STATIC AND DESIRE
STATIC AND DESIRE
It would happen all of a sudden, in a rundown meeting, in the locker room at his gym, after the show at Anthony's, in the newsroom and even once in his office while Jeremy, Natalie and Kim buzzed around. He would become nervous, out of nowhere and for no reason he could readily name. Casey and Dana had made him quit smoking so he would leave and go to the bathroom. He'd sit in the stall or splash water on his face. His thoughts would race, but never anywhere that made sense to him - mostly he would stare at his hands while they shook. It didn't use to happen all that often but this summer "not often at all" had become "somewhat often." He wondered what would become of him.
Three weeks on the road had been the network's idea. Where in the world is Dan Rydell, he thought, sitting in yet another airport lounge with his laptop perched precariously on his lap. He wrote nothing of merit and wished he were home. If he looked up and stopped pretending, he could see Jeremy scanning the magazine racks and the other guys in their small crew playing some fiendishly complicated card game they had invented one row of uncomfortable seats over. Two weeks to go, he thought, and he would be home in New York City.
He missed Rebecca. She would never come crawling back to him, he thought. She'd moved to the west coast and he'd never see her again. He missed everyone in New York City and it had only been a week.
He was doing fine, he thought. He didn't think about how absurdly nervous and maybe almost nauseous he'd been in Seattle, trying to shmooze Alex Rodriguez in a room full of reporters and publicists and the like.
In the past week he'd had sex with four different women. A local news reporter in Seattle, a team publicist in Oakland, a woman who'd accosted him in Dallas to talk about soccer and a girl he'd picked up at the game in Portland. On the phone from the airport waiting for his flight to the eighth stop, Casey had gotten him to tell him all about the sex.
"It amazes me you haven't had a paternity suit yet. If your plane goes down we're gonna have to set up a web site - Are You One of Dan Rydell's Children? - like Screamin' Jay Hawkins and his 57 unknown progeny."
"I'm a staunch believer in safe sex, my friend. No glove, no love."
"The only 100% effective method of birth control is abstinence."
"You take your road, I'll take mine."
"It's not for lack of trying, Danny."
"Yeah, I'm sure. You're wussing out every time you open your mouth. Which is good and right, cause there's a statute of limitations."
"I know, I know. 90 days. But you know, what if someone else asks her out? Someone who doesn't respect the statute of limitations? Have you thought of that?"
"Well, she won't say yes."
"Cause she respects the statute of limitations? She's counting those 90 days?"
"No, because she won't say yes unless it's you. So wait your 90 days, or don't, but don't wuss out."
"How do you know that?"
"Casey, you've known Dana for 15 years - don't you think you know her well enough to know that she will say yes?"
"Can you use the word 'know' anymore in a sentence?"
"I'm pretty sure I can. Don't be scared."
"Look, I know Dana well enough to know that at any given moment I have no idea what she will do or what's she thinking. So I have every right to be a little scared about what she might say. It's not - you know, like you -"
"If you were asking me out, I think we both know me well enough to know what I would say."
"No, I meant you do this. You're perfectly calm about it and you just ask out these women and they say yes, or they jump you in cabs. That's not me."
"Casey, you don't know me perfectly at all," Dan said, looking out the window to the runways below. He watched luggage being loaded and guys in jumpsuits waving bright orange sticks to tell trucks where to go. He thought of the publicist in Oakland, and the way she laughed like a car alarm, only louder. He remembered how panicked he had felt at dinner with the crew last night. "Sometimes they say yes, often times they say no and you just have to do it to get what you want."
"Right. So, seriously, you closed the door to the room and she pushed you against it and was down on her knees? Just like that?"
"Man. That has never happened to me."
"Well, wait until at least your third date with Dana before asking her, okay?"
"You're disgusting." Casey hung up on him and then they were calling his flight.
A week later, in another airport, Jeremy sat down next to him. He sighed and closed the laptop.
"You can keep working."
"I could, if I were actually working. I was typing shit."
"Over and over again? Cause that certainly wouldn't be a good story."
"No, what I was writing was shit. Shit on a stick." Dan leaned back and put the laptop in its case and stretched his legs.
"Dan. I wonder, could I ask you something?"
"You just did. You asked me something."
"No. I meant I have a question."
"I might have an answer, but I need to know the question."
"How do you do it?"
"So many answers to give, so many jokes to make. Do what, specifically?"
"You've slept with at least five different women in the last two weeks -"
"It's been six. You don't want tips, right? Cause you have Natalie and I'm not really qualified ..."
"No. It's just," Jeremy looked around furtively and leaned forward. "See, in college and high school, in fact, in my whole life, I have never been that guy. You know - you were there with Natalie - I don't, you know ..."
"Get laid on the first date?"
"Have women I've never met go to bed with me as soon as we meet. Known them in the biblical sense, as it were."
"Well. I would remind you, I'm on TV. So, I have an advantage there. And, you know, it's not that amazing."
