Excerpt - The Last Hot Day
How many times can a man destroy his own life? I had asked myself that many times over the course of my long friendship with Chris Hannon, an untamed man-boy who was finally growing up and settling down with the right woman. I was to be the best man at this most improbable of weddings. Chris’s fiancée being a highly mature and competent woman with no history of substance abuse or incarceration made it that much more surreal. It wasn’t like Chris, and we were all happy for him. I had yet to meet Danielle, and she and Chris would be picking me up at the airport. I was curious to meet this woman who had so changed my pirate friend, apparently for the better. On that night, as I looked out into the blackness of the troposphere from the window of the giant Boeing 777, redemption felt very close indeed.
The jet was on a westerly course, approaching the eighth hour of an eleven hour overnight flight from London Heathrow to LAX that took it along the great circle route, chasing the cold air of the Arctic Circle and ultimately arching southwards along the Canadian Rockies. Outside I could see Virgo set against the coldness of space. The permanence of that celestial body seemed to highlight the transience and turbulence of the present time. There are years that come and go, with no grand significance, and there are those years that seem to recalibrate our lives, holding within them turning points, rites of passage and poignant hellos and goodbyes. The hot months of this particular year promised all such things, for it was a rare alignment of circumstances that brought me to Los Angeles on this night in June.
My married actor friend Paul was also turning thirty this weekend, and was set to make a big announcement a couple of days after Chris’s wedding. Chris suspected that Paul’s wife Scarlett was pregnant, but I had my doubts given Paul’s emphatic desire to never have kids, which had been expressed passionately and persuasively to me and Chris during a memorable all night road trip to the Florida Keys back in college.
As for me, it was to be a summer of decision. I was six months away from receiving my master’s degree from the London School of Economics, but I felt empty in the pursuit of what I had once believed was the perfect career for me. Always one to urge my friends to do what they love, no matter the practicality of such an endeavor, I was becoming increasingly unsettled by the stark reality that there was no joy for me in economics. I wasn’t the same man that I was three years ago, and my current path didn’t seem to match my priorities or desires. The last time I was in Los Angeles, I had been frenetically shopping around my latest screenplay, hoping to launch a writing career that had never materialized. As I looked down at the glint of a distant city from a vantage point of thirty six thousand feet, I imagined a life very different from the one that I presently led; a life that included me writing. Something new wanted to come into my life – that was my last lucid thought before my body gave in to the sleep that had been eluding me since crossing the Labrador Sea. The red light on the wing kept blinking at regular intervals, and the giant airliner sailed through the night, bringing me closer to a time and place that would forever change the path of my life.
“Sir, we need you to bring your seat back up for landing,” the flight attendant gently woke me to a cabin that was now bright and busy, filled with the chatter of people walking up and down the aisles.
Outside the early morning light revealed the sharp contours of the Sierra Nevadas while my ears informed me that our descent was underway. Coffee was generously provided by the same flight attendant who woke me, and the dark aroma helped chase away the disorientation associated with high altitude sleep. A hot towel brought me back to lucidity and I recalled something about a blinking light and a cloud of thoughts associated with making a movie or writing a book. I wasn’t sure how long I had been asleep.
Forty five minutes later, the heavy wheels touched the California ground and the powerful engines reversed their thrust, slowing us down to a taxi as we approached the terminal of LAX. The morning sky was a deep blue and the flag on the airfield showed a strong wind off the ocean. There is something jarring to the body and mind in travelling over five thousand miles in eleven hours, crossing oceans and worlds in a single night. My new life in London, with its musty, rainy days and self important academic polemics seemed so far removed from the sunshine and creative spirit of this warm coastal city with palm trees and sunglasses. My stomach fluttered a bit, with the knowledge that I was back in the place that had represented so much to me just a few years earlier. There was also the anticipation of the wedding and of being reunited with my two closest friends, the three of us together for the first time in over a year. Entering our thirties, we no longer had the luxury of an unending supply of time in which to figure things out. Life was growing more consequential now; we were entering the very grown up world of marriage and family. The awareness of how our lives and friendships would change in the coming years made this visit that much more poignant. We pulled up to the gate, and I grabbed my bag and set out to meet my best friend and his new fiancée.
