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In this life, you could grow old sitting around waiting to get lucky.
That didn't come out right. What I meant is that waiting to accidentally run into Richard Branson in line to buy a burger at the very moment he's desperately looking for a new Executive Vice President of Adventure and Party Planning ("You'll just have to do," he says as he whisks you away in the limo), or waiting for that falling safe to just miss hitting you before it smashes through the sidewalk and plummets into a sewer tunnel, or waiting for a wealthy, athletic, artistic, wise, unpretentious, multilingual, manly, sensitive contradiction of impossible handsomeness to lean over and say, "Excuse me-I believe I left my stethoscope here on the way to the children's hospital" . . . . Well, let's just agree you're going to be waiting awhile.
Me? I don't tempt fate. I don't dare destiny.
I may talk about hitting the lottery, but the truth is I never play because deep inside-on some level that's so far down it's beneath where I keep the memory of the time I walked in on my parents showering-I know there's no such thing as luck.
But I also have learned that believing there's no such thing as luck is very unlucky. Like, the worst. Beyond stealing someone's lucky four- leaf clover. (I know someone who did that and died. Seriously. Three years after doing it, he had a heart attack. And his great- granddaughter never forgave him-but I guess in some perverse way she got justice.)
If that sounds like a contradiction, I suppose maybe it is. But maybe not. Maybe I just don't believe in good luck. Bad luck-particularly of the sort arising from ignoring intuition and superstitions-that's another thing altogether.
The history of superstition is also a history of timing. We'll never know whether a lone sober Trojan looked across the courtyard on that fateful night and said, "I don't like the look of that horse thing. Bad luck." But if he or she had, the protest would have fallen on deaf ears: The masses were completely tickled pink by the offering. History has shown that it pays to be suspicious of large, seemingly useless gifts from one's sworn enemy. And that includes your aunt's sketchy second husband.
Consider: If the captain of the Titanic had pulled out his tin bullhorn and announced, "Someone in first class just threw a shoe into a mirror and broke it, so I've got a bad feeling about this route- let's slow down and head south," then as a purely scientific matter, superstition would have saved that ship. I'm just saying.
And if I had only listened to my intuition-that socially acceptable term for what is really superstition-I'd never have followed Emily Ottinger through that third yellow light (I swear it was still yellow) on the way to the mall and never would have ended up wrapping my mom's new Audi around Mr. Pitrelli's pickup truck when I was sixteen. Mean, old, grouchy, kid-hating Mr. Pitrelli, I might add.
One moment follows another. Next comes from previous. So you have to stay on your toes. Protect yourself. Listen to that little voice inside you that says, "Don't do that! You won't like the consequences." Look at all the stuff that's happened to you along the twisting road of your life-good and bad. Still think that all those seemingly disconnected, random events that have no interrelation, not even a simple correlation, have absolutely nothing to do with those best-laid plans crashing and burning in the face of your destiny? Tell my dad that. In a career spent chasing the elusive lucky score, he's come up empty more times than a fashion model's lunchbox.
Better yet, tell my mom that. She was the one unlucky enough to end up married to him.
I know that by now you're thinking I sound like I know the score. But I don't want to give you the wrong impression. I may know the score, but half the time I'm not sure I know the teams or even what game we're playing.
Most of the time, I feel like a total fraud. Like I have no idea how I've made it this far without the world figuring out that I have no idea what I'm doing or that I'm relying on some sign or the fact that I glanced at the clock at 11:11 or the fact that Paul McCartney's "With a Little Luck" was playing on the radio when my alarm woke me up to give me a little extra confidence that "we can make this whole damn thing work out." This "whole damn thing" being my life.
You'd think admitting to feeling like a fraud is the kind of thing that would qualify as an innermost thought. The very kind of thing that gives rise to the term "innermost thoughts," in fact-because they're born and live and die inside you, never seeing the light of day (unless you're the type who regularly drunk-dials an ex and starts a horrifyingly ill-advised confession with, "You know, I've never told anybody this before, but?.?.?."). You'd think someone with any semblance of self-awareness or a good enough filter or enough Real World: Miamis under her belt would know better by now than to confess these types of things to another living breathing person. But you'd be wrong.
