Thursday, January 19, 2017

Missing Miguel

I heard yesterday that Miguel Ferrer died.  I was shocked and saddened by the news.  Miguel and I became close friends while we were filming Broken Badges in Vancouver.  It was one of the best jobs I ever had in show business and Miguel and I were inseparable on set and off.  Although Miguel was a seasoned professional by that time, it was my first job in a single camera film series.  Even though there was a 5 year age difference, he was my mentor.  I learned a lot very fast from Miguel. In fact the two hour pilot looked more like a buddy picture than a cop series because we worked very well together. Miguel and I had some extraordinary experiences, one of which I wrote about at the time. We laughed about this one every time we got together.  Until today no one has ever read this but Miguel.  In fact it was only today that I remembered I still had it in my files.   Other than Miguel's name the rest have been changed for personal reasons. It is a longer read than I usually post. 

Rest in peace Miggy.  I will be waiting for you at Herb's, with Brandon.


Circa mid 1990's.  Vancouver, Canada



AFTER HOURS
by Jay Johnson
I would never make up a story like this.  This story had to be lived, and I was there.  The reality was much more frightening than I can explain.  I chronicle the event only because it has a moral.  If you do not listen to the story remember this:  Be careful of what you want because sometimes you get it. 

Early in the evening I wanted­­ to hear some blues.  You know that mood, crying in your beer and getting sad inside for no reason.  Miguel was all for the idea, although Zootie and her girlfriend Ashley wanted to hit one of those meat market dance joints.  Hanging out at a Hustle joint with a couple of cuties like Zootie and Ashley wouldn't be a bad evening ordinarily but I want to hear the blues.   

Now Miguel has some connections at this Blues place called the Jail.  He’s on the list as a VIP and we can just walk right in.  This sounds good to the girls and we head over to the Jail.  I want to hear blues and I don’t want to wait in line.  This has all the beginings of a great evening. 

Just when things are going well we have this episode with an entrance Gorilla.  Miguel is engaging but there’s no list and this guy cannot even spell VIP.  We are turned away, denied at the door.  There is nothing more humiliating than getting rejected at the head of a long line. 

The girls don’t seem bothered by this and admit to holding out on us.  They have VIP passes to Dicks, the meat market dance joint.  I suppose this was their ace in the hole in case they dumped us.  However, they decided we will do in a pinch.  Not that we would ever get fresh enough to pinch anyone uninvited. 

We head over to Dicks and there is an even longer cue waiting to get in here.  We boogie up to the front of the line past the jeering crowd.  Zootie leads the pack and struts her stuff to yet another entrance gorilla. Based upon the tuxedo, this gorilla has more class than the last one.  I figure we are good as in.  The girls have the magic pass, and besides who wouldn’t admit two cuties like Zootie and Ashley into a dance club?  The answer to that question is a Gorilla in a tuxedo.  It seems Miguel and I are in sneakers and this is strictly against the gorilla code.  Try as we might with all the charm of the ladies and the velvet sandpaper tongue of Miguel, the gorilla is unflappable.  We leave fast.  There is nothing more humiliating than getting rejected at the head of a long line, again. 

The girls are getting hungry so we decide to cash it in and have dinner at Monks.  It’s a delightful place with no entrance Gorillas, just a sweet girl who requires only legal tender for entrance. It’s a delightful dinner, and sitting the entire time next to Ashley is good for my ego.  But I wanted to hear the blues.  

We all eat and drink and Monks is not a bad place to drop a lot of money, which we do.  Just when we think there’s nothing more, up steps a trio and a girl singer.  The singer does her damnedest to make us think we are listening to Rosemary Clooney.  The music is fine, but certainly not the "rip out your vocal cords-kill me cause I am just too sad" blues I wanted to hear tonight.  We decide this kind of music is not to be found in the city this evening.   Miguel and I resign ourselves to the idea that we will be telling lies about Zootie and Ashley at Herb's Bar the next day. 

We get back to the hotel and say good night to Zootie and Ashley without so much as a sweaty hand shake, but no matter.  There are no witnesses to our scoreless evening and at Herb's a good lie is as better than the truth. 

It’s only one-thirty in the morning and I know that look in Miguel's eyes.  The eyes say in a glance, Plenty of party time left.  He says he knows of a party, a show biz party, lots of models, booze and more raw material for a longer story at Herb's.  Kyle, one of the stand ins on the picture we are making, says it’s the party of the year.  In a weak moment I say what the hell, no work tomorrow and we go.

The address of the party is an area known as Gastown.  This is a bohemian section of town on the come back to desirability.  A cab dumps us off near the address.  We walk around until we find the building.  It is a fairly well kept old structure. 

There’s the faint sound of heavy rock music coming from the stairway, like the heart beat of a monster in a far away cave.  The apartment number appears to be on the 4th floor so we ascend the stairs.  Each flight ahead of us reverberates with louder and louder music. 

