|There Ain't No Lighter For These Damn Cigarettes
After they finally get through the west coast show, Matt finds Tom sleeping under the table in the dressing room that Jeanie shares with Camille. When he kicks Tom in the shoulder, Tom shoots to a sitting position, slamming his head on the table and muttering, "I'm up, I'm awake, shit, what, what?"
"You're under a table," Matt says, and why is unspoken.
Tom crawls out on his hands and knees, sits cross-legged on the floor with his back against the table leg, rubbing at his head. "Because when I tried to sleep in a chair, you threw a basketball at my head."
"Don't you have a bed? Don't you have a house?" Matt says. "Don't tell me you forgot to pay your mortgage again, Tommy, because I swear to God, Danny's only going to bail you out with the bank one more time and then you're on your own."
"I pay my mortgage," Tom says. "I'd just rather stay here."
Matt looks him up and down, and Tom folds his legs into a full lotus -- Jeanie is teaching everyone yoga, and it freaks Matt out a little to see his entire cast (and most of his useless writing staff) twisted up like pretzels in between rehearsals. "You know, they'll let you come back if you leave the building occasionally. You don't have to sleep under Jeanie's table."
"Can I bum a cigarette?" Tom asks. "Sim stole mine."
"I bet all your plants are dead," Matt says. "The outside world is a very nice place, you know. It's even better than they say it is on the internet."
Tom says, "I don't have plants, Matt, and I'm not afraid to go outside. Smoke, please?"
Matt's pack is mostly full because it's new, because he quit smoking when he fell in love with Harriet, and he'd sent the P.A. out for this pack after he'd seen Harry kissing what's his name in her dressing room. Matt taps a couple out and hands them to Tom, who tucks one in the corner of his mouth and the other behind his ear. "I don't have plants because I killed all of them," Tom says. "You got a light?"
Matt drops his lighter into Tom's open palm. "You killed your plants?"
"Well, Paula killed my plants," Tom says, and the click of the lighter when he lights the cigarette is loud. Matt jumps at the noise, a little startled even as he expects it, and behind that, he can hear the sounds of Cal upstairs, powering down the stage lights bank-by-bank, enormous electronic sighs as the bulbs fade out. The smoke hangs in the air, catching above Tom's head like a halo, the lamp on Camille's dressing table shining through the cloud. "Because I was never home, and she didn't water them."
Matt says, "Go home, Tommy. Go find Simon and go out for a drink, and then go home."
"What's the point?" Tom says, unfolding his legs and standing up, dropping his cigarette into a can of Diet Coke on the table. "There's nobody there to talk to."
Tom finds Simon sitting in his street clothes at the News 60 desk, fists stacked one on top of the other and chin propped on them both. Simon's staring at the teleprompter, which is already off, and the only lights left on are the emergency lights at the exits and the edges of the seats. The whole place is dark and cool and quiet, and Simon's so still in the dark that Tom almost doesn't see him.
Simon jumps when Tom puts a hand on his shoulder, and then settles back onto the desk, not meeting Tom's eyes. "Hey," Simon says.
"Hey," Tom says, and slides into Harriet's chair. He shoves back on the rollers, props his feet on the desk, and stares at the teleprompter, too. Tom thinks he can hear the clock in Matt's office ticking all the way down on the stage floor, which is stupid and untrue, too, and when he looks at his watch, he's wasted ten minutes staring at a blank teleprompter with Simon.
Better than going home to his dead plants, he figures. He says, "Sim, there's not ... you didn't buy drugs from Danny, did you? I mean, you can't actually see anything on that, right? I told you Danny only sells shitty weed."
"I'm just thinking," Simon says. "Not that you'd know anything about rubbing a couple of brain cells together once in a while."
