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.
Oh, to be wind, mist, wisdom, power,
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.
Suzie Plakson (as told to her by one Larry Levy of Queens, New York)
So, I first saw Him coming up out of the subway at 79th and Broadway. I saw this halo over his head, and I thought, that’s got to be Jesus. Nobody else wears a hat like that.
So, I don’t know why, but I go right up to Him. Like we were supposed to meet up or something. Like I’d been waiting for Him. I ask Him where’s He going. He says He’s heading to Zabars, He’s got a real craving for a bagel and lox. Tells me that’s His idea of heaven on earth. Then He laughs. He has the greatest laugh you ever heard, I swear to God. Kind of makes your heart explode in your chest, like some kind of great, wonderful music or something.
Anywho, there we are, walking up Broadway — Jesus and me, go figure, right, but it just felt so normal — and I ask him did He just get into town, and He says yeah, and the split second he got into Manhattan, all He could think about was getting a Zabars onion bagel with lox and a schmear.
Then He says, “As you know, Larry, being human can be very distracting.”
All of a sudden, He looks like he was worried that once He gets the bagel and lox, He’d get side-tracked and forget to do something.
Then He says, “But a Zabar’s bagel and lox, Larry… Well, I mean, it’s not the only reason I’ve come back. Obviously.”
“Yeah, right,” I say, “obviously.”
Like I knew. What a jerk. What can I say, I was nervous. But He just smiled at me, so sweet, like nothing I could say was gonna be too stupid for Him to deal with.
So, we’re getting him the bagel and lox, and there He is, right — I mean, there’s Jesus Freaking Christ going through the line and telling the guys what He wants and pulling some money out of His robe, and nobody knows it’s Him!
And I whisper, “So, Jesus, do you have, like — a cloaking device around you? Like in Star Trek? ‘Cause nobody knows it’s you, what’s that about?”
So, He smiles and He laughs and He goes,“I guess that’s just New Yorkers for you.”
As soon as we get out on the street, He rips into that lox and bagel. Man, you never saw somebody enjoy anything so much. It was like watching a little kid with ice cream after they’ve begged for it for a week, only better.
So, He tells me, in between bites, that all the planets and God and Him and everybody spirit-like, you know, that everybody on His side of things was just looking at us with their heads in their hands and they finally decided that it really is time for the Second Coming, no screwing around anymore.
So, you know, I’m like, “Oh, my God! This is the actual Second Coming? Shouldn’t we tell somebody?”
“Well, Larry,” he says, and he smiles real big. “I’m telling you.”
So then, He tells me he’s come back to fix everything. Well, I’m a little freaked out. It’s freakin’ big, insane, crazy world. I don’t have to tell you, there’s a lot to fix! And I go, “Uh… I don’t mean to be disrepectful, but… how ya gonna do that?”
Then, I swear to God, it’s hysterical. He sounds exactly like Mr. Rogers, and He goes, “Can you say ‘miracle,’ Larry?”
And I go, “Jesus Christ! I mean — You!” And we both totally crack up at that, and I go, “That was terrific! You sound exactly like Mr. Rogers, that’s hysterical!”
I was always seeing pictures of him dying on the cross, so I guess until I met Him, I never figured Him for funny.
So, anyway, I offer to bring him home to Queens for supper. I still live at home with my mother, like you probably heard made fun of a lot. Well, alright, if you didn’t hear, real quick: I was one hell of a fast bike messenger, let me tell you, then I got dragged by a truck, and I’ve never been the same. I’m forty-seven, I get disability, I’m a loser, okay — enough.
Anyway, what was I going to say… Oh, I know, yeah — weird that such a big famous perfect guy like Jesus would want to hang out with the likes of me, right? But for whatever reason, He didn’t seem to mind.
So, I call home. I figure Ma would want a heads up that Jesus Christ was coming over.
I go, “Ma… You’ll never guess who I ran into at 79th and Broadway.” So, I tell her. First thing she says is,“Oh, my God, Larry — did you tell Him we’re Jewish?”
I go, “Jesus Christ, Ma! Oh . . . ” Thank God He was looking in a bookstore window, and not listening to me at all. So, I say real quiet, “He is a Jew, Ma, remember? Just don’t worry about it!”
“What do you mean, don’t worry about it? You know how many years they’ve been saying the Jews killed Jesus, the Jews killed Jesus! What if he believed the rumors? What if he’s angry? It could be very awkward!”
