"Mark, I bought a Jaguar." Benny beams. He shoves me to the window overlooking the street, holds my forehead to the glass, backs away, lets me stare for a second or two, and then asks, "Will you be my best man?"
He then embellishes his non sequitur by clemently squeezing my shoulder and closing the curtains- ultimately denying my view of the trim and luxurious automobile idling curbside in front of our apartment.
"-And I was hoping you could convince Roger to be a groomsman? Maybe. Allison won't want him there but I can be fair to you and-"
"Benny? Okay. Whoa. Now one would assume the statement, 'I bought a Jaguar' would precede a question like, 'Wanna go for a ride in it?' Try that again."
"But- Mark- weren't you listening?"
"Yes I was listening, I-"
"Then you'll do it? Great. Allison already booked us a fitting at Marc Jacobs tomorrow afternoon."
"Where are you going?" Roger asks the next morning in a voice somewhere between jealous and subservient. He's tucked in the windowsill, guitar-on-lap, headphones-on-ears, waiting eagerly for something to come along and take his mind off the fact that he has not been invited on 'Mark and Benny's Grande Excursion Along the Fifth Avenue Thoroughfare!'
Aka 'Buying Mark a Suit.'
Aka 'Cruising Manhattan in Benny's Shameless Pre-Marital Jitters Purchase of a Lifetime.'
"Are you taking his car?" Roger pries. He refuses to remove his headphones, and wrinkles his nose to yell over the music preventing him from hearing my answer. "What?" He asks again, before I've replied.
I am not in the mood for Mr. Happy-Go-Lucky perched in the windowsill. Rather than unplug the cord from the outlet, I strut up to Roger and yank the input wire from the Walkman itself- hopefully damaging something. My solicitous gesture is met with a swift combat-booted kick to my groin, and, "Ass! What the hell was that for? I was listening to that in case you couldn't see. Are you taking the car?"
…Roger possesses this…fetish for things that give him a rush. Cars being one of them. Pulling myself from the floor, I regain my posture and hiss, "We're going shopping. Wedding shopping. With the wedding planner. For Benny's wedding. So I assume we're taking Benny's car."
"If I accused you of being a pushover what would you do?"
I reel back a little. Roger hasn't been too quick on the depreciating banter lately. I often wish I owned a big red stamp- like the kind they use at the library- that said 'HEROIN!' and pound the thing across Roger's forehead every time he tries to pretend he can function as normal. His little jab for humor's sake does not condone the shameful reality of why he's not coming along today. Lately, he's been too far gone to do anything in public. Too smacked out to stand up at a wedding. Literally, I'm not sure if it'd be safe for him to stand. Systems normal all fucked up! He wouldn't last the reception. So I toy with the comeback, 'If I called you a junkie what would you do?' but instead I retort, "Well sor-ry that I'm of some importance to Benny. He really wants his friends to be there. Sometimes you could show a little loyalty or something."
With escalating impatience Roger coos, "I'm letting him live in my apartment, best friend." Then he adds, "And your girlfriend- and the Professor, heh, and Gilligan and the fucking Skipper! What more do you want from me?!"
I really want you to rethink the direction of your life. "-Benny was counting on you Roger." Except I'm totally kidding.
"Is this a guilt trip?" He moans tiredly.
"You have to ask?"
