Playing The Palace – Paul Rudnick’s comical tale of a lovelorn New Yorker, and a dashing UK prince
In Playing The Palace, Carter Ogden is afraid love just isn’t in the cards for him, after having his heart trampled on by his cheating ex, However, he still holds out hope in a tiny corner of his heart, but even in his wildest dreams he never thought he’d meet the Crown Prince of England, much less do a lot more with him. Yes, growing up he’d fantasized about the handsome, openly gay Prince Edgar, but who hadn’t? When they meet by chance at an event Carter’s boss is organizing, Carter’s sure he imagined all that sizzling chemistry. Or was it mutual?
This unlikely but meant-to-be romance sets off media fireworks on both sides of the Atlantic. With everyone having an opinion on their relationship and the intense pressure of being constantly in the spotlight, Carter finds ferocious obstacles to his Happily Ever After, including the tenacious disapproval of the Queen of England. Carter and Prince Edgar fight for a happy ending to equal their glorious international beginning. It’s a match made on Valentine’s Day and in tabloid heaven.
Available from Penguin Random House
Read an excerpt below
Paul Rudnick is a novelist, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter, whom The New York Times has called “one of our preeminent humorists.” His plays have been produced both on and off Broadway and around the world, and include I Hate Hamlet, Jeffrey, The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told, Valhalla, Regrets Only, and The New Century. His novels include Social Disease and I’ll Take It, both from Knopf. He’s a regular contributor to The New Yorker, and his articles and essays have also appeared in The New York Times, Esquire, Vogue, and Vanity Fair.
It’s still weird, waking up alone. I was with Callum for almost three years and he moved out six months ago, but this morning when I opened my eyes, for a second I thought he was just out of town on an acting job and maybe I’d have a text waiting.
But of course not. Instead I stayed under the covers and addressed my problems to the framed photo of the late, beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the wall of my tiny, partitioned bedroom. Ruth keeps me on a firm, morally responsible track, and I like to think that she secretly enjoyed watching Callum and me having sex. In all matters except maybe wardrobe I always ask myself, “What would Ruth Ginsburg do?” so today as I wondered if I was ever going to fall in love again, truly in love this time, Ruth informed me, “Stop whining and go to work, you little pisher. I’m in heaven but I’m still busy.” Ruth often sounds just like my equally beloved eighty-five-year-old great-aunt Miriam.
I took a shower using my new manly bodywash, which is exactly the same as the female version, only with simplified graphics and a steel-gray, squared-off bottle, as if it contains motor oil and testosterone; I slathered on Kiehl’s Creme de Corps moisturizer because a model at my gym recommended it after he glanced at my pores with pity but then insisted, “No, they’re fine, really, you just need to think about them”; I brushed my teeth with a gel that promised “Triple-Extreme Dazzling Whiteness” thanks to “Gene-Spliced Wintergreen”; and then I got busy with more hair care products than a Mormon family has children. I was pampering myself as a fan of what the mindfulness tutorials call self-care, in order to heal and glow. But after a final check in the mirror, I knew: none of it was working. I wasn’t healed and I wasn’t glowing and a sizable chunk of my hair was completely awry, as if it was signaling frantically for help.
“So?” asked my roommate Adam, once I’d reached the kitchen area of our shared let’s-call-it-a-three-bedroom in the budget-friendly wilds of Hell’s Kitchen. Adam’s a Broadway dancer, which means that just seeing him both cheered me up and sent me into a body-image spiral, because he’s got the lithe muscles you only achieve from doing cardio for a living. He was wearing the limp, colorless, shredded sweats that dancers barely cover themselves with. “Are you feeling any better?”
He offered me a smoothy he’d concocted; he meant well, but I shook my head no as I plunged my hand into a box of Frosted Flakes, which made Adam look Whole Foods-judgmental but also heartbroken on my behalf. I studied Tony the Tiger on the cereal box and wondered if he’d ever been cheated on, maybe by the Lucky Charms leprechaun or Cap’n Crunch.
“You people make me sick,” said Louise, my other roommate, emerging from her bedroom. Louise isn’t a morning person and she’s working on her novel while contributing to a Black feminist website, which means, as she says, “I get to write about stuff that really matters without getting paid.” Adam and Louise are a great balance because Adam sees life as the peppiest, most joyful musical comedy and Louise wants to strangle him, but, as she puts it, “with love.”
“Here’s what I think Carter should do,” said Adam, stretching his hamstrings across one of our mismatched folding chairs. “I think he should find a guy who’s even cuter than Callum, which I know won’t be easy, but when he does, he should marry him and make a sex video and send it to Callum using the score from Waitress, because that’s Callum’s favorite.”
The scary thing was that I instantly pictured myself having pounding raw sex with some mouthwateringly hot imaginary stud while a woman sang a tender ballad about rediscovering her true self.
