Gary and Skye met us at the airport in the Jeep.
sat in the front, while Skye and I took the back seat, keeping a grip on the luggage behind us as we sped down Tennessee Roosevelt Boulevard.
cleaned up the guesthouse,” Skye said to me, hollering so that I could hear. “It’s real cute.” Gary
That was hard to believe. The guesthouse, large enough to hold a bed and little more, sat with its window missing at the edge of the pool apron just beyond
’s studio. It occupied the corner of the property next to where I had seen more than one eager-to-leave guest hop the fence. It had been neglected for years. In Tennessee , the moment you relaxed from the battle, an army of fungi, insects, and rodents moved in and found shelter and sustenance in the accumulation of plant matter that rained down from the tropical canopy. I had peered inside the guesthouse once. Blackened walls and ceiling suggested a flash fire, but the odor was mildew. Unseen creatures scurried about in the agglomeration. Key West
“He scrubbed it out and got a mattress—brought his things over.” Skye beamed with pride. My gut lurched toward the pavement. Had Tennessee grown tired of me? Gary would not have moved into the compound without Tennessee’s permission, and no one had told me a thing.
Skye leaned in close as we slowed to turn onto Bertha Street. “Thank God,” he said softly into my ear. He laughed and put a hand on my shoulder. “We’re so broke we’re already a month behind on rent.”
That was easy to believe. As long as I had known them, Skye and Gary were always scrounging for money.
“What Gary doing here?” Leoncia asked. She sat at the kitchen island, watching through the glass door, squinting. It was the morning after our return, her first day back on the job.
had entered through the front gate carrying a heavy box. He crossed the patio and then turned and walked past the studio. Gary
“He moved in, Lee—while we were away,” I said. “Nobody told me a thing.”
“Lord,” she said. “Mr. Tom invites trouble to this house!” She shook her head. “Can’t be happy without trouble.” She stared a moment at the coffee in her mug and then took a big gulp.
“Wonder who sleeping where . . .” she said, and bent over laughing. Rising back up, she removed her glasses and wiped her eyes on her sleeve.
“No telling,” I said.
The night before,
Gary had slept in the guesthouse, while Skye remained in the bedroom adjacent to ’s. Gary still had not persuaded Tennessee to let him direct the play in Chicago. Skye’s ability to allure Tennessee was his best remaining hope to achieve this goal, and Gary would do nothing to jeopardize that—not while Tennessee was in town. Tennessee
When I first met him, Gary boasted of the outrageous parties he had thrown at Tennessee’s house during his absence. These parties were an important part of
’s self-promotion, whether for professional reasons or just to get laid. I made a mental note to secure my private things before we left town, and realized that whatever happened while we were away, at least the sheets were white. They would not lie. Gary
Two days later, as the first brewing of coffee dripped into the pot, I headed out to feed the parrots and clean their cage. Wearing a flannel bathrobe barely closed by its tie,
approached me on the patio. Gary
“You have got to see this spot on my dick,” he said, “It’s almost black—big as a nickel.”
I stopped in my tracks.
“Doctor said he’d never seen such a thing—said it’s OK, though.”
My eyes wandered down his pinched chest to where the robe closed just above the spot zone. With my eyes in the vicinity, I could not help wondering about his legendary calling card—it must really stand out on such a scrawny body.
“Here, I’ll show you,” he said. “It’s amazing.”
The consequences of going further flashed through my mind. Physical intimacy was a favorite device in
’s toolbox—I would regret it later. Unlike some bad trick, Gary would not be gone and forgotten before the sun came up. Gary
“I can’t handle that right now,” I said, as I turned and resumed walking toward the birds' cage.
When I began working for Tennessee, I understood that part of my job would be to insulate him from parasites.
’s friends and associates had encouraged me to erect a stockade. Vassilis said, “Keep him away from these people.” Milton Goldman at ICM said as much too, and before handing it to me, jotted his home number on his card. Tennessee
I did not call them. I appreciated the gesture, but
’s world had to be dealt with within its own context. How could a friend in Manhattan or an agent at the world’s largest talent agencies relate to that? Tennessee
Whenever he felt overwhelmed—at least twice a week—Tennessee wanted to fly to London to see Maria. He knew she could straighten things out, but this temptation collided with his fear of her control.
“She wouldn’t stop with my personal life—not Maria. She’d try to take over my business affairs as well—claim I was incompetent. That’s what she really wants—look what she did to Peter!”
The trip to London was postponed time and time again.
Through everything, people from the fringes of the theater world passed through, all with projects that they promised would resurrect Tennessee, if he would give them his blessing—and the rights. Sometimes he encouraged them; usually he turned them down flat.
Then, one evening,
handed me a flyer. Gary
“There’s going to be a reading,” he said, grinning.
I stared at the sheet of paper. On it, a tuxedoed
stood leering in front of a stage curtain. His expression reminded me of Burl Ives eyeing Elizabeth Taylor’s breasts in the movie of Cat—if he actually had. Tennessee
“‘The Donsinger Women’ at The Sands.”