“Ma, I’m bringing Jesus Christ home for dinner. Can we not make a big production out of this, please!”
I hung up on her before she could say anything else that would drive me too crazy. ‘Cause I gotta tell you, that afternoon, I was in the best mood in my whole entire life, just by walking with Him while he was eating His bagel and cream cheese and lox and smiling at people. It’s like, I felt — well, like… Okay, it was really stinking hot, you know? Like the sweat’s rolling down the side of your head, you feel like you’re wearing cling wrap, you can smell all the garbage on every block, and everybody has b.o., like, three times worse than usual? But, I swear to God, from the second I saw Him on 79th St., I felt like there was a nice cool breeze everywhere, and the air smelled really good, like real actual honest- to-God fresh air. It was something, boy.
So, we head for Queens. I ask Him couldn’t we fly or something, ‘cause the subway was gonna be murder at rush hour, but He smiles and says He’s all excited ‘cause not only could He get to see even more people, but He always liked trains.
Which confused the hell out of me. ‘Cause I thought this was first time He’d been back after the whole three-day-rising-from-the-dead thing you hear about. He started explaining something about being inside everyone all the time, and sometimes He comes back, like, more or bigger or something in some people, but they just keep getting killed and it doesn’t seem to stick and all the powers in the universe are getting totally frustrated already. I’m not saying I really got what He was talking about, but I’m just, you know, some guy.
Anywho, later, when step off the elevator, Mrs. Clomsky from across the hall comes out and I introduce Him as Jesus Christ. So, she he looks Him up and down like He’s a pimp or something, and she says,“Did your parents name you that?”
And He tries not to laugh and He says, “Yes, ma’am, I’m afraid they did.”
“Hmph, some people shouldn’t be allowed to have children,” she says, and walks off to the incinerator, all disgusted.
And I’m just as I’m about to go and straighten her out but good, Jesus stops me and He goes, “Larry, see, I’ve only revealed myself to you so far. So we can’t blame Mrs. Clomsky for being a little judgmental.”
And suddenly, for whatever reason, I get real panicky, and I go, “But wait Jesus — why me?”
And he says, real calm, “Well, why not you?” And I say, “Because I mean, I’m just, you know, I’m nobody.”
“Nobody’s nobody, Larry,” He says. “And that’s the honest truth. And besides, you’re me and I’m you.”
I didn’t get it but it felt real nice to hear, so I go, “Okay. Thanks, man. I don’t get it, but I’m real honored.”
“So am I, Larry,” he says, “So am I.” And I know you won’t believe me, but I swear to God He meant it.
So, anyway, I said, “Now, I just want to warn you, my mother’s all tripping on the whole Jewish thing and she’s –”
Too late. Ma heard already my voice and the door opens. I gotta say, I wished I, like, had one of those instamatic camera in my head that would spit out pictures, remember? I mean, my mother’s face when she laid eyes on Him, oh, my God – I’ll never forget it.
And so we go into the hallway and we’re all smashed together, and she’s staring and staring at Him — especially the halo, like she was wondering if it would look good on her.
So I go, “Jesus Christ — Shirley Levy. Ma — Jesus Christ, live and in person.”
“Why, hello, Mr. Christ, welcome, come on in, it’s such a real pleasure to have you in my home.”
And of course, Jesus is such gent. “Why, thank you, Mrs. Levy,” he says, like she’s a — I don’t know, a governor’s wife or something.
She says,“Oh, please, call me Shirley.”
And he says,“Only if you call me Jesus.”
And then they both laugh. And my mother eyes are still, like, glued to the halo. I have to say it’s very, very beautiful up close, you know, not too bright, but like, very golden and sparkly. It was then, anyway.
Ma looked like she was four years old. And then she says, “I don’t mean to make you self-conscious, Mr. Christ, but your halo is just gorgeous.”
“Jesus, Ma! Will you stop calling Him Mr. Christ already!”
“Oh, for Christ sake, Larry — oh! Will you look what you just made me say! Oh, God, I’m nervous, Larry, leave me alone!”
I thought Jesus looked a little uncomfortable for a second. I guess he and his parents never got on each others nerves.
So, anywho, pretty quick, we go sit down, and we eat. Like normal people. And we’re talking about the world, which, of course, my mother is a complete authority on, and Jesus is listening to her like she’s, I don’t know – Henry Kissinger or somebody.
Then my mother puts her fork down and she says, “You know, Jesus, I feel I have to say this –”
“Ma, don’t bother him –”
But of course she says, “We’re Jewish, maybe you guessed.”
