January 8, 2014
Imagine what we could do if we stopped staring in the mirror?

shennys:

I’m done.

Last week it was Gawker’s disgusting article on the woman with the 7 foot wide ass.

Every day this week, one of the big three (Gawker, Jezebel, HuffPo) have been rolling out articles on women’s bodies, the photoshopping of women on magazine covers.

One article after the other that…

Feeling the fuck out of this.

January 8, 2014
Progress Report: 2013, A Year Above the Influence

A sort of postpartum depression has impressed itself on me since the new year began. I spent all of 2013 testing my limits, and then at midnight on January 1st, it was all over. The first thought that entered my mind in 2014: “What was the point of all that?”

To begin, it’s difficult to talk about Year Above the Influence without talking about Lester Brathwaite. He and I started this blog as a collaboration, the idea being that we two trash bags would document our experiment and finish the year with a book deal in hand. Well you know know what they say about the best laid plans.

Lester relapsed for the first time in February. From there, his use of drugs and alcohol escalated. When, in April, he decided to walk away from the blog, I wasn’t surprised, but I was hurt. I suddenly had to manage the blog on my own, and I resented that.

I judged Lester’s substance use, what I saw as his unwillingness to commit. I couldn’t empathize with his situation—we said we were going to do something, so why weren’t we both doing it?—and that put a strain on our relationship. With time, I accepted that my frustration wasn’t with Lester so much as it was with myself. His relapses held up a mirror to my own behavior. I had to question why I wanted to take a break from alcohol and drugs in the first place. Was I an addict? Did I have a problem? Was I one of those people?

Although I go to extremes in lots ways, I am not an addict. I am not powerless over substances, and I rather prefer being sober to being fucked up. That doesn’t mean I’m never going to get drunk or do drugs again. If I want to, I will, but at the moment, it’s not something I’m particularly interested in. I do believe that alcohol and drugs can fuel the creative process, and so I will always indulge when I feel my tank tipping toward empty. As surely as there is value in moderation, there is value in altering the state of an artistic mind.

All of that said, I do have problems, bundles of them. But I’m working on solutions. Every time I talk to my therapist, or go for a run, or mail a check to some other creditor, or hug my mother, or kiss my boyfriend, or visit the dentist, I’m doing what I can to clean up the mess I made for myself in my 20s.

Have I fixed anything? Well, I’m in a better place at the start of 2014 than I was one year ago. Physically, I’ve never felt better, what with the good eats and marathon training.

Financially, I’m better off than I’ve ever been—even if living in New York makes it damn near impossible to save a dime. (I can’t even talk about that asshole Sallie Mae, who wants nearly $700 from me every month.)

Professionally, I’ve made strides toward securing a future beyond bartending, which is a major relief. I was terrified I would end up trapped in restaurant jobs for the rest of my life.

And on a spiritual/emotional level, I continue to chip away at all the bullshit that made me the angry Irishman I am today. Therapy helps, but to be honest, sometimes I wonder if there is a permanent solution to my temper, short of zapping my brain with electricity. I fear I’m hardwired to be a hot head.

One thing I know for sure is that I am not someone who does well without a sense of purpose, a measurable outcome. In taking away all of my vices in 2013, I gave myself lots to write about. But now it’s the new year, and what’s my next step?

Could I write about my reentry into the world of wine and cake and French fries? Sure, and to some extent, I will do that. But I’ve spent the past 365 days talking about myself—unleashing my happiest and most shameful memories on the internet—and I’m tired. And frankly, I’m bored with myself. I need something new, something beyond my story, but first I have to celebrate and mourn my completion of this project.

Everything I did in 2013 was for myself. I needed to hit the reset button, to reclaim the focus and drive that escaped me after college. And so—as is my custom—I sought the most extreme route and took it. Writing the blog made me accountable to an audience and kept me on track. But it also gave me a space to test my material safely and without external influence. Some things worked very well (I’m especially fond of the stories I wrote about my three arrests), and others fell flat. In the end, I realize that I need someone to edit my work, to tailor my perspective to a more general audience. Sometimes my ego gets in the way of what I’m trying to say.

A bunch of people have reached out to me to say congratulations and express their pride in what I’ve accomplished. Don’t misunderstand me; it means a lot to be loved and validated, but I have to admit, it all feels unearned. I mean, it’s not like I got a new degree or built a house or eradicated the common cold. I engaged in some old-fashioned healthy living, and that’s a frankly selfish pursuit.

The number one question I got as the year drew to a close was, “Are you going to drink after the ball drops?” The answer is yes, I had a glass of wine at midnight. A 1981 Bordeaux, which was in excellent shape, if perhaps a bit aggressive for my first taste of alcohol in 12 months. Truth be told, it got me pretty tipsy, and I didn’t appreciate the sensation. I’ve gotten used to being in control, and it’s not something I’m eager to surrender. I’m gun shy, but I’ll find a way that works for me.

Sugar is what I’ve been abusing. At midnight on the 1st, I went to town on a half dozen pignoli cookies from Montelleone’s Italian bakery in Brooklyn. The following two mornings, I ate cookies and brownies for breakfast. Then I threw away all of the sweets in my apartment. If I have it, I’ll eat it, and so sugary treats remain verboten in my house. It’s a strange feeling to walk down the ice cream aisle and tell myself “no” when “yes” is once again an option. But exercising self-control with food is not the easiest thing for me.

In terms of dietary changes, I’ve had yogurt and fruit every morning, but apart from that I’m treading lightly with the dairy. I did eat a duck burger smothered in cheese on Friday night, and I dipped the accompanying French fries in mayo (in all, a delicious one-way ticket to diarrhea town). Otherwise, though, I’m craving the staples I adopted last year: apples and peanut butter, homemade granola, green juice with ginger, chicken soup, etc. My body is rejecting things that it wants but shouldn’t have, and that’s a blessing, a built in system by which to check my bad habits.

At the beginning of this post (which I’ve been writing for six days now), I talked about feeling depressed. I wrote more than I ever have in 2013, and that has left me with a bit of output fatigue. So although I have a plan to keep building momentum in 2014, I am taking time to enjoy some much-needed input. One of my more successful cousins once said to me, “The best writers are usually the best readers.”

