For all its tangents, the book continually circles back to a single subject: Junior’s relationship with his father, a figure who has much in common with Kit Culkin. “I think there’s two different fathers that I have,” says Culkin. “I have my father, and I have the one in my head. The real one is gone and should be gone. But I think I was looking to put the one in my head to rest.” There is not a flicker of emotion as he speaks; it’s as if he’s describing a character in a film rather than the man responsible for his existence and career. “He would black out all the terrible things that he did, and that hurt me more, because he’d go to bed at night thinking he was a good person. People do bad things in their lives. And those sort of things are forgivable. That’s half the point of having confession in church—you need to be able to fess up to what you’ve done. He just couldn’t. It was some kind of mechanism in him or some kind of craziness.” Culkin says he feels a bit guilty over the book, but in a way, he’s been working on it since childhood. “I knew from a very early age that I better take notes on him,” he says of his father. “Notes on how not to be, notes on how I don’t want to be when I grow up.”
In a sense, Culkin has aged in reverse.
“I have a lot of growing up to do,” he tells me at one point, before correcting himself, “or a lot of growing down. I think that’s probably more appropriate.” The stuff of his childhood—work, pressure, fame, wealth, marriage, divorce—reads like a checklist of adult milestones. Meanwhile, at an age when his peers are drifting into adulthood, he is a self-sufficient slacker enjoying a latent adolescence, not worrying about money or work or the future. Even the book isn’t a calculated career move so much as a lark. As he puts it, “Maybe now that I’m older, given my freedom, instead of cutting shapes out of construction paper, I’ve been making a little book.”
The following night, Culkin invites me to pick him up at his downtown loft—a nondescript building, no doorman—to grab a beer and play some pool. Walking over to Soho Billiards, he lights a Parliament and talks about the rather unusual dynamics of his family. Since gaining control of his finances, Culkin has played the role of reluctant father, subsidizing the lives of his siblings as well as his mother. “I have a family to support,” he says later, racking the balls. “Essentially it’s like an allowance. It’s hard. You don’t want to feel like you’re controlling, like you’re in charge. There’s always a little more money around Christmastime—large family, lots of presents.”
“It’s the worst possible thing I could have done for myself. Now I have to stand by it. I can’t just throw it out there and act like I’m ashamed of it.”
When Culkin’s younger brother Kieran learned of the book, he was concerned that it would be used to fan flames that in recent years have finally stopped smoldering. “They were the right fears,” Culkin concedes, mentioning recent tabloid headlines (Daily News: MACAULAY WRITES A SCARY FAMILY SAGA; Post: TOME ALONE—INSIDE MACAULAY CULKIN’S MADMAN DIARY). “Yeah, it’s the worst possible thing I could have done for myself,” he says flippantly. “Now I have to stand by it. I can’t just throw it out there and act like I’m ashamed of it.” He mulls this over. “I’m willing to face whatever comes with this, from critics, people trying to make it more sensational than it is. This is not a sensational book. There’s no Michael Jackson references at all, so get that out of your head right now.”
That’s easier said than done, given that it was less than a year ago that Culkin testified for the defense during the pop star’s molestation trial. “You know, I didn’t want to get involved with the whole thing,” he says. “It was a big, fat mess. I almost wanted to say to him, ‘You should have known better, just to even have those kind of people in your life.’ ” He thinks for a moment and continues. “I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I’ve become the resident Michael Jackson expert. We’re close, he’s a good friend of mine, we definitely have a connection that most people don’t have, but he’s a friend that I talk to once a year.” When they talk, Culkin always encourages Jackson to get back to music. “You know, call up the Roots, call up the Beastie Boys, call up Björk.” The last time they spoke was a few months after the trial: “He sounded better . . .” He trails off, distracted. “One of the things that I always thought is that I could have turned out that way. I’m a fairly sheltered person, but I could have just put up a fortress around myself, bought a big chunk of land somewhere, and said, ‘Fuck all y’all!’ But I made a decision when I was 14 that I was going to live life, where I think he made the opposite decision. It’s a cool little world that he has, but at the same time, it’s become a little more distant from reality.”