Ulysses: Chapter 1

June 16, 2022 — Hopper Tilley-Blandin lay fully clothed in his childhood bed and imagined what it would be like to hit the perfect 6-iron on the 16th hole at Augusta National Golf Course. He did not play golf; rather, he was simply procrastinating against walking out the door for the last time. He was enveloped by the disjointed sounds of scheduled, precise evacuation. Five men of his approximate age and younger wearing matching t-shirts moved furniture and boxes of family possessions and heirlooms out of his parents’ three-bedroom apartment. Hopper was overseeing the last act of the acrimonious termination of their decades-long lease in Westbeth, the artists’ colony located in the Meatpacking District of Manhattan.

At that moment, he was feeling mostly…annoyance. Once again — in his mind — his mother and his younger sisters Olympia and Silver had foisted upon him an act of fealty to a family whose ties were fraying following his parents’ sudden divorce and his father’s subsequent, freakish death.

He could also admit to himself that it was gratifying to be deemed the responsible, sensible, competent member of the family. It meant that, while he could be marginalized, he could not be ignored. However, it was dawning on him that his mother and sisters had become overly reliant on him. They were using the old Scarlett O’Hara tactic: “Oh, Hopper, couldn’t you just fly in from Chicago and take care of the details? You are so good at this sort of thing and I’m just a silly girl.”

His mother was monumentally successful, and she was pulling her daughters along in her wake.

Even his Harvard-educated doctor ex-wife Ingrid regularly imposed upon him. “Hopper, you wouldn’t mind watering my plants while I’m at that pediatricians symposium in Boston?” she would ask, then kick in, “And could you review my financials while you’re at it? They’re on the kitchen counter.” It struck Hopper as needlessly confrontational to decline such requests from the mother of his two sons.

Hopper would not admit it out loud, but he preferred the company of women and did not trust most men. He joked with strangers that he did not have any friends. It was his way to explain his preference for evenings spent alone with printed words, even after the pandemic restrictions had initially been lifted. He had a friend, Olympia’s ex-boyfriend Huey, but Huey had been shot to death last year by the state police in Indiana, sparking protests – some violent — across the country.

The complex relationship between Hopper’s parents and Westbeth management had come to a head during the height of the pandemic lock-down following an incident in their apartment that became known within the community as “the Charlize Theron Scandal.” It did not help matters that Hopper’s parents had fled Westbeth for the Poconos when the novel coronavirus began to spread outside of Washington State. For the past year, no one actually resided in the apartment and Hopper’s mother was now visibly living in Los Angeles with no plans to return to the East Coast.

Hopper watched as the movers eyed the last piece of furniture, the bed on which he lay. While they waited for him, the movers discussed Ted Nugent, who had just been hospitalized after contracting COVID-19 for the third time. “Dumbfuck,” one of the movers remarked. Hopper rose and removed himself as an obstacle. Everything was going into a nearby Manhattan Mini Storage unit, to be picked over by Silver and Olympia at an indeterminate future date.

“Goodbye to all that,” Hopper said to himself as he followed the movers, walked out of the apartment, and locked the door behind him.

“Oh, Hopper, you didn’t have to lock the door,” he heard a disembodied voice intone from down the hallway. He turned around to find a man roughly his age whom he vaguely remembered as Haines. Hopper never knew his first name; everyone just called him Haines. Haines been sent to retrieve the apartment’s keys. When they were teenagers, Haines used to write pornographic love letters to Olympia until their father issued a threat of sorts. Hopper wordlessly dropped six sets of keys into Haines’ hand and summoned a sardonic grin without making eye contact or breaking stride.

Hopper emerged from the building into the shadows of Bethune Street and walked towards the intersection with Washington Street and the late morning sun. He was scheduled to have lunch with his editor, Lola, in Grammercy Park. If he chose the right pedestrian route, he would make it to the restaurant on time. He missed walking through Manhattan. All things considered, the streets and buildings had nurtured him in his youth, and 16 years after he had left New York for college, he could still anticipate discovery on each block. Walking through his Hyde Park neighborhood proved less exhilarating and too predictable.

During the pandemic, Lola and Hopper had exchanged several unsatisfying emails on the subject of his third book.

“Maybe it’s just me,” Lola admitted. “I miss having lunch and it’s put me in an unreceptive mood.”

He had not seen Lola for more than three years. Once pandemic restrictions in New York were loosened and Lola could again have lunch, she told Hopper that she would stop pestering him. “Everyone’s in a forgiving mood,” she wrote. “Only two of my authors died from COVID. Right now, no one wants to fuck with writer’s karma.”

Hopper’s first book, a sociological and anthropological cross study of children raised by artistic parents, had been a critical and commercial success. Reese Witherspoon had planned to…well, he tried not to think too much about Reese because the whole movie project was now in turnaround. Lola had urged him to rush a second, serviceable book to market just to keep his name in front of the publishing gatekeepers and burnish his academic bona fides. He obliged with a deep but narrow subject for the second book, which even he sometimes had trouble remembering. The reviews had sometimes been kind, but mostly dull. The sales, as expected, were modest. “The marketplace,” Lola emailed him after the book had been remaindered, “is waiting for your third book,” which Lola predicted, “would be a blockbuster.”

Three weeks before arriving back in New York, Hopper had experienced his “Eureka” moment regarding this much-anticipated third book. He emailed Lola.

“I have to discuss it with you in person,” he wrote to her. “I hate talking on the phone.”

Over lunch, Hopper would reveal all to Lola.

Table of Contents here.

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