Here I am in this outward cloak of certainty covering extreme self- doubt, walking into Game Night with a bottle of chilled champagne and an outfit that says, "I'm definitely stylish but comfortable enough in my own skin that I don't have to try that hard." What I'm really thinking is that I tried really hard to look like I'm not trying hard; in fact, trying to look like you didn't try hard is downright exhausting. Mind you, I'm not feeling terribly stylish. Especially since it's raining. Rain is never good luck. Just ask my hair. I feel pretty good about myself, though-all things being relative. Me feeling good about myself means my up-three-pounds, down-three-pounds existence was leaning toward the down side this morning, I don't have a golf-ball-sized zit screaming for attention on my cheek, and amazingly enough, tonight's rain hair doesn't have me looking like a brunette, Caucasian, female version of Don King. Definitely a good sign.
It's hard enough being a normal girl these days. Sure, I've just described a few wacky characteristics, but I'm not talking mentality here-I'm talking normal as in "not enhanced." More and more, everywhere I turn there's some girl, some naturally beautiful girl, who is determined to turn herself into a Barbie doll. It's frightening. Plus, with global warming and the sun getting hotter and hotter, isn't there a good chance that one day all of these gals will just start to melt? I vowed to myself that I will grow old gracefully- granted, I'm only twenty-eight years old, so I'm gonna reserve the right to change my mind at some point, but for now, I'll stick with what I've got.
Which, mind you, is pretty okay on most days. I have medium brown hair that's a couple of inches below my shoulders. I put highlights and lowlights in to make it a little more exciting, but the only thing that really does is set me back a couple hundred bucks every few weeks. I have brown eyes that are fairly boring, and I've been told I have a "perfect" nose, but I don't even know what that means. That said, nothing else about me is "perfect," so I'll take it. My teeth are straight (thanks, Dr. Edelstein!), and I have dimples when I smile, which I hate. Anyway, that's me. Nothing spectacular, but I did manage to have the cutest boyfriend in school in the sixth grade, so I'm not entirely hopeless.
I walk into the party behind a guy who is wearing a T-shirt that says "Everybody Dies." Oh, and that's not the best part. See, the i in "Dies" is shaped like a gun, and it's pointing upward, toward his face. Heartwarming. Hang on, it gets better. As he closes the door behind us, this dude's small black umbrella pops open and blooms in front of him. Then he spins around to close it, and the umbrella catches my favorite sweater and claws a huge hole in it. It seems to be happening in slow motion, the umbrella opening, my eyes widening, the menacing tip moving toward me like a sword thrust. This is suddenly like the shittiest version of The Three Musketeers ever. And, yes, I've seen the one with Charlie Sheen.
"Sorry," T-shirt Guy says with a shrug, nonchalantly unhinging his evil, renegade umbrella from my poor, sweet, now horribly disfigured sweater.
I exhale and swallow deeply. What can I say to him? What do you say when a complete stranger has not only just destroyed your sweater but also dragged you into his blatant violation of the "umbrella opened indoors" superstition, thus almost certainly setting off a downward spiral of unfortunate future events in your life?
"It's okay," I carefully respond, anger receding from DefCon 5 to a more reasonable 2. "But . . . . aren't you worried about bad luck?"
"Aw, I don't believe in any of that," he says and laughs, as if my concern is silly.
I'll show him silly. "Well," I say, and I think about it before I say it and decide not to say it and then say it anyway. "I would be if I were you. Bad luck for both of us."
He turns and looks me square in the eye. I'd been too transfixed on his death threat of a T-shirt to look beyond it. His eyes are hazel. The kind of hazel in which, if you liked the guy, you'd notice the specks of green and gold, but if you despised him, you'd see murky brown, despite his desperately grasping at the hazel of it all.
"I promise you," he says, "you will not have bad luck because of this. It will be my bad luck, and mine alone. I'm owning the bad luck on this one." He seems amused, making air quotes every time he says "bad luck."
"Fine," I say. "I hope you're right."
