Child Stars


I don’t think any other country could have produced Lindsay Lohan. I think she is uniquely American.


~

I knew she was magic when I first saw her and she made herself in two. I was mesmerized.

We were all mesmerized. Me, Mother, even Father, who for most of the movie counted his money and made phone calls. The people sitting behind us in the theater got angry and told him he was being rude. Father hushed them, they shut up.

Father is a busy lawyer. His specialty is wrongful death and he makes a fortune. He represents the dead.

When Father is at work, Mother stands outside A&P and holds up a sign that says, “The Children Are Our Future.” Mother loves children and she knows how important they are. She has over one million of them. She collects donations for them. Mother’s favorite president is Lyndon B. Johnson because he loved children too. He had one daughter, Daisy, who liked to count flower petals. Daisy died in the atomic bomb and now every election Mother votes Lyndon B. Johnson.

While Mother is outside the grocery store with her signs, I’m inside getting hamburgers for the Fourth of July. In the checkout aisle there are many magazines and on the cover of each one is Lindsay Lohan.

Lindsay Lohan Misses Court Date. Lindsay Lohan Drunk on Set. Lindsay Lohan Caught with Cocaine.

I pick one up off the rack and put it on the conveyor. “That poor girl,” the cashier says. “That poor, poor girl.”


~

In a way, I think Lindsay Lohan is like the country that made her. Just think of her skin color and hair color and disposition. Lindsay Lohan is white, with red, and blue. Most people I know wish Lindsay weren’t so emblematic. For me, it’s just that I hate to see her so blue.

And this was before I even really knew her.


~

One day, Mother and I come home from the grocery store and Father is waiting for me. He sits me down at the living room table and shows me his most prized possession, a framed and autographed picture of Elvis dead on the toilet. Whenever he wants to have a talk, he brings out his signed Elvis picture. This is my impression of Father:

“Son, that’s the problem with kids these days! They all think they’re immortal! They all think they can take anything they want! They embrace temptation! They think they can snort it all up! And then afterwards, they want to get into a car and drive! They all think, nothing will ever happen to me! I’ll live forever! I’m exempt! I’m the exception!”

All the while, there’s Elvis, dead, on the living room table.

But this too was before I really knew Lindsay so I just nodded my head and agreed.

Now, of course, my outlook is different.

The autograph? Oh, it was the coroner’s.


~

Around the time I turned thirteen, Lindsay appeared again. This time, she’d switched bodies with her Mother. It caused a serious panic at first, but everything worked out by the end; they both came away learning something new about the other. They’d literally walked a mile etc. etc.

Afterward, on the way out, Mother said, “I loved that one. I really do love children. They’re our future. And how fun it would be to switch places with your Mother for a few days!”

“Yeah,” I said, still very dazed and unsettled by what I’d just seen. All I could really think was But how did she do that?


~

Father loves his guns. He loves to shoot them in the backyard at squirrels. Mother said be careful, but after the movie Father took me outside anyway. We walked amongst his planted grape vines like men! He showed me how to hold a gun and how to fire it. The first time I did, it flung back and hit me in the chest. I tumbled backwards a little in the grass. Father laughed. He told me get up and try again. I did, and the same thing happened. He said I need to learn how to shoot a gun so the girls in high school will like me. He told me, careful not to fall on his planted grape vines. He said, get up and try it again. So, I did.

He said I’m like a circus act.


~

I wish I had learned how to be a man though, because when I got to high school, Lindsay Lohan was already there. She was playing in a movie about high school girls that all the girls at high school loved. They said it was very relatable and that it raised some very good points. For Halloween, they all dressed up as Lindsay Lohan.

In college they would dress up as Lindsay Lohan too.

One time, at the frat house, I dressed up as Lindsay Lohan. I think everyone does, at one time or another. Everyone I know, at least.

That night in the frat house, I was Lindsay Lohan and Lindsay Lohan was Marilyn Monroe. It was all very strange and I remember it only in bits and pieces.


