I do not consider myself a Real Writer, by any means. A Real Writer, in my opinion, sits down and does the thing because they absolutely must express in just this very way or die a thousand deaths somewhere deep inside. Me, not so much. Although, that being said, there are some things that will not leave me in peace until they’re written, over which I’ve been known to grumble and angst until I’m done. I do so love , however, Having Written. Need a song, a scene, a story told in a particular way for a particular reason, that’s when the work gets done – by assignment, if you will. Here’s some of my writing:
- Carve Me A Bed - Suzie Plakson
Keep your Valentine from the grocery store.
That thing of nothing,
That anything for anyone.
Carve me a bed.
That’s right. Yes, I did say that.
Carve me a bed.
Charge straight into the heart of the woods
and fall to your knees in the leaves
and pray fervently to be shown our best and highest fate.
Ridiculous, you say.
What are you talking about.
But I continue.
I speak to your soul, who knows you better than you do.
Yes, and our bed-wood is a massive oak struck by lightning.
Open and blackened and smoking and lying in wait.
And you, like the heroes you hang on your walls
make a sling of the belts you wear
and drag off a huge and heavy hunk of that smoldering oak,
cutting a deep, fertile trail in the earth behind you,
rescuing the rest of our destiny.
And I on my power horse,
in my gauze dress
hear a saw in the distance,
hear a hammering and follow it,
knowing, hoping, scared, sure.
And I draw near and look over the gate
and there you are after all
straining and sweating and striving
to be original.
And I step inside and we smile.
We know what we’re about here.
And you saw and I sand and you sculpt and I stain.
And, at long last, we are spent:
we are bloodied and blistered and beholding
the beginnings of our hand-hewn love-bed.
Work we’re proud of, that solders us together.
Yes, who would ever take the time
or expend such energy
even if they were a demi-god.
Even if there were such a blackened-oak, lightning-split tree.
Even if they could carve.
Or love so much.
Don’t you see,
it is an exalted feeling I want,
an idea, a world with wings,
a travelling inward and skyward,
a trying, a failing,
a blooming, a burgeoning into being.
A Work of Art, of course.
Keep the card with the pallid sentence pledging forever.
And the rose you bought in the mall.
And the chocolate that tastes like wax.
And the mildly funny valentine.
Carve us a bed
in your head
with all your heart
and then maybe we’ll see
what we mean
- The Edge and I - Suzie Plakson
I’ve never lived on the Edge.
Or near it, really.
Or in the fabulously fabled Center.
I’ve mostly been mired in this marsh of a Middle.
Like a toothless crocodile.
You know the Edge, the legendary Edge.
Seems everybody else has danced on it in toeshoes.
Bragged about making love on it,
in a sleeping bag under the stars.
Setting fires on it,
sending smoke signals to folks
at the other end of the universe,
sitting on their Edges, sending smoke signals.
I’ve heard tell of the Edge, alright.
But my mother wouldn’t let me go.
It’s different now, though.
Life’s ever so much shorter now.
So call me to the Edge and I will come.
But be sincere.
And stand there and wait for me, like you promised.
Yes, if you call and mean it,
I will come.
I will reach for a branch
and yank myself out of the muck
and begin to walk.
To where the sun shines from.
And the moon shines over.
To where I’ve never been invited before
and am somehow expected now.
Yes, I will trudge to the Edge,
feet heavy with fear and mud from the Middle muck still stuck
and left to dry
and by the time I reach it
I will be free
of the dust of all those centuries.
Clean and whistling.
And when I get there
if you are there
Why, I will skip along that old Edge.
Why, I will tra-freakin’-la at the top of my lungs.
I will waltz and
I will teeter and
I will stand on one leg and
I will dare oblivion to come and get me.
Maybe I will fall and fall and fall
forever and a day
Maybe I will, so what
At least I’ll have direction
and the wind in my hair
and the lightest of hearts
and no appointments to bore me
and no one feeling sorry that I fell.
I’ll just keep on free falling.
Why — I’ll make it my profession.
Yes, I’ll become an expert, first-class faller
cutting z-shapes in the air
with my skirt around my ears
twirling downwards at breathtaking speed
so that all the folks sitting on branches
along the side
are too afraid to wave
for fear that they’ll fall, too
and that’d make me giggle all the way
down into eternity.
whilst I were standing at the Edge looking
over and out and beyond and through
all the illusions,
I might fly.
But no one has to go on about flying.
Too much has been made of it already.
Yes, I think to fall might be the more exhilarating of the two.
Spirits fly, so there’s plenty of time for that.
But, ah, to fall forever, masterfully,
in somersaults and swan dives,
no shrieks of terror,
only screams of laughter and
curses of laughter and
sobs of laughter.
would be something.
So, call me to the Edge and I will come.
I will show right up.
I may not choose to fall at first, it’s true.
But push me, if you please.
