Hilly and I are pushing our luck. We’re not far from the gate at J.F.K., but our flight to Rome is boarding and the waitress at Chili’s has yet to serve us our snacks. Hilly’s working on a Pinot Grigio and I’m chasing a double Black Label and soda with a Sam Adams.
Hilly looks great as usual, which makes me look better. Her hair’s in a ponytail and she’s wearing a short-sleeve turtleneck, white jeans, tennis shoes.
The waitress sets down a chicken burger, nachos and fries. We eat and run. The good thing about being the last passengers to get on a plane is no waiting in line. The bad thing is, people look at you funny. But when you’re armed with Xanax and Ambien, that’s O.K.
Hilly claims the window seat.
HILLY: We’re next to the poopie bathroom!
Carol the Delta ticket agent had managed to pull strings and seat us next to each other by the emergency exit, so the stewardess lectures us about “exit-seat responsibilities.” We nod, suppress giggles, then Hilly looks alarmed: A man has darted into the bathroom.
HILLY [loudly]: He’s not supposed to be in there now. I’m sorry!
A steward knocks on the bathroom door. “I have to tell the captain and we’ll have to stop the plane!”
HILLY: We’re going to be delayed. Thanks, Mr. Acrylic Sweater! He-lo? After 9/11?
GEORGE: Shhhh. You’re going to get us delayed.
Chastened, the man returns to his seat four up from us, but Hilly won’t leave him alone.
HILLY: Fasten your frickin’ seat belt. Because it’s the law. It’s going to be some clown like you that gets us delayed! Guy thinks he’s a comedian. For the next seven hours I’m staring at the back of his head, thinking how much I hate him.
HILLY: I could be drinking free champagne in the business section, but I’m with Scoopie next to the poopie! Are we going to join the mile-high club?
GEORGE: I don’t think so.
HILLY: Not after Acrylic Sweater ruined the flight for everyone! Dirtbag. Georgie, we have to be on our best behavior, ’specially since we’re sitting on the exit row.
GEORGE: I know.
The engines gun, the plane starts moving, and Hilly starts scratching my head.
HILLY: Scratchy for Scoopie during liftoff until it’s time for cocktails.
Corpse Bride is the in-flight movie. We look through Vogue, Vanity Fair, debate fashion.
GEORGE: It’s worthless. It’s not even fun. It’s a silly business, and fashion people are ludicrous cretins.
HILLY: I work in fashion. Well, “luxury.” It’s a euphemism.
GEORGE: I take it back. I like fashion. But just wear a nice skirt and sweater, stockings, sensible 40’s-style shoes, not ridiculous slut shoes. And wear your hair like Gene Tierney or Barbara Stanwyck—that’s all a woman needs to do.
HILLY [scrutinizing actress Sienna Miller]: There’s no reason for her to be topless.
GEORGE: That Edie Sedgwick movie will suck donkey balls.
HILLY: She looks like she’s stinky, like B.O. Like our car driver today.
We hit a few bumps.
GEORGE: We’re going to crash.
HILLY: It’s air pockets; it’s absolutely nothing. They really shouldn’t be playing a scary Claymation movie.
She pulls out her good-luck pouch to make me feel better: a picture of me as a toddler, a Van Halen pin (which she fastens to my lapel) and a St. Christopher thing.
HILLY: He protects us.
GEORGE: I think I’m going to pop a half a Xannie. But you know how I got over my fear of flying? By not caring what happens. If the plane explodes, the plane explodes.
HILLY: Thanks. You don’t care if I die?
GEORGE: No, you’d use the flotation device and wash up on an island like in Cast Away and get rescued.
HILLY: I don’t want to. Stop it. It’s our anniversary. You can get my present in Rome. Everything’s cheaper there because—shhh—the Mafia back most Italian designers. I like Valentino.
She watches Corpse Bride. I read The Complete Fawlty Towers. We pat each other’s knees. More white wine for her, beer for me.
Hilly pulls out the toddler pic of me.
HILLY: You’re just a precious little Scoopie and you don’t know any better. You look like Damien in The Omen, but filled with goodness and kindness and love for animals.
We hit smooth air. I find my iPod and play her a Who song about a plane crash.
HILLY: Not funny.
GEORGE: But it has a happy ending. Playing a song like this is good luck—you’re warding off evil by facing your fear.
HILLY: Jokes like that aren’t funny after 9/11. I don’t appreciate it. If you get me another white wine, I might feel better. O.K.? You spearhead that project.
I fetch the wine. She guzzles and falls asleep.