By the second flight it’s obvious that maintenance is confined to the lower floors.  The paint in the stairwell is peeling and you can see the palm prints of felons past. 

By the third flight the carpet is pulling away from the walls and only strings attach fuzz balls to the steps.  Graffiti now covers ancient dirt on the walls  Each step up gives way to more explicit graffiti representing crude but identifable sexual diagrams.  Positions depicted in faded felt tip are impossible to achieve but intriguing.

The music is now blasting at an unsafe level as we round the corner to the fourth flight.  The music has to be loud to be heard over the crowd noise coming from the apartment ahead of us.  There is no more carpet to see.  Conscious and semi-conscious bodies line the stair well and stepping over them requires hurtling two and three steps at a time.  One young person in a tie-dyed shirt moves slightly.  He is face down on the floor.  All that’s missing is a chalk outline.  I say, “Are you all right?  Can I help you sit up?”  With a guacamole scented belch he says, “No I’ll just stand here.”

Midway up the last set of stairs, the door to our destination opens then closes and for this moment the music is so loud you can see it.  With ears to numb to hear melody the beat itself propels our bodies forward. 

We open the door to find a wall of people, stuffed into a small living room shoulder to shoulder, back to back, belly to belly like bacon in a shrink wrap economy package.  We have been invited by co-worker Kyle who is friend of the host.  We do not know the host’s name and cannot see Kyle in the crowd.  Like new ingredients in a dough of flesh we are kneaded toward the center of the room.  We are getting the same “who the hell are you stare” seen earlier on the face of entrance gorilla number one. 

It’s important to know that Miguel is a pretty well known actor.  He starred in a robot action film a couple of years before, which became a cult hit to the leather jacket set. We are now standing in the middle of what could be a cow hide recycling project. 

One of the jackets turns to see Miguel standing next to him.  He says, “Hey aren’t you the guy from that Robot movie?”  Miguel says yes and several events happen almost simultaneously.  As if E. F. Hutton himself had spoken every leather covered body turns and says “Far out, cool, I can’t believe it, radical, righteous, duuude.” Miguel gets sucked into the center of leather hell with the force of a hoover on steroids, and I get spat out of the other end of the crowd like puss from a teen-agers zit.  Miguel is gone.  I wonder if he is still alive.  Above the music I can hear the inquisition of Miguel.  I hear questions like, “Dude, did you really kill those guys or was that just some movie special effect?”.  It’s clear to me that Miguel is still alive but wishes he was dead. 

I look around and realize I am alone in the room that functions as a kitchen.  The crowd cramps the adjacent rooms but I have the kitchen to myself.  Fate has brought me to a beer if I can just find the refrigerator.  This proves to be more difficult than I can imagine as I survey the decor of the apartment hell to which we have been invited.  Years before it could have been a bad window pane trip, but I am strait as an arrow and this is reality.  Black light florescent greens and oranges with posters of Jimi Hendricks adorn the chamber that holds Miguel hostage.  Beyond the kitchen is a den darkly lit and garnished in a back alley west side story motif.  Chain link fence, corrugated tin, metal trash cans, discarded radial tires, automobile bench seats and exposed bulb lighting are some of the designer choices.  Across from me is a door secured with a hasp and padlock.  The liquor pantry I bet. 

A long haired guy in a faded Neru suit enters the kitchen.  On his arm is a blonde dressed like Michelle Phillips on a Mamas and Papas tour.  Either they are too drunk to see me or do not care that I am watching him grope and probe her various delights.  He reaches into his front pocket with a move I think will expose his privates.  The move reveals the padlock key instead.  In an apparently well rehearsed move Neru keys the padlock, opens the door, and shuffels in without a break in the tongue lock he has on Michelle’s tonsils .  For the brief moment the door is open, I realize it is not a pantry or a liquor cabinet— no bigger than a good walk in closet — it is a bedroom.  I almost smell the incense and hear the sitar music coming from this mattress pantry.  The door closes and it’s the last time I’ll see the sex shrine, which is so special it must be kept under lock and key.  There is no end to the extremes the tenants of this space have gone to recreate the worst of the 60’s.  The kitchen where I am standing is Gary Larson’s worst nightmare. 

The basic theme of the kitchen is jersey milk-cow hide, a painted plethora of pinto pony skin.  It’s white with irregular ovals of glossy black.  A floor to ceiling cowhide effect, allowing for no break in the pattern for individual appliances.  Painted in place the irregular ovals start on the floor and overlap with 90° turns to complete themselves on the front the cabinets,  down into the sink and up onto the refrigerator, toaster and anything else which stands in the way of art.  Even the light fixture in the ceiling has not escaped the leading edge of a black blob. 

My eyes cannot focus on individual parts of the kitchen but I reach for what could be the handle of a refrigerator door.  There’s a cool rush of air and I see racks of chilled goods materialize before my eyes.  I subliminally reach for the carton of milk but lower my gaze to the beer cans instead.  There’s only one selection, a local brew in a black can called SkullsBreath Lite, it figures.  I pop the top, close the mock - cowhide door and lean my back side on the refrigerator. 

