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imageB.J. NOVAK



We had all known for years that someday, sooner or later, we would have to do something about Willie.
     We knew this from the night we met him: freshman year, orientation week, at the first real party we went to—the first party that didn't have ice cream. He was standing by the speakers, spinning pop-rap songs off the click-wheel edition of the iPod; he looked untroubled beyond his years, a life-sized version of the people you see on trophies; he seemed to be blazing outside the lines of his own body, as if he were drawn in crayon by an excited five-year-old; whatever fuel source was powering him couldn't possibly be sustainable, and its excess poured easily off of him in the form of expansive declarations about how awesome the party was, an enthusiasm that somehow circled back in order to power, even overpower, the party that was powering him; and when he noticed the three of us, all aspirants to social normalcy who had chosen this college partly because it scored higher than average among schools of its academic caliber under the "Party School" index on the U.S. News & World Report college guide, he decided in that moment, for some reason we would never understand or question, that he loved us, and that we would for-ever be at the center of his infinitely expanding galaxy of friends.
I think we knew even then how much he was going to transform our lives; and that eventually, to pay him back, we really would have to do something about him.

After college, the four of us all moved to different cities. I moved to New York to work as a copy editor for an alternative weekly (not the one you're thinking of); Josh went to San Francisco to work for a video-sharing website (not the one you're thinking of); Dave spent three months of an intended year backpacking alone through Japan and Singapore and then hastily abandoned it to go home to Chicago and apply to law school; and Willie, with more than enough alum connections to make up for a general studies diploma, got a job as an entry-level investment banker in Houston.
     Even though we lived in different places, we still saw ourselves as moving through life as a group. It would have been great to get to see each other more—that was, in fact, one of our most frequent topics of conversation—but for four people pursuing their dreams in different cities, our presence in each other's lives really was quite substantial. We were more in touch with one another than with anyone else, including (if not especially) our families, and we gave one another as much advice and support as we ever had—more, even, because there was more to talk about, more decisions to make. We all still considered each other the closest people in each other's lives.
     As that first year went on, though, the posts coming to us from Willie's corner of the internet became something that I felt more and more uncomfortable ignoring. By the January after graduation, almost every update from Willie's life involved a picture of him getting comedically (or was it dramatically?) incapacitated the night before, with captions to help tell the story even more clearly—"TYPICAL MONDAY," "TYPICAL  TUESDAY," etc. A new photo of Willie passed out on a floor or out of control in a bar came across our screens literally every day. All these posts got nothing but favorable and favoriting comments and replies, except for one sensitive-looking girl named AliBaby90 who once asked "r u okay?" below a photo of Willie passed out, facedown, on a suburban lawn, to which Willie responded "HAHA DO I LOOK OKAY?!!?" which was apparently enough for her, since she "liked" the response.

Were we, in fact, really still friends—like we said we were, and thought we were, and which comforted us as we each staked out new lives in cities where we didn't really know anyone at all? Or, I wondered, were we just slowly transforming into simpler and more easily digestible fictional characters to one another—in other words, becoming our profile pictures: cool, expressionless Dave, unfazed even at majestic Mount Fuji, his much-remarked-upon good looks defiantly hidden behind sunglasses; sweetheart Josh, playfully presenting a prom corsage in a cookbook-filled suburban kitchen to his overjoyed six-year-old sister, standing on a table, playing along; me, as a preposterously anti-Semitic cartoon depiction of Woody Allen at a typewriter, drawn of me at the insistence of my girlfriend, Sarah, by a caricature artist in Times Square who knew only that I wanted to be a writer and that I looked, apparently, extremely Jewish; and Willie, drinking simultaneously from a handle of vodka and a handle of Jack Daniel's beneath a U-Haul at a tailgate party, surrounded by friends that didn't include us, screaming at someone or something, the photo filtered to look like an image that belonged in any era.
     Except, I thought one day as I looked at that picture, wondering what my relationship to it was supposed to be—we didn't live in any era. We lived in the era when people treated things like alcoholism and addiction as the problems that they were, something that friends were supposed to save each other from.
     Or something.
     I tested out my doubts on the others when I would see their names online.

Hey. Kind of worried about Willie?
Seriously!! How hilarious is that guy.
Yeah. I'm actually worried, though.
Yeah, me too.

