Howard pushes back into the couch and crosses his fingers out of Beth’s view. A pie-slice smile settles on his face.
“Most of the marriages we know are all fucked up and miserable,” says Howard helpfully. “Out of everyone we know, we’re the happiest. We think, anyway. We believe.”
“Oh, we’re for sure the happiest,” says Beth.
Howard, though, requires a lot of effort on Beth’s part. He’s high maintenance.
“I don’t think I am high maintenance,” Howard protests initially, then adds, “I think therapy’s helping a lot.” Howard goes four times a week. “Beth would be the first one to say it’s all about me . . . ”
“It’s all about him,” says Beth. She wags her head good-naturedly, “but I’m okay with it. We’re good together.”
“I am self-centered, and I don’t know how you change that, but I am really working on trying to be empathetic in my relationship with Beth and understanding where she’s coming from.”
“You’re doing a great job,” says Beth.
“I think we’re on the right path,” says Howard.
Of course, she makes clear, “he needs attention. He’s very needy.”
“I’m a needy person,” says Howard. He nods his head, and the fuzzy circle of hair bounces.
“He’s very sensitive. He needs constant adoration and—”
“I do. I need her to pay attention to me. I feel bad for this woman.”
Howard is truly worried. Howard’s relationship with his fans has often been the most potent in his life. The other evening, Howard listened to a roundtable of his superfans, a competitive category, on Sirius. They talked about their favorite moments of his K-Rock shows.
Beth walked in. Howard says that, in general, “she has taught me not to be so serious and to lighten up a little bit.” That time she couldn’t distract him.
“You sensed a vibe from me that I was upset,” says Beth.
Howard did. But he couldn’t tear himself away. “This,” he says, referring to the plans for Sirius, “is my sex now.” It’s a joke. Sort of. Listening to his superfans talk about the universe that is Howard Stern charges him up. “That connection between me and the audience gets a little too important,” Howard says.
Beth’s rarely seen Howard like this, and she’s thrilled for him. “I feel it’s just the rush of what’s ahead. All the anticipation and all the ideas are flowing,” Beth says. But she misses Howard. “I do miss you lately, but I know that there’s an end.” They’re still holding hands, working out their relationship in real time, like a radio show. Sometimes they talk to each other, sometimes to me. “I hope that it’s not going to be five years of this,” Beth says, no doubt to Howard, though she looks at me.
“No,” says Howard softly. Howard assures her he misses her, too. He’s solicitous, almost pained. This particular complaint strikes home; his work obsession was one reason his marriage dissolved. “Honey, I swear to you, I’m going to balance this out because I miss being with you,” he says. “I mean, we have a great life together and I know how important it is to sort of spend time together and be together, so it’s my selfishness that I want it all. I want the radio thing going and I want, I want this full relationship—”
“We have great chemistry,” says Beth.
“We have a great—that’s the exact word—”
“I answer his sentence—” she says.
“It’s true, we really feel this great connection. I feel it.”
Beth’s not complaining; she’s a good sport. “I think I’m going to get him back,” she says. “I hope.”
“I am not fucking up this relationship,” says Howard grimly. “I don’t want to keep repeating my life.”
For one thing there’s the sex, girlfriend sex, not wife sex, though Alison was a fine sex partner. Still, Beth’s the homecoming queen, the shiksa goddess with a closetful of lingerie.
“I’ve never felt more comfortable with somebody sexually and more excited about, I mean, it’s . . . ”
Howard pauses. He looks at Beth. “Honey, go in the other room.” Then he looks at me. “You got to try her out.”
“Could you imagine?” says Beth, good sport to the end.