|How You Do What You Do Is Who You Are
In April of his junior year at Columbia, Matt set Danny up with a cute redhead who had completely bizarre ideas about Ibsen and who sat next to Matt in his Contemporary European Drama class, and Danny came home from the date with a 6'4" drag queen whose real name was Darryl.
Matt quit setting Danny up on dates and took up smoking instead.
By way of explanation as to what happened to the redhead, Danny said, "We hold completely irreconcilable notions about The Merchant of Venice," and then he made Matt get up off the couch and sit on the radiator, blowing smoke out the window, so that Darryl the Drag Queen could sleep on their couch.
Darryl the Drag Queen was the first stray that Danny brought home, but he wasn't the last, and Matt eventually almost got used to it -- coming home from class, from the comedy clubs, to find strangers sleeping on the couch that he and Danny had fished out of a dumpster and carried up the five flights of stairs, coming home to actors and dancers and singers and waitresses taking up Matt's space and Danny's time.
The apartment was hardly big enough for two people, much less two people plus Danny's charity cases, but -- helping people, doing whatever it was that Danny thought he was doing, it was keeping him reasonably happy.
And when Danny was happy, Matt was happy to sit on the radiator in the kitchen, notebook propped on his knees and Danny's copy of The Berlin Stories folded open between the hissing coils, watching Danny make scrambled eggs, and pasta with sauce straight from a jar, and peanut butter on toast.
Danny cast his strays in shows he was producing for the Columbia cabaret, or sent them out on auditions for revues whose producers he'd met, schmoozing at the wine bars Matt couldn't afford to drink in. The strays never stayed more than a couple of days, eating the college-student meals that Danny had been cooking for himself and Matt since they'd moved in together, sitting at the table whose wobbly leg was propped up with a copy of The Skin of Our Teeth.
They all talked, though, chattering to Danny about how they were going to be the next big thing, or the next big name after that, and Matt sat at the table and smirked at Danny over whatever he was reading for class. Danny just frowned at Matt, and went back to nodding at whichever stray was yapping endlessly that night -- Danny was an easy touch, and at 24, he had the funny idea that people were the key to finding the money to do what he wanted to do.
Matt knew the key was talent.
Danny brought stray actresses home for 14 months, from the failed date with the redhead who thought Ibsen was a tool of the patriarchy until he (Danny, because it took Matt an extra semester to finish) graduated. There wasn't any pattern to it. Sometimes Danny came home with comped Broadway or Off-Broadway or Off-Off-Broadway tickets, and sometimes he came home with cocktail waitresses who couldn't carry tunes in buckets and who wanted to talk to Matt about Wendy Wasserstein and, when they found out that he and Danny lived together in their tiny apartment, about William Finn and Terrence McNally.
"I don't get you," Danny said. Teresa the dancer-slash-poet was in their shower, singing something tunelessly that Matt couldn't make out over the water, and Danny was sitting cross-legged on the floor with the theater opening notices in the Times folded open on his lap.
Matt flopped over onto his back on the couch, hooking his legs over the couch arm and looking at Danny sideways. Danny had his glasses propped on his forehead and a pen stuck behind his ear; he'd been circling shows (certain to be awful) that he would make Matt go see in the next couple of weeks. "I am a very straight-forward sort of guy, Danny," Matt said. "I like burritos from the place by the Chemistry building. I think Dan Akroyd is funny. I want to go to Chicago and take classes from Del Close this summer. I wish you would stop snoring. There's very little not to get."
"I don't snore," Danny said. "She's pretty, isn't she?"
"Dan Akroyd? No," Matt said. He was supposed to be reading Mother Courage and her Children, and Danny was having a psychotic break in their living room. Matt wondered idly if his professor would accept that as an excuse.
"I guess so," Matt said. "You like her? You haven't gone on a date since the girl with the crazy opinions about Ibsen and Merchant of Venice."
"I'm busy," Danny said. "I thought ... she's pretty, I thought you might want to go out with her."
"I can find my own dates," Matt said. "In fact, you will recall, I once had so many dates that I started passing them off to you, because you never have any dates. And, also, all those waitresses you bring home, you do know that they think we're gay?"
Danny said, "We do only have one bed," but he dropped his head and started picking at the threadbare carpet Matt's mother had donated to their cause when they'd moved in.
"And neither of us is having sex in it, with each other or with anyone else," Matt said.
Danny frowned, pulled a piece of carpet out and tossed it into a corner with one of their dust bunnies. He looked up at Matt, almost frowning, like there was something written on Matt's face that Danny could decipher, if he could just read close enough.
Teresa came out of the bathroom, wrapped in one of Matt's threadbare green towels and drying her hair with one of Danny's threadbare orange towels. "So," she said, looking from Matt to Danny and back to Matt. Matt was staring at Danny, but he could feel Teresa's eyes on him, curious. "If he's the producer," she said, pointing to Danny, who was destroying the carpet again, "what do you do?"
"I'm a writer," Matt said. "I write stuff for him."
At 20, Matt spent most of his free time sitting on the floor in the theater section of the Strand, or sitting on the radiator in the kitchen trying to make Danny laugh.
His writing for Studio 60 had mostly been for Harriet; because watching her face when something really snapped in rehearsal, when she loved him, had been worth every moment of agony after they broke up. But Matt had been trying to make people laugh longer than he'd known Harriet, because he'd been writing for Danny from the first minute Danny leaned over his shoulder in the lobby of the Columbia mainstage theater and said, "That's pretty good."
It was a sketch about Michael Dukakis and it wasn't actually very good, but Matt still has the pages, ripped from the notebook and crammed in the back of the coffee table book about Second City along with three postcards from Harriet and his first contract on Studio 60, because there was something worth keeping in it, and Danny had seen it.
Matt was a writer, and he knew a lot of words for things that were fantastic -- sketches that were perfectly paced, comedy that made Danny laugh until he cried.
Danny kept bringing home strays, trying to find something in all the strangers he talked to, and Matt kept trying to make Danny laugh.
Danny finished his Masters' degree on time, in May. Matt had spent the summer after his junior year sleeping on improvisers' couches in Chicago, so he could take classes at Improv Olympic instead of taking calculus in summer school, and he had also neglected to take any classes that covered drama before 1910, so he did not.
When Matt walked into the living room on the morning of commencement, Danny was sitting on the couch with his head back, wearing his graduation robe, with bloody Kleenex stuffed into his nostrils, and the shower was running. "So," Matt said. "Stripper, cocktail waitress, or drag queen? Also, you did not come home last night."
"Classically trained ballerina," Danny said, sounded nasal and muffled. He lifted his head up and pulled the tissue out of his nose, dabbing carefully at his face, and Matt could see shiny spots of blood, still wet, on the collar of his robe. "Also exotic dancer. I came home this morning."
"Only you," Matt said, "would bring home an exotic dancer-slash-classically trained ballerina the morning of your graduation. What were you doing last night? Did someone punch you in the nose?"
"I was just out," Danny said. "I met Cinnamon at a bar, and she needed a place to crash for a couple of days, they're turning her building into condos and she was evicted."
"Cinnamon," Matt said. Danny's nose started dripping again, three quick spots of red fading to brown on the white shirt he was wearing under the robe.
Danny said, "Shit."
"Seriously," Matt said, fishing for something to say about a classically trained ballerina named Cinnamon, but he couldn't stop staring at Danny, blood gushing out between his fingers and dripping down his face. Danny groped for the box of Kleenex on the couch beside him, pinching the bridge of his nose while he twisted the tissue and plugged his nostrils again. "Jesus, Danny, are you okay?"
"Just a nosebleed," Danny said, and his mouth twisted strangely before he looked away from Matt. "I'm tired, we just finished finals, I'm getting sick or something. I'm fine, Matt."
Matt sank down onto the floor, crossing his legs and waiting for the shower to cut off. "So you had a good night?"
