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Celebrity Magazine

Bring Me the Head of Mickey Rooney

Staff changes are announced at the world’s most famous magazine, and Drew is handed the axe and told to swing it.

The editorial meeting took place in an airless conference room crammed with old couches, broken-down office chairs, and orphaned promotional items, like a box of yellow CM koozies and martini glasses that read “Christmas 2004.”

“I’d like to talk about a few changes at the magazine,” said Newman. The words cast a pall over the room. Parker Posey turned on her tape recorder. Keira gnawed at a fingernail. Vince’s right leg tapped nervously against the floor, shaking the sofa we shared, and I stilled his knee with mine. “Starting today, there will be staff changes.”

Vince’s leg started jostling again. Mickey Rooney appeared to be taking notes, but from where I sat, I could tell he was just doodling.

“Are you saying people will be fired?” asked Parker, her hands poking up from beneath a drape of bright purple cashmere. She didn’t seem to be wearing clothes so much as several bolts of luxurious textiles.

“Is this because of the De Niro situation?” asked Heath Ledger, jotting something in his Moleskine.

“I’m saying there will be staff changes.” Newman sighed and peered at her over the rims of his bifocals. “And no, Cliff, it has nothing to do with our former publisher’s minor dabblings.”

Redford frowned. “Who the fuck is Cliff?”

Yesterday, in our private meeting, Newman had outlined his three-point plan for the fall, which he now unrolled for the staff: Masthead cuts followed by new hires, including the Lohan intern; juicier stories for incentive pay; and a rather out-of-left-field commitment to online video, which he insisted, with great pride, in calling “vlogs.” Afterward, he tried to segue to the regular round-robin of story pitches, but the meeting had devolved into a jabbering mess of questions and anxious grumbling.

“We make speak to a camera?” asked Antonio Banderas, who was still mastering the art of speaking in English at all.

“Go back to the part about masthead cuts,” said Vince.

“Vlog,” McConaughey said, as he scratched his bristly chin. “Is that a onomatoposie?”

“Onomatopoeia,” Keira leapt in. “No, it’s not.”

He gave her a thumbs-up sign. For a moment, she beamed.

“Will these new hires will be of color?” asked Parker. “Have you spoken to Samuel L. Jackson?”

“Sam Jackson costs more than most of you combined,” Redford barked. “And at least he’s worth it. Let’s get on with the meeting.” It wasn’t fair the way Newman and Redford baited the staff only to bat them down when they showed a proper, healthy interest in their fates. But maybe when you had a room full of people paid to get the story, it was wise not to open the floor for questions. “If you have a problem, write a letter to the editor. Vincent, you’re up.”

Vince cleared his throat. “Remember the corrupt cop I wrote about a few months ago? Some guy in his unit just got the boot. Real shady stuff. Even better, the guy up and disappeared two weeks ago.” As Vince gave his song-and-dance, I felt my face redden, as if last night’s indiscretions were scrawled across my forehead. Nobody noticed except Keira, who gave me long, questioning glances I was afraid to return.

“I haven’t tracked him down yet,” Vince continued, “but I’m working with the chief of police, so it’s only a matter of time. I’m calling this ‘Rogue Cop on the Run.’” Vince let the last part dangle in the air for a moment. “I think it would be perfect for the January cover.”

Parker fiddled with the fringe of her scarf as if it were a rich and rewarding task. Everyone knew she had called the January cover months ago for a think piece on the new motherhood, and Vince was stealing it. Again.

“Sounds like the perfect way to ring in the new year,” said Newman. “Let’s get Colin to shoot it. All right, Rooney, what have you got?”

“Say we’re worried about his health,” said Newman. “And if it gets too painful, rip the Band-Aid off.” Mickey Rooney placed his doodle on the ground. I could see it now, a cross-eyed frog on a lily pad. “You guys won’t believe where I was last weekend!” He always sounded like a proud little boy who wanted to tell us how he’d just taken a cheese grater to his vocal chords. “I went backstage at the Westminster Dog Show, and let me tell you, it was amazing!”

As he blathered on, my stomach did a backflip. Later that day, he was going to be fired.

“Drew, what do you think?” asked Newman, not looking up from his copy of the agenda. “Shall we peek inside the tangled world of the, uh, Westminster Dog Show?”

“It sounds interesting,” I said, a bit startled. “But we’ve done a few animal stories lately. I don’t know that dogs are our style.”

Vince leaned in to whisper in my ear. “That’s not what you said last night.”

 

* * *


“All right, let’s get this over with,” said Newman, slamming the door to his office. “Drew, I want you to break the news to Rooney.”

“Why does she have to do it?” asked Redford.

“Because she’s like a granddaughter to him.”

“His granddaughter just stole $10,000 and moved to Mexico,” said Redford.

“See? The role just opened up.”

I had to admit—Rooney and I had a strong connection. I never knew my grandparents, who all died or disappeared long before I was born. Like my dad, they were little more than faces in photographs. I never minded growing up with just a mother, but sometimes, when I looked in Rooney’s soft, glistening eyes, I felt what I might have missed.

“I’ll do it,” I said.

Newman buzzed the intercom. “Ms. Alba, dear, would you page Rooney to my office?” The room throbbed with silence until the receptionist’s soothing alto came over the loudspeaker: “Mickey Rooney, please report to the editors’ office. Rooney, to the editors’ office.”

I began to panic. “What do I say?”

