The Shards: A novel
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Bret Easton Ellis’s masterful new novel is a story about the end of innocence, and the perilous passage from adolescence into adulthood, set in a vibrantly fictionalized Los Angeles in 1981 as a serial killer begins targeting teenagers throughout the city.
Seventeen-year-old Bret is a senior at the exclusive Buckley prep school when a new student arrives with a mysterious past. Robert Mallory is bright, handsome, charismatic, and shielding a secret from Bret and his friends even as he becomes a part of their tightly knit circle. Bret’s obsession with Mallory is equaled only by his increasingly unsettling preoccupation with the Trawler, a serial killer on the loose who seems to be drawing ever closer to Bret and his friends, taunting them—and Bret in particular—with grotesque threats and horrific, sharply local acts of violence. The coincidences are uncanny, but they are also filtered through the imagination of a teenager whose gifts for constructing narrative from the filaments of his own life are about to make him one of the most explosive literary sensations of his generation. Can he trust his friends—or his own mind—to make sense of the danger they appear to be in? Thwarted by the world and by his own innate desires, buffeted by unhealthy fixations, he spirals into paranoia and isolation as the relationship between the Trawler and Robert Mallory hurtles inexorably toward a collision.
Set against the intensely vivid and nostalgic backdrop of pre-Less Than Zero L.A., The Shards is a mesmerizing fusing of fact and fiction, the real and the imagined, that brilliantly explores the emotional fabric of Bret’s life at seventeen—sex and jealousy, obsession and murderous rage. Gripping, sly, suspenseful, deeply haunting, and often darkly funny, The Shards is Ellis at his inimitable best.
Release date: January 17, 2023
Print pages: 741
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The Shards: A novel
Bret Easton Ellis
I REMEMBER IT WAS THE SUNDAY afternoon before Labor Day in 1981 and our senior year was about to begin on that Tuesday morning of September 8—and I remember that the Windover Stables were located on a bluff above Malibu, where Deborah Schaffer was boarding her new horse, Spirit, in one of the twenty separate barns where the animals were housed, and I remember I was driving solo, following Susan Reynolds and Thom Wright in Thom’s convertible Corvette along Pacific Coast Highway, the ocean dimly shimmering beside us in the humid air, until we reached the turnoff that took us up to the stables, and I remember I was listening to the Cars, the song was “Dangerous Type”—on a mixtape I’d made that included Blondie, the Babys, Duran Duran—as I kept behind Thom’s car up the winding road to the entrance of the stables, where we parked next to Deborah’s gleaming brand-new BMW, the only car in the lot on that Sunday, and then checked in at the front office, and where we followed a tree-lined trail until we located Debbie trotting Spirit by his reins around a gated arena that was deserted—she had already ridden him but the saddle was still on and she was wearing her riding attire. The sight of the horse shocked me—and I remember that I shivered at its presence in the late-afternoon heat. Spirit had replaced a horse Debbie retired in June.
“Hey,” Debbie said to us in her flat, uninflected voice. I remember how it sounded so hollow in the emptiness that surrounded us—a deadened echo. Beyond the manicured stables painted white and pine green was a forest of trees blocking the view of the Pacific—you could see small patches of glassy blue but everything seemed ensconced and still, nothing moved, as if we were encased in a kind of plastic dome. I remember it being very hot that day and I felt that I had somehow been forced into visiting the stables simply because Debbie had become my girlfriend that summer and it was required of me and not something I necessarily wanted to experience. But I was resigned: I may have wanted to stay home and work on the novel I was writing, but at seventeen I also wanted to keep up certain appearances.
I remember Thom said “Wow” as he neared the horse, and, like everything with Thom, it might have sounded genuine, but it
was also, like Debbie’s intonation, flat, as if he didn’t really have an opinion: everything was cool, everything was chill, everything was a mild wow. Susan murmured in agreement as she took off her Wayfarers.
“Hey, handsome,” Debbie said to me, placing a kiss on my cheek.
