Doing the Bret Thing

On the Town with Bret Easton Ellis

by Marion Lisa Winik

When I get in, there are messages on the machine. Three of them are for a drug dealer who used to have my phone number before me but one is from Russell, a publicist at Vintage, and I call him back. He says Bret Easton Ellis has a new book, he's coming to Austin on his tour, what can I do about it. I take a sip of my cranberry juice, a small one, more like wetting my lips than actually drinking it. I tell him basically I don't want to review the book but maybe we can get together. I could take him out to dinner, check out some clubs, maybe do a story for the Chronicle. Russell says that would be great. I say I can't wait to meet Bret, ever since I threw my copy of Less Than Zero across the room and broke a double-pane window I have wanted to meet him.

Robb is reading one of the free copies of Bret's books Russell sent.

"Do you want a drink?" I ask him. The Cartoon Network is on the small TV screen behind him and Scrappy Doo is jumping up and down panting.

"This book is about goddamn vampires," he says. The commercial with the beautiful models selling Pantene Pro-V comes on.

"Can we get Pantene Pro-V, Mom?" Hayes asks me.

"We already have it."

"Listen," says Robb. "Listen to this."

"Can we get America Online, Mom?" Hayes asks.

"We already have it."

"Okay," says Robb, "this is a 14-year-old girl talking."

"Are you, like..." She stops smiling. "Like a...." She doesn't finish.

"A vampire?" I suggest, grinning.

"No - an agent," she asks seriously.

I clear my throat.

When I say no, I'm not an agent, she moans and I have her by the shoulders now and I'm taking her very slowly, very calmly, to the bathroom and while I'm stripping her, throwing the ESPRIT T-shirt aside, into the bidet, she keeps giggling, wasted, and asking, "Doesn't that sound weird to you?" and then finally her young perfect body is naked and she looks up into eyes that cloud over completely, black and bottomless, and she reaches up, weeping with disbelief and touches my face and I smile and touch her smooth, hairless pussy and she says, "Just don't give me a hickey," and then I scream and jump on her and rip her throat out and then I fuck her and I then I play with her blood and after that basically everything's okay.

I look over at the kids but they are basically okay too, not even listening. Robb asks for a Bushmills and I make him a big one, lots of ice, very little water.

"Can we get a BMW?" Hayes asks.

I go to Bret's reading on cam- pus. It takes forever to find a parking place and then I have no idea where the building is so I wander around until a big black girl with bleached blonde braids says she is going there and I can just follow her. I ask her if she is a fan of Bret's.

"His work is very relevant to me," she says.

"Really," I reply.

At the reading there are many more kids who have done unpardonable things to their hair. Bret comes out, nervous, sort of hugging himself. He is wearing an English-cut double-breasted suit and his hair is totally normal. He continues to seem anxious through the reading but the section he has chosen is very funny, everyone likes it, even I like it. He gets a lot of laughs. The crowd goes crazy for this part, which Bret reads in a very fast monotone:

Before I leave, Spin calls and tells me that ever since Lance left for Venezuela he's had a hard time finding good coke and that there are lots of frightened people in town and that he might drop out of USC if he can't find the right Mercedes in the fall and that the service at Spago is getting worse.

"But what do you want?" I ask, turning the TV off.

"Need some coke. Anything. Four, five ounces."

"I can get you that by, uh..." I stop. "Um, Saturday."

"Dude," Spin says. "Like I need it before Saturday."

"Not Saturday? Like when?"

"Like tonight."

"Like Friday?"

"Like tomorrow."

"Like Friday," I sigh. "I could get it for you tonight but I don't really want to."

"Dude," he sighs. "Bogus but okay."

After the reading, the kids have many questions, some pretty stupid, but Bret handles them beautifully and I am feeling that he is a much more serious and respectable writer than people give him credit for. "What Patrick Bateman did," says a girl with just her bangs dyed red, "those are things we all want to do, we all wish we could do, like if you have a math teacher you hate or someone just makes you mad and you want to kill him."

The next question is about sexuality, about how writers like Dennis Cooper and Mary Gaitskill and Bret write about sex, how it differs from the straight white male establishment perspective. It is a long involved question which does not actually seem to require an answer.

"Writing about sex is like writing about eating," says Bret patiently. "It's a natural function. There's not much to say."

After the reading I notice the two girls. One is blindfolded with a white bandanna and has a dog leash around her neck and the other girl is leading her through the lobby, talking to her softly.

When I get out to the street, there is a parking ticket on the windshield of my Jeep. While I am stuffing it into my purse, a surprisingly good-looking street person with pale green eyes and only few scattered pockmarks on his face offers to tell my fortune with Gaelic tarot cards but I say no thanks, knowing where it will lead.

I convince Robb to come out to dinner by telling him that Bret's publicist, Susie, will be there and she's 26 years old and has blonde hair. Susie has told me that Bret is really into food and since Robb is a food writer, I'm thinking good, we'll have something to talk about. We can't decide whether to take him, somewhere upscale like Jeffrey's or Coyote or Fonda, or maybe someplace funky like Guero's or Sam's.

"I don't know what he's into," I say.

"He's into vampires and drugs," Robb tells me. "He's into Spago."

As I button my Equipment silk shirt, I notice my breasts, which do not have implants. I wonder if Bret will like me.

