New York by Bruce Colbert

"You either come, or you don’t!"was the way my poet cousin phrased it before hanging up the telephone, demonstrating her general disinterest, or perhaps boredom, with anything concerning my present life, or 'my issues’ as she liked to call them. I called them concerns, or questions.

Hillary had been the first grandchild in the family, the eldest daughter of my late aunt Sarah whom I adored although we rarely saw her after they settled in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he husband Eric had been a well-known oceanographer, a watery trade which seemingly had room for even the most bizarre of scientists. His specialty was the popular Great White shark, though he was also a world-renown authority on plankton for some reason. With the release of the hit movie Jaws, he had become a sought after keynote speaker, and made enough money from these after dinner speeches to allow them to buy a quaint, Victorian rose-covered cottage on Nantucket, a location both he and his Atlantic fish charges seemed to favor. We had visited them on the island once, just after I had graduated from Berkeley.

He had told the story of sharks for years over cocktails all those summers, and usually a handful of writers from the art colony on the Island were always guests; he liked an audience and was a natural spinner of sea yarns, so when the book Jaws hit the New York Times Bestseller list, the top book for two years running, it was no surprise to Hillary. She remembered the writer: he was a local guy from a rather famous literary family that summered on the Island from New York, and what angered her most, was there was no acknowledgement, not a word in the book, thanking her late father. The little bastard, this upstart writer, and he was small guy too, a runt, she told me.

I recall that summer trudging along the beach with Eric one morning, when he always took his two mile walk, and he stopped me, and said, “look!" pointing seaward.

“What?" I answered.

“Over there," he indicated with his index finger, excited. “What is it? I can’t see anything!"

“Dorsal fin, a big one, maybe twenty feet, could be more!" he proudly announced.


“Of course."

“No way, I’m swimming here, no way," I told him, shaking my head. I had taken a commission as a new officer in the Navy much to the surprise of my Berkeley friends, so I made a mental note of the dorsal fin, in case I saw one of his brethren from the deck of a destroyer, or at worse, next to my life jacket in the water.

I had remembered the story of the USS Indianapolis, the ship transporting the atomic bomb to Okinawa that on its return voyage had been torpedoed by a Japanese submarine, and as it sank, six hundred men went into the water. When a rescue vessel finally got to the stricken men, only two hundred had survived the shark feeding frenzy. It was a tale told to every young Navy recruit before he went to sea.

The next time I saw Eric was at my sister’s wedding in St. Louis, and then, five years after that, at his wake. My sister Janet who was closer to Hillary’s age, had been invited to Nantucket more often, and she had spent a month there two summers in a row, I’d remembered vaguely, and then she and Hillary had some kind a falling out, over the same young man, who later became a rock musician, playing bass guitar with several Boston bands.

Hillary was one of those postmodern poets, always brusque in conversation, who liked to end their conversations with a 'shit,’ at that very least, or worse, despite her Columbia pedigree, and the fifteen years she’d spent teaching Keats on the Morningside Heights campus. She had a steady sort of profane streak, period, maybe because of too much Keats, I don’t know.

She had long stringy red hair usually tied in an unmanageable ponytail that she still wore well into middle age. Hillary liked all kinds hats too, and for years she always wore these black homburgs or checkered pork pie hats to family events, always men’s hats, in a sort of Frida Kahlo style. You would see her with the hat on, brim pulled down over her brow in those old black and white family polaroids with that wry Cheshire cat smile on her face, thinking to herself, “I can do anything I want, and you can’t stop me!"

She had met Beat poet Allen Ginsburg, on one of his lecture tours when she was a student, and had convinced him of her many skills as a personal assistant, and traveled with him for a year, until she met her poet husband Gregory who had been a young disciple of Timothy Leary. The following year they married and lived in a commune outside of Humboldt, California’s Golden Triangle for another year, and then were divorced.

Poor Gregory didn’t survive the Seventies, and somehow was lost at sea off Casablanca when he was visiting his friend novelist Paul Bowles, who he had met through Kenneth Rexroth when they all shared a house together in Berkeley in the late Fifties. He had been a young soldier in the Korean War, and was thirteen or fourteen years older than Hillary.

Always after a couple of drinks, she’d remember that first day at the commune, driving up in a van with another couple from San Francisco.

