better than one
by cimorene

There are two ways to look at every person, when you're talking about attraction.

Everyone's attractive, because everyone's just got something in them. Hitler was probably attractive to someone, the disgusting bastard. No, seriously, I could find something in Hitler--of course I didn't know the guy. You know he had a real public presence, though, and you can see getting behind a cause, the attraction of just giving yourself up to that, stopping thinking and letting him carry you along. The power of surrender, right? Well, it worked for millions of people at a time. Mass hysteria, man. And it takes something to engender that mass hysteria.

The thing is that even if I personally wouldn't want Hitler, or the bum on the street corner, or your wife, they can be attractive to me, because I can figure out how Hitler's generals, or the lady bum on the opposite corner, or you feel about them. It's all about a shift in perspective. That little shift is all you have to be able to make to understand other people. And I'm still there, man. I just can put myself aside a little bit.

All right. And the other way to look at it is that very few people are really attractive. As an artiste I can appreciate, as it were, God's handiwork in everything. But for me... for myself I'm a lot more choosy.

In point of fact for myself I don't know if there's any such thing as satisfaction.

Because there never has been, no one who--knew how to touch me and how to be touched. No one I wanted to know exactly how to touch, no one I didn't get tired of, right? And I think--

--I think it's important that I believe there's no such thing as satisfaction.

It's depressing, but the alternative is to believe it's out there and it's just missing me.

What I was saying, though, is that when I think about it very few people are really attractive--not flawless, but just--attractive. Magnetic. Shimmering with that quality you can't really diagnose. A sickness inside or a mortal wound that makes their light leak into you until you want to follow them, lapping it up.

Or, no.

A quiet sound around them that trains you to listen for it, that you hear without knowing you hear it the first time you meet. Maybe you bump into each other the next day and you've been missing the sound without knowing. Because you never knew you heard it in the first place, right? But as soon as you hear it again you know what you've been missing. And the longer you spend with them the closer you come to making it out. Finally when it's long enough it's become a sort of hum in the background. Once it's loud enough to really hear, you can stop listening to it again, but you're still thirsty, you still don't want to go too long away, you're still shocked by how good it feels each time you hear it again.

I suppose, if you want the boring and literal definition, there are few people who really attract me.

I can make a really short list.

Like Tim Roth. The first time that we met, I didn't know what I was hearing. But by the time filming was underway for Meantime I'd caught on enough to know the guy'd always bring a smile to my face. It's always nice to know there are people in the world who can make the room light up walking into it. Even if it only lights up for me.

If you want a slightly longer list than that, I can come up with something.

But from my point of view, it's not really necessary.

There really are two sides to everything in my reality. Because you can never bring anything down to just one meaning. (If I could do that, I wouldn't be able to act for shit.) You can't just love someone, can you?

Excuse me, I mean, you can't love everything about someone, can you? With nothing to hate? And you can't hate everything about someone either.

You can't just love someone, either, any way I slice it. There have to be two things that are really important to you; if there's just one, you lose all your balance.

You can never narrow everything down to one. I stopped trying to find the unity in existence a long time ago.

I've been married for a long time.

And I would be lying if I said "I've never wanted anyone but you" to my wife.

Allow me to explain. I mean, of course, I've wanted someone besides my wife. I was fourteen once. I was sixteen. I was eighteen. I was on the set of Meantime, meeting Gary Oldman for the first time--. Okay, right, I'm a guy. If the waitress is wearing a really good dress when I take my wife out to dinner, I might want her for a second, although hopefully my wife won't have any idea of it at the time. And I'm an actor. If the movie puts me in bed with you I'd just better want you, is all.

But there are two sides to everything in my universe and one of the things there are two sides to is "want."

I'm having a hard time thinking about this.

I figure I'm okay as long as one side is yes and one side is no, whenever we're talking about my wife. If both sides are yes, I'm in trouble.

