Conversation With My Crazy

Six years ago today my Crazy whispered, “Sobriety? Sure, Pal. Let’s spend the rest of our life as a tragic bore. It’s all crosswords and tea cups from here on out.”

I replied from my slumped fetal position under the hard florescent lights in a psychological-observation lazy-boy betwixt two other mad-hatters, “Have you seen where we are right now?”

“Exactly. You need to figure out how to get us out of here pronto. We’ve managed our way out of worse together. You’re good with the words, let’s make with the apologies and promises and see if we can’t be excused. Better yet, when they move us out of this room, let’s just make a run for it. Maybe with a little luck we can still make it to JFK to hop a flight to Austin and catch the Texas/Missouri game with your old man,”  my Crazy replied.

“They’ve got my wallet,” I said. “Not sure how we’d manage that.”

“You’re not using your head—think, Dude.”

“Well, I think my credit card information is saved on the JetBlue website site, so we could probably buy a ticket to Austin online.”

“Keep talkin’.”

“And, my passport is at home, so we’ve still got an ID. I’m not even sure what hospital this is though, we could be miles from the apartment.”

“We’ve walked longer distances, I’m sure of it.”

“True, but not in a hospital gown.”

“This is New York City, no one is going to think twice about us. And if we had to, we could hail a cab and ditch it at a light. You are a fast runner, Peter.”

“Yeah, I am pretty fast. Even barefoot. They’ve got my keys, but my landlord is probably home, he could let us in—hell, he might even give us a ride to JFK if I told him it was an emergency,” I suggested.

My Crazy conspired with the part of my brain that was responsible for doling out what little adrenaline my body was still capable of producing. “Alright then, we’ve got a plan. Let’s do this!”

“What do we do when get to Austin?” I asked. “We don’t have any money, and unless I can convince the staff here to let us leave peacefully so that we can have our things back, I’m not sure how we’d get any.”

“Lots of pawn shops on the way to JFK, my friend.” Crazy insinuated. “You are a man with one too many guitars, aren’t you?”

“Genius,” I said. “We’ll hock the Fender, it’s worth like four grand. I bet we can get at least a grand for it.”

“See, Peter? And here you thought we’d no options. Let’s get going.”

“We tried to run last night though, remember?” I warned.

“Not your best effort, that.” my Crazy scolded. “You’ve got more ‘oomph’ in you now. Let’s stand up, see if the door is still locked, and go from there.”

I stood up, shuffled across the room with my blackberry between my butt-cheeks, to test the door, keeping a watchful eye on the attendant through the observation room’s glass. Locked.

“It’s locked.” I informed.

“Thanks for the update, Chief.”

I gazed through the small window on the door, out at the long hallway we’d have to sprint through if somehow magically the lock just popped to open in the next few moments. “Well, the dude behind the glass already told us we had to wait for the doctor to show up. He seemed pretty perturbed the last time we bothered him. What now?”

“Remember the time we faked being ill to get out of that Bronx jail cell?” my Crazy reminded.

“Oh yeah, we did do that.”

“Same thing here, should be even easier, don’t you think?”

“It’s not really apples to apples, but yeah, I get what your saying.”

“Alright then, enough talk.”

“This all sounds like an awful lot of effort just to see a football game,” I said.

“QUIT FUCKIN’ STALLING!”

“We aren’t trying to escape to go to Austin, are we?”

My Crazy regained its composure, though its desperation was still evident in the trembles that punctuated its words, “Come on, Rosch. You know the answer to that.”

“This is about the three tallboys still sitting in the fridge from last night?”

“If you say so, Peter.”

“There’s always the chance we already drank those and we only think they are still there,” I warned.

“Well, we won’t know until we know.”

“True. Okay. When we get back to the apartment, we’ll drink those, get cleaned up, either have the landlord drive us to JFK or convince a cabby to take us to a pawnshop on the way to JFK, and then once we are in Austin we can call the banks and get new credit cards, bank cards, and figure the rest of this out—BUT, right after that, we are getting sober.”

“Absolutely. Wouldn’t have it any other way.” my Crazy assured. “I mean, we pull this escape off, we deserve a drink, but after that drink—after just enough to keep us sane on our way down to Texas—we’re done with it and on to the crossword puzzles and church choir or whatever it is you’ve decided our life is going to be.”

“Cool. Let’s eat the Froot Loops they set next to us while we were sleeping, and then we’ll head out. I’m starving.”

“I like this idea. I’m no doctor, but I suspect your stomach isn’t really going to be too psyched about its re-introduction to milk, sugar, red no. 5 and the rest of it. You puke that up and it’s win/win.”

“Agreed.”

 

The Interview by Peter Rosch

Very little green in this “green” room, but it is a quiet place to temporarily cower. Maybe the outrage will be easily dismissed. No more difficult to sweep into the next sunset than making an apology. Own my guilt, even as I try to explain it away with the simplest of rationales: What God-fearing, red-blooded American boy born in the seventies didn’t hope that at some point, like Andrew McCarthy before him, some easy-on-the-eyes mannequin would magically come to life and bone him?

Like I said, simple. But we’ll get to that.

I sat down. I’m sitting now, but I mean earlier. I’d been told to sit down. And that was fine; some of us need to be instructed on exactly what we are supposed to do. The similarities between the heroic take-charge movie characters you only think are me and the actual-me end at the mandatorily crafted physique and bleach-white-toothed-mug. When the overly-caffeinated blonde, in charge by way of the authoritative headset strapped atop her power-crop-do, barked towards me, Let’s do this people! Nicholas, I need you to sit down, I did just that.

Do exactly as your told, my mother used to say. Not the first mother to say it; not the last to say it either.

I didn’t hesitate. That direction had my fifteen-million-dollars-a-picture-ass finding its seat pronto. The hard, ever so subtly curved plank of wood atop four metal legs was trying to pass itself off as a stool. Dreadfully uncomfortable; the same torturous device for the interviewee and the interviewer. It was a backless number chosen for an aesthetic reason, comfort be damned. We can safely nominate the “chair” as the first item on a list of things to blame for the possibly detrimental admission I’d be making just fifteen minutes after sitting upon it—just an hour ago actually.

You can watch my snafu play out with your own judgmental mind later tonight if you watch dreck like this. I suspect you’ll learn about it regardless. My affliction made light of by way of late night monologues or the callous reporting of TMZ. Perhaps your friends, the ones with nothing original to say, will post a link to the clip. It’ll be “trending” as they say. The point is, for a spell, you’ll have ample opportunities to recoil in disgust. Easier to mock another’s sordid perversion than examine your own. Get all holier-than-thou on me, even though my soon-to-be-public confession has finally set me free.

If you follow Hollywood going-ons, gossip, or what tragically passes for news on CNN or Huffington Post, then you already know that Nicholas Devlin (this guy) never had any intention of becoming an actor. I certainly didn’t foresee a life of celebrity, not as a child nor as an adult. The story of my serendipitous discovery by a well-known agent is the kind of modern day folklore the industry loves to perpetuate. It keeps young blood flocking to the polished hustle and bustle of The City of Angels. Were my chance encounter five years ago with the fat man I still call my agent a fabrication, you’d only be the wiser when he and his information agents decided spilling the beans about its falsity would be financially beneficial. The anecdote is the truth though, until it isn’t, so take it as The Gospel. Yes! Some day, you too might be grabbing a cup of coffee in between unspeakable acts, only to be “discovered” by one of fame’s gatekeepers. But only if he or she believes that bilking a mess of pretty pennies by pedaling your veneer to the masses is an almost certain slam-dunk.

You are ugly, you say? Friend, no need to fret. I was as well. Nearly forty years of anything but handsome, in fact. Maybe, like me, you just need to give the features that decorate your face a little more time. Possibly a lot of time. I’m not the first odd bird to wake up two decades into adulthood only to finally find the hawkishly large nose, squinty eyes, and the peculiarly large forehead all of a sudden pulling together brilliantly between deep wrinkles that somehow work. A façade that my agent recognized, or at least surmised, would be sellable under the guise of rugged manliness. Dare to dream, you have my permission to do so. Today’s toad, tomorrow’s prince–you just need a little kiss from father time.

My agent is persuasive. I’ve heard his colleagues use the cliché, Pit Bull, to describe his tenacity. Never to his face, of course. Of all my heaviest-set acquaintances, Marty’s smile works best. It’s a thinner man’s grin plastered onto the puff of a doughboy’s face. One need not be fit to rule some small part of the world. His successes are surely predicated on the combination of that disarming smirk and his ability to coax other players into believing that what he sees in an “aspiring” actor is profitable. A cash cow the world will fall in love with. His track record is impeccable; his sculpting of each new lump of human clay is bonafide. I took some convincing. He slow-baked my indoctrination by simply suggesting that I leave the door open to the possibility of what he’d labeled some “quick” photographs. I imagine he’d already begun greasing the wheels of his social circle with hype about his latest find, me, well before I showed up for the snaps several weeks later. In observing his methods play out with others since our working relationship began, I’ve been privy to his dance. How he twirls his latest finds is likely identical to the behind the scenes moves he’d made with me. We are Marty’s pretty little soldiers, and our entire pre-fame histories have been scripted by him and his small team of storytellers.

