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.

Oil Portraits, Transgressive Multi-Media, Classes. http://www.Naruki Kukita.com

(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

William, Portrait of a Mentor


Patti LuPone in “Ladies Who Lunch,” Company

It’s almost just a memory. 

We’re a family again. 

The man who interferes with us is finally gone.

Later that summer I write a Forbidden Broadway-style review. It’s a group effort but I write like 80% of it. The usual stuff – poking fun at Patti LuPone, or whatever current star all the Gays are obsessed with. We try to imagine her doing Sondheim, but we laugh at the thought. Yeah, maybe in concert. He likes trained actors with elocution. We love Patti because she fucking sells that shit, hard.

Two different styles. People are afraid of Stephen, but Patti is folksy.

LuPone in Sondheim? Probably never happen, I tell everyone. Webber is all about vowels; Sondheim loves consonants. People look at me and smirk. What the hell does that have to do with stardom? Patti can have whatever show she points at, one actor chimes in. I don’t think that’s how it works, I say to them. They look skeptical.

Tom Hanks, Big

William is working on Big, the Musical, we hear. That’s funny, I think to myself. He only mentioned needing to be out of town because he had to make new hats for the Crazy for You tour. He mentioned a new Broadway show, but Big opened before the colony. Why didn’t he talk about it? All us drama dorks wonder if Tom Hanks would ever consent to playing the role on Broadway. Can he even sing? Would Tom do it? Kind of a step down, for a movie star, but ballsy. Tom is the nicest guy in Hollywood. Still, has he ever done theater?

 Later that night, I get drunk and scribble down “The Casting Couch” , a parody song of “The Rhythm of Life” from Sweet Charity. It’s about a guy who heads to NYC with a dream of starring in shows, and gets his way by sleeping with absolutely everyone.

“I’m dating everyone,” I start saying, later that summer – after one of the handsome dancers asks me to take a walk down the beach with him. Would my boyfriend at home mind?

“I’m sure he wouldn’t even really care,” I say, thinking about the mix tapes Matty Cohen sent me that summer. The summer before Cohen started calling me crazy, pushing me away. The summer before I changed forever.

William is working on Big, the Musical, we hear. That’s funny, I think to myself. He only mentioned needing to be out of town because he had to make new hats for the Crazy for You tour. He mentioned a new Broadway show, but Big opened before the colony. Why didn’t he talk about it? All us drama dorks wonder if Tom Hanks would ever consent to playing the role on Broadway. Can he even sing? Would Tom do it? Kind of a step down, for a movie star, but ballsy. Tom is the nicest guy in Hollywood. Still, has he ever done theater?

Theater has a different set of smaller stars, even though it’s actually the most enlightening of the entertainment art forms. We all agree, theater is the best way to tell stories. The way the cavemen did it. Storytelling in circles around fires. The way the Native Americans did, before we ruined it for them. 

I start to hear rumors that Big is closing. Nobody wants to talk about the biggest flop of all time. I hear some murmurs, at Frothy Drink Night, a kiki thrown by the Three Elder Gays. Steve, Hank, and Mary Clay. I’m excited to chat with Mary Clay. He’s 40 something, gorgeous, and quiet as a mouse, most of the time. I like to get to know people, but Lost Colony has more than 75 people working on it, and I just want to get to know Clay that night, for some reason. My intuition is telling me to talk to Clay.

Sister Mary Clay – a Mixed-Race Homosexual who plays the principle dancer, and has for 15 years. Clay looks like he’s 22 in body paint, loincloth, wig. Everyone calls him Mary, even though she keeps her hair short in the summer times, and wears a wig that makes him look like a powerful warrior. I hear rumors he’s also a famous drag queen, and he just comes here in the summer when it’s hot in the south, and pageant drag is not possible.

“Drag queens can’t afford AC!” Mary hisses that night at the final Frothy Drink Night. She’s quiet, and maintains a mythology.  It’s hard to place where she might have come from. She says Choctaw but then later changes it to Navajo, then Aztec. We laugh and call her a liar. “I never lie,” she says. “White people lie.”

“Everyone knows how to lie,” I counter. “A four year old knows how to lie.” But I kind of know what Sister Mary means. The Big Lie is always told by a white face.

There are rumors Mary Clay knows voodoo magic. That she lives in the woods sometimes, with no house. 

That night other rumors swirl – Big the Musical is definitely closing for legal reasons. Something about the kids in the cast lodging a complaint that gets hushed up with NDAs. (The kids from Big got to go to very good colleges, I found out later.) It’s all true, a shit-house-wasted Hank Miller says, stumbling by. I wonder if he’s talking about NDAs or something else. Hank works closely with William, just like Brian Mear, who is William’s NYC assistant.

(Later I hear stories of how Brian Mear killed himself in one of William’s vacation houses. I hear stories of actors getting very sleepy, waking up, not remembering. I hear stories of people getting manilla envelopes full of sex photos and a note that says, William wants you to remember what a great time we all had.)

I drink with Gays in the cast that night. It’s one of the last parties. I’m getting terrified, somehow, of going back home. I want to run away and dye my hair, be someone else. A depression sets in, coupled with bouts of mania which show up later that year and into the spring semester in Tallahassee, when I’m limping through my final tenure as an FSU student.

