Bret Easton Ellis: Unanswered Prayers

Bret Easton Ellis: Unanswered Prayers

I have to admit that when Out magazine asked me to review Bret Easton Ellis's Imperial Bedrooms, the sequel to his debut, Less Than Zero on the latter book's twenty-fifth anniversary, I was a little reluctant to accept the commission. I suppose I could try to dress up my motives, but the God's honest truth is that I was miffed Out had tapped one of my former students, Nick Burd, for the 2009 Out 100, a list on which my own name has never appeared, despite the fact that I've published ten books to Nick's one, and been a contributing editor to this magazine since 2006. And then there's the fact that, well, I've never really understood Ellis's writing. Don't take that the wrong way. It's not that I don't like Ellis's books. I just don't get them. I mean, if I can make sense of the 1079-page goulash of Infinite Jest, then surely I can figure out American Psycho and Glamorama, which clock in around the same length, right? But the closest I've ever come to finding a raison d''tre for one of Ellis's novels is when I sat through the first forty-five minutes of Less Than Zero in the dorm room of this cute freshman whose pants I was trying to get into back in college. (In what can only be described as an Ellisesque turn of events, the cute freshman ended up working for Out right about the time I became a contributing editor here. It took me a while to figure that out, however, because he'd changed his name in the decade since I'd last seen him -- to that of a character in Less Than Zero. I mean, what's up with that, Keith?)

'But even that's not the real issue,' I told Aaron Hicklin, Out's boyishly handsome editor in chief, over two pieces of $38 unagi don at Nobu. 'The truth is, I've met Bret a couple of times. We have a kind of complicated, you know, relationship.'

'Ooh!' Aaron said, reaching for a piece of my sea urchin -- for some reason he hadn't ordered anything himself, and, even more inexplicably, he'd brought a glass jar full of change to the restaurant. 'I want the dish!'

'Um, it's my dish?' I pulled the tastefully colorless porcelain plate out of range of his chopsticks. 'You've got your jar of nickels and dimes?'

'There are quarters in here too.' Aaron said, a little snippily, and wrinkled his nose in a way that made me want to reach for a steam iron. 'Anyway, who cares about another novel? People want to know the real Bret Easton Ellis.' He eyed my unagi and I wrapped an arm around it protectively. 'I'll give you ten grand if you file by June first.'

'I want twenty,' I said, popping the last urchin in my mouth, 'and I'll file when I'm damn good and ready.'

'Deal,' Aaron said, but by that time I'd seen a 'friend,' if you know what I mean, and I'd already left the table. I took the tastelessly colorful plate with me, just because, and as I entered the bathroom I heard the sound of Aaron dumping his jar of change on the table.

Really, I have no idea.


The first time I met Bret Easton Ellis was at a party hosted by Matthew Marks, the art dealer, and Jack Bankowsky, the publisher of ArtForum and BookForum, to which I am an occasional contributor. Actually, I didn't run into Ellis at the party as much as outside it. This was 1996 or '97, and Matthew and Jack had already been together for, like, most of the AIDS crisis, and a mutual 'friend,' if you know what I mean, told me the only way they had sex anymore was with, how did he put it, 'a little help.' They're both bottoms, or so my 'friend' told me, but Matthew likes eighteen- or nineteen-year-old Puerto Rican/Dominican types -- which, don't get me wrong, is totally legal in New York, but still, you know, kind of skeevy, although in a hot kind of way -- whereas Jack goes for D.L. or, better yet, genuinely straight black bodybuilders who are willing to slip it to rich gay guys in order to get the money they need to pay for their steroids. And so anyway, it was pretty obvious one of the latter was on the door that night, because he seemed to think my name needed to be on 'da list,' as he so charmingly put it, and didn't care that, in addition to being a contributor to both ArtForum and BookForum, I also had several 'friends' in common with the party's hosts -- I'm sure you know what I mean, but the doorman, God bless his handsome if somewhat 'roid-bloated face, didn't.

