William, Portrait of a Mentor, Part 3

“Writers are the true Artists, “

Manhattan, 2010

November 3, 2013 Cherokee National Forest

NYC – Manhattan – Circa 2010 – Winter into spring. A book store. Early Evening.

Him – Look who it is…

Me – No! Stop it! No way! Hi! Hi. Hey. I’m okay.

Him – Well I have to say… you’ve changed a great deal.

(A pause. I shrug. He shrugs. He skulks away behind the stacks, like some grey literary panther of the 23rd St. Barnes and Noble. He, sinister, creepy - always a grimace draped across his face. Always a smirk when he flirts. Always, always winning. Bored, of winning, I mutter to myself, but it's probably better than the other...

He, a sad, beautiful, aging husk of a creature - still fat on whatever blood he can still draw from the artists surrounding him. Raising a single shoulder at me, he bats his lashes. Revolting.

Still, his pain inside, from where he tried to infect me. From where, maybe, he partially succeeded. Yes, I must admit, he did succeed. He caused a lingering pain, suffering, trauma, PTSD, you name it. Yes, I’ve already been in therapy about this, and will continue to be in therapy for this. Yes, this was a costly lesson I’ve been taught, and yet…

Empathy, or the shock of recognition, simultaneous.

My own pain, parallel to all this - inflicted by him, but also perpendicular to that - a simpler, inter-sectional truth - this is a queer human being. A person is, by definition, not a monster. So, he’s just William. Just a man, who, yearning for a more beautiful existence, dared to say “I am William, I Belong.” 

They are both there - William Ivey Long the soon-to-be corroborated abuser, and William I Belong, the artist man-child. I almost love one of them, am completely disgusted by the other. Or, I don’t know, maybe I will learn to be disgusted by both? Maybe my therapist is right? Maybe this man is only pretending to be a designer, that his real job is actually corrupting artists? He likes to call us all “pimps and whores.”

I scoff a bit at his flirting. Wait for him to approach again. We both move closer to the books I know he wants to get his grubby hands on. He’s photographing photographs of dresses, pants, vests. I know his game. All that money and he won't even buy a coffee table book. Cheapskate. 

His focus slips. His two separate forms snap back together into one, complete human creature. Things aren’t black and white, I remind myself, remind him. Life isn’t a metaphor. 

Snap our of your reverie, Mr. PIEFOLK. This isn’t a fantasy.

It’s complicated, having a mentor abuse you, trust me on this.)  



2018, Coastal Review reports on struggling theater dinosaur. White people front and center, again, telling Native tragedies from a one-sided point of view.

Me – Well, I have to say. It’s not simple, or easy, but it’s a life.

Him – What is?

Me – Theater. Story. Comedy. Music. Writing.

Him – Oh no, I meant to say you’ve changed.

Me – What do you mean?

Him – You were young and blond.

Me – Oh. We’re back in North Carolina? Yes. I was a high school swimmer. Yeah I was young and blond. Bleached from chlorine pools and sunshine, actually.

Him – Well I haven’t seen you much since then. You’ve changed.

Me – Have I?

Him – You know you have.

Me – Do I?

Him – It’s inevitable.

Me – Is it, though? Are things inevitable, or are most things… avoidable, depending on behavior patterns?

Him – I could do this all night!

Me – What are you doing here? Research?

Him – You’re always one step ahead.

Me – Sure that’s not a projection? You have a very sharp mind for business.

Him – I’ll take the compliment. I’m good at design, and design is not art. It’s art, as directed by an employer. When you add the money element, it becomes business. You have to stay ahead of the competition.

Me – Let me guess? You’re doing a period piece that needs specific costumes “only you can do?”

Him – I never should have let you see my modes-operandi. You’re too clever, by far.

Me – Or at least by half… It took me forever to figure out how you do it.

Him – Half of what? How I do what?

Me – Design.

Big, the Musical – designed by William Ivey Long to premiere on Broadway early 1996. Ticket sales purportedly good, or at least fine – for a total flop.

No real word on why the show closed, or why photos/info of the scandal surrounding quietly dissipated – rumors swirl, however –

Non-Disclosure Agreements. Out of court settlements. Some children in the cast going to very expensive colleges.

“Big” business as usual, I had scoffed, barely hiding the bitter suffering, my voice a choked gutter – hurting, always, for any kid trapped in showbiz.

Was this case different, though?

(Pause. He is now intrigued on a new level. He realizes, perhaps I’m more formidable than he assumed at first.) 

Him – And, how do I do design?

Me – Don’t you remember the Master Class you taught at The Colony?

Him – I remember your writing most…

Me – No, that’s a lie. You didn’t see the show I wrote in the Summer of 1996 at The Lost Colony in Manteo. You never see my shows.

Him – Okay, I heard it was very good and I was intrigued.

Me – It was okay!

Him. Okay?? You may be selling yourself short. You know I was very good friends with a writer for a while…

Me – Yes I know this one. It was… Paul Riser?

Him – No…. That’s a comedian. Mad About You.

Me – Oh right. Then it must be… Paul Rudnick.

Him – Uh… yes… Wow. You have quite a memory.

Me – I keep a journal.

Him – That’s important-

Me – And I always have. I have always kept a journal and I always will. Time, Date, Place. Important facts at least. I keep them in storage.

(Feebler, now, up close, but still a plump, cherubic-statured man. Middle aged, I think to myself - but, any plastic surgeon could have done that kind of subtraction. Actually old, I think, verifying the math in my mind. Retirement age already, or close to it. Pitiful but still full of spite and vinegar.)



Him – Wow. You have quite a memory.

Me – I keep a journal.

Him – That’s important-

Me – And, I always have. I have always kept a journal, and I always will. Time, Date, Place. Important facts at least. I keep them in storage.

Me – So, are you still doing the thing where you squint one eye to blur things out so you can imagine what they’ll look like at a distance?

Him – Why alter the formula?

Me – Yeah, you have a whole playbook don’t you?

Him – Protocols are good for business.

Me – Aren’t they though? I mean… you would know

(We square off. It’s fully on and we both know it. We both have a moment. Mine is more about my heart pounding in my ears, my pulse racing, my fight-or-flight triggered, and me deciding to stay and fight it out. It feels important, somehow. I know the smart move is to leave now, but I’m so angry at him for all the lost work, lost resource, lost money. More than that – he wasted my time. Nothing in the universe is more immutable, more valuable – than time.)

Him – I meant that your body has changed.

(I pull out a business card. It says PIEFOLK.)















Him – YES! That’s what I meant! I’ve been keeping track of you! Your website! I need a designer for mine.

Me – I don’t know any designers, except you, sorry.

Him – Who did your site?

Me – I did. It’s called WordPress. Look into it.

Him – Oh, I will.

Me – Will you?

Him – I’ll have someone look into it.

Me – Brian Mear?

(He says nothing. His eyes flash green. Mine deepen to almost navy. What do I know about Brian? Have I been speaking with him? He puffs up, tries to stand taller. Still, I am taller than him. My shoulders back. My tone, calm. He can’t win this unless he provokes me, and right now I’m winning. He, I can tell, is aware of this, too. Interesting.) 

Him – Yes. Likely Brian.

Me – But, you’re always hiring?

Him – Yes, I believe it’s important to pay people for their work.

Me – I don’t often get to be the one paying. I run my site on a shoestring, and I’m still never far away from tending bar, but I like paying artists when I can. It makes things more convenient for me.

Him – That it does. Artists… all kind of workers. It’s a convenience. I LOVE the design of your site.

Me – Do you?

Him – I think you know I do.

Me – Awwww you’re so flattering.

Him – It’s too bad you’re a writer…

Me – Oh, I had a whole design career.

Him – You do?

Me – I did. I don’t any longer, nor do I want that anymore. But yes. I designed quite a bit for a brilliant avant-guard theater director named Bob Fisher. I also designed at Chicago City Limits, for Victor Varnado, and Paul Zuckerman. OH! And I made some beautiful angel wings for an actor who played a statue in And What of the Night by Maria-Irene Fornez.

“We laugh. Me, from terror, from suppressing rage. Me, from years of swallowing my pride.”

Him – Those little regional gigs and off-offs – they’re eventually going to be the good old days…

Me – Chicago City Limits is still the longest running Off-Broadway show in Manhattan, so it’s not an off-off, and you know it. Upright Citizens is more than 99 seats, which makes it an Off-Broadway designation, yet comedy is still not regulated by Equity or any other competent Union, so it’s a gray area the American Theater Wing is happy to ignore – and you already know all of these things. You’re tight with the ATW – I’ve checked.

Him – Well… thanks for the quick education. If I didn’t know, now I certainly do!

Me – Oh, beg pardon. I am a respected teacher now. I suppose I was using my teacher voice, on my teacher. On my mentor.

(We pause. Nothing has been said, yet, at all. We are still staring one another down. My breathing has returned to normal. I know I have to be calm, or risk losing this exchange. Neither of us are willing to risk losing. The stakes are way too high. William’s eyes flash at me. Grey, like mine. Green like his. Blue, but icy. Pale. Almost misty, in the vapor.)  

Him – So have you done any porn?

Me – WHAT? No. Don’t be silly.

Him – You don’t think your site is silly?

Me – Julie Klausner says it’s “White Trash Martha Stewart, but gay, and cool in a Brooklyn way.”

Him – Who’s that?

Me – Julie? A writer you’re soon to be aware of.

Him – OH WILL I? We’ll see…

Me – We will.

(A pause, then…)

Him – I will.

Me – I bet you do.

Him – That’s a bet you can win.

Me – I can win any bet.

(A pause, then)

Him – Just make sure the odds are in your favor. I was going to say – everyone is doing it, these days. My favorite porn star right now is a concert pianist, as well, but his real money, people say, is what he’s selling after his concerts.

Me – Not interested.

Him – Everyone sells it.

Me – Not true. You don’t sell it.

Him – Of course I do! I just agreed with you. I think having employees is convenient. I’m in Theater. We’re all pimps and whores. Sex sells.

Me – I don’t agree with what you just said, however, about art, about sex, about design. I don’t sell sex. Nor do I buy it.

Him – Is that so?

