Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Chapter 27: A Scare, a Dare, and the Preview

Chapter 27
A Scare, a Dare, and the Preview

“He was meddling too much, wasn’t he?” Gary said. He had waited for us at the airport and was watching as I loaded Tennessee’s and my bags into the back of the Jeep.
“Yeah,” I said, relieved that someone outside the Goodman people understood, even if it was Gary. And with that, I realized how exhausted I was. I barely stayed awake through dinner and was in bed by ten o'clock.
            I got up at dawn the next morning, but Tennessee slept until the phone rang. He answered it in his room, and few minutes later, he emerged. Tears were in his eyes.
“Rose is in the hospital,” he said. “Pneumonia.”
As I poured him a mug of coffee, he enumerated in words and mumbles the ways he had failed his sister—all the promises he had failed to keep. There was no consoling him. Once he had gotten the coffee, he retreated to his room and did not re-emerge until that afternoon.
“Call Jake Murphy,” he said. Jake was Tennessee’s travel agent. “We’ll go to Ossining tomorrow afternoon. Three days.” He turned to go and then stopped. “No, two days, but tell him . . . maybe longer.”
            He went into his bedroom, and then returned with his address book.
            “Call Joyce,” he said. Joyce was Dakin’s wife. “Dakin doesn’t give a damn about Rose, but Joyce should know.” Tennessee remained in his bedroom except to eat a turkey sandwich he asked me to get for him at La Bodega. Bedraggled and cheerless, he spoke little to anyone.
            Dino showed up that night. Perhaps afraid to be alone with Gary and Skye, he had not remained in the house while we were in Chicago, but had dropped by daily to feed the animals.
            “Dino,” Tennessee called from his bedroom. He was lying in bed, but the door was open. “Come in here, please. I need to talk to you.”
            Dino walked to the bedroom doorway.
            “My sister . . . Rose—she’s dying. Come sit here and talk to me.” Dino hesitated, and then walked into the room. “Close the door, please.”
            Five minutes later, Dino left the bedroom, and speaking to no one, made a beeline for the front door.
            “Tomorrow,” Tennessee said from the bedroom doorway, “You and Gary take Dino’s things to Claire. The portrait’s finished.”
            Tennessee emerged from his bedroom the next morning looking more haggard than when he had gone to bed. His robe was barely closed and his hair disheveled. His eyes were red.
            “She’s dead,” he said.
Tears flowed from his eyes.
“Rose is dead.”
            I did not know what to say.
            “I saw her in her casket—laid out with white roses.”
            “Tom . . . that was a dream?”
            “No, they were real—white roses.”
“How . . .” I said. “Did the hospital call? Have you talked to anyone?”
Through his tears, he looked at me with profound loss, and then retreated to his room. Before closing the door, he choked out, “Cancel the trip to Ossining.”
            Gary walked into the house, and I explained what had happened. We decided to give Tennessee some time. We collected Dino’s things and ran them over to Claire, the restaurant where he worked. When we returned, Tennessee was still in his bedroom.
That afternoon, Dino showed up at the house looking for his belongings. I told him we had taken them to the restaurant. “I need the painting,” he said. “He didn’t paint it right.”
“I . . .” His eyes darted around the room. “It’s all wrong.”
            “Well,” I said, “it’s not your painting. It belongs to Tennessee.” He spied it leaning against a chair in the far corner of the dining room, but I blocked him before he could get to it. “Just leave,” I said, “or I’ll call the police.”
            He did leave, but that evening, while Tennessee, Gary, and I were sitting at the island in the kitchen, Dino barged in through the front door, grabbed the painting, and began slamming it against his knee.
            “Call the cops!” Tennessee said.
            I ran in and wrestled the painting from him. I handed it to Gary, and then picked up the phone and rang the police. By the time I hung up, Dino had fled.
            “I didn’t do anything to that boy,” Tennessee said. Tears welled in his eyes. He collapsed onto a dining chair. “I never . . . touched him.” He looked over at the mangled painting lying on the sofa. “Call them back,” he said. “I won’t press charges.”