As they unloaded their sparse luggage, a harried young hippie with long hair flowing behind and carrying a large meat cleaver passed right by them in hot pursuit of a screaming pig, bearing down on the frightened animal, and swinging the cleaver in circles in the air.

She turned to Gregory she told me and, said, “You told me they were vegetarians!" He just shook his head in disbelief. The year passed slowly.

“I woke up from a acid trip one morning" and said, asked myself? "What the hell am I doing here and with this guy? -- meaning her husband.The next day she was standing on the highway hitchhiking back to Manhattan, and then she finished her poetry studies.

“It wasn’t a total loss," she’d recall, “ At least I learned to make bread!" 'An experience,’ was how she described it, mostly pleasant and mercifully short.

She did have one old grudge, though. Hillary had been one of the founders of the Bank Street poets, a group of writers who lived near the Columbia campus in the Seventies who all sent their small children to the Bank Street College elementary school on 110th street. There were eleven poets in all, seven women and four men. One of the women, Ellen Johannsen, whom she had considered barely a writer of anything readable, despite three books, this year had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for a revisionist book, on those young mother years, a book Hillary told me should have been stuffed in the bottom of her cat litter box, if she had a cat, In truth, Hillary didn’t care much for animals, or pets at all, but perhaps I’m wrong, the metaphors of birds trilling sometimes appeared in her lyric poems.

In those days the Bank Street poets met at each other’s apartments, and worked together for maybe four or five years, and of the four men in the small group, two were dead by the mid-1980s, victims of suicides. There was a slim volume of poetry they all published in the late 1970s, which was thought to be as important as the Beats, but it never became popular in poetry circles deciding these things.
In her last year of college, Hillary had married a guy, from Rhode Island, in the law school, and a year later they had a daughter, Johnna. The marriage lasted five years, and now her daughter was grown with two twin girls, living on the Eastside of Manhattan, near MOMA ,with her stockbroker husband seemingly happy, and she sent her daughters to the Brearley school, at forty thousand dollars a wack.

Hillary had kept the university apartment they first moved into with Johnna, and it was rent- controlled, and so, affordable. She spent most of her time in the nearby Hudson Valley where she owned a lovely old Dutch farmhouse, and led poetry readings among retired academics. She also taught one course a year at Bard to a class of would-be geriatric poets to stay in practice.

I had watched her in the classroom, and she was a dynamo, quoting verse after verse of Yeats as her Columbia students who fumbled with texts, fingers firing through pages, tried desperately to stay with her. No one intimidated her.

One story I’d heard about Hillary was that the infamous Columbia professor and TV Quiz show guru Charles Donnelly had a crush on her, and tried to get intimate with her one afternoon in the library stacks. She had looked askance at his bumbling passion, and said, “Either do something, or keep it in your pants! -- and walked away laughing.

This was the apartment she offered to me in New York, and I had agreed to sublet it, furnished with her five thousand books and bad art, a deal we could do in the city because I was a traceable family member, and anyway I wanted to flee my life in LA.
I’d had some success in LA producing a couple of TV Sitcoms, and one particularly violent cop show that had surprisingly high audience ratings for five straight years before getting yanked. I’d also done four or five features, films that were box office successes, reaching the 50 million dollar mark. But I hadn’t acted, or written for the stage, since I left New York twenty-five years earlier. I was burnt out, truthfully, and I had to get out of Los Angeles, or check myself into a psychiatric hospital somewhere. It was time to find greener pastures, leave my recovering alcoholic actress ex-wife behind, with her trainer boyfriend, and the house we had owned together in Laurel Canyon or the bank owned.

Karin had been a regular on a hit TV detective series with actor Robert Blake, who was later accused of shooting his wife, which Karin always believed he’d done, knowing him, though he was later acquitted. It seemed Blake and his wife had dinner at a well-known Santa Monica restaurant near Loew’s Hotel, and as he was ready to drive home to Malibu, he realized he’d left his pistol back at the restaurant; yes, his handgun. So naturally, he went back to retrieve it, and upon returning to his car, found his wife shot dead. It was a grisly and other worldly place, Los Angeles.