     Everyone agreed that Willie seemed to have wandered into some territory where "out of control" and "out of control!!!" both got by security with the same ID. But he seemed to be self-aware about this—we always learned about his embarrassments directly from him, after all—and we didn't know what it was we would do about him, exactly, anyway. So it just became the same idea as always, but now sometimes with stars around it in our chats for emphasis—that one of these days, we were *really* going to have to do something about Willie.
     Another few weeks went by, and then one day, Willie posted a photo of himself passed out next to a toilet with the caption: "ROCK BOTTOM!!!"
     I called up everyone on the phone—another thing we had not done since college—and said we really had no excuse not to do something. Everyone agreed and then asked what I had in mind.

I had no idea what I had in mind. It felt like no one had ever been our age before.
     I knew, in very general terms, from the references made on the television shows I did watch to the shows I didn't, and from the stray strands of D.A.R.E. that I hadn't wiped from my memory out of spite, that what we were supposed to do was stage some sort of formal intervention. It would have to be adapted a bit, made a little more personal and casual so that it would be able to fit our group of friends. But all interventions had some personal angle, probably? They were like weddings that way, probably, I figured? Take the traditional structure and make it just a little bit your own? That sounded right?
     So, then, basically just a regular intervention?

First, we had to choose a place where we could all physically be together. One option was for us to all travel to Houston and ambush him there, but that had its drawbacks. I knew Willie lived alone in a high-rise apartment and kept "crazy" hours, so we wouldn't know how to get into his building or when he might be home. Plus, none of us really wanted to go to Houston.
     I decided I would try to get him to come to us, so I had to come up with an event that would actually get him on a plane.
     I knew from Facebook that Dave's birthday was coming up, so I announced a surprise birthday party for him in a month's time in Chicago. Willie responded sounds like so much fun!! and would so love to be there!!! and will definitely try to make it!!!! but that he had a crazy-shifting work schedule and wouldn't know till last minute.
     Dave's birthday came and went. The day after, it hit me: rather than try to come up with the perfect reason to convince Willie to meet up with us, perhaps we should approach it from the opposite direction.
     I sent a group text suggesting a group reunion for absolutely no reason! in Las Vegas.
     I'M IN!!!!!! texted Willie within thirty seconds. WHEN????
     This weekend, I wrote.
     IN!!!!!!!!!  WHAT ARE THE DEETS????

At 8:00 p.m. that Friday night, Josh, Dave, and I met in the Las Vegas suite that we had reserved for the intervention itself—Party Central, as I had called it on the Evite—and started arranging the furniture in what would look like the most casual but serious configuration.
     Willie's flight was due in at 9:00.
     At 8:30, we got a text from Willie.
     Hey—flight delayed for weather. Stuck on the ground for a bit. Sucks. Shouldn't be too long. Will keep you posted.
     No worries. How long?
     They don't know yet. Will keep you posted, he wrote.
     No prob, I wrote. Excited to see you.
     Whatchu guys doing?!?
     I looked around. This was supposed to be a debaucherous weekend in Las Vegas, and it was 8:45 p.m. on a Friday night.
     Getting soooo wasted, I texted back.
     Then, twice:
     We looked at one another, and Josh and Dave pointed at me.
     Prob me, I wrote back. Super wasted.
     BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!           
     We went back to planning when a minor wave of conscience hit me: it probably didn't make a difference, but the text I had just sent was technically glamorizing the drinking we were asking him to give up. It was a subtle thing, but maybe it was the English major in me that thought it would be off-theme to imply that we were having a great time drinking without at least implying some negative consequence.
     Feeling sick, I wrote.
     BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA U R such an amateur!!!!
     This still didn't feel like it had done the job, so I added one more line.
     Making some real bad decisions.
     What did you do?! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA tell me!
     "What did I do?" I held up the phone.
     Dave: "Does he have a macro for 'BWAHAHAHAHA'?"  
     "Probably autocorrect, at this point."
     "It needs to be something big," said Josh. "Something he can't just tease you about."
     Cheated on Sarah.
     Four texts came in from Willie in rapid succession:
     fucking T?
     Yeah. I know, I wrote back. Can't believe it. So wasted.
     What happened!?!?!?
     Made out with some slut in the bar downstairs, I wrote. "Slut" didn't sound like me, I realized as I read it back. It was a word I used when I was trying to sound like someone else.
     Why?? Explain?! he wrote back.
      As I held up the phone to show the others, it started ringing in my hand.
     "Don't pick up," said Josh. "He'll hear that we aren't really partying."
     I sent it to voicemail and texted him:
     Reception sucks.
     He texted back:
     Emailing you—too long to text—hold on . . .
     Five minutes later I got an email with no subject:

Hey! I'm emailing you because this is really important and I hope you really read this and think about it.The first thing you need to do is be honest with *yourself.* Why did this happen, what does it mean, how do you feel about it, and what do you want to happen next. Don't shortchange this or gloss over it. It's not as easy as it sounds.This part will feel hard, and it should—it will actually be harder to be honest with yourself than it will be to be honest with her. Once you are 100% sure you know how *YOU* feel, we can talk about what you do from there. I can't tell you what to do. But as long as you are honest with yourself, we can figure out what is really going on in your heart, and then I will be there to come up with words and actions that are true to that. Anyway. So sorry this is going on. I want you to do the right thing, but first & foremost I want you to know that I am always there for you and always on your side. Stay okay and SEE YOU SOON!!

I showed it to the room. Everyone read it.  "He could have texted that," said Dave.
     An hour later Willie texted the group:
     Flight's canceled. SUCKS!!! They put me on the first flight tomorrow & I leave first thing in the morning. Arriving tomorrow noon. Have fun without me. HANG IN THERE GUYS!!!

The next morning we woke up early, arranged the room again, and then got another text from Willie: more delays, in combination with some mileage game he was playing, meant that he was now going to arrive on the same flight as he had originally planned, which would get him in at 8:10 p.m. Still worth it!!! he wrote to the group. Trust me, one night is going to be PLENTY!!!! Then he sent a separate text to me: Hanging in there? I answered that I was.
     Now we had to figure out how to spend a whole day in Las Vegas. I texted Sarah—the real Sarah, the best thing in my life, an honorary member of this friend group, close to all of us, a person on whom I had not cheated and never would. Sarah was finishing up her senior year and would then most likely be moving to New York to live with me. She was objectively, by all accounts, in every relevant way, cooler than I was, and would know things like this.
     Hmmm . . Ali Fisher says her sister went to a place for her bachelorette party called Marquee that was actually kind of amazing in the daytime. Also just fun to hang out in the casinos? How is it? How's the Willie stuff? I started to write back when she started to write more. Wait—is there something called the Beach Club in your hotel? I said yes. Ali Bell's boyfriend Lorenzo says he can get you guys in today and that it AMAZING.
     I ran it by the group. It turned out that all of us had been secretly intrigued by the excessively but effectively seductive signage for the Beach Club but had assumed it was the kind of place that wouldn't let guys like us in, at least not without a hassle or long wait or being shoved in some miserable general population holding area for an interminable length of time first.
     "Sure, if we're really on the list," said Dave.
     We really were. And the Beach Club was, as Sarah's friend Ali had promised, amazing. The DJ was great—one of those DJs that surprises you that there have been so many hit songs in your lifetime. There was a lot of bright skin in bright colors, the sun was intense and even, the mixed drinks were the perfect mixture of whatever ingredients had been mixed. I had the actual, literal thought that I was lucky to be alive. I even caught myself wondering whether we'd be on good enough terms with Willie the next day that we could come back here: if we all ordered non-alcoholic drinks, it might still be fun, maybe? The alcohol, it seemed to me, was actually the least important aspect of this experience, maybe? But then again, maybe that was just the alcohol talking?

