MUSIC DOWN THE HALL

MUSIC DOWN THE HALL

All the dead watching me / ghost gone ahead of me / precious ones gone before me / make me insane heavy my heart at the mention of their name / heaven or hell i wish them well / I miss them all / they are music down the hall/ I know they are watching me / columns of smoke and almond eyes touch me / meeting mine / listen /they are alive again / right down the hall / music / come listen / someday I too will be music down the hall / hear me

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Electric Yoyo Love

electric yoyo

Electric Yo-yo Love

         The bus was parked near the world famous ice skating rink at 30 Rockefeller Center, pointed east on 50th street in Manhattan and toward the airport in Queens.  You could sit in the bus waiting and see the restaurant and iconic ice rink below.  I am not sure which airport, La Guardia or JFK that I left from as more than forty years of my life have passed since that chilly Sunday morn.

For a small fee, the bus would take me to Icelandic Airlines, then fly to Iceland, then jump to Brussels and soon after a short old-fashioned train ride to Paris.

It was November 1971 and my young heart had been severely broken.  The love of my life Laura Jo Weisbord, smart pretty and my age, had returned to our studio apartment from the, “Suck Film Festival,” in Amsterdam, and announced she was going back to Europe.  She was not so much in love with another man as she was having more fun with another man, one, Jean-Jacques Lebel.  And you heard right it was called the, “Suck,” Film Festival and it was all about sex.  On film screens, in the streets and in the hotels.  That year the festival was famous for having shown a film where a woman got fucked by a pig.  Right, a pig, like the farmyard animal… not a rock-n-roll drummer.  I wanted Laura to stay in New York with me, not run away to Paris.

I was in excruciating mental pain after Laura left so abruptly.  I screamed at her.  Pleaded with her and at one point smashed a cassette tape recorder against the wall in horrible violence.  I did not know what to do.  I did not know how to change what was happening to me.  I was broken and stunned by her leaving back to France a week after she just returned.  But Laura gone, I was not alone.  I was feeling insane.  I asked friends to hang with me in Laura’s and my room at the Chelsea.

I spent the immediate three days after Laura flew to Paris with my male buddies and one very petite, but oh so loving and willing pretty female, one, Debbie Fisher.  We were well supplied with food, booze, drugs and encamped in a small but emotionally spacious room in the famous artist hotel, room two hundred and three, second floor front.  An affordable room with a small balcony that you could stand on and look west and east on the busy traffic filled 23rd Street.

Al Pacino was staying next door the week Laura left for France.  A month ago he had asked me for advice on his new stardom via the, “Godfather.”  More permanent loggers, such as director Milos Forman, up a floor, and his director buddy Ivan Passer down the hall from us, also filmmaker Shirley Clark in her tee-pee pent house on the roof and musical composer George Kleinsinger, with his dozens of exotic warm and cold blooded animals, as in lizard, snakes, turtles and large parrots in a very humid room on the 10th floor.  Composer Virgil Thomson had a huge two-bed room suite with a large kitchen and dining room.  He once chased me around the table, thinking I was his birthday present.  Andy Warhol super star Viva was there too in room 510.

Debbie kept moaning about to orgasm, yet again, on the bed in the corner of the room with her and David Rosen conservatively hidden under a blanket.  I was deep in racing obsessive jealous thoughts, sitting cross-legged on the floor ignoring everything around me.  My Buddies Cy Randal and Bill Elliot were on the balcony ignoring my ongoing pain.

Suddenly I jumped up and exclaimed, “I got it!  I’ll go get her back!”  Everybody stopped.  Cy and Bill stepped in from the balcony when they heard my loudness.  I danced around like a prospector who just found gold in them hills of California.  “That’s it!  I’m going.  I got it.  I’m going after her!”  I needed support, but got little.

David of course rolled back and politely stopped fucking Debbie.  She slowly sat up pulling her legs to her bare chest.  “I told you that yesterday and you rejected it.”  She said.  “You did?” I was so nuts, spaced and crazy I didn’t hear her.  It was near noon outside on 23rd street.  Horns honking, trucks reeving their motors, Monday morning in mid-town Manhattan was loud and still is.  New York was my hometown and except for a year in the war, ’66 to ’67 in Vietnam, I had not been anywhere, really.  Jamaica, with actress Joy Bang, the hot blonde, who brought me Laura.

Joy had a theory she would never let an ex-boyfriend go away hurt and alone.  She was proud of the reputation on latching you up with one of her hip and beautiful girlfriends.  She dumped me but gave me actress Ellen Gurin.  Whom I didn’t really get along with, a sexy dark haired beauty with the look of Ava Gardner, but she was hurting inside and softly neurotic, sweet tender talented, performing in Tom Eyen’s Play, “The Dirtiest Show in Town.”  Ellen would subsequently kill herself by renting a room in the Waldorf Astoria and jumping out of the window to Park Avenue.  Joy Bang told me, Laura and I were made for each other and we were.  I thought.  But Laura had run away.

Bill and Cy lit a joint by the desk near the day light coming in the studio apartment through the single tall, floor to ceiling window and passed it around except to me.  We gathered around to once more discuss my love troubles.

I hardly ever smoked pot it always made me nervous and prone to nausea and wanting to vomit.  I don’t mind at all others doing it, smoking it around me, and in fact like the scent of it.  But I hate smoking or eating it.  My drug of choice was and still is good scotch or Irish whiskey.

“You’re just going to run off to Europe after her?”  “She may not want to see you at all, you know.”  “You don’t know where she is exactly.”

David Rose, recent college graduate, Jewish, handsome and who was the artist businessman of our mischievous little group topped them all with logic.  “You don’t have enough money.  Do you?”

We were still pretty high.  Cy and I had some orange acid, this was our second day hanging out and we went on and on and on.  They were friends and didn’t want to see me go off the deep end.  They wanted to talk me out of an emotional hasty and rash decision.  Talk me out of something I wanted to do but had no idea how I was going to do it.  “Jump on a plane and go where?”  I was not sure where.  “Amsterdam?  Paris?”  I needed money.  More money.  I had some.

I had never been to Europe before.  I did however have a passport.  It was Laura that advised me to get one ASAP back when we first started living together down in China Town on East Broadway, next to the NYFD firehouse.

Cy thought I should go; he was our resident hippie anthropologist.  He would one day take me to “Wounded Knee,” where I filmed the Lakota Sioux “Sundance Ceremony” for the first filming ever.  Cy was the poorest among us, but a brilliant wise and kind man.  I loved his support and always respected his wise council.  “If you don’t go after her you will regret it all your life.”

True, I saw no other answer if I did not do something quickly, something real, and something that moved me forward that eased my heart, by simply giving me a face-to-face answer from Laura.  Yes, by putting myself near Laura. If not, I might explode. I had to go.  I just wanted to die.  Oh, the pain, I hated love.  I was hurting.

Laura’s new lover, Jean-Jacques Lebel was a French artist, political activist and scholar, about seven years older, established and richer than nubile me.  He was the son of Robert Lebel, a famous art critic and friend of Marcel Duchamp.  I could see why Laura would want to be with him in Paris over me.  But I wanted her back.  I was blinded by the whole thought of her leaving me for him.  Paris.  I must go.  I would, but first I must sober up and make a plan.  Money.  I needed money.  Thank God, I had that passport  Laura made me get.  But I had not been out of the country except to go to war in Vietnam, and spend my Rest and Recuperation, “R and R” in military jargon, in the Philippines.  That was fun, but not very wildly fun as it was with my dad’s relatives.  Who, don’t get me wrong I was honored to be with for a few weeks and certainly it was better than being in country and in a war.  A war, I knew then and still believe was a monumental mistake.

