from Descent of the Dolls
The rehearsal hall where Sharon Tate, as Jennifer North, is offered up as a sacrificial bunny. The three poets reveal their fascination with the gruesome. Trinidad, in an attempt to see everything, is swept up into a netherworld of eBay murder memorabilia; and utilizing Google, McCain works to break the code of her guide's demise.
Top-Heavy Showgirl descending a staircase
Dumb Blonde Joke descending a staircase
Sacrificial Lamb descending a staircase
Promising Newcomer descending a staircase
One of the Beautiful People descending a staircase
Random Murder Victim descending a staircase
Mrs. Roman Polanski descending a staircase
Sixties Sex Symbol descending a staircase
Celebrity Ghost descending a staircase
"While we all have our opinions on the matter, and yes, there are a lot of locations that TAPS visits where murders have taken place (like the Lizzie Borden house for one!), the use of the 'blinky thing' in an effort to prove that the ghost of Sharon Tate still haunts the location was absolutely ridiculous."
—comment from chat room of The Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS)
we must all eat sacrifices.
We must all eat beautiful women.
Woke up this morning with the murders on my mind:
heart shuddering at the thought of knives entering the
victims' bodies—frightening and appalling imaginings.
Eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant Tate begging for
her unborn child's life. Utterly vulnerable, defenseless.
My psychic Helen once told me she'd seen, prior to the
murders, a photograph of Tate and Polanski and thought:
"Ut Oh." And that it was difficult for Tate, once in spirit,
to accept not being able to bring her baby to term. Does
her translucent form wander, in the midnight hour, the
twisting streets of Benedict Canyon pleading, "All I want
to do is have my baby"? She did, finally, said Helen, move
on. Then why haven't I, I ask myself, this overcast morning
in September. I do not wish to romanticize. Only to re-
visit, yet again, to bless and release? The teakettle whistles
and I start. I tremble, nervous at my own kitchen knives.
A purple & silver headdress with long blue
Dr. Seuss-esque feather boa tentacles—
"and not a soul will see it." Its debut
in the rehearsal hall quickly fizzles;
Miss Jennifer North, in showgirl drag, oozes
to-be-looked-at-ness. The director gazes
lustily at her body and breasts, places
his hand in front of his own body
to effectively block out her face, and erases
any chance of her ever being truly
actualized as a whole person. We viewers
become like infants whose ego boundaries
are yet to be formed, and just then the film lures
us back to the moment at which our ego
came into being. We identify with the specters
of glamour and beauty on the screen—ego
ideals who act out a complex process
of likeness and difference in an echo
of our infant self's misrecognition of itself
as the Other in the mirror, one who is more perfect,
complete, and in control. In this scene,
Jennifer is the one who stands erect,
facing her own image in the mirror;
she too sees an "other": the subject
of the male gaze, a woman in the mirror
playing a traditional exhibitionistic role; she's
basically a showgirl playing a dumber
showgirl—a figure American culture has
both celebrated and despised as the
quintessential commodification of "today's"
womanhood. Her roots go back to vaudeville, to the
Ziegfeld girls, and early sound movie musicals
immortalized by Busby Berkeley. Our era
saw the "updating" of the showgirl's trials
with Showgirls (1995), a vulgar
post-feminist, post-Stonewall ditty that dabbles
in lesbianism, drug addiction, "private dancer"
lap dances, gratuitous nudity, rape,
and projectile vomiting into a gutter.
In other words, this trashy update
is perfectly in keeping with the vulgarity
of the tradition it updates. Sharon Tate,
as Jennifer North, however, is a casualty
of this shady realm of showgirldom,
a modern day Francesca da Rimini,
trapped in this Second Circle—a chasm
where the Lustful are forever buffeted
by violent storm, a hellish hurricane: a gruesome
rehearsal hall where every light is muted,
and wannnabes are battered by opposing winds
as they clamor for lines and songs desperately wanted.
Looks like the wind is just beginning
to die down. Through the weeds I can see
a blonde child lying comatose
on the beach towel. Is she dead?
Is she sleeping?
Has she been dosed?
My guess would be the latter.
Her expression is wistful. The tide is out,
the "beach" is actually the bottom of the sea.