I got the keys from Hillary and moved into the New York apartment at 116th and Riverside, just opposite the Hudson River park, on a Sunday night, bringing with me two bags from LA, a pathetic legacy of the years since I’d left the Seventh Fleet as a lieutenant junior grade, and wanted to do film and television.

“Super’s name is Emilio, call him 'Jefe’, that’s chief in Spanish, boss," she instructed me, “He’s Puerto Rican! Get him if anything goes wrong, not me!

“No messing around with the girls here, either,“ she warned me, “they’ll toss me out."

“It never entered my mind," I answered her, with a little smile.

“Everything in here is old, like me!" she sighed. “I think I bought the gas stove in the early 80s, three burners work. Too much of pain to fix the other."

I told her I’d try, I’m handy, I was an engineering officer on the destroyer -- keep those engines humming -- and I’d do the routine maintenance around the apartment.

“Not to worry," I offered, meaning the whole apartment deal.

“Oh God, worry? don’t start."

“My ex-husband put those bookshelves up, he was so proud," she remembered, “but the damn things are still crooked." She hit one shelf with her little fist, and a cloud of dust rose from the old books.

I looked at the shelves trying to figure out how I could adjust them but then gave it up.

“Maybe I’ll be in for a reading now and then, but probably not, it’s too much trouble," she sighed, though she did see her daughter occasionally in New York.

The daughter also had a second home near Allandale, next to Bard College, and they got together on weekends when she was up in the country.

So the place was pretty much mine, to do with what I wanted, and cheap -- just paying her five or six hundred a month.
“You can bring all the women in you want, just don’t get them from here, OK?" she said walking to the door. “Promise?"

“Rest easy, Hillary, I’m too tired for that!"

“And make sure you introduce yourself to all the desk people, each one, as 'my cousin,’ so they know," she stressed.

“They’d love to kick me out, so they can quadruple the rent, put ten students here." and with that she slammed the door.

The second evening there I did my wash downstairs in the basement laundry. It was late when I took the elevator to the basement but when I got there, a young Hispanic woman dressed in what could only be called a t-shirt and thong was taking her clothes out of the drier as I loaded mine into one of the washers. She seemed to bend far into the drier, taking her time pulling out items one at a time, with her shapely behind starring at me all the while, a thin piece of twisted pink fabric separating her buttocks. She smiled at me through the whole unloading process, enjoying my obvious discomfort, and then left. For a moment, I thought I was having Sunday brunch on Venice Beach watching the parade of pulchritude pass by.

My old director friend Terry Johnson had returned to doing Off-Broadway plays after twenty years of films, and I asked him to lunch that first week, trying to get some bearings in the city.

He told me to go to one of the acting studios like Uta Hagen’s old place in the West Village, take a class or two, sharpen my skills. The last play I did in New York was something called MacBird, the Macbeth epic told with a Lyndon Johnson plot twist, at a small theater, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War soon after he had refused a second term. The Village Voice, when it was a real newspaper, in those years, had liked my performance, and the youngish reviewer had gone ahead to work for the New Yorker and later the Times. But alas, he’d since retired, and lived in Barbados with his lifelong partner, a choreographer, whom I had also met, at the opening cast party, afterward at the director’s studio on McDougal. I was clearly a relic here.

Johnson thought for a moment over his coffee, and said, “Tell you what! I’m doing a revival of Tennessee Williams,’ Night of the Iguana, the original script, with the German tourists in Mexico! They way he wrote “You look German, the gray-blond hair," he added, motioning to my full head of hair, a legacy from my maternal grandfather.

“Got the portly wife already, the two adult kids, yeah,’ it might work, “a few lines."

So after all these years, my first role in New York was ten lines, and Terry always the perfectionist behind a camera, had also hired a German tutor so our coming onstage was authentic, things a German family on vacation in wartime Mexico would talk about: sunburn, hot weather, the spicy food, and the lack of decent cold beer. He even had us learn, the Lorelei, the ancient German folk song, and sing it off stage, as the Reverend Shannon character drank whiskey onstage.

Joyce Faulk who played my German stage wife was a lovely woman, and an imposing figure at two hundred pounds in her late forties with a skirted period bathing suit complete with a white turban. In one moonlit scene at the mythical Casa Verde hotel built onstage, we waltzed to Mexican radio music very much in love, and at the same time shamelessly celebrating the Nazi Luftwaffe firebombing of London.

