"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Tag: tom junod

You Don’t See Us, But We See You

dylan

Tom Junod on Dylan:

A few years ago, he was picked up by the police in Long Branch, New Jersey, for the crime of walking in the rain, dressed in sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt, and peering into the window of a home for sale in a dodgy neighborhood. The news was greeted with a lot of predictable headlines—NO DIRECTION HOME, A COMPLETE UNKNOWN, etc. But here’s the obvious question, asked by a friend of his: “Do you really think that’s the first time that he’s done that? He does a lot of walking no one would expect. He’ll walk through neighborhoods undetected and talk to people on their front porches. It’s the only freedom Bob Dylan has—the freedom to move around mysteriously.”

People say that a lot about Dylan: His privacy is all he has. It’s an odd thing to say. It assumes he’s powerless and needs to be protected. But Bob Dylan has never been powerless. Even when his songs stood up for the powerless, he was always pioneering new ways to use the power of his fame, of which the two-way mirror of his privacy is the ultimate expression. Yes, it’s cool when Ron Delsener says, “I’ve seen Dylan walk down Seventh Avenue in a cowboy hat and nobody recognize him. I’ve seen him eat at a diner and nobody come over to him”—it makes you think that Dylan is out among us, invisible now, with no secrets to conceal, and that at any time we might turn around and see him. But we never do; nobody ever does, even where he lives. What a woman who works the tunnel between the buses and the backstage area at an arena outside of Atlanta remembers about Dylan is not that she saw him; what she remembers is “I was not allowed to look at him.”

He was, of course, on his way to the stage when he passed her averted eyes—on his way to be looked at and listened to. It sounds like a paradox typical of Bob Dylan, worthy of Bob Dylan, but it’s really pretty straightforward as an exercise of star power. The crossed relationship between Bob Dylan and his audience is the most enduring one in all of rock ‘n’ roll, and it keeps going—and will keep going to the last breath—because from the start he laid down a simple and impossible rule:

We don’t go to see Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan goes to see us.

[Picture Via: Like a Rolling Stone]

The Old Turkey Bacon Routine

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There is a good profile of George Clooney in the latest issue of Esquire. Tom Junod is an expert at this kind of celebrity writing and Clooney is a gracious, professional subject. A lot of insights in this piece but this one stands apart:

You must love him.

For one thing, he’s lovable, professionally so. For another, he leaves nothing to chance. If he can’t win you over with his fame, his charm, and his good looks, he will win you over with preparation. It’s not that he’s needy, like an actor; it’s that he’s competitive, like an athlete. He’s always been good at making people love him; he’s not about to give up his edge now.

Of course, he is not often challenged, and risks the fate of a fighter whose dominance is tainted by a lack of worthy opponents. A few years ago, however, he lost one of his dogs to a rattlesnake. He is a dog guy—a little sign about men and dogs adorns a living-room wall otherwise dominated by signed photographs of dignitaries—and he set about to get another, preferably hypoallergenic. He saw a black cocker-spaniel mix on the Web site of a rescue organization and called the number. The woman who answered said she’d be happy to bring the dog to his house, but then she explained that the dog had been abandoned and picked up malnourished off the street. “He has to love you,” she told George Clooney, “or else I have to take him back.”

At first, he found himself getting nervous—“freaking out.” What if the dog didn’t love him? Then he responded. “I had some turkey bacon in the refrigerator,” he says. “I rubbed it on me. I’m not kidding. When she came over, the dog went crazy. He was all over me. The woman said, ‘Oh, my God, he’s never like this. He loves you.’ ”

He has told this story before. He has even told it to Esquire before. That he tells it again—that it’s the first story he tells—serves to announce what is essential about himself: that he’s a man who will do what it takes to win you over, even applying bacon as an unguent.

I’m seduced and repulsed by charming people. I’m sure Clooney would charm the pants off me like he does with most people. But the turkey bacon story is revealing because it doesn’t just suggest that he’ll do whatever it takes to win you over but that he’s willing to cheat to get there. Beneath the surface there is something desperate about it (“You really like me!”. He wanted that dog and the trainer to like him so much that it was more important than giving the dog the home it needed. What we don’t know is how the dog got along with him after the stunt. Maybe he did give him a good home. Did Clooney bring the dog with him on location? Did a house sitter look after the dog most of time?

We don’t know. The seduction is the thing here not necessarily the reality.

[Photo Credit: Nigel Parry]

BGS: Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos

frank-sinatra-son-frank-jr-1963

Here’s a keeper from Tom Junod. Originally published in the January 1994 issue of GQ. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. His postscript follows.

He is a 49-year-old man whose father has just yelled at him. He has worked hard for his father tonight, but something went wrong, he must have made a mistake, and now he is going to his room.P

He will stay there all night, if he can; he will draw the curtains and watch his movie and stay awake until dawn. If only he could get there, if only the fame of his father did not block his way and he did not have to linger among them, like a fox among hounds.P

Junior! Yo, Junior!P

Junior! You still singing, Junior?P

Junior, where’s Nancy?P

Junior, can you give me your autograph, even if you’re only Junior? P

They do not know that the show did not go well tonight, that there were problems. All they know is that after watching the father sing at the Sands Hotel in Atlantic City, they are waiting for an elevator with the son. He does not look like the father, no, not really; he is a pale, puffy, rounded man with short hair and glasses and a face of practiced, hardened anonymity … but the blood, the blood must be the same, and for them that is almost enough.P

Hey, Junior, at least I can say I rode an elevator with Sinatra!P

Can’t they see his eyes? His face is immobile, as stiff as a slab, but his brown eyes are dancing around from one face to another, as the people surround him, a ring of smiles and shiny tans. Then one of them, the one with the yellow shirt, the plaid pants, the biggest smile, the shiniest face, grabs his elbow.P

“You must be very proud,” he says.P

“Proud?” the son asks because on that night he is not proud, because on this night he was not perfect.P

“Yes, proud to be working with your father.”P

The son smiles in a quick, pained spasm. “If I keep on working with him, maybe I’ll lose some weight!”P

“What do you mean?”P

“I mean it’s hard work,” the son says, the smile gone as suddenly as it had come.P

“But your work must be a pleasure,” the man says. His smile is gone now too, and his voice is disappointed and incredulous. “I mean, I’m a schoolteacher, and you—you work with … Frank Sinatra.”P


When you are the son of Frank Sinatra, you learn, at every turn, your place in this world. How could you not? Your very birth was a photo opportunity: you lay at the bosom of your mother, the bed surrounded by a picket of flashbulbs, and there, right next to you, as big as you, is a portrait of your father, with his smile and his cheekbones, planted on the bed by a press agent. Your name is hobbled, affixed with an abbreviation that drags behind it like a comic caboose and provides the sneering masses with an instant punch line. Frank Sinatra … Jr.?P

Junior. J.R. Frankie. The Kid. By now he ought to know his place, and if he doesn’t, his old man is more than willing to teach him. Hell, it was just a few years ago, after Junior had sacrificed his own singing career (“Such as it was,” he says) to conduct his father’s orchestra, that the Old Man offered him a lesson in the natural order, in the balance that has been struck forever between Frank Sinatra and everyone else, even his son. The Old Man had just come to the centerpiece of his show—the “saloon song,” the song of smoke and liquor, yearning and regret—and now, in front of his audience, in front of thousands of people, he asked Junior if he knew the words to “One for My Baby.”P

Yes, Junior said. He knew the words.P

“Then you sing it, and I’ll wave my arms for the orchestra.”P

So Junior sang it. He took the microphone from his father, and, yes, by God, “he sang his ass off,” the musicians say. “He tore it up.” Then the old man took the microphone back. He sat on his stool, and lit his cigarette, and drank his drink. “Now I’ll show you how it’s supposed to be done,” he said and proceeded to seize the song back from Junior, and from everyone else who has ever tried to sing it. He sang it between the darkness and the light, behind a sheath of smoke that, in the single spotlight, turned the blue of a cataract and rose into a cloud ….P

But this is not one of the stories that Frank Sinatra Jr. likes to tell: “Did that happen? I don’t remember. It must have been a long time ago.” This is a story that his men tell, the member of the band and the members of the crew, when they are stuck in a hotel somewhere and they are drinking at the bar and talking about Junior, and the way he is, and what he must carry. No, not one of them would trade places with Junior. Not one of them can even imagine what it is like to be Junior, to have a father who would do something like that to his own son, to have a father who is proud enough, fierce enough, brutal enough and big enough to present his son to a thousand faces and then turn him into a shadow.P


It’s quarter to threeP

There’s no one in the placeP

Except you and me.P

So set ‘em up, JoeP

I’ve got a little storyP

I think you should know ….P

Know the words? Of course Junior knew the words. He’s stuck with the goddamn words. The words are his birthright and his fate. He knows the words to all the songs, just as he knows the names of the men who arranged them and the date of each recording and the hour each session started. He knows every line his father spoke, in every single one of his movies … knows, well, everything, practically every word that has ever snuck out of the Old Man’s famous mouth in snarl or song. As a child, he used to sit under the piano at the Old Man’s rehearsals; as a teenager, he attended, in coat and tie, the sessions that became the sound track of America, in its innocent desires and its dawning regrets; a young man, he used to wait in the wings of the stage, listening to his father cut up with the Rat Pack, absorbing Las Vegas into his very soul. Even when he left home, at the age of 19, to go out on the road, to dare open his mouth in song, he did not leave his father behind. He brought tapes of the Old Man wherever he went and listened to them incessantly, and he kept on listening to them, even when his musical mentors warned him of the dangers of emulation and urged him to go his own way. P