Tell me that you love me
and give me a sweet, light shove
and bid me adieu
and dangle your legs over
and eat a sandwich
and watch me ’til I’m
Ohhh, what did he do.
Whatever did he do?
Too many S’s in his name?
Did it tickle the roof of the mouth of a god
who’d just lost his prize mortal gal to a groovier god than he?
Did he just get too poor to pay somebody tribute?
Step on some goddess’s train?
Steal some ambrosia, just to taste?
Such a big boulder.
Such a nasty task.
Oh, could we face it, if we knew?
Is it true?
Was Sisyphus simply not beautiful enough to forgive?
Aye, there’s the real rub, I’ll bet.
The bald truth, that:
Bulbous nose, thin hair, line-lipped, snaggle-toothed.
Yep, I’ll bet they’ve forgotten all about him,
those glamorous gods who gave him perpetual hell.
And the poor shlubub doesn’t have time to petition them,
because he’s busy with the boulder all day and night.
And he doesn’t have the money to bribe someone to do it for him
because he’s busy with the boulder all night and day,
I mean, it’s just so obviously not a paying gig.
Why, he’s famous and influential and referred to, even!
And he has no idea.
So, what did he do, and why can’t he stop?
Maybe he can, and he just doesn’t know it.
What would happen if:
one day or one night,
when he’s just about to push that big damn boulder up that ridiculous hill,
for the umpteen trillionth time,
what if he just plain didn’t.
And instead, he sits down.
And he stretches his legs.
And he leans back on that old boulder
and rolls that cigarette he’s been dreaming about
for a thousand odd years.
And when the manager of his section comes by and glares at him,
Sisyphus glares back, and he says,
“This goddam thing can just sit here for all eternity. I’m done, ya got that?”
Sisyphus sets himself free.
That’s what I’m after.
Why, it’s in the papers the next day.
Sisyphus: Free At Last!
Big Goddam Boulder Carved Into Statue
Dedicated to Freedom
I tell you, if I could get into hell without too much torment
or without stepping on cracks and being assigned my own boulder,
why, I would sneak in and
I would incite Sisyphus to revolution.
I really would.
at a blink, on a wish, in a twinkling, for a whim.
To be rescued from indecision
because molecules move
with the bend of a pinkie,
the beat of a lash,
the flash of a smile.
To want, to pray, to whine
from the ground into the air
for a shower of divine sparklings
to make me heartstartingly irresistible
to leaders of soulless corporations who require miraculous transformation.
To command that all weapons, all viciousness melt into a single spear
to be shot out into infinity,,
to be caught and twisted and stuck artfully through the earlobe of the God who lives on the Star-Womb at the Southwest End of the Universe.
Oh, to stride over state lines, through nations,
unkillable, inconceivable, miles high,
a see-through gown of stars and sunlight,
in blinding golden sandals,
stooping at last, to pick up all the blind bad apples who play with wars,
and pour them into a deep, soft, dark bag.
And when it is full of such nasty, greedy, needy little humans,
I hold the top closed,
then I shake it and shake it and shake it and shake it
then I open it up and blow on it
then I turn it upside down
and out they fall or fly or float
as some have now become…
…trees who fall to the ground
whose luxuriant roots reach down, down, down for continents around
and turn the tan and tired soil black and moist and rich and new again,
growing fine fresh food to feed the world five times over for free.
…and others have now become
flocks and flocks of white-winged birds who fly as one breath
whose flapping winds cleanse the sky of all choking sins
whose songs seal up the ozone and turn the blue pure blue again.
…and still others are still stubborn, of course,
like cockroaches, but with less excuse, yes,
still selfish, stupid, greedy, needy, now terrified little humans,
who bob up and down,
in the middle of the sea,
some who can’t swim, some who can.
all have to hold on, hold on, hold on,
to keep each other alive,
a raft made of thoughtless humans,
former heads of corporations without conscience,
now, no longer golfing in their pinks and their greens,
and laughing in their red ties
but clinging to each other,
sobbing and screaming
while I clap thunder and zap lightning
to remind them of their ridiculous, presumptuous micro-size.
And I slap them down
and submerge them
and save them
and then slap and submerge and save them again and again,
holding their heads under almost too long each time,
to teach them respect.
And then I leave them to float and float and float
to be finally spat out on some distant shore,
like sour milk.
Not at all impressive, no,
no longer crisply suited, hair parted so distinctly on the left —
but bloated, sunburned, split-lipped, lily-livered, half-dead.
And they kiss the sand and each other
and they cry and they whine and they sleep
and they dream and thirst for clean water and clean air
and green green green green Everywhere.
Oh, to be gargantuan and to get to wake some people up.
The Last Moments Of A Ridiculous Woman
You see, I haven’t put a foot right, not from the start. I have always made the wrong choices. So, whoever you might be, dear Reader, know this: Absolutely nothing you or anyone might have said or done could have called me back from the abyss; they were my choices, they were my feet, after all. You must first understand that I was infinitely more deluded than the average idealist. I was erotically in love with my ideals, driven by them, tortured by them, exhausted, paralyzed, crushed by them, and now – at long last, eureka! — I am free of them. Relieved of that dead, lead albatross of grandiosity.
