Table of Contents here.
June 17, 2022 – Hopper rolled over in a strange bed in a very well-appointed guest room in the early morning and let his gaze fall upon a notecard with feminine handwriting on it that had been placed upright against a lamp on the nightstand:
In my experience, you are a singular dinner companion. I’m changing phone numbers. If you feel the need to reach me, let Ingrid know.
Hopper got out of the bed and went in search of the guest room where Charlize had spent the night. She was gone, had stripped the bed, and left no other evidence of her presence. All he had was a handwritten note, a memory of a single, almost chaste kiss, and her announcement about seven hours earlier that she was going to bed. “I have to meet Heidi’s plane at Teterboro before 6 a.m. if I am going to make my first meeting tomorrow with Reese Witherspoon’s people in Los Angeles,” were her last words to him.
He wondered if the whole evening had just been a stylish, byzantine transaction designed to elicit from him an honest answer to one question about his mother. Love, Charlize? he wondered.
His sister Olympia texted him asking him to call her.
“Thanks for the warning text,” he said when she answered her phone. “What is it, like 4 a.m. there?”
“Yep! Not gone to bed yet. I’m still too excited being around vaccinated people.”
“How’d it go?” he asked.
“Here’s how it went in a nutshell,” she answered. “Choe Sevigny herself was at one of the parties. She walked right up to me and said, ‘I was told that you are the Chloe Sevigny of your generation.’ She grabbed a couple of circulating flutes of champagne, loudly got everyone’s attention, and offered a toast to me. ‘To Olympia Tilley-Blandin,’ she shouted, ‘who, with this film, is well on her way to fulfilling all her star potential.’ I could have died right then and there and been satisfied with the short life I’ve lived.”
“Congratulations, sis,” Hopper responded. This was one of those situations, like a funeral, where whatever you say will be inadequate. He defaulted to a heartfelt, simple choice of words that could never come back to haunt him. Fearful that she was about to return to her reverie and end the call once she had delivered her big news, he shoehorned in an inquiry about their mother.
“Our mother? Yes, of course, our mother,” she said. Clearly, Olympia was searching her alcohol-drenched memory for the right answer. “So, our mother showed up on the red carpet on Edward Norton’s arm. She looked great. He looked great, too. There should be photos on the Interwebs. Oh, and she was nice to me! She acted like a real mother, or at least how I imagine a real mother would act. Oh, also, she took your advice.”
“Oh, to buy two houses here,” Olympia replied. “We’re meeting a couple of realtors next week. She going to look in Malibu and Brentwood. A ‘beach home’ and a ‘city home,’ she calls them. Oh, she and I are going to be roommates!”
“That should be…fun?” Hopper said.
“You know, I probably shouldn’t say this,” she began, “but without you around, she’s almost human. She seems to turn into that competitive bitch only when you’re around.”
“But…” Hopper began with a retort. Then he realized that he had just received a compliment.
“OK, then,” he said. “Congratulations, again. Just let me know what you want done with the stuff from Westbeth that I put into storage yesterday.”
“I love you,” she said.
“I love you, too, sis,” he replied.
The call ended. The last time Olympia had told Hopper that she loved him was during a toast at the reception for his and Ingrid’s wedding.
Hopper stripped his bed. Ingrid had told him that the realtor would hire a cleaning service after his mission was completed. “Just put the bed linens in the hamper in the laundry room,” she instructed, “and try to be a gentleman in the bathroom.”
After he showered and dressed, he did one more sweep through Birgit’s apartment to be assured of its order. He took the elevator to the lobby, handed the doorman the key, and began to walk to the Midnight Express Diner, where he planned to eat breakfast alone with his thoughts. He would then take an Uber to Friends Quaker Cemetery in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, where his father was buried. Neither his mother nor his sisters had visited the gravesite.
He ordered an egg-white omelet and a chocolate milkshake. He looked out the window and spotted Katey walking a golden retriever on the deserted street. She did not see him seated in the diner. He added a reminder in his Outlook calendar to download the manuscript of Katey’s book she had emailed him and which he had promised to blurb. He would begin reading it on the flight back to Chicago later today. He then received a text message from Ingrid: “Can you talk?”
