Good job with the chicken! The process is clear and she is steady. She cooks this — chicken swaddled in leaves of cured pork — for Roddick, too. She works the skinless breasts in her hands till they are cylindrical, then finger-pinches the fat away, patiently rubs the spices (different areas of the flesh have different needs, it seems) as if she knew what formulation her guest needed. Her guest babbles as she works. He cannot stop talking. She invites this much, claims she wants to hear opinion, to understand experience. I have to admit it feels like a grift, like she’s beckoning me to bulldoze the night with my own stories, to fill my own recorder with stories I’ve heard myself tell a thousand times.
It is a kind of seduction, I suppose. She must know that beautiful women have always made men pour forth the dopey war stories of work and travel. Men speak to beauty, maybe too much, and Brooklyn Decker creates a little room for that. But she isn’t playing. She’s being pragmatic, not manipulative; it’s so she can work — check the oven temperature, wash and dry the two plates that live in her cabinets, top off the wine, check the music. At one point, needing more light on the cooking surface, she walks, palms up — as they are slathered with raw poultry — to the doorway and kicks the light switch with one pendulum swing of her glorious leg. A movement so easy, so thoughtless and accurate, that it says one thing clearly: The woman is young. She doesn’t remark on it, making the acrobatics a domestic gesture — easy, sweet, comforting. When she stands by the door, it feels as if she’ll never leave, though she’s standing next to a bag of her clothes. She sees it and laughs. “I should have never shown you that,” she says. “The bag on the floor makes me look bad, doesn’t it?”
That’s what she’d said earlier, in the hallway, before she unlocked the door, groceries bedangled from one gloved hand, keys pointing from the other: “Oh, man. The bag is right there on the floor. Right inside the door. That fact alone will reveal everything. You’ll see that I’m not all that good an adult yet. Remember, I dropped everything for you. This will prove it,” she’d said, turning the keys in the lock. “And you’ll think I’m a slob.”
She’s a slob. Not the foul kind, not the scary hoarder kind. She’s the careless kind, a drop-your-bag-on-the-floor-and-live-out-of-it slob. The young slob at rest, hiding nothing with the habit, hurting no one. She just returned from a movie shoot (Battleship) in Texas and is on her way to more filming in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She’s just checking in — returning the way a kid does, flopping her zippered duffel inside left of the front door, yanking it open to pull just one item from the guts of it. Bra straps, T-shirts piled on a couple pairs of jeans, little fists of underwear beneath that — it’s a snapshot of a cozy mess, private as the top dresser drawer of a person with nothing to stash, dropped and splayed open on faith. She gives it a kick as she walks past to hit the light. That Brooklyn Decker leaves her bag open, that her underwear remains somewhat visible all the while she cooks dinner, is undeniably prurient to note and inexplicably cool to observe.
On the bookshelf: a set of framed photos. Brooklyn Decker with her crew from home, pressed shoulder to shoulder, all five of them in a chin-lifted woot! to the world. “That’s really me,” she says. “These are my best friends. That’s who I am.” She nods at a photo of Roddick, standing near an arena exit with another man, seemingly out of earshot of anything like a woot. “This is my husband,” she says. Then she laughs. “Look, I’m with sorority girls, and look at him: He’s with, I don’t know, Woody Allen, or the Dalai Lama.”
I lean in for a look. “Is that Woody Allen?”
She turns away. She was illustrating a point. “Or Shaq. I don’t know. He meets people. He’s one of those people, you know?”
She’s walking away, drawing me with her. So much so that I fail to note whom Roddick is standing with in the photo. Not Shaq is all I can tell you. That’s what I put in my notes later that evening: “Not Shaq.” Such is the extent of my due diligence with her in the room. I do recall there was an unstrung tennis racket lying flat on the couch. Otherwise, I follow.
The chicken cooks, under the broiler now. She wants to teach me her tricks, which she says aren’t hers at all.
“Nicole Kidman taught me how to look into the sun while shooting.” Brooklyn lays her hands flat on the counter. If this is some mock seriousness, I cannot tell. “You close your eyes,” she says. She does this much and waits. After a moment, she opens her eyes for a quizzical look at me. “Close them.” She means my eyes. She’s teaching now. We’re supposed to be looking into the sun, though I am looking straight at her face.
