I am walking down a slanted street in the suburbs. I am carrying a blue pad. I do not know what the pad is for. It looks like maybe it is meant to keep something warm or cool. It is made of heavy plastic. I take good care of it.
I stop at a sprawling ranch-house on the slanted street and walk up the driveway. It is Jerry Lewis’ house, and I am going to a party there. I’m one of the first guests to arrive. There’s only one problem with this picture: Jerry Lewis hates my guts.
“Found it, did you?” he asks me, making it clear that he wishes I hadn’t. He lets me in anyway. That sets the tone for the party. I am there all day and all night. I help myself to all the food and all the drink available. And while it’s clear from everything he says and does that Jerry Lewis hates my guts, it’s equally clear that for some reason he can’t do a damn thing about it.
He looks like the Jerry Lewis of The King of Comedy – sporting a red cashmere sweater, but sick with self-confidence, his skin poisoned by sunlight. He looks physically capable of tearing my head off at the stem.
We run into each other half a dozen times during the party. Always, it is the same. He tilts his head back with contempt and looks as if he’s counting the words as they come out of my mouth. Once or twice he seems to be verging on violence, but something holds him back each time. Instead, he just keeps saying uglier and uglier things to me, no matter how friendly I try to be.
At one point I start bemoaning the idiocy of Rich Little-type impersonators. “They think they’re doing Lewis, but they’re really doing Berle. They think they’re doing Berle, but they’re really doing Lewis. They’re pathetic,” I say. It sounds like a good case to me but the look on Jerry Lewis’ face tells me otherwise.
It is time to go. Many guests have come and gone, and now the house is littered with trash. I say goodbye to the middle-aged sisters I had such a pleasant time with in the kitchen. They’re sorry to see me go.
In the driveway Jerry Lewis is sorting through some large green recycling containers. They are crammed with what looks like the detritus of a long and active showbiz career, plaques and photos and awards. He thoughtfully moves a trophy from one green can to another.
I could go down to the far end of the driveway, walking around the far end of the many cars parked there, and that way not disturb Jerry Lewis. But, no – there is something I must retrieve. I have left my blue pad in the garage.
I squeeze between the garage door and the green cans, and find my blue pad on the bridge-table where I left it. Once more I squirm past the green cans until I am standing opposite Jerry Lewis. I stop and look at him. He pretends not to see me. I am feeling surly, though, and finally he has to relent. “Didja have a good time?” he asks, his cheekbones tightening.
Before I even know how to answer him, something happens. I wake up. I am sitting in my friends’ living-room in the Valley, drenched in sweat. The beer I took an optimistic sip out of just before passing out is now sitting, warm and flat, on the speaker next to me. I have been asleep for hours.
It is my fiftieth birthday. That’s a milestone, I have to remind myself, even though in the months running up to it I’ve teased, tortured, and hypnotized myself with swarms of questions about how things have turned out, for better and for worse. What happened to all of the ambitions and flames? How did I wind up here, sweating on a friend’s couch on a hot Angeleno afternoon?
I can no more answer these questions than I can say why Jerry Lewis hates my guts or what the blue pad is for. Oh, the linear decisions are easy enough, but the Big Picture questions – I don’t have any more of a clue about those than I did when I was 20.
Agh, screw it. It’s still a couple of hours before the guests arrive – for my party, not Jerry Lewis’. The late afternoon shadows stretching down Ventura Boulevard look like a pair of cool blue gates inviting me to walk under them. The Astros game should be on by now, and if I want to I can saunter up to The House of Billiards and catch a little bit of it there. After all, it’s my birthday, so yeah, that’s what I think I’ll do. I’ll just shoot a game and have a drink or two by myself, and try to soak it all in before the shouting starts up.