~

Maybe Lindsay Lohan is a Zen koan. I mean, you see and hear that name repeated everywhere and I think it could be that those two words might have had a spiritually transformative effect. And maybe we’ve all had the same revelation from hearing Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan over and over again every place we go, but no one can say exactly what it is. Here, try: Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan Lindsay Lohan did you get it?


~

“But Father, I think you’re forgetting something crucial. I think you’re forgetting that there are some kids who . . . Or, forgetting that actually some kids can . . . Father, do you really not know what I’m trying to say!”

Father tells me I have trouble separating fantasy from reality.

And there’s no arguing with Father. He knows the law, and the law is the law.


~

For me, things changed that one night at the frat house. I got so drunk. It was late and the rest of the brothers were mostly asleep. I couldn’t tell up from down. Everything was like being on the Tilt-a-whirl.

I whirled and crawled until I eventually found myself on my hands and knees in a small and fluorescent bathroom.

My God, I thought, this could be it. Male, 20, Found Choked to Death on His Own Vomit in Zeta Bathroom. Poor Mother and Father; I thought of them seeing me like this, on my hands and knees, so very close to death. Next to the toilet was a good, tall stack of Playboys. I barely had the strength to lift my head to the bowl and rest it on the cool white porcelain where the asses of my brothers, dear God, had lain before me. It was then that I heard God speaking to me. He laughed hysterically from His gut like a frat brother. He wanted to see what was going to happen to me next. I felt putrefied and holy, and on the cover of the Playboy next to my weary head was none other than Lindsay Lohan. She was dressed as Marilyn Monroe but unmistakable.


~

The summer after that she appeared again. Or her likeness did. It was in A&P this time on a frozen hamburger patty. An old lady paranoid about expired meat discovered her. I usually don’t fall for this kind of thing but, I had to admit, the resemblance was uncanny.

All the news channels showed up to the supermarket and on one station you could see Mother in the background, holding up her “The Children are Our Future” signs. Mother, Father and I watched it together that night on the TV in the living room. I stayed silent but my heart broke. I knew they would get it all misconstrued on the news, thinking of her wrongly, grossly, lingering on the meat.


~

I couldn’t extract from my mind Father’s picture: Fat, hairy Elvis, bloated and blitzed, slumped over on a toilet in the bathroom like a horny gorilla. I know Father was trying to make a point, but I think he missed the bigger one. Doesn’t he know the bathroom is where we go to stay white and pure and holy? That it’s where all the shit and junk gets flushed away and the filth gets washed off and sent down the drain forever? If not for the bathroom, we would always be filthy; if not for the infinite entanglement of subterranean pipes that lead somewhere too terrible to even imagine, all of our shit and trash and remainder would build up in the streets. The horrible stench would come in through our nostrils, making it a terror just to take a walk in the park. We ought to love the bathroom, but instead Mother and Father pretend like it only exists to teach a lesson. They pretend like we were always clean, always white and always pure.


~

After college, the first girl I took on a date was named Lindsay Lohan. It was a weird coincidence. I met her when she was counting flower petals in a vast and staticky field. I wanted so badly to impress her. I brought her to a bar in the city with low ceilings and unisex bathrooms that I had heard the real Lindsay Lohan comes to when she’s in town.

The bar was dark and loud. Everyone there was a rich, skinny white girl and they were all named Lindsay Lohan. I had to shout to Lindsay across the table. It was like I was having a conversation with myself. I sounded dumber than normal.

“She’s like the logical outcome all these things! Privileged Youth and Free Markets!”

“No regulation! Exceptionalism! You know.”

“Oh, by privileged youth? Oh, just that like, well you know how in some countries, like say China, they privilege their elders? Well, here, in America, I think we privilege our children! They’re our future after all. And it’s just kind of funny because none of them understand that Lindsay Lohan, your namesake ha ha, is actually like the emblem of everything they hold dear, everything that makes America great and that—”

But Lindsay Lohan wasn’t really listening. It was very loud and I guess it might have been weird to hear, like I was talking about her or something. Instead, she watched a fashion show that was being projected on the wall behind me. She fingered the stem of her wine glass and rubbed at her nostrils. She excused herself for the bathroom. I watched her all the way across the bar and then down a staircase. Everything in the bar looked expensive and pearly white, like the gates of heaven or Lindsay’s underwear (it’s more than shameful, but she was immodest stepping out of the car earlier and, knowing their value, I snapped some upskirts for a checkout aisle magazine).

