They wore absurd pompadours and giant paisleys. They were many-chinned and Naugahyde-skinned. Milling around Radio City, some of them looked like somebody there owed them money, and some like they were afraid of being served with court papers. They were drunk, loud and hungry, and they held discounted tickets entitling them to a privileged glimpse of a chunk of the wreck of Charlie Sheen.
Their hero had weeks ago stepped into the center ring by refusing one of the grander frauds of the Late American circus–the redemption racket that TV quietly borrowed from religion sometime in the waning decades of the 20th century. But the cunning Mr. Sheen floundered the moment the morning-show interviewers left his mansion, depriving him of their precious and practiced outrage.
He seemed to mistake himself for a tiger-blooded cultural revolutionary, and his devourers for followers. His U-Stream talk show was scattered and bizarre; his Funny or Die cooking show wasn’t funny at all. His Violent Torpedo of Truth tour was an opening-night disaster in Detroit, an ill-christened tabloid basket-case.
By the time Mr. Sheen washed up in Manhattan, he was all out of charm and flair, quite entirely down to freak appeal, the dark matter of Octomoms, Humanzees and casual Austrian cannibalism. But this stuff is no match for casual American cannibalism: The throng came to poke at his living corpse, to see if vodka would run from its side, if Mr. Sheen possessed any death-defying magic or was, more ideally, just an historically entertaining end-stage addict destined to self-destruct in some uniquely amusing way, ideally right before their eyes, within the next hour or so.
“Fuck Carnegie Hall!” one man yelled as Mr. Sheen walked onstage.
The modern Rome is self-sacking. The barbarian drew massive cheers and was soon on to greater hate-targets.
“Fuck Detroit!” bellowed the little Alaric next, and he was hailed mightily.
“Cocaine!” he boomed, a simian belch that evoked the whole Sheenian ideal of vice and impunity to bind all as one. Well, all except one.
“I quit cocaine,” said Mr. Sheen, and so things were rocky from the start between the man and his mob.
From the upper decks, the holders of $25 tickets booed sobriety. It diminished, after all, the chances of their hero dying unnaturally and hilariously right before their eyes.
In dark sunglasses, he sat at center stage, sating the dark appetite with Wallenda tales of empty sex with a pregnant Juarez hooker whose torso was marked with Caesarian scars, of flooding hotel rooms while cracked-out in Hong Kong, of hiding their beloved cocaine in his crotch on a humid day, then finding that his ball sweat had turned it to paste.
The nameless Everymook serving as interviewer mistook the mob for an audience and himself for James Lipton. An attempt to discuss the making of Wall Street triggered the first wave of heckling: “Boring! Boring! Boring!”
“Early showbiz memories, I imagine you have some pretty interesting stories over …”
“Anything in particular that stands out over the course of your showbiz …”
Mr. Sheen appealed to the mass mind’s palsied centers of identity: They’d boo his failure to contract gonorrhea before them, and he’d win them back with shared hatred of all bosses. Back and forth it went, boring and predictable and sad.
Mr. Sheen appeared to believe that his father had once actually killed a man named Kurtz in the Philippines, that he himself had suffered for the national honor and interest in distant lands under Oliver Stone: “I survived the fucking jungles of Platoon.”
“People wonder where all this shit came from,” he said. “I watched hot chicks for years swoon over my pop. He always had cash in his pockets, and he was always surrounded by hot chicks: ‘Let’s see: Hot chicks, cash in his pockets. Fuck exploring the arts. Fuck finding my craft.’”
But here he confused what people pay to see with what they are paid to listen to: Radio City wanted real sickness, not forced-catharsis. Soon the aisles moved with early-exiters.
Finally came the Trotting Out of the Goddesses, the live-in concubines so essential to the Sheen legend.
“Whattup, New York!” said the Goddess whose air of deathliness suggested shoplifting and landfills.
“New York’s my favorite city, love y’all!” said the Goddess whose air of doomedness suggested casual incest and fetal alcohol syndrome.
The y’all was the thing: This was no siren, they realized, no carnal wonder at all, only a hick who’d ridden a Greyhound to Hollywood. She was lower than even the holders of the cheapest tickets, and as such, according to the night’s primate code, must be devoured.
The boos grew deafening, and talk turned to death proper.
The non-Lipton asked if the crowd would like to hear Mr. Sheen’s Bucket List, and to the extent that 5,000 people can impatiently say, “Fine,” they did.
Mr. Sheen said he wanted to drive a cab dressed like Travis Bickle, to take people far from where they wanted to go and not care, to crash into the stock exchange, evoking antisocial darkness insofar as a multimillionaire can.
But talk of death is no substitute for death itself. And Mr. Sheen’s job was not to explore his own darkest appetites but to sate the mob’s.
More boredom, more booing.
Then Mr. Sheen said that before dying, he’d like to perform on a Friday night at Radio City Music Hall, which, over the past 54 minutes, in the most marginal and half-hearted sense imaginable, he’d done.
With that, the sick man took the dark people’s money, and was gone.