"That's good," I say. "I can deal."
"She's great," he says. "She's very cool."
Damien stops smiling, motions to the bartender for another drink. "How's Alison?"
"She's fine," I say evenly. "She's really into PETA. This People for the Ethical Treatment of... oh shit, whatever."
"How unpredictable she is," Damien says. "How, er, slippery," he adds. "I guess people really do change, huh?"
After a careful pause, I venture, "What do you mean?"
"Well, you've become quite the clean-cut, athletic go-getter."
"Not really," I say. "You're just looking at the surface."
"There's something else?" he asks. "Just kidding," he adds desultorily.
"There's no swimsuit competition, dude," I warn.
"And I just got a bikini wax?" He lifts his arms, sarcastic.
"No hard feelings?" I ask genuinely.
"No feelings at all, man."
I stare at Damien with admiration.
"I'm going to the Fuji Rock Festival," Damien says when I start listening again. "I'll be back next week."
"Will you call me?"
"What do you think?"
I don't bother answering.
"Hey, who's this Mr. Leisure everyone's talking about?" Damien asks.
Bill, an agent from CAA, calls to let me know that I have "won" the role of Ohman in the movie Flatliners II. I'm in a new apartment, wearing a conservative Prada suit, on my way out to make an appearance at a party that I have no desire to attend, and I lock onto a certain tone of jadedness that Bill seems to feed off of.
"Tell me what else is going on, Bill," I say. "While I'm brushing my hair."
"I'm trying to develop interest in a script about a Jewish boy who makes a valiant attempt to celebrate his bar mitzvah under an oppressive Nazi regime."
"Your thoughts on the script?" I sigh.
"My thoughts? No third act. My thoughts? Too much farting."
Silence while I continue slicking my hair back.
"So Victor," Bill starts slyly. "What do you think?"
"Flatliners II," he screams, and then, after catching his breath, adds in a very small voice, "I'm sorry."
"Far out," I'm saying. "Baby, that's so cool," I'm saying.
"This whole new look, Victor, is really paying off."
"People tell me it's exceedingly hip," I concede.
"You must have really studied all those old Madonna videos."
"I think you are controlling the zeitgeist," Bill says. "I think you are in the driver's seat."
"People have commented that I'm near the wheel, Bill."
"People are paying attention, that's why," Bill says. "People love repentance."
A small pause as I study myself in a mirror.
"Is that what I'm doing, Bill?" I ask. "Repenting?"
"You're pulling a Bowie," Bill says. "And certain people are responding. It's called reinventing yourself. It's a word. It's in the dictionary."
"What are you trying to say to me, Bill?"
"I am fielding offers for Victor Johnson," Bill says. "And I am proud to be fielding offers for Victor Johnson."
A pause. "Bill... I don't think..." I stop, figure out a way to break the news. "I'm not... That's not me."
"What do you mean? Who am I talking to?" Bill asks in a rush, and then, in a low, whispery voice, he asks, "This isn't Dagby, is it?" I can almost hear him shuddering over the line.
"Dagby?" I ask. "No, this isn't Dagby. Bill, listen, I'm going to school now and-"
"But that's just a publicity stunt, I assume," Bill yawns. "Hmm?"
Pause. "Uh, no, Bill. It's not a publicity stunt."
"Stop, in the name of love, before you break my heart," Bill says. "Just give me a high-pitched warning scream when you read lines like that to me again."
"It's not a line, Bill," I say. "I'm in law school now and I don't want to do the movie."
"You've been offered the role of an astronaut who helps save the world in Space Cadets-which is going to be directed by Mr. Will Smith, thank you very much. You will have four Hasbro action-figure dolls coming out by next Christmas and I will make sure that they are totally intact, genitalia-wise." Bill veers into an endless spasm of coughing and then he croaks, "If you know what I mean."