When Lindsay came back from the bathroom, her purse was on her shoulder. I thought I must have blown it. She sat back down and started tapping on the table and looking for a waiter. Then, to my great amazement, she leaned in and asked if I wanted to get out of here.

“To where?” I said.

“We can’t go back to my place,” she said.

“Why?” I asked.

“We’ll be swarmed by paparazzi.”

This stumped me.

“Wait, but . . . ”

“How’s your place?”

I think of Mother and Father. She read either my face or my mind.

“It’s fine,” she said. “Parents love me. I’m a child star. They love that. Mothers especially.”


~

In my bedroom, she stands in front of me, stark and sprightly, and tells me to take off my shoes. With clothes on she’s good, but naked she is a vision. And once again I feel holy and tormented. “Lindsay,” I say. She walks towards me in waves, serpentine. At her center, the burning bush, a rocket of red glare, but my heart had been hardened. I tell her this. “Lindsay,” I say, “my heart is hard hard hard.”


~

In the morning, Father brings his guns out to the backyard but today he only wants to check on his grape vines. He tells me to come outside with him.

“Did they bear fruit?” I say.

“Shut up,” he says.

He bends down and pats the soil. He looks disappointed.

He says, “I asked for grapes and I got wild grapes.”

He picks four grapes off the vine and holds them under my nostrils. Even though he’s a lawyer, Father’s hands are workman’s hands, big, leathery and deeply callused. The grapes have a noxious smell to them.

“These don’t seem right,” I say.

And Father says, “It’s all wrong. But tell me, son, what more could I have done for my vine? I planted and tended for grapes, but I got wild grapes. What more could I have done?” His stare weakens me and I think of Lindsay’s naked body. I burn with shame. Father shakes his head, that constant pendulum of disappointment.

“Go clean yourself,” he says.


~

Here’s a list of people who died in the bathroom, presumably, to stay clean forever: Lenny Bruce, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe. And, I should warn you—but perhaps you’ve already guessed—that before we’re through I’ll have one more name to add.


~

Weeks go by and I don’t see or hear from her.

I think I must have done something wrong.

I spend my days shooting squirrels with my shiny new revolver, reading the tabloids and waiting for Lindsay. Outside are hot July days. It hasn’t rained in some time. I’m careful to step over Father’s newly planted grape vines when I go out. They’re in desperate need of water. Everything is dried up.

I wait by my phone. Nothing. I sit by my phone. Nothing.

I buy tabloids and magazines because they’re like postcards to me. I’m not interested in surveillance, I’d just like to know what she’s up to from time to time. Lindsay Lohan Falls Down at NYC Bar. Lindsay Lohan Has Wardrobe Malfunction Outside LA Nightclub. Lindsay Lohan Drunk Behind the Wheel in Azerbaijan. I miss her so much and I wish she’d come back. I wait by my phone. Nothing.


~

Then, after weeks of silence, something happened. Something terrible, then something beautiful. I go to the grocery store to pick up another postcard from the checkout aisle and when I get there I’m struck with a horrible pang of guilt and shame. On the cover of the newest issue is the picture I took and sold. The one of Lindsay getting out of the car, legs splayed, her pearly white gates visible.

The headline reads: Lindsay Lohan Gives Us a Peek at Heaven.

I feel sick to my stomach. Is this why she hasn’t returned? Does she know I’ve forsaken her? And for what? So, I could buy my shiny new revolver to shoot squirrels with?

Well, I ran home in tears, tore upstairs to my bedroom, grabbed that shining awful hunk of metal and took it right out to the dumpster and flung it inside.

I’m sorry, Lindsay, I repent!

