My Father’s Bathrobe

•December 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Its thin, navy blue plaid 100% cotton wasn’t very warm. “One size” (fits all), the label read. Rolled cuffs, tattered sash. Brand name: Van Heusen. Made in China, of course.

It was Dad’s bathrobe, probably the last one he owned. I had it hanging on my bathroom door since he died, first at my condo, then at the apartment. It was the only bathrobe I owned. Then I realized it wasn’t really my bathrobe.

And I didn’t want it anymore.

2018 has been the 10th anniversary of losing Dad, in September 2008. Mom died in May of that year. For the longest time I kept thinking: Why do I still have this? It’s not particularly warm or comfortable, and it’s not the kind of thing I would wear now. It had become a psychological drain I no longer wanted around.

So a couple weeks ago, along with some old clothes I didn’t want or that no longer fit me, I brought it to Goodwill and gave it back to the universe.

I admit this not to reject my dad, who was a big bathroom guy. I’ve written about it before, but that’s not the point. Every bathroom with that robe hanging on the hasp above the door was like his bathroom all over again. And I needed that to end so I can move forward with my own life and whatever that may include.

Morning time was Dad’s “golden hour,” no doubt.

He awoke early, turned on WCCO-AM radio for the jokes, the Boone and Erickson banter, the weather and “hog reports,” and once out of his bathrobe, he sang in the shower, “Rise and shine, and give God the glory, glory…” or, most of the time, “Zip-a-dee-doo-dah” from Disney’s Song of the South. “…My oh my what a wonderful day/Plenty of sunshine headin’ my way/Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay!

I can still hear his voice now, ten years later.

Dad was happiest when he was in control of a situation—and morning, I think, availed itself to that more than any other time of day, except when he came home after work to go fishing before dinner. At the time I felt buried under the shadow of all that “controlling energy.” I had my own ideas of how I wanted the world to work, and I could get pretty dreamy and obscure about that. For example, I felt happiest late at night, with moody rock music and DJs who spoke directly to me. Dad’s world seemed too proper, too normal, too early. But I think he was satisfied with it because he knew he was providing for his family. It was important to him.

I didn’t see that at the time. I see it now.

When I think of Dad’s bathrobe, it’s like a second skin, like a coat you wore in the wintertime to protect you from the cold, to warm your shoulders before you got in a hot shower. It reminds me of that saying, “You gotta be comfortable in your skin.” You can instantly tell people who are not that way.

Sometimes Dad seemed comfortable, sometimes not. If he wasn’t getting his way, he’d get angry. He had expectations, and those expectations had to be met. For my part, I still struggle to feel comfortable in my skin. I’m not a kinetic person―I’m incurably cerebral. In many ways, as contrary to Dad as I believe I am, I am still my father’s son.

You see, years later while living in Hopkins, I was able—for the first time in my life—to create a workspace in my apartment I had absolute control over. The studio unit had wall-to-wall carpeting, so I put down a plastic floor mat below the drawing board so my desk chair easily shuttled between sketch pad and electric typewriter. I’d rigged up an architect’s lamp and T-square, where I could write and draw and do the oddball party announcements I made for friends at the time. My Olivetti typewriter was ready at the flip of a switch for those screenplays and stories I desperately needed to write.

Well, I wish I had a better connection between me and my father’s old bathrobe, but that is probably it—the Hopkins apartment creative space.

It was like Dad’s den on Casco Point, where we lived for nearly ten years.

He awoke with Mom in the master bedroom, crossed the living room with its stone fireplace and low-pile carpet, trudged past the Zenith color TV and down the hallway to turn left into the den. Once there he switched on the radio, entered the adjoining bathroom, slipped out of his bathrobe, took that shit, shaved and showered, then slapped on some Aqua-Velva and got dressed for work.

He sang, he laughed, he got ready to meet the day.

I must adopt a cheerfully hopeful attitude like Dad’s, if I can.

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Jackie’s Boys

•October 19, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Dear reader-friends: I’m back from a too-long hiatus over the summer of 2018, where I changed jobs and took a break from my planned 1990s posts here. It being the tenth anniversary of my parents’ deaths, I’d been working on posts about each of them. This is the first.]

My late mother, Jacqueline Adams, was an only child.

