Friday, October 15, 2004

Dear Mister Fantasy

This story was originally published in the now-defunct and much missed Punchline, a free newsweekly in Richmond, Virginia. Almost none of you read it at the time, and I think it's worth republishing.

Even though I've never seen an episode of ER, and only one of his movies (From Dusk 'til Dawn at that -- crappy, but fun), I was stunned when a mutual friend introduced me to George Clooney at a potluck. He was shorter than I thought, but his eyes were brown coals sparking a dying fire trapped in amber. Later, he dropped his hands on my shoulders in a massage-y way, but I let it slide. Maybe that's how they do it in Hollywood.

I bumped into him a couple times after that, here and there at the record store and once at the Shoney's breakfast bar. Who would have thought that Mr. Showbiz was into French toast sticks and Watergate salad?

The real surprise came a week or two after George and I playfully clashed ladles over the cheese sauce at the breakfast bar. I was picking up the phone to take the temp agency up on a "great new opportunity" one sunny Wednesday afternoon when I noticed there was no dial tone. A tentative "Hello?" came through the receiver.

"George? Is that you?"

"Yeah. Yes, I mean. It's me. George.George Clooney...huh-how's it going?"

"Okay...what's up?"

"Listen, I was...I was just wondering if you wanted to get together for, uh, dinner or a drink or something sometime. I mean, I've really enjoyed talking to you the past couple times I've seen you out, and I'm a huge fan of your writing, and I just think you'd be a really cool guy to get to know..."

I froze. Workmen two blocks away were hammered a roof in syncopation with the blood thrumming in my ears. Suddenly my toenails were too long and I really needed to vacuum. Somebody left a cereal bowl on the record player again, and a takeout menu poked through the mail slot.

"Look. It's cool, man...I'm sorry if I put you on the spot or made you uncomfortable or something. I just, I don't know, I just thought that while I was here working on this movie we could hang out or something. I mean, I don't know this town too well, and it's really hard for me to go out, and...whatever. I'm blabbering here. I just think you're so cool and we could have a good time together, that's all-but if you're not into that sort of thing, don't worry about it, I understand."


"Well, I 'm gonna get going. I've gotta...I need to...I hafta go do some movie stuff. Thanks though."



"It's okay. I've just never been asked out by a man before. Or gone out with a man before. But ...yeah.

After college, guys still need male friends as much as ever. For the most part, we have to sneak into a male-to male friendship. It's weird enough calling up women that I'm interested in, but guys I want to be friends with: forget it. It's not that I have insecurities about my sexuality, I just don't want to misrepresent myself. Which is why it threw me for such a loop when George called. It seems rude, asking right away what somebody's intentions are, but it's the first thing you wonder when somebody new calls you up to hang out. But on the other hand, I didn't want to be presumptuous. Movie stars need friends too, and it has to be hard to meet people that are just regular folks when you're the focus of as much media attention as George is. I imagine movie stars get tired of hanging out with movie stars, too. George saw the reality and grounding in me that Hollywood thrives on denying, I decided.

Once we made it to the restaurant, we were old pals. The shroud of nervous apprehension and unshaped expectations melted easily from the evening, and we entered a comfortable, intimate place together. It was a scene from film shot through a honey-yellow lens to convey the feeling of buttery conversational warmth. The vibrations of his voice, combined with an openness in those smoldering eyes put me so at ease. We spent the whole night catching up. He was gracious enough to answer questions about his line of work, but it wasn't the focus of conversation. We just talked about pranks, college buddies, traded a couple good drunk stories, and talked about driving cross-country.

All the movies about dating show that moment of truth where the two say goodnight. In the film of my life, I would include our first goodnight just to show what a non-event it was. He just gave me a solid handshake, one where his other hand clasped itself gently over mine, and said goodnight.

After just a week, we had a routine. I neglected to make plans on Thursday and Sunday nights, and if my mom called when I was expecting George, I was brusque. What made our times together so special was that we never did anything special. We'd make dinner or order something in (going to restaurants with George is a bitch), rent a movie or two, and slip easily into a rich and spacious conversation, well-lit with flame fueled by brilliant listening.