Me – I guess it’s up to the world to prove otherwise? There’s a reason I never take the apron off.

Him – It’s a lot like a loincloth.

Me – Except for two differences.

Him – What are those?

Me – 1) It covers and exposes different areas, and 2) I decide who touches me, during my fittings, because designers are my employees, now. I’m the writer and the architect of my site, of my destiny.

Him – Sounds like you’ve got it all figured out.

Me – I know dog turds, when I smell them.

(We laugh. Me, from terror, from suppressing rage. Me, from years of swallowing my pride. I laugh because it’s the medicine I need in the moment. I laugh, with my abuser, about my abuse, about business in general, about the trauma of his sexual harassment, about the trauma of capitalism – how it ruins everything it touches, including the United States.

We laugh, my mentor, my abuser, and I – about how we all know what dog turds smell like. We all know what war is. We all know what genocide is. We met at The Lost Colony – a show that celebrates a race of people who miraculously survived a genocide, who didn’t even have the dignity of naming themselves Native American Indian. Before the White man came, there were just “people.”

They mostly shared, bartered. We taught them, but we taught them nothing useful. Only about money, and property, and law, and owning things, owning people. We taught them lessons nobody should ever have to learn, and then we called them drunk, stupid, lazy. Then we taught them our flimsy forms of “justice.”

William and I laugh. All of our pain, fear, frustration, finding whatever cathartic moment it can, in the moment of a laugh.

William finishes just before I do, smirking, churlish, catlike, suddenly.)











Him – Well I’m glad you’re not doing comedy anymore! That’s not the type of joke Mom and Dad want to hear on Network Television.

Me – I said I was a writer. I never said I wasn’t writing comedy, or performing. Or teaching. I’m doing all those things as well as launching musicals.

Him – Good for you!

Me – Like I said. Designers are my employees now. I earned that.

Him – How so?

Me – Let’s call it the school of hard knocks.

Him – Now it’s a Cinderella story, all the sudden??

Me – I believe she wore an apron.

Him – She also talked to birds.

Me – Not a crime!

(A pause, then…)

Me – But, you know what is a crime, don’t you?

Him – I have to run.

Me – One more thing…

Him – No I truly have to go.

Me – Paul Rudnik.

NYT canned the #MeToo story about Broadway predators,
but we all have time for fluff pieces about Young Adult Fiction!
The Grey Lady has to move paper like everyone else, I suppose?

Him – What about him?

Me – Is he the one?

Him – The one what?

Me – The one who taught you to squint your eye, when you’re designing.

Him – Michael, I’m tired. What do you think I’m doing when I squint when I’m designing?

Me – I think you’re trying to remove depth from your vision. Just a bit. You’re trying to see what things look like from far away, like a theater designer. You’re trying to see if you can sell your sexy idea. Because you’re an important business man, and other people are immature artists. Also, like I said, I’m employing designers now, so get your resume together.

Him – Oh, you can’t afford…

Me – To miss this opportunity? I can’t. I want to know if Paul Rudnick is the one who taught you the phrase.

Him – What phrase?

Me – “Writers are the true artists of the theater.”

Him – Where did you hear that?

Me – On the fireworks dock. Out in the Roanoke Sound. In Manteo.

Him – Stop this.

Me – No, I think I will continue to remind you.

(A pause. Nothing.)

Him – Go on?

Me – You were visiting for your Master Class. You said diminutive things about my designs. You doted on your pets. You tried to avoid me.

Him – You made some wild accusations…

Me – Agnes Chappell called me on the phone and talked me out of suing you for sexual harassment.

Him – I’m not feeling well. I have to go.

Me – Fred glad-handled me out the door of the theater department at Florida State.

Him – That’s not true. I don’t have anything to do with those things, anyhow.

Me – You don’t know what is true, then, if you don’t have anything to do with it?

Him – What’s your point?

Me – “Writer’s are the true artists of the theater.” You said that, after I finally cornered you. I wanted answers. I wanted you to promise me you would help me in my career.

(His eyes flash emerald, then fade to a grassy jade. Mine royal blue, green flecks, yellow. I’m winning this, I decide.)




Him – Why did you think I could help you? I’m not a writer, or a comic, or a musician…

Me – Your best friend is one of the most prominent gay writers of our time. Do you not hear yourself? Do you only talk? Do you never, ever listen? Even to yourself? That must, by far, be the easiest form of delusion – self delusion.

Him – It looks like you would know…

Me – I thought you liked the way I looked?

Him – I said you’ve changed. That’s all I said.

Me – Oh right. You prefer young ones. You told me you like to be “daddy on top.”

Him – I’m not sure I remember that, specifically, but you’re starting to open my eyes…

Me – Well, as you said, you’re sleepy and you don’t feel well, and I’m sorry to have to be so brutally candid, but you don’t look all that well. You look….

(A pause, then…)

Me – Maybe a bit tired.

Him – This certainly hasn’t made my day any less exhausting.

Me – It’s not the highlight of mine either. Enjoy your “design.”

Him- Yes. I’m an adult with real work to do.

Me – I know. You don’t remember? You told me your secret. You just copy the dresses from old art history, or just regular history books. You’re not an artist at all, you just trace other peoples dresses and copy them.

Him – I never said I was an artist.

Me – I know. You’re not. You’re a designer. I’m an artist.

Him – Oh, is that what you call it?

Me – That’s what Paper Magazine, VICE, IT Post, employees of the New York Times, Eli Wallach, Jerry Stiller, Anne Meara, Bradley D. Wong, Michael Stipe, and the editor of Salon.com have said. And those are just parts of the highlight reel. I’m not mentioning Time Out New York, or Jane Borden, or any of the network execs that have, do, and will continue to court my influence.

Him – Is that all reality is? Perception?

Me – The clothes make the man, they say.

Him – They do say that.

Me – Well, I must be off. I have a show.

Him – This late?? I hope it pays well!!

Me – I’m sure that’s not your concern, but yes, it does. It’s an industrial with The Upright Citizen’s Brigade National Touring Company.

Him – Well then… scurry off!

Me – Oh, sure – I simply must take my leave. But remember, I’m watching you.

Him – And I, you. You should consider doing porn.

Me – You should try and get a few more Tonys. I’ll never hire you, but I might give you a courtesy meeting, at some point.

(Finally his bloodshot eyes flash a sinister crimson. He's losing ground. He knows it. Now the grey panther is a mangy old tomcat, at best.) 

Him – Everyone sells it!

Me – No. Just the ones who have to.

Him – Now THAT’S funny! You should right that down.

Me – Oh. One more thing?

Him – What’s that?

Me – William… I belong. Me. I belong too.

Him – Not sure I buy it.

Me – I’m never selling anything to you. It’s not for you to buy.

Him – Still….

Me – Goodbye! Oh and remember!!!!

(I’m leaving now, thorough a glorious pair of revolving doors. I mouth this next part through the window, at him.)

Me – Writers are the true artists of the theater!

Lily Martin

Our Dear Brenda

Our Dear Martins

I’ve missed you. Easter made me think of you.

Your spirit is always close in the springtime, dear Brenda. What about all those Easter parties down on McGee? What about all the holidays we shared?

Trying to get the conversion van across that perpetual creek in your driveway?

The gravel. The splashing. The “Damnit-John-we-just-got-this-washed,” comments from the peanut gallery as we made our way up to your place for fellowship, food, bright hearts. Easter, renewal, resurrection. So much family. So much fun.

Handmade suits. Pastel mint and navy, special family recipes. Amma’s apple pie.

Your house, Brenda. It was yours. Dennis loved you so much he designed a sleek architectural marvel out in the woods. He may have drawn up the plans, but you’re the one who so brightly lit that home.

(I’m getting a little choked up writing this actually. I just realized I’ll never be able to ask you how to fight bullies ever again! Then again, “hit them back” works in so many situations – at least as a metaphor.)

Remember the Easter you first let me and Scotty hide the eggs? We were so excited to be the boss of something and wanted to present a challenge to our cousins. We stashed the eggs thoroughly – tall grass, nooks in the rock, in the split neck of a spreading tree, cradled in the crick, stashed in thickest thickets. Nestling Paas stained eggs on ledges, in puddles, even under the hood of the barbecue grill.

("The BBQ is OFF LIMITS!" Norma following behind us, beseeching us, remember the smallest cousins! "Remember to include the smallest of us in the adventure! Guys? Guys! Hide some out in the open for the little ones!")

In a way, it was always Easter at your place, Brenda. You hired me to wash your walls once a year, and indeed I walked away from that exchange richer – full of confidence, new knowledge – a feeling that renewal always resides right around the corner from the house on McGee.

Upgraded to a Martin and Co. composition guitar.

It was you who taught me to bake, dear Brenda. How to take butter out to soften it up, how to bring the eggs to temp. How the little things we do in life affect the consistency of what we’ll finally pull out of the oven. How the texture of things can be the differential that elevates something from a trifle to a work of art. How the proper balance of flavor, texture, consistency, and presentation can be the difference between carving out a life, or whittling your own self down. You taught me to stand up for who I am. You taught me Old Testament in Lutheran catechism. Esther and Ruth, and the meaning of my namesake.

“You’re Michael,” you said to me, when I was 12 years old. You taught us Old Testament in Lutheran catechism. “Guard the garden, pass over the Jews while taking the first-born of the rest of Egypt. Oh yeah – and you kill the devil at the end, with a flaming sword.”

I felt so mortified! Other folks in the class were named after tertiary characters in the narrative. Suddenly I was the Archangel, while someone else in the class might have been named after a cobbler. I blushed, felt flushed. I still had a very strong faith in the Lutheran God back then. Before I saw what the world is, and which people get to move freely through it.

At any rate – now I just have faith in us. I hope that’s good enough. I can certainly live with it. I have to anyway.

Brenda, I went through some tough times; you let me confide in you. You were always available for emotional council. You were ursine of spirit. You helped me process some of the more difficult things children shouldn’t have to process.

(I’m getting a little choked up writing this actually. I just realized I’ll never be able to ask you how to fight bullies ever again! Then again, “hit them back” works in so many situations - at least as a metaphor.)

