I really thought that once I finished Lord of Bones I would plunge back into the writing of a novel-in-progress called Shadow Hill or The Decadents (haven’t decided on title yet). As it turns out, not so much. But I’m thinking about the book constantly, and I can feel it subtly turning and shifting in my head into something more richly textured, more deeply sensual, its characters and storyworld more astutely observed. I’ve been reading even more than usual, partly because reading is what motivates me to write and keeps me writing, partly because I’m always searching out new ways of exploring a narrative, and partly for the pleasure that drove me into this ridiculous business in the first place.
The pleasure principle is a powerful thing.
I’ve been kicking around a bit of screenwriting. Screenwriting ambitions are for me what the mafia was for Michael Corleone– “Every time I think I’m out, they suck me back in!” There are even more reasons not to be a screenwriter, it seems to me, than there are not to be a novelist. At least with the latter you get the satisfaction of a final product that is full and complete and singularly your own.
It was truly heartening to see Notorious Neighbor’s house ablaze with lights after eleven months of silence and darkness, the gate opening only for an assistant or gardener or friend/relative checking up on the place and keeping it afloat. Eleven months. For some reason I had it in my head that it had been six.
He looked good. Lean and bright-eyed and healthy. “I like the longer hair,” I said.
“Thanks. I’m keeping it like this.”
He’s going through a period of adjustment. His world has been so small for so long, with such a stunning drop in lifestyle alone. People expected that he’d pick up the party right where he left it, but it’s enough for him these days just to wander his luxurious house. He feels more comfortable inside the walls. He’ll be throwing a big party, he declared, but not quite yet. We’re invited.
I don’t know how the hell he got through eleven months for what was originally supposed to be a two-week sentence for contempt of court, and I’m not sure he does either. “No one goes to jail for civil court!” he pointed out, as we ranged ourselves along his impressive new couch.*
“But if anyone could,” I said, “it was bound to be you.”
“I was in there with murderers. Guys who’d be all, Yeah, I’m in here ’cause I got pissed at my wife ’cause she smoked all my crack so I killed her. And I’d be like, Get away from me— ” He swatted the air as if at a fly. “Just get the fuck away. A lot of those people are just — the dregs of humanity. Waste of space. Like, someone should just push delete.”
He estimated that ninety-five percent of prisoners were in there for drug-related crimes. He talked about the astonishing multitude of abnormally low IQ’s. “These people are so easy to manipulate because they think they’re manipulating you. You can see them thinking how they’re so clever even as they’re being so transparent about it.” He mentioned that the decline of crack and rise of crystal meth were transforming the prison populations from mostly-black to mostly-white. He described his experience on Con Air. He discussed his horrific legal nightmares he’s finally brought to an acceptable conclusion. This segued to some discussion about his public image — “People really wanted to see you in jail,” I pointed out. “You were found guilty long before you stepped into any courtroom — hell, long before you were even charged or sued with anything.” Not like this is news, but I’m never quite convinced that he understands this beyond a vague abstract level — why people like my sister’s friends applauded when she told them (having heard it from me) that he was in jail, why I would have applauded myself if I’d never developed a more complicated sense of him.
And it’s not like he doesn’t ‘get’ this because he’s stupid. He’s actually very smart, very canny. But he lives inside the weird zone of celebrity, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in recent years it’s how fame, even more so than wealth, creates its own reality that lives alongside ours. I’ve seen people who claim to despise him suck up to him when they meet him in person, and I’ve seen people who genuinely like him deny that ‘friendship’ when it becomes socially inconvenient. I once went to a club with him, and instead of ignoring my existence as usual the photographers lurking by such places had flashbulbs going off in my eyes, cameras whirring and clicking. Just as I can’t imagine what it’s like to live with that, I don’t think he can remember what it’s like to be on the other, more mundane side, watching and reading about characters like him — or even how people like him get turned into characters that would be slammed in any self-respecting writing workshop as simplistic and cliched and two-dimensional. I’m not saying he doesn’t bring it on himself. I just wish people wouldn’t settle for such lazy media storytelling.
NN mentioned a Law & Order episode that featured a character obviously based on him — he was scornful, shaking his head over what a caricature it was. But pop culture loves its caricatures, and he makes for a particularly good one.
Speaking of people who can be turned into cliches: E and I had dinner Monday night with a suave and sophisticated Frenchman whom I shall call Pierre. Pierre is the kind of man who likes to say he “loves women”, which of course tends to translate as, “I am a total womanizer”, but I would rather find myself charmed by a womanizer who actually likes women than to have to tolerate the presence of one who does not.
Pierre, a blond blue-eyed man in a stylish peacoat, laughs a lot and finds life exciting. He described the Tesla Roadster to his date. “I don’t know anything about cars, but I get excited about the Tesla! I’m excited!” He spoke fondly of LA — “Every time I’m here I get excited!”
Later, E couldn’t help pointing out that every time we see Pierre, “He is surrounded by beautiful women. Not bimbos either — all these poised and elegant women.”
“He has good game,” I said.
I sat next to him at dinner. He has a way of looking deep into your eyes with even the quickest of glances. He gives your arm little touches as he talks.
“He’s a globe-trotting billionaire who is youngish and nice-looking,” E said irritably. “How much game does he need?”
*When last we left NN, he was in the process of redecorating his living room. Or, as he put it, “I’m getting rid of all this African shit. Like this couch. Do you want it?”