I did, and then went over to examine the painting. Its stretcher was broken, but the canvas was intact. Above the image of a trusting, shirtless boy, Tennessee had painted the word "Innocence."
The next day, still certain that Rose was dead, hearing nothing else, Tennessee continued in remorse. And then the following morning, she called.
“Rose!” he said into the phone, “I’m going to come up!” There was a pause. “Well no, Rose, I don’t think that would be a good idea. Rose? Rose? Hello?” He cackled as he hung up the phone. “She said, ‘Tom, I need you to bring two cartons of Chesterfields,’ and when I said I didn’t think that was a good idea—she hung up!” He let out a belly laugh. “Oh, she’s not sick at all now—she’s doing quite well!”           

Half our time at home had passed. In a week we would be back in Chicago for the final run through. One afternoon, performing his usual ritual, Tennessee went out to get the mail from the box by the front door.
“Look what I found on the porch,” he said as he closed the door behind him. Besides the usual batch of envelopes, he was carrying a gift bag containing a bottle of wine. He pulled the bottle out of the bag. “Frascati!” He put down the mail, searched the bag, and then pulled out an envelope. He mugged a grimace as he opened it.
“Same person who’s been calling.” He looked up with a big grin. “I suppose he can have his interview now.” He picked up the stack of mail and walked toward his bedroom, but stopped at the door and turned back to me. “Didn’t you say you met a reporter from Le Monde . . . back before Christmas?”
            “Yeah . . .” I thought a moment. “Allen . . . Alain.”
            “Well, he’s back. He’s invited us to dinner.”
            I was astonished—and then it hit me. I remembered the night when, half drunk, I had told Tennessee, Gary, and Skye the story of how I met Alain at The Monster. How I had gone home with him—even as I eyed his virile, Spanish friend, Javier, and then how I had had a much better time with Javier after Alain returned to Paris. I could not remember how much detail I had told. I had only told the story because I was certain I would never see either of them again.
            “I’ll call him,” Tennessee said. “See if tonight suits him.” He lifted the bottle high in the air and chuckled. “A bottle of wine gets results!”
            As he sat down by the telephone, Skye walked in the front door.
            “Skye,” Tennessee said, “are you free tonight?”
            “Yeah.” He beamed. “No class the rest of the week.”
            “An old trick of Scott’s has returned to town. He’s invited us to dinner. Wanna come?”
            Skye looked at me. I stood immobile behind a mask.
            “I think it’ll be tonight,” Tennessee said. “I have to call.”
            Skye looked back to me, his eyes brightening.
“Some reporter from Le Monde,” I said. “Met him last fall. Now he wants to interview Tennessee.”
            “Great!” Skye said.
Tennessee began to dial. 

Wearing Day-Glo sunglasses and waving a muscular arm in greeting to people along the street, Larry Formica drove his pink Cadillac convertible around Key West like a one-car parade. He usually rode with several other muscled, shirtless men, pumping to the beat of the latest dance music that blared from the car’s speakers. He seemed to know everyone; he left a trail of smiles in his wake. He had restored the 1966 convertible with enthusiasm and attention to detail,  and with even more dedication, had created La Terraza di Marti. La Terraza was as much an experience as a place, a posh oasis on Duval Street that offered the best in food, service, and accommodations. The renovated main building, once the home of the Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti, included guest rooms, a restaurant kitchen, and a bar. There were more guest rooms in the newer buildings to the back and the far side of the pool. Restaurant seating was poolside on decking at the front. Palms, birds-of-paradise, and giant peace lilies flourished in planters along the side of the water; Bougainvillea twined to second floor balconies.
During the day, people—overnight guests and others—lounged by the pool sipping margaritas and piña coladas. Framed by the dazzling white of the buildings and the playful shade of the palms, patrons slipped in and out of the water as the sun drifted across a perfect, azure sky. La Terraza di Marti had become known around town simply as La-Te-Da.