I remember I tried to stare admiringly at the animal but I really didn’t want to care about the horse—and yet it was so large and alive that I was shocked by it. Up close it was kind of magnificent, and it definitely made an impression on me—it just seemed too huge, and only made of muscle, a threat—It could hurt you, I thought—but it was actually calm, and in that moment had no problem letting us stroke its flanks. I remember that I was aware of Spirit being yet another example of Debbie’s wealth and her intertwined carelessness: the cost of maintaining and housing the animal would be astronomical and yet who knew how interested she really was at seventeen and if that interest was going to be sustained. But this was another aspect I hadn’t known about Debbie even though we had been going to school together since fifth grade—I hadn’t paid attention until now: I found out she’d always been interested in horses and yet I never knew it until the summer before our senior year, when I became her boyfriend and saw the shelves in her bedroom lined with ribbons and trophies and photographs of her at various equestrian events. I had always been more interested in her father, Terry Schaffer, than I was in Debbie. In 1981 Terry Schaffer was thirty-nine and already extremely wealthy, having made the bulk of his fortune on a few movies that had—in two unexpected cases—become blockbusters, and he was one of the town’s most respected and in-demand producers. He had taste, or at least what Hollywood considered taste—he had been nominated for an Oscar twice—and he was constantly offered jobs to run studios, something he had no interest in. Terry was also gay—not openly but discreetly—and he was married to Liz Schaffer, who was lost in so much privilege and pain that I wondered if Terry’s gayness registered with her at all anymore. Deborah was their only child. Terry died in 1992.
THOM WAS ASKING Debbie general questions about the horse and Susan glanced over at me and smiled—I rolled my eyes, not at Thom, but at the overall non-situation. Susan rolled her eyes back at me: a connection was made between us that didn’t involve our respective mates. After petting and admiring the horse there didn’t seem much reason for us to be standing around anymore and I remember thinking: This is why I drove all the
way out to Malibu? In order to witness and pet Debbie’s dumb new horse? And I remember I stood there feeling somewhat awkward, though I’m sure neither Thom nor Susan did: they were almost never annoyed, nothing ever ruffled Thom or Susan, they took everything in stride, and the eye-rolling on Susan’s part seemed designed to simply placate me, but I was grateful. Debbie kissed my lips lightly.
“See you back at my place?” she asked.
I was momentarily distracted by the whispered conversation Thom and Susan were having before I turned my attention to Debbie. I remembered Debbie was having people over that night at the house in Bel Air and I smiled naturally in order to reassure her.
And then, on cue, as if everything was rehearsed, Thom and Susan and I walked back to our cars as Debbie walked Spirit into his stable, with someone from the Windover staff, uniformed in white jeans and a windbreaker. I followed Thom and Susan along PCH and as they made the left turn onto Sunset Boulevard, which would take us all the way from the beach to the entrance of Bel Air’s East Gate, a song that I liked but would never admit to was now playing on the mixtape: REO Speedwagon’s “Time for Me to Fly,” a sappy ballad about a loser who gets up the nerve to tell his girlfriend it’s over, and yet for me at seventeen it was a song about metamorphosis and the lyric I know it hurts to say goodbye, but it’s time for me to fly…meant something else that spring and summer of 1981, when I became attached to the song. It was about leaving one realm and moving into another, just as I had been doing. And I remember being at the stables not because anything happened there—it was just Thom and Susan and myself driving out to Malibu to see the horse—but because it was the afternoon that led into the night where we first heard the name of a new student who would be joining our senior class that fall at Buckley: Robert Mallory.
THOM WRIGHT AND SUSAN REYNOLDS had been dating since they were sophomores—and were now the most popular people not only in our class but in the overall Buckley student body after Katie Choi and Brad Foreman graduated in June and it was obvious why: Thom and Susan were casually beautiful, all-American, dark-blond hair, green eyes, perpetually tan, and there was something logical in the way they had gravitated inexorably toward each other and moved everywhere as a single unit—they were almost always together. They both came from wealthy L.A. families but Thom’s parents were divorced and his father had
relocated to New York, and it was only on those trips to Manhattan where Thom visited his dad that he wasn’t in direct proximity to Susan. For about two years they were in love, until that fall of 1981, when one of them wasn’t, which set into motion a series of dreadful events. I had been infatuated with both of them but I never admitted to either one that it was actually love.