Now, I know I'm not exactly famous for the generosity of my judgments, but I'm much freer with the Benjamins, and, as one of the most ballyhooed critics of my generation, I command more for one of my concise, pithy reviews than most novelists get for the books I trash. What I mean is, I was just about to pull out my wallet when a tall, trim, dark-haired man in a Zegna suit edged past me, albeit it in a totally cool, I-don't-know-who-you-are-which-is-why-we-both-know-I'm-more-important-than-you kind of way.

'Hey, 'Dre,' he said (you could actually hear the apostrophe in his voice: now that's class). He flashed some kind of complicated gang sign/voguing maneuver at the doorman.

'Yo, Mr. Easton Ellis! What up, my man?'

'Just making the rounds. Thought I'd do a little fishing in a couple-a small ponds, you know, before heading down to the Viper or the Chateau.'

'Word,' 'Dre said, stepping aside, but keeping one of his massively muscled arms in front of me. Our mutual 'friend' had told me Jack was into punch fisting, and, though I tried to imagine how anyone besides Goatse could take that anabolically enhanced bioweapon up his asshole, I couldn't.

'Mr. Easton Ellis? It's me, Dale Peck.' I attempted to follow him up the stairs but 'Dre barred my way with his seventeen-inch-forearm.

Ellis turned toward me. 'Oh, uh, yeah. Hey, Dale Peck.' He was standing a step above me, and plus he's already a couple or four inches taller than me, so when he smiled down at me I was able to see straight up both his nose and his dimples, which were even deeper than his nostrils -- and Bret Easton Ellis has really deep nostrils, if you know what I mean. 'I, uh, really loved Martin and John.'

'Oh, um, thanks.' Totally wasn't expecting that. 'Yeah, I, um, I don't know why I can't read your books.'

Another pause, while Ellis continued to smile stiffly down at me and I continued to stare up his dimples, which were so deep they actually seemed to connect with his
nostrils somewhere back in sinusland. I was so mortified by what I'd just said that I wished I could crawl into that cavern and lick up whatever residue of coke might be clinging to the inflamed tissues therein.

'Yeah, I, uh, see a 'friend,' if you know what I mean,' he said finally, and disappeared into the party.

'Dude,' 'Dre said when Ellis was gone. 'Totally tacky, man.' His huge arm swept me back and he refastened the velvet rope. He dealt with another guest ('Oh, James Wood. There you are.') and seemed surprised to find me still there when he finished.

'A thousand bucks,' I said.

'To get into this lame-ass party?' 'Dre snorted. 'Camille Paglia and Wayne Koestenbaum ain't even here yet, and Daniel Mendelsohn's drunk off his ass and talking about how the only boy he ever loved --'

'Yeah yeah yeah,' I cut him off. I tried to wrap both hands around his wrist but my fingers didn't meet. 'Fuck the party. I wanna see this goddamn arm in action.'

So. Score round one to social awkwardness. A little stage fright, a little performance anxiety. But, I mean, give me a little credit. I'm one of the most overhyped critics of my generation, after all, so you know there has to be more to it than that. The alternative is that my reputation is totally based on, I don't know, the number of expletives I use in my essays, which is so fucking ridiculous that I'll probably ask Aaron to cut this line before the piece runs, if I can be bothered to answer any of his goddamned emails. And so anyway, I mean, whatever, at least I was being honest, by which I mean that I really had tried to read each of Ellis's books as they came out. But even though I was vaguely aware something was going on in them, I'd never been able to figure out what that was. If you've been on Manhunt or Grindr or about nine of the specialty sites run by Recon then there's a good chance you know what I like in bed, but as a reader I'm used to being the one in charge. It'd be one thing if Ellis wanted to fuck me himself, but using his novels to do it was little square peg in round hole, if you know what I mean, and I almost always ended up tossing his books aside after a few pages, and reading what was written about them instead. After the brouhaha around American Psycho, this was often more interesting than the novels themselves. Like take the genius moment when Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times (um, duh) wrote, 'People in Glamorama say things like 'Take your passion and make it happen'' without seeming to realize Ellis was actually quoting the Academy Award' and Golden Globe'winning song, 'Flashdance' What a Feeling.' This in a nutshell is everything the literary establishment gets wrong about Ellis's work, but it still doesn't say what's right about it. And so anyway, after the totally embarrassing exchange on the steps of Matthew Marks and Jack Bankowsky's West Village townhouse (oh, and Jack: mazel tov, baby, ma-zel-tov) I was determined to give Ellis's books one more try, if only so that I could prostrate myself at his shoes and beg forgiveness the next time we met. By which I mean that I'd noticed that he was wearing an ugly ass pair of Bruno Maglis, but they were also a size twelve. I know someone out there knows what I mean.