The woman who played the Eva Gardener lead role of Maxine had taken a leave of absence from the Broadway production of Phantom of the Opera where she’d been singing for eight shows a week for the past five straight years.

“I had to get away!" she told me as we were waiting for the stage manager to call, 'places’, “so, I wouldn’t go nuts!" She joined us for the two month run, and then returned to Broadway.

A beautiful woman, all the men in the cast agreed, but strangely enough, married to a man who brought to mind the Adams Family TV series character, Lurch.

After Iguana as we called it, a few roles started to open up, parts for middle age drunks, abusive husbands and fathers, priests, ex-colonels. I played an Off-Broadway father of one of the Columbine killers, a best-selling novelist who has an affair with his daughter-in-law, a broken down abstract painter talking to dead artists, a renegade CIA agent who kills his Russian agent, a journalist in Cairo.

To fill in the gaps I started to do bottom-feeder television, low-budget horror and paranormal fare that I promised myself I wouldn’t but did anyway.

I did one TV series playing a dead relative of a well-known British film star who returns to haunt him on set, almost ruining his career, until I’m exorcised by an aged Long Island Catholic priest.

One TV series I did had a broad range of horrible parasites attacking humans, lovingly termed, Monsters Inside Me, based on actual cases of blindness, paralysis, and brain deterioration, and often excruciating deaths.

On Stalked, I was an emcee at an Asian beauty pageant in rural Wisconsin, and was a part of online harassment scheme of the young contestants I secretly desired.

I unsuccessfully auditioned for the History Channel mini-series roles for characters like Cornelius Vanderbilt, and General George Patton, and Rasputin, too. I tried to get HBO series roles as homosexual college professors, politicians, and surgeons.

I played Ed Ray, the retired school bus driver who rescued twenty elementary school children in the 1970s Chowchilla kidnapping case, for something called Mystery at the Museum, about museums all over the US, though I couldn’t understand why someone would dedicate an exhibit to this obscure crime.

For another TV episode, I was a Mormon neighbor who stopped by his neighbor’s farm to visit just before he executed his entire family and buried them inside the barn, this time for a new series on mass murders.

Then one day Terry introduced me to Maria over a coffee in Chelsea. I had been writing a two character play about an alcoholic playwright who pens his final opus, and needs the young woman he made a star on Broadway to do it. At this point in his life, no one in New York will touch him. But that didn’t seem to work, so I made him a painter on the skids, with an art dealer girlfriend and a bitchy ex-wife.

Maria Rivera was in her early thirties, a Puerto Rican girl who grew up with a single mother and two

brothers in the Bronx, and had found her way somehow into the New York theatre world where she had been noticed by him in a couple Off-Broadway productions.

Somehow we found each other amusing at that first meeting, and she said she’d meet me the next week to read the script at some café, and maybe we could put the play up at a small East Village black box theatre, she knew a few.

It started innocently enough, I had spent eight roller coaster years with an attractive television actress wife, and now I had just wanted to find peace, real peace, and maybe some small satisfaction in my work, the acting and the writing, I didn’t want to repeat that painful journey with any good looking actress, the self-absorption, the over-the-top insecurities, the narcissism and craziness, and in Karin’s case, the booze. Her drinking finally drove me over the edge, and I just moved out of the house, so I wouldn’t go crazy myself, or join her in the drunken evening rants. She had driven my old vintage ’74 Alfa right through the garage back wall and halfway down the ravine in Laurel Canyon, supposedly on the way back from a late table read for a new TV series, dead drunk.

Maria was a tall, with olive skin, dark eyes, on the slender side, maybe, but she had a French grandfather, so that took away some of the Latina features and her nose seemed a bit long, pointy. She had done some hair modeling for Seventeen as a teenager, so she saw herself as an attractive young woman, and played to that hand.

One memorable thing about our first time together was her constant use of the word, 'fuck,’ it reminded me of a Navy Boatswain’s Mate I had known at Subic Bay in The Philippines, for good reason known as 'Public Bay’ throughout the Pacific fleet. It was inseparable from his speech, any conversation he had; she was that way too, but hers had a sweet, childish sound, had almost laughable quality to it.