Hopper punched Ingrid’s number into his phone.
“Good morning!” she answered, a bit too brightly for the hour.
“You’re up early, aren’t you?”
“Yes, Captain Obvious,” she said, faking exasperation. “You do remember that we have a very young daughter whose mission in life is to wake mommy up as the sun rises, don’t you? Or does she sleep in when she’s with you?”
“I just wanted to tell you how it went last night with the restaurant opening.”
“To recap, everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” she said. “The health department refused to sign off on the inspection because the toilets wouldn’t flush and there was mouse poop in the kitchen. The dishwasher didn’t work. The purveyor didn’t deliver half the ingredients we ordered. Two of my staff quit. The explosion turned out to be nothing, but I was in full melt down mode.”
The waiter brought Hopper’s milkshake. He inserted the straw, took a sip, and said, “I cannot imagine you melting down. You are indefatigable.”
“Thanks,” she said. “So, I called the plumber and the electrician. They arrived and fixed the toilets and the dishwasher. The exterminator did what was necessary about the mice. Then the health inspector signed off. The sous chef and waiter who had quit came back. The kitchen staff got creative with the menu. Living, breathing customers walked in the door. They ate and paid. Half of them told us about wrong information on our website. I called the vendor with a list of the mistakes, and they fixed them. We did a little bit of business on our opening. The Yelp reviews have been kind.”
“Congratulations,” Hopper said.
“We’re going to need more business,” Ingrid replied, sounding grim.
“So, I wanted to talk about that,” he said. “I mean, kind of.”
“Continue,” Ingrid said.
“My editor wants me to write a sure-fire bestseller,” he said. “Charlize thinks it will help you.”
“Charlize,” Ingrid said, letting the last syllable dangle on her tongue. “I trust you behaved yourself with her last night.”
“Perfect gentleman,” he said. “Thanks for the warning. Not.”
Ingrid snorted. “So, what do your editor and, um, ex-girlfriend think about your next blockbuster?”
“Lola wants me to write a book about us.”
“You and me,” Hopper said. “It’s about the non-marriage marriage thing.”
“Oh, yeah,” she said. “That’s the term you coined to explain why our third child was conceived.”
“Lola is pushing very hard on this subject,” he said. “I need a book that will be successful.”
“And what does our dear Charlize think?”
“Charlize – who told me she is also one of your investors — thinks you could use free publicity from the book about us for the restaurant.”
“I can’t pursue this subject without your cooperation.”
“OK, as in, you understand the concept or, OK, as in, you will cooperate?” he asked.
“Honey why do you always make me explain things to you?” Ingrid asked. “You have probably spun this conversation through your head dozens of times already, creating reasons and rationalizations. Given the opportunity, you would have designed a PowerPoint with pros and cons. I understand that you are not asking this of me lightly.”
“That’s all true, even the PowerPoint.”
“I have to trust that you would not intentionally do anything to hurt me or our children.”
“Do you trust me?”
“Jesus, I just let you go through my dead sister’s underwear drawer, so, yes, I trust you.”
“Thank you,” he said. He started to say something else, but it was something he promised himself that he would never say again to Ingrid.
So, yes,” Ingrid responded. “I give my consent. My lawyer will be in touch regarding my share of the proceeds.”
“OK, as in, you understand what I just said or, OK, as in, you will be expecting a call from my lawyer.”
“It’s been a pleasure doing business with you, dear,” Ingrid said, once again sounding a bit too bright for this early in the morning, Chicago time. “Gotta get up and get back to the salt mines.”
“Goodbye,” he said. “Ingrid?”
“Congratulations on surviving your first day as a restauranteur,” he said. “And thanks for everything.”
“What’s an ex-wife for?” she laughed.
Hopper finished his omelet, requested an Uber, paid for his breakfast, and waited on the street for the car to arrive. As he got into the back of a Mercedes A-Class sedan driven by an Uber driver named Vincent, he saw a man and a woman jogging together on the sidewalk toward him. It was Chasen (aka Blazes) and, gasp, Dilly? Hadn’t they broken up just yesterday? They spotted him getting into the car as he was putting on his face mask with a pug on it. Both waved at Hopper but kept jogging and continue with their own conversation. Dilly was laughing. Hopper decided that he would not mention to Olympia that he had spotted Dilly with Chasen. That would go for Silver, too.