"Yeah," Danny said. "It was fine."
"Get into any trouble, besides the exotic dancer houseguest sort?"
"I only get into trouble when you're with me," Danny said, sounding fond. Or sad, Matt couldn't tell which. "It was fine, we went a bunch of places and drank a lot of champagne. People want to give me money to produce things."
Matt said, "Okay." Danny had been a ghost lately, spending half his time in the library and the other half in Manhattan bars, sweet-talking anyone who would let him shuffle papers, manage money, track down advertisers. He hadn't brought home nearly as many strays recently, and Matt had spent a lot of time sacked out on the couch, scripts and notebooks folded open on his chest, waiting for Danny to come home.
"I haven't been sleeping much," Danny said. Matt tried to hear a clue, a clue about anything, about what was really wrong, in Danny's voice, but Danny really did just sound tired, and Matt knew he was probably overreacting. "Lots of work on the thesis." He stood up and offered Matt his hand. "Come on, my folks want to take us out to dinner."
"Cinnamon, too?" Matt didn't understand Danny's thesis, but he'd been living with Danny for two years and he still didn't understand how you could get a Masters' degree in raising money for theater, either, but Danny had done it.
"No," Danny said.
"Okay," Matt said. He tried not to stare at the spots of blood on Danny's collar while Danny's mother made awkward small talk.
Later he'd wonder how he missed any of the signs, any of the ways that he should have seen Danny falling apart, but Cinnamon the exotic dancer stole all of their silverware while they were out at dinner, and at the time, a nosebleed seemed like small potatoes when compared to eating ramen with their fingers.
Danny moved to Los Angeles and sent postcards. Matt stayed in New York and got a C- in Calculus and an A in Jacobean Theater, and when the air conditioner broke down in July, he lugged it up to the top of the building and threw it down into the alley, just to see what it would do.
It shattered, and Matt wrote Danny a postcard about it. He got one back that said, I bet you could have sold it at a pawn shop, even if it was busted. Send pictures.
In June, Matt met an English major named Star in his calculus class. She was funny and she had six tattoos, and she could do things with her tongue that would make grown men weep. Matt spent most of his free time in bed with her, and four postcards from Danny piled up on the kitchen counter before Matt remember to send one back.
He wouldn't have remember at all, except that Star picked the one on the top of the stack up on the 4th of July and said, "Who's Danny?"
"My roommate," Matt said.
Star peered around the apartment curiously. "Two people live here?"
Matt said, "Past tense," and went back to rooting through the take-out containers in the fridge, because he was certain there were two beers in there somewhere.
"Oh," Star said. "Bad breakup."
"What?" Matt said, backpedaling out of the fridge. "No, no. Roommate, platonic."
"This one says, don't you love me any more, Matthew?" Star said. "It's okay if you're gay."
"Danny's just fucking with me," Matt said. "He does that."
"Sure," Star said.
She didn't return his calls after that, and Matt sent Danny a postcard that said, I think I just got dumped because I'm gay for you.
Danny sent one back that said, I'm glad to know that it was a nice piece of tail keeping you from answering my cards and not the fact that you were dead in a gutter somewhere. P.S. You are gay for me, you asshole, didn't you know that? It had a picture of Dodger Stadium on it, and Matt stuck it in his notebook, between the pages of a sketch about a Mets fan married to a Yankees fan. The sketch sucked, and the postcard made Matt's head hurt.
None of Danny's postcards said anything about Danny's life -- they were nagging reminders to Matt to pay the electric bill, or stories about celebrities that Danny saw doing outrageous things in public places. Like a lot of things, later he figured out that he should have been worried, but he wasn't, and more often than not, Danny's postcards ended up left in library books or at bars.
The only one Matt hung on to was the one of Dodger Stadium
Matt graduated in August, and sold everything left in the apartment except 16 vintage concert t-shirts and his word processor. Danny called on Labor Day, sounding tired and distant, and when Matt told him that he'd sold everything but the t-shirts and the word processor, Danny said, "Even your pants? I don't think most people hire screenwriters who don't wear pants."
"If you're famous, you can wear whatever you want," Matt said. He hadn't sold his pants.
"You still have to wear something," Danny said.
Matt said, "Vintage concert t-shirts are eternal." He was trying to cram all of his clothes (including the t-shirts) into one small suitcase that he'd salvaged from a dumpster because it didn't smell terrible and didn't have any visible stains.
"You can't wear them to accept an Oscar," Danny said.
"Sure you can." The suitcase groaned, and Matt wedged the phone between his shoulder and his ear so he could sit on it. "You should come to Chicago and help me move in."
"I can't," Danny said, tightly, his voice clipped.
The suitcase snapped shut, and Matt collapsed on the floor beside it. "Sure you can," he said. "You're just fetching coffee for some executive right now, aren't you?"
"I can't," Danny said.
"Come on, man," Matt said. "You're my best friend! I'm starting an exciting new chapter in my life! You owe it to me to be there! You owe it to yourself, Daniel. I'll buy you a beer."
"You own 16 t-shirts and a glorified typewriter. Move yourself," Danny said, and hung up. It wasn't until the dial tone started bleating in his ear that he realized he hadn't asked Danny about Los Angeles at all.
Matt picked Chicago because he didn't own a car and he didn't have a driver's license, he didn't particularly want to acquire either of them, and Los Angeles traffic scared him. The UCB wouldn't open their theater for years -- wouldn't write their first sketch together for years -- and in 1988, Matt didn't want to do stand-up. He hadn't had a single professor who'd understood that. He had one who wanted to him to be a serious playwright, the next Eugene O'Neill, and one who thought he should try his hand at a Jay McInerney style novel, but none of them thought that comedy was real.
So he went to Chicago, where comedy was a hell of a lot more real, and nobody would make him own a car. Danny left Matt a list of everyone who'd gone through Second City and ended up on SNL or S60 when he moved out -- Matt found it, in the middle of August while he was trying to clean the place well enough to get at least part of their security deposit back, tucked underneath the sink with the jug of bleach and a note that said, Congratulations, this is your prize for deciding to clean the bathroom: reassurance that you've made the right decision geographically.
Matt called Danny to thank him, but all he got was Danny's scratchy answering machine, and he hung up before the beep. It was 4 a.m. on a Thursday, and either Danny was still out or he was asleep. Matt folded the list of everyone who'd succeeded because they went to Chicago into his notebook next to the postcard of Dodger Stadium.
Chicago was less big and less noisy and significantly less scary than New York had been, his first week at Columbia. The son of a cousin of Matt's mother let Matt sleep on her couch for two weeks while he figured out how to get from her Bucktown apartment to the places he wanted to go, without a map, and she took him to a free midnight show at Improv Olympic, where a skinny kid (who Matt would later figure out was named Mike Myers, when he made it big on SNL) made Matt laugh so hard he cried.
The bars were closing when they left the theater, and Matt stood on Clark Street surrounded by several thousand incredibly drunk Cubs fans, and he thought, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. He wasn't sure how, but Danny hadn't gotten a Masters' degree in making money for nothing, Matt was certain -- Danny could tell him how.
Matt had a couple hundred bucks left from selling all his possessions and some of Danny's, too, and it was just enough to find himself an apartment and enroll in the first writing class that Second City offered. He didn't have anything left over to pay the rent in October, but that was a problem he'd figure out when he got to it. He called Danny, 8:30 on a Wednesday, and Danny wasn't home.
He hung up without leaving a message.
Six weeks after he got to Chicago, Matt was trying to wedge the mattress he'd bought from the bartender at Second City ETC through his front door when his phone started ringing. "I'm in Kansas City," Danny said. "My flight lands in Chicago in 72 minutes. Meet me at O'Hare."
Matt left the mattress in the middle of the living room and rode the Blue Line out to the airport, notebook propped on his knees, watching the people and their luggage on the train. It took him 15 minutes glancing between his watch and the arrivals from Kansas City to figure out which flight was Danny's, and by the time he did, Danny was off the plane, slumped in a chair by the gate with his eyes closed.
