Ten years or so ago in London, when I was even less self-aware than I am now, I was in the middle of some rant with my friend Ben Ingham when I referred to myself as “slightly eccentric.” Ben guffawed in a remarkable way, which is saying a lot because he is a consummate hearty guffawer. “‘Slightly eccentric’? Hah! You’re barking mad, mate.”
This was the moment I realized that my fascination with mental illness is somewhat self-reverential; I am on a quest to find my own pathology, mainly because I have never been diagnosed with any disorder, but when close friends like Ben say there must be one, there must be one. I am not a hypochondriac when it comes to physical illness, but I am forever testing myself online for mental ones, and begging passing shrinks for their opinions. To no avail.
Back in February, I decided that if nobody in the mental health business, not even a computer algorithm, is going to take my manifest insanity seriously, then I’m going to choose mild schizophrenia as a diagnosis for myself. And for my main hallucination—I must have at least three major “positive” symptoms: hallucinations, delusions, and thought disorder—I have chosen an imaginary friend, my very own Harvey the White Bunny, the über-famous quasi-octogenarian Karl Lagerfeld from the Houses of Lagerfeld and Chanel.
In a previous post, I took Karl for a gourmet sandwich after I offered him the job, but he became upset about Germany having to bail out Greece, threw a “wobbler” (as a family friend calls her schizophrenic daughter’s psychotic episodes), and I haven’t heard from him since.
When I read that Karl had never been to a supermarket until French Elle took him to one the other day for an interview in an upcoming issue—boy, they are really scraping the barrel in search of new ideas over at Hachette Media—I decided that Karl hasn’t lived until he’s been to “Rock ‘N Roll” Ralphs just up the street from me on Sunset and Poinsettia.
When we met in the parking lot outside, Karl was already testy. “Why must you invite me to these mall-looking places? This is horrendous, c’est moche comme tout, this beige monolith with no façade and that uninspired sign on the front. So proletarian. Why can’t you take me to Rodeo Drive like a normal fashionista? We can tear everyone else’s collection apart and then have lunch and make fun of the nose jobs on the Jews and Persians. Maybe some fat jokes, too. I know you like them.”
“This is a legend in Los Angeles,” I explained. “This is where all the musicians who live in the Hollywood Hills behind it shop for groceries. You’ve gone somewhat rock ‘n roll yourself since you lost all that weight and hit your seventies.”
“Hmmm. I see what you mean,” Lagerfeld murmured lasciviously as we passed a cute disheveled blond guy in his twenties on our way into the store.
“That’s actually a homeless person,” I said.
“Really? But he’s so…”
“Fuckable? Yeah, that’s LA. Even the bums are cute.”
When we were in the produce section, Karl scrutinized everything carefully, occasionally picking up a tomato or a cucumber, turning it in his driving-gloved hands before giving it a sniff. “Vegetables are always so glamorous,” he said. “But this all looks so fake, so Disney. I hear American produce doesn’t taste like anything.”
“That was years ago. They’ve gotten better,” I replied. “I left a comment on the Huffington Post when they broke the news that you’d never been to a supermarket before Elle took you.”
“Why did you do that?”
“Because you’re my imaginary best friend and that was embarrassing.”
“Too Marie Antoinette.”
“Nothing can be too Marie Antoinette.”
“I explained that there were no true supermarkets in France until relatively recently and that by the time they came around you were already so successful and rich that you had personal chefs and people to shop for you.”
“That’s just bullshit. Supermarkets are completely déclassé, c’est tout. I’ve been to fruit markets, to little boulangeries, to the butcher. But all of this is just soulless plebian, although I must say the way that girl over there is layering grey on grey is interesting.”
“That’s a boy. He just hasn’t eaten for a while.”
As we turned down the canned goods aisle, I thought this would be a good time to broach the recent controversy that Karl has been involved with here in America. “I read that you trashed Pulitzer Prize-winner Robin Givhan, Tina Brown and Newsweek for daring to say you are overrated.”
“I know you did. And I know what you think, too.”
“I’m a part of your imagination. I’m aware of your other thoughts. Duh.”
“Then you know –“
“Yes, I do. No need to repeat it.”
“But I do. For my readers; they only partly live inside my mind.”
“Go ahead, my shitty little man.”
“That’s exactly what you called Newsweek: ‘Tina Brown’s shitty little paper.’”
“I personally think that Robin Givhan was being diplomatic,” I went on. “Not to mention brave for being the equivalent of the little girl in The Emperor’s New Clothes by stating the obvious about the Kaiser of Fashion, which nobody in her position has dared mention before: that you kind of suck.”