There I was standing at the steps to the Tenth Street Baths. Russian Turkish hot rock and steam baths on New York’s lower east side, built into a brown stone building and a very special place, populated by characters, faces, cops, and run by one very fat Jew and one Jew who had a perpetual cigar stuck in his teeth.  To them I had no name. To these two tough guys who always seemed be either laughing at something I asked for like a towel or a beer or a light, to them I was known as, “Fred Baker’s Friend.”

“What do you want, Baker’s friend?”  “A clean towel, please.  I stuttered weakly.”  This bastard always had me off balance.  I bet I could kick his ass really.  “Baker’s friend wants another fuckin’ towel!” He shouts.  The fat one laughs, men at the counter, chuckle.  What the fuck is so damn funny I think.  “Hey Baker’s friend where is Baker today?”  “I’m alone.”  “You ok Baker’s friend?  You’re never alone.”  I said nothing and went down to the hot rooms and cold pool below.  Thinking, “Fuck that ugly fucker.” Last year Christmas time, I came here with Freddie Baker of course, day after Christmas.  I mistakenly felt confident, as I did NOT have to fight or ask for anything.  I was with Baker and we were given the usual no questions asked.  This bath was funky but not cheap and Baker tipped well.  It was clean, I will say that.

Relaxed that day after Christmas, I dumbly said to the meaner ugly unshaven Jew with the cigar sticking out of his mouth always,  “Merry Christmas!”  Shit!  His dead eyes blazed open.  I thought he might actually come around the food counter and hit me. “Merry Christmas,” he repeated.  But it sounded more like “shirt piss cock!”  “Fuck you!” he says to me, loud.  “Merry Christmas!  Cocksucker!  Get away.”  I got away

Down in the white tiled basement, nude, in a white robe or skimpy towel, if you chose, there were two pools, one the length of the building, you could do a few strokes in and one small ice-cold pool that you dipped in after the hot room platza rub down.  A Platza is a rub down by ,“a rubber man” with  a Eucalyptus leafed brush in the large tiled heated room, one that had long wooden benches along three walls, the constantly heated hot rocks on the fourth wall.

The room is heated to a blistering swelter by water dropping on the heated ever-so-hot rocks.  There was an American style steam room next door filled with steam too, but we, Freddie  and I never used it.

After three days of misery and hung over, there was nothing better than a rub down with those platza brushes, by the paid Russian Rubber Man, up on the top wooden benches where the heat was as strong as you could stand without dying.  Rubber Man splashed you with cool water when it was too much, somewhere between pleasure and pain, thank God.

I took my shocking dip in the ice-cold water.  Ice cold.  I then sat there on a tiled bench attached to the wall near the small ice pool and was deep in my pained loser thoughts, planning an empty plan to get to Paris and get Laura back, somehow.

Now there was a, “little man,” about five foot nothing, who worked in the bathhouse.  We were all naked and so was he.  Down his chest he had a long scar from what I assumed was a heart operation or something as monumental.  He worked hard keeping the baths clean.  At the moment, he carried two old fashioned wooden buckets filled  splashing across the tiled floor.  I had seen him working there over the past three years that I had been going to the baths, but I did not know his name and had never spoken to the little man.  Nor he to me.

After all I was invisible.  I had no name.  Only called ,“Baker’s Friend.”  However, this day he stops before me.  Seeing me sitting he puts his two buckets, one in each hand, down.  His had reaches up and grabs my face, pinching my cheeks together as if I was a pet dog about to get a pill, firmly but at the same time gently.  I am puckered up like a bird and he says, looking directly into my face with his old Russian blue water logged eyes, “Jealousy will ruin your life!”  He turns and picks up his buckets and his naked ass is gone.  I am stunned.

It sounds silly but I think I really looked to him as if  he was God.  A miracle and obvious message.  Why did he do that?  How did he know?  Was I so steeped in this horrible coffin of pain and literally green with jealousy.  That was it I thought.  I would go to Laura and not ask her to come back but just see her.  Just see her.  I dressed quickly.

Chen Tien Lui and I were building a TV studio on Dwayne street  which used to be an old egg company.  They use to fill it with live chickens and eggs. We cleaned out the smell of chicken shit and used all the old egg boxes for soundproofing.

Lui ran a company CTL Electronics, that now, thanks partially to me supplied most of the musical talent, and artist in Manhattan, with newly invented portable video tape cameras and recording equipment called Sony “Port-a-Paks.”  These half-inch recorders and cameras were creating a creative revolution in video art and television and film production.

Lui advanced me one thousand dollars after hearing my story, as did Robert Cordiere, a French director, living in New York, with whom I was making a film.  Robert and I had become  good friends and being French, a man with a big heart, listened to my tale of woe about my, “run away Laura,” and he not only gave me money, he gave me names of all his famous friends in Paris to help me out.  I bought a ticket to fly on a plane to Paris.  But, I had to board a bus first.

The bus exhaust created steam in the cold morning air as it waited for the exact time to leave for the airport.  I had little to no luggage; I wore a black raincoat, a suit and tie.  Long curly thick black hair.  I looked like a rich rock and roll lawyer.  I had a pocket full of cash and American Express traveler’s checks.  Paris was cheaper in those days, not like today.  I felt good, clear and confidant and excited not scared.  I was in love and knew this was like Vietnam, the adventure of my life. Important.

It was early, 50th street near 30 Rockefeller Plaza was empty of tourists, and traffic was light.  I do remember it was about a week after I had jumped up in my room at the Chelsea and decided to go after Laura and that would make it gloomy Sunday as I recall.  A chestnut vender was just arriving with his cart.  Near the bus door was a hippie girl in a long tan coat, brown cute hat and she was playing with electric yoyo’s. Up and down.  When the yoyo slid down its string and uncoiled — the yoyo lit up in whatever bright color the plastic sides were made of — Up and Down,  sparkling circles of electric light lit the sides of the yoyo.  I had my bus ticket, stepped into the bus but for some reason I went back down the three rubber bus steps to the street.  “How much?”  She was obviously selling them as she had more than a few.  “Five bucks.”  Hippies were industrious.  She was probably saving for a ticket Marrakesh on Icelandic Airlines.  I bought two electric yo-yos.

The plane trip was un-spectacular.  The one memorable but strange stand out moment was one fellow, dressed nicely in a suit, standing in the aisle of the plane, obviously after the seat belt light went off,  he read the newspaper, lord knows which one, but very likely one from New York, standing and then at one classic moment folding it up and locking it under his arm, finished reading his morning news and ready to exit to the day. As if he were on a downtown IRT subway.  Too weird.

To be written:

Train to Paris from Brussels.

Arrival Paris, that first night.

Tony Long, Laura’s ex-husband and new friends in Paris.

Paris.  Time there.  The post card. Laura is in Morocco.

Tony sends me off with safe warning and a knife, costumed like a mid-eastern tough.

Arrival in Marrakesh meeting John Sheppard English rich businessman and new guardian angel.

Bus Trip to Essaouira, a beach city on the Atlantic west coast of Morocco and hopefully Laura.