Where did you go? Why can’t we have you somewhere, planning Easter? Even just once a year would be cool. Who could ever take your place? When will our spirits ever be reunited? Is that maybe too much to ask? What’s the buzz?

Tell me!

What a crushing loss for all of us Brenda. Which is not to be dramatic, but rather, just to say, we all miss you. We all think of you all the time. We speak well of you – always fond words in remembrance.

I speak your name, sometimes, to myself – late at night, treasuring small remnants like the wedding gifts you gave us. A vintage photo-study book on Love from Amma. The magic wand you picked up for us the day after. Right before we had to drive down from Big Sur to Pebble Beach, to say goodbye.

The last time I ever got to see you face to face – that fancy restaurant on the golf course, you, radiant, a flower in your hair. California coast behind you, placid, raw cliffs tucked behind close-pruned putting greens. You, smiling. Distant waves crashing. A sense of possibility wafting in on ocean winds.

Sea birds – held aloft on updraft, faraway – just above the horizon.

Finishing up, we moved back through the grandiose country club lobby. I tried to coax Scotty into playing the piano, but he demurred.

You caught me by the elbow, Brenda, and you told me that you loved me, that you loved who I was, who I am. That you don’t quite understand the mysterious magic I carry – but that you see it, you sanction it.

It clicked the moment you said magic – you’d given me a literal magic wand.

(It rings so clear when I tap it on my desk, but I promise, I’m not tapping it very often. I understand it’s to be used sparingly, and never with ill intent. I understand it’s primarily a way to communicate intent to the rest of the world. I’m being respectful with it, I promise.)

All the love you fostered there in the Easter house. All good advice given. Practical, tidy, rarely judgmental. Strong, charismatic, full of twinkling Martin charm.

I know you bore quite a bit of your mother’s ancestral sorrow when you were young, and I know life had other sorrows in store for you. We all have our share of sorrow to bear. It’s how we process and move forward that counts. How can we turn this painful mess of life into some ordered elegance. Even rustic! Still elegant. Like a true Dóttir of Iceland.

This is what you were good at Brenda, moving through things toward the next iteration. Evolving while staying grounded. A class act! Vibrant, kind, fair minded – even through your own perceptions, and strongly held beliefs.

Listen to this gushing! When you were with us, you never would have suffered such a long list of compliments. You would have laughed, told a joke, changed subject. Redirected.

Moved it along.

But now I get to come here once in a while and remind you what a superstar you were. How bright your light was. How cold it is sometimes with you far away. Being around you made me feel confident and proud of who I am. Thanks for those Easters. Religion might happen in a church but God happens around the barbecue pit, squirreling away eggs. God happens when you’re inside a warm home, when you seek the fellowship of family.

It was only three of us this year. I took some photos after church, when I got to thinking of you. Anyway, we got all dolled up, and had well-made, succulent food afterward.

But it was only the three of us, as I mentioned.

I do wish it had been four.

Sorry, I know that’s difficult of me. I’m a bit difficult sometimes. But because I know women like you, I know I’m worth any difficulty my family suffers for having me.

I guess that’s too much to ask of life, though. What a mystery, though. What a lucky mystery it is to be alive!

Drop by anytime Brenda. I know you’re still with us anyhow. But I can’t say too many times how missed you are.

All of us feel the loss. All of us bear the mark of your kindness. All of us have you in our full, bittersweet hearts.

Peace be with you. And, with thy spirit.

Our Dear Mr. PIEFOLK
Our Dear Archangel Michael

we smoke cigarettes

Here’s a poem from Samantha Jane. Please, enjoy.

we smoke cigarettes

cigarettes 

on my porch
saying nothing
inhaling some
blue and white,

greyed out
romance pretend
our poison won’t
volatile combine
ashes animate ashes 
killing us
sometimes abuse
fuses love round
around children’s

rosy death averted
ashes animate ashes
fall and all reduces us to two, one
lust on my porch

William, Portrait of a Mentor

PART ONE – NORTH CAROLINA, 1996

William slides his hand down the back of my pants. I’ve stopped trying to stop him; I just let it happen.

He distracts everyone, pointing at a piece of theater set I painted, complimenting my technique. Indicating rough-hewn walls, new wood painted to look old, weathered. The patched wood, seamless, blends into the set.  I’ve matched his technique, and covered a flaw. One good thing – he does sometimes point out a job well done, despite tantrums and sharp words, despite his wandering hands. 

Sometimes he’ll expound upon design elements, textiles, perspective. “What looks luxurious from far away”, he explains, “might look a bit crude close up.” He’s talking about theater design, but he might as well be talking about himself. 

Nobody sees him touching my ass. I make a mental note to wear a belt next time. 

We work in the hot sun in the Outer Banks of North Carolina on a show called The Lost Colony, and William is our production designer. He is also a theater legend with three Tony awards at this point in his career; probably around fifty years old. 

I feel lucky, intimidated. I don’t like his hand on my ass, but this summer has already worn me out, and we haven’t even opened the show yet. I’ve come to think of this unwanted touching as the price of admission, even though this is a job and not an amusement park. They’re paying me to take this shit. Oh, America.

He takes his hand away. I keep painting. Nobody saw. Nobody wants to see these kinds of things, and so nobody saw. 

Luckily for me, the show will open in a few weeks, and William has to go check on his touring productions, has to start making drawings for a new Broadway show. 

Us college theater folk are impressed by this: Broadway. 

We make all sorts of excuses for him because he works on Broadway. To us, Broadway is more than a place, or a culture. It’s a fantasy remedy for our broken childhoods. It’s a totem, safe, and sparkling – brimming with raw potential. William is the gatekeeper to that world.

Even though his hand is gone, I’m still thinking about the groping. Minutes later, pulse racing, I feel ashamed, flushed, worried. I see the writing on the wall. He’s going to push this further than I’m comfortable with, soon. 

(Hell, he’s pushed it further than I’m comfortable with now. How am I going to satisfy his ego without letting him have sex with me? I don’t see a way. Maybe I’ll avoid him? Not go to the party on opening night?)

I can take this until he leaves. I’m strong, I say to myself. This can’t break me. But I do feel ashamed for no reason, which leads to anger. Why should I feel ashamed for any reason? I didn’t touch anyone’s ass. 

Should William even feel ashamed? I’m letting him. We are all letting him. Especially those of us who certainly didn’t see anything strange

Later that night, I go to a party with the other college aged cast and crew members. I feel isolated – a little sad. I miss home and my friends from school, my family. What’s more, I’ve been promoted, and I’m part of the management team now. I’m not just a background actor anymore, because William “saw something special in me” and wanted me to props master the show. It was such a rush when they told me, and the reality of the situation didn’t sink in until much later. “I have to warn you,” the director of the show told me, “William isn’t easy to work with. He can be very difficult.”

Roanoke Island Historical Association vs Employee

It’s not a problem, I told the director, looking him in the eye – I’ll manage. 

“Difficult” was an understatement, but I was right when I said I’ll manage. I do manage, and I pull off some pretty fantastic work that season. My team makes new props by hand. Wooden toy butterflies, stuffed Native American dolls, ribbons – odds and ends settlers might bring to a colony in the New World. At one point, William loses his cool over a basket of corn the natives bring as a gift to the settlers. It’s plastic corn we bought at a Joann’s Fabric. I wired it into the basket in neat, tidy stacks. This sets him off – the neat stacks of corn. He claims a squaw would just pick the corn and throw it in the basket. I argue with him. The indigenous people are meeting the settlers for the first time, I say. This is a special occasion. It’s logical someone might have taken the time to stack the corn nicely. If I’m OCD enough to wire it in bundles, it’s not an unreasonable thought that someone a few hundred years ago also had the same impulse. 

William is enraged. He rips the corn out, throwing it at me. I duck. It hits another tech crew member in the face, who screams “I’m okay!” even before he registers the pain. 

We’re trained to talk in very low tones about whatever insane behavior we tolerate on any given day, but we always follow up with, “I’m okay.” You never saw a more exhausted bunch of people running around telling one another how okay they are. I never did, anyway. But then again, at this point I’m only 21. 

I try to salvage the pieces of plastic corn that aren’t torn up beyond recognition. Only part of it was damaged. Nobody will see. I use a hot glue gun, because wiring the corn is not an option anymore – it’s too damaged and there’s nothing to anchor it. I’m worried about the hot glue gun. It’s one of William’s pet peeves, and the senior costume folks warned me he would flip out if he saw that I even had one. I take my chances. They shake their heads and mutter to one another. William abuses the costume department the most. They’re overworked, overmanaged, constantly shell shocked. Still, later that night, after a few drinks, one of the costume designers implies that I’m shaking my ass at William in exchange for special privileges. He uses my secret hot glue gun as an example. That’s how crazy we’ve been made, in only a few weeks. I’m accused of prostituting myself for the sake of a hot glue gun. Welcome to showbiz.

Roanoke Island Historical Assn. vs Employee

The next day he slides his hand down my ass again in the costume shop. I wiggle free. 

It keeps up like this. Nobody sees. A few people see, actually, but they minimize it by calling it things like ‘special attention.’ At some point in the rehearsal process I get frustrated. William is treating me like an idiot all day long in front of the entry level tech people. When he’s not doing that, he corners me in musty prop cabins, carpentry sheds, behind wood-paneled dressing rooms. I pull him aside and ask him to stop. I tell him it’s embarrassing to me when he yells at me in front of people I’ll have to manage for an entire summer. He asks me if I’ve ever had a job with a boss before. Yes, I say. He shrugs and tells me I’m on deadline, then he takes away the three helpers he has assigned me. 

Later in the day, I ask for an extension. William denies it. I speak up, telling him it’s unfair to expect the same deadline after he’s wasted time yelling at me, taking away my technicians, making me feel small. William calls everyone into a group. 

“Attention, everyone! Michael is having a hard time making his deadline, and so now, instead of a lunch break, EVERYONE on the crew will work an hour for Michael.” People are pissed. They want to eat, and maybe relax for an hour or so. The sun is beating down on us. I spring into action. Somehow, even with no plan for what I’d get accomplished with twenty extra pairs of hands, I find something for everyone to do. I separate people with artistic talent. I assign them mini projects. People are tearing rags, slathering paint, sewing things. It’s going so well that William forgets he’s angry and gives me the entire team for two and a half hours, instead of just one. We skip lunch. 

