Book cover: Knopf.
I’ll admit it, I can be an asshole sometimes.
In flight from Paris to LA, I stashed my red leather billfold—where I kept my euros and various other foreign IDs and bank cards—in a side pocket of my backpack next to my lip balm, tweezers, and magnifying mirror. My plan had been to spend the next twelve hours revitalizing my career by plucking out each and every one of my eyebrow hairs, a blissfully labor-intensive succession of satisfaction-inducing pain. Trichotillomania, the docs call it. Most trichsters pull the hair right out of their scalps, aiming to yank that little white pith with the black ball of root attached. I can still picture my mom’s open-mouthed stare whenever she tugged up the whole package in one shot—she had bald patches and bloody scabs all over her head— was it proof her luck was changing? Personally, I find the nerve endings on my face extra zingy, a more gratifying ping of pain. Plus, I’d thought I’d like the look, my forehead as clean and smooth as a baby’s butt, signifying my inner purity. Instead, I ended up wasting the entire twelve-hour intercontinental time-hammock in the fetal position on my ultra-classy sky-bed. I only stood, ninja-like, in a black tracksuit, beanie, and matching sunglasses, to go to the loo. For exercise and to prevent blood clots, occasionally I’d prop up on an elbow to flag down a flight attendant so I could order additional mini-bottles of whiskey—waving an arm in the air burns more calories than not waving an arm in the air—and when I actually stood, I swayed (that does, too). Whether the oscillation was from an inborn sense of rhythm, turbulence, or a history of drug abuse, it’s hard to tell—time is running out now, and I have more existential problems than the fact that maybe I shouldn’t have done so much ayahuasca. Let’s just say I was never not in enough control to break my own fall, which I did by bouncing from headrest to headrest.
During my initial trip down the aisle, I aimed for the curtains that separated business from the riffraff in steerage, until a nice, short gay steward turned me around and pointed me toward the fancy bathroom at the front of the cabin, one with upmarket products (Malin + Goetz) and real hand towels (the kind that get laundered and folded), located next to the flight deck. Of course, the airlines lock that shit up, but a hottie pilot was coming out of the cabin just as I approached, to stretch his long, long legs maybe or to urinate in a silver bowl and get a free squirt of expensive hand lotion. From the double take that starstruck boy gave me—damn, didn’t I think he’d whip it out—as his antenna went up, his shoulders swelled to fill out his epaulets—it felt like his eyes were commanding me to fall to my knees in front of him. Why do so many guys respond to yours truly that way? This pilot recognized me, I’m sure of it; it might also be that he was a natural-born rapist and smelled vulnerability. My natural scent could be called “eau du easy mark,” an odor only vermin can detect, a spicy mélange of paralysis perfume with prior-history-of-abuse essence.
That nice flight attendant had followed behind me the way parents do when a toddler is learning to walk. He and the pilot met eyes over my shoulder, and the latter turned around and went into the cockpit to his captain’s seat, locking his door behind him. I had a protector on board! I nodded to thank said short knight before entering the restroom. Suffice it to say, I didn’t think twice about leaving my backpack and all my other crap under my airplane-issued duvet. The cabin was a small, well-guarded place, my guy was on duty, and I could see my private lump while entering and exiting the lavatory. Besides, I was lit. All I cared about was making sure my in-flight Dewar’s on the rocks kept coming, continually reigniting the Ativan in my bloodstream. I was aiming for a heavy and steady thrum of numbness, near drool, but I didn’t want to satisfy anyone—Nina, JP, the Rug—by going out the way so many messed-up rockers and starlets had gone before me. At least not while we were pinned up in the air and Earth spun like a motherfucker beneath us. The tabloids would have a field day. Too undignified an exit.
