“I’m not young enough to know everything.” –Oscar Wilde
Mickey Manley, the writer I met at the gay marriage benefit, invites me over to watch I Love You Phillip Morris. I arrive a little late and ring the doorbell.
Me: Holy shit, this house is incredible.
He: Do you want the tour?
He: Let’s go downstairs first, and I’ll show you around after the movie.
Me: Your house is seriously gorgeous.
He: Thank you. It was only half of this when I bought it. Everything took eight years.
Me: Seriously? What took so long?
He: Contractor and Designer got in a fight, it went to court, yadda yadda yadda. Half the rooms had one wall made of a plastic sheet.
Me: Were you still living here?
He: On and off. What would you like to drink? I’ve got white wine and vodka.
Me: I told you, I don’t drink hard liquor on school nights.
He: You were drinking at the benefit.
Me: One glass of white wine.
He: You were drinking something else when we met.
Me: Touché. Although in my defense, I had just walked into a window in front of hundreds of people.
He: Fair enough. How do you like the wine?
Me: I’m not a huge fan of white, but this is good.
He: I’m glad you like.
Me: So are we going to watch the movie? What’s it called again?
He: I Love You Phillip Morris. There’s no rush. Let’s talk for a bit.
Me: And what would you like to talk about, Mickey Manley?
He: Tell me about you.
Me: Why do you want to talk about me? I’m really rather dull.
He: I don’t believe that for a second.
Me: Alright, then ask me something.
He: Where did you go to school?
Me: New York.
He: Me too!
Me: What did you study?
He: Are you mocking me?
Me: I wouldn’t dream of it.
He: Well, as you know, I’m a writer now. And director. And DJ.
Me: Now that is something interesting. How did you go from acting to writing to DJing?
He: Well, I have all of these records–thousands. So one day I just decided to go buy some equipment and experiment. And now I collect all of these random records. Which reminds me…
Me: What’s that?
He: This is my rotating art instillation. Every time I have guests over, I have them recreate it.
There are three shelves on the wall. Below it sit a stack of tiny flower paintings and a stack of records.
Me: What do I do?
He: Just arrange the records and paintings as you envision.
Me: Where did you get these?
He: The records are a strange spoken word genre that was popular among women of color in the 1970s.
The album covers range from psychedelic to nature to bare faces.
Me: Is it set to a beat? Like is it rhythmic?
He: It’s spoken word on top of music, but it’s just stories, so it’s not like rapping. But it’s incredible. They wail about everything from rape and social oppression to struggling to put together dinner before their husbands get home and disciplining their children. It’s a whole original medium. Like a lost art.
Me: I wish the world still had context for that kind of expression.
He: These paintings I bought for $3 at an antique store. Can you believe that?
Me: Really? There must be 50 of them. Isn’t it strange how someone can put so much time and effort into something and in the end it counts for so little?
Pause. I examine each and every album and painting individually.
He: They’re a little kitschy, but the juxtaposition with the albums is dynamite.
Me: There’s something sentimental about each.
There’s a longer pause. I start to make piles.
He: How are you sorting those?
Me: You’ll see.
He: I’ve never seen someone take such inventory. Usually, my guests just pick the first thing they like and throw it up on the wall.
Me: Should I hurry along?
He: No. By all means, I want to see where this is going.
Another longer pause. It’s been about ten minutes now, and I’ve seen every image at least twice. I grit my teeth and squint, looking at some.
He: I’m trying to figure out what you’re doing.
He sits and ponders, eyes scanning the rows.
He: I suppose I’ll just have to wait until you’ve finished.
Me: Yes, you will.
I put up the middle row first. It’s an African American woman. The picture is sepia except for a red apple, which she holds in front of her. I set two pictures on each side of the album.
Next, I set another album, the cover of which has an old African American woman, on the top shelf, all the way to the right. I set two flower paintings next to it.
He: I honestly have no idea what you’re thinking.
Finally, I agonize over a final painting, but make my selection. I place a third album, this one with a young African American girl on the cover, all the way to the left and place three flower paintings next to it.
Me: What do you think?
He: I like it.
Me: Just like it?
He: It’s the best I’ve ever seen!
Me: Do you get it?
He: I guess so…
Me: No, you don’t. Let me explain. Starting in the middle: this woman offers up an apple like Eve offering Adam the fruit of knowledge. Life is full of knowledge and temptation. Surrounding her, I selected paintings with four different colored backgrounds—life is diversity and a series of seasons.
He: Wow, you really did think this through.
Me: Yes. I did.
I return to my “installation.”
Me: The top row: This woman is tired, but with her exhaustion comes a sense of accomplishment. She has lived. I selected flowers with red backgrounds for this row because we burn through our beauty.
He: So what’s the meaning of the final row? I would guess, but I don’t think I can keep up.
