Here's to Us(17)


by Elin Hilderbrand

In 1986, everything is good. In fact, everything is great. Deacon has two jobs. He is the chef de cuisine at Solo, on Twenty-Third and Fifth, and he is the star of a late-night TV show called Day to Night to Day with Deacon, which has garnered what studio execs call “surprisingly respectable ratings.” Because he is now “on TV,” he gets recognized on the street, and every afternoon, a small cluster of fans gathers on the sidewalk outside the employee entrance of Solo, waiting for Deacon so that they can get his autograph. Some of these fans are women, hot women, and some of them hand Deacon their numbers. Call me, baby. Deacon takes all the numbers home to Laurel. She is making a scrapbook of Deacon’s successes—his review by Ruth Reichl in the Times (two and a half stars), his review in New York magazine, an ad for the show in TV Guide—and she pastes the women’s phone numbers in. She isn’t jealous at all; she thinks it’s funny and cute and sexy that he’s wanted by every woman in America.

“Not every woman,” Deacon says. “Besides, I only love you.”

Laurel knows this. She is the one who saved him. His first and only love, the mother of his beautiful son.

The show becomes so popular that Deacon is offered two more seasons, with a substantial pay raise. The advance comes in one lump sum, and when Deacon and Laurel open the envelope, they stare at the check together. It’s more money than either of them had expected to make in a lifetime.

They don’t know what to do with it. They have just bought the apartment on West 119th Street; it’s filled with light and is well suited for the three of them, and the rest of their existence is frugal: the subway instead of cabs, staff meal nearly every night at the restaurant. They should save this money, they know, invest it with Kidder or Drexel. But the check demands to be spent in some kind of large, lavish, life-changing way. They both feel it.

“You pick,” Laurel says. “You earned it.”

Deacon picks Nantucket. He calls the local newspaper, the Inquirer and Mirror, and asks for the real estate section to be mailed to him. All the houses pictured, however, are too big and too expensive. They’re meant for men who wear pinstripe suits and trade junk bonds, men who carry briefcases and play squash. But then Deacon sees a listing that catches his attention: YOUR “AMERICAN PARADISE” AWAITS ON HOICKS HOLLOW ROAD.

The hair on the back of Deacon’s neck stands up.

Good old Hoicks Hollow Road. Used to be my home away from home.

The description reads: Classic, well-loved summer cottage on exclusive Hoicks Hollow Road. Steps away from the private idyll of the Sankaty Head Beach Club, this cottage, which has remained in the same family for five generations, is in need of a thoughtful, caring owner who will appreciate its many charms. Back deck offers sweeping views over the golf course, lighthouse, and moors. Enjoy distant ocean views from the front farmer’s porch. Offered fully furnished.

The price is more than he and Laurel had wanted to pay, but it’s doable. He is struck by the way the description in the paper makes the house sound like an orphan. Like Deacon himself.

His hands are shaking as he shows the listing to Laurel. “Hoicks Hollow Road,” he says. “It’s like magic!”

They buy the house in July and move in right away. Solo closes for six weeks over the summer, and Deacon doesn’t start filming the new season of the show until September. It’s meant to be.

He thinks he understands how his father felt bringing Deacon to Nantucket, because Deacon is filled with a thrilling elation. I can’t wait for you to see it, he tells Laurel and little Hayes. It’s the best place on earth. It is, he says, an American paradise.

When they pull into the driveway, Deacon has second thoughts. The front porch of the house sags in the middle; the white trim badly needs paint, and the yard is a patchwork of dirt and crabgrass. They walk up the rickety front steps and pull open the screen door. The house smells like cleaning products, with undertones of something salty and marshy, although not unpleasant. Sunlight streams through the windows, catching dust motes. The furnishings are at-the-beach shabby. Deacon figures the cushions of the sofa have been sat upon by hundreds of wet bathing suits, and a once-prized collection of hermit crabs has probably decomposed under the front porch, where some wise child placed them to protect them from the sun.

Deacon isn’t sure how Laurel will react. For all the money they paid, she is probably expecting something much grander.

She follows him inside, carrying Hayes. She looks around with wide eyes and takes a deep breath.

“I love it,” she says.

HAYES

Hayes visited his dealer, Kermit, on 125th Street before he picked Angie up at her apartment, but there was a problem. Kermit had been raided earlier in the week. He had some product, but not enough.

“Just sell me what you have, man,” Hayes said. Traveling clean for twenty-four hours had nearly undone him. He shot up right away behind a row of garbage cans in an alley—Ahhhhhh!—and nirvana was restored to him. He had bought enough dope to last two days, plus half a dozen Vicodin, which he could pulverize and put in his coffee each morning for extra help. He had promised his mother Saturday to Tuesday; she had said something about waiting for the ashes to arrive in the mail. Hayes would have to score some product on Nantucket; otherwise, he would find himself in a sorry state.

They were going to spread the ashes in Nantucket Sound, which was what Deacon had always said he wanted. Even the doorman at Deacon’s apartment building on Hudson Street knew this. Thinking about Deacon’s physical being turned into ashes gave Hayes a moment of existential contemplation that being high did nothing to ameliorate. His father’s sinewy muscles, his full head of black hair with the forelock that always fell in his eyes, all of his vividly inked tattoos—the seal, Rich Uncle Pennybags from Monopoly, partial lyrics to “Train in Vain” by the Clash, a steaming cauldron, the vanda orchid, the striped bass that took up most of his upper back—all of that personhood would be reduced to unrecognizable rubble.

One day a few weeks earlier, on a flight from New York to Quito, Ecuador, Hayes had indulged his grief and had binge-watched his father’s shows. He started with Day to Night to Day with Deacon. His father looked so young in that show; he was really just a kid, barely twenty-five, nearly ten years younger than Hayes was now. He scowled a lot, narrowed his eyes, dropped the F-bomb as if it were his cool second job—it was bleeped out every time, obviously, although there were black-market unedited versions floating around out there—flexed the muscles in his forearms, did some circus tricks with his sauté pan, and generally perpetuated the stereotype of chef as badass. Actually, Hayes thought, his father had invented that stereotype. He, after all, had been on TV long before Ramsay or Bourdain. The cameramen followed Deacon downtown after service and shot footage of him drinking Guinness chased with Jameson all by himself in the shadows of any number of dive bars—Milady’s was a popular one because of Deacon’s banter with the geriatric bartenders, Doris and Millicent. And then, once properly lubricated, Deacon went looking for dinner. The show portrayed him as a lone wolf—hungry, hunting, an orphan, an R-rated Mowgli. He liked to eat deep in the heart of Chinatown; when that became too mainstream, he sought out Little Ethiopia and Little Burma. He loved momos.