My girlfriend’s hand tightens around mine in excitement, cutting off all circulation until my fingers are numb. “Oh my God, oh my God, oh my fucking God!” she squeals. “It’s him!”
From our pool bed in the Tropicana Pool Cafe of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, Alana points frantically. I follow her line of vision until I see what she sees. Beyond the cocktail waiters and the Hollywood elite stands the man of the hour: MTV Movie Award winner Tyler Price.
When I was no more than eight years old, my mom asked me, “What do you want to be when you’re older?” As questions go it was relatively innocuous, yet has remained etched into my subconscious ever since.
“I don’t know,” I shrugged.
To this day I have no idea why she asked me that question or why it seemed so important to her. Maybe the years spent floundering in the lower middle class had taken their toll. Or maybe it was something Dad had said. I’m not sure. Either way, what followed was the most earnest and intense moment we’ve ever shared.
She tenderly stroked the side of my face, guiding my attention towards her caring eyes. What Mom was about to say was so important to her she didn’t just want me to hear it, she wanted me to believe it.
“You’re destined for greatness,” she said. “You can be anything you want to be as long as you put your mind to it.”
As an eight-year-old, I didn’t have the vocabulary or the frame of reference to articulate what I wanted to be. But if I knew then what I know now, I would have answered with two words: Tyler Price.
Alana and I watch Tyler work the Tinseltown collective. He’s magnetism and charisma personified, a master of handshakes and small talk, gracefully traversing the poolside area, moving from one conversation to another. With his precision-coiffed hair and perfect Crest Whitestrips 3D-enhanced teeth, he makes it look so effortless—talking shop with the money men, thanking the press, flirting with his female co-stars. This is his party and everyone’s here for him, celebrating the release of his directorial debut, the crowdfunded vanity project As It Was in the Beginning. I say “crowdfunded vanity project” as if there’s any other kind of crowdfunded project.
As It Was in the Beginning is personal and specific to Tyler, a masturbatory existential examination of the soul of an artiste. Under threat of death, I would never say it out loud but, honest to God, I enjoyed the movie. It hit me where I live.
Tyler and I actually have a lot in common. We’re both twenty-nine, in great shape, attractive, unabashed proponents of designer stubble, and we both dress like douchebags—even if Tyler’s predilection for Bohemian clothing, punctuated by eight-foot-long scarves, contrasts with my strict diet of leather jackets and jeans. We also share backgrounds as serious actors. While I studied acting at Tisch, Tyler put in time at Stella Adler.
If we already have so much in common, why do I want to be Tyler Price? Because, unfortunately, that’s where the similarities end.
Within a day of Alana and me graduating from Tisch, her father was diagnosed with cancer and life as I knew it was over. Alana and her father had always been close, so when word of the diagnosis came, there was no doubt in either of our minds she would be returning to her hometown of Bumfuck, Arizona, to take care of him. The only question was: would I? She never asked me to follow her. Never coerced, bullied, begged, or manipulated me. The choice was all mine. But having been together since our sophomore year, Alana was my world. It was in the spirit of that sick codependency I put my destiny on hold, hopped on a plane, and joined her.
While I was interviewing for my first office administration job, Tyler was auditioning for the meaty role of an incest survivor-cum-date-rapist in a sweeps episode of Law and Order: SVU. He almost earned a Creative Emmy nom for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. Or so the legend goes.
What began as a sojourn in Arizona turned into a living purgatory, held hostage by Alana’s father, a man who resisted health as much as he resisted death. Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and months turned to years. Seven years, to be precise. When he finally did the honorable thing and died, he took my hopes and dreams to the grave with him. It’s both amazing and terrifying how quickly four years of drama school can turn into a lifetime of menial office work. No good deed goes unpunished.
“Yo, yo, motherfuckin’ yo!” Tyler addresses the party, positioned centrally in front of the under-lit swimming pool, the aqua blue of its shimmering ripples shading his tailored white Emporio Armani suit. A respectful hush falls upon the bar. “I would like to say a few words. But first thing’s first: Did you enjoy the movie?”
Without hesitation, Alana responds with a piercing squeal, leading the attendees in a rapturous round of applause. The noise deafens me.
Tyler beams with delight, enjoying the praise while maintaining his modest image by gesturing for a reprieve from the applause. “I’ll take that as a yes,” he says. “When my manager, Dan Edelstein, suggested I crowdfund a movie, I thought he was crazy. If we didn’t reach the goal, we’d be failing in a very public setting and I’d be the face of that failure. I don’t want to say ‘career suicide,’ but… Fortunately, I have some of the best fans in the business and they came out in force to make our little movie possible.”
I think his gratitude may actually be sincere. I feel nauseous.
“I’d like to take a moment to thank one fan in particular,” he adds.
I turn to Alana. I know he’s talking about her. She knows he’s talking about her. She can barely contain herself, elbowing me sharply in the ribs with childlike excitement, on the verge of exploding in the mere seconds it takes for him to resume.
“Where’s our 10k backer?” Alana releases another squeal, a homing beacon that allows Tyler to spy her. “Alana Cooper, get your ass up here, girl.”
Tyler doesn’t have to tell her twice. Alana charges through the crowd, what’s left of her coolness evaporating before my eyes. This is a big moment for her. When her father passed last year, she redirected her grief into an unholy obsession with Tyler Price that reached its nadir when she plunged ten thousand dollars of her dad’s life insurance payout into Tyler’s Jumpstarter campaign. In addition to the feel-good factor of supporting the arts, she was rewarded with an invite to the Hollywood premiere and after-party, and I was the blessed beneficiary of her plus-one allowance.
