This story is almost 10 years old, and is an experiment in trustworthy vs. untrustworthy narration. I hope you enjoy.
Once, I ate my lunch and watched Ian cry after some kid kicked him in the balls. Another time, a crew of cheerleaders took turns pulling his hair. A tubby freak named Randy always launched Ianʼs books down the stairs.
Ian took plenty of abuse. Still, he just wrote picky revenge fantasies in his journal. Beyond that, he never did anything.
I never did anything, either. I figured it was best for Ian to learn to defend himself. I wouldnʼt help people torture him, but I maintained an armʼs length distance to the whole thing.
The Legend Of Tarzan was being shown on Toon Disney, one morning. I, however, was watching The Price Is Right. Ian sputtered that we should be paying attention to a “Minnie Driver production” and demanded that we change the channel. I was at the end of my rope, so I told him that Minnie Driver wasnʼt cast in The Legend Of Tarzan. It was Olivia DʼAbo providing the voice of Jane. I knew it and he knew it.
Ian stood in silence, like he was rolling this over in his head.
Then, he punched me in the mouth and I fell onto the cheap table in the middle of the hotel room. The soda and popcorn and Fritos landed like debris from an explosion. A combination of blood and Mountain Dew tasted weird. Like tinfoil or something.
I should mention that I have a black belt in Jeet Kune Do (“Way Of The Intercepting Fist.”) I began studying when I was 10. My father insisted. He knew Dan Inosanto, personally. On my 18th birthday, he made me swear on a Bible (even though we were both atheists,) that I would never use JKD techniques unless my life was on the line. Ian didnʼt know how close to the edge he had come. He probably still doesnʼt.
While Ian was sobbing and frantically searching for the TV remote, the police were pounding on the door. This ended up being our final run-in with the LAPD. Within 24 hours, we were back in Providence.
The restraining orders showed up about a year later. Los Angeles is a big town.
I had known Ian, on and off, since 7th grade He was the strangest, newest kid – the one who would perform Monty Python and Goon Show and Beyond The Fringe skits during class. One of our teachers, Mr. Larance, thought this was charming. Everybody else hated Ian from the get go. He was a scrawny, hunched little dude who resembled a praying mantis in his green corduroy. There were times when I found him difficult to look at. Iʼm just trying to be honest.
Ian spoke with a fake English accent, using expressions like “cuppa” and “nicked” and “cracking” and “rang off.” He spent his spare time with his parents, neither of whom would leave the house after 5PM for any reason. Too much traffic. The whole family played Scrabble and listened to Patti Page records. Ianʼs folks had met at the Iowa Writersʼ Workshop, back in the 50s. Combined, they weighed close to 700 lbs.
Ian got hung up on this black girl he saw in the cafeteria. She was a freshman and already a varsity cheerleader. He tried to impress her by imitating the Kingfish from Amos & Andy. This, amongst other things, led to his getting expelled.
On the day after my 20th birthday, he started hanging around Burger King – asking the cashiers detailed questions and then angrily providing his own answers. He would order a Whopper, some fries, onion rings, two large Cokes and, for dessert, a shake. He was taking after his parents.
One day, after my shift ended, I joined him at his favorite booth. He started talking immediately. To this day, Iʼm not sure if he recognized me. I wonder what would have happened if somebody else – anybody else – had sat down.
Ianʼs hands shook so much that it made me nervous. He would raise a burger to his mouth, but then words would start pushing their way out. He would put the Whopper back down without ever taking a bite. At one point, he got into this creepy argument with himself. Thatʼs the only way I can describe it. We discussed his family. Mostly, he talked about Minnie Driver.
He had seen every single Minnie Driver movie. He had collected virtually all her appearances on different television shows.
He owned her records and claimed that she was the greatest female singer alive.
Any kind of discussion or disagreement about that last statement would lead to his listing the Top Ten Greatest Female Singers Alive. They included Kate Bush, Sinead OʼConnor, Milla Jovovich, Annie Lennox and Tori Amos. He often tried to browbeat people by declaring that “Statistically, Minnie Driver is the greatest female singer alive…” – expounding on some study that may or may not have existed. One of his tactics was to talk and talk and talk and talk without pause until the people he was yammering at gave up. A demonstration of Ianʼs endurance and willpower more than his intellect. Upton, having witnessed this countless times, waited him out until Ianʼs throat hurt and his voice cracked.
Ian had written seventy fan letters to Minnie Driver. He once videotaped himself re- enacting a scene from her movie, The Governess, and sent that along, too. The cops visited a few months later. Turns out Ian had ʻimprovisedʼ a bit of dialogue, saying stuff that Her People found threatening.
He showed me the script called “Jesus”, which he had written for her. It filled up a stack of student notebooks. Once he got it to her, he explained, she would campaign for his directing it. He was going out to LA.
Would I like to come along? He had plane tickets. Fuck yeah.
