Sharkie Simpson Needs A Publicist
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[Jamie Allen, someone who came to us through the Wild Wild West of the Web, is a very talented writer. This piece you are about to read, I believe it was initially published in The New Yorker. And now, it is being republished here.
Mr. Allen is working on a collection of short stories -- this one may be included -- for So New Media. It will be available this summer.]
Sharkie Simpson's had enough. The incident at the Publix is the last straw. He's there to buy a fresh bloody steak and the next thing he knows a baby's crying and a group of mothers are pointing their fingers at him -- "For shame, for shame, Sharkie. You're no role model."
Role model. They wouldn't know a role model if it bit 'em on the ass. And to think he was once considered a hero -- first sports, then brilliant acting -- to these fat hens who now cluck their disapproval every time he shows his face.
That's it, that's all he can take, so he drops the steak, turns his dorsal, walks on flippers down the coffee aisle (getting lost for a moment in French Vanilla grounds), walks straight past the cashier lines of stupid people -- now it seems everyone has recognized him behind his wayfarers, is staring at him -- and straight out of the store. He hops in his Spider Veloce, grabs his cell phone, speed dials, backs out without looking, smashes an abandoned cart, peels out of the parking lot.
His agent, Tommy, picks up on the third ring.
"You tell me, what the fuck am I supposed to do?" Sharkie growls.
"Who is this?"
"What the fuck am I supposed to do?"
"Sharkie? Is that you, baby?" Tommy asks.
"Yeah, it's me. Now you tell me, what the fuck am I supposed to do when I can't even go to the grocery store and buy a steak. Huh?"
"Why can't you go to the grocery store and buy a steak?" Tommy asks.
"Oh. Well. That's a good question, Tommy," he says, a forced calm slowly escalating to a volcanic eruption, "and I have an answer. I can't go to the store to buy a steak because of all the bad fucking publicity I've been getting!"
Sharkie slams the cell several times across the steering wheel.
"You hear that? That's what it feels like to go the grocery store to buy a steak! It's a slap in the face! People staring, pointing. Some group of tennis-playing bitches just told me -- Sharkie -- that I'm no role model!"
Tommy stays silent on the other end. He's chewing gum, flipping through a script.
"Hello?" Sharkie says. "You there?"
"Yeah, I'm here."
Sharkie, now driving in traffic, cuts off a guy in a Toyota. The guy honks.
"Hold on a minute," Sharkie says.
Sharkie slows down. The guy in the Toyota races up beside him. Sharkie's got the top and windows down. The guy looks at him. Sharkie pulls down his wayfarers, glares with black eyes.
The guy slams on his brakes, forcing the car behind him to crash into a telephone pole. Sharkie keeps driving.
"Well," Sharkie says into the cell, "are you going to do something? You're my agent. If I suffer, you suffer."
"Look, Sharkie, I'm not a publicist. If you want good publicity, get a publicist."
"You fucking bottom-feeder. You know there's no publicist out there that has the balls to defend me. I'm too brilliant. I'm too natural. I'm too honest."
"You're too much of a psycho, if you really want honesty," Tommy says, offhand.
Sharkie guns the Spider, veers through traffic, runs a red light. Cars honk, nearly collide.
"Fuck you! Fuck you! I'll tear off you're fucking limbs! Fuck you, I'm psycho! You're psycho for saying that to me!"
Tommy waits until he hears the Spider's engine level out again.
"Look, you want my honest opinion?" Tommy asks.
"Oh yeah. Honesty from my agent."
"You do it to yourself, Sharkie," Tommy says. "All this hate that's coming your way is directly associated with your actions. The End."
"Yes, your actions. You mauled three surfers last week, you bit that kid's foot off --"
"That was a mistake. I thought his foot was a mullet."
"You tortured that poor guy who was sitting in a raft."
"Nonono. Back up. Let's get something straight. I do not torture people. I was out swimming with my son, showing him my favorite spots, and the next thing I know my son accidentally bumps a leg and people start screaming and crying. Then one guy takes a whack at my son with a fucking oar from his pussy yellow raft -- my son! So I gave him what for, and for that I'm a bad guy."
