It never occurred to me that Vince and I might collaborate on the story. There were many reasons for this, but the first one that came to mind was this: It was a terrible idea.
“It’s a brilliant idea,” said Vince. “Drew and I make a classic team. She has the smarts and reliability to compensate for my roguish, wheels-off eccentricity.”
“Shut up, Vincent,” said Redford.
Vince nodded. “Thank you, sir. I appreciate your honesty.”
Newman pulled a cigar from his top drawer and began rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. “Let’s get Colin Firth to shoot this.”
“Colin Firth is a reporter for the International Star,” said Redford.
“Well, who the fuck is our photographer then? Colin-what’s-his-dick? Farrell? Get him to shoot it. Now go away. You’re both depressing me.”
Stumbling out of the office, shellshocked, I practically walked into Keira and McConaughey. I was pale, queasy, in utter disbelief. I didn’t want to write a story. I didn’t want to work with Vince. I didn’t want anything but my office and my page proofs and my turquoise editing pen. I needed to say something. I needed to get out of this.
“You know what you need?” McConaughey asked, wrapping an arm around my neck. “You need a little Senor Taco.”
Senor Taco was a garish pink restaurant constructed to look like a giant sombrero. It reminded me less of Mexico, and more of Six Flags. The gimmick at Senor Taco—if you could whittle the gimmicks down to a single one—was that customers wore a sombrero, so that walking to the table was like trying to negotiate a crowded street during a rainstorm, all the umbrellas bumping against each other.
“I’m not wearing a sombrero,” I told the group as we entered the restaurant. This was a mistake. I was forced to wear the biggest one.
Vince, Keira, and I picked a table while McConaughey, still standing, whistled for the waitress. “Senorita, quatro margaritas, por favor.”
As a rule, I don’t drink much. When I was a kid, I was a demon for the stuff—long story, rehab, would give you all the wrong impressions—but as an adult I had learned moderation. A beer or two no longer smeared into a blackout. I learned to use the wine cork, instead of throwing it away as soon as I opened the bottle. Normally, I would never indulge during work hours—unlike the boys, who sneak booze like smoke breaks. But that day, for the first time in a while, I really needed a drink.
McConaughey flipped his wooden chair around and straddled it. “Drew, tell Mateo what’s wrong.”
“Umm, I don’t want to co-write an expose about my upstairs neighbor. I haven’t written anything longer than an email in three years.” I crossed my legs and accidentally bumped a passerby with my hat. “Can I please take this stupid thing off?”
“Hey, hey, hey,” said McConaughey. “Are you mad at yourself, or are you mad at the sombrero?”
“She’s mad at Newman and Redford,” said Keira, digging to the bottom of the chip basket to find a tiny pebble of tortilla.
“She’s mad at me,” said Vince. “Because I’ve been selfish and callow and I’ve shot everything to shit. Which reminds me, anybody up for shots?”
“Que bueno,” said McConaughey. “Quatro tequilas, por favor.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said. “No shots for me. Shots make me insane.” This was a mistake. I was forced to take seven.
Well, “forced” is a strong word, but the more I objected, the more Vince and McConaughey wanted to place another in front of me. The problem was, it helped. I felt wonderfully unburdened. I explained things I hadn’t fully articulated to myself. I felt a brotherhood among my peers.
“I’m a shit interviewer,” I said, my hand groping Vince’s thigh. “I run out of questions too quickly. Or I get so nervous about what I’m going to say I forget to listen. Look at this dinosaur,” I said, digging in my purse and pulling out a clunky large-format tape recorder. “It’s from, like, 1985. I look like an idiot with this thing.”
“Jesus, what is that?” asked Vince. “A Speak and Spell?”
“Yes, and then, when I do ask questions,” I continued, “they’re these long and complicated things that aren’t even questions so much as elaborate and detailed statements. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
Vince’s phone rang, and he excused himself from the table and my right-hand grip.
“I think that call was from a little senorita we met at a sorority party last week. Great rack.” “Your problemo,” said McConaughey, gesturing with his straw, “is that you’re trying to prove how clever you are. That’s the wrong approach, amigita. If you act smart, the person you interview will put up a front. But if you act a little dim, a little off your game, people just open up. And when you run out of questions, or you didn’t hear what they said because you were thinking about college basketball scores, you go, ‘That’s interesting. Tell me about that.’” He chewed on the straw a bit. “People always want to spill. They’re just afraid of not being heard.”
My right hand moved to McConaughey’s knee. “Mateo, do you like karaoke?”
After what seemed like an eternity—or a second, as they were starting to feel the same—Vince returned, tossed two 20s on the table, and told us he had to leave “for personal business.”
“Personal business with fussy corporate hair and waxy tan legs?” I asked, grabbing my sombrero as it slid off my head.
Keira grabbed a handful of chips. “Why don’t we get the check?”
I rubbed my face. I didn’t feel a thing. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” I mumbled. “He’s got a girlfriend.”
“Are you talking about Jennifer?” McConaughey asked, making a signing-the-bill motion to the waitress. “She kicked him out of her place a week ago. I don’t know where he’s been sleeping, either. I think that call was from a little senorita we met at a sorority party last week. Great rack.”
The waitress arrived with our bill.
“I’m sorry,” I said, crumbling the receipt in my hand. “We’d like another round.”