"Hey," Tom says. He's still holding Matt's Zippo in his hand, flipping the lid open and shut to hear the echo on the empty stage, scraping the striker backwards to listen to the mouse-in-a-cage scratch against the flint in the silence of the building. Simon and Harriet have been teasing him about his smarts for years, because he sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) says the wrong thing to the wrong person, but it stopped being mean a long time ago; now it just feels familiar, one of the things that keeps Tom hanging around Studio 60 when he should really just go home. He feels more himself with Sim and Harry giving him shit than he does just about anywhere other than in front of the cameras.
Simon sits up, stretching, and squints at Tom. "Isn't that Matt's lighter? Hell, isn't that Matt's brand of smokes behind your ear?"
"Yeah," Tom says. "Since you walked off with my fucking pack, you dickwad. Haven't you always wanted to smoke a stogie at the desk? I mean, even before you were doing the news, haven't you wanted to?"
"I can freely admit that I have never contemplated smoking anything at the news desk," Simon says, "be it a cigarette, cigar, joint, or otherwise."
"Oh," Tom says.
"I didn't say I wouldn't, Tommy, I just said I hadn't," Simon says. "You got a joint you're offering to share?"
Tom says, "I have a cigarette. It's stale. I think it's been in Matt's desk since before he quit."
"Quit the show," Tom says. "So not as long ago as he quit smoking, but almost."
"Well, I've got a fresh pack," Simon says. "Does your traveling stogie road show come with an ashtray?"
"Those are my cigarettes," Tom says. He grabs the Diet Coke can -- liberated from Jeannie's dressing room, half a stale cigarette already sloshing in flat soda at the bottom -- from the floor and slides it across the news desk.
"I don't steal from other comics," Simon says, sounding helpless.
"You didn't," Tom says. "And if it helps, you were funnier than the guy at the Laff Shack." Tom lights his stale cigarette and passes Simon the lighter, a quiet swish of silver across the news desk.
The smoke twists up into the rafters like fog, and Tom watches Simon watch the teleprompter until the filter of his cigarette burns his fingers.
Simon finds Danny in the writers' room, with his feet on the table. Ricky's slumped at the head of the table, bottle of scotch in front of him, and Ron is flipping through one of the file cabinets in the corner. Simon rattles the change in his pocket against Matt's lighter and says, "Danny? You got a minute?"
Danny looks at Ricky -- who's not actually drinking the scotch, he's just staring at it -- and at Ron, who flaps a hand at Danny in the same casual, uninterested way he'd brushed off all of Simon's concerns about sketches over the last four years, and then Danny nods at Simon. "Yeah, okay, Sim," Danny says. When he stands up, he cracks his neck, rolling his head into his hands, and stretches hugely.
Simon's struck by how old Danny looks; how much more tired he looks after a show now, more so than he ever did before.
He steps back from the door and lets Danny pass him; when Danny's standing in the hallway, hands in his pockets, Simon says, "You ever feel like you're getting too old for this?"
Danny smirks, and in the shadowy light of the hallway, he looks even older -- even more tired. "I was too old for this the first time around."
"Hey," Simon says. "No. You guys weren't. You were great."
"Matt wasn't too old. I'm three years older than he is."
"All that focus group crap about being in touch with the youth culture is bullshit, anyway," Simon says.
Danny says, "You think?"
"Smoke?" Simon says.
Danny says, "Those things'll kill you."
"So will cocaine," Simon says, and regrets it immediately, but Danny’s face creases again, smiling this time, and the smile makes it all the way up to his eyes.
"That’s what I keep hoping," Danny says. "Hasn't worked yet."
Simon lights a cigarette anyway. Harriet has been nagging him to quit smoking since she joined the cast, six months after him, but there's something reflexive -- reflective -- about the habit that keeps him, well, in the habit. He thinks better when he's got a smoke in his hand, so he lights one, and offers Danny the lighter, flat on his palm.
"No, thanks," Danny says automatically, and then he actually looks down and sees the lighter, heavy and silver and cut with the date that Matt wrote his hundredth sketch for the show. "Oh."
"Yeah," Simon says.
"He's really okay," Danny says, and reaches out to take the lighter from Simon's hand. Danny hefts it once, silver flashing through his fingers, and then snaps the lid against the body of the lighter, and drops it in his pocket. "Are you?"
