One of two brothers hosting a hit TV show can’t accept that they no longer have equal roles. 2,679 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by John Donald Carlucci.
Fan Club members: It is you that keep the dream alive. And that is why you must know that there was no formal ritual between the brothers. They rehearsed at noon five days a week, talked on the phone four to thirty times a day, met their press agent every other Thursday, and socially were almost inseparable. Even the many girls they took out, they did so in pairs, occasionally shooting each other a deeply knowing look mid-date to signal the switching of seats and intentions. Sean rented his own place in the Los Feliz Hills to be nearer the Burbank studio and liked to sleep late. Marky bought athree-bedroom oceanfront condo in Manhattan Beach, which was a good investment and, besides, what was the point in being a pop star if you weren’t going to live on the beach?
After dinner at Mom’s, Sean headed home to get some beauty rest before the big television interview. Marky, on the other hand, hopped in the Benz and was heading for his beach pad, intending to catch some Zs as well, when he remembered that it was Sunday, and that meant poker night at the shared apartment of Tom and Shanahan, his old high school pals. Marky was already in the old neighborhood, so he skipped the freeway onramp and maneuvered into the parking lot of the Hawthorne Arms, ready for action. He walked the dank stairwell to Tom and Shanahan’s second floor pad, and held his pop-star-ness in check. He lapsed into a joke fantasy, rare but recurring, that he was not and had never been in showbiz. Sean’s bro — the tax accountant. Or Sean’s bro — the sportswriter. If only he had been too fat, early balding like their Old Man.
“Dude!” Shanahan called out. “Total surprise.”
“Yo!” Tom said, his back to them, pulling a twelve-ouncer of Olde English Malt Liquor out of the fridge. “Do I hear Marky?”
“The man arriveth!”
Marky shrugged, then sat in the breakfast nook with the five neighborhood buffoons in Old Navy duds and hand-me-downs, some sporting baseball caps on their $20 haircuts. The homies looked happy but tired. Marky feigned a “long, hard day,” too.
“What’s up, superstar?” Tom said, high-fiving.
“Dude,” Kev said, cracking a beer, “aren’t you on Kimmel tomorrow night?”
Marky rolled his eyes. “Hey man, I just came to play some penny ante.” And then Marky dug into his pockets. “Oh fuck, I forgot to bring change.”
“Don’t worry about it, bro,” Shanahan said.
Kev said, “We got you covered. Dufe has a Rolex but he doesn’t have a nickel!”
The homies passed a heavy coffee can and emptied its contents — a tiny mountain of dimes, nickels, and pennies — onto the plastic tablecloth. Marky reached to scoop the coins. “Hey man, this thing was free,” Marky said, showing off the watch. “I’ve had it for, like, years.” He wasn’t lying. The heavy timepiece was one of the first freebies he ever got; he kept it on for good luck and good memories. Nothing was cooler than those first six months, getting all kinds of unasked-for gifts, back when they didn’t have money. Plus the girls hitting on them, like, out of the blue. Every morning waking up and going — Holy fuck, I’m Marky Nash. But that was a long time ago already. Marky continued, “I ain’t betting the watch. Just deal me in, bitch,” and the guys all laughed.
Cards were shuffled and beers were cracked and it was so easy in the kitchen of this crappy apartment, sitting at this misplaced outdoor picnic table. Marky asked Tom for a King Edward Vanilla and Kev sparked him up. The game moved fast. Six bad hands and three good beers later, Marky was down $4.38.
“Nash, you’re a straight-up loser,” Elliot taunted.
“You guys are fucked up,” Marky said with fake misery. “Deal me in again.”
Tom shuffled, saying, “It’s your funeral, dog,” and they played Fours and Whores.
Marky cupped his cards, kept an easygoing face, flicking nickels into the pile. Then he swigged a beer and studied his hand: Two 3s and, crap, one Jack.
“Dude,” Kev said at the fridge, unleashing another beer off a six-pack. “You’re a TV star. Can you get Ariana Grande’s number for me?”
Marky laughed. “Yeah, but you’ll probably have to give up a testicle to get a date with her.”
“And you know he would!” Tom answered and they busted up.
“She look like Daphne or what?” Shanahan asked.
“What,” Tom shot back. “Definitely what.”
“Hell no,” Shanahan said. “Just some nasty shaghead from a broken home.”
“Daph was all right,” Marky said poker-faced, and folded. He almost asked the homies what ever happened to her but didn’t. Marky had known that Sean was in love with Daphne. More, Sean was psycho over her. Marky caught Sean writing her name on the inside of his Pee-Chee folder in loopy letters. Marky on the other hand didn’t really dig her and that was his whopping advantage. Dark-eyed Daphne with the freckles and the lip gloss was closer to Sean’s age in years, but loose and way mature. And Marky —main event or sidekick — had still been big bro on campus. Back then.
