First time away from the baby, and the world is a strange new place. Before leaving, I spent an acid-without-the-acid-esque few days contemplating the tiny faux-hawked nipple-sucker perched atop E’s monstro breast.
(Young N eschewed the right, oddly enough, already a lefty at two days old.) And, call me sentimental, there’s nothing but righteous heroin to compare with the rush I got just padding around, newborn propped against my chest-pelt, feeling her 3 a.m. screams calm to coos as I talked her through the late night heebie-jeebies, no doubt inspired by the savage, criminal travesty of being plucked from the lush confines of dark womb heaven and thrust into a world of harsh light, bad air, car-horns and a goodly amount of Lawrence O’Donnell, whose image on the tube, I must gratefully add, seems to chill her right out as surely as my own back-patting promenades around the stamp-sized living room.
The thing is, I’ve been invited to Cannes. A movie my name’s on is showing there. Glam as it sounds, the last thing I want to do is go anywhere. Seriously. When we run out of diapers, I literally tear full-out to the store and back, because I don’t want to miss a single action-packed minute of brand new babydom. Go ahead—make carnival with my excitement. I mean, mere hours ago, I actually heard my pride’n’joy fart for the first time. I’m talking about an eight-day-old with the rectal pipes of a perogee-fed forty year old Milwaukee steamfitter. I’m bustin’ my buttons!
E and I discuss the trip. (Which is new for me. In previous relationships, “discussion” was code for scream, be screamed at, smash computer, put fist through wall, slam door, and then do something regrettable. But never mind. As Nietzsche said—before, I’m assuming, the whole sleep-with-his-sister-and-get-syphilis thing—“Many a man fails at original thinking simply because his memory is too good.” But enough out of Nietzsche.) E is all for Cannes. “Go ahead and go, baby, we’ll be fine.” But, my deepest secret: I’m not worried about them; I’m worried about me.
A little backstory here. See, the first time I experienced the miracle of Dad-hood, I was so strung out I would do dope to obliterate the reality that, instead of being with my baby, I was, you know, doing dope. (I’m talking here about Baby #1, whom I loved, of course, in the same, if more narcotically tainted fashion I love Baby #2.). But really, what does it matter what your reasons are for not being with your newborn? Whether you’re hobnobbing with Pepe and Red, at the corner of Balloon and Eightball, or with Nicole and Clive on the Riviera, absence is absence. It’s not like any of this is rational.
That’s why I’m on the fence about the trip. More or less super-glued. Until, when Baby N finally stops wailing and passes out with a wanton gurgle on her evening nipple-snack—left, as mentioned—E shrugs and marches out her position. “Look at it this way, no matter what you decide, on some level, you’re going to regret it. So you might as well fucking relax… ”
So… Here I am, in an airy seaside verandah in the Palais, the glitzy middle of Cannes, watching people be famous while I kill time until the film I seem to have my name on actually screens, and I can bask in whatever refracted magic actually makes its way to the writer.
Later I’ll be strolling the red carpet, photographed as the shorter, more mortal human between Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen. (They’re both well over my measly 6-foot-nothing.) Not, needless to say, my usual scene… But one, I suppose, which at some point would have been the thrilling highlight to… something. Anyway, right now it’s lunch time.
The Big Names on hand are chowing down at a tanker-sized table, while I’m lurking in corner, albeit on a sofa so lush I have to fight the urge to go face-down and sleep off jetlag. (That’s right, it’s the megastar high school lunchroom—and I’m the new kid with Thalidomide arms and acne!) Actually I gave my seat up to Bernardo Bertolucci, who, no longer mobile, chugged up to the Big Name table in a Hoverround and kind of parked behind me until, succumbing to guilt at the eyes of the Italian directorial giant boring holes in my occiput, I let him take my parking spot and skulk off to the outer circle of the VIP feeding trough.
Which, in point of fact, is fine with me. I think a lot of writers are corner lurkers. (You’ve got your Hemingways and you’ve got your Kafkas, and at the moment I’m feeling Gregor Samsa-adjacent—if Gregor Samsa ever scuttled to the South of France.)
Anyway, I’m over here having a one man lurkathon, weighing down furniture already sagging from collective bodyguard bulk. Hunkered on either side are assorted versions of Jean Claude van Damme, all speaking French and all, at least in my febrile imagination, discussing les steroids. Though perhaps the subject is lobster bisque recipes. My French is spotty.
Physically I’m at Cannes, but all I can think about is the squiggly frog with the faux-hawk. Instead of star-struck, I’m baby-struck. Sitting here wondering if Mrs. Binkelstein, at the ripe age of nine days, has learned to roll over or speed dial, and I have—however inadvertently—stuck her with a lifetime of abandonment issues. (We’ve taken to calling her Mrs. Binkelstein, by the way, because her face, in moments of diaper-filling high dudgeon, resembles that of a disapproving yenta with a bulging bottom lip, crinkly forehead, and the general air of an over-seventy bubby about to look you up and down and mutter “Feh!”)