Over the course of the next eighteen months I read Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction and The Informers and American Psycho and Glamorama, and I even managed to get my hands on an early manuscript of Lunar Park, which wouldn't be published for another seven years or so, because a guy who gave his name only as 'PB&J' slipped me a copy at a leather bar that used to be in the Meatpacking District where Bagatelle is now (the manuscript was a little disordered by the time I got it home, though, assless chaps, qua asslessness, being devoid of pockets). I confess it was tough going at first. I use the word confess because it was pretty clear the failure was mine, not Ellis's. As much as I hate to admit it (and I'll totally deny it to his face, and tell him that some smart-ass intern from, like, Brown or 'Camden' added this after I signed off) I'm basically one of those 'Systems' guys Jonathan Franzen writes about in his otherwise forgettable essay on William Gaddis (if, I mean, it's not simply redundant to call anything written about William Gaddis -- or by Jonathan Franzen -- forgettable). I like books to fit into categories, schools, genres, whatever, and Ellis's novels don't fit into any literary niche I'm aware of. Any single niche anyway: despite the obvious influence of writers like Dennis Cooper and Gary Indiana, Ellis's books are hardly New Narrative. Nor, despite clear resonances with, say, Joan Didion, are his books high postmodernism. There's a lack of faith in social abstractions similar to the kind of thing you find in J.G. Ballard, but Ellis's books're nowhere near as anomic as Ballard's, and there are clearly satiric elements too, but not the kind practiced by Don DeLillo, or Martin Amis, or Dave I'm-a-talentless-self-aggrandizing-fuckhead Eggers. In fact, when you get right down to it, there're hints of writers as diverse in sensibility and style as Ray Carver, and Hunter S. Thompson, and even John Irving, and hey, let's throw Proust in there, along with a yo no se que we might call Bola'esque, even though it's pretty doubtful Ellis would've even heard of Roberto Bola'o before writing his first five books, by which I mean (in case it's not totally obvious) that I'm pretty much grasping at straws here.

As it happens, though, straws are an apt metaphor (work with me here), since one of the few consistent memes in Ellis's books is the vials and piles of coke fueling the polymorphous perversity that the Brat Packers -- Jay Macaroni and Donna Tartlet and Jelena Jankovic or Ana Ivanovic or whatever the hell the other one's name was -- made so popular back in the eighties, before magazines like this one came along and we were finally able to admit that some people were just, you know, gay. Having come of age in the eighties myself, nostalgia was enough to keep me reading at first, but after a while I found myself turning pages voluntarily, even eagerly. The coke rush is a pretty good description for this state as well, since it describes the kind of feeling you get from Ellis's work once you finally surrender to it, or, to push the metaphor a little farther, become addicted to it. It's not an intellectual sensation is what I mean, nor does it feel particularly healthy, but at the same time it's really, really hard to stop. Like coke, though, you also build up a bit of tolerance, so that each successive book has to get a little crazier than its predecessor in order to make an impact, a fact that, judging from the increasingly hyperbolic nature of both Ellis's sentences and plotlines, he's fully aware of, to the degree that the apex of this arc, Glamorama, reads more like an extended Gawker post than a novel -- like, say, Choire Sicha and Richard Lawson were double-dicking Emily Gould, one from the front, one from behind, and a stenographer handcuffed to a chair next to the cigarette-scarred tatami mat was doing her one-handed best to record all the bold-faced names and hyphenated adverbs that came out of Gould's pretty pouty potty mouth. Of course, Glamorama came out before Gawker existed, so it's more apt to say that Sicha, Lawson and Co. adapted their style from Ellis and not the other way around. But still, I'm pretty sure that if you got one of them in a corner and forced him to his knees and put a gun to his head, maybe pistol-whipped him a few times or threatened to shoot his iPhone, he'd totally admit that the shit that shows up on Gawker isn't, you know, literature.