Know the words? Yeah, Junior knows the words. That’s why he became the Old Man’s conductor; he knows the words and his father doesn’t. Oh, sure, Junior will insist that he got the job because he himself is a singer—that Frank Sinatra needed a conductor with an intuitive understanding of his needs, and nobody can understand a singer better than another singer. Others will say that Junior got the job because he is the boss’s son, that “the Old Man wanted to do something nice for the kid,” that the two men in the Sinatra family were growing farther apart and the Old Man did what he could to stitch them together. Together, yes: It is an odd yoke for Frank Sinatra to wear, even at age 78, and on some nights it doesn’t fit—the nights when he is, as of old, in command, when he is stalking the stage and growling, when he is kicking the ass of the band and its leader. On the other nights, though … the nights when everything goes suddenly blank, and the blankness stifles the song in his throat … the nights when he can’t see his TelePrompTers and can’t hear his band … on those nights, a voice will come from behind him, from the shadows, singing the lost lines, feeding his memory, a voice that never forgets, the voice of his son, the voice of Junior.P


It is the voice of Junior tonight, singing in the heat. The air is damp and oily, the sun is a soiled smudge over the treetops, and the orchestra is stranded on the stage of an outdoor amphitheater in Atlanta, sweating out a rehearsal. In the wings of the stage, there is a small table dressed in white linen, and on top of the table, there is a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, a glass tumbler and a pack of Camels. Everything has to be just so for the Old Man, but the Old Man’s plane is delayed, and so now it is Junior who’s sitting on the stool, in a wet white T-shirt, black dress slacks and black shoe-boots, with a towel fashioned into a turban on his head, singing “Lonesome Road.”P

Weary totin’ such a loadP

Trudgin’ down that lonesome road.P

The Voice. That’s what they called the Old Man when he was a young man making them swoon. Did Junior ever have a nickname, a title? No, only the pipes, only a talent that has trapped him. He sounds just similar enough to his father to invite comparison and just different enough to make the comparison punishing. From the moment he started, the critics shoved him into the Old Man’s shadow—”Frank Sr. oozed innate musicality and phrasing,” Newsweek wrote in 1963, “and Junior, at least so far, oozes mainly mimicry”—as though he intended to compete with the greatest pop singer of the American Century, as though he had a choice and the mimicry didn’t just well up out of him, out of his genes, out of a lifetime of osmosis, out of everything he is. Look at the Kid out there, sweating bullets with his stooped shoulders and his chubby cheeks and his thick lips and his stony brown eyes—what does he have of the Old Man’s? He doesn’t have his looks or his movements or his pitiless drive. He has just the Voice, or a lounge-act version of it. And if this is his inheritance, he is forced to spend it every time he opens his mouth.P

Look down, look down, that lonesome roadP

Before you travel on.P

Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos

Why did he do it? Why did Junior decide to—dare to—become, of all things, a singer? Had he become a doctor or lawyer, his name would have been a garland, a laurel, instead of a source of comparison and rebuke. He didn’t have to sing. He didn’t burn for it, didn’t sing as an avowal of self, didn’t hear within himself a song he couldn’t contain. He just loved the music, that’s all. All his life, he wanted to be part of the sound that surrounded his father, and his voice—this flawed gift, this tinkling echo—had been his way in. He was still a kid, 19 years old, skinny and dark, playing piano at Disneyland, when he was invited to front the remnants of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, the orchestra that had made the Old Man a star. He opened in New York City in September 1963, in the big room of the Americana Hotel, and, although Dorsey himself had been dead for six years, Junior made the cover of Life and packed the house. Jackie Gleason, Toots Shor, Joe E. Lewis—they all wept when Junior sang his father’s hits, wept out of nostalgia and wept at the turning of time, wept listening to a kid who, on that night and every night for the next dozen years, couldn’t stand the sound of his own voice.P

True love, true love, what have I doneP

That you should treat me so?P

You couldn’t feel sorry for Junior, though, because he got what he wanted. He got a life in music. He had never dreamed of greatness—that dream was killed by the greatness of his father. He had dreamed, instead, of a kind of subsistence, of making a living with music—yes, a Sinatra dreaming of making a living—and subsistence is exactly what he got. Every nightclub, every hotel, every lounge, every dump willing to pay his rate—he played them all for twenty-five years, until 1988, when his father gave him the call.P

And now … here he is, singing onstage in Atlanta, and at last the music is his. It is Junior’s. He is singing, in the same naggingly nasal voice he has spent a lifetime training and improving, but he is at the center, in control. Strings, lean on that figure! ‘Bones, play it dirty! Drums, swing like you mean it! Yeeeaaahh!P

Then, in the descending darkness, an old man swaggers onstage, alone, with his hands thrust into the pockets of a short black satin jacket, and his eyes, even at a distance, are as blue as gas jets. He does not look at the band or at Junior but rather keeps his face turned slightly away from the eyes of any living thing. The orchestra—the world—is suddenly silent.P

When Junior approaches him, Frank Sinatra’s hands stay in his pockets.P

“Everybody’s sweating,” he says to his son. “It’s too damned hot. Why couldn’t we rehearse in a building?”P

“I wanted you to sweat,” Junior says.P

“What?”P

“I wanted you to suffer.”P

He has not sung in nearly a month, the Old Man. Out in Malibu, he worked on his tan rather than on his voice, and now, when the orchestra plays “September Rain” and he sidles next to the microphone to sing, the Old Man keep his hands in his pockets, and what comes out of his mouth is a gaping sound, thin and broken, the voice of age.P

“Okay,” the Old Man says at the close of the song, “what time tomorrow?”P

But Junior doesn’t stop, and the orchestra does not stop, and so the Old Man tries again, and this time, in the middle of the song, Sinatra looks at his son, and his son holds up his fist and says “Fight.” That’s all. But that one word—and one gesture—change everything, because now the Old Man’s jacket comes off, and he rolls the French cuffs of his cranberry-colored shirt up to his elbows, and he’s working, snapping his fingers and barking to the orchestra, “Go, go, go—let’ go! You have all day tomorrow to rest! Go, go, go, go, go!” He’s chain-smoking, for Chrissake, firing up one Camel after another and singing, in a haze of smoke, “September Rain” and “Imagination” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and as the Voice returns to him, he manages, in his black shoe-boots, to do a defiant soft-shoe out on the lip of the stage, toward the empty arena, the smoldering night.P


A few months from this evening in Atlanta, Junior will sing in the same hotel as his father, on the very same night. He will conduct the Old Man’s orchestra in the big room of the Desert Inn, in Las Vegas, and then hustle off to the lounge to sing with his own twenty-piece band. It is a special occasion, he says, and he has a special name for it: the Total Eclipse. The last Total Eclipse took place in 1977, and this time, to mark the fickle alignment of the spheres of father and son, Junior will buy a “Total Eclipse” ad in the newspaper, and he will give “Total Eclipse” buttons to his band and his crew. This is Junior’s idea of a joke. This is an example of what Nancy Sinatra calls her brother’s “off-the-wall sense of humor.” Total Eclipse. Junior thinks it’s pretty funny, although when he eats dinner after the rehearsal in Atlanta and tells a table of his musicians about the Total Eclipse, no one else is laughing.P

They don’t get it; they, for the most part, don’t get him. Sure, they appreciate Junior: They wouldn’t be eating dinner if it were not for his generosity. They were tired and hungry after the rehearsal, but the Old Man’s promoter hadn’t bothered to make any arrangements for feeding them, so Junior had to persuade the hotel manager to keep the dining room open past closing time, and then pay for the meal—a full meal for the twenty-seven-piece orchestra—out of his own pocket. Junior’s the best boss they’ve ever had—that’s what most of the musicians say about him. No question about it: the best, the fairest, the most concerned about his people. The only problem with Junior is, well, the way he is.P

“The way he is” is a phrase that comes up all the time in discussions about Junior. It finds its classic usage in the commendation of one of his musicians: “He treats us really well, which is good, because with the way he is, he could have been a real a-hole.” Tonight, the hotel dining room is full of musicians, and Junior is eating at a corner table, with one of his girlfriends, his manager and four women from the string section, and he is giving a crash course in the way he is. First, there’s the way he dresses, in the shoe-boots that he shines daily and the black pants that are too short and the black-and-white checked shirt that he will wear every day for a week and the white undershirt that peeks out at the collar and the heavy canvas-and-corduroy barn coat that he wears wherever he goes so that he doesn’t catch cold. Then there’s his pedantry, his penchant for obsessively detailed discussions of airplanes and automobiles, for literary and cinematic references ….P

“Ah, Madame Defarge,” he says with theatrical diction as one of the violin players sits down. “Still knitting?” It seems that he once espied the violinist knitting during a break and was reminded of the sinister character in Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Junior knows his Dickens. Junior know his Dickens to the extent that now he begins quoting the famous opening passage from Two Cities, not just the first line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” but the whole damned thing, in a voice that is … sort of hard to place because it is so familiar. His enunciation is clipped and precise, his tone grave and somewhat edgy; he sounds at once sanctimonious and bullying, just like … but, no, he really doesn’t sound exactly the Old Man in conversation, either. His pipes have betrayed him again, and he sounds—yes, that’s it—like Jerry Lewis.P

It is a voice that is given to pronouncement rather than conversation, and soon the whole table is listening to him. Everybody has shut up, except for Junior and his manager, Vince Carbone, who has been with him on and off for thirty-one years. Well, Carbone’s not much for Dickens, so the discussion moves inexorably to Vegas. “Telly Savalas,” Carbone says, “signs autographs when he’s playing blackjack. Nobody will do that but Telly.”P

