Life Will Be the Death of Me: . . . and You Too!
I don’t remember the actor, and I don’t remember the movie, but I remember it was five o’clock in the afternoon and I had just taken a couple hits off my vape pen. I needed to load my Pix account, which held pre-released movies that I was expected to screen before a star of one of the movies was a guest on my Netflix talk show. I was sitting on one of my overpriced chaise longues, the kind that celebrities and Russians purchase for their bedrooms, when I found myself once again unable to convert the TV that descends from the ceiling from Apple TV to Pix. Rich people have descending smart televisions. The idea is that they descend silently and gracefully from the ceiling, but because I am nouveau-riche rich, mine sounds more like a helicopter landing. I’d like to blame my inability to change the mode of my television to Pix on the fact that I was stoned, but that would be a lie; I’d be even less capable if I was sober.
I called my assistant Brandon at his house, to tell him to tell my other assistant, Tanner—who was downstairs in my house—to come upstairs and help me with the television. I hung up the phone. I looked down at the table and saw the vape pen. How many more hits of marijuana would I need to get through this movie?
I knew things had hit a new low—or high, depending on how you looked at the situation. I picked up the iPad that controls the TV along with everything else in my house—from the window shades to the exterior lights in my backyard, to my pulse, probably—and tried to pretend that I was troubleshooting, so that Tanner would think I had at least tried to figure it out on my own—as if that had ever happened before.
How did I become so useless? And how many assistants did I actually have? Answer: two. Brandon and Tanner. Brandon is gay and has an incredible attention to detail. Tanner is straight, and before he met me, he thought the Four Seasons was a weather pattern. Before I met Tanner, I thought Venmo was an online liquor store.
Tanner was now upstairs standing behind the chaise I was sitting on. I wondered if he could smell the weed I’d just smoked, and if so, what did he think of me? Did he realize that most television hosts don’t even make the time to watch movies and TV shows to prepare for each of their upcoming guests? Did he understand that I was a consummate professional who went to great lengths to get ready for my show? Or did he think that I was just some rich, lucky, white bitch who continued to fall upward? No, that wasn’t quite right: I doubt he was thinking in terms of race. Two white people surely weren’t thinking about skin color. I was the one thinking that.
I didn’t want to watch another stupid fucking movie that I didn’t care about. And I really didn’t want to interview another action star bloviating about his motivation for playing a half man, half mermaid. I just didn’t care, and I wasn’t doing anyone any favors by pretending that I did.
Did I ever care? The answer is yes. There was a time when all of this mattered to me. There was a time when being famous and having this kind of success and money and having a TV show was what drove me to want more and more and more, and now I found myself exhausted and ashamed by the meaninglessness of it all.
I remember coming home a couple of weeks before the 2016 election on a windy fall night—which for Los Angeles is rare. Anytime there’s weather in Los Angeles, even rain, it’s exciting—the constant sunshine can start to grate on your nerves. I went up to my bedroom, opened up my sliding glass doors, grabbed my vape pen, and turned on some Neil Young. I lay on my bed in the dark, watching the wind blow my bedroom drapes around, hearing the ruffling of the leaves, and watching the lanterns that hang from my backyard trees swinging into each other, thinking, If there’s an electrical fire, I hope the dogs will at least bark to wake me up, but overall, my thought was: This is fucking awesome. This is exactly what I’d hoped adulthood would be.
No kids, no husband, no responsibilities—just a TV show on Netflix and whatever else I felt like doing, whenever I felt like doing it. Not trapped, not stuck, not dependent on a single person but myself—free to be you and me. I couldn’t believe how lucky my life had turned out, how many of my dreams had come true, and also my good fortune in being alive during this time in history—the year we were going to elect our first female president.
I suppose I could blame my state of mind on the election of Donald Trump—so I will. I have the Trump family and their horrifying personalities and veneers to thank for my midlife crisis. Along with more than half the population—of the world—I couldn’t grasp how, in this day and age, we elected a man who insulted Mexicans and women and Muslims and veterans and disabled people and everyone else he has insulted since. The contrast in decency between Barack Obama and Donald Trump was too much for me to bear—like electing Snooki to the Senate. Now people were seriously talking about Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson running for president. How on earth did we get here? Although, if I’m being honest, at that point in time—or at any other time during the entire Trump presidency—I would have preferred an actual rock.
