JACK COEY - INTERLUDE
Jack Coey believes the writer’s unique view of the world – point of view, is his talent. The individual writer has a point of view original from everyone else, and it’s that which makes his writing distinct.
McGee Carney sat in the back half of the bus on his way to New York City from New Hampshire to become an actor. It was June, 1973. He was about to be twenty-five with blue eyes, red hair and freckles. He thought about this for a long time before actually doing anything about it – since high school and Mr. Clements really. Mr. Clements told him over and over he had talent especially when they were alone, and he had his hands on McGee’s shoulder, and he said more than once how convincing he was. McGee read an article in the Sunday magazine about how actors could make $10,000 a year or more using their voice for radio and T.V. commercials, no memorization required; all you had to do was read the lines. Another thing about that Mr. Clements was he always liked to show up in the dressing room when McGee changed into his costume. After high school, McGee had a job in a hardware store in Bennington, New Hampshire, and when he got fired for spilling too much paint, he didn’t know what to do, and kept thinking about what Mr. Clements told him. He’d been on the bus for three hours, and he don’t know which feeling was worse, the loneliness or the doubt. Those two feelings fell in love, and had a baby called fear, and McGee wished he never met Mr. Clements.
He took one look, and knew he’d never seen anything like it. The noise, the smells, and all the people walking, no, more like charging down the streets were to him almost comical. What he didn’t know was his amazement was on his face. He stood in the middle of the terminal holding his suitcase, and people briskly walked by him going in all directions. He looked to his right, and saw a down and out looking, middle-aged man with yellow teeth and sores on his face studying him, and a ball of fear jumped to his throat. When they made eye contact, the man’s face broke into a yellow grin.
“Need a place to stay?” asked the man.
McGee pretended not to hear him. The man walked toward him, and McGee froze.
“Need a place to stay?” he was close to McGee’s ear.
The man pointed.
“Meet me in that men’s room the first stall to the left, and you can make yourself a quick twenty bucks.”
The man was gone; it was like he was a mirage. The churning in McGee’s stomach lessened, and he felt exposed, like everyone could see his nakedness. On instinct, he told himself to move, and saw the sign: “To Eighth Avenue” and started walking. He walked out onto Eighth Avenue, and didn’t walk fast enough, and was pushed, until he figured out the flow. He felt better when he saw the umbrella with “Hotdogs” written on it. He had a hundred dollars in his jean’s pocket, and as he stood there deciding what to order, a teenaged boy bumped into him.
“Hey man, sorry,” muttered the boy, and the vendor said to McGee,
“Hotdog with relish,” answered McGee. Instantaneously the vendor was holding out the hotdog to McGee.
“One twenty-five,” said the vendor, and McGee stuck his hand in his pocket only to exclaim,
“My money! It’s gone!” He looked in his other pockets. The vendor was listening to another order with his arm extended to McGee while wiggling his fingers. The vendor turned to McGee.
“Come on! I haven’t got all day here. One twenty-five.”
“My money’s gone!” cried McGee.
“Beat it!” barked the vendor, “go on, get out of here, ya punk.”
McGee was scared and angry; he felt he was a victim for anyone passing by.
“What’s the trouble, Bruno? Can’t you see he’s green?” McGee looked, and saw a woman dressed in short shorts with lipstick and a heavy application of mascara wearing cheap beads and a dirty white blouse and no bra. McGee never saw anything like her.
“He owes me for the hotdog,” complained Bruno.
“You ought to know better – you can tell from looking at him, he ain’t from the city. What? You fergot when you got off the bus?”
“Beat it, both of yuz, beat it,” swore Bruno.
“I know your racket. You make more money picking pockets than you do selling hotdogs. You oughta be ashamed of yourself.”
“Look who’s talkin’.”
“Johns come to me by choice.”
“Excuse me, Mother Teresa. Go on. Get out of here.” Bruno waved his arm.
The woman grabbed McGee by the arm, and pulled him down the street. After they had gone a block, she stopped.
“You want something to eat? Listen, I know you’re scared and confused, but trust me, I want to help you. I make my living from the suffering of others, and whenever I can help someone in a good way, I do it, because it makes me feel better. I know you have your story, and I won’t pry into that, but do you have a safe place to stay?”
“Just like I thought. You got pick pocketed so your money’s gone. Do you want to stay with me? No funny stuff, but you can sleep on my couch until you get something better. I don’t mind really.”
“I don’t know what to do,” said McGee.