"Guilt, tar in my lungs, not enough sleep," Simon says. "Harriet's going a little nuts, I think Tom stopped sleeping three weeks ago, and, I swear to Harriet's God, not ten minutes after the west coast feed finished, Ricky was trying to get me into that lobster costume for next week -- that suit that's left over from what I think was a commercial for the shitty seafood restaurant next door, the one that didn't make it. Oh, and, also, I stole from another comedian tonight."
Danny raises his eyebrows and frowns at Simon over the tops of his glasses. "Are you going to keep talking about that?"
"The lobster suit? No," Simon says. "I told them Tom would wear it."
"The bit on the News 60," Danny says.
Simon looks down and taps ash onto the floor. "I still feel like shit, Danny," he says, because he does, and even knowing they owned the text hasn't made him feel any better. He'd like to take Benjamin Barkley, whoever he was, out for a drink.
"And Matt feels like an idiot, and Ricky and Ron are idiots," Danny says. "It's just comedy, Sim. You think Lorne Michaels never accidentally stole from himself?"
"Nah," Simon says. "He did it on purpose."
"Don't forget to breathe," Danny says. "I hear that's the trick to staying alive."
"That and quitting smoking," Simon says.
"And, probably, not wearing lobster suits on national television."
"Yeah," Simon says.
Danny says, "Keep your head up, Sim. It was nowhere as bad as it felt."
"Yeah," Simon says.
"Keep breathing," Danny says. "And don't tell Tom it was your idea for him to wear the lobster suit."
"Yeah, okay," Simon says. He feels pounds lighter when Danny claps him on the shoulder and then walks off. The only noise when Simon turns the other way is the sound of quarters in his pockets.
Danny finds Matt in his office, leaning on the wall and tapping an unlit cigarette against the now-empty window frame in the center of the wall. Danny says, "Need a light?"
Matt startles, dropping his cigarette out the window and glaring at Danny fiercely before he sticks his head through the blinds and peers mournfully down at his lost smoke. "Not anymore," Matt says.
"You quit," Danny says, and it sounds accusing when he hears himself. As though he hadn't betrayed Matt in ways that were worse than a pack of Camel Filters.
"I quit this job, too," Matt says, and crosses the room, dropping down onto the couch and closing his eyes. "And yet, here I am, and here you are, and as long as my resume is suggesting that we've gone back in time to 2001, I might as well take up all the bad habits that helped me survive this the first time." He snaps his head back up and glares at Danny suspiciously. "And don't say anything about my bad habit for Harriet."
"I wasn't going to," Danny says.
"You thought it, though," Matt says, closing his eyes again. "I could see it written all over your face."
"When the two of you stop screaming at each other in your office," Danny says, "I will stop making that face. Simon had your lighter, by the way." Matt opens his hand without opening eyes and catches it mid-air when Danny tosses it to him, and he reaches for the pack of cigarettes on the table with the other.
"Tom walked off with it," Matt says.
"The studio smells like smoke," Danny says. "I think he and Simon were smoking at the news desk."
"Better than other things they could have been doing on the desk."
"I guess so," Danny says, and Matt pauses with the cigarette hanging at the corner of his mouth, thumb on the lighter's striker. Danny feels pinned down by Matt's stare, even though Matt still has his eyes closed and his head turned away from Danny. It's the pause - the pause in Matt's near constant motion that says to Danny, something's wrong, and I'm not going to let you not talk about it. Matt doesn't have to say anything out loud because Danny's known him 17 years, and he knows Matt better than he knows the backs of his own hands.
Nothing's wrong, yet, but Matt pauses, and something at the center of Danny's chest gives way. He wants to flop on the couch and drop his head on Matt's shoulder like a teenaged girl, sigh and protest that nothing's wrong and eventually tell Matt anything. He doesn't, because he doesn't really know what it is that he wants to tell Matt. It feels like 2001 all over again, only different, and maybe better, and Danny doesn't know what to say about that, yet.