“Yes, I actually — did guess that,” he says, real sweet, and he winks at me.
And she goes, “And well, as you probably also know, we don’t believe in you. I hope you don’t take offense.”
I go, “Ma! The man’s a guest!”
Jesus just puts His arm around her and kisses her on the cheek and laughs His head off. And my mother leans into Him and tries to slip it in, real quick, like maybe He won’t notice, “And we didn’t kill you, my hand to God. I don’t know who did exactly, but it wasn’t us –”
Well, He keeps laughing and it’s like, He’s now laughing so hard He’s crying and I’m thinking He’s gonna pull a muscle. And my mother starts laughing like that, too, and then I do, too, and then it didn’t matter what my mother had said, or what anybody believed or didn’t believe, ‘cause it was like all the laughing just sort of – made everything all right. And we were just like a bunch of old pals who could tell each other anything.
And then, as we finally catch our breaths and settle down, He starts talking and talking and getting more and more upset, about how He feels so awful all the time at how He’s been shoved down so many people’s throats by people who really don’t know what He meant at all, and that so many horrible, rotten, really terrible things have been done to so many people in His name, and still are being done, and how if He thinks about it too much He’ll cry a whole ocean of tears.
So we all get real quiet. And He sort of stares off and sighs and says, “Wow. There certainly is an awful lot to straighten out, isn’t there. It all looks so clear and simple from the other side of the veil. Hm.”
And then He just turns His fork over and over and over, and looks worried. And I could see that he was putting a whole lot a pressure on himself to fix everything fast and forever. And my mother squeezes His arm and says,
“Aw, don’t you worry, sweetheart, you’re gonna do just great — you’ll see. Now, do you boys want some Rocky Road or some Chocolate Chocolate Chip? I just got some special.”
Right then my mother looked like she did twenty years ago, when Joey was alive. She was pretty and thin then, and sort of light on her feet.
Anywho, we go into the living room with our ice cream and my mother’s pouring coffee and we’re laughing and Jesus is telling jokes and doing impressions (He does a killer Sean Connery). Man, let me just tell you, Jesus is one hysterically funny guy. Who knew, right?
Then He gets up to leave, and I’m, like, “Whoa, wait a minute, where are you gonna sleep?”
And my mother’s like, “Jesus, you are not leaving this house tonight! You will sleep in Larry’s bed, and Larry will sleep on the –”
And I go, “Ma, He’s an adult, will you wait a minute? Maybe He’s got plans!”
And Jesus is laughing and He hugs us and He tells us that He really doesn’t need any sleep, and what He really needs to do is walk around and mingle. And he tells Ma she really shouldn’t worry about Him, He’ll be fine. So, of course, she proceeds to have a conniption fit.
“Mingle?! Are you crazy? In this neighborhood you’re gonna mingle?” My mother was completely yelling at Jesus Christ Himself, it was so embarrassing. “He wants to mingle — He’ll be fine! I’m sure that’s what you told your mother last time, and look what happened!”
I think she was so crazy worried ‘cause of what happened to Joey, if you want to know the truth. But suddenly, Jesus got real quiet, like He remembered something awful, which I guess He did. And then He said,“You know what, Shirley, when you’re right, you’re right. But Larry sleeps in his bed, and I stay out here –”
“No, you are a guest and –”
I go, “Ma, please!”
“I’m telling you, Shirley, I don’t need sleep, even though I’m in density.”
“What do you mean? What does he mean?”
And Jesus just takes her hand and he says, “I just need some room to walk around and think in, if that’s okay.”
“Alright, whatever you want, darling. But don’t be walking up and down all night and driving yourself crazy.”
Only my mother would tell Jesus Christ what to do with his nights.
The next morning, I come in and the two of them are having coffee. I think Ma must’ve just been telling Him about Joey, ‘cause I’m pretty sure Jesus was wiping tears off her face. Then they turned and saw me. And then, the funniest thing, my mother got up and kissed me good morning for the first time since I was probably seven. We were both a little embarrassed, but it was nice. Jesus pretended not to notice.
So, I’m eating, and Jesus is telling me He watched TV all night and got some ideas, and then He sat out on the fire escape and listened to people’s thoughts and prayers and dreams. He says He thinks the only way to get into their hearts really deep and really fast nowadays is to, you know, get in through show business. He said he needs to get everybody’s attention pronto, so He figures that’s the way. So He tells me He thinks we should go get him an agent, right after breakfast.