Pull forward and there is her older sister,
tweenie-aged, also naked, gazing east,
her honey-colored hair teased and matted
like a teen on roller skates. Gripping her wrist
is a bunny half her size, his body contorted,
yet even in letterbox I can sense that
his limp is exaggerated. In her other hand
the girl holds a rattle like it's a police baton.
Is someone calling her name? A light breeze
agitates the stuffing dotting the shoreline.
Through the fog I can see the dirty green
drumlin on the horizon, and the water
in between, a murky Wedgwood cocktail
reeking of nail polish remover and Scrubby
Bubbles. I know what you are thinking, but
it's not easy to escape one's measly little
world when your limbs only rotate in circles.
Perhaps it is finally time for me to hang them,
put them out of their misery once and for all.
P.S. From my experience, anyone who doesn't
dig this painting is seriously lacking
"Okay, so you're planning to marry the love of your life, and you want to get her an engagement ring that'll provide happy omens for the rest of your lives together. So you'll clearly be interested in spending $25,000 to buy the engagement ring that film director Roman Polanski gave to his wife-to-be Sharon Tate in 1968, right? After all, it's not as if there's any bad omens there, such as, ooh, his wife getting brutally murdered a few years later by a bunch of mad cultists. Oh . . ."
—www.bayrider.tv ("You flog it. We blog it.")
"Upon her death in August of 1969, a turning point in American history, her husband instructed his business manager that her personal possessions be given away to friends. Judy Gutowski (wife of Gene Gutowski, friend and partner of Polanski's) inherited Sharon's engagement ring, a beautiful fire opal surrounded by garnets. The circle of friends in London included Suzanna Leigh who was an English actress who co-starred with Elvis, Tony Curtis, and Jerry Lewis, and appeared in many of the famous Hammer horror films of that era. She remained friends with Judy into the 1980s, which is when she was given the ring by (then) Judy Evens. A letter written and signed by Miss Leigh accompanies the ring stating when she became owner of the ring, as well as an appraisal letter from Montague Jewelers in Memphis, Tennessee stating the condition and makeup of the ring. Pictures of Sharon wearing this ring are on different websites that can be viewed by any potential buyer. You can email me privately and be directed to these sites. Miss Leigh has the deepest respect for Sharon and her memory and asks that all responses be respectful and courteous and that all inquiries be serious as well. According to the appraisal, the ring is an opal and garnet ring measuring 29 millimeters in length and 22 millimeters in width. Opal measures 22 millimeters in length and 11 millimeters in width and is surrounded by 20 garnets weighing approximately .04 points each. Approximate carat weight of the opal is 4 carats with 3/4 carats of garnets. 4 garnets are missing and have not been replaced as not to compromise the originality and integrity of the ring. Total gem weight of the ring is 8.6. This is the one and only time the ring has ever been for sale. Miss Leigh will personally mail the ring to you with all correspondence, appraisal, and the authentication letter."
Online: a painting by Dexter Dalwood entitled "Sharon Tate's House"
(1998, oil on canvas, 183 x 235 cm). Except for an American flag thrown
over a white (rather than gold) couch, Dalwood's images bear, on purpose,
little resemblance to reality, for Dexter Dalwood paints famous places he's
never seen: Camp David, Che Guevara’s Mountain Hideaway, Kurt Cobain's
Greenhouse—unseen landmarks of a collective conscious. Dexter Dalwood
represents Sharon Tate's House not as the gory aftermath of the infamous
Manson murders, but rather as the 'close-up and impersonal' interior of a Hello!
magazine spread. Creating the perfect ambience, Dexter Dalwood gets into the
mind of subjects by recreating their environment in every detail: the swank late
60s furniture, basked in the warm comfort of a Southern Californian sun. It's
only the feminine dressing table in the background that suggests this is the home
of a budding star, and the American flag draped as a subversive sofa cover that
signifies this is the site of legendary helter skelter. An innocuous exercise.
Not so of another painting (also online): Luigino Valentin's "Sharon Tate
and Friends the Moment Before" (2000, acrylic on canvas). Here we have
all the correct components of the chilling mise en scène: couch and flag,
armchair, zebra rug, fireplace, piano, loft ladder, ceiling beam over which
the rope will be looped, window through which the lights of Los Angeles
glitter, and the characters poised, as the title of the painting indicates, the
instant before it "all comes down": Folger in white nightgown, knife at
her back; Sebring in striped pants, protective of Tate; Frykowski on couch,
leaning away from the Longhorn revolver; Tate in panties and bra, arms
around her pregnant stomach; and the three darkly clad creepy-crawlers.