I had been Susan’s closest male friend since we met at Buckley in the seventh grade and five years later I knew seemingly everything about her: when she got her period, the problems with her mother, every imaginary slight and deprivation she thought she was enduring, crushes on classmates before Thom. She kind of knew that I was secretly in love with her, but even though we were always close she never said anything, only teased me at certain moments if I was paying too much attention to her, or not enough. I had been flattered that people thought we were boyfriend and girlfriend and I did little to stop the rumors about the two of us until Thom stepped in. Susan Reynolds was the prototype of the cool SoCal girl even at thirteen, years before she was driving a convertible BMW and always mildly stoned on marijuana or Valium or half a Quaalude (but functioning—she was an effortless A student) and impudently wearing Wayfarer sunglasses as she walked through the arched stucco doorways to her class unless a teacher asked her to take them off—every Buckley student seemed in possession of a designer pair of sunglasses but they weren’t allowed to be worn on campus except in the parking lot and on Gilley Field. Susan seemed to confide everything to me during the middle-school years—in the 1970s they were referred to as “junior high”—and though I didn’t quite return that openness I had revealed enough for her to know things about me that no one else did, but only to a point. There were things I would never tell her.
Susan Reynolds became the de facto queen of our class as we moved through each subsequent grade: she was beautiful, sophisticated, intriguingly low-key, and she had an air of casual sexuality even before she and Thom became a couple—and it wasn’t because she was slutty; she had actually lost her virginity to Thom and hadn’t had sex with anyone else—but Susan’s beauty always intensified the idea of her sexuality for us. Thom ultimately took it a step further and Susan’s sexual aura became more pronounced once they started dating, when everyone knew that they were fucking, but it had always been there; and even if they hadn’t actually been fucking in the beginning, during those first weeks that fall of 1979, when they became a couple, the question was: how could two teenagers that good-looking not be fucking each other? By September of 1981 Susan and I were still close and, in some ways, I think she felt closer to me than to
Thom—we had, of course, a different relationship—but there now seemed to be a slight wariness, not necessarily toward anything in particular but just a general malaise. She had been with Thom for two years and a vague but noticeable ennui had drifted over her. The jealousy that they inspired and that had almost broken me was, I thought, dissolving by then.
THOM WRIGHT, LIKE SUSAN REYNOLDS, HAD started Buckley in seventh grade, transferring from Horace Mann. His parents divorced when he was in ninth grade and he lived with his mother in Beverly Hills when his father relocated to Manhattan. Though Thom had always been cute—obviously the cutest guy in our class, adorable even—it wasn’t until something happened to him over the summer of 1979, when he returned from New York after spending July and August with his father, that he’d somehow, inexplicably, become a man; some kind of metamorphosis had happened that summer, the cuteness and the adorability had faded, and we started looking at Thom in a different way—he was suddenly, officially, sexualized when we saw him back at school that September of our sophomore year. Even though I had always sexualized Thom Wright everyone else now realized he was built, the jawline seemed more pronounced, the hair was now shorter—somewhat ubiquitous among the guys at Buckley (mostly because of haircut regulations) but Thom’s was now something stylish, a moment, a cue to manliness—and when I glimpsed him in the locker room that first week back from the summer changing for Phys Ed (our lockers throughout our time at Buckley were side by side) I hitched in a breath when I saw he had obviously been working out and his chest and arms and torso were defined in ways they weren’t at the end of June, the last time I saw him in a bathing suit, at a pool party at Anthony Matthews’s house. There was also the paleness around his newly muscled thighs and ass—the place where his bathing suit had blocked the sun from his weekends in the Hamptons—that contrasted with the rest of his tanned body, which shocked me. Thom had become an ideal of teen boy handsomeness and what was so alluring about him was that he seemed not to care, he seemed not to notice, as if it was just a natural gift bestowed upon him—he didn’t have an ego. I had repeatedly gotten over any notions that my feelings for Thom Wright would be reciprocated, because he was so resolutely heterosexual in ways that I wasn’t.