Danny was skinnier than he'd been when he left New York, and Matt kicked Danny's foot and said, "What, the Chinese food in L.A. is that bad?"
Danny sat up and scrubbed at his eyes with the back of his hand. "I'm working a lot."
"Fetching a lot of coffee?" Matt said, and he stuck his hand out to help Danny up. Danny stared at Matt's hand for a long moment before he took it, hauling himself to his feet and shouldering a carry-on bag that had seen better days.
"Reading a lot of crap," Danny said. "I could write an essay on how not to write a script, but I still don't know what makes a good one."
"Sure you do," Matt said. "It's good if I wrote it."
"Have you written one yet?"
"No," Matt said. "But I will."
"Sure you will," Danny said. "Come on, show me this place you're keeping all your t-shirts."
"Hey, I bought a coffee pot," Matt said, and Danny smiled, for the first time since Matt had picked him out of the crowd. He looked tired, despite the smile, and Matt put his hand on Danny's back without thinking about it.
Matt bought a case of Old Style and they drank the whole thing sprawled out across Matt's mattress, still afloat in the middle of the living room. "Sometimes I think it was a mistake," Danny slurred. He was lying on his back with his legs hanging off onto the floor, and Matt didn't have any curtains so the streetlight outside Matt's window dropped its shadows across Danny's face.
"What, moving to Los Angeles?" Matt groped for a beer, and all four that he could close his hands on without moving, opening his eyes, or hitting Danny in the head turned out to be empties.
"L.A.," Danny said expansively, gesturing with his beer and slopping it onto the mattress. "Theater. Hollywood. Cigarettes. Alcohol. Marijuana. Cocaine."
"First," Matt said, "marijuana is never a mistake. Second, you are spilling beer on my mattress."
Danny snorted and tried to pat Matt's face with his beer bottle. Matt's brain caught up to the conversation, and he levered himself up suddenly and said, "Wait, cocaine?"
Danny turned his head away.
"I don't want to talk about it," Danny said. The street light shut off, suddenly, and when Matt looked out the window, he realized it was almost dawn.
"Danny," Matt said.
Danny said, "I don't want to talk about it," and later Matt would tell himself that he just wasn't thinking when he leaned down and kissed Danny. He kissed Danny because he was drunk, and because Danny wouldn't look at him, and because Matt was 22 and stupid and scared.
It was the first time they slept together, and there were two fumbled blowjobs and a car alarm going off in the middle of Matt trying not to choke or laugh or cry or anything. It wasn't the worst sex of Matt's life, but it was close -- except that it was Danny, Matt's best friend in the entire world, which trumped any of the women Matt had ever fucked. Afterwards, the sun starting to turn the sky outside pink and orange as it came up, Danny turned to Matt and said, "I'm scared shitless."
"Join the club," Matt said.
Danny was quiet, and when Matt looked over, Danny had fallen asleep, one hand tucked underneath his head, the other stretched out and curled around Matt's bicep. A bus rumbled past below his open window, and Matt fell asleep staring at Danny's face, smoothed out in sleep but still too thin.
When he woke up, Danny was gone.
None of the news stories that tout 18-years-of-Tripp-and-Albie mention what Danny calls The Missing Years. Matt keeps threatening to write it himself. "It'd be an instant bestseller," he says to Danny over dinner. "Tripp and Albie -- the fucked up cocaine years."
"These are still the fucked up cocaine years," Danny says. He steals a French fry off Matt's plate and chews thoughtfully. "You don't even really know what happened then."
"Because you are a close-mouthed bastard," Matt says cheerfully. "And you don't want me to exploit your life for personal gain, which I just don't understand."
The news stories talk about college roommates and lifelong friends and working together for almost 20 years, but they don't talk about the fact that Danny didn't produce or direct any of Matt's work until the late '90s. Matt thinks that if the only things he knew about his relationship with Danny were the things that he read in the media, he wouldn't know a damn thing about it.
"Personal gain, front pages of the tabloids, whichever," Danny says. "Not that we haven't spent enough time on the tabloids this year."
"It would be good publicity," Matt says.
"I don't think those words go in the same sentence together," Danny says.
The fact is that Matt still doesn't know the story. Suddenly, when Danny dropped back into his life, there was money, money to try and make a go of something, anything they wanted, and Matt never asked questions because he was 26 and Danny was offering him a big break, the big break. Matt wasn't stupid enough to ask questions, but there are still too many answers he doesn't have.
Danny's his best friend, and there are plenty of things they don't talk about.
"I know what I was doing," Matt says. "I'll just call it Albie: The Missing Years. I can write about all the lousy tips I got waiting tables at that place on Rush Street, and maybe some of the customers who stiffed me will send me their damn 20%."
"You don't need the money," Danny says. "And you were a lot skinnier then, nobody would recognize you."
"It's the principle of the thing," Matt says.
"It's always the principle of the thing with you," Danny says."
Matt says, "That's why we're taking the job, right?"
"No," Danny says. "But it's close enough."
Danny was thinner than he'd been the last time Matt had seen him. Danny called, said, "I'm in the Omaha airport, I'll be there in an hour and a half."
Matt, who was hungover and naked at the time, said, "Fuck you," and hung up. He turned around, barfed in the sink, and then he fell asleep on the floor. He woke up with someone's foot nudging his ribs, and Danny was standing over him.
"You still haven't bought a couch?"
"Fuck you," Matt said. "It's not like you walked out of here six weeks ago and I still haven't bought a couch."
Danny sat down on the floor, leaned back against the fridge, and said, "You should put some pants on."
"You should go away," Matt said. "This is one of the great joys of living alone, without any significant emotional attachments, relationships, or obligations. If I want to lie on my kitchen floor naked, I am perfectly free to do so."
"That's depressing," Danny said. "Go put on your pants."
Matt stood up and the world shifted disconcertingly underneath his feet, but Danny -- Danny looking tired, and sad, and needy -- smiled at Matt from the floor, and Matt went and put on pants.
In 1993, Matt's possessions included a word processor, a blender, 27 spiral bound notebooks full of sketches (numbered chronologically based on date finished, with permanent marker, on their covers) a case of typing paper, and 27 vintage concert t-shirts. Danny was flipping through notebook #22 when Matt emerged from the bedroom, buttoning his shirt. Danny said, "You've gotten better."
"Four years," Matt said. "Something had to give."
He leaned in the doorway and watched Danny set #22 (mostly sketches based on horrible yuppies he saw on the train and in the restaurant where he was waiting tables) down on the windowsill and pick up #14 (mostly sketches about horrible heterosexual relationships where someone was always leaving, which Steve Carell said was Matt sublimating his issues about "that guy you lived with in college").
Danny's suit hung off him badly, and when had Danny started wearing suits? Some nights, Matt came home from waiting tables full of rich assholes who under-tipped and tried to write and felt older and more tired than his 26 years, but Danny looked that tired.
"So," Matt said, and Danny jumped like he'd been shocked. "It's nice to see you, glad you're not dead, thanks for calling, where the hell have you been?"
Danny frowned. He wiped the back of his hand against his nose and sighed. "I've been busy," he said.
"That's the worst fucking excuse I've ever heard," Matt said.
Danny said, "Matt," and he sounded a little broken, like he did the last time Matt saw him and Danny said that he thought he'd made a lot of mistakes.
Matt had made a lot of mistakes in four years, because everybody makes a lot of mistakes no matter who they are, and Matt's mistakes started with the crazy red-headed stockbroker he'd dated for two years (her West Loop apartment was nicer than his Logan Square cockroach hostel) and ended with forgetting to lock his door before he passed out last night. If Matt had locked his door, Danny wouldn't have waltzed right in as though he'd been there all this time.