Marty is not some black-ops stonemason sort. The naive might be amazed at how much factual information one can bury about oneself with cash and the connections to fabricate non-fiction. Stuffed amongst enough digital destinations, and over time the truth about me (or any of the others) is dozens of additional clicks away from ever being found. All but the most obsessed fans remain blissfully ignorant of actual facts. Even when those tidbits of reality are finally discovered, it isn’t atypical for them to delightfully and dutifully serve as playful sorts of controversy for the media to fill their countless hours of programming, websites, and remaining paper pages with. The sheer volume and churn of modern-day information leaves most “revelations” pertinent for less than forty-eight hours. Say you’ve a film opening, a book due out, a song climbing the charts, or anything else that’ll make my agent’s twenty percent that much fatter, you can be certain he’ll be all for a wee bit of accidental (or manufactured) drama. That aforementioned skinny-man’s smile goes ear to ear when the most inane of facts lights a caustic fire on the World Wide Web.

“Let the sheeple fuss over your supposed nose job,” he might say. “Why the fuck they care so much has always been beyond me. It’s vexing, but let’s hope they stay that dumb forever.”

Marty made me, but he doesn’t know me. he never dug all that deep into who I was pre-Marty. Don’t get me wrong; he wasn’t entirely careless about it. In fairness, very early on, he did ask me three questions. He insisted the trio was all he needed answered truthfully by me, on the spot, so that he could work around any disagreeable responses once our first major motion picture broke.

“Are you a homosexual?”

“No,” I said.

“Do you diddle little kids?”

“No.”

“Is there anything—I mean anything—that you know could become a problem for us down the road?”

“I don’t think so,” I offered with a wavering commitment.

“Come on, Nick. You either know, or the answer is ‘No, Marty. There isn’t.”

“Like what exactly?” I asked.

“I’m not going to laundry list examples of all the fucked-up shit I’ve heard or seen in my three decades at this dog and pony show. I’ll ask again. Is there anything I should know about you that someone can dig up at some point to make our lives at all inconvenient?”

I acted like I had to think about it.

“No, Marty. There isn’t.”

“You know, I don’t believe you, Nick,” he said before squeezing himself back into a two thousand dollar jacket. “Don’t take any offense though, I don’t believe anyone about nothin’.”

Even if today’s new “news” about Nicholas Devlin had been put onto the table for my agent back then, it wouldn’t have altered our course. I think he’d have laughed it off. I held back the information about my sexual preference on the technicality he presented. In that moment, I chose to keep my habit to myself because I knew (or at least believe I knew) that nary a single soul on the planet could unearth anything to expose that part of me. It wasn’t public knowledge, I’d never ben caught, arrested, or had anyone approach me to discuss it or harass me about it either.

Let’s add the punishing heat of the directional lamps bearing down on me earlier to the list of things we might blame. Unless you’ve sat under them, it’s impossible to have any real idea of just how hot it can become when you are trying to play the part of cool as cucumber. Like my “friend,” Gwyneth, once said, at times, an interview with the press is on par with Guantanamo. Her words, not mine. Nonetheless, the frying effect of those illuminating beams is a fair scapegoat to include. Number two on the list of reasons I’ll prattle off to my agent when he comes back down from livid to help me craft an apology. More accurately, write the entire mea culpa for me. We’ll be blaming a lot of things; we’ll be taking the blame while doling blame.

We could blame Kristen, or possibly KrYsten, the faux-hyperactive talking head, surely some man’s ten-on-a-ten-scale bedpost notch, who’d conducted the interview. She certainly wasn’t waiting around for an apology when the dust of what I’d dished had settled. I’d pin her as aged around twenty-five or six; a touch to young to be trusted with anything other than the kind of bubblegum-pop-schlock a show like this delivers from three to five in the afternoon to the tragically homebound. She’s fit, wrinkle-free, and still a handful of years away from having to endure the painfully repetitive ticking of the Hollywood clock that counts down to the eventual disposal of dime-a-dozen cherubs like herself. I’m sure she’s already blown Marty. It’s fare when any unattended female in the room under the age of thirty hasn’t, usually within the first half-hour of their introduction.

If anything “good” manifests from today, I’d bet it all on it being a slight uptick in her own popularity. Parlaying this thirty-minute interview into a gig with another show, her own show, or even a few bit rolls in C or B films isn’t at all far fetched. Like any sycophant fluttering at the edges of those inflicted with the disease that is fame, she is likely biding her time. Eyes peeled for the the opportunity to hop a coattail to the party, even if it’s tattered and filthy with stink. I’ve no sympathy for her plight. She made the decision to come out here. The mid-western accent that she has almost perfected hiding hadn’t gone unnoticed by me. She isn’t native to SoCal; she’s playing the game too. I’m by no means rooting against her, I’ll be sincerely pleased if the result of her having put my feet to the coals with her semi-hypnotic posits bestows pun her a next-rung-leap with a more respected “journalism” program.

In the pisser, right after we’d wrapped, it’d occurred to me that her voice had mimicked my mother’s, before a two pack a day routine had caught up with her. That was a long, long time ago. It’d be too expected to blame Mom for any of this, though I think we probably could. Any therapist worth a nickel would, you can be sure of that. Marty has already “suggested” to me by way of text message that we are to make therapy a part of the damage control play he’s currently orchestrating. In time, we’ll all find out if Krysten (I’m going with the Y version, call it a hunch) can thank my mom at some point for her future gig. She’d have to find Mom first.

I didn’t kill my mother, if that’s what you are thinking. She’s been as good as dead to me two and a half decades, but I don’t know if she’s dead-dead. Surprisingly, when I “made-it,” there’d been no classic tale of a reunion between the recently fame-ized Nicholas and an out-of-the-woodwork opportunistic mother. If she’s still out there, and if she’d been teetering on the fence about such a thing, lying in wait just days away from venturing to Los Angeles to re-introduce herself to me, I think my little stunt today will knock her solidly to the side of the pickets that have nothing to do with visiting me. You never know though; predictability wasn’t her friend. If she isn’t six-feet under, maybe it’s now more likely than ever that she’ll come rushing to her baby boy’s side. Help see him through the forth coming shit storm. Inadvertently, I may have given her the first real reason to try and re-connect. Even if it’s only to defend her reputation in light of my having implicated her directly. So, if we shine this Devlin-turd up real nice, Krysten might get a promotion and Mom might show up on my doorstep, open arms and all, to “help” her only child.

When Krysten sat herself across from me, I’ll admit, it invoked a fleeting vision of my mother—how my brain remembers my mother anyway. I’d tell you that she and the younger version of my mother could be twins, but I’d be lying, or at least basing the declaration on no real concrete evidence. I’ve never been able to locate any photos of Mom. Krysten’s appearance wasn’t nearly as responsible as her first spoken words had been. Her voice, the pentameter she used to deliver her first phrase that was meant to put me at ease before we began, these had been the culprits.

“Okay, Nicky,” she playfully poked, “this shouldn’t be too, too painful.” Insert huge toothy lie of a smile here.

The double use of the word too was a staple in my mother’s use of that very same fib. The memory of the way Mom used to say the same reverberated within me as the silent count of a stranger’s finger was made from behind one of a half dozen cameras set up to capture the interview in earnest.

“Nicholas,” Krysten began, “let’s get the promotional plug for your new film, Haymaker, out of the way, shall we?”

“Sure, let’s,” I nodded.

“The story of a crooked Detroit cop who becomes smitten with the goody two-shoes sister of a his knowingly wrongful arrest.”

She let the synopsis of the movie hang in the air, having completed it with just enough of an upswing in pitch that it rode the room like a question. It was rhetorical, but she tilted her head to one side, indicating to me that she was looking for an unnecessary confirmation.

“That’s the gist, yes,” I answered.

“I saw the other day that your co-star, Lorna Alden, said that that the two of you kept in character from day one until you wrapped, to keep the tension between you both as real as was possible throughout. True or not, the uncomfortable interaction between your characters was spellbindingly brilliant. Did you find it difficult to keep that fiction up during the long hours between takes?”

Her first question was routine enough, though wordy. An entirely normal ask that I was having trouble replying to directly as I fought to shake of the memory-lane jaunt of my mother that Krysten had instigated with her mimicry.

“How so?” I asked only to give my brain a chance to shake the cobwebs of my past.

“Well, we all know you to be a peach of a guy, but your character, Detective Lazlo Frost, is anything but. I’d suggest he’s a remorseless sociopath, even on his best behavior day, and I imagine keeping that up for six straight weeks must have been challenging for a good like you, no?”

It hadn’t been actually. I’m not trying to be glib. Yes, it was my first foray into that method of acting at the behest of my coach, but pretending to be something you are already pretending to be isn’t that difficult once you commit. I do it everyday. Still, the world wants to hear that I struggled with that duality. So, I’m to confirm that it’s true, admit that it was difficult, and the praise my agent’s insistence that I work with the renowned performance guru, Jacob Crowley, in order to achieve such a realistic portrayal.

