I tried clonazepam. Now I’m walking down Hollywood Boulevard wondering if I should take a second pill. The other tourists around me are being accosted. They face folks brandishing "Walk of Fame" maps. The infamous and seedy street performers menace unsuspecting parents who mistakenly make eye-contact. A guy driving a minivan is a step away from abducting a family in an attempt to sell them on his “Total Complete Hollywood Tour Experience.”
No one is talking to me. I decide it’s because I’m from New York and they can tell. But the odds are far more likely that it’s because my whole body is screaming “Don’t look at me don’t look at me don’t look at me.” My teeth are dancing up and down on each other. They are moments away from exploding like bloody party poppers. I’m totally invisible. I’m going to disappear.
I think about taking a second pill again. I remember the way the first one felt earlier that afternoon. I think about how I took it. I slipped my hand into the bottle inside my bag. I palmed the pill and tossed it back standing in a cluster of mommy-bloggers while we waited to be escorted to our next event just inside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. Is it a John Donne quote about never being more alone than when you’re with everyone else? Probably. I’m sure the internet knows. I think about being alone with everyone else. I picture a couple making out on the grass, oblivious to the crowd. That’s a good kind of alone with everyone.
After twenty minutes the shrill panic falls away. I am witty. I am light. I am circumspect. I see my reflection in a mirror. I am beautiful. How could I ever think I wasn’t beautiful. That’s when I get suspicious. This is magic, I think, as I make small talk with a reporter I recognize from TV. There is always a price paid with magic.
Only one every 24 hours, they say. I understand why. I want more of that feeling. I want more of it like I want more of everything. I want more clothes, more food, more smells. I want more things to happen to him -- what a strange ache that is! I want more orgasms and more pain and more laughter. I quit smoking over a year ago, but maybe I can have a cigarette now, just one cigarette standing here in this hot place, propped up against a palm tree.
I want all of it and I want it now. Veruca Salt! I deserve it. One pill and I can hear all the things I’ve wanted for so long screaming until the inside of my head rings. It’s a kid making a demand. An internal toddler. She is always there. I don’t really listen to her. Instead, I punish her for the casual crime of existing. For opening her mouth, I flay her until she and her bloody, tattered Pampers are close to dead on the floor. But the mace and whip are gone. The toddler in my head just realized there’s a party happening downstairs and it wants in. That’s a bit exciting.
It would be so easy to take the second pill now, two hours later, to ride this feeling. So why haven’t I? The phrase “dry drunk” appears from nowhere. I can’t stop thinking the words. I can feel them. They are branded on the insides of my eyelids, the purple-red skin of them going black with the blistering heat.
No. No pill. It helped you when you needed it. Good to know. That doesn’t mean you need it always. My body is mad at this decision. The toddler is mad. Chomp, chomp go my teeth. They catch a flap of skin on the inside and blood floods my mouth. I stop walking. I take a breath. There’s a guy doing pull-ups on a stop sign, shirtless, a block up the road. I’m not worried that I’ll be seen as odd. I think things over. I think: Hey, what’s going with you? My breath is coming easily now and that fuzzy-around-the-edges feeling is going away. I feel sharper. I feel serious. I try to answer myself honestly: It’s been a long day. I haven’t slept. I’m in a strange new place all by myself. I’m worried I’m on the wrong path. I’m worried I won’t get what I want. That is what is going on with me. This. Is progress.
I fill my belly with breath from the bottom up. The bones in the back of my neck ease and unlock like cooked chicken drumsticks popping from a carcass. It feels good. I don’t need the second pill. I open my eyes and look down to see that I’m standing on Errol Flynn. I take a picture. I return, if not to earth, than to myself.
“Nice blue outfit, lady”. The voice is coming from behind me, it sounds like a menacing Michael Jackson. It’s Spongebob Squarepants. Almost. The face is wrong. The brown leggings of the suit are pilling. My shirt wafts up with the breeze because it’s an open-backed number. I’m aware that my bra is showing. Sweat eases into my butt crack. It’s a beautiful day outside. I’m on the other side of the country. I’m wearing an open-backed shirt and perverse man dressed as an animated sea-dwelling sponge has paid me a compliment. “Thanks,” I say and keep on walking before things get weird.
Earlier that day I’d been in my first film junket as press. It’s not surprising that my first time in L.A. was as disappointing as a bad first kiss, even though the free room service was awesome. “What am I doing here?” I loudly demanded of the over-bleached and over-stuffed bedding. It did not, thankfully, reply. I hug a pillow and pretend I’m on vacation. Outside my window a woman is working on a tan. I imagine her sitting down with her kids to tell them that she has melanoma. She looks like she smells good, like salt and sunscreen. Her poor kids, I think.
I’m very good at my job. I am, after all, a very charming monster. The movie stars are running late and everyone is very apologetic. The whole hotel suite smells like really buttery fish. There are reporters there. In suits. I’m wearing a stupid skirt with stupid daisies on it and I didn’t shave my legs. I’ve got a notepad with stupid questions written on it. I don’t want to interview the celebrities, I think, as I shake their hands and say words I can’t even remember now. I just want to be their friends. Let’s leave and get coffee, I say, sit by the pool and get skin cancer. Only I don’t say that.
I bungle the start and a cameraman yells at me. I cross my legs and the hair scratching against skin is virtually audible. I look at the movie stars and confess: “I’ve never done this before.” I’m Poe pointing to the beating heart beneath the floorboards. The reality is probably closer to a doctor telling you it’s their first day, but I don’t care. The words are out, I am all relief. “You should be great at this,” says the man celebrity, “you already got the Roger Ebert glasses and everything,” he quips. I quip back. Because it’s easy being witty with movie stars. You just pretend there are three cameras and that you’re going to whip off your glasses and finally be noticed. Jesus, I’m thirty years old and I still think this. The Toddler wants adulation. The Toddler wants an Oscar. The Toddler wants a big, summer blockbuster, at least.
I ask the two celebrities questions they have answered eighty times today alone. They are bored and so am I. Look you guys, I say, this all just sort of happened. I’m circling something and I don’t know what it is. But, I’ve always been good at my job, because I am adroit at faking it until I make it, and so now I’m here, accidentally, me, this charming monster whose conned her way into someone else’s grand adventure. I don’t say it. Of course, I don’t.
I thank them for their time. A P.A. grabs me as I leave and tells me next time not to cross my legs on camera. “Just a tip,” she says patting my arm, “girl to girl.” It doesn’t bother me. I turn back to the celebrities and say, It’s crazy that this is real life. It’s crazy that we’re pretending this is real life, right? I don’t say it. But I should have. I feel like they would understand.