I was not the most studious high schooler on the block. If I’m being generous, I’d say that I read maybe 20 percent of the books assigned to me. As a result, I am a woefully under-read 31 year-old. Last year, I picked up The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner; I lasted 15 pages before admitting defeat. Totally over my head.

This year (and probably several to come), I’m embarking on a quest to read all of the Great Books, starting with Homer (whom I translated from the Latin when I was 12, thank you Boston Latin School). I’m rereading the Iliad at the moment, taking breaks to brush up on the history surrounding the epic. (Tell you what, that Trojan War was some crazy shit. First of all, men kidnapping and raping women left, right and center. Secondly, was everyone in the Bronze Age mentally ill? Because people were hearing voices and then killing one another on the reg.)

Another thing I’m doing this year is putting myself out there. I always talk about telling stories and doing stand-up, but I’m actually going for it. I’ll be out four nights per week doing open mics and—the hope is—invited shows. I predict this will be a very good thing for my relationship, as now my boyfriend can watch HGTV without my constant complaining. The only thing I hate more than “House Hunters” is “House Hunters International.”

Anyway, I’ll keep updating this blog for the next month or so, at least until
I finish the Austin Marathon. I will finish the Nancy Diaries and keep you posted on my life below the influence. Eventually, I’ll move everything over to tommyomalley.com, which I’m in the process of building. But my posting certainly will be less regular, as I’ll be busy making shit happen in the real world.

In conclusion, thank you for reading this silly little blog. It’s been the most fun to write it, even when things got dark or uncomfortably personal. I recommend acknowledging your negative influences and spending some time above them. It’s really wonderful to use your free will in that way, to remind yourself that you are in control. Screw anyone or anything that tries to tell you otherwise.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 31, 2013
Adios, Year Above the Influence

To everyone who’s read this blog throughout the year, thank you for indulging my exhibitionism.

And to those of you who have reached out—publicly and privately—to share your stories and encouragements, you have my deepest gratitude and respect.

This year has taught me a lot about being a person who lives among people. We’re all going through our own shit, and if we just focus on that, then we’ll make the world a little easier for everyone else. Screw the Joneses, keep up with yourself.

I wish you all a wonderful end to 2013. I’m celebrating by running 15 miles this morning and then going to work. Tonight, my boyfriend and I are hosting 40-something people in our studio apartment in Brooklyn.

I for one am ready for midnight, ready to rejoin the ranks of the free-willed, ready to make choices that will surely give me diarrhea or worse. Having strictly defined my limits all year, I’m eager to test them again. One thing I’ve learned about myself is that I’m most comfortable when I’m pushing my boundaries.

I’ll write a proper reflection on the year in the coming days. But for now, enjoy what’s left of 2013, and let’s all agree to make 2014 our biggest and baddest yet. Identify a risk and take it—the more it scares you the better—because what’s the point of a life parked in neutral?

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 30, 2013
The Nancy Diaries: Part 23

Read: Part 22.

Have you ever seen a face plumped with filler and Botox express anger? Imagine a leg buried knee-deep in cement trying to run. It’s not going anywhere, but damned if you can’t spot the effort from a mile away.

In the instant I defied Nancy, her preserved expression shifted—if ever so slightly—from bemusement to blind rage.

"Why are you trying to destroy me," she yelled at me, her eyes ablaze with the fury that comes from hearing "no" when obedience is expected.

"I’m not try to destroy you," I said. "I just can’t quit without stating my reason."

"After everything I’ve done for you, after all the things I have given you!" She inched closer to me as her volume grew.

"Nancy you are making me very uncomfortable right now."

"I am making you uncomfortable! That’s really something, with the way you have been holding me hostage with your accusations all week!"

I was shaking, barely conscious of my ability to form complete sentences. And yet, I managed to respond to her every delusion. Whether or not I said the right thing… Well you know what they say about hindsight.

"I don’t know how to respond to you, Nancy. You don’t seem rational."

"You know what," she scoffed, pausing to consider her next move. "This isn’t going to work out, this just can’t work. How am I supposed to trust you anymore?"

She stopped talking and walked toward me with a purpose that haunts me to this day. Her face was red, sweaty, snarling like a cat who’d been held under water. She was ready to attack, and when she did pounce, it was my computer that she went for.

"This is mine," she yelled, grabbing the $3,000 MacBook I’d purchased for her six months earlier.

"Nancy, I’m in the middle of typing an email." (In fact, I was in the process of emailing myself stories I’d written on her computer—some of which were decidedly NSFW—because I knew where our conversation was headed.)

"Not anymore you’re not, you spy!"

"What are you saying, I’m a spy?" I was genuinely confused.

"You are a spy! You took notes about my life and now you’re using them against me!"

"Nancy this is not how I want this to play out."

"Well you should’ve thought about that before you tried to slander me! And you know what! How can you prove anything? All you have is a notebook full of stories you might as well have made up! You think your fabrication will hold up in court? Because trust me, you do not want to come at me in court!"

At that point, I got out my phone and called my lawyer, who happens to be my sister. Nancy saw the phone and again came at me.

"Give me that! I paid for it!"

She grabbed my wrist and tried to pry the phone from my hands.

"Get your hands off of me right now," I demanded, my tone full of fuck you. "You paid my bill, I paid for the phone. You need to step away from me and my property."

Nancy looked scared. She knew she was losing control, and there was nothing she could do to reclaim it. I was a toy that she wasn’t allowed to play with any longer, and so she was throwing a tantrum.

"Who are you calling," she demanded.

"My lawyer."

My sister didn’t pick up, so I left a curt, professional message and hung up. I couldn’t decide what to do next.

"Nancy," I began. "It sounds like you are firing me."

"No no no. You gave notice. You quit on me!"

"I gave notice for six months from now. You are telling me that we can’t go forward from today."

"Well I don’t see how you expect me to work under these conditions another moment! You’re a spy!"

I stayed very calm as I explained, “I moved across the country to work for you. I gave up my life in Boston, and you cannot just cut me loose. I’m happy to leave today, if that’s the decision you come to, but I want severance.”

