He is forty minutes late. I am sitting on a bench in Central Park. I have been waiting motionless and the pigeons have claimed the seat next to me. The six-dollar pistachio hot chocolate I bought for him is cold now. My phone buzzes loudly and sends the pigeons scattering. The text message is from him:
He shows up twenty minutes later, walking briskly in a gray hooded sweatshirt, unzipped and flapping in the wind, revealing a black t-shirt underneath that reads, in tall white numbers, 14:59. His jeans are rolled up past his ankles, which expose themselves as boney and pale. His fingernails feature chipped charcoal nail lacquer. His lips are chapped, his hair is still blonde, though not the bright blonde he was known for when he was younger. Kevin McCallister takes one long drag of his cigarette before extinguishing it on his tongue. He bites the tip off and spits it out, placing the remains of the cigarette in his pocket for later use.
“The pigeon lady taught me that trick,” he said. “Right in this park.”
It is December of 2012, the 22nd anniversary of “The Home Alone Kid.” That’s how most remember McCallister, the 2nd grader who was left behind when his parents traveled for the holidays. He was eight years old when it first happened, and nine years old when it happened again. That’s right, for two consecutive years the McCallister family boarded a plane without their youngest child, the inventive and sharp-tongued Kevin, in tow.
Kevin McCallister apologizes for being late.
“The city does these things to you,” he says.
He lives in New York now, the same city he found himself in by accident, all those years ago, when he took a second’s pause at Chicago O’Hare International Airport to load fresh batteries into his Talkboy. When he looked up from his recording device, he followed a man wearing his father’s calf-length caramel mohair trench coat onto the wrong flight. Soon after, his family was in Florida and he was in New York, though thankfully with his father’s wallet (which matched the atrocious coat).
“What else has the city done to you?” I ask him.
“Some things you can read about and some things you can’t,” he says and smiles smugly.
When his family went to Paris and forgot him in 1990, he spent the holiday week alone in the large Chicago McCallister residence, enjoying his new-found freedom and suddenly guardian-less world. But in an almost unbelievable twist, he wasn’t as alone as he thought. While Kevin ate ice cream sundaes for dinner and jumped on his parents’ bed, his entire neighborhood was actually being cased by two wanted criminals. The criminals Marv and Harry (who came to be known to the police as the “Wet Bandits”) intended to rob the houses, vacated by their owners for the holidays. Kevin noticed suspicious activity on his street and soon discovered just how dangerous the Wet Bandits were. They soon became aware of Kevin as well and dismissed him for a “snot-nosed twerp,” but they should not have underestimated that resourceful 8-year-old with prime real estate to defend in his oblivious family’s absence. When they came to claim the McCallister household valuables, Kevin was ready for them. In just several hours, he had booby-trapped his entire house, using objects like paint cans, broken ornaments, and even matchbox cars in fresh and painful ways. The Wet Bandits had no idea of the hurt they were in for.
“Some have questioned your incredible ingenuity in creating instruments of torture at such short notice,” I say.
“I see where this is going,” he says.
“Do you like violence, Kevin?”
“I like Tarantino films, if that’s what you mean.”
“Did you have any pets growing up?”
“I wasn’t allowed any. My big brother got to have a tarantula though, that dumbass.”
“You had of lot of siblings. Did you fight with them frequently?”
“Yeah, I mean, what kid doesn’t? I was the youngest, I was a speck to them, an electron. But I never got violent with them if that’s where this is leading.”
“Never? I believe an entire gymnasium full of students and parents saw you punch your brother Buzz in the face, sending dozens of children from the risers and the piano accompanist backwards off the stage.”
“That whole thing was bullshit. Buzz was using two battery-operated candlesticks to illuminate my ears and also mock-drum on my head… He was begging for it.”
“How long has it been since you and your brother Buzz have spoken?”
Kevin McCallister pulls a balled up straw wrapper out of his jeans pocket and begins to unravel it.
“Not long enough.” He balls the straw wrapper up again.
“What happened after Christmas of 1990?” I ask.
“After I brought those guys down?”
“Yes, after the Wet Bandits were incarcerated.”
“That spring everything changed. I was on TV a lot. The phrase ‘Tiny American Hero’ was tossed around.”
“Did fame come too fast?”
“It wasn’t fame just yet. It was novelty then. I was a novelty. Fame came after New York.”
“How did you feel when it happened again, with them in Florida and you in New York?
“I felt nothing. It felt familiar and I felt nothing.”
“What happened in New York?”