We arrived at nine-thirty for the second dinner seating and, after finding Alain, followed the host to our table. The aqua glow of the pool cast a Mediterranean spell. Tiny oil lamps on hot pink table linens illuminated faces. Above, wooden balustrades and overhanging trees glimmered with the glow of thousands of tiny lights.
After cocktails, we ordered. Tennessee and Alain discussed the French view of the Reagan administration, and Tennessee described his favorite Key West restaurants. After our soup bowls were cleared, he took a sip of his wine and stared briefly at the remaining array of utensils in front of him. He looked up at Alain.
“Scott tells me he greatly preferred the uh . . . ministrations of your Spanish friend. What was his name?” Tennessee glanced at me. This was the first time he had put me on the spot like this. I had seen him do it to others, setting them up to go at each other’s throats, and then sitting back to observe. I was angry, but too embarrassed to respond. I fixed my glare on a dark spot on the tablecloth where my soup had dripped.
Waiters appeared, delaying Alain’s response, as they delivered pale logs drizzled with vinaigrette—hearts of palm salad.
“Javier,” Alain said. “He’s at Harvard.”
“Yes,” Tennessee said. “My assistant here prefers something in his lovemaking skills. What do you think of that?”
Tennessee sat back smugly. Across from him, Skye was on the edge of his seat. I stared at my drizzled logs.
“I don’t know . . .” Alain said. He took a forkful of palm and chewed it for a moment. “We’ve never made love—we are friends. Is this the American custom, making love to friends?”
Tennessee watched the tines of Alain’s fork as he speared another chunk of palm. He said nothing, and began to eat his own salad. As he did, Alain began to interview him, and continued through the rest of dinner. During dessert, Alain announced he had bought provisions to make a light lunch for us all the next day—at the house I would know the way to—and that we must come prepared for a swim as well.
Tennessee accepted. Not trusting a one of them, I pasted a smile on my face and did not say a thing. 

When Tennessee, Skye, and I arrived the next day, Alain ushered us through the house and out to the back. Under the pergola, a table had been set for lunch. Alain removed the net umbrella that protected the fruit, brie, and a loaf of French bread. Four bottles of Frascati stood in a galvanized tub, up to their necks in ice. Irene Pappas sang ancient Greek Odes to Vangelis’s electronic arrangements—the same haunting music that Alain had played when I visited before.
“What a charming spot,” Tennessee said, taking a seat. Trees and shrubs surrounded the yard, nearly concealing the fence, and palms and the umbrellas of two Royal Poincianas shaded most of the rest of it. The exception was the area around the pool, which was open to the sky.
As I reached for some cheese, I heard a war whoop, and then the bang of the back door. Two young men, blonde, tanned, and buck-naked, ran out across the yard.
“Pool boys,” Alain said, as he continued pouring wine. “Swedes.”
Tennessee, Skye, and I watched as, like a pair of whippets, they chased each other around the yard, and then with a dual howl, crashed into the pool.
“Ah, well,” Tennessee said, raising his glass, “to pool boys!”
I felt giddy on two sips of wine. Tennessee, Skye, and I kept an eye on the Swedes as we ate. Alain completely ignored them and resumed his interview with Tennessee.
 “Oh, I like this director, André Ernotte,” Tennessee said. “He’s . . . um,” he turned for a moment after a loud splash. “Belgian, you know?”
Alain kept Tennessee’s wine glass full, and continued gently bringing Tennessee’s attention back from the boys, as Tennessee, in fits and starts, gave his best view of the production in Chicago. He would not deviate from this optimistic view to the press—especially when so agreeably entertained.
By the time we had eaten our fill, the third bottle of Frascati was half-empty. The wine, the food, and the music had lulled us, but the bounding boys kept our attention as they continued to chase each other about the yard, leaping into the pool, splashing each other, and then charging out again.
They ran up to our table and paused, eating bits of fruit and cheese as water dripped from their various parts. Tennessee reached out with his fingers, his mouth open to speak, but the boys bolted, seeming not to have noticed.