“Yeah, I remember how scary it is. I got off the bus thinking I was going to be a Broadway star.”
“You’re an actress?”
“I guess you could say in a manner I am. Let’s walk to my apartment, and get you something to eat, and you can decide what you want to do. I think my couch is better than a doorway, but it’s up to you.”
McGee hesitated, and she smiled and waited, and he started to walk with her. He was confused; his life changed so fast, and he was sure of nothing. If this woman wanted to victimize him what choice did he have? They walked for twenty minutes, and he saw the street sign which read, “4th Street.”
“Where are we?” he asked.
They walked to the middle of the block, and she climbed three or four steps to the street door, and took out keys and let them in. They climbed a flight of musty stairs, and she stopped at a door with “7” on it. They walked into a small room with a grimy window looking out over an alley. There was a Formica kitchen table with two chairs, and the toilet was behind a curtain. On one side of the room, there was a mattress on the floor, and on the other, a ratty couch. He smelt incense.
“Wanna beer?” as she pointed to the table for him to sit. McGee looked at her and guessed she was in her early thirties. He pulled out the chair and sat at the table, and all of a sudden, he heard a pounding noise from the floor.
“Asshole!” she hissed, “it’s the jerk below me. He heard you pull out the chair – ignore him.”
She went to the refrigerator, and took out two bottles of beer. As she handed him his beer, he offered,
“Vanya. Baloney sandwich all right?”
She took baloney out of the refrigerator and bread from the cupboard, and set the sandwich before him on a napkin.
“Thank-you,” he said. She looked at him for a beat before sitting down with her beer.
“You might think I’m being silly, but would you mind covering yourself?”
She jumped up, and pulled a sweatshirt over her head.
“Sorry, I forgot. I do that for my johns. Hey, listen, you don’t need to be afraid of me. I know you’ve never met anybody like me before, but I’m a person like everyone else.”
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t have any money…”
She stood up, and went to a drawer, and came back with a plastic bag and a pipe.
“I’m going to introduce you to marijuana. It will relax you and you’ll feel better. Don’t worry I’ll be right here to make sure nothing bad happens – you’ll probably fall asleep is all.”
McGee’s eyes were wide open.
“Oh…I don’t know…”
“You want to feel better, don’t you?”
McGee slid his chair back from the table which brought more banging from downstairs.
“All right, I won’t force it on you. You don’t mind if I do?”
McGee shook his head, and she rolled a joint, and lit up. McGee watched. She held her breath, and finally exhaled.
“You hold it in your lungs, see?”
“That’s not bad for you?”
“Certainly don’t feel that way. Sure you don’t want to try it?”
McGee watched some more. She asked him with her eyes, and he shook his head. He took a swig of beer. She inhaled from the pipe, and started to cough, and smoke shot everywhere.
“Don’t look like much fun.”
“You don’t (cough) understand un-(cough, cough.) till you try it.”
He was amused; he drank. She drank too. She took another hit off the pipe, and it was good this time.
“Ahhh, yes, I’m good,” she purred. For the first time, McGee was distracted from his problems. She handed him the pipe.
“Take a small hit – just to try it.”
McGee took the pipe and put it to his lips.
“Just take a little, and inhale it into your lungs, and hold it there for as long as you can.”
As she spoke, she leaned across the table getting close to McGee’s face to watch his execution. McGee inhaled, felt it burn, and blew smoke into Vanya’s face.
“Oh God, it’s burning my eyes,” she exclaimed. She waved her hand in front of her eyes and started to laugh.
“Try it – one more time,” she squealed.
He did it again and held it for about ten seconds. He exhaled, and took a swig of beer. All of a sudden, he was lightheaded, and the next he knew, he woke up on the couch with the sun coming through the dirty window.
He blinked his eyes and his throat felt like sandpaper. He sat up and saw her on the mattress with her back to him. He slowly got up, and tiptoed to the sink, and ran some water into the palm of his hand, and shoveled it into his mouth. He needed a toilet, and felt funny about only having a curtain; he looked at her to make sure she was asleep. He pulled the curtain behind him, and sat on the toilet. He relieved himself, and heard,
His face got red.
“Light the incense! On the floor, there’s sticks of incense and a lighter.”
“Do I hold it in my lungs?”