Oh my collaborators, I have fallen down an old rabbit hole: for nearly a
month now, doing research in fear: reread Helter Skelter, watched both
TV-movie versions, trolled YouTube for parole hearings of the murderers
and archival raw footage: reporters outside 10050 Cielo Drive the morning
after and at Jay Sebring's funeral: the mod-attired mourners silently (there's
no sound) entering and exiting the church, the frenzied movement of
photographers as a grief-stricken Polanski (obviously drugged) is led out,
supported on either side. Have also been engaged in my own private
Roman Polanski film festival. More on that later; for now I'll say it's hard
not to believe in cosmic predesignation when, during The Fearless Vampire
Killers, the film that brought Polanski and Tate together, blood drips on
and off Sharon Tate's name during the credits; Tate is presented, a passive
sacrificial lamb, to a roomful of ravenous blood-suckers; and Polanski
says (we know the odds are against him) to his future wife: "I'm going to
save you." What have I learned? That "the most bizarre mass murder
case in the recorded annals of crime" still terrifies me as much—if I let
it—as it did when I was a teenager. That I can still check, compulsively,
the locks on doors and windows. That this particular chasm is deep, endless
really—more Manson bottomless pit than rabbit hole. That it all makes me
feel dirty, ultimately, a feeling I associate with looking at certain kinds of
pornography—the gagged mouth and bound wrists, the fist up the ass—and
that I must pull back. But not before looking at, online, the actual crime
scene photos: there's the same lamp from Valentin's painting, and the red
cushions to the left of the fireplace, but this is the real living room twelve
hours after. The overturned coffee table, matchbooks strewn everywhere,
the lurid, blood-drenched sofa cushions and carpet. And the bodies. Two
there, and two outside, on the lawn. In my early twenties, when I saw the
whited-out bodies in photographs in my copy of Helter Skelter, I had a
strong desire to see everything, a desire that disturbed and mystified me
until, years later, I came across a photograph of a lynching in Asia: as the
crowd tortures its victim, a boy attempts to push through, strains to see.
It correlated. Now that I have seen: I am incapable of more knowledge.
(Not entirely true.) And by the way: not one brave soul bid on her ring.
Aboard a bus from Philly to New York; I just
started reading an introduction to an
anthology of essays—a book that
Walls borrowed from the library at U Penn,
titled Literature and Visual
Technologies ("A prophesy from 19-
08: 'you will see that this little
clicking contraption with the revolving
handle will make a revolution in our global
life—in the life of writers. It is a humbling,
direct attack on old methods of literary
art.'")—when the bus's mini video screens
popped on suddenly and music started blaring,
announcing the beginning of Casino
Royale. The written word paled to this glittering,
"grosser power," and I wanted to know
what was happening in the movie, so I
tried to do both (read and watch the show).
But now I've got New Order playing low on my
iPod shuffle—it's helping drown out the noise
so I can write these lines in my travel-size
notebook. And although the movie annoys
me immensely, I can't help but look up
at the screen every few minutes to see the poise
of Daniel Craig through one explosive mishap
to another. Gee, he is really hot.
Every time I glance up, his face is in close-up;
it's like watching a silent film. It's not
unlike Darwin's The Expression of the Emotions in
Man and Animals (the first scientific work
to rely on photography) in
that the enlargement by close-up on the screen
brings an emotional action to Craig's face, and
I can clearly detect: anger, lustful cravings,
bemusement, deep thoughts. Way to go, Mr. Star.
Be gone. Don't forget to collect your earnings.