“Ah, Vinnie,” Junior says, “There are many celebrities but very few stars. You have a responsibility when you are a celebrity, and the few people who take that responsibility seriously are usually the real stars. Now Telly Savalas—that, Vinnie, is a star. The real star will always come through for you. One time I needed an opening act. I called Redd Foxx. He said ‘You got any booze?’ I said no. ‘You got any women?’ I said no. ‘Then what good are you?’ But he showed up, Vinnie. And he was funny. He had his head shaved for a role, and when he saw Telly Savalas, he said, ‘If we stand next to each other, we could make an ass of ourselves.”‘ Junior wags an uplifted finger and intones solemnly, “That, Vinnie, is funny.”P

No one laughs. There is a pause, and then Peg, a pretty frosted-blonde, makes the mistake of mentioning the name of Buddy Greco, a Vegas lounge singer. “Buddy Greco is a very talented singer and piano player,” Peg explains. “Unfortunately, he has an ego to match his talent.” Junior’s face hardens as he remembers a review of the Frank Sinatra Jr. show that appeared in a Las Vegas newspaper. “The entire review never mentioned my name,” Junior says.P

“Oh, darling, the writer must have some kind of grudge against you,” Peg says, suddenly speaking in a rapid, nervous trill.P

“It talked about my musicians, but it never talked about me.”P

“But, darling, it was the writer …”P

“Then, at the end, there’s a P.S.”P

“But, darling …”P

“‘P.S.,’ it says. ‘Frank Sinatra Jr. is worth six Buddy Grecos.’” Junior slaps his palms flat on the tabletop in a gesture of triumph and repeats to Peg, to Vinnie and to the silent string section, “‘Frank Sinatra Jr. is worth six Buddy Grecos’!”P


He had trouble with the orchestra, in the beginning, the boss’s son, and he had trouble because he had never conducted before, and he had trouble because there were guys still playing in the orchestra who remembered when Junior was just a kid with rounded shoulders and the Old Man kept yelling at him to stand up straight. There was a drummer who was open in his contempt for Junior, and there was a saxophone player who got drunk one night and wrote something about Junior on the hotel walls, and there is a piano player, Bill Miller, who used to conduct the orchestra and who—though he remains the piano and has now played with the old man for forty-three years—still seems to find a way to be out of a room that Junior is in.P

“I was guilty of it,” says Ron Anthony, who has been playing guitar in the orchestra for eight years. “When you first see him, and the way he is, and compare him to his dad, you say ‘Jesus Christ!’ It takes a while to realize what’s underneath. The heart there.” P

Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos

“It was considered cool not to like Junior,” says Buddy Childers, who played trumpet with him in Las Vegas and followed him to the Old Man’s orchestra. “To see how people treated him amazed me, and I began to understand why I was there: because he needed one friendly face in the band. I mean, you had guys saying, ‘Look, kid, we know the music—just leave us alone and we’ll be fine.’”P

He never left them alone, though. That’s the thing about Junior—from the start, he had an emotional connection to the music and knew how it should sound. He wanted it perfect, not only for the sake of the man who sang it but also for the sake of the men who wrote it, and played it, so long ago, when Junior was just a kid hanging around the sessions. He did not see much of his father in those days, so, for guidance and counsel, he depended on others, and especially on Nelson Riddle.P

“I was indifferent to my father’s music when I was a child,” he says. “I recognized my father’s voice when I heard it on the radio, like any toddler, but that was about it. Then, when I was 9 years old, a change came to my father’s life. He changed labels, and he started working with a new arranger … a man named Nelson Riddle. I heard his voice, and it changed my life. … When Nelson died, it left a hole in my life I can’t describe.”P

He would conduct, then, to honor the music and the musicians. He was still the boss’s son, yes, but he didn’t—and doesn’t—always seem to be on the boss’s side. In front of his musicians, he never refers to his father as “Dad” or “Pop,” and only rarely as “my father”; no, he says “the boss” or “our employer” or “F.A.S.” or “you know who” or sometimes just “Sinatra.” He never flies with the Old Man in the private jet and rarely stays in the same hotel or gambles with him in the casinos. In disputes with management, Junior often takes the side of his musicians, and if, say, the second alto saxophone makes a mistake and the Old Man cuts him in half with one of those looks, Junior takes the blame. “Taking care of my people”—that’s all he seems to talk about, care about. He won the musicians over—and if he couldn’t, he fired them, until all that was left in the orchestra were the friendly faces who even if they didn’t understand his joke or his pedantry or the way he is at least understood this: that, in the words of trombonist Danny Levine, “Junior just wants to be one of the cats.”P

He can never be one of the cats, of course. He is the boss’s son. He is a Sinatra. He carries the imperiousness common to his clan. One night in Atlanta, when a member of his crew, Brian Higgins, expresses his admiration for the promoter’s car, Junior turns around and sees that the car is a black Ferrari. Then he adjusts his eyeglasses and says, “That car, Brian, is wrong. There is only one color for a Ferrari, and that is a color known as Ferrari Red. I once had the honor of meeting Enzo Ferrari and taking a tour of the Ferrari Museum. There were no black Ferraris, Brian. That car is wrong.”P

“Urn, can I ask you a question?” a young woman named Amy says.P

“Of course,” Junior answers, gratified. After all, for the past half hour he has been entertaining Amy with a discourse on the development of jet aircraft, and there have been times—when Junior started detailing the first jet engine’s thrust, for instance, or specifying the structural advances incorporated into McDonnell Douglas Aircraft’s DC-6, DC-7, DC-8—when her beautiful silver-green eyes started to dart around, in a kind of panic, and her body began to curl lightly, there in her chair at the hotel restaurant, like the bodies of the hopelessly comatose.P

But she’s hung in there, and she’s with him. She’s communicating with Junior, and that’s all he asks for. They met on the plane from Atlanta to Chicago. She is a flight attendant in her early twenties, and sometime during the flight, she told him about her parents, great Sinatra fans living somewhere in the bosom of Illinois, and how much it would mean to them if she could get them tickets to the show. And he told her this: “Communicate with me.” He gave her the name of his hotel, and, sure enough, here she is, communicating with him, eating dinner with him and asking him questions. Can I ask you a question? Well, of course, she can ask him a question because whatever question she asks, Junior will know the answer. As everyone says, he’s brilliant; he knows everything.P

“Um, do you know Saturday Night Live?” Amy asks. “Do you know Phil Hartman? He does an impersonation of your dad, and I wanted to know what he thinks of that, if your dad thinks it’s funny.”P

Junior’s face freezes, and he clips his words as he speaks them. “I have no idea what my father thinks. He probably doesn’t know who the man is.”P

“In one show he called Sinéad O’Connor, ‘Sinbad’ O’Connor. He said ‘Lighten up, Sinbad.’ I love that. I think it’s so funny.”P

There is a pause, and Junior’s face cracks open, into a mirthless braying laugh. “Sinbad O’Connor,” he says. “That is funny.” Then there is another pause, the laugh leaves its echo, and Junior starts speaking again. “Now, the DC-9 …”P

Well, can you blame him? This is his life: No matter what he knows, all anybody really wants to talk about is the Old Man. Can you blame him if he builds a bunker of facts, an enormous fallout shelter of facts, and climbs into it? At least the facts are his. At least they are not his father’s. Who cares if people say that the son of Frank Sinatra is boring? Facts fill up the empty places, they shine in the shadows, and Junior hoards them with the hunger of a prisoner.P


Of course, Junior was a prisoner once, and it was then he learned what facts could do for him and how they could save him. He was 19, still young and skinny and handsome and hopeful. Hell, he was just getting started, in December 1963, when he answered a knock on the door of his hotel room in Lake Tahoe and a man stuck a gun in his ear and forced him out into the snow in his loafers and no socks, and Frank Sinatra Jr. became the nation’s most famous kidnapping victim since the Lindbergh baby. His captors blindfolded him, doped him, put him in the backseat of their car—but they didn’t kill him, and when they didn’t, his sister Nancy says, “his mind, that wonderful mind, took over.” The sound of the car’s engine, the noise of the planes overhead, the number of steps required to move from one place to another, the texture of his kidnappers’ hands—he memorized everything, all the facts, and when his father paid the ransom and one of the men dumped him on the side of a highway, the facts led the FBI right back to them.P

“I’m sorry, Dad”—that’s what he said to the Old Man when he arrived home.

