Pillow Lips: My Dinner with Gus Van Sant & Mike Pitt

Written by J.T. Leroy on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

He had a 5:30
reservation at an exclusive restaurant, Charles Nob Hill. We had arrived together,
entering a palatial lobby where we were greeted by the staff, who all look like
models from Vanity Fair. The staff of young men and women are dressed
in business suits. They smile excitedly at Van Sant, who is dressed relatively
casually. They tell him how thrilled they are to have him there, but as they
turn to gaze at the rest of his party, their smiles slide like sweaters off
hangers onto the floor.

As they take
our coats, I can feel them taking inventory: Mike’s jacket is an old coat
from the 70s, shredded like limbs that fell into the wood-chopper in Fargo.
Mike Pitt does not look like the movie/tv star he is fast becoming. Under his
coat he wears the striped t-shirt his character Tommy Gnosis wore in the film
version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which just won awards at Sundance.
His t-shirt hangs in razor-blade rips and has practically no back. I look like
the Punk Playmate of the Month in my gray corduroys, colorful platform sneakers,
two layered t-shirts, orange tint glasses. My long day-glo blue hair is tied
Jackie O headband-style with a Dolce & Gabbana pink silk scarf with colorful
butterflies on it that Gus Van Sant gave me for Christmas. My roommates Speedie
and Astor are with us. At least they dressed up.

The host seats
us at a large round table that juts out into the small dining room. Like other
posh places I’ve been to, this room has all the liveliness of a morgue,
with its dark wood and formal paintings. We compare it to the school Gus filmed
for Finding Forrester (in which Mike Pitt had a part). Moneyed older
folks are seated at a table behind Mike. I catch their appalled expressions
as they look at our table, and we can hear them murmur in snooty hushed tones,
"Look at that shirt!" Mike doesn’t notice, the way a street kid
doesn’t hear the comments private school kids mutter as they step over
his sprawled legs. Gus orders an $85 Australian wine, and a martini. After the
wine is poured, Mike sniffs the bouquet and swishes it in his glass unself-consciously
while an older gentleman across from him watches him, licking his lips in whetted
desire, transfixed at Mike’s boyish beauty. I have a pink cosmo.

Suddenly the
staff surrounds our table, one person standing behind each of us. I panic–now
they will throw us out. Mike had told me when he was cast on Dawson’s
he kept waiting for them to bust him, tell him that he didn’t
belong. Even though they didn’t know about his past on the street, he was
sure he would be sent back any moment.

The waitstaff
takes a collective breath and puts heavy gold spoons in front of us for appetizers,
a dish containing an oyster heavily decorated with caviar. The head waiter,
a woman, boastfully tells us the origins of the oysters. Mike, not waiting till
she is halfway through, bites into it, his face folding into a crumple. "This
tastes like snot!" he says loudly. I bite into mine, and it does,
so as the staff flees, I gag into my napkin.

Gus playfully
chides Mike not to say that. While I keep my head lowered, feeling like poor
white trash at the country club, Mike is oblivious to the gawking, both condemnatory
and appreciative, around us. I am in awe of how Mike moves, confidently fluid,
like a boy on a playing field who knows he’s master of the game and so
has special rights. Gus sits on the edge, aware of the comments, a victim of
his guest’s lack of propriety, yet simultaneously entertained.

I had first
heard about Mike Pitt from Scott Macaulay (producer and editor at the magazine
Filmmaker). I was sweatin’ Scott to pass my book Sarah to
Gus Van Sant. I had a Hollywood agent who was trying to get me to sign my book
over to her and let her sell it to whomever. But my dream director was Gus Van
Sant. The agent had sent it to his office and gotten a pat rejection. But one
thing my mother taught me was that No can also mean Maybe. My chance came soon.
When I was interviewing John Waters for Filmmaker, Scott told me Van
Sant was photographing Pitt, this new hot actor who looked like a young Leonardo
DiCaprio. I wanted Gus’ attention, too, and felt jealous of anyone else
who might be capturing it.

