Suicide in Bed

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Fifteen

 

We’re watching the movie The Apartment. Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. We’re watching it because I didn’t know what an apartment was. Didn’t I feel stupid when I found out I’d been living in one for 14 years.

 

My apartment is in full color. It’s owned and operated by a married woman, Rae. And a married man, me. There’s no gun here.

 

I’m writing a novel about my apartment. I don’t think my apartment would make a good movie though. We’ve made microwave popcorn. The movie starts.

 

Jack Lemmon has a single bedroom apartment at 51 West 67th Street. #2A. Bachelor pad.

 

His bosses want to use the apartment to fuck their mistresses, in black and white.

 

Jack Lemmon is young, he gives them the key.

 

Shirley MacLaine operates the elevator. Operates the elevator. Operates the elevator.

 

Jack Lemmon says, “Hi, Shirley.”

 

She says, “Hiya, Jack Lemmon.”

 

One night, he’s driven out into the cold by his horny supervisor who wants to make it with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator.

 

Remember: there were no hotels in 1960. There was only Jack Lemmon’s apartment.

 

Buddy boy, Buddy boy, Buddy boy, the bosses keep calling Jack Lemmon.

 

If you are new to my writing, and are not familiar with my name, my name is Bud.

 

When my boss from the oil refinery asks me for the keys to my apartment so he can drive over here, and make sweet love in my apartment to his hot side piece, I grab my wife’s hand and we respectfully leave while my boss condescendingly calls me Buddy Boy and asks what happened to the cheese crackers I used to keep for the entertaining.

 

When Rae’s bosses come here to fuck, we also respectfully leave. They also call me Buddy Boy. They call her Buddy Girl.

 

“That’s the way it crumbles, cookie-wise,” Jack Lemmon says. He sleeps on, and freezes to a park bench, while the bosses boss in his bed.

 

“How many sheets does Jack Lemmon own?” I ask Rae. Between bites of popcorn, she says, “It’s probably the same set of sheets. Ew.”

 

“Ew is right.”

 

The artificial butter flavoring on the popcorn we eat is giving us cancer. We know this. We are committing slow motion suicide in bed.

 

Another powerful executive grabs Shirley MacLaine’s ass in an elevator. Shirley is also in the rat pack. Sammy Davis Jr. teaches her how to play gin rummy.

 

Jack Lemmon went to Harvard, now he’s an insurance salesman on the 20-somethingth floor.

 

A sea of faces are there with him, in an endless office, selling insurance, at desks, in smart suits.

 

They filmed the sea of faces by putting actors up front; behind them, children in children-sized smart suits at smaller desks; behind that, miniature dolls, at miniature desks, in miniature smart suits operated by wires.

 

Jack Lemmon gives them the key. He strains the spaghetti with a tennis racket. Jack Lemmon gives them the key.

 

Operated by wires selling insurance.

 

Or Sinatra teaches her to play gin rummy.

 

Shirley MacLaine operates the elevator.

 

Jack Lemmon gives them the key.

 

His neighbor is a doctor and he wants Jack Lemmon to donate his penis to him when he dies. The doctor hears all the moans through the wall, day and night, and thinks Jack Lemmon must have a magical penis.

 

Jack Lemmon gets promoted.

 

Jack Lemmon gives them the key.

 

Jack Lemmon gets promoted again, becomes a junior executive. Lemmon’s big cheese boss is a married man who is roping along Shirley MacLaine. Shirley MacLaine has a broken compact mirror she likes to look at, because that’s how she sees herself. Cool metaphor. I get it.

 

Or maybe Dean Martin taught her how to play gin rummy.

 

Shirley MacLaine, devastated about being played by the big cheese executive, takes a bottle of sleeping pills in Jack Lemmon’s bed while he’s out drinking 13 martinis.

 

The suicide-in-bed scene is based on something that happened in real life to the screenwriter’s friend. His ex-girlfriend came over to his house and killed herself in his bed.

 

The screenwriter was like, Wow, that’s perfect to use in my movie, thanks pal.

 

The friend eventually saw the movie and went and murdered the screenwriter, I guess. Bashed his head in with the screenwriter’s own typewriter. That’s how I would make the scene if I was writing a movie about it.

 

Jack Lemmon finds Shirley MacLaine on death’s door.

 

Jack Lemmon’s neighbor, the doctor, is able to save Shirley MacLaine by injecting her with an amphetamine; then slapping the shit out of her, hard too, walloping on her, it goes on and on, slap slap slap slap slap; and finally, forcing hot coffee down her throat. Shirley MacLaine is not treated well in this movie. Her stomach is pumped too, but we don’t see that.

 

We don’t see a lot of things.

 

We don’t see Jack Lemmon change a single set of sheets.

 

After this, Shirley MacLaine goes on to make Ocean’s 11 with the guys who taught her how to play gin rummy, and everyone treats her nice.

 

They rob a casino in that movie. Most everybody wears a smart suit. But Ocean’s 11 is inferior. It has no children in smart suits. No miniature dolls in smart suits operated by wires.

 

This is a better movie, despite how bad they treat Shirley MacLaine.