Continue for now:

The bus to Essaouira arrived early at the beach resort town popular among Europeans and Americans.  The ride was short, about an hour long. The countryside along the route was pastoral with children waving and people traveling on donkeys as they did a thousand years before.

On the bus, men smoked what smelled like sweet hashish, knives in their belt and fat bellies. Laughing  loudly.  At one point about half way to the ocean side, they kicked a Berber Tribes woman with her tattooed blue faced, off the bus, literally.  A large man dressed in traditional tan kaftan kicked a woman and her satchel down the aisle of the bus, literally, with his foot and rolled her out the front door.  Looking back at his male friends, ignoring all the rest of the passengers thank God, he laughed proudly.  It caused all the other smoking men seated in the rear of the bus to laugh too and applaud his triumph.  Tony mentioned that Jean-Jacque could have me killed for 200 dollars in this land.  I believed him and remembered the knife I had hidden in my boot.  A last minute gift from Tony,  “Here you may need this.”

The powder blue painted two-story hotel was quiet,  the sky light lit the lobby.  Rooms circled the two-story hotel.  The tile floor was damp as a woman on her knees scrubbed it.  In  my weak French,  I asked at the front desk for Monsieur Le Bell.  The female clerk looked and pointed to a room down the hallway in back of me.  I turned ready to go and knock.  Not knowing what to expect after my long journey from that morning two weeks ago in the Chelsea Hotel to the pretty powder blue lobby of this very clean quaint hotel in Morocco.  I was nervous.  I hesitated.  I felt a tug on my trouser leg.  The Scrub Woman on the floor was looking up at me having tugged my trouser.  Her  bright dark brown eyes on not a particular remarkable face indicated,  “no,” to the direction I was headed but then quickly pointed down another hallway in the opposite direction.  “La dame est là-bas à droite. Vous voulez son oui.”  And kept pointing and repeating urgently.  “Madame est a droite. Voila!”  So I knew what she meant and that she was right.  How she knew to tell me this, I do not know.

I went down the narrow hallway now behind the lobby desk area. Everything was still, it was morning and quiet, I knocked.  “Yes.”  Laura’s beautiful sharp feminine voice replied to the knock. I spoke in French.  “Télégramme de la Lady Merci.”  Laura opened the door.  I was so pleased to see her.  She was not as shocked as expected but very happy to see me.  She complained that she was a virtual prisoner and the Jean-Jacques Lebel had kept her without money and stoned on opium all day and night.  We kissed and made love.  “Let’s get out of here.”  We started to pack her suitcase.  I wanted to make the bus back to Marrakesh.  Suddenly there was a knock at the door.  It opened it was Jean-Jacques.  “I bet you are Frank.”  We spoke English.  There was a tension but it felt civil.  I felt like I was in his house and had to get out.  In my bag, on the bed, were the two electric yoyo’s  I had bought in New York for no good reason.  I thought I was helping a hippie girl get breakfast.  I had just given one yoyo to Laura.  I reached  down and pick up the other.  “Here I bought this for you.”

Amazingly enough, Jean-Jacques broke open the cheap cardboard box holding the five dollar gift, made in China, and began to play with the electric yoyo.  It was glowing and beautiful in the darkened hallway.  He was focused, fascinated by the sparkling lights that lit up the side of the yoyo its trip down and up and down and up.

Seemingly fascinated he slowly drifted off down the hall, back to his room, I suppose to show his friends.  I was not sure.  “Let’s go!”  Laura wanted eagerly to go back to the safety of me and New York and our little room in the Chelsea.  We quickly scampered out of the hotel quickly. Her bill was of course being paid by Jean- Jacques.

We hopped the bus back to Marrakesh.  We had lunch with the Englishman John Shepard who had wisely woke me before the sun was up and gotten me to the bus.  As he counseled,  “Here in Marrakesh, if the bus fills up no matter what time, it will leave.”  He was another guardian angel.  There seemed to be so many in New York, in Paris and here in Morocco.

Including that smart woman scrubbing the floor.  Bless her smarts.  If I had awoke Jean-Jacques first and not Laura I might have gotten stoned myself and things may have gotten silly or worse just plan embarrassing, tense and boring and I might have left empty handed with no Laura.

The English real estate man John Shepard, over some good scotch whiskey asked me what I was going to do when I got back to New York.  I boldly said I was going to marry Laura.  It was the first I had mentioned that to anyone even myself.  John laughed at Laura’s surprise.  “You are surprised, Laura my dear.”  “First I heard of it.  But sure.  I guess.”  Later, that day we got on the plane to Paris and Christmas.  At the Airport in Marrakesh, we saw director Alfred Hitchcock, a large man, get off a small private plane.

 

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The White Castle

The White Castle

“When I was a young man courting the girls, I played me a waiting game…”

Actually, what I did many nights and on weekends in particular is end up in the White Castle Hamburger and coffee shop on the southwest corner of Francis Lewis Boulevard and Hollis Avenue, in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, New York City.

A warm, small, cozy room with about ten spinning metal stools and standing room for about ten more, comfortable, the White Castle was a cross road for intersecting commuters, teenagers and late night drunks.  The grill was the first thing that met you when you entered, then the very short white counter.  The grill always sizzled with smells of one-inch meat patties and onions cooking, rolls warming.  Plus, on cold snowy nights, the grill would provide you with warmth while you ordered and stomped your icy wet shoes on to the dirty snow slushed floor of black and white tile.

My story takes place on a much warmer night in the summer of 1960.

Hollis, Queens and most surroundings neighborhoods, Queens Village, Cambria Heights, and Belmont, where the racetrack was, and Hillside, north of Jamaica Avenue were considered and were in fact white areas mostly, and Saint Albans was fast encroaching as a black area.  My aunt and uncle lived in St. Albans, my aunt Rose was black, her husband Gene is white.  There was some trouble between the two changing and emerging areas and races, but not a great deal of it.  There were groups of young white males from each neighborhood;  no gangs and I would suppose similar groups of young blacks in St. Albans and Jamaica, with only one gang in those areas that was spoken of, “The Chaplains.”  That summer I don’t recall any particular threat in the air between blacks and whites in Queens or New York.  But then it is always there isn’t it?

Friday nights were busy nights on that corner of Queens.  The black and white patrons parked their cars in the wide parking lot behind and beside the White Castle building with its all white walls and faux castle ramparts and simple large black lettering of, “The White Castle,” on all four sides.  Glass windows allowed you to see the tight fit crowd milling inside.  The hamburgers, tiny inch square sliders were 12 cents.  Most customers could eat a half a dozen in one sitting.  Four or five small jukeboxes on the counters let your beer soaked eyes pick out AM radio top hundred pop tunes to fill the White Castle.

There were often fights at the White Castle especially since it catered to a half drunk late night bar crowd.  That summer was no different.  Except this night the fight taking place in the parking lot was about to explode into to a battle royal race riot.

I had moved around towards the back to see the standoff, the pushing and shouting and shoving going on between a blond headed white boy whom I kind of knew from the area and a black kid whom I had never seen before.

The garage and gas station on the northeast corner of Francis Lewis Blvd. and Hollis Ave. was a hangout for half a dozen car junkies.  Two guys were retreads from the south,  their parents having moved north for the better jobs.  One, being a tough red neck that everybody called, “Tiny.”  He of course was huge.