"You’re trying to extort me. That was your plan all along! You set this entire thing up!"

"We both know that’s not true. But in light of your behavior, I agree that this is not a good working relationship anymore. I just want what’s fair."

“And what do you think is fair. What’s your price, Tommy?”

“I think three months on top of what you owe me for last month is fair.” Three months pay amounted to $9,600. She owed me an additional $3,200 for February.

Nancy went into the kitchen and called her scumbag lawyer, Terry. I met him once at a lunch. He spent more time complimenting Nancy’s appearance than he did discussing her business.

“He won’t put it in writing,” she whined to him. “I tried, but now he wants to get severance. He’s trying to extort me, Terry. He wants three months pay. This is the worst case. I don’t know. I have to see. Ok. Ok. Ok. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”

I don’t know how to express fully the joy I felt sitting at the dining room table and watching Nancy squirm on the phone with Terry. Even if I never saw a dime of severance from her, having a front row seat to her dissolution was retribution enough for all of her harassment and disrespect.

“Ok, I’m going to pay your extortion,” Nancy said. “I don’t have a choice. You’re blackmailing me and threatening to ruin my name, so I’ll pay. But you have to sign a confidentiality agreement. My lawyer is faxing it over now.”

My sister called me back as Nancy was speaking. Nancy called her lawyer again while I was on the phone.

“Hi Maureen, I think I’m getting fired,” I said.

“He’s on the phone with his lawyer right now. Tommy, what’s the name of your lawyer?”

“She wants me to sign a confidentiality agreement.”

“Tommy I asked you for your lawyer’s name,” she barked.

“Ok, I gotta go, she’s yelling at me right now to find out your name.”

I hung up, and I didn’t acknowledge Nancy’s questions. The one thing my sister said was to get my belongings and leave Nancy’s house without signing anything.

“I am going up to the office to get my stuff,” I said. “Would you like to follow me to make sure I don’t take anything that’s not mine.”

“No, I don’t think you’re a thief. I just think you’re a spy.”

“Whatever Nancy.”

I walked into my office, passing Vishna along the way. He’d been frozen on the couch the entire time. I grabbed what few trinkets I had there—a teddy bear my boyfriend sent me for Valentine’s Day, my phone charger, etc.—and went back to the dining room.

“You know, you’re going to have a really hard time in this life, Tommy,” Nancy warned. “You are a nasty person. This entire thing, I see it now, you set it all up to blackmail me.”

“I don’t need to listen to this, Nancy, you’re no longer my employer. You’re not paying me to be your friend anymore. I don’t have to sit here and accept your attack.” A glorious rush surged through my body.

He tone suddenly shifted from sinister to wounded. “I don’t know what I ever did to you. All I ever did was give and give and give. I gave you food! I gave you a career! I gave you my HOUSE, which your friends had sex all over! By the way! Don’t think for a second that I missed that!”

She’d shifted back to rage. I was silent. She was referring to the going-away party she’d allowed me to throw in her Boston townhouse. The party at which, in fact, two of my ancillary friends had sex on her bed. I couldn’t argue with the one true thing she said.

She took a moment to collect herself before launching into a diatribe against me, the tone of which was decidedly disappointed.

“You think you can just manipulate people to get what you want, well that’s not the way this works. You forget that I know people. How could I ever recommend you for a job after this, I really don’t know. And you’re missing out. You played this all wrong, Tommy. You could’ve stayed with me and learned something about business. I could’ve introduced you to people that could’ve taken you to the next level. I see what’s happening here, I’ve seen it so many times before. You come to LA, you get a small taste of Hollywood, and suddenly you think you’re part of it, you’re better than everything and everyone you knew on the way up. Well I have news for you, you’re not better than this job, and you are going to struggle. You’re going to end up nowhere if I can help it!”

“I agreed to sign your confidentiality agreement, Nancy, now please spare me the life lessons and threats.”

Realizing that her self-pitying attack on me had failed, Nancy’s mood circled back around to full-blow ire. The highs and lows were coming so fast and with such distinction, I felt compelled to applaud. Nancy was having her “Rose’s Turn” moment, and truth be told, I was living for it.

“You can’t manipulate me, Tommy,” she howled. “You have no proof! All you have is your word, and it means nothing in this world compared to mine! Nothing!!!”

“Actually Nancy, I do have proof. I recorded you and Aaron talking about your sex life in front of me on the ride back from Santa Barbara last month.”

“You did that. You recorded me. It all makes sense now. You have been planning this for even longer than I thought. This is what you wanted all along.”

She got in my face. I thought she was going to hit me. I was hoping she would.

“You’ve been out for me from the start! You saw a rich woman you could take advantage of! I see it all now. Well listen to me, it’s not going to work. It will not work!”

She waved her finger at my nose. I could smell the green juice on her breath. I decided to leave the building as soon as she did that.

“I’m extremely uncomfortable right now, Nancy. I don’t know what you’re going to do to me, so for the sake of my safety I’m going to leave. I’ll come back later to sign the confidentiality agreement. I’m going to get my stored belongings out of your garage and call a cab to take me home.”

“You do what you need to do, Tommy. She glared at me, full of a certainty that suggested she’d reclaimed the upper hand.

With that, I went down to the garage, dragged my boxes out to the driveway, and called a cab. I pulled a cigarette out of my pocket and lit it. I had hidden my smoking habit from Nancy the entire time I worked for her. I hoped that she could see me puffing away on my Parliament Light, because screw her. When I was finished, I flicked the butt at her front door.

While I was waiting for the taxi, my boyfriend called. He was at the airport in New York, about to board his flight to come visit me.

"You’re not going to believe what just happen babe," I said to him, as I lit the wrong end of another cigarette.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 27, 2013
Ghosts of Christmases Past

I hope everyone reading this had a wonderful Christmas, if it’s something that you celebrate. If you don’t, then I hope you enjoyed your day off.

As I get older, part of the fun of the holidays is seeing how traditions blend between two families. My bother and his wife hosted Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas morning brunch at their house in the suburbs of Boston. Her family and ours, two groups of people who otherwise might not know one another, now forever bonded over their marriage and three kids.

