Less Than Zero

Bret Easton Ellis

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Highly Recommend

Really good portrayal of what growing up in LA in the early 80's was like for the rich and famous. Contains some wild stories told in a minimalist voice, and some tough choices for Clay (the protagonist).


“I want to go back,” Daniel says, quietly, with effort. “Where?” I ask, unsure. There’s a long pause that kind of freaks me out and Daniel finishes his drink and fingers the sunglasses he’s still wearing and says, “I don’t know. Just back.”

I find my clothes and dress quickly. As I’m pulling my pants up, this black maid, wearing a blue robe, hair in curlers, passes by the door and glances at me for a moment, casually, as if finding some young guy, eighteen or whatever, pulling up his pants in the middle of the living room at five in the morning was not weird. She leaves and I have trouble finding the front door. After I do find it and leave the house, I tell myself that it really wasn’t that bad last night. And I get into the car and open the glove compartment and cut a line, just to make it home. Then I drive past the gates of the house and onto Sunset.

The alarm goes off at eleven. A song called “Artificial Insemination” is playing on the radio and I wait until it’s over to open my eyes and get up. Sun is flooding the room through the Venetian blinds and when I look in the mirror it gives the impression that I have this wild, cracked grin. I walk into the closet and look at my face and body in the mirror; flex my muscles a couple of times, wonder if I should get a haircut, decide I do need a tan. Turn away and open the envelope, also hid beneath the sweaters. I cut myself two lines of the coke I bought from Rip last night and do them and feel better. I’m still wearing my jockey shorts as I walk downstairs. Even though it’s eleven, I don’t think anyone is up yet and I notice that my mother’s door is closed, probably locked. I walk outside and dive into the pool and do twenty quick laps and then get out, towel myself dry as I walk into the kitchen. Take an orange from the refrigerator and peel it as I walk upstairs. I eat the orange before I get into the shower and realize that I don’t have time for the weights. Then I go into my room and turn on MTV really loud and cut myself another line and then drive to meet my father for lunch.

“Oh.” He pauses for a minute. “Who’d you come with?” “Blair. She’s getting a drink.” I take off my sunglasses and look at his bandaged hand. “I think she thinks that we’re lovers.” [In the 80's people used to go with a date to parties!]

The house was old and faded and had a courtyard and a tennis court, but we didn’t play tennis. Instead, I’d wander around the house at night and listen to old records I used to like and sit in the courtyard and drink what was left of the champagne. I didn’t like the house that much, and sometimes I’d have to go out onto the deck at night because I couldn’t stand the white walls and the thin Venetian blinds and the black tile in the kitchen. I’d walk along the beach at night and sometimes sit down in the damp sand and smoke a cigarette and stare up at the lighted house and see Blair’s silhouette in the living room, talking on the phone to someone who was in Palm Springs. When I came back in we’d both be drunk and she would suggest that we go swimming, but it was too cold and dark, and so we’d sit in the small Jacuzzi in the middle of the courtyard and make love.

“What’s your mom doing?” Blair asks. “Is she going out with Tom anymore?” “Where did you hear that? The Inquirer?” Kim laughs. “No. I saw a picture of them in the Hollywood Reporter.” “She’s in England with Milo, I told you,” Kim says as we get closer to the lighted water. “At least that’s what I read in Variety.” “How about you?” Blair asks, starting to smile. “Who are you seeing?” “Moi?” Kim laughs and then mentions some famous young actor I think we went to school with; can’t remember. “Yeah, I heard about that. Just wanted you to verify.”

Muriel doesn’t say anything, just slaps her arm to find a vein and I look at my vest and it freaks me out to see that it does look like someone got stabbed, or something. Muriel holds the syringe and Kim whispers, “Don’t do it,” but her lips are trembling and she looks excited and I can make out the beginnings of a smile and I get the feeling that she doesn’t mean it and as the needle sticks into Muriel’s arm, Blair gets up and says, “I’m leaving,” and walks out of the room. Muriel closes her eyes and the syringe slowly fills with blood. Spit says, “Oh, man, this is wild.” The photographer takes a picture. My hands shake as I light a cigarette.

On the way through the mall, a security guard, sitting alone on a white bench, smoking a cigarette, tells Ronnette that there’s no roller skating in the Beverly Center. “Too much,” Ronnette says, and rolls away. The security guard just sits there and takes another drag and watches us leave.

In the car, Spin tastes the coke and says that it’s cut with too much novocaine. Rip says that at this point he doesn’t care and that he just wants to do some. Rip turns the radio up and keeps screaming happily “What’s gonna happen to all of us?” And Spin keeps screaming back, “All of who, dude? All of who?” We do some of the coke and then go to an arcade in Westwood and play video games for close to two hours and end up spending something like twenty bucks apiece and we stop playing only because we run out of quarters. Rip only has one-hundred-dollar bills on him and the arcade won’t give him change. So Rip stuffs the bills back into his pocket and yells fuck off to the guy working at the change booth and the three of us go back to his car and finish the rest of the coke.

That night it was very warm and while my grandfather slept I ate steak and ribs that had been flown down two days earlier from one of the hotels my grandfather owned in Nevada. I watched a rerun of “The Twilight Zone” that night and took a walk. No one was out. The palm trees were trembling and the streetlights were very bright and if you looked past the house and into the desert, all there was was blackness. No cars passed and I thought I saw a rattlesnake slither into the garage. The darkness, the wind, the rustling from the hedges, the empty cigarette box lying on the driveway all had an eerie effect on me and I ran inside and turned all the lights on and got into bed and fell asleep, listening to the strange desert wind moan outside my window.