How could Americans have turned their back on decency, and why was I so misinformed? How did I not know this outcome was even a possibility? What was I missing?
I kept hearing the word “elitists”—that everyone in California and New York lived in a bubble. That the election of this lunatic was a result of all of us not knowing anything about the rest of the country.
That didn’t ring true for me. I had traveled all over the country doing stand-up for so many years. I had been to every major and some minor cities multiple times. I wasn’t an elitist. My father was a used-car dealer. I didn’t have a trust fund or wealthy parents. We weren’t allowed to answer the phone growing up because, more often than not, it would be a bill collector. I had four hundred dollars when I drove across the country alone to move to Los Angeles, and then was broke for seven years living paycheck to paycheck, while simultaneously getting fired from every waitressing job I ever had. I worked for everything I have and never even went to college. How could I be an elitist without ever having gone to college?
And then—Oh, wait a minute, now I remember.
I grew up wanting to get as far away from the life my parents had given me as possible. I had created a life in which there was a zero-tolerance policy for any discomfort. I could handle physical discomfort, like dental work or elective surgery to make my thighs smaller, but not any discomfort related to not having money.
Sure, I was just scraping by on those cross-country trips in the beginning of my stand-up career, barely making enough money from small comedy clubs to cover my hotel room for the week. But after a few years, I was earning more money—and the clubs turned into theaters, then arenas, with private planes and chauffeured cars, sometimes for less than twenty-four hours and then on to the next city, so here I was again, not taking into account the optics—or for that matter, the reality—of my own entitlement.
I had become exactly what I’d always wanted to be—an elitist.
I did live in a bubble, inside a bigger bubble, which was inside an even bigger bubble. Three bubbles. Two assistants, two cleaning ladies (who are more like my nannies), a driver, a pool guy, a landscaper, a florist, a houseman. What is a houseman, you ask? Someone who walks the dogs and polishes the outdoor furniture, and, oh, cleans up the dog shit outside. Basically, an outdoor butler. When was the last time I cleaned up dog shit? Probably the last time I flew coach.
I hated having these thoughts. I hated it because something clicked in the process of making these associative leaps. I realized that I’d made a career of over-hydrating people with my honesty, yet I was being dishonest with myself, which left me operating in a deficit of truth. Now that I was aware of this situation, I would have to do something about it. I couldn’t carry on the way I had been carrying on, just coasting and cashing checks for essentially being a loudmouth.
I took another hit of my vape.
What I really wanted to do was watch the news, even though the news was giving me diarrhea. The whole administration was giving me diarrhea. My outrage was high. I had spent the year after the election being sucked into the vortex of news cycles that accompanied Donald Trump’s ascendancy and my subsequent mental hernia. The news was like a high-speed merry-go-round that never slowed down long enough to figure out when it was safe to hop on or off, so like everything in my life thus far, I hopped on and stayed on.
I had spent the better part of my day in a wormhole, googling pictures of “young Robert Mueller” because I was developing strong sexual feelings toward him as well as his investigation. In an interesting plot twist, it turns out Bob Mueller is even hotter in his early seventies than he was when he was in the Marines. I was more attracted to present-day Bob Mueller than I would have been had I been alive during ’Nam. The guy fucking kills me. Who is hotter than Bob Mueller? Daniel Day-Lewis playing Bob Mueller, maybe, but the jury is out until that movie is released and Daniel Day-Lewis gives up “shoe cobbling” for a year. I mean, my God. Just stop it with the cobbling. Just act. You’re great at it. People adore you. No one’s talking about your shoes. Maybe your wife, but I doubt it.
Bob Mueller was the only hope I had that Donald Trump and that terrible vampire family he spawned would end up in prison. The investigation into Donald Trump and his conspiring with Russia and all the other crimes I’m sure he’ll be indicted for made me realize what real men look like. They look like Bob Mueller. A seventy-four-year-old with a six-pack (possibly an eight-pack) underneath that suit. You can see it through his shirt when he walks—he’s ripped. “Keeping your shit together” is what that’s called. A prosecutor, a Marine, and the director of the FBI? How on earth is any woman worth her salt meant to control herself around him and not sit directly on his face? And then, that hair-part? Very few seventy-year-old men have a head of hair like that, and if anyone knows their way around seventy-year-old men, it’s me—they’re my core demographic. The thickness…the salt and pepper…it’s one thing after another with this patriot.