People aren’t angry with me, somehow. They get it. We trade horror stories and then quickly mutter how okay we are. 

William asks me to dinner at his hotel that night. We can have wine, and if I drink too much I can sleep over. I decline. 

At the actors apartment complex the Lost Colony owns, someone is always throwing a party in one of the shared apartments. That, or we meet at a picnic table near a grove of trees and sip beer. They’re nice to me that night. Even if they don’t see what’s going on, they see what’s going on. It doesn’t stop him, but maybe it takes some of the sting away. 

It’s okay. I’m okay. 

It will be fine once we open. 

It’s fine; be professional. Don’t wash out, okay?

You’ll be fine. Don’t worry. 

I’m okay.

I Love Me event

I go for an overnight trip with Karl, who is the costume shop manager. He’s William’s right hand man. He lives a couple hours away in Virginia Beach. He’s searching for fabric and buys a little, but isn’t overly impressed with the stock. I buy a few props for my department, but I’m afraid to make any bold moves. I don’t want William’s wrath raining down on me again, and I’d rather come back from the trip completely empty-handed than buy the wrong things. Buying the wrong things will set him into a humiliating rage.

 I’m not sure why I was brought on this trip. All the things I need for my props can be purchased nearer to the theater, and I don’t have any must-have items list that have to be sourced elsewhere. Yet, Karl made a huge deal about how driving 2.5 hours to his place was absolutely crucial. We’re on a time crunch. The whole show goes up with only five weeks rehearsal time. We’re three weeks in, and we’re running out of time. I want so badly to prove I was the right choice for this job. 

Later, at Karl’s house, we take a dip in the hot tub. This is framed innocently enough, after a vodka tonic or two. Karl makes fun of me for wearing my shorts in the hot tub. He says it’s fine if I just go naked, or in my underwear. I pour another drink – this time a stiff one. He says that his boyfriend is out of town, and that if I want to, we can stay in their room together and have some fun. He’s easily fifteen years older than me, and higher than me on the theater food chain. Or, at least it seems that way. When I point this out he explains to me that it’s fine – he’s the costume shop manager and I’m the props master, so we’re equal. But, he’s worked for William for many years, and I don’t feel equal. He puts his hand on my knee, underneath the water. He squeezes harder when I pull away. It hurts. I pretend to be drunker than I am and stumble to the guest room. I pass out. He doesn’t try anything creepy while I’m asleep, I’m pretty sure.

The car ride home is quiet the next day. William curls up a smile when he sees us walk in together backstage. “How was your trip?” he asks, all saccharine and syrup. I tell him I found a few things, but there wasn’t much selection. “Well I hope you two had fun,” he chortles, “But it sounds like you wasted everyone’s time.” Sure, I say, and hang my head. He wonders aloud how anyone on a props deadline could waste an entire day, and not find anything. As I’m leaving I actually say, “sorry,” and I’m immediately furious with myself. I shouldn’t have to apologize for doing my job. Besides, everyone on this tech crew is trying to stick their finger up my ass. I think all these things, but say nothing. I go back to work.

“I don’t need money,” he says. “People get sleepy after a certain amount of wine. They forget things.” Toying with me, he sneers, and holds eye contact a little too long. “For that matter,” he says, “there are other things, besides wine – that make people forget…”

that day William asks again. Dinner at his hotel. We could have fun, he insists, if we get away from this environment. He wants to know if I like a certain actor. Do I think he’s cute? He’s been coming to dinner and hanging out, too. I point out that it’s irrelevant whether I think he’s cute or not, because he’s straight. William just laughs. “I know ways to get straight guys to relax and give you what you want,” he says.

“I don’t have three Tony awards, a trust fund, and a townhouse in Chelsea, I say.” I’m testing the waters. Being snide about his power, his station. William thinks this is very funny. There’s some sort of twinkle in his eye. He’s not used to someone challenging him. I see for a brief second that to some people, life is just a game. That William is almost bored of winning it. 

“I don’t need money,” he says. “People get sleepy after a certain amount of wine. They forget things.” Toying with me, he sneers, and holds eye contact a little too long. “For that matter,” he says, “there are other things, besides wine – that make people forget…”

“I think I have plans tonight,” I say. 

I start keeping a journal after that. Maybe other people are going to forget things, I think to myself – but not me. I’m going to remember. I can’t sleep at night, now, so I blow off steam by writing about what’s happening to me. 

I reach a state of exhaustion. It’s an outdoor drama, so the work on the set – it’s all done in the sun. We don’t have sunscreen; we’re poor and can’t afford it. We look tanned and young and feisty, but we’re stretched pretty thin. And, I have a psychological exhaustion nagging at me from all the groping and innuendo nobody sees.

“I mean, I can tell it bothers you,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me. William paid me and another actor once to have sex with each other in front of this strange dude, who later wound up investing a lot of money in the show. But, I mean, who cares,” he says with a shrug. “I would have fucked this guy anyway. I wanted to all summer and then I got paid to do it!”

I start to hear absurd rumors that William and I are carrying on an affair. Sure, I say to a straight guy who asks me if I’m dating William. Can’t you see how warm and loving he is to me? Everyone laughs at this, but then they all fall silent. It’s a dark joke, and forces them to confront the reality of what’s happening. After some time, another gay crew member says something minimizing, like, well at least you’re getting attention from a theater legend, and grimaces.

“If you didn’t like it,” he says, pausing, challenging me, “You’d tell him to stop.”

“Thanks for the solidarity,” I say, annoyed at everything and everyone. I do tell him to stop, I think to myself. In hundreds of ways I have signaled my disinterest. And William knows I’m not interested. It has become a game between us.

Later, a dancer in the show pulls me aside to check on me. He rubs my shoulders and tells me it’s okay. In fact, it could be more than okay. I’m confused, and don’t quite get what he’s saying. William can make or break careers, he says. Not just designers, writers, actors. He has the connections they need to succeed. But he can also drive people away. Spread rumors about them. Make them feel insecure, crazy, alone. The dancer then tells me I should just do my best to stay off his radar, if I don’t plan on sleeping with him eventually. 

“I mean, I can tell it bothers you,” he says. “It doesn’t bother me. William paid me and another actor once to have sex with each other in front of this strange dude, who later wound up investing a lot of money in the show. But, I mean, who cares,” he says with a shrug. “I would have fucked this guy anyway. I wanted to all summer and then I got paid to do it!”

Suddenly I feel less comforted. I start talking about sexual harassment. The dancer cuts me off. “Gay people don’t have that,” he says, matter of factly. “Also, who are they going to believe? A theater legend with three Tonys, and everything to lose? Or a blond college kid, with nothing to lose and everything to gain? They’ll make you look like a gold digger or a hustler.” 

I walk home feeling bitter. It’s not like the dancer was trying to make me feel worse, but gay people have a way of shitting on one another’s mood sometimes, cloaking it in “honesty” or “concern.” I’ve seen women do it to one another, too. They’re afraid someone they like will get into hot water, and so they project their own fears on to the situation. It’s well intentioned, but it can feel pretty rotten. 

Also, sometimes it isn’t so well intentioned.

Instagram: @_la_chatte_blanche

Part of the problem with William is that he’s actually supportive. Part of the problem is that he knows he’s difficult to work with, and he knows that on some level, working with a brilliant man (he teaches at an Ivy League school when he isn’t too busy on Broadway) is reward enough. And he isn’t wrong. I learn things from him that summer. How to source things. What textures can be replicated with what paint techniques. Color theory. He takes an interest.  The unwanted sexual attention is juxtaposed with rants, tirades about work quality. He considers it a privilege to work with him, and he isn’t wrong. His criticism is astute, and unassailable. It’s just that, this isn’t a union job, and most of us are clearing about $95 a week, with a free place to stay. After we buy food, there isn’t much left. 

William has stopped trying to hide his advances toward me, and is now openly sexualizing me in front of other people. “I liked your work better yesterday,” he says one day, in front of my support staff, “But then again, yesterday you had your shirt off.” His tone is so belittling and snide, but I’m completely used up at this point. It’s exhausting, the nature of opening a huge show in a short time is enough stress without constant infantilizing, condescending, flirting and gross sexual innuendo. There’s no way around the groping, the little traps he sets with me and his higher ranking support staff – it all adds up to something disgusting, something more than unsettling. An unfair power dynamic, I mutter to myself, even as I know I’m searching for stronger words to describe what’s happening.

My eye starts to twitch, and for six days before we open, it spasms uncontrollably. The programs come out. I’m listed as “props assistant.” When I tell the office staff I was hired as props master, they inform me that William changed the job title, since I was coming in with no experience. I’m infuriated. All of this bullshit, all this sacrificing time I could have been on stage, and I don’t even get the credit on my resume.

I want to scream in his face. Push him off the dock behind the theater where we light the fireworks at the end of act one. I want to quit and sue The Lost Colony for sexual harassment. Still, I know I’m dealing with an industry giant, and I have no interest in being a giant-slayer. At this point, I’d settle for go-along-to-get-along. Even so, I’m compelled to confront him. 

“William,” I say, in the costume shop,  gathering up as much tact as I can muster, “I understand we have a mutual appreciation. You’re brilliant and I’m very flattered you picked me to nurture this summer.”

“I’m a very nurturing person,” he says, pulling some lace fabric taught, then letting it spring back.

I choose my words carefully. We are alone in the shop. I’m closer to the doorway than him. We are both stressed out. Dress rehearsal is hours away. 

“I think there’s much to learn from you.”

“I think we’re just scratching the surface.”

He’s closing in on me. He steps between me and the open doorway.

There’s no way around the groping, the little traps he sets with me and his higher ranking support staff – it all adds up to something disgusting, something more than unsettling. An unfair power dynamic, I mutter to myself, even as I know I’m searching for stronger words to describe what’s happening.

“Be that as it may – I don’t really like what’s going on between us, as far as the touching is concerned. I’m a fun, funny guy sometimes, and I don’t mind some playful banter, but you fondling me in front of the actors and tech crew is so belittling and demeaning.” I pause, choosing my next words carefully. “So, you should know this – if you take it even a little bit further, I will own The Lost Colony. Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He says nothing. 

