It was in the summer of 1991 when Mike first saw Jack Nicholson. His brother Colin gave him a copy of Chinatown for his birthday, along with a party pack of cherry Twizzlers which they devoured in front of the VCR. Mike didn’t take his eyes off the screen for two seconds, except to check a few times if Colin was as enthralled by J.J. Gittes as anybody would be.
All evening, they repeated, “Let’s have us a big smile,” and grinned at each other with red stained teeth.
In the summers when Mike was twelve to fourteen, and once at fifteen but not without pangs of shame, he would lie on a futon in his parents’ basement and stroke the glossy finish of his The Shining poster while he discovered methods of continuing to pleasure himself post-ejaculation.
He stayed up late watching One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest on mute, whispering Jack’s lines. He once watched Easy Rider four times in a row, and after the credits rolled for the fourth time the basement walls started to look funny.
It all really came to fruition, outside of his alone time with Mr. Nicholson, in his late 20s, when the slightest inkling of male crazy started to cause quite a stir in him. He knew he had it bad when his boss tried to pry into the break room to ask Mike why it was starting to smell like pot in the bike shop, and to say that yes, that question was rhetorical, and no, Mike, we can’t smoke pot in the break room for obvious reasons, and Mike, you’re really pushing it, man. But the dude’s face pressed into the crack between the door and the door frame gave Mike some real strong feelings about the situation.
Just minutes later, Mike was in the bathroom downstairs among the broken pedals and various bug-related shit, rubbing one out with his boss’s pissed off face at the forefront of his imagination.
Mike’s girlfriend, Lucy, who he didn’t necessarily choose for her looks but who did look quite a bit like Shelley Duvall, had no problem for the most part with his passions so long as he “kept it to a minimum” around guests. They agreed that the roleplaying would not exceed twice per week, and his collection of memorabilia would be restricted to one wall of the living room and the apartment’s largest closet. It could be trying, explaining to Shelley Duvall-looking Lucy that it was all about the energy, it’s not that I don’t find you attractive the way you are, but look a little more spooked, could you?
Lucy let a lot slide, Mike had to give her that, but a certain topiary incident really pushed her buttons. She totally freaked when she found Mike going to town on one of the hedges outside their building, which was well on its way to looking kind of like a rabbit. Mike thought it was all a big to do, and not to mention pretty damn dangerous to throw oneself in between a hedge and a man with garden shears and a big idea.
Mike had landed some quality tickets to a Laker’s game that same night, but Lucy was still upset when it came time to go. Mike swore up and down he would be back in time for Masterchef, snacks in hand. He phoned up his brother Colin and gave him the spiel: You, me, Lakers, one back and sixteen over from the courtside seats reserved by Dreamboy Nicholson himself.
The game served more as background noise for Mike who, in between cheering in time with the rest of the audience, watched the back and part of the side of Jack’s head move across the court with the players. The referee made a questionable call and Nicholson stood up, pointing rigidly in a bunch of directions like his hand was a to-scale foam finger. Good stuff. More of that. Mike got in on the action, shouted contradictory opinions, loud, to see if he could maybe start something.
The Lakers bombed hard and Jack left in fury, followed apologetically by his entourage. Mike texted Lucy: “Sorry about earlier. Game fizzled out. Be home soon,” and three different coloured heart emojis.
Mike and Colin stood outside the Staples Centre smoking after the game, when a voice came up behind Mike and asked for a dart. It was a stocky guy with a tonsure and a tight white T-shirt, causing a female-looking breast situation. Mike recognized him from the entourage.
“Sure thing, yeah,” he said.
Two more dudes stepped out behind the first, of equal height and breast effect. The tonsure shrugged. “You got a couple more?”
The entourage kept looking over their shoulders nervously, taking quick drags and blowing smoke behind them. One of them said, “Hey, yeah, over here,” and two of the guys made space in the smoking circle, their bodies parting like the gates of heaven. A few feet back, Jack Nicholson came out of a private exit from the building.
Mike jabbed his brother with an elbow and Colin squawked. “Be cool,” said Mike. He tried out a few stances: hands in pockets, hands on hips, hands wringing each other in anticipation. One member of the entourage handed Jack his cigarette as he approached. Mike’s hair stood on end. He felt like he was about to meet the President.
People got into their cars and drove off like the unthinkable wasn’t happening right there on the premises. Jack and his entourage all took turns shaking their heads and saying, “What a game,” while the crowd filed past them.
Jack looked at Mike and Colin and said, “Who are these guys.”
Colin shook his empty Marlboro carton. “Supplier.”
Jack ground his cigarette into the pavement and said: “You boys party?”
The boys nodded like, All night, baby.
He took them to a bar on the other side of town with loud music and designer clothes glowing under neon lights. Mike and Colin walked in like nobody’s business and shot finger guns to the bartender, standing in tight with Jack.