Seven years, and Danny still surprised the hell out of Matt all the time. Seven years, and Matt was still surprised when Danny did something surprising. It was a vicious cycle, and Matt knew without a doubt that he was never going to break out of it.
He didn't like the world without Danny in it -- he didn't like the things he wrote without Danny to tell him how to fix things, he didn't like the girls he dated without Danny around to terrify them into breaking up with Matt.
His life was poorer for the lack of Danny, and Matt, pants on, walked into the living room, sat on the floor, and said, "Tell me what you've been doing."
Danny dropped his head, and sighed, and sat down next to Matt. He leaned over and rested his forehead against Matt's shoulder, and Matt jumped. Matt touched Danny, and Danny let him, but Danny didn't touch people, voluntarily. "Hey," Matt said.
"I am in so much trouble," Danny said, and he shifted, pressing his face against Matt's armpit.
His breath was hot against Matt's skin, and Matt wrapped a hand around the back of Danny's neck and held on. He had no idea what to say, but he was wearing pants and he had Danny, and Matt had always thought they could figure anything out together. Anything except maybe why they'd slept together -- and maybe that, too.
Matt said, "It's going to be okay," and Danny pressed his mouth against Matt's throat, and then Matt's mouth. Okay, Matt thought, anything at all, and he kissed Danny back.
Danny had always said, sleep on the problem and we'll figure it out in the morning. It wasn't an answer, it wasn't the problem, and Matt once again had no idea what was going on, but he never had, and he wasn't homeless or completely broke yet. He'd spent four years talking to an imaginary Danny, because his life felt awkward and off-balance without a real Danny, and Matt was angry and freaked out.
But he was, if he admitted the truth to himself, happier to have Danny than he was angry at Danny for disappearing. (Later, it would turn out that Matt should have been angry first and happy afterwards, when they fixed things, but the whole truth was not something that was necessarily important between them. In 1993, Danny said the things he thought were important, and Matt said the things he thought were important, and that was enough, except when it wasn't.)
He sat on his living room floor without a shirt and kissed Danny, because he didn't know what else to do, and he figured it couldn't hurt anything.
They talk about the day-to-day operations; Matt's writer's block, Darius and Lucy's development. They talk about Harriet, they talk about the quiet way that Tom may or may not be falling apart underneath his manic exterior. They fight about the way Matt thinks he can't write without a cigarette in his hand, and about where to have Suzanne order dinner from.
Suzanne walks into the room where they're fighting and rolls her eyes and bangs things around until they stop sniping at each other and pay attention to her; Tom and Simon ignore them. Harriet avoids both of them when Matt and Danny are yelling, and she always has. She's never understood it -- why the yelling is something they just have to do, how they can be so mean to each other. Harriet never understood that it was just how they were -- Matt's mother said that it was just boys being boys, even though Matt and Danny were well into their 20s when she said it and Matt had rolled his eyes at being called a boy, but neither he nor Danny had denied the accusation -- that all the sniping, the name-calling, was just how they related.
Sometimes -- and it's why he doesn't want another director, he wants Danny, always -- he forgets that not everyone works like that, and that's a good explanation about a lot of Matt's employment history. He forgets that it's only Danny he can call a cock-sucking son of a goat and not get punched.
Only Danny knows that's a term of endearment; Harriet was never fond of being called that.
"That's why it will never work out with you and Harriet," Danny says. Danny is stacking Matt's cigarette butts into tiny pyramids in the ashtray and playing Devil's Advocate. Matt is smoking another cigarette, drinking a beer, and trying not to drop ash all over Danny's fingers.
"Harriet is my destiny," Matt says, and flicks his ash on Danny's fingers just to be a jerk.
"I love Harry," Danny says. "I always have, but you and Harriet are fundamentally mismatched, and I would hate to see a child raised in that atmosphere." He's deadpan when he says it, and Matt narrows his eyes and waits for the quirk of Danny's mouth that gives away his jokes.
Danny stares right at Matt, and his mouth twitches, and then he smiles, huge. "Yeah," Danny says. "That was a total flop, right?"
"There's a reason I'm the one who writes the jokes," Matt says.
"You really think that the two of you are going to get back together?"
"I have a great white hope," Matt says. He crushes his cigarette out on the edge of a plate from Craft Services and offers the butt to Danny, who takes it without a word and adds it to the pyramid in front of him. "Opposites attract and so on and so forth."
"I love that you take comfort in clichés," Danny says. "Since you won't tolerate them in sketches."
"What," Matt says, "you don't think we're opposites, too?"
Danny snorts, and the back of his hand knocks his tallest pyramid into pieces. Matt fell in love with Danny's hands back in college, before he had the vocabulary to verbalize what he kept thinking about whenever he watched Danny talk. Matt can't sit still; it's why he smokes, so he has something to do with all his energy when he has to sit still. Danny can sit still. Danny is very good at watching things, silently -- Matt keeps thinking that eventually he'll figure out Danny's tells, the things that will let Matt know when Danny is creeping up on him, but it's been 19 years and he still hasn't managed.
Danny is very still, and very quiet, and very perceptive -- and his hands give him away, entirely. Danny's hands are still when everything is going well, and when Danny worries, his hands are the biggest tell he has, the only one Matt's ever figured out.
"Besides," Matt says. "First, I don't want children, and second, I think a child raised in Studio 60 would be completely well-adjusted."
Danny's hands stop, two crushed cigarettes pressed between his fingers, and Matt thinks that even when Danny was married, he never had a line on his finger from the ring. Matt can't ever remember Danny wearing a wedding ring. "Absolutely," Danny says. "Like Tom is well-adjusted?"
"Tom is well-adjusted for a comedian," Matt says.
"That's not saying much," Danny says, and something Matt can't read crosses over his face. Danny drops the cigarettes back into the ashtray, wipes his fingers on Matt's couch, and for the moment, his hands are still.
Being married was apparently what Danny had been doing.
Three things happened in January, '95: Danny's divorce was final; Matt got hired to do rewrites to a summer blockbuster script that was frantically reshooting late clips; and Danny ended up bleeding all over their bathroom and Matt checked him into rehab.
It was a Friday in January, and Matt had found the final papers that Danny had to sign -- giving Tara, who Matt still hadn't met, far more money than Matt thought she deserved, that football-player-screwing bitch -- stuck behind the vodka in the freezer three weeks earlier. Danny was still closed-mouthed about where he'd been and what (who, Matt always corrected him) he'd been doing (who Danny had been doing) during the years he was a ghost, a fond memory of Matt's, floating around L.A. invisibly, but Matt had weaseled the story about Tara out of him one night when Danny had come home fucked up on something and had then drunk gin and tonics with Matt in the empty bathtub until four a.m..
Tara had been a cocktail waitress at the bar three doors down from Improv Olympic West, and Danny had owned a car and had a jones to play the slots in Vegas.
Danny moved to Los Angeles because he knew it was what he needed to do. Matt moved to L.A. because he didn't really have anything better to do, and because all the stuff he owned fit in the back seat of Danny's car.
Matt always thought that he would be the one who got married stupidly in Vegas, because Danny at least had a plan.
He moved to Los Angeles in June of '94, and it took him about six weeks -- finding out who Danny had been hanging out with, buying them enough drinks to get them talking, buying Danny enough drinks to get him talking -- to piece together what Danny had been doing while Matt had been serving nouvelle cuisine to yuppies and sneaking in backstage to Second City and taking notes.
Matt heard the same words over and over again for the first four weeks: brilliant, but unstable; cocaine; driven, but unstable; cocaine; cocaine, cocaine, cocaine. He heard them from other people, and Danny said lonely, not certain that this is what we -- always we, always including Matt, and Matt appreciated that, because he definitely didn't have any idea what he was doing, so he was glad that Danny seemed to, even if Danny was unsure about it -- are supposed to be doing. Danny said uncertain, and Danny said a little fucked up.