If I close my eyes, I can see all of our
beloved dolls in the Second Circle of the
rehearsal hall: Jen exits; her hour-
glass figure disappears (vaboom, vaboom) up the
stairs. The "connoisseur of sin," Henry Bellamy,
(along with Lyon and Anne) enters the
balcony, and casts his eyes down on Neely
as she takes her chair in an Oxford shirt and elf-
like leotard, starts to belt out one of her lovely
songs for the show: "try my friend, to face yourself
with all that you have in store, but if you can't,
hold it [interjects director] then brace yourself
HOLD IT! and try. . . ." The director doesn't recant:
cut the song. Neely is aghast—that's the best
piece of music in the show—and she rants
about Miss Lawson's abundance of songs. Her protest
is met with cold, hard fact: Miss Lawson presides
as star. Mel, Neely's faithful lover, suggests
that Bellamy is protecting "Old Ironsides"
(a reference to the USS Constitution—
the first naval warship built in 1794, which resides
in Boston Harbor today). But Neely won't cheapen
her reputation, takes Bellamy's advice
and intends to leave the malignant, stinkin'
show, with dignity. I open my eyes, this slice
of film engrained in my memory like some awful
trauma, ends; and I am still stuck in the vice
of these two plastic bus seat armrests, hands full
of pen, notebook; head full of movies, music;
of more knowledge, today, I am incapable.
Guys, check this out. David's magnet theory
is inescapable. Uncanny—the same artist
who did the doll painting I described earlier
also did a still life called "Candice Bergen's
Home," which, as you know, was once 10050
Cielo Drive. The painting (oil on board,
12 x 10) features a chair, a coffee table,
the infamous ceiling beams, and a white fire-
place, with the puzzling "Ernie’s ankle" scrawled
graffiti-like across the mantel (but not
in blood). At first I thought that Ernie was
a reference to either Bergen's father,
or his ventriloquist dummy, but no, they are
Edgar and Charlie, respectively. Googling
Candice Bergen + Ernie resulted in references
to Ernie Hudson, a co-star of Ms. Bergen's
from 2001's Miss Congeniality. Doing a
search of Ernie's ankle led me to a badly written
synopsis of Ken Russell's Lair of the White Worm,
and a blog mention of some teenager's unfortunate
soccer injury. Exasperated, I Google Candice Bergen's
home which drops me off in "Recursive Science Fiction Drama,"
where I locate the following:
"Starting on the Wrong Foot [Teleplay]. Cybill [Shepard] is playing in a science fiction series opposite Jonathan Frakes (who was Commander Riker on Star Trek—The Next Generation). He invites her to attend a Star Trek convention with him in Anaheim. She refuses. During the course of the episode he calls her at places where he ought not to know she is. Finally, he shows up at her home. When no one answers the door, he pulls out his communicator and is beamed to Candice Bergen's home."
Don't ask, I have no idea (yet), but a much more
interesting magnet than what Ernie's ankle
drew in. Now for a description of the Cielo
Drive residence by Bergen herself, as written
in her best-selling autobiography Knock Wood:
"a gingerbread hide-out that hung high above
the city. There were stoned fireplaces, beamed
ceilings, paned windows, a hayloft, an attic
and four-poster beds. It was a fairy-tale place,
that house on the hill, a Never-Never land far
from the real world where nothing could go wrong."
Backtrack to Jennifer, balancing a "headdress" as she carefully
descends the staircase that leads into the rehearsal
studio. "Six hundred bucks and not a soul will
see it," says the rogue director, his hand momentarily
blocking her head to make his point. "I feel a little
top-heavy," announces Jennifer as she tries to adjust
one of the massive blue boas growing out of her head.
"Honey, you are a little top-heavy," Director quips.
Everyone laughs; she has been simultaneously
ogled and dismissed. She reminds me of photos
I have seen of the so-called "Giraffe Women of Myanmar,"
their necks seemingly "stretched" swan-like, set rigid
by brass coils, when in truth it's their collarbones that
have been pushed down by the weight of the rings,
the result being "eerily graceful, the head floating
above the shoulders like the crown of a dandelion,
the chin projected forward as if in perpetual curiosity."
(New York Times Travel section, May 20, 2001).
Many of these women, having fled the war in Burma,
live in camps along the Thai border, where
they are considered tourist attractions, supporting
their entire families on the small monthly stipends
that the "authorities" grant to them. "Okay, Gillian.
Enough of this National Geographic shit. Our lives are all
a balancing act. Let's go back to where we came from. ME."
"Sharon, what timing. I was just about to pull an old
quote of yours to add more weight to my 'point.'"
From LOOK magazine, September 5, 1967,
"The Dames in the Dolls" by Betty Rollin:
"'When I was put under contract, I thought, Oh, how nice, but—' she stops, as if holding back a sob—'I was just a piece of merchandise. No one cared about me, Sharon.'