Because, say, "do you love your wife more than anything else?"--yes, okay, I swore to honor and obey, right? But if you cut "more than anything else" the other way and it means, well, more than anything else, then we're not even a marriage anymore. Just Nikki and me, stuck to her like an appendage. Like that fish or whatever, where they mate and the little guy's penis gets stuck and her flesh grows around him and he's permanently stuck to her side. I mean, what if I loved her more than I loved, say, my own opinion? Who would tell her "no, honey" about that slightly-too-short white dress? Would I ever see another really fucking stupid movie? Would it, actually, be any good for her to have breakfast in bed every day? No.

Which means that in one sense of "have you ever wanted anyone but your wife?" the answer should be yes, and in one sense it should be no.

Let's say for the sake of argument that that other sense is "wanted extremely badly." Have I? Yeah. Fortunately that's not the right sense, because most people haven't met their wives yet by the time their hormones peak at fifteen or so.

You might say the other sense was "wanted to have, and to hold, in sickness and in health, etc etc etc, for as long as you both shall live?" Then I could say "no," but that isn't the right sense either, obviously. Some people get married more than once, and the fact that they meant their wedding vows the first time around doesn't mean they're not actually in love with their current spouse.

I put myself in the shoes of a divorcee who's very much in love with his second wife and I ask myself, "In what sense have you never wanted anyone but your current wife?"

"That's easy," I tell myself. I get to talk to myself because I'm an actor. "That's easy. I didn't want her like this. That was a different me."

Okay, then, I ask myself--my real self. As yourself, not a different you, have you ever wanted anyone else like this?


Still yes.

Because like this has to mean the way I want Nikki: it has to mean, wanting like you can breathe if you can't have her but you just don't want to. Like every time you see her again, it shocks you, because it's simply impossible to remember when she's away the way you feel with her. Like there's a little flaw in the way she's put together and so, very slowly, the essence of her leaks into the air around her, and I want to be there to lap it up. Like I can't quite hear it most of the time, but when she comes close to me the chemistry makes the air between us hum with energy, and the energy is music, and the more I keep her near me, the closer I come to learning the tune.

Have I ever wanted anyone but my wife? Yes. Yes both ways.

God, I haven't even met Gary Oldman for years. I don't really mind that. Honestly. But I still almost remember what the hum of the air between us sounded like, and I say I still almost remember only because I've never been able to hear it all the way.

Of course there are other ways to slice "want." I've tried most of them, and none of them are right. I can feel the right definition of want at a level deeper than words.

The very first time we met I didn't know what to think of him. The second time I realized it was this energy he has like every molecule of him is moving a little faster, a little tenser, than every molecule of you. I think this is what makes him such a fucking genius: the fact that you can't take your eyes off him and he has time to make you believe who he's being. And of course it helps that Gary always believes it too.

He is like a black hole. His hold is inexorable. Sooner or later everything in the room will be focused on him. He'll flex his fingers casually and squeeze your heart so it stops beating, like he doesn't know he's holding you in the palm of his hand.

It's really okay. I'm perfectly happy not seeing him for the next ten years and not having seen him for the last five, but I also can't say I know that my wife is the one and only most brilliant and special person in the universe, because I also know that about Gary.

In my defense I didn't begin to realize any of this until after I married Nikki.

But I think that I'm fucked all the same.

Two's a very nice neat number. I drink two cups of coffee and listen to NPR cycle twice through the news while I look at two polaroids I received in the mail two days ago.

I feel very old and tired all of a sudden.

In the end I go into my bedroom and look in the closet and on the bookshelf and then in my desk drawer before I remember the papers I want are in a file folder in a bookcase in the office. Bottom drawer, filed with the rest of the magazines. James fuckin' Bond wouldn't find them there.

There's a magazine and in it is a glossy photo of Tim Roth with GARY OLDMAN I THINK YOU'RE SEXY written on his face. Another magazine with me on the cover, and on my arm, TIM ROTH, I THINK YOU'RE SEXY TOO! The last one's Tim again with GARY OLDMAN LET'S DO IT on his forehead. I laugh out loud every time I look at these pictures. The best part is the sort of wall-eyed expression of deadpan boredom on Tim's face. That's a proposition right there. How could anyone say no? I never responded to it, per se. I think no reporter's ever gotten up the courage for Tim Roth wants to have sex with you. What do you say to that? Those pictures are more than ten years old now. I think it's safe to say that none ever will.