And yet somehow, I finally realized, Ellis's books are. Somehow kitschy humor and the kind of sorrow that only comes when you know you're whittling your soul away piece by piece manage to co-exist in the same novel, the same sentence even, and the hollow echo of your own laughter tingling through your Eustachian tubes beneath the insanely clear sound of LCD Soundsytem sluicing into your brain via a pair of virginal white earbuds on a rush-hour subway becomes scary to you. Somehow the whole riotous, shallow, sublime, grandiose, tender, greedy, giving, mysterious, crazy world hangs off plotlines so far beyond contrived and unbelieveable that they seem like manifestations of Walt Disney's eugenic fantasies, an inverted reality in which characters as one-dimensional as Patrick Bateman and Victor Ward come to seem as humorously, heartbreakingly Quixotic as Yossarian or Ahab or Frederic Moreau, the hero of Sentimental Education, which Ellis has said is his favorite novel. But, unlike Flaubert, language isn't the be-all and end-all in Ellis's books, let alone the elusive 'truth' that most contemporary novelists wave around like a matador's flag. To say that an Ellis novel is an indictment of the modern world is pretty much beside the point: the modern world is its own indictment, and doesn't need any help from novelists to communicate its moral, historical, and psychological vacuity. No, an Ellis novel is an indictment of the notion that literature can do anything about that situation. It's an indictment of us, in other words -- of readers and writers and reviewers and editors and all the other people sustaining fiction's greatest fiction: that fiction matters. Most critics of fame-obsessed money culture, or money-obsessed fame culture, or however you want to parse it'Kathy Griffin and Jon Stewart and the various bloggers and whatnot'are a party to the entity they make fun of. Their humor functions as a relief valve so we can continue tolerating the intolerable even as we strive to become a part of it, or at least reap its benefits. But Ellis's books are singular in their ability to make us feel genuinely uncomfortable. If you're not frustrated by an Ellis book, if you don't feel it's too long, too self-conscious, too complicit, and, often, too stupid for words -- if you actually enjoy reading it, I mean, from start to finish, and spend hours surfing wikipedia looking to see which characters recur in which novels, and think it's worthwhile to debate whether Patrick Bateman is really a murderer or just a modern Walter Mitty, then, far from being sympathetic to Ellis's point of view, you're actually part of the problem he's describing: just one more person using a consumer product (in this case, art) to distract yourself from the fact that the world is hopelessly and irretrievably lost, and there's nothing we can do about it except watch.

Which only leaves one question: why? Not some Kantian capital-W Why, but that really fucking annoying why your therapist, who is nowhere near as smart as you no matter what the diploma on his wall says, pulls out at just the write -- just the right time, I mean, stopping you in the middle of some rant or other about how your mom or dad never, you know, got you. But that's a question for the artist rather than the art. It might tell us something about his motives, or even his psyche, but if we really want to know what Bret Easton Ellis is up to, we can only look inside his books, and look inside ourselves.

Alas, introspection was never my strong suit. I figured I'd just, you know, ask him.

Man, was that a mistake.