On Christmas Eve, my mother, sister, boyfriend and I also went to a party at my other sister-in-law’s father’s house. We all planned to attend the 11 p.m. mass together (the choir was an off-key, unrehearsed nightmare, for the record). But before that, we spent time with my brother’s new family. It was a different cast but the same idea as dinner earlier in the evening—a bunch of would-be strangers sharing the holiday because my brother and his wife crossed paths on campus when they were in college.

On Christmas night, after having spent the previous two days running around eastern Massachusetts visiting family, we retired to my mother’s house to play board games and have dinner. My boyfriend, who’s Jewish, introduced us to a new tradition: ordering Chinese food. (I ate steamed chicken with vegetables, in case you were wondering, and it was terrible. I really wanted the dumplings.)

Just a few years ago, a Christmas like this would’ve seemed impossible. We’re Irish, so naturally some of us weren’t speaking to each other for reasons not worth recounting. During those years, I would celebrate the holiday with friends’ families. I learned new traditions during that time, such as getting your drink on throughout the day.

One year, I drank a little (waaaay) too much wine at dinner, after which I met up with high school pals at a bar. A few of us ended up going to this guy’s house—a guy I knew but hadn’t ever really hung out with—and smoking pot. Let’s call the guy Matt, because that’s his name.

Anyway, a couple of us were obliterated by the time we got to Matt’s—me more than anyone, I’m sure—and I took a trip to a bad place. I told Matt that he was a mean guy in high school (he wasn’t) and other similarly douchey and untrue things. Eventually my boyfriend threw me in a cab and took me back to Cambridge, where we were staying, before I could embarrass myself further.

I woke up the next morning with a head full of ache and regret. I found my glasses broken—they’d fallen off my face at the bar, and someone stepped on them—and my phone missing. I was in a full-blown panic attack. I called and texted myself from my boyfriend’s phone. Eventually someone texted me back to tell me that they had my phone, but they wanted $100 to return it. I was pissed off… until I realized that it was Matt. He was fucking with me, and I deserved it. I eventually got my phone back and lived to survive this tale of self-inflicted humiliation.

One thing that that Christmas did for me is give me a benchmark against which to appreciate all Christmases going forward. It also allowed me to empathize with people who go to the dark side when they drink. I am, by and large, a crazy drunk. I like to get naked, scream in people’s faces, and generally just have an happy, NSFW time. But that Christmas, when I was lost in the wilderness of depression, I got a taste of what life would be like for me if I didn’t get my head together, if I didn’t start taking care of myself, if I didn’t reconnect with my family. 

I have another friend from high school who often gets dark when he drinks (or at least when he drinks around me; there’s a lot of history there, some of which I’m not so proud of). He and I were not the nicest to each other when we were young, and he likes to talk about it whenever he’s drunk. I always tried to hear him, to lend a healing ear to his trauma, but one day I got fed up and said, “Hey, that was literally half our lifetimes ago. Can’t we just move on from it?” His response was to kiss me and say, “I did that because fuck you and fuck your stupid boyfriend.” In trying to hold me accountable for being a teenage dick, he added, “You can’t change the past.” True that.

The past can be painful for its embarrassments and sadnesses, as well as for the hurt we inflict on others. But taken as a point of reference, it’s something that makes the victories of today—sitting around a table with formerly estranged family members, for instance, or sharing a happy moment with someone who’s forgiven you a wrong—all the more rewarding and meaningful.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 23, 2013
The Nancy Diaries: Part 22

Read: Part 21. Part 23.

Monday morning following our phone conversation wasn’t the most pleasant for me. Having told Nancy that I felt sexually harassed by her—and having refused to budge when she tried to minimize my complaints—I was trapped between empowerment and dread as I got ready. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived at Nancy’s condo.

My walk to work along the beach that morning, which normally took no more than 20 minutes, felt interminable. I ran over potential scenarios in my head. Would Nancy cry when I saw her? Would she yell? Would she want to talk about our conversation from the night before or pretend it never happened? Would she apologize? The suspense made origami out of my gut.

When I finally arrived at Nancy’s, I was surprised to find that she was not home. This hadn’t been one of the options I’d considered, but I was admittedly relieved. For even though I had rightfully asserted my boundaries the night before, Nancy still wielded a sort of power over me. She was, after all, the person who signed my checks, the reason for my move to California. I wasn’t sure I could maintain my resolve and dodge her manipulations when we were face to face.

I went to my office and found a note from her on my desk.

Hi Tommy,

Thank you for addressing your concerns with me. I assure you the things we talked about will be handled and kept in confidence. I hope you are happy working here.

Today is a very hectic day for me. I’m going to be running around, so I probably won’t see you. Here is a list of things I need done before Vishna arrives tomorrow afternoon:

Buy groceries

Sync my phone to my computer

Buy me four bikinis from Nordstrom for my photo shoots with Vishna—must be two pieces, and not cut too high or too low. No granny panties, but nothing Girls Gone Wild either. Tasteful.

Pick up Vitamin V prescription from CVS

Find out when the ARCs of my book will be ready at the publisher. Need these ASAP.

Make food for the girls to eat when they get back on Thursday.

Roast veggies for me

Make green juice for the next two weeks.

Edit the two columns I sent you for my blog.

And please, remember to smile today. I’m very glad and grateful for you.

Namaste, your friend,

Nancy

It was a nice enough effort on her part, but I found myself judging her attempt at reconciliation. I read face-saving motives into her words, which perhaps were or were not intended, and realized that my time with Nancy had surpassed its expiration date. I didn’t trust her, and I couldn’t imagine working for her for another five days, let alone five months.

About an hour later, I heard Nancy come through the front door and walk into the kitchen. My stomach, which had settled, folded in on itself again. I poked my head out of the office and said, “Is that you Nancy?”

"Oh hi Tommy, I didn’t realize you were here. I just got in from a meeting. I’m drinking a quick glass of milk and then heading right back out again. Aaron is coming to pick me up any minute."

Aaron was coming to pick her up. The same Aaron from whom she’d asked me to collect her camera equipment twelve hours earlier. The same Aaron with whom she’d wanted to break up and never speak to again. Apparently they’d made up overnight, a dramatic reversal that brought me to the intersection of boredom and awe. Her behavior was, as ever, predictable and shocking. 