“Method acting is not for the timid,” I said through a forced smirk. “Hopefully, the end result of my agent’s insistence that I work with Jacob Crowley to explore extreme method acting is a film in which the viewers aren’t watching Nicholas Devlin at all. I think I owed that effort to the writers.”

“Any sparks between you and Lorna off-set then?”

I’d expected a deviation from a purely film-centric interview. The personal life of the celebrity sells tickets ten fold in comparison to most else. Still, I was bummed she put the lowest hanging fruit on the table so quickly.

“Well now, it wouldn’t have been Lorna. After all, she never deviated from player her own character, Caroline.”

A hearty laugh from Krysten followed my attempt at a subtle quip. That’s a mandatory for the role, and she delivered it flawlessly.

“Some people have suggested that if you and Lorna were to become an actual item, that’d it’d rival Brad and Angelina’s power-duo status. Maybe we’re all secretly hoping that the chemistry, which was akin to theirs in Mr. And Mrs. Smith, will also transcend the silver screen.”

“Well, I know Brad and Angie very well, and I doubt that they’d relinquish the crown without a fight.”

I don’t know either of them, but it’s a safe bet the dishonest remark won’t offend. I was simply perpetuating the myth that all of us Hollywood-types hang fabulously with one another whenever possible.

“I’ll be sure to left the know you said so though,” I assure Krysten.

That commitment seemed to genuinely please her. I’m sure no one else detected it, but I caught just the smallest addition of a wrinkle above the already twinkling eyes on that previously smooth and flawless forehead. The tiny crease came and went, but I saw it. Her return to a staged enthusiasm absorbed the defect quickly, but it had popped up over the bridge of her nose just long enough to suggest that my assurance to mention her behind the curtains of the great and powerful Oz was an exciting proposition to her. It pissed me off. I don’t know why. Perhaps I thought I was boring her, believed that talking about only me wasn’t quite enough to satisfy Krysten. Who can be certain, but I’d add that momentary lapse in an already broken self-esteem to the list of potential to-blames.

“Please do!” She tried to play it off. “Now, back to Haymaker. Some critics have already suggested Oscar nods are in the future—in your future for that matter. I believe Rolling Stone Magazine even went as far as to suggest that it was a modern-day Godfather, and that your performance was worthy of the comparison.”

I haven’t seen The Godfather. Absurd, I know. Both that I’ve not seen it, and the comparison itself I’m sure. The compliment pissed me off more than the Brangelina bit, and I was compelled to interrupt.

“That’s just ridiculous,” I started.

Right then, I know my agent, the studio, dozens of producers, and other egos must have shuddered with disgust on the heels of those three bank-robbing words. It’s always a good play to be humble, I’ve been told, but not to engage in blasphemy against one’s own project.

“I’m faltered by the comparison, it’s not really for me to decide,” I corrected myself without overcorrecting for the no-no.

“Have you seen it?” she asked.

“Haymaker,” I pretended, “of course!”

“No, The Godfather.”

“More times than I can count,” I lied. “What actor hasn’t studied it habitually, along with its legendary performances, in the hopes of joining their very ranks?”

I’d asked her a question, also frowned upon. No number of times at bat leaves you prepared to do the pitching. As it was, we’d deviated off the topic of plugging Haymaker too soon. I haven’t watched The Godfather, and the lie suggesting the opposite had left me an open target for the possibility of an even more in-depth questioning about the film and those “legendary” performances that I’ve never seen. If so, they’d have been queries I’d have been unable to field. I’m a fraud. I know this. I’ve always known this, and maybe I was a bit more anxious at that moment than is my norm. She’d ruffled this chicken’s feathers, I don’t know why. Throw anxiety onto the pile of reasons for the admission that had yet to come.

“Who are you a fan of? Who does Nicholas Devlin aspire to be?” she kindly asked, keeping a healthy ambiguity to our subject matter like an old pro. It put me back at ease, momentarily.

For her questions, I already had answers—two actually. My agent prefers for me to list an unlikely pairing that covers the whole gamut of what appeals to the public: a master and a clown; a king and a fool.

“Daniel Day-Lewis and Jim Carrey,” I said with a scripted pause for maximum effect. “Day-Lewis for his chameleon-like ability to be anyone but himself on screen, and Jim because a world without guffaws ins’t a place I want to live.”

I’ve never seen either actor’s films. I doubted it’d matter, as I sensed a growing disinterest in my interviewer’s demeanor. Her attempts at steering us away from something that wasn’t built on stock answers hadn’t succeeded, and mid sentence I witnessed a subtle slump that suggested she was over it. These inane and entirely dishonest responses had her ready to join me in a routine ping-ponging of infotainment tripe until its efficient end.

“I’m sure either would be delighted to know you carry a torch,” Krysten playfully mocked. But then came the curveball. An incident that my agent will later insist (with the video evidence to prove it) simply did not occur. “Though I’m sure you are full of shit, Nicky. Lying, and being just another naughty little boy.”

Mom used to say I was full of shit. She often insisted it was the reason my eyes were so brown. Krsyten had called my bluff. My eyes worked to find faces past the harsh lights of the set, to see if anyone was thinking of pulling the plug due to the curse word and insult. It was certainly unprofessional, but what little I’d been able to gleam indicated no panic from anyone. Marty’s scowl was there, but for the wrong reason. While I tried to find the calm to react to her insinuation, he angrily nodded for me to situate my state back onto my interrogator. She’d jumped to the next related subject, but whatever her words, that hadn’t register with me. Marty appeared trusted with me and indifferent to her prior offense.

“Nicky?” I heard her prod.

“Hmmm?” I stalled, trying to ignore an increasing pulse, that was running rampant due tot he re-use of my mother’s y-ified version of my name.

“I asked if there were any performances from Daniel Day-Lewis specifically that might have helped sculpt your character,” she claimed.

“Which?” I stumbled.

“From Haymaker, of course,” she sternly pressed, “you limp-dick imbecile.”

Again, no reaction from the peanut gallery; no one moved. In fact, everyone and everything around me seemed frozen. Though I knew that Day-Lewis had played a cruel character in some Scorsese flick, I sat in silence, hoping the authoritative blonde might shout, Cut! Allow for a reset after berating Krysten for her disobedience.

“Something on your mind, Nicky? Cat got your tongue? Out with it you pervert,” is what I heard. Though the video you’ll see later clearly shows Krysten asking, “Are you alright, Nicholas? Do we need to pause for a second?” Her verbal concern followed by an equally sincere peer towards her superiors searching for some guidance in proceeding.

Cat got your tongue? Another mom-ism.

“I was lying,” I spat. “I’ve not seen any of his films.”

I heard the word come from my mouth, and I already knew exactly where I was going with it.

By my own count I’ve done in excess of two hundred and fifty of these types of interview for five different films on multiple continents over the past four years. Frankly, the conclusion of each of the previous had always left me one step closer to the moment I found myself riding. The moment I made my admission just beyond the walls of this supposedly “green” room.

“Truth is this: I’ve only ever been a fan of one film.”

“Do tell,” Krysten asked with an obvious cruelty. I swear I saw the flicker of flames behind her eyes. “Come on, Nicky. This is your chance to come clean, pun intended,” she nearly sang.

The racing of my heart stilled. I’d zero left in the way of anxiety, which was odd because I’d not even bothered to take the Xanaz that Marty had handed me in the “green” room when we’d arrived this morning. I cleared my throat for effect.

“I’m sure that during and after the filming of Haymaker, I could have fucked Lorna senseless. I mean, that’s what a guy like me is supposed to be doing, right? Fucking starlets at every possible turn?”

Krysten didn’t’ answer. For me she wore a permissive grin, but for the world she’ll be wearing wide eyes and noticeably parted lips meant to express her shock with what I’d just said.

“No doubt, with a minimal amount of coaxing, you too would accept an invitation to meet me back in the dressing room right after we conclude our business here,” I suggested.

She didn’t verbally respond, but I saw that grin getting bigger. It egged me on; it had a comforting effect that made me want to cop to my charade.

“You, like so many other capable ladies before you I’m afraid, would be tragically disappointed.”

“Why’s that, Nicky?”

“I’ve an unusual way about me.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“I was fifteen the last time I saw my mother—”

“Yes, we know. She left you around then, very sad,” Krysten tried to participate. I wasn’t having it.

“You don’t know fuck all about it. None of you know anything about me really. You’ve been fed a story; you believe only what Hollywood’s masters have let you hear and see about Nicholas Devlin.”

“So, she didn’t leave you then?” Krysten said, trying to remain professionally confused. But I didn’t mind the ruse, it was a good seque.

“On no, she bailed. That part is true. Right after she came home from the Piggly Wiggly one crisp fall day in eighty-eight. She had three things on her: two cartons of cigarettes, and a VHS rental tape she’d snagged from the Blockbuster Video two doors down from that P.W.”

“And what movie was that?”

“Mannequin, actually.”

“The Kim Cattrall flick?”