“I’m willing to chalk this up to a misunderstanding. But, there’s a big difference between how people on a sports team slap each other on the ass, and sliding your hands down someone’s pants. And, I think we can both agree, the line has been crossed.”

He says nothing. 

“What’s more, I’m sure a judge will see what I’m talking about, and will see that the difference is vast, and absolutely worth quibbling about.” 

He says nothing.

“So, how about this? How about, we forget all about it? How about we just continue on with our relationship, and I don’t say anything, and you don’t say anything. How about, if you see something ‘special’ in me, you just foster that for its own sake, and not try to get special perks? How about we have mutual professional respect, and stop treating each other so transactionally?” 

He says nothing. 

“It’s not that I don’t like you. It’s not that I don’t want to learn from you. It’s that I’m under quite a bit of pressure, in a job I’ve never done before. There are more than 500 props in this show, and I’m responsible for keeping track of their movement every single night, and making sure they return home for the next performance. Plus, we’re overhauling the inventory, and that’s enough to focus on for a hundred bucks a week. If you really think I’m such a special mind worth developing, then that should be enough on its own. I don’t owe you more than that. Are we clear?”

He says nothing. One of his assistants walks into the room. William clears his throat. 

“Are we done here? Did you say you were stressed out? Don’t you have props to attend to?”

I certainly do, I think to myself, and I leave. But, instead of going back to my props cabin, I head off to the stage manager. We have a chat about William and the conversation I’ve had with him. About how I think I can last the summer, since he’s leaving soon. About how she is willing to support me if I wind up pressing charges. About how I don’t think that will be necessary. About how I want to preserve my chances for a career in theater, but I can’t allow a man to keep doing these things to me. She is kind and understanding. 

The show opens. There’s a party. William leaves for a while. 

My eye stops twitching. Everything settles. I’m okay. 

We’re a

ll okay. Oh, it’s fine. We’re all okay. 

We all relax into a simple routine.
It’s almost just a memory.

Six time Tony Award winner and corroborated sexual predator, William Ivey Long

There’s No Why

Wake Up, Thomas

The song posted at the bottom of this entry was born in 2008, in Brooklyn, just before I met my brother for a long work/vacation. Hamburg, Germany! He was on an Academic conference for Computational Linguistics, and I brought my baritone ukulele so I could write a bit. He was out of the apartment most days, so I had time. I was still drinking then, and we went out and caroused the nights away at bars in the vicinity. Mostly gay bars, but some stuff all over the city, depending on which direction the evening took us.

We saw the Rothko exhibit touring Hamburg at the time on that trip. Scotty isn’t much for modern art, but I remembered – Vonnegut was extremely close with quite a few of the guys from the abstract expressionist movement, and Bluebeard is one of the few books I’ve ever managed to get through four or five times. It’s about art, and love, and the forms it can take – romantic or otherwise. Family and chosen family.

About how life expands and contracts – about the trauma of living through WWII – about the bombing of Dresden. Ideas, big and small. Synchronicity. People finding one another, finding joy – even through the process of sifting through body parts in the smoking char of a razed battlefield. Even over years, over decades.

It’s a story of self-actualization.

And so on…

Matty boy, Matty boy, Matty boy

Vonnegut’s Bluebeard references an old legend. A rich man is rumored to be a pirate. He’s upper-strata wealthy. One percent, one might say these days… The type of guy who could live in a castle, but also perhaps might need to go out to sea for long stretches.

Bluebeard falls in love, and a young woman is swept off her feet, dazzled by the legend of the rumored pirate king. Very quickly the two wed, and she moves into his cliffside fortress.

“You may have access to any room in the castle,” her husband tells her on their wedding night, “but you may never enter the chamber attached to the far end of the cellar.”

The woman doesn’t think much about swearing such an oath. What could be so alluring about the cellar, anyway,? She shrugs – men must have their secrets, she reasons, and starts to unpack silks, linens, lace from the oaken dowry her merchant father managed to scrape together.

The story is told in pieces, in circles, like all good epic tales.

Eventually, the wife realizes she doesn’t care where the money comes from. It’s okay if he has foreign business in far off lands, or is a cutthroat pirate, marauder of the high seas. We all have blood on our hands, she thinks to herself one day, when she watches her red-faced maid kill a chicken for dinner.

Still, sometimes she makes the trip to town for fabrics or sewing notions. Invariably, she hears whispers… other rumors muttered under the breath of the townsfolk.

Bluebeard’s first five wives had all died mysteriously, and hushed tales of her husband’s brutality toward his business rivals seeped into her carefree days in town, at the tailor, waiting for the cobbler, enjoying a lunch of kidney pie at the clapboard inn and tavern.

I have to know, she says to herself.

She watches, waits, observes. Finally figures out which key on the big jangling ring opens the antechamber. This happens over years and years. Her husband goes away. Soon after, she insists she needs the butler’s master key ring, then disappears.

Starting in the attic, she moves down toward the basement, mentally memorizing each key, scratching it off the list in her mind. Intermittently, her husband comes back from conquests, mergers. His wealth is growing still more vast, and the jewels, the satins, ivory combs he bestows upon her make her flush with vanity.

Soon enough, though, he”s off on another adventure. She’s left alone with a growing trove of treasures, and a burning need to find out the looming secret tucked away in the cellar, far beneath her quarters. She feels conflicted, sitting inside her warm chamber, fondling the iron circle, counting keys, checking them off one by one in her memory.

She knows her husband’s wrath can be severe, and is terrified he might get angry, divorce her, cast her out. Still, she’s driven by the rumors, the curiosity… Why won’t he talk about his first four wives?

Julia Whitehouse always looks good naked.

Seasons pass. They grow closer. She can’t bear children but it doesn’t seem to bother him. They laugh by fires, playing chess, sipping port long into the night. But, he’s gone for long stretches at a time, and the isolation of the castle overwhelms her thoughts. The staff is strident and formal, and while they can be friendly at times, she’s painfully lonely.

And yes, she’s curious. That’s not a crime. People always want to think it a fatal sin, a woman’s curiosity – she thinks to herself. She smiles when she whispers, hell, even Eve was cast out of the Garden for wanting to make applesauce. People have vicious double standards. Even good, kind people.

Anyway. Finally, she makes it down to the cellar. Her husband arrives home from a trip, showers her with kisses and jewels, gets his key ring back from the stone-faced butler, and they have wine- well into the evening, chatting, playing chess, making love. She falls asleep in his arms, and he starts to snore, which wakes her up, and she realizes his key-ring is on the nightstand.

Finally! She creeps out of bed, grabs the key ring ever so slowly. Silently, like she’s practiced.

She creeps down, alone to the cellar, groping around silent, still. She’s terrified, but she’s making no sounds. She’s memorized the shape and sizes of the keys over the years. Moving with stealth and slow determination, she approaches the door – the one area of the house forbidden to her. Even as she finally finds the right fit, and it slides slowly into the lock, she’s sighs relief. Finally. She’s going to solve this mystery and climb back in bed with her loving husband.

All art is relative. The divine rule of threes. Three acts in a play, three beats to a sketch, three verses in a tag song… three is important because it sets a pattern. One is an idea. Two is a coincidence. Three has meaning and demands… WHY???

Maybe I don’t even need to know the answer to this question, she says to herself. Maybe there’s no why? Maybe why is a useful question, but there’s never really a concrete answer? Maybe, she thinks, I can love him through anything? Even as she enters the dark chamber, as she smells an old rot.

She lights a torch, skirts the edge of the room, counterclockwise. She sees enough to know. The bodies. The bones. The jewels, dresses, letters – some ripped up, strewn, confetti-style on top of headless torsos.

I can love him through this, she says to herself. I know now – he truly loves me. He truly loved them all. The last thing she sees is a shadow in the door, before she drops the torch and the flame dies forever.

She can barely breathe. Her heart throbs in her throat, choking her thoughts. Her ears pound with thrum.

And so on…

My brother Todd. He’s been out of focus. Away for quite some time. Coming back soon. Addiction is a prison.

Which is all to say, my brother and I wandered around the Rothko exhibit, because he was very nice about not making the entire ten days about his academic schedule, about going to straight bars, about anything more than a chance to reconnect with one another, far from the small St. Louis suburb where we were both born.

I sang the germ, the genesis, the egg of this song to him, loudly, late at night, after we went out drinking and celebrating his latest academic triumph. I don’t know what it had to do with. He’s a computational linguist, and he didn’t seem to need me to hear him present at the actual conference. He said I would be bored and wouldn’t understand all the acronyms and lingo. I was curious, but I didn’t need all the answers. Brothers don’t need to explain things to each other immediately.

It goes in circles, over years. The conversation stays open.

Mason and Charlie

But in Bluebeard, Vonnegut mentions Rothko, or a character very similar to him. Scotty wasn’t too keen on the exhibit but he wandered around, patient with his little brother. I was insanely curious, and made sure to notice the dates.

Its all just rectangles and squares, Scotty said.

Yeah, but there’s an evolution, I countered back.

Yeah, but isn’t it… the same?

No.

How so?

Well, notice how the shapes get cleaner? Notice how the process, the brush strokes, the scope, size, rich luxury – all of it grows and grows over the years?

Sort of… say more?

It gets richer over the years.

Oh, so you mean he can afford more paint?

Sure, but the art gets richer. Bigger canvasses.

And a bigger studio!

And has richer clients?

Exactly! And then…

And then, what?

By this time Scotty and I were at the end of the visit. He reads the last plaque on the last painting. About Rothko’s suicide.

“Rothko’s depression and seclusion were exacerbated by his drinking. In 1970, Rothko committed suicide by a combination of overdose on barbiturates and a major cut to an artery in his right arm with a razor blade. He left no suicide note.”

In final fit of irony, Rothko died just before the final completion of a massive collection of work he called “the chapel.” He had turned his massive studio into a cathedral to color, texture, light. Inspiration.