I hated to break it to him, but I go, “Jesus, I gotta tell you, I know plenty of people tryin’ to get into show business. It’s impossible to get an agent nowadays, unless you know somebody.”
And Jesus just smiles and says, “Would you mind very much putting on a suit, Larry?”
And I’m like, “Are you kidding? For you, anything.” He’s, like, “Thank you, Larry. I really appreciate it.” What a mensch, huh?
So, the second we walk into the lobby of this fancy shmancy agency (I forget the name — you know, the one with all the letters), Jesus reveals Himself right off. And rightaway the receptionist, was like, on her knees, crossing herself and crying and telling him all the people she ever slept with and kissing His robe and apologizing and stuff. It was awful. I felt so bad for her.
Well, Jesus gets her up off her knees and He told her to treasure herself and to be only with people who treasured her and you know, really nice stuff like that. What a nice, nice guy, let me tell you. Then He asks her to please call a few of the agents and tell them He’s here and He needs their help.
Well, of course, they must’ve thought she was looney toons, so nobody came out at first. So, all embarrassed, she calls again. Finally, one royally pissed off guy in a thousand dollar suit comes stomping out, and he goes, “Janet, for Christ’s sake — I was on a conference call! What the hell is wrong with you — oh my — God . . . ”
He gets a load of Jesus, right, and he puts his hand to his heart, and he starts whispering to himself, “Oh, my God, oh, my God, oh, my God . . . ”
And it was so great. Jesus is so smooth, man. He goes right up to the guy shakes his hand and says, “Good morning, Marty. I’m so terribly sorry to drop in unexpectedly like this, but can we sit down for a bit and come up with a strategy for saving the world? I think an agency as powerful and venerated as yours should be able to steer me through this journey, don’t you?”
“Uhh. . . Yes, sir. Sure, sure, of course, c’mon back. I’ll — uh — hey, Janet, get us some — what do you want to drink? We got coffee, soda, juice…”
And so he starts to lead Jesus back to the offices, so I go to sit down in the lobby, you know, to wait for Him. But Jesus peeks his head back around the corner, and says,“C’mon, Larry, don’t dawdle.”
And He winks at me, like, hey, we’re in, isn’t this cool. So, I just, you know, go with Him.
And so, there I am, sitting at this big beautiful sharp-looking table with all these slick agent-types and Jesus in his beautiful robe with his halo just sparkling away. I know, I don’t know what the hell I was doing there either, but so long as I was with Him, I was fine. Just taking in the view, you know?
So, Jesus starts talking. And I mean, how do I explain it, it was like music, or something. Like, I don’t know, I mean, He just starts explaining to them the whole Second Coming thing, and how things had to happen really, really fast ‘cause we weren’t headed for disaster anymore, disaster is here, big time. And He could work miracles alone, sure, but only up to a point. Now he was in density, everybody’s gotta pitch in, or something like that. And you know, He said a lot of cool things I mostly don’t remember – a lot wild, heavy, deep, true stuff. And He went on for a long time, and listening to Him felt like your brain was getting washed out with real clean water or a light show or something. I don’t know, but when He was done, all those people were on His team.
I mean, they’re normally the type you want to smack in the head with a rolled-up newspaper, you know the type. But somehow just by listening to Him, it’s like He re-wired their hard-drive or something.
One guy goes, “So, what do you visualize, Jesus — if I may call you that –”
“Sure,” he says, “Of course!”
“Okay, you want us to book you, what — lecture tours, colleges, corporations, what?”
And Jesus says, real definite, “No, I think we should go straight to late night.”
They all go really quiet, and look at each other, like He may be Jesus, but He doesn’t have a clue about show business.
And I don’t like them thinking He’s an idiot so I say,
“Listen to me, I gotta tell you, Jesus is hysterically funny. I mean, really, seriously funny! He had us screaming last night. And he does fantastic impressions!”
So, Jesus sort of blushes, and one of the shmucks goes, like I’m a chair that talked without being asked to, “I’m sorry, you’re — who?”
And Jesus says, “I’ll introduce him yet again, Nathan. Larry Levy is my very dear friend, and I trust his instincts completely.”
And I could tell these sharks are thinking up a thousand and one ways to leave me in a ditch, but they smarm me up anyway. Then some chick with way too much makeup on goes,“People, I hate to but negative, but I just don’t see how we can sell this whole funny Jesus angle.”
