On being the teenage son of a television star.

Posted in Uncategorized by anna on September 3, 2009

The look on people’s faces when they figure it out is always the same. Like they’re taking a big shit.
“Dude, you’re his kid?”
I make some non-committal gesture. If it’s a guy he’ll high-five me, grinning. A lot of guys at Stanford, where I’m a sophomore, have this reaction.
“I was obsessed with that show in high school—he’s the man, yo! Tell him I said that.”
“I will.”
“Seriously. Plus, first boobs I ever saw.”
He’s referring to the boobs of Lisa Spivak, who played the frigid psychiatrist on season 2 of Dead Man Drinking (2000– present).
“Me too,” I say, except he’s talking about the season 2 finale when the frigid psychiatrist’s husband leaves her because she’s frigid and to prove she’s not frigid she has angry sex with a patient, who happens to be Rory O’Shea (my father), reluctantly in mandatory therapy after discharging his weapon.
I, on the other hand, am talking about when I was eleven and walked into the living room and Lisa Spivak was on her knees in front of the white leather couch. She was topless and knelt before my big brother Devon, who sat slumped and shuddering with his hand over his face. She was moving like a bobblehead. She saw me first.
“Shane,” she said. Her voice was croaky. The funny thing was, she was supposed to have been dating Nick, my father’s business partner and co-producer, at the time.
Dev looked up, squinted. He chucked a throw pillow at me.
“It’s my birthday,” he yelled, and I ran.
It had actually been his twenty-second birthday three weeks before. He turned twenty-three in rehab.

You know what kind of show this is. From 2000 to 2005 it was a critically acclaimed HBO epic of crime and redemption. From 2005 to present it’s a pulpy, soapy softcore guilty pleasure. There are Emmys in our kitchen and Golden Globes on the nightstand. I wonder if Stephen Collins from Seventh Heaven has kids in real life. I doubt they’re as fucked-up as me and Dev are. But I bet they don’t get laid as much.

Dead Man Drinking’s Rory O’Shea and Rory O’Shea my father have some things in common. The name, for example, because the co-producers wanted to cash in on the reputation he had already carved for himself based on the following traits: alcoholism, womanizing, Irish Catholicism, misanthropy, misogyny and masochism. Rory O’Shea and my father get gold stars in all of these.
My parents have been together for twenty-three years. They married right after college, when my father was skinnier, paler, angrier and a struggling comedian. He was from South Boston, where my Pop Pop still lives. My mother was a Dean’s List girl from Connecticut. She probably thought she was doing him a favor.

“There’s a vagina in my neck,” says my mother, pointing at the photo on her MacBook Pro screen. It’s her new author photo, for the book jacket.
“I don’t see it.” That’s a lie. There’s a gaping geriatric hollow in her throat.
“Can’t you Photoshop it?” she asks.
“The photography studio already re-touched it.”
“So tell them to re-re-touch it,” She rubs her temples. “Give it a full-fucking-body massage.”

My mother is the author of “Bee Yourself: A Guide to Honey Products for Natural Beauty and Wellness.” She was on Oprah once. Unlike my father, her fame means almost nothing to me, except a couple weird memories of Dev shoving beeswax from jars in the bathroom up my nose when we were little.

My father writes, produces and directs Dead Man Drinking and this is evident in the frequency and uncanny similarity of the sex scenes. Always rail-thin young brunettes who get on top and want it rough, attack him like they can’t help it. It’s weird to not only A) know what your dad’s into, but B) know that it’s not your mom, because your mom is a blonde with broad shoulders and C) see it in a Multiplex.

The summer of 2002 my mom held my hand in the private theater during the second season test screenings, and during the sex scenes she squeezed my hand so hard the tips of my fingers turned purple.

Dead Man Drinking’s Rory O’Shea has two children, twins named Mikey and Erin O’Shea. Mikey O’Shea is a shy, bookish kid who hates violence and confuses his policeman father. He was, and still is, played by Robbie Greenberg. My father wanted an all-Irish cast, but Nick insisted that Robbie’s quiet intelligence would balance out the crassness of the rest of the family. Nick was my dad’s childhood sidekick in the rough streets of Boston, a chubby kid with glasses. Nothing changed, except now he wears sunglasses.
Nick and my dad in 1999, sitting by the pool smoking Camel Lights after Robbie’s screen test:
“What if he grows up to be a fag?”
“He’s not. That’s just how Jew kids are,” Nick said.

There were two Erins, Megan Callahan and Bonnie Lindquist. Erin O’Shea started stripping at a club called Private Eyezz to rebel against her religious father in season 4 and Megan Callahan got fired because of the no-nudity clause in her contract, but there was this weird overlap where both the Erins were contracted to the show and they both came to the Christmas party and had to act gracious about it except Megan Callahan got pretty drunk.
At one AM she was coming out of the bathroom as I was going in. She grabbed me by the wrist. She was nineteen with a Southern accent. I was fifteen and so of course I had a raging-fucking-crush on her.
“Shane,” she mumbled into my shirt.
“Do you think she’s hotter than me?” She burped. “Bonnie?”
“Maybe we should sit…” I sort of angled her back towards the bathroom.
Megan’s eyes were tearing up. “I bet they didn’t even screen-test her. She’s probably one of those girls who lets Rory fuck her in the ass. Sorry.”
“It’s okay.” She could have told me the sun was hurtling towards the earth.
Megan burped again and started unbuttoning her dress.
“I mean, is this acting?” she said, and burbled a sick little laugh. Her dress fell down around her feet. Cotton underwear and a plain bra she unhooked and handed to me. I tried not to look as she walked past me and threw her arms in the air.
“Is this what y’all want? I’m acting!”
Nobody at the party could convince her to put the dress back on, and someone called her mom to come get her and bring a robe.

They start pre-production for Season 9 right after I go back to Stanford. TV Guide does this whole write-up on Dead Man Drinking, said it jumped the shark when the long-lost brother joined the cast and said my dad was fading fast, becoming a joke of David Hasselhoff-esque proportions. My dad calls me in the middle of moving in.
“What would you do if you knocked a girl up at Stanford?”
“Why, did Mikey knock a girl up at Stanford?”
That was the only reason he ever asked me questions like this. Sometimes I thought Mikey O’Shea was based on me. Or I was based on Mikey O’Shea, who really knows which. My dad wanted his character on Dead Man Drinking to have two sons, but Nick said teenage girls were automatic Nielsen-boosts. And Erin O’Shea has pieces of my big brother Devin, in the way she speaks and how she treats her father. If Devin was a girl, he’d probably be a stripper, and if he was a stripper it would definitely be at a place called “Private Eyezz.”

“What would you do?” he asks again.
“I’d marry her,” I say.
“You would?”
He doesn’t say anything for a second, then he goes, “You’re good, Shane.”
“Guess so.”
“Try to stay that way, OK?”
“I will.”

In the middle of Season 9, Mikey O’Shea drops out of Stanford and enrolls in the police academy. TV Guide has a field day with this one.


One Response

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  1. Kelli Garner said, on October 1, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    Really nice posts. I will be checking back here regularly.

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