I’m on the train again. It’s Wednesday morning and I don’t yet know that today is pop culture day in downtown Chicago. If I knew I’d have brought some notes. Without them I’m grossly uninformed.
Still I fly past traffic on the Dan Ryan, into the city with Chicago’s free circulating press tucked under my jacket sleeve. Music headlines scream a lot of something I don’t recognize today; world news is more the same: war and shootings. A spilled pill bottle insets a pixel-y and grinning Heath Ledger on the cover story pages. He’s dead and the headline, all in two days work.
I skim the article. It bores me and I leave Heath with my unfinished crossword for an unsuspecting passenger. Drug overdose, I know. Celebrities, go figure.
I walk the rails to work, three blocks, where pop culture is already brewing in the taps. A pint of house lager with a side of amphetamines, please. I change and hit the front of the house floor, but can’t stop obsessing over this front page funeral. Why can’t celebrities just die like the rest of us? Why do they have to force themselves down the pipes in all the glory and splendor of their last stunt double scene on the big screen? We’re all just people.
We’re all just people, vaguely talented, sometimes attractive, mediocre folks with ultimately uninteresting lives.
“So, Heath Ledger’s a goner.” Good morning, Brad. Enter: the bartender here, and by profession abroad. He’s better than this place, but stays out of comfort, I think. He says celebrities die in three’s. A few years back Harry Blackmun, Stanley Kubrick and Joe DiMaggio all died within days of one another. Big American names, I guess. I recognized them at best. Later that same year Wilt Chamberlain, George Scott and Payne Stewart all died in the same month. I actually remembered that. Famous folks sure know how to make a pattern out of things.
Brad’s a celebrity himself by qualification, and fascinated by the ones he sees and the music they play. He fits the bill, vaguely talented, debatably attractive, mediocre by trade, and schematically uninteresting. And he’s called himself an actor, so the qualifiers are just the icing.
In his official sense of stardom, the scene that I saw in a trailer, he stumbled into a bar thick with shadows, fresh with the bottle and a girl. No sooner had he walked in than he pulled out a gun and shot a dude. His face was carved to kill, the lights always behind him. Those features haven’t faded. When the lights go up they prophesy trifecta deaths til 10pm in the Loop.
This bartender’s got his money on Britney Spears who juggles unwanted pregnancy, ex-husband Kevin Federline, and rehab for drug addiction. After we all heard about Ledger and the triple death threat, the Pool for who would round out Ledger’s triple began. Spears’ situation presents many more red flags than Ledger’s suicide, giving Brad high odds in the Celebrity Death Pool right from the beginning.
Marc’s the boss here. The Pool was his idea. He’s a friend of Brad’s, but they disagree on pop culture measures daily. This morning I find him tearing a sickly photo of Amy Winhouse from the newspapers paparazzi spread. I wonder how on earth I missed that and realize that with Exhibit A here, Marc probably just took the lead in the polls.
Winhouse is trouble. And if she’s momentarily not, then her on-off boyfriend-turned-husband is. The shared pendulum is grossly unhealthy and the caption here says it’s finally landed her in rehab. In the photo’s city street, Winhouse is a walking corpse. Her eyes bleed black liner, her cheeks recess into cavernous depths above her jaw, and her limbs prove nearly too thin to hold the staggering weight of her beehive black hair.
Marc hangs his celebrity, rolling papers in her purse, on her way to rehab, on the wall and gloats his own celebrity status on the leader board for the employee Death Pool.
I’m not in the mood for the crossword Thursday morning, but I pick up a RedEye again from the obnoxious newspaper stand staring at me from the corner of Clark and Adams. I soot my fingertips with flaking black ink, leafing through pages for a disheveled pregnant Spears on Brad’s behalf. Nothing.
He won’t be setting up seven year house bourbons this morning, picketing for Britney Spears’ problems, so she might die and he might become famous. No, he;s his other kind of celebrity today. Said he’d be filming a shot for the movie of the trailer I’d watched online. He’ll be walking down the street on a sunny day or something so Hollywood as that. Just a filler shot, but the last one they need to launch the whole thing.
I toss the paper in the dumpster behind the restaurant and buzz myself in. Britney has abandoned Brad on the day of his big film debut. The scene that could launch his acting career is today, and he can’t even win Celebrity Death Pool. I hear familiar footsteps as they come to answer my bell and shiver as the sun ducks behind a heavy gray cloud. I worry about Brad’s film, maybe they won’t be able to shoot it today.
“Thanks Tomas,” It’s warmer in here, but I hope the sun will come back out, or Britney will die. Maybe it won’t and she’ll live. And Brad will only be a celebrity in his mind. And mine.