He heard her laugh. He scrambled for a stick of incense, and quickly lit the lighter which lit the toilet paper. He pounded on the toilet paper roll, and the next he knew, the curtain was separated, and she was standing there, and she disappeared, and came back with a glass of water which she threw at the toilet paper roll which had caught the curtain on fire, and she screamed, and he had to get up without completely relieving himself, and he hopped to the sink with his pants around his ankles. He opened the refrigerator, and took out a carton of milk which he poured down the sink, and filled with water, and threw onto the curtain which put out the fire, and he had messed himself down his leg, and there was pounding from below. They froze until she started to laugh so hard she had to sit at the table. McGee was more than embarrassed – ashamed was more like it.
“McGee don’t feel bad, I see worse, believe me.”
She got up, and got a towel, and handed it to him.
“Here clean yourself off.”
He took the towel, and pulled what was left of the curtain behind him, and wiped himself off, and pulled up his pants. She opened the window, and fanned the smoke with a magazine. Thump, thump, thump from below. McGee flushed the toilet.
“You can walk to the “Y” on thirty-Fourth Street, and take a shower for three bucks,” she said as she mopped the water from the floor. He was at the sink taking a drink of water; the smoke made him thirsty all over again.
“I’m really sorry, Vanya. I made a mess.”
“McGee this is nothing – believe me. How about we go down to the coffee shop on the corner, and I’ll buy us breakfast?” Thump, thump, thump.
“Man, that guy’s going to give me a headache.”
They sat with coffee cups in front of them, and she was talking.
“The quickest and easiest way for you to learn the city is by walking the streets with me, and I can show you how to get around, and the different con games to watch out for. The trick on city streets is to cop the right attitude otherwise the hustlers and perverts sense weakness and they prey on you as, I’m afraid, you already discovered. You have to project ‘Don’t fuck with me,’ or they will.”
Vanya studied McGee for a moment.
“You don’t look so sure,” she said.
“I don’t know, Vanya…”
She looked out the window at the people walking by.
“You want to go back to – where are you from? Rhode Island?”
She tapped her fingers on the table top.
“Where did you grow up?”
A sadness came over her before she spoke.
“I grew up in a small southern town. My father was a shop teacher, and my mother worked, part-time, at the library. My mother thought I was beautiful. At a young age, she dressed me up in fancy dresses, and in elementary school, she entered me in beauty pageants, and I always did good. My uncle liked me too, and he would come into my room and at first, would lie next to me, then, would rub himself against me, and finally, penetrate me. It hurt bad, but I never screamed.” She laughed. “It turned out to be good training for my profession. Some of my johns are disgusting – let’s leave it there. After my uncle, I felt dirty and was never able to shake it, and it was only when I got older, I realized I was a victim, but by then, it was too late. More than once, I heard my folks arguing over my uncle so I knew they knew, but they did nothing. That’s when I made up my mind to run away. I figured how could it be any worse?”
A tear ran down her cheek.
“How do people do that to each other?” he whispered.
“There is evil.”
“I’m not ready for this.”
“Easy to say without trying. If you stay, I promise it will change you.”
“If I go back, I’ll be safe.”
“True. And you’ll never know what you could have accomplished. You’ll get drunk on the weekends, and rot your brain on hours of TV, and even your kids will grow to despise you. Why are you here anyway?”
“Every hour a bus arrives from somewhere, and on every bus, there’s young people looking to make it in the city. Only the most beautiful or talented have a shot – don’t kid yourself, and the others that do make it, never tell how they compromised themselves to get where they are. Being exploited is suffering – I know.”
McGee and Vanya looked at each other; there was a closer feeling now. After several beats, she started again.
“The more people, the greater the evil and you have to develop the armor to protect yourself.”
“You should take your own advice.”
“Wounded little girls grow up into wounded women.”
McGee understood something he didn’t before. The waitress shoved the plates in front of them, and McGee slowly ate the eggs. She slid a twenty dollar bill across the table.
“It’s a loan, not a gift, I understand pride,” she said.
“Thanks Vanya. I’ll use three to take a shower.”
She made good on her promise to show him the town. They walked from the east village to Times Square, then, to Central Park, to the east side, then, the west. She showed him the prostitutes, and hustlers, and pimps, and con men – pickpockets, drug dealers, and flim flam artists, and McGee couldn’t get over the variety. She took him on the subway from Grand Central Station to Harlem, and out to Brooklyn. They invented a game where she gave him a location, and he told her how to get there. When they got back to her apartment, he lie down on the couch, and fell asleep. He woke several hours later, and was alone. He lay in the dark, and for the first time, he was scared.