A troupe of young artists/actresses/exceptional talents took their arms and danced with them. Jack did a line off of a young woman’s midriff. He ordered a round for everyone in the place.
They drank liquids of every colour, they shouted obscenities, they danced like yadda yadda. Mike got a text from Lucy: “Where are you???” and another: “Where ARE you!!!” He made a big show of rolling his eyes and putting his phone back in his pocket. “Ball and chain,” he said.
Jack pulled Mike in close, shared his secret to keeping women off your back: A complex theory involving “firm boundaries” and “minimal room for negotiation.” His eyes were glazed over and he sort of spat on Mike when he talked. He described the ideal romantic situation as being something along the lines of Stockholm syndrome.
Mike was all over it. If only he could rile him up to the point of flying over the cuckoo’s nest. “I actually love women,” he said.
Jack was dancing with increasing gusto. “What?” he shouted. His teeth shone in the artificial lighting. He did a move somewhere between a shimmy and an attempt to knock out the guys on either side of him. Here’s Johnny! thought Mike.
“I said I love women. I’m a slave to women. Do you wanna fight about it?”
Jack wasn’t taking the bait. He danced a circle around Colin, who was taking a photo of himself and a short woman wearing Shutter Shades. Jack suggested they do another line. Then another. This man was on a rampage. He got everyone riled up into a chant, shouting, “The party never ends.”
Mike and Colin slipped out the back door for a breather.
“Woah,” said Mike.
Colin puffed out his cheeks in agreement. They lit up a couple cigarettes and Jack came barrelling out the back door.
“My boys!” he said. “How about another?”
Jack had this peculiar grin on his face. He turned around and displayed a row of three beers wedged into the back of his beltline.
“Grab a brew and shotgun.” He backed up into them.
“I’m pretty done in,” Colin said.
Mike grabbed two and gave one to Colin.
Jack knocked his back first and went, “Ahh” at them, tilting their cans up with his middle fingers. Beer dripped down their chins and down onto their shirts.
“Yeah,” Colin said. “I’m done in.”
“The night!” Jack said. “She is young!” He twisted his can until it tore open. “The night, she is young,” he repeated, cackling. He pinched the torn edge into a point and drove it into his palm.
Colin said, “Man, maybe don’t.”
Jack held out the can to him.
“See, that’s how people get Tetanus, is the thing.”
Mike did the same thing to his can that Jack did. “I’m in.” He cut into his palm and held it out to Jack.
“Wait, fuck,” Mike said. “Fuck, I did the wrong fucking hand.”
Jack clasped his hands in Mike’s and they pressed their foreheads together. A single stream of blood dribbled down Mike’s forearm. “The party never ends,” they said at each other’s faces.
Colin looked around nervously and then at his watch. “Mike it’s, like, almost four.”
“No way. No damn way is it four a.m.”
“Like, three fifty-two.”
“Young!” said Jack.
“Fuck,” said Mike, breaking out of Jack’s grip.
“Again!” Jack ran in to get another round. “Again!”
Mike and Colin exchanged a look like maybe this dude wasn’t so sweet after all, and they darted while Jack was inside.
The guilt didn’t start to creep up until Mike got into the lobby of his building. It was far
past any reasonable time for a Lakers game to end, and the window in which it was cool for him to answer any of Lucy’s 27 calls was shut and bolted.
He crept up to the apartment door and opened it as quietly as he could. There she stood in the living room, which was not so much a living room as a big fire pit, tearing up scraps of his posters and tossing them into the flames.
She had tried the “It’s me or him” thing, and the “But seriously this time” on a number of occasions, but found herself lacking the will to leave a man who knows such passion and desire.
“I can explain! I can explain, Lucy, I swear!”
“It’s over, Mike. This was the last straw.” She threw in DVDs, right in their cases. She spun on her heels and tossed Chinatown over one shoulder.
“You’re right! About all of it! My love was misguided, I got cold feet. Freezing. Hypothermia, maybe, I can’t say for sure, but maybe. There’s definitely a numbness thing going on.”
She tore up three posters at once. “You’re just saying that so I’ll stop.” Jack Torrance’s face shrivelled and blackened. J.J. Gittes’ mouth gaped into a flaming hole.
“The sentimental part is shot but monetary value, Lucy! For God’s sake that signed poster is a big stack of bucks you’re burning, beloved woman!”
She tossed in the last of it and brushed the dust and ash off her hands. “That was for you, Mike, and now something special just for me.” She walked out. Bang. Audience lost it.
Mike figured out how to put the fire out, eventually, using a wet blanket and a little help from the local fire department. He sat on the curb, hunched over his remaining memorabilia in one of Lucy’s old shoe boxes. His head was throbbing something fierce. He looked down at the red slice in his palm, which made him feel equal parts remorse and, “Follow your dreams!”
Fawn Parker is a writer based in Montreal. She is co-founder of BAD NUDES Magazine. Her collection Looking Good and Having a Good Time was published by Metatron Press in 2015.