'People expect so much of an attractive person. I mean people are very critical on me. [sic] It makes me tense. Even when I lay down I'm tense. I've got an enormous imagination. I imagine all kinds of things. Like that I'm washed up, I'm finished. I think sometimes that people don't want me around. I don't like to be alone though. When I'm alone my imagination gets all creepy.'
'If you just take it down to bare facts, the reason for living is the reason you make it. I mean the brain was made to create. I'm trying to develop myself as a person. Well, like sometimes on weekends I don't wear makeup.'"
"First you cry this, bitch." Not only did I hardly
recognize Sharon's voice, but I was a bit shocked by
her lewd gesture. She was fuming. "That witch
took what I said totally out of context. She made me sound
like I was Dorothy fucking Stratten or something. I mean,
The Last Picture Show was a genius character study, but it had
none of the exhaustive, labyrinthine narrative
that Roman incorporated into Chinatown, literally
turning film noir into Greek tragedy."
"Your point is?"
"My widowed husband did not go so far as to marry my sister for god sakes."
Sharon sighs, her shoulders suddenly sloped. "Poor Peter
Bogdanovich." She looks at me. "But I hear he's doing quite well now,
is that true?" I nod. "That's nice. I always liked him."
"I've found that when you're making a movie and relying on – either on purpose or for other reasons – more and more on your unconscious – I guess what you'd have to call instinct – and that if a movie is going pretty well – that it becomes a magnet for certain things – that certain things happen that wouldn't have happened otherwise. In my case it was that my brother sent me – and it was an LP in those days – of Simon & Garfunkel – and I would play them every morning as I was showering and getting ready to go to the studio – and after about three weeks of this I thought, "Schmuck! You're listening to the score to your movie . . ." The magnet of whatever it was about The Graduate began to pull this stuff towards it. Haven't you found that, that when something is very alive it just pulls everything in?"
—Mike Nichols to Steven Soderbergh, DVD commentary for The Graduate
August, die she must
—Simon & Garfunkel
Magnet Theory: on Nov 15 JC emails me: "this is the painting
that Gillian was writing about in that one patch. She owns it;
it's called 'Riverbank Scene' by Lepus Articus." A blonde doll
holding a stuffed rabbit. My first thought is of one of the photos
in Helter Skelter (which I lingered on when I recently reread it):
the guest bedroom at 10050 Cielo Drive, where white-nightgown-
clad Abigail Folger was reading when Susan Atkins came down
the hall: "Sitting atop the headboard of the bed, his legs hanging
down, was a toy rabbit, ears cocked as if quizzically surveying
the scene." A creepy detail, this rabbit. I'm curious, so I do what
I often do: Google. And find, on a blog called Tarnished Lady, a
photograph of Sharon wearing a blue Alice in Wonderland dress:
sitting in a director's chair that says "Happy Easter," she smiles
and holds the selfsame rabbit. A souvenir from a photo shoot,
this rabbit. Says Sylvia as Sharon as Alice: I have fallen a long way.
Magnet Theory: I'm watching Death and the Maiden (part of my
Roman Polanski film festival) and am struck, in the scene where
Sigourney Weaver cudgels and restrains Ben Kingsley, by similar-
ities (that Polanski must have intended) to what happened in that
house on the hill: Weaver slips off her shoes (barefoot Manson chick),
equips herself with gun and electrical cord (Tex Watson with Long-
horn revolver, rope), enters living room (beamed ceiling, fireplace)
where Kingsley is asleep (Frykowski) on couch, the drone of crickets
(hot Los Angeles August) the only sound. Then it "all comes down."
Magnet Theory: Sept 19 (three months ago) I have this dream: Charles
Manson tries to follow me into the side door of Comanche Ave. (my
childhood home), but I hold out my right arm, point at him, and zap
him—twice—with a super psychic power, keeping him at bay. I'm
able to get inside and lock the door. A few weeks ago, sorting through
Tim Dlugos's poems, I come across this, in his "April Dream Series":
10 Apr 75
In park beneath some bushes I discover Charles Manson sitting cross-legged, eating something awful out of wooden bowl. It looks like an overboiled turnip served on dirty rice. I have been hooked up with his family for some time, and people keep calling me Tex. But I know I'm not Tex Watson, the hit man in the famous murders. This is a continuation of the previous dream, and my relatives keep making guest appearances. Connie's little son appears, looking like a miniature Polanski. Joe O'Hare has disappeared. Manson's gang is living in a bungalow which makes me think that this is California. I go through the same scene several times, in which I pack my canvas suitcase and tell Manson I am leaving for good. He is totally crushed.
