Holidays sometimes I think about her. She was the kind of girl who made you want to celebrate. Life. Youth. Love. Saturday. I always considered it great good fortune that we met the way we did. It was the parting, though, that hurt. She taught me a hard lesson, early and well.

I was living in that peculiar state, half-man/half-child, all naïve. They'd hired me as an apprentice during Field Period, eight weeks in the dead of winter away from campus which were meant to expose us to the "real" world. If anything about repertory theatre in Washington, D.C. during the Johnson years can be said to be "real."

I was living not far from the Folger Library, in a boarding house run by a direct descendent of Betsy Ross. She was old enough to be the old seamstress's sister and she ran a tough house—no women upstairs after eight and no alcohol at all. It always amused me to consider that Miss Ross didn't seem to notice my fellow boarders were gay and had strangers upstairs all night long. She must have been deaf too, cause they made quite a racket.

This was in the dark ages, fellow noders. The 60's had barely gotten started. I rode my ten-speed bike to work—the length of the city—every day, skinny tires busting through ice and sleet, as if that were normal in that season.

I was living the Life of Riley, is what it was. They were paying me to watch theatre magic happen on a daily basis. If you've never been bitten by that bug, by Shakespeare and Moliere and Ibsen and Arthur Miller created fresh before your eyes and ears, real as love every night, well, you'll have to imagine the mood I was in, that winter of my Miss Content.

I was "the kid" pretty much to everybody. To the world-class designers I assisted. To the enormously accomplished directors who lived lives so glamorous, I thought, nothing compared. To actors who've since become household names, who were young then themselves and eager to share their art and their lives with me.

But the sound designer, Jess, was my buddy. I was his direct responsibility, his mentee you might say, and he was the best big brother anybody could ever ask for.

"Listen to this," he said one night at a party in a chic basement apartment in Georgetown, slipping an expensive Koss headset over my ears. It was the Beatles' Revolver, fresh off the boat, not a single nick in the vinyl. As side one finished, Jess theatrically reappeared, flipped the disk over, smiled knowingly, and floated away again. When I'd finally regained my senses, I noticed the room was empty. I followed my nose to the kitchen, where all of my new friends were toking up. "Try this," said Jess.

Which is how I managed to listen to Revolver about six times the first time. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to high fidelity, wine, weed, and women than Jess the sound designer.

He was in a cheerful mood that Friday. His girlfriend was coming down from New York, and the nearer her arrival, the more work Jess gave me to do. His plan, I suppose, was to spend less time at the theatre and more time with his girlfriend. Which was fine by me. Smoking was allowed at Miss Ross's place and I had a new Beatles album and a new way to listen to it.

But his girlfriend brought a friend. And his girlfriend's friend took my breath away and kept it warm in her pocket till Valentine's. I was smitten.

Jess and I were sitting on the floor in the green room, working out the chords to For No One when they arrived. Very much in the fashion of the day, they wore tweed miniskirts under fur coats, to which the winter chill still clung as they entered in a halo of snowflakes floating in perfume. They wore expensive boots and black tights. Jess's girlfriend was even prettier than her picture. But the younger girl, the one who didn't wrap herself immediately around Jess, the tall one with the fabulous legs and the attitude, was a dancer. I could see it right away, the way she stood, hip-slung in the doorway, smiling. And I have always been partial to dancers.

Red hair, tourmaline eyes like a Caribbean lagoon, the lightest dusting of freckles across her nose like cinnamon on a Christmas cookie. Her name was Ariel and she offered her strong yet delicate hand in introduction like a promise. Jess suggested we all get together after the show that night at his place, which was kind, no question, and I floated through the rest of the day. In fact, I was so distracted that I actually wore my watch onstage in The Crucible that night, the only seventeenth century law clerk with a Benrus ever, to be sure. Fortunately, I was able to push it up the sleeve of my robe before everybody saw it, but the stage manager tossed a ration at me at intermission, you can be sure.

Back at Jess's place, Ariel was by turns demure, bawdy, thoughtful and inquisitive. Jess and his girlfriend disappeared into the bedroom after about an hour, and I got up to get Ariel another beer. A slender woman who drinks beer—and a lot of it—is a treasure in herself, you'd better believe.

I stopped dead in the doorway on my way back to the living room. Not a director alive could have staged the scene more beautifully. She sat with her long legs tucked under her, on the sofa. Candles licked warmly at every shadow in the room. In my mind she was the spitting image of Laura in Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie. For some reason, probably because this is the way Fate works, I tossed her the opening line to The Gentleman Caller scene. I had just finished playing the role a few months previous:

How are you feeling now? Any better?

Jim's attitude is gently humorous. In playing this scene it should be stressed that while the incident is apparently unimportant, it is to Laura the climax of her secret life.

Ariel's words at this point are the words of anyone who's on the receiving end of an innocent question at a party:

Yes, Thank you.

But a change had come over her body. She seemed to shrink into herself. She subtly adjusted her legs, actually attempting to hide them from me. Laura, in the play you'll recall, is lame from a childhood illness, and also painfully shy.

Ariel-in-the-here-and-now seemed to…dissipate…like reality will on the edge of a dream. Her glance seemed to avoid my own. I clicked into acting mode, that point after enough rehearsal where you just go with whatever's happening. I offered her the beer and threw her Jim's next line:

Oh, here, this is for you. It's a little dandelion wine.

Thankyou.

Replied this exotic creature, using the words anyone would use, but wearing unmistakably the persona of someone I didn't know. Curious as to whether this was really happening, I crossed to her—as per the scene's blocking—and delivered more Williams:

JIM. Well, drink it—but don't get drunk. (He laughs heartily.) Say, where'll I put the candles?

LAURA. Oh, anywhere…
said the young woman who wasn't Ariel anymore. She radiated complexity: fear, joy, anticipation, self-consciousness. She was Laura Wingfield.

We played the entire scene, which is probably the longest in Williams' work, enjoying—I can't tell you how much—each other on two totally separate levels. And by the time I took her in my arms, as The Gentleman Caller takes the tragic Laura, to be sure, but also as a man who's found someone he wants very much to know a whole lot better, it seemed as if Fate, indeed, had brought us together that night.

We never moved farther than six inches apart for the rest of the evening. We were snuggling standing up in the kitchen doorway when Jess and his girlfriend stumbled from the bedroom. It was time, said the older couple, for me to leave. This was, I reiterate, a different era.

Ariel and I spent a delirious weekend together. It had never been like this before for me. I must assume she felt the same. The highlight of our playful time together probably came as we walked arm in arm down the aisle of the still-unfinished National Cathedral:

"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" she asked, tremulously, good-naturedly, freckles dancing across that nose I'd already kissed a hundred times.

Man, did I ever. I was on cloud nine hundred and ninety-nine point nine. And I was obsessed with sleeping with Ariel. Which, to be sure, was not so simple-a-matter then as it has come to be today. This was before the hippie era, don't forget. Before the Summer of Love. Sex was (and probably still should be) a serious commitment. Especially for a Catholic girl from a good family in Weston, Connecticut.

Time passed. There were letters and late-night phone calls. I sensed strongly that the girl I'd met under such unique circumstances was for that weekend alone a kind of uncaged creature. Her family kept a tight hand on her comings and goings. In particular, they refused to let her live alone in Manhattan. What started out as an apparent fait accompli was turning into a quest. And I had no problem with that.

Jess and I engineered a trip to New York after the Sunday show. We had the day off Monday and would return early Tuesday morning in time for work. The girls would meet us at a mutual friend's apartment on Sutton Place—Manhattan's toniest neighborhood. The implications were delightful to consider. I was prepared: Jess had bought me a box of Silver Tex condoms, which I don't even think they make anymore.

There were several other couples there. The food and wine were memorable, as was the apartment. It was right next door to Robert Goulet's place. The singer/actor. Lancelot from Camelot. We actually heard him vocalizing in the bathroom.

The whole scene, to be accurate, was for me surreal. I didn't know people lived in such opulence. Everybody in the place was older and more sophisticated, secure in themselves and their relationships. I was drunk and stoned and in love. There was plenty of wood to lay in the fireplace. And there was me and Ariel, finally, all alone at midnight, after everybody else had gone to bed.

