Another waiter has just served me another free meal because I’m “that guy.”
I’m the guy who wrote that book. The “Fight Club” book. Because there’s a scene in the book where a loyal waiter, a member of the fight club cult, serves the narrator free food. Where now in the movie, Edward Norton and Helena Bonham Carter get free food.
Then a magazine editor, another magazine editor, calls me, angry and ranting because he wants to send a writer to the underground fight club in his area.
“It’s cool, man,” he says from New York. “You can tell me where. We won’t screw it up.”
I tell him there’s no such place. There’s no secret society of clubs where guys bash each other and gripe about their empty lives, their hollow careers, their absent fathers. Fight clubs are make-believe. You can’t go there. I made them up.
“OK,” he’s saying. “Be that way. If you don’t trust us, then to hell with you.”
Another pack of letters arrives care of my publisher, from young men telling me they’ve gone to fight clubs in New Jersey and London and Spokane. Telling me about their fathers. In today’s mail are wristwatches, lapel pins and coffee mugs, prizes from the sweepstakes my father enters my siblings and me in every winter.
Parts of “Fight Club” have always been true. It’s less a novel than an anthology of my friends’ lives. I do have insomnia and wander with no sleep for weeks, like Jack. Angry waiters I know mess with food. They shave their heads. My friend Alice makes soap. My friend Mike cuts single frames of smut into family features. Every guy I know feels let down by his father. Even my father feels let down by his father.
But now, more and more, what little was fiction is becoming reality.
The night before I mailed the manuscript to an agent in 1995, when it was just a couple hundred sheets of paper, a friend joked that she wanted to meet Brad Pitt.
I joked that I wanted to leave my job working on diesel trucks all day.
Now those pages are a movie starring Pitt and Norton and Bonham Carter, directed by David Fincher. (The film opens Oct. 15.) Now I’m unemployed.
Twentieth Century Fox let me bring some friends down to the shoot last summer, and every morning we ate at the same cafe in Santa Monica. Every breakfast, we got the same waiter, Charlie, with his movie-star looks and thick hair, until the last morning we were in town. That morning, Charlie walked out of the kitchen with his head shaved. Charlie was in the movie. My friends who’d been anarchist waiters with shaved heads were now being served eggs by a real waiter who was an actor who was playing a fake anarchist waiter with a shaved head.
It’s that same feeling when you get between two mirrors in the barber shop and you can see your reflection of your reflection of your reflection going off into infinity.
Now waiters are refusing my money. Editors are grousing. Guys take me aside at bookstore events and beg to know where the local club meets.
Women ask, quiet and serious, “Is there a club like this for women?”
A late-night fight club where you can tag some stranger in the crowd and then slug it out until one of you drops. These young women say, “Yeah, I really, really need to go to something like this.”
A German friend of mine, Carston, learned to speak English in only funny outdated cliches. For him, every party was an “all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza.”
Now Carston’s clumsy pigeon words are coming out of Pitt’s mouth, 40 feet high, in front of millions of people. My friend Jeff’s trashed ghetto kitchen is re-created in a Hollywood sound stage. The night I went to save my friend Kevin from a Xanax overdose is now Brad rushing to save Helena.
Everything is funnier in retrospect, funnier and prettier and cooler. You can laugh at anything from far enough away.
The story is no longer my story. It’s David Fincher’s. The set for Edward Norton’s yuppie condo is a re-creation of an apartment from David’s past. Edward wrote and rewrote his own lines. Brad chipped his teeth and shaved his head. My boss thinks the story is about how he struggles to please his demanding boss. My father thought the story was about his absent father, my grandfather, who killed his wife and himself with a shotgun.
My father was 4 in 1943 when he hid under a bed as his parents fought, and his 12 brothers and sisters ran into the woods. Then his mother was dead, and his father stamped around the house looking for him, calling for him, still carrying the shotgun.
My father remembers the boots stamping past the bed and the barrel of the shotgun trailing along near the floor. Then he remembers pouring buckets of sawdust on the bodies, to protect them from wasps and flies.
The book, and now the movie, is a product of all these people. And, with everything added to it, the “Fight Club” story becomes stronger, cleaner, not just the record of one life, but of a generation. Not just of a generation, but of men.
The book is the product of Nora Ephron and Thom Jones and Mark Richard and Joan Didion, Amy Hemple and Bret Ellis and Denis Johnson, because those are the people I read.
And now most of my old friends, Jeff and Carston and Alice are moved away, gone, married, dead, graduated, back in school, raising children. This summer, someone murdered my father in the mountains of Idaho and burned his body down to a few pounds of bone. The police say they have no real suspects. He was 59.
The news came on a Friday morning, through my publicist who’d been called by the Latah County sheriff’s office, who’d found me through my publisher on the Internet. The poor publicist called me and said, “This might be some kind of sick joke, but you need to call a detective in Moscow, Idaho.”
Now here I sit with a table full of food, and you’d think free bento and free fish would taste great, but that’s not always the case.
I still wander at night.
All that’s left is a book, and now a movie, a funny, exciting movie. A wild, excellent movie full of dangerous, scary ideas. What for other people will be a whiplash carnival ride, for my friends and me, is a nostalgic scrapbook. A reminder. Amazing, reassuring proof that our anger, our disappointment, our striving and resentment unite us with each other, and now with the world.
What’s left is proof we can create reality.
Frieda, the woman who shaved Brad’s head, promised me the hair for my Christmas cards, but then she forgot, so I trimmed a friend’s golden retriever. Another woman, a friend of my father, calls me, frantic. She’s sure the white supremacists killed him, and she wants to “go under deep cover” into their world around Hayden Lake and Butler Lake, Idaho. She wants me to go along and “act as backup.” To “cover her.”
So my adventures continue. I will go into the Idaho panhandle. Or I will sit at home like the police want, take Zoloft and wait for them to call.
Or, I don’t know.
My father was a sweepstakes junkie, and every week small prizes still arrive in the mail. Wristwatches, coffee mugs, golf towels, calendars--never the big prizes, the cars or boats, this is the little stuff. Another friend, Jennifer, just lost her father to cancer, and she gets the same kind of little prizes from contests he entered her in months ago. Necklaces, soup mix, taco sauce and every time one arrives--video games, toothbrushes--her heart breaks.
A few nights before my father died, he and I talked long-distance for three hours about a treehouse he’d built my brother and me. We talked about a batch of chickens I’m raising, how to build them a coop, and if the laying box for each hen should have a wire mesh floor.
And he said, no. A chicken would not poop in its nest.
We talked about the weather, how cold it was at night. He said how in the woods where he lived, the wild turkeys had just hatched their chicks, and he told me how each tom turkey would open its wings at dusk and gather in all its young. Because they were too large for the hen to protect. To keep them warm.
I told him no male animal could ever be that nurturing.
Now my father’s dead, and my hens have their nests.
And now it seems that both he and I were wrong.