“Say we’re worried about his health,” said Newman. “And if it gets too painful, rip the Band-Aid off.”

Redford pecked out an email with two fingers. “This is bullshit.”

“No,” Newman said. “This is business.”

Rooney rapped lightly on the door and took a seat beside me on the couch. I placed my trembling hands in my lap and turned to him, making a loud squeaking noise on the vinyl. “How’s it going, Mickey?”

“Great!” he said in his enthusiastic rasp. “I know you guys don’t want the dog show story, but I gotta tell you how wonderful it was. Drew, you would have loved it. They had this adorable little Pekingese, waving his little tail like a flag.”

“That sounds great,” I said. Newman stared at me, tapping his pen on the desk. Redford kept typing out emails, as if none of us was there. “Listen, have you ever thought about early retirement?”

Rooney didn’t look wounded as much as surprised. “Gosh, no. It’s like I tell my wife, they’ll have to carry me out of Celebrity Magazine on a stretcher!”

I placed my hand over his. “Well, that’s what we’re worried about.”

Rooney laughed. “You don’t have to worry about the old ticker. Four operations in one year ought to be good for something.”

I took a deep breath and tried again. “As you know, we’re letting some people go.”

Rooney withdrew his hand. “You guys aren’t trying to get rid of me, are you?” His eyes darted from me, to Newman, to Redford, to the floor. The air suddenly felt very thin. He clutched at his chest and rubbed a bit. “Ah, not again. First my granddaughter robs me and runs off to Guadalajara, and now you guys are firing me!”

Rooney stammered on about his love for the magazine. When he was finished, Newman stood and moved to open the door. “Of course we’re not firing you,” said Newman. Redford’s eyes jerked up from his computer. I blinked, several times.

“What Newman means,” I said, not at all sure what Newman meant, “is that we’re not firing anyone so much as taking a good, hard stare at what’s best for them.”

Rooney seemed relieved by this turn. “Oh, is that what this is about? I’ll get a note from my doctor. I’ll do whatever you want. Don’t kick me out of here, guys. You guys are my…” His voice quivered as he struggled to squeeze the words out.

I couldn’t bear it anymore. “There’s no other way put this,” I said.

“Don’t cut the man off,” scolded Newman. I stared at him, but he would not return my gaze. His icy blue eyes were locked on Rooney.

Rooney stammered on and on about his love for the magazine and the people who worked here. It was a speech that begged for a string accompaniment. When he was finished, Newman stood and moved to open the door.

“We’re proud to have you on staff,” he said. “Like I told Drew, it will take more than a heart attack to quiet Mickey Rooney. You should come out to the island soon, have dinner with us.”

“I would, Paul, but this granddaughter fiasco has left me in a real financial bind, if you know what I mean.”

Newman placed a hand on Rooney’s shoulder. “We’ll take care of that,” he said.

Rooney closed the door behind him. Newman returned to his chair and swiveled back and forth in it, staring up at the ceiling. I studied the square pattern on the tile floor. It was Redford who finally broke the silence. “That went well.”

“Fuck both of you,” said Newman. “I changed my mind.”

 

* * *


I had agreed to meet Vince after work at his favorite bar, a low-lit dive with red leather booths and martinis served in a strainer. When I arrived, Vince was near the back, talking on his phone.

“I’ll call you later, babe,” he said as I sat down. “My sister,” he explained, dropping the phone into the front pocket of his sports jacket.

“You call your sister ‘babe’?”

“I call everyone ‘babe.’ Want a martini, babe?”

Vince signaled the waitress, a comely blonde named Scarlett, and I suddenly wondered if he’d slept with her.

“So Mickey Rooney wasn’t fired?” asked Vince, and slurped from his glass.

“He might have been promoted. I think Newman’s losing his marbles.”

“Vlogs,” Vince said, and chuckled. “Who wants to watch us? There’s a reason we went into print.” Scarlett set down two more martinis, and I watched Vince’s eyes roam to her generous cleavage. “Thanks, babe,” he said to her, and then winked at me.

I found myself in something of a hopeless situation with Vince—when we were apart, my mind buzzed with thoughts of him; when we were together, I was easily annoyed, distrustful. After we parted, I would only remember a certain tender look, or the feel of his hand moving up my thigh, but in the moment, I would be anywhere else, my mind whirring with a newsreel of calamity: the corporate-cute divorcee in a lacy push-up, his body melted between Scarlett’s creamy thighs. I couldn’t decide if it was female intuition, or self-defeating paranoia.

I finished my martini, and Vince ordered two more.

“I’m done,” I said.

“Who said it’s for you?”

It was nearly 10 p.m. when we left the bar and hailed a cab back to my place. Driving back in silence, it occurred to me, with great certainty, that he was still dating the corporate-cute divorcee. I was formulating a hard-hitting question about this when he nuzzled his nose into my neck. Maybe I’d bring it up some other time.

As we walked up the stairs to my apartment, Vince grabbed at my ass, and I swatted away his hands even as I tried to give my backside a little extra swing. I was so preoccupied with this flirtation that I almost ran into my neighbor, a humorless, gruff man with a deeply pockmarked face. “I’m sorry,” I said, blushing, as I let him pass. Inside my apartment, I tossed my jacket on the floor and had started unzipping my dress when I noticed Vince’s ashen face.

“What’s he doing here?” he asked. He was breathless, panting almost.

“He moved in last week. Tom, Tommy somebody. Why? Do you know him?”

“Know him?” he said. “He’s our January cover.”