At the trial, a defense lawyer tried a desperate gambit and accused Junior of collaborating on his own abduction as a publicity stunt. The strategy didn’t work—the jury convicted the kidnappers with extreme dispatch—but the accusation stuck. He was never the same; the thickening, the hardening, had begun. He began carrying a weapon on the road. He began, as the years went on, grousing at audiences who didn’t laugh at his jokes. He began saying thing about the Old Man—”I’d like to devote five minutes to my father; after all, he once told me that’s how much time he devoted to me”—and audiences began to grouse back. No, he didn’t rebel, although this was the Sixties and Junior had anger sufficient to light any number of fires. Instead, he became a symbol of the cost of obedience, of staying forever the good son: Singing in his short hair and his bow tie and his tuxedo, teaming up with Joey Heatherton to host the summer-replacement edition of The Golddiggers, he turned into a kitsch icon long before he turned 30. The record companies wanted him to, well, modernize, to at least try a protest song, or a song like “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” but he would have none of it. “I believed I was raised with better music,” he says. Junior hated the Sixties, long hair, hippies, the Beatles, Woodstock … and by the time he was 35, he says, “I had outlived my usefulness. After 1977, I couldn’t get work.”P

He came back, of course—Sinatra always comes back. In 1984, he got a gig at a Las Vegas hotel, the Four Queens, with a band of crack musicians, and this time the music saved him. He would no longer showcase himself; he would sing, but he would showcase the musicians and the songs, and he began packing rooms again. He would not sing very many of the Old Man’s songs, or any at all; no, when the crowd called for “My Way” and “New York, New York,” Junior would do “The Curly Shuffle,” and dance around onstage, not like a Sinatra but like a Stooge.P

He was back, back on the road, back to his life, his school, his crucible. “Everything l’ve learned, I’ve learned from travel,” he says, and like all true pilgrims, what he has learned is this: to simplify, to go it alone, to live hour by hour and day by day. That’s why he wears the same clothes day after day, that’s why he has never permitted himself to dream of empire or of opulence. Has he boiled life down to its essentials? “No,” he says, “you don’t boil life down. Life boils you down.”P

For thirty-one years, he has been ordering room service and eating alone. Sure, he loves company, especially the company of women; indeed, women, according to one of his musicians, are “Junior’s jones,” and many women, once they find out who he is—the name—are eager to “communicate” with him. There is, however, something impenetrable about Junior, an inviolate loneliness, a sense that his thickened flesh covers him like a carapace. He loves his family, but he has felt exiled from them ever since he was 14 and his parents sent him away to boarding school as punishment for hanging around with the wrong crowd. He turns 50 this month. He does not have a family of his own. He has never married, and this is what his sister Nancy laments, that “he has never found it in his heart to let a woman into his life.” He has had “serious” relationships; he has even been engaged, and he acknowledges a son, who, according to Nancy, “looks just like him.” In the end, though, the women have always gone away, or he has left them, and Nancy, after years of wondering why, has finally settled on her answer: “Because he doesn’t think he’s worthy.” So he works, and eats in his room, and then, as everything goes dark, and night proceeds into morning, he stays up and watches old movie and recites the lines he’s memorized. He carries with him, on every trip, a case full of music and movies, and sometimes he invites his musicians to watch with him. There are no titles on any of the tapes, though; no, there is instead a code, a number and a letter, and no matter what anybody wants to watch, no matter what anybody is in the mood for, the code is known only to Junior.P


He walks down an alley in Aurora, Illinois, toward the theater where his father is singing tonight, and a woman stops him, a small woman with a scarf wrapped around her head, who may very well know who he is or who may very well be crazy, possessed of the odd familiarity of the insane. “I’m keeping an eye on you,” she says, pointing a finger and smiling. “You’ve done all right so far, but I’m keeping an eye on you.”P

“Thank you,” Junior says and keeps walking in brisk, dogged steps. He opens the door of the theater, passes another table set with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pack of Camels and, after finding his dressing room, changes into his tux—or, rather, his conducting outfit, since he doesn’t really wear a tuxedo so much as an assortment of black clothes and a white button-down shirt topped off with a bow tie. See, when he’s conducting for the Old Man, Junior quite literally does not want to shine; he wants to make sure his clothes are dull-black under the lights and blend in with the background. He knows exactly whose show it is and what he is there for; indeed, he calls himself the “aide-de-camp” and his father the “four-star general” and describes his job this way: “I have to see that my general is prepared at all times—that he never goes into battle unprepared.”P

He gets carried away, Junior does, with military terminology, but in this case, his choice of words is entirely appropriate because his job is a perilous one. The war the Old Man is fighting is not about other people anymore; it is about himself, and about time, and it is a war he is losing—and must lose—inch by bloody inch. “The making of a Sinatra show is a critical business,” Junior says. “It is second by second because at any time there may be a glitch.” Ah, yes, the glitches. You cannot witness a Frank Sinatra concert these days and ignore the glitches. They have become part of the show and lend every performance a weird exhilaration. That’s why Junior is so hard on himself, why he devotes hour upon hour to his sound checks and set lists—because he wants to protect his father, and to protect his father, he, Junior, has to be perfect.P

But tonight’s show in Aurora, Illinois, is not perfect from the very beginning, from the moment the Old Man opens his mouth and fails to steer the Voice past the soft, sad catches of age. The show is three or four songs old when the first glitch comes. The Old Man introduces a song, but Junior has cued up the wrong music, and there is a moment of confusion, and then the inevitable rough lash of the Old Man’s voice: “The wrong music? Get out of here … what good are you?” Then he softens and turns to the crowd and asks, “Did I introduce him? This is my son, Frank Jr. He’s a nice boy.”P

Well, as glitches go, it’s not so catastrophic. Oh, the Old Man is pissed off, all right, and he will let his son hear about it later, but right now, all things considered, Junior got off easy. The Old Man didn’t humiliate or berate or abuse him, as he’s been known to do; didn’t call him “dummy” and tell him to go back to music school; didn’t say, “I should stick my foot right up your ass.” And he didn’t make fun of Junior when he introduced him, either; didn’t say that he made Junior the conductor because the kid “needed a job, and his mother got sick of him hanging around the house.” Junior hates that stuff, really, but he accepts it, because that’s show biz—the Old Man has always needed a sparring partner onstage—and because, well, that’s Frank Sinatra, and Frank Sinatra can’t help himself.P

He loves his son, the people who know him insist; he’s proud of the Kid; he occasionally even compliments him—but only when Junior’s not around to hear. Sometimes, when people hear the Old Man praise his son, they can’t help saying “Why don’t you tell him what you just told me?” He never does, though, and one night, on this tour, Junior walked up to Bucky Pizzarelli—a jazz guitarist who had just played a doting set with his son John for the show’s opening act—and said, “The only time my father ever looks at me like that is after he tells me to go fuck myself.” Junior does not ask for tenderness; he simply endures the hardness because it is his duty, because it is his time to take care of his father. It was once Nancy’s time, and then their sister Tina’s, and now it is Junior’s. Who else is going to do it? Who else is going to worry about the Old Man? The managers, the mercenaries? No, it has to be the son, the man who was doomed to be Frank Sinatra Jr.—and who is now doomed, along with the rest of America’s sons, to watch a father grow old.P

Old, yes—Frank Sinatra is old tonight. He pulls out the stool for one of the saloon songs, and he sings, in a voice full of quiet hurt, “Isn’t it rich?/Aren’t we a pair?” He is singing “Send in the Clowns.” But … he hasn’t sung that in twelve years! It’s not even on the set list! He’s supposed to be singing “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,” and that’s what the orchestra keeps playing as the Old Man stands out there, alone. The lights are still on him, and the TelePrompTers are spelling out the lyrics, and Junior is calling out the name of the song, but the Old Man is staring off somewhere, and he cries out with scary desperation, “I can’t see! I can’t hear!”P

Then the orchestra squeaks to a stop, and the spotlights are cut, and there is a black moment, a long foreshadowing silence that seems to go on forever, and the only sound, the only voice, the only movement, all that’s left, is Junior, who knows the words.P


PostscriptP

“Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos” is the second story I wrote for David Granger atGQ. It is, in a way, the first story that I wrote very much as myself, in my own voice, because in a way I was telling my own story. Anyone who has read my work over the years knows that I’vewritten many times about my father, Lou Junod, a band singer in World War II who never lost the conviction that he was a star. He modeled himself after Frank Sinatra, and my first awareness of who my father was and wasn’t came when I was very young, sitting in the back seat of my Dad’s Cadillac and listening to him sing along with some 8-track tape (perhaps Dean Martin, perhaps Robert Goulet, perhaps Sinatra himself). We passed a place called the Sunrise Village in Bellmore, Long Island, and I saw, on the big sign, who was singing there that night: Frank Sinatra Jr. I remember thinking to myself, “Frank Sinatra … Jr.? There’s a Frank Sinatra Jr.? That poor bastard!”P

I didn’t know what a magazine writer was, at the time; but at that moment I began to think like one, and the story of Frank Sinatra Jr. is the first story I pitched to David Granger after he andGQ editor-in-chief Art Cooper gave me a contract. And though I wrote this story twenty years ago, and the world it conjures is long gone, it formed the first installment of what I’ve always thought of as “The Swingin’ Dad Trilogy.” I first took on Frank Sinatra; then, in a story this website’s curator so graciously salvaged a few months ago, Tony Curtis; and then, at last, my own father, in “My Father’s Fashion Tips.” Flawed men, all; and even more flawed as husbands and fathers. But they had the balls to be themselves, and good Christ, they were funny … and so now, 15 years after the death of Frank Sinatra, three years after the death of Tony Curtis, and six years after the death of the man who never ceased to believe that he was their equal, I still write about Lou Junod, and live with his crazy maxims and commandingly precise diction ringing in my brain. P

Indeed, I just thought of him the other day, when my daughter was doing something to bother me. I thought of what my father would say: “Must you?” It made me laugh, just thinking about it. But, in reading “Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos” again after all these years, I couldn’t help but think who my father sometimes sounded like. He wanted to sound like Frank Sinatra. But just as often, God help me, he sounded like Junior.P

Frank Sinatra Jr. Is Worth Six Buddy Grecos


Tom Junod is a writer at large for Esquire and a two-time National Magazine Award winner. He’s @TomJunod on Twitter.