He got the story about Tara from a bartender at a place behind Studio 60. The bartender said that Danny was a good customer -- never made trouble, never drank too much, and all those producers do a lot of blow, nobody ever makes trouble -- and Tara was a shitty waitress, and Danny was her third husband.
"She liked the producers," the bartender said. "And they liked her, and I think she thought that she'd eventually find one that was rich. Never did, though, and your friend was too good for her. Plus, she's always trading up."
Danny told Matt that he didn't really remember much of that evening, and the only reason that it took this long to divorce her is that he tried to make it work. "She was kind of sweet," Danny said, and Matt rolled his. "I didn't -- I thought better of her than I guess I should have."
Danny had always thought the best of people; Matt thought about Darryl the Drag Queen and Cinnamon the flatware-stealing exotic dancer.
Matt said, "Yeah, that's what I've heard."
"It's not a problem," Danny said. "You worry too much, Matt."
"I worry just enough. Perhaps not even enough. I think I am really undershooting the worrying," Matt said. "Sign the papers."
Danny signed the papers and acted mostly normal for the rest of 1994. Matt started worrying about money, and about whether or not he'd ever finish anything longer than ten pages, and stopped worrying about Danny so much. He kept looking for signs that Danny was in trouble, and he didn't see any.
The day Danny collapsed in the bathroom, Matt was sitting on the floor of the living room -- "I can't believe that you made fun of my apartment," Matt had said to Danny when he got to L.A., "because you have just as little furniture as I do." "Fewer t-shirts, though," Danny said, and he had leaned against Matt, shoulder pressed against Matt's back, and then pressed his fingers against Matt's lower back and propelled Matt, and his word processor and his t-shirts, into the apartment they'd live in for almost six years, although they got more furniture, later -- outlining what would turn out to be his first screenplay and listening to U2.
He shouted, "Hey, where should we order dinner from?" He typed three exclamation points after and then they have sex in the outline. He heard a thump in the bathroom.
Matt found a spray of white powder on the counter, and Danny on the floor, covered in blood.
Matt cleaned out his savings account ($67.48) and Danny's savings account (a couple thousand dollars), and then he called his mother in Connecticut and borrowed the rest of it. He checked Danny into rehab on February 1, 1995.
He didn't visit Danny once. Danny sent postcards, first scrawled in an unsteady hand, accusatory and angry, and then later steadier and openly apologetic, and finally steadiest, with big plans, and coded apologies. Matt finished the rewrites for the blockbuster (which tanked spectacularly) wrote his first screenplay while Danny was in rehab (it won him a Golden Globe in 2004). It was probably the most depressing thing that Matt had ever written -- would ever write -- but he bundled the whole thing up and put it in the front seat of Danny's car.
He picked Danny up from the clinic and as soon as Danny climbed into the car, he picked up Matt's screenplay and started reading.
Matt took the long way home, and when he parked the car in the apartment complex lot, Danny looked up, looked over, and said, "Thank you."
"I'd have done it for anyone," Matt said, but it wasn't true. He did it for Danny because Matt didn't know what else to do.
"It's good," Danny said, and climbed out of the car with the screenplay still in his hands.
1995 was a fairly bad year, in Matt's estimation. No one ever asks him in interviews about 1995, even though that's the second year that's back on the record after the Missing Years.
Matt is a writer, and so he keeps lists: lists of questions he wishes reporters would never ask again, questions he wishes reporters would ask (but they never do), questions he didn't know he didn't want to answer until he was asked them. Lies Danny told to him, lies Matt told to Harriet, questions Matt never asked Danny, answers Danny never gave him.
In May, a reporter from Variety (who's doing the eighth profile on Matt and/or Danny since they came back to the show, and that doesn't even include Martha O'Dell's long lead story) asks Matt, "Has it been hard for you, carrying the weight of Danny Tripp all these years? He's brilliant, of course, but he's been notoriously flaky through the years."
Matt is a professional and so he smiles and says, "I've never had to carry Danny's weight. Danny and I have been partners, and it's always been an equal partnership. Working with Danny has always been a pleasure, not a problem, in every single way."
He hadn't ever thought of that question before, though, and it sticks in the back of his head. He spends two days avoiding Danny at the studio, and then Matt asks his shrink, "Do you think it's been hard for me to carry Danny's weight all these years?"
Matt's shrink, who is kind of an asshole, says, "I don't know, Matthew, what do you think?"
Matt shrugs. "Danny's my best friend," he says. "We've held each other up."
"Well, there's your answer," Matt's shrink says, and Matt cancels the rest of his appointments with that shrink and finds a new one.
Despite the fact that Matt is now on his sixth shrink in three years -- "You're never going to get better at this rate," Danny says, and Matt says, "You think I'm fucked up?", and Danny says, "I think you're a neurotic fuck, does that count?" -- and despite the fact that the shrink, Number Five (Danny referred to Matt's shrinks by their chronological numbers, like racehorses), who was kind of an asshole and who always answered questions with more questions was also the first of the five who didn't think that he and Danny were secretly gay for each other, Matt still needs to find another one anyway.
Six says that Matt is in denial when Matt stomps into his office for the first session and says, "Okay, I'm a TV writer, my best friend is a coke addict, sometimes we're homos for each other but it's not exactly a secret, and I need to know how to make my Christian ex-girlfriend fall in love with me again."
"Absolutely in denial," Six says
"Denial?" Matt says.
"Women will never love you if you're sleeping with a man," Six says, which hadn't even made sense, so Matt is back on the hunt.
The quote in Variety appears the day before Matt has his first appointment with Seven, and Seven says, "Would you like to talk about this quote?"
"What quote?" Matt says, because Danny has Suzanne on Matt-press-patrol, as in, Suzanne steals any press that includes mentions of the show, Matt, Danny, Danny's failed marriages, Jordan, Harriet, speculation about Simon's sexuality, and the Mets losing. Matt steals most of it back and reads it anyway, and Danny gets mad when Matt does that, and it's an old act that they mostly trot out because there's too much that they don't want to talk about right now, but Matt had been busy coaxing Lucy through her first really terrible bout of writer's block yesterday and he'd put off stealing things from Suzanne's hiding places until later.
"About your relationship with Danny Tripp," Seven says.
"No, thanks," Matt says, and that's the end of Number Seven.
In lieu of making Suzanne make calls to find Eight, Matt makes sure they have more sketches than time, and then he corrals Danny into his car and drives up into the hills.
Danny squints behind his sunglasses, like a man who's not used to the outdoors, which Matt suspects they both secretly are. A lot of secrets in their relationship -- the things they've never talked about, the things they've never told anyone else, the things that even the press have never discovered.
When he brought Danny home from rehab in June of '95, Danny was 20 pounds heavier than Matt had ever seen him, and it fit his frame better than Matt expected. Danny was 32 and Matt was 29, and they weren't famous yet, and somehow Matt wasn't nearly as fazed by that fact as he had expected to be.
They'd never talked about sleeping together -- the way they still gravitated toward each other in any room they were in, and Matt didn't want, hadn't ever wanted, to get philosophical about it, but that didn't surprise him, either, and it didn't surprise him that, even though Danny had been seeing a reasonably nice, non-gold-digging fifth grade teacher before rehab, the first night he was home, he crawled into Matt's bed and wrapped an arm around Matt's waist and went to sleep.
That first night, Matt spread his fingers out across Danny's chest and said a silent prayer that he couldn't count Danny's ribs underneath his skin anymore. The streetlight shone through the cheap blinds, setting the screenplay propped underneath Matt's alarm clock a ghostly orange color, and Matt fell asleep without thinking about anything except that he was glad to have Danny home.
They never dated -- on the list of Matt's least favorite questions ever: "Is it true that you and Danny Tripp have dated off and on since 1986"?; he never knows whether to say I wouldn't call it dating or Oh, we didn't start sleeping together until 1988 -- because that wasn't the point.