The next day, Vanya brought home a newspaper called Backstage. She told him about a busboy’s job she heard about at Angelino’s on Lafayette Street. He sat at the kitchen table and looked over Backstage, and read this ad:
Leonard Woolsey, Acting Teacher, Practitioner of the Stanislavski Method of Acting. Fee Negotiable. 2nd floor Studio, 481 Eighth Avenue between 46 & 47. Scene Study, Monday night @ 7. Exercise class, Wednesday night @ 7.
He thought he would go Monday night, and talk to the teacher to see what they could work out. Meanwhile he would go apply for the busboy’s job in the morning; it felt good to have a plan. The next morning, he found Angelino’s, and walked in the front door, and met a greasy slicked back black haired man with too white teeth, and a distasteful look on his face who said,
“May I help you?”
McGee stated why he was there, and was directed to the kitchen. He was directed by one of the waiters to a big, black man who introduced himself as Lewis who was chopping vegetables on a counter. Lewis asked McGee how long he’d been in the city, and McGee told him his story. Lewis grinned as he said,
“You’re what I calls a dreamer. You come to the city with big dreams, and if you’re lucky, you go back home before you gets yourself into too much trouble. Many of them don’t, but some do.”
Lewis went on to tell McGee how the restaurant worked: start out as a busboy, then move to salad/dessert maker or waiter, then up to assistant cook or service bartender, and finally to head cook, bartender or maitre de.
“The trick is tips. Be good to your customers which ain’t easy, believe me, and you can make some money. I took more abuse from dis advertising man, but I made me a bunch of money so I come out all right.”
Lewis told McGee to come back in the morning at ten, and they would give him a try out.
“Now this here’s between you and me, you whid me? Sergio the man in the front gets the final say on whether you stays or no, so as hard as it is, don’t talk back, you hear me?”
Lewis reached into his coat pocket, and handed McGee a twenty dollar bill.
“I can’t accept this,” protested McGee.
“Tell me den how you goin’ to have da money to buy da uniform you needs? White shirt, black tie, and khaki pants, and if dey ain’t brand new den Sergio won’t put you on de schedule. You got plenty of time to pays me back when you starts makin’ money, remember? Besides which it’s lunch time. How do you like your hamburger cooked?”
McGee knew well the kindness of the people who were helping him, and didn’t want to be a drain any longer than he had to. He promised himself to do whatever it took to make it at the restaurant so he could get his own place. That Monday night, he went looking for the acting class, and found the doorway on Eighth Avenue, and climbed the dark, smelly stairs to the second floor. Down a short hallway, he saw the sign: Leonard Woolsey Studio. He cautiously opened the door and heard voices. He saw three rows of folding chairs, and two people huddled together which he realized were actors rehearsing. There was a playing area in front of the chairs which was a rug and illuminated by a single spotlight hanging in the middle of the seating area. There was stuff on three sides of the playing area: left behind props: shirts and pants, kitchen utensils, hats and helmets, guns and knives, glasses (drinking and optical), shoes and boots, and even a rubber cigar. There was a man at a small wooden desk downstage right just off the playing area reading a book. McGee stood and was unnoticed until a voice,
“Hey, Leonard! Looks like you got yourself a recruit.”
Leonard looked up.
“Why, hello there,” he said.
“I’m here to see about taking your class.”
“Ah, I’m afraid I don’t have any openings right at the moment. You see, I keep twelve so everyone gets plenty of feedback. I learned that when I worked with Paul. Paul and I worked together on a movie called The Hustler, you may have seen it, and during breaks, Paul and I talked about acting technique, and Paul always said acting classes should be no larger than twelve. You may remember the scene in the pool hall when Fast Eddie and Minnesota Fats are shooting, and there’s a group of flunkies watching them, and I’m the third man from the left, and I take a totally organic drag on my cigarette. Paul always admired my craftsmanship, and said there are very few real artists left. He never forgot either; he sends me a Christmas card every year. But enough about me, tell me, what are your credits?”
McGee didn’t know what to say. A voice from the seating area,
“Estelle don’t leave me.”
“You’re nothing but a tramp that’s ruined my good name,” said a second voice. Some people came in from the hallway and sat in the folding chairs.
I don’t have any. I just got to New York,” answered McGee.
Leonard tilted his clean-shaven head to the ceiling.
“Ah!” he said, “you should find yourself a beginner’s acting teacher to learn the fundamentals.”
“I want to study with you.” McGee was surprised by his boldness.