I don’t know exactly how the three of us ended up at a karaoke bar, but I suspect it had to do with the way I chanted “karaoke” the whole ride back to the office. I had stolen the sombrero from Senor Taco, and, in order to fit in the back of Keira’s red Passat—without taking my sombrero off—rode with my head out the window like a happy dog. The bartender at the karaoke bar eventually cut off my booze supply, though not soon enough. I remember singing “Little Red Corvette.” I remember singing “Little Red Corvette,” even though the song had changed to “(Sittin’ on) the Dock of the Bay.” I remember singing “Little Red Corvette” with my cab driver, although maybe he wasn’t singing so much as yelling at me to shut up. I have no other memories, except a foggy dream of falling somewhere very deep, sinking almost, and being unable to get up.
I woke on a small and prickly bed. The window must have been open; it was freezing cold. My throat burned. My head rested on a morning paper. I was clutching the sombrero for warmth.
“I made you some coffee.” Tommy Lee Jones stood in the doorway of the apartment building. I looked around to discover, much to my surprise, I was lying on the front stoop.
“What am I doing here?” I asked, startled to a sitting position.
He handed me a steaming mug. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
Tommy’s apartment had the same layout as mine, but it was unpainted and mostly unfurnished. Stacks of books were shoved in the corner. An unpacked box served as a TV tray. He appeared to be using a screwdriver as a butter knife. “I guess I’m missing that woman’s touch,” he said, clearing the futon so I could sit down.
“Listen, I’m mortified about this,” I said.
“Don’t be.” He was gruff but not unkind. “I been there before. Took 30 years and a broken marriage before I gave up the stuff.”
“Oh, no, no, I don’t drink. I mean, drinking is not my problem. Well, obviously it’s a bit of a problem but not usually. Listen to me, I sound like those people in rehab.”
“You been to rehab?”
“Well, yes, but a long time ago. I was a kid. Literally.” I stood up and grabbed the sombrero with what I hoped was dignity. “Thanks for the coffee. I promise this will never happen again.”
“That’s good. Otherwise I might have to turn down that discount to Celebrity Magazine.”
I sat back down. “What discount to Celebrity Magazine?”
“Last night, you kept ringing my buzzer, telling me you wanted to talk about a deal with Celebrity Magazine. That’s where you work, right? And you kept singing that Prince song, too. What’s it called?”
“I sure can yap,” he said, shaking his head. “I better be careful, or this’ll wind up in some article you’re writing.” “‘Little Red Corvette.’“ My stomach somersaulted. I told him about a deal with Celebrity Magazine? Thank God I was still drunk. Otherwise, I might have actually processed this information.
“Not a bad rag,” he continued. “Some of your city government coverage is sloppy, but I’m probably biased. I was on the force for two decades. You want some more coffee?”
I nodded. When Tommy turned around to retrieve the coffee pot, I slipped my hand into my purse and silently pressed the giant red button on my tape recorder. “That’s interesting,” I said. “Tell me about that.”
Tommy and I talked for nearly an hour. He told me about being let go from the force, but in his version it wasn’t because of anything he did. It was because Chief Hackman set him up. Typical tale; every criminal’s an innocent man.
“I sure can yap,” he said, shaking his head. “I better be careful, or this’ll wind up in some article you’re writing.”
I laughed. “Lucky for you, I’m an editor, not a writer.”
He stood up and started tidying the sink area. “I don’t know what you’re doing Saturday but, umm.” He shifted around for an uncomfortable moment. “Do you play Scrabble?”
There was a loud click in my purse as the tape came to an end. “I’d love to,” I said. “I better go now. That’s my phone.”
I scrambled downstairs to my apartment to scribble down as many notes as I could—the way his eyes darkened when he talked about Hackman, the crack in the coffee mug he handed to me. You never knew what seemingly insignificant detail might take on metaphoric significance. My fingers were flying across the page—I was exhilarated, powerful. I was back in the game.
At work, I tracked down Vince and McConaughey in the breakroom. “I got Tommy on tape,” I said, out of breath, “talking about the chief and why he left the force and how we got the story wrong. I’m sure it’s bullshit, but it’s incredible, you won’t believe it.”
They seemed pleased, but for an entirely different reason.
“‘Little Red Corvette,’“ McConaughey said, and clapped one hand on my shoulder.
Vince chimed in. “Honey you got to slow down.”
Stories of my karaoke flameout beat me to work that morning. By the time I arrived, pictures were already hanging in cubicles. Imitations had been perfected—eyes half closed, words slurry, tone-deaf. Even Mickey Rooney took a stab, and he didn’t even know the song, so he just sang it like a woozy Sinatra standard. Still, he got a laugh.
Rare was the colleague who failed to join the pile-on. Parker Posey was too busy chain-smoking Parliaments and composing her precious cover copy to bother. And Keira had avoided my gaze since I arrived.
I texted her at noon: “I’m sorry.”
KNIGHTLEY_85: “For which part?”
Thirty minutes later, I dropped by her cubicle. “I bought you lunch,” I said, tossing a pack of peanuts on her desk. “I feel awful. And one day, when I’m feeling less like crying, you can tell me all the horrible things I did.”
“So you blacked out?” she asked, ripping open the pack. I nodded. “That’s God’s little way of protecting you.” She dumped the bag in her mouth. “I bloody love Planters.”
I wasn’t lying to Keira: I felt awful. Not just about the shame parade of the night prior, but my hangover was sprouting wings. My hands were trembling. The corners of my eyes were bursting with spots. My mouth watered dangerously. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through the day. I needed a bathroom, quick. What I didn’t need was a nosy intern stopping me in the hall.
“Did I hear you say you got that cop on tape?” Lindsay Lohan asked, setting down a stack of folders to be filed. “That’s gonna be great material.”
“I’d love to talk about this, sweetie, but I had a rough night.”
Lindsay dug into her jean pocket, pulled out a prescription bottle, and palmed me a pill. “Take it one day at a time.” She winked at me. “Sweetie.”