Saturday, November 30, 2013


Many summers ago, I was in Denver visiting my sister and her family. One morning, someone suggested a game of golf.

I don't play golf. But I figured, nice day, get some exercise, move the legs, see some scenery, try my hand at it. What the hell. So, off we went to a course whose name I no longer remember. My brother and brother-in-law were playing, and my nephew was there, too. Playing at a high altitude helped, since even a bad shot went further in the thin air. The course was fairly narrow, and some new houses were being built on either side of the fairways. Around the third hole, I realized I was actually having fun.

Not that I knew what the hell I was doing. I just reared back and let her rip. Sometimes the ball went somewhere, and sometimes it trickled off the tee disconsolately. I took a lot of mulligans. No one cared. It was just a good time on the links.

Somewhere along the seventh or eighth hole, I teed up. It was a par five. I would have been happy with a ten. I wielded some kind of driver, a number five, if memory serves. I liked that little head. I did some obviously fake warm-up stuff, stepped up, reared back and swung. Thwack. Miraculously, the ball took off from the head of the club and sailed high and long away. That felt good!

And then mid flight or so, the ball began to curve right. What is that called? A slice? Or a hook? Well, it curved right and headed directly for the houses that flanked the side of the course. "Uh-oh," my brother-in-law said. "Get ready to pay for a window," my brother said. I didn't hear any glass breaking, but of course we were pretty far away. "Nice shot," my nephew said. "Even better of it had gone straight."

We walked down the fairway until we came to where I thought the ball had gone. There was a house, and then, next to it, a house in the middle of being built. I walked to that house, the walls of which hadn't been raised yet, and encountered a man, obviously a carpenter, lying face up on the wood floor, arms outstretched, a hammer in his open hand. One of his fellow carpenters was kneeling next to him and saying, "Dude! Dude! Can you hear me! Dude, are you ok?"

Next to the prostrate man was a golf ball. Indeed, as it turned out, my golf ball.

Restraining my first urge to flee, I walked toward the poor guy who was moaning, but not dead. First good stroke (no pun) of good luck.

"Dude! Speak to me!" his friend said. And, thank the gods, he began opening his eyes.

"Whappened?" he asked dreamily.

"You got beaned by a golf ball, Dude. I think it was this dude who did it." He looked at me.

"Hi there!" I said.

"Oh, my head hurts," the injured party said, rubbing the back of his head.

But the fact is, he came around. He even sat up. I apologized like an insane man, offering to take him to the hospital and pay whatever bill there might be to be paid, hoping an operation wouldn't be necessary.

"No, man," he said, continuing to rub the back of his head. "That's ok."

"What are the odds of that happening?!?" I said cheerily, picking up my ball.

And guess what--it was ok. I got his number and called him the next day, and he couldn't have been sweeter. I apologized again, and he really was all right about it.

But for years afterward, I would hear that refrain at family gatherings,

"Dude! Dude! Can you hear me? Dude!"


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Library Kid

In the 1960 movie, The Time Machine, the lead character, played by Rod Taylor, travels forward in time to the year 802,701 via a machine he's invented. Once there, he discovers a world literally divided in half. Above ground live a passive, unthinking people called the Eloi. Below ground live their masters, the hulking Morlocks. Every once in a while, some Morlocks will emerge from a hole in the ground at night and grab some Elois for dinner.

Mystified, the hero at one point asks an Eloi if they have any books. He wants to see if he can find out how this frightening evolution occurred.

"Books?  We have books," the Eloi replies somnolently. The hero is led to a futuristic-looking library where, yes, there are books, rows and rows of them. He takes one from the shelf, and it turns to dust. He sweeps his hand across the long row of books, and they disappear in a cloud.

I live in New Orleans. There are three well known universities here, and I go to each of their libraries. Increasingly, though, as I walk into these libraries, I have the sinking feeling that I'm walking into mausoleums. I walk into the stacks and down the aisles, and the books on the shelves seem like relics. Or like tombstones, each one telling me tersely about its deceased occupier. I have never looked at books that way, and this is disconcerting.

I have always felt like Henry Miller felt about books. He wrote, "They were alive and they spoke to me!"