Magnet Theory: it's Monday night, I'm bored, so I put in the DVD
of Julius Caesar (1953 version), which I've owned for over a year
(it came with the five-film Marlon Brando Collection; had to buy
the set to get Reflections in a Golden Eye) but haven't felt enthused
enough to watch. Think I'll only be able to tolerate about ten
minutes (Flashback to high school: my first exposure to the Bard:
The Tragedy of Julius Caesar: English class is right after lunch and
I find the play excruciating, can barely stay awake) but am riveted,
watch it straight through. Conspiracy and assassination, hands
bathed in "costly blood." Caesar's wounds "like dumb mouths,"
"ruby lips." The Roman dictator was stabbed twenty-three times.
According to Suetonius, a physician later established that only one
wound, the second to his chest, had been lethal. Sharon Tate was
stabbed sixteen times, five of which wounds were in and of them-
selves fatal. Folger was stabbed twenty-eight times, Frykowski
fifty-one. O ghastly tally! When Antony uncovers Caesar's corpse
and the camera pans the faces in the crowd, it correlates. They form
a tight circle around the piteous spectacle. They see the bloody sight.
Magnet Theory: I'm on the phone with JC, telling him how miffed
I am because, about a year ago, a woman I'd met at a artists' colony
in the early nineties contacts me and asks me to write a blurb for
her daughter, who's written her first novel, and when I say I'm
not a novelist, she butters me up by saying she wants someone
famous to write a blurb, so what can I do. I read the manuscript,
write a blurb, and the daughter, via email, expresses her gratitude.
She later emails to say her publisher thinks my blurb is too long
can they cut part of it and I say sure no problem. Then, a few months
ago, I start getting emails and phone messages from the mother
inviting me to a "dinner party" for her daughter—the book is out—
at her apartment, which happens to be in Water Tower Place, where
Oprah lives—or lived, apparently she sold her condo. I'm busy
yet think I might go and plan to respond one way or another but
then when I receive another invitation, this time in the mail, it feels
like the mother is being a little too pushy, a little too proprietary,
like she wants to make sure she has enough famous people at her
party, so . . . I let it go. In other words (this is an old joke between me
and JC), D. didn't respond. I next receive an email from the daughter
saying how sorry she is that she didn't get to meet me at her "book
signing" but she wants me to have a copy of the novel where should
she send it? So I email her my address and say good luck with your
book and a few days later her package arrives. I open it, pull out the
book, and look at the back cover. There are two blurbs, but neither of
them is mine. I read her note, which says her publisher was "very
stingy" and did not, despite her pleas, allow my blurb on the finished
book. I notice that the two blurbs that her publisher did allow on the
finished book are by writers more famous than myself—this one
a Pulitzer Prize winner, that one a National Book Award winner.
What a thud her finished book makes when it lands in the trash!