I have a beer and I’m betting Miguel doesn’t.  Taking stock of the entire situation there are three words on my mind: bolt and run.  I will finish the beer while I devise a plan of escape.  I lift the can to my mouth which obscures the sea of cowhide for a swallow. 

Lowering the can, I see a female thumb posed in “Romanesque- save his life position” directly in front of my face.  The thumb is turning blue from the strangling effect of a plastic guitar finger pick wrapped around the knuckle.  It’s the kind of pick used by bluegrass players who pluck rather than strum the strings of their instruments.  This pick is at least four sizes too small for this thumb.  The thumb’s hand is attached to a female standing so close to my right side that I cannot turn to see her face lest my nose hit her squarely on the cheek bone.  She is speaking rapidly and directly into my ear.

“The doctor says I could ruin the circulation in my thumb if I keep this guitar pick on all the time.”

I say, “Then why don’t  you take it off ?” Unable to turn my head to see her reaction, I cut my eyes right and strain my peripheral vision to see how this brilliant idea fairs. 

“I never take it off.  I am a singer.  I keep it on my thumb all the time.  I bath with it on.  I sleep with it.  Just in case I want to play the guitar and sing, I’ll need it.  But it never comes off, never.  I’ll never take if off because I’m going to be a very famous singer.  I sing all the time and I write.  I did an album.  I sing Canadian folk songs.  Do you know what Canadian folk music is?  Do you know a Canadian singer that does sort of the same kind of stuff, Gordon Lightfoot?”

“Ye.......” I don’t even get the word out of my mouth. before she continues.   I realize now this is a rhetorical conversation. 

“You know him? Cool. Well that is the kind of stuff I do only, I don’t sing that kind of stuff, I do my own songs.  Songs about my life.  My son thinks I’m crazy to keep this pick on my thumb.  He’s 15 and you know how they are at 15.  I had him when I was 14, I got sexually active real early.  He probably is too but he sure wouldn’t tell me if he was screwing around.  It’s funny, he’s older now than I was when I had him, so what do you think about that?  Of course, I think it’s easier for a girl to get it on at an early age than it is for a boy.  Boys learn it from some older girl who learned it younger from an older guy.  Abortion didn’t seem like the way to go.  I mean I’m not one of those right to lifers or anything, I believe we should have a chance to get rid of a mistake.  Maybe if I’d been older when I got pregnant abortion would’ve been the way to go.  If I was sure who the father was maybe we would’ve gotten married or something.  He sort of looks like one of the boys I was going out with at the time Sedrig but who can be sure.  I never saw him again anyway.  I thought about adoption but adoption wasn’t it either.  I was adopted.  So I just had him.  That’s good too, cause now he’s old enough to be his own person.  He can take care of himself and I can start my career.  He’s like my best friend, my son Robbie.  Excuse me Rob, he hates it when I call him Robbie now that he’s 15.  My name is Mary, pleased to meet you.  We sort of grew up together, me and Robbie - Rob.  I’m not that old.  How old is Gordon Lightfoot?  I don’t know but I bet I am younger than he is now.   He’s always been honest with me and he tells me I’m crazy, Rob not Gordon Lightfoot.” 

This is a scary experience.  I am standing next to a crazy person.  There is no alcohol on her breath.  She is not drunk, she is not stoned.  She is card carrying crazy and she is standing so close I can’t even get a clear look at her.  I start to sweat thinking there could be a weapon in the other hand, the hand without the guitar pick, the hand I can’t see.  If she risks gangrene to her own thumb what could she do to another human being?  I hear the police say, “Can you describe the person who stabbed you in the neck with the ice pick? “  “Yes officer she was bald and turning bluish-white wearing a #3 Gibson guitar pick around her waist.”  I turn my eyes inside out to get at least a hair color or a basic height.  I am hoping she has an identifiable disfiguring scare.  The best I can do with my nose buried in her cheek is make out a brown fringe leather vest,  strait 60’s blonde hair and a red headband.  She hasn’t stopped talking.

“I write songs about Rob.  He hates them.  He’s 15.  He doesn’t tell his friends I sing, I think he really has a thing about this guitar pick.  But I don’t take it off even when I paint.  Sometimes I have to express myself with painting, sometime singing, sometimes both.  I love to paint. I am a good artist . Acrylic mostly.  Acrylic on canvas, sometimes just a board. I paint pictures, paintings.  I paint every day.  Art is really the best form of expression, except for nudity.  Maybe that is why so may of the masters have painted nudes.  I never have painted nudes.  I’ve painted nude before.  Sometimes in the middle of the night I will get up to paint and I am so engrossed I forget to put on clothes.  My stuff is more expressive than it is identifiable.  Even if I painted a nude model or something it might not look like a nude person.  Sometimes I play my own music when I paint.  Self indulgent I suppose, but it is all expression isn’t it?  My house is full of paintings.  I have over $200,000 worth of paintings at my house if anyone would pay me for them.”