Like I said, plenty of people had treated Ian badly. I was not one of those people. On top of that, I hated my job and my parents were really on my ass about everything. So, I said yes. Ian would get his script to the right people and I would drop off my novel at Capitol Records. Worked out well for everybody.
Ian spent most of the flight – he had spent most of the past few years – rehearsing what he was going to say to Minnie Driver. The airline attendants leaned over to see if we wanted more Pepsi and Ian waved them away. To him, it was like asking a brain surgeon, in the middle of an operation, what he wanted from Starbucks.
According to Ian…
“Presumably, she will go out for a walk or maybe a quick run. She will have her dog with her. Everyone in LA has a bloody dog. I will tell her that we are big fans. She will smile and thank us. I will explain just how much I love Knowing Me Knowing You With Alan Partridge and how her guest role was a huge success. She will be startled by my knowledge of British television. She will ask us to join her on her walk. The conversation will continue from there. I will explain that I particularly enjoy her records. Plenty of people compliment her on her acting, but few know enough to mention her singing. This will relocate the dialogue to a deeper, more profound plane. She will notice my undiluted emotion, my unguarded nature. She will be moved by the purity of my artistry and my insight. By the end of the walk, which will extend well into the early evening, Minnie will have accepted me into her life. She may not fall in love with me, but I will be woven, ever so slightly, into her soul.”
In retrospect, I think Ian may have been giving lip service to the I-understand-that-she- may-not-fall-in-love-with-me bit. No matter what he said (or says,) that was always in the back of his mind. Or the front. Somehow, through a combination of focus and smoldering passion, Ian would enthrall Minnie Driver. He would be so brilliant, or “brill,” that he would fascinate her, at the very least.
I eventually planned to ask her about my novel. I had written a book about The Beatles. I figured that Capitol Records, The Beatlesʼ record company, would have some interest in getting it into the public eye. It could only help them.
Frankly, I donʼt think I want it turned into a movie. I planned on telling her that outright. I thought of Russell Crowe as playing John Lennon. After seeing A Beautiful Mind, I think that might be a good idea. He has a band, too – 30 Odd Foot Of Grunts – so he might be able to bring something to the role that someone like, say, Adrian Brody, wouldnʼt.
I hadnʼt seen much of Minnie Driverʼs work, so I had to brush up to recognize her. I definitely saw Good Will Hunting. Turns out she was also in a James Bond flick, Goldeneye. It was a cameo role. I thought being around Ian would help. Some kind of osmosis would occur and, one day, I would figure out who she was. I donʼt know if that ever happened.
I spent an entire afternoon with Ian at the copy store Melrose. We printed up a bunch of flyers, on yellow paper, which detailed His Mission. It mentioned both the “Jesus” script and Minnie Driverʼs singing abilities. It featured a picture of her taken from Big Night. Unfortunately, Ian was in one of his ʻlike-soʼ moods; none of the copies were ever exactly right. Too light. Smudgy. Whatever. He accumulated $20 in charges and got into an argument with the woman behind the counter.
Whenever Ian got upset, his voice cracked. He sounded like a braying ass.
He had already pinpointed where she lived. We parked about a block away. It was this mellow part of LA. Lots of wide, pretty lawns. Spanish-style houses. Virtually none of those in Rhode Island. When you did encounter one, back East, they seemed out of place, built amongst pine trees and maples and birches.
The sun was so bright it was like you could see through walls.
We sat around for hours, with Ian talking incessantly about Another World. That pissed me off. We had flown across the country to find Minnie Driver and he was talking about a show that had been off the air since 1999.
He watched soap operas, or “daytime dramas,” every day. He could talk about current stuff or things that happened 11 years ago and it didnʼt seem to make a difference. The inflections in his voice didnʼt even change.
Ian was particularly obsessed with a British import called Coronation Street. The show has been on, in England, since 1960. He had memorized the plotlines and characters.
He would get so wrapped up in discussions of Dark Shadows or Degrassi Junior High, that he became physically ill.
By 9AM, it had gotten too warm in the car.
I should mention that over the past 10 years, I have gained and lost close to 500 pounds. IloseitandthenIputitbackon. IloseitandthenIputitbackon. Atthat point in time, I had put it back on. Itʼs obvious that when large people approach smaller people, despite everyoneʼs best intentions, the tinier folk are often intimidated. Itʼs an intuitive thing. I have read about it extensively. Once, I attended a lecture about disproportionate weight gain and weight loss at a local university. The speaker, despite his vaunted credentials, was unable to hold my attention. He seemed to be playing to the peanut gallery, not to those who could actually grasp the situation. Thatʼs usually my experience.
I have an IQ of 151. Itʼs registered with the FBI. Once you get over a certain percentage, the Feds make a note of it so they can have a reservoir of people to draft. Really smart, sharp people to run the country in case of emergency. I tried a few Mensa quizzes, but they never worked.
As I lifted myself out of the car, this little fellow jogged by. “Am I correct that Minnie Driver lives around here?” I asked.