“I can put your name on the waiting list. My actors get jobs so there are openings. It’s hard to know when however.”
“I don’t want to wait.”
Leonard titled his glasses up onto his forehead and smiled at McGee. He studied McGee.
“MONA! Is Mona here?”
“Yes Leonard,” answered one of the girls who came in.
“Mona can I ask you to read a scene here with – I apologize, what’s your name?”
“McGee: McGee Carney.”
Leonard reached for two playbooks.
He handed a playbook to each of them.
“From the top of page fourteen. This is a scene where a brother is trying to talk his sister into letting him have her inheritance to start a business. Mr. Carney you have two minutes to study the scene, and then I want you to play the scene as best you can. All right. Two minutes, please.”
McGee was nervous, but he heard Mr. Clements voice in his head: When you do a cold reading, give yourself a strong objective even if it’s wrong. At the end of two minutes, Leonard yelled,
“PLACES!” and the house lights went out and the spotlight was on. The scene started out shaky, and McGee took some time to focus, and there was no momentum until he started up again. He held her hand, and laughed at her jokes when they weren’t funny, and stroked her cheek, and made up lines about how beautiful she was, and the momentum got stronger and stronger, and the scene intensely ended. Leonard was beaming.
“You’re in,” he said.
McGee, all of a sudden, was the center of attention. His classmates watched every move he made as if he had something they could use. When the class broke up, Mona came to him.
“Are you going for a drink?”
She had big blue eyes.
“I don’t think so,” he answered. He felt watched.
“Oh, I get it,” she said, “I’ll buy you a beer, come on.”
They walked down the flight of stairs to Eighth Avenue, and crossed the avenue to a dark and dingy bar named Jimmy Ray’s. Classmates followed Mona and McGee who were the King and Queen of the Prom. Mona and McGee sat on bar stools, and the classmates lined up on either side of them.
“Would you do a scene with me?” asked Mona.
“Sure. Why not?”
“Do you know the play River of Regret by Lewis Collier?”
McGee shook his head.
“There’s a scene where the step-brother tries to seduce his step-sister. It’s really powerful, and I think, you and I could make it work.”
“Great. Where can I get a copy?”
“I’ll lend you mine so you can read the play, right?”
“I’m not a playwright, I’m an actor.”
“You sound like a comedian.”
She wrote on a napkin and slid it over to him.
“My boyfriend works nights. Call after seven.”
McGee used the twenty Lewis gave him to buy the uniform he needed for work. He was introduced to Raphael who was in his early twenties, and who was, or wanted to be, a dancer. He was slender and moved like a deer. The first thing McGee learned was speed was important; every turnover was another check and another tip. The waiters got pissed if the tables weren’t being bused fast enough. The second thing he learned was how the waiters covertly grabbed Raphael’s ass. The waiters were laughing and smirking, and Raphael acted like nothing was happening. McGee saw that Sergio was in on it, if not encouraging it, and it was making McGee angry. His judgment was to keep his feelings to himself; he needed this job to get on with his life. The waiters mimicked kisses to him, and if one of them put a hand on him, he didn’t know how he would react which scared him. He kept moving, and Sergio called him over to a table and reprimanded him in front of diners and other waiters for a dirty napkin left on a table which McGee suspected was planted there to get him in trouble. He apologized to Sergio, and said it wouldn’t happen again, and kept moving. He finished the lunch shift, and thought he was doing pretty well. He didn’t play into their game, and actually learned something about how to bus tables.
“Well, you seem to be catching on quite nicely,” said phony Sergio, “I’ll have you work a couple of lunches, and I’ll have a decision for you on Friday. Loosen up; you need to have more fun.”
Not your kind of fun, thought McGee.
One of the waiters gave him a cut out of the tip jar accompanied by a wink which McGee ignored. When he came out onto the sidewalk, Raphael was waiting for him.
“Listen, man, I know you’re not gay, but you’ve got to loosen up around the gay guys, otherwise, they won’t leave you alone. Flirt with them the way you would a woman, but make it clear, that’s as far as it goes.”
“They were grabbing your ass.”
“It doesn’t bother me, and they know that, so that’s where it stops. The worse thing you can do is let them see it bothers you, and they will be all over you, man, believe me, I know.”
He turned and walked down the sidewalk.
McGee would take out the napkin, every so often, and look at the number, and finally he dialed it, and a voice answered,
“Oh, yeah, Hi!”
“Is this all right?”