“You know what happened.”
The whole world knew what happened. The headlines read “Lost in New York”. The Home Alone Kid was back. The McCallister family tried to keep this second occurrence of abandonment out of the papers. And it might have worked, if not for the Wet Bandits, who had escaped from prison and hitchhiked their way to the Big Apple in the back of a fish truck.
“Were you shocked to see the Wet Bandits in New York?” I ask him.
“Yes. What was even more shocking to me was that two despicable men chased a defenseless nine-year-old kid for five city blocks and not one person, not a single person in this whole city would help.”
“They told you about their plan to rob Duncan’s Toy Chest?”
“Yeah. That didn’t sit well with me. Having purchased some silly slime there earlier, I knew that the day’s earnings were going to a nearby children’s hospital.”
“You once said, ‘You can mess with a lot of things but you can’t mess with kids on Christmas.’ Do you still believe that?”
“You had an uncle in New York.”
“Yeah, Uncle Rob. He and my aunt were in France. Their inner-city brownstone was being renovated.”
“You led the Wet Bandits there.”
“They came because they wanted to do harm to me,” he says.
“You did harm to them.”
“I did the only thing I could do.”
“Which was what?”
“I turned my uncle’s house into a deathtrap.”
“Why didn’t you go to the police?”
“Not my style.”
“Do you think that part of you, even if only a small part, was grateful at another opportunity to deliver justice?”
Kevin McCallister doesn’t answer.
“Did you know this would put you back in the limelight?” I ask him.
He replies, “Does the truth change what happened?”
Once again the Wet Bandits fell for his traps, and once again they found themselves in prison, where they’ve been ever since.
The Home Alone Kid was back in the headlines, and stronger than ever. He hosted the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards. MTV featured him as a guest VJ. He threw the first pitch at a Cubs game. A video game was made, exploiting the dramatic events. Kevin’s growing celebrity made it difficult for his classmates to focus, and his teachers convinced his parents that it would benefit everyone involved if he were home-schooled.
“Did you miss your friends?”
“Those clowns? Naw, I just made new ones.”
New ones included Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Elijah Wood, Anna Chlumsky, and somewhat controversially, Michael Jackson.
“How were you affected by the death of Michael Jackson?”
“That’s not something I want to talk about.”
“You had controversy of your own. The Division of Family Services put your mother on trial for reckless neglect.”
“That was a very dark time in my life. I was eating a lot of cheese pizzas in limousines.”
“You were on the cover of Esquire that year.”
“It didn’t mean a thing to me. My mother liked it. I’m glad it made her happy.”
“What was your relationship with your parents like after Lost in New York?”
“Have you ever made strudel?”
“You have to stretch the dough out, slowly, slowly. It is prone to holes and breakage. And then you have to roll it. Talking to my parents was like making strudel. And I was the pastry dough. They pulled me thin too quickly and I started to tear and then they tried to fill me with things. They could never get over the fact that they left me, forgotten and misplaced— twice, even. They tried to fill me up with gifts. Gifts from guilt.”
“Has your relationship gotten any better?”
“You married an unknown actress at 17,” I say.
Kevin McCallister touches his chin.
“You divorced at 19.”
“I did those things, yes.”
“Do you feel that for reasons beyond your control you had to grow up too fast?”
“Yeah, don’t you?”
“Some say that in your teens, you travelled to other states—other countries, even—alone and without supervision. Were you trying to become lost again?”
“What can I say, I read Catcher in the Rye and it stoned me. I had been there, I had seen those ducks on that frozen pond. I was also reading a lot of Kerouac at that time. I still feel lost most days.”
“What do you fill your days with?”
“I’m a sculptor,” he says.
“You sculpt tables and chairs, right?”
“I sculpt pieces with right angles.”
“Can you sit on it?”
“Would you sit on the Mona Lisa’s face?”
“Do people commission work from you?”
“Michael C. Hall has one. We met at a house party in the San Fernando valley last year. He said he liked my work, and I’m a huge Dexter fan.”
“Do you identify with the character of Dexter Morgan?”
“Whatever happened to the pigeon lady, the homeless Scottish woman you met in this park nineteen years ago?”
“That was Susan Boyle. Sometimes we have coffee in the park. She understands what it’s like to be catapulted into the spotlight.”
“She was very special to you, wasn’t she?”
Kevin McCallister pulls a small white ceramic ornament from the pocket of his sweatshirt. He rubs his painted fingers over it as if it were a talisman, capable of wondrous things.