Slurping Down Sedgwick

“We moved to the East Side,” said Rob, “to one of the greatest townhouses in New York City: 121 East 73rd Street. I remember saying to my mom, ‘What do we need all this space for? You could house 30 black families in this place, this is stupid.’ Look, I’m a Jewish, WASP kid who grew up in New York in the ’60s …. If you’re from New York, from that era, you want to help people out. So we lived in this house that was five floors, double the size of any normal townhouse. And it’s crazy. Then we started getting fucked up.”

The fifth floor was for the kids. Rob said he could go a week, easy, without crossing paths with his parents. And he found he liked to party. “I started around 16, my brother and sister started earlier,” he said. “Every kid in school was getting high, doing quaaludes, tripping, drinking. I’d show up to school drunk and chew parsley to stave off the scent.”

“It was the most amazing apartment you’ve ever seen, and there were Pollocks and Rothkos all over the walls,” said Jordan. “There’d be drinking and cocaine and smoking weed, as we could afford it.”

It took Rob three schools to graduate high school. He spent his last two years at the Dwight School, where he won the writing contest; senior year, he was put on probation for cheating on a grammar test. He got into Bennington College and signed up for a creative writing class. “I got killed,” he said of his first experience reading before the class. “I’m sure it was some Manhattanite pretentious piece of shit.”

Out with the writing, in with the ladies. “[Bennington] was 400 women and 200 guys—and 100 of those guys were gay. You had to really be an idiot if you didn’t do really well,” he said. “And they were all dancers, so I developed this huge dancer fetish.”

Straight out of college he got a gig on the soap Another World, playing an obnoxious rich kid. A few years later, in 1988, he was having trouble making ends meet. His grandfather let him stay at the vacant apartment on West 84th Street. Rob noticed his friend Jordan seemed to be living pretty well, thanks to a brisk marijuana trade. Rob suggested they use the apartment to unload, store and re-bag the pot. Jordan agreed to pay him $3,000 per shipment. “I got a perverse little kick out of it,” said Jordan. “Because it was this wealthy family and this huge apartment in a nice old prewar building.”

“I affectionately called Rob ‘the Retarded Kennedy,’” added Jordan. “I knew that he would never rip me off, but I also knew that if the shit hit the fan, he would fold.”

After they got busted, Rob said, the next five years were the worst of his life. He would drink vodka at home alone.

“I don’t want to bore everyone with sobriety stories,” he said, “but it was just, like, a lot of embarrassing stuff and stupid. I’d call people on the phone late at night and not know what I was doing.”

“Oh, yeah, the drunk years?” said Jordan. “He’d do his ritual, which had to be meticulous. He’d work out like a horse, eat a great dinner, and then he’d start to drink and he’d shut off all communication. I’d call him and he’d say, ‘No, I gotta go.’ He’d started using these 900 sex jerk-off lines, and what he’d end up doing—because he’d get horrified by seeing these $1,200 bills—is right when he’d begin drinking, when he was still his normal self, he’d take a role of duct tape, and duct tape the phone together, to try and prevent himself from picking it up and actually using it. And then he’d wake up in the morning, and he see that the duct tape had been ripped open and he’d be horrified.”

“It’s true,” Mr. Sedgwick said, shaking his head. “I was drunk and lonely. I didn’t know what I was doing.”

In October 1995, Mr. Sedgwick got sober, and “life begins,” he said. Thirteen years later, the life of an actor had begun to feel a bit like being stuck inside a bottle. In addition to the vegan ice cream store, he’s writing a memoir, “working title, Bob Goes to Jail.”

“I’m not going to lie to you, I wrote the book to make money, I did the store to make money,” Rob said. “You know, I want a wife and kids, I want to own my own apartment.”

“It definitely hits a lot of the commercial elements,” said his agent, Christopher Schelling of the manuscript. “There’s the drugs and sex and the celebrity, but he really pulls it together in a beautiful way. He’s a really excellent writer, and I don’t know if he told you, but there’s also an incredible love story with this dog, that’s the first thing that drew me in.”

Tybalt?

“Yes.”

smorgan@observer.com