Topanga Seed (Ch. 14)

It was perhaps fitting that they went to the Snow White Café on Hollywood Boulevard and dined beneath portraits of Disney’s Grumpy and Dopey. Dressed in the primary colors of his uniform from the Fab Friend Factory, Levi looked for all the world as if he were trying to join them as Dwarf #8:  Moody.

Adjusting his ballcap—standard uniform for well-known actors as it magically transformed them from That Guy Who Was In That Thing; Oh, You Know the One! to Average Joe or Just Another Tourist Visiting Hollywood Boulevard—Damien asked, “You come here often?”

“Every now and then. For lunch. It’s a quick burger.”

The truth was. . .this had been his and Barry’s place. He had only ever been here with Barry. If Barry had street duty on the Boulevard and Levi was working, they would arrange to have lunch here. Now, Barry’s ghost stood at every table and doorway, watching him. And Levi wondered if he had become the type of man who has a “place” he brings his dates to. Now, it would not only be his and Barry’s place, but his and Barry and Damien’s place. And if he brought another man here that title would just get longer and longer and the men might one day meet and swap notes: “Did he ever bring you to the Snow White Café?” “Yes! As a matter of fact—he did!” “Me, too!” “Me, too!’’ “He also brought me there!”   It was as if he were infesting the place with Real Estate Herpes of Relationships Past.

He should have recommended Twenty-Five Degrees at the Roosevelt. At least the red pants of his obnoxiously colorful uniform would have blended in with the red wallpaper there. . .

“It’s busy,” Damien remarked. They had grabbed the last table from a couple who had gotten up to leave just as they had entered from the tourist-packed sidewalk. The crowd around them was loud and rambunctious and, Levi noted, mostly drunk.
Levi was going to explain that the restaurant-slash-bar was allowed to use the Disney imagery it covered its walls in and featured on its signage because the original owner had been a friend of Walt Disney himself and it had been Walt who had given the owner his blessing, an approval he doubted Disney would give out these days to any restaurant owner, given their protective eye over their own intellectual property. But, strangely nervous now that he was sitting closely at a small table facing Damien, he found words difficult and so decided against sharing this knowledge. Deciding silence was somehow better. And not at all as awkward as it was. . .

Damien was smiling at him; tight lips restraining a larger smile, eyes upturned with smiles of their own. He leaned across the table and whispered, “Relax. If you hate me by the end of the burger and a beer, you get to go home and make fun of me to all your friends.”

Levi laughed at him. “I’m fine.” And suddenly. . .a small panic began. That’s right; he had been so overtaken by the surprise of Damien’s appearance and invitation to dinner that he hadn’t even processed yet that after the burger. . .what exactly? Was this an overture to intercourse? A prelude to “Need lube”? What came after the burger? Him? Would they go to Levi’s place? He hoped not; he hadn’t made his bed that morning. (It was a bad habit he allowed himself to indulge in once a week and today had been that day.) Or would they go to wherever it was that Damien lived? And, if they went there. . .would they go there? Would they–

He buried his face in the familiar laminated menu and acted as if it were the most fascinating document he had ever seen. He could feel his face flush.

“Are you always this jumpy?” Damien teased, inspecting a menu himself but with far less admiration for its complexities.  He cocked an amused eyebrow at Levi.

“Sorry,” Levi said, awkwardly smiling to ensure Damien that he was fine.

“Let’s try this: Why don’t you tell me something about you.”

“Like what?”

“Like. . .when your friends are talking and talking and you can’t get a word in edgewise and you wish they’d just shut up so you could say something. What would you say?”

“Well, right now, I’d say, ‘Damien Lanchester came by the store and took me to the Snow White Café’. What would you say?”

“You’re not the one asking questions,” Damien told him. “ You’re talking. Tonight. . .you speak.”

Suddenly, Levi knew just one primitive thing: He hoped there was something after this burger because he wanted to get fucked by Damien Lanchester like he had never wanted to get fucked before.
“So you knew you were an atheist from the time you were seven?”

Damien was both baffled and impressed. Levi was on his second beer—an unusual thing for him at any quantity—and enjoying having the spotlight on him. He, Levi, was the celebrity and Damien was Barbra Walters and any minute now, out would come the “What type of tree would you be?” question.

“Yes!” Levi insisted. “I was in second grade and learned there was no Santa Claus. And it all suddenly made sense: If there’s no Santa Claus, there’s no Easter Bunny. Not that the Easter Bunny was a great loss—”

“It is sort of lame as childhood heroes go,” Damien agreed.

“Right? I mean, the Tooth Fairy is kind of stupid, too, but at least it makes sense. But the Easter Bunny—so stupid! Anyway, I always got God and Santa Claus confused anyway. I mean, they do sort of look the same, right? Big white guys with big white beards? Always watching you? Always looking at everything you do? And, if you’re Catholic—”

“Catholic!” Damien admitted, raising his hand.

“Then you know! Catholics pray to God to give them things.”

“That’s true! ‘God, give me an Oscar nomination’.”