A loud noise comes from the mass of people in the other room.  Mary is distracted for a moment and looks toward the crowd.  I quickly turn my head and complete my mental description of her.  I am sure I will need it for the police report.  She turns back too quickly for me not to make eye contact.  I’ve seen her face, she will have to kill me.  She continues,

“Did you know that actor is here?  You know the one who was in that great Robot movie?  I loved that movie, all the violence and hurt.  It reminded me of my life.  You remember that movie Taxi Driver with William Dinero?  I know someone just like that, I used to date him and he drove a cab in Toronto.  He used to hear voices just like that guy with the mohawk hair, was that the same guy, Dinero?  He looked so different.  Then there was that guy who tried to kill president Regan just like that movie to impress Jodie Foster, is she a dyke?  Do you know if she is?  I’ve heard that.  You see life does imitate art.  Maybe that is why I sing and write and paint.  I’ve had enough of life to fill an art gallery.  Did I tell you I have over $200,000 dollars worth of paintings at my house.?  Robbie didn’t see the Robot movie I don’t think. He wouldn’t know the actor that’s here.  I remember he blew some of the guys away in that movie.  He got shot too, I think.  Yeah, he did.  Maybe I could write a song about a guy who blows  a guy away, but he really doesn’t do it , it’s a dream like in a movie that he is watching.  I’d like to get a look at him....”

She is gone.  Swallowed in one gulp by the crowd.  There is no trace.

I am at once exhausted and relieved I am still alive.  I have no idea what Mary is all about or why I was the object of her rhetoric.  Time goes by, but like the shock of a car wreck I can’t tell you how long I stood in the Holstein kitchen.  There is no time to contemplate relativity as Miguel is squirted from the crowd.  We stand face to face for the first time in what seems a life.  Miguel is exhausted as well. 

We walk together through the kitchen and into the den/alley.  The car bench seat and the discarded radial tires are all taken and the only place to sit is on the sill of an open window.  I offer him a draw of my beer and he chugs it. 

Miguel admits there are no actress/models at the party only fans of his film.  He agrees to the concept of bolting out of here.  We talk about how we will get back to the hotel.  Suddenly standing over us is Kyle.  Kyle the reason we came, Kyle our co-worker.  Kyle our friend.  Kyle the only person I know at this party.  Kyle who told us this was to be a great party.  Kyle reads our faces like tabloid. 

“Not your kind of party, right guys?” Says Kyle.

“Not at all,” we admit.

“I can understand.  Sorry you got mobbed by those fans, everyone thinks it’s cool you are here.” Kyle says. “To be honest with you, it is way to crowded for my tastes, besides I hear they have run out of brew.  Hey, you guys want to go some place less crowded?  How about going down to my place to chill out with a couple of beers and some blues tunes?  It’s been a hard week and maybe we can just zone for a while to some gritty music.”

This is the best offer of the night, a chance to get out of this scary place. Miguel and I jump at the suggestion.  Kyle says he will make excuses to the host and return for a quick getaway together.  We’re instructed to hang tight right where we are. 

Kyle leaves, life looks better until the guy on the car bench seat starts a badly off beat rhythm on a conga drum.  Miguel and I have to yell in the others ear to be heard.  Miguel’s breath on my cheek reminds me of the crazy girl in the kitchen.  I say to Miguel, “There was this girl in the kitchen, she talked directly into my ear and she had a guitar pick cutting off the circulation in her thumb.”  Miguel turns white.

“You mean that psycho bitch named Mary?”  I nod and his expression confirms Mary had indeed found Miguel in the crowd   “She is so wrong...what is it with her, she wasn’t stoned or drunk.. she is just out.”  We compare notes and she had repeated the same things to Miguel that she had told to me.  We both feel lucky to get away from her without a ice pick wound to the chest. 

What a strange party!   What a strange bunch of people.  What a strange beat we are hearing on the conga drum, not good but loud.  Almost inaudible from the sound of this anti beat is a record by “Three Dog Night” playing in the background   It’s so faint I’m not sure if it is playing on the sound system or on in my head. 

“Mama told me not to come... Mama told me not to come .... that ain’t the way to have fun ...uhn uh........”

Kyle reappears.  He has a smile on his face.  To us he is the angel of mercy.  He says everything is arranged, the host understands, the excuses are made and we are socially correct if we leave.  All we have to do now is get through the wall of humanity in the living room. 

We form a single file serpentine line to make it through the mass.  Miguel holds on the back of Kyle’s shoulder, and I hold to the hem of Miguel’s coat.  We slink through the crowd. 