“Dude,” Kev said to Marky, pointing with his beer can.,“weren’t you with Daphne or something?”
Marky said, “No comment,” and the guys went into super-howl. Yeah, he’d been with her. The memory did not chill: Sean came home from the drama club and caught them post-flagrante fully clothed, but it was obvious. People just look different after sex. Seany-poo threw his keys down and stormed out. Then he was stuck outside. He rang the bell. Daphne had to go down and let him into his own house. Daph was okay, she was a trooper. But Marky didn’t even want her. What had he wanted?
“Ho!” Shanahan splayed out another winning hand and arm-scooped coins. “The pot is all mine!”
“Seriously, dog,” Kev said, grinning, “did you stick her?”
Tom came to the rescue. “Will you stop giving Nash the third degree? Dude comes to play some cards and you’re all like—”
“Easy, easy,” Marky said. “It’s no big deal. Yes, I was with her, like one time. It was nothing.”
Marky noted to himself that nobody at the table was even asking about Sean — because why would they bother asking about a dickless twerp? The cards were shuffled and dealt again and pennies came flying into the center of the table.
Kev did the lean-over as he said to the group, “Yo, I remember in, like, eighth grade we saw Marky’s dad coming out of the Whisky A Go-Go with this totally hot—”
“Dude, shut up,” Tom said, slamming down his cards. “How un-cool.”
“Naw, it’s okay,” Marky mumbled, “I remember that night.” And he did. Next day he and the old man threw down.
The Marky these dudes loved was the old him, the track star, the king of the drama club, the high school heartthrob. But the whole time Sean was out there hiding in the bush sussing out the terrain. I must have been insane to lord Daphne over Sean like that and not expect revenge.
“Oh shit,” Kev said, getting up quickly with beer in hand, his plastic chair almost tipping over. “They got middleweights tonight on ESPN.” He lunged into the living room and grabbed for the remote. One by one the homies converged in front of the TV. Kev’s thumb landed on E! and when the guys saw the smiling face of Meno Dalmucci, they let out a collective groan.
Empty and near-empty beer cans went flying toward the TV.
It was an on-the-set teaser for Meno’s upcoming series featuring a bunch of girls crowding around him. Marky thought he recognized some of their faces, blonde mallrats getting frenetic in their first-ever public display of cosmetics. As fast as the girls had screamed for the Nash Bros, they were shifting gears for Meno.
Marky found himself plotting Meno’s escape. More than once, the Nash Bros had had to run for cover. Once at home, Marky was watching the news with his Old Man and people in Peru had swarmed around the country’s presidential car rocking it and shouting at the leader and banging on the windows. Marky almost said to his Old Man: They’re doing just what the girls do to us.
Marky watched and could see a day when Meno would take over. Sean the chicken-brain could not see it. Meno was getting screams. Meno was getting accolades. Meno was getting juice. The camera scanned the mini Meno riot. Outside the TV lot, a group of girls had erected a giant poster: WE ♥ YOU MENO. They screamed and convulsed like being forced into a burning building.
In the sun-drenched morning, Marky hid his head under a black t-shirt on his bed and calculated his losses, poker and otherwise. Like the onset of a fever, his hangover came in whispers, waves, flash notifications. Marky slightly adjusted the sheet and made a decision: he was going to rise above. He was going to play it cool. He was going to be the sidekick.
A flutter of shame landed in his belly like a bird. Fight it.
The Nash Bros new season opener played in his not-quite-awake mind. Marky was jabbing and sliding like a boxer in the ring doing the “so handsome I’m dangerous” act. The audience squealed — one part screams, one part cheers. Strobes flickered and spun. The purple logo flew forward, stars bursting: NASH BROS NOW!
And then, Sean’s chicken dance. The audience sang along: cuckoo ricoo ri-cuckoo…
Marky’s mind-camera scanned the pubescent screamers: 89% female-under-17 demographic. To the world, Nash and Nash were young men, barely no longer teenagers. But they had been at it a long time already. Marky had done his first Baskin-Robbins commercials at age 11. Since Mom had thrown away her acting career for them, she was determined to give her kids the head start she blew. Lil Marky wore the Grease outfit and the tough guy combed-back hair and got big teases from his fifth grade teacher. Words cannot describe how jealous Sean had been. No surprise there. At the sight of the commercial’s first airing, Sean of course repeated his lifelong mantra: “Me, too.”
Marky peeked under the black t-shirt and got slashed by the sun. He felt for sure that he might be getting sick now, definitely not the Nash Bro way to go. He debated the treadmill but stayed horizontal. So Sean was better, so he could do things Marky couldn’t do. So what? Marky was still here, wasn’t he? There had to be some reason for his existence? Be the sidekick.
