Five days after Charlie was born, and while he was still black and blue from all of Irwin Chabon's whacking, Martin and Janet took him and his two brothers, Emilio and Ramon, on the road while Martin toured with a play called The Subject Is Roses. Charlie, whose middle name is Irwin, after the doctor who saved his life, spent his first nine months like that, being shuttled around the country; in fact, he spent most of his childhood like that. At age 10, for instance, he spent eight months in the Philippines, because his dad was shooting Apocalypse Now there, and got to hang out with Marlon Brando and Dennis Hopper. "Picture being that age, and all the shit I witnessed. And the violence and the carnage. It was explained to me, but, still, it impacted me on my deepest cellular level." Not to mention, Martin suffered a heart attack during production and Charlie took it upon himself to bring his dad back to health, by wheeling him out into the sunlight every day and making him throw a baseball, until he was well enough to stand on his own.
He spent his teenage years living in Malibu and attended Santa Monica High, where he was a standout pitcher and made Super-8 movies with his brother Emilio, Sean Penn and Rob Lowe, among others. They were older than him, however, so when they turned to acting and became known as the Brat Pack, all he could do was watch from the sidelines. "I was so jealous, I wanted to kill myself," he says. "They got all the girls, all the free meals, all the dope, all the perks, all of it. I said to myself, 'I'm going to eclipse all of them.' I was driven to have what they had, except more, and more consistently."
His parents bought him a BMW when he was around 16, and that, along with his natural inclinations, opened up a whole world of trouble. He once got stoned in the car and fell asleep, only to be woken by a cop who soon found all of Charlie's dope, pipes and rolling papers, plus a knife he carried in an ankle holster, plus some beauty of an ivory-inlaid billy club; only his mother's friendship with a judge saved him from stir. A year later, he got himself arrested for credit-card fraud. His senior year, he got so pissed off at a teacher that he balled up a pile of paper and "fired a strike in the middle of her forehead . . . and in the middle of my rage, I said to her that she was lucky I hadn't killed her yet." The school took this as a death threat and expelled Charlie. This was three weeks before graduation. He never did get a diploma. In other words, how Charlie is today is how he always was.
Actually, that's not totally true. Martin remembers taking four-year-old Charlie and the rest of the family to Mexico when he made Catch-22 and how distraught his son was the entire time. "We rented a duplex near a slaughterhouse," he says. "And every morning for months, Charlie would come upstairs screaming, 'Where are we? What day is it? When are we going home?'"
Then, at the age of seven, Charlie developed a stutter around the same time he had a run-in with a couple of schoolyard bullies. "I was in second or third grade and Emilio was in sixth grade and we were waiting to be picked up," says Charlie. "And these two kids were just awful, awful kids, so mean and violent. They didn't do anything to us. But the stuff they described they were going to do was even worse. 'We're going to toss you over the fence and watch your brains splatter. We're going to poke your eyes out.' Just horrible shit to say to a seven-year-old. I remember thinking, 'We're going to die. These guys are going to kill us.'" He started having panic attacks and then, one day, he found himself stuttering. "It was fucking awful. Picture this: In school, they call on you, and out of nowhere – I just stopped answering. I knew all the answers, but I stopped raising my hand. I got real quiet for the longest time."
And then the stutter went away and he got real loud with his life again. And he has been real loud like that for the longest time, with no end in sight. "I've got 14,000 days left, and I'm gonna enjoy them all," he likes to say. "Hey, man, I didn't know there was any other way to live!" That being the case, he has consumed every enjoyable there is to consume: a ton of pills, a ton of booze, a ton of coke ("The run I was on made Sinatra, Flynn, Jagger, Richards look like droopy-eyed armless children," he said after one binge), cars, guns, wristwatches, many flavors of jam (currently on display: marmalade, prickly pear, peach, ginger, boysenberry), coffee that drips from a single-serving machine and has to be spiked with an extra spoonful of Chock full o'Nuts instant, baseball memorabilia, art, lottery tickets (buying $4,000 worth a week) – you name it, high and low, at one point or another, he's tried to fill himself with it. As a teenager, he earned the nickname Machine, as in Ma-Sheen. "It was about being the last guy alive. Everybody else has crawled to cover, and I'm sitting there saying, 'Come on, the party's not over!'"
But one day the party will be over and what will become of him then?
"Charlie's as great a mystery to me as I am to myself, with no explanation possible," Martin says. "It'll take a miracle, but his time has yet to come. When he gets a grasp on how much he is loved and begins to love himself, everything is going to change." The words of a father, full of hope, full of doubt and full of fear for his boy.
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