She was born on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1935, to Mamie Magee, her slightly neurotic third-generation Irish mother, and a well-to-do northern Indiana farm boy named David Raymond Adams. Her backstory: when Jackie was born, Daddy Ray had an affair with another woman (who remains unknown to Jackie’s first-born son—that is, me), and Mamie vowed to never have sex with her husband ever again (again, can’t verify the validity of that rumor).

I bring all this up now because 2018 is the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death.

September was also the tenth anniversary of my father’s death, so both anniversaries have been at the forefront of my mind since the year began. I published a memorial for Mom in the Minneapolis paper back in May, on the exact day she died. In the memorial I used the third photo in this post, which occurred on a momentous day in my life: when my only brother Brian was released from the hospital (he’d been born a premie), in February 1962.

It’s an odd sensation to see these photos over 50 years later, after all the experiences that have passed through my life, realizing there was a moment when this actually happened—when I got to meet my new brother for the first time (below right of me on the sofa taking in the sobering fact I was no longer star of the family). Dad likely took the photos, but it could’ve easily been Grandpa Ray, who was every bit the shutterbug throughout his long life.

The thought that’s been running through my mind is something that probably didn’t occur to me much while my mother was still alive: how isolated she must’ve felt living in a household of two boys and a husband, as well as a still-present conniving and charismatic father. The only other woman was her mother, who as mentioned had her own issues with men. Mom’s “sister” was her first cousin Lois, as they were only a year or two apart and were raised somewhat together.

I witnessed Mom’s isolation growing as the years passed, and I’m certain she didn’t get much sympathy from either my father or brother—both of whom failed to understand her clinical depression. I became more sympathetic when I was diagnosed with dysthymia in 1987, but even that revelation didn’t bring us much closer. I may have resented it—I know I was in denial about my mood disorder for the longest time. Things came to a head in 1995 when I nearly took my own life. I’ll be digging into that awful event in the weeks to come, but for now let me just say my affinity toward Mom solidified after the mid-1990s.

My brother harshly criticized Mom and her depression, especially in the 1980s after he graduated high school. I hated him for it and tried to defend Mom whenever possible. But I know I failed in that and, toward the end of her life, it was largely because I was afraid of how her illness had consumed her—leaving just a shell of her former self.

My brother and I weren’t always so distant.

As toddlers, we scrambled underneath clothing racks in downtown Indianapolis department stores, hiding there while Mom shopped and we were eventually discovered by ladies sorting through the racks for deals. We were schooled by our parents to be respectful of our elders, so when we were showcased in front of our parents’ friends we were always quiet, attentive, and dutiful. You know, like “good boys.”

The thing is, I don’t really recall any solid bonding with my brother from an early age. We had (and still have) different temperaments. We gravitated toward different interests and friends. Brian was always more tactile and drawn toward objects and material things; I preferred music and reading and being in nature.

Since 2008, and losing both our parents, we haven’t grown much closer. Brian went through a divorce a couple years ago, and I suffered job setbacks and a disruptive household move. It’s been a very confusing decade. I’m certain our parents would be heartbroken by the state of things, both in the world and within our family. And I’m not sure what to do about it. How my mother (and, for that matter, my grandmother) would’ve regarded the “Me Too” movement is hard to say, but I know in middle age Mom read feminist literature and was plain-speaking about all forms of intolerance. I like to think I learned more about how to treat women from my father, who never disparaged anyone as far as I could tell.

I’m hoping life settles down and things change for the better. There’s some reason to believe that is happening. After all, my brother and I are still alive, still healthy, still exploring how we will lead the rest of our lives.

I hope he’s feeling as hopeful as I am.

My So-Called Decade

•July 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[Dear readers: I’m back from a hiatus in June due to a job transition and shake up that I’m happy to report turned out for the best. But it took a lot of my attention away from writing. I’m overjoyed to be back at it. Thanks for sticking around.]

Ask me about the 1990s and I’d probably shrug.

What’s to remember?

It was tough because I decided, late in 1992, to take “the road not taken.” Or better yet, “the road no one with any sense would take, you selfish moron.”

Okay, I’m being way harsh here, but two forces were at work on me: the sublime memory of 1989’s script-writing marathons all leading up to a two-week research trip to England around the time of my 30th birthday. The weight of that experience taught me there was a groaning banquet table full of life’s rich pageant just beyond the corporation parking lot.

The world did not begin and end in the backwater burg of Hopkins, Minn.

The pressure on the other end was: So if not this, then where?