If Roger accused me of being a pushover he couldn't be closer to the truth. While I leave Roger home alone with April- again- I'm running off to be chauffeured around and tailored in a designer suit. That, by far, is the biggest illogicality I've ever set myself up for. First of all, it tears me up inside to ever leave Roger anywhere anymore. But, I can't be his mother. God forbid. And I'm too much of a fucking… oh, I don't know…hypocrite to impose on him. He doesn't like it that I'm dropping out of school. Hell, I don't even like it and maybe I ruined my future, but Roger's got two counts against him. He never even tried…
Second of all- I guess I show enough responsibility to help plan a wedding. By some obligation or another I have to- I'd want Benny to be a big part of my marriage, but there is an odd dissatisfaction in Benny's engagement to a social butterfly. You see, I got swept up in the monarchy. Since when would I rather go cruising in Benny's Jaguar than sitting at home with my troubled best friend? That almost sounds like a no-brainer: Since Benny bought a Jaguar and since Roger doesn't want to do anything but sit at home and act troubled! You'd think I would've refuted that part a bit more carefully. I think Jaguars are the most disgusting show of pride, greed, and vanity known to capitalism, and sometimes- …well sometimes I wish I were Roger. That's a very rare aspiration, mind you, and life certainly wouldn't be easier, but I'm envious of his ability to act impulsively and opt for the easy way out. When asked about the wedding, Roger promptly folded his invitation into an origami crane and threw it off of the fire escape. "Save me some cake." He yawned at an offended Benny, and then made himself useful by hiding in his room.
"…So that car. It's a series III, right?" He grins brazenly at his swift ability to change the subject. "Do you remember Mike Gambit's Jag in 'The New Avengers'? You think we still have that taped somewhere?"
I will not be thwarted by Roger's curve ball of a pop culture reference. He's compensating for something. Who does he think he is reminiscing at a time like this? Watching corny British police dramas is something we did together when Roger was entertaining. Doesn't he see that I'm trying my best to act pretentious?
Then Roger asks quietly, "…So where are you guys going again?"
Oh, I see where this is going…
'So where are you guys going again?' is a versatile question because a.) my answer will determine how long he has to shoot up, enjoy his high, and hide the evidence, and b.) my answer will determine if where I am going will cause me to have more quality time with Benny and not Roger.
'Jealous' is an understatement.
I almost feel guilty.
"To be honest with you, I don't know."
Roger's face is frozen between a pout and a disappointment when Collins barges in. "Good, you're going somewhere today? Who's going? Everyone? I need the house."
"I'm not going anywhere." Roger scoffs as a jab at me.
"Well can you? I really need it quiet. Take April out or something."
Roger laughs sarcastically. "Like where?"
Before I can stop myself, I groan, "Oh, I can think of several places you can go." The undertone of that statement hits Roger like a brick.
For some reason Collins stands to Roger's defense and shushes, "Mark!"
What I said was very bad indeed. Bad Mark! Now Collins is looking down his nose at me and Roger is lost for words. I reach in my pocket for the 'HEROIN!' stamp and then remember that I don't have one.
A wave of regret and apology and hurt and a lot of other nice things washes over me but instead I glance at my watch and frown, "Ooh. Look at the time." Dancing around the topic of heavy drugs is one of my favorite pastimes! By now Roger has turned several shades of red. Before he can explode, I lean forward and say with absolutely no emotion, "I've gotta go. I'm sorry." With a wink and a salute, I turn on my heel and allow Collins to catch up to me on the stairs and slap me on the wrist.
"Mark…" Collins' eyes dart back and forth, deep in thought. "…Leave him alone."
"Ba-ha!" I blurt, clamping a hand over my mouth. "Leave him alone…' That's easy enough… Everyone else seems to be good at ignoring him… That's exactly what I'm doing right now! I'm gonna have a grand old time today in the company of someone with a loving wife and a decent set of morals and a future. And it's gonna feel great. I need to let more people like Benny rub off on me. I'm actually excited about this!"
Collins looks at me sideways. "About what?"
"They set a date?"
"Are you wedding photographer?"
Why does this question offend me? "I'm best man." I suddenly realize Collins has changed the subject with more tact than Roger. Collins knew they set a date. "Look, just- please don't let him leave the house today..."
"Collins, stop fucking around. You'll be here, won't you?"
"Roger isn't my responsibility."
"Thanks a lot Collins."
He grabs my shoulders before I can storm away and stares me in the eyes. Very prudently he asks, "Mark. What, exactly, do you propose we do about him?"