Let me assure you that this is an instant in time of remarkable clarity. Even the pictures in my room are so crisply outlined as to stand out a little further from the wall. Suddenly, to me, this is the most sparkling of nights. And no, I am not manically euphoric, so put away that smug list of disorders that throws words and labels at things as if they will explain everything, change anything. “Disorder” – ha! As if we were ever meant to be ordered, like a silverware drawer. And if I were to decide to stay, after all, would you ever after medicate my miseries, analyze the life out of my mysteries? And come up with what, exactly? Why live on to feel like a butterfly pinned to a book?
Anyway, speaking of books, when you find the well-worn book of his stories nearby (and I’ll leave them just so, so that you will), I beg you to believe: Dostoevsky didn’t do it. Though perhaps you’ll say he might have been some sort of tipping point. He did, after all, acquaint me with the fact that I am a kindred spirit to those pathetic characters of his: obsessive, depressive, tormented, aching, slamming off the walls within, my body cringing convulsively in the night with the desire to be free of itself, free of its skin, free of even the freedom I have trapped it in by my incompetence to create a truly worthy life. Consider this the biting off of a foot so as to be free of the trap.
Speaking of feet, Dostoevsky sat at the foot of my bed the other night. Yes, of course, it was a dream. At least, I think it was, though it seemed to go on interminably throughout the night. I was dreaming that
I was in bed, in my room, everything just exactly as it is with open eyes, except Dostoevsky himself was there, sitting on my bed, his weight too heavily on the covers near my right foot the whole time, so that I couldn’t move it. He was wearing an ill-fitting wool suit that seemed damp somehow. He went on and on and on and on about I can’t remember what but suffice it to say, his raptures and rantings and ramblings were not about me at all. He was pouring the rushing rapids of his psyche into the room as I sat paralyzed in my piles of pillows, a captive audience who never learned to swim, in constant danger of being pulled under by his relentless, megalomaniacal monologue.
I was polite, of course. I was enthusiastic. I said, “Oh, yes!” and “Oh, no!” with my hand to my heart in all the right places. I was then sympathetic, then bored, then aggravated – and then I realized two things. One: Nothing I did or didn’t do made the slightest difference to the flow of his thoughts, as I was no more than a great lump of nothing on the bed, both to him and to myself. And Two: I was excruciatingly jealous of him. There he was, this spindly creature who’s never seen the sun, with a greasy comb-over and that ugly suit that smelled vaguely of formaldehyde.
My foot began to hurt, but I was too afraid to say anything; I was afraid to scare him away. He may have been the stuff that dreams are made of, but he was robust company. He was, after all, a genius, a visionary, a literary giant of giants. I, who have failed in everything, recognize true greatness, even in my sleep. Still, there was no excuse for his being so relentlessly self-consumed.
It was when he began to talk about how he was wrestling with a chapter about a woman who was tragically ineffectual and crippled by the fact of her womanhood that I became outraged at him for so completely ignoring me, for thieving from me like that, for going on and on as if he were going to teach me something about being an ineffectual woman! I felt he was plagiarizing my very soul, and so, through the sheets and blankets, I pushed him with my foot – hard. And it was so odd, it felt like I was kicking a sack of potatoes. I had to do it quite fiercely, quite a few times, and before he even noticed, I had very nearly pushed him off the bed. He finally felt the wrath of my foot, and sat suddenly upright, looking around angrily, but still not seeing me, when at last, I managed to speak: But, alas, all that barely came out was a mouse-voiced, “I’m here, too, you know.”
He didn’t look at me but he stopped and listened, as if he’d heard a small animal rustle in the bushes alongside him. Then he sighed heavily -theatrically, I thought. And then he slumped and stared sightlessly at the leg of a chair for a time. His hand wandered up to absently trace the bald part of his head which was too red in patches, and peeling a little here and there, his fingertips taking no notice of the uneven terrain, circling round and round and round, as he breathed noisily through his nostrils.
Then, without warning, he turned and looked straight at me, straight into me, as if I were a sudden, brilliant idea he had. Until that moment, I’d thought his eyes disappointingly colorless, watery, pink-rimmed, rabbit-like, but — ohhh, ohhh, dear Reader — when he turned to me in that moment, I gasped, I’m sure I did. His soul, his infinite, sparkling soul was shining through those numinous, sky blue eyes. And then, his soul smiled, recognizing mine, and somehow it seemed that the sun came out inside the room. And in that moment, everything in life felt glorious and made perfect sense. And then, with a grin, he leaned in close to me and he whispered: “There will always be an answer.” And he looked at me with such a tender sympathy that all at once I melted into sobs.
