h2>Dating : There’s a Bomb in Jimmy Ray Doolittle’s Head
Jimmy Ray Doolittle sat in a swivel makeup chair staring into the lighted mirror before him. His face was covered in a greenish-brown clay, and what was left of his gray and quickly disappearing hairline had been combed back and clipped into funny little random clumps with a variety of brightly colored barrettes. Mouse, the hair and makeup artist, had stepped away for a cigarette, leaving the aging former action hero alone in his dressing room while the substance on his face worked away. Inspecting his reflection, he took a deep breath, slowly exhaled, and then forced a wide, ear-to-ear grin to check the whiteness of his teeth against the contrast of the dark mud on his face.
Jimmy Ray Doolittle had regrets. He just didn’t know what they were exactly or why he should even have them. But he had regrets — he could feel them. That was certain. And Mouse had her Spotify account set to an oldies collection of some sort. Various familiar songs had been playing throughout the morning, from the Eagles to Dr. Hook, but it was Rikki Don’t Lose That Number that had transported Jimmy Ray back to a very special place in the ’70s; back when he was in his 30s and life was still fresh. The memories of that entire era strobed through his mind in uncontrollable, random directions as Mouse stood behind him earlier, kneading the musk-fragrant mask into his face, her fingertips with a certain cadence keeping time with Steely Dan. Jimmy Ray closed his eyes, trying hard to concentrate on his thoughts in an effort to savor each memory, to slow down where his mind was taking him. But it was hard. Concentration in general was getting harder and harder for Jimmy Ray, even with all the Adderall he’d been taking. Plus Mouse’s tits on the back of his head weren’t helping. At all.
There was, however, an overall theme playing in his mind from this period, his favorite decade; a leitmotif of chintzy fabrics, saccharine-sweet perfumes, hazelnut aperitifs, live jazz, and women. Lots and lots of women. And the smell of the ocean. And unlike so many who neglected the spice of their youth in favor of hard work, a strong marriage, and the proverbial picket fence, Jimmy Ray could bask in the fact that he enjoyed every single second of his former life while he was living it, without even the slightest hint of responsibility or moral consideration to get in the way. And it’s not like he had changed that much in all the years since. Sure, he’d aged significantly, but his thoughts were relatively the same. He was still a Republican — mostly, though he had inexplicably voted for Ralph Nader and once for Obama — and he still enjoyed many of the same activities. Like jogging, for example. Or travel. Or sex. The latter being a bit more difficult to secure these days, but in the right nightclub on the right day of the week, etc. No shit, seventy-four-year-old Jimmy Ray could still take women home. He was Jimmy Ray Doolittle, after all. So what if he’d also taken advantage of a little plastic surgery here and there. Not to the extreme of what Kenny Rogers and Burt Reynolds had done to themselves. No, Jimmy Ray was sure to ask the doc to take only some of the slack from under his eyes, not all.
It bothered Jimmy Ray that he was nearing the end of his life. Even with a good potential 10 or 15 years left, Jimmy Ray knew he was on borrowed time. No matter how he tried to ease his anxiety about dying, it just lingered in him. He was obsessed with the subject, actually, and he would try to imagine heaven and hell for what it really might be. He would also try to imagine a godless nothingness. The latter almost impossible to appreciate, and all of it scary as hell. He even tried to associate dying with just another adventure, another wild ride, but it just wouldn’t stick. The best bet, he figures to this day, is to die quickly, painlessly, and without knowing it’s coming.
Jimmy Ray fell abruptly back into the present and opened his eyes when Mouse re-entered the dressing room, smacking on chewing gum and smelling of a light fragrance meant to blanket any evidence of the cigarette she just had. He wondered how she got the name. Mouse. Was it a nickname, and if so, why? If it was her given name, Jimmy Ray figured he’d like to meet her parents, if for no other reason than their sense of humor. And as he wondered how old she might be, 25, perhaps 28 or 29, he figured her parents were younger than he was, and probably by 20 years.
