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.
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 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.
I know . . . I don’t know why me either. I mean, it’s embarrassing to say, and you’ll think I’m making it up and I wouldn’t blame you, but He told me later that He picked me to see Him because I was honest. Think what you want, I don’t care. I’m just telling you what He said.
Anywho, there we are, walking up Broadway — Jesus and me, go figure, right, but it felt so just normal –– and I ask him did He just get into town, and He says yeah, He just got into a body, and the second He got in, and got to New York, 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 if He had the bagel and lox, He’d get side-tracked and forget to do something.
“I mean, it’s not the only reason I’ve come back, obviously.”
“Yeah, right,” I say, “obviously.”
Like I knew. What a jerk. 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 get him the bagel and lox, and there He is, glowing, right, and 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,“That’s 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. He’s bending His knees with every chew, right, and He’s going,
“Mm-mmm mm-mmm-mm-MM!! Oh my GOD, that is so GOOD!!”
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 told Him 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?!”
So, then He starts telling me His plan. He thinks He probably needs an agent. But He still has to think it through, look around a little.
I’m a little freaked, and I say, “Jesus . . . I got some friends trying to get in the business. It’s impossible to get an agent nowadays.”
Then, I swear to God, it was hysterical, He goes, “Can you say ‘Miracle,’ Larry?” And He sounds exactly like Mr. Rogers.
And I go, “Jesus Christ! I mean — You!” and we both totally crack up at that, but 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, then I got dragged by a truck, and lost part of my leg. I’m forty-seven, I get disability, I’m a loser — enough. And don’t ask me about Jesus not being able to heal my leg. It doesn’t matter. So, just leave me alone about it already.
Anyway, but — what was I going to say, oh — no, I know, weird that such a big famous perfect guy like Jesus would want to hang with the likes of me. But for whatever reason, He didn’t seem to mind.
So, I called home first. I figured Ma would want to know 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?”
“Jesus Christ, Ma! Oh . . . ”
Thank God He was looking at a wacko homeless guy, and not listening to me at all. So, I say real quiet, “He is a Jew, Ma, remember? Just don’t worry about it, for God’s sake!”
“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 home for dinner, can we not make a big production number out of this, please!”
I hung up on her before she could say anything else that would drive me too nuts, ‘cause I gotta tell you, that afternoon, I was in the best mood in my whole entire life so far, just by walking with Him while he was eating His bagel and smiling at people.
It’s like, I felt — well, like — 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, and you can smell all the garbage on every block, and everybody who can have it, 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 go to Queens. I asked 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 only the second 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 were getting real frustrated already. I’m not saying I exactly really got what He was talking about, but I’m just, you know, some guy. I could see He was putting the pressure on Himself to really do it right this time.
Anywho, later, I realized He was pulling my leg about it being just because they were New Yorkers that nobody noticed Him, ‘cause when Mrs. Clomsky from 13H came out into the hallway and I introduced Him as Jesus Christ, she looked Him up and down like He was a drag queen or 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,” she says, and walks off to the incinerator, and says, “Some people shouldn’t be allowed to have children.”
And I’m just about to go and straighten her out but good, but Jesus stops me and He goes,
“Larry, see, I’ve only revealed myself to You so far. In Zabars, I was kidding about those people not noticing me because they were New Yorkers. So we can’t blame Mrs. Clomsky for being a little judgmental. But, don’t worry — I promise I’ll reveal myself to your mother.”
“I’m not worried — you want to reveal yourself to my mother, it’s your funeral.”
And He just thought that was so funny, and He laughs again, and I mean, that laugh, I know I said it before, but it’s like a present somebody went out and bought just for you, honest to God. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I get real panicky. I go,
“But wait — why me, Jesus? Are you sure — I mean, I’m just, you know, I’m nobody.”
“Nobody’s nobody, Larry,” He says. “And, anyway, you’re me and I’m you. And that’s the honest truth.”
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. So am I.”
And I know you won’t believe me, but I swear to God He meant it.
So, anyway, I said, “Are you sure you don’t want to wait on revealing yourself to my mother, ‘cause she’s all tripping on the whole –”
— too late. Ma heard my voice already and our door opened. I gotta say, I wished I had an instamatic camera in my head that would spit out pictures. I mean, obviously, I would’ve taken a few snaps of Jesus, but my mother’s face when she laid eyes on Him, oh my God — a major Kodak moment, take my word for it.
And we go into the hallway and we’re all smashed together, and she’s staring and staring at Him, of course, especially the halo, like she was wondering if it would look good on her, and she says,
“Hi, hello, so nice to have you, c’min, c’mon in,”
— but she still has to stick her whole head outside the door and make sure Mrs. Clomsky goes into her apartment and locks her door. My mother always did that when we had company. She thought Mrs. Clomsky came out to listen at our door, so she could tell people our business. They hate each other, but for thirty years they pretend they don’t. You don’t want to know.
“Ma, for God’s sake, stop it –”
“I was just checking . . . ”
“I know, alright, Ma, we’ve got company, big time, alright? Jesus Christ — Shirley Levy. Ma — Jesus Christ, live and in person.”
“Why, hello, Mr. Christ, what a real pleasure to have you in my home.”
“Why, thank you, Mrs. Levy.”
“Oh, call me Shirley, please.”
“Well, then, call me Jesus, please.”
And then they both laugh.
My mother eyes are, 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. Until that second, I never saw my mother look cute.
“I don’t mean to make you self-conscious, but your halo is just gorgeous, Mr. Christ. May I –”
“Ma, can we get out of the hallway, please.”
“Oh, forgive me, Mr, Christ –”
“Jesus, Ma! Will you stop calling Him Mr. Christ already!”
“Oh, for Christ sake — oh, will you look what you made me — oh, God, Larry, I’m nervous, 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. I didn’t get too worried though, ‘cause I figured He would talk to some other people before He came to any actual conclusions.
Then my mother puts her fork down and she says,
“You know, Jesus, I feel I have to say this –”
“We’re Jewish, maybe you guessed.”
“Yes, I actually — did guess that.”
And she goes, “And well, as you probably also know, we don’t believe in you. I hope you don’t take offense.”
“Ma!! The man’s a guest!!”
Jesus just puts His arm around her and kisses her on the cheek and laughs His head off on her shoulder. 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 did, 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 wiped all the — I don’t know, junk out of the air or something, and we were all just a bunch of old buddies from way back, 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 got real quiet. And He sort of stared off and sighed and said, “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. Hmph.”
And He just turned His fork over and over and over, and looked sort of worried. My mother squeezed His arm and said, “Don’t worry, sweetheart, you’re gonna do just great. Really. 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. What a night, I’m telling you.
So, 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), and man, let me just tell you, what a cool thing — Jesus is one hysterically funny guy.
Then He gets up to leave, and I’m like, “Whoa, wait a minute, where are you gonna sleep?”
And my mother’s like, “You are not leaving this house tonight! You will sleep in Larry’s bed, and Larry will –”
And I’m like, “Ma, He’s an adult, will you wait a minute? Maybe He’s got plans, just wait!”
And Jesus is laughing, and He hugs us, and He tells us that He really doesn’t need almost any sleep, and what He really needs to do is mingle, and she really shouldn’t worry about Him, He’ll be fine.
“Mingle?!! Are you crazy?! In this neighborhood?!!” My mother was 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 more 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 don’t –”
“I’m telling you, Shirley, I don’t need much sleep, even though I’m in density.”
“In a body, Ma –”
“I’ll need some room to think in, if that’s okay.”
“Whatever you want, darling. But you’re going to need a some good sleep, so don’t walk up and down all night and drive 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 she must’ve told Him about Joey, ‘cause I think He was wiping tears off her face. They turned and saw me, and then, funniest thing, my mother got up and kissed me good morning for the first time since I was probably four. 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 said He thought the only way to get into their hearts really deep nowadays was to “infiltrate the media” you know, get in through show business, which is where He and God and everyone thought too many people were putting their, what’d He say — “spiritual motivation.” He needed to get everybody’s attention real fast, so He figured that was the way. So He tells me He thinks we should go to the William Morris Agency, right after breakfast.
He said, “Would you mind very much putting on a suit, Larry?”
I’m like, “Are you kidding? For you I’d dress like the Energizer Bunny.”
He’s like, “Thank you, Larry, I really appreciate it.”
What a mensch, huh.
So, there we are at William Morris.
Jesus reveals Himself right off, the second we walk in, and the receptionist, was like, on her knees and crying and telling him all the people she ever slept with, and kissing His robe, and apologizing and stuff. It was so awful. I felt bad for her.
He got her up off her knees, and He told her to treasure herself and to be only with people who treasured her and 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 was here and needed their help.
Well, of course, they thought she was looney toons, so nobody came out at first. So, she calls again. Finally, one royally pissed off guy, comes stomping out, and he goes,
“Carla, for Christ’s sake, what’s the matter with you?! — I was on a call, what the hell — oh my — God . . . ” He gets a load of Jesus, right, and he puts his hand to his heart, and he starts whispering, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.”
And Jesus is so smooth, man, He goes right up to the guy and 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 William Morris should be able to steer me through this journey, don’t you?”
“Uhh, yeah, sure. Yes, sir. Uh, c’mon back, I’ll — uh — Carla — could you get, uh — some — what do you want to drink? We got coffee, soda, juice –”
And he starts to lead Jesus back to the offices, and I sit down in the lobby, to wait for him. But Jesus peeks his head back around the corner,
“Larry, c’mon, 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 we are. Sitting around this big beautiful sharp-looking table with all these guys in thousand dollar suits, and Jesus in this beautiful robe with his halo just shining away, and, you know — me. 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.
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 fast ‘cause we weren’t headed for disaster anymore, disaster is here, big time, “upon us,” like He says, and He could work miracles alone, sure, but only up to a point, and He said cool things I mostly don’t remember, like “cynicism is a cancer on the spirit,” and wild, heavy, true stuff like that, and He went on for a long time, but 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, these guys were like, on His team, you know.
I mean, they’re normally the type you want to smack in the head with a bat, believe me, I delivered enough packages in my time to enough offices of jerk-offs, but somehow they just — it’s like, just by listening, He re-wired their hard-drive or something, and they were with the program.
One guy goes, “So, what do you visualize, Jesus — if I may call you that –”
“Sure, of course –”
“Okay, you want us to book you, what, lecture tours, colleges, corporations, maybe — what?”
“Not just yet, Sammy — I think we should start me off with something in depth. I know David Letterman’s got a new interview show.”
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 suddenly, I go, I guess cause I don’t like them thinking He’s an idiot, I go,
“Uh, I gotta say, this guy is hysterically funny. I mean, really, really funny — He had us crying last night. And he does fantastic impressions.”
Jesus sort of blushes, and one of the shmucks goes, like I’m a chair that talked without being asked to,
“And you’re who, I’m sorry?” the guy says, annoyed.
And Jesus says, “I’ll introduce him yet again, Mitchell. Larry Levy is my very dear friend. I trust his instincts completely.”
And I could tell these sharks are thinking of a thousand and one ways to leave me in a ditch, but they smarm me up anyway, shaking my hand, kissing my ass and stuff, and all the while Jesus is smirking at me.
And some other guy goes,
“– no, but seriously, folks — I don’t get how we can sell Letterman on the funny Jesus thing.”
“No, no, no, no, no,” the Marty guy says, “we don’t need to pitch Him as a comic, Robbie — we just pitch The Messiah thing. Are you kidding? The Second Coming has come, for Christ’s fucking sake, how tough a sell can it be — ohh, sorry, whoa, it just came out . . .”
“None taken,” Jesus says, and I could tell He’s trying not to laugh.
“Come on, we’re talking about one phone call, two tops, maybe some pre-interview thing, or even a quick meeting with what’s-her-name.”
Somebody else goes, “Hey, Jesus — I wonder, how much time do you think it would take you to come up with an HBO show?”
And somebody else says, real excited, “Wait! Wait! Oh my God, wait! Okay — a reality show, like — Jesus goes from town to town and, you know, works miracles, you know, but only if –”
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 before He talks to Letterman, they should definitely get somebody to work with Him on what anecdotes He’ll tell on the show, and maybe they should hip His look up, 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 on Instagram and stuff. And I’m watching Jesus listen and I can see that maybe He’s starting to think this plan of His in action may not turn out to be totally kosher.
So, yeah. Sure, you guessed it, you know the way it goes. He goes on Letterman and He kills, of course. And so, 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 by magic, and people everywhere could really be happy, and have clothes and food and jobs and stuff, Him being all revealed to everybody and all, 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.
And then, you know, there were all those goddam hour specials on Him, and all the pilgrimages to Queens, and all the talking heads talking their heads off, and then the articles criticizing Him for this and that, and saying He was naive, and not as tall and as they thought He’d be, and then the Church suing Him for libel all over the place, and just the whole hurricane of shit they threw at Him for not fixing everything overnight just by showing up.
In the beginning, He was smiling through all of it, just letting 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 looking sort of pasty, and His hair looked thinner, and even His halo got sort of dim, and didn’t sparkle so much 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 know what to do with them, and how mean they were. He kept thinking they were human, and I kept trying to explain to Him that they weren’t. He didn’t understand that they didn’t have a soul, let alone a conscience. And everybody and their phones, and their selfies, and their loud, demanding bullshit.
He was losing steam. Everybody wanted to bleed him dry. Everybody wanted miraculous healing, you remember, and he did it for, like thousands of people, but he got so tired. It got so He couldn’t even heal anymore, it wouldn’t take, so people would get mad and call Him 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 this was one incredibly sensitive guy, and 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 we 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. Yeah, sure, we’ve been offered plenty of money, too, but we both decided if we said yes to anything, we’d feel too permanently disgusting about it. Sure, I admit, we were pretty tempted once in a while, but not ever for very long. I don’t care if you believe me or not. Why would we still be living the way we were living if we had any dough.
I myself was getting pretty stressed and crazy with it all, too. 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 really made Him so mad, 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.
At first He didn’t get about sound bites making even Him look like an idiot and about how the lighting with those cameras and Him on all those magazines just make Him look like just another celebrity we’re all sick to death of hearing about how great He is, and how His whole Second Coming thing just ended up being something else for asshole comics to make fun of, or like some big new ride they were going put in at Universal Studios.
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 get so overwhelmed, and He’d put His head in His hands and say, “What was I thinking . . . ”
And I felt so, so bad for Him. Breaks your heart to see a guy as perfect and as sweet as Him feeling failed. He started sleeping a lot, and He’d wake up really exhausted, with puffy 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.
So finally, Ma and I had a big conversation, after we saw Him on an interview, and we could see something deep inside Him was going seriously south, and one day, while He was on the couch, with His nose all rough and red just like a normal sick person, sipping at some chicken soup that was too hot, 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.
“No, here — Ma said you have to finish this –”
“That’s okay, I’m not hungry . . . :
“Jesus — 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 Ma if I yell at you to eat your soup, so, please, don’t take away my last shred of diginity.”
And I get Him smiling a little and He sips some more, and I go, “Why, thank you, Mr. Christ.”
And we laugh hard, even though He’s feeling low. We cracked each other up a lot, like me and Joey used to. And then, His beautiful laugh starts choking Him and He starts coughing and hacking, which breaks my heart clean in half, which gives me the guts to say what I had to say:
“Okay, so listen — we been talking about it, and . . . you really gotta get the hell out of here.”
And He looked all apologetic all of a sudden.
What a jerk-off I am, I made Him think I was kicking Him out of our apartment.
“No, no, you goof! Not out of the apartment, you could stay here forever, you know that, you’re family, you’re better than family — you could unreveal yourself to the rest of the world, and just hang with us forever, we’d love that. But, just — hear me out, willya.”
And there was Jesus Christ on our couch, sipping chicken soup, listening better than anyone who ever listened to anyone ever. God, I miss Him like all hell.
“Alright. You said you thought it looked so simple when you were totally made of spirit, and not weighed down in density, and hooked into all the — you know — all the crazy crap . . . And so, I’m thinking you need to go some place, maybe on Earth, maybe some planet close by, I don’t know, you choose, but some place really, really beautiful, and peaceful and quiet, with trees and birds and stars and whatever, and hang out with the most intelligent people in the Universe, and, you know — come up with . . . a whole new plan.”
He looked into His soup for a couple of seconds. I knew He felt real humiliated that His plan had gone so way out of control that it was like a monster that turned on us and was eating us alive.
“And I mean, maybe also . . . next time you oughta pick somebody more, you know, intelligent than me, you know.”
“Larry,” He looks at me, sort of tough. “Don’t insult my friend.”
“Yeah, okay, no, right, shh — but I — I think this plan, you know, this Coming, maybe wasn’t so . . . Well, you know . . .”
He looked at me and He smiled, but He was so sad.
“Well thought out,” He says.
“Hey, look, you always say to me ‘you gotta be as compassionate with yourself as you are to others,’ so walk your talk, wouldja — you can only know what you know when you know it, right?”
And He started blinking hard, trying not to cry.
And I said, “Look, look, man — you made so many people so happy to see you, right, you inspired a whole slew of people, millions of people, how do you know, one or two, or seventeen thousand kids or grownups you inspired isn’t gonna do what you were gonna do anyway — you don’t know that, you know, if You’re in all of us, you know? There’s no shame in leaving now, you shot for the moon, so, you missed a little, so what, it’s like you did research, and now you know exactly what you’re dealing with, right? How failed is that? Now cut it out!”
And I start to get choked up. He put His hand on my shoulder. But I just kept talking, through a couple of tears myself.
“So, yeah, you know, you and your friends or whatever, you and God and all the big shots you know, and maybe you should get a bunch of incredibly smart dead guys who used to live here, like, I don’t know, like Einstein, you know, or Lincoln, maybe, yeah — Abraham Lincoln’d be great for this kind of thing, but you know, guys like them, and just sit around, you know, and brain-storm, and come up with another plan, now that all the bullshit on Earth is so fresh in your mind –”
We both, like, snorted a little at that one.
“ — and — and write it down, and run off some copies, pass it around to a whole team of miracle-maker types like yourself. You know what I’m saying — just get the hell away somewhere and think up . . . you know, the — the Third Coming! And when you do, you’ll come look me and Ma and — and maybe my wife up,” and he smiled so sweetly at that. “And you could, I don’t know, play with my kids on my front lawn, alright? Run through the sprinklers with them, you know, right? But, hey, please don’t be so hard on yourself — you did good, you did really did so good, alright? We’re just a lot worse off than you thought, you know?”
He looked at me for a little, and He looked out the window for a little, and then, He agreed with me. Told me it was a fine idea. He was the first person who ever really listened to me and showed respect for what I had to say. And when people don’t listen to me now, or when people look down on me, or make fun of me, I don’t care anymore. I just remember Him laughing that fantastic laugh when I said something funny, or listening to me with all His heart and respecting me, and I don’t get hurt by most people not respecting me at all 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 cried our heads off.
And then Ma and me watched Him out the window. He looked up and waved at us and blew us a kiss, and then, He walked up the street, unrevealed, so that anybody He passed just thought He was a nice breeze. Then He just . . . disappeared.
We stood there for like ten minutes, looking at the place in the air He just disappeared from. 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 said, “Ma, if He comes back again, do you think it’ll work?”
And she shrugs a little, and she smiles, and she says, “Well, Larry, I hope so, you never know . . . 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.