Instead he says, "Go on. Let me watch you smoke a cigarette."
"Harriet used to say that," Matt mutters, and he lights his cigarette. "You would really rather have Simon and Tom fucking on the news desk than smoking at it?"
"What?" says Danny. He's watching the smoke get sucked out the broken window across the room, refusing to hang in a haze around Matt's head like it did for the first 12 years Danny knew him. Sometimes, even now, Matt stands close enough to Danny that Danny thinks he can smell the smoke, stale on Matt's collar, and he never knows if he's hallucinating or Matt's smoking secretly again, in the unventilated crew bathroom on the third floor. He doesn't want to go back, but sometimes Danny misses the smoky, soapy smell of Matt's neck -- misses the puff of smoke that heralded Matt's entrance into any room. He could always find Matt from a thousand paces: Danny just followed the cloud of smoke.
"I said, better than other things they could have been doing, which was innuendo, in case you missed it, and you said that you guessed so, which suggests that you would possibly rather see Tom and Simon screwing on the news desk than smoking there, which suggests that this place is already starting to make you crazy," Matt says. He blows a smoke ring and blinks his eyes open, catching Danny's gaze through the dissipating circle.
"I don't think they have that kind of relationship," Danny says, and because it's late and he's getting old and his knees hurt from standing up all day, he sinks down on the couch by Matt.
"You never know," Matt says. He sits up, stubbing his cigarette out and pressing his thumb against his temple.
Danny says, "Tom likes women an awful lot. Given how much he liked the blonde that Simon threw at him last week at the wrap party."
"He could be overcompensating for never actually getting any," Matt says.
"You know, I have better things to do than listen to you psychoanalyzing the cast members," Danny says. Matt reaches for his pack with one hand and Danny's wrist with the other, tugging Danny back to the couch when he tries to get up.
"You totally don't," Matt says.
Danny doesn't. "No," he says. "I don't." He's just trying to -- trying to do something. Change things, this time. If this is 2001 reprised, he wants to change it so that it doesn't end like it did before, with Matt drunk and hysterical in the backseats of cabs and in the lobby of the Studio 60 building and in Wes's office, just before he quit, and Danny quit, because he's never gone anywhere without Matt as long as there have been places to go with Matt.
He can't change the past -- Matt screaming at Jack and Wes; Simon and Harriet, and Tom, who'd only been in the cast a month and who had already idolized Matt, cowering in the doorway like they weren't really seeing this happen; Danny, sitting on the floor of Matt's living room, helpless to do anything to make this easier for Matt -- but he can change the future.
Matt says, "Remember my sophomore year?"
"It's mostly disappeared in a haze of dope and Schlitz," Danny says. "But yes, vaguely, somewhere."
Matt's sophomore year was a third year graduate program arts administration class at Columbia that Danny had talked his way into in his first year of his MFA, sitting in between people who'd been working Broadway management jobs and producing independent films for years, people who were back in Columbia's management program so they could go back out and make even more money -- not people like Danny, who'd tumbled into it straight from undergrad, still only having half an idea how the whole producer thing worked. Adult people, and Danny, who'd worn a coat and tie because he'd stupidly thought the tie would make him feel like less of a kid with his classmates, and a scruffy, wild-eyed punk-looking undergrad had busted into the first class ten minutes late, panting and sweating. The professor had said, "Mr. Albie."
"Sorry," the kid had grunted.
"Mr. Albie, not only are you late, but you are also a comparative dramatic literature major at the New School," the professor said. "Why, may I ask, are you gracing this class with your enlightened presence for the second year in a row?"
"I figured some of these people would give me money to write scripts later on," Matt had said, and that was that. Their classmates weren't interested in what Danny had to say, and they all thought Matt was crazy and not in a good way, so Danny and Matt ended up sticking together. Matt chain-smoked during their class breaks and told Danny that all he wanted to do was write for SNL or Studio 60, he thought SNL because he hated New York and L.A., but he hated New York less.