"Did you get my note," Nancy asked me. 

"Yup, looking at it now."

"Ok good, and you think you can get all that done before Vishna arrives from Prague?"

"Sure thing."

Vishna was the son of Nancy’s Czech friend Henni, whom she met when they were teenagers backpacking through India. Henni fell in love with an Indian man, got married, and had a kid. After her husband died, Henni moved back to the Czech Republic with then-teenaged Vishna.

Nancy flew Vishna in from Prague to take promotional pictures for her website. His ticket, which I’d arranged, cost nearly $3,000.

"He’s the only one who can really capture my spirit on camera," she’d told me repeatedly, seemingly justifying the expense to fly him across the ocean, although I knew that wasn’t the reason for his visit. She once also said, "To be honest, Vishna is kind of sexy. Not in a physical way, on a psychic level. We just get each other. Nothing could ever happen between us, though, can you even imagine? Henni would kill me!"

I imagined that Nancy regularly had imagined something happening between her and Vishna—who was my age, by the way—and it made me wonder if the guy knew what he was getting himself into. There’s no such thing as a free trip to Los Angeles.

While Nancy was annotating my to do list from the kitchen, Aaron arrived to pick her up. He honked his horn from out front, which normally would’ve irritated Nancy—what would her wealthy neighbor’s think—but she didn’t seem to mind. It broke up the awkward conversation between us.

"That’s my ride," she hollered from the foyer. "Thanks for getting everything done today. We’ll talk later."

She left as quickly as she’d arrived. We managed to have a full conversation without seeing each other. It was decidedly less stressful than it could’ve been, at least on my end. The fact that Nancy avoided being in a room with me suggested that she was feeling uncomfortable, perhaps even guilty. And the fact that she was back together with Aaron confirmed that she had, beyond a doubt, lost her damn mind.

I spent Monday checking off items from the list Nancy gave me. I left work at 5 p.m., after receiving a text from Nancy saying that she wouldn’t be home until late and that I should get going when I felt good about the progress I’d made.

Vishna’s plane was scheduled to land at 4 p.m. on Tuesday. All I had to do before picking him up was buy groceries and bikinis. So, first thing Tuesday morning, I headed to Whole Foods. While there, I got a text from Nancy that said she’d be working in her bedroom and didn’t want to be disturbed; she had a headache. When I got to her condo, however, Nancy came into the kitchen, where I was unpacking the bags.

“Hi Tommy,” she said, steely and solemn. It was the first time we’d seen each other since she dropped me off at my house on Saturday night. Her eyes were buggy and red. I wanted to vomit everywhere. Nerves.

“Hi Nancy, how are you?”

“I’m fine thanks, just feeling a bit run down from all I’ve been doing. And I need to be tip top when Vishna gets here, because it will be such a waste if he travels all this way and I don’t look my best in the photos.”

“That would be a nightmare, for sure.”

“I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but I realized we haven’t backed up my phone on my computer in a while, and I really need that to get done. I had a panic attack this morning thinking about losing everything I’ve got on here. That would be totally beyond the pale. Can you take care of that asap?” 

“Of course, I can do it right now. Where’s your computer?”

“It’s on my bed,” she said, handing me her phone. “I’m going to make myself some tea and then nap for a few hours.”

“Of course, you should rest.”

I went down to her room. The phone she’d just given me was open to a text conversation with Aaron that read, “From now on, Tommy is not to know anything about my videos. I only want him to run errands. He’s out of everything else, I just can’t trust him.” I plugged it into her computer. 

Nothing with Nancy ever felt coincidental. My immediate thought upon reading the text was, “Thank god.” I wanted out of the madhouse, and she was making it very easy for me. At the same time, it pissed me off, the passive aggression, the idea that she couldn’t trust me. She played everyone in her life, always portraying herself as the victim. 

Here’s a true (if tangential) story. Nancy once coauthored a diet book that sold 750,000 (the only book of hers that ever sold more than a few hundred copies). The main writer—the person on whose research the book was based—was a well-known nutritionist M.D. After its publication, Nancy and the doctor stopped speaking. Years after their falling out, Nancy was giving a talk at a women’s conference, and she saw the doctor in the audience. She had security remove the doctor, because as she put it, “I didn’t know why she was there. Maybe she wanted to kill me. It was terrifying.” Later, when we were editing one of her books, Nancy confessed to citing the doctor’s research without attribution. “I changed some of the wording from our original book,” she told me. “But those are essentially my words. I’m the one who wrote them that way, she just provided the study. I don’t want to give her any more credit for my success than she’s already claimed.”

Anyway, that afternoon, after the phone debacle, I went to Nordstrom and bought four bikinis, as instructed. I sought out the most expensive sets I could find, in part because they were fabulous, and in part because I didn’t care to bargain hunt for someone with whom I knew my days were numbered. 

When I showed Nancy the bathing suits, she squealed. She loved them, as she loved all of her gifts to herself. “You really have a knack for shopping for me, Tommy,” she enthused. “No one else has ever just gotten my style like you!”

Her praise fell on deaf ears. My contempt for her swelled, as the anxiety I once felt in her presence shifted irreversibly to disdain. I didn’t believe a word she said, and I knew, right then, that she didn’t either.

Nancy went into her room to try on the bathing suits. She smartly spared me a fashion show. She did, however, open the door three separate times to tell me how great she looked. I considered that she might be trying to taunt me, to test my limits and let me know who was boss in our relationship. Then I thought better of it and realized that she was just genuinely ignorant of other people’s boundaries.

I left shortly thereafter to pick up Vishna. It took him more than an hour to get through customs, and by the time we got back to Nancy’s, it was nearly 6 p.m. 

“You can take the rest of the afternoon off, Tommy,” Nancy told me, ignorant of the hour. “Vishna and I need to catch up.”

I said my thanks and headed home. The following day—Wednesday—was a big day for me. It was to be my last day really working for the week. My boyfriend was flying in from New York in the evening. He and I planned to drive to Santa Barbara to pick up Nancy’s dogs on Thursday. She’d left them with her former housekeeper during our Seattle trip.