As the car pulled away from the curb, Hopper made plans to inform Lola about plans for the book, return emails, and check Twitter to make sure the world had not blown up overnight. However, immediately after he texted Lola, he received a message from Silver: “Wanna hear about my three dates last night?”
Before he could respond to Silver, Lola sent him a text with an eggplant emoji and a peach emoji. Hopper did not know what that meant, but at least he had a record of a response from his editor. He called Silver.
“Please don’t tell me that you and Lenny hooked up,” he said. Silver had gone on three dates in one night as part of Date Lab gimmick for the Washington Post. Part of the gimmick is that Silver ran the Date Lab.
“No, but Lenny was really sweet,” she said. “Over drinks, he apologized and everything for what went on back in Oregon. His music career is taking off and he confessed that he has a girlfriend. He just used the Date Lab as a platform to get all his guilt off his chest. Apparently, he has become an important donor and volunteer for one of the women’s centers in Portland.”
“Are you trying to tell me that Lenny the scumbag has changed?” Hopper asked.
“Men don’t change,” he said. “He showed you his real self back when you were in college. Last night, he showed you the thin veneer of civilization that he has wrapped around himself as a public relations tool. I feel bad that his girlfriend is going to learn a lesson about Lenny the hard way.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
“But, on the bright side,” Hopper said, “you don’t have to see him again and there were two other men, non?”
“Yes, very nice men,” she answered. “Very nice, very handsome, very conventional in a Washington DC kind of way, very gentlemanly—”
“Very boring,” Hopper interrupted. “Am I right?”
“Well, they both had their charms,” she said. “At least I could envision what the future with either of them would be like. Over an entrée, I learned that Carey is a lobbyist for an environmental protection group. His hobby is nature photography, and he likes kayaking. Over dessert, I learned that Johnny is a wealth advisor for Morgan Stanley. He loves Dave Matthews and runs marathons. One’s got the big law degree, the other has the big MBA. Both are going to be highly successful. While they talked, I started to plan the photo layouts for the feature articles about them in the Washington Post Magazine.”
“So, they’re just like Louis?” he asked.
“Yeah, just like Louis,” Silver replied, referring to her ex-fiancé, Louis Guidry. Getting married to him – or Carey or Johnny – would have entailed Silver amending her own ambitions. That arrow simply was not to be found in her quiver.
Vincent exited the Prospect Expressway at 10th Avenue to approach the park. He stopped at a traffic light. Hopper looked out the window and saw Maggy in the back seat of an identical Mercedes A-Class sedan. She looked to be typing on a laptop. Hopper had lost track of her over the years. He made himself another note in Outlook to contact Dilly and ask about Maggy (and to ask Dilly WTF about dating Chasen).
He returned to his conversation with Silver. “Well, look at the bright side,” he said. “At least you should get a good write-up and extra traffic to your website.”
“It’s all about the hits,” she said.
“Do you mean the website or the men?”
“At this point, does the distinction matter?”
“That seems rather nihilistic, even coming from you.”
“Look, big brother, don’t force me to surrender my childhood dream of believing in nothing as an adult,” she said. She laughed as she said it. Hopper loved Silver’s laughter as much as that of his children. He smiled in the back seat of Vincent’s sedan.
“I’m going to visit our father’s grave today,” Hopper announced.
“Why?” Silver asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied. “At least not yet. Something is compelling me.”
“Are you getting sentimental?” she asked. “I have heard that men get sentimental as they get older.”
Vincent turned the sedan into Prospect Park.
“I’m at the cemetery,” Hopper told Silver. “I will let you know if I figure it out.”
A minute later, Hopper got out of the sedan on Center Drive across from the leafy entrance to the cemetery. It looked like a forest from a German fairy tale. He spotted an older white man lingering near the entrance. He hoped it was Benjamin [not his real name], a member of the cemetery committee who had been contacted by his mother’s agent Molly’s son-in-law’s boss’ wife and who had agreed to guide Hopper to his father’s grave as a favor that would be repaid to the committee – somehow, magically, thought Hopper – by Michelle Obama. His mother told him that Molly’s vendetta against her son had been cancelled. She only offered that it involved Olympia. Another of Olympia’s secrets.