And, like any man who doesn’t know how to love, he got horribly annoyed. In an instant, I choked off my sobs by holding my breath. But it was too late; he was already twitching and uncomfortable. He had shifted away from me to the very edge of the bed, and he began crossing one foot over the other and crossing them back again. And then suddenly he froze — like an animal the moment before an earthquake. And then, just as suddenly he began to frantically pat every possible pocket for what turned out to be a chewed-up, almost grotesque little pencil nib. Then he feverishly pulled out his wallet and extracted from it a small, worn slip of paper. This small square of paper was wrinkled and soft and had already been written on, I could see. With great urgency, he hunched over his knee, scribbled on the slip of paper, then read it, then laughed a bit to himself and, just as he took out his wallet again to slip the paper back in, he decided to show me what he’d written.
In the center of the paper, in a doctorly chickenscratch, it read:
“He takes, she gives.” Well, the moment I read that my heart turned to iron inside my chest. I had never felt so entirely, utterly defeated and dismissed. And just as I reached for the paper to tear it to shreds, he vanished. And I woke up.
So, there you have one more ridiculous reason why I leave the Dostoevsky stories as a pointless prop on the scene as the curtain comes down at long last. Or maybe I will forget to leave it nearby, after all. Ah, well, come Freudians, come Jungians, have at it, do your worst. Life is a riddle, a ride, a winding corridor of doors, a waste, a wonder, a work of art, a crime, a tangle of old necklaces in a junk drawer, and you will never understand, and you will never admit to not understanding.
Now, dear Reader, dear Finder, please don’t think of me with pity, as if I’ve been pummeled by too much injustice. I tell you, I had it coming. I squandered my life. Botched it. Bungled it. I feel as if I have failed to answer some great puzzle. Quite simply, my friend, the phoenix within me is just altogether too exhausted to rise and rise and rise, yet again. Yet again… I have been curled inside the bedclothes for months on end, burrowing into them, feeling so deeply chilled, seeking the womb of flannel sheets, hoping to be reborn, feeling unborn, even stillborn. That’s no way to live, to waste more precious life that way, wouldn’t you agree?
I have to say, it’s fascinating to find myself here at the very last in such a state of dispassion. No, it doesn’t matter what I write about tonight, as I take leave of this lifetime; it is simply my soul’s DNA leaving a trail on the way out the door, like a snail leaves a tiny stripe of slime on its way from the sidewalk to the lawn.
Oh, how lovely and quieting it is to know that this is The Last Night. The air through the window is just cold enough to carry that smell of something fresh and green from somewhere nearby. You may suggest that I hang around a while and commit to maintaining this point of view, but I know it will be dissolved in no time by leafblowers and car alarms and police sirens and supermarket lighting and, of course, the internet.
Yes, I have always been in a ludicrous disharmony with the spirit of my age. Perhaps I would’ve been better off in the 19th century, fanning myself and embroidering pillows.
No, dear Reader, I blame no one but myself.
And I am here to tell you that the one and only thing I will miss is the sunlight through the trees.
“I have failed to live up to my ideals!”
Who says that, who says that over and over again, somebody says that. Oh, yes, yes, that’s right… that ridiculous military man in one of the Dostoevsky stories. He is such an arrogant idiot – yet somehow I felt so deeply drawn to him. It feels to me that we are soul mates, both getting it all wrong, both of us not understanding how things truly work in this world.
So, now, with my mind as open as the sky, I reach into that 19th century world of his…
And I step into the ornate office of my dim-witted darling, who is slumped in his chair, in full uniform, with his head in his hands, weeping, despairing, and every bit as alone as me. I go to him, noiseless, barefoot on the deep red carpet, which feels like clouds under my feet.
My sudden presence surprises him. He looks up with — is it, yes! It is recognition in his cow-brown, black-lashed eyes. Oh, he is so glad to see me, as if I have come back to him after an achingly long absence! And I kneel, yes, I kneel at his foolish feet, falling into the folds of my sumptuous, ice-blue satin ballgown.
And I take his hand, which is so very warm, and dry, and strong, and grateful, and I kiss the palm of it, and place it on my cheek. Then he places his other hand so very tenderly on my other cheek, and we look at each other with perfect understanding.
And then, we lock the door, laughing, and we feed each other caviar and champagne. And why, yes, of course, we give ourselves over to lovemaking, right there on the floor of his office. After all, he’s so warm, so strong, so beautiful, so loving, why not? What with life evidently just a hair’s breadth of time – why not live?
Live, I tell you. Live.
Harold had gotten so bigheaded lately (or so Charlene’s been telling me over and over and over), ever since he’d started buying and re-selling those whaddayacallums, those laptop computer type deals. Anyhow, I ran into Harold myself the other day and he certainly did seemed changed. As a matter of fact, I thought he looked real nice.
“Harold! Look at you, looking all spruced up today! But aren’t you hot — it’s two thousand degrees out!”