We never made it to Santa Barbara.

On Wednesday morning, I arrived at work at my usual time, 9 a.m. Nancy already was dressed and organizing things in the office. I worked from the dining room table, so that we weren’t crammed into the same room. At about 11 a.m., she went into the kitchen to grab a glass of milk. On her way back to the office, she casually mentioned, “By the way, Tommy, I need you to put in writing the exact date that you want to stop working for me. If you could do that now, I’d really appreciate it.” 

A fire ignited in my stomach, and in an instant my entire body got warm. I could feel my face getting red. The sweat in my throat made it difficult to speak, but I managed.

“Ok. But you understand that I’m not quitting by choice. I told you I can’t work for you because of what we talked about.”

Vishna was in the other room, and I tried to be discreet. But Nancy kept the conversation going. I assumed she’d already provided him with a skewed account of the situation anyway.

“I know, Tommy,” she said, her tone taking a right turn toward agitation. “But I just need the date in writing and nothing else.”

“Why do you need that,” I asked, understanding that she was trying to get me to quit, but not knowing enough to comprehend what the legal impact would be.

“It’s just for my records.” 

I called her bluff. “Ok then, I’ll write it. But I have to include the reason I’m quitting—that you have been sexually harassing me, and that I reported it to you on Sunday—in anything I write.”

If you ever want to see a narcissist explode, just back them into a corner with the truth. I couldn’t believe I said it to her, but as soon as I did, I finally saw the rage that I’d suspected lived beneath the plastic veneer. In that moment, Nancy went boom.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 20, 2013

"Junk Food Junkie" by Larry Groce. AKA my worst fear of where I’ll end up in a month.

December 18, 2013
Peter O’Toole and Bradley Cooper: A Tale of Two Addicts

image

Apparently the late Peter O’Toole was coked out of his mind when he performed in Pygmalion on Broadway in 1987. Coincidentally or not, that’s the only time he ever appeared on the New York stage.

In today’s New York Post, Michael Riedel describes the star’s erratic behavior during Pygmalion’s run. One source describes wiping cocaine away from his nostril during a photo shoot. Another recounts being greeted by O’Toole in a hotel room when he was wearing a short bathrobe and nothing else. All of these stories serve to bolster the legend of one of England’s famed “hell raisers,” the nickname given to O’Toole and his two closest drinking buddies, Richard Burton and Richard Harris.

In the 1950s, Michael Caine understudied O’Toole in a play. One night after the show, O’Toole took Caine out to dinner, during which Caine blacked out. The Guardian recounted the episode in a recent column thusly:

Caine said that after the dinner he had woken up in a strange flat. The last thing he remembered was eating a plate of eggs and chips. “What time is it?” asked Caine. “Never mind what time it is,” said O’Toole. “What fucking day is it?” It turned out that it was five o’clock in the afternoon two days later.

Back at the theatre, the stage manager informed the pair they had been banned from the restaurant for life. Caine wondered what they had done. “Never ask what you did. It’s better not to know,” said O’Toole.

That O’Toole was an Irishman—he said he was born in Connemara but maybe was born in Northern Ireland or England—makes his drinking all the more romantic. I’m sure that during his life, it was anything but, especially for those closest to him. Addictions never hold much appeal from the front row.

Still, stories of O’Toole’s boozing have been flowing since his death, and every time they’re accompanied by a wink and a nod.

image

An actor whose substance abuse issues are just coming to light is one Ms. Bradley Cooper. Coop is currently making the press rounds to promote his new movie American Hustle. He landed the cover of January’s GQ, and in the accompanying story, he alludes to the fact that addiction nearly sank his career before it really began.

“If I continued it,” Cooper told the magainze. “I was really going to sabotage my whole life… the one thing that I’ve learned in life is the best thing I can do is embrace who I am and then do that to the fullest extent, and then whatever happens, happens. The more steps I do to not do that, the farther I am away from fulfilling any potential I would have.”

Cooper’s quasi-coming out of the addict closet feels a bit calculated, if not inauthentic. His disclosure reads as forced, almost like something he’s been coached to do. The conspiracy theorist in me would wager that his publicist put him up to it, the idea being that an addiction narrative would do well to bolster an awards season campaign. Or maybe the reporter just asked Cooper questions that made him uncomfortable. Somehow I don’t think that’s the case. I can’t imagine that someone with Cooper’s smarts—he graduated from Georgetown with honors—would let an interview get so far out of his control.

So here we are, celebrating one actor’s addiction and another’s sobriety. Cooper is still young, handsome, and full of what we see as unrealized potential. His drunken exploits would be tragic rather than charming, a loss rather than an attribute. With O’Toole, we allow more concessions. For one, he’d dead. But more than that, he was part of the old guard, men who drank and did drugs before the tabloids were there to report on every sip, sniff or swallow. This affords us distance from his addiction—both in terms of time and visibility—and thus allows us to rewrite it as something more appealing than it actually was.

End of the day, we love our heroes to be damaged in some way. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if they struggle or solider on with a damn-it-all demeanor, we just crave vulnerability, an air of self-destruction in our celebrities. We need to be reminded that famous people are, like us, just people.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 16, 2013
Forgive Me for Using Running as a Metaphor, but…

I wake up at 7 a.m. The sliding glass door that leads to our deck is always slightly ajar, even in the icy bowels of winter. Our apartment gets too hot otherwise, and I don’t sleep well if I’m sweating.

(It’s a privileged problem, I know, being too warm in December in New York City. I see the homeless woman who camps out on the F train platform every morning. I know how lucky I am.)

The hardest part about motivating myself to get up and go for a run in these cold months is putting on my layers of spandex—first the shorts, then the leggings, then the turtleneck—and wrapping my head, hands and feet to minimize the loss of body heat. Once I’m suctioned into my Under Armor, the rest is usually pretty easy. I stretch a bit, lace up my sneakers, connect my earbuds to my phone and head down the five flights that separate my studio apartment from the Brooklyn tundra. If I can just get myself dressed, then I’m good to go.

