MARK O’DONNELL WEEK.
(This week, to commemorate the arrival of his new book, Let Nothing You Dismay, we present the work of NBA great and former Johnson press secretary, Mark O’Donnell. Today we offer an excerpt from the new book, which concerns the adventures of one Tad Leary, an innocent in his mid-thirties who must attend seven very different holiday parties on one day, and might die trying. Here we find Tad at a one-man performance-art sort of production, with his friend Norman playing Orpheus. We join the play in progress.)
“It’s Christmas again!” Norman began with the ironic tone that constitutes the thick accent heard when hipsters speak English. He held up a battery-powered Santa toy, probably from the tourist-oriented outdoor toy bins of Chinatown, and pressed its “on” switch. Ear-piercing computer tones produced “Jingle Bells,” technically accurate but as upsetting as a fire alarm. The electrified eyes of the toy santa blazed bright green, like an evil space creature’s disintegration-gaze, and he was seated in a sports car rather than a sleigh.
Norman turned off the hellish toy and put it down with a sigh, presumably having proved his case against Christmas, he was now dismissing the witness. “Christ…. Mess!” he recited, as if from a sacred text. “Christ…Missing! Christ…. Mist!” Tad momentarily tried to comprehend what Norman was saying, but quickly decided it would be better to let it all roll by inscrutably, like passing closed railroad cars blocking an auto’s progress.
Norman stood up, as overweight as ever and — except for the promised t-shirt, which read LOST BOY — naked. His flaccid penis nestled in his dry pubic hair like a fledgling in its nest, a badminton shuttlecock lost in a hedge. There was no water in the tub, evidently. What the tub had to do with anything, Tad couldn’t figure, but again, he took himself to task for even trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
Norman allowed some time to pass before speaking again. “…I’m… so…. alone.” he announced.
Tad bristled instinctively, his hands clutching his folding chair’s seat as if he were encountering turbulence on a propeller plane ride. First of all, no man who shaves his head and has a tattoo of a goatee should talk about how lonely he is. Yes, Tad had sung “Where Is Love?” in Oliver!, and enjoyed it, but he was thirteen years old at the time and theoretically playing someone else. However bad his problems were today, he wouldn’t do anything like this. What mystified him was why Norman, who was five foot ten, chose to play the victim. He was a rhinoceros complaining about being slapped. Yes, it made Tad feel strong by comparison, but Norman’s entire performance was yet to come, like a slog through a swamp of medical waste, and he would rather have paid the twenty dollars not to have to see it.
“People say they understand what it is to be alone, but they don’t understand! " Orpheus went on, pacing the stage to provide action as well as dialog. Only Norman, Tad agreed with himself wholeheartedly here, would have the innocent effrontery to get sixty friends to gather and give him twenty dollars each to listen to what was basically a midlife version of a child reciting Itsy Bitsy Spider, and then complain about how alone he was.
Onstage, Norman sipped a glass of actual wine, the usual signal of would-be avant garde theatre. Tad wondered if the monologue would be long enough to witness the wine’s conversion to urine.
Norman — Tad just could not suspend disbelief for the Orpheus character — continued. “…I walk down the street and think, Look at all those happy couples! And even the people by themselves probably have someone waiting for them! I don’t have anyone to comfort me when the threat of nuclear war frightens me!”
Nuclear war? Tad thought. He needs to get some fresh material. Since courtesy made him unable to move, Tad gazed at the painted-over water pipes overhead, seeking sensory alternatives to the monologue to come.
""I know you’re expecting one of those How I Was Redeemed by a Child’s Faith at Christmas stories," Orpheus was saying. “But that just isn’t going to happen.”
Where do those pipes lead? Tad forced himself to wonder. To the East River, or a sewage treatment plant in a distant borough? As a child, Tad had written notes to foreign children and flushed them down the toilet, hoping they’d be retrieved on an exotic shore and answered. In his already bifurcated consciousness, he’d known enough not to put the notes in bottles, because that would clog the pipes, but he didn’t quite face the fact that unprotected paper wasn’t going to be legible, or even paper, by the time it emerged from its secret waterway.
Norman was continuing. “My family is from Georgia,” He announced, as if the audience was to be impressed that he’d escaped. East Villagers were supposed to hoot at the South sight unseen as a deserving target of contempt, and in fact, at family as well. “My parents didn’t accept me for who I was. I told them I wanted to go to acting school. Did they say, Whatever you want, precious, because we love you? No. They said, Finish elementary school first! When I told them I wanted to be a ballerina, did they support my dream? No. They said I could be a ballet dancer, but I could never be a ballerina! I asked them for Oreos, and they brought home Hydrox instead! I wanted Hot Wheels for Christmas, and they got me some no-name toy cars from Japan! I asked for Malibu Stacy, I got some no-name bimbo from the corner drug store! They never took me to Disneyland! They never took me to Disney World! Neither the land nor the world! What did I get? Hilton Head! Six Flags Over Georgia!! The State Fair!”
As he sometimes had during High Mass as a child, or whenever anything financial came up ever, Tad struggled to close his ears and think about other things. He noticed the soft glow of the exit sign at the rear wall, and stared at the word EXIT. Would a reformed monster be called an Ex It?
“Well actually,” Norman went on. “They did take me to Disney World finally. But it was on the all-time record-breaking highest attendance day ever. They kept announcing it over loudspeakers. My parents tried to act excited for my sake, like we were witnessing history, but I knew what it actually meant. Standing in long long lines for rides I might not ever even get on!” Even amusement parks become Golgothas for those who wish them to be.