What should I do with my new decade?

Where and how should I live?

Three journals ramp up to that transition, which I made on Dec. 7, 1992 (hard to forget, since it was Pearl Harbor Day). But it interests me now what was going through my mind prior to that landmark date: What have I forgotten that is just waiting to be recovered on the pages of those 1990-1992 journals?

It begins with financial stress, according to a Monday, Aug. 13, 1990, entry:

“I worry about money a lot lately. I feel detached and indifferent about old friends—and a little resentful of my isolation. Things go bad, but there’s no real sorrow in the loss, I’m not even the owner of my own sadness. There is one way of being that appeals to me: looking out from myself, rather than IN. IN says: ‘What do I look like? Hair’s too long, a bit dumpy in the face, scruffy, can’t concentrate, not connected to other people. A cesspool of self-consciousness…’ OUT says: ‘But there’s a whole world of other things TO BE! Why not change them? Cut your hair all the way off! Quit your fucking job! Just say NO to limiting ways of thinking…start doing things instead of thinking about them: write that new story, finish that script, paint that picture, buy those new clothes, read that new book!’ —That’s the voice I want to heed.”

Did I heed it? That’s the $100,000 Question.

All I can say at this point is the 1990s were my roller coaster decade. The first couple years were ramp up, corporate frustration, then in 1992—boom, off on a cloud.

How I got there?

Well, stick around.

Decimations

•May 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

What are my decades, that I’m free to just Deep Six them all?

Have you ever considered time this way, too?

After I returned from England in December 1989, I was determined the 1990s would be my decade.

There was a draft screenplay that needed rewriting, sure. But since I’d put it out into the world, others seemed to see its potential. I was sure I was onto something. No more in-the-closet dreamer stuff!

I was gonna make things real.

So, on Friday, Dec. 15, 1989, I wrote in the journal, “What have we done in the Eighties? The Nineties have to be better!”

I was back at the job, and hanging out with old high school friends. It was an odd transition.

“I wanted to write,” the journal continues, “about all the dreams I’ve had lately—every night: many dreams, some borderline nightmares—I wish I could recall one, but there’s a vague undercurrent: me & some attractive girl (British, it seems) but we can’t stay together. The melancholy I feel from waking! But the dreams are densely packed with Things: cluttered houses, toys, buses, clothes & underwear, garbage, emotions shift from disgust to curiosity and wonder. Hmm.” No mention of New Year’s Eve festivities from 1989 to 1990. I’d gotten so used to slicing and dicing decades that I wasn’t sure I cared anymore. It was a shock, as I recall. Changes were called for: Leave corporate life. Find my calling. Be in the world, as I’d done in England. That was entirely clear to me.

The journal doesn’t pick up again until Tuesday, March 6, 1990. That day I declared the 1990s “had begun.”

“I’d felt I was treading water going into my new decade,” says the entry, “[all] part of the shock of completing a first draft, traveling alone in a foreign country and coming back to NOTHING. I realized in the back of my mind that from now on I had to MAKE my life, I could count on no one to set things up for me.”

***

It is now “Twenty-Eighteen” (not “Two-Thousand Eighteen”).

It still feels weird to even say that.

My first decade was 1960–69: I’d call those 10 years “Hungers.” They’re still golden in my memory, even though some raw history passed by. And now I think I know why: I was loved as a child and felt it in every atom of my body (photo at right with brother Brian, late 1960s).

That’s the takeaway going into my second decade: “I was born into a loving family.”

Then came the 1970s: the “Decade of the Unhappy Teenager.” Because I knew I was loved, I tested my family at every turn. I was a churning cauldron of self-doubt, anxiety, early depression, and—well, also something positive: a young writer who was being read by his peers. During junior high lunchtime gossip, I passed my short stories around. Kids took them home and read them. Next day, they gave me feedback over the same lunchroom table. It was a big leg-up for my self-esteem. Later, in high school, I became co-editor of the student newspaper. I wrote a monthly column that tested the patience of school administrators, teachers, and—again—my parents.

Decade takeaway: “You will survive this. But how? Use it in your art, young Jedi.”

My third decade, where we are now in the 1980s, was all about “Blooming,” even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I gained skills that serve me to this day: typing, editing words, mashing up ideas, images, and my readings to create something new. I went to college but, failing to graduate, still landed a fulltime job in my hometown. I lived again with the parents until another college attempt in 1984, then yet another job and first apartment in 1986. The screenplay, which lead to the aforementioned British trip, started in 1988.

