This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
People come out to LA in waves, and those who come out at roughly the same time end up knowing each other, from film school or threadbare parties or friend-of-a-friend-who's-an-assistant-to-somebody-famous connections, that kind of thing. It's like being in the same class together at the University of Entertainment Industry Aspirants.
My friend Ned and I went to high school together, so when he came out we'd drink beer and complain to each other about things that I'm sure were important then. The things that concerned me at thirty are vastly different from the things that concern me now, as I'm staring forty in the immediate distance.
One day, Ned called me up and asked me out for a drink. He had been fired, he said. At the time, he was a young development executive at a busy and successful film production company. Getting fired from that kind of job was a rite of passage in a young executive's life, it seemed to me. We met that night, talked, drank a few beers.
The next day, he shot himself.
I gave a eulogy at his memorial service. I talked about how we met at boarding school, about Ned's charm and friendliness. About his reassuring watery voice. About the last night I saw him.
And then I said, What did we talk about that night? Why didn't we get right into it? Why didn't he just tell me how hopeless and broken down he felt, how inconsolable. But if he had, what would I have done? What would I have said? Why didn't I tell him that night that he was a good friend to me -- and he was: he would get me out of the house when I was going stir crazy, he would drag me to parties because he knew that if he didn't, I'd stay at home -- are we flattering ourselves to think that if Ned had known, in those last awful lonely hours, how much the small things he did meant to us, that he wouldn't have done this? Ned was fighting a war against sadness. And he thought he was fighting it alone.
The eulogy went over pretty well. The writer's ego in me is impossible to smother, but a true writer is more than an egomaniac. He's also a pathological liar.
"What; did we talk about that night?" Well, actually, I remembered what we talked about that night. Ned asked me for a job. I told him that I couldn't give him one.
He didn't seem desperate to me -- he asked me in an offhand, joking, unserious way that I didn't know at the time -- but have discovered since -- is the tone some people use when they really are desperate, and not joking, and serious. So when he asked me, with a half-laugh and a shrug, I pretended it was a joke, clapped him on the back and said something like, Hey man, temporary setback, this will all turn around, blah blah blah.
And the truth is, I really couldn't have offered him a job anyway -- though I was the executive producer of a -- in the end, not very -- successful half hour television comedy, and in Ned's eyes seemed probably a lot more powerful than I was, or than I felt I was. Had the show been a hit, maybe I could have thrown my weight around and found something for him, anything. And then even if he went ahead and shot himself anyway, I wouldn't have felt like I felt when I heard the news two days later. Because what I felt then wasn't really surprise or shock, but recognition. Oh, I thought to myself, that's what we were talking about. That's why the whole conversation felt so weird and awkward. That's why he said good-bye so formally. I knew something was different, I just didn't know what. And I didn't ask. And then, What kind of miserable creep am I, anyway?
Because for me -- and isn't everything, when you get right down to it, about me? -- it was an act of indecency not to do what I could for my hurting friend, not to bend a few rules and stick my neck out. I failed the central and elemental test of friendship. We had been in the same class, he and I -- both literally and in the Hollywood sense -- and I let him down.
I mean, he probably would have shot himself anyway -- I've read enough of the literature now to know that suicides aren't averted by friendly testimonials and do-nothing jobs -- but at least he wouldn't have felt...I don't know...unimportant. Unappreciated. Unremembered.
Well, thank you for helping me remember him. Next week, I promise, we'll just-joke around.
For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.