“It’s funny, you know? You kids who grew up on Sex in the City see it that way. I’m sure Andrew McCarthy is rolling over in his grave, but I suppose it’s moot.”

“Is McCarthy dead?”

“Probably not. But inside, yes.”

“I’m sorry, Nicky. You were saying?”

“My mother had met a guy. I remember that. Uncle Patrick was what I’d been told to call him, and so I did. And maybe she skipped her merry way out of Wisconsin that day in lockstep with that deadbeat, who can say?”

“Wisconsin?” Krysten pries sincerely.

“Yes. Wisconsin. I don’t know why Marty thought revising my history to have me born and raised in Colorado was necessary, but he’s the pro.”

“Again, I apologize. Please continue.”

“Mom handed me that VHS tape. Put one side of it into my hand, while she clung to her side of it and told me this: feed yourself with what you can find around here, and watch this until I get back home. And so I did. Thing is, and you may have already done the math, she didn’t come back home. Yes, I was plenty old enough to leave the apartment on my own. Yes, we had a phone. Maybe I could have rung a family friend or even tried Uncle Patrick to see if she was with him. But I didn’t. Like always, I did exactly as I was told.”

“Watched Mannequin, you mean?”

“Yep.”

“For how long?”

“Until Social services arrived some eleven days after my mother had bounced. I’d paused the film a few times to eat what grub was around–crackers and mostly dry Cheerios, water from the tap. Anyway, before the city intervened, I had been able to watch Mannequin roughly one hundred and sixty times straight, back-to-back-to-back. I know this because I counted as I kindly rewound. Funny enough, the goons didn’t see me snag the tape on our way out. Other than the clothes on my back, it was the only thing that made the trek with me to the boys home they stuck me in two days later. Not surprising really, not a whole many grown men, or women for that matter, working civil service jobs are apt to risk digging around the stuffed pants of an almost grown boy. So, the tape made it with me.”

“Were you able to watch it there?”

“No. There was no VCR at Cleveland Academy.”

“Cleveland?”

“An odd name for a home in Union Grove, Wisconsin, sure. But I was able to keep the tape a secret from the sisters. It found its way under my pillow many nights. I had it memorized, word for word, by the fiftieth viewing, and so I replayed the entirety of the picture in my head while I fought off sleep. Cleveland wasn’t a place you wanted to spend too much time paling around with the sandman.”

“Are you saying Mannequin helped shape your acting? Or that Andrew McCarthy is someone you admire because of that early connection?”

“No. Not at all. Jesus. I’m saying it’s the only movie I’ve seen since the day my mother told me to watch it until she got home.”

“Oh,” Krysten responded. It was feigned concern mustered in the face of something tragic, yet comically un-tragic. It pissed me off. I was laying it all out there, and she couldn’t even be bothered to care.

Fuck it, I thought. I was speaking for me at that point. I decided to carry on for the good of me.

“Now, I wasn’t always this guy,” I said as I pointed at myself. “A beauty the likes of you wouldn’t have given me the time of day when I left Cleveland Academy at eighteen. None of this,” I continued with a circling motion around my face, “was really working together like they tell me it does now.”

“I was an ugly-duckling too,” Krysten chimes.

“The fuck you were, I’m sure. Lots of beautiful women like to pretend that they had to tough it out as teens. I doubt it. And who cares? Would you like for me to interview you instead? I’d be happy to stop and hit you up with some questions.”

“No, no,” she retreated. “Do go on.”

“Right.” I turned my head and body to address camera, to speak directly to the world. “The simple fact of my matter is, I can’t get it up for anything other than mannequins.”

“Well, that’s not so odd—” Krysten tried to cover.

“No. I suppose it would be, say, if I had my own home; if I’d kept it a private matter.”

“What do you mean?” She asked, conceding the floor for good, if even unintentionally.

“Honestly, I swore up and down after the first incident that I’d never do it again. You have to understand, that even at the age of eighteen, I didn’t know how to procure my own mannequin. There was no Google, no Internet—no easy way to order a plastic lady and have it delivered to me discreetly and directly. So, I went to them. Hit the stores where they lived.”

Krysten belted out her biggest laugh. “Are you saying you once masturbated to a mannequin in a store itself?”

“I’m saying, that until Marty found me, that until my recent fame, I used to jerk off to mannequins all over the country. And did it while folks like you were busy picking through bargain racks of useless shit you didn’t’ need. I’m saying that if you’ve been to any major clothing retailers in the malls that sit beside most major interstates west of the Mississippi, there’s a damn good chance you’ve walked over, bought something with, or if you worked there, cleaned my jizz off of something. Because here’s the thing: I’ve never been all that comfortable with blowing my load in my pants. It’s doable, but not preferable. Not, I’m not huge in-between the legs, so stroking myself to climax through a pocket has never been terribly difficult. A quick unzip or tug at my pants to get them down, and I simply shoot my baby-makers onto the nearest garment before tucking my pecker back into my slacks, or jeans as the case may be.”

Krysten wasn’t stunned; she didn’t believe me. “This is a Joaquin Phoenix-type prank, right? Like how he pretended to be retired and a beard rapper instead?” she insisted.

“Wish I could say it was Krysten, but no. The honest truth about Nicholas Devlin is this: I’d been whacking off to plastic ladies for the better part of my twenty years, and fuck me if I don’t miss it. For whatever reason–my own preparation for the deed, people’s self-absorption, inadequate surveillance technology–no one has ever been the wiser, and I’ve never been caught. I used to keep a tally of the time, but I had to stop counting somewhere around the number twenty-two hundred or so.”

“Nicholas?” Krysten finally eked, ” I think we should stop.” No longer of the belief that I was pulling her leg, the mask of go-along that she’d worn had morphed to one of deep unease.

Why no Nicky now, I’d thought. This wasn’t the same woman who’d essentially asked me to do what I’d nearly completed. My admission needed a conclusion. Krysten wasn’t going to get that promotion without a solid finale, and it was evident that she required some help seeing it through to that grand end. I decided to put a bow on the whole spectacle for her.

“I stowed the urge away for a bit. I wanted to believe the famous version of Nicholas Devlin could be something other than a grown man whose only literal release was that which I’ve described. I’ve had every Hollywood Doctor Feelgood hit me with Cialis, Viagra, Coke, Meth—you name it. Shrinks, therapists, pyshcobabblists, all of them, and the bottom line here Krysten? I’m a guy who doesn’t want to stop. I’ve certainly the fortune to keep my own home-harem of the best dummies ever built, but that’s not the same. And I’m done denying myself. This is the happy ending—for all of us.”

There was a long pause. Krysten received the go-ahead from her producer to bring the interview to a close. The only audible sound as of Marty clearing his throat. She corrected her posture for her best attempt at dropping the curtain.

“Nicholas Devlin, everyone,” she forced, “if that is even his real name.”

“Fair enough,” I graciously conceded. “It’s Foltz. Nicholas Foltz.”

That wrinkle over her brow returned. Her curiosity peeked by what, I thought.

“Nicholas Foltz then, everyone. Haymaker hits theaters this weekend. Thanks for talking to us, Nicholas. It was really very enlightening. I mean that.”

The lights went up. Other lights went down. No one spoke. Marty was already on his phone, and Krysten’s handlers had scooped her away from me without a word. A production assistant handed me the obligatory post-interview bottled water and I showed myself back to the very green room I’m sitting in now. Marty was explicit in his instructions: do not leave this room until I come to collect you, he’d said.

There’s a knock on the door.

“Come in,” I mutter, expecting Marty.

The door opens and Krysten slips in through just enough of a crack to allow for the action. She shuts it gently behind herself. Her hair is in a ponytail now, and she’s dropped the professionalism form the face she’d worn earlier. It’s relaxed, no make-up (or less at least). She leans back onto the door, keeping a distance from me, but does so with a casualness that suggests she’s here without fear. She studies my face.

“That was quite a story,” she says.

“Fact usually belittles fiction.”

“Nicholas Foltz, you said.”

“My given name, yes.”

She moves closer, grabs the chair I’m seated in, and slowly spins it around so that we are both looking into the large lit mirror atop the table. She’s staring at me, into me, by way of the reflection of us both.

“Your mother,” she asks suggestively, “was her name Louise?”

I’ve been referring to my mother as Mom for so long, the use of her actual name sends a confused chill up my spine. I meet Krysten’s penetrating gaze with my own. Her eyes, our eyes, the same eyes. She puts a hand on my shoulder, while keeping the mutual stare affixed through the reflection. Neither of us says anything for a minute that feels like thirty. The longer I observe her face and form, the more I find my own features living with a dainty femininity underneath her remaining traces of cosmetics.

“You look just like Mom, you know,” Krysten shatters the stillness.

The calm I’d been clamoring to ever since the interview ended slowly begins to turn. My pulse is racing again, and there’s an unusual tingle in my groin. I’m as horrified as I am relieved when my sister’s gentle squeeze of my tensing shoulder under her hand, a smaller version of my own hand, leaves me semi-erect. I’m certain she isn’t aware of it, but I know this marks the beginning of a new secret for Nicholas Foltz—a new secret for us both. She cements that fate with a reprisal of our mother’s favorite tease.