The ’80s big takeaway? “Your art can be anything: writing, photography, painting, drawing, music, philosophy. Keep building; keep blooming.”

So here we are at the end of 1989.

And soon it will be the end of 2018.

Wow. Three decades.

The years are decimating.

I could give you the short answer on how the 1990s turned out.

Or you could follow along as I plow forward, continuing Completely in the Dark for yet another year. It’s a convoluted story and taking it all in one gulp is overwhelming. (For me as well as for you. But here’s a taste, at left: with nephew Colin, my brother’s darling firstborn son, in the mid-1990s.)

It’s natural to want to peer into the future, speculate about what might happen in the next decade.

But looking back at the time already passed, there are deeper layers that will probably become more exposed in the new decade. I don’t know, but I suspect that will be the case.

And I’m curious to see how the story unfolds.

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 6)

•April 14, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the last of a multi-part post.]

Every journey must end, as the 1989 British screenplay research trip did after I “celebrated” my 30th birthday in London.

The journal picks up the story again here:

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Abi left for work at 8:30, after stopping at the back room to chat with me when I woke up. I told her of my fears of him (Tass) and was anxious to leave the flat should he come round and be violent (he was after all highly irrational). At 9:00, I was packed and ready. I didn’t take time for a bath or even to wash my hair. I’d planned to meet Lindsay at her job across from Warren Street station on Tottenham Court Road at 4:00 today, so I had hours to kill. I took the tube from Wood Green to Green Park, where I had a roll and two coffees at a café in Mayfair. I was relieved just to disappear into the populous of London. I didn’t like the idea of lugging my baggage around London, so after breakfast I took the tube to Pimlico and walked down to the Tate Gallery, where I’ve been since 10 o’clock this morning. I checked in my baggage at the coat check and walked about looking at the paintings (most of them are down now, waiting to be rehung in Jan. 1990) and taking in a tour or two. It’s been peaceful here, after the events of last night. If I have a replay at Lindsay & Bill’s, then I’ll find a B&B near Gatwick and wait there until my plane leaves Friday early afternoon. But I don’t think lightning will strike in the same place twice. Hm?

[Thursday, Nov. 30] Another few days to backtrack to and retrieve. No, things are much better now. I got to Lin’s office at Maple House off Tottenham Court Road at around 3:30—she was looking cheerful and I told her the story of my rough two days at Abi’s. She had to work another half hour, so I repaired my map of London with some scotch tape. After 4:00, we made our way to Victoria station where we caught the train to East Croydon. They have a nice two-bedroom flat not far from the train depot in an area of office blocks, but it’s quiet—very quiet at night. I met her husband Bill—when we came in he was doing the dishes—he’s a nice fellow, and we all talked cheerfully for a while. After a bit, Lin ran up to the stores and Bill and I took a walk down to the video store to return a rented tape, After we got back we had two McEwan’s Ales, then Lin cooked some supper and we watched the news. I was dead tired from all the stress of the previous day, and so turned in early.

About Wednesday, Nov. 29: I tried to catch the coach at Victoria Coach Station to Guildford at 11am, but the coach left without us. I was standing with a sixth-form high school kid named Steven who was due for an admissions interview at the University of Guildford, so we both hiked over to Victoria tube station and caught it round to Waterloo station. It wasn’t a long wait for the train to Guildford, but I paid out more money that morning than I’d planned to. We arrived in Guildford at around 1:00, and I called Richard Jefferies from a shopping mall and caught the next local bus out to the Museum, at 2:00.

Watts Gallery is nestled in the Surrey countryside just outside Guildford in the sleepy little hamlet of Compton. I was greeted at the door by a young woman named Hilary, dressed in peasant clothes, with a neckerchief over her head and shawl around her shoulders. I saw two or three cats purring around the place (one was named ‘Simpkins’) and the walls just covered with Watts’ paintings. I met Richard Jefferies, a younger man than I expected, in his mid-40s at most, with longish dark hair and mutton-chop sideburns and beard. I’d felt as though I’d stepped briefly into the 19th century. Richard Jeffries is a pleasant, humorous fellow—and very knowledgeable about art, history, and literature. I looked at [Watts’ painting] Found Drowned and Hilary, who I’d gathered was his gallery assistant and secretary, looked over my script. We had a pleasant time discussing it and, after they started to see what I’d attempted to do by it, were enthusiastic. At one point Mr. Jeffries had to run up to town to pick up his young daughter (who later slunk about, seemingly fascinated by me) and later I met his wife, a short, quiet woman who shook my hand and disappeared. Later, he, Hilary (who occasionally got pedantically strident about her opinions on art) and I sat and drank tea in his Victorian-cluttered office, joked about Britain, art history, antiques—he even played Bishop’s “Tell Me My Heart” on an old player. He drove me to the train station at 6:30 and I got back to Bill & Lin’s by 8:00, beat but elated.

