Alan drove by Howard’s house every couple of days; and in between he had someone from his office drive by and make sure Howard was still in town. He didn’t want to keep calling him. Alan’s plans for Howard were up in the air. He’s had clients who claim to make decisions to leave the business; or have been driven out of the business—only to have circumstances change overnight. So he never counted anyone out until they were actually out of the picture. He did not think Howard would actually follow through—especially with the extended stay in the Malibu home. The only thing different this time was that Howard didn’t seclude himself or exile himself to a vacation destination such as his private island. He was just being Howard, but without the entourage. Alan had no idea what to do next.
Howard spent three weeks holed up in his cavernous house, piled with boxes, nothing on the walls, half the furniture gone. He lived on the couch in front of the 60” flat screen mounted on the wall, adjacent to the 14 foot glass windows overlooking the Pacific. Shirtless and wearing Adidas athletic pants, his aging body was toned and tanned well—a Hollywood torso. He kept active and ran up and down the beach for miles each day. He didn’t read books. He went out each day to pick up the Daily Racing Form and kept up with the races, but didn’t place many bets. By all accounts, Howard wasn’t depressed; just disconnected.
He kept busy and didn’t let himself become bored. He was not relaxed, but he rarely ever is. Howard felt edgy. He was waiting for something and he didn’t know what. His ability to mask his thoughts and feelings was worthy of the Golden Globes he won. He dodges emotional probes with his abrasive reproach, so he has never been able to achieve a truly healthy relationship with a woman, or even with close friends, unless they can read him—a rare skill. Alan read him. Nancy didn’t read him, but she didn’t care. The only people in his life who could read him were the old gang and his mother.
Mrs. Rebecca Kessler passed away before Howard really touched stardom. He had been in a few small films and had done some stage work, but in 1975 Howard wasn’t exactly a household name. His breakout film was in 1977 when he received national attention for the Oscar-winning Kiss & Tell. Howard’s mother couldn’t understand Howard’s move to Hollywood. She recognized there were movies and actors and a whole industry, but it was absolutely inconceivable to her that her son would be a part of it. And since his films and his work never made it to Brooklyn by the time she died, she never actually believed he was at work to achieve the greatness that he did. He flew her out to Los Angeles in 1974 for a premiere of one of his films; but she wouldn’t leave the motel. She took the bus back to New York after three days on the West Coast. They never saw each other again.
Howard was a no-bullshit guy, but he had Hollywood wrapped around his finger for a good stretch throughout his career. Whether he played the Brooklyn tough-guy for the accolades, or if he actually was the Brooklyn tough-guy was unimportant, because in this town you are what you appear to be, and that’s that.
One morning on the way back from picking up the DRF, he stopped in at a Starbucks and sat down to read through the picks for the day. With dark glasses on and a baseball cap, Howard was still quite recognizable; but this time, he wasn’t looking to be recognized. Losing focus on the horses and wondering what the hell he was doing with himself, his eyes drifted toward a couple of very young kids with their mother and grandfather, sitting in one of the cozy seats by the window. Howard caught the older gentleman’s eye for a brief moment. In the man’s face, Howard saw contentment that he himself felt that had never experienced. He watched as the family left the coffee place, with the kids holding on to their special drinks with large straws and colorful cups. Mom hoisted each kid into their car seat, and Gramps helped to buckle each one in. He kissed each kid on the forehead and handed a little toy to each from his pocket before shutting each door. He walked back around the car to Mom’s side and kissed her and spoke for a few moments. Laughing and holding hands, he stepped back while Mom backed the car out of the spot slowly. As the wheels slowly turned and the car straightened out of the spot, Gramps waved and made faces at the kids who made silly faces and waved back at him.
Howard thought about what this whole scene would look like on screen—his character is seized with enormous thoughts of regret, dread, mortality. It was trite. Confused and with no patience for it, he tried to focus back on the racing picks for the day. He couldn’t. He felt compelled to return to Brooklyn to recapture the connection and the identity he felt he’d lost all these years spent in Hollywood, in a life he never he expected he could have. The questions he felt he was avoiding for the past several weeks he was in this funk flooded his mind.
So was that it, identity? All he had to go on was his acting career, since he had nothing else to look back and judge his life. He broke it down: the successful roles he’s played have been those characters he knows well. The unsuccessful ones were characters he didn’t know and had never encountered. What does that say about his life experience? Is he limited? Is he not as worldly as he thought he was? Is he still the Brooklyn schlub he’s been trying to escape his whole life?
Sitting in the coffee shop, Howard refused to be a captive of his own depressing questions. As always, when he is faced with questions or at a crossroads, he makes a decision and sees it through.
He drove back to the house with resolve, aiming to pack up some things and just drive back to New York. As he pulled into the circular driveway, his phone rang.