As soon as the word spread, “Fight!”  I saw “Tiny” and his car junkies cross the wide street and head over to the White Castle parking lot.  One had a tire iron.  With their arrival, I noticed the trunks of at least two autos pop open and the black male owners taking out at the least one baseball bat.  This was about to be a huge donnybrook that I could talk about for all of the next high school year.  If I didn’t get my head bashed in and need, my jaw wired.

My adrenaline started to kick in as more people young and old, male and female, black and white, began to encircle the main bout of the two boys fighting, one black, and one white, still arguing and circling each other and about to come to heavy blows.  The gathering adults began to egg each boy on.  “Punch him man!”  “Kick his ass, Tommy.”  This was going to be a bad and bloody battle as no one wanted his or her guy to lose.

Then out of nowhere, (how he knew what was transpiring I will not know to this day), came an off duty NYPD officer.  Just a plain ordinary patrolman.  His green plaid shirt open over a t-shirt, his blue uniform pants still on, his cop work shoes on, strapping his heavy gun belt on as he crossed Hollis Avenue from his personal car.  Just a cop with a silver patrolman badge, I rightly guessed, but the badge, however was not visible.  His parked car, a dark one of no memorable distinction, other then, that fact that it was clearly not a police car and that this cop must have just clocked off duty from the nearby 110th precinct, it being late night and he was likely on his way home when he saw the commotion in the parking lot of the very well lit White Castle and pulled over.

Off duty or not he knew exactly what he was doing and what his job was.  As he passed me, I saw that he was not a tall man but a well built one.  He exuded strength with handsome features, blond, German or Irish.  The look in his eyes seemed to say, “Damn, will this job never end tonight.  Let me just do this.”  And that he did.

He marched into the gathered crowd back there in the center of the White Castle parking lot and as if on cue and with maybe some relief, this angry crowd spread wide like this man, an obvious cop, was a hot knife and they were all butter.

He looked at no one but went right to the two fighters.  He grabbed the white kid by the back of the neck, who immediately winced in pain.  In almost the same movement he pointed to the black kid’s face and said clearly so all could hear, “You go!”  The kid may have arrived with others but he quickly turned and left.  This wise cop then took the white kid by the arm, turned and again without a word or a look at the others, escorted him passed me, and back cross Hollis Avenue to his parked car.  We all watched.  After seeming to chastise the kid, he put him in the car and drove off, never once looking back.

Adults in the parking lot, Tiny, and the garage boys included, no longer knew what they were standing around and angry about.  The crowd melted quickly like that butter.  They turned and went back to whatever they were peacefully doing before this mess all started.  This fight, this battle royal, this summer time quick to escalate race riot was over!  Thanks to one cop and no SWAT team, or tanks, or teargas, or shotguns and riot squad.

A few days later I ran into that same white kid involved in the fight that night, on Hollis Avenue near the drug store that later burned down, and I asked him what happened?  He arrest you?  He laughed.  “Nah.”  He said, “The cop waved his finger in my face alright, but he was saying, ‘I am going to put you in this car and drive you around the corner and let you go.  Look worried.’  He made a left at the Pizza Place and dropped me off like he said.”

Now that is good police work.  And that was in the summer of 1960.  What the hell happened?

 

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On Voting Republican

 On Voting Republican

It never fails that whenever I am looking for places in Burbank, I get lost.  I forgot to look up the video transfer house on the internet so I could get thelocation map and directions.  Plus, I was driving in Burbank.

I was looking for this specialty house that could take old, half inch reel-to-reel video tapes like the ones I had recorded almost forty years ago in New York and transfer them to a more permanent, up to date format, as in digital.  Although I am now hearing from experts that even digital formats, DVDs, and CDs may not last.  It could all be a dream that goes up in smoke when we all die and may not last as long as paper.

I was asked to show the old tapes of the Native American Sundance I had recorded in Wounded Knee, South Dakota, back in 1972 and had shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New   York.

At that time I ran a studio called “Video New York.”  I was a “video artist” and supported by the New York State Council on the Arts.  Our little group was located at an old church that doubled as an arts and media center called “The Space for Innovative Arts.”  The sponsor was a rich king of women’s beauty products named Sam Rubin.  Sam never put his face in in to our three-story house of dance, acting, and video arts.  At least I never saw him there.  It was left in his wife, Sema’s hands, her beautiful face, and in the hands of people the Rubin hired, like myself and the managing director, Maurice Tuchman.

“Space,” as we called it, was a fabulous deal.  I ran my own video studio, which owned a number of portable video cameras known at that time, in the late 60s, as Sony Porta Pak’s.  We also had editing equipment and a small contingency of lights.  Plus, we actually had a budget and could pay ourselves a weekly salary.  I hired my soon-to-be wife Laura Weisbord, niece of Sam Weisbord, the late William Morris agent and CEO as my assistant and office manager.  We got married while we worked there.  That is a whole other story of our marriage and love affair.  For now, I just want to talk about getting my first grant from the Rockefeller Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts.

Prior to coming to Hollywood, I actually had no idea who Laura’s agent uncle was and it might not have mattered to me.  Then again, it might have at least impressed me, as I had been around show business and acting on TV since I was a teen and was certainly aware of the power of the WilliamMorrisAgency.  As one famous comic said, “If your agent was William Morris  and they told you there was no work for you, you knew that there was no work for you in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, and Hong Kong.”

In those days, video artists in New York, like me, and just a handful of others were in our own special world.  We were these little mini-studios.  We made our own material and products and distributed our own work, “short films,” in the form of half inch reel-to-reel video tapes.  Where did we show these videos? All over New York and at showings around the country and in Canada, South America and Europe.  It was truly a special time and era.  We could create what we liked — little dramas, mini-documentaries of any event, and video installations – or capture moments we saw fit to record in our wonderings and travels and then edit them down or even leave it long and unedited, which is what I did with the Native American Sundance at Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota that I had showed at MOMA.  It was a lot of fun.  You felt powerful and rich, even though most of us were neither.  Some young artists did have family money but still asked their parents or some board of directors for money to buy a portable video recorder in 1965, which seemed like asking to buy a ticket on a rocket to land on the moon.

Gaining a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts was not an easy thing to accomplish. Especially for a college dropout from Queens whose mother was a telephone operator and whose father was a waiter.  True, dad worked at one of America’s top nightclubs, the Copacabana — but a State Council grant was still a stretch.  One would think that grants were for the poor, but you really had to have some kind of a hook, some connection to the un-poor elite, or be a non-profit entity to get one.  Even the influence of a brilliant young woman from New York’s Jewish Alps, the Catskills, who had a little bit of wealth from her family, who owned one of New York State’s biggest laundries, which serviced the hotels of Sullivan County, was no help when it came down to which artist or group of artists got the recognition and the money from the State Council on the Arts.  Yes, the money was what everybody wanted and needed.  Like eating a bag of Lay’s potato chips, “You can’t just eat one.”  You need one after the other – hoping the bag is never going to empty.  Once you got one grant, well then you could hopefully to get one every year.  Or would the council admit it was wrong the first time?  Not usually.

When it became known that the Arts Council was first planning to give out money to anyone with a Sony Porta Pak recorder who was willing to say they knew how to use it, the “video artists” came out of the woods of Central Park and the communal lofts of Soho.

The first day I went to apply for a grant and had wormed my way into a meeting at the council, New York African American video artists were marching up and down in front of the Arts Council offices on 57th street.  That was when I began to find out that almost everyone asking for a grant had some hook, some power elite connection going for them, either the weight of a near riot, or as one fellow I met, an uncle who was once the “Comptroller of New York State.”  Whether that helped him or not I don’t actually know.  It certainly didn’t hurt.