 

Jack Lemmon becomes Shirley MacLaine’s de facto nurse. Shirley MacLaine gets De Clerambault’s syndrome. Jack Lemmon gets Florence Nightingale effect.  “That’s how it crumbles, cookie-wise.”

 

We learn Shirley MacLaine doesn’t know how to spell, that’s why she has to operate an elevator.

 

We learn that Jack was so upset a girl broke up with him that he shot himself in the kneecap with a revolver.

 

This film won an Academy Award for being the first film to mention a person trying to take their own life with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the knee.

 

My mind wanders. I’m playing with my phone, googling trivia about the movie, zoning out, half-watching the movie.

 

My apartment was built in 1919. It says here that the apartment in this movie was also built in 1919.  Or I mean, the apartment Billy Wilder re-created at the studio backlot, is similar to the one I live in. He began filming on 69th street, it says here, I guess as a joke. Or I mean, or I mean, or I mean, I don’t know what I mean, it says here.

 

69th Street.

 

Billy Wilder yells, “Action!” The lights and the camera light up and capture 69th street. Billy Wilder is not Gene Wilder’s father, which I feel was a missed opportunity for Gene Wilder.

 

Let’s have another little bowl of popcorn. Pause it, Buddy Boy, I’ll be right back. Okay, Buddy Girl.

 

In 1989, the apartment was renovated and became the home of the fictional Jerry Seinfeld.

 

Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional friends came over.

 

They fake ate his food.

 

They fake laughed at his jokes.

 

He had real boundaries though.

 

No one was allowed to fuck at Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional apartment besides fictional Jerry Seinfeld.

 

One time, Elaine was house-sitting for Jerry. Before he left, he told her she couldn’t keep cheese in his refrigerator and he told her to turn on the shower and then go shopping. The hot water was terrible. Turn it on, let it run, go shopping, come back and shower. He said, “One more thing…regarding sexual activity: strictly prohibited, but if you absolutely must, do us all a big favor: do it in the tub.”

 

I’m trying to imagine Jack Lemmon telling everyone at the insurance company, “Sure you can come over to my place and bone, but you have to do it in my bathtub.”

 

There’s an episode of Seinfeld called “The Apartment.”

 

It has nothing to do with this movie, The Apartment.

Which is a shame.

 

Rae walks into the room with more popcorn, puts the movie back on. Jack Lemmon is being such a baby-back-bitch in this movie.

 

But, in the third act he refuses to give his boss the key and quits his job and gives a bowler hat to a shoeshine boy.

 

He packs up all his belongings, even decides to move out of his apartment. At the end, as some people sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Shirley MacLaine vanishes from a swanky restaurant, and runs to Jack Lemmon’s apartment.

 

They film her running down the street. It’s so sweet. It’s New Year’s Day. “Why doesn’t every scene in every movie ever recorded have running in it?”

 

“Shhhhh,” Rae says. “You’re ruining it.”

 

“Actors would have to be in great shape. Peak physical condition. You’d have to run 5000 miles during the filming of an average movie.”

 

“Please, stop, look at her, she’s in love.”

 

I look close, but I don’t think I see a woman in love. I see a woman escaping pain, or attempting to. I see a woman running to a nurse.

 

When Shirley gets to 51 West 67th Street, she thinks she hears a gunshot and she gets nervous that Jack Lemmon has committed suicide over her.

 

But he answers the door holding a bottle of champagne that looks like it is ejaculating and ejaculating and ejaculating. She asks Jack about his knees, if they’re okay. His knees are okay. She takes off her coat. They don’t embrace. Or kiss.

 

They sit on the couch and play gin rummy. Jack Lemmon says, “I love you, Shirley MacLaine.” He says, “Did you hear me, Shirley?” She tells Jack Lemmon, “Shut up and deal.”

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

4 responses to “Suicide in Bed”

  1. Dave says:

    Suicide in Bed. Great title. Great piece. Some of those old movies are such time capsules and as a result very odd. The Apartment, the movie not your apartment, is odd. I do not live in an apartment. I have lived in various apartments. I live in a row home. My wife & I are co-bosses. There are no other bosses that borrow our row home. Our row home is 113 years old. Please keep writing Bud Smith. Thank you.

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    Fabulous! I have seen the movie. To other readers here, if you haven’t seen the movie do so, then come back and read again.
    My mother was born on New Year’s Day, 1919. She lied about that for years, made it 1920, so no one would know she was older than my dad.

  3. Hey Bud, love that you originated (?) this piece last weekend in Alina Stefanescu’s Bending Genres weekend workshop, and that I had the experience of reading it there, and now again, here. It’s brilliant, and funny, sad, hysterical, tragic. Love pieces that use the frame or reference of movies, or art, or music as skeleton. Just fantastic and signature work, my friend.

    • Bud Smith says:

      Thanks so much, Robert. I found the workshop so open and inviting, I couldn’t imagine anyone left it without some kind of “new toy”. Thanks so much for putting it together and thanks for reading this, the twelfth or thirtieth draft of that piece you read on Saturday (where it was born). I recommend the Bending Genre workshops to anybody looking to go deeper wity their work

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