It wasn’t until the plane landed, and I stumbled through customs and into the car Manager Liz had ordered for me, that I turned on my phone—she’d wisely arranged to FedEx all my stuff to the States so that I could avoid the scrum at baggage claim. The LA air was cinder block hot. Somewhere nearby were fires and horses—probably people, too—being hosed down or, worse, being burned to death. The AC was on in the limo, but still I asked the driver, my regular guy, Branimir (a middle-aged one-armed Croat), to open my window, so I could feel the heat sandblasting against my face, hoping it would slap some sense into me after that drunken flight. This was my town, all those low-slung mini-malls, karate-class storefronts, and sushi restaurants. Mile after mile, we passed auto repair shops and taco stands; some joined at the hip by the same ambitious owners. At various crosswalks, sign spinners danced their sweat-soaked ballets, boys and girls in crop tops and short shorts, adept as pizza makers: condos for rent, twirl twirl, car wash, a behind-the-back flip, girls girls girls, foam finger pointing the way to someone’s daughter’s degradation. Sporadic palm trees lined the streets, the majority tall and giraffish, others bent and dying of thirst, the short ones scaly and thick-middled as old men with spare-tire psoriasis. I had Branimir drive real slow to my house because I wanted to take in all of it. I was home, see. LA was refreshingly fly-by-night, a hodge-podge of ostentation and poverty, temporary structures, most of the buildings inspired solely by the size of the owner’s wallet or someone’s lack of taste. I’d left a city with a grand plan for one that had held no plans period. Ad-libbed and extemporaneous. More my style.
But as soon as my cell phone powered up, I realized my Twitter account had been locked down tight.
My crime? I’d done a wee bit of tweeting on my way to Charles de Gaulle and in the business-class lounge at the airport. all little red riding hood wanted was to write her story about how she was ____ by the big bad wolf, so he hired foreign spies to stop her oh what a tiny thing you have she said when he pushed that wizened mushroom in her face when the woodcutter cut that skinny f—k open how many of his victims fell out of his rotund belly? half of female Hollywood! end the systematic abuse of women and boycott all his pictures! Then I posted a photo of the Rug’s former offices up on Sunset not far from the Viper Room and Whiskey a Go Go, captioned: where Satan spent his early years. If you squinted real hard through your bifocals or blew it up, the address of the building appeared in the corner, and that apparently was against Twitter law. I don’t know who snuck that address in there. A fellow traveler, I bet; not me, I swear on a stack of Bibles. I hadn’t even noticed it. I’d just been doing my daily friendly neighborhood cyberstalk of the Rug, and it was one of the images that popped up when I googled him so I’d tweeted it.
I pivoted to Instagram.
I kicked away one of my sneakers, yanked off my sock, and tied it around my mouth as if I were being gagged, before taking a selfie in the back seat of the limo. Branimir’s eyebrows shot up in the rearview, but smart dude, he said nothing. He was impervious. He’d survived a war and lost two brothers. “Hollywood is for amateurs,” he once told me, when we blew a joint together in a parking lot after a particularly bad screening of one of my movies. “Wait until your schoolteacher decapitates your grandmother.” Plus, he was used to me. Nothing I could do would faze him one bit. My caption read: Twitter has locked down my account! Not the idiotinchief’s! He tweeted about the Kahn family. He advertised Lady G’s phone number. But who gets canceled? Just little old me from bumf—k USA. LADIES SCREAM THE TRUTH FOR ME! GIRLFRIENDS BE MY AMPLIFIER!
One of last year’s best supporting actress nominees tweeted: We’ve got your back, Meredith! God bless her knobby clavicle. That old stalwart, Rosanna Arquette, came out for me, too: Imagine if every woman in this town opened their doors and called the names of their abusers? And then: How many of us would shout the same name? #thisisnotawitchhunt
I DM’d her: Thank you for your strength! I fucking loved Searching for Debra Winger!
Even Busy Philipps, who I always thought effing hated me, acted like an ally. I guess because she, too, was raped by a boyfriend at fourteen? It was Nina who told me that horrifying detail, while she was pretending to dream up a new board list for the bogus W2, reeling me in with those fluttering woke angel wings of hers and the shiny goodness of an activist’s halo. She’d been emailing me names to see who I could help her “get to”: Mira Sorvino, Annabella Sciorra, Salma Hayek, Sarah Polley, and Busy. Thinking about Nina then, I wished with all my might that I could travel the wrong way in time to when I’d first drunk the Kool-Aid, before I knew anything about who she and Jean-Pierre really were or why they were seemingly so into me. I know it sounds counterintuitive and completely cringey, but I would have been happy to embrace my lost innocence.
LUCKY DOGS by Helen Schulman. Copyright 2023 (c) 2023 by Helen Schulman. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Penguin Random House.
Helen Schulman is the New York Times best-selling author of six novels, including Come with Me and This Beautiful Life. Schulman has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the New York Foundation for the Arts, Sundance, Aspen Words, and Columbia University. She lives in New York City.