Million Dollar Movie

Tom Junod profiles Leonardo DiCaprio in Esquire and it’s a good one:

Guy walks into the venerable Hollywood establishment Dan Tana’s. Different guy — not Leonardo DiCaprio. But this guy, Rick Yorn, has something very valuable in a place like Dan Tana’s back in 1999 — he has Leonardo DiCaprio, whom he has represented as a client since DiCaprio was a kid. When the kid was just a teenager, he made two movies that announced his talent to a new generation of moviegoers the way, says one of his friends, that The Graduate and Midnight Cowboy announced not just the arrival of an actor named Dustin Hoffman but also a whole new style of acting. The movies were This Boy’s Life and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and in the first one the kid stands up to Robert De Niro, in the second to Johnny Depp. And then he made Romeo + Juliet and Titanic, which made him, as a very young man, the biggest movie star in the world. So when Yorn goes to Dan Tana’s to meet some friends, he gets summoned to the table of a tanned old man in big black eyeglasses, Lew Wasserman.

Wasserman is the wise old owl of Hollywood, in the sense that he has night vision and talons. He’s a combination rabbi and mobster, pope and Caesar, Darryl Zanuck and Henry Ford — he invented the industry he lords over. And now he wants to speak to Yorn about his client.

“Lew was old and near the end by this time,” Yorn says. “He died a year or two later. But he knew I was Leo’s manager, and he wanted to give me some advice. He said, ‘Only let them see him in a dark room.’ It took me a minute to figure it out. But what he meant was only let people see him in the movie theater. That’s the dark room.”

It’s harder now, Yorn says. It’s harder to live out of the public eye than it was in Wasserman’s day. Every citizen has a camera, and every tabloid photographer has a camera with a telephoto lens. The kid lives in a celebrity surveillance state. Still, he’s done a pretty good job of “maintaining his mystique,” Yorn says — of making his living in the dark. And besides, he’s not a kid anymore. These days, when you call Rick Yorn and tell him you want to talk about Leonardo DiCaprio, this is what he exclaims:

“The king!”

He’s been a pretty good king, as kings go.

No, we don’t know very much about him outside the dark room, by his own design. What we do know is that he’s been doing what he’s doing for a very long time, and that he seems to have created for himself a life of unalloyed advantage. He has meaningful work and meaningful friendships. He has the power to make any movie he wants and a choice of both directors and women. He can go anywhere he pleases and has lately chosen to go where he feels he can do the most good. He’s not only talented but driven. He’s dogged in everything he’s ever done, a largely unschooled man who’s learned the value of doing his homework. If, at times, talking to him about life is like talking about food with someone who’s never done anything but order from a menu — well, the menu has been both expensive and extensive, and he’s learned enough to know exactly what he likes. He is always in ferocious demand, and yet he has always been in equally ferocious control of his own life, from the time he was very young. Is there anything else we can possibly ask of him, other than to lose control of his life, for our benefit? Is there anything else we can possibly ask of any of them, be they Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt or Matt Damon? We have a prejudice about kids who become kings, in that we like to see them earn their crown, preferably by enduring some kind of trial — by going off to battle or taking speech lessons or marrying a tragic queen. But what can we possibly ask Leonardo DiCaprio to endure, to prove himself to us? Can we see him as any less a man because he made the road to manhood look so easy?

The Banter Gold Standard: The Last Swinger

This one here is a beaut. “The Last Swinger,” Tom Junod’s 1996 Tony Curtis profile for GQ (April). It appears here with the author’s permission.

Dig in and enjoy!

“The Last Swinger”

By Tom Junod

SO THERE’S THIS TREE OUTSIDE SPAGO, the restaurant in Los Angeles where Tony Curtis eats almost every night of the week. It’s a lemon tree, or a lime tree, something like that, with dark, shiny leaves and a peppery smell that softens the shrill air off Sunset, and it’s so beautiful that when I walked underneath it, my hand jumped automatically into its branches and clutched a hard green ball of fruit. I had just finished my first meal with Tony, and he was walking behind me with his girlfriend, Jill Vanden Berg, this strapping 25-year-old triumph of a blonde whom he had addressed, back in the restaurant, as “you goddess of love, you twin tower of desire, you two tons of vanilla ice cream, you.”Jill was having some trouble navigating the inclined sidewalk in the five-inch spike heels that made her roughly the size of a power forward, so I didn’t think Tony was watching me, but the second my fingers closed around that piece of fruit, and I mean the very second, I heard his voice, and it said, “Take it.”

Well, of course. He is Tony Curtis, after all, a man who pronounces his own name in italics, and he is alert to any instance of appetite, however idle, and now, with Jill on his arm, he came tilting and listing down the concrete and stopped in front of the tree. He indicated the fruit with a feint of his chin and shrugged with a quick, smarting grimace of impatience and indulgence. “Take it, take it,” he said again, with a heavy click of his consonants, and when I had done it, when I had broken the fruit from its branch and stashed it in my pocket, he sang the little tune, “Hey bop a rebop,” that strays to his lips whenever he’s happy or just wants to get things moving or wants to show the world that he, Tony Curtis, still has something to say about desire, and what a man’s obligated to do with it.

“I LIKE YOU,” TONY SAYS TO me at the bar at Spago. “You don’t want to know how big my dick is, and you don’t want to know who I fucked and who I didn’t fuck.” Then he changes his voice into the hoarse, booming whisper of a man in the habit of exchanging public confidence and adds, “Although just between you and me, my friend, I fucked them all!” Then he sips from the glass of vodka and Diet Coke he uses to wash down his various and sundry medicines, and slurps the silvery meniscal top off his shot of Patrón tequila, and laughs his great silly, twisting laugh, which always seems to start out as a gambit, a challenge of some sort, and then just keeps going, rising into one thing giddy and wild, a high hacking whinny that mines the mirth from his very bones—”Ha! Ha ha! Ha ha hee hee hoo hoo hoooooo….”

And why not? You were him, you’d laugh, too. Tony Curtis! He’s fucked them all; he’s fucked everybody, and here we are, another night on the town with old T.C., because guess what? He still fucks! He’s 70 year old, and he should be fucking dead, so virtuosic has he been in pursuit of his own corruption, and he still gets laid! “Am I not a fucking miracle?” he says. “Look at me! Look at the scars I got! I am a motherfucker, aren’t I?”

You can’t really see the scars, of course, because right now he’s in his black Armani suit, and his scooped-neck T-shirt that displays his floury ascot of chest hair, and his green suede shoes with the two-inch heels, and his long gray scarf swung rakishly around his neck, and his gold Chevalier medal from the French Ministry of Culture pinned heroically to his lapel—but they’re there, my friend, they’re there, all pink and shiny where they dug out his cancerous prostate…where they cracked open his sternum and garlanded his heart with the vein snatched from the length of his leg…where for ten years he ransacked his nose with all the major pollutants, cocaine, heroin, the works…where his crazy mother put his balls through the wringer…where his beloved little brother got run over by a truck…where his other little brother went nuts and wound up picking garbage off the street of Hollywood…and where, dear God, he lost his son, his son, his beloved son. Hell, the list is long: the list is endless; Tony’s a freaking amalgam of his wounds, and yet here he is—enjoying himself! Having fun! Offering the world instruction in the art of celebrity! At Spago, which he pronounces with a long, dawdling stress on the first syllable! With Jill, that gadzookian dish!

“Why, hello, darling,” he says to Jill, in a voice insinuating the thrill of discovery, even though Jill walked through the door with him, in a white fur that made her look like some exotic winter game, and even though for the past five minutes he has been standing next to him at the bar, drinking from a tulip glass of Champagne. “Hello, tateleh. Oh, you lovely creature. You look so beautiful tonight. So fresh! So young!”

“I thought you said I was getting older looking,” Jill says. She is on the long side of five-eleven in bare feet and six-five in her heels, and when she slips out of her fur, she is wearing a skintight dress of pearlescent vinyl whose high hem continually gooses her epic ass and make her legs loom like the pillars astride the gates of an ancient city. She has hair of Harlowesque platinum, and a beauty mark dabbed on her cheek, and lips surrounded by a dark border, and small, perfect sandblasted features, and skin of such powdery phosphorescent pallor that she seems to walk forever in the blanching nimbus of a flashbulb.

“Younger!” Tony says. “I said you were looking younger.”

“I thought I was getting too old for you,” Jill says, and although she is large, her voice is small and sad, a fretful coo that issues from a face as still as sculpture.

“You’re only 25!” Tony says. “Now, maybe when you’re 35, maybe then—but c’mon, darling, let’s enjoy it while we can! We have a lot of good years left!”

No, not for him, not for T.C., some old broad on his arm with nothing left in her eyes but forever. “Can you imagine me with a woman old enough to be my wife?” he once told me. “No, really. I’m serious. Can you imagine me walking into Spago with a 70-year-old woman? Forget it. Fuck that! I don’t have that spirit. My girlfriend is 25 years old—perfect.” See, there’s something about a woman just making her way in the world—”the smell, the taste: There’s a juice there that’s very important”—and these days when Tony walks into Spago with Jill on his arm, man, heads fucking swivel. Yeah, sure, they’re looking at Jill, but they’re looking at him too, because “you got to be something to walk with Jill. Shows you the kind of courage I got. And women love me now more than ever. They look at that fucking girl I’m with—’Look at that 25-year-old girl with that old fucking guy. Whoo! What does he do with his dick?’”

And that’s Tony Curtis for you: Not only does he still fuck—he still wants to show ‘em; he still wants to own the room; he still wants. He’s the Last Swinger. The rest of them—that race of men who understood in their guts that the Big War had broken the world wide open and that America was going to stand up and applaud the guy with the balls to make a show not only of his talent but of his appetite—have either been killed off, like Sammy and poor Dino, or appeased, like Sinatra, an honored and honorable geezer at last. Tony’s the only one left, the only one clinging to dishonor, an embarrassment of carnality—the sly old satyr, unsated. You know how much more living he’s done than anyone else? Well, you can add it up. He’s made 112 movies—a lot of them shit but a lot of them an amplification of his experience, all of the life, as in “When you’re making Some Like It Hot and Marilyn Monroe sticks her tongue in your mouth all the way down to your navel, that’s not moviemaking, my friend, that’s life.”

