“Close your eyes. Let your arms hang loose. Do not fold your arms; you should not cross your limbs as this will block the Flame. Uncross your legs. Place your feet flat on the floor. Feel them dig into the floor. Make them like bolts, locking you to the earth. Now. . .slowly. . .take a deep breath in and hold it. One. . .two. . .three. . .The Flame is filling you. Calming you. Ssssh. Slowly exhale. One. . .two. . .three. . .”
The morning meditation exercises at the Braunstein Center’s daily, early-morning Breakfast the Braunstein Way had never appealed to Levi until now. Not one to wake up early—especially so early—and definitely never one to do anything before a morning shift—gym, breakfast with friends, or errands—the idea of waking so early only to fight traffic all the way into Beverly Hills and then to Hollywood and Highland had held no appeal to him. Whereas others might have excitedly leapt from bed into the shower, lathered up and dressed so they could race to a breakfast get-together, Levi had forced himself each step of the way. Even while en route, he kept telling himself he could always re-route straight back to his apartment and his still-warm bed. But he went. He needed something extra that his pills weren’t giving him. The fucking purple string hadn’t helped him get that job at the Academy Museum, he was certain. But maybe meditating, forgetting himself, drifting off into a safe abyss for just a bit, might be of help when he was in such hell.
“Imagine the purple light of the Flame. It glows and cools. It is calm and good. It wants you to breathe it in. Picture it and take a deep breath. . .all the way. . .Fill your lungs. . .Your stomach. Now hold. . .One. . .two. . .three. . .Slowly exhale. . .Feel the weight of your arms hanging. Allow yourself to drift. . .Drift. . .Inhale the pourple glow of the Flame. . .See it cover you. From your head down, down into your chest. Let it fill your arms, push it down, into your legs. Your feet. And hold. Now exhale slowly. . .”
As he concentrated, he did get a momentary reprieve from the thoughts which had been repeating endlessly, so endlessly he begged his mind to find some other topic with which to fascinate itself. He was suddenly All-Levi, All-the-Time and he simply didn’t find himself all that interesting, especially as the Levi Network his mind insisted on watching had just two episodes to air: Levi Doesn’t Get the Job and Levi is a Fuck Up Who Needs to Die.
He would gladly concentrate on Damien or Track but Damien, sweetly, was taking care of him inasmuch as Danien could. He had been overwhelmed with some pre-production issues on the movie he would start filming in Italy in the Spring when a fellow producer left the project and did so without having hired a set decorator or costume designer. And, as Damien dug, he found no cinematographer under contract, either. But his nights were Levi’s, although Levi had begged off a few of those, such as the night before. Damien was meeting some movie people—behind the scenes folks—to discuss the film and, possibly, their participation in it. But Levi wasn’t feeling well. And Damien knew what that meant.
And so he let Levi be.
There was a fear In Levi that this might push Damien away. That by saying, “I can’t go with you tonight. I’m not feeling well and I might say something offensive or do something stupid or embarrass you in some way” he might, inadvertently, push Damien out of their relationship and toward any one of the many men who Levi noticed always noticing Damien. They were likely nobodies but, then again Levi thought, so was he. But when they saw Damien, they stood taller, smiles brighter, eyes widened as if to prettify themselves. Without Levi there—hell, sometimes they made advances even when Levi was there—there was nothing to keep them from Damien. And, Levi feared, seducing Damien away from him.
“Slowly, slowly breathe in. Push the purple glow down, all the way down. Feel it calm all your worries. Today will be a good day. . .Today you will be blessed. Hold that promise. . .One. . .two. . .three. . .Now exhale all your worries. Slowly. Let the Flame burn them away into smoke. Watch the smoke. Watch the smoke vanish. . .”
After his thirty dollar breakfast—a meditation session, a cold bagel with a block of schmear, a good morning reminder from a rabbi that they were all horrible people needing to address the poisonous parts of their personality, and a twelve-dollar bottled water that was supposedly “included” with breakfast—Levi drove to work, only slightly calmer than he had been before the session. He did enjoy the meditation: twenty-five minutes during which he was allowed to go blank, even if his mind still prattled on about how stupid he was—both for screwing up that last interview with the Academy Museum and for how he was probably pushing Damien away even though his intent was to not embarrass him. But he could have done without the cheerful morning reminder from the rabbi that he and the others in the session were, basically, assholes destroying the planet for everybody else.
“Oh, fuck off, you dick!,” Levi shouted at a driver who tried to cut him off and who Levi decided to block from doing so. “Yeah? Well, fuck you too, you little inbred. Yeah—and fuck your little Bart Simpson doll hanging off your mirror there. Dumb prick. Learn to use your turn signals and how to merge! And eat shit!”
He then proceeded to finish singing along with the song on the radio, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”
His commute, he contemplated, was like a microcosm of his mental disorder. Cheery one minute, angry and irate the next. God, how he hated having mixed states that ran across and through and over and under each other like a Los Angeles freeway overpass.