Like apparently all women these days, Mouse wore black leggings, which really activated Jimmy Ray’s imagination. And the shape of Mouse’s pussy bump in the tight fabric, shifting left and right with each step she would take, had him spellbound. Jimmy Ray tried to imagine it up close and, by extension, he wondered if she were a natural redhead. Although he didn’t figure he’d ever find out, even if he were fucking her in the middle of the day with the lights on and the curtains open. And that’s because Mouse was bubbly, fun. She seemed like the type who would have had her genitals lasered smooth. Artsy, intellectual girls, on the other hand, were the kind more likely to let their pubic hair grow out on occasion, depending on their mood. Mouse didn’t fit this category at all.
Jimmy Ray’s first draft notice was dead on arrival since he had enrolled in college immediately after high school. Thinking a career as a shop teacher would be really steady and secure, his original major was Industrial Education. He had taken shop all throughout junior high and high school, and he liked working with his hands and making or fixing things, but he found his true calling one day early on while auditing a theater class his sophomore year. And to be 100% up front, Industrial Education involved a lot of Math and Writing, and that wasn’t really Jimmy Ray’s strong suit.
And while we’re on the subject of honesty, Jimmy Ray’s only interest in that class was a Drama major by the name of Sarah Something-Or-Other, but by the end of the semester he had switched majors completely and when he graduated, he knew he would be headed for Broadway or LA. The draft board, however, caught up with him again and this time it was either join the military or get accepted to and then pay for a graduate program. Money was an issue, so Jimmy Ray enlisted, completed his Infantry training, and then shipped out for 11 months to the highlands of Vietnam with the First Cavalry Division. It had never really occurred to Jimmy Ray to split for Canada, though he ultimately never held those who did in contempt. Even though it was a skunk of a war, he is quietly proud of his time in uniform to this day.
The combat Jimmy Ray faced in SE Asia is as real in his memories as it was when he was there. And other than a couple pieces of shrapnel in his right shoulder, a few medals on the shelf in his den, and a nightmare or two here and there, he never memorialized his service like he sees from so many of his fellow combat vets who wear hats and t-shirts, drive trucks that sport bumper stickers, and so on. He rarely remembers the details of his bad dreams when he wakes up sweaty and agitated, and most of the photographs he had taken in Vietnam were lost for one reason or another before he ever even came home, just like a few of his buddies.
Those in his platoon that did survive the tour rarely spoke to each other after the service. There was no real animosity between any of them, mind you; seeing or hearing from each other was just a painful, conscious reminder of what they had experienced together in combat. But now, as Jimmy Ray has gotten older and into his final stretch, so he calls it, he loves hearing from the guys in his old unit. They usually get together once a year for a reunion of sorts, but none of them speaks of the war much. Jimmy Ray will typically foot the hotel and airfare for those who couldn’t make it otherwise, and much to his liking, his celebrated status is rarely a distraction. The fellas seem to spend most of their time commiserating over Agent Orange, cancer, football, ex-wives, and the shitty treatment they get at the VA. When they were younger, they couldn’t be far enough apart, but now they needed each other, and together they mourned those who would not make it to the next gathering.
There are very few Vietnam War vets working in Hollywood, and this was especially true when Jimmy Ray started his career. It just wasn’t something you talked about, either, so the very few who were there pretty much kept that part of their lives an open secret. Between The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, a slow trickle of overall acceptance started to take effect, and by the release of Uncommon Valor, Jimmy Ray and Oliver Stone were considered heroes for their time in combat, although it certainly didn’t help with Jimmy Ray’s audition for the role of Navy SEAL-turned-private-eye, Thomas Magnum. That went to Tom Selleck, as the whole world knows, and Tom spent his time in the National Guard, not combat. This irked Jimmy Ray Doolittle to a significant degree, but he ultimately shrugged it off. Likewise, even though his agent heavily pitched Jimmy Ray’s veteran status, the producers chose William Hurt for the role of Nick, the impotent former radio talk show host suffering from post-Vietnam PTSD in The Big Chill. Jimmy Ray later chalked this up in the moral victory column, although he did envy the reviews.
What bothered Jimmy Ray Doolittle the most were the rumors — outright lies — that made their way around social circles about hero-celebrities. It was photocopied memos in the early days, then faxes, then emails, and now memes on social media, which would circulate with the most ridiculous of stories. Shit like Captain Kangaroo serving as a commando in the South Pacific or Mr. Fucking Rogers a special operations sniper. Just the most ridiculous shit ever. Ever.
