Ulysses: A Brilliant, Well-Told Lie

Table of Contents here.

June 16, 2022 – Lola’s assistant Josie had called Hopper yesterday to confirm their lunch date at Eleven Madison Park. Lola churned through assistants on a nearly annual basis. Lola tended to hire fashionable women from affluent families right after they graduated from Wesleyan. Their confidence gradually deflated with the realization that the most exciting part of working for Lola was making lunch reservations. Hopper could tell that Josie was close to her sell-by date by the rising level of familiarity she displayed with him on the phone.

“I tried to get the reservation, but they said no,” Josie said breathlessly. “Then Daniel called them and somehow your name was mentioned and all of a sudden there was nothing those pricks wouldn’t do for a member of the vaunted Tilley-Blandin family.”

 Hopper did not like Josie’s tone. He felt that she was judging him for being…too fabulous?

“I think it’s been harder to get reservations since they put non-plant protein items back on the menu,” she continued, “but not the smart animals, like octopus.”

Hopper had started to tune Josie out. She was getting conversational, and he hated talking on the phone. Then she said, “By the way, Daniel told me that your nickname is Cool Breeze. What’s that about?”

“You are never going to find out from me,” Hopper said as he ended the call. Hopper tried to cross-reference people who would both know that the nickname was a reference to the bullying he had experienced as a teenager and his editor Lola, whom he had known only as an adult. He could not figure out the match.

Hopper decided to walk through Madison Square Park to observe the remnants of the Maya Lin exhibit “Ghost Forest.” Last spring, she had placed 49 dead cedar trees, some reaching 50 feet in height, in a formation intended to highlight the growing vulnerability of the planet in the face of climate change. A few months later, in the dead of night a group of 23 people felled the trees to protest — in their words, photos, and videos posted on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter — “against the Nazis spreading the lies about so-called climate change,” “the illegitimate, Chinese Communist Party-supporting politicians who deprive us of our God-given freedoms,” and “the corrupt pedophiles that want to take away our steak and hamburgers.”

The perpetrators left a forest of two- and three-foot stumps. The 23 individuals dubbed by the New York Post as “The Garden State’s Tree Haters” were quickly identified as residents of Ocean County, New Jersey, from their social media confessions. They were apprehended. However, rather than seek criminal trials, the city, exhibit supporters, and underwriters sued the 23 individuals in civil court. Plaintiffs sought penalties tied directly to all defendants’ crowdfunding and other fund-raising efforts in addition to $1 million individually in fines. “We are not going to let the Koch Industries, Trump denialists, and their ilk foot the bill for criminal activities in our city,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance before leaving office. “These people need to have a ‘come to Jesus’ moment and understand that there are consequences for their actions.”

Maya Lin, the city, and the Madison Square Park Conservancy decided to keep the stumps and extend the exhibit into 2023 as a statement about how politics too often shuns science and hastens the decline of the environment.

Hopper observed the park coming to life with a lunchtime crowd of people. Daycare children played tag in the forest. Tourists took photos of each other seated on the stumps. Office workers on the park’s benches unwrapped sandwiches. Hopper sat down on one of the stumps. For just a moment, he wanted to know how it felt. As he rose to continue his walk, he noticed a man standing alone by the dog run watching the dogs frolic. It was Stephen.

Hopper’s first reaction was to wonder if Stephen was following him, but he then remembered what his mother had told him about the poet: “Stephen is a bit of an odd duck,” she began.

Stephen had been an attorney with Cravath, Swaine & Moore, working on corporate merger and acquisition activities. He had been married and had a son. He was a published poet with an audience. Following one of the ubiquitous stock market crashes, he lost his law firm job, but on the very same day he learned that he had been awarded a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. The grant by itself, however, could not support his family, his mother told him, and Stephen began to engage in self-destructive behaviors involving other women, alcohol, and drugs. “His wife finally kicked him out, afraid of what he might bring home to her and their son,” she said. When the money from the MacArthur grant finally ran out, a college friend got him a job proofreading disclaimers for the Google legal department. He worked his own hours out of a 100-square foot apartment on West Perry Street. “I heard that he works at night and wanders the streets during the days taking random photos for Instagram,” his mother said. Hopper thought to call his mother and ask her to clarify that Stephen was alive, allowing him to discount the rumor that Stephen was the victim of a stabbing on a subway platform.

As Hopper walked toward the restaurant, he steeled himself against the one subject that he knew Lola wanted to gossip about: the secret journal kept by Olympia, which their mother had adapted for film. The premiere for that movie, “The Astrid Journals,” was tonight in Los Angeles.

While she was at Barnard, Olympia kept a journal about the secret life of a women she called “Astrid,” who — while she and Olympia roomed together – allegedly had been involved in narco-terrorism, helped a mobster/occasional boyfriend bury corpses in New Jersey, slept with every member of Vampire Weekend, and graduated summa cum laude as a double major in biology and psychology. According to Olympia, Astrid was currently an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “It’s downright prurient,” Olympia told Hopper when he asked to read the journal. “You are far too much a sanctimonious prig to handle the salacious details.”

Through a series of Tilley-Blandin family indiscretions, the FBI learned about the journal and believed it might be compromising. Before the FBI seized the original, Olympia made a digital copy, had her mother send the file to her agent Molly, who then sent it to Reese Witherspoon.

Hopper knew that the story of Astrid was a fable, and he just did not want to get into it with Lola. Before Hopper met Ingrid, he had dated “Astrid” during the summer she had an internship at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. She was from Grosse Pointe. In college, she dyed her hair purple to shock her parents. She did not know any gangsters. She didn’t kill or bury anyone. She avoided the drug scene. She didn’t even know any of the members of Vampire Weekend. Her real name was Sylvia. She worked as a psychologist, not an agent, with the FBI. Sylvia was copacetic with the journals. She and Olympia still exchanged insults focused on Hopper via text.

The movie adaptation of Hopper’s first book had been sidetracked when Reese Witherspoon fell in love with his sister’s fake journal.

“The whole story about ‘Astrid’ may be a lie,” Reese told Olympia’s mother, “but it is a brilliant, well-told lie by a representative of the new feminist literary wave.”

Continue to Chapter 7 here.

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