“I’m not quite as quick as I once was,” he said. “Perhaps a little more wine, Alain.”
“You should all go for a swim,” Alain said. “I promised you a swim.”
Skye and I looked at each other, excited but vexed, knowing we could only follow Tennessee’s lead. He was now drunk and slow and not up to a swim. I was sure he would soon announce we were going home.
“It’s gotten so warm this afternoon,” he said. “Perhaps I could lie down inside for a minute.” Alain led Tennessee into the house.
Skye looked at me.
“I bet the water’s perfect,” I said.
We stripped in a flash, and the Swedes chased us into the pool. One jumped in next to me and clambered onto my shoulders. The other flew through the air, and after landing in front of Skye, reached down and jerked his legs clear up in the air. They wrestled us until we surrendered. Then, getting no further resistance, they led us into the house.
By the next day, Tennessee had spent most of his anger. During the drive home, Skye and I had endured his rage and, once there, Gary’s schoolmarm clucking as Tennessee detailed our transgressions. We feigned contrition, but we had not forced him to drink himself into a stupor. We smirked and laughed behind his back, and later filled Gary in on every glorious detail. 

Now that he had been forced to give up the idea of directing House, Gary began lobbying to direct Now the Cats with Jeweled Claws. Tennessee had submitted an early version of the play to Miami’s New World Festival of the Arts, promising to have it ready for performance by June. Robert Falls had been approached to direct it. Tennessee had been very favorably impressed by Falls’ work when, during one of our Chicago trips, Bruce Smith had taken us to see Falls’ production of Streetcar at the Wisdom Bridge Theater. Falls, however, had not yet decided. No papers had been signed.
Gary pushed hard, but Tennessee would hear none of it. “Gary is not a director,” he said to me. “He knows only how to look like one. I’d have to direct through him. Too tired to consider that.”
One day, John Uecker, a young actor and a friend of Tennessee’s, arrived from New York. John had wanted a break from the city, and had offered to take care of the house and animals for the duration of our next trip to Chicago. Without mentioning that Skye and Gary would be in residence, Tennessee had agreed. At thirty, John was already losing his blonde hair, but with his muscular body and brooding temperament, he looked to me like a young Brando. He had studied at the revered Actors Studio in New York, and everything about him was intense. I knew he had helped Tennessee several times before I came on the scene. He had served Tennessee more intimately, like a literary secretary, something Tennessee had made clear I was not.
John paid me scant attention, but was attracted to Skye. In his cut-offs and black T-shirt, he stretched and flexed against a wall or corner of the house whenever Skye came into view.
Late the next afternoon, Tennessee, unable to interest any of the rest of us, sat alone in the living room watching a tennis match on TV. Gary was cooking dinner as John, Skye, and I stood at the kitchen island talking as we consumed a magnum of wine.
John began chasing Skye around the room, and the noise caught Tennessee’s attention. He stormed past Leoncia, nearly knocking her to the dining room floor, and barged into the kitchen. We all froze. He stood there a moment. John and Skye blushed and hung their heads as he glared at them without speaking. He turned and opened a cabinet door. The Metamucil jar was empty.
“Damn it!”
Red with anger, he turned and stared at me.  
“I’m going to shut this house down!”
John hung his head lower and shuffled his feet. Skye grinned apologetically like an imp.
The supply of Metamucil was my responsibility. I stood like a stalwart. Running out of Metamucil was not the end of the world. A trip to the store would take only minutes.
“I’m tired of supporting everybody,” Tennessee said. “It will not continue!” He stormed into his bedroom and slammed the door.
Skye went to the guesthouse. Gary continued cooking. John and I stepped out onto the patio. I sat in a chair, but John remained standing, stretching his arms and cracking his knuckles.
“Jeez,” he said, “I guess I should leave.”
“No, he’ll forget it in an hour.”
Leoncia labored as she climbed down the steps from the kitchen.
“Just cool it with Skye,” I said.
