Although I've been married without major indiscretion for two decades, I still keep a lineup card.
Like any conscientious manager, I change around the nine hitters on the roster whenever my team's in a slump. For example, after I saw "Anywhere But Here" I inserted the incomparable Natalie Portman into the No. 8 spot and sent down Bridget Fonda because of her lackluster performance in "Lake Placid." (However, if Fonda can get her swing fixed while on her rehab assignment I'll probably take her back.)
Then there was that bittersweet moment after I saw "The Out of Towners" when I had to tell Goldie Hawn that it was time to hang up her cleats. But I was pleased to replace the longest-reigning cutest actress in Hollywood with the newest cutest actress in Hollywood -- Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson, whose luminous portrayal of Penny Lane in "Almost Famous" got my scouts seriously hot and bothered.
After Anne Heche played a Tourette's victim on "Ally McBeal" I benched one of my veterans, Michelle Pfeiffer. Although I still applaud whenever I see her chewing gum in "The Fabulous Baker Boys" or meowing in "Batman Returns," Pfeiffer hasn't had anything close to her career year in many seasons. (I was surprised to discover that my wife, Kitty, had also penciled in Heche on her card, making room for the hard-edged waif by giving Hugh Grant his unconditional release.) And just this morning I decided that I need more pop from my cleanup spot so I sent down the erratic Parker Posie to make room for Anna Kournikova, the tennis player.
After I took some heat last season for starting only babes and starlets, I drafted Greta Van Susteren, the nimble little lawyer who co-hosted the CNN legal affairs show "Burden of Proof" (until Fox wooed her away). I liked the way -- for obscure reasons -- her smile got all crooked when she was excited about some point of law. The guys who had shamed me into this roster change featured players on their lineup cards such as Catherine the Great, the singer Natalie Merchant, lady CEOs and women who never existed in the flesh (Betty Crocker was one). These were managers, I finally decided, who had allowed their minds to beat out everything else for control.
After suffering through a dismal road trip with the politically correct but sensually inert Van Susteren (she's good with the glove but just can't hit to save her life), I had to admit that I didn't want women who made me think. I wanted women who made me dizzy. It was my teenage nephew who finally forced the issue (his leadoff hitter is Dominique Swain, the nymphet Jeremy Irons was obsessed with in the remake of "Lolita"). The boy sent me a squib from a fanzine that clearly showed that the person Van Susteren resembled most in the world was Fabio. I replaced her on the spot with Gwyneth Paltrow. And I've never looked back.
But my all-time All-Star is that very heavy hitter, the woman who's held down the No. 5 spot on my roster for years, Meg Ryan. From "French Kiss" to "You've Got Mail" to "Kate & Leopold," Ryan can do it all. Unfailingly adorable in that addled way that suggests episodic bouts of amnesia, she nevertheless hints that a social evening out could conclude with a really good explication by her of the suicide squeeze. It could also end in slapping. Either way, a good time would be had by all.
But thanks to Marcia, newly wedded to my best friend, I almost gave up on Ryan, just when she needed my support the most. One night when I had stopped by to say hello we watched "When Harry Met Sally." Although this was the third time I had seen the movie, I was rapturous. When Victor went to the kitchen to fetch beer Marcia turned to me with a small, cruel smile.
"You know her feet are enormous, don't you?"
I stared at her. "They're not enormous," I said at last.
I began to feel a flush of anxiety. "Why would you say that?"
Marcia rolled her eyes. "The woman could fill clown shoes. They're at least 11's."
"No way," I said unconvincingly.
Suddenly Ryan's feet appeared.
"See? You're wrong," I shouted, rushing from the couch to the sports-bar-size television and jabbing at the screen with my finger. "They're not that big at all."
She hung her head. "You just don't understand."
Victor reappeared with a tray of beer and glasses. "Understand what?"
Marcia shot me a look that said we'll talk about it later. The three of us settled back to watch the end of the film. I wolfed my beer, suddenly dying of thirst.
Later, when Victor went off to bed, Marcia and I finished our conversation.
"Foot double," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"They use a foot double, you ninny. Those aren't Ryan's feet."
I thought about it. In my mind's eye I saw Ryan's pretty little face with those shiny blue eyes, and her lithesome torso and her long legs, which were hooked to her feet, which even now were beginning to seem something less than svelte. But enormous?
"It's called zipper feet," Marcia said in the tone of a third base coach explaining the signals for the day to a rookie who speaks English as a second language. "Like in scenes where they have to show the feet? Like when she takes a shower in "Flesh and Bone"? On the computer they bring in Ryan. They bring in the double's feet. Then they hook them together digitally. Bingo. It's seamless. No one can tell."
As I walked out to my car Marcia gave me a stiff, tiny wave from the porch. It was the same sort of ironic salute a catcher might flash a base stealer after he's just thrown the bum out at second. I still didn't believe a word she said. On the drive home it struck me that Victor must have let slip the existence of my lineup card. I didn't blame him. It's not a secret. Practically everyone in America keeps a lineup card, whether they call it that or not.