She was unusual for a woman that young, I thought. We had several coffees at cafes around Chelsea, and one at my Columbia apartment where we staged movements. Maria liked the character I’d written, its grittiness, and told me she knew her share of tough women, her mother for one, beaten by her drunken father, and steeled on the outside, but vulnerable and soft on the inside, still a very feminine woman.

Terry agreed with staging the play, and he found us a seasoned young director, who had assisted him in a handful of classic productions he did in the city when he had a small Chekov company.

Maria lived six blocks from me on the Westside just off Columbus Ave, so we did the early play rehearsals at my place, which was convenient for her.

The third time we’d worked on the play, just lines, and before involving the director, we were working at the apartment, and I made her a coffee, and we talked about our lives, the past, mostly disappointments.

The shocker came early. She matter-of-factly told me when she was fifteen she had been gang raped near her Bronx high school by four older boys who had pulled her from a street corner early one evening on the way home, and had taken her into a nearby small overgrown city park. One of them had put his hand over her mouth, and he and another boy dragged her across the street, somehow unseen, into the arms of two others waiting in the bushes. One boy held her arms and one spread her legs apart, while two of them had raped her. Dazed from the pain, a third one mounted and raped her, and then all four ran into the New York night.

“My God! --I’m so sorry."

“That breaks my heart, “ I told her, a veil of sadness descending on me, feeling a sorrow and pain for her that I couldn’t explain to myself. “What an awful thing!"

“I’m over it," she answered.

How can you get past that? as a woman, or a even man, how on earth, do you put something behind you this painful, the searing emotional and physical pain?

I reached over and took one of Maria’s pretty hands, with her muscular long fingers, and held it in both my hands, firmly and gently, protectively.

Why did she tell me this, why now, or at all? I wondered, it had nothing to do with the play, or what we had talked about, mostly failed relationships, some with a twist of humor. I had remembered the nurse who had ordered ten pizzas from different pizzerias sent to my apartment in LA, after I’d cancelled at the last minute as her date for a friend’s wedding. She sent the pizzas two nights in a row, collect, when you could still do that.

“ They went to jail," she said.

Then she laughed: “Before, my mother dressed me in long dresses, and mini skirts, things she bought or made herself. After, she would only let me wear pants."

I stared at my empty cup, and then I looked up at her, but she was on to something else, picking up a pencil and feverishly making notes on her script.

We had a series of rehearsals downtown at a studio with the director who was patient with me, and recognized in her the natural actress that she was.

One afternoon, he had a meeting at Black Rock, as the theatre and television world called the NBC studios in the Rockefeller Center, and so we ran a few scenes ourselves.

In one heated exchange: she’s leaving me in the play and she throws her coat in my face while I ignore her, looking down at my empty hands. We ran that scene a half dozen times but something seemed lacking in our emotional connection as a couple.
The studio was hot, we were both wearing t-shirts, and as I delivered my final line she hit me in the face, not with her jean jacket as scripted, but with something black and lacy. Unnoticed to me as I got into the despondent character role, she had taken off her bra and slammed it my face, and laughingly stood in front of me with her mocha breasts heaving.

They were small and beautiful, with nipples as dark as Dutch chocolate. She was smiling at me, shaking her head, moving one index finger from one side to the other, motioning. me to stay where I was, at least that’s what I thought she wanted.

“Put your eyes back in your head," she said, laughing.

“Now maybe, we can connect, huh? she blurted out, reaching for her t-shirt and slipping it on without the bra.

I still sat there stunned.

“I’m going to sit on your lap and hold you for a minute," she went on, “then we start the lines, as a couple."

“OK," I answered.

“You understand?" she said. I nodded.

Gradually the play came to life, and the characters became us. We had two weeks in the theatre, and we decided to run through the play in costume.

One dressing room was being painted, so we both shared the other. And as I started to undress she noticed that I was wearing white jockey shorts.

She burst out laughing pointing at my shorts. “Hey grandpa!" she howled, “nobody’s worn those in what? a hundred years!’"

The next morning I hurried over to Macy’s men’s department, and asked the twenty-five year old clerk what kind of underwear he wore, and he directed me to a display off colored bikini briefs, and I bought a dozen pair.

Maria knew a lot of players in the theatre and film world, and she traded on her big asset, her beauty.