He’s painted something like 1,500 paintings. He’s had four wives. He’s had six children—and now five. He’s had enough lovers to qualify him, in his own estimation, as “the greatest cocksman to ever come down the pike, man.” There’s no story he hasn’t heard, no lie he hasn’t told, no body buried in Hollywood he doesn’t know where, no vice he hasn’t afforded himself. You’d think he would be full by now, but no…look around. Tony’s everywhere; he’s as current as any of the trash celebrities: He’s showing up at Cannes, he’s out dancing with Jill, he’s mugging for the paparazzi, he’s hanging out with porn stars, he’s going to the birthday parties for Timothy Leary and Richard Pryor (“I love the guys who are gonna check out soon; they make me feel better”), he’s crashing parties, he’s telling people off…and now, at Spago, down two tequilas and his medicinal vodka and Diet Coke, he’s making his way from the bar to a table, his table, and offering his check to the crones and cronies who populate the place, “Kiss, kiss, dahlink.”

Then he sits down and orders “corn on the cob with the truffles, Caesar salad and a half order of sushi tuna, no avocado and bring it all out at once. Yes, yes, that’s how you eat, isn’t it? Everything on the table. Yes! Entrée the same time as the appetizer!” The waiter brings him another shot, and Tony starts talking about the dream he had a few nights earlier, a dream in which he goes to some posh party and is crucified in front of Jack Lemmon, Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Robert Wagner, et al. Thing is, all those guys, they’re all smiling and laughing at the spectacle of Tony on the cross—”They thought it was a good idea, and so did I.” Then Tony’s corn comes, along with the salad—”Now bring the entrée! Good! Good!”—and a strange thing happens, the kind of thing that happens to Tony all the time: He looks up and purses his Cupid’s lips into a cagey smile enfolds his arms across his chest like a stricken fan and says, “As I live and breathe, if it isn’t R.J. Wagner.” And it is—fresh from the crucifixion, it’s Robert Wagner, whom Tony had called R.J. for forty-some-odd-years, and he’s wearing his president-of-the-Protestant-frat-circa-1962 getup, turtleneck and tweedy jacket, and he leans over and smiles and shakes Tony’s hand, but he doesn’t stop, not really, not long enough to talk, and when he is gone, I say, “My God, does that man ever age?”

And Tony, wiping a crumb from his lips, says, “No, he’s the same old man he was when he was 24.”

Then Jill St. John walks by, in Wagner’ wake. “Hi,Tony,” she says.

“Hi, Jill.”

“Hi Jill,” Jill St. John says to Jill Vanden Berg.

“Hi, Jill.”

Then she sits down at another table, and Tony’s face goes sour. “Jill St. John,” he says. “What a sack of shit.”

And Jill straightens up and pats Tony’s hand and says, “Now, Tony, be nice.”

But Tony is not nice. He can he generous and kind and charming, but he is not nice; he has never been nice, because from from the start he has been involved in the act of creation, and from the start he has understood that in order to create, you have to he willing to destroy.

HE CREATED HIMSELF, OF COURSE. He created Tony Curtis. He wanted to be Tony Curtis, but he was not Tony Curtis, he was Bernie Schwartz, a Hungarian Jew living in the back of his father’s tailor shop on the East Side of Manhattan and later in the Bronx. He had a mother who beat the shit out of him, and a little brother, Julie, who followed him around, and an awareness that not only he, Bernie Schwartz, was beautiful, but that his beauty was somehow incompatible with Bernie Schwartz in the place where Bernie had to live. “All the beautiful people leave their neighborhoods,” he says now. “And you know why? Because they don’t have to stay there! Beauty is America’s lottery, and celebrity is America’s royalty. That’s just the way it goes, just the way it is, and there’s nothing anyone can do to deny that.”

He began taking his leave one day when he was 13. He was out running around with his buddies, and Julie was tagging along. “Get the fuck out of here,” Bernie Schwartz said. “Go find your own friends.” Julie walked away, and on his way home, alone, he walked in front of a truck. He was 9 years old. His mother demanded that Bernie be the one to go to the hospital and identify him. Julie was still alive, in a coma, and Bernie whispered in his ear and told him he loved him. He died the next day, and so Bernie started going down to the East River to pray, to beseech God to allow him to see his brother, just once, just for a moment, their little secret, their little deal. But no, Julie Schwartz—perhaps the only person Bernie had ever loved enough to stay for—was gone, and so Bernie Schwartz was free to go.

He went out to Hollywood after the navy, after the war. Sure, he was still legally Bernie Schwartz, and he still had a mouthful of Bernie’s rotten teeth—but he already had Tony Curtis’s hairstyle, and he was already wearing his shirts just the way Tony Curtis would, with the open collar…and pretty soon he got his teeth capped, each and every one…and pretty soon Universal put him under contract…and pretty soon, when he went back to New York after his first movie, he told the limo driver to go by the theater where he had taken some acting courses. And there he saw Walter Matthau standing in the rain, and he rolled down the window and he shouted, “Hey, Walter! I fucked Yvonne De Carlo!”

What a benediction! But was it Bernie Schwartz who fucked her? No, it couldn’t have been. It had to have been Tony Curtis, because that’s who he was now—and it was Tony Curtis who married Janet Leigh; Tony Curtis who was voted the biggest box-office star four years in a row; Tony Curtis who made nearly four movies a year, “movies that were made for $200,000, that grossed 2½ million each, on tickets that cost a quarter. I was fucking King Kong! I could’ve eaten the world!”

Tony Curtis never got away from the Schwartzes, though. They followed him. His mother, his father and Bobby, the brother born after Julie’s death—they followed him to Hollywood, and they lived there, and his mother demanded that Tony take care of Bobby and get him into the movies. Oh, poor Bobby, he was crazy from his schizophrenia—but his mother, she was crazy from rancor, from malice. Nothing satisfied her—nothing. “Those were miserable fucking days,” Tony says. “My marriage to Janet started to deteriorate. I mean, give us a fucking break! Why wouldn’t we at the end of the day’s shooting close the doors and the windows, put up a sign: NOBODY BOTHER THEM. Why couldn’t I just say, ‘Hi, Mom. How much money do you need, Mom? Thirty-eight dollar for new suit? Then buy it. Leave me the fuck alone! Leave me the fuck alone! Leave me the fuck alone!’

He couldn’t do it—stay in his marriage, take care of his bother, any of it. Tony wasn’t built for endurance, you see; he was built for escape. He’d tried, in his fashion, to take care of Bobby, but often that meant farming him out—to friends; to other, lesser actors; to a guy like Nicky Blair. Yeah, that’s what Tony would do—he’d give Bobby to Nicky, and he’d be sure to get Nicky a part in the next Tony Curtis feature. Sometimes, though, Bobby would do some crazy thing, like leaving the hospital, living in the streets like a bag man, just to make Tony find him, just to make Tony prove that he loved him. “I felt bad about Bobby; I still feel bad about Bobby. But he’s one of the victims. You know? One of the victims. One of the ones that didn’t get away. Some get away; some don’t. Every family has that.”

And when Bobby Schwartz died, in 1993, Tony Curtis hadn’t seen him in five years.

“YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPINESS is?” Tony says. “I’ll show you what happiness is!”

He opens the door of his garage. He is wearing what he usually wears when he isn’t wearing his black suit–white shorts and a white muscle T-shirt and Birkenstocks, and of course, the accoutrement he is never without, his armature of hair, fashioned out of some spun silver alloy. He’s looking good, Tony Curtis is. He’s looking healthy, vital. He has thick, strong arms and thick, strong legs—one of them striped ankle to groin by his scar—and a body that bespeaks abundance, like a sack used in the plunder of a rich man’s house. He is no longer beautiful. His face is atavistic. His blue eyes have turned milky, and his nose is fat, and he no longer looks like the perpetual boy, the charmed and charming tagalong, but at last like a man who wears his life right on his kisser—and who has earned the right to tell me what happiness is.

There are two cars in the garage—a silver Camaro Z28 with a black convertible roof, and a white Firebird Trans Am with a blue convertible roof. They are both limited editions, and on the dashboard of each is a brass plaque that say, BUILT ESPEClALLY FOR TONY CURTIS. “Look at these fuckers!” Tony says. “Hee hee hee hee! Fuck Cadillacs! Happiness is having these two cars—it’s freedom!” He puts on a black leather jacket and a pair of leather driving gloves—he never drives anywhere without gloves—and a flat-brimmed Stetson, and we get in the Trans Am, whose passenger seat is littered with loose compact discs. (“Tony what kind of music do you listen to?” “Rap, man.”) Then we go. Tony likes to go. He likes to drive fast. He’s had eighty cars, “every car anybody would ever desire…Buick convertible, Dynaflow drive…Facel Vega…Ferrari…Aston Martin…that small Bentley…the Rolls and the Bentley…Maserati…all the Mercedes…every Firebird ever made”—and now here he is, on the freeway, eighty, eighty-five, ninety miles per hour, in a car without license plates, but what does he care? The cops stop him all the time, but they don’t give him tickets, once they see who he is, once they see that he’s Tony Curtis. “I’ve been privileged, I know. Do you know what kind of life I’ve had? And I still can’t get enough of it! I can’t get enough of it, my friend! The living, everything. Just what I’m doing with you now. I love it. I love driving down the fucking freeway!”