The Lost Colony, Matteo, NC

Mary Clay, Steve Weinmiller, and a friendly, tall, Assistant Tech Director named Soloman and I all hang out at the party, we stick to the kitchen, where Hank makes the drinks in a whirring, growling, crunching blender. I ask about William, about Big, about whether or not they think Big is going to run for a while, or what. “I’m sick of university theater – I want New York NOW,” I say, all stoned and arrogant and young. I ask if they noticed William touching me. I ask if they think it’s a good idea to look him up when I move to New York.

“Are you crazy,” one of them asks?

“William will eat you alive. He fucks everyone.” David is wasted and barely making sense. “Doesn’t matter what size, shape, color, age, he fucks everyone.”

Steve Weinmiller tries to change the subject. They all do psychedelics. Mushrooms and acid, and whatever is grown nearby. Soloman presses on, in his stupor. He’s a friendly, gentle giant, during the day, but he’s a blithering wasted mess at night. 

Just like plenty nice Southern folk do. 

The party winds down. Steve leaves, high out of his mind on mushrooms. He claims psychedelics help process trauma. But then again, he makes paintings by rolling around in paint, then rolling on canvas, so you can see what a big penis he has. He’s a harmless hippy, though. He doesn’t try stuff when you’re drinking. Nobody does, actually. Just creepy William.

Finally, it’s just me, a passed out Hank, and Sister Mary Clay. She puts on some tea.

“Aren’t you going to bed?”

“No, and neither are you. You have to listen to me.”

“What? Why? We’re leaving in a few days. Show’s closing.”

“Which is why I wanted to talk to you, child.”

“You’re too kind,” I say, in a sort of rapture.

Clay is muttering over steeping tea, sprinkling powder. A match sparks, She lights a cigarette, pouring tea into my cup, purring like a cat.

I giggle, sniff at steaming liquid, stammer, try to make small talk, blow on my tea. Mary asks me if I had a good second summer. I say yes. I also say I’m not sure I’ll ever come back. Mary laughs, as if I said something completely obvious. As if I’d conspiratorially informed her – summer clouds are white, fluffy. As if I’d winked and told her cheese was made from milk! We laugh, but then I say it in a different tone of voice. “Should I come back, Mary?”

“No? YOU? Come back here? No, never. You must never return here. Go far away from here and don’t look back. If you come back here, you’ll wind up like Brian, or Soloman the Drunk here on this couch.”

“I had no idea he drank. He’s such a good tech director.”

“William is the only sorceress powerful enough to scare him sober, and then, only for rehearsals until the show opens. He drinks every night. Usually all alone.”



“Why is everyone afraid of William?”

“That family has been the devil incarnate in this area since my people first saw the big Galleons, since my people looked across the sound at Walter Raleigh’s first boat. Since we saw the white man, and realized he was evil to the core. We made him disappear.”

Clay is referring to the missing Lost Colony itself. Suddenly I realize something. I have gray eyes. So does Mary Clay in this moment. That can’t be right? His eyes are brown.

Clay holds me in a trance. Clay doesn’t drink much, but does other drugs. She’s truly a metamorph. She has a penis, we’ve all seen it at the clothing optional private beach the cast shares. I sip my tea and feel sleepy. My third eyes opens and I slide into a memory with Mary Clay

(The summer before, when I was acting – in the group showers. Mary would sometimes dance around to irritate Pete Peterson, who played Wanchese, one of the Indian Chiefs. We didn’t love him. Pete said things about the women in the shower we didn’t care for. Once, my first summer, I even got him reprimanded for saying disparaging things about Dawn Newsome. He called her Gruesome Newsome. A fifty year old man, thinking he could get away with that.

“Dawn taught me how to paint sets,” I had said to him. I had said to the whole shower, boisterous humans, lovely, naked, mostly white people, washing off the red paint trailing down the drain.

“Please don’t talk about her like that. Have some decency and respect for your art-form.”

I say it and the whole shower goes quiet. I’ve surprised myself, even. There’s a tone of authority when I say these words. It shuts up everyone who, moments earilier, were jeering and jibing at one another. I can feel them feeling ashamed. We finish washing up in silence – Mary once again the only person of color in the room, while we all have our whiteness restored. I dry off, and against the advice of my friends, slink off to report the disparaging comment to the stage manager. Pete is made to apologize to Dawn, and she thanks me privately, later, for standing up for her.)

“William is the only one powerful enough to scare him sober, and then, only for rehearsals until the show opens. He drinks every night. Usually all alone.”

Suddenly, I snap out of my reverie. Clay cleans up our tea. I must have lost a few minutes.

“So that settles it. You’re going back to school, and you’re never coming here again…”

I thank her and stumble back to my apartment in The Grove – an apartment complex owned by The Lost Colony. That day we have to clean our apartments and try to get our deposits back. Though we only make less than a hundred dollars, weekly, The Colony requires we live in the same apartment complex, pay rent back to RIHA, who produces the show. It’s something like 60 bucks a month, which sounds wonderful, but isn’t, considering we only gross 400 monthly, on average.