It wasn't dating, it was gravitational pull. If there weren't foreign objects, beautiful women, circling and pulling their orbits out of wack, Matt and Danny just slid together like an object back down to the Earth's surface ("I'm the Earth, and you're in my thrall," Matt once said, and Danny threw an apple core at him and then blew Matt in the kitchen of their crummy apartment).
Neither of them ever got up enough velocity to bust out of each other's gravitational forces, and Matt has never minded.
They drive up into the hills and park the car on a side street and sit on the hood, staring out over the city. Danny leaves his sunglasses on, hides his eyes, but he reaches out and digs his thumb into the sore spot in the back of Matt's neck.
In May, he and Harriet are on the outs, again, and he's spending more time at Danny's house than he is at his own apartment. Sitting on top of the city, he says, "Hey, whatever happened with you and Jordan?"
Danny's face twists, and sunglasses or not, Matt can see something that they're not going to talk about. "Come on," Matt says.
Danny shrugs, and says, "I think we're fated to spend our old age with each other, not with women."
"Could be worse," Matt says. "You could be stuck with somebody who doesn't give good head."
Danny snickers, and says, "Well, I'm still stuck with someone who enjoys denying that he's ever slept with men all over the press, but who has no problem rolling around a beach in public with me, so I'm going to call it even."
"I apologized for that," Matt says.
"You threw my back out," Danny says.
"Stop complaining, old man," Matt says. "Look, we're on top of the world."
Danny groans when Matt says that, but when they get back to the studio, Danny presses Matt up against the closed door of Matt's office, all the shades closed over the windows, and kisses Matt until Suzanne starts banging on the door and shouting something about Georgia peaches and the craft table.
"We'll deal with it in a minute," Matt shouts back, and Danny, his fingers wrapped in the belt loops on Matt's jeans, leans his head against the door and presses his mouth against Matt's jaw.
Matt listens to Danny breathe, and thinks about gravity.
Matt still doesn't know why Wes Mandell was at Danny's second wedding (to an up-and-coming young chef named Maureen Paradiso), but that was how they got the Studio 60 job.
Matt liked Mo. She was funny, and she let him sit at the bar in Juno and drink for free, and she took no shit from Danny. Matt met her first -- he was sitting at the bar in Juno, paying for his drinks, when this smokin' hot girl came out from the back of the restaurant and sat next to him and said, "You know, the food's even better than the martinis."
"I'm sure the food here is good," Matt said. "But the martinis are spectacular. And the olives are really far above par."
"Maureen Paradiso," she said. "I'm the chef here."
"Shit," Matt said. Mo laughed. "I mean," Matt said. "I'm Matt Albie, and I think you should meet my roommate."
He didn't really know why he brought Mo home to Danny, because he had given up setting Danny up on dates ten years earlier, but she seemed like the kind of girl that Danny would like -- like more than redheads with weird ideas about Ibsen. Never mind that Danny liked kleptomaniac exotic dancers, too -- Matt just had a feeling about this one.
He introduced them in February, and by September, there was a small, family-and-very-close-friends only; Mo's family and Danny's friends, by which Danny meant Matt, three producers that Danny hadn't managed to alienate yet, and Wes Mandell.
Matt didn't even know that Danny knew Wes Mandell.
They got married on Labor Day in the Pasadena Rose Garden, and it was almost too hot for tuxedos but it was worth it for Matt to watch Danny's face when Mo walked down the aisle in all that white satin. Matt stood at Danny's elbow and realized that they'd known each other for more than ten years, and he'd leaned over to Danny and said, "Sometimes I think you actually deserve nice things." Danny had just smiled, a quick, secret smile meant for Matt alone, and Matt had felt pretty good about the whole thing, like maybe these crazy kids would work it out after all.
Mo closed Juno for the day and her kitchen staff catered the reception, a stand-up cocktail affair where all the food was on little sticks and everyone but Danny got toasted because they didn't have any real food in their stomachs.
Matt was standing at the bar, eating dates and some sort of cheese stabbed through with toothpicks, drinking martinis, and watching Danny gaze at Maureen like she was the answer to every question Matt had never been able to answer. Someone came up behind him, and when a voice said, "You're Matthew Albie, aren't you?", Matt jumped and dropped his date and his cheese into his martini with his olives.
"Yes, sir," Matt said, and Wes chuckled. "I am, sir."
"I thought so," Wes said. "Daniel gave me your screenplay. I can't produce it, of course, but I'd like to offer you a job. Both of you -- Daniel is going to start as a segment producer when he comes back from Honolulu, and I'd like you to come in and meet the rest of the writing staff before then, if you'd like to come work for us."
"Uh," Matt said, and he swallowed the rest of his martini, date, olive, cheese and all. "Yes. Thank you. Absolutely."
Later he would claim that he passed out from hunger, because all the food was on sticks, but it was really a combination of surprise and, well, surprise -- surprise that Danny talked about him; surprise that something was going right; surprise that Danny had taken a job and not told him.
Matt, once he'd been revived and climbed up off the floor, had stared across the room at Danny and Mo, and wondered if there was something he should be seeing here, something that he was missing.
He couldn't find it, so he just had another martini.
Matt won his first Writer's Guild of America award, for a recurring sketch that was still airing in the 12:55 spot, the same week that Danny and Maureen's divorce was final.
"You are why I can't have nice things," Matt said, dropping the Downtown News on Danny's desk. "I win an award, I should have gotten at least six sentences of press, and instead it's all Studio 60 Director Tripp and Hot Young Chef Paradiso Split In Acrimonious Divorce."
"I can hear the capital letters in your voice," Danny said. "And you got six sentences. In fact, if you check page 18 of section E of the Times, you will find you got ten sentences, and you were also called 'a hot young talent'. I think they might also imply that we're gay, but I can't exactly tell."
"You were more fun before," Matt said. Danny only had one chair in his office, and Matt spent too much time -- more time that he wanted to admit -- sitting on the floor of Danny's office, staring at Danny's knees. Danny was sleeping on Matt's couch, because Mo threw him out of the apartment and Matt's second bedroom was currently occupied by a skinny kid named Simon Stiles who had just gotten cast on Studio 60. "Was it acrimonious?"
"Do you even know what acrimonious means?"
"I could use it in a sentence," Matt said.
"Don't," Danny said. "I don't know, Matt, you tell me -- you were there the night she threw the bottle of brandy at my head."
"And I still wish I'd had a video camera," Matt said. "I'll never be able to recreate that explosion on stage without an example to work from."
"Shouldn't you be writing?"
"Shouldn't you be producing?"
Danny huffed, and yanked his feet off his desk, barely missing Matt's head. "If you're waiting for me to fall apart, you're too late," he said. "Or too early. I'm fine."
"The last time you said that you were fine," Matt said, and didn't finish the sentence.
"You know, I don't ever remember having these conversations with my wife when you and I fought," Danny said.
"We've never broken up," Matt said. "We were just on a break that one time."
"Not funny," Danny said.
"Always funny," Matt said. "You should get another chair."
"You have a chair in the writer's room," Danny said. "I recommend that you sit in it, every once in a while, or you're never going to get out of the 12:55 slot."
"Why do I need to get out of that slot?" Matt said. "I've got a Writer's Guild Award in that slot."
"Don't rest on your laurels, Matthew," Danny said.
"Want to go out and pick up chicks tonight?" Matt said.
Danny said, "There's not a chick in the city that would have you."
"Well, at least two of them haven't wanted you, either."
"There's a girl over at the Groundlings," Danny said, "she's got pretty good stuff. We should go see her."
"Girls aren't funny," Matt said. "Stop changing the subject."
"This one's funny," Danny said.
"You really don't want to talk about your terribly acrimonious divorce?"
"No," Danny said.
"You don't want to talk about how we broke up in 1988?"
"And I don't want to go see this funny girl," Matt said.
"So we're at a stalemate," Danny said.
"Are we breaking up?"