“Well, Tallulah, a good salesman is like the mailman: rain or sleet or hail or heat, a good salesman don’t mind the weather, and looks dapper whenever or wherever!”
“Dapper — yes, that would be the word for it! Look at you with your sporty bow tie! You know, when Charlene said you was –”
“Oh, Charlene don’t know the first thing about it. She’s looking down on my new business venture as if I was some old dope. Well, I’m old alright, no arguing that, but I’m no dope.”
“I must say, you look taller, somehow. I think that alone is a fine thing.”
He certainly did seem to be carrying himself a little more upright.
“Why, thanks, Tallu! I’m gonna tell Charlene you said so. She thinks I’m a dang fool to wear my good suit every day.”
“You best leave the telling to me, Harold. If you tell her she’ll find a reason to start hollerin’ at both of us, and it’s just too darn hot for that.”
That made him laugh. Harold always did have a big, hearty laugh when something struck him funny enough.
“Right you are, right you are! Hey, how’d you like to take a peek at one my laptop computers? I got three of ‘em in my truck, all ready to go and looking forward to meeting some lucky new owner!”
“Oh, I don’t want to go on no computer, Harold. I hear there’s a lot of pornography that springs right up at you without you even expecting it. I’d be scarred for life.”
We both laughed loud at that one, as it’s no mystery that I am as old as Methuselah and likely ain’t got but five minutes left to live, in the general scheme of things.
“But, you know, though, Tallu, they can give you a blocker or a firewall type o’ thing to shut all that pornography out for you. It’s wonderful, the computer. We’re in the space age, we really are.”
“No, thank you kindly, but anyhow — I wish you great good luck, Harold. I think it’s fine to have a big new adventure at this time of life!”
He smiled and looked down at his shoes. He still blushed exactly like he did when he was in third grade, all the way down his neck.
And I just had to say, “I just have to say, though, Harold, just sticking my big fat nose in where it ain’t wanted for just a moment, about the buying and investing part of it. Well, you remember what happened with my brother, that was such an awful big mess. It took forever to get out from under it. That’s why he left.”
“Yes, I remember very well, and no disrespect to Orville, but — well, this isn’t anything like his situation, this is an entirely different animal altogether.”
“Truth is, Harold, I don’t know what I’m talking about, so don’t listen to me, but I have noticed when folks around here have the tiniest bit of trouble — especially on something they think they’re getting a deal on — well, you know how they can be, they get all sue-happy. Don’t mind me in the least, though, I’m just talking.”
“You girls… You always want to be so careful.” And we stood for a moment, watching a plane make its way across the sky. “My gosh, Tallu — the whole doggone ride’s almost over, don’t you see? I just want enough money to get me a good size, second hand boat, so I can just float around on a summer afternoon, listen to the water lap up against the sides of it, you know?”
Charlene never mentioned this boat idea, not even once. I wonder if he ever told her. Probably not. Probably afraid she’d crush it like a bug.
“Take this boat of yours up to Lake Joe, you mean?”
“Sure, why not!”
We both knew that Lake Joe was for all the rich people, that’s why not. But I didn’t blink an eye. After all, miracles happen.
“I’d just take out that boat and just float and float, all afternoon…”
He looked so soft and young in that moment, I near cried for him. He was such a sweet man, really, and much too unfairly banged up by life, I always thought.
“Harold, I want you to know that I do so sincerely hope you get your boat. I surely do.”
His eyes shined in such a way I do think he was blinking back a tear. And suddenly, I remembered that time, way back when we were in high school . . . Yes, that time we sat talking on the bleachers for hours and hours it seemed like, that day he lost his race in the state track meet. What did we talk about? Well, I don’t recall, but I do know for a fact that I went home that night and wrote our names together in curlie-cues all over my notebook.
“Maybe you’d even take a nice ride in it, huh, Tallu?”
“You know I would! I’d pack the three of us a nice picnic lunch. Oh, and we’d have to get ourselves some champagne to celebrate!”
And I suddenly got shy, so I said my good-byes. And he called out after me,
“Tallulah? Thanks a million! And – and don’t you worry, I promise I won’t take any wooden nickels!”
And I walked off smiling, hoping that I’d have the good sense not to die before I got the chance to float around on Lake Joe in Harold’s new second-hand boat, sipping champagne.
- Kicking It - Suzie Plakson
Every once in a while, if I look back on my long and winding career in what is commonly known as show biz, I find myself panning for golden moments and — not unlike the potbellied old quarterback reliving that perfect play of the homecoming game — I like to recall this absolutely perfect golden moment, roll it around in my mind a little and watch it gleam:
It’s New York City, 1987. I’m playing Maleficent, Mistress of All Evil, in the Disney Summer Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall! A rottenly written theme park transplant, spilling over with every conceivable Disney character ever invented or stolen, all played by terrific singer-dancers, a few kid-actors, me, and the one and only Radio City Music Hall Rockettes — all shmushed into a manic, forty-five minute revue, twenty-one shows a week, like vaudeville.
