Table of Contents here.
June 16, 2022 – Hopper’s mother once took him to Elaine’s. He was eight years old, found himself surrounded by grown-ups his mother told him were famous, and none of it mattered to him because all he wanted to do was eat fettuccini all night. His mother had just delivered the manuscript for her next sure-fire bestselling novel to her editor, and she wanted to celebrate around other writers. “These are my people,” she told her son.
“Do all the writers live in Elaine’s?” he asked.
“No, Hopper, but you will always find the important writers at Elaine’s,” she said. “Elaine understands us in ways that even your father can’t. She understands that writing is the hardest thing in the world.”
“Harder than arithmetic?” he asked.
“Harder than building the World Trade Center?”
“Harder than being president of the United States?”
“So, it is really hard,” young Hopper concluded, then asked: “What’s the easiest thing in the world?”
“Editing,” his mother answered quickly. “Editing other people’s writing is the easiest thing in the world.”
“I don’t understand,” Hopper responded.
“If you ever become a writer, you will understand,” his mother said. “My advice is never become a writer.”
On an index card, his mother wrote down a list of names of the writers she introduced him to that night: Nora Ephron, Joseph Heller, Nicholas Pileggi, George Plimpton, Mario Puzo, William Styron, and Kurt Vonnegut. He still had that list, now quite faded, folded in his wallet. He read Heller and Vonnegut in high school, Styron in college, and Plimpton for fun. Hopper remembered that several other people came by to wish his mother well, whom his mother said were famous for something other than writing, but she did not write down their names. To Hopper at the time, they all seemed impossibly old.
Now they were all dead. So was Elaine Kaufman, the famous proprietor of the restaurant. And, for that matter, so was the restaurant, which closed more than a decade ago, after Elaine’s death. His mother told him that Elaine’s became another restaurant called The Writing Room — which closed during the pandemic — and some fancy condos above the restaurant called The Residences at the Writing Room.
“It’s like when a really good singer goes to Las Vegas,” his mother said. “They no longer have anything original to offer. All they can sell is nostalgia.”
The establishment at 1703 2nd Avenue was now a TGI Fridays. Hopper wondered if the condos had been rebranded as The Residences at TGI Fridays. He looked in the window. The restaurant was somewhere between happy hour and dinner. He saw Stephen sitting with Dilly and Boody in a booth. They leaned into to say something in a conspiratorial fashion and then burst out laughing. Hopper caught Stephen’s eye. Stephen wrote something on his napkin and held it up for Hopper to read: “don’t believe in ghosts.”
As Stephen turned his attention back to Dilly and Boody, Hopper heard the ringtone for his mother, “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne. As a rule, his mother never called him. Not even when his father was found dead in his studio. Gerty, who had found Hopper’s father unresponsive, had called his mother before the police arrived. His mother had called Silver with the news. Silver called Olympia. Olympia called Ingrid, and his ex-wife called him with the news that he was now the man in the family.
Manhattan was beginning to gear up for another big-city evening.
“I just wanted to break the good news to you,” his mother said. Hopper was immediately suspicious. Often good news for her came at some expense to him. The last time she announced “good news” to him – at the onset of the pandemic — Hopper and Ingrid started sleeping together, there was a flare-up of old tensions, his father attempted to seduce Ingrid, and Hopper had been banished from the family home to seek shelter elsewhere.
“Continue, mother,” he said.
“Production is going to start up again on that movie based on your little book,” she squealed. “’The Living Paintings’ is going to the big screen!”
“It’s called ‘The Living Canvases,’” mother,” Hopper responded. “Edward Norton already told me.”
“Oh, that little rat!”
“Yeah, and I think Charlize Theron mentioned something about it to me, too,” he said. “And I am pretty sure that Olympia and Ingrid must know. Maybe not Silver. Maybe you should call Silver with the surprise.”
“Why do you have to be so mean to me?” his mother asked.