I have kept myself awake for hours upon hours over this question. My conclusion is always, 'My all-pervading and undying display of loyalty and concern for Roger's health will be the catalyst for his recovery.' How long has he been addicted now? Four years? How long have we been friends? Six years? How long have I tried and failed to make his life better? Our entire friendship? Have I been even a teensy bit successful?
I sigh and snort mordantly, "…When I come home tonight I'll stick him in rehab or something. See you later."
"Whoo-hoo!" Benny squeals as we hug a turn at a smooth seventy miles per hour. "Isn't she fabulous?"
"I don't know anything about cars-" I swallow a rush of adrenaline in my stomach and grin. "But I dare you to take her all the way up to 140." This sin of an automobile is a waste of precious natural resources…Benny's total expenditure on this car could probably feed a third world country for a year…This car is dangerous…This car is really fast…I…really love this car…
"Are you crazy? Do you want us to get arrested?"
"Yes. I don't want to go home. Now do it."
"Mark, if we crash I'll kill you."
"Chicken. You just said Allison wrote you in for the lifetime warranty."
"That doesn't mean we can crash it!"
"We won't crash it. Can I drive?"
"Do you even have a license?"
"I have a bike."
"No, Evil Kinevil, you can't drive."
"Can you go faster?"
"I will push you out of this car."
"Please? Just a little?"
The car shifts to one hundred. I press my head back against the seat and giggle with glee.
"Roger would be so jealous right now." I scold myself for thinking about Roger. "Did this come with one of those Playmates that always lay on the hood on car magazines?" I scan the backseat just in case.
"No. We can make Allison do it later though."
"Oh. Heh, did I just say that out loud?"
Benny slows the car as punishment. I stick out my lower lip but he ignores me and concentrates on the road, and the speed limit.
"What is Allison doing today anyway? Generating more cash you can embezzle?"
"What? Hey… Mark. What's that supposed to mean? I don't know what she's doing. Wife things. Calling the florist. Spending unnecessary amounts of money on white lilies." He rolls his eyes.
"Since when," I indicate the platinum-plated clock face in the dashboard, "Do you care how large amounts of money are spent? Why did you buy this thing anyway? Westport dowry? Premature mid-life crisis?"
"Oh I have my reasons. I have a…well, I have a rather enormous surprise for you…well everyone really. But now isn't the time to reveal that. Pretend I never said anything."
"A surprise? Oh…You bought me a Jaguar. You shouldn't have."
"No, no, better." He grins knowingly. "Something way better…"
I frown and try to think of something enormous and surprising, but draw a blank.
"Don't worry your little head over it just yet Marky. In due time, I will reveal all." He takes his hands off the wheel and flourishes them mysteriously. Then he grabs the wheel tightly and snaps, "But no seriously, let's focus on the issue at hand: spending large, unnecessary amounts of Allison's money on your tuxedo. Why do you care what she's doing now anyway?"
"I don't know. Weddings intrigue me. I've never actually been involved in the planning process before. I'm a feeling a little overwhelmed."
"-Any ideas for my bachelor party?" Benny asks tightfistedly.
"Well it's going to have to be really over the top. Raunchy. You know, since-"
"Since you're planning it?"
I put my hand to my chest and smile. "Ouch. No silly. You poor dear. Twenty-four hours after my party all you'll ever have is Muff-"
"Mark, she is going to be my wife and I love Allison, if you haven't noticed. I don't appreciate you b-"
"I think I'll collaborate with Maureen on the-"
"Mark. It may be a bachelor party but I still want it to be tasteful-"
"…On the decorations, Collins can cook for us…Hm. I want a stripper. Do you think Mo'll let me hire a stripper? Oh right, it's not my party."
"Mark you're rambling. And besides, I think it's supposed to be a surprise. I'm supposed to stumble in shit-faced after the reception and-"
"Geez Benny, have you no respect for the sanctity of a white wedding? Shit-faced? What a slut!"
"That wasn't a serious insult."