By the time I reach to the sidewalk, I’m there, psyched up and ready to tackle five or fifteen miles. Once my feet start kicking—and I don’t care how far I’m going—I never want to stop. Everything moves more easily when I’m running—my legs, my arms, my breath, my thoughts.

Running as a metaphor has been done, beaten, murdered, brought back to life and then killed again by pretty much anyone who’s ever condescended to self-identify as a writer. So forgive/indulge/berate me for saying that running is a lot like life. It’s a lot like a lot of things, actually. Anguish in preparation, reward in execution.

I like running before work. Clear my mind and pretend for an hour or so that I’m Mariah Carey or Jennifer Hudson or—don’t judge me—Michael Bolton. The music that fuels me is popppppy. Bombastic hooks and major chords are my best friends on the trail, because happy music makes for happy runs.

Today, I listened to the finale from Pippin.

Think about the sun, Pippin/

Think about her golden glance/

How she lights the world up/

Well now it’s your chance.

The first time I listened to the Pippin finale while running was in September. I went home to Boston for my aunt Babsie’s funeral, and it came onto my shuffle. I’d never thought to run to it before, but for whatever reason, I decided to let it play that day. Babsie was in so many ways the brightest and most consistent light in my life, and when I heard those lyrics that day, I felt a healing take hold. The song became a message to honor her, to carry on the positive spirit she influenced throughout her life.

Whenever I hear it now, I think of Babsie, and I run a little faster, breathe a little deeper, smile a little wider. I miss her so so so much, but I love to think about her while I’m out for a run, because I can entertain her memory for longer periods of time. When it gets too painful, I just run through the hurt, rather than suppress it; stomp the sadness into submission. I don’t know what this looks like to the people I pass. It’s a pretty aggressive process in my body, and I’m sure I look as crazy as I feel. Whatever.

Babsie loved the Brooklyn Bridge. She said she walked across it when she visited my grandmother’s cousin Connie, who moved to New York from Hawaii after the attack on Pearl Harbor, where her husband was stationed.

“Oh god, must’ve been back in the 40s that I visited Brooklyn anyway,” Babsie told me. “She lived on Flatbush Avenue. Do you know where that is? Connie’s apartment was across from a church and next to a Chinese food place, do you know what I’m talking about? Well that’s where she lived. And she took me to the Brooklyn Bridge, and I tell ya, it was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.”

The morning after Babsie died, I went for a run across the Brooklyn Bridge, crying and laughing along the way. Now it has become another thing that reminds me of her, another symbol of potential I’ve yet to realize, light I’ve yet to share. It tells me that Babsie wanted me to make good, and so good is always my goal.

The way I can make the most good is by writing. Right now, I’m writing this and thinking about how, when I get home from work tonight, I’m going to finish a scene for a show I’m working on with my writing partner. It’s a musical, something we’ve been working on for nearly six years. In that time, it has gone through many incarnations, but the original structure remains in tact, even if the interior completely has been gutted.

I participated in a workshop with playwright Andrea Ciannavei over the summer. She’s spectacular, and something she said changed my fundamental approach to writing: “Don’t be afraid to blow it up and start from scratch.” So, that’s what my writing partner and I have done—demolished our show so that we might start anew.

We had characters, a plot (however reductive or ill fitting), and some really nice music. But we realized our show didn’t have a point, a theme, a thing that we could say, “This is what it’s all about.” I’ve been searching for that thing for a long time—it’s been at least two years since a friend pointed out that it was missing—and this morning, running on the Brooklyn Bridge, listening to the Pippin finale, thinking about Babsie, I finally found it. I looked up at the sun, and boom, it hit me.

The point of our show, it’s ours now, and all we have to do is earn it. The preparation has been six years in the making. It’s time to execute.

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

December 12, 2013
The Nancy Diaries: Part 21

Read: Part 20. Part 22.

On Sunday morning, my phone rang at 6:15 a.m. It was Nancy, calling to say she was heading to a 6:30 yoga class and would pick me up for the meditation retreat at 8.

I waited to call her back until 6:45, when I knew I’d get her voicemail.

"Hi Nancy, this is Tommy. I’m so sorry to do this, but I have to pass on the meditation retreat. I woke up very ill this morning. That’s what I get for ordering a sandwich on the plane last night, I guess. I’m going to sleep off whatever’s gotten me sick, but I hope you have a wonderful time."

I fell back to sleep and didn’t wake up again until 10. Four missed calls from Nancy between 7:45 and 8:30, plus a text that read, “Oh no! This is why we eat real food! Rest up and feel better. Lots to do before your boyfriend arrives this week!”

I’d almost forgotten that my boyfriend was flying in from New York on Wednesday. I’d planned to take off Thursday through the weekend to be with him. I read Nancy’s text to mean, “Don’t expect to take a sick day before then.”

That afternoon, I went for a long walk along the beach, from Venice to near Marina del Ray, where my cousin Kerry lived. Kerry is a tough shit from Southie who never let California steal her Boston accent. We went to lunch and talked about work, about Nancy, about feeling trapped.

"You gotta get away from that bitch," Kerry told me. "I’m sorry, but she’s not right. Bangin’ a 24 year old and tellin’ you all the details? That shit is looney toons, straight up. Not. Normal. Goodbye."

Even though I grew up hearing it, Kerry’s accent still made me laugh. It added some levity to a fraught situation. I left our lunch remembering that I came from somewhere, that I belonged to a life beyond Nancy. Family has its problems, but one thing that makes it great is its ability to render the rest of the world unthreatening, inconsequential.

Kerry drove me back to Venice. I felt ready to face the following day with Nancy, empowered with the knowledge that her world didn’t define mine.

I spent the early part of the evening roaming from Abbott Kinney to the boardwalk, making eye contact with strangers and telling myself that I was one of them, one of the free roamers whom I’d envied since moving to California. I could come and go as I pleased.

Then at around 5 p.m., Nancy called me. My stomach sank, but in an act of unprecedented defiance, I didn’t answer the phone. I did, however, immediately check the voicemail she left me.

"Hi Tommy this is Nancy." She sounded exasperated, bordering on frustrated, which was her standard tone in messages. "I wanted to see if you’re feeling better. Also, give me a call when you get this. I need to talk to you. Ok? Thanks."