After that first meeting, I was not being invited back to any more of the “video artist” meetings.  My phone calls were not responded to.  I heard meetings were taking place and I was not informed they even took place.

When I called the man to call at the Arts Council and asked for Russell Connors, I was informed by his assistant secretary that I probably did not stand a chance of getting a grant but that I could possibly get one if I found an umbrella group to sponsor me.  It looked hopeless to me.  I had to go to one of these defensive and protective artists and ask to share in his or her grant.  Fat chance.  I paced the floor at night and worried.  I was officially out of the loop.  I owned no equipment and needed my own to make any videos at all.

Then I remembered where the grants were coming from, at least partially, through the gratis of the Rockefeller Foundation and certainly under the influence of the then Governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller.

Governor Nelson Rockefeller once told me, in person that if I ever needed any help, to give him a call – to tell him, “I need help.”  Really?  Most politicians say things like that to people, but do they ever really help?  I thought I had nothing to lose by writing him a letter and asking.

By the way, I never considered myself a video “artist;” I just always loved to shoot video.  I shot film for years before that.  I grew up next to a professional photographer, an artist – professional performer Rene Von Muchow.  He was part of a famous variety show act called “Renald and Rudi”, two handsome German acrobats.  They traveled the world, and during Rene’s off time, he did photography while little seven year old me watched.  We worked in a darkroom for hours and I watched the wonder of photos come to life amidst the acrid smelling liquid.  There were pictures of me on the roof of our building at 867   Amsterdam Avenue, between 103rd street and 102nd street.  At the time, my baby feet held high in Rene’s hands, me standing tall, confident, as Rudi held Rene high off the ground.  I seemed fearless, staring down at the black tar roof that doubled as everyone’s beach in the summertime.  We are talking about 1950, when life seemed full of adventure and I had no idea I was poor.

Years prior to this “video arts work” and prior to being drafted into the U.S. Army and serving a year in Vietnam, I had worked for the National Broadcasting Company at Rockefeller Center as an NBC Page.  I had that job when I attended the AmericanAcademy of Dramatic Arts.  It paid well for those days, $2.50 an hour, and if you were a student you could select the hours you worked.

That happened because I lucked out in getting a job in the NBC mailroom right after a stint at the Summer Stock Company in New London, New Hampshire.  Most hire-ons in the mailroom and the NBC Page Staff were college graduates with degrees in journalism, communications, or broadcasting.  I had none of the above and was just out of high school and doing my first year at AADA.  But I had made a “keen observation” of the Human Resources interviewer’s upturned shirt collar and he thought that I was so nifty that he hired me.  I didn’t think it was such a big deal myself, at least not enough to get me the job.  But it did.  I saw him often as I learned the NBC mail route and delivered the daily mail from office to office.

I lucked out again when the NBC mailroom chief made me NBC President Robert Sarnoff’s “special messenger.”  Robert was the son of the Chairman of the Board, founder of RCA and NBC, David Sarnoff.  My job was to sit in a chair under a little red light and when that red light lit up, I was to run up these private back steps that lead directly to the reception area of Sarnoff’s office.  At the top of the staircase was a reception desk and a beautiful little doll of a girl from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Debbie, who would usher me into Mr. Sarnoff’s large outer office.  In the office stood Sarnoff’s six foot tall executive secretary.  Her thick, gray hair was short and looked like a man’s.  She was a huge woman who always wore short, low-heeled shoes with her gray skirts and suit jackets.  She would greet me with the manor of a drill instructor, inspecting me up and down — looking to see if I was dressed neatly, shoes shined and if my hands and fingernails were clean and neat.  This routine got me into using the fancy men’s barbershop on the lower level of RockefellerCenter, where in those days, I surprisingly could afford to get a manicure and haircut.  Pretty cool for a kid just out of high school.  But then I could go to the Copacabana when I felt like it too, and that I surely could not afford.

Besides bringing her the mail a number of times a day, Madam Secretary would often send me on some errand for President Sarnoff.  I hated it when she would tell me to use his limousine to pick up something like a valuable piece of art or deliver an expensive gift to somebody important, because then I would have to walk out of 30 Rock and head to the limousine garage over on 48th street.  This was a tough chore, for I had to find and then usually extract Ralph, the president’s driver, from his usually early morning card game.

In those days, all the drivers were black and they all seemed to be big, tough looking men.  They sat in a room filled with smoke above the first level of the garage on 48th   street, all in black pants, white shirts, and black ties, black suspenders; their black suit jackets hung on the backs of their chairs.  If Ralph was winning, he did not want to leave, and if he was losing he was pissed off.  He’d see me enter the room from below.  I was blinded by the huge collection of cigar and cigarette smoke.  The large table and dozen or so chauffeurs glowed in their clean white shirts under the bright light that hung above the card table.

“Oh no!  What the hell do you want?”  Ralph knew why I was there the moment he saw my white face enter the room.  Not to play cards, for sure.  I would have to bug him if he dallied.  He’d show off and tell me to “Shut the fuck up, kid!” I took it because we both knew that all I had to do was go back to the bosses executive secretary and say, “Ralph couldn’t come because he was playing poker with the rest of the 30 Rock chauffeurs.”  Then a million tons of crap would hit the fan.  It might even make the gossip columns.  In short enough time Ralph would end his hand, put on his black chauffer’s jacket and we’d head downstairs and call up the limo.  “Where we going, kid?”  I liked Ralph and he liked me.  I am sure I was a lot cooler than most of the people he dealt with, other messengers and all.  I always rode up front with him as we’d head uptown to Mr. Sarnoff’s Park Avenue apartment, or wherever else the errand was taking us.

When school started in the fall of ’62 I could no longer work in the mailroom and asked if I could be switched to the NBC Page Staff.  The lounge and the locker rooms for the Pages and female Guidettes were on the second floor, supervised and watched over by Curtis Harris, a handsome, polite southern gentleman, and not obviously gay, who never hit on any of the handsome Pages, as far as I knew.  A man I miss to this day.  He had the greatest friends – from Tallulah Bankhead to actor George Maharis of Route 66 TV show fame.  Curtis Harris was very cool and thought I was bright and capable.  I did score very high on the Page Staff Test you take to become a Page.  I already knew all the executives’ faces, all the important phone extensions and offices by rote, having done my year in the mailroom.  But he was still impressed with my 98 score.  A lateral move in the same pay grade was not usually done at NBC, I was told.  However, since I had won a scholarship back to AADA, they allowed the move to happen so I could work the staggered hours that were common on the Page Staff instead of the nine to five schedule of the mailroom.  NBC was a great company in those days.  You had full medical coverage from the first day you worked there.  Amazing.

I heard a few years later, when I no longer worked at NBC, Curtis went back home to South Carolina on vacation and was murdered.  Shot dead.  Probably because of his gayness, I thought, but I was never really sure.

The Pages and Guidettes had to look sharp, like soldiers on guard.  I even wore solid gold cuff links, a Christmas gift from the Perry Como Show.  We had our own head of laundry and dry cleaning, a very well dressed and sharp looking Irish man, John Connolly.  He retired, I heard, from the New York Court system, where he had been a bailiff or the like.  My Uncle Marty ran an elevator in the main city courthouse downtown and he knew this Mr. Connolly by name.  John had a diamond pinky ring, wore 500 dollar suits and could give a damn less about the laundry.  Never touched the stuff.  On occasion he might hand a Page a clean starched shirt — but rarely.  There was always another guy who really took care of our laundry and dry cleaning.  It usually was this light-skinned black guy who spoke little English or sometimes a Page who worked the two jobs.