The set was decorated in finished mahogany bookcases and rich brown leather: the softly lit private library of a seasoned adventurer. Standing in front of a fireplace and wearing a dark flannel suit to contrast his silver hair, Jimmy Ray’s lines were simple, commanding, and to the point with a smooth, southwestern patois: It’s a volatile, dangerous, uncertain world out there. There are no guarantees. Ever. Invest in precious metals. I did.
After six takes the ad execs were all nodding and smiling and the director told everyone it was a wrap and Jimmy Ray Doolittle made his way back to his dressing room, clumsily negotiating sound and light equipment and awkwardly signing three or four autographs along the way. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number was still in his head. And so was Mouse, as she was carefully removing his makeup with cotton balls and witch hazel — a special request of Jimmy Ray’s since he was not a fan of the smell or idea of baby wipes on his face. Later, as he changed back into his shorts and sweater, he contemplated asking Mouse out for a drink. He really liked her, or so it was seeming. He tried asking her out several different ways in his mind, but for whatever reason, for the first time since high school, Jimmy Ray didn’t have the confidence.
The sun was warm but the August breeze was cool for Southern California. Jimmy Ray was thankful he’d worn a sweater, but that didn’t stop him from putting the top down on the old Mercedes coupe. As he put the car into reverse he paused, faced up toward the sun, and closed his eyes with his foot on the brake. He took a minute to collect himself in the relative quiet of the moment, to take an inventory of what he’d done and what he hadn’t done that day. He could still smell the combination of Mouse’s light perfume, chewing gum, and leftover cigarette smoke in his head, but he couldn’t remember saying his lines or even his position in front of the camera. In fact, he couldn’t actually remember driving into the studio this morning. His mind had just been so preoccupied with this feeling of regret and mortality. Which made no sense to Jimmy; not one bit. In fact, Jimmy Ray wasn’t exactly sure it was even regret that he was feeling, but it sure seemed that way. It was just strange, he thought. So fucking strange.
The whole damned week had been really odd, come to think of it, and he’d had enough sleep and he’d been taking his meds on schedule, he figured, so that couldn’t be the culprit. He had recently cut back on his drinking quite a bit, and he knew that could be playing pretty heavy with his mind. So Jimmy Ray shifted the car back into park, turned off the engine, and opened Candy Crush on his iPhone. He didn’t have a damned place to be, and now was as good a time as any to do absolutely nothing.
Jimmy Ray Doolittle didn’t play sports growing up. His dad, a WWII vet with PTSD before they called it PTSD, worked as a hotel bell captain when he wasn’t on a drinking binge, and his mother did her best waiting on short-order customers at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Dallas. There was no way his parents could have afforded for Jimmy Ray to take part in extracurricular activities, and deep down he resented that. Deep down, Jimmy Ray wanted to be popular. He wanted to wear after shave and madras and Weejuns and eat pizza after school with the jocks and popular girls. Or grow his hair and go to concerts and smoke cigarettes and read poetry with the beat kids. Anything that would let him feel like he belonged to something meaningful; a group of people headed somewhere good, somewhere fun and exciting. Instead, it was no friends and patched denim jeans and Chuck Taylors and The Twilight Zone when the TV wasn’t in the pawn shop.
Jimmy Ray would dream about playing a musical instrument or lettering in a sport like football or track. He wanted girls to like him. He wanted to know more about the world around him. He wanted to travel. Like the rich girls in the cafeteria, whose parents gave them money for lunch and, for whatever reason, hardly ate a thing on their trays but laughed and shared stories of European summers. Those girls weren’t mean to Jimmy Ray Doolittle; those girls didn’t know he even existed. Jimmy Ray was invisible to that social class, with his brown-bag lunches and burr haircut and hand-me-down flannel shirts.
Jimmy Ray Doolittle’s dad would beat him for any grade below an A on his report cards, meaning Jimmy Ray took quite a few beatings. The old man would unbuckle his belt and rip it from his waist, mentally torturing his only child by cracking the worn leather across the floors and walls before finally striking Jimmy Ray repeatedly with all of his strength.