"You're just saying that, right? I mean I know it's not amazing, but you're just saying that."
"Well. I mean sex is good. I like sex. And I suppose this is the point where I'm supposed to say something about the soul-crushing loneliness, and all that."
"But really, it's not that bad."
"It's not. It's no way to live, but I don't live this way. And it's not the rest of my life. And I'm not married and I'm careful. And -"
"You are careful, right?"
"Yes, Dr. Goodwin. I always use protection."
"Cause there's bad stuff out there."
"Yes. There's syphilis, chlamydia, herpes, gonorrhea and HIV. And I've left some out."
"So you're aware of those things?"
"Yes. Would it make you feel better to know I've had two of those things?"
"It wouldn't make me feel better. Well, yes, it makes me feel superior. But I feel guilty about that, so now I feel bad. Um, which two?"
"Chlamydia and gonorrhea. The first in college and the other four years ago. And I'm HIV negative, if you care."
"Well, I feel better about wanting to sleep with you."
"You're not my type. Nothing personal." Dan leaned far back and yawned.
"I've never had an HIV test."
"Oh, you should, it's really fun."
"I would think not."
"Nope. And I've done it three times and each time was not fun, so I feel I can say that somewhat definitively."
"Yeah. You know, we were having this nice conversation about how cool I am and how not neurotic I am about getting laid frequently on road trips, and now it's HIV and the like. And you know, I wanted to make clear, I'm not that guy."
"You are that guy. You're the famous getting laid guy."
"I mean, I'm not that TV movie guy who sleeps around and never knows true intimacy guy - if I was seeing someone back home, I wouldn't be sleeping around now and I'm not doing some mindless must get laid dance every night. I mean, sex is fun and no one I've slept with in the past two weeks is sitting in their breakfast nook now, pining for me."
"Right. I believe you. Three times?"
Danny laughed. "Yes. When you have an STD, the doctors like to test you for everything else. Or, at least mine did. And the first time was, basically, paranoia. And a completely different high-risk behavior from screwing girls with no rubber."
Jeremy looked at him, and sputtered. "So when you said I'm not your type, you meant ..."
Dan laughed again. "No, no, Jeremy, not that." He tapped his forearm with two fingers. Jeremy still looked befuddled.
"Needles, my friend. My dark fucked up high school days. It was only twice, but there you go."
"Oh. Okay. We've led completely different lives, Dan."
"Well, apparently, yes." Dan looked over at the crew, still feverishly slapping down cards. "We should be boarding soon."
For three straight days, he was fine. Really really fine. Nothing made him nervous, he never looked at himself in the mirror to check if his eyes were bugging out, and he did three very fine stories. He called Casey every day, for one reason or another. Casey sounded like a baby.
"So, you're sure about this statute of limitations thing? Cause maybe I should just ask her now. Like, tomorrow."
"You could do that. We both know you won't cause you're just a little girl under all that hair, but you could do that."
Casey hung up on him again.
Three days later, looking over the shoulder of the woman in the designer dress, he saw Jeremy sitting back at the bar with the crew. He couldn't talk to any of them. He was fine, he thought. He also thought he needed to not be with these people. The woman touched his hand and he watched the light reflect off her chipped nail polish where it still clung to her nails. He smiled at her and they left a few moments later.
On the plane to the last stop, just two days from home, Jeremy sat next to him again. Jeremy turned to look at him and said, "You know, the stereotypical TV downside to casual sex is that you don't know the person. And sex, it should maybe be about knowing someone, like on My So-Called Life when Rickie says it should be like seeing the other person's perfectness."
"My So Called Life? The TV show? With Claire Danes?"
"Yeah. My sister loves it."
"I see. But actually, sometimes sex is just sex."
"Yeah. Sex is sex is sex as Gertrude Stein might say."
"And it's nice to know someone before you have sex, but you learn about people when you have sex with them."
"Like what they look like naked. And what it's like to have sex with them."
"And scars and tattoos, if present, and how, how they live in their body or something."
"Yeah. But it helps to know the person, I would think. Or so they argue on TV."
"How well do we know anyone? I once read a biography of Martin Luther - the Lutheran guy, not MLK - that talked a lot about him being constipated. And basically, the author felt that had Martin Luther been more regular, there would have been no 95 theses. And I think, I have no idea if my friends are constipated or not, so I really don't know them well enough to know if they're writing or not writing 95 theses."
"I'm not writing 95 theses or any theses at all."
"The church rests easy. But there's so much we don't know about anyone - what they're thinking in the bathroom, what they think before they fall asleep, so I just wonder when people throw around the phrase."
"But we do know people to some degree. I think I know Natalie pretty well, and you know Dana and Casey pretty well."
"But it's not like I know them well enough to speculate or predict any number of things. As we speak, Casey is sweating bullets about asking Dana out. He won't do it today cause he's scared, but you know, I could be wrong. Maybe he will do it today. Maybe he'll buy a bagel and that'll be the magic thing that makes him stop being a little girl."