This inchoate crush on Thom may have come back those first few weeks after he returned from New York that September in 1979 but then he was suddenly with Susan and we effortlessly became a kind of threesome once we got cars that following
spring, hanging out on weekends, going to the movies together in Westwood, lying on the sand at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica and cruising the Century City Mall, and my crush on both Thom and Susan was rendered pointless. Not that Thom would have ever noticed it, though Susan, I’m sure, had registered my feelings and knew I desired her: Thom was, admittedly, a fairly unaware individual—about a lot of things—and yet there was an intriguing blankness that was attractive and soothing about him, there was never any tension, he was the pinnacle of laid-back and he wasn’t a stoner. By the time we finished junior year the only drug Thom liked was coke, and only just a line or two, a few bumps could take him through a party, and he didn’t drink except for the occasional Corona. He was so easy to hang with and so agreeable to any option that when I fantasized coming on to him I often dreamt he would have let me, at least halfway, before gently rejecting my advances, though not without a kiss and a suggestive squeeze on my upper thigh to uselessly reassure me. In some of my more elaborate fantasies Thom didn’t reject me sexually and these would end with both of us covered in sweat and in my dreams the sex was exaggeratedly intense and afterward, I’d imagine, he would kiss me deeply, panting, quietly laughing, amazed at the pleasure I brought him, in ways that Susan Reynolds never could.
I DIDN’T WANT DEBBIE SCHAFFER to kiss me at the Windover Stables that afternoon in front of Thom and Susan but I hadn’t minded either. In a way she was an experiment—I wasn’t determined to have a girlfriend my senior year at Buckley except if it had been Susan Reynolds—and yet Debbie had become, somewhat inexplicably, exactly that at the beginning of the summer. We were at another party at Anthony Matthews’s house and she just started making out with me on a chaise by the lit pool. I was stoned on a Quaalude, she was on coke, it was midnight, Split Enz’s “I Got You” was playing from inside the house (…I don’t know why sometimes I get frightened…) and I was at a point where I still tried to be attracted to girls—that hadn’t ended yet—and all the requisite elements seemed to be in play. She simply pushed herself onto me and I surprised myself and went with it. I really didn’t care about appearances—though I definitely wasn’t out as bisexual and I had no desire to lead a girl or a guy on—but I was also fairly passive, and when it came to Debbie Schaffer, whom I had known since the fifth grade, I just went with whatever she wanted that summer, and I thought including her might round out the group of Susan and Thom and myself, make it less painful for me, hopefully inspire one of them
to become jealous, which of course never happened. I also wanted to get closer to Debbie so it might bring me nearer to Terry Schaffer, the famous dad, who I’d always been drawn to and yet after all these years never really knew, and I’d known Debbie seemingly forever.
Debbie had transformed from a somewhat awkward-looking girl—though always bizarrely confident, or maybe just entitled, but pudgy with braces and a ponytail—into a kind of slutty teen boy fantasy by the time she reached ninth grade. Her breasts were full and high and she took every opportunity to show off her cleavage. A Buckley girl wasn’t supposed to reveal this, the white blouse was supposed to be buttoned to the point where you couldn’t see anything, but many of the girls ignored this rule in tenth and eleventh grade and, depending on what adult glimpsed this, it had become allowed—the rules were malleable. Her legs were stunning, long and tan and waxed, and the saddle shoes she wore with ankle-high white socks helped turn her into something fetishistic; the hem on the gray skirt of her uniform was at the highest permissible length so you could see past upper-thigh, and often when she sat down you just as easily glimpsed the light-pink panties she was fond of. By senior year her hair was a shade off platinum, Blondie-inspired, and though makeup was against the rules for younger girls (lip gloss was acceptable), if you were in eleventh or twelfth grade it was allowed minimally, and often girls casually wore understated lipstick though Debbie wore hers defiantly, hot pink and blood red, even though she was often asked by a teacher or our principal, Dr. Croft, to wipe it off. Susan barely wore any makeup at all because Thom didn’t like it.
