I met Don in 1969 in an off-off-Broadway theater buried in a supermarket basement on the lower West Side. The proximity of the stage to food made it a magnet to the largest cockroaches East of the Sun and West of 8th avenue. We actors developed the ability to smash the creepy critters mid-soliloquy without breaking our iambic pentameter rhythm or the audience noticing.
To be or not to be,
That is the question.
It was my first acting job. I landed it right after I landed in New York from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I’d been evading military induction, aka the Draft. I touched down; bought a showbiz paper at the first newsstand I passed and saw this audition notice –
Spear-carriers needed for Macbeth
Like Gene Kelly in an MGM musical, I raced to the theater with luggage in hand. I’d like to say it was a straw suitcase but it was a duffel bag. I’d like to say I auditioned on a large stage facing red velvet seats but it was in a filthy hallway facing cases of Velveeta cheese. I’d like to say I auditioned for David Merrick but it was for Mark Fink. I’d like to say I had his undivided attention but he read his mail. I’d like to say he wasn’t a married queer on the prowl but he was.
Fink leered to me that I had a touch of genius but that we must keep that a secret lest it spread jealousy in the ranks of the spear-carriers. He used the same line on all the spear-carriers. And, you’ll notice it’s the same line used by Professor Pervowitz. But, unlike that creep, Fink never asked me to masturbate at his feet while saying I was his bitch-slut-cunt. Fink just tried to suck my cock. When I resisted, he reverted to that hackneyed homo ploy, “What are you afraid of finding out?”
Hmmnn… maybe there’s a Showbiz Scumbag College where they learn these seduction techniques.
In the 1980s, Evian was the #1 bottled water in New York. #2 wasn’t even close. But, #2’s new Sales Manager was determined to kick Evian’s ass – maybe since Evian had just fired his ass. I was hired as one of his ass-kickers. My job was to visit delis and bodegas all over Manhattan and persuade the owners to give #2 more shelf-space. (In the retail food racket, shelf-space is the name of the game!)
In every store I visited, the enormity of my task became apparent. Evian bottles were prominently displayed at eye-level on the shelves while my brand wasn’t.
Oh, wait, here they are, way down here at back-breaking, floor level.
My brand’s bottles were buried down in the cockroach graveyard.
There is no more stomach-turning sight in a food store than flies and roaches pushing up daisies. A Londoner asked me why I always washed the top of soda cans before opening them. “Ah, the survival behavior of a native New Yorker,” I explained. “You see, cockroaches lay their eggs on can tops – don’t ask me why – and their eggs roll into that small depression around the can top. If I swallow a roach egg, it will grow inside me like the Alien. I have never seen a cockroach in my many years in London but I still wash my can tops.”
Evian was a big moneymaker for the storeowners and #2 was a big waste of time. How welcome do you think I was on a scorching summer day? How much time do you think they wanted to devote to my tedious survey questions when they had a long line of impatient joggers waiting to pay for their Evian?
My agent finally found my phone number and told me he had a friend who managed the leading male strip show of the era – The Plantagenets. Its current Master of Ceremonies had lost his voice (as had every previous MC) due to the impossible task of screaming over the screaming women in attendance. But, this MC gig had definite merits –
Very good money
Very good money – in cash
Only four shows a week
Late show times so I could do a play and then do the strip show – not that I had any hopes of being in a play
Problem was that after one night of non-stop screaming I’d have no vocal cords to do a play with for the rest of my natural life. Another problem was that The Plantagenets’ show was crap. But, the main problem was that the MC had to not only scream but also scream whilst on roller skates and scream stinko jokes like –
“Ladies, our next gorgeous hunk of man is a Jewish butcher’s son from Brooklyn and believe me that meat is all kosher!”
“Girls, this Italian Stallion says his favorite pastime is playing hide the salami.”
But, I was hungry for a bit of salami myself, kosher or otherwise, so I agreed to catch the show. I immediately realized that the women had whipped themselves into a lather before the first man had unzipped his first zipper. And, that lather had nothing to do with what was happening on stage. And, what was happening on stage was surprisingly tame – no full nudity, just a succession of oiled men with fake tans wearing dumb costumes, dancing awkwardly and stripping clumsily. (Imagine the Village People spazzing around in their jocks.)
Naïve me later learned that the real action happened backstage where desperate women paid for the privilege of blowing the strippers. (In our still coarser age, young ladies don’t bother to retire backstage to get “up close and personal” with their favorite danseurs érotiques.They blow the strippers right on stage in front of their cheering girlfriends.)
While working in the security-guard game, I was living in a mini-trailer – let’s be kind and call it a “trailerette” – the scene of my tryst with the crippled, trainee-janitress Barbie. This trailerette was in the Wagons West Trailer Park right off Route 101 in Oxnard, California. When I say “right off,” I mean I could reach out the window and adjust the rear-view mirrors on passing cars. (It has been said that oxnard is something that comes out of a bull’s nose. I don’t know if that’s true but I can testify that Oxnard, California smells like something that comes out of a bull’s ass.)
Strawberry fields surrounded Oxnard to the horizon. The fruit was grown under long strips of black plastic sheeting so the fields looked as if they had been wrapped in an enormous garbage-bag. But, in a certain light, those garbage bags were beautiful. They shimmered in the sun and radiated heat waves so that, at sunset, Oxnard was a mirage city afloat on a glistening, black-plastic lake.
Wagons West Trailer Park, an island in that lake, was infested with illegal immigrant Mexican families. Wetbacks. Like their Puerto Rican cousins in Brooklyn, they spent their days screaming the Mexican equivalent of “mira, mira,” blasting the Mexican equivalent of Tito Puente music and shoplifting. Wagons West had a swimming pool the size of a toilet bowl so the Mexicans used it as such. All in all, this wasn’t shaping up to be one of the more festive Yuletide seasons of my life. Besides, Christmas and Southern California didn’t go together. It was just plain wrong.
On my way to meet Shmuel, I decide to cast my fate to the winds and become a total voluptuary. I will splurge my last dollar on a donut and coffee in a pigsty way East on 14th Street. I’ve always hated 14th Street and Columbus Circle and that pedestrian-tunnel that runs under 42nd Street and Shepherd’s Bush in London and all of Los Angeles. Certain places give me nausea and make me break out in intense psychic hives. 14th Street is the worst of the worst. But, I’m there and I’m hungry so I plunk down my buck, pour flyspecked sugar into my plastic cup and dunk my stale donut into the greasy brown fluid that passes for coffee. This is when the young woman sitting next to me asks if I’d like to fuck her on film. I’m tellin’ ya, in ’70s Manhattan, an actor on his uppers can’t even enjoy a cup o’ Joe with a sinker without being offered porn stardom.
The gal in question is kinda chubby but kinda cute with an impressive full head of brunette ringlets. She speaks in a heavily slurred Greek accent – heavily slurred because she is heavily stoned and falling off her stool.
“Safety” is an over-heated, fifth-floor walk-up with hot-and-cold running cockroaches. They are everywhere. When I turn on the lights, the entire room moves. I often can’t face the scurrying brown multitude and leave the room in darkness. Then in a demonstration of the Darwinian principle of adaptation, the brown multitude mutates to albino making it easier for the roaches to conceal themselves on the white porcelain of our sink and tub. Their white camouflage is most effective in the bristles of our toothbrushes. The only give away is the barely detectable movement of the tiny, black, roach eyes. I want to believe that I always spot these albino interlopers before sticking my toothbrush into my mouth. I desperately want to believe that.