"Cut the blurb!?" says JC, mock-shocked. It doesn't register. He
has to say it several more times. Finally its relevance dawns on me:
Cut the blurb!? The poet goes and the blurb with him. JC, trustworthy
magnet, pulling me back to the scene at hand. I'm delinquent with
my lines, though for weeks I've been chanting the following litany,
inspired by Neely's head-held-high departure from this stinkin' show:
Broke up with Ira—with dignity
Left NYC—with dignity
Helped Byron move from this plane to the next—with dignity
When Jennifer sticks her head in Neely's dressing room and says
That old witch ought to be boiled in oil, her words produce a magnetic
field that pulls, like iron filings, all sorts of objects and associations
toward them<— A.S., my guide, "possessed witch" inhaling a Salem
"then sitting here / holding a basket of fire"<— My fascination with
the monster model kits manufactured by Aurora Plastics Corporation
in the mid-sixties: Frankenstein and his Bride, Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde,
Dracula, The Mummy, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Creature
from the Black Lagoon, Guillotine, and (my favorite) The Witch: a
wart-nosed hag dropping bats and rats into a bubbling cauldron<—
The three witches in Polanski's Macbeth<— How one Halloween I
dressed as a witch: bought a mask and pointy hat at Thrifty Drug,
but the real thrill was wearing the waist-length wig I made out of
black yarn<— Sharon Tate's supposed cameo in Rosemary's Baby,
"girl at the party" according to the Internet Movie Data Base; I've
tried finding her many times: it's possible she's the blonde sitting
on the couch at the beginning of the scene<— Tate's pre-V.O.D. role
as a witch in Eye of the Devil<— Barbara Parkins's post-V.O.D. role
as a bourgeois Satanist in The Mephisto Waltz<— Bewitched (the TV
show, of course, but also the book [a 45¢ Dell paperback] based on
the series, which I stole, in 1965 [I was eleven], from Thrifty Drug,
then felt so guilty and fearful I'd be found out, I threw it away before
reading it; years later I came across it at a used bookstore, bought
it for $12.00, have it still [it's here in front of me: the cover drawing
shows blonde Samantha airborne on her broom, wearing a witchy
black cocktail dress, long black gloves, and pointed hat (adorned with
a red flower); behind her Darrin hangs onto the broomstick for dear
life], but have never been able to read it; having it, possessing it, is
the point, I guess, like the Barbie dolls I own: too late to play with
them, at least the way I wanted to then, inventing situations and
dialogue, losing myself in that highly fashionable imaginary world)
<— Marion Lorne's brilliance as dotty Aunt Clara in that series<—
Veronica Lake (whose autobiography arrived in the mail, Magnet
Theory-style, just a few days ago) as the prototype of Samantha
Stephens in the 1942 movie I Married a Witch<— How one Halloween
Jeanne Marie Beaumont dressed a blonde Skipper doll as a witch—
perfect to the last detail: black dress, pointy hat, broom—and I gave
her a vintage party favor (miniature plastic jack-o-lantern with handle)
for the doll's trick-or-treat candy<— Wendy the Good Little Witch, who
on the cover of one of her comics, flies across a full moon on a vacuum
cleaner instead of a broom, her friend Casper the Friendly Ghost gliding
beside her; did you know that Wendy's three aunts, the witches with
whom she shares a cottage in the haunted forest, are named Thelma,
Velma, and Zelma? God bless Wikipedia<— Speaking of comic books:
writing this, I remembered that in the sixties there was a Lois Lane as
witch story, but I wasn't sure whether I owned it (I still have 60-odd LL
comics from my childhood), so I Googled "Lois Lane witch," which led
me to a website that has a Lois Lane Chronology, where I did a search for
"witch" and learned that "The Witch of Metropolis" appeared in the
premiere issue of Lois Lane in April of 1958 and was reprinted in October
of 1967 in an 80-page Giant Lois Lane (#77) featuring "a Collection of Lois'
Greatest Shockers!," so I went to eBay and searched for "Lois Lane 77" and
found a copy (on the cover Lois flies her broom across an orange full moon
wearing a patched witch outfit and pointy Pilgrim hat; Superman glides
beside her) in G-VG condition and used the Buy It Now option to purchase
it for $9.91 (plus $5.00 s/h)<— Sylvia Plath's poem "Witch Burning"<— How
as I child I saw, in an encyclopedia, a drawing of an accused witch, tied to a
dunking stool, being lowered into a pond; how that image made me feel:
a sense of queasiness bordering on vertigo; naturally it didn't help to read
that after some time the woman was taken out of the water and given the
ability to confess; if she confessed, she was killed; if not, she was submerged
again; a process that was repeated until she drowned or gave up and let
herself be executed another way (hanging or burning)<— How when I read
at St. Mark's Church this past Halloween, Elaine Equi handed me a gift
bag with several items she'd bought at Crow Haven Corner, "Salem's
First Witch Shop": a pad of Bewitched fold & mail stationery, a bar of pink
attraction soap, and some dried Statice flowers (and pink magic bag to
carry them in) to bring good luck and love; I'm using the soap and carry
the pink bag with me, and expect, any minute, to meet the man of my dreams.
I would like to say, by way of a footnote, that last year when I wrote the
blurb for that woman's daughter, Byron lay on the couch with me while
I read the manuscript. Some of the last sweet hours we spent together,
as he died about a month and a half later. So expanding M.T. to include
occurrences in daily life, that blurb was precisely the right thing to have
happened, to have attracted, at that exact moment, and for that I am grateful.