And so on…

Sandwiched in between two classics. One Folksy, one Fancy

I kept thinking about Vonnegut and Rothko for years after that. I still think about the two men, sometimes. Drawing parallels late at night, when I’m trying to put my mind to bed.

He was best friends with Vonnegut.

They were in the bombing of Dresden together.

They helped each other get rich and famous, and stayed close, even as their family structures got complicated, even as they both abused alcohol, capitulated to despair, became lapdogs to the terror lurking forever, behind their eyes, when they came home from the war. The helpless disgust they both felt, picking through body parts in the quiet aftermath of the bombing of Dresden.

They did everything they could for one another, but they couldn’t process each other’s trauma. Nobody can do that but you.

They were like brothers to one another. They made it through the challenges, helped one another on the journey of life. Through joy, fear, overwhelming suffering. Births and deaths, cycles and circles, and I’m sure they both drank way too much. It’s well documented by the two men themselves and those who could bear to be around them.

I met Vonnegut once when I was in college. He was touring with William Styron and Joseph Heller. Scotty wasn’t with me when I got to meet him. I shook his hand, and tried not to gush like the 20 year old child/fan boy I absolutely was at the time.

And so on…

Literally daydreaming about parrots constantly. Scott is pinching me and can’t get me to stop thinking about these two lovely birds.

This song used to be called Wait. It was about being ready for a big career break and still having to wait your turn.

Eventually, it evolved into a musical theater song I was writing for Thin Skin Jonny. I wanted to make the boys who started my band with me famous. I was writing a musical for all the people who treated me like a brother over the years.

The end of act one was “Wake Up, Thomas.”

This is the circumstance – Micky sings to his lover who is dying of AIDS. He sings about a lost generation, about assisted suicide, about a quiet pain the Boomers and Gen X homosexuals endured as our chosen brothers died all around us.

The song may evolve yet again. I haven’t decided yet.

Please enjoy!

And so on…

Getting better at technology as we go! Whoopsie poops!

“The people who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when I painted them. And if you, as you say, are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.” – Mark Rothko

The Great Gatsby – Part One, A Rose in Winter

It’s February 2017, and I feel raw, like a picked scab – shiny, wet, dotted with blood. I keep picturing this image. Hoping I can stop picking scabs mentally, I want to forgive myself, forgive others, forgive wasted youth. I want a drink. I want eleven drinks.

I can’t think about that right now, though. I have a job to do.

I pull up to the house, check my phone. Finally, the right spot. Patricia Rose.

I found you, I think, but this thought is laced with irony. I suck air through my teeth. Foster kids want help, but their bodies are exhausted from processing years of abuse and neglect. They need attention, but they rarely accept it. Accepting help is terrifying, so they chicken out, cancel, get sick at the last minute. They get the address wrong. It’s all subconscious trauma manifesting.

They’re petrified by the idea of trust. The people who are supposed to teach them to trust, instead teach them to expect abandonment on good days, violence on bad.

Nevertheless, I need to be able to connect with them, immediately. I need this job. For my self-esteem, I need to know I’m good at this. I practice my actor smile. It seems smarmy today. I’m not an actor anymore. I’m out of practice.

Take a deep breath. Hold. Let it out. You’re okay. You got this. You own it.

I need this job for so many reasons – they’ve already threatened to fire me. I don’t get my paperwork done on time. I’m losing company money. It’s a “non-profit,” but this is America. Someone at the top is making a shit ton of money. I can’t keep getting by on charm.

I have a patient boss, but I didn’t make my quota in November – third month in a row. My rock bottom? In a quick, private conversation – he told me he liked me, told me everyone sees I am great at the job – but if I can’t get billable hours I’ll be fired.

He didn’t even mention “alcohol,” but the look he gave me said everything.

“Sober up or get out. Stop drinking or die.”

The months leading up were grisly. Green bowl movements because my pancreas secreted way too much bile. Went haywire after years of overloading it. Hidden bottles under the bed, for when I woke up in the middle of the night, terrified I’d get the shakes. Trying to do the math on how I could plan withdrawal for my lunch hour.

I guess I chickened out on my slow suicide, and I have to live? I have joy every damn day. Why am I being a baby? First world problems, I tell myself. Make it about the kids for five fucking minutes, how about that? How about, focus on an act of service, and let the rest be up to the universe?

I ring the doorbell, jolt myself out of this open wound, this rock bottom moment. I can mentor foster youth, I tell myself. You have no evidence of that, I tell myself right afterward.

(I didn’t lie on my resume, but I certainly implied there was a BA degree, when there wasn’t. I ran an improv program in New York city. I was a teacher, but I also wrote the curriculum – handed it off to a boss that never even liked me. I feel more and more like Henry Miller these days, except the reverse of him. He found in debauchery a form of freedom. I found myself prisoner to it.)

The Community College foundation claims my transcripts were lost. I suspect everyone in the interview said to one another, who knows, this guys a great salesman, let’s roll the dice? Let’s ignore the fact that he doesn’t have the required degree?

(I nailed the interview, despite showing up hungover, sweaty, fragile. Thanks acting training!)

Thank you, I tell my inner child - letting me have a moment of clarity!

I listen for my inner child to answer. Not available. He hides from me sometimes. He hides from the people I let in the house, who eventually abused, abandoned, neglected him. I’m slowly becoming friendly with him again.

Ding Dong! Social Services!

Sometimes I think I’m funny, but I haven’t been a paid comic for years.

I hear chaos inside. Teenage girls. Raucous fun. I miss that part of life.

My job is – show up when they’re 17, take them through transition, help make sure they don’t become homeless. It’s a two year program with hundreds of things to get done – you have to cram in 20 years of parenting. Help them negotiate a car loan. Help them get a bank account. ID. Apply for housing grants that will float them until they’re 22. Get them free community college courses.

But, there’s never enough time, and they spelled it out, as long as I don’t get phone calls about my work, I can either be good or bad at the job. They want me to make them money. I’m making two dollars and change per-hour over minimum wage.

Chaos, giggles – shrieking inside. I sort of wish I had earplugs. Am I ready for this?

It’s amazing to me, this job, I think, in a flash of optimism – Foster kids cover the trauma by having fun. Living in a fantasy world. Making the best of situations. We all do, really, but because their situation is so incredibly dire, they live in an opaque bubble of their own illusion. It’s hard to break through. I’m ready for a bored, listless client that maybe acts like she hates me. Most of my clients are like that. Hell, all of them to some degree.

(They don’t really hate me. They hate their circumstance, and when someone shows up with empathy, it makes them feel ashamed, somehow.)

I ring the doorbell. I’m almost terrified. I have five more months of work probation before I get in good standing again. I’m afraid I won’t be able to hold this job down, even with more than 60 clear-headed days.

This could be easier, I hear my friends in my head. You could easily just go to a meeting. But my Dad didn’t have to, and maybe I don’t either? Lately I’ve doubted that a little bit. My dad is pretty neutral about giving advice. He only says what worked for him, and lets me make my decisions. My mom doesn’t think I need AA. She’s practical.

Just stop, she says.

She’s right, I say to myself. They both are. Just stop and see what’s up tomorrow.

Okay, I think to myself. Just do that. Just do the simple thing. Maybe it’s easy, maybe it’s hard. Just do the simple thing.

romegrant.com

There was an awful election cycle last season – all the women in my family seem a little crushed. I’m crushed for them. They may not live to see a woman President. My extended family – the conservative side – seem self satisfied after a season of exposing thinly veiled misogyny. Even though my immediate family are “Union Strong” Democrats, the red state uncles, and cousins have almost been gleeful in their recent “victory.” Gross. The idea that in one breath a person could minimize such a qualified candidate, while making excuses for someone who grabs women’s genitals without asking and brags about it. Nauseating.

Only Americans would see a choice between a fart and a turd as a victory.

We’re obsessed with winning. It’s disgusting, actually. We rah rah rah the same faces each cycle. The two corporate sponsored Oligarchical greed-fest revelers may wear opposite, twisted nightmare visages, but they’re just fun house mirror reflections of one another. Cheap distraction.Their job is to scapegoat the other side while their bosses rob us blind on both sides of the aisle.

We’re all cagey, addled. All of us know the anger is misdirected, but we dare not admit it, culturally. To do so would be to collectively admit – it’s time to light the torches. Sharpen up the machetes. We are kept exhausted by fearmongering media cycles. We are so inundated with vanity and consumerist idolatry, we’re too tired to consider refusing to play a cruel, rigged game. Most of us can’t even fathom asking ourselves how? How do I get off this pointless treadmill of greed?

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Usually I try to take a helpful, smart angle. Invoke a little fear. “Independence is scary at first – overwhelming… but it’s like a puzzle,” I’ll say, off the cuff. “First we’ll work on ID, then a bank account. A job. An apartment. Some grants for community college.” I try to make it sound fun, try to distract them from the horrible truth that they’re entering a situation where the people they’ll compete against have unfathomable advantage. I try to pretend I don’t know that a sizable amount of my clients will statistically become drug addicted, homeless, without access to healthcare. I explain that in lieu of a parental figure, I’ll be the one teaching them how to interview for jobs, how to negotiate a car loan, how to patiently make a return against store policy. This won’t even begin to emotionally equip them for the uphill climb ahead, and we haven’t even talked about their financial disadvantages.

That’s one thing I like about Hilary. She has bloody hands, and never met an overpaid Wall Street speaking gig she didn’t like, but she does give a little lip service to the social safety net. It’s just that America can’t handle an overqualified woman.

I think about our new President, the horny toddler. He throws fits on twitter and won’t disclose financials. There’s no way he can last even half a term, I assure myself. I peek through the semi-translucence, through the tiny window. Girls laughing, playing, running around.

I’m here, at Penny Lane Balboa. I’m sober. I’m going to mentor a new client, do my paperwork, try to write a song, and tend bar later tonight. I’m sure I can get through the day without drinking. Let’s see if one day at a time really works? Sober is a state of mind. Blah blah blah.

I’m fed up. I beat on the door. I’m getting these billable hours, and I’m going home and I’m doing my paperwork. Then…

Say it, an ugly voice inside my head, coaxes me. All you have to do is say it once, says the snake in my mind. Saying something makes it so. Just get a bottle on the way home. Or a pint! Be a moderate drinker! An airport bottle or two. It’s nobody’s business…

No, I think to myself. No. I’m not even going to say it silently.

