The whole deal was too good to be true. Eighty-nine days of production. Six weeks in Manhattan. Twelve weeks in Mexico City. Dub the picture in San Francisco. An entire feature film, front-to-back, and we'd never get anywhere near Hollywood, my accursed home turf. It was like a dream fulfilled. The budget was enormous for those days. I could live on my per diem and bank the rest. I was in hog heaven.
Except for the divorce. Hanging over my head like the Swiss Army Knife of Damocles. Twisting, turning, bloody blades unfolding, never holding still long enough for me to get a good look at the infinite possibilities of court-supervised search-and-destroy. All I knew was that she wanted out. And I'd never quit anything in my life.
So this is the first real lesson of marriage: You don't get to live the way you're used to living. If a strong marriage is more than the sum of its participants, then a weak one is profoundly less. I was going to give up the future we'd planned, and I was going to have to pay for the chance to do so. This, I believe, is what they call irony.
You know that bit about "in the manner to which she's become accustomed?" You hear those words a lot in divorce proceedings. She'd grown to like the fancy digs. The clothes. The meals. The four-hundred-dollar Italian shoes. The expensive French lingerie. OK, I admit. I liked that too.
Which leads me to the question of the epoch: If she'd grown accustomed to my place and her lace, what the hell was I going to do about the customary sex? Was I going to start dating again? Wining and dining and bedding and shedding? At my age? It was too much to consider. But not considering it put me in a paralyzing funk.
I needn't have worried. Somewhere along the line, while I'd been settling for your more typical cliched "married" sex—semi-obligatory (if she deigned to indulge at all), definitely uninspired, barely adequate any-port-in-a-storm sex—the world had changed. Feminism had gone and come. The world was full, suddenly, of predatory females who only wanted one thing from a guy. At least in Hollywood, the port at last from which I was about to escape.
The Last One had nearly killed me. Once I got used to the idea of being single again (Legally separated they call it. It's a sort of Demilitarized Zone where you get to wait nervously while your assets are assiduously ascertained. Plumbed, if you will, for depth and longevity.), once I got used to Anything Can Happen Day, like Senior Year in High School but with money, I was drenched in sex. And its concomitants—expensive dinners and wily negotiations.
The Last One was She. She was It. It was Fabulous. She had it all. We'd met in a computer store, years before, while she was still in school and computers were still in their infancy. There was mutual attraction, yes, but the age difference was huge, and I was married. After all. By the time I got around to calling her up, post-separation, she'd started her own business and was riding the PC boom high, wide, and handsome. The thousand dollar suits and impeccable grooming were write-offs for this girl.
She was first-generation American. Her parents had left Manila after the Vietnam War (presumably well-heeled), and they'd made sure she knew only the best in life. What she saw in me I'll never know, but she reverted to type after a mere three weeks and approximately one hundred and twenty hours of Godhead Sex. I had neglected to
explain mention the difference between Legal Separation and Divorce, thus putting the damper on the meet-the-extended-family outing she had planned. She showed up at my door one night with a butterfly knife.
"You don't do this to Us!" she wailed. Five years of martial arts training kicked in, and after acknowledging to myself that, yes, I could kill this woman, and I might have to, I managed to, basically, hug her into submission. They don't teach you that in Karate School. I think it's an important technique. A life-saver, as it were.
My lover had pulled a knife on me. That's about as low as it gets. I'd survived a year in Vietnam with less stress and more self-esteem. Loser, thy name is ME.
I was on my way to work, my first day in New York on the new film, about ready to renew my vows with my good old dependable right hand, saving a fortune in dinner dates, not to mention hospital bills and funeral expenses, when the elevator door opened on an astonishing brunette, two floors down from mine, curvy as the Catskills, who exclaimed:
"Who are you?!"
I stammered out something approaching name, rank and serial number, and true-to-form she cooed:
"I like you!"
Well. She lived across the hall. Showed up at my door unannounced that very night, late, dressed all silky, with a magnum of champagne and a take-no-prisoners attitude.
They don't even make movies like this anymore. Absolutely no strings attached. I came and went as I pleased. We were two mature grownups who shared an abiding interest in sex and little else. For a while it embodied a certain kind of paradise. For a victim of the court of low self-esteem it was prescriptive.
And then the drugs kicked in.
She worked as a travel agent, you see, and had for some time, but her real interest was mushrooms. She was pursuing a degree in mycology, as a matter of fact, nights and weekends. And in the summer she took trips, she said, to places where there were mushrooms.
Ahh, man. I ask you: who needs this?
"Just a little," she'd say, pushing a platter of psychedelic fungi in my direction excitedly while I was still trying to catch my breath.
All. The. Time.
Tender she was. Gentle. Intelligent. Beautiful to behold.
And Tripped Out. All the time.
It was a matter for some dispute, this simple ingestion of the food of the gods. I had long made it a part of my work ethic—there was no room for drugs or alcohol in a job that depended upon a mastery of time for its meaning and effect. Upwards of twenty million dollars depended on the decisions I made every day. I wasn't about to trip to get laid.
"Just a little," she'd say. "A little buzz. It's good for you!"
Ahh man. I started working late to deal with it, making myself scarce cause—I admit it—I can't say no. This in itself was problematic, cause the editing room, believe it or not, was in the same building as Studio 54, the infamous Manhattan night spot back in the 80's. I'd be leaving the job near midnight and there they'd be: the players and the wannabes—all lined up with nowhere to go.
It was like something out of a Fellini flick, this swirling mass of sex-and-drugs on the hoof. We were in the middle of the Cocaine Years, and there wasn't a man, woman, or tranny in that line who was straight. Each night they clamored, bird-eyed and aggressive, for recognition, from me, as if I bore the key to What Ever They Thought Was Happening Now. Hey, guys, sorry, I was just on my way out!
I soon became depressed. Communications from lawyers I didn't know arrived in the mail weekly. I started drinking Big Time with the director after dailies. He was half a world away from his happy marriage and he had a knack for conversation and advice. He impressed upon me the simple truth that a man gets up and goes to work every morning, no matter what, no matter how bad it all appears to be. I loved him for it.
I remember vividly walking past the Plaza Hotel in a snowstorm, my vision and balance seriously impaired, trudging by expensive Uptown hookers in impressive fur coats who swept in and out of my peripheral vision like Christmas tree ornaments. I got to my apartment up past Juilliard, cracked open a new bottle of Vodka, and continued where the director and I had left off. There was a knock on my door. It was my mycologist, dressed to party.
Everything after that is a blur, but I do remember waking up in the cold light of dawn, head against the frozen window pane, and glancing down at the Tai Chi practitioners in the snow on the roof below.
Every morning, they got up and went to work. Every morning, no matter what.
She came into the room, all sleepy and affectionate. Demonstrably, fearfully affectionate. She straddled me—helpless and self-loathing as I was, in the December light—and took from me every last drop of whatever it was I had to give. I had the distinct sensation of being raped and I got up, showered and shaved, packed my stuff, and got on an airplane.
Three weeks later I finally woke up in Mexico City and fell in love for the very last time.
On Hollywood and filmmaking:
Below the Line
sex drugs and divorce
a little life, interrupted
- Hecho en Mejico
- Sam's Song
- Hemingway and Fortuna
- Hummingbird on the Left
- The Long and Drunken Afternoon
- Safe in the Lap of the Gods
- Quetzal Birds in Love
- Angela in Paradise
- 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
Below the Line
Final Cut Pro
king of the queens
Kubrick polishes a turd
movies from space
Persistence of Vision
Apocalypse Now Redux
The Jazz Singer
Six Feet Under
We Were Soldiers