How I Spent My Summer Rehab
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I don't know what finally set Affleck off because I was in the crapper at the time, but A. J. had been riding him hard. At first it was just good-natured ribbing, the kind of hazing the new guy always catches. And Ben rolled with it, giving as good as he got, needling the Backstreeter as a talentless and infected pustule, a turd in the punch bowl of pop music, a quivering poseur hiding behind a skin-curtain of tats and press-on goatees, etc.
We were ripped to the nips on rehab wine -- Gatorade and fermented prunes -- and somewhere along the line things turned ugly. A hard edge crept into Goat Boy's taunting of the Pearl Harbor star. A toothy sharpness usually reserved for his Justin Timberlake rants. Poundstone nudged me with her elbow.
"If these two dance, I'll have five new minutes for my act," she whispered.
We were playing a high-stakes game of Stratego -- they confiscated our deck of cards after Affleck checked in -- when the whole thing started. Everybody whiffed the rising tension. Everybody except Mariah who was seriously unhinged from reality. She screamed into a cellphone at her manager about next years VH1's Diva Show. She was going to cancel if her dressing room wasn't at least twice the size of the one assigned to "that country-fried ho, Shania."
Of course the cellphone was plastic and filled with chewing gum, but Mariah was so far around the bend she never noticed. Each of us had been given a novelty phone during registration, right after the cavity search. A comfort thing. It's one thing to admit to being powerless, it's another to not have instant messaging. It helped us ease off. Most of us were just happy for the gum. And Downey got a dreamy look and said the cavity search reminded him of some early auditions he had with Katzenberg.
A. J. was down about $40,000 after his Scout's Gambit setup collapsed and that's when he really started breaking Affleck's balls. Kept asking him if Boiler Room II was greenlighted yet and if Paltrow was a moaner or an ow-ow-ow-you're-on-my-hairer?
That's about the time I went to the head. For dinner, Wolfgang had dished up a saut»ed sea bass topped with mango relish and that always goes right through me. When I came out, Affleck had a fist full of A. J.'s hair and was slamming his face into the table, scattering ashtrays of butts and game pieces all over the room.
Blood was pouring from the boy-crooner's nostrils. Poundstone was doubled over and sobbing that they needed a time-out. Downey must have flashbacked to stir because he flattened against the wall and slashed air with a shank fashioned from a sharpened toothbrush handle. Mariah was threatening to fire all our asses unless someone brought her a mineral water and more body glitter.
Thinking fast, I snatched Mariah's blow dryer from the sink and cracked Affleck across the skull. He let go of A. J. and crumpled in a heap. A. J. sprawled face down in a pool of blood. His breathing was labored and shallow but when I turned him over, his soulful eyes fluttered open.
We all lay gasping until a counselor burst through the door and surveyed the carnage.
"What the hell's going on here?"
"I want to know what is going on."
"He slipped on soap."
It was Downey who spoke. Cool-headed and cellblock-wise Downey.
"Who did? Who slipped on soap?"
"Everybody," I said. "We all did."
The counselor waited. A. J. slowly nodded, spit a loogie of blood on the floor.
"Fucking soap," he growled. It was the first real music I had ever heard come out of his mouth.
The counselor wasn't buying but he sensed what we all were sensing. That we were rallying around each other, coming together as a unit. It felt good. Suddenly, I knew we were going to make it, that we were going to be all right.
When he saw our chorus of grins the counselor turned on his heel without another word. Soon as he was gone, Mariah piped up.
"Hey, who wants some gum?"
Too much. We laughed our asses off.
Except for Affleck who was still unconscious. He slipped in and out of a coma over the next several days, hooked to a respirator. But I can't wait to tell him soon as he has most of his brain functions back. He'll howl, I just know it.
Roger Naylor is always ready for gum.