Leoncia reached the bottom of the steps, shook her head, and chuckled. “Don’t put no eyes on that Skye,” she said. “That’s all he care about—that and his Metamucil.” She laughed and then addressed John. “Mr. Tom—let him sleep. Just be patient.” She turned to me. “Don’t let that Metamucil be empty when he comes out of his room.”
It was nearly time to take Leoncia home, but not wanting to risk Tennessee’ quick reappearance, I left for the store.
When Tennessee emerged for dinner, he was fine. The next morning, he and I prepared to return to Chicago. Matters of the trip and thoughts of what we might find there crowded out other concerns.

We landed in Chicago the day before Easter. There would be no break in rehearsals for the holiday. A driving rain had set in. After checking in at the Delaware Towers and taking a taxi to a drug store, we walked the short distance from there to the theater. As we waited at a crossing light, I bent lower under my umbrella, trying to shield us both. A woman hurried toward us across the side street. Dumpling-shaped, she wore a yellow slicker topped by a clear bubble umbrella. She marched right up to me and raised her bubble.
“Wow! How tall are you?” she said, squinting against the rain as it pelted her face.
At that moment, the light changed, but Tennessee turned quickly toward her. “Madam, he did not ask you how fat you are!”
We left her frozen, mouth agape, and hurried across the street.
At the final run-through that night, we saw the actual set for the first time, and the action played upon it. Tennessee jotted notes during the rehearsal and dictated minor ones to me. Only a few technical rehearsals remained, followed by final dress, and then the previews.
The next day, we met André for lunch at Khyber India to go over notes. Tennessee expressed his pleasure with the play’s progress. He thought the set looked too sturdy, but that distressing could remedy that. He noted some changes to make in the dialogue, and called the cast uniformly excellent. He singled out Peg Murray, saying she carried the part of Bella “with great authority and poignance.”
When he finished eating, André adjusted himself in his chair, pulling himself closer to the table.
Tennessee,” he said, “Someone’s been talking to the press.”
Tennessee sat alert.
 “After you went back to Key West, Kup reported you left because you were so displeased with the cast.” Irving Kupcinet was a popular Chicago media personality, having a newspaper column as well as appearing on radio and TV.
Tennessee was shocked.
“I never. . . .”
“I know,” André said. “No one thinks you did—but someone did. No friend of ours—or yours.” André sat back in his seat. “The cast was upset. It was very hard on them—affected performances.”
Tennessee reddened.
 “I didn’t like it,” André said, “but I understand. The pressures are enormous. I figured someone listened to you in a frustrated moment—and then told Kup.”
Tennessee sat silent.
“Please be careful who you talk to. Let’s keep these things in the house.”
“I’ll talk to Kup . . .” Tennessee said, “set him straight. Nobody speaks for me.” He reached over and stabbed at his notes with his finger. “You see right here how I feel.”
As he got up, he added, “I have an idea who did this.”
When we got back to the hotel, I put the call through to Kup. Tennessee spoke to him like a contrite friend hoping to curry favor, while painting pictures of an insightful production and a brilliant cast. “But Kup,” he said, “you must understand that no one speaks for me—I have no press agent. Uh-huh, yes, I understand, but you can’t consider his information reliable. If you have any questions, please call me,” he said. “Right, Delaware Towers. Kup, I’ll speak to you soon. Yes, yes . . . goodbye.”
I was sure Bruce Smith was the culprit, but Tennessee refused to discuss it. I hoped it was Bruce. If so, by the time I saw him, he would be too chastened to blast me for failing to advocate Maureen.

We remained in Chicago through final dress, and then Tennessee decided to visit a friend, Ken Moore, in South Bend. We rented a Plymouth Reliant, one of the K-cars that were saving Chrysler Corporation. For the first time when traveling with me, Tennessee climbed into the back. Anxious about that, I headed for the Indiana Toll Road. Two inches of wet snow had fallen overnight, and after leaving the looming smokestacks of the cities along the lake, we entered an unending envelope of gray. The snow-splotched countryside with its scattering of farmhouses reflected the leaden sky. Road salt sprayed up from each passing car. It coated the Reliant and streaked the windshield beneath the slap of the wipers. The tires droned on the wet pavement.