Hopper began to cross the street, but he failed to look both ways. He was sideswiped by a woman riding an electric bicycle. He stumbled but remained upright. She kept her balance and stopped. “Are you OK?” she asked. It was Boody. “I’m fine,” he answered. She began pedaling again before he could say another word and was out of his sight within seconds. Boody had not recognized him, even though he had taken off his face mask as soon as he exited Vincent’s sedan.
Before he had time to reflect on Boody’s snub, Hopper turned his attention back to Benjamin. They bumped elbows in greeting. “You know, your father was buried here despite significant opposition within the committee,” he told Hopper. “He was most decidedly not a Quaker.”
Hopper thought the man threw off a Pete Seeger vibe, friendly and wise, but also in possession of dangerous knowledge.
“I must confess that I don’t know anything about the arrangements,” Hopper said. “My mother handled everything.”
“When the discussions with her were still civil, she offered a handsome financial contribution,” Benjamin said. “When the committee declined her offer, things got ugly.”
“I can only imagine, knowing my mother.”
“Can you? Really?” Benjamin asked. “Your mother has quite an imagination. She threatened to unleash every sin against political correctness upon us and this hallowed ground. And we believed her.”
“Please, you must tell me which of her maniacal schemes got you to change your minds.”
“None of them, actually,” he answered. “In the end, we were moved by the devotion your mother displayed for your father. She was going to rain down hellfire upon us to the end of her days to fulfill her ex-husband’s wishes. It was quite moving. In our last meeting to discuss this issue, everyone cried.”
“At least tell me that you accepted the money.”
“Quakers may be many things, but we are not fools,” he answered. “Lots of deferred maintenance needs here will be addressed.”
They arrived at the grave of Hopper’s father. Benjamin absented himself after Hopper assured him that he could find his way back to the park entrance. The gravestone was a handsome granite; carved into it in Times New Roman were his father’s name, the dates of his birth and death, and the epitaph that his father had requested: “Dead artists roll over in their graves.” Hopper breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that he could report to his mother and sisters that all the dates and spellings were correct, and that the gravesite had not yet been desecrated by any of his fans.
He noticed a man leaning against a tree about a hundred feet away. It was Stephen.
“I never thought you would be the first in your family to visit here,” he told Hopper as he approached the gravesite.
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re a heartless and unsentimental bastard, that’s why,” Stephen said. “At least that’s what I thought while I was still alive.”
“Tell me something that I haven’t already heard,” Hopper replied.
“Do you have love in your heart?”
“In the world of the living, who doesn’t?” Hopper responded. “Even terrorists love their children.”
“Who do you love? Honestly.”
“I love my children.”
“That doesn’t count,” Stephen said. “They haven’t been given the chance to disappoint you yet. What about your sisters and your mother?”
“Isn’t that too easy?”
“No, actually it’s very hard to love your siblings and parents,” he said. “They have had years and years to convince you to hate yourself. What about Ingrid? What about Charlize?”
“Am I supposed to love the women who have scorned me?”
“Love is love,” Stephen answered. “It’s not a prize or a gift or something earned. It’s just there, whether you want it or not.”
“So, maybe because I have love…I’m not so heartless after all?”
“Oh, you have just started to scratch the surface,” Stephen said. “There’s nothing you wouldn’t do for all the women in your life, but what would you do for the men?”
“Huey. Lola. Blazes. Louis. Haines. Leo. Buck. Dr. Dixon. Simon. Your father. Me.”
“What about them?”
“What ounce of kindness or generosity have you ever offered to any of them?”
“I’m listening to you, aren’t I?” Hopper answered, turning to face his father’s grave. You’re dead, Stephen! Huey is dead. My father is dead! And I am here. I showed up.”
“Imagine what you could accomplish with the living,” Stephen replied. “Goodbye, Hopper.”
Hopper turned back to face Stephen. The poet had vanished. Hopper took a photo of the gravestone and texted it to his mother and sisters with the note: “All appears to be in order.”