My seat turns out to be very bad. There’s a permanent line to the bathroom. People chat, fidget, look straight at me while they wait. I listen to Stevie Wonder, Cat Stevens and Dolly Parton. Hilly wakes up somewhere over France and sees that I’m overcome with emotion and kisses me eight times.
HILLY: Don’t cry, Scoopie. You’re so precious.
GEORGE [half shouting]: These people are driving me crazy. They won’t stop moving and milling about and speaking Italian.
HILLY: We’re together, Scoops, that’s the only thing that matters.
She goes back to sleep. The beer has completely worn off. I fantasize about Demerol. I decide I want something major to happen to me in Rome.
It’s 7 a.m. and I still can’t sleep.
HILLY: Don’t fall for any Italian girls and leave me.
GEORGE: I’m going to be with you the whole time—how am I going to have any time for that?
STEWARDESS [to HILLY]: Arrivederci!
No one says anything to me as I disembark. The whole crew bow their heads with pity and disgust at the sight of me. I want to holler, “I’m just hung over—fuck off!”
On the way to baggage claim, Hilly’s chipper and happy. Her carry-on bag smacks someone.
HILLY [smiling widely]: Scusa! [To GEORGE] Get used to it. I’m going to be aggressively friendly. Let’s get a smart cart.
GEORGE: O.K., dingbat. Here’s a new Scoopie rule: Don’t force me to talk when I don’t feel like it, just because you slept well.
Hilly talks to the cab driver in her near-perfect, over-enunciated-but-charming Italian the whole way to the Hotel Eden. She’d scored us an $800-a-night room for less than half the price. It’s not ready, so Franca from reception leads us to the roof for a complimentary breakfast.
Hilly orders stuff left and right (Coke Light, croissants, cigarettes, Coke Light). I let her know she’s making me nervous, that this trip will lead to my financial ruin.
HILLY: Some people get really grouchy when they’re tired. Others get slaphappy. You’re grouchy, ha-ha!
GEORGE: Please take it easy on me. I need to conserve my energy. Please don’t force me to talk now.
HILLY: Want some Coke? Grapefruit juice? You know who’s up now? Jack! Want to send him a text message?
GEORGE: Every time you make me talk, I’m losing my mind. Please stop talking, Hilly. I’m going to pass out. If you stop now, I’ll be able to make it to the room without keeling over. I may throw up soon.
HILLY: Think I can order a cocktail?
The room is ready. Our $150 breakfast is on the house. Hilly sleeps for three hours, I go for five, despite all kinds of feminine sounds (clothes being put away, drawers slamming, sniffling, noisy exhales, blow-drying).
GEORGE: Just go away for like 15 minutes and I’ll get up.
HILLY: O.K., I’ll meet you in the lobby by the fireplace in 15 minutes.
She waits for me in the lobby for 45 minutes. Finally, she heads upstairs and runs into me in the hallway.
GEORGE: I’m sorry, were you crying?
I lead her to the Spanish Steps. We descend and check out the fancy stores on Via Dei Condotti and sit down at Café Greco, established 1716. It’s too bright. I’m tense. Takes forever to get a panini. We order what we think is pasta, but pastries come instead. It takes forever to get the check.
GEORGE: I’m not sitting around here anymore.
I get up and walk out. Hilly pays. We wander around in the rain, and I get us lost trying to find the Pantheon. But then it turns out we’re only a few steps away.
She’s gazing at the 2,000-year-old temple. Inside, we look up and can’t figure out if that’s a hole in the ceiling. A bird flies over it as if in response.
GEORGE: Are you mad at me? Is everything O.K.?
HILLY: George, no. I’m not mad. Everything’s fine, but I have to admit it’s a little irritating you keep asking me that, because it makes me feel that I’m behaving in a way that makes you think I’m mad.
GEORGE: So now are you mad?
HILLY: No! I have to get cigarettes.
There’s a line of tourists at the shop and the girl behind the counter is irritated, too. Hilly asks for smokes and a map and gets complimented on her good Italian.
I get us lost on the way to the Piazza Navona.
Time for drinks. Takes a half hour to find our way back to the Spanish Steps. I score major points for finding a liquor store. We load up on Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker Red Label and mixers, and haul them back to the Eden. I ask for permission to take a nap. She nods.
GEORGE: Because you’re the boss?
HILLY: That’s right!
I try to coax her into bed. She orders me to clean up first, to “be respectful of the room.” Her cell phone rings. Panic. It’s the neighbor who’s taking care of her cat, Svenny. He tells her there’s a U.S. Marshal’s notice on the door of her apartment and that her locks have been changed.
