Levi had a theory that if he sat in a chair or on his couch and did passive things there, like watching television or listening to music, his mind came to associate that very seat with passiveness and would in the future, shut itself off, rendering him unable to really pay attention if he were reading a book or working on a business idea–like a new promotion or contest for the store–in that same seat. And so, when studying for any of his Braunstein Center classes, researching treatments for and the history of bipolar disorder, or making notes for his upcoming interview at the Academy Museum, he avoided sitting in his living room. His body and mind associated that room with watching television, listening to music, or mindlessly tapping away on his laptop, searching the web for funny cat videos or pornographic images of Mitch McConnell. Reading and studying in his bedroom were also off-limits because he found being in bed either made him sleepy or horny, sometimes a confusing mix of both. And as he never really used the dining room table for dining—he rarely cooked and when he did, the living room and its giant, square coffee table was where he most often ate any meal he made—the dining room table and its uncomfortable chairs had become locked in his brain as the place where he read and studied.
Of course, calling it a “dining room table” implied there was an actual dining room in Levi’s apartment. There was, in the building’s flyer, a space in a rectangular room helpfully indicated as “DINE” on a floorplan written for the dumbest of potential renters for whom terms like “Dining Area” might have provided a mental block. Likewise, the bedroom was labeled, “SLEEP” and the kitchen, “COOK”. Upon seeing the floorplan, Levi had asked, “And the bathroom? I like how it says ‘BATHE’ but couldn’t it also say, ‘DEFECATE’, ‘FART’, or ‘MASTURBATE’?” So there was no actual, architecturally-defined “dining room”, per se; just one long rectangular space which, meant as a combination living room/dining room/study/home office really could just be labeled, “LIVE” or “SMOKE POT”, “ORGY” or “FUCK IF I KNOW”. Levi had carved out a dining room from this space by placing his dining room table and chairs at the far end of the long room and created a dividing wall by placing several bookcases between that area and the space he allocated to the living room. Dividing the space this way made the gas fireplace a bit off-center, rendering it more a shared asset of both dining and living rooms. And what little sunlight made it down the narrow alley between Levi’s apartment and the building next door and then through the sliding glass doors of his balcony never made it over the half-wall of the bookcases, leaving the dining area in a perpetual darkness even on the sunniest days.
It was here, in an area he now thought of as “STUDY”–and, on the occasions he ordered take-out and ate like a proper person at a proper table on a proper chair, “MUNCH”—that he had spread out coffee table books borrowed from Damien and from which he took notes on the history of the film studios, forgotten film directors, the growth of the American film industry from its New York Nickelodeon origins to its Hollywood home, films lost due to studio negligence or a failure to think of film as an art form, and so on. Damien had called his assistant and told him to pull these books from Damien’s home office and deliver them to Levi. This had been an incredible help, an unrequested assistance, and it had earned Damien a very appreciative—were those tears? Seriously, had Levi actually cried?—thank you from Levi. The assistant, Levi feared, was unhappy about making the delivery; not only was Levi’s apartment door a long trek from the parking garage via its wait-forever-for-it-to-come elevator, but the books themselves were heavy. Levi also had the suspicion that, with Damien and Track in Colorado, Damien’s assistant had not anticipated having to do much work. He apologized profusely to the assistant, saying he had no idea Damien was going to ask him to deliver those books to him. And though the assistant had mumbled, “It’s my pleasure,” the eyeroll that followed confirmed Levi’s suspicions that Damien had ruined the assistant’s plans for the day in the name of Levi Hastings’ upcoming job interview.
“You are the sweetest fucking man I’ve ever met,” Levi told him, calling Damien from the balcony—which had been marked “BREATHE” but which Levi mentally renamed “SMOKE SECRETLY”–to thank him.
“I was just about to call you. Wanted to let you know I wrote you an email,” Damien told him. “So I’m even sweeter than I was just a moment ago.”
“Oh, really?” Levi asked, clicking his tongue and asking in what he thought sounded like a sexy tone but which probably sounded more like a douchebag, “An email, huh? You know how I like to get things from you. . .in my Inbox–”
“No, not one of those!” Damien chuckled. “Your mind runs on one track, doesn’t it?”
“It’s a mental monorail where you’re concerned.”
“Okay, you’re too cute. Listen, I just wanted to tell you—Well. . .look, I know you can do this interview without me. You know your stuff. You’re smart. You know film. You know film history better than most film buffs. But I just jotted down some things—names of directors and films you might want to look into—that might come up. A lot of them are probably in those books I had Peter drop off. Well, I started writing down a few names this morning but before I knew it. . .I had written you a book. Really. I’ve spent all day writing a twenty page document. So, if you’re mad at me, I’m going to feel like I just wasted a day pretending to be Robert Osborne.”
“Wow. Damie. . .you didn’t have to do that.” He quickly added, ““Really. I’m very much speechless right now. I’m trying to get my head around it.”
“You’re not mad at me? I know you want to do this on your own. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, like ‘I must teach him about film history’. Just—trying to be helpful.”
“Of course I’m not mad. You’re on vacation and you just spent all day writing something for me. This is seriously the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”
Damien sounded puzzled. “You must have had a shitty life before you met me.”
