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June 16, 2022 – When Hopper called his sister Olympia, a strange woman’s voice answered. “You’ve reached Olympia’s phone,” she announced, sounding official.
“Yeah, I know I’ve reached Olympia’s phone,” he replied. “Who are you and why isn’t Olympia answering her own phone?”
“I asked you first,” Hopper said, probably a little louder than he planned.
“You know, I can just hang up,” the woman said.
“This is her goddamn brother,” Hopper said a little louder than the last time.
“Oh, Hopper!” she said, suddenly sounding pleased. “This is Chlöe.”
“Chlöe. Chlöe, do I know you?”
“Chlöe van der Rohe. I guess we haven’t actually met in person? Maybe you saw my name in some documents? I am one of the producers for Olympia and your mother’s movie, ‘The Astrid Journals.’”
“OK, that explains who you are,” Hopper said, more under control this time, “but why are you answering my sister’s phone?’
“Oh, that,” she said. “Well, it’s kinda crazy here right now, with the film’s premiere tonight and everything?”
“So, Olympia’s doing press right now,” she said. “In my opinion, you should have flown out to help her. Anyway, she isn’t available to come to the phone.”
“When do you think she will become available? It’s a family matter.”
“I’ll let her know you called,” she said, reverting to her officious tone.
Hopper stopped walking and now blended into the crowd of tourists in front of Fifth, Ian Schrager’s new hotel-slash-condo-slash-office project at 721-725 Fifth Avenue. The building was formerly known as Trump Tower. Since the former president had moved to Florida, the Manhattan District Attorney had warned of legal peril if he returned to his apartment and offices in the New York. Subsequently, the Trump Organization abandoned its lease on Trump Tower to stanch mounting financial losses. Schrager, sensing an opportunity, took over the lease.
Hopper was at a loss of anything clever to say to Chlöe van der Rohe.
“Please let Olympia know that her brother wants to talk to her,” he said. A bad feeling about Olympia and her machinations washed over him. I need to swallow my pride, he told himself, and call Ingrid.
Hopper resented that, even after he and Ingrid divorced, his ex-wife had not been displaced from his family’s power structure. Since his father’s death, the dynamic between Ingrid, Olympia, and his mother worried him. He would not have accused the three of them out loud of conspiring against the male heir – him — and the only one of his siblings to have asserted real independence from the family – Silver — but this conspiracy theory had lodged itself in his brain.
“Yes, dear?” Ingrid answered her phone.
“You know I hate it when you call me ‘dear,’” he said.
“Why do you think I call you that, dear?” she laughed. “What’s up since we last talked, what, four hours ago?”
“You still having the worst day of your life?” he asked. “I cannot believe you gave up being a respected doctor in order to open up a silly restaurant.”
“Opening a restaurant is supposed to be stressful,” she said. “I’m managing. Not well, but I’m managing. And since you invested in this silly restaurant, I think you should refrain from being a buzzkill about it.”
“It’s Olympia,” he said.
“Why am I not surprised?”
“She has stopped returning Silver’s calls and now some girl named Chlöe is answering her phone like a stone wall.”
“Oh, Chlöe van der Rohe? She’s almost harmless. And why are you calling me?” Ingrid asked. “I am not your mother.”
“How do you know this Chlöe?”
“How do you not know her?” Ingrid answered. “If you were nice to Chlöe, your life would be less stressful.”
“Noted, but I have one simple request.” Hopper swallowed hard. “Will you call Olympia, get her on the phone, and convince her to call me today?”
“That’s three requests, dear.”
“Please,” he said. “Pretty please with sugar on top?”
“OK,” Ingrid said. “I will call you back in five minutes.”
Schrager’s designers and architects were in the midst of stripping Fifth of every gilded feature. “I think you will see a creative use of sandstone and King blue,” Schrager said in an interview with Architectural Digest. “We are testing a new and unique color of glass for the exterior. We want to bring the feel of the American southwest to Fifth Avenue.” The shadow of the words “Trump Tower” was still visible since the work to rebrand this signature building had not yet been set into motion. The Architectural Digest article was titled “Schrager Brings Downtown Cool to Midtown.” All his complimentary remarks about the former tenant were edited out of the article.
While he waited for Ingrid’s call, Hopper watched the parade of mostly unmasked tourists window shopping across the street. Piaget. Bulgari. Mikimoto. Abercrombie & Fitch. Prada. Mayor Andrew Yang had expressed concern about so many people traveling to the city from states where vaccination levels remained low. “I want them coming to New York to spread their cash around, not COVID-19,” he said. “Our city’s positivity rate remains one of the lowest in the country, but we have thousands of tourists arriving every day from places where too many people believe that the vaccines will implant magnets and nano computers into them or turn them into Knicks fans.”
Someone in front of the Prada store caught Hopper’s attention. It was a man wearing a face covering very similar to his own, featuring a pug. As Hopper focused in on the man, he realized it was Stephen, the dead poet. He had last seen Stephen wearing an N-95 mask. Stephen was now pointing to something in the window of the Prada store and gesticulating wildly to a woman. It was Maggy, his Stuyvesant classmate whom he had seen earlier in the day with Dilly, Boody, and Katey.