My best friend, Mary, and I have spent many a night deliberating about what he drinks when he gets home after a long day. Was it a scotch on the rocks…or a scotch neat?
“One ice cube,” Mary would say. “And it would be Macallan.” People who use one ice cube usually annoy me, but this was different. I knew that Bob Mueller knew better than I did, and if he wanted to use one ice cube, then he was trying to accomplish something different with his libation—something that only a scotch or whiskey drinker knew about. I would be willing to switch over to scotch or whiskey—and even use one ice cube for the rest of my life—if the reward meant seeing Donald Trump dragged out of the White House topless, handcuffed, in his tighty-whiteys, while his hairpiece detached from the tape on his head and flew around like a cyclone, landing in the Rose Garden.
On the subject of ice—once we sort out this Donald Trump situation, I would like my social activism to focus solely on the integrity of ice.
Temperature and ice are two of my most learned subject matters.
I feel strongly that everybody needs to get on the same page with ice. It’s an international issue, and there aren’t enough people taking it seriously. Just like there’s an appropriate glass for every libation, there is an appropriate amount of ice as well. It’s called, Whatever you’re thinking—double it. If you’ve ever been to Europe, then you know what I’m talking about. No one wants a warm cocktail, and the only reason Europeans tolerate the ice situation there is because ice is not high on the European Union’s list of priorities.
Two ice cubes in a mixed-drink glass do not even begin to cool your drink. The fewer the ice cubes, the less consolidation the ice has—therefore, you may as well just add water. If anyone wanted a vodka and soda with a splash of water, it would be its own thing by now. Cocktails should be cold. Cubes. Plural. Not the rapper.
Mary’s ice in her freezer always has corn mixed in it. She says it’s because she has three little girls, but I don’t see how that correlates to corn in her ice maker. Anyway, when I go to Mary’s, I always have a vodka with corn on the rocks. She says that the ice and corn are both frozen and that I should just think of the corn as extra ice.
I’m not embarrassed by my feelings for Robert Mueller. Surprised, maybe—but not embarrassed. I am legitimately attracted to him and everything he stands for. I respect the shit out of him, and I suspect there will be a lot of people naming their baby boys Bob after this whole shitshow is over. Who would have thought a name like Bob would finally take off?
“Boxers or briefs?” I asked. Mary was aghast.
“Chelsea, Bob Mueller is a Marine. Boxers, obviously, and don’t think for a second he’s not also wearing a Fruit of the Loom undershirt to sleep in as well. Snug and tidy. That’s how Marines like it.”
“A wifebeater? Those ribbed ones? Like what gang members wear?”
“No, dummy. He’s not rolling his face off on molly in Ibiza. It’s a crew neck Fruit of the Loom undershirt—short-sleeved. Think Hanes for men. Bob Mueller is not wearing a fucking tank top.”
Mary’s father was a Marine and Mary knows more than I do regarding just about everything (unless of course I tell her about something—like a diet—that she dismisses and then finds out about it months later from another friend and tells me about it like I wasn’t the one who told her about it in the first place), so more often than not, I defer to her, and I had to accept these musings as cold, hard facts. The only thing I knew about Marines was that they had a strong relationship with water—which, it turns out, they don’t. That’s the Navy. My thoughts were as follows: marine life = sea life, Marines = water army. I’m a literal thinker—at least that’s what my new psychiatrist tells me…or what I tell him.
“Semper fi is a term that Marines use that means ‘always faithful,’ ” I told Mary. “It’s the motto of the United States Marines. How hot is that?”
“Yes, I know that, and please don’t start throwing that term around. One, you’re not Latin, and two, you’re not a Marine.”
“Copy that,” I told her, knowing full well I would be adding semper fi to my rotation of words and phrases that no one has used in fifty years.
“You know he still does push-ups every morning and never eats unless it’s for fuel,” Mary added, twirling her hair. “He’s that guy.”