Well, like
a dorky dream-come-true tv movie, folks I knew and even people I didn’t
passed Gus my book, and we eventually became good friends. He wanted to make
Sarah into his next film and took me under his wing for a number of other

But there was
still Mike Pitt. Gus and he weren’t involved, but they hung out a lot.
And I know how it is on the street when the old boy is trying to get rid of
the new boy. Gus gave Mike Sarah. I waited to hear how Mike was going
to dis me. "You have to make this film!" Gus told me Mike urged him.
Hearing that changed the rules. This isn’t the street, and Mike ain’t
trying to keep out the new bitch, and Gus sure ain’t no pimp.

So we drink
and eat from a special tasting menu. Even though the dishes are preset, so you’d
think they have them ready, they make us wait about 20 minutes for each small
dainty taste. Meanwhile, we talk about films, like Hedwig; Mike’s
other film, Bully, by Kids director Larry Clark; and My Own
Private Idaho
, and how amazing River Phoenix was. I am startled to be privy
to juicy bits of insider Hollywood gossip.

Mike moves
constantly in his chair, playfully aggressive like a dog pulling on a choker
collar. Gus and I sit quietly while Mike leans forward to speak with seductive
command. We have come to rely on the bread attendant, with his soldierly demeanor,
asking us if we care for some bread. Then, if we signify with an auction bidder’s
nod, his silver tongs descend and he elegantly appoints a slab to our bread
plates. On one of his trips, after one bottle is gone and a second is being
worked on, he makes the rounds. When he approaches Mike, he says, "Yeah,"
glances backwards and, as if doing a breaststroke, reaches into the tray with
his hand and snags his own bread swiftly. The bread assistant is so appalled
by the Mike Pitt etiquette breach Gus says he thinks the man will faint. I laugh
so hard I spray wine out of my nose.

For the rest
of the evening, the bread man will not return. When we request bread, a different
man serves us, but stands back as if flinging food into a lion’s den.

After more
waiting, they bring out some amazing combo of science and culinary arts. But
it is too small, and we are too hungry. Speedie, in her thick Cockney, dares
Mike to lick his plate–a challenge he gleefully accepts. Gus humorously
hangs his head. Mike smiles mischievously at me. I feel my face heat up.

Earlier that
evening, when we picked Mike and Gus up, I had sat in the back of the car, next
to Mike. Gus and Mike each gave me a gift. Gus gave me a book, neatly wrapped.
Mike gave me a bundle enclosed in newsprint. It contained a sexy little white
baby doll with green piping and matching panties, an honor bar-size bottle of
gin, and a single squashed red rose. I gave Mike a Scottish necklace called
a Glasgow Rose. And I gave Gus Fairy Stones that figure in my next book, The
Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things
. Mike kissed me thanks; his lips were
soft, like the cliched overstuffed pillows. We drove them around San Francisco
(Mike had never been). We drove to the top of Twin Peaks. But all I could think
about was our thighs touching and him looking at me all the way to the restaurant.



I escape
into the women’s bathroom and put on glossy maroon lipstick.
I come back, everyone comments on how pretty I look. I can only look down after
I catch Mike staring at me with his blue-eyed dead stare and it makes me feel
like the inside of a Gummi bear. I am unnerved and spill my creamed lobster
soup, and scream out of surprise. Trying to right my bowl, I almost knock Gus’
wine on him. Staff surrounds me with long white napkins. I catch a woman, wearing
an elaborate bun so tightly pulled back that the ends of her eyes have a vaguely
Asian cast, tsking. Again, I am reminded I am an interloper. Gus gives me a
warm, reassuring smile. He is the bridge to this world and the soother when
soup is spilled, soiling expensive linen.