Do you know what kind of life he’s had? A few year ago, he was standing at a urinal, in France, and a man asked him if he was Tony Curtis. Tony said yes, he was. The man asked if he had fucked Marilyn Monroe. Tony said yes, he had. Then the man asked if he could kiss his dick, because he wanted to kiss the dick that had been inside Marilyn Monroe. “I said, ‘Get the fuck out of here.’ So he says, ‘Well, can I touch it then?’” That’s the kind of life he’s had. You know, people think that back in the ’50s. the Beats, Kerouac and all them were the pioneers. Well, fuck the Beats! When the Beats were off playing bongo drums, Tony was fucking starlets at the Château Marmont at 5:30 in the morning! Tony was the pioneer! He did eat the world! Tony was a Face Man of America! What, you never heard of the Face Men? Well, they were a group of guys—a club of sorts, consisting of Tony and Sammy and Frank and Dean and Jerry Lewis, guys like that, yeah, Nicky Blair, him too—dedicated to the art of eating pussy. “We were the harbingers of the future. I’m sure going down on girls was passed on and on and on, but we brought it to a new height of elegance—nobody was ashamed of it anymore. We had dinners. We had cards: ‘This is to certify that Tony Curtis is a member of the Face Men of America. ‘Yoo-hoo! I love it! I fucking love it!”

He used to dress up in costumes, like a sheikh or something, with sword and turban, when he made love to women. He used to hide in the closet and leave tape-recorded instructions for his lovers on his dining room table—”‘Hello, Gladys. I’m glad you made it. Lock the door behind you, dear. Go into the bedroom; put on something comfortable.’… Listen, they loved it! I’d laugh them into their orgasms.” He had his share of starlets, of course, but he preferred secretaries, strippers, porn stars. Then he began living with Jill, and he simplified. He didn’t want to squander himself, because his potency…well, his potency is hard-won, if you want to know the truth. See, when he had his prostate removed he learned that “with this operation, 50 or 60 percent of the time men will become completely impotent. I was not in that group, but I still had difficulty with erections. But then as time went on, I found I was becoming stronger and some of the women I went with excited me…and then they came up with some shots you could give yourself to the penis which will give you an erection. The doctor told me, ‘This injection will give you an erection for two hours.’ I said, ‘Doctor, that will be one hour and fifty-seven minute longer than I’ve ever had!’”

He starts to laugh. We are driving down the freeway as he tells me this—for as it happens, we are driving down the freeway whenever we talk about sex, or rather, we talk about sex whenever we are driving down the freeway—and his foot is on the gas, and he starts to speed, and what I hear above the Trans Am’s mad chatter, is this: “Ha ha ha! Ha ha ha ha! Yee-hee-hee-hoooo!”

AN ETERNAL ERECTION! WELL, WHY NOT? With the way he takes care of himself, and the medicines they have these days, maybe he’ll get away with it, all this giddy venery—maybe he’ll just go on forever—with the prostaglandins for his putz and the Prozac for his psyche, and the Percocet for his aches and pains, and the Patrón for his overall sense of bonhomie. Moderation in medication: That’s what Tony practices now, and some nights, when it’s late and he’s out dancing, he’ll drain another shot of Patrón and tell you that he’s finally found what he’s been looking for, and that secret is perpetual inebriation—a way of drinking all night long that neither violates his elegant equilibrium nor means that he is an alcoholic on his way to the abyss he once called home.

Yeah, the abyss, man, the gutter: Tony lived there, or pretty damned close to it, for nearly ten years. And do you know why. Because he got scared. He got desperate. He started hating everything, hating life itself. It happened in the ’70s, when Tony was closing in on 50, and that milestone, he says, “was like something obscene. It was like something that should be killed, that should be put away…My fucking looks went; everything went. My hair was falling out in handfuls. I was sick; I lost all my humor, I had no sense of myself, reality, anybody—I wouldn’t talk to anybody. I was so fucking mean and arrogant, because I was losing it, and I knew I was losing it, and I didn’t want to share that loss with anybody.” So he did cocaine. It made him feel like himself again, like Tony Curtis, omnipotent, unable to make a mistake, beyond consequence—he couldn’t possibly foresee that he would wind up stumbling around Hollywood, fainting in his own spittle, sleeping in the backseat of his Trans Am, as lost in his own way as his poor crazy brother Bobby was in his. He couldn’t possibly foresee that he would start freebasing. He couldn’t possibly foresee that he would start snorting and smoking heroin, the ultimate death drug, although he never shot it, thank God….

“Heroin?” I say, the first time he tells me all this. “I have, hard time believing that Tony Curtis did a drug like heroin.”

“Heroin!” Tony says. And then, suddenly, “That’s what killed my son! That’s what killed my son! That’s what killed my son!”

WE DRIVE TO HIS STUDIO, in an industrial park somewhere in the Valley. He wants me to see it because it moves him, this place where he stores most of his paintings and most of the shadow boxes he has obsessively and compulsively assembled. Imagine: You walk into an enormous windowless room, and the first thing you see are his paintings, dozens, maybe hundreds of them, big, quick, color-crazed still lifes—a goblet on a table, with a bottle of wine and a bowl of fruit—in the style of Matisse. Then you see his boxes, hundreds of them too…then his hooks, and his photographs, and the statues he’s collected, and the paintings he’s bought from other artists, and a genuine Warhol Marilyn, and an assortment of memorabilia from his movies and a show box of old colognes, and a jar of old toothbrushes, and some tape measures, some crystal goblets, some pipes, an old box camera, a shoe-shine kit, albums of press clippings, bowls of balls, books of cocktail recipes, hairbrushes, paintbrushes, pens, screws, shot glasses, thread, flashlights, pieces of quartz, pieces of flint, cigarette lighters, playing cards, scales, shoehorns, starfish. Scotch tape, eyeglass cases, watches, watch straps, luggage, locks, old shaving kits and marbles, marbles everywhere, like crumbs in a neglected kitchen. And none of this stuff has just been tossed here, either—no, what makes the place haunting is Tony’s proprietorship of it: the fact that, as he says, “there’s nothing in here I haven’t touched; there’s nothing I haven’t arranged, personally.” Indeed, as he walks around now in his muscle tee and his white shorts and his black leather jacket, that’s what he starts doing with this infinity of artifacts: he starts fiddling with them, adjusting them, rearranging them, a half inch here, a quarter inch there, until everything within reach of his pale and mottled hand is just so… “My boxes, this studio—I like them to happen the way the universe happened,” Tony says. “You know? Out of the big bang, everything flew away, and it’s like I’m trying to put it all back together…perfect, just the way it was.”

The big bang! Tony is his own big bang. Wherever he goes, he brings the blast with him….and then he tries to gather everything he has scattered, chasing the ash that falls from the sky. He has had four wives, and he severed himself from them with childlike concision: “I don’t like you. I don’t want to be married to you anymore. You make me mad. You displease me.” He has, or had, two children from each of his first three marriages: first Kelly and Jamie Lee, then Alexandra and Allegra, and then his sons. Benjamin and Nicholas…but nothing can be made completely whole once it has been blown apart; nothing can be just the way it was, unless of course it is something that Tony can catch, collect and place wherever it pleases him. He loves objects, you see. He believes in them, and when Tony is lonely, he does not often depend on the messy solace of human contact—no, he’d rather come here, to the studio, to find succor in the detritus of the lives he’s led, and the lives he’s left.

“C’mere,” Tony says. “I want to show you something.” We go into a little side room where he keeps some of his best boxes and his best marbles. He has been collecting marbles since he was a child; they are his Rosebuds, he says, these pieces of glass he took from his playmates because he was better at the game than they were and because that’s the way it is with Tony, and has alway been: Whatever it is you’ve got, he wants, and whatever it is you want, he’s got. l pick up a fat one, one of the shooters, an “immie.” It is radiantly blue—as blue as sapphire, as blue, perhaps, as Tony’s eyes were when he won it—and when Tony sees it, he says, “The guy who owned this marble is probably 80 years old. And yet the marble looks as though it’s never been used. See? An object can defy time, if it’s perfect.”

Then he closes my hand around it. “I want you to have it,” he says. “Happiness is a blue immie.”

NICHOLAS CURTIS WAS NOT PERFECT. “There was,” Tony says, “something unfinished about Nicholas—unfinished perhaps in his brain, that only in the high of cocaine and heroin did he achieve that moment of omnipotence, that moment of ‘Shit, man, I’ve got it all together—I can paint now; I can play my music now.’” An artist and a dreamer, he did not have what Tony has—the survivor’s carapace of selfishness and moxie—and in the summer of 1994, he shot himself in the arm, and just like that, he was one of them, one of the victims, and his father was now one of them, too: one of those forced to make a passage through the world of grief. Oh, sure, Tony had experienced loss before, but when Nicholas died, “that was a devastation. It was more than just a shock; it knocked me out from under my feet.”

His grief enfeebled him. He went to bed after the funeral, and he couldn’t get up—until, of course, one day he got hungry and went out to eat, and he had, he says, a bad experience with Billy Wilder: “We were having dinner one night at Spago. And as I came in, I saw him and I knelt down by him for a moment, and he said, ‘How are you, Tony?’ I said, ‘Billy, my son died. My son Nicholas died.’ This was just a week or so after. ‘He died of an overdose of heroin.’ Billy said to me, ‘He learned it from you.’ I just—it took my breath away. My breath was taken away. I felt terrible. Maybe I felt that it was my responsibility and I didn’t fulfill it, and my son is dead, and I was responsible for it.”