And the Marty guy rolls his eyes and goes, “We don’t need to pitch Him as a standup, Sheila — we just pitch The whole Messiah thing! Are you kidding? How tough a sell can it be? The fucking Second Coming has come, for Christ’s fucking sake! Whoa, sorry, Jesus, sorry… it just came out, no offense.”
“None taken,” Jesus says, and I could tell He’s trying not to laugh.
So this Nathan guy goes, “Yeah, come on, we’re talking about one phone call, two tops, a quick meeting with what’s-her-name at NBC?”
And then a young guy with glasses goes, “Hey, Jesus — how much time do you think it would take you to come up with an hour special?”
And then somebody else says, real excited, “Oh my God, wait! Okay — a reality show, like — Jesus goes from town to town and, you know, works miracles, right? Like –”
And somebody else goes, “Oh, please, that’s so Highway to Heaven.”
And so they all start arguing and riffing on how they’re gonna sell Jesus. How they should get somebody to work with Him on what anecdotes He’ll tell on the talk shows, and maybe they should hip His look up, and cut his hair a little and lose the robe, and how maybe they should try to time it for sweeps week, and how they could leak it to this one and that one first, and get it out on social media and stuff.
And I’m watching Jesus listen to everybody, and I can see that He’s starting to maybe realize that this comeback of his wasn’t going be so simple.
So, yeah. Sure. You know the way it goes.
He goes on all the talk shows and He kills, of course. And at first, it feels incredible. You remember how great it was those first few weeks, when we were all full of pure hope again, like little kids — jumping up and down and thinking maybe something could really get fixed in this world, and people everywhere could really be happy — you know, and have clothes and food and jobs and stuff, Him being all revealed to everybody, and being so clean and pure and full of charm and love and miracles and all. You know, He was gonna save the day, like they always told us. People everywhere were so nice to each other, making up with people they hated, you know stuff like that.
And then, you know, there were all those stupid hour specials on Him, and all the pilgrimages to Queens, and all the talking heads talking their heads off. And then there were all those articles criticizing Him for this and that, and saying He was naive and disappointing and not nearly as tall as they thought He’d be. And then there was the Church suing Him for libel all over the place, and just the whole hurricane of garbage everybody threw at Him for not fixing everything overnight just by showing up.
In the beginning, He could still smile through all of it, you know, just let it all slide off, like He expected a lot of it. But I could see, after a while, when more and more things happened that hurt Him or surprised Him, every time He came home, He looked less and less, well, like Himself. His skin started to look sort of pasty, and His hair looked thinner, and even His halo got sort of dim, and didn’t sparkle so much at all anymore.
And the paparazzi scumbags that still sometimes hang around our apartment house like a bunch of cockroaches just made Him totally crazy. They completely wrecked His nerves. He didn’t understand how mean they were, and he didn’t know what to do with them. He kept thinking they were human, and I kept trying to explain to Him that they weren’t. And everybody with their cellphones and their selfies, just swarming all over him, forget about it – it all just overwhelmed him. He’s a real sensitive guy.
Everybody wanted to bleed him dry. Everybody wanted miraculous healing, you remember? And he did it for, like thousands of people, but he just got so tired and drained. It got so He couldn’t even heal anymore, it wouldn’t take. So people got mad and called Him selfish and a phony. People with crosses hanging around their necks yet. People would claw at Him on the street, and ask for autographs and blessings and miracles and money. And of course, He refused to hire bodyguards. We may be talking about the Messiah, but He just wasn’t ready for the 21st century wacko freaking world.
Now, you can ask me as many times as you want to, and you can try to trick me and you can think I’m lying and I really don’t care, but me and Ma don’t know where He went, okay? Not that if I knew I’d tell you, no matter what you did to me, but I don’t. Period. And we’ve been interviewed by CBS, NBC, ABC, the FBI, the CIA, the IRS, and God only knows who else. Our phones are still tapped and we’re still being watched.
Right before he left, I myself was getting pretty stressed and crazy with it all. You know the media was pretty vicious about me and what a loser I am. You don’t have to pretend, I know you know. I told Jesus it would happen. And when it did, it made Him so mad, it cut him to the bone. I remember one article He read made Him cry, it was so mean about me. He just didn’t get how nasty people are, which I can’t understand, considering what happened to Him the first time around. I think He thought we must’ve changed since then.