EVEN THOUGH AS A COUPLE THOM AND SUSAN, in my mind, seemed more defined than anything else in the minimalist moment we were moving through in 1981, which was inspired by New Wave and punk—numbness and disaffection, a general rejection of seventies kitsch, everything was clean with sharp angles now—they were a throwback to a distant era despite how up-to-date and effortlessly hip both of them outwardly seemed—they often acted as if they could have been the king and queen of the prom from a movie made in the early 1960s: happy, carefree, untroubled. But I knew at a certain point—by the late spring of 1981, almost two years after they started dating—that Thom was happier than Susan. She had recently confided to me one day near the end of our junior year as we walked through Westwood after school in our Buckley uniforms while Thom was at baseball practice that “Thom isn’t dumb exactly…” She said this apropos of nothing, and I didn’t know how to respond—I just looked over
at her. It was true: his grades were good, he kept them up—he had to because of the sports he played and excelled at: football, basketball, soccer, baseball, track—and he read and admired books (as sophomores we bonded over how much we both liked The Great Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises) and he had become almost as much of a cinephile as I was, often accompanying me to revival theaters like the Nuart, where I would educate him about the differences between good Robert Altman and bad, and why Brian De Palma was an important director. “But Thom can be—” Susan started, then stopped herself. I remember she chose the following words carefully as we stood in front of the Postermat, debating whether to go in. Outland, a movie set on one of Jupiter’s moons, was playing next door at the Bruin, I remember. “Not dim,” she said, then pausing. “But uncurious.”
Well, Thom didn’t need to be anything, I argued, kind of joking. He was hot, his family had money, Thom would be okay whether he was dumb or not. What was she trying to say?
Susan looked at me strangely after I said this, seemingly bothered that I was overly effusive about defending something so innocuous and vague. “You’re hardly not hot, Bret,” Susan said as we slowly floated across the sidewalk.
I was swinging a yellow Tower Records bag (Squeeze, East Side Story, the Kim Carnes LP with “Bette Davis Eyes”) and tried to seem utterly nonchalant when I said, “But I’m not Thom.”
This annoyed her. “God, you sound like you want to date him.”
“Date?” I said, smirking. “Is that a possibility?” I was joking but I wanted to test her.
Susan glanced at me, smiling at first, and coy, Wayfarers on, lips lightly touched with bubble-gum gloss, and then she said seriously, “No, I don’t think so. No, it isn’t.”
The way she answered this with such a casual finality annoyed me. “Jesus, Susan, I’m kidding,” I said, even though, of course, I wasn’t.
Susan didn’t say anything as we crossed Broxton, just kept looking over at me even though I couldn’t see her eyes because of the Wayfarers—she was trying to figure something out.
I asked, “How do you know Thom wouldn’t?”
She finally sighed and said, “Oh, Bret, I hope you’re happy. I really do. Your secret is safe with me.”
I laughed and said, “You don’t know my secrets.”
But we were finding missing pieces and secrets everywhere and I had more than a few and in that moment I wondered which ones Susan knew, which ones she had uncovered, and which ones remained mysteries.
EVERYTHING SPED UP when you got your car at sixteen: you were now autonomous in ways you hadn’t been, you could take care of yourself or so you thought—that was the illusion—and now that we were older, and especially if we didn’t have siblings—which strangely none of us had, not Thom, not Susan or Deborah, not Matt Kellner, or myself—this encouraged our parents to either work longer hours or travel with less restrictions, many of them to distant movie sets in other countries, or they were simply taking more elaborate vacations, leaving behind empty houses in Bel Air and Beverly Hills and Benedict Canyon and along the cliffs of Mulholland and into Malibu that we took advantage of our junior year. And because of this new autonomy and mobility we were driving over to a friend’s house whenever we wanted or hanging at the beach club on a whim, and some of the boys were now openly purchasing porn at the newsstands in Sherman Oaks and Studio City or sometimes driving into West L.A. or Hollywood to flash a fake ID and buy magazines and videotapes.
