Blue Days,
Black Nights

Ron Nyswaner
Ron Nyswaner was the screenwriter of a movie called Philadelphia. Over the years, he has sold this and other screenplays, enough to be able to buy an old farmhouse in Woodstock and fly about the country getting hustled and buying drugs.

In 1996 when you and I were trying to figure out how to pay our taxes and the mortgage and trying to keep the kids in school, Ron was staked out at the Numbers bar in Los Angeles, making "high-beam" eyes at Johann of the "taut waist," replete with "leather jacket and black storm trooper boots."

    He planted himself in a pool of track lighting, hands on his hips, expecting to be approached, like fearsome royalty willing to consider petitions for mercy.

Ron petitioned for mercy, got accepted, sort of, and over the next twelve months, got laid and doped, forked over enough dough to support you and me (and our mortgage and the taxes and the kids) for a year. Ron and Johann's combined habits, outside of jetting about, involved industrial strength sex and industrial strength crystal-meth and industrial strength fights, sulks, and what they used to call mental cruelty. In a final holy denouement, Ron was with Johann in Las Vegas just before the latter walked out of the hotel into the path of a truck.

Our narrative ends with Nyswaner seeking Johann's family in Germany so he can deliver the mangled corpse. Only, it turns out, Johann came not from Germany but Austria, the town of Satoraljaujhely in the region Borsod-Abaujzemplen ... a good reason, no doubt, for simplicity sake, to claim Berlin as home.

Also: his name wasn't Johann. It was Tamas. And his father was not an engineer who designed clocks as he claimed but a low level functionary, and his mother was not a dentist. As he claimed.

In other words, Johann not only demanded exorbitant sums of money to put things up his nose and sold his body for exorbitant wads of money; he was, at the same time, an exorbitant liar.

But you know love. When we are in the belly of beastly love, we'll believe anything we are told, especially if the one making up the facts does so with a sneer, a twist of the words, a full leather outfit, and the required narrowing of those high-beam eyes.

§     §     §

I'm not too sure what to do with Blue Days, Black Nights besides drop it in the Dempsey Dumpster. It does have a certain narrative flow --- as he reminds us every few pages or so, the author does screenplays. But there is a certain circularity to the whole, and I'm not talking the great Epic circularity of a Homer or a Milton. It is a round-about of drugs and misery and doing "it" with a certain distancing.

Appropriately, the book comes to life after we have killed Johann off on Interstate 95. Once we have disposed of the mystery element the narrative takes hold, and the author's attempted suicide comes to be the high point of the book.

"'I'm thinking of sending you to the psych unit," says the doctor, precisely reflecting the reader's own thoughts. "Have you ever seen a psychiatrist?" ... "I attempted my most reasonable-sounding voice. 'Only for research. A couple of years ago I was working on a script for Jodie Foster about schizophrenia.'

    The resident's eyes widened. I realized I might be sounding delusional. "It's true. I'm a Hollywood screenwriter. I know everyone claims to be a screenwriter these days. I bet you're working on a screenplay."

"I planned to leave, with or without a doctor's discharge." Larene (the nurse) is somewhat skeptical, especially since he still had the stomach-pump tube jammed up his nasopharyngeal passage and various other tubes hanging out of his arms.

    "What about those I.V. lines? ... You expect me to follow you down the street, pushing that stand?"

    "I'll pull them out."

    "You gonna pull out that tube?"

    I wrapped both hands around it and tugged. Immediately I began to gag and surrendered. Larene left the room laughing.

§     §     §

Blue Days, Black Nights proves once again that the greatest force in contemporary American life is neither sex nor drugs nor love but self-pity. Under all the autobiographical indulgences --- tears, self-mutilation, scads of money, fifteen different varieties of drugs (bought, the author claims, in fifteen different cities) --- all are dimmed by Nyswaner's waves of nobody-knows-de-troubles-I-seen. He and Johann do the love-affair tangle complete with a chorus of sirens, bells, whistles, and firebombs ... and yet deeply woven into their affair is the refrain, "We're suffering terribly, aren't we?"

Enough so that the average reader begins to wonder, somewhere around page 125, when these kids are going to grow up.

Johann and Ron's last get-together in Las Vegas reads not unlike the story of two children under the Christmas tree, unwrapping colorful toys, delighted by the potential for damage hidden in each baggie:

    From the sock he produced several small, transparent plastic bags holding powder in colors that ranged from pale pink to yellow to dirty white. He dropped the bags on the bed's starched sheet, assigning each a name and a dominant characteristic. The pale pink powder was called "champagne" and "makes you horny." The yellowish powder was "glass" and "mellows you out." The dirty-white powder, "chalk," promised to "keep you going for days."

Nothing there, obviously, in this powder-puff derby, to keep the rest of us going for days and days.

--- Lolita Lark
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