Right out of some second-rate theatre school above a deli, she gone to in downtown Manhattan, she somehow had become a girlfriend of one of the best-known womanizers in the business, the notorious and prolific playwright Beau Wachovsky, who had an insatiable taste for twenty-something women to whom he would act as sometime mentor, at least as long as the relationship suited him, which was generally a few months. He was sixty. Maria was the single exception, saved from oblivion, and she remained his confidant. Every month or so, he’d invite her to dinners with Hollywood stars who came into town, and famous LA screenwriters with whom he worked with as a film script doctors.

She was very possessive of Beau, but once she did invite me to a party at his Gramercy Park townhouse where a top New York jazz trio was playing, and I learned she was the sometime girlfriend of the quintet leader Dale O’Brien. Maria got around for a Puerto Rican girl from a working-class single mother, still in a crummy low-rise in the South Bronx.

Beau’s house was garish in a low-keyed sort of way, the walls were painted a Kelly green, crummy poster art on the walls, and he had beaten up cheap furniture spread around a large living room. His Marine Corp memorabilia rested on a fireplace mantle, and there was a tiny writing alcove with an old wooden desk and a mental file cabinet. The dining room was a bit more stylish, where food from the local neighborhood Mexican eatery was laid out, and in the modern kitchen you found a makeshift bar on a tiled counter with a dozen bottles of decent wine.

Screenwriter Larry Haggers was there and as I was talking with Beau and a woman I’d just met about being a guest of the military myself, he interrupted us, and asked, “Hey Beau, how many Pulitzers, do you have?"

Beau didn’t miss a beat and said over his shoulder, “Just one!" and went on about the summer heat and fleas you’d find at Camp Lejeune. He had written a play about his barracks experience that unfortunately lacked the punch of his usual violent working-class, his Irish and Italian characters, and the critics had yawned. Since then he had tried a political trilogy, and two of the plays had gone off the road. But he struck gold in LA, several of his scripts had been optioned for films, so he was gracious as ever to his guests. Maria filled me in on all this, when she gave me a minute or two at the party. -- and here, a comma before his Irish and Italian characters, and I added an article before plays. Again it was affecting flow imho.

He was a jazz aficionado, and after their brief romance had introduced Maria to the saxophonist O’Brien, and they had become an item, for maybe two years now. O’Brien was a big, gregarious dark haired, bearded Boston Irish guy maybe twenty years older, a longtime musician who had cut records with all the legends and had been playing professionally since he was sixteen. He had a daughter around her age whom I met at the party, at the bar, actually, and we talked about Maria a little. He was open and honest, and I liked him.

Two weeks later an article in one of the city news tabloids named Wachovsky as a plaintiff in a lawsuit brought by a young woman with whom he’d been involved, accusing him of deviant sexual behavior, a sort of assault, I gathered, reading the article.
His response had been 'no comment’, but he did admit that he had dated the woman on several occasions. Her age was listed as twenty-five.

The young woman claimed that Wachovsky had promised to guide her in her nascent stage career, and that he had sexually brutalized her, and now, a year later, her attorney was asking for punitive damages. He was called in the article, 'a notorious sodomite!’
I mentioned this to Maria in passing after our next play rehearsal, and she didn’t say much about it, changing the subject of conversation quickly.

“Crazies, out there!" was all I could get out of her, and then as we usually did, I took her out to a neighborhood cafe for a latte, and we talked about the play, and a little about what she was doing, never about me.

When we walked down Seventh Ave after a rehearsal I watched her out of the corner of my eye look at store windows, unaware of whatever was on display, just looking at her own mirrored image, and smile, occasionally flip her long hair, if it pleased her.
Once I had asked her what she wanted out of life, walking this same route, and as we approached 42nd street, she pointed up to a two story digital marquee for a new TV series, and said, “I want that!" with a swing of her arm.

“You wanna be a star, huh?" I said, with a chuckle, “like everybody else here."


The play opened to bad reviews, from one of the minor tabloid critics, who typically didn’t like playwrights acting in their own plays, as he told Maria later, but it didn’t bother me, I knew it needed work on the last act, and quite frankly, the New York theatre didn’t care much for plays concerning middle aged men anyway. Everything had a youthful spin. There might be some interest in an abusive father on stage, but not the journey of a once married, alcoholic painter. Woody Allen had milked all the interest out of audiences there.