She talks to me like a Pilates instructor: “Keep them closed, face the sun. Straight at it. Then, as soon as they call ‘rolling,’ right before ‘action,’ take your eyes down to the camera, line up your sight, and then open them.” She’s speaking to me. “Open them,” she says. “Really. Do it.” When I open my eyes, I find that she is leaning in a little, over the kitchen counter, arms folded under her breasts, smiling. “Open them like that,” she says, “and the dark of the camera should help your eyes adjust.” She is about two feet from my craggy face, staring right into my crusty, bloodshot eyes, smiling. There is no camera. And she’s right. My eyes adjust just fine, thanks.
She refills my wine. She wants to know if I like it.
“I’m not a wine person,” I say. “I’m a whiskey person.”
She looks around, behind her, then past me, as if trying to remember where things are. She’s not a drinker, and she hasn’t been home in a month. She and Roddick have a house in Texas, outside Austin. That is where she keeps her bulldog, she’s told me. There are several pictures of the bulldog on the shelf next to the one of Roddick and Not Shaq.
“All we have is vodka,” she says. There is a long pause, after which she fusses with the stove again.
“You want a drink?” I ask finally.
“I don’t want any,” she declares, just as plaintive and confident as a child who doesn’t like the parsnips. No way. No apology. No offer for me to go ahead without her. Somehow it’s charming.
Ask Brooklyn Decker what she knows, and she will laugh and winnow it down to very little. Like this one way to cook chicken. That’s something. But what about an essay question, something like: “What do you know about men?” I ask it when she serves the chicken, which looks pretty damned good, if a little spartan by itself on the plate. It’s hot to the touch. Hot as hell.
She thinks it over. “Men need to learn to put everything on the table,” she says. “Just put everything on the table. And when it comes to the game playing, enough.”
“I know. It doesn’t sound like anything real. You’re dealing with a college kid. I feel for you.” She cuts into the chicken, forks up a biteful, and thinks. “With females,” she says, then she starts again. “With women, when you’re in your twenties, it’s all about game playing. Men could get ahead of women if they’d just throw everything out on the table. Cut to the chase.”
The chicken is in my mouth. Too hot to eat, really. “What the — “I say, taking a mouthful of wine, shaking my head. “What is that supposed to mean?” I want to halt her progress up the platitude trail. So I point a fork and say, “That just sounds like total horseshit.”
She laughs, full out and hard, covering her mouth with one hand, spitting bits of chicken into her palm. “Try to be a little specific,” I say. “Start with young guys maybe. What do you know about them?”
She’s chewing her food, smiling. She looks up, out of the corner of her eye. “In their twenties men just want, want, want, want, want.” She puts a little salad on her plate with the chicken, just one leaf. “Don’t make everybody deal with your want all the time. It gets so old. You know?”
I know. I do. She makes a good point.
“I don’t want to change anybody,” she tells me. “But there is that.”
We eat for a while. What about a guy who’s Roddick’s age? I ask. Past twenty-five. What’s the issue then?
“After twenty-five,” she says, “it’s just throw the ego out the door.”
Then she glances from my eyes to my plate theatrically, emanating a little alarm. She chipmunks a bite in her cheek and Cagneys out another couple of questions: “So what’s it like eating the model’s chicken? That work for you?”
Stupid me. So rude. “Why, yes,” I say, trying to put an exclamation point on every word. “It does. Really.”
This seems a comfort to her. And she says it again: “Thank you,” low and sweet and in that way that says, I hear you. It’s a thank-you worth hearing. “You can tell me the truth,” she says, “but thank you.”
“Thank you,” I say, making a big show out of the next bite. “And, really, I am telling you the truth.”
But it isn’t the truth. The chicken was good when it came out of the oven. Just fine, juicy — piquant, even. Nice touch with the prosciutto, Brooklyn. But it was too hot, and so, when opened up by the knife, the meat dried out immediately. The salad couldn’t save it. By the time she asked, the chicken really was quite a chore.
No matter. A young cook’s mistake. She’s just starting out. I would have called it halfway decent. Exactly that. In fact, I wish I had. Not to disappoint her, but because I’m certain that it would have made her laugh. I think she might have even thanked me one more time.