I won’t ever let it happen again! Please, please forgive me! I love you more than you know! I’m on my knees! I’m begging you! Please!

Then, I shit you not: my phone rings.


~

We meet at the same bar as last time. This time, it’s nowhere near as loud or crowded. We sit at small, dark table in the back corner and Lindsay seems distracted, or maybe hurt. I do what I can to lift her spirit.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “It’s nothing. I’m just tired. I flew back from Tokyo last night.”

“I thought you were in Ibiza?” I say.

“I was.”

“You don’t trust me anymore, Lindsay. I’ve broken our trust.”

“That isn’t true,” she said. “I forgive you. I understand. Everyone makes mistakes.”

“No. I’m awful. I’m the worst kind of person. How could you ever trust someone like me again?”

She smiles softly.

“Let me show you.” She takes out her phone and presses buttons. Then my phone buzzes with the message she sent. It’s a picture. Before I can open it, she says, “Keep it. It’ll prove that I trust you. Anyone can make a mistake.”

I smile at her and open the picture. When I do, the dark little spot where we’re sitting becomes instantly bright. The glow from the picture on my phone is extraordinary and envelops my entire person. Everyone else in the bar looks over to see what is making such magnificently warm and golden rays. The entire place becomes lighted, and lighter. At the bar, one woman starts weeping for joy. Across the room, a man lays down on the floor, ecstatic, and decides he believes there is goodness in the sublime and sublimity in the good. The bartender begins juggling jars of green olives and Maraschino cherries. There are something like four marriage proposals. Everyone is overcome by the glow, but especially me, being the one closest and the one who opened Lindsay’s picture on his phone.

Then, I close the picture, and everything goes back to normal. I sit there for a minute, stunned.

Lindsay bites her lip shyly. “See, I trust you. It’s okay. It’s really okay.”

I don’t know what to say.

“Come,” she says. “Follow me to the bathroom. But be discreet. I just got back from Majorca and I brought us a goody bag.”


~

Lindsay sets out the lines on the toilet bowl. She goes about it in the typical fashion. The bathroom, the razor to cut, the rolled up hundred. She swoops, snorts a line, comes back up and rubs at her nostrils.

“Here,” she says, handing me the hundred. “Go ahead. It’s good. It’s pure.”

The stall is small, and I as a maneuver around her and in front of the toilet bowl our midsections touch and, for a moment, I feel like I’m all waist, all center. Maybe that’s why Lindsay and I get along so well. We’re both largely waists.

I swoop, snort and come back up.

I can tell right away something is wrong.

I’m back on the Tilt-a-whirl.

“Jesus, Lindsay, God.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I’m not feeling so great either.”

Fade in, she’s there.

Fade out, she’s gone.

Fade in, I’m on my hands and knees again, in front of the toilet again, but no one’s talking to me now. Does God no longer find me amusing? Does He care anymore what happens to me next? Fade out.

Fade in, there’s Mother and Father standing above my kneeling body, my arms wrapped around the toilet. Mother is crying and talking about the Future; Father has his arms crossed and is talking about Exceptions.

Fade out.


~

I woke up in the middle of the night with an extreme need to pee. I didn’t know how I got back home, but I couldn’t imagine Mother or Father would be happy with me in the morning. Father asked for grapes; what more could he have done? My headache was severe. There was something dripping in my throat. I got out of bed and tiptoed to the bathroom down the hall, careful not to make any noise.

My eyes hurt and hadn’t yet adjusted to the dark. From the bathroom came a warm glow. Someone left the light on. I moved quicker now to the door, and when I reached it I was struck with terror.

There was Father, slumped over the toilet seat, his one hand holding up a magazine, the other working furiously between his legs. Transfixed and in horror, I stared for longer than I should have. Father’s cheeks were red and the whites in his eyes were showing. Sweat lined his forehead and his hairline looked damp. In this moment, he was a terrible, grunting animal. I gasped and slammed shut the bathroom door.