In the middle of the room it’s deafening.  “MAMA TOLD ME NOT TO COME....THAT AIN’T THE WAY TO HAVE FUN...”   I see Kyle turn to Miguel and yell, “Hold up a second.  Let me get my girlfriend.”  He turns to the thick of the crowd and cups his left hand to his mouth and yells, “Hey, Mary!”

I make eye contact with Miguel and time stood still for a moment.  We were thinking the same thing. 

Many people are named Mary.  There are a lot of Marys in the world.  If the scale is the Virgin Mary on one end and Typhoid Mary on the other, there must be plenty- o’- Marys in-between.  There is Mary Tyler Moore, Mary Martin, Mary Kay Place, Mary Magdelen, Mary McDonald, Mary Pickford and Mary Queen of Scotts.  In a crowd like this there must be 20 girls named Mary. The odds on Kyle’s girlfriend being the same criminally insane wacko are astronomical.   Besides Kyle would never get involved with the principal of Ding Dong school. 

Miguel and I are no longer making eye contact.  We look at the crowd.  We strain in this surreal time warp to see who will answer Kyle’s call.  We scream but there is no sound, as Crazy Mary, good ole talk in your face, singer/painter, guitar pick on her thumb, alien psycho chick from another planet walks in the direction of Kyle.  Kyle says, “Let’s go, ” and receives a peck on the cheek.  We are doomed.

There is no way to turn back.  The crowd is squeezing us through.  There is no way to buck the flow.   We scream, “Kyle we can’t go, we remembered we have to get back to the hotel.  We have another obligation.   Kyle...Kyle...”  But this is of no use, we are on our way to hell.

Hell is further than we think.  We assume Kyle’s place is in the same building on a lower floor.  His exact words were, “How about going down to my place  to chill out with a couple of beers and some blues tunes?”  Walking out the building we realize we are going to crime scene number two.  There is a cab in front of us with the door open.  Mary is walking down the street arm in arm (face in face) with another couple we have acquired at the party.  This is lucky.  With the extra couple in tow there are too many of us to fit into Kyle’s car.  Kyle says he’ll drive the car and we can take the cab and meet them at the house.  Kyle mentions the address and the driver seems a little vague. 

I see a way out.  The minute we are alone in the cab we will abort the mission and tell him to take us back to the hotel.  At work we explain to Kyle that the driver got lost, it was costing a fortune, so we had him take us back to the hotel.  The perfect plan.  We are seconds away from a get away.  Kyle says to the driver, “You know where that is?”  The driver barely speaks English; he is vapid.  Kyle seems concerned, “Maybe you should just follow me.  I’ll pull around.”

Panic.  What do we do?  Miguel thinks fast and says sure, we’ll find it, not to worry, as he is closing the back door to the cab.  Kyle is looking in the front passenger side window.  It’s working.  The cab starts the meter.  Kyle says, “You sure you know where you are going?” 

Miguel says, “Sure it’s.....”  Miguel goes blank.  What is the address?  Kyle just said it?  I jump in quickly.

“It’s five three....”  I’ve lost it, I’m guessing.  More panic.  “The driver can get there...right?”  I am praying the driver will bail us out with a number, a street, an area something that is near correct. 

There is too much hesitation from the driver.  English is not even his third language.  Kyle yells down the street.  “Mary you take the car I better go with these guys.”  Kyle opens the passenger door and jumps in the cab.  There are suddenly no bones in my neck and shoulders as they fall like silly putty.  We are doomed. 

There is a death row silence in the back seat.  I am thinking about all the stories I have seen on the television show Cops.  I am seeing yellow tape stretched around a blood stained chalk outline that used to be my mortal shell.  I envision a hand held camera shot in poor light.  The cop says, “This guy probably didn’t even know it was coming.”  Oh yes I did.  I knew.  How many punctures can you take with an ice pick before you go unconscious? 

There is a screech of tires as the cab stops at a yellow light turning red.  Kyle goes ballistic.  “You could have made that you idiot.  For Christ’s sake it is 3:00 in the morning.  Nobody is on the street.  What are you trying to do run up the fare or something?  Now we have to sit here at a light while nothing is happening.” 

The driver is irritated.  He says something in a foreign language under his breath.  I am guessing it was something like, “Just thinking of your safety and the safety of my other passengers, sir.”

Kyle assumes he said something else.  “That’s the problem with this country.  You guys come over here, don’t even speak the language much less know your way around town, and what job do you get?  A job where you have to communicate and find your way around.  Why the hell didn’t you just stay where you were and direct camel trains?”

Miguel says, “Easy... Easy.  Let’s just chill.  We’re in no hurry.  The man is just trying to get us there safely.”  Kyle responds and backs off the driver.  He turns around to us like the defense attorney to a jury. 

“You know Mary is really a talented lady.  A really creative person.  You know she sings, writes music, paints.  Mostly paints... she paints a lot.  She is also a great mother to Rob.  He really is a great kid given all the things he has to put up with in his life.  I see the goodness in her life.  A lot of people don’t.  I think that is why I moved in with her last year.”