I have listened to these injured souls: DT,
Roman's horror story, Gillian's telling
of the Giraffe Women's plight, and Sharon T's
struggle to become a "whole person" (not wearing
makeup on weekends as transformational
act). And now Neely at the end of this scene,
held in her lover's arms, trying to deal
with getting canned from a Helen Lawson show,
being consoled: "It's a rotten business." She'll
wipe her tears and sheepishly admit, "I know.
But I love it." We wonder which is her true
love—the biz or Mel? I bend my head, hold it low
until the poet asks of me: "What are you
thinking?" "Gee Frank," I begin, "so many sweet
people with kind thoughts, such longings, and strong hearts through
all of it, reeling in, like magnets, from the deeps
the darkest memories and associations."
So now I address my speech to them: "Dearest peeps,
have courage and strength. DT, your ruminations
intrigue me. But don't linger too much on the pain
of the past—you've still got great destinations
ahead (after all, you've acquired more fame
and praise with your recent New York Times review);
Roman, I'm sorry about Sharon. Don't blame
yourself, though. But please, just try not to renew
sexual relations with any thirteen year
olds—we miss you here in the U.S.! Why don't you
buy back Sharon's old engagement ring? It might cheer
you up; Gillian, don't be hard on yourself—
your fascination with all things bizarre, my dear,
is what makes you so, well, dear. Thank you, odd elf,
for the little striped "DOLLS" jars—DT and I
love them; Sharon, Gill's faithful guide, love yourself—
I know it's work—to develop ourselves takes time—
as DT's guide will tell you: "Once I was beautiful,
now I am myself." You're safe in heaven, and I'd
like to think you got the chance to be grateful
for becoming a whole person (God can do
things with time, right? Let you "re-live" a whole, full
life in a separate dimension before restoring you
to the day to day of clouds and white feathers?);
and finally, Neely—what can I say? You
won't settle for crumbs like other singers."
A slow clapping of hands brings me back. "Bravo!"
says Frank, "now can we get moving?" He lingers
near the door of this rehearsal hall. Although,
before we depart, I must speak to good-hearted
and lustful Jen, who twirls around in the turbo
wind holding onto Tony Polar's fated
hand: "Happy New Year, Jen! It's 2008.
That leotard still looks great on you—these blasted,
never-ending winds must keep you in good shape."
The sadness of these two lovers is too much
to bear, and as if meeting my own death, I faint.
P.S. On Jan. 1, JC and DT clutch
phones to ears, and poetize this Happy B-
day wish to Gillian, as personal touch.
As I read over DT and JC's last two
patches I encounter these "memos" scrawled
in the margins: Sadness I felt when my nephew
asked me: "What if it turns out I don't have super-
natural powers?"; Theresa Duncan (gang-stalked
by scientologists at St. Mark’s Church?); Diane Von
Furstenberg's new lipstick, a "sumptuous fuchsia"
that mimics the stain left on her lips following
a week-long beet juice fast; Vampira (not Elvira);
The Satanic Screen: An Illustrated Guide to the Devil
in Cinema (great cover photo of Rosemary/Mia
holding a bloody carving knife); Mom nicknaming
me "Veronica Lake" after I grew out my bangs,
age eleven; my obsession with comic books
(especially Betty & Veronica), ages seven to ten;
"EBAY AS RESEARCH TOOL—YES!"; scariest movie
scene number one: afternoon TV "matinee"
with Mom—a young woman lying in a shallow
grave, her head and feet protruding, watches
as a group of Mennonite-looking elders methodically
stack bricks along her torso until her neck breaks;
scariest movie scene number two: after getting
her head shaved by a female prison warden,
a pretty girl, formerly blonde, thrashes against
the wall of her bunk (was her scalp cold?) as my sister's
boyfriend (snug denim shirt, shaggy blonde hair, hunk)
encases my nose in silly putty in an attempt
to distract me; the plot to destroy Roman Polanski
re: underage-girl-quasi-setup; and re: Neely, a verse
from Leonard Cohen's "Bird on a Wire": I saw
a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch/ He said
to me, you must not ask for so much./ And a pretty
woman leaning in her darkened door,/ She cried to me,
Hey, why not ask for more?