Mike flees
out to smoke and I follow. As we are exiting, he grabs one of the graceful porcelain
candles at the host’s station to light his cigarette. The staff members
stationed there gasp and lunge for the candle. "It’s cool, just getting
a light, man," Mike assures them, like James Dean with the lit cig hanging
from his puffy bottom lip.

We run out
laughing, feeling released by the wind, the cold freedom of outside, The Street.
I had sent Mike a raccoon penis bone (the talisman that is featured prominently
in Sarah), and Gus took a picture of him modeling it for my website (www.jtleroy.com).
Mike and I bonded over many conference calls with Gus, or just me and him, hanging
out talking. I had been nervous to meet Mike, but he knew me from all our conversations.
The night before we met, he had said to me in his New York-New Jersey tough
accent, like on The Sopranos, that when used in its protective tones
feels like the safest place in the world to exist inside of, "Don’t
worry, I know, you’re delicate, I know."

We stand by
the bushes, where he lights me with his cigarette. It’s chilly, so we move
closer. Speedie comes out to join us. She’s carrying Gus’ camera and
asks us to snuggle up. Mike puts his arm around me and pulls me in close. She
asks Mike to kiss me so she can take pictures of it. Mike leans over, his lips
a dizzying mix of smoke and wine. He kisses me, sweetly and tenderly. Afterward,
I can’t make eye contact. "You okay?" he leans over to me as
we head back in. I nod small. He gives me a playful push and we stumble up the
stairs, gulping final drags under the disapproving headmaster gaze of the keeper
of the restaurant gates.

After four
hours, the meal was finally over. Mike announces loudly he wants to get burritos.
But everyone else says they are full. Gus gets the bill and it is $940 with
the tip. Everyone except Gus gasps. Mike eyes the pretty candle I kept reaching
out to unconsciously. Speedie keeps batting my hand away, knowing my draw to
fire, things that burn, till finally she extinguishes it. Mike holds my gaze
and, as only someone with much practice can, smoothly disappears the candle
up his sleeve. "Gus bought this too, $940! Man, we should’ve got burritos!"

We leave showered
with thanks from the staff, our coats in their respective states held out for
us. On the street, Mike searches his pockets for a cigarette. Realizing he has
none, he calls out to two young dotcom-looking guys walking past, "Yo,
got a cigarette?" He asks with the rights of one who has been on the street
and knows certain personal property is communal.

They stop and
grudgingly hand him one. "Got a light?" They don’t answer; they
are the types that would never stop for a beggar, and here they are serving
one that offered no groveling gratitude. They were tricked into it by the command,
the camaraderie offered in Mike’s tone. Mike perceives their indisposition
and bristles, "What?!" The body language is fast and unconscious,
it is boys at war. Mike steps forward and the dotcoms retreat rapidly out of
self-preservation. These are not boys used to street challenges. But once they
are a safe two body lengths away, they half turn back with fiery expressions,
an attempt to reclaim their manhood lost in this skirmish. But Mike has turned
from them already and is greedily smoking up their cigarette, with a light from
Speedie. Shaking his head he tells me, "I always give anyone a cigarette."
It is an unwritten rule, a rare kindness of the street, and to break it is inexcusable.
The disturbance it has caused in Mike is indicative of how much the street is
still with him.

The valet brings
us our car and we pile in. In the back, Mike turns to me and lets the bulge
from his sleeve slide out like a snake regurgitating. "Here, this is for
you," offering the purloined candle. For the first time, he notices the
cigarette burns on my hands and wrists. "I have those too." He smiles
and places his hands on my lap and looks at me as something passes between us–I
have scars too.

Days later,
after he has returned to the L.A. set of a Sandra Bullock film he is making
and I think I am long forgotten, he calls to read to me from his notebook. He
has been writing about me: "Blue hair and hard eyes and warm thighs in
gray corduroys resting against mine in the backseat of this car."

"I like
your scars, Mike," I tell him.


J.T. LeRoy’s
second novel,
The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, will be published
by Bloomsbury in June.