I had a good six inches and sixty pounds on the chap, so when I moved forward, he jumped back.
He tightened his face into a sour expression and kept moving, like I had ruined his entire day.
“Thanks, faggot.” I shouted after him.
People were looking at us from their doorsteps – people who hadnʼt been there earlier.
“What?” I shrugged. “Heʼs a little faggot.”
I think they were surprised by how nonchalant I was.
Back in the car, Ian was talking about Judi Evans Luciano and her transition onto Days Of Our Lives.
A few minutes later, the cops showed up.
Despite his personality quirks, Ian was usually good with the law. He had more experience than the average citizen. Cranks calls. Walking around peopleʼs yards at night.
The LAPD are a lot different from the police in Providence.
One of the officers laid into me while the other stared at Ian, who was sitting in the car. We got a ticket for close to five hundred dollars and a notification to appear in court. I was very tempted to ball the citation up and bounce it against the officerʼs forehead – like I said, Iʼm a black belt – but Ian was getting flustered. I think he was crying.
“Whatʼs up with your friend?” asked one of the officers.
“Heʼs just upset.” I answered.
“Yeah, I can see that.” he growled.
I should have said, “Then why did you ask?” but I didnʼt. The police in Providence were used to the ebb and flow of debate. The LAPD seemed much less amenable to this.
Ian leaned back and brushed his hair away from his face. Yes, he had been crying. He inhaled deeply and exhaled, for maximum dramatic effect.
Somehow, I knew what was coming. Maybe it was all the times I had seen Ian in gym class. He would miss a shot and everyone would rib him and he would kick over the volleyball net and get sent to the office. They would laugh a him in glee club, so Ian would deliberately shit his pants and freak the girls out.
He had the ability, when things werenʼt going his way, to take a bad situation and make it much worse. It seemed to be a preventative thing, like the monster in Alien having acid for blood. (“It’s got a wonderful defense mechanism: you don’t dare kill it.”) People would give Ian a hard time and his reaction would be so horrible, so uncomfortable, that they would regret hassling him.
“Whereʼs Minnie Driver?” he asked. His voice was weak and he was sitting inside the car, so it was difficult to hear what he had said. Well, it was difficult for the police. I knew exactly…
“What did your friend say?” asked the office closest to me – the one who had been yelling not two minutes ago. Now, he was looking to me for assistance.
“Iʼm not sure.” I lied. Ian obliged…
“Whereʼs Minnie Driver?” he shrieked. He pounded his fists against the steering wheel. Mysteriously, the horn didnʼt bleat. Thatʼs what crossed my mind. He must not be hitting the horn.
“Whoa! Whoa!” exclaimed the other policeman.
The cop muttered something into his walkie-talkie, the one attached to the collar of his shirt.
I knew, right then, that we were in a lot of trouble. The next morning, after the arraignment, I decided to head back to the hotel room.
Trying to slide Ian off the courthouse steps and into the car, what with him wailing, was like pulling an Italian widow off the casket of a dead lover. Thatʼs all it ever was with Ian – a bunch of bullshit drama with him in the lead role. Finally, he just crouched in the back while I drove.
He kept asking “What if sheʼs walking by right now?” Like I mentioned, this was one of Ianʼs tactics – to work and work and work the verbiage until he had made some sort of point. He would choke “What if sheʼs walking by right now?” like it was emanating from some wound in his throat. Like the very act of saying the phrase was somehow painful.
He even made sure his voice wavered. Oscar Material. Oh poor poor Ian. “What if sheʼs walking by right now?” heʼd peep. Poor poor Ian. The Little Prince. The Delicate Flower. Wounded. Endlessly wounded. I wanted to take my five hundred dollar ticket and stuff it in his ear.
I had quit my job. I had told Malcolm to take his grill gig and go fuck himself. I had told Mom & Dad what I thought of the Jehovahʼs Witnesses and made them sick. I had flown out to Los Angeles and lived in a hotel room for a week with Ian who made me stand outside while he masturbated to a DVD of Grosse Point Blank. The whole thing amounted to zero. I wasnʼt sure where I was going to live when I got back to RI. All this because of Ian and, by extension, Minnie fucking Driver. I would never watch another movie of hers again. I would go to Burger King and tell everyone that Ian was an arsonist and that they shouldnʼt let him in anymore. God, what a mess.
I sat in the hotel room, alone, for an hour, before Ian managed to creak in. His eyes were puffy from weeping, yet his face was without expression. Oh, look at Ian. Look at Ian being so brave. Look at Ian, whose emotions run so deep, yet, somehow, so close to the surface. No-one can really understand. They can try. Some, like Minnie fucking Driver, might come close. Yet, no-one really gets him. Ian. Everyone will feel sorry for treating him so badly.
The Price Is Right was on TV. Ian stared at the screen. I did, too. After what had to be ten minutes, Ian whimpered… “The Legend Of Tarzan is on.” I wanted to punch him in the mouth. Turns out, he beat me to it.