THE MULTITUDES OF ROSEANNE
So there we were, all snug and cozy in the living room at Big Buck Ranch, Roseanne’s mountain retreat near Lake Arrowhead, California. Night had fallen; the windows were mottled with frost, a thin blanket of early-November snow covered the grounds. Though our interview had finally commenced about six hours behind schedule, things had proceeded rather smoothly from there. Before me now lay the daunting prospect of a long, dark, treacherous drive home. I was gathered and ready to leave, but not yet able.
A fire crackled in the large stone hearth. Roseanne was shlumped in an overstuffed chair, her dainty feet clad in thick woolen socks, resting on an ottoman. I take the liberty here of using her first name only. Born a Barr; married—in chronological order—to a Pentland, an Arnold, and a Thomas; internationally famous for playing a Conner on television: Roseanne has lately found herself in a bit of a jam, name-wise, a forty-eight-year-old, Emmy-winning mother of five without a suitable appellation. As you will see, her predicament is altogether fitting. She’s doing her best to sort things out.
Roseanne was dressed in faded blue jeans and a ratty, oversized sweatshirt appropriated from her current husband, Ben Thomas, her former bodyguard, a bear of a man fourteen years her junior with a trim goatee. Ben was not present at the ranch this evening, and neither was their five-year-old son, Buck, for whom the place was named. Roseanne wore no makeup, put on no airs. Her shortish brown hair was tousled. She was fat, but not too fat. Her surgically altered cheekbones looked prominent in the gauzy light, making her seem softer and more attractive than I’d expected.
Around the corner from the living room, across an expanse of faux-leopard carpeting, in the office area of the house, a man named James was searching the Internet. Tall, dark, and effusive, James is Roseanne’s “publicist-slash-confidant.” About an hour earlier, Roseanne had developed a craving for a particular type of pumpkin cookies popular with Mormon moms in the Salt Lake City neighborhoods of her youth. The cookies had to be soft and cakey in the middle, crunchy at the edges. Cream-cheese icing figured prominently as well. Once the recipe was secured, James and Mike, Roseanne’s personal assistant, would head to the store for provisions. While they were gone, it was somehow determined, I would baby-sit Roseanne. Though no one used that word, exactly, that was my sense of things. That she couldn’t or shouldn’t be left alone. That my presence at the ranch had put me in the line of duty, one of the available minions.
Now Mike appeared in the living room, carrying a tray. Handsome and well-muscled, thirty-one years old, Mike was dressed in his customary uniform of flannel shirt, cargo shorts, and calf-high Caterpillar-brand construction boots. On his belt he wore two beepers and a cell phone. The tray he was carrying was a kitschy antique. On it was a kitschy antique teapot and two mugs. Every spare surface of Big Buck Ranch—a cabinesque minimanse on eight forested acres—was crammed with knick-knacks and thingamajigs, the gleanings of Roseanne’s tireless and somewhat pathological shmying. On the front lawn sat an antique buckboard wagon. In the powder room, the mirror over the sink was framed with a leather yoke from an antique mule harness. Later in our association, I would learn of the existence of several warehouses and an airplane hangar.
Mike proffered a half dozen packets of exotically flavored coffee, fanned out in his hands like playing cards . “Which kind?” he asked.
“They’re all open!” Roseanne exclaimed, annoyed.
“And . . .” Mike said elliptically.
“Who opened ’em?”
“Who do you think?”
“Okay, fine,” Mike said. He let out a sigh. He’s been with Roseanne and Ben for three years.
“Just gimme this one,” Roseanne said, snatching the packet of Irish cream. “Do we have any chocolate?”
“I’ll get some at the store.”
“Well, hurry up. I’m starvin’!”
In short order, Roseanne and I were alone. She seemed happy and expansive; there was a sparkle in her smallish, dark-brown eyes. She was considerably less brassy than her well-known public persona, the loudmouthed Domestic Goddess, queen of tabloids and tattoo parlors, desecrater of our national anthem and most of our notions of good taste. Over the course of our interview, in fact, she’d been astonishingly engaging—despite her occasional tendency to call me an idiot and to point out my personal flaws—revealing herself to be intelligent and well-read if somewhat grammatically challenged, holding forth articulately on a wide range of topics, citing studies, quoting references and texts. Not to mention the sense of humor: wicked and perverse and high-end, punctuated by the occasional belch.
Though our interview was long over, Roseanne was in the mood to talk. She monologued entertainingly on a variety of deep, new-ageish subjects: her belief in the Goddess, the possibility of alien life in the galaxy, her desire to sponsor a chess tournament for Palestinian and Israeli youth. She talked and she talked and she talked. And then, suddenly, she stopped talking.
For several long minutes she stirred her coffee. Her eyes seemed to be focused on the flames dancing in the fireplace. Her spoon tinkled against the sides of the mug. At last, she turned to me. “I have MPD,” she said. Her voice had the challenging tone of a bratty little kid.
“MPD, stupid. Multiple-personality disorder.”
“Cool,” I said, vaguely encouraging.
She stared at me for several long seconds. I raised an eyebrow hopefully. A puzzled look crossed her face. “We have seven different signatures,” she said.
“We’ve never been comfortable saying ‘I.’ It’s something we have to do with singletons. You know, to sound normal.”
“Like you. People who don’t have the gift. We consider it a gift. Those of us who—”
Just then the kitchen door swung open. James and Mike tumbled in, laden with groceries. Roseanne went silent. She darted me a nervous look, stood; moved toward the kitchen. “Did you get all the stuff ? I’m starvin’!”