Friday, Dec. 1: This is probably the last entry I’ll make in Britain this trip. It’s a slightly overcast day here—another one frosty cold. I’m sitting at the writing desk in the back room of Lin & Bill’s flat. I’m looking forward to going home, the last leg of this strange journey—it turned out pretty much as I’d imagined it would be, like a strange dream, with joyous and nightmarish images mixed. It’ll hit me the hardest after I’ve returned home, I’m sure.

About Thursday, Nov. 30: My last day in London, and it was a beautiful day, sunny and somewhat warmer later on. I was out the door of the flat by 10:30 and on the train up to London I thought I heard someone mention the name Ellen Terry, an older voice. Then I heard a man’s deep and distinctive voice and glanced back to see sitting just behind me an actor who’d played a flea catcher on “The Good Life” [the late Michael Robbins]. When the train stopped at Victoria, I told him I enjoyed his performance and he shook my hand. “Those are about the only parts I get,” he said dryly. I took off for the American Express office in Victoria Street to exchange a travelers check, then caught the tube for Holland Park, down Melbury Road and over to Addison Road where I found St. Barnabbas’ Church (built 1829) where Nelly & Watts were married in 1864. I talked to a young man at the Rectory door who showed me in and I got a photograph of the inside of the church. After photographing the outside of the church, I walked back up to Chester Place and to Holland Park, the juncture of which I imagine was the site of Little Holland House (no longer extant). I walked up past old Holland House, then through Campden Hill, back to the Kensington High Street station. I got up to Leicester Square, poked around a bit at the Reference Library there, then walked down to the National Portrait Gallery through Trafalgar Square, and looked at “Choosing” one last time. I stopped into a few pubs on the way into and out of the Theatre Museum in Covent Garden (disappointing lack of memorabilia) and outside of Covent Garden at a pub I met an Irish couple (younger than I) who were working in London for a while, but had been staying in Boston, in the States. They bought me a half of Guinness. I had to race through Oxford Street at rush hour to get to Aldgate East station to meet Lin & Bill at the Seven Stars Pub (pictured above left) for a drink before supper. I had a pint of the cider, Bill had a whiskey and Lin a half of cider. Then they bought me supper at an excellent kosher restaurant on the corner, down from the pub and at around 7:00, we went to the AYH Auction at Toynbee Hall. It was an amusing evening; I bought two candlesticks (made in England) and a few books. Later, I joked with a few of the members there and Lin, Bill & I caught the train back to East Croydon by 11:00.

****

I’m cheered to read and remember that it ended so well. It occurs to me now that had I flown back immediately after the birthday night fracas, it would’ve permanently ruined what was a productive and happy journey. Fortunately I stayed with the plan to meet up with Lin and Bill, and was rewarded with generosity and community. It was marvelous.

And that exchange with the actor Michael Robbins on the train lends a sweet coda (even down to thinking I’d overheard someone say “Ellen Terry”) to the screenplay research part of the trip. Robbins, I’ve since learned, died three years later of prostate cancer.

My 30th birthday trip to England was like a strange dream, “with joyous and nightmarish images mixed” in.

A lot like life, no?

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 5)

•April 1, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the fifth of a multi-part post.]

Movies, such as the screenplay I was writing back in 1989, consist of acts, which of course are further broken down into scenes.