His cell rang and he didn’t answer it. He wanted Cocoa Krispies and a shower first. Maybe a bath to work off the heebie-jeebies. He felt weak but absolutely resolved to step back and give Sean center stage. After all, they had it pretty fricking good. Several of his poker pals were welders who watched the clock at the Goodyear plant. Marky had nothing against welding, but teenage girls had multiple orgasms at the mere sight of the Bros — not exactly quantifiable employee benefits. Once, total identical twins had accosted Marky outside a film premiere. “We want to rock your world,” the one said, the other giggling over her sister’s shoulder. Marky was still a Nash and could still walk into any L.A. restaurant without a reservation. Until someone there asked, “Where’s your brother?” The question was so automatic.
And, anyway, can an older brother be a sidekick? Was it natural? A little brother tags along. He does not lead.
State the obvious: it used to be that Sean was Marky’s sidekick.
But that’s just it. The weakened persevere. They fail and fall and then something hardens. Offstage, anybody could see how it really was: Sean was a fool, and Marky tolerated him. But showbiz rewards fools — that’s what Mom always said. “Mutual energy,” the Producer described it. But when they were little boys, there was nothing mutual about it! Sean had wanted Marky’s constant attention and approval around the clock. And in Sean’s eagerness to play shadow, he finagled his way into Marky’s life.
And then, without warning, they weren’t little boys anymore.
Sean started making friends of his own. He went over Marky’s head, clowning for an older crowd of cool wannabe hipster geeks. Once, after school, Sean hopped into the back of an SUV, and Marky’s arch-rival was in there, an idiot preppy who’d yelled, “No room for Marky!” Sean bowed his head to the supreme law of school hierarchy and did not rush to defend his own brother. Marky caught this and, for the first time, felt the separation from Sean he had craved all along. As the Jeep pulled away, Marky decided right then and there to officially freeze out Sean.
Next afternoon on campus, Marky said, “Will you stop following me around? Or do I need to ask Mom to get you another babysitter?”
That night, Sean said, “What is your problem, anyway?”
Marky went serious, cutting deep: “Look, in all honesty, I just don’t have that much time in my schedule for you.”
A long curve of falling dominoes and suddenly their parents were mid-divorce. Dad woke the boys at dawn, carrying a duffel bag. He said, “I’m moving out,” and his voice cracked like it was some big unfair punishment even though he’d been serially cheating on their Mom. Sean started crying like a pussy. Marky rolled over, refused the goodbye hug.
Dad left, but Sean stayed. Sean became popular, and for one long season at Hawthorne High, he ruled the school. Marky fell into that most wretched role of the older brother who ieverybody lets join the party out of a mild but ancient sense of familial loyalty.
Like stars in the sky, their course was set.
The phone rang again — Marky opened one eye, peeked at the cell. It was Sean. Marky kept the shirt over his face and answered.
“You up for tonight?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Marky said, all laconic. “Still snoozing.”
“Where were you last night? We were down in your hood at Abbot Kinney, I called and—”
“I went to poker at Shanahan’s.”
“For real? That’s way old school.”
“It was cool.”
“Hey, I bumped into a chick at the bar in Venice. I’m taking her out tonight. You wanna join the fun? She can bring her cousin.”
“Did you see her cousin?”
“Dude. Her cousin was hot.”
“Alright. After Kimmel,” Marky said, still lying in the self-inflicted dark.
“And yo man, don’t forget. Tonight you’re my sidekick.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Marky said, feeling a great weight drop within.
Sean sang: “You are the wind beneath my wings.”
Marky said, “Fuck off, homo,” and they hung up.
Now Marky wanted to get out of bed but his body would not move. He’s jealous because I didn’t invite him out with the old crew. Or just me. But at least Marky had averted the mandatory Sean monologue, and its corollary, the Brotherly Assuage-a-thon. You’re amazing, Sean, you’re great, you’re the next DiCaprio, now leave me alone and remind yourself once a decade that you rode in on my coattails, bitch. Look out, Sean’s coming! Better compliment him quick before he compliments himself!
Marky tilted up and reached in the dark for a bottle of San Pelligrino and took a slug. Then he laid back down gently. Up until now, it had been like a game. But the eldest Nash son was awakening to a permanent reality. Old at 21, dead at 21, spent at 21. They’re gonna put me out to pasture. I’m gonna be “his brother,” the guy in the way back, getting those pity eyes everywhere I go!
His belly tightened. Marky yanked the black t-shirt off his face and opened his eyes to the flood of sickening daylight.
Oh Daphne, where are you now that I need you?