Monday, April 09, 2007

My Vincent

Occasionally in the early 1970’s my friend Vincent would swoop down on Manhattan from his perch down south and would treat me to good restaurant meals and tickets to the theatre. In order for him to save some bucks he would stay with M and me in our loft in the flower district sleeping on our small guest bed set up in the living room. We were pleased to have him and besides he was almost never there. He would quietly ascend the stairs to the loft usually in the early morning hours after a night out and down on the town and sleep a few hours before starting off on his usually busy days in the city. Vincent had many friends and acquaintances in New York and they included poets, actors, artists, movie stars, writers and several no good nothings, which I think were his favorites. I know that he liked me and maybe even loved me and sometimes I would catch him looking at me in more than a friendly way, especially when he was drunk which was most of the time. The sex thing had never reared its head in our relationship, I mean I had a lover and besides sex with friends generally didn’t interest me, it usually just ruined the friendship. Sometimes me and M would light heartily talk about having a threesome, but M’s bark was worse than his bite, and I knew nothing would ever come of this. I won’t say that I wasn’t attracted to Vincent. He was tall, with a lovely southern accent, sandy hair that would usually be somewhat unkempt in a fashionable sort of way, pretty blue eyes and a big box that was hard to miss. Vincent taught in the theatre dept. of a small southern university and I had met him a year or so earlier when I went there with M who was going to give a lecture at the college on African-American Women playwrights before 1950. Vincent was a big asset for the the university arranging for big shot theatre people to come down and lecture and he would even talk some heavy duty hitters to donate their papers to the college instead giving them to Yale or Harvard. I could only surmise how Vincent did this but the university was so grateful that it would pay for Vincent’s trips to the big apple so he could see what was on the boards. Vincent adored the theatre. This has been his passion since he was a boy in that small sleepy southern town and had seen a traveling company performance of “ Come Back Little Sheba” with Jan Sterling and Paul Douglas in the leads and who were married to each other at the time. The bug bit, and on his trips to New York he would see practically every show that was on, first a matinee and then an evening performance. He would see it all from Charles Ludlum’s Theatre of the Ridiculous to Shakespeare and everything in between. He also loved gossip and would regale me with the most marvelous stories about practically every actor and actress who had ever lived and performed on the great white way and on the big silver screen. I would throw out a name, and Vincent would come back with some outrageous story about the actor or actress. Naturally all my queries had to do with sex and sleaze and not about how many Tony or Oscars someone had won, or how many performances a play had run. I wanted dirt and Vincent was the one to cover me with it. “You should publish a newsletter” I once told him. “Yeah and will you put up the bail to get me out of jail.” Or “will pay my lawyer fees.” If Vincent knew that I liked an actor or actress and they were performing in play he would do his best to make sure that I saw them perform. Usually M would pass on these theatrical evenings, since he didn’t give a shit about the theatre unless it was some dumb boring performance piece given by some 3rd rate poet or artist. But me and Vincent loved glamour and the theatre and off we would go to see Joan Blondell miss her cues in “The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds” or a young unknown Meryl Streep in a small part outshine everyone in a revival of “The Cherry Orchard”. For my 25th birthday Vincent flew in to New York and took me and M to see Joan Hackett in Night Watch. We went because Vincent knew I liked Hackett and M had to come because it was my birthday. The play was a total disaster, with everything that could go wrong going terribly wrong. The scenery got stuck, lines were dropped and cues missed and at a pivotal scene poor Joan was left standing on the stage as the revolving set refused to move and the audience roared with laughter. It was like a scene from a bad movie about a bad Broadway play. Hackett looked angry at the curtain calls, and M called it “the best evening he’s ever had in the theatre”. Drinks. Joe Allen’s was Vincent’s favorite spot and that’s where we headed for hamburgers and booze. Too much booze of course. Those two could throw it back with the best. Then on to another theatrical bar where Vincent late in the evening ran into James Kirkwood and Tom Tryon two old queens that he had most likely bedded down. He went over to them to say hello and left M and me at the bar, and that’s when the trouble began. “Who does he think he is?” M said. He was pissed that Vincent did not bring us over to introduce us to his celebrity friends. I knew why of course, M was drunk and when drunk he could be nasty and mean and I didn’t blame Vincent for not bringing us over. No doubt if it were just me and Vincent alone he would have done the polite thing. Well M would have done of it, and when Vincent returned M was horrible to him. Late. It was getting late. The bar was empty, and I thought w should leave but M was angry and wanted more to drink. “Now M” we should be going Vincent said. “Oh yeah did your fancy friends leave.” “Why don’t you sleep at their place? I tried to calm things down, but suddenly a glass was flying in the air, hitting the mirror over the bar and cracking it. Lucky for us the bartender was in the back getting ready to close and didn’t hear or see the mess, and we quickly left the bar. In the cab back downtown everyone was screaming at each other and as we stumbled out of the cab, the night was turning to dawn. In the loft still drunk, Vincent suddenly grabbed me and gave me a big deep kiss, and I figured what the hell lets see where this goes. Before I knew it we were lying on the bed and Vincent was trying to pull M down to join us as pants and underwear came off. M would have none of it and started to freak out. “Vincent, get out” he yelled, “just get the fuck out of here.” “What are you doing M?” I yelled as I realized that I was suddenly nude” “Both of you get the fuck out” “Fine with me M, come on Vincent lets go.” Crying loudly Vincent put his clothes on, and threw his stuff in his overnight bag. “But where should I go. He cried. “You can go to hell for all I care”, M screamed out from the other room.” I tried to calm them down, but there was no way that this was going to happen. “Can you call Truman? maybe he can put you up?” I said. Vincent went to the phone and woke Truman up who said it would be ok, and I walked Vincent down to get a cab with him bawling loudly filling the early morning dawn with his sobs. After I put Vincent in a cab I went back up to the loft and had breakfast with M.

Photo: Joan Blondell in her youth.


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