She calls a guy named Bernard in the rental office. She argues and pleads, saying she knows they want everyone out of the building so they can renovate and charge five times as much, but can’t they work something out? She’s lived there for 11 years and has been a decent tenant. She didn’t sue them about the toxic mold. Yes, she owes some back rent, but she had an agreement with Alexandra in the finance department. It’s in writing! He says Alexandra doesn’t work there anymore, adding, “Too late.”
Hilly holds out her hand and takes half a Xanax. I take the other. Soon there are tears. I call our friend Tracy Westmoreland, actor and owner of the bar Siberia in Hell’s Kitchen, who puts us in touch with his lawyer, gay civil-rights activist Tommy Shanahan. Tommy gets on the case immediately. He tells her the landlord is a notorious prick. He calls the landlord, the marshal, an animal shelter. He tells Hilly that all her possessions might be confiscated and put in storage, that the shelter might come get her cat.
GEORGE: We gotta get out of here. Everything’s going to be fine. This is a New York thing. I’ve been evicted, everyone’s been evicted. It’s a rite of passage. It’s nothing personal; these people are just human scum. You can move in with me.
HILLY: Thanks, Scoopie.
We stroll down the Via Veneto. I remind her that Fellini had used this street in La Dolce Vita.
HILLY: That doesn’t make me feel any better. Remember how you stopped it halfway through when we tried to watch it a few weeks ago?
GEORGE: I like 81¼2 better.
After a mediocre dinner, we get a drink at the Hotel Excelsior and have the luxurious ballroom to ourselves.
HILLY: What would anyone do if I start playing “Chopsticks” on that grand piano?
She plays an elegant version of “Chopsticks,” then sits next to me on a couch under a chandelier.
HILLY: Fuck it.
GEORGE: Come on, girl. Cheer up.
HILLY: This means I get to move in with youuuuuu! And I get two closets. I get Bobbie’s litter-box closet—we’re going to move the litter box out—and I get the other closet, too.
GEORGE: Isn’t it funny? We’re staying at an $800-a-night—
HILLY: It’s hysterical, George—let’s talk about it some more.
GEORGE: We’ll talk about it later, after some bam-bam. Let’s steal those nuts—they’re so good. Guzzle that drink. We’re going back to the hotel.
I pay the 35 euros for two drinks.
Back at the Eden, we make cocktails. Hilly jokes about jumping into the Tiber.
GEORGE: Well, dying in Rome is pretty romantic. Keats.
I take a bubble bath. I put on a fluffy bathrobe. Hilly doesn’t want to call anyone about her predicament except our couples therapist, Dr. Selman. I put him on speakerphone.
GEORGE: Dr. Selman, this is a problem from the past. She has a great job, she’s doing really well now, and she needs to get out of that apartment—there’s toxic mold, the place is falling apart.
HILLY: They told me that tomorrow they’re going to seize all of my possessions and move them into storage somewhere.
DR. SELMAN: Hilly, there seems to be two issues here. One is, what happened to your cat?
GEORGE: The cat is safe. Her best friend has the cat.
DR. SELMAN: Issue No. 2 is that you need a real-estate lawyer.
GEORGE: We’ve got one!
DR. SELMAN: I actually know somebody, because I went through something like this. Would you like for me to put you in touch with this person?
GEORGE: We have one; he’s on the case!
HILLY: But the last thing he told me, about an hour ago, was that despite all of this communication, it’s still possible that these people could seize all of my possessions in my apartment—
DR. SELMAN: Do you have a rent-stabilized lease?
DR. SELMAN: So listen, you’re coming from a position of strength. You could get a buyout here. You need a lawyer that can really help you out with this.
HILLY: The attorney helping me seems very capable, and he’s been doing cases like this for a long time. But he said they could—
GEORGE: Can you reassure her? We just got here, she’s got meetings tomorrow—what should she be thinking right now?
DR. SELMAN: The worst scenario is they take your stuff and put it in storage, and you crash with George when you get back. I’ve been through this myself! And it’s worked out very well for me.
GEORGE: I got evicted from my last apartment, too.
HILLY: But Dr. Selman, I know this sounds ridiculous, but the thought of them taking all of my things—I feel so violated.
DR. SELMAN: Look, you know what the Serenity Prayer is? You’re there in Italy. Have a good time. Deal with it when you get back. How much Prozac are you taking, Hilly?
HILLY: Forty milligrams!
DR. SELMAN: You can have two pills. Why don’t you take two a day for a few days? Don’t let this ruin your time in Italy. O.K.? Bye.