“I did,” Levi chortled. “That’s why I miss you. As the song goes, ‘like the deserts miss the rain.’”
Damien, mimicking all the wholesomeness of a 1950’s TV teen, said into the phone, “Gee, Mister Hastings. You say the darn nicest things. I’d sure like to take you out for a banana split and a soda pop when I get back in town.”
“Please do,” Levi begged. “We can even neck in the backseat of your father’s jalopy out on Lover’s Lane!”
“How about tonight?”
“What about tonight? You mean tonight’s call? I do still get a call tonight, don’t I?”
Loving Levi’s anxiousness, Damien chuckled happily. “You think I could go to sleep without one? Tonight, plan on saying some of those darn nice things. But now, I have to get off this call. I’m bringing my mom and Track over to my brother’s for dinner. I just wanted to hop on the line and let you know the email should be in your inbox. I slaved over it. I spent all day, Levi, writing you an email. ” He laughed at himself and his attempt at a guilt trip. ” Oh—and in addition to the Word document, there’s an Excel spreadsheet there, too. A timeline.”
“Jesus, Damien!”, Levi cried, impressed. “You really outdid yourself. You didn’t have to do all that. You didn’t have to do anything at all.”
“And you should stop saying, ‘Jesus’ if you don’t believe in him,” Damien laughed. “But I’ve got to run. I’ll call tonight. You promise you’re not mad at me?”
“Mad at you? For being thoughtful? Supportive? No. Not mad at you. Thinking the world of you.”
“You’ll do wonders in that interview next week whether I did anything or not. You’re going to get this, you know,” Damien told him. “I have to run, but I’ll call later tonight—around ten your time, probably.”
“So looking forward to it already.”
“As am I.”
“Thank you.” He wanted to say, “I love you.” But instead, he added, “Really. Thank you so much for . . .everything. Your enthusiasm. Your help. Everything.”
Damien’s grin was tangible in the air before Levi. “I’m here thinking about you. I might as well be helpful.” Levi could hear him blow an air kiss. “Virtual hugs and kisses to you. I’ll talk to you tonight, hon.”
Hon. Baby. Monkey. Sweetie. The Four Names of Levi. Damien had almost as many terms of endearment for Levi as the Braunstein Center had names for God. Damien’s terms of enchantment were all said in such a way that they always made Levi smile dreamily, every hair follicle on his body seemingly jolted with a pleasurably cold tingling. He absolutely loved hearing Damien’s voice say those things—and others—as they spent hours talking on the phone or lying in each other’s arms.
As he thought of this now, his eyes fell on the tops of the bookcases, where a row of framed photographs looked out at him from their eye-height perch.
Tombstones, he called them privately. Each represented dead friendships his temper or moods or instability had cost him over the years. He had lined up the photographs—which would be mistaken by anyone visiting his apartment as a fond assemblage of friends—to remind himself of his past failures, to remind him in his rages to slow down and remember: That his temper had cost him. Cost him people he had loved and lost. Cost him people who, if they ever mentioned him, referred to him as crazy or a lunatic or unhinged or a shit-for-brains. People who, otherwise, had left him in their past. People he never spoke to any longer, whose numbers he no longer knew. People he had cared for, been confidantes for, gone on vacations with, had brunch regularly with, gone out club-hopping with. But all who now had lives to which he had been excluded.
He didn’t want Damien to end up there, in a photograph on that shelf. He had already added Amber to that display, deciding that he would not beg forgiveness for snapping at her in e-mail. She was no great loss but he wanted no more additions to that photographic cemetery. Particularly Damien.
But even if he could keep his moods in check—his psychiatrist had just given him two new prescriptions: one for a drug called Seroquel and another called Risperidone—there was the matter of that job with the Academy Museum. Suppose he didn’t fly through the interviews? Suppose they didn’t like him? He’d still have that embarrassing job at the Fab Friends Factory, the job so embarrassing, Amber had looked as hard for new job opportunities for him as she had looked for herself. And that might cause Damien to look down upon him. How could Damien not? The variances between them were so ridiculous; his generous kindness on that matter would eventually have to give way.
And so when, later that night, before Damien’s nightly phone call from Colorado, Levi had pushed the books on film history and the film studios aside just long enough to catch up on his reading for his next class at the Braunstein Center, he read of an amulet of sorts that brought good luck to its wearer, he decided that, inasmuch as he did not believe in the Braunstein Center—or the concept of luck or any type of supernatural force–he also needed the help of anything he could get. There was too much he needed now to say he could do without help in securing his desires. If he lost that job opportunity, he feared he’d lose Damien. He’d have to get one of those bracelets from the Braunstein Center, and wear it, as faithfully as a faithless person could–just in case. For Damien, he would do anything; for Damien he would believe, or at least go through the motions of a believer.
Levi thought it would kill him if he ever had to add a photo of Damien on that shelf, as yet another reminder of someone he had loved and lost through his own stupidity.
In the morning, he’d decided, he’d pop into the Braunstein Center’s bookstore–labeled “SHOP” on some idiotic floorplan, somewhere–and buy himself that magic bracelet–called “The Flame Filament” and wear that purple string as if his life depended on it.
Because, he thought, his future just. . .just maybe. . just maybe but oh, how he hated himself for even thinking it. . .just might.