In the movie that was my British screenplay research trip in November 1989, we’re now at the top of Act III, scene 1. Tensions developed. The journal tells it:

FADE IN: INT. BUS. DAY…

[Saturday, Nov. 25] Another long traveling day. I had to be up early to be at the Bath coach station by 10:05. I had a last breakfast at Sheridan House, sat next to the quiet older woman with buck teeth and another couple, younger, from Bristol. After breakfast I said goodbye to the Canadian couple I’d met at breakfast Thursday morning and to whom I’d mentioned the script. The walk down to the coach station was brisk and bright, the sky was blue, but it’s gotten much colder. The ride from Bath to London went without a hitch—sunny all the way and, out of Bath, beautiful sights. We stopped at one or two spots along the way, and reached London Victoria at about 10 past one o’clock that afternoon. I got my travel card at the British Rail office at Victoria and made my way over to the Wood Green station. I got there at a little past two o’clock and instead of waiting around the station, I walked up the road, asking people as I went, the way to Palace Gates Road. I eventually found it, but the couple in the downstairs flat at 64 Palace Gates Road, Julie and Hamish, told me Abi and her boyfriend had gone out only 10 minutes before, presumably to pick me up at the Wood Green station. After a while, they invited me in and Julie made coffee and I waited for Abi to return, feeling more than a little sheepish for not waiting at the station. She and boyfriend “Tass” (Nigel Tasanine) returned about an hour later and we three went upstairs to Abi’s flat and chatted for over an hour. Around 6:30 we drove out to a Malaysian restaurant for supper. I’m staying in the back room of the flat for the next couple days, then it’s down to Bill and Lin Lockyer’s place in East Croydon. Tomorrow I will call them and also Joy Melville. I talked to Richard Jeffries at the Watts Gallery on Friday in Bath. It was a pleasant chat and I made an appointment to see the gallery at Compton on Wednesday.

[Tuesday, Nov. 28] Right now I’m in the Reading Room of Clore Gallery, an annex of the Tate Gallery. It’s a grey, misty day outside. I’ve had an emotionally and psychically exhausting last two days. I left Abi’s flat in Wood Green in a rush this morning at 9:00, just after she left for work. Backtracking, here’s the story:

About Saturday, Nov. 25: Well, I’ve said most of that in the last entry, but to embellish: Dinner with Abi & Tass was a bit awkward because Tass turned out to be a well-read, soft-spoken guy—a bit of a pedant, but there was a certain tension underneath. He rolled his own cigarettes and disparaged bourgeois habits. Apparently I said all the wrong things, but he remained tacit (no pun intended). After supper we all went back to Abi’s and I went straight to bed. Tass slept with Abi in her bed. In the morning…

About Sunday, Nov. 26: They drove me in Abi’s car to Highbury and Islington station where I caught the Tube down to Euston. I walked over and photographed Stanhope Street, then stopped into a pub off Redhill Street, had two pints, and walked on to Regent’s Park. I strolled through the park on a cool, clear day … children playing, parents walking them by the zoo, couples snuggling up together … I got down to Baker Street toward the Marble Arch. Being Sunday, I decided to go over to Speaker’s Corner and milled about with the crowd and got an earful of nonsense. I chatted with a girl from Boston who’s celebrating her 20th birthday today (the 28th). After Speaker’s Corner, I took the Tube to Charring Cross and came up at Trafalgar Square. I went into the National Portrait Gallery and saw “Choosing” —it’s beautiful (pictured above right). I also saw a self-portrait of Watts. After, I walked up Covent Garden and took the Tube back to Wood Green by around 6:00. Abi stayed at Tass’s in South London Sunday, but I called over there to tell them I got back all right. I walked down to Wood Green High Street and bought a kebab sandwich for supper and cans of Stella at an off-license. That night I cozied up to keep warm, watched some television and went to bed.

