Truth is, it’s not like Laroquette and I are total strangers. I know because I’ve done my genealogical research. He’s the cousin of a third cousin on my mother’s side, which means John Laroquette and I share the same blood. Maybe, like me, Laroquette is double-jointed and has a dent on the side of his head that he hides with his hair and wakes up in the middle of the night, feverish and screaming, from nightmares of falling headfirst like a meteor down to earth or of gargoyle-faced children jabbing at him with sticks. One night a week ago, I saw Laroquette in South Beach, strolling down the sidewalk like royalty in his seersucker suit. I slid down the car window, called out, “Hey, Laroquette!” I couldn’t help myself. I felt my heart beating everywhere in my body. Laroquette jerked as if away from a gunshot and then he halted. He spotted me behind the wheel of my taxi and did a kind of mock-salute wave. Then he walked along again, gone just like that. A disappointing encounter, but then again, what did I expect?
The next morning I read in the gossip section that he’s here filming a television special, a remake of some film called Night of the Cat People. Every other night after that I saw him walking to a restaurant down the street from his hotel, and tonight as I coast slowly down the strip in my taxi, it’s just the same. Chin high, long kingly strides, always alone. Ask me, though, he looks forlorn. Haunted. You can always see that dark everlasting pain behind his eyes, a pain you can sometimes tell he’s trying to squint away on the television no matter what character he plays. Take an extra careful look and you’ll see what I mean.
Nothing can disguise that kind of pain. I see it in the mirror every morning. It’s probably genetic.
John Laroquette and I share an incredible amount in common. We’re both registered members of the Libertarian party. We’re both ardent followers of the New Orleans Saints. Like him, I would have served in the U.S. Naval Reserve, but I was denied for reasons too complicated to explain.
One time I almost met Laroquette, an embarrassing story. What happened was I ended up inside his hotel room, not remembering how I got there. His bodyguard, a big Japanese goon, asked me what I was doing, and I told him I was Laroquette’s cousin, and then he called me an ugly name, and then I called him an uglier name back. Then I threw a candlestick, not exactly at him but near him, and before I knew what was happening, the man got me in a headlock and slammed my head into the wall. I ran away with blood in my eyes and was halfway to China before I heard the police sirens.
All I wanted to do was ask Laroquette some questions. For instance, “Don’t you think it’s amazing, Laroquette, that we were born in the same hospital, on the same day, within an hour of one another, and could probably pass for twins if it weren’t for all my scars? In the same New Orleans hospital, Laroquette! What are the chances?”
Also, “Let’s just say, hypothetically, that since we were born in the same hospital on the same day and look so much alike that maybe a distracted or drunk nurse switched us at birth. You hear about something like this every day in the news. Just pick up a paper. If this happened, would I be more like you, Laroquette, and would you be more like me?”
And then, “If we were switched at birth, which is within the realm of plausibility, would my father have whipped your knuckles with a leather belt, buckle and all, after you threw up in the back of his Hudson convertible? Much later in life, two divorces later, would you have paid a strange woman a hundred dollars on your birthday just to sit by your side on the couch and hold your hand during a movie? And then would you have gone to the bathroom and returned to find that she’d left and stolen your coffeemaker, the only thing worth a damn in the apartment?”
In other words, would I be the one tonight sitting right now on the other side of the restaurant window in blessed golden light, dining on kobe beef or foie gras or whatever it might be, every so often patting the butter sauce from my lips with a napkin of the finest white linen? A napkin probably worth more than my very shoes? Would I be sitting right where Laroquette is, only a hundred feet away, with thousands and thousands of such nights, a vista of such nights, reassuringly ahead of me? And would he be where I am behind the wheel of this taxicab that smells like rotten cocktail onions?
Something to think about.
What a strange thing it is, Laroquette, that you are you and I am me.
Here’s how I imagine things playing out. When Laroquette and I meet, we’ll have a heart-to-heart conversation like long lost brothers. At first he’ll have his doubts, sure. Maybe this guy’s a little off, he’ll think. Maybe this guy’s a crazy fan with something rattling around loose in his brain. But then I’ll tell him that I’m not a fan of his work at all, that I could honestly give a crap about his work, and that I haven’t even owned a television since last December. No, this is about that day we were born at the New Orleans hospital so many years ago and how we have the same blood running through our veins.
Of course Laroquette will be gobsmacked at first. Then he might cry, or at least tear up a little. At one point he’ll admit he always felt alone and isolated, sometimes even suicidal, as if a vital part of his life were missing. I’ll say, Brother, I know the feeling. After that Laroquette and I will keep in touch, calling each other at least once a day. He’ll often ask for advice, say, about his hateful drug-addled son or his ice queen of a wife, hoping to learn from the mistakes I’ve made in my life.
There are so many possibilities—who knows what might happen? One morning I might pick up the paper and see on the front page, “John Laroquette in Critical Condition.” Laroquette will need one of my kidneys because he’s been hitting the sauce again, so I’ll fly out to California to save him. Afterward he’ll invite me to stay in the guesthouse, and his wife and children will welcome me like an uncle, a funny charming uncle whose stories they appreciate with rapt attention and laughter. Eventually, he’ll confess that his life was in shambles before he met me. Maybe on a lake somewhere in a pontoon boat as we’re fly-fishing, like a scene from a movie. Then we’ll laugh, because our story probably should be a movie, starring guess who. John Laroquette.
A lot of this sounds farfetched, I realize, but my whole life has been farfetched. Hell, it’s farfetched that I got out of bed this morning.
Before any of these possibilities might happen, though, first there must be this moment now, as Laroquette leaves the restaurant and steps to the edge of the sidewalk, raising his hand high. As I pull to the curb and coast to a stop in front of him, he reaches for the door.