February 13, 2008


That night, Andre sat in what he still thought of as “the family room,” with the TV on mute and his laptop perched on his maturing gut. About two years ago, when Andre had first moved downstairs, into the guest bedroom, one of the advantages was that he’d be right across the hall from the family room. But as the months passed, the separation between Andre’s bedroom and the family room became more tenuous, and eventually he’d ended up just taking over the entire basement.

Andre was going through his father’s email. His dad owned every movie theater in New Orleans, and though his company had executives and business managers that handled of almost everything, there were still a few matters a week that needed his attention, usually in the form of a rubber stamp. Andre had been taking care of this stuff for about a year and a half now, while his dad was, you know, sick.

Every now and then, Andre would alt-tab over to his secret blog—which no one else in The Gang knew about—and check his newest entry for comments. He’d just posted the entry twenty minutes before, though, and only a few people had read it yet. It was about the shameful customer service he’d just endured at the family-run pharmacy up the street, where he was getting his dad’s Vicodin prescription filled. Andre didn’t know where they got these people to work behind the counter. Special-ed classes, apparently.

On the blog, which he’d named This Toilet City, Andre writes long and vitriol-filled entries (he calls them “his daily rants”) in which he turns his jaundiced eye on New Orleans and, increasingly, on the rubbish that passes for entertainment these days:

If it’s a movie, Andre always hates it, calling it a “McMovie for the zombie-eyed masses.” (Unless it’s the re-release of a classic, then he’s appalled at the subtle nuances the audience will surely miss.) If it’s a new album, he always sadly informs his readers that the band sucks. (Unless it’s a band on a small label, then he’ll just say he preferred their first album.)

If the subject of television comes up, Andre will always make a big deal about how he’s totally lost because he simply never watches TV. “Who are these people again? I don’t understand how some people can follow such insipid mediocrity.” However, like most people who say they never watch TV, he actually watches quite a bit of it. In fact, the TV was on as he worked on his blog.

Andre looked up at the quiet screen and flinched a little. Someone he knew was being interviewed on Larry King. It was Emily’s so-called uncle, the one-hit wonder Sammy Spade. Andre had met him at Emily’s Sweet 16 party a year ago, and had made a point of not shaking his hand as punishment for releasing such an ear-bleedingly terrible song into the world. He wasn’t sure that Sammy even noticed, but Andre had at least stood up for his ideals.

(Later, though, the two of them been standing around, waiting for the cake to make it back to them, when out of nowhere, Sammy told Andre a sotto voce joke that was shockingly crude and wildly blasphemous. Andre was impressed, and he felt bad he’d been rude to him.)

On TV, Sammy was dressed in jeans and leather, as though he had just run offstage after a massive arena show, even though as far as Andre knew his band wasn’t even together anymore. These days Sammy was better known in the magazines as the “and rocker husband” half of his marriage.

Laura Brennan-Spade, his wife, had been a swimsuit model when she was young and even not-so-young. At 28, just when her life as a model was drawing to its inevitable end, career rejuvenation showed up in the form of ovarian cancer. Celebrities appeared on Inside Edition and Access Hollywood to wish her well. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue that year featured a spread of her model friends wrapped up in one very long and strategically-draped pink ribbon as a show of support for Laura. People Magazine featured her on the cover twice—once for her Brave Struggle and once for her Miracle Recovery. Andre remembered that there had been a Lifetime movie, too, with Luke Perry as Sammy Spade.

Ten years later, she’s become an outspoken advocate for cancer awareness and, lately, stem-cell research. Her two memoirs were both check-out lane bestsellers, and she’s always in the more-respectable celebrity magazines for hosting fundraisers and galas. To Andre, it seemed like she was on Oprah about once a week trying to convince her viewers to get yearly pap smears or whatever.

Andre opened the file on his desktop where he kept ideas for future This Toilet City entries. He wrote: Cancer “awareness”…who the fuck isn’t aware of cancer? He paused, trying to think of something to add to it, but nothing came.

Apparently, Laura and her rocker husband were on Larry King because she’d written a new book about how she and Sammy can’t have children due to her cancer, and how it’s taken her years to come to terms with that. At the bottom of the screen she was identified as Author/Model, which made Andre snicker as he turned the sound on.

“I know this is a controversial issue,” Laura was saying, “and I knew I’d have to make sacrifices to speak out about it. But as I’m doing book-signings and readings, couples keep coming up to me and saying, you know, that my book had given them strength and thank you for talking about this. And I feel I owe it to them to let their voices be heard.”

Typical talk-show bullshit, Andre thought, about to change the channel. But then Larry put a caller on who accused Laura of hating children and wanting pornography in prime-time, which got Andre’s attention.

“No, I’m not saying that...by all means we should protect the children. What I’m talking about is our attempts to make our whole society child-friendly. We don’t have to pitch our entire culture to a third-grade level. My husband and I should be able to enjoy a television show aimed at an adult audience, with adult themes—not pornography, thank you—that’s on at a reasonable hour, without having to worry that some hypothetical eight-year-old who’s up way past his bedtime is being corrupted by something his parents shouldn’t let him watch in the first place.”