I decided not to call her back. I’d told her I was ill, and for all she knew, I was sleeping.

At 5:45, Nancy called but didn’t leave a message. Same thing at 6:15, 7:05. She texted me at 7:20: “Where are you I’m worried.” Then she called again at 8,  8:30, 8:45, 8:58. Finally, when the phone rang shortly after 9, I took a deep breath, prayed for words, and picked up the phone.

"Hello," I said, trying to sound sick and groggy.

"Tommy! Oh my god are you ok? What’s going on? I’ve been trying to get in touch with you all day. I’m worried!"

"I’m just not feeling well, I’ve been sleeping all day. How was the meditation retreat?"

"It was very nice," she said, sounding like the exact opposite of someone who’d spent the morning in silent reflection. Pitched higher than normal, her voice trembled, threatening to dissolve into a sob or shriek at any moment. I’d never heard her sound so close to losing it.

"That’s good. I’m sorry I couldn’t make it. I just had to fight this thing off."

"Well that’s good, you need to take care of yourself. Are you feeling better now though?"

The way Nancy phrased the question, coupled with the immediacy of her tone, let me know that she was asking out of self-interest rather than concern.

"I’m not 100 percent, but I will be after a good night’s sleep, I think."

"Oh. Ok."

An aggressive silence followed. I wanted to let it linger, to force her to make the next move. But I couldn’t handle it. I had to fill the vacuum or else I’d burst.

"Is everything ok, Nancy?"

Cue the flood gates.

"No it’s not, Tommy! I’m having a really bad night, and I’m all alone in my condo and the dogs are being needy and I just can’t do everything for everyone all the time. I’m only one person!"

A 60 year-old woman throwing a temper tantrum is not the cutest look, in case you were wondering.

"I’m sorry to hear that, Nancy." I couldn’t have sounded less genuine if I’d been reading a script. "What can I do for you?"

"Thank you. You’re so good, Tommy. It’s Aaron, he’s the problem. We spent the day together, after my retreat, you know. We were really having a marvelous time together, but then when I suggested going to the bedroom, he told me he had to go home. I mean can you believe that? He completely rejected me. He’s playing with my head, and I have to stop it before it goes any further. I don’t deserve this!"

"Oh wow." I was disgusted. My empathy for her had long since evaporated, and I was running on fumes. It was taking every ounce of self-control I had not to scream into the receiver, "You’re the one with the problem, not him! This is 100 percent your fault! You created this situation! You are the one with the power here!"

But I said nothing, nothing except, “Oh wow.”

"Listen," Nancy continued. "I know you’re not feeling well, but I’m in the middle of a major crisis here. I have to end things with Aaron for my own sanity, so I need you to drive over to his house tonight and tell him that he has to give back all the camera equipment I bought for him, because we can’t see each other anymore."

I didn’t know I had a line—at least, I didn’t know where it was—but with that request, nay demand, Nancy introduced me to my limit. I took a breath, and in an instant all my thoughts shot into focus. I found my words.

"I can’t do that, Nancy."

"Excuse me?"

"I’m not going to do that."

"What do you mean, why not?"

"This is a personal problem of yours, and I want to keep our relationship professional. Lately it’s been getting too personal for me, and I can’t let it happen any more."

"What are you saying, Tommy? I don’t understand. This is professional. Aaron is my camera man."

"Nancy, I think we both know that Aaron is much more than that. You’ve told me as much. You’ve disclosed very graphic details about your relationship with him, you’ve shown me a nude picture of him on your phone, and now you’re asking me to break up with him for you. This doesn’t feel professional. It feels like sexual harassment, and I have to ask you to stop."

My tone was pathologically calm. No emotion, all business. I was pulling the breaks on this bullshit train once and for all.

"I’m really shocked, Tommy. I’m sorry you feel this way.”

"I’m sorry that it is this way,” I shot back, not allowing her any room to rewrite the situation.

"That’s not what I meant. This is just very hard for me to hear. I guess maybe I have been too girlfriendy with you."

"It’s beyond that, Nancy, it’s sexual harassment, and I’ve been documenting it, writing down different instances when you say or do things that cross a boundary."

"You’ve been documenting it…"

"You’ve commented on my appearance numerous times, saying things like, ‘God you’re gorgeous, you’re lucky you’re gay.’ You’ve called friends of mine ‘sexy.’ You’ve given me very explicit descriptions of two different men you’ve had sex with. And it’s all created a very uncomfortable work environment for me. I need it to stop."

"I’m sorry, Tommy. I guess I just misjudged the type of person you are."

When she said that, I immediately wanted to throw a giant “fuck you” her way. But I checked myself and responded, “I don’t think I’ve changed at all since we’ve started working together, Nancy. In fact, I think I’ve been more than reliable and stable throughout all of this.”

"No no, I’m not saying that. Of course you’ve been a good employee. I just thought you were different than you are."

"Well I’m sorry you feel that way." Boom, using her words against her.

"Listen," I continued. "I will stay with you through the launch of your two books, because I’ve put a lot of work into them, and I don’t think it’s fair to anyone to shake things up in the middle of this process. But after the books drop at the end of the summer, I’m going to look for another job, and I trust that you’ll give me the recommendation I deserve."

"Of course, Tommy. Who do you think I am, some sort of witch?"

"No, but I’ve seen you turn on past employees and coworkers, and I don’t want my work to be discredited because of personal feelings. That’s a big part of the reason I was afraid to tell you this in the first place. I’ve heard how you talk about your previous assistant, and it makes me nervous."

"Don’t be nervous, Tommy," her voice was hollow with resignation. "I’m not a monster. I would never do that."

"Ok."

"Ok."

This time, I let the silence hang between us. It wasn’t mine to fill. Finally, Nancy cracked.

"Well. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. It’s very hard to hear, but I can promise you that I won’t be so girlfriendy with you from now on. Will you be coming to work tomorrow?"

"I’ll be there at 9, as usual."

"Ok then, I’ll see you then."

"See you then. Goodnight, Nancy."

"Bye, Tommy."

—Tommy

© 2013 Tommy Jordan O’Malley

Liked posts on Tumblr: More liked posts »