Ulysses: Chapter 8

Table of Contents here.

June 16, 2022 – Hopper was slowly maneuvering the lunchtime conversation with his editor Lola to the issue he wanted to address; namely, the proposed subject of his third book. His publisher and the market were expecting a “blockbuster,” according to Lola.

However, his editor seemed a little too interested in the subject of Hopper’s sister Olympia. In Hopper’s experience, this was a template response. Olympia had been designated as the “Chloe Sevigny of her generation.” She was the girl everyone wanted to succeed so they could watch her fail and collapse. She disappointed on that front; rather than collapse, she just faded from view. By her early twenties, she was a high school teacher whose boyfriend possessed not a whiff of scandal about him. However…

“I never believed for a moment that Olympia’s ambition to dominate the world had disappeared,” Hopper told Lola at he sipped a very good Diet Coke. They were seated at a table that did not shame them in Eleven Madison Park. “Her ambition just went on vacation for a few years.”

She and her boyfriend Huey broke up during the pandemic, she quit her teaching job, yadda yadda yadda, and then she’s in Los Angeles working as Charlize Theron’s assistant. Ancient writings of Olympia from her days at Barnard were unearthed. Their mother, the noted novelist and screenwriter, recognized the literary merit of the writings. So did her agent Molly, who sent to writings to Reese Witherspoon, and yadda yadda yadda, the writing was turned into a movie whose premiere will take place in Los Angeles that night. It was Olympia’s version of The Assumption.

“The loyal brother must be excited,” Lola observed. “Are you flying to LA for the premiere?”

“No,” Hopper said.

A man approached their table. “Buck!” exclaimed Lola. Hopper thought the man looked overly collegiate for someone his age, which he estimated to be close to 40. He looked dressed for a regatta.

Lola introduced him to Hopper as Malachi, “but everyone calls him Buck,” Lola explained. “Buck is in tight with the Winklevoss twins doing financial wizardry we mortals cannot fathom. His name is in the news all the time. By this time next year – if any of us are still alive – he will be the wealthiest man in the world and I will be publishing his memoir or he will be broke, relegated to the dustbin of history.”

“That is some introduction,” Hopper remarked. “I am just another piece of horseflesh in Daniel’s stable of authors.”

They shook hands, grinned at each other like villains in a Billy Wilder movie, and Buck slithered across the dining room to join his party at a better table.

Lola re-engaged with Hopper and asked, “What could be keeping you away from Olympia’s triumphant return in LA tonight?”

“I am spending the night in my ex-wife’s-dead-sister’s apartment on the Upper East Side,” Hopper answered, “performing an appraisal of sorts for the estate. I visited once while still a brother-in-law. Quite an impressive domicile, especially for one person.”

The sister, Birgit Brzezinski, was a Goldman Sachs investment banker, a senior partner actually, but she got unlucky last year. She was infected with COVID before receiving the second Pfizer vaccine shot. She never got well, was hospitalized for months, and passed away alone in Mt. Sinai Hospital earlier this year.

“No one’s been in the apartment since,” Hopper explained, “and her sisters asked me to give it a tour while I was in New York and let me know what I think before they hand it over to a broker for sale. I think they want me to hide the porn stash or other secrets so the family can avoid the shame.”

“Whoa! That’s the making of a juicy, best-selling saga,” Lola exclaimed. “And why in the name of Kim Il-sung would your ex-wife – of all people — ask this kind of favor of you?”

“As you said yourself earlier, we all harbor our complications,” Hopper said, “and I think it’s part of why we are here to talk about my next book.”

Before Hopper could say another word, a very pregnant Black woman walked into the dining room and Lola started waving at her. “Mina!” he half-shouted.