Tennessee sat like a pasha in his coyote parka, staring at the passing landscape. He did not speak a word the whole way to South Bend, except to ask me to find a station on the radio, and when I was tuning past a sports-talk program, he said to leave it there.
My mother’s brother lived in South Bend, and earlier, Tennessee had accepted his invitation to dinner after we arrived. However, as soon as we checked into the hotel and found our rooms, he turned to me.
“I’m not feeling well. Don’t think I can join you for dinner. Go and meet your uncle—I’m going to lie down awhile.” He turned to go into his room. “I might call room service later.”
I was not surprised. In fact, I was relieved. When my parents visited the Keys in January, Tennessee invited them to lunch but cancelled at the last minute. The day Tennessee was to enter the hospital in Houston, Kate announced with no notice that we would stop to visit her mother beforehand. At his first opportunity, Tennessee pulled me aside.
“She thinks she’ll score points with the Old Dowager,” he said. “She’s sure not scoring any with me!”
After we arrived and were ushered into the parlor, Tennessee sat on the edge of a Hepplewhite chair, minding his manners and oozing beads of sweat. I never wanted to see that again.
Tennessee spent the next day in South Bend with Ken Moore, and then the following morning, as we prepared to return to Chicago, he decided he needed a cortisone shot in his shoulder. He had never had one, but Adrianna claimed it was the only thing that relieved her shoulder pain. I worried about the danger in taking cortisone internally, especially if he got into the habit of it, but so close to the opening of House, I was not going to argue. I pulled out the Yellow Pages, and called down the list until I found an orthopedist who would see him. The doctor gave him a shot of Novocain to numb the injection site first, and then the cortisone.
The moment the doctor’s door closed behind us, Tennessee began complaining.
“He shot that Novocain straight into my bone. Homophobic bastard!”
He continued grousing, off and on, as we sped back toward Chicago—but at least he sat in the front.

On the night of the first preview, the Goodman was half-full. Tony Narducci joined Tennessee and me at the theater. I was leery of Tony, wondering if my position was threatened, but then relieved to find he was healthy, intelligent, and appeared to be artless. Tennessee had found someone who was not in it for his wallet or his drugs. Although young, Tony seemed stable and held a professional job, one that no one just up and left.
“Where’s Bruce?” I asked. We had long-standing plans that Bruce would join us for the first preview, and later, opening night.
“There’s been a change,” Tennessee said. “I don’t think we’ll be seeing Bruce.”
 The play went well enough. It was not yet ready to open, but it clearly helped the cast to have an audience. During intermission, I observed people in the lobby. I reported only the good news; the reaction was mixed. Tennessee fidgeted in his seat. He jotted notes, and later, after we returned to the hotel, worked to fine-tune some of the dialogue.
The next day, after delivering his notes, he once again left the play to André, and we returned to Key West. During the flight, he read from an anthology, stopping to cackle occasionally. I was reading the Didion book.
“Calls this dialogue,” he said, stabbing the book with his finger. “Listen. Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh.” He read a few lines, and then threw his head back with the laugh of a fey hyena. “No one talks like that,” he said, wiping a tear from his eye. “Dialogue must be believable. Fifty years—no one will remember him.” Tennessee read a few more lines aloud, his voice a little too strong. He seemed compelled to read and to get my agreement. I squirmed in my seat. I felt the depth of his fear, and did not know how to soothe him. I stared at his book, and responded flatly, wishing he would stop. He began leafing through the rest of the play, stopping at points and reading aloud partial sentences. And then, after a pause and a final chuckle, he returned to silent reading.
Unable to concentrate, I closed my book. I stared out the window as the plane continued south toward Miami. The land crept by beneath us, mocking the speed of the jet. Would we ever reach opening night?


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