I awoke to the sound of voices outside. The director whose party my parents had taken my grandmother to the night before was outside at the table, under the umbrella, eating brunch. The director’s wife was sitting by his side. My grandmother looked well under the shade of the umbrella. The director began to talk about the death of a stuntman on one of his films. He talked about how he missed a step. Of how he fell headfirst onto the pavement below. “He was a wonderful boy. He was only eighteen.” My father opened another beer. My grandfather looked down, sadly. “What was his name?” he asked. “What?” The director glanced up. “What was his name? What was the kid’s name?” There was a long silence and I could only feel the desert breeze and the sound of the jacuzzi heating and the pool draining and Frank Sinatra singing “Summer Wind” and I prayed that the director remembered the name. For some reason it seemed very important to me. I wanted very badly for the director to say the name. The director opened his mouth and said, “I forgot.”

X is not at the party in Malibu. Neither are too many other people. Trent answers the door wearing a pair of briefs and he tells us that he and a friend are using this guy’s place while he’s in Aspen. Apparently, Trent comes here a lot and so do a lot of his friends, who are mostly blond-haired pretty male models like Trent, and he starts to tell us to help ourselves to a drink and some food and he walks back to the jacuzzi and lies down, stretches out under the darkening sky. There are mostly young boys in the house and they seem to be in every room and they all look the same: thin, tan bodies, short blond hair, blank look in the blue eyes, same empty toneless voices, and then I start to wonder if I look exactly like them. I try to forget about it and get a drink and look around the living room. Two boys are playing Ms. Pac Man. Another boy lying in an overstuffed couch smoking a joint and watching MTV. One of the boys playing Ms. Pac Man moans and hits the machine, hard.

He stops playing “Megamania” and puts in a new cassette, “Donkey Kong.” “I don’t think I’m going back to school,” he says. “To New Hampshire.” After a while I ask him why. “I don’t know.” He stops, lights the joint again. “It doesn’t seem like I’ve ever been there.” He shrugs, sucks in on the joint. “It seems like I’ve been here forever.” He hands it to me. I shake my head, no. “So you’re not going back?” “I’m going to write this screenplay, see?” “But what do your parents think?” “My parents? They don’t care. Do yours?” “They must think something.” “They’ve gone to Barbados for the month and then they’re going to oh … shit … I don’t know … Versailles? I don’t know. They don’t care,” he says again. I tell him, “I think you should come back.” “I really don’t see the point,” Daniel says, not taking his eyes off the screen and I begin to wonder what the point was, if we ever knew.

I light a cigarette and sit down on a bench and notice two pay phones and remember when there used to be no pay phones. Some mothers pick their children up from school and the children catch sight of them and run across the yard and into their arms and the sight of the children running across the asphalt makes me feel peaceful; it makes me not want to get up off the bench. But I find myself walking into an old bungalow and I’m positive that this was where my third-grade classroom was located. The bungalow is in the process of being torn down. Next to the abandoned bungalow lies the old cafeteria, and it’s empty and also in the process of being torn down. The paint on both buildings is faded everywhere and peeling off in huge patches of pale green. I go to another bungalow and the door’s open and I walk in. The day’s homework is written on the black-board and I read it carefully and then walk to the lockers but can’t find mine. I can’t remember which one it was. I go into the boy’s bathroom and squeeze a soap dispenser. I pick up a yellowed magazine in the auditorium and strike a few notes on a piano. I had played the piano, the same piano, at a Christmas recital in second grade and I strike a few more chords from the song I played and they ring out through the empty auditorium and echo. I panic for some reason and leave the room. Two boys are playing handball outside. A game I forgot existed. I walk away from the school without looking back and get into my car and drive away.

And in the elevator on the way down to Julian’s car, I say, “Why didn’t you tell me the money was for this?” and Julian, his eyes all glassy, sad grin on his face, says, “Who cares? Do you? Do you really care?” and I don’t say anything and realize that I really don’t care and suddenly feel foolish, stupid. I also realize that I’ll go with Julian to the Saint Marquis. That I want to see if things like this can actually happen. And as the elevator descends, passing the second floor, and the first floor, going even farther down, I realize that the money doesn’t matter. That all that does is that I want to see the worst. [Woahhhhhh]

“Hey, don’t look at me like I’m some sort of scumbag or something. I’m not.” “It’s …” my voice trails off. “It’s what?” Rip wants to know. “It’s … I don’t think it’s right.” “What’s right? If you want something, you have the right to take it. If you want to do something, you have the right to do it.”

“Where are we going?” I asked “I don’t know,” he said. “Just driving.” “But this road doesn’t go anywhere,” I told him. “That doesn’t matter.” “What does?” I asked, after a little while. “Just that we’re on it, dude,” he said.

There was a song I heard when I was in Los Angeles by a local group. The song was called “Los Angeles” and the words and images were so harsh and bitter that the song would reverberate in my mind for days. The images, I later found out, were personal and no one I knew shared them. The images I had were of people being driven mad by living in the city. Images of parents who were so hungry and unfulfilled that they ate their own children. Images of people, teenagers my own age, looking up from the asphalt and being blinded by the sun. These images stayed with me even after I left the city. Images so violent and malicious that they seemed to be my only point of reference for a long time afterwards. After I left.

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