Hopper was sure it was a rhetorical question, but he was going to answer it anyway.
“Mother, I love you just as much as you love me,” he said. “And I think we treat each other with the same level of respect.”
Hopper started to feel guilty about telling the truth to his mother.
“I have little doubt that you were the little engine that got our movie out of turnaround hell,” he said. He did not really want to be mean to his mother, even though he had spoiled her surprise.
“Perhaps,” she said, trying to sound, to Hopper’s ear, coy. His mother could do a mean Myrna Loy impersonation.
“So, how are the preparations going for tonight’s big movie premiere?” he asked. His mother was a powerhouse of creativity. He never knew what direction her ideas would take her. It was her idea to turn Olympia’s fake journal about her Barnard roommate ‘Astrid’ into a movie. She sold that idea to Reese Witherspoon’s production company, then sold them the idea of having her write the screenplay. Hopper had a tremendous amount of respect for his mother’s acumen in the realms of storytelling and sales.
“Oh, that? That’s really Olympia’s triumph,” his mother said, sounding dismissive.
“Wait, are you even going to the premiere?”
“I suppose I can slip in before the lights dim,” she said. “I mean, who wants to see an old woman on the red carpet?”
“There are plenty of older women on the red carpet, mother.”
“Yes, perhaps, but they are paid a lot of money to look glamorous in front the camera. I am just a dumpy writer without a stylist or even any decent evening attire.”
“I am not going to argue with you about your vanity, mother,” Hopper said.
“Okay, then, speaking of vanity, how are things coming with the next, much-anticipated book by bestselling author Hopper Tilley-Blandin?”
“You don’t have to mock me that way, mother,” he said. “We both know who wears the writer’s pants in this family.”
“Hopper, sometimes you need to be taken down a few pegs,” she said. “What did your editor say? I understand that you had lunch with him today. Or is it her? I can never be sure.”
“Lola wants me to write about Ingrid and me,” he answered. “He loves the idea of exploring what I call the ‘non-marriage marriage.’ All I have to do is convince my ex-wife that it’s a good idea to relitigate our marriage, describe what happened between us during the pandemic, and lay out the story of the post-divorce conception of our third child in print.”
Without missing a beat, his mother came back at him.
“The way I see it, Hopper, you did Ingrid a favor by impregnating her with Elizabeth,” she said. “Maybe it’s time for her to return the favor.”
“You make our relationship sound so transactional,” Hopper said.
“Human beings are transactional, my son, and marriage is a business relationship,” she said. “If there is a divorce but children are involved, the business might be bankrupt, but it is still an ongoing concern.”
“Thank you, mother. Your advice, as always, is illuminating.”
Hopper always found his mother’s advice useful in terms of coming to understand how she interacted with the world, rather than anything that he might find useful in his life.
“You’re welcome, son,” his mother said. “I suppose that I should thank you for going to all that bother with the Westbeth apartment this morning. I have decided to settle in Los Angeles, like Joan Didion did that time. Goodbye to all that, as she said. You might as well arrange to have everything from the apartment shipped from the storage facility once I have decided upon a residence.”
This was a bit of good news for Hopper. He was appalled by storage facilities. “People just have too much shit,” he had told Silver. “They just buy and buy and buy and they don’t even have enough room where they live for all the crap they buy.”
“Do you think I should live near the ocean or closer to the studio?” his mother continued. “I am booked solid with the studio for the foreseeable future.”
“It’s nice to be wanted, mother,” he answered. “You have a lot of money for a writer. Why not do both? Get a house near the ocean and a house near the studio.”
“Thank you, son,” she said. “That’s actually…good advice.”
“You’re welcome,” he said. Hopper thought it was the first time his mother had ever seriously considered his opinion on anything.
“Good luck with your dinner tonight,” his mother said. “With Charlize, you will need it. I swear to God that I will cut you out of my will if I find out that you slept with her in that dead woman’s apartment tonight.”
Continue to Chapter 19 here.