Something had changed. Most likely it was me. Whatever sensitivity I may have possessed at the age of nineteen had probably dissolved in an excess of circumstance and desire. We necked ferociously. The flames roared inside us and in the fireplace across the room as zippers, buttons, folds, hooks, and wrinkles were explored. We were a Balinese shadow-play on the opposite wall this time. There was no need for words.

I made a startling discovery: Beneath Ariel's panties was not the long-sought perfumed garden, but rather tight-woven, not to mention moist, nylon. She was wearing pantyhose. Which I had never before encountered. Straight Life, boys and girls. Women wore stockings and garterbelts in those days, often with girdles, if you can believe that, even if their bodies were already perfect. Pantyhose was a novel addition to any lady's wardrobe.

It was an absolutely new sensation, and probably—when I considered it soberly a few days later back in D.C.—a kind of insurance policy, just one more barrier that had to be breached.

But she gave me every indication all was well. And perhaps it was. Perhaps she trusted me more than I deserved to be trusted, but when I finally unboxed the Silver Tex, the light in her eyes went out. This was not, she told me tearfully in no uncertain terms, going to be about intercourse. The fact that I had so much as…prepared…to have sex with her was a deal-breaker.

The more I pleaded my case, the worse it got. The room grew cold. She dressed quickly. She was leaving, no question about that. It was three in the morning. I managed, at least, to get her to let me walk her back to her apartment. It was a miserable trek across town through six inches of fresh snow. I tried to apologize. I tried to talk my way up to her place. She must have thought me an absolute pig. She gave me a tight-lipped kiss, and my last memory of Ariel is her cold red cheeks in the wind, freckles prominent as a little girl's, snowflakes trapped in her eyelashes. She was crying.

Time, as it will, again passed. There were other girls. There were women. There was a war that I went to that was much bigger than the war in my heart over Ariel. And quite a few years later, upon my return to what we nostalgically called The World, I happened to turn on a TV one night.

And there was Ariel, doing a commercial for pantyhose. She was the spokesperson for that brand of alluring leg wear—on national television—for almost a decade, a constant reminder that when I screw up, I screw up Big Time.


Your day breaks, your mind aches
You find that all her words of kindness linger on
When she no longer needs you

She wakes up, she makes up
She takes her time and doesn't feel she has to hurry
She no longer needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years!

You want her, you need her
And yet you don't believe her when she says her love is dead
You think she needs you

And in her eyes you see nothing
No sign of love behind the tears
Cried for no one
A love that should have lasted years!

You stay home, she goes out
She says that long ago she knew someone, but now he's gone
She doesn't need him

Your day breaks, your mind aches
There will be time when all the things she said will fill your head
you won't forget her


For No One, The Beatles, Revolver
The Glass Menagerie, Tennessee Williams.



On Hollywood and filmmaking:

Below the Line

sex drugs and divorce

a little life, interrupted
  1. Hecho en Mejico
  2. Entrances
  3. Sam's Song
  4. Hemingway and Fortuna
  5. Hummingbird on the Left
  6. The Long and Drunken Afternoon
  7. Safe in the Lap of the Gods
  8. Quetzal Birds in Love
  9. Angela in Paradise
  10. And the machine ran backwards


a secondhand coffin
how to act
Right. Me and Herman Melville
Scylla and Charybdis Approximately
snowflakes and nylon


I could've kissed Orson Welles
the broken dreams of Orson Welles
the last time I saw Orson Welles
The Other Side of the Wind


ASC
avid
Below the Line
Charles Durning
completion bond
D/Vision
Film Editing
Film Editor
Final Cut Pro
forced development
HD Video
insert
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
moviola
Panavision
Persistence of Vision
Sven Nykvist
Wilford Brimley


21 Grams
A.I.
Andrei Rublyov
Apocalypse Now Redux
Collateral
Ivan's Childhood
The Jazz Singer
Mirror
Nostalghia
The Sacrifice
We Were Soldiers
Wild Strawberries

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