“Yes, yes, of course.”
“I wasn’t sure…”
“I didn’t expect it is all.”
“I thought this is what you wanted…”
“Sure, this is fine. Are you busy? Could we meet somewhere?”
“Yeah, that would be fun…”
“Can you meet me at Horn and Hardart on the corner of 36th and eighth in twenty minutes?”
McGee was roused; his heart was beating fast. He took the D train one stop and walked the rest of the way. She was at a table; he got a coffee, and they sat with cups in front of them.
“I’m half-way through the play…”
“What do you think?”
“I like it.”
“Our scene is coming up in Act Three. When we’re ready, we can sign-up for rehearsal time at Leonard’s studio.”
“That’s cool. Afternoons are good for me, you know, after lunch.”
“Angelino’s on Lafayette Street.”
“Oh My Gosh, a friend of mine had a bad experience with the maitre de there – Stefan, Steve…”
“Yeah, that’s it! He promised him shifts which he never gave him because he wouldn’t put out. Oh! He was awful!”
“I don’t like the guy much, but I need this job…”
“Be careful I guess is what I want to say.”
He looked at her across the table and saw how earnest and lovely she was. His stomach was churning, but he made himself ask the question.
“So you live with a guy…?”
She sheepishly smiled.
“Gerald? That’s a funny name.”
“As if McGee isn’t?”
She looked away and he felt tense.
“Gerald and I have been living together for about three months. He’s a costume designer, and is working on an off-Broadway production of Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
“Do you love him?”
She looked away, stood up, and said,
“I’ll book us some rehearsal time.”
A week went by, and Mona was on McGee’s mind. He did a couple of lunches, and that gave him some money. He knew his staying with Vanya was turning into something he didn’t want, and for him to get his own place, he would have to work more. Vanya was being good and generous with him, and he could see emerging signs of affection which he didn’t want. She came home with scratches and red blotches on her neck and shoulders which McGee didn’t inquire about to no purpose as one night she offered,
“When they’re drunk, they can get rough, but I change their mind quick with a swift knee to the balls.”
And I worry about a guy putting his hand on my ass, thought McGee.
Between lunch and dinner at the restaurant was a slow time, and McGee sat at an out of the way table to work on his lines. His character’s name was Brad, and Mona’s character was Jean, and he thought: I won’t have to do much acting…Brad wants to sleep with Jean just the same as I want to sleep with Mona. It’s going to be pretty obvious, but she may as well know. She doesn’t seem like she’s too crazy about Harold…I mean Gerald.
He sensed a presence, and looked up, and Sergio was standing there, a sly grin on his face.
“Sorry to interrupt, but I was making the schedule, and I can give you three lunches next week or five, but I wanted to give you a chance to persuade me.”
McGee studied Sergio for a long moment. He wanted to tell Sergio to go fuck himself, but there was too much at stake.
“You know I’m not interested in that.”
“It’s what the other busboys do.”
“Sorry. I’m not the other busboys. Go ahead and give me three, but you know, and I know, you’re being unfair to me. If your comfortable treating people that way, then, there should be no problem, right?”
McGee saw Sergio was uneasy with that description. Fortune bounced in McGee’s direction on his next shift when Phillip, the busboy who was to work dinner, showed up an hour late, and McGee covered for him. McGee and Sergio exchanged looks as McGee walked by the maitre de’s station.
Mona got rehearsal time at three o’clock on Tuesday, and they worked on blocking the scene. When they were finished, McGee said,
“All right, let’s run through it and see how it plays.”
They were still on book; they each sat at the ends of the couch.
Joan: You’re going back to school Sunday afternoon?
Brad: Yes. I’ll miss you.
Joan: (Hesitatingly) Yes…I’ll miss you too.
Brad slides closer to Jean.
Brad: I’m sure I’ll be lonely.
Joan stands and crosses stage left, and turns back to Brad.
Joan: Oh, don’t say that, Brad. You’ll make friends easily.
Brad: But no one can replace you.
Joan: (Frowning) It’s not like that, I’m your sister.
Another classmate came to the doorway and watched.
Brad: Not biological though.
Joan: What are you saying?
Mona broke character.
“Wait, wait! This is where Joan realizes he’s asking for something tawdry.”
“Yeah, he wants to fuck her,” crassly explained McGee.
“McGee, it’s not cool to sleep with your step-sister.”
Mona was agitated and McGee confused.
“Mona? You know this is what the scene is about.”
