Tom Cruise was pissed off at me for using him in a story without his consent. He had one of his people call and warn me that if I didn’t cease and desist posthaste I’d soon find myself swimming in a sea of shit. I told him I’m already swimming in a sea of shit, nothing new.
We’ll harass you 24/7, he said.
I’m already harassed 24/7, I told him. What else you got? He hung up.
Defiant, I continued crafting my story, which indeed featured Tom Cruise, or rather his likeness, let’s get it straight. I could hardly install the actual, flesh-and- blood Tom Cruise into my story, a fiction, a work of the imagination. I intend nothing perverse. I admire Mr. Cruise’s work. Thought him heroic in Risky Business when it first came out. He’s my coeval, after all.
One morning a few weeks back Mr. Cruise called me himself. Could tell it was him by how heated he got when I said I intended to finish the story no matter what he—short of killing me—did.
That can be arranged! he shouted.
You’re threatening me? I said.
Take it any way you want, pal, he said, in quiet but determined voice. Gave me a little chill, to be honest.
But if I ever do get whacked, I said, they’ll know it was you, Cruise. It’s right here in my fucking story, your words. Your fucking words. Even after receiving cease and desist letters from agents, attorneys and representatives of the Church of Scientology, I continued writing my story. I destroyed those letters, ignoring their dire warnings. Flat broke, they couldn’t sue me for a dime. I had no social media standing whatsoever, so they couldn’t cyberbully or defame me. Physical threats? Sure. But I carried a blade and wouldn’t hesitate for a second shanking someone if push came to shove. Indeed, one afternoon a black sedan was parked near my rooming house. Two clean cut dudes in black suits sat in it. They didn’t look like cops. I figured they were Scientology thugs keeping six on me. I walked up to the driver’s window, gestured for him to roll it down, then I popped him with a short right to the eye. Got him good, too. The other guy started yelling. I ran around to his side and punched the window so hard it shattered into a million pieces. Want some of this, too? I said. They sat there stunned, the one guy holding his eye. Fucking pussies. I left, satisfied I’d not see them again.
So, surprise. Tom Cruise himself, in the flesh, rolled up to my rooming house a few days later, done up in this cheesy disguise. None of the other bums recognized him, but I saw through the fake moustache and pancake. What do you want? I asked calmly. He stood in my doorway twisting his lips with stifled rage. He was all wound up. Put off, I didn’t invite him inside. In person he’s far shorter than he looks on screen, almost dwarfish. And his head is enormous. Actors often have big heads, but his was, as my Sicilian paisans would say, a real cucuzza.
Look, he said, You’re a little unhinged, a little out there. There’s no reasoning whatsoever—still, I appeal to you as a human being. Please. Stop. Using. Me. In. Your. Story. Please. It’s demeaning, embarrassing, and, more importantly, illegal.
Tom, I said, hope you don’t mind I call you Tom—Tom, I don’t give a fuck about legalities, threats to my livelihood, personhood, and all that crap. Look at where I live, Tom. Look at me, Tom. And I don’t give a fuck about humanity, or whatever you’re talking about. I love what I do. I take great pride in what I do. And I can’t do something halfway, three-quarters, nine-tenths. If I’m going to do something, I go all the way. A man like you should respect that.
Mr. Cruise stared at me with his most earnest expression, undermined somewhat by the glued-on moustache. Look at the Samurai, he said, artists of their time. What I think struck me when I read Bushido is compassion. If there’s no one there to help, go out and find someone to help. That hit me, because I try to lead my life like that. So, really, I’m trying to help you.
Stop right there, I said. Arm wrestle me for it. He frowned, confused. I explained. I wanted him to arm wrestle me for the decision. If he won, I’d destroy the story. If he lost, I’d complete it, as I saw fit. He quickly agreed. He asked for a telephone book. When I told him I didn’t have one he combed through my bookshelves and selected the Norton Anthology of Postmodern American Poetry, an unreadable tome, and propped it on his chair for elevation. When I lowered my right arm on the table, Mr. Cruise shook his head and waved his arms.
Uh-uh, he said, I’m left-handed.
But that’s my weak arm, I told him.
Too bad, he said, dropping his small muscular left arm on the table and offering his small hand. Averse to prolonging matters, I accepted, confident I’d crush him even with my weak arm. We engaged for a full two minutes. He wouldn’t give an inch. Even though I had leverage, the little fucker wouldn’t budge. My arm started shaking. He was going to beat me. Tom Cruise was going to beat me! I could not let that happen. I opened my right hand, cocked it, and walloped him across the ear. He fell sideways screeching. I let him do his pain thing, then I nudged him with the toe of my boot.
It’s over, I said.
What! he cried, clutching his ear.
I said it’s over.
Over? It can’t end like this! Not nice! Not nice!
Nothing ends nicely, I said, that’s why it ends.
Salvatore Difalco lives in Toronto. His work has appeared in a variety of print and online formats.