Chris appeared from a crowd in the baggage claim area, a huge grin on his face as we bear hugged each other in an aggressively manly way.
“Good to see you man.”
Chris was sporting a white tee shirt, dark blazer, jeans and his trademark, beaten up black hush puppies. He looked vibrant in a way that I had not seen for some time. An attractive woman with long brown hair, a warm smile, and intelligent eyes curiously looked on from several feet away.
“You must be Danielle,” I smiled and gave her a big hug as Chris formally introduced us.
“It’s great to finally meet you Tony,” Danielle spoke softly, possessing an elegantly sensual voice. Her embrace was gentle, and her skin smelled of vanilla lotion.
“It’s good to meet you too.” Danielle was tall, wearing jeans, black boots, and a cream colored tee shirt. There was something about her that was different from the other women that Chris had been with over the years. She seemed calm, comfortable with herself. There was no apparent need to impress, no ego. I liked her right away.
Within minutes we were on the 105, heading towards Silver Lake in Chris’s black jeep. Traffic was characteristically dense, but we were not in a hurry, and the cool morning air drifted in through the half open windows.
“So, have you been seeing anyone in London since you and Marisa broke up?” Chris always got right to the point.
“Actually, I’m kind of focusing on myself lately. Just trying to figure some things out – not really looking for a relationship right now.” There was a lot more to say about that, but now was not the time to unload my romantic frustrations, just a week before the wedding.
“That’s bullshit, my friend. You’ve got to get out there and meet someone new. It’s been four months. You need a woman, my man.” The thing I loved about Chris was the thing that most people hated about Chris; he was incapable of any type of subtlety or indirectness. He was the most honest person I’ve ever known, always wearing his heart on his sleeve. His bluntness was always getting him into trouble, of course, but he was a remarkably consistent human being. Chris was always Chris, for better or worse.
Perhaps sensing my desire to change the topic, Danielle turned around from the front seat and thrust a large Caffe Mocha into my hand. “Chris tells me you like coffee as much as I do,” she said with a sly grin. As she handed me the coffee, she gave me a longer than usual gaze, and I wondered what she thought of me, and what Chris had told her about me. She was an incredibly beautiful woman. “Did you get any sleep on the plane?” she asked.
“Yeah, actually – I did. Like an hour or something, I don’t usually sleep too well on planes. Not enough leg room. There was some turbulence for a while, and I’m not a huge fan of that.”
“Dude, you gotta’ meet someone,” Chris wasn’t interested in turbulence. “It’s not good just working and studying all the time. Have you been writing at all?”
I had forgotten what it was like to talk to Chris. I loved the guy, but his conversational style was brutally efficient. He had a way of focusing on exactly what you didn’t want to discuss. “Yeah, a little bit here and there – when I have time, but not much. There just hasn’t been any time since grad school, and I’m working and I’ve just been really focused on my thesis lately. So, how are things coming with the wedding? I can’t believe it’s this Saturday.” I didn’t want to talk about me anymore. I was jet-lagged and sleep deprived and did not feel like explaining why in fact I was not seeing anyone or writing anything.
Danielle seemed to pick up on this and launched into a discussion of the bridesmaid dresses while Chris eyed me through the rear-view mirror, with a focused glare, clearly anxious to impart more wisdom and help me correct my life. The irony of the moment was not lost on me. Here was a guy who was notoriously bad at making commitments, showing up on time, and generally acting like an adult. In college, Paul and I had watched while Chris managed to self-destructively torpedo one promising relationship after another. I loved Chris, but I was having trouble seeing him in this new role as an exemplar of grown up maturity.
Carl McCoy, copyright 2013