Driving up Fairfax from Olympic to get to Hollywood had not been the brightest idea, either for, as if his moods weren’t volatile enough without the instigation, there was the Academy Museum, right in front of him, as he sat stuck at the Fairfax intersection. Jesus, how he had wanted that job so badly. He had dared to imagine what his life would be like working there, how he’d work to make it the best museum of its type, working with the guest services team to ensure every guest had the best time imaginable, the curators to develop future exhibits that spoke to the Hollywood audience of both industry professionals and tourists who had long flocked to Hollywood only to find tacky tourist traps instead of a solid, quality museum celebrating the town and industry. But now? No hope.
He assumed they had laughed about him after he left that last interview. “Which one of you thought he was so good again? Oh—all of you! Well, let me assure you. . .he’s an idiot. And a nutcase. Got all. . .teary-eyed. . .and started talking about how he got shot. ‘Welcome to America’, I wanted to tell him. ‘People get shot here all the time!’ Freak! Toss this resume in the garbage can. Jesus—were you all joking about him? You were . . .right?”
One of the construction cranes that had been lifting girders and panels into place on the spherical theater behind the main museum had been removed since he had last driven by. When was that? Oh—just last week, when he had dropped off some more CDs for Kyle of old radio programs Levi had downloaded for him. Kyle who laughed when Levi told him how bad the interview had gone and said, flippantly, “Well, guess the closest you’ll get to that museum is buying a ticket” before he changed the subject to his neighbor, who had been annoying Kyle with his impromptu acoustic guitar concerts in the early evenings.
He would have loved to have been hired for the museum. How exciting would it have been to be on their team and celebrate each milestone? “One construction crane, gone! Yay!”, “First two floors have walls, lights, flooring, and are awaiting their exhibits! Yay!” He was always good at motivating a team and making sure everyone took time to celebrate. God, he could have done that job.
If only he wasn’t bipolar. Why did it always have to peek through?
When he got to the store, before he changed out of his Breakfast the Braunstein Way clothes and into his Levi, Technicolor Toy Soldier uniform, he texted Damien.
“I just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you. I hope you had a fun time last night. I missed you.”
He imagined—just for a second—that Damien was having morning sex with a man Damien had met the night before.
But that was all it took.
On the bright side, it at least knocked his inner television to a different station. . .The Paranoia Network.
“Damien?” The voice paused. “Is mom alright? What’s wrong?”
“It’s not about mom,” Damien explained, sitting at his desk in his office at Paramount. He and his brother were cordial, not close. And a phone call between them. . .Damien couldn’t recall the last time they had actually just spoken on the phone. He wondered if they ever had. “I need your advice. Is this a bad time?”
“My advice?” His brother seemed flattered albeit not all that friendly. “About what?”
“Well. . .I need to ask you about. . .about being bipolar.”
His brother was silent and so Damien continued.
“I’m seeing someone. It’s pretty serious.”
“Okay. . .”
“Well—he has mood swings. Not bad ones, usually. I mean, I see him and he’s pretty even-tempered. But—”
“No. I mean is he bipolar one, bipolar two. . .”
“I don’t know what that means.”
His brother audibly groaned with annoyance.
“Look—he has something called mixed states and. . .what’s the other thing. . .uh. . .rapid cycling.”
Damien laughed. “He’s not that bad—”
“I’m not joking. That’s the worst.”
Damien was quiet.
“I mean it. Those types are the hardest to medicate because there isn’t a real set prescription. They’ll put him on all sorts of drugs but it will always have to change and–He is taking medication, isn’t he?”
“He is. His doctor has him on—”
“Lots? A lot of different things?”
“Yeah. A freaking cocktail of pills in the morning. A pill or two every two hours. Then another cocktail in the afternoon, and at dinner. And a pharmacy before bedtime.”
“What’s he on?”
“Uh. . .hold on. I have it here. . .Uh. . .Lamictal. Effexor. Seroquel. Lithobid—”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Okay, look. You need to take this seriously,” his brother said. “I’m not who you should be talking to—”
“But you have it!”
“I’m fine!”, his brother said. “I have it but it’s under control. It has been for decades. If you knew me, you’d know that.”
“Come on, don’t get pissy about it. I need your help.”
“Yeah, funny how that works. I never hear from you.”
“I just saw you last month!”
“You came to see mom and I live nearby. You saw me by default. Not on purpose.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean? We’ve never been close.”
“No, we haven’t. So why would you call me? You live in fucking Los Angeles. Are you telling me there’s not another bipolar person in all of Los Angeles you can call?”
“I can’t let anyone know here.”
“Oh. I’m glad I can be the backup.”
“That’s not what I meant. But you’ve been dealing with this for a long time. I just need some advice on how to take care of him.”
“Here’s what you do, Damien. You don’t. You don’t take care of him. You have a son. That’s who you fucking take care of. You take care of Track. And this guy? This guy you like so much? Let him go.”