I got the chance sooner than I expected -- in 1998, to be precise, at a party for Sally Singer, then of Elle magazine, now editor in chief of the Times' T Magazine, at the newly opened Mercer Hotel in Soho. This time there was no problem with 'da list.' Sally and I go way back -- she commissioned the first of the reviews that later became Hatchet Jobs, making me a household name (at least in households that subscribed to the London Review of Books), and I was the person who told her to give up the whole literary journal thing for fashion: you're welcome, Sally; you're welcome, America. And so anyway, there I was, downstairs at the Mercer, and there was Bret Easton Ellis. No one'd told me he was going to be there, but, you know, it was a fashion party. Models, paparazzi, and of course more good stiff blow than there was in Hurricane Katrina.

He was skinnier than I thought, based on his description of himself in Lunar Park: downright fit, in fact, his skin clear, and if he really was dying his hair than he'd found a damn good product. Before I could get his attention, however, another man cut in front of me. I thought he was Spanish until he started speaking some language that wasn't Spanish. I didn't recognize it as Arabic until he said, 'Allahu akbar,' and leaned in for a hug. Only somone staring at Ellis's ass would've noticed the deft way the Arabian man slipped a hand under the tail of Ellis's Prada jacket and slid something into his back pocket.

'Shalom, man,' Ellis said. 'Next year in Jerusalem.'

The man slipped away between passed canap's and steeply angled trays of champagne flutes that somehow never tipped over or spilled, and I moved in.

'Mr. Easton Ellis? It's me -- '
'Yeah, Dale Peck.' Something in his eyes told me he was frowning, but his face didn't really move: late nineties Botox could be a bummer that way. 'I, uh, remember.'

'Cool. Hey, so, I just wanted to apologize for the way I acted at Matthew and Jack's party --'


'Matthew Marks and Jack Bankowsky? The art dealer and publisher of ArtForum and BookForum?'

Another failed attempt at an expression. 'You, uh, write for them, don't you?'

'Yeah,' I said, and I think I blushed -- it's so nice when people notice. 'So, uh, look --'

'Bret! Hey!'

A skinny woman with a spray-on tan and brittle bleached-blonde hair slipped between me and Bret like a virus finding a tear in a condom.

'Candace! Baby! Hey, this is, uh, Dale Peck. Dale, this Candace Bu --'

'Bret! Candace! Let's get a picture!'

'Oh, um, hey Patrick. Um, sure. Ouch,' Ellis added, because I'd stepped on his foot (size twelve, remember? Bruno Maglis?) when I squeezed between him and Candace, which is the best way to make sure you don't get cropped from a paparazzi shot. We all smiled, or tried to in Ellis's case, the bulb flashed, and when I could see again Ellis was gone and I had my arm around Candace, which kind of surprised me. I thought someone had slipped a wet cigarette or a swizel stick into my hand, a post-abortion coat hanger. Something like that.

'So, uh, what do you do?' I said to her as I scanned the room.

Candace didn't bother answering. Just flashed me a look of utter disdain and turned on her heel, only to slip down the hole it drilled in the Christian Liaigre-designed floor. There was a distant spark and a puff of smoke, a faint smell of brimstone, and I was left wondering if she'd really been there. But I had other things on my mind.
I had a pretty good idea where Ellis had gone, and I made my way toward the bathroom. The attendant didn't want to let me in, but I told him that if he didn't get out of my way I'd write a review of his bathroom so scathing that he'd never hand anyone a paper towel or Goody comb again.

'You might think you can live down the title of Worst Bathroom Attendant of Your Generation, but believe me, you can't! It sticks with you forever, like toilet paper lint on stubbly ass cheeks!' I slammed the door, then pulled it back open, tossed out one more 'FOREVER!' and kicked it closed again.

When I turned around Ellis was staring at me with a demiglazed expression, which kind of makes it sound like he had shit all over his face when there was really just a little white powder on his unnaturally stiff upper lip. He shrugged sheepishly. 'Busted,' he said, indicating the three lines on the stainless steel counter with a black Amex card he held like a Ninja star. 'So, uh, you wanna do some blow?'

Did I want to do cocaine with Bret Easton Ellis? Did O.J. Simpson want to stab Nicole Brown through the throat until her head fell off?

'Uh, sorry, I can't,' I said, tapping my nose. 'It's a little Stevie Nicksy up in here.'

'Dude. Been there. I know a good doctor if it doesn't, you know, scab over.' He pressed his left index finger to his nostril, which folded in like a half-inflated basketball, leaned over to do another line, then stood up before his face made it to the counter. 'Hey, do you know what they call the pieces in Tetris?'

'Um?' Talk about unexpected. 'Tetrominoes?'

'Dude! Thanks! That's been bugging me for, like, four months.' He leaned over again, then stood up one more time. 'Sorry, man. It just feels rude to do a line when you can't.'

The sight of the coke had made me forget whatever it was I'd come in the bathroom to ask him. Maybe it was the Stevie Nicks reference, but I suddenly had an idea.

'Um, you could blow some up my ass.'

Ellis considered this with a stony expression, or maybe it was just the Botox. Then: 'Yeah, um, no straw.'

'Oh, uh, right.' I looked around the bathroom, but the closest thing I saw to a straw was a toilet paper roll. What can I say? I'm no Jack Bankowsky. 'I suppose you could put some on your finger and just, you know, push it up there. Or, I don't know, your dick?'

'I could put some coke up my dick?'

'No, on your dick. Up my hole.'

'Oh, right.' He chuckled behind his face. 'Duh.'

Duh is what I was thinking too, but I didn't say it. I was thinking that it was hard to believe this doofus was the author I'd come to admire so much, but by now I was in a pre-coke state of jittery anticipation, and it was all I could do to unbuckle my pants and push them down and bend over the counter, then watch as Ellis scooped up two of the lines with his black Amex and spread an eight-inch line down the shaft of his dick. For some reason his penis looked familiar, but what with the Internet and bathhouses and thirty-some odd years of whoring I've seen a lot of cock, and plus I was in that place where you know the drugs are just a few seconds away and nothing else really matters. It was a pretty dick though. The coke on top made it all sparkly.

He moved into position and I pulled my ass cheeks open. He knelt down, spit in the hole, then stood up again and pressed the tip of his penis against me, then stopped.

'So, uh, are you, like, I mean, do you have''

'Oh, shit, I'm being totally rude.' I pulled my pants up enough to reach my pocket, grabbed a hundred from my wallet. 'Is this enough?'

'No, man,' Bret said, waving my money away. 'I meant'' He tapped his cock against my ass again. 'You know.'

'Oh,' I said. 'HIV.'


'No,' I said.

'Yeah, that's what I figured.' He spat into his hand and rubbed it around the head of his dick, then fingered a little bit inside me. 'It's just, you know. Martin and John. You did the whole AIDS thing so well and all.'

'I did, right?' I suddenly remembered that I'd followed him into the bathroom to talk about his work. I couldn't remember what I'd meant to ask him though, so I said,

'It's weird being confused with a character in your book, right?'

'Right? You'd be surprised how many people think I'm just like --'

'Patrick Bateman?'

'No, uh --'

'Victor Ward?'

'No --'

'I mean Victor Johnson. Sorry.'

'No.' I just stared at him until he said. 'Clay.'


'From Less Than --'

'Zero. Right, right, I'm totally with you.'

'I've even thought of writing, you know, some kind of sequel or something, so people would see how different we are. But every time I start it he always ends up turning into me. Or, I don't know, maybe I've turned into him after all these years?'

'Yeah, yeah, cool,' I said, pushing my ass against his dick to remind him of the task at hand. But apparently he wanted to talk.

'You kind of did that too. That whole Dale thing.'

'Um, I'm Dale?'

'I mean in the book. Martin and John. The girl. Shannon. She calls John 'Dale' at one point.'

'Oh, yeah. Susan. Someone called it my Rosebud.'

Ellis looked down at my hole, seemed surprised that his finger was two knuckles into it.

'Someone named your asshole?'

'No, man. Orson Welles? Citizen Kane? The sleigh?' I did my best dying whisper. 'Rose-bud''

'Yeah, man, you're kind of creeping me out right now. Maybe we should just --' He nudged the head of his cock against my hole.

'Cool, cool,' I said, but he was already slipping in. For a second there was that sand-in-the-Vaseline feeling, and then the coke kicked in and everything went numb.

'Nice,' I said.

'Thanks, man,' he said, patting my ass.

I meant the coke, but I didn't bother to correct him.

So I'm guessing that if you're reading this magazine you have a pretty good idea how the next five or ten minutes went (actually, I'm guessing that if you're reading this magazine you're in an STD clinic in Chelsea or the Castro, but whatever), so I'll skip to what happened afterwards. Not all the way afterwards, by which I mean that Ellis still had his dick in me and was kind of leaning over me, not in a tender way, or even a tired way, but a can-you-put-your-head-between-your-knees-so-I-can-get-to-the-coke-on-the-counter way, while I stared through my legs at his size twelve Bruno Maglis, which were so big that they stuck out from beneath his bunched-up cuffs like a pair of clown shoes. He snorted up the last line so deeply that I swear I could feel it scour through his body like a sandstorm and shoot out the head of his dick into my asshole. I found myself wondering if that could happen. If your insides could get so completely blasted that there was nothing left anymore, just a shell through which things passed on their way from one place to another. Which reminded me:

I lifted up my face and found his in the mirror. For a minute I thought he was crying but then I realize he was just sweating, although the sweat seemed to be leaking from his eyeballs.

'I wanted to ask you something.'

'Huh?' His head turned and his face seemed to follow a moment later, like a latex mask coming loose from his skin.

Suddenly I realized it was very cold in the bathroom, even though it was summertime and sweat was pouring out of Bret Easton Ellis's eyes.

'A-about your books,' I stuttered, wanting to stand up but kind of stuck there, if you know what I mean.

'Yeah, they're not really my books.'

'Not your books?'

'Once you publish them they're not yours anymore.'

I was about to ask him what he meant but he was reaching a hand up and pulling on his hair and there was a sucking sound and his face stretched out like Edvard Munch's The Scream and then with a rubbery snap his face pulled off his head, and there was --

'Keith?' I blinked in disbelief. 'Keith Toma --'

'It's Julien now. Jew-lien.' He pulled out of me and it felt like my spine left with him, and I fell to the floor. 'You'll probably write that 'Jew-lien' in some lame attempt at a joke, won't you?' He wiped the sweat from his face and flicked it against the wall. 'I've been waiting to do that for more than ten years.'

I stared up at him in disbelief. 'I don't get it,' I said, because really, I didn't. I mean, I give a good ride, but not wait-for-ten-years good.

I glanced at the mask of Bret Easton Ellis's face, which, hollowed out, deflated, looked remarkably like Richard Nixon's. 'Was it you? At Matthew and Jack's?'

'Why don't you ask him that?' Keith said, jerking his thumb at the empty mask.

'But'but why?' I said, and even as I heard the word come out of my mouth, I realized that was the question I'd come in here to ask in the first place.

Julien smiled at me, his face sweaty, satisfied, and completely opaque.

'I'll never tell,' he said, running some Aveda styling cream through his hair, straightening his Gene Meyer tie, tucking his dick between the teeth of his YKK zipper. He pushed the door open, nearly knocking over the attendant, who was standing with his face pressed against the shellacked zebrawood. 'Feel free to write about this,' he tossed over his shoulder. 'No one'll believe you.' He paused, reconsidered. 'Actually, they probably will, but then, that's always been their problem, hasn't it?'

Tags: Art & Books