"I'd do it again if I was faced with the same circumstance, and so would you, and so would anyone who has a son."
"Sharkie, you spit that guy's spleen onto the shore. People don't forget that kinda stuff."
"But they forget 'Sharky's Machine,' don't they? My best performance, but you don't see it running on TBS like fucking 'Ferris Bueller,' do you?"
"It was a good performance," Tommy says.
"Yeah, so was every game I played the year I won the Heisman, the year I was on the cover of Time, long before that fucker Jaws stole my mojo. I was in car commercials, man. Now I can't even buy a fucking steak at the store!"
Sharkie's cruising down the highway now, the yellow sun and yellow air flicking off his tough gray-white skin.
"Then there's that, uh, thing with your former wife," Tommy says.
The memories flash through Sharkie's mind like surreal cartoons on a pad of flipping legal paper -- his wife's mutilated carcass on the soft sand, the helicopter paparazzi hovering over him during his daily swims, and the circus disguised as a trial.
"You're not insinuating that I did it," Sharkie says after a twitching pause.
"Well, everyone knows you were acquitted," Tommy says.
"Look. Yes, I saw her that night swimming with some young shark, and yes, they found her blood on my teeth. But I just gave her love bites. Little love bites. And then I went home and watched 'Seinfeld.' When am I ever gonna live that down?"
"Look, I'm just being real, OK? This is your friend talking," Tommy says tenderly. "Now, fuck that grocery store steak. Go out and find some fresh fish. Hell, go kill a dolphin."
"You have no idea what you're saying," Sharkie says. "I swim around looking for fish, people see my fin and the next thing I know, I'm dodging bullets from some redneck's .22."
"Come on, it's not that bad," Tommy says.
"Not that bad? Are you reading the papers? It's the 'Summer of Sharkie!' And not in a good way! I wish I could have a sit-down with every newspaper editor in this stupid-ass country. I'd tear their fucking heads off."
"Yeah, Sharkie, that'd help your image a lot."
"You know the pisser is," Sharkie says, suddenly thoughtful, "people have a better chance of being struck by lightning than getting bumped by a shark. Besides, if you go in the water, you're taking a certain risk! And I'll tell you this -- humans don't taste like chicken. They taste like shit. If I bite one, I'm letting go, unless he starts throwing punches."
Sharkie hears Tommy covering the phone with his hand, a muffled conversation with his secretary. Then he comes back on.
"Sharkie, I don't know what to say. I've got an appointment, but listen --"
"No, you listen," Sharkie says, voice quivering, though he tries to make it stop. "I'm sick of this life. I can't handle this. My girlfriend says she's gonna leave me and my kids. We're getting death threats every hour, Tommy."
Tommy sighs. Finally, he's listening.
"You gotta help me, Tommy. I'm thinking crazy thoughts, man. Survival of the fittest stuff. I will not let people kill me off. I'm too proud."
"OK," Tommy says. "What can I do?"
"Get me on Leno," Sharkie says, inspired. "I'll apologize. I'll let Jay stick his big-ass head in my mouth. When people see my face, they'll realize I'm just acting natural. I'm a natural guy. It's nothing personal."
Tommy realizes Sharkie cannot be soothed. He's too far gone for logic, too far gone to realize there's no coming back.
"OK, Leno," Tommy says. "Plan on it. I'll call you. Ciao, baby."
Sharkie hears Tommy hang up. He tosses the cell in the passenger seat.
The Spider idles in the parking lot of Sharkie's idyllic mansion cove. His rough gills flap -- breathing heavy. He hears his kids squealing with joy in the saltwater pool. He smells his girlfriend mixing up his favorite drink: a highball of warm blood, with a shot of Stoli.
But Sharkie needs to get away, think, be. He gets out of the car, walks past the mansion cove, heads to the ocean. It slips over his skin like cool lotion, fills his gills, slips between his pearly whites. He flips his tail once, twice. He's cruising now in the deep blue.
Nobody can touch him. He's no longer Sharkie Simpson, famous ex-athlete turned actor with a bad rep. He's just a shark, with a fresh scent drawing him back to shore.
Jamie Allen has a book of short stories coming out this summer from So New Media.