“Cat got your tongue, Nicky?”

Dead Bird Gets The BookWorm

cropped-level9paranoialogo.jpgIn the first few weeks after putting a book into the world, I’ll admit there is very little I won’t consider in the name of pushing my blather into the psyche of friends and strangers. I used the word “consider” because ultimately there are umpteen-million services (free or paid) that all claim to be the magic bullet you need to climb the charts. It’ll come as no surprise that I’m suspicious of most, as that part of the self-publishing world has become a repugnant place for the shysters who pray upon the desperate get-read-quick-get-rich-quick hoards. Like the paid programming infomercials of the ’90s that promised steady income via tiny classified ads, the internet is littered with Don Lapre style boasts about how to get read and reviewed fast.

If you aren’t reading this because you, like me, have managed to make it to even the fifth or sixth page of Google search results for things like, “blogs that write reviews for the self-published,” than you might be utterly put-off by the idea that the world is abundant with writers teeming at the gills to feed the review machine that Amazon has created. I won’t go into too much, if any, detail on how that all works, and some of its absurdities, because I don’t want to bite the hand that feeds. Without them, I’d likely have one-hundred or more paperbacks in the trunk of my car that I’d long given up on hocking to local bookstores and co-workers. All you need to know is that for a new book, getting read and reviewed, mostly reviewed, feeds the machine. More reviews, higher the better, but any of it will eventually work your sweet words into the system that shovels suggestions to buyers at a better clip. Or so I’ve been told.

I returned from an early morning run yesterday, my brain spinning delightfully as is usually the case. Random bits of inspiration all vying for my attention, colliding with each other, often this is the moment where the most original of ideas are born. The pattern to my thinking at this time is far less structured, and the absurd often gets married to the logical. So it’s really no surprise that I hatched the ultimate plan of plans. Let’s call it the Stieg Larsson approach: basically, it became crystal-clear to me that, in fact, the best and easiest way to get But I Love You screaming up the charts, would be to be dead. Yes, yes—the book still has to be good for that plan to work. Trust me, my own assessment of the writing might be the only thing keeping me from seriously contemplating an alternative version of that plan that is far more attractive and egomaniacal: FAKE MY DEATH! Ah-Ha!

Now, I’ve no idea the lengths one must go to in order to successfully fake their demise in the most public of fashions, but I can assure you that it might be on par with the effort it takes to get people to part with the price of a cup of coffee to take a chance on your book. And, the best part of faking my death as opposed to actually dying (beside not being dead), is that I’d get to see the impact of those efforts as well. Would the news of my demise make a significant difference? Could I manage to log into one of the half-dozen or so cruel author-helper-sites that Amazon so dutifully puts into our hands to watch our babies flounder in real-time? Doubtful. And even if I did, from some internet cafe in the deepest regions of Columbia, I feel certain that my Amazon author-rank tracking graph would still leave me feeling utterly defeated. Hourly updates, seriously guys?

Truth is, I’ve no idea how to fake my death to begin with. The truthier-truth is, I won’t be Googling it to find out because I’m certain that the very act would bring black suits to my door quickly and put a white padded room into my future.

Oh, also, just between us, it’s interesting how much less I like poking fun about my own real-world ending now that I’m six or seven or eight weeks removed from having a son. So, you know, wood knocks and what not. After all, it’s just a book.

 

Home Sweet Zombie Proof Home

Full disclosure: I’ve been known to use words and the turn of a phrase in the descriptions and depictions of the content I create in order to get the eyeballs of a confused and attention deficit disordered nation to take a gander at my sweet, sweet prose. Some are more offensive than others I suppose, and I’d probably not have given it much thought had My Dead Friend Sarah  not received more than a few snipes related to that indiscretion. I suppose a bunch of freeloaders downloaded my novel on the few days I’ve made it available gratis expecting it to be some sort of horror story involving the otherworldly spirit of a woman who was someone’s friend. Double full disclosure: I surmised that some people might pick it up for that very reason and hoped that once they’d engaged with a few chapters it’d have won them over nonetheless, but alas, the world wants a description that leaves no surprises as has been evidenced by two decades worth of countless movie trailers that leave little story untold in the hopes of grabbing another man’s eight to sixteen bucks dependent on their locale. It’s a sad world that way, and I’ve probably already lost many readers by this sentence–those who didn’t give me a chance to come back to some  semblance of what this post’s title suggests you’ll be reading about. It’s that kind of world, and you can choose to manipulate it at your own peril–which in previous instances has been the aforementioned reception of an ugly string of words put together to critique a book after a reader felt jilted for having spent a few precious hours diving into something deeper than a ghost story. I’ll wrap up this paragraph with no apology for those who snatched my book from the internets for free, and with only a nod to the possibility that my next book’s title might be more explicit.

For quite a few years now Ariele and I have judged our homes by the Zombie Proof method. In casual conversations had with friends and strangers over those same few years, it’s become apparent that we aren’t the only souls who do so.

First things first then: For me that two-word combination is really just slang for, “Is this a home that will be too difficult to breach by an actual living evil person who is intent on binding and torturing us in the middle of the night?” That’s the reality of my irrationality, and that’s my chief fear–waking with duct tape across my mouth, hands rendered useless, face already stinging from punches to the face gone undefended and a vision of the Mrs. in a similar situation seated across from me through the tears and blur of my pain-soaked eyes. Zombies may one day be as real as we all seemingly want them to be, but until then the more relevant threat is the one, two or three sadistic beings who just happen to decide your time is up.

While any effort to research those types of home invasions will prove that it can happen in just about any kind of dwelling you call home, it is hard not to argue that the condo and apartment style living of Brooklyn that I engaged in for nearly seventeen years dramatically decreased the odds of it ever happening to me. Floors high up in the sky, multiple locked doors between the psycho and you, numerous other inhabitants of the same building on the look out for something suspicious thanks to the TSA, and, in my case, more than a few units that required numerous steps up steep sets of stairs–only the most fit gang of miscreants would dare think about lugging their utensils and tools of destruction up four or five flights of stairs. So in more ways than a few, one of the most dangerous cities in the country (at least as it perceived by anyone who’s never bothered to live there) always afforded me what same might deem a false-sense of security–especially in those sickly ticks of the clock that denote the witching hours of midnight to four. (I’ve no idea what the witching hours actually are, but for me they are the four hours of the evening that I’m most likely deep deep asleep and therefore unable to put to use what little mixed martial arts I’ve learned from the following films: Karate Kid, Kill Bill, and perhaps The Bourne Identity).

In roughly three weeks, I’ll have spent a full year away from the city living that metaphorically for me was like a warm blanket or two wrapped around the just-shy-of-new-born so snuggly stuck in the womb. And I’ll have done so without incident–and while I can appreciate the fabulous design of multiple deck doors and the light they afford, or relish in the ability to re-enter my home from its delightful backyard via this thing normal people call a backdoor, or even wonder if I could ever enjoy sleeping without the cool breeze that flows through our new bedroom during the evening hours thanks to the insane vortex of winds born from easily entered windows and bedroom deck doors–I simply can not, will not, certify this new home as Zombie Proof.

At least not until we go out and get us ourselves some suburban landmines for that there pretty yard we got now.

Tales from the Crypt (Except replace the word Crypt with RAV4)

Bare with me through this lengthy tale friends, and I’d like to believe that you won’t be disappointed. Of course, I also simultaneously believe that if you do take the time to read it in full, that you’ll be disturbed enough to possibly unfollow this blog, cancel your friendship with me via other social channels, and maybe even phone the authorities to have me taken away to a padded cell. I’ll take my chances in the name of keeping myself semi-relevant to you for another week.

If you follow me on Instagram, you likely saw a few pictures of the fantastic place I visited at the beginning of last week. A wonderfully desolate locale known as Alabama Hills. Three days there shooting what I hope we’ll be an amazing thirty second spectacle has left me with many fine tales, but it is the journey home that is the subject of this post. The roughly three or so hours spent mostly alone behind the illuminated wheel of what was formerly my mother-in-law’s RAV4, driving from Lone Pine back to Venice, on the heels of a 12 hour shoot day in the hot sun of a desert not far removed from Death Valley.

Why was I alone in the car with no co-pilot to help guide me or share the responsibility of staying awake to stay alive for one more day, despite having ample co-workers present on set with me? Simple. I had made it very clear that I’m a man who likes to drive at a reasonable speed–and a man who demands that any one driving him also mimics the cruising behaviors of a seventy-year old man. And thus, I was left to my own devices–mostly smokes, caffeine, and the earbuds snaking from my cellphone to the left and right of my brain–to keep me awake and alive on that dark journey back down CA-14.