We also started spending time at the Odyssey, an all-age nightclub on Beverly Boulevard near the corner of La Cienega, which didn’t serve alcohol but if you knew your way around you could score Quaaludes and weed and small baggies of cocaine, and for me, at least, the Odyssey had the added allure that there were gay men in attendance even though it was ostensibly a straight club; and though the gay men were perhaps older than I wanted to pursue, this was the first time I was in close proximity to them and it had been mildly thrilling even though I didn’t do anything, just danced with Thom and Susan and Jeff and sometimes Debbie and Anthony and whoever else was there until two or three in the morning on weekends, and with our parents mostly absent that spring we could roll home whenever we wanted, sleep late, and then do it all over again—this was what the cars afforded us.
WE ALSO DIDN’T HAVE TO DEPEND on our parents’ driving us into Westwood Village, where we would meet up to watch two or three or even four movies (if we were feeling particularly ambitious), which is how we spent our Saturdays, catching up on everything that opened Friday—the group evolving every weekend depending on what movies were playing and who wanted to see what, usually myself and Thom, Jeff and Anthony, maybe Kyle and Dominic. We would decide on Saturday mornings in a number of overlapping phone calls while going
through the “Calendar” section of the Los Angeles Times on what to see (the only way in 1981 to find out what was playing where and when) and by a certain point the group scheduled where we’d be exactly throughout the day, so the girls would know where to meet us later. The girls were usually not interested in the two or three matinees we planned on seeing and they would meet us for a light dinner, usually sushi at a place we frequented just below Le Conte Avenue, a half-block from the Village Theater, and the last movie of the night.
The guys would start the day by meeting for lunch somewhere at noon—a favorite was Yesterdays and the Monte Cristo sandwich they served, or we’d take the street-level elevator down into the Good Earth, a modish upscale health-food restaurant where we drank giant glasses of cinnamon-flavored iced tea and ate salads, or we’d crowd into one of the red booths at Hamburger Hamlet for patty melts after buying our tickets for the next movie at the Bruin, adjacent on Weyburn. Dinner was sometimes at the Chart House or the old-school Italian of Mario’s, with breaks spent at the Westworld video arcade playing Space Invaders and Pac-Man or browsing the Postermat while sixties girl groups blared or looking for new music at Tower Records or the Wherehouse or leafing through paperbacks at any number of the large bookstores that dotted the streets—there were five or six in 1981, there are none now. The night would end at Ships, a retro coffee shop on Wilshire, situated along the edges of Westwood Village, with a boomerang-shaped roof and atomic neon sign, and where we’d order Cokes and vanilla milkshakes and smoke clove cigarettes, ashtrays and a separate toaster on each table, and stay out until after midnight. We were taking tentative advantage of the newfound freedom that had opened up to us—activating something in our group that made us want to become adults fast and leave what now seemed like the stifling world of childhood behind. Time for me to fly…
IN LATE MAY OF 1980—May 23, to be exact—The Shining opened, and I wanted to see it as soon as possible.
I’d read the novel when it was published in 1977, already a big fan of Stephen King, having practically memorized Carrie and Salem’s Lot, his first two books, and The Shining scared me mightily as a thirteen-year-old: the haunted Overlook Hotel, the angry and alcoholic father possessed and driven murderous by the spirits of the place, the frightened son in peril, redrum, the hedge animals that came alive. I was obsessed and it remains one of the key novels that made me want to be a writer. In fact as soon as I was done reading The Shining for a third time I began writing my
own novel in the summer of 1978, which I was still working on in the late spring of 1980, though about to abandon it in favor of what ultimately became Less Than Zero.
When I heard that Stanley Kubrick was adapting The Shining on a lavish scale I was immediately distracted—it became the most anticipated movie in my lifetime, and I closely followed its troubled production (delays, endless takes, a fire destroyed the main set, the ramping costs), and I don’t think I’ve ever tracked the making of a movie with more interest—not even the ones that were later made from my novels gripped me as much as what Kubrick was going to do with The Shining. I was almost paralyzed with anticipation. And then a trailer dropped late in 1979; it was simple, almost minimalist, just an image—how one longs for trailers that didn’t lay out the entire movie like today’s three-act previews—of an elevator in the Overlook whose doors seem to be slowly pushing open because the cabin is filled with blood that starts pouring out in slow motion and then cascades toward us in waves until the blood crashes against the camera, turning the lens red, the credits of the movie rolling upward in neon blue over this one image. I saw the trailer many times during the fall of 1979 and throughout the first half of 1980 and it never failed to rivet me. I began counting the days—the hours—before I could see the actual movie.