Soon we get kind of racy on the couch—not porny, but racy. And later on, we hit it again. This time it’s X-rated and angry. Arguably the best sex we’ve ever had.
GEORGE: So—that was pretty good, right?
HILLY: If we gave the management a video of that, they’d give me free rent for a year.
Hilly drifts off to sleep right next to me.
The next morning, we get our caricature drawn by a Moroccan man while a dozen people watch. I see a little boy whisper into his mother’s ear. I imagine he’s saying, “He looks like Uncle Fredo!” His mother frowns and shakes her head.
I lead Hilly to the Trevi Fountain, but we get lost and give up. Hilly tries to be patient, but after I snap at her a few times, she asks for directions and finds her way back to work. I go back to the hotel, nap.
Hilly comes back at 7 p.m. She wants to have dinner at a 500-year-old restaurant we read about in Rome: The Expert Traveler.
GEORGE: We’re just going to take it easy tonight. A couple of drinks so we can get up real early and go to the Vatican, O.K.?
HILLY: O.K., Scoops!
I get us lost, but Hilly’s in better spirits, on the cell phone with her friend in Los Angeles and laughing.
HILLY: I am literally wearing tennis shoes right now, because George insists we walk everywhere.
I don’t mind having to listen to this for 10 minutes—it’s painful, but I don’t complain. She gets another call. Tommy has bad news: Her landlord will be moving all her stuff out of her apartment the next day.
GEORGE: It’s all going to work out.
Hilly doesn’t want to talk about it. She stares straight ahead, keeps moving. I get us more lost.
GEORGE: Don’t worry—I know where we are.
Hilly dodges a car.
HILLY: Just try to run me over, motherfucker! This city—there’s no signs, no walk signs, stop signs. Watch out, daredevil bastard.
At the restaurant, I quickly order us white wine while we wait for a table. I don’t mention the viola that’s being played: Hilly studied the viola until her instructor told her she had a tendency to flee from beauty. We’re seated, and Hilly thinks of the important stuff in her apartment.
HILLY: My Jackie O. books, my memory bowl, the jewelry your mother bought me, my 200 pairs of Manolo Blahniks, the bottle of vodka in the fridge, Piggie, my treasure box ….
GEORGE: Uh-oh, the menu doesn’t have prices.
HILLY: Oh, I love that! That’s so cool.
The sommelier overdoes it pouring the wine. Hilly can’t stop talking about Bernard from her rental office.
HILLY: I’m going to start practicing witchcraft. He’s going to die alone, probably on a Barcalounger. I bet he has tons of hair coming out of his ears. He probably smells like eggs. Sulphur. The girls at the local bodega probably call him the Egg Man. He probably hasn’t been laid since that hooker at age 21.
The waiter is smarmy, smiles too much.
HILLY: Bernard sucks! Evicting me was the only way he could get into my apartment to sniff my panties. Bernard probably voted for Mike Dukakis. I bet he got so many wedgies. I can see them giving him a bra: “Here’s your bra, Bernard.” ’Cause he has bitch tits!
Patrons are looking over, but I think it’s healthy to let her vent.
HILLY: Oh, what am I going to do?
GEORGE: You think you have it bad? Now I have to live with you and another cat.
HILLY: You’re sweet. Bernard’s probably walking around talking on his cell phone right now, saying, “You’re evicted!”, but everyone in the neighborhood knows there’s no one on the other line. You know what, when I was talking to him, he probably had a boner: “I get to talk to the hot girl who always rejected me, and now that I’m in control, I can show her what it feels like.”
I’m beginning to sympathize with Bernard. The food arrives and is extremely average.
Hilly smiles at the annoyingly theatrical waiter who lays down the check with a flourish—180 euros. Train robbery.
To be continued ….
It’s V-Day, Dammit!: Feb. 13, 2006
George and Hilly: Feb. 6, 2006
George and Hilly: Jan. 23, 2006
George and Hilly: Jan. 16, 2006
George and Hilly: Dec. 26, 2005
George and Hilly: Nov. 14, 2005
George and Hilly: Nov. 7, 2005
George and Hilly: Oct. 24, 2005
George and Hilly: Oct. 17, 2005
George and Hilly: Oct. 10, 2005
George and Hilly: Oct. 03, 2005
George ’n’ Hilly, Back in Couples, Turn on the Doc: Sep. 26, 2005
But Should We Get Married? Part III: Aug. 29, 2005
But Should We Get Married: Aug. 15, 2005
Should I Get Married? My Hilly Joining Me In Couples Session: Aug. 8, 2005