Sometimes He’d sit and watch TV and see something real stupid or violent or He’d by mistake flip on one of those sex shows late at night and He’d just put His head in His hands and say, real quiet, “What was I thinking . . . ”
And I felt so bad for Him. Breaks your heart to see a guy as perfect and sweet as Him feeling failed. He started sleeping a lot, and He’d wake up really exhausted, with puffy dark circles under His eyes. And then, He got a really bad cough and a cold that lasted for so long it was starting to worry us.
One day when he was out, Ma and I finally had a big conversation. We could see something deep inside Him was going seriously south. So, one day, while Jesus was on the couch, with His nose all rough and red (yeah, just like a normal sick person), sipping at some chicken soup, I decided to break it to Him, without my mother there, just so I could concentrate and not be interrupted.
And I say to Him, “So, Jesus, I’m your pal, right?”
“The best, Larry.” He starts to put down the soup to listen. I say, “No, here — Ma said you gotta to finish this.”
“That’s okay,” he says, “I’m not hungry.”
“Jesus, please don’t make me sound like my mother. ‘Cause if you don’t eat this, I’ll have to yell at you and I know I’m gonna sound just like my mother if I yell at you to eat your soup. So, please, don’t take away my last shred of diginity.”
And He sips some more, and I go, “Atta boy, Mr. Christ.”
And we both laugh, even though He’s feeling low. He and I used to crack each other up all the time, just like me and Joey used to. And then, His beautiful laugh starts choking Him and He starts coughing and hacking, which breaks my heart. But it gives me the guts to say what I have to say:
“Okay, so listen — Ma and I have been talking about it, and . . . you really gotta get the hell out of here.”
And He looks all apologetic all of a sudden, like he’s maybe overstayed his welcome. What a jerk I am! Right out of the gate, I chose the wrong words, and make Him think I was kicking Him out of the apartment.
“No, you big goof! You could stay with us forever, you know that — you’re family. You’re better than family! What I mean is… just — just hear me out, willya?”
And there He was, lying there on the couch, listening to me the way he always did — like I was somebody. I can still see the expression on his face. God, I miss Him so much.
“Alright,” I said. “I’m thinking you need to go some place, maybe on Earth, maybe some planet close by — I don’t know, you choose, you know the territory. But go some place really seriously beautiful and peaceful and quiet, you know — with trees and birds and stars or whatever. And you know, rest up and then go hang out with the smartest people in the Universe, and you know, come up with . . . a whole new plan.”
Jesus looks into His soup for a couple of seconds. I know He felt real humiliated, like he failed. And He starts blinking hard, trying not to cry.
And I keep going. I say, “Listen to me — you made so many people so happy, alright? You inspired a whole slew of people, millions and millions and millions of people! You made me and Ma so much happier than we’ve ever been in our whole lives . . .”
And He puts His hand on my shoulder and squeezes it. And I go, “And okay, I gotta say this. I mean, maybe also next time you oughta pick somebody more, you know, more intelligent than me to be your pal. You know, somebody…who could’ve helped you more.”
“Larry,” he says, “Please don’t insult my best friend.”
And I start to get choked up. But I just keep talking. “Anyway, you know what I’m saying, right? Now that you’ve the lay of the land, of just how crazy and complicated everything is, I think it’s best you just go away somewhere where you can think straight and come up with. . . you know, the Third Coming.”
He looks at me for a little with the saddest smile you ever saw. Then He looks out the window for a while. And then, He agrees with me. He tells me it’s a great idea.
You know, He was the first person who ever really showed honest-to-God respect for what I had to say. And when people look down on me or make fun of me, I really don’t care anymore. I just remember Him laughing that fantastic laugh whenever I said something funny, or listening to me with all His heart and I just don’t get so hurt by people any more.
Anywho, that last Sunday morning, we all had a nice, long breakfast, sure. Ma got a big Zabars spread, for His last lox and bagel. And, sure, we all sat there and cried our heads off.
And then, we hugged each other good-bye and he left the apartment. Ma and me went to the window, and looked down at the street and saw him coming out of the building. And sure enough, He stopped and looked up and smiled. And somehow, the few paparazzi scumbags didn’t see Him walking right past them. And then, He walked up the street and He just . . . disappeared.
We stood there for like ten minutes, looking at the place in the air where He disappeared, crying.
Then, Ma and I finally sat back down at the table and she cut me a piece of coffee cake and poured herself some more tea.
And I look up at her as she’s stirring in her sugar, and I say, “So, Ma, if He comes back again, what do you think’ll happen?”
And she shrugs a little, and she smiles, and she says, “Well, you never know, Larry. But… three’s the charm, right?”
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.