I couldn’t go on the 23rd because of school and I didn’t want to face Westwood on a crowded Friday night, so my plan was to go the next day—Saturday, May 24—and I wanted to see the 10:00 a.m. showing because I knew it would be less crowded than any of the later screenings. Surprisingly everyone argued for 1:00 p.m. at the Village—it was a Saturday, they wanted to sleep in, 10 was way too early. I argued to Thom and Jeff that the lines would be too long later in the day, since it was an exclusive engagement only playing at three theaters in Los Angeles, but everyone eventually bowed out and said they’d meet me for lunch at D. B. Levy’s, a deli we frequented on Lindbrook Drive after the movie was over, and then see The Empire Strikes Back later that afternoon at the Avco. I was disappointed—I wanted to see The Shining with Thom—but it didn’t diminish my excitement. This would be the first time I drove to Westwood by myself to see a movie alone, without the guys, and I felt incredibly adult as I raced across Mulholland toward Beverly Glen on that Saturday morning in my father’s hand-down, a metallic-green Mercedes 450SEL, a four-door tank that was hardly the sporty vehicle I longed for at sixteen.
I PARKED IN THE LOT ON BROXTON across from the Village Theater at nine-thirty—listening to a mixtape made up entirely of Joe Jackson’s Look Sharp and I’m the Man with a couple of Clash songs from London Calling and Elvis Costello’s Armed Forces added in—and was relieved that only a short line had formed at the box office then being admitted straight into the theater. I remember, and I don’t know why, that I was wearing a fashionable new Ralph Lauren shirt, sea green with the insignia of a purple polo pony, and Calvin Klein jeans with Topsiders—and that I kept my Wayfarer sunglasses on when I bought my ticket. The Shining was rated R and I was momentarily worried I’d get carded even though I had a fake ID I barely used, the city was lax, and I didn’t need it that morning—four dollars for one adult. Again I was reminded as I moved into the grand lobby—looking at the carved winged lions that sat halfway up the 170-foot bleached fox tower, which loomed over Broxton and Weyburn Avenues, at night lit by a blue-and-white sign crowning the tower, its shaft illuminated, a beacon—that this was the first time I’d come to Westwood alone and I felt genuinely grown-up and shivered with anticipation at whatever the future held. I bought a box of Junior Mints and moved from the bright Art Deco lobby into the darkness of the gigantic auditorium.
The theater was less crowded than I worried it would be but it was only nine-forty and it was bound to fill up, I thought as I sat and stared at the massive set of curtains draped in front of the 70-millimeter screen. Writing this now, I can’t believe that I was left to my own devices for twenty minutes, just idly sitting there, thinking about things, about Thom and about Susan, waiting without a phone to look at, waiting without something to distract me. Instead, I took in the theater—my favorite in Westwood and the largest, with over fourteen hundred seats; it was its own vast world I took refuge in and it was one of the few places I was aware I might actually be saved—because movies were a religion in that moment, they could change you, alter your perception, you could rise toward the screen and share a moment of transcendence, all the disappointments and fears would be wiped away for a few hours in that church: movies acted like a drug for me. But they were also about control: you were a voyeur sitting in the dark staring at secret things, because that’s what movies were—scenes you shouldn’t be seeing and that no one on the screen knew you were watching. These were the things I was thinking about while I slowly pressed down on a Junior Mint, letting it dissolve on my tongue, glancing at my watch as the hands moved toward ten o’clock. The lights in the theater seemed to slowly darken even though there were still about two minutes before the curtain would rise. The ominous music from the soundtrack began softly announcing itself in the domed auditorium: ...
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