How are you holding up?
     Willie had texted me while I had zoned out. It took me a second to remember what he was referring to.
     Okay, I responded. Thanks so much for caring. I'll be okay.
     Have you decided what to do? How you feel? What you want?
     No, trying not to think for now. Just zoning out. It'll be okay.
     It will. See you guys in a few hours!!
     At around ten past four, it occurred to all of us independently that the afternoon had peaked. "I might want to actually take a nap," said Josh, and we all quickly and enthusiastically agreed. We headed back to the rooms to rest up and made plans to meet back at Party Central at eight and run through the plan once before Willie arrived.
      I wasn't used to drinking in the afternoons, and the drinks, probably like all great mixed drinks, turned out to have been much stronger than they felt at the time. I didn't fall asleep until 7:15, and when my phone finally went off at 7:45, I had an unbearable, excruciating headache.
     I splashed water on my face and arrived at the room a couple of minutes past eight. I found everyone else in the same state or worse—thudding headaches, eyelids sticking and stinging from leaving their contact lenses in, all from that sun and those drinks that were chased by those awful, worst-idea naps.
     "Is there any Advil? Tylenol?"
     There wasn't. They had already looked.
     Josh turned to me. "Hey. You gotta lead this. I can't do it."
     I was in no state to lead this thing.
    "You have to lead this," he repeated. "You have to lead this."
     I had always heard about the "hair of the dog" cure but had never tried it—officially because it sounded irresponsible, but really because it sounded disgusting. Whenever I was hungover, I thought I never wanted to drink again, let alone right then. But now, with Willie's life potentially at stake, I pulled a beer from the minibar and cracked it open with the hard plastic opener we all had on our key chains. 
     "What are you doing?"
     "Hair of the dog."
     You want Willie to smell alcohol on your breath while—"
     "No, I'm going to down it fast, then have some gum."
     "You have gum?" said Dave. "Who has gum? I asked if anyone had gum. Who has gum?"
     "I'll brush my teeth then." 
     I swigged the beer and immediately coughed it all up onto the rug, exactly like a baby would if you gave a baby a beer.
      "The fuck! Now the place smells like alcohol!"
      "We were pretending we partied last night. Remember?!"
     "They would have cleaned the room. This is a high-end hotel, you fucking morons!"
     Josh reached for two bottles of club soda from the minibar and started spilling them all over the floor on top of the beer with overdiligent evenness.
     "That smells worse!!"
     "That smells like a gin and tonic!"
     "Fuck!!!" said Josh. "This is tonic, not soda!"
     "Fuck!!! Where's the soda?"
     I couldn't take all this with my headache.
     "Where the fuck are you going?"
     "Gift shop," I said. "I'm going to get Tylenol. For everyone!"
     "Get Advil."
     "Get Tylenol."
     "Get Advil Extra Strength."
     "Get Tylenol Extra Strength!"
     "I'll get both."
     "Just get the Tylenol! Regular Tylenol!"
     "Why the fuck would a person not get Extra Strength?!"
     "Just hurry back!"
     "I will. You make the room look like it's been cleaned."
     "Too late for that! That ship has fucking sailed!"
     "Our best chance is to make it look like we've been partying all day." Josh started emptying vodka minibottles onto the floor.
     "What the fuck!?" screamed Dave. "Do you realize how expensive that is?!"
     "There is a life at stake here!" screamed Josh.
     "How?! Whose?!" screamed Dave.
     "Long term!" screamed Josh. "Look! We need a consistent message. And the message is that we got wasted last night!"
     "Then what fucking leg do we have to stand on?"
      "We'll have to adjust the speeches," said Josh. "Like we all have a problem, but he has the biggest."
     "Adjust the speeches!"
     Dave popped a pill from a prescription bottle.
     "The fuck is that?"
     "Not Tylenol, don't fucking worry!"
     "I'll be right back," I said. "Right back!"
     "Wait! What's the opening statement? Who speaks first?"
     "What did we decide?"
     "We didn't decide."

I ran out the door to the elevator and headed straight to the lobby, stopping only to accidentally get out of the elevator every time it opened for someone else, which was four times. In the lobby I tried to figure out which direction the gift shop would be in. Everything was a clinking, garish red maze, especially in the state I was in now. The casino looked like a straight person's attempt to replicate what he thought a gay kid he bullied in high school would have designed. I hated Las Vegas. Why hadn't I pushed harder to do this on Dave's birthday? I picked a direction at random and started running as fast as I could, which was not fast at all, in this state. A hand blocked me by the shoulder and knocked me down.
     "Where you going, asshole?"
     It was Willie. He was dressed in a sharp blue suit, newly pressed, over a crisp white shirt, a garment bag over his shoulder. His shoes were white buckskin, or something along those lines—whatever it was, it looked polished and rare. I was in puffy yellow-and-gray New Balance sneakers that I had promised Sarah I would only wear in the gym but somehow still found myself wearing all the time.
     I was embarrassed to be in the same casino as a guy who looked as good as Willie did.
     "Hey! Willie!"
     He put his hands on my shoulders and took a moment to really take me in.
     "You look like shit, my friend."
     "I'm okay."
     He draped his arm firmly across my shoulders. "Come with me. We need to catch up first. Just you and me."