Seemingly always drunk, his dad would accuse Jimmy Ray of disrespecting the family name and throwing away the opportunities that he and his wife had worked — slaved — so hard to provide for their lazy, stupid, ungrateful child. Jimmy Ray would blurt out how sorry he was between the lashes and, eventually, it would be over and he would go to his bed. Sometimes his mother would come in to check on him, but this would usually invite more anger from his father so she mostly stayed away. Jimmy Ray Doolittle never plotted an angry revenge after a beating. He would wish, instead, with his face down in the pillow, trying to stop crying, that things could just get better.
But one time Jimmy Ray completely lost his self-control and corrected his belligerent father, reminding him that he was a no-good drunk who couldn’t hold down a job and that he was pretty much a sorry excuse for a human being, let alone a parent. This act of valor, of course, enraged James Raymond Doolittle, Sr., to a degree that neither Jimmy Ray nor his mother had ever seen. However, Jimmy Ray, still lying on the hallway floor, suddenly relaxed his guard, smiled, and completely accepted that he was about to be killed by his father. What he had said was unforgivable, but it was very satisfying. Jimmy Ray was comfortable with the sentence he was about to be served. For the first time in his miserable life, Jimmy Ray took a stand. And it felt really good. And just as a triumphant Jimmy Ray Doolittle was about to take the worst beating of his life, a heavy glass table lamp came crashing down on the old man’s head and his knees buckled from underneath him and he fell limp to the carpet. There was nothing but stunned silence; a quiet so harsh that you could hear your ears humming. Jimmy Ray and his mother looked at one another, expressionless and without saying a word.
The two of them swept the shattered glass from the floor after they had dragged his father back to the easy chair. They never mentioned a word about the incident to anyone, including themselves, and for whatever reason, his father never brought it up. Oh, it wasn’t a fairytale ending from there, mind you. Dad would still get drunk and lose his job and abuse his family, and they would continue to live in the housing projects and Jimmy Ray would still carry onion and mayo sandwiches to school in brown paper sacks and be ignored by everyone. Life went on as usual, but there was hope.
Jimmy Ray Doolittle noticed something moving in the periphery. He looked up from his iPhone and saw Mouse walking toward him, smiling and dragging on a cigarette, with a shawl and large crossbody bag hiding much of the figure he had enjoyed looking at earlier. She walked up to his door, touched his shoulder, and said, “Hey, Mr. Doolittle,” drawing the words out with melodic, coquettish syllables. Heeey — Mister — Dooo — Little. What — cha — doin’ — out — here? Jimmy Ray suddenly felt awkward. He felt embarrassed even, his face reddening. What the hell had he been doing out here? He couldn’t very well say that he was playing fucking Candy Crush. He was Jimmy Ray fucking Doolittle, and Jimmy Ray Doolittle was not the kind of guy — the kind of legend — who played Candy Crush in a studio parking lot. Alone in a car. With the engine off. And to make matters even worse, his heart was racing at her touch and he was afraid nothing would come out of his mouth if he were to try to speak. So he just sat there. Paralyzed. Looking at Mouse looking at him, twirling a strand of her hair around her index finger.
Are you OK, Sexy Man?
Ah, shit. This made it even worse. Now he was literally tongue-tied and his heart was beating so hard that he was afraid maybe she could hear it drumming in his chest. And she called him sexy. Could she mean it? Was she just flirting? Mouse was kind of flirty, but he had not known her long enough to really tell. They had worked on a few occasions here and there together, but he really didn’t know her that well and even though there was a time when he would have smiled, raised his shades up to his brow, and confidently asked her to hop into his car, this was just impossible at the moment. He couldn’t even make words come out of his mouth for chrissakes, much less breathe, and for all Jimmy Ray Doolittle knew, he was about to die of a fucking heart attack.
Mouse tilted her head with a polite but cautious smile and asked again if Jimmy Ray was OK. And knowing he needed to do something, anything, he tried to smile with some confidence and give her a wink, but she would never know he had winked because his hands were frozen on the steering wheel and he forgot to raise his Ray Bans. And the smile? Epic fail. Actually, what was supposed to be a smile probably looked more like a furtive display of resignation. If not complete disapproval. And knowing he had flubbed this all up, he instinctively tried to make up for it by saying something charming and assuring, but all that came out of his mouth was a gasping sound and something that sounded like banana patch. “Jesus H, Jimmy Ray,” he thought to himself. Just drive the fuck away. Please just start the car and go before you make a total ass of yourself. So he did. He nodded and drove away.