“I think Carter should thank whatever God he believes in,” suggested Louise, “for getting rid of that cheating scumbag Callum, and then Carter should buy us some sourdough pretzels on his way home.
“Everyone,” I said, “you don’t have to worry about me, because I’ve been working on myself, and last night I didn’t dream about Callum, not even after I saw his Toyota ad, the one where he runs out of the surf and towels off in front of his Toyota. I’m entering a new and totally happy chapter of my life, because I’ve finally made a decision: love doesn’t exist.”
Louise nodded in agreement as Adam regarded me as if I’d slaughtered a puppy.
“Carter Ogden,” Adam said firmly, jabbing at his phone, “I’m sending you the entire score of Pippin right now, I mean it.”
Once I’d hit 45th Street I unlocked a Citi Bike and began pedaling crosstown to my job of the day. As an associate event architect, I love the constant variety in location and clientele. But as I negotiated Midtown traffic I realized something particularly horrendous: it was Valentine’s Day. Callum and I would tuck multiple cards into each other’s underwear drawers and backpacks and shoes, as surprises; we’d bring each other hot pink-frosted cupcakes sprouting plastic cupids, and once I’d woken up to find my face and pillow scattered with those tiny, chalky, pastel hearts stamped with “BE MINE” or “LOVE YOU,” only now they would read “FUCK OFF,” “DIE ALONE” or “YOU FOOL WHY DID YOU OPEN HIS PHONE AND OBSESSIVELY SCROLL THROUGH THOSE PHOTOS OF HIM WITH OTHER GUYS EXCEPT WHY DID HE TAKE THOSE PHOTOS UNLESS HE WANTED YOU TO FIND THEM WHICH OF YOU IS THE BIGGER IDIOT?”
As I turned up Fifth Avenue I tried not to notice the many couples strolling arm in arm and then smooching goodbye on their way to work, with not a few of these people trailing heart-shaped helium balloons or toting paper-wrapped bouquets of bodega tulips. I began hallucinating a musical number in which everyone but me began to leap along the sidewalks, proposing marriage to mounted police officers, falafel cart vendors and construction workers popping out of open manholes, with everyone exchanging huge, frilly, heart-shaped boxes of Godiva chocolates. Everyone was coupled up or hugging or flirting while I pedaled glumly alone, like a chastity monitor barking at lovers to stop kissing in public.
I felt not just ignored or invisible, but like an athlete permanently benched, someone tossed out of the dating pool by a harsh blast from the referee’s whistle. This would be my life: I was barreling toward thirty, I still wasn’t making enough money to live in Manhattan without roommates, and while I loved my job, I knew there was something silly about it, something ephemeral and not quite adult. I helped to plan beachside weddings; Sweet Sixteens for girls who were being given Birkins and more sculpted noses; movie premieres for sequels to sequels; and gala launches of new Apple products that tracked a pet’s lung capacity or reminded the user to tell their coworkers about new Apple products. This felt like a suitable career for a Ken doll, a snippy gay sidekick in a rom-com, or an heiress between stints in rehab. I needed to apply myself and maybe go back to grad school or come up with something more butchly lucrative and aspirational in one of those fields that baffled and bored me, like finance or commercial real estate development. I briefly considered tutoring people in poverty-stricken countries on creating Wonder Woman-themed bat mitzvah centerpieces, as a form of Associate Event Architects Without Borders.
What I needed was something I’d never confided to anyone, not even my dearest friends and family members, because it was such an impossible and yearned-for wish, something that I wanted so badly it made me believe I had a soul. I wanted this one thing with such certainty that I knew it was more than a journal-entry doodle or a childhood fantasy that I needed to outgrow. It was who I was.
That’s why I left my bike in the rack near St. Patrick’s Cathedral and went inside. Even though I’m Jewish and St. Patrick’s has a troubled history with New York’s LGBTQ community, it’s my favorite place in the city, and not just because it’s strategically located between Tiffany’s and Saks, although I do believe that’s a sign of God’s admiration for high-end retail. I love St. Patrick’s because, like me, it’s silly and theatrical, with its spires and buttresses and tapestries, but it’s also the home of so many people’s most deeply felt longings; St. Patrick’s is a form of sumptuously Gothic therapy. I head to St. Patrick’s because it’s inspiring and peaceful, which allows me to talk to God about what I really want my life to be, not as a negotiation, hovering somewhere between prayer and bribery, but as a conversation, as a clearinghouse for my heart.