I'm not alone in my generation as being someone whose life was not only molded by time spent in libraries, but saved, as well. The books were alive and they did speak to me, often when actual people would not. Here there were accepting voices who welcomed me into their worlds, which were often strange and remote, sad and harrowing, thrilling and funny, and, yes, sometimes dull.  But always accepting, without reservation.

Are books on electronic devices books?  No. A book is something between two covers with printed words inside that can be held in your hands.

I'm not going to live long enough, but what I once thought was only a cinematic dream may come to pass. One day, perhaps not terribly far from now, someone will walk into one of those libraries, reach for a book, and feel it turn to dust.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Stars taking up collections, final curtain

I played A Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire forty-five years ago. When I did, I stepped into a complete world. In this short scene, I have come to collect for the newspaper, and Blanche Dubois, alone in the house, has not wanted me to leave. She's used several slim excuses for me to stay, but now, finally, I am about to leave.  I think.        

            Young Man:
Well, I'd better be going--
             Blanche [stopping him]:
Young man!
     [He turns. She takes a large gossamer scarf from the trunk and drapes it about 
     her shoulders.]
     [The young man clears his throat and looks yearningly at the door.]
 Young man! Young man! Young, young, young man! Has anyone ever told you that you look like a young Prince out of the Arabian Nights?
    [The Young Man laughs uncomfortably and stands like a bashful kid. Blanche speaks 
    softly to him.]
Well, you do, honey lamb! Come here. I want to kiss you, just once, softly and sweetly on your mouth!
    [Without waiting for him to accept, she crosses to him and presses her lips to his.]
Now run along, now, quickly! It would be nice to keep you, but I’ve got to be good--and keep my hands off children.
    [He stares as her for a moment. She opens the door for him and blows a kiss at him as 
    he goes down the steps with a dazed look.]

She kissed me. This older woman who was everything that was forbidden to me. Those lips!  Now, in a few minutes, everything in my life was changed. I didn't want to leave. I wanted to stay and I wanted her to kiss me again. I wanted to touch her dress and her face and I wanted her to teach me everything she knew and to talk to me while she did about how I looked like a young Prince. I was a Prince. I was not a Collector. Her kiss remained on my lips. I walked slowly away and then off the stage. But that mean nothing, the exit. Tennessee Williams' world stayed with me. I walked within it for for hours and hours. (And still do, in a way.) Blanche DuBois had commandeered my heart. I had to see her again. And, as luck would have it, I would, the next night, at eight o'clock.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stars taking up collections

I played the role of A Young Collector in A Streetcar Named Desire forty-five years ago.  In this brief scene, I have come to collect for the New Orleans Evening Star, and Blanche DuBois, alone in the house at the time, does not want me to leave. I am no longer who I was. I am in this world, and I am a young man. Everything that happens is as it happens.

Hey! [He turns back shyly.  She puts a cigarette in a long holder.]  Could you give me a light? [She crosses toward him. They meet at the door between the two rooms.]
            Young Man:
Sure. [He takes out a lighter.] This doesn’t always work.
It’s temperamental?  [It flares.]  Ah!—thank you. [He starts away again.]  Hey! [He turns away again, still more uncertainly. She goes close to him.]  Uh—what time is it?
            Young Man:
Fifteen of seven, ma’am.
So late?  Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour—but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands—and who knows what to do with it? [She touches his shoulders.]  You—uh—didn’t get wet in the rain?
            Young Man:
No, ma’am.  I stepped inside.
In a drugstore?  And had a soda?
            Young Man:
            Young Man:
No, ma’am. Cherry.
            Blanche [laughing]:
            Young Man:
A cherry soda.
You make my mouth water. [She touches his cheek lightly, and smiles.]

I said that I was in another world then, a world as real, even more real than my everyday world. I was, and absolutely. It was all unfolding before me. The feeling of being with someone feral, who could have her way, but what was it? What did she want from me? She touched me once, on the shoulder. I could see her face so clearly, her smile. I could smell her perfume. Then she touched me on the cheek. I was at a complete loss. Was I supposed to stay? Could I?  And then....

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Stars taking up collections, con't.

I had a small part in A Streetcar Named Desire in a college production almost forty-five years ago. The impact of that experience was strong, and it was permanent.

I played the part of A Young Collector.