The girl tour guides handed their uniforms through a little two-way door in the wall over John’s desk.  If you stuck your head through you could see right down a row of lockers and catch one of the cuties in a slip.  They would giggle and never seemed to mind.  There was this unwritten kind of mutual respect between the Guidettes and the Pages.  Of course, in a few years there would be female Pages and male Guides, but in my day, in the early 60s, it was still segregated.  I learned a surprising fact from working on a morning radio show with radio producer Mike Klepper — that NBC still used a blacklist.  Persons tainted by the communist witch hunt of the previous decade in the 50s, such as stage actor Zero Mostel, were still being banned from radio talk shows in 1962 — and I thought that NBC was kind of liberal.

Our Page Quartermaster John Connolly’s phone was always ringing and many times John was not around.  So on a few occasions I picked up the receiver to stop the insistent ringing.  No voicemail in those days.  You could ring a phone for hours.  I was always surprised to hear an official sounding woman’s voice on the other end saying something like, “Hi, this is Chet Huntley’s office.  Could you have John call us?”  Or, “This is vice-President’s Crawford’s office.  Have John call us.”  I’m thinking these people get their shirts done?  John sends their suits out to be pressed?  Not very likely.  I have never seen anything but dark black Page uniforms and light blue Guidettes uniforms on the racks.  One jovial moment, at some birthday toast or the like, I was dumb enough to ask John about the calls.  Checking his money-clip, he blew me off with a grin.  “Yeah, I do their laundry, kid.  What else?”

Well, I did have others sources.  I asked my Uncle Marty, who as I said, knew Mr. Connolly, the ex-bailiff, but never said a word to me until I asked.  “Oh, don’t you know?”  Uncle Marty said, “John gets all those important executives and TV people out of doing jury duty.”

Now John and his strange phone calls made perfect sense to me.  New York has its insulated secret ways.  Politically Correct was unheard of and it all seemed to work fine.  I never told anybody.  I would learn to use the system myself soon enough.

The most crowded I ever saw the Page lounge and locker room was the day that President Kennedy said he was sending troops to Florida so that they could possibly invade Cuba to institute a blockade of the Russian ships coming with missiles to Cuba and that he was prepared to go to nuclear war unless the Ruskies and Cubans removed the missiles already on the Island.  Lordy, not a smart word was spoken by all those smart-assed communications grads working on the Page Staff.  We were all scared to death.  A real war meant we would all be switching uniforms.  No more double-breasted blazers with an NBC colored peacock on our breast pocket.  Army green would be our colors.

The Russians blinked and the Pages and Guidettes could think about our careers once more with no nuclear war on the immediate horizon.  The Pages had loads of parties.  It was a good scene.  I cannot however, remember sleeping with any Guidettes, although I did date a few.  The female NBC tour guides were all gorgeous, as were the Rockettes across the street.  I loved dating the dancers.  The Rockettes went to lunch with a ton of make-up on their faces and could sneak you into Radio City Musical Hall to see the shows when we were on our long afternoon breaks between NBC shows.

One quiet Sunday morning I was alone on stand-by in the Page lounge reading a magazine with the ever-present TV tuned to NBC.  Production-wise all that was happening at the time was an interview show with Martin Agronsky up in studio 3B.  They needed no NBC Pages.

Curtis Harris walked into the Page lounge, saw I was the only one dressed and ready to work, and motioned for me to follow him. “Cavestani,” he said, “you will be going downstairs with me.  To that special and secret elevator we have in the sub-basement.  You know it?”  I did know it because that summer I did a few weeks replacement work for the morning disk jockey and funny man, Big Wilson.  My job was to monitor traffic reports from radio stations CBS, ABC, and WOR that had traffic helicopters, copy their traffic reports and hand them to Big Wilson (famous Disney CEO Michael Eisner had the same job the summer before me). The other part of the job was to go down to the coffee shop in the inner depths and lower streets of 30 Rock for our morning hit of java and Danishes at 5:00 am.  There were more than five sub-basements and a number of semi-secret elevators to the studios.  Limos could drive right up to these selected elevators.  The last time I rode a guest up in one it was a very nervous Peter Lorre.  I literally had to hold his hand as I escorted him from the rear elevators and through a waiting throng of Tonight Show fans.  “Get me out of here please!” he squeaked in that famous voice of his.  I almost laughed, but I had a job to do, so I grabbed his shaking hand once more and pulled him past the screaming crowed and got him to the Tonight Show elevator that was being held for him.

Curtis seemed particularly serious that Sunday morning.  “Come with me.  You will meet Governor Rockefeller and his security.  Take them to make-up on 3B.  Stay with him until he leaves.  And mind your manners.  Don’t be given’ him your acting resume or whatever.  Got it?”  I did.  After he introduced me to the governor, Page Supervisor Curtis was taking off the rest of the day that Sunday and left the building.

I stood near the governor’s security and watched the show.  It was a uneventful day, except the interview seemed to go on forever.  On top of that, the governor and Martin Agronsky did not seem to get along.  After the taping, Rockefeller was steamed.  He accused Martin of not closing quotes on some comment he had attributed to the governor and Rockefeller wanted to do the whole show over again, or at least that whole section.  This was exactly what they did.

Much later, I walked the governor back to the make-up room.  It was locked solid.  The make-up people were long gone.  “I am not going out like this,” the governor said while looking at me with dried make-up obviously on his face.  His security guard was close mouthed.  “I studied make-up, sir.  I can take that off you,” I said confidently.  AADA gave a make-up class which I liked and got an “A” in.

“You can?  That’s fine with me.  Let’s do it.”  I suggested to his security that we use the very large and well-adorned men’s room on the third floor.  NBC was designed in the late 20s and had huge marble and tiled restrooms that had strong, long mirrored marbled sinks you could actually sit on.  This is what I did with the governor of the EmpireState, his security politely waiting outside after checking the empty restroom.  Sunday afternoons, the NBC and the RCA building were practically empty of staff.

As I took the makeup off Nelson Rockefeller’s face, we talked.  He started it.  “What are your plans, son?  What do you want to be?”  Now, old Curtis warned me but I was not stupid.  This was not a resume; I was just answering a question.  The governor had just lost a son, listed as missing in the South Pacific near New Guinea, Michael Rockefeller, an explorer and anthropologist.  It was believed that he was killed by a tribe of cannibals after his boat overturned.  His body was never found but many years later a skull thought to be his was discovered.

Michael’s collection of vibrant woodcarvings and photographs and shrunken heads that he had brought back over the years from the Asmat tribe were on display a few blocks from NBC and RockefellerCenter and around the corner from MOMA on 54th Street.  I, for some strange reason, knew about Michael Rockefeller’s exhibit and had gone over to see the Asmat native art on a recent lunch break.  Well that really kicked off the conversation.  The governor was impressed that I had done that (the other bizarre ironic fact is that years later on that same 54th street — and I believe not far from that same building that held Michael Rockefeller’s exhibit — was the building in which the Governor had a heart attack and died while he supposedly was making love to his mistress). We peed together, like men sometimes do, washed our hands and headed for the elevators – the normal ones in the center of NBC.