"Would you look at that, we're here." Benny forces the brakes and disbands from the vehicle. Wiping at an invisible spot on the immaculate silver hood of his car, he twirls his keys immodestly about his finger and scans the metropolis for a valet. I wince and grow somewhat paranoid- if he flashed his keys like that on 11th street they would've been plucked from his hand and he would've been out of luck, and a car, in a matter of seconds. Instead, a brass-buttoned attendee strides past the passenger window, bows slightly to Benjamin of the Westport Grey's and safely takes the car to some underground vault or whatever.
"Hm." I ponder. "Fancy."
"Oh just wait. Allison is fitting all her bridesmaids haute couture."
"They had the fabric imported and they're making customizations down to the very last seam. No bridesmaid's dress will look alike, and each one is worth like, five grand. And they get to keep 'em."
"Holy shit. Do I keep my tux?"
"I haven't asked. Your cufflinks are Ian Flaherty."
"They're 10 karats."
"What did I do to deserve this?"
"I just like watching the look on your face. I used to feel the same way. Now I'm just spoiled." He grins.
"You rich bastard."
"How's your project coming along?"
"Yeah well Mark if you ever make that movie I'll-"
"Heh, yeah. If I ever make that movie… So what about these dresses?"
"You could shop Fifth Avenue everyday if you get it cut and let me market it."
"I suck at changing the subject. Can we change the subject? Where are we going, exactly?"
"Marc Jacobs, remember?"
"That sounds expensive."
"Trust me… We're meeting Brenda here. She's Allison's hire. I don't care for her- she's all for the senseless bouquets of lilies- but she's good at coordinating for the ceremony. Try not to embarrass me."
"Ben-ny! What is that supposed to mean? Pretend I didn't grow up in Eastchester and that my dad wasn't an alderman and that I didn't study at Brown? Hide my total lack of sophistication and courtesy around rich people? Ew. Thanks buddy. That shows what you think of me."
"Well for someone who's overly concerned with the fate of Bohemia…"
"I know to suck up if it's good for me."
"Okay then. Now is one of those times."
Fifth Avenue is packed to the gills with tourists weighing the consequences of spending another night at the Best Western, or buying something tulle to show off to their green-eyed Midwestern friends. Either way this is a trap that is going to suck the money from their possession and raise the bar for the economy. I can't even see the other side of the street because of the wall of sightseeing double-deckers and stretch limos. This is my least favorite part of the city, due to the scant amount of locals or sanity, and over excess of billboards, pompous attitudes, and women that are too skinny for a size 00. Needless to say Fifth Avenue is a huge reason Maureen thinks she's huge.
"This place made my girlfriend anorexic. Can we go home now?"
"You don't like it here?"
"It's like Time Square but conceited. I feel like I can't afford to walk on the sidewalk. Are you sure there's no hidden fees with this whole tux thing? Because Allison can go fuck herself if I have to fork over one penny-"
"You know, usually the groomsmen have to pay for their own suits. We're doing you a favor."
"Now I know why Roger blew you off." The thought of Roger gives me a headache.
"Yeah, what is his problem-"
"CHANGING THE SUBJECT NOW- so this Brenda- she's a friend of Allison's?"
Benny looks at me askance. "School. Yeah. What did Roger do now?"
"Besides heroin, or does that answer your question?"
We fall into an uncomfortable yet necessary silence and Benny makes a small grunting noise and sighs. "I'm so sorry Mark…"
"Sorry? For what? He didn't die. Yet…"
"Well you sound hopeful! Any reason for the sarcasm?"
"How else am I supposed to handle this? If I don't brush it off then he gets to me and I worry so much I want to blow my brains out! You asked me about my film? Half of it's funding went into April's arm! And if I confront him about it he…I just…'It's not my place."
"Not your place? If I were you'd I'd have called the fucking cops by now! He's your best friend isn't he Mark? You wanna do something about this or wait until he OD's?"
"I want to go try on my five-thousand dollar tuxedo."
Although that statement drips with infamy, I don't feel the pang of regret I was expecting.
Is it really so much to ask to have my cake and eat it too?