He walked me up to the bar in the center of the casino and ordered four tequila shots.
     I said I was too hungover from earlier in the day.
     "Don't make me drink all four of these," he said.
     I did what seemed like the less irresponsible action and picked up the tequila shot.
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     I downed the shot and immediately felt better.
     So that's how that worked.
     "If you ran for president," said Willie, "and I knew you'd be a terrible president, and you were running against the best president ever—a pro-legalization, pro-gay-rights Reagan—I would vote for you. You know why? Because you support your people. You just do. That's more important than having a good president—having a country where everyone is going to stand by their people, just because they do. Do you know what I mean?"
     Two more tequila shots arrived. I dutifully took one and swallowed it. "I'm good for now," said Willie to the bartender.
      He turned back to me. "You made a mistake with Sarah. There are no two sides. There is no justification for something like that." I know, I said. "And the fact that we all make mistakes—all of us—doesn't make this one okay." I know, I said. He pushed the other tequila shot in front of me. "Here," he said. That's okay, I'm good, I said.
     "No, you really need to drink this," he said. "I need you to drink this before I tell you this."
     Willie stared right at me.
     I felt sick again. I stared at the drink in front of me.
     "Hey. Look at me."
     I stared at Willie's forehead.
     "I can't let you make a decision without knowing everything. I can't have you thinking everyone's perfect but you. Hey. Look at me."
     When I looked him in the eyes, he stared back for a while and either saw something he was looking for or didn't.
     "I love you guys. I really do," he finally said. It's been a really hard first year out. I know it's all going to be worth it, but it's been hard. I know it seems like maybe I have it all together, like I've got it all perfectly figured out, and it's just guys like Dave who are kind of a mess."
     We both laughed.
     "But yeah, it's hard for me, too. For all of us. The best thing ever is being here with everybody. We really have to do this more often."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     He bumped his forehead into mine, hard. When his head hit my head, I noticed that my headache had gone away completely.
     "Now where the fuck is everybody?!"

As soon as the room key beeped, Josh started shouting from inside the room.
     "Did you get Advil or Tylenol?"
     I opened the door. The room looked like an absolute mess, the most complicated possible version of pathetic. So did everyone, and everything, except for Willie.
     Willie lunged for Dave, torpedoing Dave's stomach with his skull and forcing him onto the bed, coughing. Dave started instinctively defending himself with wrestling moves, which made Willie laugh and break out his own high school wrestling moves.
     Josh looked at me, opening his arms, and mouthed, So?
     I walked to the minibar and opened a beer. Josh stared while I downed the whole thing and threw the empty bottle on the floor.
     Then he shrugged.

We got wasted in the room. Then we went to XS at the Wynn, Ghostbar at the Palms, and waited in line at Hakkasan at the MGM until we gave up. Willie won $800 at roulette. Josh hooked up. We got back to the rooms at five a.m., slept till ten, pulled the curtain open, turned up some music, smoked a bowl, and went to the Paris buffet for what we all agreed was the best breakfast, lunch, and dinner of our lives in a single sitting.
     "We have to do this more often," said Willie, in a crisp and brilliant benediction over a bottomless bottle of anonymous champagne.
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."
     "To health, wealth, and the beauty of our children."

The four of us shared a taxi to the airport together, still drunk from the breakfast. My plane was the last to take off. I played slots until my plane was ready to board. I won, then I lost, then I won, then I lost, all at random. I didn't understand anything, but at least now it was a relief that I wasn't supposed to. Then the plane boarded, and I went back home.
     It was the happiest weekend the four of us spent together since college, as well as the last. A few weeks afterward, Willie changed his profile photo to a picture of him surrounded by smiling kids at an inner-city after-school program in a T-shirt with the unexplained acronym H.E.L.P. across it in cursive, and things seemed to get a lot better for him after that. Dave committed suicide six months later.

© 2014 B.J. Novak

This electronic version of “One of These Days, We Have To Do Something About Willie” appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the publisher and the author. It appears in One More Thing: stories and other stories by B.J. Novak, published in the U.S. by Alfred A. Knoph, 2014; in Great Britain by Little, Brown, 2014.  Book ordering available through and

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Author Bio
B J NovakB.J. Novak is a writer and actor best known for his work on NBC’s Emmy Award-winning comedy series The Office as an actor, writer, director and executive producer.  He is also known for his stand-up comedy performances and his roles in motion pictures such as Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Disney’s Saving Mr. Banks.  He is a graduate of Harvard University with a degree in English and Spanish literature.