“I GOT IT!!!”

The door is flung far open. A sudden face off! The two of us. It’s not my inner child, but legally, it is a minor. A wizened, perhaps, but a teenager. She’s laughing, happy! She’s playing some sort of game with the other girls inside the house.

I breathe.

Suddenly, she freezes. She looks drunk, or high – wasted on something. Her face goes slack.

Another abrupt change, and she looks like a 40 year old woman.

“Well, hello sir…”

I’m disarmed, but I have actor training. I cover.

“Hi. I’m looking for someone.”

“Why, whatever do you mean?”

“I’m looking for a client of mine.”

Suddenly, she’s totally sober. Suddenly I’m the one who feels dizzy, giddy, even in my sobriety.

“OH MY GOD! YOU’RE MY ITSP WORKER!!!!!” She’s prancing around the group home, giddy. Showing me off to her friends.

I stammer. I don’t know the acronyms the kids know so well, so I’m always asking them to explain. They trained me only to do paperwork. It’s all about money. I’m an Individual Transitional Service Provider, technically. That’s what DCFS calls me. My company calls me a TDS worker. Transitional Development Specialist, I remember.

“JESUS GOD!” She shifts shape – 17 again. Relatively innocent.

“Please tell me you’re my ITSP worker?”

Suddenly I’m a befuddled, humble old man.

“It’s my allergies. I was distracted. A fly… well.. you see!”

“Dude. Who the hell are you?”

“I’m looking for Patricia.”

“ROSE! You can call me Rose!”

“Okay Patricia.”

“It’s Rose! GET IT RIGHT. I’m not Patricia anymore.”

“Okay, well, I’m Michael. You’re Rose.”

“NO!”

She’s hosting. Practically waltzing me through the chaos of the paltry living room.

“I’m Rose. I’m never going to be Patricia again.” Her eyes glitter with a vampire’s charisma.

“Okay. I stammer….” Then, I quickly recover. I need money. I need to make a sale. I need her to enroll in my voluntary program.

“Well, I’m here to explain the ITSP program to you and see if you’d like to join.”

“You can stop that right now.”

“Wait! I’m a TDS worker! I’m just here to help you transition.”

“She taps her foot, waiting for my foolishness to end.”

“Are you done?”

“I… Do you have any questions?”

“No, my fine young gentleman from across the lake.”

“Lake Balboa?”

“NO YOU”RE NOT LISTENING.”

“Okay. Tell me?”

“I’m ROSE.”

“OKAY.”

“YOU’RE GATSBY!!!!”

She throws her head back and cackles, like the queen bee of this particular hive!

“I always wanted a rich, white…. a rich man your age to visit me. I’ve been waiting my whole life, GATSBY.”

“Hey!” I say, taking stock of squallor. The low ceilings. The insides ruined by kids, by traffic, by indifference.

Let’s improvise.

“I’ve been waiting my whole life for you too, Rose.” I say. Grinning, and suddenly she’s right.

Suddenly I’m an American classic. Suddenly I’m a debonair man of society. I am Gatsby, and I’m in love.

Rose has me under her spell, and she’s never letting go. I don’t mind a bit. This is better than any drug, any alcohol. We’re giddy on each other’s energy, each other’s fun generosity.

Suddenly I find my inner child. I’ve been searching for him. What are we going to do, he asks? I hold little Michael’s hand, while I laugh with Patricia. She can’t see him. But, I whisper things to him when she’s cavorting around, whipping the group home into a frenzy.

Do you love her, I ask my inner child? Oh, yes, father, he says. Let’s keep her.

Okay then, Michael. We have to be Gatsby now.

What’s that mean?

We have to build a fortune. We have to stay close. We have to always be just out of sight of our Rose in Winter.

Why?

Because she’ll lose sight of us over the years, but we can see her, just across Lake Balboa.

That sounds like a spy novel, or a mystery.

It’s just a plan.

What’s the plan?

Let’s get rich, and take her away from this place.

I tickle the little boy I used to be, before the world got its claws into me. He laughs. I toss him into the air. I can tell he’s very enamored of Patricia.

Okay! My inner child is thrilled at this prospect. Let’s do it. Let’s get rich.

Ok.

And when we’re rich, we can take her away from this place, maybe?

Yes. I say, giving him a piece of cheese in my pocket. I keep cheese around to reward him when he says the right things. We can take her away from this place.

Promise?

No.

Why?

We can only try.

Why?

Shhh. Go to sleep, there’s no why.

Why?

Exactly. That’s always the question.

Why?

jaded

jaded 

you danced through my head 
today at work a man leaned 
over and spit on the floor he
doesn’t live anywhere

not the same smile as years 
ago my hair curled over my
ears and shined white my 
feet with golden sandals

my wings i flew mouth would
smile wet and red baby kisses
skin was smooth, stark white
but not now the rag smears

spit in circles as an arid smile
spreads across my face, dull
touched no more by the hands 
of gods, scabs, not scars

hands now grow cold, lines fold
crack to deep set creases fingers
callous hair courser now, darker
knees heal, scabs are now 

scars

Corroboration

img_1225This story came across my desk, with these photographs.

You can find the original running in Falo, a gay art magazine in Brazil, if you speak Portuguese. Otherwise, it’s running here, too

Even though William Ivey Long is not specifically identified by name in this article, the details identify him, and corroborate the pattern of abuse I spoke of in 2018.  I’m proud of Court Watson for coming forward, and I hope the theater community continues to support and work alongside him. Here’s the article, reprinted:

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 11.57.54 PM(Court poses with his abuser, blurred out, and his unmistakable design)

When I was in college, a famous man took advantage of me. As the #metoo movement burst wide open, I thought that multiple stories about him would come to light. I was genuinely surprised when only one did. Buzzfeed published an article about another man’s story, and how his harassment and assault at the hands of the same famous man caused him such pain that he left the business he loved, and was forever changed. I was changed too, and surprised that Buzzfeed ran the article with only one man’s story. In my industry, I now know that the famous man has a reputation for inappropriate behavior towards those working under him. The Buzzfeed story exploded onto the scene, and then, like so many others, it just faded away. Perhaps the timing was off; the man had recently been the head of an important organization in our business, but the article didn’t appear until after he was no longer on national television once a year at a major awards show. However, the man has had no fewer than one Broadway show running for the last twenty-five years. If you are reading this, and in any way involved in American theater, you already know who the man is.

Within a week after the article was published, I wrote to the Buzzfeed journalist and we spoke about what happened to me. I gave him multiple contemporaneous witnesses to pieces of my story. After sitting on the topic for a year, his editors decided not to move forward with a follow-up article. It is unclear to me whether more men came forward with stories or if I was the only one. When Buzzfeed dropped the article, the journalist put me in touch with an editor at American Theatre Magazine. It seems they were going to partner with the New York Times, perhaps on a story about patterns of abuse in the theater industry. I repeated all of my story to this editor, along with witness contact information. The editor said that they passed it along to someone at the Times, which decided not to run the story at all. I was told, “there’s not enough to go on.” Both journalists recorded my statements. I am certain that what I write here is consistent with what I told them. And yet, none of my witnesses were contacted to verify my claims.

I worked under the man for four summers in college at a summer theater, learning design. My business is one of the last with a codified system of apprentices and masters; masters in my field often have a team of younger assistants, learning the ropes of our profession. I did indeed learn a lot from the man. I can quote maxims that he taught me. I learned how to create a character onstage with scenery and costume design. I learned a great deal about detail, style, fashion history, garment making, and how to use color to direct the eye onstage. I also learned how to be gracious and charming when needed, and a shark when required. One of the hardest lessons I learned is how to avoid allowing myself to be put in risky situations, but I did not learn that until I was already in one.

As a mentor, the man had great power over me. I looked up to him, and when he rewarded me with praise, I felt special, as if my talent and abilities were the reason he wanted to be alone with me. I considered him an icon of Broadway design. I was inspired by his work when I was a child in the audience at the summer theater where we would eventually meet. He designed the second Broadway show I ever saw, and holds more awards for his work than any other designer in our field. In my world, he is indeed a famous man.

Over the course of three summers, the man gave me more and more attention, going farther and farther each summer, building trust and closeness. I was invited to parties at his home. I was offered alcohol, definitely before I reached the legal drinking age. Trips to New York were dangled with offers of rewards for good behavior and potential future jobs. With his power, I was sure that he could have had any man he wanted, and I presumed I was too thin, too gay, to actually be his type. There were rumors that he preferred well-toned young straight men.

My first summer, there were swirling allegations of sexual harassment that actually involved the man’s associate. When the man heard of this, he called my entire department into the executive director’s office and screamed at us that “in the American theater, there is no such thing as sexual harassment. No jury in America would find someone guilty of sexual harassment in our business. We’re all pimps and whores!” Those words are seared into my memory as if he said them yesterday. He actually said that, as the executive director’s mouth dropped, but she remained silent. She resigned at the end of the season, possibly connected to this incident, possibly not. I gave her name to both journalists to corroborate my recollection.

That first summer I worked with the man, I turned nineteen years old, and I looked younger. He asked me my age, maybe the first time he spoke to me directly. He was delighted when I told him, and he shook his head and winked, saying “No, you’re not. You’re a fifteen year old boy!” And he flitted away. At the time I was flattered and charmed by his eccentric flamboyance. Now that we have a shared understanding of “grooming,” I know this is where it started for me. Within a week, I’d called my mother from a payphone to check in, and proudly told her this story. She chuckled, but was unsettled. Even though this was literally twenty years ago, she remembers. I gave her contact information to both journalists. She was never contacted.

The next summer I was rewarded with a promotion and a pay raise. It was made clear to me that the man had been consulted and was responsible for my increased responsibility and compensation. The man was more present that summer, and I was invited to weekends at one of his vacation homes, where, still under age, I was given too much to drink. One of his New York assistants, easily twenty years older than me, took me to an upstairs bedroom and we had sex, which I did think was consensual the time. I was mortified the next day when the man licked his lips as he recounted what his assistant had told him about our encounter, in grotesque detail. It was as if the assistant had given me a test run.