The image was terrible, but what brought me to my knees was the magazine he held. It was a Playboy. I can barely get out the words: The one with Lindsay . . . His own daughter! I began to feel nauseous and lightheaded and I stumbled to my room and lay down. Slowly, the blood rushed from my head and I passed out on my bed.

Now I can add the other name to my list. Not a death in the one sense, but it felt real to me.

The name is Father.


~

In the morning when I come downstairs, the framed and signed Elvis picture is sitting on the living room table waiting for me. Mother and Father are sitting around it and Mother is weeping. Father shakes his head.

“The punishment is going to be severe and ongoing,” he says.

“I know,” I say.

“Give me your phone,” he says.

“I know,” I say.

“Give it to me. The picture.”

“Please don’t,” I say.

“I have buyers on the line right now. This is your own fault.”

“I know,” I say. “But I can’t forsake her like this again.”

He stared down at me.

“You know what this will do to her right? They’ll throw her in prison!”

“I don’t care,” he says.

Again, I sin and she takes the rap.


~

Lindsay Lohan Arrested on DUI Charge After Crash. Lindsay Lohan Arrested for DUI—Again. Lindsay Lohan Begins Community Service. Lindsay Lohan Checks In and Out of Jail. Lindsay Lohan Checks Into Rehab. Lindsay Lohan Probation Revoked, Arrest Warrant Issued. Lindsay Lohan Sent Back to Rehab, Not Jail. Lindsay Lohan Sentenced to 120 Days in Jail. Lindsay Lohan Reports to Jail, Released Hours Later.

Etc. etc.

The headlines tell a story, but only part of it.


~

All day I lay in bed thinking about what harm and pain I’ve caused her. The picture is everywhere now. It’s circulated. They try to obscure it with black bars and blurriness, but you’d have to be an idiot not to know. My phone is on the nightstand next to my bed. I check it three times to make sure it’s plugged in and turned on. Finally, I fall asleep.

In the middle of the night, the phone rings. The number is unknown, but I know. I pick up and let her talk. She asks first if this was my plan all along. It wasn’t, I say. I swear to you. She says she’s disappointed, but not mad. She tells me she loves me still. I say I’m sorry, my voice weepy and sincere, and she forgives me. She says no one’s perfect, not even her. I start to protest this, but she stops me. I say, is this your one phone call? She says, yes. Thank you. You’re welcome. She tells me that she has to go now, that she’s tied up with a few things, not least of which, handcuffs. I thank her again for everything. She tells me don’t even think about it. She says that she’s been through this routine before, and a lot worse, and everything will be fine, like it always is. She’ll get out of it somehow.

Before she hangs up, I can hear her smile breaking and all my senses start to unravel.


~

I woke in the morning, badly hung over, to a terrible stench.

When I opened my eyes I was not lying on my bed in my bedroom, but on a giant heap of trash somewhere outside. I sat up slowly, in disbelief. All around me were huge piles of stinking, shining garbage. I rubbed at my eyes, but it was no dream.

What did I do last night?

With effort, I lifted my hand to block out the day’s brightness so I could look around. Where I appeared to be was on a rectangular plot of pure trash, about a hundred feet long, surrounded on all sides by still, grayish water. It resembled a small island made only of trash.

My God, I thought. This is a trash barge. A garbage boat.

I began to feel nauseous. Everything around me smelled putrid. When I inhaled I felt the stench enter through my nostrils, enlivening me and sickening me. I tried my best to hold my breath.

Between two nearby garbage piles I could make out a figure moseying around, inspecting the trash, or something.

It was Lindsay, of course.

She looked fresh, like she’d been awake for hours. She looked comfortable. She stepped delicately between torn tires, oozing bags, scraps of metal and old phone books. Some of the stinking heaps around us must have gone fifteen, twenty feet high. There was a terrible pounding between my eyes. Lindsay picked the tabs off some dirty cans like they were flower petals.


~

The large barge barely moves in the murky water. In fact, I get the sense that we aren’t moving at all. A fog has settled. The wind is light and I feel like death. I wish I had water and some aspirin. Lying still amongst the garbage, I think of that old joke, I once knew a man who was so unlucky that aspirin gave him headaches. Lindsay looks fine to me though. She’s wearing a long, floral sundress. She has on cherry-colored, heart-shaped sunglasses. I can only hold my breath for so long.