“It’s not okay…it’s not okay,” Mona was crying.
McGee held her until she calmed down.
“Nice work, guys. That was very real,” praised the spectator.
Without a word, McGee led Mona down the flight of stairs, and out onto the street. She walked away from him up Eighth Avenue.
“Mona,” he yelled, “MONA!”
She disappeared into the crowd. He stood in the flow, panting.
McGee came from Bennington, NH. a town of 825 in the winter which ballooned to 1500 in the summer with cottages and camps. His father, Malone, taught Health at the middle school, and his mother, Theresa, was the secretary at town hall. The three of them lived in a small house on the edge of the woods. His parents were quiet, simple, and hard-working. Malone was a Boy Scout leader who spent a lot of time in the woods, and by streams, talking about hygiene. Theresa spent much time reading Romance Novels, and McGee had the sense she yearned for something else. They went to St Patrick’s on Sunday mornings, and church suppers on Wednesday nights, and McGee did so to please his parents, and Malone did so to please his wife. McGee had his first experience with drama in middle school when he played the hare in a dramatization of the Tortoise and Hare story. All the adults including Mr. Clements, the high school drama coach, commented on McGee’s charisma. Mr. Clements talked to McGee about acting, and even gave McGee a part in the high school production of Our Town. Malone wanted his son to join the Boy Scouts, and when McGee told his father no, Malone suspected that Mr. Clements may have influence over him. The Carney family was well-thought of in Bennington so any man who had the opinion that actors were effeminate didn’t express that unless he was in the woods or a canoe, and never where anybody other than macho men could hear. When McGee got to high school, he was the leading man, not Captain of the football team, who let in around he thought McGee “queer”. Mr. Clements gave him leading roles in shows like Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Crucible and The Death of a Salesman. When McGee was able to touch the audience as Willy Loman even when he was too young to be believable, he was hooked; he’d never experienced that kind of power in his life. He began to understand what the “something else” was that he sensed from his mother. Mr. Clements couldn’t praise him enough nor could he keep his hands off of McGee which aggravated McGee no end. Mr. Clements talked to McGee about going to New York which, of course, was unthinkable to Malone and Theresa. When McGee suggested the idea to Malone he knew who was influencing him, and confronted Mr. Clements one afternoon in the faculty lounge only to be told he and his wife were being bourgeois and parochial neither word Malone knew and had to look up. McGee didn’t know what to do; he didn’t want to hurt his parents, they didn’t deserve that, but the possibility of living a life unlike anything he’d known had great allure. He started working at Lambert’s Hardware store while in high school, and continued working there until he was fired for spilling too much paint. Instead of misfortune, McGee saw an opportunity to go to New York to see if he could make it. He promised his father he would come home in two years if he couldn’t support himself from acting. Theresa was in favor, she wanted her son to have more than a small, New Hampshire town could offer.
McGee didn’t know what to do except to see Mona in class on Monday night; he was confused about her behavior, but didn’t believe he’d done anything to hurt her. He thought he should be cautious, and take his cues from how she treated him. He was nervous when he walked into the studio, and saw her sitting in the second row; she looked at him with a blank stare. There was a nervous twitter among the students as two actors set up their scene. When they were ready, Leonard said,
“Quiet Please!” and he turned out the lights. The scene began and tanked.
“Cut!” annoyedly yelled Leonard. On came the lights.
“Brian, what is your objective in this scene?”
The young actor sheepishly grinned.
“To borrow money.”
“I guess so.”
Leonard looked at the ceiling.
“What do you mean, you guess so?”
“Well, he asks her for money.”
“That’s what the playwright tells you, right? It’s in the lines.”
“You’re playing the scene like you don’t care if she gives you the money or not.”
Brian’s face got red and he looked at the floor.
“I don’t know,” he murmured.
“I can see that, but you have to figure out how to care about this in a dramatic way, or you’re going to put us all asleep.”
The audience tittered.
“I just thought he wanted to borrow money…”
“Okay but what are you going to do if that’s not a strong enough objective?”
Brian’s face got redder and he looked at the floor like he hoped it would swallow him up.
“That’s the playwright’s fault,” he muttered.
“I don’t disagree, but as an actor, you’re the one who has to make it work, otherwise, you’re the one who looks bad. So what can you do to give yourself a stronger objective?”
Brian shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know. Make something up?”
Leonard threw his hands in the air.
“Amazing! An actor who has to use his imagination! Remarkable, really!”