Call it the post-birth bifurcated psyche. Half of you is wherever you actually are, half of you is elsewhere, astral-neurotically projected into Baby-Obsesso-land… I’ve gone from baby sleep deprived to celebrity jet-lagged—chomping pink ravioli while surveying the varying nosh techniques of everyone from Macy Gray (dainty) to semi-old pal Benicio del Toro (no-nonsense) to Tim Roth (laid back) to Matthew Maconnaheydude. (You guess.) My biggest thrill is meeting director Gaspar Noe (after mistaking him for stubbly bald comedy demi-god Dave Atell) whose Enter the Void may be the single most intense, beautiful, and disturbingly hallucinogenic mind-fuck-supreme movie ever made. A bit of cinema which, if you haven’t seen, you should stop whatever meaningless activity you’re engaged in (including reading this) and procure immediately. It may not change your life, but it will change your brain chemistry. Though not, I suppose, as much as holding a drooly-cute newborn on your chest. Apparently, that really does give you a serotonin blast—and without the headache of a Lexapro prescription. (I’ve got nothing against anti-depressants, but when I tried them, all I got was dry-mouth and insomnia—not to mention my dick morphed into a dog-toy. Go fetch!)
The whole look-Ma-I’m-in-a-tuxedo, Red Carpet experience does not kick in until, jammed in the limo (actually some breed of 2015 Mercedes SUV), crawling through the throngs lining the street from hotel to theater, I stare out the tinted glass and catch the eyes of the screamers lining the road. Whatever’s fueling their ardor, it is certainly not slaked when, instead of, say, Brad Pitt emerging when the driver opens the door, it’s some writer-guy with questionable teeth and a shiny black suit he last wore to court for reasons too sordid and obscure to revisit.
This, for me, is the take-away of the carpet-walk. Not the unchecked, ungodly awe of the super-star hungry crowd – but its savage, rarely glimpsed opposite: their palpable disappointment when, after standing for hours in the Mediterranean sun, some Jim-Jim McNoname staggers from the star-mobile. I rode over with legendary editor Walter “Apocalypse Now” & “Godfather” Murch and his wife, and believe me, the mob was not happy to see any of us.
Insane as it sounds, at that moment, I actually feel guilty at not being a People cover-worthy human. Happily, Clive Owen and Nicole rolled up shortly thereafter. We shoot the shit before the madness commences. Clive’s a great laugher. Nicole, despite a gown worth more than my house, is down-home as a second cousin. And yes, when my pal the director, Philip Kaufman, mentions I’m “a new Papa” I do, with a minimum of nudging, bust out the blackberry and show them a baby photo. I’ve become that guy. Our baby-bond over, the security pros on hand—some of whom I recognize from the buffet couch—gently (but firmly) hold me back by my wrists as Nicole, Clive and Phil go on ahead into the maw. (The director, by the way, is an athletic seventy-plusser with a full head of silver hair. Which I mention why? Because, what happens, after you hit fifty, is that you start looking for, not role models exactly, but examples of OGD-types who have braved the wilds of seniordom with the dignity and cool intact. Like Burroughs, or Beckett, or Shecky Greene—guys who wear their survival, as they say, like a loose garment. These giants are a great antidote to the alta kockers at my local Y, the old lions whose ear hair could scrape the rust off pieplates and whose balls hang down to their arthritic knees. But where was I?)
Flashbulbs pop like dying brain cells. The stars face the legion to the right, waving and smiling, then the left, more waving, more smiling. Then the nearest Van Damme gives me the nod and, hand pressed to the small of my back, urges me forward. The word surreal does not cover it. It’s not even a dream come true, more just a dream: except instead of waking up with no pants in front of my high school algebra class I’m wide-eyed in a tuxedo—(or faux-edo: black suit, white shirt and snap-on bowtie) on the Jungian archetypal red carpet—think long uncurled tongue!—in front of a small village of screaming fame-iacs at Cannes.
For a beat, sandwiched between movie stars, I accidentally raise my eyes and catch my own dentally-challenged mug projected on the live screen mounted over the entrance. Clive looks over and laughs. None of this means anything, but still… It’s not just unlikely (you’re talking to a guy who would, in his former life, have tried to steal the carpet and trade it for a dime bag.) It is, as Hemingway liked to say, a perfect moment. Though all I can think about is how the pictures will be fun to show my little girl, when she’s old enough. Or if, years from now in therapy, she wants to show Dr. Clawhammer how her dad bailed on her eights days after she left the womb. (Rule Number One of parenting: don’t project your guilt and weirdness onto your own children. Just in case, I’m going to lay in a couple of autographed photos from the stars, both signed To the cutest goddamn baby in the world… Your Daddy loves you, even if he has no sense of priorities what-so-fuckingever! Just so she knows I was thinking about her.)
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.