Is that even legal, I wonder to myself? It must be. It’s not like they would just make up rules and try to get away with them…

 Fall semester comes and goes. I get piss poor grades in everything except my theater classes. I stick around for one more semester to take the late, brilliant, John Degan’s directing class, and George Judy’s half-baked farce elective. I don’t even bother to register. When the teachers tell me there’s an issue with the registrar, I answer, yeah I know, they said they’d fix it. I attend these two classes for free, and the professors have no idea I’m not actually in the classes.

George tells me I’m an intelligent actor, and I thank him.

He’s quick to tell me, a smart actor is not a good thing. I’ll bounce off some walls before I get there, but I’ll get there, he consents. I mutter under my breath that I want to get a little farther than Utah Shakespeare Festival. He hears me, but I say it right before I go onstage with him.

He tries to bully my character onstage. I resist him. I stonewall. Later he says he was surprised at how well everyone did, including me. Every compliment from him is like that. He might say, good job, but then he slides something in like “for a college level actor.”

Later I hear he has a reputation for gaslighting his female students and sleeping with them. That’s the shitty thing about theater – people can sort of get away with being creepy jerks. They call it “acting training” but you frequently hear stories, later, how the acting teacher was sleeping with quite a few of the women, men, whatever their flavor happens to be.

There are also fascinating, enlightening things about the community attached to theater. You get to fall in love with people over and over again, if you work with them quite a bit, and you do. You wind up finding the family you can tolerate, for a while, before moving on.

But, actors are creatures of convenience by necessity – they move on almost immediately. They might know how to be other people, but they seem never to truly know themselves. Not the good ones, anyway.

The late, great Bryan Brendle

My friend Cindy and I are breaking up. It’s the end of school. Even though she struggles with depression, herself, she’s not too depressed to call me every night and tell me how she left her boyfriend to be my best friend. How she fell in love with me. I tell her that’s unfair. I’m not allowed to fall in love with my straight friends. I mention Sam Mossler and Bryan Brendle, two of our best friends. How I love them both a little, but won’t allow myself to love them a lot. 

“That’s because you don’t have empathy,” she says between wine stained lips one night. “You have sympathy, but you can’t empathize. That’s why you can’t love a woman.”

I snap at her. I tell her that the reason she’s not a university level star is the same reason she won’t be a star on Broadway.

“Tell me,” she sneers, about to leave. We have little scenes like this all the time. We’re absolutely best friends, and can say the worst things to one another.

You’re too pretty to be the best friend. 

Cindy’s eyes turn to coal. In a calm, understanding voice, she asks why she’s too pretty to be the best friend.

Because the best friend needs to be homely. The star is the lead, and the star must look the most attractive.

You don’t think I’m attractive?

You’re beautiful. 

You think I’m fat. 


You think I’m fat.

Yes, you’re fat. You’re a fat, pretty girl. And you’re great at softball, which is badass, but, casting directors are going to tell you the same thing – either gain 30 pounds or lose it. 

She storms out of my apartment, drives home. Later my phone rings, and for the first time, instead of answering Cindy’s late night call, I take the phone off the hook. The beeping noise sounds like an emergency, then the phone goes silent. I’m drifting off to sleep.

Brilliant late writer and actor, Sam Mossler

I hear her beating on the door. I’m not doing it this time. I’m not putting her first. I find out the next morning she keyed my door, the way some people use their own car keys to scratch someone else’s car. Except she did it to the front door of the condo Mom, Dad, Brother and I bought with family money. My brother and I shared it in Tallahassee, for college.

People get jealous, or mad, or angry. I’m not sure why she keyed my door. It made my mother very suspicious of her for a long time after that. 

You can be honest with people, to a point. Then, they can’t hear it anymore. 

The argument with Cindy effectively ends our friendship. She and I never recover, though we stay close. Later, in Brooklyn, she will turn her fiance Taylor into a human guard dog. I live down the block from her for ten years, and I see her on holidays. 

It’s never the same after the night I call her fat. She starts writing for the Times, and helps a lot of her pals get writing jobs. She gets angry whenever I ask her for career advice. Go write a blog or something, she snarls one night, over a rare martini. You make pies. Call it Meat Pie Mondays with Michael. 

(Just stop bothering me, is what I hear.)

Mostly Maplewood

I leave town for New York City shortly after that night. I want to be someone different. I want to be like Sister Mary Clay. I want to be able to disappear.

I give my royal blue Pontiac Grand Am to my friend Jen Mallis. She drives it for a while. 

I get on an Amtrak train heading North. A cute punk kid with green hair and safety pins sits next to me for a while. He seems straight, but he also seems safe. I keep hoping he touches me while he’s sleeping, rolls over and puts his arm around me, maybe. I have six hundred dollars, and I go to the bar car. I win at poker, and buy everyone drinks. I win enough money that I have 800 when I arrive in Penn Station. 

Someone asks me why I’m in such a good mood and where I’m going. 

New York City, I smile at the drunk man who just gave me 40 dollars at the table.

New York City!!?? That place eats people alive.

Maybe, I say, and grin at him. But I have a score to settle.