"We've never broken up," Danny said, and he stomped out of the room, leaving Matt sitting on the floor by himself.
Danny was cranky for most of 1999, and November was no exception. Matt stayed in the studio and wrote a sketch for a funny girl, and it flopped in rehearsal no matter who played the part, but later he thought it was probably because the sketch sucked, not because he was waiting for Harriet.
"Do you think it's significant that the newspapers never say anything about Albie and Hayes?" Matt says.
"What?" Danny says.
"All the press is about Tripp and Albie, or Hayes, Stiles and Jeter. Is it significant that Harriet and I are never mentioned together professionally?"
"You're just mentioned in the gossip columns," Danny says. "As in, Hayes and Albie seen screaming at each other in popular restaurant and/or Studio 60 wrap party and/or Albie's expensive convertible. Are you off again?"
"You couldn't tell?" Matt says.
"It's been eight years," Danny says. "It's hard to keep up with your tempestuous romantic life."
"At least I have one," Matt says.
Danny rolls his eyes and shoves off from the doorway he's been leaning in. Matt is reading the Times (L.A., not New York) on his laptop because he's still under Danny's newspaper embargo, and he figured out -- he made Suzanne figure out -- how to get around all the blocking software Danny put on the laptop when Matt wasn't looking.
(Suzanne had complained. "He's my boss, too," she said. "How am I supposed to be a productive employee when you're constantly contradicting each other's orders?" "You're a productive employee now?" Matt said, and she rolled her eyes at him and went back to hacking away at Danny's attempts to keep Matt sane.
"You're less useful crazy," Danny said.
"But I'm more fun," Matt said, and Danny had rolled his eyes at Matt, too. Matt was the boss around here, and all he got was lip from Danny, and lip from Suzanne, and lip from Harriet. Made it hard to remember this was what they paid him for, and not just some place to show up for fun every day.
But, he had thought to himself, at least it's still fun.
This time, when it stopped being fun, he was going to quit for good.)
Danny puts his hands in his pockets and says, "Are you guys back together, then?"
"Not at the moment," Matt says.
Danny just raises an eyebrow, and Matt knows what he means. He and Danny have spent more time apart than together in the last six months, trying to keep everybody's head above water in terms of the show, and every time something goes wrong with one of the cast members (no one has been arrested in Nevada for at least three months, and Matt says a silent prayer in thanks every day), and every time Matt thinks he gets writer's block and throws his ashtray through the windows in his office and they have to be replaced.
It's easier to deal with all the shit that Matt keeps accidentally making happen if they're not in the same place, but Matt misses Danny's presence as much as he misses Harriet.
Maybe more -- Danny only makes Matt completely insane on purpose when Danny thinks Matt needs to be a little crazy. Harriet just has a gift.
"She was a little unhappy when she got the letter from the polyamory people last month," Matt says.
"You donated all that in her name?"
"In my defense, it seemed like a good idea at the time," Matt says, and it did, because the thing about Harriet is that he's constantly -- eight years, it's been, and it's still this way every time he looks at her -- caught in a surge of anger and affection whenever he thinks about her.
Matt's shrink thinks that Matt's problems with Harriet are rooted in some childhood trauma (of Matt's, not of Harriet's, though Matt has suggested the latter before and only received a withering look from Number Nine; Number Eight didn't work out, either).
Matt thinks that it's because the human brain is stupid enough to let him fall head over heels in love with someone whose basic morals are so completely different than his.
Danny thinks that Matt just has a problem letting go of things.
"I have a long list of things that you thought were a good idea at the time," Danny says, and then he disappears into the hallway and Matt can't argue that he has a track record that isn't the greatest, but Jordan wouldn't have come to them to save the show if they hadn't done something right, once upon a time, and Harriet wouldn't have fallen in love with Matt if she hadn't seen something in him that inspired affection and not just frustration.
He taps his pencil on the desk -- he's been writing almost 25 years, and even though he does everything on the computer now, he can't lay down a single word without a pencil clamped between his teeth or tucked behind his ear -- and reads a gossip article about how Harriet had dinner with Simon but not Tom last night.
He thinks about the first sketch he wrote for Harriet, just for Harriet, and not for some faceless, funny girl from the Groundlings. The first sketch he wrote for Danny, 20 years ago. He thinks about the Information Culture class he took on a lark his sophomore year, where the professor said that every writer had an Ideal Reader, capital letters clear in her voice as she said it.
He sets the pencil in his teeth and opens up a new file.
December 1999/January 2000
When Danny brought Harriet in for an audition with Wes, and when he introduced Harriet to Matt, Matt said, "Are you getting me back for Mo?"
"What?" Danny had said. "No."
"Are you getting me back for the redhead with the weird ideas about Ibsen?"
"Who?" Danny said.
"The girl you were on a date with the night you brought home a drag queen," Matt said.
"When?" Danny said.
"Are you sure you're not secretly a reporter?" Matt asked. "Because if the next thing you say is how or why, I'm going to punch you."
"When did I bring home a drag queen?" Danny said. "Wait, is Simon secretly a drag queen? I'm not sure how we could market that. Plus, also, I think you brought him home, not me."
"It's all one or the other," Matt said. "We're running the Studio 60 Starving Comedians' Hostel. I should write a sketch about it. You brought a drag queen home in 1988. Or maybe 1987."
"You have a memory like an elephant," Danny said.
"Somebody has to," Matt said, and Danny winced. The longer Danny was sober, the more things he told Matt -- things nobody else knew about, things Matt wished he didn't know about. But there was still plenty that Danny didn't remember, and Matt didn't want to know why Danny didn't remember, and so he remembered for both of them.
It was easier than letting Danny disappear again.
"I think you'll like her," Danny said.
"I already do," Matt said. "And I am suspicious of that fact, as we have already determined that you are why I never get nice things. And I have enough problems without you trying to make me fall in love with a funny woman."
"Contrary to your popular belief, not everything is about you," Danny said. "Besides, if I was trying to get you back for Mo, I would have made you pay for the lawyers who decided that she got 62% of my stuff."
Harriet auditioned for the writer's room the first week of December. After, Ricky said, "Well, she's pretty, but do we really need another pretty girl?"
Ron said, "I agree with Ricky."
Matt said, "Of course you do." He said it because he was hungover and because he had been at Studio 60 for three years and he was feeling sort of generally pissy at the world of comedy in general, and Ricky and Ron in particular.
He stood up for Harriet mostly because he woke up on the wrong side of the bed, which didn't go over well when he told her that on New Year's Eve.
Wes had liked her, though, and she'd tested well with Sim, and she could do voices, which was something they needed. So Matt's opinion hadn't mattered, in the end, but at least it was the majority opinion. He spent so much time being the damn minority in the writing room and suffering for it, suffering shitty time slots and people who couldn't handle what he wanted to be writing -- it was nice to be in the majority for once.
And she was pretty -- Matt couldn't deny that.
Danny gave her the tour the night of the last show before Christmas. Harriet was starting in January and Danny, probably because half the cast (to that point) and most of the producers (just in general in the universe) didn't like Matt and Danny very much (plus Danny was the one who had discovered Harriet playing bit parts for the Groundlings, and Wes was totally smitten with Harriet, just for existing, and Danny, just for finding her), had been saddled with showing her the place and finding her some place to watch the show from.
Matt was sitting on the floor beside Camera 3, chewing off his fingernails systematically because he was trying to quit smoking before the New Year, when Danny's feet and a pair of feet in very nice red high heels walked up beside him. "You remember Matt," Danny said.
"I thought he was taller," Harriet said. Danny grinned at her, smirked at Matt, and wandered off, leaving Harriet standing too close to Matt for his own objective comfort. Don't fall in love with everyone you see, Matt, Danny told him once, and he tried very hard not to, but Harriet was -- exactly his kind of woman. She wasn't everyone he saw.
