Downey sprawls in the backseat, still clutching the little black box. We make small talk for a bit, or, more precisely, I make small talk and Downey answers with big talk. A conversation about fatherhood swoops and rises ("You realize you've got this amazing kid, and all of a sudden you don't want to have more days behind you than in front of you") until he tells me of a recent visit he made to the Rubin Museum of Art in New York for an exhibit on Himalayan art and mortality. "You keep going up these stairs, and it's all about death, and by the time you get to the top, I was like, 'Wow, my life is so minuscule and pointless.'"
The car goes quiet. Jimmy turns up Howard Stern on satellite radio to fill the void. Downey does a bit of a spit take and slaps me on the shoulder. "Dude, no, minuscule is good! Trust me, it's much better than thinking everything you do is important and meaningful. That is not good."
When we get to the Italian place, where Downey is a regular, we settle into a window table. Downey orders a cranberry juice with a lemon. The waiter brings him a cranberry juice. He also brings a bowl of approximately 20 lemon wedges. Every five minutes, Downey adds another lemon to his glass. Within an hour, the glass is a lemon compost pile. He then places the black box on his lap and pops it open. Inside, there's everything but a bunny rabbit: half a dozen containers of vitamins, multiple pieces of Nicorette gum, a nice pen, and a wrapped cigar.
"It's just stuff to keep me healthy," says Downey. His brain is just as happily cluttered. At one point, he makes it clear that despite his recent success, he has not forgotten how low he can go. But he doesn't say it that simply. He speaks in double helixes of metaphors and allusions, taking a straightforward question about how he's doing and answering with a Grateful Dead space-jam drum solo. Some of it sounds beautiful, some of it sounds like the surreal small print of a rental car agreement, which is why I'm shrinking the type size:
"I've seen the folks who the second they hit their critical mass, they essentially shut the door on the story of their past, who they really are, and they become this narcissistic personality disorder version of what they thought they would want to get away from, whatever injury got them to having half of their drive being to get somewhere, because then they could no longer be seen as they see themselves. It's really tricky to see it happen. It's another thing to be put in check by people that I'm close to that sometimes are an accessory in a creative burst. I still have little pilot fish that want to overstate that or centralize that or make it about me. I've noticed more and more lately that, say, we're in a writing session, and Act Three is in desperate need of a breakthrough, and I come up with the idea. I want to, occasionally, parade around and do my 'Where the Wild Things Are' paw-print stomp, and I'd say, 'First of all, it's nice to celebrate, it's nice to be excited, it's another thing to sully that with your own character defects.' Worse still, it's a shame to not see that it's not true, because without the context – and that's why I love partnerships – without the context of somebody who's actually holding the entirety of what we're looking at and what we're doing and what we have to accomplish, rather someone who knows all the challenges inherent in Acts One and Two, and believes, even though we're using a bookmark where the movie ends, where the final image is, that just because it works for now, it works for now because it's comforting, because you believe you have an end. I've been noticing more and more lately how partnerships and small groups of well-matched people are all equally responsible, whether you're the front man in the band or whether you're just mixing behind the scenes. It's awesome."
I know what you're thinking: pilot fish, narcissistic personality disorder, and 'Where the Wild Things Are' all in one thought burst. Downey has fallen off and is now being dragged behind the wagon, right? Not true. It's just Downeyspeak. I mention Downey's tendency to verbally meander to his 'Iron Man 2' co-star Don Cheadle, and he can't stop laughing. "Yeah, I don't know how you're going to pull that off. You're going to need a pictograph, or change the color of the text so people know where he's going. Or just start talking about his socks." Ritchie sums up the Robert Downey Experience succinctly: "Do I have any idea what the fuck he is talking about most of the time? No fucking way. He fucking rants, sounds very clever, and then I have to tell him: 'Repeat that, but this time fucking speak English.' "