On a reconnaissance patrol near Pleiku, on what was really an attempt to irritate and provoke the Viet Cong just days after their attack on Camp Holloway, one of the guys in Jimmy Ray’s squad tripped a wire tied to the pin on a grenade. The insidious part was that everyone heard the click and clang, too, but the fuse was short and there was no time to get down and out of the way. The blast was sudden and one of the guys up front — probably the poor bastard that tripped the wire — got killed instantly and three others took fragments. Only one of the three eventually lived, and that was Jimmy Ray Doolittle. Jimmy Ray took shrapnel in his shoulder and was placed on a MEDEVAC with the dead guy and the other two who were mortally wounded. The medic gave Jimmy Ray some morphine and he zoned out to the thumping staccato wop-wop-wop of the Huey’s spinning rotors.
Jimmy Ray remembers waking up in a Navy hospital in Saigon. An Army major was standing next to him, holding Jimmy Ray’s Purple Heart certificate and medal, which he pinned to Jimmy Ray’s hospital gown. “Thank you for your sacrifice, Private Doolittle,” was all the Major had to say before making his way to the next bed, followed in step by a pretty, brunette nurse pushing a cart with a stack of Purple Heart medals and certificates. It was laughable to Jimmy Ray in a way. And mockery that the budding young thespian was part of a big, violent, mindless machine, with zero individuality or importance. The hero’s medal on his chest was an incentive for something, he was sure, although he never caught chest-candy fever. Perhaps that is why Jimmy Ray Doolittle would remember his time in that godforsaken shithole as haplessness.
Jimmy Ray was given two weeks of R&R in Hong Kong after he healed a bit more. He used the opportunity to buy cheap, pirated record albums and several cartons of cigarettes to send to his parents back home. Cigarettes sold for a fraction of what they sold for back in the States, and his folks smoked three packs of Pall Malls a day between the two of them. Jimmy Ray knew his mother worried terribly about him in a war zone on the other side of the planet, and he knew his father probably cared, too. Although, in the years following his return to civilian life, Jimmy Ray’s father would say things that downplayed the significance of the Vietnam War and demeaned his son’s service, boasting instead of the accomplishments his GI Generation reached in Europe and the South Pacific. Real heroes, the old man would say, fighting a real war. These things didn’t hurt Jimmy Ray so much; he never expected his dad’s praise. Ever. But he was particularly hurt when he asked his father to sponsor him into the local VFW, and all his dad did was laugh and walk away. Jimmy Ray had been thinking it would be something they could share, do together, as father-and-son combat veterans. No, Jimmy Ray expected no praise, but he would have been more than happy with his father’s approval.
Mouse probably thought Jimmy Ray was having a stroke. Or maybe she thought Jimmy Ray meant something hurtful with his garbled words. He wasn’t sure, but he knew he had left an awful impression. For certain he knew he left her confused. And maybe he left her with hurt feelings, regretting to herself that she had called him sexy. Shit. She had actually been flirting with him, right? She wouldn’t have walked toward him in the parking lot like she did, or gotten all cutesy for that matter, if she didn’t think there was a chance he would ask her out. Jimmy Ray knew he was a handsome older man. And by extension, he was a symbol of strength, stability, and security. Surely, he thought, this is what Mouse wants, but then he winced when he realized how she must be feeling toward him at that very second.
Jimmy Ray was sitting by the pool on the terrace of his home, drinking scotch neat, smoking a cigar, and retracing his steps. Drinking too much scotch, actually, and when it hit him that he had reached a level of buzzed-ness adequate for actually communicating with Mouse, he reached out to a director friend who had used her in the past and who would have her number. The time it took for his friend to respond to his text with Mouse’s contact information was exactly enough time for Jimmy Ray to consume three more drinks. And when the text notification popped onto his screen and he saw that it was her info, he felt a nervous chill. Not a debilitating, panicky nervous like before, though. Instead it was a giddy, junior high nervousness. He was in love.
