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?”

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The Scent of Evil

If memory serves, and previous stories might suggest it doesn’t always, I haven’t worn cologne since I was a wee adult–let’s say seventeen or eighteen roughly. Back then a little Drakkar Noir was all the rage. I can’t say it did much for me. I don’t recall having washboard abs, an attractive woman on my arm at all times, and anything better than a twelve dollar haircut. I could tell you that I simply haven’t needed it as an adult, but am open to the idea that someone out there might vehemently disagree with that assessment. And, to be sure, I’ve dabbled in power scrubs, shower gels, and for a short period of time wasn’t a stranger to taking toothpaste and using it as soap on my hands in an effort to remove the sweet stank of cigarette smoke.

I’ve got friends that wear various scents–male friends I mean. And I suppose since I think I know them pretty well, I don’t tend to lump them in with the remaining male population that walks amongst us. Most of the time when I catch a whiff of an approaching male, the very first thought I have is, “What is this guy trying to hide?” You might think I am referring to simple body odor, but you’d be wrong. Logically, I can make all sorts of rationale as to why that is the most legitimate reason for bathing in the stuff–but, for some reason lately–and maybe it’s because quite a few of the most recent interactions I’ve had with these walking roses have also included awkwardly friendly salutations–I find myself surmising that the wearer has something far more sinister about him, something that he is trying to camouflage with microscopic atoms of smell-goodness.

In my book, some far more likely reasons for seemingly having drenched oneself in artificial flavorings are the following: The guy is most definitely an alcoholic, and without more than a little splash of Polo, he’d be caught vodka-tongued at his day job. (My own solution to this type of pollution had been AXE Snake Peel Scrub. That and a sick-sized wad of breath mints.) Or, maybe he wears it all the time so that should he cheat on his spouse or girlfriend, pick up a bit of a prostitute’s scent in the process, he can then douse himself in his brand to cover up any trace evidence his lovely back home might be able to detect with her sniffer. Finally, I could be mistaken, but I do seem to recall from some readings on serial killers and the disposal of bodies that many of the chemical substances used to breakdown human remains–bones, skin, organs, etc.–can leave a fella quite pungent with the stink of crimes most foul. If I was chopping and dicing bodies in my bathtub, I think I’d give some serious consideration to a quick spritz of CK One before leaving the house in search of my next victim. At least that’s how I’d go about it.

Thusly, if you are a gentleman, and you smell real, real good–don’t be surprised if you overhear my inner thoughts say, “I’m on to you buddy. You smell just a little too good.” And if you are hearing my inner dialog about you, then I probably have much bigger problems to resolve–but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised, as I’m told the various spawns of hell, the real flesh and blood demons that walk amongst us, smell absolutely grotesque.

Calling a Beggar’s Bluff

Until age 18, I doubt I’d ever had to deal with a beggar. Prior to heading to Austin for higher learning, my exposure to ‘street people’ was most surely limited to seeing one or two from the family truckster while my dad searched for shortcuts to concerts and sporting events in downtown Dallas. Austin is a fine city for the begging homeless, it’s warm, tolerant of many kinds of folks, at least by Texas’ standards, and the campus is overflowing with middle-class kids carrying pocket money who I imagine would rather part with a buck than risk the possibly unruly confrontation a stern ‘no’ might illicit. At least that was the case with me.

I’d been dutifully informed by a now nameless friend or family member about the sinister tricks a homeless person might pull – like using a razor blade to slit the same wrist holding that quarter, so they could rob you while you stood there bleeding. Still, my own ability to say anything other than “sure” when asked for ‘help, assistance, or cash’ was poor at best. I possessed a combination of truly wanting to help, mixed with a healthy fear of the retaliation any other answer would bring down on me. But even after The Great Coffee Incident of ’91 left me weary of helping anyone down-and-out again, I found myself still peeling off dollar bills to any stranger who asked when I moved to New York. And if memory serves, in the first month or so of my residency there I only had about two-hundred in total to live-on before a tail-tucking retreat to my childhood bedroom on Mesquite Court East would become my final option.

The stories told by those-in-need in New York put the Austin based chapter to shame. Fantastic tales involving prison time, cross-country bus rides to see long-lost children, and bold claims suggesting that just one quarter was all that was left between where they stood and the return to a better life. About the only time I wouldn’t hand over that magical quarter was when the desperate soul asking for it had been the 2nd or 3rd to ask in the last hour. Over time, you hear the same stories, often from the same people, for years and years. Somewhere in my early twenties I watched a 60 Minutes or 20/20 exposé on a few NYC beggars, and learned that one or two of them were pulling in six-figures a year. I wasn’t shocked by the news, by then I had surmised begging for dollars must be a decent living – otherwise why would the same folks tell the same story, over and over and over on the B/D line I rode during my first three years there.

Hardened by time, experiences, that exposé, and the special brand of cynicism city living breeds – my ability to ignore and even defy a beggar’s request with a stern “no” became as easy as breathing. The stories they profess in search of that transformational coin haven’t changed much, and why would they? They’ve focus-grouped that story to death, they’ve honed it to work hard for them, to work quickly, banking on the tourists and newbies to help them out one more time – certain the fear of retaliation those people posses will always result in their buckling and as such another few bucks, if not hundreds of bucks, a day for the them.

My own fear of being bludgeoned for refusing to hand over yet another magical quarter hasn’t left me completely, but I find myself pushing the beggars I encounter to answer more and more questions about their narrative. The devil is in those details, and if their answers to my queries are creatively sound, I tend to reach into my pockets to reward their craftsmanship with greater frequency. A good story is always worth a buck, and part of me still believes that maybe one or two of those souls seeking that life-changing-coin are on the up-and-up. The scarier looking of their kind probably get more bucks for their banging, because let’s face it – I’m only willing to push a beggar’s bluff so far, especially when he or she carries a deadly-twinkle in their eyes.

Still, I’ve never had a knock on the door, phone call, or email from any of them to let me know how wonderfully things went, post my contribution. With any luck one of them is reading this post via the computer and Internet my metallic and green hoped helped them obtain. Or, maybe they are reading this on the iPhone they just yanked off a kid whose wrists they cut open after that rube handed them a quarter, palm up. I’m open to hearing from him or her either way.

Three Minutes for Number One

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact cause behind my public bathroom/sinister abduction correlation. I surmise it is probably a combination of the following: A true tale or two about people disappearing from rest stops. My mother’s own branding of public facilities as the most foul of places and her insistence that my brother and I hold it until we got home no matter how distant home may have been. The hidden and often nearly invisible backside location of many anybody-can-use toilets at gas stations and the like.

Bottom line? When my wife has to use the can she’s got about three minutes before I count out a fourth. If she doesn’t make it back by then, terror grips my being and I start to consider all my options: Asking another woman to check on her, going in myself, whistling our special whistle from outside in the hopes that I’ll hear her do the same, or simply giving in to the notion that she has done been took.

It is at this point, when a fifth or sixth minute comes to pass, that my mind begins fabricating how telling her parents, friends, and possibly the police about her public bathroom abduction will play out later that day. Even as I am aware that typically female facilities move much slower, I am helpless to stop the crazy.

You might be asking, “What if she has to go number two?” My wife doesn’t go number two, at least not in the same mind that created the public bathroom anti-abduction three minute rule. Duh.