Alana reaches Tyler and he wraps her in an embrace. In this moment, I know she’s going to spend the next year of our lives, if not longer, talking about this. Over and over and over and over.
Tyler pirouettes Alana to face the party, his hand resting on the small of her back. “Ladies and gentlemen, Alana Cooper!” he leads the party in a flurry of applause that goes unnoticed by Alana, who’s too awestruck by his proximity.
With Alana by his side, Tyler finishes thanking the world for his accomplishments in the field of motion pictures. Between Alana’s understated girl-next-door beauty and Tyler’s chiseled features, they’d make a great couple. And the kids? The kids would be beautiful. If I sound like I’m threatened, rest assured it’s because I am.
Tyler finishes saying his piece and the bass of generic electronica engulfs the party once more. He offers Alana a glass of champagne before taking one himself. Charm is Tyler’s default setting. I can be charming too. I just choose not to be much of the time.
Alana introduces me to Tyler and the three of us take a seat around a table in the roped-off VIP area so he can gift us with the story of how he was cast as the Green Avenger in the superhero epic The Green Avenger. “So there I was, standing opposite a Mazda dealership, I’ve got a meeting with a producer in Malibu in an hour, and my driver’s already half an hour late,” he says, as if telling the story for the first time with the kind of animated charisma one needs if they hope to be nominated for an MTV Movie Award.
Alana is hooked, hanging on his every word. So am I. No matter how much I try to fight it.
“So what would you do in my position?” he asks. I take a microsecond to mull the possibilities, concluding that I’d use my Amex black to buy a Mazda and drive myself to the meeting.
“I walk my ass across the street, buy the cheapest Mazda in the place, one of the little Miatas, and literally—I kid you not—drive myself.” I knew it. I knew it because I drive a Mazda Miata—a car I could only afford after two years of manning an office printer—and the universe hates me even more than I hate Tyler Price.
“And that’s how you got The Green Avenger?” Alana asks, desperate for an answer she’s already read in Us Weekly a billion times or more.
“Let me put it this way… That Mazda paid for itself and then some.”
“What happened to it?” I ask, chomping at the bit to find out.
He shrugs. “Eh, I think I gave it to my second cousin or something.” It’s incredible. This guy doesn’t have an insincere bone in his body. I could only dream of being this obnoxious and getting away with it. “Anyway, enough about me. I want to hear about the two of you. You’re from Arizona, right? What do you do?”
Alana blushes, “I’m a copywriter at a law firm.”
His eyes widen in amazement, “Oh, really? Wow!” before glazing over just as quickly. “What’s a copywriter?”
My brain doesn’t believe what my ears are hearing. “She writes copy.”
So many witty comebacks compete for attention in my head, each one more insulting than the last. My better nature takes hold and I keep them to myself, a wry smile spreading across my face.
“What about you, Riv?” he asks.
Alana starts to answer, “He’s a junior comms mana—”
I cut her off mid-word, correcting, “I’m a singer and an actor. A performer, I guess.” I don’t know why I said that. I might have been once, a lifetime ago. Not anymore.
Tyler instantly clings to the idea. “Awesome, do I know any of your songs? KCRW is my lifeblood.”
I stumble, trying to un-dig the ditch. “We haven’t actually recorded anything in… I used to be a singer and actor. In college.”
“Sounds like you need to get back on that horse,” he suggests, totally devoid of judgment.
“I think the horse died,” I reply without missing a beat, delivering the ultimate mood-killer.
An awkward silence follows as I sip my orange juice. Tyler is lost for words. Alana leaps to the rescue, pulling the conversation back from the brink of death. “So, can I ask you something?”
“For 10k, you can ask me anything, baby girl.”
She melts a little and I roll my eyes. “I thought the film was so beautiful and, as someone who used to act as well, I was really blown away by how raw your performance was. Was it difficult getting to that place every day?”
“You know, it was hard.” He takes a dramatic pause, marshaling a new emotion: sadness. “It was my mom’s passing that gave me the idea for the project, so I really just channeled that.”
This hits a nerve for Alana and she nods in sympathy, “I totally get that. My dad died last year.” Her voice breaks a little and Tyler, oblivious to the concept of boundaries and the sanctity of my ten-year relationship with Alana, takes her hand in his, offering comfort.
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that.”
They gaze into each other’s eyes and she stifles a smile, a tear forming in the corner of her eye. “Thank you.” Alana wipes the tear away with the back of her hand. “Being here tonight, getting to see your movie and meet you… This is the happiest I’ve been in ages.”
Yes, her dad has been dead for a year now and she has only recently begun getting over the loss. In the last six weeks alone, Alana has stopped crying herself to sleep and mentioning him in every other conversation that doesn’t revolve around Tyler Price. For the longest time, I thought she’d lost her smile. Slowly but surely—and only after donating ten thou to Tyler’s Jumpstarter—it returned. Since then she’s been happy more often than not. But tonight, attending this party and meeting her celebrity crush for the first time, is far and away the happiest I’ve seen Alana in over a year.
For my part, playing the role of the dutiful and supportive boyfriend, I’m trying very, very hard to be happy for her. Trying and failing.
My name is River Conway, and I didn’t grow up to be Tyler Price. I grew up to be an asshole.
Which, now that I think about it, is kinda the same thing.