I stared at
in disbelief. I was going to be held up to public ridicule—at The Sands. Of course, few people would know that Jack represented me, but I would be there in the front of the crowd, towering a head above everyone else. Would they associate my height with Jack’s? Would Gary laugh and nod in my direction as he told of sex-for-table-scraps behind a dumpster? Tennessee
“David said I could set it up,”
said. David Wolkowski, Gary ’s boss, owned The Sands. “ Gary agreed.” Tennessee
I wanted to kill him.
“Three bucks,” he said. “Benefit some animal charity—that’ll bring ‘em in. Nobody can resist an animal charity.”
Gary turned, and as he walked off, called over his shoulder, “Sunday the twenty-first—eight o’clock.” He stopped and pivoted. Again grinning, he looked me in the eye. “It’ll be fun.”
The twenty-first came quickly despite, or perhaps because of, my growing anxiety about it.
had kept up the buzz and excitement, and on the day before the reading, announced an additional feat. He had convinced Jeanne Wolf from Entertainment Tonight to come down to film the event. Gary
I was certain
had gone too far. Magazines like People and shows like Entertainment Tonight had launched in recent years and found immediate success, but they seemed just a half step up from the supermarket tabloids from which they had sprung. Featured commentators with the intelligence and glitz of Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders, or their male counterparts, gushed about entertainment news and gossip. Gary would not stand for this. He had already protested that the money from his reading was going to an animal charity, not that he cared about the money, but animal charities were in no way related to his work. Although he knew this had been Tennessee Gary’s doing, he was unaware that expected the charity to be the compelling draw. Gary
The next morning, Jeanne Wolf and her crew arrived at the house without warning.
had failed to tell us to expect her early to tape an interview. Although surprised, Gary agreed to it, and went into the house to prepare. I stayed and helped Jeanne and her crew set up. Tennessee
“How do you do it?” she said. She and the crew were moving patio chairs, setting up lights, taking light readings. “It must be difficult . . . juggling all these people and hangers-on . . . things you have to deal with.”
“I’ve been around many people like
,” she said. “I know how it is. Looks like you do a great job.” Tennessee
She had a smile that could have melted Alaska and her eyes showed that she really did know. I wanted to tell her everything—and I did—until Tennessee reappeared all washed and combed and ready for his close-up.
That evening, we arrived at The Sands half an hour early. We parked in front of the timber-and-glass fantasy—a collision of Mies van der Rohe and The Bridge on the River Kwai. The doorman pointed us toward the makeshift auditorium. A platform had been built next to the building, and facing it, ranks of folding chairs had been set up across the beach. Jeanne’s crew was testing equipment. A couple dozen people, Hawaiian-clothed snowbirds, had already taken seats. Having heard no revisions of the story the last week, I feared the worst.
“Tom, come on inside,” he said. Then, recognizing
’s condition, he lowered his voice. “We still have time for a drink.” I followed Tennessee Tennessee and we took seats with at the closest bar. “Tom," Gary said, "would you like a glass of white wine?” Gary
I nodded agreement and
ordered three—always doubles at The Sands. Gary
“I’ve known Tom for years,” he said. “I’ll handle it.”
New worries added to my anxiety, but relieved that Gary had taken Tennessee off my hands, I sat back down. I tried to soothe myself, knowing Gary did have a lot of experience with Tennessee.
The hands of my watch crept around the dial. I wound the spring tight. Eight twenty-five came and went. The crowd grew more restless. I went back inside to find Tennessee and spotted him at the bar.
rushed over and blocked my progress. Gary
“He’s fine,” he said. “He’s just having a last drink.” He grabbed my forearm gently. “Go on back. We’ll be out in a minute.”
Ten minutes later, Tennessee was introduced, and after a sway and a big inhale of air, he began to read. Immediately, I recognized the story had taken a completely new tack. My worries about my fate began to subside. I barely recognized the story—and certainly not myself as Jack. Released, I paid better attention. However,
’s delivery, which had started well, soon deteriorated. He lost his place several times, and although the sound system functioned perfectly, he frequently forgot to speak into the mike. At times, he mumbled or his voice trailed off. People began hollering for him to speak up. Tennessee
“If you’d just shut up, you could hear me!” he shouted, and then nearly toppled as he stooped down to pick up a sheet of paper that had escaped his grasp. He was all thumbs re-ordering the manuscript. At one point, he threatened to walk off. Although relieved by the changes in the story, I was embarrassed for
. I blamed Tennessee . Had I known he would let Gary drink so much, I would have put my job on the line to stop it. I should have. Tennessee
After he finished reading,
bolted. I caught up with him, and when we got to the house, he began complaining. “They were animals—barked so loud they couldn’t hear me. Did you hear them?” Tennessee
I stood silent.“Who kept turning the microphone off?” His eyes darted about the room as if the culprit might be at hand. “I know who . . .” He stormed into his room. Before slamming the door, he yelled, “The Gelbs were behind this—and their New York Times. I know it!”
I wondered what part of the reading Jeanne would be able to use—even with skillful edits. The evening had been a complete disaster. Surely she would not show