There was only enough Tylenol in the container to make Packer seriously nauseous without doing the job. Packer screwed the lid back on and let it drop to the floor. He was being overly dramatic anyway, he concluded, rolling on his silk-sheet side so he could look out the window at the bright California sun — that incessantly, shining disc of blinding light. “Ah fuck,” he grumbled, “I need to get out of Los Angeles.”
The city sprawled out below, streets lined up like cemetery rows; his house sat blushing, hoisted high in the sky like the cheekbones on Miss America. He was awashed in the American dream.
It made him numb.
He flipped on the television; his lifeblood. There was a commercial for a trade school, one of those daytime ads for losers, 30 seconds of hope broadcasted to drunks and failures and battered wives. You can have the life you always dreamed of if you just pick up the phone. Packer wasn’t the latter, but he sure was the former. His head was ringing like there was a permanent tiny monkey doll banging the cymbals. Clang. Clang. Clang.
His cell phone rattled on his nightstand. He wished it was Stephanie. He rubbed his eyes to read the name. Nope. It was his lawyer.
“Ah, fuck. I need to get out of Los Angeles,” he repeated. Packer ignored the call.
Packer fell back asleep for another 3 hours. Shadows skulked across his room. He woke up sweating like an Eastern European shot putter.
Finally he rose, splashed water on his face, and put on a 5,000 dollar suit.
Thompson was waiting for him at the hotel bar. It was nearly five o’clock. Packer strolled through the lobby and contemplated getting a room. Money wasn’t a problem.
Everything else was.
If he got a room, he’d have to pick up a woman, he couldn’t be alone: a divorced woman whose panties would liquefy when he ‘subtly’ informed her he created ‘The Jellybeans’, the mighty leviathan that still supports his lifestyle, an assistant, a lawyer and an attorney; about a group of twenty-somethings who live in a converted fire station, for some odd reason even Packer can’t remember; the stupid sitcom that Thompson starred in for 6 years, and is sometimes still seen on daytime TV between ads for Larry H. Parker and Cordon Bleu and that trade school for failures and drunks.
Sometimes Packer wishes he had a son or daughter, somebody who’d be forced to love him for him, and not for his financial capabilities, the luxurious lap dance they’d be born into, but then he sobers up and remembers that’s not necessarily how children work; a son or daughter would probably love the Maserati more. It’s ironic, he once wrote in his attempt at an autobiography: at 15 miles-per-gallon in the city my Maserati gets better gas mileage than me, but I can do 0-60 quicker. The chapter was titled: the women who will deny dating me.
“What a fucked life this is,” Packer mumbled to himself when he spotted Thompson waiting for him at the corner of the bar.
Thompson was wearing a blue blazer and black jeans and his hair was recently dyed. He looked like an actor that should be doing Cialis commercials. Not the man that was once on the cover of People, TV Digest, and Time all in the same week.
Thompson stuck out his hand, accompanied by a crushing, fluoride grin. “You look like shit,” he told Packer.
“I must have seen one of your plays last night.”
Thompson smiled, “Hey, there’s no room for Truth among friends.”
Packer sat down and motioned for the bartender. “How have you been?” He asked.
He told him, “She took everything….” while continuing to flash his enamel. A professional all the way to the end.
Packer ordered a Glenlivet on the rocks before answering. “You don’t have that bitch in your life anymore, so I’d say it was worth it.” Packer clapped Thompson on the back as the bartender placed his drink in front of him. “Here’s to spring cleaning,” Packer said.
He lifted his glass and they drank together.
In the mirror behind the bar Packer looked for their reflection and didn’t see it. Maybe we’re dead, he considered with a pinch of relief, then realized that there was no mirror, that there was another section of the bar on the other side, and the people he thought were behind him were in front of him.
Thompson grew a look of seriousness. “I think I’m going to move back home.”
Packer’s face scrunched into a tangled ball of annoyed confusion. “Home? What the fuck is that? Get a dog, a ranch house with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, marry some bitch who wants to join a book club? You want a fucking normal life.”
“You make ‘normal’ sound hideous.”
Packer was feeling spiteful. “No, I just think you’re better than that. Lois might not, but I do.”
Thompson lost his limelight, his tabloid gleam. “Thanks…”
“Look, just fuck your way to serenity,” Packer suggested.
Thompson shook his head. “You know fucking is the exact opposite of serenity, it’s actually chaos, it’s a mess, it’s destruction. That’s why you get fucked up, you don’t give a fuck, everything is FUBAR, fucked up beyond all recognition.”
“Oh, is that what that means? Anyway…” Packer stuck his glass in the air for another toast. “Here’s to looking and feeling like shit then.”
Thompson sneered but clinked glasses anyway. He didn’t say anything.
Packer told him, “Fuck serenity,” and set his glass down for the first time. It was finished. After a breather, he told him, “I’m sorry.”
“I can take a joke,” Thompson answered.
“No, I mean about… everything.”
Thompson swallowed his smile. “Sure. I’ll live.”
Simultaneously they gestured to the bartender for another round. A man in the corner of the room started playing the piano in a cheap tuxedo. Shadows were slowly inching into the room. The bartender nodded their direction.
Thompson took a $100 bill out of his pocket and laid it on the table. “Let’s drink until Benji here vanishes like my wife.”
“I thought she took everything?” Packer asked.
“She didn’t take my balls.”
“Not sure how much that is worth.”
“Or the money I was hiding in the Caymens,” Thompson added.
“Well then… smart man!”
Thompson said, “I was in love… but I wasn’t an idiot.”
Packer swirled his Glenlivet. “Some days I’m not sure the difference.” He could feel the lack of moisture in his lips and pulled out some lip balm by Lab Series for Men and applied it. All this talking made his ears hurt. He thought about getting a room after all. And a divorcee.
“Thanks for coming out with me tonight.”
Packer shrugged. “Sure. What are friends for?”
Thompson tossed back the last of his drink as Packer stared into the other half of the restaurant, studying the tables, analyzing the relationships of the couples, surmising who’d be next.
“I know it wasn’t easy when Stephanie left.”
Packer fidgeted in his seat. “I don’t want to talk about Stephanie. I know you’re going through this thing with Lois, and I know it’s rough, but let’s not do that swap-story-bullshit, alright? Let’s just,” he paused, searching for words, not finding them, then finally blurting out… “look on the sunny side.”
Thompson laughed. So did Packer. They laughed at themselves. It felt good.
The pianist began singing a lounge version of Don’t Stand So Close To Me by The Police. Thompson reached out and grabbed a cocktail napkin and began folding it into squares and then smaller squares. “You know,” he finally said, heartfelt and humble, “working on your show was the highlight of my career.”
Packer swished his glass around and dodged the flood of memories from those tossed-salad days. The praise felt damning. He thought about Stephanie and wondered where she might be, whose arms she was in? He remembered the Golden Globes where he got drunk and waited for his name to be called, and when it wasn’t, got drunk some more with the bald giant from Night Court. A parade of the young actresses he fucked, and fucked-over, trampled through his mind, stomping on his desire and ability to avoid regret. They lined up and laughed at the sad lonely man he’d become.
Packer drew in a breath and looked Thompson in his eyes. “You know, you can never go back. You can only go forward. That’s why we spend most of our lives running over things.”
Thompson considered this and brought his glass to his chin. “Fuck it,” he told his old boss, “we have a lot of drinking to do.”