"Very funny, funny girl," Matt said, and he grabbed the bleachers and hauled himself to his feet. She was even prettier than he remembered, and she smiled at him like he was the only person in the room. "Hi, Harriet. Welcome aboard."
"Danny says that you're the best writer on staff," she said.
"Danny tells egregious lies about me, and also he has been divorced twice," Matt said. "Believe nothing that he says."
"That's what he said about you," Harriet said, and her mouth quirked up in a way that said to Matt, this girl is a keeper.
"Pathological, both of us," Matt said, and somebody hissed at them to stop flirting and shut the hell up, and Harriet flushed bright red. He put a hand on her arm and pulled her out of the studio, into the hallway. "You'll get used to it."
"I hope so," Harriet said, and she leaned up and kissed him on the cheek and turned away. "It was nice to see you again, Matt."
"Yeah," Matt said. "You too."
Then he turned around, took two steps, and walked straight into a closed door.
When Matt came to, in one of the dressing rooms, Danny was smirking at him. "Well, that was new," he said.
"Shut up," Matt said.
"She's going to make you a star," Danny said. He looked somewhere between thrilled and terrified about this idea.
"You're crazy," Matt said, and he staggered to his feet and went to write the first sketch he ever wrote for Harriet.
It bombed. Matt thinks that maybe should have been a sign, but it wasn't -- at least, it wasn't then.
Three things happened in October 2003, too: he and Danny quit Studio 60; all the newspapers reported that he and Danny had been fired from Studio 60; and Matt fell in love with Harriet Hayes for the first but not the last time.
Matt drank a lot, and despite the fact that he was in love with Harriet desperately, they fought a lot, too. Danny said it wasn't healthy, but Matt said, "Says the man almost decapitated by a bottle of brandy."
"Shut the hell up," Danny said, and went back to fiddling with their joint bank account. He'd been fiddling for weeks, and Matt left him to it, because Matt needed money for three things: cigarettes, gas, and beer. Everything else Danny wrote checks for -- the rent, the utilities, the insurance on the beater they were still sharing.
"You shut up," Matt said. "How bad is it?"
"The thing about you quitting in a blaze of glory," Danny said, "is that there's no severance pay. So -- pretty bad."
"You don't sound pretty bad," Matt said. Danny was shuffling money frantically, but he wasn't worried about it like he'd been worried about it in 1988 or 1995 or even in 1999, when their salaries from the show were more than enough to keep Mo's alimony paid and a roof over their heads.
"$427.06," Danny said. "After the rent check clears."
"That's not something to be cheerful about," Matt said. "You're suspiciously cheerful. Have you talked to your sponsor this week?"
"I could not afford to buy cocaine if I wanted to, Matthew," Danny said. "Well -- I always want to. I could not afford to buy cocaine even if I wasn't sober. Has Harriet called?"
"We're off again," Matt said. Seemed like they spent more time off than on lately; he knew he wasn't much fun to be around -- and Danny had stopped letting him buy beer, which either made him more or less fun, Danny said the jury was still out -- but he missed her. Or maybe he missed the idea of having someone other than Danny to listen to. He'd found a bottle of gin in the back of their ice-covered freezer and was well on his way to nicely toasted.
Matt's slightly pickled brain informed him that if he stopped thinking about what was best for Danny first, Matt and Harriet might not be off again. Matt thought, it's not that easy to break 15 years of habit, and took another swig of gin. Matt's brain informed him that they needed more ice, and he should probably see a therapist about that codependency thing he and Danny had going on.
"Are we codependent?" Matt said.
"What, are you thinking about couples therapy?" Danny said. "Because I think that's really something you should take Harriet to."
"Do we spend too much time together?"
Danny leaned over from his spot on the end of the couch and snagged the glass out of Matt's hand, sniffing carefully. "No gin, either, Matthew," he said, but he handed the glass back to Matt, and turned his head back to the laptop in front of him.
"I found it in the freezer," Matt said. "I was trying to defrost it."
"Is that why there were puddles of water all over the kitchen when I came back from my meeting on Thursday? As well as why you were sleeping in the middle of the afternoon when you were supposed to be writing?"
"I'm unemployed," Matt said. "And my girlfriend won't return my phone calls, possibly because the network has told her that she is no longer allowed to be seen with a disgraced failure of a comedy writer."
"Jack Rudolph may have told her that," Danny said. "But the network as a whole did not."
"Have you always been an eternal optimist?" Matt said. "Because if that's the case, I'd like to find a time machine and go back to 1987 and not give you the time of day."
"I had a meeting on Thursday," Danny said.
"You always have meetings on Thursdays," Matt said.
"Wrong meeting," Danny said. "Meeting with Universal. They have a script that they want me to direct."
Matt sat up sharply and smacked his forehead on the coffee table. He pressed the glass of gin against the rising bump and said, "Hey, Danny, that's fantastic."
"It's a pretty good script," Danny said. His voice was careful, and Matt tried to focus on Danny's face, turned away from him in the dark living room. Why they were sitting around in the apartment with all the lights off was beyond him, but then again -- there was a lot that, even after 15 years, was still beyond Matt. Why he and Danny were living together in a three bedroom condo when they could have bought their own places by now; why Matt hadn't bothered to buy a car when he finally got his driver's license, just drove Danny's.
Because, Matt's brain said, Danny is the first person that you look for when you finish something good. Because even before Harriet, you write for Danny.
Shut up, Matt said to his brain. "Is it?" he said to Danny.
"Yeah," Danny said. "Young guy, never had anything produced for the big screen before."
"That's good," Matt said. His chest felt suddenly tight, the idea of Danny directing someone else's work -- Matt's stuff at Studio 60 was directed, produced, by plenty of people on staff who weren't Danny, but Danny didn't produce anything that wasn't Matt's. Once upon a time he had, but not recently -- not now.
Danny looked over at him, and the corner of his mouth twitched. "Don't be stupid," Danny said. "I took them your script. Months ago, I sent it to the one guy I knew at Universal."
"My script," Matt said. "Wait, the one I wrote when you were ..."
"Yeah," Danny said.
Matt said, "Huh."
"They want rewrites," Danny said. "But they liked the premise."
Matt said, "Huh."
Danny said, "They're going to pay us a lot of money."
Matt said, "Does this mean I can buy beer again?"
"Yes, Matthew," Danny said, and then he started laughing, head back, face totally unguarded, and Matt thought, who needs anyone but Danny.
"Is Michael Dukakis timeless humor?"
"I don't think Michael Dukakis was ever timely humor," Danny says, squinting at Matt. Danny is haloed against the window in Matt's office by the Christmas lights that Cal and Suzanne strung around the balconies. "What are you looking at?"
Matt smoothes the pages he's holding in his hands, and shrugs.
Danny crosses the room and pulls the pages out of Matt's hands, scanning Matt's college scrawl quickly. "I didn't know you still had this."
"Beginning of a beautiful friendship," Matt says.
"Something like that," Danny says.
Matt says, "Merry Christmas."
"Happy Hanukkah," Danny says. He drops down on the couch next to Matt, and his hands are still. He tilts his head toward Matt, a gesture so familiar that it makes Matt's heart clench. "Things will work out with Harriet. And the show."
"Mm," Matt says. They may, and they may not. Harriet will always be a constant in his life, like Danny, two fixed stars to navigate by, but sometimes he's almost stopped kidding himself that he and Harriet are meant to be, and the show is the show -- it is what it is, and Matt loves it, and if it disappeared tomorrow, he'd get up and write something else. "If they don't, I've always got you."
"Yeah," Danny says, and they sit on the couch in the office that Matt still thinks of as Wes Mandell's, and they watch the Christmas lights blink like stars.
author's notes: i started this months ago, and it stalled out horrifically about thanksgiving. i owe maggie and the queen a huge debt of gratitude for both cheerleading as i got back to work on it and betaing when it was done. the title is a quote from joe bill, one half of two men in a boat, an improv show in chicago that matt would probably hate.