It made perfect sense to Hopper for Stephen to be arguing with Maggy. They were both washed-up poets. When Stephen was at the height of his literary powers, he had mentored Maggy. Thanks to him, The New Yorker had published her poem, “Lilacs on the Grave of My Victim,” when she was still in high school. Like a thunderbolt, Maggy was the most talked-about girl at Stuyvesant High School, eclipsing Olympia’s star. Olympia spread a rumor that the poem’s author was Stephen, that he was using an ingenue to expand the audience for his work. A few weeks later Olympia publicly announced that rumor had been discredited, but Maggy’s social standing had been destroyed. The only students who would be seen with Maggy were younger girls like Silver, who was in the middle of her Ludwig Wittgenstein period.
Maggy did not learn that her destroyer and protector was the same person until Hopper overheard Olympia confess her role in the affair to Fiona Apple at a party in Westbeth. In a pique of revenge for Olympia borrowing and ruining his favorite Ramones t-shirt, Hopper betrayed his sister and told Maggy the truth. “It doesn’t matter anymore,” she shrugged. “Stephen’s moved on to the next bright, shiny toy in his playpen.”
Maggy left the city to attend college. After she returned from earning an MBA at Wharton, she took a job at Google, and discovered that Stephen, whose career as a poet was in decline, was among the dozen employees she supervised. Word got back to Hopper that it was an uncomfortable relationship. “It’s like one of those CW Network teen dramas every time they are in the same room,” he was informed.
Maggy turned on her heels and left Stephen standing alone in front of the Prada store. Stephen noticed Hopper across the street and waved. Before Hopper could return the gesture, Ingrid called back.
“I called Olympia and talked to her as you requested, dear,” she said.
“And?” he asked. “There were three parts to the request, you’ll recall.”
“About the third part,” Ingrid began, “Olympia issued a, well, I don’t want to call it a demand exactly, but you’d probably be well-advised to do what she says if you want to have an actual, adult conversation with her.”
“And that would be?”
“She wants you to call,” Ingrid paused here. “She wants you to call Charlize Theron.”
“What the actual fuck, Ingrid?” Hopper shouted, restraining himself from hurling his phone across Fifth Avenue.
“Don’t yell at me, Hopper, I’m just the messenger,” Ingrid said. “Olympia said that she wants you to call Charlize Theron.”
“And say what?”
“Olympia said that you’d know what to say.”
Hopper paused to take in what Ingrid had told him. He was getting dragged back into another complicated soap opera involving the women in his life. At another party in their Westbeth apartment back in 2019 to celebrate her latest screenwriting triumph, his mother had introduced him to Charlize Theron. The actress said very nice things about his mother’s novels. “I have all of them on my Kindle,” she said. “They are like a good luck charm for me when I’m traveling.”
Hopper mentioned his own book, “Children of Monsters,” a study of children raised by artistic parents.
“Oh yes, my agent told me about that book,” Charlize said. “So, you are the author who wrote about his dysfunctional family in the guise of an academic study?”
Their affair was kept a secret, even from the actress’ publicist. Charlize had been cast to portray Hopper’s mother in the film version of his book. When the coronavirus pandemic broke out, Charlize ghosted him. Hopper found her living with her children in his parents’ deserted Westbeth apartment. Their affair resumed and relocated to Los Angeles. Olympia was hired as Charlize’s assistant. All seemed copacetic until production of the film based on Hopper’s book was postponed due to the pandemic.
Instead, Olympia’s secret journal was the Tilley-Blandin literary venture that was turned into a movie. Olympia quit Charlize. Things between Charlize and Hopper unraveled. She said things to him that were the opposite of complimentary. She called him a jerk. She ghosted Hopper again, he got vaccinated, and returned to Chicago.
Edward Norton, who had been cast to portray his father, recently told Hopper that production of the original Tilley-Blandin movie, retitled as “The Living Canvases,” was being re-scheduled for production.
If it weren’t for his children, he began to think, he would take a sabbatical from the University of Chicago and go to another country with a high vaccination rate to work on his much-anticipated third book.
“Answer me this, Ingrid,” he said. “Is Charlize in on it, too?”
“In on what, dear?”
“This cabal that you, my mother, and Olympia have created,” he said. He could not help himself. His conspiracy theory about the women in his life was erupting like a vocabulary volcano. “It’s one thing to have Olympia and my mother turn on me. We’ve done that to each other our whole lives. But adding my ex-wife and former girlfriend to the mix is enough to make a guy paranoid.”
“I’d love to tell you there’s nothing to worry about, dear,” Ingrid said, “but where’s the fun in that? Can’t your ex-wife enjoy torturing you?”
“You can laugh all you want, but I’m worried that Olympia is going to do something to hurt Silver.”
“Silver’s a big girl, dear.”
“Agreed, but Olympia has the superpowers of the dark side, Ingrid.”
“This is not my problem, dear. Just man up and call Charlize,” she said. “I would love to continue this session of psychoanalysis with the psycho father of my children, but something just exploded in the kitchen, and I think I see flames.”
Hopper noticed that Stephen had disappeared from view.
He called Charlize Theron.
“Yes, dear?” Charlize said when she answered her phone.
What the actual fuck, indeed, he thought to himself.
TO BE CONTINUED…