- Tipping Point
The car that collected them from Brooklyn was more opulent than anything Ramita had seen since she’d left home, and the hypermodern hotel lobby through which the famous person’s assistant escorted her and Yolandie—Yolandie’s Work Heels clacking like hooves, Ramita worried that bugs or Smell might be exuding from her flannel, which dated all the way back to her attempt at college during the Bad Eighteen Months—was surreally sparse: slabs of black mirror marble that rose from frosting linoleum, no furniture to interrupt the purity of the designer’s concept. But it wasn’t until they’d arrived at the suite itself—a sudden assault of what Yolandie had once called Tuscan Afternoon Barf, sensuous fringed lampshades, and stacks of new and used hardcovers on the end and coffee tables, their discarded cardboard Amazon shells leaning against the kitchen island for later disposal—that she felt the awful, sick feeling at the sight of the book spine facing her.
That book, she yelped, clinging to Yolandie’s arm and reading the letters: WHAT IS REALITY? At first it was mock surprise, a fun performance of shock, but she found herself feeling actually more and more uneasy, the performance reinforcing itself as real.
You’ve read that one, the famous actor said, fresh-faced surprise in his smile, as if he hadn’t considered that either of them might have read any book. His well-tanned skin glowed in the impasto twilight, and Ramita tried to frame the story so as to make herself seem okay.
Years ago, she said. —Stupidly I like, made that one of my three library [End Page 275] books for the week. —She forced a laugh. —It really freaked me out—all the stuff about holography and the vesica pisces and how we couldn’t be sure, I mean really be sure, that anything we were perceiving was, you know, at bottom what was there. I had to miss a week of sixth grade.
Interesting, the famous actor said, a charming twist in his neck, as if he were turning his ear so as to hear her better. Had she said something wrong?
I mean, I was a loser, Ramita clarified. —It doesn’t like, make me smarter than you that I read this book in sixth grade and you’re only reading it, you know, now.
She realized, horrified, how bad this was as she was saying it. But the actor just smiled and offered them a drink and a seat around the coffee table. Ramita, mortified, at first shook her head, but when pressed took water; Yolandie asked for a G and T; the actor poured himself a straight whiskey whose bottle featured expensive-looking graphic design. After a moment, considering, he emptied a half shot of grenadine into it.
Anything else I can get you, he asked, smiling widely and dangling a bag of cocaine, as if from nowhere, in his fingers. Based on personal experience during one really financially disastrous summer effort at capitalism following the Bad Eighteen Months—during which, weirdly, she and Yolandie had first become friends—Ramita guessed it was easily a few thousand dollars worth. She shook her head no, but the actor had already put it away; Yolandie, Ramita guessed, had declined first.
So why a gin and tonic, he asked Yolandie as he handed over the drink, raising his eyebrows.
Yolandie, blue eyes cold and her huge triangle earrings like plastic red tears spilling from them, gave him the serious supervisor-of-wine-purchasing stare she employed when her employees had been jacking off in the cooler (or whatever Yolandie’s employees did; Yolandie’s professional life remained mysterious to Ramita, who had anxiety, who stayed home).
You said you had paying work for us, Yolandie said.
The actor sipped his drink, swirled it in his mouth, set it on the table, swallowed, leaned back out of its reach.
Down to business, he said. —I’d like to start by saying what an honor it is to have you here. I—am a big fan of yours. —He pointed to Yolandie, Ramita noted, unsurprised. —Your...