These polaroids are not more than ten years old.

One is Tim Roth sitting with his arms crossed, his head bent down, chin on table behind forearms--the camera must have been on the desk right in front of him; it looks like he reached out to set the button, then jerked his arm back and stared at it nervously. It's not the best angle for him. His eyes are kind of bugging out. There's black writing sprawling from the back of his hand down his forearm. THINK YOU'RE SEXY.

The second polaroid is a closer-up photo of the palm of that same hand. The words are crabbed, crammed together in the space. G.O. I STILL doesn't seem like much of a message. It takes me a while, I wasn't counting but we'll say two seconds, to realize that the photo of the palm comes first.


Fucking hell.

I leave the photos, and the magazines, on the floor and go back in the kitchen. I pour the rest of the coffee, cold, into a mug and drink it in two big gulps.


Remember how I said that I didn't believe in satisfaction? I don't. Not really. But sometimes I have dreams on the set of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which makes some kinda sense since it was a breakthrough for me, the first big project, and after that everything took off. And when I wake up from these dreams I have this taste in my mouth, sort of--taste in my brain you might say. And I never do get tired of these dreams.

I can forget all about satisfaction for a while.

I don't think my subconscious mind knows that I don't believe in satisfaction.

I wander around the house, locking the windows, adjusting the blinds, putting crumpled-up papers that missed the wastebasket in. Maybe if I sneak up on the office I can--what?

I go back in; the polaroids are still on the floor, the magazines are still under them, Tim Roth's hand and arm put together still say, more than ten years after the fact, G.O. I STILL THINK YOU'RE SEXY. I still think Tim Roth is--attractive is how I think of it; sexy is a word with a slightly different meaning, but in this case, it's the same. I still don't know what to do. It still seems pretty fishy to me to get these photos now. I'm still having the urge to find out what Tim's phone number is and chew the guy out.

It's when I'm putting the magazines back away and the photos with them that I find out one has something written on the back. I've been possessed by the obscure urge to date them. As if it mattered. As if I'd forget. The back of one of them says in fat black lines SORRY. It's probably the same fucking marker he used to write on his hand.

I go for short walk, just around the block. Sunglasses on, hands in my pockets, I watch my feet and become very occupied kicking leaves. Six years after we first met we did Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. That was the second time we co-starred. Stoppard did everything else but tell us we were fucking. "No one else in the play is quite real," he said, "to you. Actually, you might say everyone is real except you." Of course that was pretty obvious just reading the script.

By the time my walk is through I'm ready for walk number two. This one's going to be longer. I have to go all the way to the mall.

They come in two envelopes.

I can't decide which one to open first. They're postmarked the same.

Inside the first envelope is--I pull it out--a short strip of passport-size photos spit out from an instant photo booth, the kind you find at the mall.

All three photos are of Gary Oldman, or more precisely, of Gary Oldman's eyes peeping over Gary Oldman's hand which covers his nose and mouth. The message is on the back of his hand, apparently in blue ball-point pen.

First picture: FORGET

Second picture: ABOUT

Third picture: IT.

He must've rubbed the pen off quickly in between. In fact, if you squint, you can see blue smears under IT.

I shake the envelope upside-down, but I really know there won't be anything else in it. And when I tear open the second envelope I know the second strip of photos is the only thing that's going to fall out. What do I expect?

It's the other hand this time. The words are crammed together.

First picture: IT'S OKAY I MEAN.

Second picture: A number. With an LA area code.

Third picture: (FAX).

The way I see it, there are two ways I can interpret this: absolution, or invitation.

And there are two things I could, technically, do.

But we all know that I'm not going to. I'm not going to accept an invitation, so Gary didn't make one. (There are two ways to look at everything. Causality is one of those things.)

We can do this now or we can do it later. For once two melts into one. I see that these are really the same as each other. I see that it doesn't matter. I smile. I fax Gary two polaroids. Both of them say THANK YOU. I have to look in the mirror to write this on my cheek with an eyebrow pencil.

And then I forget about it. At least, I forget about it if you look at it one way.