In the opening act, at the painters studio set in the small theatre, Maria’s character, the painter’s girlfriend Lisa, is lying on the floor in yogic mediation and the audience literally steps over her, As the damning critic moved to his seat, he stopped for a moment over Maria, and shook his head, saying, “I know what’s, next, Maria!" and let out a long sigh, and then found his seat.

His article called the play “a self indulgent acting exercise for playwright,"-- who he added, should stay in television in LA, forget about the stage. I laughed when I read it, and so did old Terry who I saw one evening, but Maria was angry that I hadn’t gone ahead with rewrites, and said she’d only do this play again if it meant staying out of federal prison for a life sentence.
Her romance with the jazz musician was on the outs, and he seemed to be spending more time in Los Angeles, where he’d lived for ten years, and I gathered that her craziness was too just too tiresome for him, so he told her it was over, finished.

Maria lived well for the most part, her apartment which I visited once, was in one of those small prewar buildings, and it was furnished well, good art, a few oriental rugs, expensive lamps. She had a collection of high tech Italian designer lamps all over her place, and she read a lot of scripts, one next to every lamp, it seemed to me.

Her clothes were fashionable in a fashion conscious city, and looked expensive, but she never seemed to have enough television or film work, to live on, money must have been tight, and she always ended up doing at lot of unpaid theatre, loved a handful of experimental ensembles.

“Why don’t you get a girlfriend?" she once asked me over coffee, being her inquisitive self.

“I’m still getting over LA, and that mess," I told her, remembering how open and innocent Karin had been when I first met her, coming off a TV set.

“Are you an candidate?" I joked, trying to put some distance on the truth, which of course was there for anyone to see.

“Not with you, Grandpa," she said, taking her hand and gently caressing my face.

“Anyway, we fight, and you’re too picky, wouldn’t work, I gotta go!" she said, and with that she was out the café door before I knew it, high-heel boots clicking on the pavement, wool cape flying in the wind like a sail.

She asked me to do a short play with her about an evangelical preacher, and I told her I wanted to go to an Evensong service at the Episcopal Cathedral, and she should come with me.

Reluctantly she agreed, filling me in on her Pentecostal upbringing and as we sat in the Gothic carved wooden choir loft seats listening to old hymns, and throughout the whole service she seemed as nervous as a cat, ready to spring and run out the door, never singing a note even with her beautiful voice I’d heard after a few glasses of wine one night.

I took her to the Hungarian cafe across the street from the Cathedral after the service, and we talked about religion, and our experiences with it, good and bad,

“I don’t like churches, mister!" she told me, “and if I didn’t love you, I wouldn’t be here!" and grabbing her cellphone, saying she had to go, she ran out the door.

I was having lunch with one of my New York friends, a big time theatre producer, who’s caustic nature I could only live with once or twice a year, and the subject of Maria came up.

“Maria Rivera," he said with a knowing laugh in his voice, “she’s a piece of work!"
“How?" I cautiously asked him.

“Good actress, but you hear stuff about her! You don’t know what to believe!" he said, digging into the stroganoff he’d ordered with gusto, shoveling in a few enthusiastic mouthfuls, chewing.

“I don’t follow you."

“Well, I don’t have any personal experience, myself, “ he said, smiling, “but. ..."

“What are you talking about?" I asked, getting a little irritated with his little cat-and-mouse game. “You don’t know? “

“Don’t know what?" I asked, some hidden anger in my voice. “She’s a high-priced hooker," he finally said,


“How do you think she lives the way she does, the clothes, the apartment?" he said calmly. “Not from acting!"

I got up from the table, and looked at him seething, my fists clenched, and threw sixty bucks on the table. “My treat, asshole!" And then I turned and stormed out the restaurant door.

When we were getting closer to each other, Maria had said to me one night, half seriously, I thought, “People wonder how I make my money, you want to know how?"

We were having coffee at my apartment after one of her shows, and she had her stocking feet on my lap, it was snowing outside.

I finished my coffee, and I looked at this woman, really looked and saw her, the woman she was, and gently rubbed her foot.
“I already know!" I told her, and leaned forward and kissed her mouth gently.


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