“Return to Oz” is the movie they run along with our show — that dazzler of a Disney flick that opens with little Dorothy getting electroshock treatment. Appalled mothers with wailing children flee the theatre in waves. I take it upon myself to write to Michael Eisner. I implore him to pull this horror trip, to put in something tried-and-true, something gentle and beautiful like Dumbo or Pinnochio or Cinderella but oddly, he doesn’t respond.
Now, Radio City resents the hell out of Disney because Disney’s relentlessly breathing down their necks like Radio City has no idea how to put on a show. The singer-dancers resent the hell out of Disney because they’re busting their butts in used, smelly, hyper-hot, hyper-heavy animal costumes and blowing their teensy paychecks at the chiropractors. The Rockettes resent the hell out of Disney because they’re forced to wear mutant eight-foot broom costumes in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You never heard such curse words coming out of a broom.
And me — I resent the hell out of Disney because it has been mandated that I must be green. Yes, in some stupid stone manual, it had been carved:
“All Evil Witches Must Be Green.”
No matter that in the city-block-long cavern that Radio City Music Hall is, you can’t see my face past the tenth row anyway — that by all audience accounts, my green face is just a gray splotch. No matter that the movie Malificent morphs through many an ivory skin tone. No matter that that I can’t ever seem to get all the green off so even when I’m not green I look ill. No matter that I’m the only person trapped at the theatre in between all twenty-one shows while all my friends get to go out to play, while I’m left pacing back and forth like a caged animal, smoking six thousand four hundred and twenty seven cigarettes. And no matter that the rest of my getup already so does the trick:
I mean, I enter, rising from below the stage, evilly laughing — pretty pathetically, I might add — but there’s thunder! There’s lightning! There’s a big pyrotechnic thing! I got the big black horns, I got the big fuscia-Elvis-collar attached to a black body suit, I got the over-the-elbow-green-evening-gloves with three inch red nails on ‘em, I got the massive black velvet cape heavy as a fire curtain and — I also just happen to be wearing a nine foot high motorized black velvet skirt. Driven, yes, driven expertly by a great guy named Nick. Well, driven expertly except for the rare, but interesting occassions when he falls asleep. Nicky and I, understandably, bond.
But, really, the greenface has so gotta go!
Now, one of the more angelic characters of the summer, Ken, happens to work for The Other Side. Ah, life is never simply good or evil, black or white, green or fleshtone, is it? Anyway, Ken was the company manager, the liason guy, the bridge between these two warring American Institutions, and, as such, he’s inscrutable, but Ken’s been a Broadway stage manager for most of his life, so he definitely gets what needs to be gotten, and he nobly, steadily goes to bat for me, eventually eroding the theretofore unalterable Green Witch Policy.
Yes, I do believe that it’s just as I begin to crack from cabin fever, and, on a dare, go, in full green face, to the Clinique counter at Sax Fifth Avenue to buy moisturizer that Ken brings me news of my freedom from green, my freedom to join my pals at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in between shows for chocolate cake, chocolate sundaes and six thousand four hundred and twenty seven cigarettes.
Now, Disney happens to have this other written-in-stone policy that I laugh at and mildly ponder the effects of, but don’t mind much, and that’s this: “Evil Characters Don’t Get Curtain Calls.” Mice, dogs, ducks, humans, yes — witches, no. Okay, whatever, fine.
So, at the end of every show, every day, during every curtain call-finale of that twenty-one show week, I climb down the ladder from my skirt, I hang out with Nicky and the crew guys, and watching from the wings, I try never to miss the one truly sensational thrill of the show: the vast Radio City Music Hall Orchestra climbs a few tantalizing keys, fantastically breaks into a an orgasmically Broadway-ized version of — okay, “Zip-idee-doo-dah” — but:
In all their silver-sequined, torquoise velvet, silver tap-shoed glory, in the undisputed mother of all kick lines, those Rockettes rise majestically up out of the floor and rise and kick and rise and kick and well, yeah, I usually tear up a little. And somehow, I can’t help but begin to dream that, maybe, some day, somehow, maybe I could — nahhh . . . but, aw, gee, maybe, just once, just one show, wouldn’t it be swell if I could — nahhh, everybody’d just say no, and it’s too conceited too ask for, nahhh . . . But it sure is nice to dream, anyway, waiting in the wings.
I then get a small but significant gift from the gods, which comes, as they so often do, disguised as a slap in the face. Never — especially if you’re afraid to want too much, or to aim too big — never underestimate the motivational value of a direct insult:
The perfectly moronic bearer of this divine little awakening, has the distinction of being one of the first truly monumental cementheads of my career. The program says he’s our producer, but he’s Disney Quality Control, alright. In his powder blue leisure suits and shiny print shirts and huge tinted aviator glasses and sprayed combover, he shows up to cluelessly, pointlessly mess with all elements of the show, to give performance notes with his astonishing artistic acumen, and to leave, in his ignorant, toxic wake, a sea of cursing crew guys and singer-dancers, and five suicidal stage managers. I’ll call him Derwin. Derwin is a poisonous pimple on the otherwise happy tushy of our planet.