Hopper also knew Mina. She had been a friend of his sister Silver when they were children. Her family had moved to Austin, Texas, when her father accepted a faculty position at the University of Texas teaching geology to aspiring petrochemical engineers. He had not seen Mina since, but Silver had stayed in touch and talked about her. She had gone to Harvard, fallen in love with a drummer named Simon who was studying at Berklee, got pregnant, dropped out of Harvard, and married Simon. While raising their first of four children, she did what other Harvard dropouts did, moving to New York and becoming successful and modestly affluent by writing a best-selling, semi-autobiographical novel while Simon worked as a studio musician.

“Here’s my favorite female author,” Lola said, “and my favorite male author.”

“Mina, I don’t know if you remember me,” Hopper said.

“Hopper Tilley-Blandin,” she said. “The way your sister Silver talks about you, it feels like we are neighbors.”

“I am speechless,” Hopper responded. “Silver talks the same way about you.”

“Mina, when’s your due date?” Lola asked. “Wait, don’t tell me. When are you going to get a draft of your manuscript to me?”

“The day before my due date,” Mina said. “That’s all I’m saying. I am very superstitious about this book, so I don’t want to talk to you, Daniel, until I’m done with it. So, goodbye. I will call you. I promise. Hopper, you grew up pretty nicely.”

Hopper felt bathed in the glow of Mina.

“She won’t tell me about her book,” Lola said, “but you seem anxious to tell me about yours. Proceed, sir.”

Hopper began to describe a book he wanted to call “The New Marriage,” an anthropological analysis of non-traditional patterns of marriage in the 21st century. “In addition to traditional cisgender, heterosexual, and Green Card marriages, I want to take a critical look at what happens when women marry each other, when men marry each other, when people who identify as transgender marry, when more than two people get married, when asexual and/or non-romantic partners get married, and when demisexual people marry.”

Lola nodded in a noncommittal way. Hopper could tell that his editor was listening and deflecting the practiced talking points.

“I want to include a study of how people mate and how they divorce,” Hopper continued. “Especially in an ongoing pandemic situation, I think we will find that people are coupling and uncoupling in significantly different ways than their parents.”

My god, does he have a PowerPoint to go along with this? Lola thought to himself, composing a rejection letter in his mind.

Then Hopper began to discuss what he called the “Non-Marriage Marriage,” and Lola’s demeanor began to change. In his mind, he deleted the rejection letter from his hard drive.

“I am still struggling with the Non-Marriage Marriage because it is not an institution like marriage, but it contains practices and folkways very similar to marriage. It is what I call my relationship with my ex-wife Ingrid. It’s the reason why she knows that I will spend the night in her dead sister’s apartment in another city simply because she asked. This is about the connection – no, the bond — that is not broken between two people even after they divorce.”

Hopper and Ingrid had gone to counseling. After about $3,000 paid to the counselor, Hopper realized that Ingrid did not want to save the marriage. She just wanted him to understand that she wanted out. She called him a jerk. That was it. She was tired of being married to someone she considered a jerk.

And then he moved out, taking almost nothing with him other than his clothes, his books, and Tilley-Blandin heirlooms. He settled into a stylish apartment overlooking Lake Michigan in Hyde Park, while Ingrid continued to maintain the residence they had shared in Evanston. Ingrid had legal custody of their children, but Hopper saw them often. They spent every other weekend with him and one week every month. After they were vaccinated, they pretended that nothing had changed.

And then – quite organically — Hopper and Ingrid found themselves adopting a new ritual of family dinner every Sunday with their sons at a neutral-territory restaurant, mostly involving pizza. Conversations followed an agenda: the lives of their sons Max and Alexis, the lives of Brzezinski and the Tilley-Blandin families, work, and an agreed-upon, non-familial topic, such as a movie one of them had seen, a book one of them had read, or the Cubs. Hopper found these dinners to be simultaneously mundane, ritualistic, and life-affirming. Since breaking things off with Charlize Theron, Hopper had sworn off dating; he felt certain that Ingrid was living the life of a nun.

One Sunday, after ordering the Burgers and Fries pizza at Gino’s East, quite unexpectedly, Ingrid told Hopper that she wanted to have another child.

Continue to Chapter 9 here.

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