“It’s all so fucking hot,” I said, scouring her liquor cabinet for some Macallan, eager to see how it would taste with frozen corn.
Imagining Bob Mueller sitting in his boxers and a little boy’s Hanes undershirt with short sleeves while drinking Macallan on the rock—probably in a leather club chair—made me feel like Bob Mueller and I had a lot more in common than anyone would guess, even me. I imagined us playing Clue together in a cozy cabin in the Catskills, learning entirely new strategies to a game I thought I had already intellectually mastered. I understand Bob Mueller is married and unavailable, so I would like to go on the record and say I respect that—while also remaining deeply attracted to him. It wouldn’t matter if he was interested in me or not; I don’t need people to like me in order for me to like them. That’s a new philosophy I’ve been toying with, and I like it.
Through the months of thick fog and despair after the election, he was the one bright spot. He also represented a seminal moment for me personally; I had finally found the first Republican I could see myself being penetrated by. #MuellerTime.
Back to my midlife crisis. There is a line I had written down from Viktor Frankl’s memoir about surviving the Holocaust, Man’s Search for Meaning, that stopped me cold when I read it: “it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.” I had never thought about what life expected from me. I had only thought about what I expected from life. That was a book putter-downer. It was a look up at the sky and wonder Where the fuck have I been all my life? moment.
My dad used to tell me that there was always one line in every book that summed up the entire book. He also said that even if you don’t understand everything you’re reading in an article or a book, or even hearing in a conversation, try to take one piece of information away from it—that way you’ve left with something new to add to your brain. At the time, I was only eight, but I was already sick and tired of my father forcing me to read so many hard books—The Fountainhead, East of Eden, Anna Karenina—that I would always look for the first line that I thought would give him the impression that I had read the books he assigned. This was that line from Viktor Frankl. What does life expect out of me?
How lost was I if that question had never occurred to me—and it hadn’t. I had to read it to think it. What a fucking dummy I was, rewarding myself over and over again with homes and cars and vacations and gross extravagance. I justified all of it because I worked for everything I had. I came from nothing, I told myself. For years, that was my story. Work hard, fight hard, don’t give up. You can do anything. You deserve this.
The idea that I came from nothing is a joke. My parents were disappointing in many respects, but I always felt loved—by a lot of people. I never went hungry. I never struggled. I was white, pretty, and Jewish, and had a ton of misplaced self-confidence, so life got easier the more focused I became. I got to Hollywood and was rewarded for all of the above. It took a few years, but I never thought it wasn’t going to happen, and people who like me can say it’s because of talent, but talent is a nonissue. There are too many untalented people who are successful, and too many talented people who aren’t. Talent is neither here nor there. Becoming famous just seemed like the easiest way to become wealthy without going to college. That was my mindset. It was a lot of luck and a lot of privilege.
My life was a bubble. That’s exactly what it had become. A big vapid bubble. What were my ties to being famous? To being a celebrity? Wealth and fame existed as a couple in my mind; they went together. Did that mean I could still have one without the other—and, if so, which one would I choose? Was this my whole life? No. It can’t be.
Do I get to fall in love again? With a man? No, a man can’t help me with this. You got yourself here. So, the question is: What am I going to do with myself now? What is my enough?
I’ve always been generous, but that’s always come easily to me. It’s easy to give. If anything, it feeds my ego to give to others. Real generosity is also showing up when you don’t feel like it—sacrificing your own happiness in exchange for someone else’s. Was I willing to do that? What am I willing to do that I really don’t want to do? Is that something I’m even capable of?
I never had to care about the state of the world before. The world was a vague thought and a whimsical fancy—that was for the adults. I thought that by traveling to so many different countries, I was doing my due diligence, that by edifying myself with other cultures, and sharing my experiences on camera and on my show, I was somehow making a worthy contribution to society. America wasn’t a problem. There was no problem. We had elected a black president. Racism and feminism were fights we had already won. America was being handled by people smarter and more skilled in politics, and they took care of this stuff so that people like me could live the American dream and remain blissfully ill-informed. I had spent my adulthood on a cigarette boat going a hundred miles per hour, and now I felt like I had somehow become marooned on one of those terrible all-inclusive Carnival cruise ships.