The only people who don't keep lineup cards are the hunks and babes who appear on everyone else's lineup cards -- and attractive, newly wedded young women such as Marcia. So did she think it was wrong? That it was a form of infidelity? That it was a perverse sort of guy thing that might infect her shiny new husband with an unquenchable longing for someone else? Why else would she try to sabotage a fine person such as Meg Ryan?
Victor, of course, keeps a lineup card, whose existence predates the day he met Marcia while they were swimming illegally in the American River. It includes names like Julie Christie, who I figure must be in a nursing home somewhere, and Julie Andrews, whose last gig was years ago on Broadway playing a mildewed transvestite who warbles. To my way of thinking his card is a cry for help, an admission of necrophilia. But there is simply no accounting for taste. I know a biochemist whose cleanup hitter is Nikki, one of the Juggies on Comedy Central's "The Man Show," a voluptuary who claims that her hobby is painting the toenails of mice. I also know an Ivy League coed who enjoys humiliating herself in front of her housemates by putting only fascists on her lineup card -- Osama bin Laden, David Duke, Saddam Hussein.
During the weeks that followed I slid into a funk. I tried to grasp the events again in "Joe Versus the Volcano," but got muddled. Again. And not just because the plot goes south in the third act. It was Meg Ryan's feet. I couldn't take my eyes off them. They appeared to get larger in every scene. By the end of the movie she seemed to be dragging her clodhoppers around like they were strapped to snowshoes.
I was panic-stricken. Without Ryan at the top of her game my whole team was floundering, headed in the direction of zero-zero -- for me, a life without fantasies. I considered hypnosis but decided against it when I remembered the stage show I attended as a boy, in which a Dr. Mesmer convinced 50 people they were chickens.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
One night Kitty and I went to Victor and Marcia's for dinner. There, placed casually on the coffee table next to a bowl of tortilla chips, was W magazine. On the cover was Meg Ryan. Kitty and Victor were chattering about the Seattle Mariners and didn't notice my chagrin, as I turned to a photo shoot of Ryan in loud, vampish clothes that looked like the outfits worn on Mexican soap operas. Normally, any new images of Ryan only confirm my faith in her.
But the person I saw on these pages was a sideshow freak, one of those tabloid monstrosities created by the unholy union of woman and beast. In this case it was Ryan's body fused to the feet of a giant sloth. Her toes, which disappeared into platform shoes hiked up painfully at the heels, must have been four inches long. With these claws, she could easily hang from the limb of a eucalyptus. Clearly, these pictures had not been doctored by the zipper feet method. I panicked. Had Ryan simply tired of hiding her mutation from the world? Or had my imagination beaten out everything else for control? I had to know the truth. I had to find out Meg Ryan's shoe size.
Marcia was watching me from the kitchen. She gave me another one of those emblematic waves.
The next day, desperate, I called the magazine and asked for the photographer's extension.
"Who are you with?" the receptionist asked.
"Der Spiegel," I said.
"Ah, wie heissen sie, mein Herr?"
I hung up. Then I called my only contact in Hollywood, a guy whose job it was to get products into movies in such a way that the brand names can be seen. In no time at all I was connected to the office of Annett Wolf, Meg Ryan's publicist. As I explained the crisis with my lineup card I got the sense that Wolf's secretary was copying my number down from her caller I.D. so she could report me.
"Look," she said at last. "We can't give out information like that. It's personal. Please don't call here again."
In the mail that same day was a clipping that Marcia had sent. It was a profile of Meg Ryan published in Us magazine. Marcia had used yellow ink to highlight Ryan's admitting that one of the things bothering her about her body is the size of her feet. I groaned and fell into my La-Z-Boy parked in front of the television, which I just couldn't bear to turn on. At dark Kitty came home from errands, and turned on the light.
"Honey, do you feel all right?"
"Just tired," I said. I noticed her shoes, because she was stamping the snow off them. They were brand new cross-trainers, gleaming high-tops with lilac stitching. Ms. Ryan, I thought darkly, probably couldn't cram her big toe into one of these dainties.
My wife followed my eyes. "Aren't they cool? Marcia gave them to me. She got them on sale but decided they were just too big."
Too big? Kitty has the smallest adult feet I've ever seen, except for those of the blond midget who swims at my health club.
Suddenly, I understood everything. The answer had been there all along, of course, lying in plain sight in one of Meg Ryan's own movies. In "I.Q." she plays the brainy niece of Albert Einstein, and it was Einstein, of course, who formulated the theory of relativity, which holds that the size of any object in the universe can't be measured absolutely because its existence is relative to the objects around it, and can be warped by time and space and the hypnotic suggestions made by the insecure wives of friends. I remembered reading in some magazine that Meg Ryan is 5-foot-10 or -11. Ergo, Ryan might indeed have size 10 feet, but the woman, after all, is almost 6 feet tall!
I put my arms around Kitty and gave her a deep and passionate kiss.
"Someone's feeling better," she said.
"Batter up," I said.