Ulysses: We All Harbor Our Complexities

Table of Contents here.

June 16, 2022 – Hopper arrived at the restaurant five minutes late. Lola had not arrived yet because, of course Lola possessed the superpower of never having to wait for anyone. Legend had it that Lola arrived for lunch with Barack Obama only after the former president was seated.

When Hopper announced himself to the young woman at the desk, she said, “How is your mother? We so miss her here. Please tell her that Edy misses her. I’m Edy, by the way.” Hopper studied Edy for a moment. She had a poise and confidence that Hopper believed life would thrash out of her. He was certain that Edy had never met his mother and unsure she had ever graced Eleven Madison Park, but it reflected the influence of his mother’s notoriety that people craved the familiarity of her gaze.

He inspected the dining room as he removed his mask. He spotted Mrs. Bellingham, the art dealer. She was his father’s first dealer, before he became famous. Among what he called his parents’ “hippie-dippy circle,” she was the only person Hopper and his sisters were told to address formally. He did not know her first name. They made eye contact and nodded.

Within a minute of being seated, Hopper looked up from the menu and spotted Lola striding through the dining room and drawing attention to himself. He wore a pink, three-button seersucker suit, a yellow polka dot bow tie, and white bucks.

“In the summer, I wear seersucker every day. Don’t you love it?” he said while seating himself. “If you live on the East Coast, you should not wear anything else after Memorial Day. How are you, Hopper?”

“Not as fabulous as you,” Hopper answered. He was wearing a t-shirt that was a gift from his mother under a Brooks Brothers blazer. On the t-shirt was a photo of a very young Hopper with Kurt Cobain at his parents’ apartment in Westbeth.

“No worries, honey,” Lola said. “No one is as fabulous as moi.”

Their waiter arrived with Daniel’s sparkling water. Lola pantomimed his drink order. He half-waved at several demi-celebrities in the dining room.

“Look,” Hopper began, “I need some clarity on an issue that’s been on my mind since yesterday.”

“That sounds awfully serious,” Lola said, “to discuss before my first martini.”

“Can you explain to me how your assistant Josie knows about a certain nickname I acquired as a teenager?

“Oh, you mean ‘Cool Breeze’?” Lola was still smiling.

“Uh huh.”

“That’s a great nickname, by the way.”

“It’s associated with some painful memories,” Hopper explained, “of being bullied by a group of people I thought of as friends who betrayed my trust.”

“Damn. Oh, I know that one hurts, honey,” Daniel said, the smile disappearing from his face. “Anyway, your friend Blazes told me.”

“Blazes? You mean Chasen Whitney?”

“Yes,” Lola laughed. “God love that moron.”

“He’s not my friend,” Hopper whispered loudly. “He used to date one of my sisters. How would you know him anyway?”

“Hmmm, I think someone’s been away from New York for too long with his head buried in data sets.”

“What does that mean?”

“How does anyone meet anyone? You leave the comfort of your apartment, or the confines of your office, and you introduce people, and you get introduced to people. You exchange digits with absolutely everyone you meet. Then you call them up when you need something. All friendships now are transactional. I never talk to people from school.”

Hopper frowned openly his disapproval.

Lola sighed. “Dude, be honest with yourself,” he said. “As far as I know, you don’t have any friends. You’ve got your colleagues at the university, the people who call you ‘Cool Breeze,’ and you’ve got me.”

Hopper recoiled from the sting. “Wow,” he said.

“You’re a big boy. You’ll get over it,” Lola said. “Listen, you will never be lonely. You’re a good-looking, successful man. You’ve got a little money. You’re a dad. Your junk probably still works. You are trying your best to be a serious person. The world is designed to feed the needs of people like you.”

“I always thought the world was built for guys like Blazes,” he said.

“Blazes is inconsequential in the scheme of things,” Lola continued. “I met him somewhere, it doesn’t matter where. OK, I liked his business card. Does that make me superficial? Maybe, but it was a very good, high-quality business card. I still use them, and people take them from me. I asked him out to lunch to talk about his business card. He got it at a cute place on Fulton Street. As I was paying for lunch, I mentioned an exhibit of paintings at MoMA that I wanted to see, and he said that he knew your father or, rather, I believe he said that he used to date a prominent painter’s daughter. I am recalling what he said euphemistically and, truth be told, I believe that was the extent of his exposure to modern American painting.”

“He probably said that he banged my sister,” Hopper interjected.

Lola nodded. “I mentioned that I worked with the painter’s son, and he could not stop with all the stories he knew about Hopper Tilley-Blandin. We had to get another drink at the bar. He never mentioned your sister again.”

“My sister Olympia?” Hopper asked. “I know you know her.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted saying them. He had not intended to bring up that part of their history. He could tell that Lola was unnerved by his statement. It did not make any sense to him that Hopper Tilley-Blandin would ever visit the circle where Lola and Olympia intersected. Back when he knew Olympia, she had called her brother “a sanctimonious prig.” People like Hopper just drove by the Lola’s of the world without ever glancing over to the curb.

“How would I know her, Hopper?” Lola asked, knowing that he had been…caught.

“Do we really need to go down this path?” Hopper asked pointedly. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

Lola’s right eyebrow arched with cautious interest.

“You know her the same way that I know you as ‘Lola’,” Hopper said. “In the clubs.”

“Lola?”

“L-O-L-A.”

Lola sighed loudly enough to be heard by several other tables. Even Mrs. Bellingham looked in their direction. Lola sat perfectly still and tried to look like he was actually studying the menu. In his mind, he worked through several exit strategies. Hopper admired an abstract painting by an unknown artist that Edy told him had been installed last week. After a few seconds of awkward silence, the waiter arrived with Lola’s martini and to take their lunch order. Lola said, “I’ll have whatever animal suffered the least.”

Hopper looked at the waiter. “Same,” he said.

“When did this happen?” Lola finally asked after their waiter entered the kitchen and the other diners returned to their own dramas.

“Before it mattered to either of us,” Hopper answered. “It was awkward for me, but you were gracious about the whole thing.”

Lola nodded.

“I’m not embarrassed about it,” Hopper said. “At least not anymore.”

Lola looked at the ceiling for a moment, then at the new abstract painting, then sipped his martini.

“Like that painting over there, we all harbor our complexities,” he said. “But at this lunch, you’re talking to the same Daniel you have known and worked with for years.”

“And Cool Breeze left the stage a long time ago,” Hopper said.

“I am glad we’ve cleared all that up,” said Lola. “Lola is not my secret. This is New York in the 21st century, after all. I just don’t want Lola come between us.”  

Hopper looked relieved.

“I miss Olympia,” Lola said. I thought my Olympia would grow up, get married to a wealthy and desperately boring man, and disappear from the face of the earth. So many like her end up doomed to that fate. They usually resurface decades later as doyenne of this or that.”

“That ‘wealthy man’ would have been your friend Blazes,” Hopper said. “He broke my sister’s heart, but saved her life, I guess. She has most certainly not disappeared. She is busting out all over.”

Lola began to sing softly, rising to a crescendo:

Olympia is bustin’ out all over
The ocean is full of Jacks and Jills
With the little tail a-swishing’
Ev’ry lady fish is wishin’
That a male would come
And grab ‘er by the gills!

Continue to Chapter 8 here.

Banner: Detail of “Untitled” by Anna Novak (2007)

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