That had to be the problem. Jimmy Ray fucking Doolittle was in love with a girl surely a third of his age, and it was perhaps the first time he had ever felt this feeling. He couldn’t remember ever feeling it before, and all of a sudden it occurred to Jimmy Ray that his prior serious relationships were doomed to fail because what he thought was love was not. This, this feeling he had at this very moment was the real thing. But how, he thought. How can this happen with just a couple of meetings? It had only been a few times, and each time he had been sitting in a chair getting toupees glued into place or makeup or whatever. How in the hell does Jimmy Ray Doolittle fall in love with a mere child, at 74, practically on his deathbed, for the first time?
Jimmy Ray wanted to be deep. He always had. He wanted to be able to spot irony and label arguments, even. He would hear things about logical fallacies or red herrings or even sour grapes, but he could never remember how to use them correctly, even after looking them up on Wikipedia. The BFA he received from North Texas State came in tandem with a 2.1 GPA, and Jimmy Ray actually really tried hard in school. He did. But academics just weren’t his strong suit; looking back, he often thought he may have been dyslexic but never diagnosed. Clearly, one would have to have seen a doctor to get a diagnosis as a child, and that just wasn’t possible considering his parent’s financial situation in those days.
He was, however, a pretty good actor, and he got his start as an extra in a few of the earlier Bond films because he could also perform many of his own stunts. Then Jimmy Ray did a few foreign action films and two failed television pilots before he got his first recurring speaking role in a mid-day soap. His character, Paul Stryker (you can’t make this shit up), was a worldly jet setter from Houston who had a sprawling cattle ranch, a sophisticated vocabulary and a penchant for clever west Texas comebacks and colorful metaphors. Jimmy Ray subsequently relished the job of memorizing his lines, and he made the role look natural, which is how he became typecast for roles as a witty but tough persona. Jimmy Ray played the full gamut, too, from military commanders to FBI agents to an aging astronaut once and a few Wild West lawmen. He really wanted to do Kramer vs. Kramer and Shoot the Moon, but he could not bridge the gap to the sensitive, soft-spoken intellectual on either TV or the big screen. Or, for that matter, in unscripted, casual day-to-day conversation. Jimmy Ray instead learned to deflect during encounters with chatty, brainy people, who just assumed he took those types of leading roles because he was really that quick-witted, gifted, and talented.
The first thing he did was add Mouse’s number to his contacts, and this was when he realized he didn’t know her last name. This might just as well be the way he breaks the ice, he thought. But to text or call? Texting would be easier, but the machismo in Jimmy Ray Doolittle essentially demanded he call her the old-fashioned way. And what if she doesn’t answer? Would he leave a message? Sure, but he was suddenly concerned with whether or not he sounded drunk. Jimmy Ray started talking to himself, trying to listen for slurs and stumbles. The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog — or whatever it was supposed to be — seemed to register cleanly and that was all it took. He rehearsed his lines several times, trying different approaches to the same sentence: so hey, Kiddo, sorry about earlier in the parking lot, I had an emergency situation with a friend that I needed to tend to but everything’s back to normal now; hey, it occurred to me that I don’t even know your last name — how about grabbing a drink with me?
He had to admit, it sounded pretty good when he laid on the Texas drawl, and with his confidence at an all-time high, Jimmy Ray Doolittle voice-dialed Mouse’s number. And on the third ring it went to voicemail and Jimmy Ray heard her recorded voice and Jimmy Ray fucking Doolittle promptly ended the call without saying a word, his heart once again pounding in his chest and feeling like he might actually pass out.
A few minutes later Jimmy Ray Doolittle walked inside, put his phone on the charger, swallowed several Xanax, and returned to his chair by the pool with a jacket. It had gotten chilly, so he lit the fire pit, poured another whiskey, and relighted his cigar. The stars were bright, he thought, but the moon was nowhere to be seen. And Jimmy Ray Doolittle wasn’t discouraged anymore. Our hero was calm and pliant. Jimmy Ray remembered the feel of the laces of those Chuck Taylors on his fingertips, and then he remembered Sarah-Something-Or-Other’s last name. It was Henry. Sarah Henry, and she wore finger waves in her short-cropped hair and taught Jimmy Ray Doolittle how to roll and smoke pot. And Jimmy Ray could taste mayo and onion on white bread, and he could see the rich girls in the high school cafeteria smiling at him. He closed his eyes and heard his mother’s voice calling him inside for the evening and he could hear the wop-wop-wop of the Huey’s rotors in his mind as he faded off.