As the sun set over the Hudson and we got to the governor’s car, now parked down on 50th street and out that famous NBC doorway and he turned to his man and said that “If this young man, Mr. Cavestani here, ever contacts us or needs help.  I want you to take care of him.”   “Yes sir,” was the reply.  The governor shook my hand and got into his car.  I thought to myself, well that is what people like governors and mayors say to people.  Besides, I will never need to call him for help.

Needing help, eight years later, I wrote a letter to Governor Nelson Rockefeller about my situation and how I needed a grant to carry on my video work and how I was being dismissed by others who seemed to have political clout which I did not have.  I was sure to mention that he had told me to ask  him for his help if I ever needed it; as well as remembering the fine conversation we had about his son Michael.

Soon after I mailed the letter, Russell Connors’ assistant at the Arts Council called to tell me I was invited to an upcoming meeting as an independent artist.  Not a word said about any letter to the governor.  Actually, I had not heard back from the governor’s office since I had wrote to him and figured that was that.

When I arrived at the Arts Council meeting, the office was full.  Video grants were a new entity to the Arts Council and people were literally elbowing for attention in the room.  Artists were crowded — sitting and standing around a long table.  I still felt like the low-man on the totem pole.  Not one of these “liberal artists” looked at me and I only knew a few of the faces from the downtown video scene.  I saw no place to sit and stood off to one side.  Russell Connors approached me and ushered me into a back room full of chest-high black filing cabinets.

Russell leaned one arm on a file cabinet and looked me in the eye and leaned in.  His face was uncomfortably close to mine.  He spoke almost in a whisper.  It all seemed odd and a bit scary to me.  I took a moment and noticed he was nervous.  I could say he looked scared.  “Frank, I heard from the governor’s office.  I didn’t know you knew him personally.  They’re concerned about you.  We did not mean to hurt your feelings in any way.”  He spoke softly.  His voice was quivering.  I felt bad for him.  “I can assure you, you will get a grant.  We’ll find you an umbrella group for you.  Alright?”

He was really asking.  “Sure, that’s great,” I answered.  He looked absolutely frightened.  I didn’t want him to have trouble.  He motioned me back outside.  I knew I shouldn’t say anything to the others.  Then he asked once more before he opened the door, his hand on the doorknob.  “Everything is okay now.  Right Frank?”  It was as if he was asking me, “Can I keep my job?”

“Everything is fine,” I said.  “Thank you.”  I went outside and found a seat.  The meeting droned on and I sat there knowing I would get a grant to do video for sure.  I guess some politicians do keep their word.  I’d just gotten a serious education in how things could work.

Governor Rockefeller was about to run for President for the 4th time.  He was a moderate, he loved and supported art.  I thought maybe I would vote Republican, this one time.  I was a Democrat.  But hey, it’s a free country.  I mean actually I never could vote Republican; I always felt there was some link missing in their gene pools.  How could they be against child labor laws?  I was not even political until I returned from the Vietnam War anyway.  Then I was outraged.

However, Rockefeller never ran for office again and the riots at Attica prison happened.  I felt strongly that he had overreacted by sending in the State Police shooting and killing prisoners and guards alike to show he was not weak on crime.  I thought he had made the wrong choice for political reasons.  Nevertheless, I did like him as a person.  I felt I knew him.  We were buds right?  Well, we did pee together.

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DOING LUNCH

DOING LUNCH

Many years ago in the city of New York, I was invited to lunch.

Shelley Winters, the movie star and a friend ever since I starred with her in the writer and film director James Bridges play, “Days of the Dancing” was always ready to cheer up a friend and was full of helpful surprises. This lunch was one of those moments.

Shelley and I had toured the summer stock circuit with the play. Robert Walker Jr. had starred with Shelley until he broke his ankle one night and Shelley wildly insisted that I could take over the part. I did, and we continued the tour.

For me Shelley was easy to love, others found her a handful. Her emotions flowed like some Italian plaza fountain. You were never quite sure how to react. However, out right rejection of any of her spontaneous ideas was not allowed. So when she called and said that she wanted me to go to lunch with her, a special lunch, I just showed up at her Central Park West apartment on time.

Shelley’s apartment was on 74th street and Central Park West, overlooking the Park.  My mother, a New York telephone operator, told me she once had handled an emergency call from Shelley years earlier.  Mother had to talk Shelley out of throwing herself out the window as Shelley ranted and raved.  (Possibly over an argument with Vittorio Gassman or maybe Anthony Franciosa.) In those days, telephone operators were told to stay on the line when people called the police for emergency help.

I loved going to Shelley’s apartment with the doorman greeting you and Broadway musical star Joel Gray on the same floor.  (Only two tenants to a floor.)  Roddy McDowall had an apartment like Shelley’s, further south, as did Montgomery Cliff.

Actor and Photographer Roddy had taken my acting head shots that same summer as we walked around Central park. I went to Monty Cliff’s apartment with James Bridges, the author of the play that Shelley and I were starring in just to meet Monty. That is a whole other story.

The day of this special “surprise” lunch the doorman had the taxi waiting for us as we came out of the elevator.  It was beautiful day, warm with a breeze, the park sparkled green. New York is surrounded by water and you could smell the rivers water.  Shelley looked great, she wore black as I recall. She was a bit overweight. I loved her looks and the way her eyes always met yours when she talked to you. She told the cab driver to head downtown to 72nd   street. That is the same street as the Dakota. The apartment complex where John Lennon was to live and die in years later.  I still had no idea where we were going or what the deal was with this “special” lunch.

The cab slowly made the turn onto the large broad 4-lane street, much wider than the ordinary west side streets, we edged passed the Dakota and soon stopped at a tall impressive apartment tower on the north side of the street. Just as quickly, the front seat next to the driver was filled with a robust and handsome head of hair. When the man turned to face Shelley and me in the back seat, he was indeed handsome and also quite angry. The man was actor Farley Granger. http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-farley-granger-20110330,0,5937382.story

Farley had a beef with Shelley, one that seemed to have been festering all morning or for years perhaps. I think it had to do with the timing of the pick up.  However, he seemed so angry it must have been about much much more.  Farley kept asking me if I agreed with his reasoning.  I recall stammering some weak noncommittal answer.

Farley relaxed as quickly as he had gotten excited and we rode a conversational sparse but smooth ride down to Sullivan Street and West Broadway. Getting out we immediately went into a loft building and up just one flight of stairs. On that first floor landing the door was opened by a very beautiful young blonde woman with a radiant smile. She seemed to know all of us, even me.  I have no idea who she was and cannot remember her name.

In the kitchen, a tall gray-haired man, with a pirate’s black eye patch turned from his choir of making a salad and greeted us. “Wine every body.” It was Nicholas Ray, the iconic film director of James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause.” http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/books/la-et-book-20110728,0,7209086.story

Shelley wanted me to meet Nick Ray, that was my surprise “gift” to me.  We were introduced, but as I recall now Nick and I hardly spoke for the rest of the day. Maybe he was not so impressed with this young actor friend of Shelley’s or perhaps he just loved all the great stories he was telling us… and his beautiful young girl friend serving us lunch. You can understand how he managed to be a great filmmaker, as he loved to tell a good story.  At the time, he told us he was teaching film at NYU film school.