THE SECOND TIME I WENT TO SPAGO with Tony, we met his son Benjamin at the bar, and Tony put his hand on both our shoulders and said, “My sons, my two good sons. He drank three or four shots of Patrón and offered one in toast to Benjamin, a 23-year-old man whose wife is pregnant with a child whose name will be Nicholas.

When we sat down at his table—Tony and Jill, Benjamin and his wife, Nancy, and me—Tony said, “Look at us! We’re in the highest-priced piece of real estate—the most coveted piece of real estate—in the city, the country, the world!” He ordered the corn with truffles and the sushi tuna with no avocado and asked the waiter to bring everything to the table at the same time. And then he talked about Dean Martin and how Dean, after the death of his own son Dino, “lost interest in living”—and how when Dean ate at the same restaurant every night in Beverly Hills, it was not so much for a meal as it was for a nightly exhumation. Dean Martin, Tony said, “was a third-rate singer” who understood that the key to success was not talent but presentation: “His whole act was to make people think he didn’t care about anything, when in reality he cared too much.”

How much did Tony care? What kind of man chooses to die after the death of a son, and what kind of man chooses to live, furiously, impudently, with a Trans Am and a Z28 and a medal from the French government? Did his miraculous rebirth after Nicholas’s overdose signify a warm man or a cold man, a man full of life or a man who is, in some fundamental way, deficient? I asked this question of his first wife, Janet Leigh, and she answered that Tony “can absolutely bury something, so that it doesn’t exist,” and by something she meant almost anything—a marriage, a friendship, a memory, a misgiving, the past itself. And while I did not think that he could so easily bury his sense of culpability in the death of Nicholas, I began to wonder if whatever it was inside him that enabled him to walk away from his families in the first place—whatever gave him an almost unrivaled capacity to disappoint the people who loved him—was precisely what enabled him to go on living with such profligate force and now, as we got up to go, deliver a birthday cake to a table of strangers and kiss the elderly celebrant’s hand before helping her blow out the candles.

IT IS MY LAST NIGHT WITH HIM, and his heel is killing him. He does not know why, he didn’t even do anything, but the pain is such that when he pulls up to the restaurant—it’s not Spago tonight; it’s Drai’s, Tony’s other place—he can barely get out of the Z28, and he has to lean against Jill to get to his table, which is no problem, because Jill is so fucking big, so fucking strong, she could carry him to the table if she had to. And doesn’t Jill look wonderful tonight? Look at her, in her spike heels, and her white fur, and her blue vinyl dress, and her night sky of costume jewelry. She grew up in San Diego, dreaming of being glamorous, and that’s what Tony has encouraged her to be, allowed her to be, and when they sit down at their table—Jill sitting as always on Tony’s left, next to his good ear; Jill wiping crumbs from Tony’s lips—he says, “Oh, I love you much. You’re such a friend to me. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Do you know that? I don’t know what I’d do without you. You’re so up-to-date! You’re ’96—in your mind, your body, your heart, your soul! Your saliva gives me strength to live!”

She answers him as she alway does: by exhibiting a light flush, by whispering, “Oh, Tony,” by giving her shoulders a tiny shake, by squeezing her lips into a pout, by searching Tony’s eye with a look of flickering and wary belief. Oh, she is so vulnerable, Jill is, and that is why she reminds Tony of Marilyn, and that is why Tony goes nuts when people laugh at her. That’s right: Sometimes Jill will stand up in a restaurant, and certain Hollywood people, like Jackie Collins and her fiancé, that fucking Frank Calcagnini, will laugh, right out loud, practically to Jill’s face, the way people used to laugh at Marilyn. Of course, they’re laughing at him too—they’re laughing at Tony, the way they’ve always laughed at Tony, behind his back. But you know what? He used to take it. Now, thanks to Jill and the courage she gives him, he walked right up to Collins and Calcagnini and said, “Fuck you.” And it felt good! He liked saying it—liked it so much that he says it all the time!

People magazine put me on their Ten Worst Dressed List. I wrote them a letter. ‘Dear People magazine: Fuck you. Tony Curtis.’ They gave Sinatra a party not too long ago; we weren’t invited—I took it as a personal affront. Then I ran across her one day, the woman who gave the party. ‘Hi, Tony!’ I didn’t acknowledge her; I didn’t even pay attention to her. On the way out, she says, ‘Tony, aren’t you going to say hello?’ I said, ‘Fuck you! You give a party for Sinatra; you don’t invite me?’ Can you believe me saying that? But Jill says, ‘Good for you. Good for you.’”

He is free. He does not have to worry about damaging his career, because he damaged his career, irreparably, long ago. He does not have to worry about sabotaging friendships, because Hollywood friendships are something he disavows: “I hang with nobody. Fucking nobody!” Let’s face it: He’s never been accepted in Hollywood, he’s never gotten his due. Maybe because he was too pretty, maybe because he was too arrogant, maybe because he was too Jewish in a town full of “Jews who want to be Aryans”—who knows why, but he can name them all, all those who slighted him all those who treated him like a little fucking boy: Henry Fonda, Peter O’Toole, Laurence Harvey, oh, the Brits especially those grand, godlike Shakespeareans…. But fuck it. Fuck them. They used to bother him, but they don’t anymore, because he’s never going to be what this town wants him to be: He’s never going to be the elder statesman, he’s never going to be respectable, he’s never going to golf at the Hillcrest Country Club, he’s never going to walk into Spago with some brave old broad on his arm, and he’s never going to be given some Academy Award for lifetime achievement, although if he were, you know what he’d do! He’d turn it down. “I’d say, ‘You didn’t give me one for Sweet Smell of Success, you didn’t give me one for Some Like It Hot. You think that just because you decided to recognize the little Jewboy he’s going to come running! No fucking way!’”

HE IS NOT BITTER. No, not Tony. He just wants to disconnect himself from the past, because Tony Curtis cannot be about the past—he must be about the present and the future. “Have you noticed something about my life?” he asks me. “The way I live and everything? Because I’m like that kid again in New York—all I need is one good break. I’m due, double due and overdue. I’m always waiting for that next picture, that next thing.” He doesn’t stop, because he can’t stop. He is the Man Who Ate the World, and for his pleasure, this is his penance, his curse, his sentence: to keep going, to keep eating, drinking, dancing, working, fucking, living, because once he stops, all that’s left is the cost, all that’s left is the reckoning, and he’s faced enough of that already to know he doesn’t want to face it again.

This is what they usually do; this is their ritual three or four times a week: They eat, and then they go to a club off Sunset, and they dance. Tony steps onto the floor alone, and the girls, they just flock to him, strippers especially; he dances in a thicket of them, five or six at a time, until at last Jill stands before him and starts bumping and grinding, doing a dance that is an announcement of erotic intention, and then they go home, Tony says, and they play. Tonight, though, tonight Tony can hardly walk and is limping around in his green suede shoes; tonight Tony has lost his magical equilibrium somewhere between the Patrón and the Percocets; tonight they get to the club early, and it is empty and black, and when Tony goes out to dance, he dances alone, with little, tottering steps, with his eyes big and open and blind, and under the lights he is powdery and ghostlike, an effigy of his appetites. And yet he doesn’t stop; no, of course not. He keeps going; he travels a circuit of the empty floor until at last he reaches its center, and with slow, eerie concentration he points his finger to the disco ball hanging from the ceiling and starts opening and closing each of his hands in the spotlights, snatching at something that always drains away, like a child trying to steal the rain.

Then he comes back to our booth and finds a white napkin and draws a picture of a hand pointing to a slivered moon, with some kind of gem squeezed between its thumb and forefinger, and the stain of a woman’s lipstick imprinted above the cuff. He signs his name and hands me the napkin, and then I pluck from my pocket what he gave me earlier in the week and hold it before his eyes: the blue marble. “An immie!” Tony says, in a kind of startled moan, and then tells me a story: about how when his brother died and he went to the East River to cut his deal with God, he brought his twelve blue immies with him as barter. Just one more time, he asked God—allow him to see Julie just one more time and he would give up his immies; he would throw them in the river, without question or remonstrance. Of course, he never saw his brother again, and now, when “Beast of Burden” comes on and Jill says, “Oh, l love this song!” and stands in from of the the booth to do her bump and grind, Tony has his hand over his eyes, and he is talking to himself or, for all I know, to the God who refused his sacrifice, and he cannot see her.

He is driving home in the Z28. It is another night—because isn’t that the point: that there is always another night? He is wearing his driving gloves; he has found his equilibrium, and when he looks at Jill, he can tell that when they get home they’re going to play. They stop at a traffic light on Sunset, and another car pulls up, a white Trans Am convertible, limited edition, only 250 made in this whole world, the same one Tony has, back in the garage, built exclusively for him. And the kid behind the wheel, he’s wearing driving gloves, and he’s got his shirt open just so, and so Tony rolls down his window and says, “Hey, I got the same car!” And the kid looks at him and says, “Tony Curtis!” And Tony says, “Yeah, but I got the same car!” And the kid says, “I’m gonna be an actor, too!” And Tony says, “Well, you got the right car!” And when he drives away, it is with a feeling of elation, sure, but also of regret, because if only he had been driving his Trans Am, then this meeting with his mirror would have been more than coincidence—it would have been what Tony Curtis lives for, a fucking miracle.

 

Here Comes the Pain

 

Over at Esquire, check out Tom Junod on the NFL’s theater of pain.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver