Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Another Chapter in the Mrs. Linklater Soap Opera

There was a comment a few entries back asking me to write more stories about my old boyfriends. At least that's how I interpreted it. She may have said, "Boy you have a lot of old friends and boring stories."  Do I care?

I believe the entry was a whiny one where I had run out of things to write about and finally turned to my readers for suggestions. Frankly, I didn't realize I wrote so much about former relationships. But apparently I do. However, since there are no new relationships to speak of, old ones will have to suffice. Even so, for several days I wasn't sure who should be exhumed for inspection.

Until tonight.

I was watching a PBS documentary on animal emotions, which featured a combination of poignant and astonishing examples of animals expressing their feelings, as well as moments of unexpectedly altruistic behavior -- like the dog who threw herself in front of the family car and died preventing the driver from hitting one of his own children.

I found the film very moving, especially since a number of respected scientists finally confirmed what anyone who has ever shared space with a companion animal knows intuitively: Animals have feelings too!!

At the end of the program, while the credits were rolling, I saw the name of an old boyfriend's production company. Brian has become quite successful as a filmmaker and producer, since the days when I first became aware of him in high school, hung out with him in college, and finally started dating him in our early twenties.  

He was one of those people who couldn't be labeled a sporto, a brainiac, or a druggie, since he was all of these. Sure he played on the football team, but he had a good singing voice, too, and didn't mind being in the school shows, not usually a choice for jocks. Having a bunch of older brothers meant he had also been initiated into the smoking and drinking rituals of growing up, along with not a little taste of marijuana.

I first noticed him in high school for the typical female reasons -- he was popular and cute. Shallowness began early in my life and continues to this day. He was aware of me peripherally, because we were in school shows together, but I was a goody two shoes and he was not only in great demand by other females but also two years behind me, so our paths didn't cross much on weekends.

Because of our theater experience together in high school, he contacted me the summer before he was going to college, when there was a job opening as a summer stock apprentice at the theater where he was working. There was no money, but it was fun to be backstage with people like Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee starring in his play Purlie Victorious, before it became the musical Purlie. Godfrey Cambridge, the comedian, was also in the show and used to do stand up for us when there was down time during rehearsals. He was at the peak of his popularity, so we loved the attention. Show biz seemed normal during that run.

The next show featured Jackie Mason and Jessica Walter. That one was more like being locked in an insane asylum. She was, and still is, a brilliant actress, but also a diva, so there were occasional tantrums and more than a few tears. Especially because Jackie Mason was a comedian with no acting training. Unfortunately he was the draw, but clearly she had the talent. I got caught in the crossfire between them enough times to give up any thoughts about going into the legitimate theater.  Those people are nuts.

Seven years later, when a cast member called me to try out for Second City, the one thing I noticed right away is that the difference between the people who do improv humor and people who read lines and call themselves "serious" actors is night and day. Would you rather spend time with Robin Williams or Ralf Fiennes? I prefer funny people. In my experience, they are usually smarter and aren't such drama queens. In every sense of the word.

Back to Brian. During that summer stock season he used to drive me home from work from time to time with the top down on his little sports car. I think it was an MG.  I was hoping to parlay those rides in his car into something more interesting, but I realized he only gave me rides when he wasn't messing around with his main squeeze. She was also an apprentice, a girl my age that he and I knew from high school. She was studying acting at Goodman Theater. Later she went on to play small parts in soap operas. Unlike the rest of us who were glorified servants, she got a bit part in the Jackie Mason show, wearing a Playboy Bunny costume. If she hadn't been a friend I might have been jealous of her big rack. She sure got Brian's attention. Olive Oyl was one of my nicknames for a reason.

The last time I saw her she showed up at our fortieth high school reunion to say goodbye to everybody because she was dying from brain cancer. We laughed a lot at some very black humor and talked about sharing Brian for one last time.

Despite flunking algebra two times at least, Brian somehow got into Princeton. His wealthy, widowed mother had a friend who was a trustee or something and maybe he put in a good word. Brian's dad had been a doctor before dying of cancer so that probably helped too. Actually, I am as mystified as anyone as to how he got accepted.

His family had a huge house on a high bluff overlooking the lake, down the road from where one of our US senators lived. This locale will be relevant later.

Senior year in college, my roommate at Northwestern had a friend she grew up with who was also at Princeton. He invited her out for a visit over our spring vacation. She invited me to go with her after finals.  But I had carried a heavy class load that quarter and I was tired. I also had enough credits to graduate early, so I had some decisions to make. Leave school or carry a light load and enjoy partying during spring quarter senior year? Graduate and get a job or play?  Hmmm.

Coming off finals, I said no to the trip at first. What was I thinking? Why I ever turned down a chance to spend a week at an all men's school is beyond me. But I recovered. I also decided to come back to school for spring quarter. Next thing I knew we had borrowed her brother's baby blue VW and began the drive out east.