The lunch was fabulous–bread, pasta and a salad–and of course wine.  One floor below Sullivan   Street buzzed with summer afternoon traffic. Shelley, Farley, and now Nick Ray seemed to love to get into little spats as to who said what when and who did what — so many years back in their cumulative past. I again was given the task of chiming in on one side or the other when asked: “Frank, what do you think. Is Shelley, talking shit, or what?” I cannot remember contributing to any of these conversations. Nick’s beautiful young girl friend wisely said as little as I did.  However, she had a charming smile, which helped me stay relaxed.

Shelley told a story about how Nick was able to sleep with Marilyn Monroe, thanks to Shelley’s efforts and Marilyn’s plans and desires.

As Shelley related it, Marilyn had a list of writers, directors, and or producers and actors she wanted to sleep with and lucky man Nick was on the list.  Shelley was seeing Ray and was a roommate and friend of Marilyn Monroe. Nicholas Ray was next on the list and Shelley was all up for helping her girl friend… get… well, get laid (It is so comforting to a mortal like myself to think Marilyn Monroe had an issue with this.)

As the story went from Shelley’s mouth to my ears that afternoon, Shelley invited Marilyn to dinner with her and Nick. Then as planned in mid-dinner Shelley was to feel ill and excuse herself and exit stage left to a cab and home. Marilyn would then be left with Nick and hopefully her conquest that night of the hot young director, Nicholas Ray. Shelley swears it all worked.

Nick denied the whole experience, and in fact claimed not to remember the event at all. Shelley accused him of male selective memory. “You did sleep with Marilyn?”  “Yes,” Nick answered but protested that, Shelley had nothing to do with that and he did not remember any dinner.” He did finally admit that he dated and went out with Shelley. “Yes, but…”  This argument never got settled that day or ever I would suppose, but there was much laughter around these provocative discussions.

(About a year later, I learned that Nick had lung cancer and in a few short years, he would be dead).

I was pleased to have had a lunch to remember and to have met and spent time with Nicholas Ray and Farley Granger.  However, I have never told anybody about this lunch until now. Perhaps, it was Farley Granger’s dying last March 2010–he was 85.  Maybe that fact brought this forgotten lunch so many years ago back to mind.  Thanks Shelley, thanks Nick Ray and Farley Granger all gone now; and as to the beautiful blonde girlfriend of Nick Ray’s — if she is still alive and well, if she is around, I would hope she would call me, or Facebook me, and we will ahh… do lunch.

Robert Walker Jr., Shelley Winters, and Frank

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WHO LET THE DOG OUT

WHO LET THE DOG OUT

The house was very modern, very spacious. The door was wide open and I walked right in. A minimal artsy setting. A familiar shiny white face greeted me. A short-haired blonde man in his early 40’s. Dressed in expensive slacks and cotton shirt. A deco look, not unlike the furniture. Someone I had seen before but I could not remember where or when exactly, but somewhere in the TV or film production business. A face that had always been friendly before but not now. “What are you doing here?” the face said. “I was invited.” I said. Thinking “You asshole.” Who are you to ask me that?

I moved passed him. This scene is the usual group of slightly above the line film industry people. However, that was not strange for me. I had been at a dozen of these parties and usually had a good time. No music, that is strange.

I helped myself to the punch bowl of fruity booze and moved on ignoring another familiar but unknown shiny face. I was invited! I think. I look in my pocket and checked the invite. There it was in big block red letters on white paper, “Party” and the address. Hearts too like a Valentine. Silly invite, I think.

The house was not crowded and yes, most of the men seemed gay but there were pretty women about too.

I see there is a balcony terrace overlooking the Hollywood Hills and the Valley below. One of those balcony terraces that look out over a two hundred foot drop to darkness.

This house overlooked Universal and its famous tour. The tour tens of thousands of tourists traipsed through each day, wondering what it was all about and a tour that was now sending fireworks off into the night sky. I was seeing all this through a large bedroom window. I wondered how to get out there on to the terrace where most of the guests seemed to be. I want to be there too.

I looked for a door out. No door. A voice in the corner of the bedroom shouted something to me. A direction — so quick, so sharp.  What was this guy saying? I must just not be seeing the door. Sometimes my vision was sloppy. I could not see something right in front of me. The bedroom was very dark. Only the glimmer of lights from outside lit it.

I felt a draft at my feet. There was a low door slightly open. I pushed it all the way open and thought I might bend down and go through this low door, maybe four or five feet off the floor and three feet wide. The door was wide open now. I thought to bend down and go through it. But that did not feel right. No. A crazy idea.

As I bent my head to stoop down, a dog ran passed me at a full trot and with a burst of energy that straightened me up. A longhaired and shaggy beast of a good size. Like a large sheep dog. Black and white with wavy long shaggy hair. Running straight out the door, right at the low wall of the terrace, never stopping, leaping over that wall in one powerful determined leap to the drop far below. God!

It is one of those moments in life where you know you have just seen death. You have just seen a final act, a final defined image that you will never forget. Blink! Picture that! Sealed in time.

The dog was toast. Gone. Dead for sure and some how — I was partially to blame. I had opened the door and these two other guys in the dark bedroom still sitting behind me would attest to that fact, I’m sure. “He opened the door!” I told him “Don’t open that door!” “He opened the damn door!” I did.

A low murmur and a sigh went up from the crowd outside the bedroom window; they all knew the crazy dog leaped his last leap. Dead for sure or so broken up you have to shoot him or have him put down.

By the time I got outside the whole party was abuzz with the dead dog. The leaping dog story. Whose dog was it I wondered? I should say something. Or should I? These bastards and all their stylish friends will want me dead. They may throw me off the balcony. Why did I open the door? What did that guy say to me? Maybe “Don’t let the dog out!” The dumb beast was probably locked in the bedroom and I let him out to his death. These people will have my head. Why did this dog not do this before?

I am now at the spot where the shaggy dog leaped and I look over the balcony, there is more light below than I would imagine. In some back yard I see the lump of black and white hair next to a pool, not moving and yes, very dead. A patch of blood, a large dark spot next to it.

I should talk to the owner. Nobody is saying a word to me and no one is even looking toward me. Maybe I should just get the hell out of here? Just slip off to my car parked down the street. I feel for the car keys in my pocket. I quietly slip the lone car key off the bulky key chain. I don’t want to be searching for it with a mob chasing me. I should talk to the dog owner. The house owner? Who owned the dog?

Now and then people are glancing at me. I hear the cops have been called. Cops? I didn’t do anything wrong. Although I feel like I did something wrong. I feel that I am to blame. Why was I in the darkened bedroom? Lost like Mr. Magoo. The party was outside. Why did I stupidly open that door that was obviously not for people? Why? I had better go.

I move to the front door of the house. Most of the guests seem to have gone. Where is the homeowner? Where is the person who owns that dog? No one is stopping me. I am outside on the street again. I see the cop talking to what I imagine is the owner. I am not talking to anyone. I did not do anything!

I will walk to my car and drive out of here, forget this night, forget this party. I am scared like I am going to be hunted down and shot for letting this guy’s dog kill itself. Dumb animal! It must have been miserable. An unhappy dog, sure. Maybe the guy beat his dog? Maybe it didn’t even live here and had no idea there was a drop over that wall. Yeah, that makes sense. Just wanted to run home again. His owner should have left him home. I finger the key in my hand and walk to the car.

I get in the car and slowly get in the line of cars that is pulling passed the house. I tell myself I am not going out for a good while ever again. Just stay home. I have a cat that I never take anywhere. Never.

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