Me: The women are placed diagonally. Life moves in all directions. This young girl, eyes so wide, ready for the world. Raw. Beneath the rest, this is who she is. So full of potential and pure. I chose all paintings with blue backgrounds and white flowers to represent this. But deep inside of her, deep inside of them all, there is something else. Each of these flowers has a black pigmentation. In the center of their beautiful petals is a deep dark core. All of us has a deep dark core.
He: Is that so?
Me: Indeed it is.
He: Well, then. This is certainly the most profound version of the installation to date.
Me: I think you should keep it up forever.
He: Hopefully, the cleaning lady won’t change it around. She’s always moving stuff.
Me: Then she needs to go.
He: What? But she’s so good!
Me: It’s the way it is. Her or me.
He: I might have to go with her.
Me: I’m hurt.
He: But you can’t clean like she does.
Me: Says who?
He: Alright, but you’ll have to wear the uniform.
Me: I know of people in New York who are naked maids.
He: Oh, yeah? How does that work?
Me: I don’t know exactly. From what I understand, they go over, strip down, and clean. No touching though.
He: Is that what you did for work?
Me: No. I worked in a school. And a production company.
He: So why did you move here? Job or love?
Me: Neither. I kind of left both in New York.
He: Oh my god, why would you do that?
Me: Well, not exactly. I had a couple job offers, but I’m following my dream. And I don’t know if I believe in love. I wasn’t in love when I left. But I did care for someone very much.
He: You’ve never been in love before?
Me: No. Or if I have, love is one of the greatest disappointments I’ve ever experienced. So I like to think I haven’t.
He: That’s bleak.
Me: That’s life.
I point to the installation.
Me: Deep dark core.
He: So tell me about this boy.
Me: It was an unhealthy obsession….or, no. Let’s call it infatuation. We went on a couple dates, then his mom almost died, and he had to go home to North Carolina for a little while. I missed him. Then he came back, and I didn’t see him again. But he’d call or text and ask how I was doing and say things like, “let’s get a beer soon.” We didn’t. So I stapled the movie ticket from our first date onto an umbrella that he left at my apartment the first (and only) time we fucked, walked to his house and left it on his front door handle. Did I mention I knew he was throwing a party that night? I’m fairly certain that was the all-time peak of my psychosis. C’est la vie.
He: If that’s as crazy as you’ve gotten, then you’re going to be fine.
Me: His mom died the week I left New York.
He: Have you let him go?
Me: For the most part. It just scares me how profoundly naive I can be. The mistakes I made with him, I’m making again.
He: Naive? Let me tell you about the boy I lost my virginity to. I was a seventeen year-old college freshman in New York, wide-eyed with a big smile coming from the suburban Midwest. I had just come out, and since I was in acting, most of my friends were older because they transferred in their junior year. So I like this older boy, and I think he likes me, so we’re sitting in Washington Square Park one night–
Me: Oh my god, you did NOT lose your virginity in Washington Square Park!
He: No! Would you listen? I made him tell me that he loved me, and then we went up to my room and had sex.
I laugh a little.
Me: That’s cute.
He: Then I thought we were boyfriends. But he didn’t talk to me for like a week. I didn’t understand. So all of my friends sat me down and explained to me that guys will just fuck you and that’s the end of it.
Me: That’s horrible.
He: Yeah, but it’s true.
Me: But you were only 17! I kind of hate men.
He: So, where do you live?
I tell him.
He: I was mugged near there.
Me: Don’t tell me that!
He: Don’t worry, this was–well, I won’t tell you how long ago because I don’t want to date myself, but long enough that there has been a whole lot of change in the neighborhood.
Me: I was mugged in Brooklyn five days after I moved there.
He: Yikes. Did they rough you up?
Me: Fortunately, no. But they did have a gun that they held up to me.
He: That’s so scary. I got hit over the head with a wrench.
Me: Are you serious? That’s…disconcerting.
He: Yeah, I had a big bump on my head for a while. You’re lucky you’ve never been hit.
I look at him.
Me: I didn’t say that.
Me: No, it wasn’t like a partner or anything. You know what? I don’t really want to talk about it.
I’ve made this awkward.
Me: Or…what the hell, I’ll just tell you. I was at school, in my dorm. Freshman year. I was throwing a dumb little party when this guy came into my room, and he was pretty drunk already. He was friends with my roommate, so I didn’t say anything, but he was being loud and obnoxious. When I asked him to keep it down, he called me a “fag,” among other things and left. So I followed him into the hallway, and he kept yelling at me. We went into another friend’s room where some people were hanging out, including my best friend at the time. I confronted him and told him he couldn’t talk to me or anyone else like that. He said I was unnatural and then shoved me. Then he hit me, threw me on the ground…
He: That is awful.
