I WAS AT a cocktail party. There was booming music and a balcony where people were kissing or smoking dope. Everyone else was stuffed into the living room, surrounding a large woman with pointy glasses and elaborate arm tattoos. She read trivia questions off of index cards. People shouted out answers. It made me uncomfortable, if only because there seemed to be nothing at stake except being correct. Which is not the same thing as being right. Also, there’s the whole thing about group cleverness. Personally, I prefer to dazzle in gatherings of three or less. Being in the midst of too many witty and charming types always makes me feel like I’m pressed up against the glass just before Walmart opens for the nine-dollar laptop sale.
“What’s samizdat?” the hostess asked.
“Self-published dissidence!” someone yelled.
Backs were slapped, drinks were poured and then spilled.
“What’s the capital of Missouri?
“Jefferson City!” said a girl in a red velvet dress.
Someone, presumably her boyfriend, kissed her deeply.
I stood at the edge of the room, as usual feeling a mixture of disdain and admiration (possibly even love) for people who are easily able to join in, to offer up, to yell out, to enjoy themselves so earnestly and unselfconsciously.
No doubt they regarded me, mute and on their periphery, as someone’s uninvited cousin, jangling a pocket full of roofies.
“Who wrote King Rat?”
“What’s Dr. Seuss’s real name?”
A pecking order developed. Those who supplied capitals or historical dates congregated by the hummus. Those who knew that Shining Star was Madonna’s first UK single, or that The Miz was the first winner of Real World vs. Road Rules, hung out by the Dos Equis. A duo with a grip on eighteenth-century Russian poetry sniffed disdainfully at the assorted cheeses, wondering aloud why there was no absinthe. There were pockets of supporters, islands of incorrectness, arguments about source material. Tension built. The room became collectively sweaty, flushed, and drunk.
“What is the Fibonacci sequence?”
“A set of numbers that defines the Golden Ratio!”
“Yes, but what are the actual numbers?”
“Zero, one, one, two, three, five…”
I had the wholly unoriginal thought that there was a cave-brain element to the need to display random factual recall. Neanderthal chieftains, for instance, were probably often quizzed on poisonous root shapes or the twelve steps of fire-making. Although in their case, providing the wrong answer likely meant being clubbed behind the ear with their predecessor’s jawbone.
“Who can name the most actors from Blade Runner?”
The crowd stared at the ceiling, mentally tabulating their casts. For a minute, no one said anything, the ghost of Philip Dick hanging over the room.
Then a guy in the corner yelled that he could name three actors.
A girl with pig-tails and a BAUHAUS shirt said she could name four.
Someone else said five.
A tall skinny guy in a biking outfit (matching blue Cinzano, bulge compression shorts, cap, water bottle holder) said he could name eight actors.
A big ooh! Reverberated around the room. The spliff rollers and spit swappers came in from the balcony. Everyone was ready to concede. Eight was ridiculous. Eight was impossible, even from as slam dunk a star-filled epic as The Godfather. Or Steel Magnolias. For a second I considered going downstairs and hailing a taxi. I was tired. I wanted to be home in bed. With a book and a glass of terrible Merlot. But the part of myself that hates the part of myself that goes downstairs and hails a taxi intervened.
I cleared my throat and shouldered to the middle of the room.
“I can name nine.”
A huge cheer went up. Men slapped my back. Women raised up in their pumps to get a peek. The hostess opened IMDB on her iPhone, motioned for quiet, and then nodded as if to say have at it, sir.
Or maybe not a fucking chance.
I clinked the ice in my drink. A fresh one came almost immediately.
Well, Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer were obvious. When I named them, everyone counted along.
Sean Young as the replicant love interest was pretty hard to forget, or, more accurately, easy to remember.
Darryl Hannah as Pris, the deadly thigh/neck squeezer made four.
Next came the stripper Zhora, who’d made an indelible impression on my fourteen year-old masturbator’s mind.
