|IlIustration by Mitch Handsone|
Baconbone spent the night standing around, staring at things. He went from room to room, just looking at whatever was there, without judgment: just things, in someone else’s house. Eventually he went out on the patio and applied the same attention to the sky. An unremarkable moon, not quite half full, cast a sullen, pewtery glaze through the veil of clouds and sycamores and onto the Dickson estate’s south lawn. Everything there was gray, nothing black or white, and Baconbone watched it until he lost track of time and forgot who he was, which was all he’d wanted to do.
I’d spent the same night bartending and absorbing Lizz Winstead, Larry Wilmore, Freds Stoller and Greenlee, and Jeff Cesario at Igby’s Comedy Cabaret, returning to find Baconbone seated at the Dicksons’ kitchen table, halfway through a bottle of red wine and a William Seward Hall novel. Said he’d just come in from standing on the patio, staring off into space for a very long time. “Anytime a nonsmoker stands around doing nothing, just staring off,” Baconbone said, “people think he’s lost his mind. But give that man a cigarette, suddenly he’s sane.”
“Yes,” I said. “A glass of wine does sound good.” I found something resembling stemware and filled it with something resembling $3 Bordeaux from Trader Joe’s. Good cheap stuff. Joined Baconbone at the table. “So how long were you out there, staring into space like a madman?” I asked.
“I don’t know. What time is it now?”
“Close to 1.”
“About four hours, then.”
“Sanity issues aside, that does sound like it was a nice little vacation.”
“It was perfect, man, is what it was,” said Baconbone. “Absolutely — even mathematically — exactly what I needed to do tonight. More wine?”
During my fourth month as the Dicksons’ court jester, I was informed by one of the governors that Darrell Jayne Baconbone was to be hired on as court composer, and during the fifth month he showed up. Baconbone was a friend of a friend, and we got along fine. He’d just returned to the States from a frustrating stay in London, working on an album of music that he’d spent six weeks recording but didn’t like. It just hadn’t quite come together, but he had to turn something in to the record company or he wouldn’t get paid.
We had cushy jobs. No paychecks, but still cushy: private bedrooms, semifree run of an enormous estate, free leftovers, a steady flow of interesting strangers. All I had to do to earn my keep was get depressed and write a terrible experimental teleplay during the day and mingle with but not sleep with the Dicksons and their friends at night. Baconbone had a similar deal: compose music at the kick-ass Steinway baby grand in the living room and drink beer and wine all day, and compose music at the kick-ass Steinway baby grand in the living room and drink beer and wine all night.
I had the option of several fine bedrooms but usually slept outdoors, in an oversize hammock on the second-floor balcony, so even though I worked nights in West L.A., I’d usually wake up with the sun. Baconbone got up early, too, and we’d often walk or drive to Café Rialto, a mile or so away. I’d have coffee and whine about shit, and Baconbone would have beer and tell me about his life, which had been about 30 years longer and more interesting than mine. That morning, for example, he revealed after just two beers that his son, Philip, had decided to join the Army despite being a conscientious objector.
“How does that work — you shoot at people, but with blanks?”
“I have no idea,” Baconbone frowned. “But I will have another beer.”
In retrospect, Baconbone agreed with me that when his ex-wife, Paula, called from the Miracle Mile at 1 a.m. to interrupt our more wine to say, “Your son just shot himself,” it would have been kind of her to offer up a few more details. For example, if she’d mentioned where he’d shot himself (in the leg), why (accident, fucking around), with what (a BB gun) and what his condition was now (beside her, drinking lemonade and watching The Rockford Files), Baconbone wouldn’t have assumed (as any reasonable person might after hearing only the phrase Your son just shot himself) that his son had committed suicide.
“Jesus” was all I could whisper and my head was all I could shake after Baconbone returned at 5 a.m. and told me these details of Philip Baconbone’s first-ever suicide. I’d been pretty freaked out by the phone call as well; stayed up watching television in the kitchen, eating fried Spam sandwiches and drinking Daves, the scotch-blended-with-ice-and-a-dash-of-crème-de-cacao favorites of the house, named after the owner of the estate, Dave Dickson. “Un-,” I added, “fuckingbelievable.”
I poured Baconbone a drink and freshened mine, and we went out onto the patio to see if the sky was still worth staring at.
“So . . .,” I said, 20 silent minutes later. “Uh . . . was it . . . I don’t mean to be . . . but, you know, did Philip maybe have . . . was it definitely an accident?”
“That’s what the boy said.”
“I mean, I know that I don’t know him very well, but with the whole Army-slash-conscientious-objector thing, you know . . . I just kind of wonder.”
“You mean like it was some kind of test?”
“Well, yeah. Like, ‘Be all you can be’ — be shot. I don’t know. A rehearsal.”
Baconbone nodded, as if this concept wasn’t as far-fetched and impolite as I’d thought it was as I finished and immediately regretted muttering it. He didn’t say anything, but he nodded.