Fifteen minutes into the trip back home, and despite my best efforts to keep up,  I’d already lost sight of the four souls in the Ford blazing the trail in front of me. “No worries,” I thought. “I’ll just ring Ariele and talk to her for awhile.” I spoke into my iPhone, demanded that Siri ring the Mrs., and believe it or not even my low grumble from time to time results in Siri’s obedience. The phone rang, but alas, Ariele was unavailable to pick up the phone. I left a message, recorded via her voice mail what I surmised might be my last known location on the map and pulled off to what I thought might be the last gas station for quite some time.

In my haste to grab a beverage from the station’s market, I left my phone on the passenger side seat of the RAV4. So when Ariele called me back, she did not find me on the other end either. But, at the moment, I was relieved–as I always am–to know that she was still alive. “I’ll phone her back in fifteen minutes or so,” I schemed. “After I’ve had a chance to drink this diet coke and burn a butt with the windows down.” And that’s precisely the plan I put into action. But, when I finally got around to phoning her again, repetitive rings followed by an almost unfamiliar recorded greeting left me unsure of exactly why we’d been unable to connect not once, not twice, but now thrice.

I didn’t bother with another message. I figured she’d not had the speed to grab the phone before it’s final ring, and was quite certain I’d be hearing back from her within minutes if not seconds. When I didn’t, I put my voice to use again and asked Siri to ring my mother. We spoke for some 40 minutes, and our conversation had certainly aided me in my quest to stay alert while not-quite-speeding down that moon-lit highway. But, in the back of my mind a kernel of concern regarding the whereabouts of my wife began to take hold. “Mom, I must let you go. I’ve got to phone Ariele.” I barked. “I’ll speak to you soon.”

I phoned Ariele again. No luck. I placed the phone back into the passenger seat and assured myself that she’d call me back as soon as she was able. “Perhaps a spot of traffic, perhaps she is consumed with playing with our cat, perhaps her phone died and she doens’t quite realize it yet.” Many logical possibilities were uttered nearly aloud by me, for me, to sooth the twisted mess of a mind that I knew might start piecing together far more heinous scenarios involving my lovely. But my efforts to keep that devious gray beast from betwixt my ears at bay were for not. And within mere moments of having finished the last drag of my umpteenth smoke the very brain that was working to keep me calm with rational thinking, began to paint three distinct possibilities–three scenarios, and only three–that with each passing mile became more and more concretely certain.

Fact: My masters had arranged an after-work cocktail shindig in at Gene Simmons’ joint in downtown El Segundo that evening. I knew this to be true, and I knew via a brief text exchange before I hit the road that Ariele had decided to go. It was a decision that had whole-heartedly delighted me prior to reaching the utterly creepy town of Mojave, CA, as I tend to take great comfort in knowing that Ari gets out and about when I’m not around. Riding into hour two of my now hypnotic journey though, that fact only served as fodder to construct those aforementioned fates.

1) Being the lightweight that she is, two drinks had been too many. (I have no idea why this woman who I know to only have typically one drink, all of the decided to have two, but dammit that’s what she’d had). And thusly, one her way back from El Segundo to the sublet we currently call home, she’d had an accident. Likely on the backroad home along the Pacific. Likely end result: She is no longer with us or horribly crippled.

2) Perhaps at some point in the three days I was away I’d said something that had been misinterpreted by her own brand of crazy as something spiteful, unappealing, or hurtful. The lives of couples frequently separated by the rigors of their profession are filled with phone conversations that walk the fine line of sadness and madness due to the additional strains of having to cope with the daily routine without your favorite companion. It was a possibility, though I could not recall any exchange that’d we’d had that had ended on a less than high note. Even so, option two had me surmising that perhaps some younger buck had wooed her, and they were off to do the devil’s business.

One and two, and they came in that order, seemed highly unlikely. And yet, I’d still received no phone call back. With these two options decidedly difficult to approve by even me, my brain focused on the third far more likely scenario.

3) Ariele had left El Segundo after not even a whole alcoholic beverage, had made it safely back to Venice, had put off calling me back while in the car as is required by the law, had parked a few feet down the road from the entrance to our cottage and while fumbling with the keys to enter the gate due to the extreme darkness of the street had been put to sleep by a chloroform soaked rag in the hand of an abduction van driving lunatic. After all, from the moment I checked into our sublet many weeks ago I was suspicious that the difficulty of working the key in the nearly faulty gate lock would allow for such a tragic event to eventually occur.

And so there it was: the most obvious ending to what come September would have been just over four years of our amazing journey together. Even as I assured myself that this was probably not at all the situation, I began to run through my own fate now that she was likely on her way to being forever tortured in a dark basement somewhere or, if I was lucky, found in a ditch a few months from now. A deep darkness descending upon my car. True, I was relived to know that there was no way that I could be blamed for foul play, with my being so very far removed from Venice that day, but with this knew knowledge I began to wonder what was next for the kid.

If I knew her to be dead, with one-hundred percent certainty, wouldn’t the next right thing be for me to intentionally drive the Rav-4 off the next available mountain cliff? And if I did, could I really be sure that the tumble the vehicle would take would end my own life instead of just leaving me permanently disfigured and facing many hardships ahead? What other options did I have? A life spent in search of my soul mate ala Kiefer Sutherland going after an almost unknown Sandra Bullock was certainly an option. Head spinning, lungs filling over and over again with the bizarre combination of my own poisonous smoke and the rush of clean desert air, it occurred to me that on the plus side–with me dead or living, the relationship we’d forged (our very existence together) might possibly be held up as legendary. Future errors and indiscretions, miscommunications and temporary set-backs were no-longer a possibility. The future, the one baking in my skull, would be filled with phrases like, “They were such an amazing pair, tragic–who knows what a love like theirs might have accomplished down the road? We can be sure of one thing, no man and woman on earth ever loved each other quite like they did–Princess Bride style love that was.”

This was the tarnished but still slightly silver lining to it all. Ironic yes, as I’d not just a few minutes early temporarily placed her with another, but I’d had to have had that thought in order to get to the truth! Before I could commit to anything brash, I decided one last text or two was necessary to remove all doubt. “Text Ariele,” I barked into the phone. After I voice texted one last request for some sort of response to relive my growing panic, I simply assumed the next text I’d receive would be from that maniac–something along the lines of, “I’ve got her. LOL.” Or maybe even, “MLOL” which would be some sort of text version of “Mooohoooohahahaha.”

A brilliantly dark curve loomed ahead–the clock was ticking, and the phone did ring. I picked up thinking, “Oh this psychopath is a brave one. Calling me back to deliver his news via his own voice. That’s some 80s type psycho-old-school shit there,” I thought just before Ariele’s voice rang out into my ear, “Hey babe. I’ve called you like four or five times. It went to voicemail, the one you’ve still not set-up, every time.”

And there it was. Ah, yes. The reality that I most often choose to forget: AT&T is shit.

No Sugar Will Be The Death of Me

A recent bout of manic air travel had me observing the behaviors of fellow passengers and indeed even my own interaction with the myriad of strangers one encounters between point A and B. I’d like to think that on a scale of one to ten that my courtesy ranks at a minimum of eight no matter my mood. Since I’m bias and a complete ego maniac when it comes to my own belief that I’m so very much better than the rest of the human stain on planet earth, I’m willing to consider it’s quite possible that I’m no better than a four. If there is a god, more likely some servant of the deity, I’m of the hope that shortly after my final departure from this world that in addition to a catalog of the near-death experiences that might have removed me much earlier than that date, that perhaps it, he, or she, will also be kind enough to rank me legitimately as to my composure among the rigors of the living. Perhaps in the end I’ll score no better than a two for having faked extreme courtesy while quietly condemning and judging my fellow man at nearly every point of the journeys I’ve made. If it’s possible to report on such a thing from that realm, I’ll certainly own up to it and let anyone who cares to still hear from me know the truth.

Part of that truth might include the way I deliver my order for coffee these days–it isn’t exclusive to airport beaneries, but it was on one of these recent legs that I realized that the firm tone I put against the phrases, “no sugar, no sweetener, un-sweetened” could potentially be registered in the brains of service-industry-soldiers as an unnecessary increase in volume and threat. Going way way back, I can recall having been on the receiving end of a few cups of joe that were poisoned with one of that vile trio. The culprit more often than not was an employee of Starbuck’s, but if memory serves (which apparently it really does not), Dunkin’ Donuts and others had a hand in the creation of my twisted delivery of the simple everyday ask. “No Sugar.” I no longer follow it with a please, or whisper it, or expect that the person taking my order is listening to my order at all. And so, that part of the order leaves my mouth like a bullet to the brain. It’s jarring, possibly alarming, and I believe was the impetus behind a recent reaction by an airport barista that left me feeling anxiously confident that perhaps my request was the final straw on the proverbial back of the camel that day. “Sorry,” I said. “I just really hate sugar in my coffee.” I followed it up with a tense grin and watched as this fellow made his own decisions about how he’d like to be ranked on that fateful day in front of the afterlife’s courtesy report reporter. He sighed and moved on, but I didn’t.