"A bagel? Cause I think Casey will need a lot more than that. At least a donut with sprinkles or something for the sugar rush."
"You're telling me. I could go for a donut right now."
"Chocolate maybe, or honey-glazed."
"Jelly stuffed so you get the jam over all your fingers." They looked out the window for a few minutes. Then Jeremy looked over at him again, and said, "Heroin? Really?"
Danny blinked twice. He looked at the seat in front of him.
"I've never even seen heroin."
"It's not the alluring appearance that constitutes its appeal."
"Yeah. I knew that."
"Brian really liked Lou Reed."
"Who's Brian? I know Lou Reed."
"You should know Lou Reed. Everyone should know Lou Reed. American original and musical genius. Brian is a guy I knew in high school. We were basically almost rich kids growing up in the suburbs of New York City - we all knew someone who knew someone who could get you anything. And Brian liked Lou Reed - specifically the Velvet Underground/ Transformer years and not so much the stuff from the 80s. He wanted to try it. We all used the same needle cause we were all very, very stupid."
"Wow. In high school, me and my friends really liked George Lucas - specifically the Star Wars trilogy years and not so much the American Grafitti/Howard the Duck stuff. We saw Star Wars many, many times and ate too much popcorn."
"We went to class and all that. On weekdays, we mostly just smoked pot and drank occasionally. We'd only get really fucked up on the weekends."
"Well. So just like my high school years, except less pizza and mountain dew and bowling. And more drugs."
"Yes, I score lower than you on a purity test, Jeremy. Could we go back to talking about women and Claire Danes and bagels?"
"Why did you get that first HIV test?"
"Cause Brian ended up in the hospital and everyone said it was more than just pneumonia ..."
"Not your fault, right? The rest of us had stopped using altogether or just stopped getting quite so fucked up. Or got fucked up in different ways. Brian went to college in New York, and then dropped out. Oddly enough, he didn't like Lou Reed so much after smack - he'd got into hardcore punk the last time I saw him. Anyway, I don't think about it, I don't keep in touch, cause I'm not - we didn't have as much in common anymore. My mom called me when I was in New York working one summer, when I was 19, to tell me Brian was dying."
"Wow. That's sad."
"Brian had come home and he had pneumonia and he was dying. And he'd lost a lot of weight."
"So you were scared."
"Oddly enough, yes. And I couldn't tell my mom. She was just going on and on."
"Damn. That's - that's really sad."
"Anyway, I went to some clinic, got the test, came back negative. I was pretty sure I would be - that Brian had picked it up in the city, but still. And he died, like, three weeks after that. His mother was such a psycho at the funeral. She didn't want anyone to know it was AIDS - cause then they might think he was gay, instead of just some fucking junkie."
"Why does it matter? He was dead, either way."
Danny stared out the window, over Jeremy's lap.
That night he dreamt he was at home, in Connecticut, in his old room. He was looking at a comic book, when Casey came in. Casey was getting dressed for a party and made Danny comment on every outfit he tried on. Danny looked away as he stripped down and only looked up when he knew Casey was dressed. He didn't want to go out, but Casey shook him hard to tell him that they had to go. He dragged him downstairs. David looked at him contemptuously and asked if he planned to wear that to the funeral. Jeremy, Jim Thorpe and Bobby Thomson milled around in the background, drinking punch that Rebecca poured out in plastic glasses. Casey walked away, while his brother straightened his tie and shook Danny again. He found himself being forced into a coffin, but he wasn't scared. Isaac and his Dad stood over him. His Dad said, "Well. This is about what we expected." And Isaac said, "It's about what you deserve." Dan wasn't scared. He thought that Isaac was right and he accepted his penance. The viewing began and Brian's mother reached in and began shaking him.
"Dan!" It was Jeremy shaking him, waking him in the lounge where they waited for the flight back to New York City. "You were asleep."
"I gathered that."
"It's time to go."
Dan followed him across the terminal. Bobby Thomson and Jim Thorpe had come to his funeral, he thought. That was pretty cool.
He stared at the baggage carousel, waiting for his luggage to be spat out. Everything is fine, everything is fine, he thought. Jeremy walked up to him and said, gently, "Dan. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Everything's fine. Jeremy, what?"
"Your hands." Jeremy looked down. "Your hands are shaking. You must be tired."
Dan clasped his hands together behind his back and kept staring at the baggage carousel. He said he wasn't tired. He was perfectly fine. He'd fucked his way across the country, he'd almost thrown up in the Seattle Mariners locker room, he'd said way too much to Jeremy and hadn't heard half of it, he was dreaming of his funeral, and Casey still couldn't ask Dana out. He was absolutely fine. Absolutely. He grabbed his bags and went to catch his cab home without saying goodbye to Jeremy.
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