Me: And the topper was immediately afterward, my best friend went and slept with him.
He: Your best friend slept with him?
Me: And even better, the next day, she didn’t understand why that might upset me.
He: God. And in your own dorm no less. You’re supposed to feel safe there–it’s your home. Were you traumatized?
Me: You know, I really was for a while. I thought about it every day for months and months. But it faded, and it made me stronger. It was a defining point of maturity for me. My deep dark core.
He: You’ve barely touched your wine.
Me: Don’t worry. I’ll drink it.
He: So tell me about your cousin. How does he fit into your whole thing here?
Me: He’s a really nice guy, works in the film industry, and he’s kind of brought me into this whole weird little world. Not that I’m complaining. It’s fascinating.
He: And are you dating anyone?
He: Hooking up?
Me: No. I don’t know. Kind of. Well, I just took a vow of celibacy.
He just smiles.
He: Why’s that.
Me: Long story.
He: Who were you hooking up with? Randoms?
Me: No, I was sleeping with this one guy, but it kind of fizzled. He was older, and I just kind of checked out.
He: It happens.
Me: And then there’s this other guy, who I have a lot of confusion about.
Me: The Writer, do you know him?
He: Yes, actually.
He: Yeah, we have a mutual friend, and he asked me to look at one of his scripts.
Me: How’d you like it?
He doesn’t say anything. In a telling way.
Me: Was it for TV?
He: Yeah, how’d you know?
Me: Because he doesn’t know how to write TV, and he’s stubborn about it.
He: I didn’t say that.
Me: I know.
He: What did you think of his stuff?
Me: I’ve only read his feature screenplays, which are really lovely.
He: Then why did you make those assessments about his TV writing?
Me: I can just tell. I know him.
He: Do you?
Me: I said I did.
He: Have you slept together?
Me: I sleep over most nights. But there’s no sex.
He: But you sleep together?
He: Really? So what’s the deal?
I fill in some backstory. Then…
Me: …one night at this club, he told me he can’t be in a relationship right now, but he told me he cared about me a lot, and I told him I had feelings for him. Then we kissed. Oh, and then he spent the rest of the night trying to find someone to have a threesome with us.
He: So what is it that you think he does want?
Me: I don’t know.
He: Well, more importantly, what do you want?
Me: I don’t know. I want to be his friend, but I want something more, too.
He: And how long has this been going on?
Me: A few months. I feel like the back up sometimes, but sometimes things are really awesome.
He: But you have feelings for him?
He: And do you think he has feelings for you?
Me: I don’t know. He says these things, but then I go over, and we cuddle for hours. I just want to be like, “your actions don’t match your words!”
He: Yes, they do.
He: His actions do match his words.
Me: What are you talking about?
He: He told you he didn’t want anything serious and then got physical with you the same night.
Me: Right. Contrary action-to-word relation.
He: No. Again: you told him you had feelings for him, and then he tried to get you into a non-emotional sex act with a third party.
He: That says it all. Everything between you is physical.
Me: I…Do you really think so?
He: You have to be honest with yourself.
Me: I try to be.
He: But it sounds like you are only selectively.
I finish my wine.
He: Here, have a little more.
Me: No thanks. School night and all that.
He pours more anyway.
He: Just half a glass.
Me: Fine. Well, I’ll tell The Writer you said hi.
He: He might be mad that you were here.
Me: He can’t tell me where I can go. Besides, you just told me he doesn’t have feelings for me.
He: Just don’t.
Me: Alright, well I think this goes without saying, but don’t mention anything I’ve said tonight.
Me: So can I get that tour now?
He leads me around the house, outside on a giant deck that would be mind-blowing for a party. Then he shows me the bedroom. For a second, I get the air that he’s about to make a move, so I get a little abrasive, and we move back to the couches where we were sitting, upstairs.
Me: What time is it?
I look at my phone.
He: Eleven. I guess we’re not watching that movie then.
Me: It’s fine. This was a nice talk.
He: I’m glad you’re having fun.
He moves over to my couch and starts to climb on top of me. As his face comes toward me, my hand clutches his chin, covering his nose, and I push his head away from me.
Me: What are you doing?
He: Just having fun.
He: Why not?
Me: I already told you. Everything with The Writer…not to mention my vow of celibacy.
He: I can’t kiss you?
He: Well, can I hold you?
Me: I guess so.
He: You’re not who I thought you were.
Me: And who is that?
He: I thought you were just like me when I got here: optimistic and naive. Open to everything. Ready to be exploited.
Me: That’s not me.
He: No, it’s not. You are a deep dark core.
I sit up, ready to go.
He: It’s too bad. I really wanted to watch that movie.
Me: Maybe another time.
Mickey walks me to the door and sends me on my way.
A few days later, I get a message from him. His cleaning lady dismantled my installation. C’est la vie.