Red alert!  Red alert!  My brain puts it together very quickly.  Kyle lives with Mary.  This is not Kyle’s pad we are going to; it’s Mary’s house.  There is probably a dungeon.  Miguel and I will be put in a sound proof pit and starved for three days until our skin sags.  The hide will be stripped from our emaciated bodies, stretched over wooden frames and some night a deranged naked woman will stain it with acrylic paint while listening to self styled Canadian folk music.  Maybe Jimmy Hoffa knew Mary.

I look at Miguel.  Kyle is talking.  Miguel’s eyes are large and watery.  I see the reflection of Kyle’s face on Miguel’s cornea.  It looks like a skull.  What do we know about Kyle?  We have seen him around the set for a week or so, but we hardly know him.   He has just yelled at the Iranian cab driver for not putting our lives in more danger.  What’s the rush to get to the house?  Is Igor rushing us back for feeding time?  Maybe it is a vampire thing.  How long is it until sunrise?  I start to make anagrams out of the letters in Kyle’s name.  Kyleigulia no.  Selyk, Esylk. .....Yes Kl   that’s it..   Yes Kill  ..Kill.  We have been pronouncing his name wrong.  It’s all too simple now.  But it’s all too late.  After a drive out of the city we are at a house.  Mary’s house, and it is still hours from sunrise. 

It doesn’t look like the house where Anthony Perkins lived with his mother.  It’s an average place, an inviting front porch with a bench swing.  Mary is there in the face of the other couple who have been waiting on us.  Kyle says lets go in, and Miguel and I head for the front door.  Mary yells to us not to go that way.  She and Kyle live in the basement, the entrance is on the side of the house.  I become a human thesaurus: basement, dungeon, cell, chamber, pit.  I am a lamb being led to the slaughter.  I can’t believe I will not hold up a cross and scream because it might be socially incorrect.  Is Miguel under some spell, or is this part of his plan?  It’s Dr. Helsinki’s voice I hear in my head saying, “Don’t be afraid.  Ve moost find zee cofins, und destroy zees evil.”

I descend the steps behind Miguel.  Kyle leads the way and Mary blocks my retreat.  I start to count the steps knowing there will be thirteen.  However, I lose count quickly.  The stairwell is covered in paintings.  Bizarre, weird uninspired paintings that betray no hint of inspiration or talent.  The canvases line the way three to five deep stacked in front of, and on top of each other until they reach the ceiling.  The paintings form a single file path to the bottom of the stairs. 

The living room is the same.  Floor to ceiling paintings stacked five and six deep.  It seems to be this way in the entire basement turned apartment.  The paintings show the same style if that is what it is.  Maybe markings is correct.  At any rate this entire inexhaustible collection of goo has come from the same fallacious faculties.  Basic kindergarten scrawled human and animal forms twisted in agony painted in muddy pastel colors.  The canvases have been caked with a texture like dried spackeling paste for drywall construction.  The texture conflicts wiyh the forms in pastel.  It’s as if the paint attempts to cover a bad repair job to a leaky ceiling.  My breath is taken away. 

Mary has wafted into the kitchen turning on lights.  More light reveals more paintings.  Critical light causes the spackleing textures to cast weird shadows on the paintings.  It does not help.  I realize Mary had not been kidding.  There are over $200,000 dollars worth of painting here even at 50¢ a canvas if any one would pay her for them.  I can not conceive of that ever happening. 

Midway up the wall in the living area my gaze stops on a particular canvas glob.  It appears to be a snarling dog in baby blue, on field of pastel lime green.  As a child would draw an animal all the legs are on one side of the body.  Apparently the eye of the dog has been repainted several times.  Like a piece of paper erased too much the images of mistakes linger to obscure the final coat of blue.  Suddenly there is a nose on my cheek, and Mary is in my face talking in my ear.  She is pointing to the picture with that hideous guitar pick hand.

“That’s one of my favorites, too.  It is a portrait of my son Robbie.  I call it ‘Bad Dog.’  I remember painting it when he was about 3 years old.  I was trying to toilet train him.  He kept going in his pants and it was ticking me off that he wouldn’t get it right.  I got up in the middle of the night and painted that one for him.  I was thinking about how you house brake a dog, you know like a child.  You whack them with a paper and rub their nose in it.  They snarl back.  Sometimes you have to hit them again until they get it.  He hates it.  He hates them all.  He thinks I’m crazy to wear this guitar pick.  He thinks I can’t sing.  He’s wrong...Bad Dog! Bad dog! I tell you something I sing better than I paint and I paint all the time.” Mary doesn’t even take a breath.

She starts to give me the painting by painting tour.  This one she painted in the nude.  This one is the landlord, scum bag.  That one she painted on acid and all the ones over there were painted in a single night, she thinks it was mushrooms she was on then.  Every painting has a story and I will hear all 200,000 of them.  It is like a Roershock test in reverse. 

There is a scream, but it isn’t me.  It isn’t a human scream.  It is more of a screech.  It scares the hell out of me, have they killed Miguel?  It’s the whistle of a tea kettle.  Kyle yells, “Mary the water is boiling.” 

“I guess we’ll all want coffee don’t we?”  It is another rhetorical question from Mary.  She is off to the kitchen.  I am safe for a moment.  But where have they taken Miguel? 

I wonder into the den area.  Miguel is making time with the other girl on the couch.  She could be a model or actress.  Miguel is blatantly making a pass at her in front of her escort.  The escort seems to be oblivious.  I hear the escort say, “So you didn’t really kill the guys they just used blanks in the guns?  But  it sure looked like the Robot was hit.”  Velvet sandpaper voiced tones from Miguel wax eloquently on the dangers of stunt fighting on film.  The doe eyed nymphet is spell bound.  I know Miguel is in his element and has forgotten the plan to flee. 

“Miguel,” I say. “You know it’s getting late and we have an early call on the set tomorrow.  Those pick up shots for the uh... Chucky script... remember?”  It’s total bull but the language is vague enough for the lay people not to get it.  Miguel comes to his senses.

“Oh, yeah.  The pick up shots.”  He says as Kyle enters the room. 

“What pick up shots?’’  Kyle asks.  Now Kyle is working on the same picture we are.  In fact he is Miguels stand in. 

“Well, we better get going Kyle. You know, early day tomorrow.”  I say as we both get up to get free. 

“Tomorrow is Sunday.  We don’t work on Sundays.  Besides my call time is three hours before you guys get there on Monday, and I’m not worried.  Relax have a cup of coffee, a brew, lets listen to some blues.” 

Damn.  Why didn’t I remember he works with us?  I resolve to think of better lies. 

Enter Mary with the coffee.  The coffee pot and the cups are painted with kindergarten animals in muddy pastel colors.  It is functional art.  The handle on my cup resembles a penis.  It may be the most accurate interpretation of anything depicted in the house. 

Miguel settles down lounging his head in the lap of the nymphet.  He has resigned himself to attempt a score even in the face of danger.  Mary is still talking but she is across the room and much easier to take at a distance.  This is the last place on earth I want to be.  I am lonely, sad, betrayed, depressed and defeated.  I’m suicidal but I swear not to end my life here- I must warn the world first.  Kyle switches to his Dr. Jekel personality acting the part of the perfect host. 

“Everyone okay?  More coffee?  Would you like a brew? There’s plenty of beer in the box.  How about some sounds.  What do you want to hear?”

“Blues,” I say.

“Yeah, you got any gritty barroom blues, Kyle?” says Miguel.

“Oh man, my favorite kind of tunes.” Kyle smiles a smile as if he is hiding the stash.  I wonder what kind of record collection could be hidden in this gallery of horrors.  I see no stereo system in the room, but it could be painted with textured pastel colors.  My blood chills when I hear Kyle say,

“Mary, how about singing for the guys?” 

The extra couple starts to chant on cue like a rock and roll crowd. 

“Mary, sing, Sing Mary. Mary.  Ma-ry. Ma-ry.”

Miguel rolls his eyes.  I have no energy left.  This is the scheme is it?  These vampires aren’t going to kill me they are crucifying my artistic soul.  Mary’s butchered art is all around me and now she will attack the sacred sanctuary of performing.  There is nothing holy left.  I stand condemned to be slapped in the face by a bad performance.  A live show from hell. 

Mary picks up her guitar.  It is painted with textured pastel animal shapes.  The guitar is leaning against the paintings perfectly camouflaged until this very moment.  Mary attempts to tune the instrument.  I hear the screaming of the cat from whose bowels the strings were ripped.  She is way off.  She has no sense of pitch. 

“I can never tune my guitar, Kyle.”  She hands the guitar to Kyle who cradles it like Itzak Pearlman’s Stradivarius violin.  He proudly tunes it with a smile of anticipation.  He hands it back to Mary. 

She strums it twice.  I notice she’s not using the pick on her thumb. 

“You know I don’t sing like I talk.  I sing really differently than people think,” she says.  I figure that means she takes a breath occasionally.  With a couple more attempts at making a chord she starts to wail. 

From the depths of Hades a voice comes out of Mary like I have never heard before or since.  A cross between Kim Karnes, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin and Linda Blair possessed in the Exorcist.  A node ridden, hacked up, razor blade gargle growl of an abused voice.  It is demonic.  It is nothing like her normal voice.  She has summoned a gargoyle from the depths of a gothic inferno.  I am shocked that a person can make this sound for any length of time without internal bleeding.  The voice matches the subject matter of the material.  It is an original work called “Poison.”

“Two cups of coffee a specialty brew.....I’ve laced one with poison just to kill you....Your beatin’ and hurtin’ me days are all through....I’ve laced it with poison just to kill you.........”