To set the scene:  Blanche has met Mitch and she (and we) see possibilities.  We've already had the poker game scene where Stanley, drunk, goes after Stella and she escapes upstairs.  Then the famous, STELLA! which brings her back to him. Now, Stella and Stanley have gone out, and Blanche is alone in the house, waiting for Mitch to arrive.

Enter me.  Or, rather, enter A Young Collector (who Williams refers to in the body of the script as the Young Man). I walk over to the door, ring the bell, and then....

Come in.
            [The Young Man appears through the portieres.  She regards him with interest.]
Well, well!  What can I do for you?
            Young Man:
I’m collecting for The Evening Star.
I didn’t know that stars took up collections.
            Young Man:
It’s the paper.
I know.  I was joking—feebly!  Will you have—a drink?
            Young Man:
No, ma’am.  No, thank you.  I can’t drink on the job.
Oh, well, now, let’s see….No, I don’t have a dime! I’m not the lady of the house.  I’m her sister from Mississippi.  I’m one of those poor relations you’ve heard about.
            Young Man:
That’s all right.  I’ll drop by later.  [He starts to go out.  She approaches a little.]
Hey! [He turns back shyly.  She puts a cigarette in a long holder.]  Could you give me a light? [She crosses toward him. They meet at the door between the two rooms.]

I was listening to Blanche DuBois.  There were no actors.  There was no play.  I was a newsboy in New Orleans.  It was as if I'd walked through that liquid mirror into another world, but a real world, a three dimensional world that I belonged in. Everything about it was authentic.  And what was happening was as it happened in life.  It was real life--mine. I felt awkward and uneasy and thrown off balance by this woman.  She was beautiful and hypnotic.

What would she say next?                     

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stars taking up collections, curtain up

I have acted in one play and one only. That play was A Streetcar Named Desire.

Yes, I know.  I'd be perfect for Stanley.  Many many people have told me this.  Well, actually, none.   The year was 1969.  I was twenty-four.  This was when I was going to graduate school at Wayne State University in Detroit. A lot of my friends were theater majors, actors.  "You should try out for something," they said, noting my hammy tendencies.

So, I did.  I auditioned for the part of Stanley in Streetcar, as actors referred to it.  I got the part of A Young Collector.

I'm not even sure I'd read the play before.  When I did, I saw that the Young Collector (a teenage newsboy collecting for the local paper) was a small part, came in the middle of the play somewhere, and didn't seem to have much significance.  No many lines, maybe twenty-five.  The scene is between the Young Collector and Blanche DuBois.  When he comes to collect for The Evening Star, she pulls him into her world briefly. Then, exit.  

The part of Blanche was played by a suitably flamboyant, self-absorbed actress. I'd watch from the wings as she and Stanley went at it.  Exciting, raw stuff.  The play took shape, we had dress rehearsals, and all of a sudden it was opening night.

I was nervous, of course.  Felt silly in my Young Collector outfit in clothes that weren't mine.  Had all the known fears and some unknown.  I'd forget my lines.  I'd trip and fall.  You name it, I fretted over it.

Then: Time to go on.  I was given my cue, and, deep breath, I stepped out onto the stage.

And then the whole world changed.
                                                (To be continued)

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Courage of Thomas Lanier

I'm living in New Orleans, not far from where Tennessee Williams once lived.

He lived in several places in the French Quarter, and my current apartment is close to where he sets A Streetcar Named Desire.

I have always looked to him for courage, and now that I am growing old in his favorite city, even more so.

Every so often I pick up the marvelous biography of his early life, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams.  It's a highly under-appreciated book.  I like to to read about those early struggles of his, many of which took place just a few blocks away.

You get the impression in letter after letter, journal entry after journal entry, that, no matter how bleak the situation was for him, it never came close to dissuading him.  He hocked his typewriter, he hocked his only suit, he hocked his bicycle to pay the rent, to pay for food.  He wrote.  He never stopped writing.  He was a courageous writer, a courageous man.

Brave and funny.  I remember seeing him on a Chicago talk show once with three or four other people.  One of them was a Catholic priest.  Tennessee had recently converted to Catholicism.  The priest, knowing this, said, "I shall pray for you."

Without missing a beat, Tennessee said, "I don't require your prayers."

Years ago, I read something he wrote in a preface to one of his plays: "...time is short and it doesn't return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition."

I can hear it, the ticking. 

Give me courage, Tennessee.