We shared a few fantastic bottles of wine on one of our Thursdays, and I didn't feel comfortable letting George drive home. We collapsed on the mattress that serves as my couch, and at four in the morning I woke up, covered him with a sleeping bag and went up to bed.

I crept quietly downstairs the next morning, gently stepping over the down-clad chrysalis containing my new favorite Batman on the floor to make coffee.

Something about sharing the fade of daytime, the intimacy that night brings, and then greeting the dawn over coffee and newspaper with George nourished a part of me that I thought starved away in the year following college. On my Ferris Wheel of time, I found someone who could ride with me around the great cycle from dusk, through night and into dawn without barfing or making me drop my cotton candy.

On Saturday, we did our thing again. He called Friday night to plan ahead for Saturday evening, which was out of the ordinary for him, but not unusual for humans in general. There was less talking that night, and much more movie-watching. I rented Wild at Heart and Microcosmos on Wednesday, but hadn't returned them yet. With George's friendship came mounting late fees, but it was okay for now.

The night was chilly, and George nonchalantly helped himself to a piece of my blanket. There was enough to go around, but just the week before, he made a point of telling me about all the muscle his personal trainer packed on him. Apparently, he didn't get as cold anymore because it kept his metabolism higher or something. I noticed that he kept glancing at me, mostly during the funny parts in Wild at Heart, reassuring himself that we found the same things to have the same effect on us. His laughter was a little forced, and his disgust more pronounced.

Maybe I'm just used to it, but I didn't think the dung beetle scene in Microcosmos was that nasty. He did, though, and in crying out, managed to pull more than his fair share of blanket over. I scooted to compensate, wanting to keep warm without getting into a blanket fight during my favorite film. That was when that smooth operator kissed me.

It was gentle, rough in a scratchy, oversized way, not brutal and relentless. I was stunned, but gave in to the moment, savoring its novelty. His lips were somehow muscular, his face a harvest moon, familiar but bigger than I'd ever noticed. I saw an endless loop of a diver swimming up to a basking blue whale, carefully stroking its fins as its eyes casually rolled up to settle on a smaller, frightened and awestruck mammal completely out of its element.

I broke first and flopped backward, reeling. His hunger was polite and understanding, but way, way more than I could handle.

"George...I think you've got the wrong idea here. I can't do this. I don't want this...element in our friendship. I can't like you that way-I don't."

"But I thought..."

"I know. I'm sorry if I led you on…we should have talked about this but it always seemed so presumptuous. I just need a good friend right now, and you fit the bill so perfectly. But if this is where you want things to go, I can't do it."

His face crumpled, the brown heat in his eyes cooling to gray ash. He claimed to understand. He apologized, claiming that he just wanted a friend too, but it ached too badly to keep his attraction for me a secret. He needed to put a lot of space between us, he said, so he could come to see things a little more clearly. I understood, gave him a last hug goodbye, and walked him to his car. I couldn't tell if the streetlights were reflecting from his window or a stream of silent tears on his face.

I was sitting in a left-turn lane the other day, watching all the turn signals in front of me communicating the same desire, clicking completely out of sync. Gradually, they converged into one synchronized blink, each crying a red left at the same instant, saying the same thing at the same time and finishing each other's sentence in a mute understanding. Then, as quietly and gradually as they came together, the lights returned to the chaos they converged from.

It's been a year since I broke George Clooney's heart while snails mated on television. I haven't heard from him yet, although Russell says he's doing very well.


At 6:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow, jeff, as Desperado is in the background silently driving the soundtrack to your story, i feel an extreme warming in my heart. your fabulous writing along with this incredible story is the best thing i've read and pondered about in a long while. thanks for sharing.

xo trish

At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From George C.

Fuck you Simmermon!

At 8:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeff, I'm sorry I said 'F*' you. I didn't mean it. Call me.


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