So between his last visit and this one, I’ve been given three tiny new lines of dialogue that have been handed all the way down through the Disney approval hierarchy to Ken, and then, to me. So, of course, I’d been saying them.
Derwin comes up to me after the show and says:
“Those lines you said. Have you been drinking? Are you drunk?”
Well, I’m so shocked and so furious, that, of course, I laugh and then I explain, reasonably, politely. Oh, sure, please, of course, I would love to have done the movie version: Slowly I turn, and I say, “How I get through twenty-one shows a week of this warmed-over, pureed crap WITHOUT DRINKING is a bloody MIRACLE, pal, and you should get down on your pathetic combed-over powder blue knees and — “
— but, no. No, I ingest the inanity (I was bred to be too polite), but fear not — this time, my system, instead of taking the usual rageful nap, converts this poison into fuel — to turn a wisp of a daydream into a deliciously wicked scheme, like every good witch oughta. Policy could go straight to hell. I was gonna kick policy’s butt but good. And I was gonna be wearing a pair of silver tap shoes to kick it with.
So, I lay out my plan to Nicky: On the very, very last show, when all the Disney brass is there — ha-ha! — I would take my incredibly well-deserved twenty-one-show-a-week verboten evil-character curtain call, thank you, and I would put an exclamation point on the end of that sentence by kicking in the center of line with the actual historical Radio City Music Hall Rockettes!
Nick is ecstatic. He figures they’ll dock my pay, which scares the hell out of me, but he tells me not to worry if they do, the guy’s’ll chip in and pay my salary themselves, but — he tells me now, what I really need to do is –– I need to go to the Head Rockette Lady and ask her permission.
Oh, such a quiet, old-fashioned lady of a lady she was, who used to be a Rockette herself, of course, and who’d had such a wearying summer so far. I knock on her office door, she’s sitting at her desk, I almost curtsy, I tell her my wish. She asks me how, what would I look like, so I tell her:
Bottom half, I’m a Rockette — flesh-tone stockings, silver tap shoes. Top half, I’m Malificent — Elvis-collared body-suit, long-nailed evening gloves, big black horns.
And it’d go like this: it’s the end of curtain calls, see, all the characters have taken their bows, the right after Mickey comes running out of the Disney castle arch, taking his now penultimate bow, the orchestra climbs that one tantalizing key, just before Zippeedeedoodah — then I’d appear! In the castle archway! I’d work that arch to the right, I’d work that arch to the left, then I’d walk on forward downstage, join fluidly with the Rockettes as they rise from the floor, kicking and rising, kicking and rising along with them, then Rockette good-bye wave, curtain down.
The Head Rockette Lady smiles softly, and moves the stapler from one pile of paper to the other. And great lady that she is, she’s only worried they’ll dock my pay. I tell her it doesn’t matter, and I almost believe it. And she gives me a nod and a smile and she sends me to ask the gals, but she says I must be sure to go to the dressing room to the left, which housed the core Rockettes, the alpha Rockettes.
Well, I knock on the door to the left and an old MGM movie springs to life: I stick my head into a dressing room full of sequins and cigarette smoke and raucous laughter. I respectfully propose my evil scheme to these all-time-great dames, and they laugh and they scream “YES!” instantly, and they decide that Jeannie, the tallest Rockette, the one in the center, would teach me the tricks of the trade.
One last hoop to go around or through: I so didn’t want Ken to get called on the carpet by Disney after he’d been my hero — do I tell him, do I not, do I tell him, do I not, I tear my hair, I take my chances, I go to his office, I confess my dream, I tell how it’ll all go down, I wait for the verdict.
He listens — not one single muscle moving in his face — and he says, right away, like I’d asked him the time,
“What I don’t know anything about, I don’t know anything about. Good-bye.”
And I’m off like a shot to buy tights and tap shoes! Those in the know agree not to tell the singer-dancers — we want no chance of a leak.
Now, Jeannie the Rockette has the patience of Job as I make her rehearse with me seven thousand two hundred and forty-six million times. Not that there’s so much to learn, but, there’s this – this wierd little back-step- cross-up-into-the-kick thing? that if the right was where the left oughta be, or the left was where the right oughta be, well —
— it’s what would either springboard me into perfect synchrony with the most famous synchronized kickline in the whole of history, or what could lead to, sure: Almost Unfathomable Disaster. I lie in bed at night in the grinding jaws of the obsessive anxiety monster: I’m going to be the only person who isn’t a star to ever kick in the center of the line with the actual historical Radio City Music Hall Rockettes — and without a group rehearsal! And every once in a while, I’m still screwing up the wierd little backstep!!
