Drooling on the Pillow

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Corner Of My Mind Is Lit 

I graduated from college in 1970 with a degree, believe it or not, in Acting. I set out immediately from St. Louis for New York and my destiny -- Stardom.

Didn't really work out, but a lot of other interesting things happened to me. I lived first in a West Village apartment that belonged to an acting teacher from school who was out of town on a job. When he returned he made me an offer of love which was, in a way, innocent and sweet, but which scared the framsis out of me and sent me running into the streets.

Luckily, a number of my classmates had an vast West Side apartment and took me in. There were probably eight or ten people living there at any one time and I made it my home for two or three years. The lease was in the name of a concert pianist and Chicago heiress whose boyfriend ran a head shop in the Village. There was a wonderful woman who worked as chorus girl and linedancer in Las Vegas, South Africa and other exotic locales. Her father was an FBI agent and she had probably more to do than anyone else with how my life turned out when she sent me to Montana to do summer stock one year when I was depressed. She wound up marrying a New York State Senator and living in Westchester.

There were a couple of street hustlers who desired to move up to be contract hustlers and paid me to write their ads for the Village Voice. There was a costume assistant, two composers (one of whom I went through the BMI workshop with as his lyricist) and one political operator. This woman had a legendary rolodex which was the only thing in the apartment under lock and key. Everyone in the apartment knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives, but I believe Mary was the only one who wound up doing it. Must have been the rolodex.

Mary got me a job in the summer of 1970 working for the Democratic candidate for senate. That was the year that James Buckley (brother of William F.) won on the Conservative line, defeating the liberal Republican incumbent Charles Goodall and my boss, Richard Ottinger.

My job was to go down to the campaign headquarters every morning and pick up a sound truck and a handful of volunteers, drive them out to some street corner in Brooklyn, flip on the sound system and make a ten hour speech about how great it would be to have Dick Ottinger as senator while the volunteers handed out leaflets. Then drive back. They paid me a lot to do that, but even though Dick Ottinger was a great guy and all, nobody was all that excited about him, even in Brooklyn, and he lost badly.

I did, however, as a member of the 'campaign staff', get a ticket to a fundraising shindig at Madison Square Garden called 'Broadway for Bella'. Another forgotten episode of that remarkable year was Bella Abzug running for congress against Leonard Farbstein. He, actually was the Democratic incumbent and, once she put him away, the Republican, Barry Farber, was toast, despite speaking more than 25 languages. You'd think that would count for something in New York, but he got run over by the hat.

Broadway came out for Bella and I had fifth row seats. Great show, I think. I know I had a good time and practically everyone was there, but I really only remember twenty minutes of it. Just about ten o'clock, naturally, the lights go down and the voice goes, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Barbra Streisand'.

I want to tell you, I take a backseat to no one in my loathing and contempt for Streisand as a political thinker and operator, but that twenty minutes was a lesson for me in the meaning of talent. There were thousands of people in the house and she rocked, she killed, she absolutely blew the house away and me with it. I remember very little of that year except for a couple of hassles I got into with Buckley operatives in Brooklyn and a few evenings with a young woman who worked as an archivist at the Metropolitan Museum, but I do remember every moment of that twenty minutes. It wasn't so much the voice, which was pretty astonishing; it was the balls on her. The demand of your attention and the comfortable assumption that no one in the world could have anything better to do for twenty minutes than to love her. I watched her and I prayed for her to break off a crumb of it and give it to me.

She didn't. If I had it, I wouldn't either.
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