The audience laughed which produced sweat on Brian’s forehead.
“So what might be a stronger objective? Never mind the play.”
Brian looked around the space like the answer was on a wall, maybe.
“Oh! I know,” he exclaimed, “he wants to boink her.”
“Okay, got it.”
Now the actress was red in the face.
“Why does everything have to be about sex,” she complained.
“Honey, it’s what makes the world go round.”
“Funny, I thought money did.”
“Yes, that too. Okay, take a moment, and replay the scene. Brian you get to boink when she agrees to give you the money, okay?” The actors sat quietly thinking about their objectives. Leonard said,
“Quiet Please,” and out went the lights.
The scene was urgent and funny.
When the class broke up, McGee had to make a move; he walked up to her.
“Hey, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”
She didn’t answer. Then she said,
“Gerald is meeting me for a drink.”
McGee was embarrassed.
She looked away, then, back at him.
“How about tomorrow morning?” she offered.
“Sure,” he said, “Horn and Hardart?”
“Eight- thirty,” she answered.
On his way back to Vanya’s apartment, walking down 4th Street, he noticed two men in suit coats looking at the building. He unlocked the street door with a key, and went inside, and climbed the flight of stairs to the second floor. He was in the apartment for about fifteen minutes when there was a knock.
“Superintendent!” a voice said.
McGee opened the door and there was a short, pudgy man in a flannel shirt flanked by two men in suit coats.
“New York Police,” said the pudgy man.
“Can we ask you a few questions?” said one of the men.
McGee stepped aside to let them in.
“Thank-you Mr. Carbone.” And the pudgy man disappeared.
One of the men closed the door behind them. They produced badges.
“I’m Lieutenant Schwartz and this is Sergeant Rodriguez.”
McGee was nervous.
“I’m McGee Carney,” he said.
“You live here?” asked Rodriguez
“No. I’m staying here temporarily until I find something else.”
“New to the city?”
“Couple of weeks.”
“How do you know Vanya?”
“Ah…I met her on the street…”
“Not unusual for someone like Vanya,” said Schwartz.
“No, it wasn’t like that,” protested McGee.
“Where you from?”
“Why are you in New York?”
“I want to work in theatre.”
Schwartz smirked. He was holding a photograph.
“You and Vanya were roommates, is that right?”
“Where were you last night between twelve and three?”
“You can’t corroborate that though,” said Rodriguez.
“No, I guess I can’t.”
“When’s the last time you saw her?”
“Yesterday morning before I left.”
“Where’d you go?”
“I walk to the East River Park so she can use the toilet.”
“She was gone when you came back?”
“Did she ever have anyone here, man or woman?”
“No, at least when I was here anyway. What’s this about anyhow?”
Schwartz handed McGee the photograph, and he jerked his head away.
“Oh! My God!” he exclaimed.
“Can you identify the deceased as Vanya Romanoff?” asked Rodriguez.
“Oh My God, yes!’ said McGee with his face in his hands.
Both men were silent until McGee recovered himself somewhat.
“Listen, kid, I don’t mean to lecture you, but the city ain’t New Hampshire, and I don’t know your affairs, but unless you got a real good reason to be here, why put yourself through the squalor? Especially the theatre? As of now, you’re a suspect until we can clear you so don’t do anything stupid, got it?”
“Good. What happens now?” asked Schwartz.
“I don’t know. I work only a couple of lunches at the restaurant so I can’t afford rent at least for now.”
“Maybe we can talk to Mr. Carbone, and see if he would agree to let you stay here. You know, you would have to work out some kind of payment plan.”
McGee stared straight ahead.
“We’re going to take a quick look around, and we’ll be back later with a warrant to have a better look. Are you all right?” asked Schwartz.
“I don’t know,” murmured McGee.
“Do you want me to call somebody?”
The detectives looked around the apartment without opening any drawers or cabinets. Schwartz handed McGee a card.
“If you think of anything or have any information call me at this number, all right?”
“Good luck, kid, and if I was you, I’d think hard about why I was here. In my opinion, you’d have a much nicer life in New Hampshire.”
They left and McGee spent a long time looking out the grimy window over the alley.
The next morning as Mona was getting her coffee at Horn and Hardart, McGee was sitting in the Port Authority waiting to board the nine o’clock bus to Keene, and four hours later, when he was walking through the station in Keene, he stopped dead in his tracks, when he saw on an overhead TV, Sergio being arrested for the murder of a prostitute.
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