I keep seeing the headline, over and over: “STUPID KLUTZ PULLS DOWN ENTIRE LINE OF THE LEGENDARY ROCKETTES FOR THE FIRST TIME IN THE HISTORY OF RADIO CITY — ”
There would be sprained ankles, torn ligaments, dislocated disks, endless concussions, and yes, of course, a death! We were, after all, on a stage that was continuing to rise as we were kicking! I could hear the innocent skull crack, I could see the bloody sequined tourquoise-velvet white-plumed bellboy-cap flying slo-mo into the blackness of the orchestra pit. Dream, schmeam!! What was I thinking?!?
Well, Time taps inexorably on, and it’s the last day, the last show.
So: Instead of my usual black tights and pink-checkered hightop sneakers, I’ve got on the fleshtone tights and silver tap shoes. I rush down to the basement, quietly tap-tap-tap-tap-tapping, climb up the ladder, get into my skirt without anybody seeing me, and there I sit all alone, in the bowels of Radio City Music Hall, praying.
The show goes almost entirely smoothly, except for one exceptionally alarming hiccup: Because of the taps, I slip inside my skirt, kick Nick in the head, and almost fall in on top of him. But, unfazed, Nicky tells a now frantically apologizing, completely freaking out me, “Suzie, Suzie, don’t worry about it — don’t ya see, you can’t slip now — y’already got it out of the way!” Good ol’ St. Nick.
But — it’s time, it’s now, it’s Curtain Call!
Definitely not as usual, I’m behind the Disney Castle on one side of the archway, my singer-dancer buddies in their character costumes on the other side of the archway, waiting to take their very last bows, the big beautiful shaft of soft white light from the stage shining onto the floor between us. For all they know, it’s the last show so I’m just there to say good-bye, oh, we’re all blowing kisses and yelling, “I love you! I love you! You’re the best!” and thank God, only the guy who plays Goofy thinks to ask, and only on his way through the archway onto the stage, “Wait — why are you wearing those shoes? “ — and Donald ducks out after him, leaving me all alone with Mickey Mouse . . .
Now, maybe it was because the girl who played Mickey never spoke when she was in costume? I don’t know, but somehow, in that moment, I’m suddenly sucked up onto this higher vibrational plateau, and I’m looking over at the original, old-fashioned Mickey Mouse and he’s looking over at me. And he slumps, so sadly, and he wipes a tear, and he puts both his hands to his heart, and then out to me, and then, with a wave good-bye and a leap into the Light, he’s gone! And just as I can feel my heart break clean in two, I hear, “SUZIE!!”
And I’m in that great old MGM movie again, and there’s Jeannie waving and screaming at me from the wings, “I’ll see ya out there, Suzie!! You’re gonna be great!!” And just as I’m wondering how the hell she’s gonna make it back into the line on time, I hear my cue! That key change climbing those tantalizing steps up, and I’m completely certain that I’m going to die, but I step into the castle archway anyway, and my Absolutely Perfect Golden Moment begins:
I am hit by this surprisingly blazing, nearly truly blinding White Light, and this profound Calm washes over me. And I work that arch to the left, and I work that arch to the right — so what if I’m wearing big black horns, I’m a Ziegfeld Girl! And there’s this symphony of screams and laughter and “oh my God!”s and applause and whistles from the wings and the stage and the catwalks, I can’t even hear the audience — and I walk or maybe float forward and I melt into line with those actual historical Radio City Music Hall Rockettes and we kick and we kick and we kick and I am indeed One with the Universe. And then we come to a beautiful, peaceful stasis, we do our Rockette good-bye wave, the mighty Radio City curtain falls, and I am swarmed by screaming, weeping Rockettes, and I feel just like Miss America.
Turns out that the white light had been so very blinding because Nick had fixed it so that all of Radio City’s twelve spotlights had been shining on me at once. Turns out they didn’t dock my pay after all. I figured that must’ve been Ken again. And it also turns out, that, about a year later, Ken died of AIDS.
And when I heard that he’d become an official angel, I thought of our conversation at the party, on that last hilarious, victorious night:
“So Ken,” I say, “tell me, honestly — I mean, I know I had one of the most pathetic evil laughs on record. There had to be far better, far scarier evil laughers.”
And he says, “Yeah — there was one woman in particular. But I didn’t like her. And you know what? Life’s too short.”
So, with this magnificent Maleficent morsel of pay dirt, oh, sure, there’s a slight sliver of satisfaction that it was also maybe a little bit of grit in the eye of the group-soul corporate creature, sure . . .
But now what shines through as the authentic gold of the piece is that rare heavenly harmony of comedy, music, and a choir of huge-hearted people — a loving, electrifying touch of the motherlode that always seems beyond our grasp, but is, in truth, always right within our reach. And I remind myself, that — every once in a true blue moon — that, too, is showbiz.