“Did you not ask him for the win, Damien? I have to ask. Because that Ben Cargill guy did not deserve to win over you.”

“Sssh,” Damien said, whispering. “But agreed!”

Victoriously, they clinked their beer mugs together.

“So, at seven you decided—”

“No Santa Claus? No God! And now, when I see people believing—and don’t take this the wrong way, please. If you believe in God, then please continue to do so.—I can’t help but think, ‘Someone forgot to tell them.’”

“Tell them what?”

“Someone forgot to tell them that there is no God. There’s no Santa. No Tooth Fairy. No Easter Bunny. No Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Someone just forgot to tell them. Whoops!”

“”Whoops! My bad!’”, Damien continued for him. “How did your parents react?”

“Oh, they were more Catholics by name than practice, anyway. They were fine with it They used to call me ‘The Littlest Atheist’. I always thought that sounded like a really great Shirley Temple movie. ‘The Littlest Atheist tap dances into your heart—and stomps all over your deeply held religious beliefs!’”

Damien chuckled and added, in a fantastic mimicry of 1940’s radio announcers, “’The Littlest Atheist’! A soul-sucking musical chock full of your song favorites from the Hit Parade: ‘I Don’t Believe in You’. . .”

Levi took the bait and added, “’When You Wish Upon a Star You’re Wasting Your Time’. . .”

“. . .And ‘Zing Went My Belief in a Supernatural Being’!”
“Okay. . .okay. . .” Levi said, sipping the last of his third beer. “I don’t normally drink and I think I’m not supposed to be drinking, either.”

“Why’s that?” Damien asked, leaning toward him. Damn, he was so handsome, even with that ballcap pulled low to his eyebrows. And that damn dark stubble on his tanned face. And that daring, challenging grin on those thin pink lips that Levi’s toes were curling over because he wanted to kiss them so bad and they were so close, just there, separated by maybe fourteen or so inches of air. . .

And reality.

“I have to tell you something,” he said. “I don’t want to, but I have to. And you might get up and run off screaming so, if you do, all I ask is that you pick up the check because I’m on a tight budget and I can’t afford to pay for all these beers tonight by myself.”

“Oh, Levi. You’re supposed to wait til the fourth or fifth date before you confess dark secrets. Didn’t you get the handbook?”

“So this is a date?” Levi asked. “I need the clarification.”

“It became a definite date around the middle of your first beer. Before then it was like a coffee date but with food and alcohol.”

“Ugh. Those bullshit coffee dates. I hate those. ‘Wanna get together for coffee?’ Who does? Really? Coffee makes me shit. Sorry—but it’s true. ‘Sure! I’d love to have a diuretric with you! How romantic!’”

Damien mimed pulling out an imaginary notebook and pen. “Note to self: He does not get to drink coffee. . .”

“Stop that—” Levi said. “No, I just. . .I have to tell you. But know I’m not telling you to be The Guy Who Shares Too Much. I guess I have to tell you because if life is like a movie, I don’t want you to find out something about me months down the road—“ Panic-stricken that he may have implied a future on a first date he just found out was indeed a real date, he rushed, “Not that there’s even a road. I mean, you might never want to see me again. I get that.”

“There might be a road.  Let’s not rule that out, either.”

“Anyway, I don’t want you to have to say one of those awful lines like you see in movies about people with a secret. You know, for 75 minutes, the lead character has harbored a secret he could have shared at any point in the past 75 minutes–but he didn’t– and now the secret is out and there’s always a friend or loved one who says, ‘I don’t even know you anymore!’ or ‘How can I ever trust someone I never knew!’”

“I swear, I had to say that in one of my first roles. I think the line was, ‘I can’t trust you. Apparently, I don’t even know you.’ From ‘He’s One of the Girls’. It was awful but it got me my SAG card and insurance. So, what is this dark secret I’d rather not hear until later but which you are going to share with me now, regardless of how I feel?”

“I’m bipolar.”

It was easiest to just blurt it out. And so he did.

“Not bipolar like what you hear on the news; you know: ‘Man shoots up office. He was bipolar.’ Not like that. It’s like ‘bipolar’ has become the go-to term to describe anyone with any kind of mental health issue. I would never hurt anyone. I never have. I wouldn’t even hurt myself—and I’m the one I hate when I get depressed. I just get moody. Hell, I don’t think I’m even all that bad. I’ve seen people who supposedly are mentally healthy have giant tantrums and fits. And they don’t get slapped on medication,. And they don’t get associated with murderers and criminals. I mean, we just saw that guy at that table over there bitch out that waitress because he was hangry—you know—hungry and angry. I don’t do things like that. I have a good heart and I take care of people and I have this one thing and I guess I’m broken in that regard but, I’m not a bad person. I just had to tell you. Full disclosure. Because you should know. But yes, I’m bipolar. There. The secret is out.”

And he sat anxiously for a split second that seemed like a giant bit of eternity as the words, freed from his mouth, registered with Damien, who took them in, nodded gravely. . .and grabbed one of Levi’s hands.

“So what?”, Damien asked.

He winked at Levi with a firm grin.

“So. . .fucking. . .what?”

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