"So you're wishing bad luck on me?" he asks, smiling.
"No," I correct. "Of course not. I'm just wishing it not on me."
"Right?.?.?." he says, and then looks around the party.
I get self-conscious and think he's bored of me, and why wouldn't he be? I'm the crazy person telling him his umbrella is going to ruin his life and possibly mine. I'd run for the hills, too.
"Well, nice meeting you," I say, even though we didn't really meet, no names were exchanged (although I'm calling him "Everybody Dies" in my head and I'm hoping he's calling me "Sweater Girl" in his because, hell, you know men, it could be a lot worse than that, like "Crazy Chick Who Thinks I've Doomed Us Both but at Least She's Kinda Hot"), and I wonder if he does think I'm kinda hot-men dig torn clothing, right?-but now I'm even regretting saying "Nice meeting you," so I rush off to blend into the party and leave this brutal, sadistic Eviscerator of Sweaters, his not-at-all brutal, wonderfully hazel eyes, and his inarguably bad luck behind me.
I haven't been to Jason's in a while because my work schedule rarely allows it, but also, I just don't love parties. I always feel like I'm being forced to have a good time. It's kind of like having your boss over for dinner. It's supposed to be fun but it just ends up being more work. Jason is known around town for having these super-elaborate game-themed parties, and invites are coveted. He has them catered by top-notch L.A. restaurants, sometimes multiple restaurants with tents stationed in various rooms in his house, and he always has two rooms of games going simultaneously. Still, I find them awkward at best. But I try to force myself out of my isolated shell every now and then and Jason's parties are as good an opportunity as any.
Jason is a script doctor who's pretty well known around L.A. He gets paid a lot of money to rewrite scripts that were written by people who were also paid a lot of money but didn't quite achieve what the producers wanted. Or they achieved what the producers wanted but not what the studio wanted. Or what they really failed to achieve was what the star wanted. Or what the star that replaced the original star wanted. And so on. So Jason comes in and "punches up" the script with new dialogue and jokes, and the big scenes that will usually end up in the trailer and quite often be the only funny parts of the movie. You know how sometimes you'll catch a movie and you've already seen all the best parts in the trailer? That was done on purpose. The movie sucked, so they hired a guy to come in and build five "trailer moments" into the script. These moments trick gullible viewers into the theater, helping the studio to recoup at least some of the money it spent. You know, like in Point Break when Keanu Reeves's boss says, "Do you think that taxpayers would like it, Utah, if they knew that they were paying a federal agent to surf and pick up girls?" And Keanu says, "Babes," to which the boss replies, "I beg your pardon?" And Keanu says, "The correct term is 'babes.' " Best line in the movie. Except it wasn't in the movie. It was only in the trailer. (And, yes, Keanu's name in the movie was Johnny Utah. You just can't make this stuff up.)
I didn't know any of this until Jason explained it to me. He also explained that he never gets any credit on the movies, which seemed kind of unfair, but he assured me he was crying all the way to the bank. Personally, I cry at the bank, too, most often after viewing my account balance.
But getting back to the party: Jason is wearing a bandana on his head, a sweatshirt, short shorts, and kneesocks-the kind with the colored bands at the top. He looks like a character from a Wes Anderson film, which presumably is what he was going for. Jason always encourages people to come to Game Night dressed as a recognizable character from a movie, and the best costume wins a prize. He's not strictly recognizable, but the shamelessness wins in my book, anyway. I didn't dress as anyone but me, because even that can be a challenge and it's not Halloween. Then again, with my newly ripped sweater maybe I'm a homeless person or a survivor in one of those post-nuclear-holocaust movies. Or maybe I'm a Freddy Krueger victim. Or-even worse-I'm Freddy Krueger! He wears a sweater, right?
I swallow my concerns and put on my game face as Jason kisses me on the cheek, takes the champagne, and subtly spins me around-forcing me into a face-to-face with, you guessed it: Everybody Eyes-I mean Dies. The (kinda adorable) bastard stands before me, smirking. I find myself glancing back and forth between his eyes and the gun on his chest.
From the Trade Paperback edition.