We all smoke. Bret smokes Marlboros, I smoke Merits, Robb smokes Camel Wides, Susie isn't smoking yet but presumably will be after a few drinks, so we go to Jeffrey's because it is the only place we can smoke in peace.

The chef sends out appetizers and Robb orders two bottles of wine; Bret is charming, he says he loves everything, it is the first decent meal he has had on the tour. He totally hates flying and doesn't think much of book tours in general. I am asking him about all his famous writer friends, Jay and Susanna and Donna and Joan and his editor Gary. I say how awful it is, the way the media has gone after him like a pack of dogs, for God's sake, and he just sighs. If some people don't like his work, what can he do? Robb says, yeah but isn't "like," like, the wrong word to use anyway? It's not like he's trying to be liked, right? I am basically really happy with how things are going and eat every bite of my salmon and halibut though I can't tell if I'm actually hungry at all. I start to wonder how drunk we are going to get and whether we are going to do drugs but am already almost too loaded to think about this. Robb will have to drive the Jeep.

David comes out from the kitchen to say hello and Susie is asking Robb how he got started as a food writer and I am telling Bret how he should read The Long Night of White Chickens, Frank is such a great guy, though they say he's drinking too much down in Mexico and Bret says all writers drink too much, he doesn't know any writers who don't, and since we have pretty much killed both bottles of wine by now he orders a glass of Chardonnay while Susie pays the check. He hasn't drunk more than a third of it by the time we get up to leave so I hang back and chug it when nobody's looking.

We're taking them to Antone's because although Lou Ann is on the bill, B.B. King and Jimmie Vaughan are playing at the Erwin Center and may stop in afterwards and that would be cool. On the way there I try to find out if Bret is straight or gay or bi and he says he doesn't answer those questions, doesn't want to be pigeonholed one way or the other. I say, I can see that, because in your books you're like beyond labels, like ambisexual.

"Ambisexual, no," says Bret. "I'm definitely not ambisexual."

"Well, so, are you gay?"

"You'll have to be more specific."

"Have you ever had a dick in your mouth?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever had a dick up your ass?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever fucked a girl?"

"Yes."

"Have you ever eaten pussy?"

"Yes."

"Well, there you have it," I say.

Antone's is completely dead and there are no famous people of any kind so we leave and we're just going to stop at the Blue Flamingo on the way back to the hotel but by now Sean has joined us. He is the cute guy who introduced Bret at the university today, and seems to have a crush on either Bret or Susie, we're not sure which, and one or both of them may have a crush on him. By this time, Bret and I have become quite drunk and I am telling him how our writing is exactly alike only different, and how I'm so jealous of him and what a great writer he is.

It looks to me like it's going to be Sean and Susie, not Sean and Bret, so on the way out of the club I suggest that Susie ride with Sean and Bret come with us. This turns out to be a big mistake since Bret has now crossed over into a somewhat bitchy state and says she's not supposed to leave him for even a second and I'm like, don't worry about it man, just relax.

"But did you see how that guy wrapped his napkin around his beer bottle? I mean, what the fuck is that?"

Bret continues fuming all the way downtown and no matter how many loving vibrations I send his way, does not relax.

"This place sucks," says Bret, and actually the Blue Flamingo does kind of suck at the moment, the lights on and some tired old Bronski Beat song playing and people with extremely filthy hair lounging around on broken chairs.

"I don't know," I tell him, "I heard it was some kind of gay punk place. Let's get a beer or something." Susie and Sean haven't arrived yet and that's not helping matters.

"If we're leaving anyway, why don't we go outside and wait for them so they won't have to pay the cover," Robb suggests.

"No," says Bret. "Let them pay."

Then the minute they get past the doorman we tell them how much it sucks and Sean wants to go to Emo's but unfortunately that sucks, too. Bret says he just wants to go somewhere we can sit down and talk so Robb suggests Proteus and we walk over there. I'm arm in arm with Susie, she's trying to have a normal conversation with me about having babies and stuff but I'm way past that now.

A drag queen in the bathroom at Proteus gets me started thinking how much I enjoy being a girl so when I get back to the table I start harping on the gay thing with Bret again. He is asking Sean in a very sweet way where he got the thing of wrapping his napkin around his beer bottle and then wonders out loud when we are going to get the coke and at that point Susie snaps to the fact that it's one-thirty in the morning and they have to catch a plane at seven and Bret has to tape an episode of Central Park West tomorrow in which he plays himself at a party for his new book. Before I can even get out my quarters and start harassing potential cocaine vendors, which I am perfectly capable of doing, Susie and Robb drag us out of there.

I don't remember what I said on the way back to the hotel but Robb informs me later I just kept telling Bret how he should just be himself, don't be afraid, be who you really are.

After Bret leaves, things basi- cally go back to normal, Cub Scouts and soccer practice and Mighty Morphin T-shirts in the laundry. In between loads, I finally do read the new book, The Informers, and I get what he is doing and I really like the writing but then the vampire thing starts and the murder of the 10-year-old and it is just too much for me. Robb says he probably hated us anyway. I don't know if he did or not but the main thing I figure out is that Bret already is who he really is, he doesn't need me to tell him. It's like, Bret is okay. Bogus but okay. n

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