Now Lindsay’s hopping between the torn tires, skipping and playing hopscotch with them, and grinning. She’s holding a red balloon too that she must have found somewhere. Through the fog the red balloon looks like a distant emergency light. She sees that I’m awake and skips over.

“They flushed us out!” she shrieks but then breaks down into giggles.

I don’t know how to take this.

“Relax,” she says. “I’m only kidding. I just needed to get off the grid for a little.”

“Lindsay,” I say. My mouth is dry and my throat is sore. “How . . . Where are we? How did we get here?”

“I needed to get somewhere they couldn’t find me.”

“Paparazzi?”

She lifts her dress a little and shows me her new ankle monitor.

“Oh.”

She smiles at me more, but says nothing.

“How did we get here?” I say.

“They’ll never think to look here. They prefer not to think of it at all. Look at what I found.”

She hands me her red balloon.

“But where are we?”

“Oh, I don’t really know. We’re somewhere on the water. I found a sledgehammer in one of the piles and disconnected us from the tugboat. The tugboat didn’t seem to notice. That was hours ago, I think. Now we’re just here floating here, somewhere on the water.”

I squinted through the fog to try to make out a tugboat in the distance. I watched for movement, for anything, but everything was perfectly still. I let go of my breath and gulped the air.

“It smells terrible.”

“You’ll get used to it,” she says. “Don’t be a baby.”

Next to where I’m sitting, I notice something shiny in a mound of garbage. I reach in and, by some luck, pull out my revolver. The very one I threw in the dumpster not too long ago. There are many like it, I’m sure, but this one is undoubtedly mine. Engraved on the side are my initials. I hold it in my palm as if to weigh it. I try to fire shots in the sky—hoping the tugboat or anyone would see or hear—but there are no bullets in the chamber. So I throw it in the water and watch the circles expand until they disappear.

“Do you not like it here?”

“Mother and Father are going to kill me. I’m covered in filth.”

Lindsay shrugs. Then she tries to do a handstand, but topples over clumsily. She picks up some old newspapers and throws them up in the air, spinning in circles as the dirty old pages fall down lightly around her. She laughs with glee. She takes off her slippers and stands at the edge of the barge.

Meanwhile, I’m pinching my nose and trying my best to breathe out through my mouth.

“Everything is beautiful and everything is lovely,” she says. “We’re on Mars. We’re in Eden. But trust me, and take my word for it, do not eat anything here!”

And with that she dives, perfect and elegant, into the water.

I snort and shake my head. How typical. I wait for her to come back up, though she doesn’t.

“Lindsay?” I called out. “Lindsay?”

“Lindsay?”

But she was gone.


~

In one of the garbage heaps there’s a stack of torn up old newspapers. Some go back to 1962. Rifling through them, I find one that arrests me. It shouldn’t I guess, but nonetheless. It’s from July of last year. On the cover, there’s a picture of Lindsay. I pick it up out of the trash and read the headline. “Lindsay Lohan, Found in Ditch Outside Washington, Still Breathing.”

Of course, now all the kids think they’re Lindsay Lohan.

But you know who I mean.

The real Lindsay.

She’s ubiquitous. She persists. She’s always somehow still breathing. She’s always somehow still there. I think she might be immortal. I really think she might live forever.


~

I was left alone amongst the trash, with no oars, no tugboats, and with an interminable hangover of sorts. The stench was all over me now but I could only hold my breath for so long. Eventually, I stopped noticing it.

I needed her to return.

I decided to sit and wait at the edge of the barge. The water was calm and quiet, but with the fog I couldn’t see a thing in any direction. I took off my shoes and dipped my feet in. I watched the water and rubbed at my aching temples. Everything was perfectly still.

I needed Lindsay to return.

I believed in her.

And I knew my faith would be rewarded.

I waited and waited.  

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