I spent a lot of time thinking about those snake scales, so it seemed only fair that I remembered her name, although she had a tiny part in the movie.
The party seemed to deflate. Who the fuck was Joanna Cassidy? They doubted my answer en masse.
The hostess pressed some buttons, sighed dramatically.
There was a huge cheer. “Five!”
A young Edward James Olmos played Harrison Ford’s sketchy cop buddy, the guy who made origami. I was pretty sure his character’s name was Gaff.
“Ed Olmos,” I said.
People began to close in. Someone squeezed my ass. Someone got me a new drink. It was hard to breathe. Harder to think. I was fairly sure M. Emmet Walsh played the racist Lieutenant who referred to replicants as “skin jobs,” and even though I could see him clearly in my head in any number of movies, from Blood Simple to Silkwood, I frequently got his name mixed up with J.T. Walsh’s, another great character actor who looked entirely different but not entirely dissimilar. They both regularly played the exact same kinds of roles– generally speaking, scumbags you like despite yourself.
Emmet or J.T.?
J.T. or Emmet?
I went with Emmet.
The hostess looked at her IPod and nodded.
“Seven!” The crowd yelled.
I was sure that Brion James played Leon, the big dumb muscle, mostly because I loved him in Steel Dawn, a hilariously awful 80’s Swayze vehicle that was a stone-cold lawsuit-worthy rip off of The Road Warrior, in which Swayze plays a pretty man’s Mel Gibson just trying to hold it together out in the dystopic desert.
Brion James plays the dumb muscle in that one too, I believe as the character “Tark.” Apparently Brion’s characters never rated names with more than four letters, but he Tarked his way through Steel Dawn with panache, and I’d always liked him.
People were getting delirious. A tall girl kept saying “eight eight eight” over and over, like a talisman. For a second I had that big-time athlete feeling, the one where you get some fractional inkling of what it might be like to come up to the plate in the ninth with the game on the line, flashes popping, twenty million fans squeezing beers between their legs, just back from commercial.
Triple down the line, accolades, new contract, free drinks, hotel sex.
Boos, benched, cut, sent down to the minors, branded a loser, fist and a magazine.
The room waited in anticipation.
“Shouldn’t there be a time limit?” asked the guy in the bike outfit, clicking the stopwatch function on his phone.
“Yeah,” said the guy who bid seven, announcing “two minutes!”
I scanned through my frontal lobe for the name of the guy who plays the head of the Tyrell Corporation, who (perfectly cast) looks like a cross between Robert Evans and some sort of Italian Riviera hustler. I knew he also played Lloyd the bartender in The Shining.
I could see him so clearly, but just couldn’t pull off his name. It was there but it wasn’t there. I didn’t have time to try and excavate it.
I drained my whiskey, put the glass down, and rubbed my temples. There was Harrison Ford’s partner, who was killed by Leon while giving him the Voight-Kamft test, which, among other things, asked if you saw a tortoise on its back in the sun, would you stop to turn it over? “What’s a tortoise?” asks Leon. “Know what a turtle is?” unnamed actor says, then exhales smoke with pure derision. “Same thing.”
No way I knew who that guy was. I could see his face and his cigarette and his Armani suit, but his name was a total zero.
My only other chance was the little dude who played the inventor J.F. Sebastian, who everyone at the party had seen numerous times on Deadwood and True Blood, whose Huck Finn haircut always frames his beautifully ruined face.
His first name was William. I was sure of it.
Even though J.F. Sebastian doesn’t look entirely different from Bill Sadler, he’s not Bill Sadler.
In Blade Runner, the character J.F. Sebastian is an inventor. He’s a lonely guy who makes tiny robotic people that he wistfully claims “are my friends.” When he comes home they walk to the door in their halting way and say “home again, home again, dickity dick!” right before Rutger Hauer kills the innocent savant J.F., for no other reason than sheer frustration that Sebastian does not hold the secrets of replicant mortality.
I waited for four seconds. And then said:
The place went absolutely batshit.
I mean it was sheer bedlam.