half-curly hair back into place.
I’m sorry, I’m a little, um…who’s Barney? I asked. I wanted to roll my eyes but I knew he’d catch it, call me on it, and then get all glorious on his keen observational skills.
The Golden Retriever I had as a kid.
Thanks, I told him. That's the nicest thing anyone ever told me. You’ve got all the moves. Bet that works on all the ladies.
Pure-bred, but crazy as a shit-house rat! He laughed. And the laugh wasn't even for laughter’s sake, more like he was complimenting himself. And it wasn’t even really a laugh. More like this disgusting dying-rodent noise. I wondered where that Tom Cruise guy was and why he wasn’t protecting me from this schmo.
If I am where I think I am, men aren’t allowed in women’s rooms. At least that’s how it was last time.
Great, I told him.
So, what happened to you out there? He wanted to know. Or did you check yourself in? Or check yourself out? Plan A? Plan B?
He was doing this big mime thing like he had a bunch of crap in either hand, and he was seriously trying to weigh them out. At least for a minute he couldn’t Nixonize.
I don’t know. I um…
I kind of trailed off into the abyss. Abyss. Words that start with an A…apple, applesauce, do those count as two different words?
I started over:
You know, I need some time to…
I was using the I Really Like You But As A Friend Voice, the voice only a total tard would bother accepting or not listening to. So of course he interrupted:
To what? Unpack? That’s a laugh, Barney.
I followed his look over to my new closet. I didn’t think I’d unpacked. I mean, I definitely didn't remember unpacking. But then again I didn't remember coming here, or where I was before, exactly, or even what my name was, until I saw it on my wrist. And I knew they could have written anything on my fab plastic/paper bracelet, if they really wanted to fuck with me; which it seemed they did.
Lame-O walked over and opened my cherry-wood door with a flourish. I told him again to get out, to deaf ears yet again. But then I forgot about him for a second and had a bit of a freak attack. There were five black T -shirts and five pairs of jeans, all looking like this one outfit I wore most of the time, if you could call jeans and a black T-shirt an outfit. I touched the clothes. They weren’t new. But they weren’t used, either. It was like they were mine; they smelt as though they came from my apartment, not all special and good, just well-worn. But at the same time, I knew they weren’t mine, and again, that I couldn’t smell.
I turned back to Lame-O, and for the first time I saw what he was wearing, which was odd in itself, I was not some big fashion-plate, but I usually noticed what people had on. At least enough to criticize it. And Lame-O's wardrobe was an easy target, too easy, criticism 101 easy. Brown polyester pants, hemmed with staples, under a hospital gown riddled with cigarette burns and disposable slippers that should have been disposed of a long time ago. The Schizophrenic Fall Collection, for you and that special someone that shares your body.
Hey, man--you think I can just be alone for a minute? I just need, you know, a little time...
Time? That’s another laugh. Jesus, Barney, you’re killing me. Sure, I’ll leave. I'll see you later.
I wanted to say that I hoped I wouldn’t, but of course I didn't. I might as well have, since it was like he heard it anyhow:
Oh, you’ll want to see me again. Believe me, he told me.
The scary thing was that I did almost believe him. Almost, but not quite. It hadn’t gotten that bad yet. In all honesty, he wasn’t the worst case I’d encountered in a place like this. When my mom tossed me in the bin the first time, there was this guy who was always going on about the syndicate and chopping “them” up into little pieces. How does one chop the syndicate into little pieces? I always took what psychotics said literally. He made no sense, yet I figured he must. I started thinking he made more sense than I ever did. Then I hoped I wasn’t part of the syndicate. So this was a nice change of pace…sort of. Well not really at all, but it’s times like these you have to pretend.
As Lame-O left, he saluted Milo, who was walking into the not-really-my-room at the same time.
So, Gwen, Milo said, smiling his “Tom Cruise, I love Katie Holmes” smile. Would you say that’s a sunrise or sunset?
I wondered why our steps were carpet-hushed on the bleached wood. I tend to really clunk it up on hardwood floors. Which made me wonder if I’d ever walked on softwood floors…do they make floors out of balsa wood? Whittle while you walk. Edward Scissorfeet.
Crown moldings and fresh Ritz-Carltonesque floral arrangements on antique sideboards; tuberose scent turned up to Giorgio strength. Or maybe they didn’t smell at all. I wasn’t really sure. Not sure about most things lately, I think, or maybe I had uber keen certainty, so much so that I didn’t at all.