When we got to Princeton, we quickly settled into Mrs. Palmer's Victorian rooming house, where the females who came to visit this all male school could rent rooms in the good old days. Out and about, we serendipitously ran into Brian and discovered that he and my roommate's friend, who was captain of the crew, were in the same eating club, the Princeton equivalent of fraternities.  Remember this was before Brooke Shields so there were guys EVERYWHERE. Mrs. Linklater was in spring break heaven. We even got mentioned in the school paper -- coeds from Northwestern visitng on campus.  

Brian was a sophomore by that time and we had a reunion of sorts at meals -- he belonged to an eating club remember? -- but I was busy meeting as many guys as I could during the week I was there so we just buddied up when I needed a break from all the attention. He was always there ready to entertain me if I had some free time. Since I was carrying a light load, I came back for a couple of more weekends later that spring.

I learned to juggle billiard balls, almost got arrested for being with a bunch of guys who were throwing rocks at street lamps, met local hero Cosmo Iacovazzi, said hi to Bill Bradley, went to see "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," froze my ass riding in the launch with the rowing crew's coach on a cold, sleet-drenched day, watched strapping young men work up a steamy sweat in those skinny boats, wearing only their underwear, got wined and dined, felt like a kid in a campus candy shop, and had a great time.

Back in the real world, I graduated, got a job, and settled into living La Vida Loca in Chicago. Brian showed up in my life once more. I honestly don't remember how we hooked up again, except that one of his high school football buddies moved down the hall from me in my high rise. He was a real party guy, so living there was more like being in a dorm, although the Mah Jong ladies in 4A might not agree.

Brian was working from 6PM to 2AM at the local PBS station.  I used to sit in the control room while he worked the shows. Afterward, we'd hang out then lie in bed, listening to Bob Dylan sing Lay Lady Lay about a million times. Needless to say I was showing up for my nine to five job a lot closer to ten.

One night we were up at his family's house for dinner, the place with the high bluff that went down to the lake. Sitting out on the back lawn, I noticed there were a lot of weeds on the side of the hill.  He laughed and said those weeds were marijuana.

Two years before, a daughter of the US senator who lived a few doors down had been murdered in a home invasion. Afterward dozens of police officers spent days combing the bluffs for clues. They stomped all over the vegetation, pushed it back by hand to see what was on the ground and stuck their faces right into it. Not once did they notice the yards and yards of marijuana plants in front of them. At first Brian's brothers were a little concerned that they were about to be busted for growing dope.  But the suburban cops didn't learn how to spot reefer madness until way later, so the boys lucked out. 

I really liked Brian and thought about him for years after we broke up. But he and I drifted apart because he was smoking a lot of pot and I didn't do the stuff.  Except for that one time when one of his brothers was in the hospital after a motorcycle accident.  His thoughtful girlfriend had made brownies and offered me some.  "Why do these taste like oregano?" I remember asking as I took a huge bite.  Because they were loaded with marijuana, Mrs. Linklater. The girlfriend had broken the cardinal rule of sharing drugs. In those days you never gave drugs without asking first.  Not to be nice -- mainly so you didn't waste them on a non user. Like ME. Two hours later I was seeing strange colors and bizarre things floating in front of my eyes. Pissed me off.

So, too much dope was one reason. There were other reasons, too, but they're not suitable for younger and more sensitive readers.

Ironically, a few years after I got married and had children, Brian's mother sold her very big house and moved several miles away to a smaller big house right around the corner from us. I discovered all this when I ran into Brian one evening, walking with one of his kids in front of our home.  Cosmic, no?   

After my divorce, I ran into his old girlfriend again -- the one who later had brain cancer. I was out in LA editing at a production house and she showed up there by mistake for an audtion. Cosmic, yes?

We ended up having a long talk and comparing notes about dating Brian and laughed about having the exact same problems with him. It was the kind of conversation that guys dread:  Women talking about them and laughing. EEEWWW.  She still hooked up with him from time to time even though he was married by that time. Not me. 

With the death of his old girlfriend, my only reminder of Brian these days is when I see his name at the end of a PBS documentary or drama.

That, plus an occasional, startling glimpse of one of his brothers, who moved to the same town I did after my divorce. Coincidence?  I think not. He looks like a carbon copy of Brian. With white hair. 

Everything happens for a reason.


ksquester said...

Great story. I really enjoyed it.  I loved Godfrey Cambridge, Ruby Dee and Ossie (God rest his soul) Davis. What wonderful memories AND Princetontoo. Princeton was one of the most beautiful places I have visited. I agree give me a funny person anyday. Oh how I remember the Goodman theater also. Did you ever see the original paly ER at a theater in some remote part of Chicago? It was so good! Anne

gaboatman said...

A fascinating trip down memory lane, Mrs. L.  Thanks for taking us along with you on this one.  I enjoyed it.

salemslot9 said...

play misty for me :)

psychfun said...

And other than working for PBS where is he now in life? Is he actually happy or stillt he same guy he was? Cool story! You shouldn't have inhaled those brownies! :-)