About Monday, Nov. 27: My 30th birthday started off well, but didn’t end that way. I’d called Joy Melville on Sunday night and we agreed to meet at Waterloo station at 10:30 Monday morning. So I got up early, bathed and dressed and got to Waterloo by 10:15. There was a bit of a mix-up finding her, but I got my bearings and saw her car outside on the street by platform #4. She drove us to her place in Clapham. I showed her the script, she made coffee and lit a gas fire and we talked for a little over an hour about Nelly, Godwin, Watts, and everything related to the story. I told her about Dr. Hinton’s attempts to save Cameron House and she took down his address. She corrected some bits of the script involving class and diction, and I made a mental note to go over those more critically at rewrite. She seemed pleased with the idea about a film, and when I mentioned that I thought Maggie Smith would make a good Julia Margaret Cameron, she said her sister is good friends with “Maggie” and thought she’d be too pretty to play the dumpy-faced Aunt Julia. We both agreed that Vanessa Redgrave, in her younger days, would have made a marvelous Nelly. At around noon or 1:00, she drove me to Waterloo Bridge and I walked across the river to Covent Garden. I wanted to see the Theatre Museum, but it was shut for the day. I had a ploughman’s at a pub near Long Acre in Bow Street with two or three pints of Bitter. From there I got it in my head to go to the Victoria & Albert Museum, which was open, and didn’t see much there I liked, the lighting was all wrong—though the costume exhibits weren’t too bad [a lot of students there sketching]. Out of curiosity, I walked down Cromwell Road to Queen’s Gate Mews to see if David Puttnam was in at Enigma Productions. I found the place and went straight in. There was an attractive brunette secretary and another gentleman there. I said I’d come to see Mr. Puttnam, that I had with me the first draft of a screenplay on Ellen Terry that I knew he’d be interested in. The gentleman told me that “David” wasn’t in and that Enigma was up to their ears in scripts. I showed Colin Vaines [the gentleman] my script and he breezed through it, asking if I had an agent who’d refer me. I said I was a first-time screenwriter and had a property I knew they’d be interested in. “I believe in impertinence and pluck, like Mr. Putnam’s.” The guy seemed amused. He offered to take my script and read it when he had a chance, but I said I couldn’t leave it because it’s a working first draft. I said I could send him a treatment when I returned to the States and he gave me his card. As I left I said: “Don’t forget, this will be Enigma Productions’ 1995 Academy Award winner!” They seemed amused. I was feeling like I could do anything after that sort of day [Ms. Melville is meeting the Weares on Saturday and they will discuss my idea of an Ellen Terry film.]

About Monday, Nov. 27 night: Abi and I met at the door of her flat at around 6:00. I intended to go uptown for a meal and a few birthday drinks when the “ceiling caved in.” Tass had called and jealously told Abi he was dumping her things out of his flat and into the street. She’d have to go and pick them up. She was in tears and wouldn’t listen to me. She phoned family and friends for advice. According to Tass, I suddenly became “that fucking American gigolo.” He was sure that Abi would cheat on him. Abi had confessed to me that he was an alcoholic who’d probably beat his second wife (a divorce was pending) and all under the age of 35! I think he was probably drunk. We drove down to his place in South London to pick up her things and when she rang the door, he shouted out of the top window: “Go away! I don’t want to talk to you! If Abi wants me, she knows where to find me!” We picked up the garbage bags full of her articles, packed them in the car and left. When we got back to her place, he’d left messages full of invective on the answering machine. “Tell your American friend to learn the language before he writes a book!” It was nightmarish. We talked for a bit, then I shakily went to bed. As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep well, the phone kept ringing all night with his vile messages. Abi was on the phone to friends until all hours. By morning, I’d already packed and was more than ready to go home.

In hindsight, it was probably to Abi’s benefit that I arrived when I did and (inadvertently) aided in her breakup with Tass. If he was abusive to his former wife, you can sure bet he would’ve done the same to Abi.

As for this American needing to “learn the language before he writes a book”?

Well, only time would tell about that.

The Year That Changed My Life (Part 4)

•March 24, 2018 • Leave a Comment

[This is the fourth of a multi-part post.]

It was November 1989, Wednesday, Nov. 22 to be exact.

I was on a bus en route to Bath, England, researching my first spec screenplay, about the early life of Victorian actress Ellen Terry (illustration at right, with her later colleague Sir Henry Irving).

The following is a direct transcription from my journal of the time, written at the end of that week, when I was preparing for the final leg of the journey back to London in time for my 30th birthday.

This is what it says about the year that changed my life:

[Friday, Nov. 24] Yes, well it’s been a few days and lots of adventures in between. Wednesday the 22nd was a traveling day much like I hope tomorrow the 25th will go. I’d gotten a bus [coach] ticket in Freshwater and Tuesday afternoon I’d gotten together with Mr. Richard J. Hutchings and his wife, of Brighstone, who is a local historian of Tennyson. He and his wife picked me up at Cambridge Lodge and took me past the Farringford and Watts’ Freshwater residence, The Briary, just down the road. Anyway, I’d said all that before. Wednesday morning I had my last breakfast at Cambridge Lodge. The night before I’d been to the Albion and before supper walked the cliffs above Freshwater Bay. Wednesday a.m. I took the 8:23 bus to Newport. It was frosty and cold. At Newport I transferred to Cowes where I took the ferry over to Southampton. At Southampton I waited an hour and a half for a coach to Bath. It was a clear windy and cold day. When the coach got into Bath I headed for the Tourist Bureau and got booked into a room for three nights at 13 pounds per. Not as good as the previous places, but besides Tenterden, I paid more. After taking the local bus to Sheridan House at Bearflat and dropping off my luggage, I hurried back down to Bath and immediately found the Theatre Royal. There I talked to a Jane Tapley, who agreed to give me a brief tour on Thursday at 10am. I booked a seat for the evening performance of “Our Country’s Good” and went into town for supper and drinks. I didn’t find supper but I did find Guinness on tap and good conversation at the Smith Bros. Tavern Dorchester Ales at Westgate, just down from the theatre. All I had time for was a bag of cheese and onion crisps and a few pints of stout. I talked with two guys, one ditching his wife who’d been to New Orleans in the ’sixties and the other who want to talk Anglo-American politics. By 7:30 curtain, I had to drunkenly rush up to the theatre. The show was good, though a bit slow and amateurish. I really enjoyed being in the actual theatre Nelly played in Opening Night 1863. Afterwards I had drinks in the bar with the actors and a “hamburger” on the walk “home.”

[Thursday] Nightmarish – wonderful – magic. I had breakfast then ran up to meet Jane Tapley for the tour of Theatre Royal, Bath. After a 20-minute tour, I commenced to the Reference Library in Bath where a young man named Chris helped me find the Bath Chronicle for March 4, 1863 … I’VE GOT A COPY OF THE DRAMATIC MONOLOGUE! Hurrah! A thing I thought I couldn’t find! I was also able to get a playbill for the Opening Night of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” I also chatted with a college student (blonde girl) who was doing her dissertation on Nazi art [?]. Directly after the library I took the 12:00 bus, at the bus station, to Bristol. What a dump Bristol has become! I wandered about the City Centre—the Tourist Bureau because I’d forgotten my map—then the Old Vic [Theatre Royal] where I bought souvenirs and arranged to take a tour on Friday. There was a performance of Ibsen’s “Master Builder” scheduled on Thursday at 3:00. I wandered up to the public library where I requested the Western Daily Press for Sept. 1862. I read the notices of “Endymion” on Sept. 15—then … came across the first of Godwin’s “Theatrical Jottings.” I wanted to have copies made, but the bound volume of papers was too big. I was able to jot down some notes. It was amazing to finally read [hear] Godwin’s own voice. I’m so far off base with him! He’s brilliant! After 4pm, I struggled wearily back to the bus station. On the bus back I had a drunk sit right behind me. I snapped at him and he wolfed back. I moved to the back of the bus. It was like an ominous note to a wonderful day—like the tumorous madman outside Tenterden—there’s a dark element to this whole proceeding. I went for a quick stout at the Smith Brothers, then had dinner at an Indian restaurant Tandoori [“Maharaja”] in Bath with chicken Madras, rice, and vegetables which made me sick later. It was odd. I stopped in for a last drink across the street, chatted with the Australian bartender and later, after I’d gotten back, was full of nausea and sickness—I threw up. A few glasses of water seemed to set me right and when I woke up in the morning I felt great.

[Friday] In brief, I’m dead tired. I’d like to get to London tomorrow and put my feet up for 2 days. Not go anywhere except by wheelchair. Today:

  • Bristol by 10 am. Portland Square. I photographed Godwin’s old home.
  • Tour of Theatre Royal Bristol at 12 noon. A gorgeous, grey-eyed brunette with a beautiful accent showed a handful of us around. I showed her the script later, but she didn’t seem impressed.
  • University of Bristol Theatre Dept. Talked with Mr. Christopher Robinson. George Rowell retired two years ago. Told him all about my project. Photocopied Keith Barker’s article on Terrys and Godwin in Bristol. Back at B&B by 5 o’clock.

I guess my big takeaway for this leg of the journey had to be the “ominious notes” that came from being on the road. Also, recalling the pure joy I felt in finding a missing piece in my research, right there in the Bath reference library.

With the good and the bad, I took things in stride, knowing change was just around the corner, and with it fresh possibilities.

Something, I believe, I still need to be reminded about.

 
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