“You know those days when you can feel yourself getting older by the second—physically, mentally, fucking spiritually even—only to look up at the clock and find time is actually moving backwards?” Negroni in hand (a cocktail he learned how to make while being captivated, like so many on the internet, by Mr Stanley Tucci himself), Jon gestures to his general surroundings. “That’s today. And every fucking day. That’s quarantine, baby!”
“You’re right,” Stephen agrees, then immediately adds, “I mean . . . in a sense, you’re correct.”
“In a sense? No, I’m right, period. These past few months have taken three years to pass.”
“But don’t you also sometimes find yourself thinking ‘wow, that specific thing happened six months ago? That can’t be right, it’s been seven weeks, tops’?”
“I’ll give you that.”
Stephen shrugs, casual, resigned, holding back any clear sign of a sudden idea brewing on the horizon. “What it boils down to, Jon, is that time is a construct, one that exists purely to screw us over.”
“There it is, right on the fucking money.”
“But you know, time doesn’t seem to pass here, it just is.”
“. . . is that—”
“Of course it is.” It’s not often that Stephen finds himself truly feeling self-satisfied, although he made a living acting that way on television for . . . how many years? Enough. This very house, for one thing, was paid for with performative arrogance. But real life is a different story. However, Jon’s reaction—frustration mixed with faux-anger and a healthy helping of admiration—draws out a side of Stephen that feels ohsogood to flaunt, at least for a little while.
“Motherfucker, do you actually plan this shit out in advance, all these crafty steering of conversations to a place where you can casually drop a Tolkien quote? Or have you just got his entire works stored up in that big brain of yours, like some twisted fanboy computer?”
Again, Stephen shrugs, biting back the smile. “You know me, Jon.”
“I do. I do know you.”
“I know you do. And given that, I’m sure you know what, or rather who, I want to discuss with you right now.”
“Would that be a name beginning with T?”
“And were you looking to discuss that particular person’s latest display of colossal ineptitude?”
“I think we’ve both got some pent-up rage we need expelling, so yes. Yes, I am.”
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” Jon mutters. “I’ll just get—you know how I’ll . . . why don’t we not talk about it, Stephen?”
“This is us not talking about it.”
“You’re very welcome.”
“Here’s the thing, though,” Jon starts after the tiniest of pauses, and two drinks in, that’s all it takes to ruin them both.
There are things that stay with Stephen, memories which are only a little faded instead of being passing thoughts, the type that are grainy and full of gaps. Dark hair and bright eyes. It’s right there on the forefront, that first meeting. And after, six years on, maybe seven. It had been past midnight when he’d given a stunted knock before barging in. You were panting like you’d either come from a marathon or an orgy, Jon said later, fondly smiling at the thought. No, just a small breakdown over branching out on my own, Stephen had explained with a smile of his own. A stunted knock and two stunted idiots with everything to lose. But I think it all worked out okay, don’t you?
Another day, another Zoom tête-à-tête. It doesn’t compare to grabbing a pizza and shooting the shit in person, but right now, it’s all they have. And it will do, for the time being. They’re still able to shoot the shit, after all, and on a more frequent basis. That’s got to count for something.
But if Stephen were able to take the universe by its lapels and demand it rewind—seven months, eight months, keep going, more—he knows it wouldn’t be a dinner conversation he’d seek out. Not at first, anyway.
It’s good for the mind, body and soul, those nights when they can forget about the world and stop chasing reality, at least for an hour or two. And if this year has taught him anything, anything at all, it’s that a little self-care is a necessary step in maintaining sanity.
“You know what I was thinking about last night?” he asks instead of saying what’s really on his mind.
“When you were a fresh young thing on the scene.”
“Oh yeah?” Jon says with a look, caught halfway between theatrical outrage and understanding, the latter winning out far too quickly. Amateur. “You like men with defined jawlines, do you?”
“If it just so happens that a man has one, I’ll take it, but it’s not explicit in the contract that a jawline must exist.”
“I’ve seen that contract, Stephen. In fact, I, uh, I think I have a copy around here somewhere.”
“No, don’t start, just let me bask—”
“Can we both bask in the thought of our forgotten youth?”
“Do you remember it, Jon?”
“At this point it feels like some wacky fever dream. I’m not actually sure it ever happened. In fact, it seems plausible to assume my mother gave birth to a surly, middle-aged Jew and it all went downhill from there. But while we’re on the subject, I have to say that I think it’s bullshit I went grey so early while you continued to coast through life with your Prince Eric hair. I mean, there was a time when I was, and I think I’m quoting myself here—and only myself—but I like to imagine I had a brief period where I was ‘immensely fuckable’. You, on the other hand, exist in a perpetual state of immense fuckability. I mean who do you think you are, Stephen?”
“I’m not even remotely sorry for that,” Stephen says, although it’s not entirely true. “But I do think I’m starting to catch up."
"No, it's true. That little bit of distinguished grey at my temples has begun to divide and conquer, and you’ve seen the sad situation hiding beneath my strategic combing technique. And, you know, I groan when I wake up now. Not even when I’m getting out of bed, no, it’s the second I wake up and realize I have to manoeuvre this beaten body into an upright position.”
“Oh, your poor old thing. I can’t even begin to imagine,” Jon deadpanned.
“You don’t know the horrors I’ve faced during these past few months or years of quarantine. I alone, Jon, have experienced pure suffering. And it’s left me feeling, oh, I don’t know . . . all thin, sort of stretched—”
“Like butter scraped on bread?”
After all these years, Stephen should not be surprised by anything said or done by one Jon Stewart. Especially when dealing with a reference so well known. And yet . . . “Son of a bitch, you—”
“That’s right, I know some shit too! How does it feel, asshole? How does it feel to be bested at your own game?”
“One quote, Jon. One quote up against how many?”
“Christ, too many. I’d wager somewhere in the hundreds.”
“That you know of.”
“Are you suggesting you’ve quoted Tolkien my way without immediately informing me that you are, in fact, showing off?”
“I gotta say, I have no idea what you’re talking about right now. I’ve never, not once in my life, considered showing off.”
“You’re telling me that you’ve never paraded around that giant brain of yours, all hopeful that I’ll be wowed enough to run away with you to some cheap hotel that charges by the hour?”
“Well, when you put it that way . . .”
“Oh please, do go on.”
“What can I say, some days I’m just too tired. I don’t want to go through all the trouble of booking a room only to fall asleep before you can get my pants off.”
“Of course it’s me taking your pants off. That is how it always plays out,” Jon says, the sarcastic not being conveyed with a pointed eye roll.
“Thank you for acknowledging that.”
“Do you really wake up groaning?”
“I don’t think so. We’re the lucky ones, Jon. We still get to wake up each morning.”
“Mmm, you have a point there. But I do think it’s official.”
“We are two ooold motherfuckers.”
It may be true, but Stephen isn’t quite sure he believes it. Most days, he still feels completely young at heart.
“Not old, Jon, distinguished.”