Both Notorious Neighbor (N.N.) and Octavian called me out on my blog. This happened on separate occasions (although the two men are aware of each other, they don’t exactly hang out, and I have yet to see them in the same place at the same time) over the same weekend. Octavian brought his younger — as in twenty years younger — sister by my house to introduce us; she’s very smart and cool and my age and also a writer and working on what sounds like a fascinating novel that I can’t wait to read. As the three of us chatted away in the living room — what I like to call ‘the grown up room’ since it’s the one room in our house that shows no evidence of children anywhere, except, of course, for the actual child who might be running around the coffee table at any given time — Octavian oh-so-casually said something like, “So what’s this I hear about this guy you have on your blog…what’s his name, Octavius…Octavian…..?”
Octavian is a busy man. He is too busy to read blogs, or at least blogs like my blog (that aren’t politically oriented), and so for the past year or so I’ve been writing about him in the happy if slightly shady knowledge that he had no idea what I was doing. I did realize that at some point the truth would surface: yes, Octavian, you have been turned into a character in the unfolding narrative of this thing they call my life. (Or at least my blog.)
“How did you find out?” I was genuinely curious.
“Tina told me about it.”
This would be the same woman who asked me point blank: “Octavian is [insert true name here], right?”* To which I’d answered blithely, “Yes.”
I looked off to the side, muttered a profanity aimed at Tina**, and Octavian laughed. I went into this little spiel — I’ve used it on others, admittedly — about how the character in my blog is both him and not-him. Or rather, it’s him, but filtered through my perceptions and imagination and personal way of storytelling, so that the person on the page takes on its own shadowy existence and becomes separate from the actual person who inspired him. Which is one reason I use pseudonyms — not just for the obvious reasons, but to underscore the gap between real life and written narrative, even one of nonfiction. I’m a storyteller, after all, not a journalist, and I need that gap: it gives me a place to play, and to rehearse characters for future novels.
Just before he went out our front door, Octavian paused and looked off to the side and said musingly, “That’s all right. I know you like me, so I trust you won’t write anything bad.” And while that is true, it’s also true that he hasn’t actually given me anything bad to write about. For a wildly successful Hollywood producer with a ‘notorious womanizer/toxic bachelor’ reputation — which I’d picked up about him long before I ever actually met him — he leads a cleancut, family-oriented, responsible life. The man eats quinoa, for crying out loud. The most scandalous thing I have on him is that one night at a dinner party in Stockholm his gorgeous foreign pop-singer girlfriend-at-the-time stood up, made a drunken uncomfortable speech, and threw her purse at his head. It missed.
NN had a large raucous dinner party one Friday night. He’d brought his personal chef up from his estate in Mexico and was hosting dinners every night that week to celebrate his release from jail and reconnect with friends (the man has a lot of them). Way too many people showed up unexpectedly (including, uh, us) and the chef and staff were scrambling; the meal went on for hours and people were roaming around, talking, flirting, switching chairs, so that the place where you ate your entree was not where you had eaten your appetizer.
NN has known, if in the most abstract absent-minded kind of way, that I have a blog and sometimes mention him, but for some reason after all this time he’d finally been compelled to Google me and read about this person called, as he gleefully yelled across the long wide dining table custom-built for that particular space, “Notorious Neighbor!” Throughout the night he’d drop references to various blog entries and the events and conversations I’d described, but he’d do it in an ironic way, cutting against the conversation of someone else so that what he actually meant was the opposite of what he was actually saying. But the only person who could pick up on that inside-track of meaning was me, who sometimes felt the need to explain it to the innocent conversational bystanders, and sometimes did not.
Later, his young blonde friend Amber — of all the young friends I’ve seen NN with over the years, Amber is by far my favorite — told me how he’d become so well-acquainted with this alter-ego I’d given him. They were up at 4 in the morning, wired and bored. They brought up my blog on his desktop computer and went through the entire thing — “the entire thing,” Amber stressed — searching for entries about NN. Whenever they found one, Amber read it aloud to NN himself, who was probably pacing the room and talking and smoking the way he gets when he’s even more hyped up than usual. I asked a bit worriedly if NN had ever seemed offended in any way. “No,” she chirped. “He was impressed. He kept saying stuff like, ‘Wow, she’s good’, and ‘Now I know why E married her — she’s not just hot, she’s smart.'”
“I am so very deeply moved,” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”***
* Among the people I’ve referred to in this blog, Octavian’s real identity seems to be the one that provokes the most curiosity, at least among the people in my actual (ie: offline) life, some of whom have met him and many of whom have not. I’ll be talking with a person I didn’t even know knew I had a blog, much less read it, much less followed it regularly, when all of a sudden the question: “So who is Octavian?” Last night at a party — NN’s birthday party, actually, which a friend threw for him at a stunning, red-brick, English-style house in an old-for-LA aristocratic neighborhood called Hancock Park — a visiting friend from the Bay Area brought up my blog and, once again, the question of Octavian. “I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was,” she told me. “I was wracking my brain. It was driving me crazy. But then George figured it out really easily, right, George?” She looked at her husband, an extremely fit man of Greek descent who has a fondness for tight-fitting t-shirts. Because of his fitness and the tightness of his shirts, people meeting him for the first time will sometimes ask me if he is gay. He is not gay. He’s just Greek, as he likes to put it.
George nodded and looked sage. He’d figured it out, he said, because the name ‘Octavian’ had conjured up the memory of none other than the man himself, whom George had met at a wedding (we were there as friends of the groom, Octavian was a family friend of the bride). “[Insert real name here] has a very Roman nose,” George said, passing his hand over his own nose. “I just figured of all the people I knew you knew he looked most like an Octavian.”
“Huh,” I said. That had never occurred to me, the nose thing. It could be true. I just thought the name fit; I’d never bothered to ask myself why I thought that. As my husband likes to say to one of our four-year-olds, whenever the kid gets on a long string of why that we run out of energy to answer….”Why ask why?”
** It was of course a good-natured profanity. Tina, you know I adore you.
*** For those of you who might be tempted to think otherwise, this sentence here would be an example of what they call ‘irony’. or maybe just simple sarcasm.