“Whoa,” Andre said out loud.

Onscreen, Larry leaned forward. “Now, you haven’t thought about…because a lot of my viewers are sitting at home and they’re asking themselves why not: you haven’t adopted. Sammy, you don’t have any kids of your own?”

Sammy shrugged. “None that I know of, brother…but I was in a band, if you get my drift.” Everyone on the set laughed at this, and Andre rolled his eyes so hard he thought he might sprain something.

“That’s not the point,” Laura said to Larry. “Whether we adopt or not. In fact, that’s exactly the sort of mindset that my book and my organization are trying to change: the idea that couples without children, who don’t have children either by choice or otherwise, are somehow broken. And if they can’t have kids of their own, then they should adopt so that they’re almost like a ‘real’ family.”

Andre was impressed. So impressed that when the next caller—some hillbilly from Little Rock, Arkansas—was telling Laura she was just bitter that she couldn’t have kids, he changed the channel so he wouldn’t have to hear her sputtering. He flipped up a few channels, then back down to CNN. Laura was defending herself:

“What I’m saying is that working parents—and god bless them, I’m not saying that what they’re doing isn’t hard—but working parents are given a certain leeway at their jobs that their childless colleagues aren’t. If the babysitter isn’t on time, then by all means, come in half an hour late. Or if your kid’s sick, hey, just take the day off. And parents are given weeks and weeks of paid maternity—heck, even paternity—leave.

“And who has to pick up the slack at the workplace? That’s right, the childless workers who don’t get to come in late or take the day off. The same people who aren’t given as many tax-deductions or as much health coverage and who are constantly condescended to as though they aren’t really a couple because they don’t have kids.”

Larry turned to Sammy and pointed the eraser of his pencil towards him. “Now, Sammy, I’m told you have a fascinating new project coming up…”

Andre turned off the TV…the last thing he needed to hear about was Sammy Spade’s new solo album or reunion tour. Andre had vague ideas of going to bed, even though it was only midnight. He had a long day tomorrow; his Aunt Marissa’s plane landed the next afternoon at 4:18. (Why so specific?).

Andre had been cleaning the house for the last week, but he still had just a little more to do in the morning. Then there would be the task of getting his dad up, putting enough coffee and pills in him to make him function for at least half a day, then getting him showered and shaved and dressed. Let’s see, to get him to the airport by four, he’d have to wake him up by eleven, eleven-thirty. Fuck.

Yeah, he knew he should try to lie down, see if he could fall asleep. Instead, he Googled Laura Brennan-Spade to see what sort of reaction her book was getting. Alone Together: Building Our Empty Nest, seemed to be a sort of boring “journey of self-discovery” to some phony catharsis about not having kids. The reviews Andre skimmed were vague and positive, as though Entertainment Weekly and Redbook didn’t want to hurt her feelings. The controversial views she just expressed on TV were apparently a more recent development.

Finally, almost reluctantly (although he knew all along that he was going to), he looked up fan sites of Laura’s earlier modeling days. They were terrible, of course, with names like Heavenly Creature: Laura Brennan and Beauty And Courage: A Tribute To Laura Brennan. There was poorly-Photoshopped “fan art” (Laura as an angel, Laura as a superhero, and so on) and tinny music started playing out of his laptop’s small speakers. Horny guys could be so banal.

But the actual pictures weren’t bad. The swimsuits were cut weird, and the haircuts were a little out-of-style, but Laura Brennan had been a knockout. She hadn’t just been a swimsuit model, either…she’d started out on the runway, but then heroin chic came along and had pushed her into modeling clothes more suiting her generous figure, like bikinis and lingerie. Andre dug a little deeper and he even found a few black & white nudes shot by a famous Italian photographer, now dead.

Soon, in a secret place on his hard-drive, he’d added a new folder, titled laura_b. Andre was stretched out on his couch, the laptop perched on his belly. (He noted with disgust the way the screen jiggled when he breathed in or out.) Andre flipped through the pictures he’d downloaded, but he always coming back to this one shot, a scan of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.

Laura was in a thong, just a thong, standing on a large balcony in (what looked like) France. Her back was to the camera, with her fingers delicately touching the iron railing, but her head was turned—her eyes large, her lips parted just slightly—as though she was looking back at someone…someone who had just come in and found her there waiting.

Looking back at Andre, who had just come in. Who was taking off his black jacket now, not breaking eye contact with her as she turned towards him and stepped down off the balcony, leaving the French windows open behind her as she walked towards him in heels (heels? No, no, heels are tacky) barefoot across the suite’s decadent carpeting, wearing only the thong and a simple strand of pearls against her throat that somehow made her more nude. And she was in his arms now, smelling his throat, her waist curving under his hands, her fingers lightly on the back of his neck and she loved him, loved his writing, loved his critical mind and his flat stomach and his clothes, and she loved his kisses and the way he touched her when he pulled her close to him, her heavy breasts pushed up against his chest as his hands…

Okay, okay, let’s give the boy some privacy.

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