Down the habit hole

Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.

Lily Tomlin

I probably know as much about aliens as anyone they’ve ever probed, and as much about zombies, ghosts and extraterrestrial cattle as Mulder and Scully put together. If a show has a name like “The Unexplained,” “In Search Of” or “Ripley’s Believe It or Not,” I’ll believe it. Reality ... feh. Facts are for the limited. Who doesn’t prefer the test questions for which “there are no right answers”?

These shows are great, but the problem is that so many things that are truly bizarre — Roswell, for instance — already have been examined more than Florida’s ballots. It would be really fun if these shows would investigate a mundane mystery or two, stuff like “Why the Line You Get In Is Always the Slowest” or “Why People Will Eat Anything With Grill Marks” or “Republicans: Why?”

The most intriguing pop-culture mystery for me at the moment is “Who Dropped a Dime on Robert Downey Jr.?” Was it a concerned friend? A terrified witness to some drug-induced freak-out? Whoever came in second for the “Ally McBeal” role? Inquiring minds have nothing better to think about.

Simply irresistible

When critics talk about the most gifted actors of the St. Elmo’s Fire-The Big Chill-The Breakfast Club generation, Downey’s name is always up there on the list next to Johnny Depp and Sean Penn — guys who make films where the closest thing to a special effect is their acting skills (Sleepy Hollow notwithstanding). Not only is Downey gifted and charismatic, he’s a hottie. The commercials alone for his current “Ally McBeal” stint were enough to incinerate the couches of every conscious woman or gay man in America or whatever piece of furniture they were occupying when he showed up. He’s got it all: looks, talent and what appears to be a Hunter Thompsonlike appetite for drugs.

Well, as Emma Thompson said about her gay boyfriend in Carrington, “You always have to put up with something.”

There’s really no reason this should affect his role on the TV show. Just jiggle the plot a little: Ally discovers her new love has been thrown in the clink for coke, so they show her going to visit him in the slammer. Imagine how good her hallucinations will be on prison visits. Who in America wouldn’t watch a show filmed partly from jail, with a real prisoner in the starring role? A smash romantic comedy crossbred with “The World’s Scariest Places.” It’s a Fox wet dream.

Get what you want

Really, though, it’s too bad for Downey, because all the guy seems to be suffering from is a highly addictive personality. It’s hard not to feel for him.

I know that if you took away my addictions, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of personality left. Everyone’s addicted to something, but they just call their addictions “routines.” “I have to have my coffee every morning or I just can’t function”; “If I don’t work out I get really cranky”; “Give me that crack pipe or I’ll pull your face off.” People are creatures of habit, and an addiction is just habit turned up really high.

Cocaine might not be the best habit you could have; all you have to do is watch a couple of VH1 “Behind the Music” specials to figure that out. Plus, we hear it makes your breath smell like burning plastic, which is definitely a fashion “don’t.” But it’s hard not to insert a little “there but for the grace of God” and note that if cops and tabloids got involved every time I got a little boozy, I’d get more exposure than Pokémon. It seems awfully harsh that Downey should have to go behind bars again just because he had enough money to get addicted to something besides beer.

Hopefully he won’t have to go to jail and will just end up one day going on legal benders like so many of us do. In the meantime, it’s hard not to wonder who made that anonymous call saying that Downey had guns (not true) and drugs (well, OK) in his hotel room. It’s hard to believe it was someone who just vigorously believes in the law. More likely it was a pissed-off hotel clerk who may have been treated snippily.

Or maybe it was someone who just didn’t get an invitation to the party — somebody who decided they were going to show the big shots a thing or two, who didn’t want to be underestimated, and who stirred things up, acting on what you could call principle.

What was Ralph Nader doing that day, anyway?

Liz Langley writes for the Orlando Weekly. E-mail [email protected]
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