Since then, and it’s been a few weeks, I’ve come to believe that if I don’t change the way that I insist that my java come with zero sweeteners of any kind, natural or chemical, that eventually I will run into the wrong mud-slinger and that seemingly benign request will have me receiving my own afterlife courtesy reports and near death experience lists far sooner than I would if I just excepted the fact the majority of this country loves a sweetened cup. Should  I join the clan, simply as an easier means of survival? I attest, I simply can not drink that filth, and so…

“No sugar, please.”

“No sugar, my good man.”

“Un-sweetened if you can, thank you.”

“If at all possible I’d certainly appreciate it if you didn’t sugarize that there concoction.” 

“It’d mean a great deal to me if you didn’t put anything that sweetened my coffee into the cup. (wink, wink and proceed to over-tip).”

Long Con Turkey

The Long-Con, I’m a fan.

Let me start by asking, has there ever been a legitimate request made via email for the banking information necessary to wire money? Do tell. I should probably back up here. Several moons ago, I received an email from a literary agent in Turkey requesting a complimentary PDF of my manuscript. I believe the agent may have mentioned the particular publisher from Turkey that was interested in the translation rights for my book. The entire email was spelled correctly, and if memory serves (it rarely does by the way, so beware) there were less than two grammatical errors–possibly none. Even so, I immediately dismissed the email, positive it was a scam. Still, I took to Google to do some research. There were other souls out there discussing the very same agency, not too many and not too few, with similar questions about this Turkish agent’s legitimacy. If you are an aspiring writer, you’ll probably want to get cozy with the website Writer Beware, which details many of the various scams used to prey upon the “oh-so-desperate-to-be-published.” But, even after going there and numerous searches, I could find no conclusive evidence that the agent and agency weren’t legitimate. Many legitimate publishing websites even listed the agency as one to reach out to in order to get published in Turkey. In the end, I decided to proceed with sending a PDF of the manuscript. I had detailed all the possible miserable outcomes of even that act, most of which ended with me and my wife somehow be kidnapped and tortured and dead, and surmised that at the very worst, someone out there might publish my book without my knowledge and try to make a few lira. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world I thought. “God speed PDF,” I might have said, and probably forgot that I’d even sent by lunch that day. That was way back in June I believe.

Then, sometime around September, lo and behold, I heard back from this gentleman again. He’d found an interested publisher there, and hoped that I’d not moved ahead with someone else (a nice bit of flattery I thought), and said if I was still interested that he’d like to proceed with drawing up a contract. Still one-hundred percent convinced that this was all a scam, I replied, “Absolutely. Please send me the details and I’ll review them immediately.” Again, I heard nothing for several days. I had a new job, was living in a new town, and not unlike the first time, the whole thing fell far into the deep recesses of my brain–probably filed somewhere under Potential Mistakes I’m Currently Making That Will Result in My Demise. It’s a thick file, so not everything sticks.

A few days later, another correspondence with a contract attached. I read it over countless time, consulted with other traditional published writers, googled the names of all partites involved, spun my wheels, and in the end decided to allow possibly ten percent of myself believe it was legit. $1000 advance, and a small percentage of any of the 1500/2000 copies they were planning on publishing in Turkish. Cool by me. “Let my fame grow in Turkey!” I might have internally shouted. I signed the contract, sent two paperbacks, and even then was still certain enough that it was all too good to be true that I decided to hold off on the usual grotesque PRing of myself (something I’ve also often surmised will lead to my early demise) until I received the first half of my advance–then and only then would I allow myself to make a glorious post on Facebook along the lines of, “Friends and Countrymen! I am now also a traditionally published author in the great land of Turkey!”

The receipt of my contract and books was made known via yet another email from the agent. At this point, I might have allowed my belief in the whole thing to shift to about thirty percent. A guy who has “Question Everything. Trust No One.” tattooed on his arm doesn’t go to full on optimism about potential good fortune overnight. Still, I was damn close to making it big news on social media–I’ve got a hole in my soul that needs filling after all.

And so, finally, as I’ve surely bored you toward this post’s conclusion, today, seven or so months after the initial contact from this agent from Turkey, I received an email asking for my bank account information in order to wire me my advance. Ha. Of course. After a bout of even more Googling on him, his company, and the whole scenario–I still can’t say one way or another, and my mind has me believing that the party or parties involved are performing an excellent long con. There are numerous sites and posts out there that would seem to prove them absolutely legitimate. And yet, I can not commit. I am absolutely convinced that I have finally met the grifting bamboozlers that I myself have always romanticized myself to be. Patient, attentive, and going after the most skeptical of souls–doing an amazing amount of seeding, cajoling, and crafting in the hopes that a long, long way down the road I might bilk you of your money with something as obvious a swindle as a wire transfer. If I haven’t already.

On a Highway to Hell

Twisting one’s way at a snail’s pace via a rented motor vehicle up or down the West Coast’s famed Route 1, oohing and ahhing at the almost unnaturally natural scenery that envelopes it from every direction, always seems like a good idea. Or at least in my case, has seemed like a great idea twice before. It is true, you’d be hard pressed to find a single other road in these United States that offers as many stunning views in such rapid succession. And the few small towns that exist between Ventura and Santa Cruz, tucked amongst the tall trees of Big Sur, offer a chance at an oft sought sort of peace away from our daily routines that so many of us seek.

Before I paint my brain’s ugly version of the experience, it would be fair to the road to let you know that our most recent jaunt upon it was in a Prius. A car that delighted me with its gas mileage, but left me uneasy each and every time I went to slow its front-loaded chassis as we sailed into declining turns atop sunlit cliffs, and kept me guessing right after those serpentine kinks with the sickly growl it created while struggling to accelerate back up the mountain while various Beamers, Audis, and the like taunted it from behind. Their drivers apparently with bees in their bonnets–desperate to arrive at some future destination as quickly as possible, and not at all making the same journey in order to observe the reams and reams of jagged rocks that lay to the west of what at times felt like eight, maybe nine, total feet of asphalt.

Still, ultimately, the Prius and my steadfast commitment to driving like an old codger protecting a family of seven got us from Point A to Point Portland. Had it rained much, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same.

I love to drive long distances–few things relax me more, though in a rental I’m less inclined to light up a smoke while I cover those miles. And that section of Route 1, and some section further up in Northern California, on their worst days couldn’t even come close to ranking as precarious as some of the roads my wife and I have navigated in Costa Rica, where at times the only thing between you and certain death is one or two inches of dirt road to the right or left of the vehicle, that is defying all logic with its refusal to crumble into the ocean below it like the previous six or seven inches of road clearly had before. Those drives of 2011 were some of my favorites–a testament to how my brain writes a revisionist history for us both, as I’m simultaneously positive that I must have been silently cursing the beings who believed a road like that should exist in a place where it rains three to four straight months in the fall.

Similar to Costa Rica, there are scars all along Route 1–evidence of previous mudslides, mishaps, fires and huge chunks of landmass missing, the victims of former storms, and often at the most delicate intersections of manmade bridges and the mountain’s desire to shed some weight. Perhaps the reason for such prevalent speedy driving along that road is the theory that you can outrun the potential dangers. I know I gunned it once or twice, as much as you can gun a Prius, believing that the next slide area might be the last slide area we’d ever visit, and our only chance was to dash through it as quickly as possible.

The sounds of sirens, sadly not the kind that coax you into plowing your sea vessel head first into rocks, might have served as a warning of what lie ahead on ol’ Route 1–at least tipped off a more savvy couple of drifters–but not us, no sir. Even after watching all manner of emergency vehicle race North into the hills from the Elephant Seal Viewing parking lot, we hopped back in the Prius to move forward with our plan of maybe catching a quick hike before sunset somewhere around the cozy cabin that awaited us only sixty short miles that same direction.

Let me partake in scribing the utterly overused phrased, “it has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words.” Here’s three that capture the dilema our decision to press forward on that mighty two-lane highway thrust us upon. Photographic evidence of what for nearly an hour and a half felt like the first minutes into a new future that would at some point loosely resemble last night’s season three premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Never mind you what might have been the impetus to that complete standstill–though the rumors floated around by the more curious, and thusly the more annoying, of the stranded onlookers that joined us there atop that mountain indicated something along the lines of a drunk driver who crashed his or her SUV into the mountain side, setting it ablaze. Word on the street also indicated that the occupants of that vehicle had walked away from the wreckage unscathed. So see, your real concern should center somewhere around the safety of me and the Mrs.

“So you were inconvenienced, Rosch? Who gives a flying f-bomb?” You say?