The song continues to weave the story of an abused wife in calculated revenge at the breakfast table.  Caught up in the pain of the song and the hurting voice, I forget I’m drinking a cup of coffee given to me by Mary herself. 

She finishes the song and the room is deadly silent.  I have the feeling I am witnessing a rare and special performance.  It is the perfect blend of artist and material.  She starts into her next selection.  It’s called “Blackness”, about a young girl gang raped by a group of black thugs.  I am on the verge of tears.  More than a song it‘s a therapy session.  This is it.  This is it, the "rip out your vocal cords-kill me cause I am just too sad" blues.   This is what I’ve wanted to hear all evening.  It’s what Miguel and I set out to hear hours ago. 

We beg her to sing another.  Miguel and I chant, “Sing Mary..Mar-y.  Ma-ry.  Ma-ry.” She has won over the most hostile audience of a career.  We are begging for songs we were kidnapped and forced to listen, but no matter.  We have found the magic sound. 

She sings another.  It is mercifully lighter in subject matter.  It concerns an unrequited love silently suffering watching a lover and another woman.  It is called “You and her”.  I am crying.  Miguel is crying.  The extra couple is crying.  Kyle is not crying.  He smiles in the same way Col. Parker must have smiled at sold out Elvis concerts. 

She ends.  The guitar disappears against the wall of paintings.  The gargoyle is condemned to the depths again.  Mary becomes the person she was before.  She is talking about the guitar pick on her thumb unused during any of the songs.  What the hell is that pick all about?  I can’t figure it out.  I don’t care.  I want to hear more, not about the pick, more songs.  It will not happen tonight but she mentions all the songs are on her album.

“Album?” Miguel says.  “Where can I get it?”

“Right here.  I have them.” says Mary.  “I have over $50,000 dollars worth of tapes in the closet if anyone wants to buy them.”

Money jumps out of our pockets.  We both buy an album at ten dollars apiece.  The “J” card jacket cover of the tape is a reproduction of one of Mary’s more twisted pastels.   I look at the art considering the music I’ve just heard.  I think of artistic license.  I think about Mary’s tough life, and her attempts to visualize the pain in canvas.  Nope.  It doesn’t wash.  This art still sucks.  Mary is not an artist.  She can’t make normal conversation.  She has no social sense of personal space.  She doesn’t know how to use a finger pick.  She cannot tune a guitar, and she definitely cannot paint.   But— she can sing the hell out of a blues song.  She could be a big star, she is a truly inspired performer.

Kyle says he has called a cab and it will be here in moments.  We have to go.  There is almost a rush to get us out of the house like they have to set up for a second show.  The cab honks and we are almost thrown out of the basement.  Mary says a quick good bye with the same peck on the cheek she gave to Kyle at the party a life time ago. 

Kyle walks us to the cab.  “Do you know how to get back?” He asks.  We do.  This cab driver speaks English.  It looks as it will be a long good-bye until Kyle glances at his watch and then up at the sky and hastily retreats to the basement.  Strange reaction, we think. 

Seconds later it’s sunrise.  Everything looks different from just seconds ago.  This cab ride is certainly more pleasant.  The Rocky mountains cast long pastel colored shadows across a rough horizon.  It is stunningly beautiful.  I get an insight into the paintings I just endured.  Maybe this is the feeling Mary is trying to impart in her pictures.  Perhaps she is showing the juxtaposition of the horible images of night with the beautiful colors of dawn.  Maybe this is what Mary sees when she paints.  If this is the case it makes sense why the paintings are so wrong.  A vampire never sees the morning sun.  I am still convienced I have mixed with the undead. 

Miguel looks at me and says, “Well, it was a long way to get there but we finally found that gutsy blues music you wanted to hear”

As we reach the hotel safely the strains of a choir singing Ava Maria fill my brain.  It is the final scene from the film Fantasia, and we have lived through the “Night on Bald Mountain.” 

I ride up in the elevator with Miguel.  He gives me the traditional high five, but it lacks the energy it usually has both our life forces have been tapped.  I will see him a Herb’s later on in the evening and we will try to sort out this  experience.  Next week end I have decided I want -- to spend a quiet evening alone.

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3 comments:

Roy said...

Glad you and Miguel survived. I recall an interview he did concerning his mother, Rosemary Clooney. He knew a lot about Jazz--used to good effect while he was on the TV drama, "Crossing Jordan." Very sad to hear of his death. It is always hard losing a friend. I will keep you in mind as I put on some blues, in memory of Miguel Ferrer. Or better...I will make up my own... Did I tell you I was an artist? I have all these paintings. 😁😇😜

P. Grecian said...

THAT was a great story well told. And I am so sad about Miguel Ferrer. Did I say how great that story was? It was. Truly. You had me through the whole journey and the ending was perfect.
I would write more, but this guitar pick makes it hard to hit the space bar.

Gwyn Oswin said...

Wow, Jay. Just... wow. Thanks so much for sharing that!