I waited for him to hit me in the eye with the can, but he just picked up another and continued ignoring me. So, building up courage, I continued:
“In my opinion, you have never designed anything worthy of French prêt-a-porter, much less couture, certainly nothing that warrants the status you enjoy in the industry. You are de facto king now that Galliano toppled himself, McQueen topped himself, and Gaultier is too kind and too whacky to care about power.
“I think you are nothing more than a great manager and a businessman, a flagrantly Machiavellian character who has played the powers that be at Chanel brilliantly, and superbly surfed the marketing machine that the company throws behind its products, which has allowed you to align yourself with a caliber of celebrity that your own very weak line of clothing would never have attracted. And all you’ve had to do creatively is rework Coco Chanel’s original silhouette and suit every year and send it down the runway.
“The fashion press dare not say what they think lest Chanel pulls advertising from their publications, a veiled threat you made to Tina Brown at your recent press conference. The problem is, Newsweek doesn’t care about Chanel advertising, so they could spill the beans and tell the truth.”
Karl raised an eyebrow and giggled, at first just a queeny titter, as if he were punctuating a comment about a singer’s weight problem, but then it grew to something he could no longer contain, and the more he tried to contain it, the more he sounded like my Grandma Iris, snorting like a pig and coughing so hard I had to pat him on the back.
“Look at you,” he said when he composed himself. “A bald man in some tatty supermarket in Hollywood, wearing those… black nylon palace pants—”
“They’re called track pants. They’re for sport, which you say in your diet book people shouldn’t practice.”
“Because it makes you hungry and that makes you eat.” He began waiving a finger up and down me, as if trying to magic away my disgusting appearance. “And that… stained hoodie thing. And the beanie? I’m not sure when that was ever in fashion, but it isn’t now.”
“I’m on my way to the gym. And this is LA.”
“That’s no excuse. You should never be seen in public looking like shit, that’s social suicide. Why, even that gorgeous homeless boy outside is more stylish than you. You go to the gym dressed well, then you change, then you change back again. So why I should listen to someone like you or care what your opinion is about my designs?”
As we rounded the corner to the cleaning products aisle, Karl’s derision abated into something like hushed awe. He quivered with the tense excitement of a sex addict entering an adult bookstore. As we got to the middle of the aisle, there was no doubt about it: the old codger adjusted the stiffy in his trousers, and I knew he was kinky for cleanliness. When he saw that had I noticed his boner, Karl tried to brush it off by changing the subject.
“So, let’s talk about your work, shall we?”
“I finished the rewrites on the new script yesterday. I’m pleased with it.”
“Yes. I saw you getting choked up while you were working on some of those scenes. So dramatic. Why do you have to put so much into your work? Why not just get it out there like everyone else? Compromise. Even Obama understands this.”
“What, you mean like you?” Karl was rattling me, so I turned my back on him and looked for a new mop.
“At least I really am king. You just walk like one,” he said.
“You mean you slap any old piece of shit up there,” I shot back over my shoulder, unable to look at him. “Like that fashion film you made last year with every major model in the world at the Hotel du Cap that was completely unwatchable. You have no sense of script, dialogue, pacing. Even John Waters knows that camp performances must be tempered with some sense of reality—”
Suddenly I felt a THUNK! as I was struck the back of my head, and showered with chlorine-smelling powder. I spun around and saw that Karl had thrown a can of Ajax at me. With a roar, he came at me, another can in hand. As he tackled me, we both fell backwards into the detergents section. I barely defended myself: not only was I taken by surprise, but he’s seventy-eight and frail, not to mention a figment of my imagination.
As he tried to brain me with the can of power floor cleaner, Karl frothed, “Insult my designs as much as you want. That has never really interested me. That was easy, frou-frou, paid the rent, nothing! But my photography and filmmaking is everything! You hear me?” He was apoplectic at this point, and I looked like something they had just dug up at Pompeii.
“And, yet,” he concluded, hitting me with the Ajax can. “No matter who I am, how far I go, I STILL CAN’T GET A FUCKING FEATURE SET UP!”
That was when I heard the magic words over the PA system, “Clean up in aisle seventeen.”
“You’d better go, Karl,” I said. And he vanished in a puff of caustic powder.
As the young assistant with a hairdo that suggested he had rock ‘n roll ambitions himself helped me to my feet, he asked, “Dude, you okay? What happened?”
“I dunno. I slipped on something and fell into the Ajax here.”
“Wow. Looks like it hit you in the back of the head. How did that happen?”
“Beats the shit out of me.”
“That’s totally crazy, man.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Totally crazy.”