My direct supervisor was also at the vacation home and saw my distress. She warned me to take better care of myself. She knew the rumors of the man’s behavior and was concerned for my welfare. I’m sure she remembers it even though we are not in close contact. I was able to find her contact information and provided it to both journalists. To my knowledge, she was never contacted.

The third summer I worked with the man, I was regularly invited to his home to set up for and attend lavish parties, with countless mint juleps in antique silver cups. Halfway through the summer, I became old enough to legally drink alcohol. I was dazzled by the posh guests at his parties, including actual royalty. The man had recently won additional major awards. He was on top of the world and deigned to include me in his glittering universe of celebrity and fame. I was dazzled.

Bruce Weber, who has since been accused of sexually harassing multiple male models, had recently photographed the man, and he was in a new limited edition book that sold for hundreds of dollars, well out of my price range as a college student. The man casually told me he had several copies, and he’d sign one for me. He mentioned that they were kept in his upstairs bedroom. I knew I was tempting fate, but took note. Shortly thereafter, I was at a small party a block away from the man’s house. He showed up and gave me special attention. I was deeply flattered.

After several drinks, the man invited me back to his home for a chat about my future and maybe a complimentary expensive signed book. I was not in any way sober, and someone at the party suggested I call it a night. They were trying to look out for me. Instead, the man helped me to his porch. More drinks were poured.

I had been drinking and the man was not drinking; there was no way for me to consent to anything. I remember him exposing his genitals to me on his porch. I remember being guided up the steep stairs to his bedroom, and being told to keep quiet as the man’s mentally disabled sister and her elderly nurse were in the house and asleep. I remember the man telling me that he “had a rubber” and we should use it. I do not recall if we did.

I remember his pasty fleshy body under me. I do not remember if either or both of us reached any kind of climax. I do remember seeing multiple copies of the notorious Bruce Weber book on a shelf by the bed, but I got dressed and left as quickly as possible. I’m sure I was disheveled, and too drunk to drive. I ambled back to the other house alone, and multiple people there saw what shape I was in. Someone was kind enough to drive me back to my apartment. I know exactly who the host of the party was that night, but have not reached out to her in years.

Did I think at the time that what happened was consensual? I am not sure. Was I flattered by the man’s attention? Absolutely. Was I disgusted at what had happened? Definitely.

The following year, I was a senior in college. A master designer was brought down from New York to lead a seminar. I was given a private interview with him where he encouraged me to consider graduate school in New York. I proudly told him of my years of work with the famous man, and he grimaced. Without saying anything unkind, he asked, “Are the rumors true? About the boys?” I was mortified. Not only did I realize that there were rumors in the big city about the man, but that I was not unique. Our community quietly whispered about stories that were similar to mine. I did not confide my personal story to the master designer. After the Buzzfeed article appeared, I reached out to him twice to ask if he recalled that moment, and he never replied to me.

Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 11.58.09 PM

(Court met Long while working for the Lost Colony)

While I did work with the man for one further summer, that night in his bedroom was the last time we were ever together alone. I thought I must have somehow disappointed him. Or maybe he had less power over me now that I had been accepted to a prestigious school in New York and he no longer needed a tempting offer to get me to the big city.

When speaking with the journalists at Buzzfeed and American Theatre Magazine, they asked if there would be a record of a complaint against the man with the company where we worked, but there would not have been. The earlier comment in the executive director’s office made it clear to me that it would fall on deaf ears, so I never complained to anyone in authority at the organization. There is, however, clear record of my four years of employment there. To my knowledge, neither journalist followed up to confirm my four-year employment.

After graduating from college and graduate school, I never sought work from the man, and I did not tell many people what had happened between us. About five years later, I was assistant designing a Broadway show. Costumes for Broadway shows are handmade in one of several shops in New York City’s Garment District. It is not uncommon for the biggest names in design to be in shops at the same time as the shops work on multiple productions preparing new Broadway shows simultaneously. In 2008, our design studio was in one such shop. I had heard that the man would be in the shop that day, and I basically hid in a back office so as not to encounter him. At one point, I needed to go to the bathroom, and the man nearly ran into me in the hallway. He grabbed both of my shoulders and said, “My! Don’t you look great. You’ve finally gone through puberty!” He winked and continued on his way. I’m not sure he even remembered my name or where he knew me from. This was the first time I had seen the man in person in five years.

I was deeply shaken and went back to the office to try to collect myself. My supervisor had seen what had happened and checked to be sure I was okay. I was not okay. I did not go into much detail, but enough for my supervisor to be disgusted with the man’s notoriously inappropriate behavior. My supervisor made sure that I did not cross the man’s path again. I was surprised by how shaken up I was, and I left work early that day in spite of pressing deadlines. It was the first time I’d really stopped to think about how I felt about what he had done to me. I gave my supervisor’s name and contact information to both journalists. He was never contacted.

Afterwards, when the man had his portrait unveiled at Sardi’s, the theaterati restaurant in the heart of the theater district, the man’s associate, from the vacation home encounter, invited me to the ceremonial party. Perhaps I was trying to convince myself that I was able to move on from what had happened years earlier, so I went. I did not encounter the man personally, and I do not know if he saw me there or knew that I had been invited. I was proud of myself for not being too rattled to attend. This man’s presence in the theater world was just a fact of life, and I made an effort to teach myself to be okay with him being around if I wanted to survive in my field, even if I never wanted to work with him directly. To me, it felt like a victory that I could attend his party without breaking down. Now that I know I am not alone, I wonder how many other people there were coping with the same feeling.

When #metoo stories started popping up on Facebook, I wrote a brief post, not mentioning the circumstances, but acknowledging that I too had a story. I was surprised when no one named the man. Years later, when the Buzzfeed article came out, many people in our business knew about it and discussed it; they weren’t shocked by the allegations against him, but that there was only one accuser. There was a flurry of activity on a closed group page for people in my industry. My supervisor, who had kept me safely hidden in an office a decade earlier, checked on me to see if I was alright.

Another friend who knew more details of my story began taking screen captures of the comments and shared them with me. One was from a former college teacher of mine. She had taught me to sew and at the time had taken it as a point of pride that her lessons had landed me a job working with the man. She wrote on the board that one of her students had told her, back in 2002, of a very similar story to the man who had told his story to Buzzfeed. I had not been in touch with her for years, but I found her information, and contacted her. I needed to know if she was talking about me, or if the same thing had happened to yet another one of her students. She confirmed that I had told her my whole story. I have no memory of having told her what had happened to me. She agreed to allow me to share her contact information with the journalists to verify my contemporaneous account. She was never contacted.

I also recovered the screen captures of the board comments and shared them with the American Theater Magazine editor. I provided my friend’s details to verify the screen captures. She was not contacted.

I was unnerved by a gnawing pain that my not speaking up at the time had enabled the man to possibly continue his behavior and hurt other vulnerable people. I felt responsible for anyone he took advantage of after not saying anything to management at the time.

After speaking to the two journalists, I attended a Broadway leading lady’s memorial service at the gargantuan Gershwin Theatre. When I saw the man seated in the row in front of me, my heart raced. I shifted in my seat so there was no way he could see me. Again, it disturbed me how much it bothered me to be in his proximity. The Buzzfeed article had already come out, and I didn’t want him to approach or speak to me. I had already spoken to the first journalist and didn’t know if my story would be published or not.

When I heard that the New York Times and American Theatre Magazine would not be moving forward, in spite of my verifiable stories, I was devastated. I spiraled into a depression that lasted several days. It was like a visceral punch to my stomach that wouldn’t go away. Not having space to tell my story pained me nearly as much as coming to terms with what happened to me.

I posted an impassioned Instagram story, without naming names, and several people, friends and strangers, reached out to offer support. I am grateful for their ongoing kindness. The publisher of Falo Magazine reached out to me privately, and asked if I would be willing to write something for him. I’m grateful for the space to be taken seriously, and heard. I am also thankful for his patience, as this has indeed been difficult to write.

All of this begs the question as to why I am going public now. Why public? Why now? Initially, I wanted to use the man’s name, and remain anonymous. That would have been easier with the backing of a major news company. Maybe only two of us have now spoken out about his behavior, but I am confident that there are more of us who he took advantage of. I am certain that speaking out is the right thing for me to do.

Do I expect an apology from the man? No. Do I want to pursue legal action for what he did to me? No. Do I want to be congratulated or called ‘brave’ for going on the record? No. Do I want attention? No, not for something that is so personal and so painful.

Do I want to be honest with myself and my peers in my industry? Yes. Can I allow myself to remain silent any longer? No.

It has taken years to process what happened to me. It has been a journey to know that it is indeed not my fault. Thanks to all who hear this, and a special thanks to those who speak up and speak out with their own stories, whether about this man or others who have mistreated people who look up to them. This behavior should not have been tolerated twenty years ago, and it cannot be tolerated now.

As we are finding is often the case, powerful people play by a different set of rules. Other powerful people cover for them, making excuses for them. The same thing is true of creative people. People allow geniuses to get away with bad behavior that would otherwise not be tolerated. They are forgiven for treating people inhumanely. This must stop.

The man is indeed a genius. He is also a predator.

Court-2002

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internal memo

Photos by Rome Grant

internal memo:

i will adjust the algorithms

employ Brazilian spam-bots

and engage a generation of

black hat hackers to change

your demographics are nearly

perfect we just have to overlay

tinting onto your memories

of last summer mostly

because we partnered with

Pepsi on our branding and i

know we mostly drank

RC and that’s a lot of Photoshop

i have asked engineering

to send a few nanobots to

your family vacation house

in the Adirondacks just for

your Thanksgiving plans

include goose your mother

shot during season, and

in the afternoon while roasted

fat and thyme tickle your

nostrils the tiny bots will

creep inside a drowsing

napping, resting ear canal

and tidy up your thoughts

about RC cola, and why

we argued and why you

would never put the paper

down and look at me, or

don’t we deserve families

too, or why didn’t, after 8

years, you ever ask me?

I might have said yes,

but, oh, irony, oh i just

realized that’s why, oh

well, in any case the

bots are on the way

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