Pop culture enthusiasts have a name for it: The Lindsay Lohan Moment.
We had three free months of Showtime in the summer of 2012. I must’ve logged at least 20 hours a week staying up past Leno to catch all the movies I'd missed in theaters.
The girl showed up late on a Tuesday, padding up my front steps on feet as light as morning mist. She did not knock or ring the bell but scratched at the screen with a sound like a hand saw.
“You know what time it is?” I whispered as I flipped on the porch light.
She looked much better than what I’d seen in that stack of Enquirers I kept by my toilet, but then, when a woman shows up on the stoop naked as newborn, a man’s inclined to look past her flaws.
She was copping a Malibu tan that blushed out the freckles around her breasts. Her hair was that rich amber that set off her the onyx in her eyes, kind of the way she looked at the premier of Mean Girls back in 2004, just before she turned 18.
“I don’t party,” I said. “I’m a married man.”
“Yeah, you’re kind of old for me anyway. Got any young guys in there?”
“Just me and the missus.”
She groaned and shook the hair out of her face. It made her breasts jiggle. I tried not to look. “How about food?” she said. “Got any of there?”
“I've got Pop Tarts.”
“Pop-Tarts? I’m there, dude.”
I gave her some Pop-Tarts, and she stumbled down the porch stairs, rocking like a lab rat on LSD. I figured it was only a matter of time before the paparazzi caught wind of her wandering naked down Sepulveda with Berry Blast Pop-Tart crumbs sticking to her breasts.
On the very next night, I discovered that she had gotten in the house. The change was happening. That gorgeous tawny hair was gone, replaced by a brassy, sun-drenched blonde. She’d lost weight. I could see the ribs below her breasts, which were smaller, sagged a bit more, and she’d lost enough tan that I could count the freckles around her nipples.
“How did you get in here?” I asked.
“Your wife let me in. Wanna party?”
“I don’t want to party,” I said. “I’m trying to watch Twilight: Breaking Dawn here.”
“Cool. Have you gotten to Bella and Edward’s honeymoon yet?”
“We’re just past the wedding, so don’t spoil it. What happened to your hair? You get into the bleach under our kitchen sink?”
“Guys dig blondes,” she muttered. “Look at you. You married one.”
“Your hair used to be perfect,” I said. “Now it looks like everyone else’s, only worse. And what’s up with losing all the the weight? You auditioning for Schindler’s List: The Musical?”
“Got any more food?”
“A whole package of processed string cheese in the fridge. Knock yourself out.”
The very next evening, my wife stayed up with me, so we were stuck watching something with more than two stars.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“What?” my wife replied.
“That furry orange thing in your lap?”
“It’s that cat I was telling you about. The one that comes around begging for food.”
“We don’t need another cat. We’ve got five already.”
“What am I supposed to do, Matthew? Let her starve?”
“Call the shelter or something,” I said. “No wonder our other cats have been so agitated.”
The more-than-two-star movie ended. My wife got up and went to bed. She put the new cat my lap and told me not to let her wander. I stroked the cat’s head. She was cute enough, gorgeous ginger fur and eyes the color of onyx.
“I want to party,” she said.
“I guess you’ll do, even if you are old enough to be my older cousin or something.”
“Get off me!”
“You’ve got five boy cats, dude, and they’ve all been fixed,” she said. “How’s a girl supposed to party around here?”
“I don’t want them partying,” I said. “That’s why I have them fixed.”
I squirmed to get a hand free. It was slick with the baby oil she’d applied to make the glitter stick to her cleavage.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
“Trying to reach the phone.”
“Who are you calling?”
Jackson Galaxy answered on the third ring.
“Jackson,” I said. “You’re never going to believe this one.”
When I was finished with the story, he said: “You’re right, I don’t believe it. I’ll be right over.”
Jackson arrived, surveyed the scene, and said: “What are you feeding this cat?”
“Pop-Tarts and processed string cheese.”
“What are you feeding yourself?”
“Pretty much the same thing.”
“Here’s the problem,” Jackson explained. “Cats may be a lot of things, but they’re not that. I've never met one who’s hot sloppy mess fresh out of the tabloids.”
“So what should I do?”
“Tear up what you’ve written so far. Start the story fresh. Throw out those tabloids you have piled up in your bathroom. And stop watching crappy movies. It’s the writer’s creed, man--garbage in, garbage out.”
I turned off the TV. And I started a new story.
Somewhere in that story, I met a ginger cat named Tom with tufted ears and a warrior’s heart, able to transform into a man who is gentle and courageous.
And somewhere else in that story, I met n elegant black long-hair cat named Molly, able to transform into a woman who is a perfect mixture of wise sage and feminine mystique.
As cats, they are mysterious, marking our ways with curious yellow eyes. As people, they are the angels of our better nature, everything our hearts aspire to be.
I let them play on the blank page, and they showed me what to say. They introduced me to many other characters, some like them, some like myself, and by the time I was finished I had fallen in love with them.
Such is the power of storytelling, for the writer as well as the reader.
And best of all, if the story takes precedence, and if it is true, the hot tabloid messes stop showing up on your doorstep.