The main hall I supposed.
We passed about ten doors, identical. One was open and I got a snapshot peek of Barbie’s Dream Room on Acid: pink canopy bed, furry-pink throw pillows, and pale pink shag from wall-to-wall. It was kind of a relief, that the powder puff room wasn’t mine. Again, I saw that it could have been worse. But what if I’d woken up in this twilight zone only to find I was wearing a big Stepford-smile while pinning up posters of the Backstreet Boys on rose-budded wallpaper? Saying over and over, I love them all, but I want to marry Donny. Mrs. Donny Whalberg. Mrs. Donny Whalberg.
We went through the last door, and we were on the talk show set. Milo ushered me into one of two chairs, those comfy chocolate-brown ones they plug into the corners of every Starbucks. Behind us was the painted backdrop of a city that was somehow familiar yet completely unrecognizable. Two potted palms framed the edges of the stage. Now this was great, I was used to this, I’d been on Letterman once, so I was an old pro. Not really an old pro, but might as well feel that way, right? Why recall the profuse sweating and the stuttering anxiety? Why remember I was more of a stupid human trick than a comic?
Milo flashed me the Tom Cruise teeth again. When you look like Tom, you just can’t help but whip out those pearly whites non stop.
Great…the letter dribble again. I looked around cause I wanted to share in the absurdity with someone else, and make sure it wasn’t something wrong with me, but we were alone.
H-H-A-Y? He asked, like it was the most normal question in the world. M-N-I-M.
Was this a bit? Did I miss rehearsal? I shook my head and put my hand to my brow like I had a bad headache, which I was about to, since I probably had brain cancer. I hated to ask, but:
He got all hip to himself and chuckled.
Y-N-R-F-T, he explained. Oops – I mean you’re not ready for that.
Fucking-A, I wasn’t ready for that. I haven’t been ready for anything, and may I add, I’ve been quite the trooper. I just used the word trooper, referring to how I’ve been doing. I’m on some bizarro drug, I know it. The Nancy Drew in me knew that I would never think, Gwen, you’re a real trooper, you should be proud. You sooper dooper trooper, you. Now go on, get a Rice Crispie treat, you deserve one.
Where was a needle to stick in my eye when I needed one?
Got a little ahead of myself, he smirked. I meant – “so, Gwen, how's everything?” See, in Session we speak in acronyms.
I don’t care, use me. Did I just say that out loud? Sometimes I do, I think. Actually, I’m not sure. I’m not sure, and I know why I’m not sure, because I’m a Guinea pig on some drug that makes you say Trooper in regard to oneself.
He had on tight jeans that made it so I could make out the edges of what looked to be a generous-sized stash. Not that I’m into tight jeans, that’s so Andy Gibb, but I was into good stashes. Tom’s was, oh man, have you ever thought about it? Top Gun was practically a porn. I mean, start with the title. And that line at the end, something about, you can be my wing man anytime? Gross, or hot, it depended on my mood.
W-D-W-G-I-O-M, I told him.
That stumped him. He looked at me with narrowed eyes and for a second I panicked; I thought he got it. But then he shrugged, cheerfully, which bugged even harder. And how could I stump him on his own dippy language?
You got me there, Gwen.
Never mind, I told him. I was just, I don’t know, being your Guinea pig for a new horror show drug. Duh, like I’m not onto you.
Which was more or less true…and I wasn’t about to tell him my acronym spelt out, “Why don’t we get it on, Maverick?”
Tell me about this horror show drug, he sighed, like I was the most juvenile and retarded person he’d ever been on an empty talk show set with. I probably was, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d spent the last hour begging him to refer to me as Trooper the Comic formerly known as Gwen.
What I’m wondering is, I started, giving a big pause like I was asking him for the key to all knowledge, how do you decipher between words that start with the same letters?
G-Q-G… He stopped, with a clap and a wink. Oops, there I go again. I meant “good question, Gwen”.
Give it up for Trooper.
But it got worse. His next line – not even line, word – almost made me run screaming out of the soundstage. One little word that won him the Gwen Carlton Tard-o-rama Tiara.
With an eyes-closed nod, index fingers meeting under his chin in what was supposed to let me know that some really deep shit was swirling around in his Tom-Cruise-stand-in head, he told me sagely, as if it explained everything about everything:
When my nausea had passed, he mentioned he’d never worked with a