Of course, he also spilled a pitcher of beer on Lorne Michaels his senior year, so Studio 60 was all that was left, but at the time -- at the time, Danny didn't have any idea how off-balance, how weird, Matt's life goals would wind up making Danny's life.
Most of the time, Danny was just along for the ride.
Matt startles Danny out of his memory, says, "The first time I grabbed your fucking tie --"
"I thought you were going to choke me to death for saying that Bill Murray was funnier than Dan Akroyd," Danny says.
"I was trying," Matt says. "But then I figured out that it was just easier to drag you around by the tie, until you got the picture and went willingly."
Danny says, "I never went willingly anywhere," which is a lie, because from the moment that Matt barreled into Fundraising and Development Theory, Danny would have followed him to the ends of the earth. And did, sometimes. And Matt -- well, Matt had followed Danny down the worst paths Danny could pick, and Matt had set him back on his feet and dusted him off and told him everything would be okay.
"Liar," Matt says, but he's smiling around the cigarette he's lighting. He exhales and taps the cigarette against the edge of the ashtray, and then says, "Danny --"
"I don't know, Matt," Danny says, because he knows what Matt means and Danny knows he doesn't know the answer. "They don't teach you shit like that in How To Handle Temperamental Comedy Writers graduate school. We did okay, I think. It wasn't your fault."
"They're not that funny," Matt says. "I can't -- I'm funnier than the room. Isn't this supposed to be about comedy?"
Danny doesn't say, you can't do this on your own. He doesn't say, Oh, Matt, which is what he wants to say when he hears the plaintive, tell-me-this-will-be-okay note in Matt's voice. He says, "They're funnier than you think they are."
"Yeah, well," Matt says, "you're funnier than I always think you are, too, which is not saying much."
Danny says, "Why does every conversation I have with you always come back to you picking on me?"
"I'm sorry, I take it back, you're very funny," Matt says.
"Matt," Danny says. "So we fucked up. We've fucked up before, and on bigger scales than this. Life keeps going."
"This is why you're not the funny one," Matt says. "It's because you're the reasonable one."
"I tried to kill Ricky and Ron," Danny says. "I'm only reasonable compared to you."
"Somebody has to be," Matt says, and when he drags on his cigarette and then exhales, it's like somebody's flipped a switch -- Danny can see the tension seeping out of his shoulders visibly, like everything Matt's been worrying about is floating off into the air with the tar and the carcinogens in his cigarettes.
"I guess it's good you've got me, then," Danny says.
Matt taps a trail of ashes onto the floor and says, "You've got it wrong, buddy -- you've got me. You've always had me."
Matt makes jokes, and talks big, and forgets his girlfriends' birthdays, but Danny is pretty much the only thing that Matt's taken seriously besides writing for Studio 60 for as long as Danny's known him. "Well," Danny says, and then he doesn't say anything else, because Matt knows what he means, and Danny knows he knows.
Danny's the only person Matt has ever been able to be quiet with.
"I liked it better when you still wore ties," Matt says suddenly, setting his cigarette into the ashtray. He closes his fingers around the lapel of Danny's jacket and tugs, setting Danny off-balance, leaning toward Matt, and for a moment, Danny balks -- he didn't think this was the answer to the question he hadn't asked.
But Matt tugs again, and Danny goes. Sometimes they get mixed up and he can't remember if Matt's following him or he's supposed to be following Matt, but it's been 17 years and most of them good, the ones he remembers, and when Matt pulls, Danny goes, because that's how they've always done it. Matt's hand is still clutching at Danny's jacket when Matt kisses him, and Danny closes his eyes and kisses Matt back, breathing in the smoke on Matt's skin, in his mouth, and remembering, in Kodak snapshot color, why they're still doing this.
The burn of smoke is sharp, like the taste of genius, at the back of Danny's throat.
On the table, the cigarette burns down into ash, smoke floating like fog behind them.
author's notes: title and summary from mason jennings, "move". beta by the queen of my heart. obscure details about columbia university curriculum from the boy, who applied to their arts management program.