The cathedral was lightly populated with Swedish backpackers, elderly widows and a handful of scarily tough Jersey housewives, most likely here to confess machine-gunning a rival in a Stop & Shop produce aisle. I sat in a rear pew and scoped out the area for cute priests-it happens, and there’s even a yearly, unauthorized Vatican calendar of the most pious dreamboats. For gay guys in New York, cruising is a formality, like checking your phone, your breath or your coat at a Theater District restaurant. I shut my eyes and took a deep, cleansing breath, as if speaking to God was a classic yoga pose. I quieted my mind to vanquish anxiety and eBay bids and thoughts of how St. Patrick’s could be such a great setting for a murder mystery, a rom-com finale or a blasphemous motorcycle chase.
Dear God, I began, and I didn’t worry if I was talking to myself or if God existed or what religion he favored, or if “he” was even an acceptable pronoun, or if it should be capitalized. I was talking to God because, like so many other people, I needed to, and that need makes God real.
I don’t want to just keep going without a purpose, to work or the apartment or anywhere else. I don’t want to keep my head down and manage my expectations and my 401(k) and call that growing up. I don’t want to only feel safe. I don’t want to keep obsessing over Callum and what I did wrong and whether I still hate him and wondering if we’ll ever get back together, because that sort of chatter bores everyone at cocktail parties, so imagine what it does to God; God is the universe’s best listener, but that’s no reason to nag Him and make Him hand you Buddha’s business card as He heads for the door, muttering, “Gotta get up early, nice to meet you.”
I want to be like my idol, Justice Ginsburg. I want to be fair-minded and dedicated and compassionate, and look great doing it. Only, of course, without going to law school. I want Ruth’s spirit of justice and curiosity and not taking any shit.
I want a big life. I want to fall in love, not like what happened with Callum, which sometimes felt wonderful but more often like an educated guess, as if while I was kissing him I needed to remind myself: this is love, right? I want to know I’m in love, no, not even know it-I want to understand why it’s called being in love. I want to be overwhelmed by the miracle of another human being. Love is like God-it’s the place where need and rumor and dreams become something else entirely, something sacred, something beyond questions or arguments or therapy. Ruth Ginsburg and chocolate and oxygen and God and love: the real things.
And beyond that, beyond the blissful selfishness of love, and I know that I have no right to ask for any of this, but here goes: I want more. I want to stay me, as ridiculous as that might sound, but I want to make a difference in the world and have the best time, without being torn apart by worry and fear twenty-four hours a day. I want to be of service and create beauty and see if I can convince myself that magic exists and can be shared. Not spell casting, wand-waving magic, although I’m open to anything, but the more available magic of neon-bright crepe paper and cheap tinsel and helping other people, not to forget their very real problems, which can be insulting, but to let them know that another human being cares enough about them to find the right doctor and take them for chemo and find a great playlist and simply be there and listen, without offering useless advice or ever saying “I know just how you feel.”
I want what maybe everyone wants: to make being human feel like a superpower. And yes, I know that’s beyond corny, but that’s why I’m only telling God, who only rolls His eyes to cause thunder.
I want to stop listening to the other, snickering, undeniably sane demons, who hiss things like “I don’t think so” and “Oh, please” and “Carter Ogden, who do you think you are, I mean, do you really think you can fall in love and change the world, when you still can’t decide whether boldly patterned socks are ever a good idea?”
So just for now, in this resolutely private moment with You, in this prayer that can’t be forwarded or downloaded or mocked by the Twitterverse, I’m asking for everything, except for the lightning bolt that smites idiots who dare to ask for everything. I’ll ask, because the alternative, never asking, is sadness itself. Never asking isn’t just giving up or huddling under a Slanket on the sidelines; it’s admitting defeat without even trying, without daring to be a boldly-patterned-sock-wearing hero, or more likely a boldly-patterned-sock-wearing fool.
And now I’m terrified and hideously embarrassed and late for work, but I said it and You listened and-here we go!
One of the perks of my job is getting to constantly visit new venues, because the company I work for, Eventfully Yours, promises, as its mission statement, “Vivid, life-affirming, experience-aware, visual, tactile and culinary event planning within a tristate celebration radius,” which means I’ve helped create fiftieth wedding anniversary rodeos on Long Island, complete with bales of hay and waitstaff in gingham and Stetsons; Game of Thrones-themed bachelorette parties in New Jersey, with ice-sculpture dragons and crude bronze tiaras; the introduction of a “sky-high energy-plus” sports drink with out-of-work actors dressed like bottles of the stuff parachuting onto the Brooklyn Bridge; and so many more, including the after-after party for a Lincoln Center film festival where I got to help Sandra Bullock navigate the red carpet, and she was the nicest human being I’ve ever met. Today I was headed for the United Nations, a landmark which, like most hard-core New Yorkers, I’d brag about to newcomers but had never actually been to.
Excerpted from Playing the Palace by Paul Rudnick. Copyright © 2021 by Paul Rudnick. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.