Let me lay a few of my own thoughts from the incident before you for your consideration: Did the engineers of that particular stretch of road ever take into consideration the potential havoc the sheer weight of that many vehicles stuck on that cliff might result in after years of soaking in rains and baking in harsh summer suns? When was the last time a good rockslide had rolled through that passage, and what are the chances that a boulder or two might use the opportunity to make its plunge while there were sitting targets to strike? I know if I were a boulder on my way out, I’d like to take a few folks with me for good measure–go down as the most legendary of rocks to ever slide down the mountain, a sort of folk hero for all the remaining boulders to tell their pebbles about before bedtime. How long does it take for a group of impatient drivers–as evidenced by their desire to pass me at every opportunity–to begin some sort of revolt or riot? How many unwatched children will have to peer over the side of this road until one finally vanishes right before my eyes? Can I make it overnight on only the backwash of the Diet Coke sitting snugly beside me and the four cigarettes left in my pack? If there is a fire ahead, and it decides to make its way south down Route 1, can we outrun it? At what point will this Prius’ parking brake make a mockery of modern engineering by releasing the vehicle backwards and into the BMW behind me? Are there mountain lions perched just above us, feeling frisky and totally stoked to have a buffet of folks with almost no exit strategy before them? And if so, will the Prius’ windows hold up to their advances as well as the windows of the hatchback that protected that little blonde boy and his mother in the 80’s Stephen King flick, Cujo? Do we have any real visual guarantees that all of this has been caused by a car wreck at all? Isn’t it possible that this is just the beginning of some sort of infection, and up ahead the police have begun a useless quarantine roadblock of sorts, and simply hadn’t gotten around to letting all of us know our days were numbered? And finally, certainly not the last thought I had, but the final for the purposes of this post–would they hold our room at the cabin if we didn’t show on time, and if not, are we destined to check into something we hadn’t researched the likes of the Pinewood Motel from the movie Vacancy?

I gave long thought and pause to these and many more potential scenarios, and don’t mind telling you that my money was squarely on that last one. After all, what better ending to an intense story of survival amongst the elements than the surprise twist that finds our heros being butchered for snuff films? The answer, of course, is none.

The Gross In The Machine

Last weekend, on the way to my wife’s folks’ house in northern New Jersey, we decided to roll the dice on a certain segment of humanity.

Side salad: That would be the same wife someone has been trying to dig up dirt on via search engines, at least according to my blog’s Top Searches feature–an entertaining little deliverer of information most of the time, that on occasion only serves to further grow my paranoia exponentially with its revelations. “Peter Rosch DUI,” “Peter Rosch’s Wife,” “Peter Rosch Kill Kill Kill,” “Peter Rosch Sucks,” and so forth. Is it the private detective that’s been reaching out to me regarding a former business venture? Maybe. Am I the one who entered “Peter Rosch Sucks” into the google search box? Probably. (Many thanks to my old pal Warren for introducing me to the term ‘Side Salad.’ It’s a nice way to deviate from the main story, and I’d not want him to stumble upon this blog one day, see that I’d adopted it, tried to pass it off as my own–even as I’m sure some people don’t care for it–and then also start entering bizzarre combinations of search terms as he plots his version of my demise).

So, as I was saying, me and the Mrs. took a detour on the way out to the in-laws. We decided to pop-off to a small town along the way to test-drive of a new vehicle at a dealership. I won’t name the vehicle, mostly because I don’t want any of my readers judging me by that particular book cover, and also because I don’t want the dealers of that particular brand to stumble on this blog, realize what vehicle we want, and use that information to get the upper-hand in any potential future negotiations. (It’s safe to say, it’s a real level 9 day up in the skull today). All I’ll say is, it’s a car we’ve deemed to be worth considering the notion of actually buying a new car–something I don’t think either of us ever considered doing prior to having to deal with potentially wicked snow-storms up in our future northern stomping grounds.

We didn’t buy the car, we might not ever buy that car or any car, unless…

It only occurred to my several hours after what I had repeatedly deemed as a very successful interaction with not just one, but three different salespeople at the dealership, that maybe, just maybe, having let one of them take our current vehicle for a spin without us–in order to assess the trade-in value–might have given him ample opportunity to capital F with the car. A long shot to be certain, if for no other reason that even if he had put the voo-doo on the vehicle, he’d have almost no reason to believe that we’d come back to exchange our old ride with his dealership specifically. But, I then began to speculate that the rigging of potential buyers’ old automobiles in order to induce a new sale might be a globally fraternal sort of understanding amongst the hockers of shiny new whips. And so, anything he might have done to encourage us to part with our reliable Brooklyn beater, would ultimately serve the greater good of the brotherhood of auto-pushing-sleazesters.

And that realization–made only days after hearing a story about two creatives who loathed a co-worker so intensely, that every Friday they’d urinate on his desk chair, giving it enough time to dry before Monday, but still ultimately stink–had me putting that prank and others into circulation in my head. Did they tweak a bolt or a screw? Did they leave human feces under the driver-side seat? Did they attach a tracking device underneath the fender in order to come and steal it later? (I believe that a timely check on my vehicle to prevent a ticket in Jersey City made just yesterday, might have thwarted that very plan, as I met a suspicious stranger peering into my vehicle who upon meeting me eye-to-eye awkwardly dismissed his activities). Have they planted a small speaker and camera in the car in order to occasionally attempt to frighten me with ghostly Henry Kane coos of “Whooooooooooo, whooooooooooo. You’re gonna die in there, all of you, you are going to die?

Maybe. Probably not. But maybe. Let’s call it a Premium Plus package of Paranoia. Heck, If I was selling something that lost a great deal of its value the minute my customer had it off the lot, in order to put food on the table–I might try at least two of those four options before throwing in the towel. Definitely the last one, as that footage of scared drivers reacting to my Henry Kane impression, while careening into oncoming traffic, might just supplement my legitimate income while making me micro-famous on YouTube.

Selling Out on Honesty

I was recently asked (via my publicist) by the editor at SellingPower.com to do a six to eight hundred word blog post that focused on salespeople. Or something of that ilk. After penning the submission below, they passed. Since the bulk of the post is about honesty in selling, and they didn’t care for it, I’ll have to roll with the assumption that it’s a concept too dreadfully boring to engage anyone–and that ultimately they were hoping I’d write some op-ed piece about how abusing alcohol had made me an incredible force to be reckoned with in the world of marketing. Or maybe, just maybe, when it comes to writing something of a semi-serious nature–something that doesn’t revolve around the umpteen ways I might die today–I’m just not a very good writer. Or, and what I’ve chosen to believe, is that they aren’t fans of honesty–maybe there is no place for it in the world of movers and shakers. I doubt that’s why they passed, but believing it to be the reason certainly helped put myself at ease with the rejection. Either way, seems a pity for the message to go nowhere. And so, I present to you my dear readers the blog post SellingPower.com decided wasn’t right for them. Enjoy.

An Honest Pitch by Peter Rosch

Full disclosure: I am writing this blog post in the hopes of selling a few more copies of my debut novel, My Dead Friend Sarah.

Honesty is my policy, and I’m of the opinion that at the end of the day, honesty is paramount to successful selling. Honesty doesn’t mean unsexy, unfunny, un-almost-anything for that matter. It simply is the basis for how I attempt to begin all my communication crafting about the goods, services, and other can’t-live-withouts companies pay me to hock. I am selling for a living, but as a consumer I try to remain suspicious of my motives.

What have I sold? Countless pairs of jeans, numerous brands of beer, electronic gadgets, deodorant, soaps, treats, eats, services and even personalities. Sixteen years as an awarding winning creative cog in the global marketing machine–as a writer, art director, strategist, creative director, and brand visionary–have me feeling just qualified enough to share my beliefs regarding convincing people to part with their hard-earned dollars. My most recent creation? Unilever’s AXE Susan Glenn campaign out of Bartle Bogle Hegarty New York.

I consider myself a living breathing contradiction. A man hell-bent on influencing the masses towards purchases they hadn’t considered, who himself rarely puts his own money on the table for many of those very same items and services. As a marketer I’m ferocious; as a consumer I’m beyond cautious.

“Question everything. Trust no one.” These words are permanently inked just below my left shoulder, and while the tattoo’s origin isn’t specific to transactions involving my money, right or wrong, it does serve as a guiding principal in my purchasing patterns. Agendas are everywhere, and now, more than ever, the infinite number of marketers, big and small, who shout at me daily in their efforts to take my time, money, and perhaps a little bit of my sanity, is mind-boggling. And I believe I’m being honest when I say to you, many of them are out and out lying to me.

Can I also honestly say that in all my time as an advertising creative that I’ve never bent the truth on a single project in order to woo a consumer? No. But, I will tell you that my most successful efforts, across a colorful spectrum of brands, have had one glaring thing in common: the messaging was born from a truth. A truth inherent to the product and its benefit to the consumer, or a truth that is inherent to the way people choose to use and live with a brand, product, or service.

It makes sense doesn’t it? Who among us wants to be lied to? I don’t enjoy it, and, like you, I have a great disdain for anyone who wastes my time. And if you are lying to me in an effort to grab my attention by making too-good-to-be-true claims that prey on my insecurities as a methodology to a quick buck, you are, in fact, wasting my time. And I am fully vested in the belief that even if you do successfully trick me and others from time to time, eventually that ill-conceived kernel in your sales pitch will come back to bite you on the ass.

I don’t buy or use everything I sell, and I don’t believe I have to think something is perfect for me in order to shill it to others. But for this salesman, it is increasingly important that what I’m saying about the items I’m trying to move be deeply rooted in a truth for the customer and target looking to benefit from their various uses. The golden rule is golden for a reason. Sell to others the way you’d have someone sell to you. It might just be that simple.