Wednesday, February 2, 2011

AL & ME - More Than A Dog Day Afternoon

More Than A Dog Day Afternoon

Broken hearts.  Who hasn’t had one?  Who hasn’t wallowed in the drama? 

I was a minute out of college, working at Epic Records and freelancing as a rock’n’roll writer… It was peace and love and my “Almost Famous” period, though my articles showed up in Teen Beat, not Rolling Stone.  My skirts were micro-mini, my hair was long and straightened and my eyelashes out Twiggy-ed Twiggy.  It was then that I met and, three months later, married a rock agent more than a decade older than I.  We spent our time covering acts at the Milwaukee, Detroit, and West Palm Beach rock festivals as well as the Fillmores East and West w/ a little of Chicago’s Kinetic Playground thrown in.  Then one Super Bowl Sunday, Mr. Older Rock Agent went out to buy a pack of cigarettes and ended up in London w/ his latest mistress.  I ended up a cliché.  I cried.  I wallowed.  I sulked.  I pouted.   Hell, I didn’t even get off my couch for a week – giving new meaning to couch potato- I could’ve peeled boiled and mashed myself.
 It was January, and when I finally left my apartment, the only place I wanted to go was to Jones Beach.  I love the ocean in the winter and a caring, also unemployed friend w/ a car would drive and commiserate w/ me.
  However, spending my days at a deserted beach staring at the Atlantic didn’t pay the rent.  And, freelancing a few rock’n’roll stories a year wasn’t going to pay it, either.  I needed a job, so I found one... assistant to legendary showbiz manager/movie producer Marty Bregman and his partner, Norman Weiss.   Marty’s clients were rich and famous… Barbra would call, Lainie would drop by, so would Woody and Faye, even Alan Alda.  Bette was moving from the gay ‘Baths’ to the stage and was in the office often.  But I didn’t care.  I sat at my desk and moped and wallowed and generally felt sorry for myself, especially if Faye called or showed up – one of Mr. Older Rock Agent’s dalliances (she once called my apartment late at night looking for Mr. Older Rock Agent, explaining she needed to talk to him – they were ‘sympatico’ – a pretentious word under the circumstances, I thought). 

Marty also represented other 'up and comers' like Bette.  One was Al.  He was short, had dark hair and had just finished a little movie ("Panic In Needle Park") directed by my friend Jerry Schatzberg which hadn’t been released yet.  But right then he was heartbroken, broke and unemployed and would come up and hang out in Marty’s office or out by my desk.   He moped.  He sulked.  He wallowed.  We were ‘sympatico.’   We rarely talked.  I don’t think he even knew my name.  And to me he was just Al who lost his girlfriend.  He did tell me I reminded him of that girlfriend who, years later, I found out was Jill Clayburgh.

Avoiding friends at lunch, I brown bagged it.  It was spring and we were having a 'dog days of August' heat wave.  It was too hot and humid to picnic outside by one of NY’s fountains, but I didn’t want to eat at my desk, so most days I went across the street from the office to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, a beautiful old cathedral w/ stained glass windows and carved archways and altars, lecterns and high-back clergy ‘churchy’ chairs.  There, I’d eat my tuna salad sandwich on white and continue the wallowing, moping and sulking.  Unlike Catholic cathedrals there was rarely anyone else sitting in the pews praying or musing or lighting candles at an altar.  Soon after we wordlessly ‘bonded,’ in the office, Al would join me in St. Peter’s for lunch and I’d give him half my sandwich.  We’d sit there in silence and let the church ‘vibes’ wash over us.  I started making two sandwiches.  Some days he’d bring chips.

As I became bored w/ my wallowing, I also decided that I needed to change jobs.  Marty and Norman had hired me because they knew Mr. Older Rock Agent, didn’t care for him and definitely didn’t care for his Super Bowl trip for cigarettes that landed him in London, and though I was thankful for their help, it was time for me to start fresh somewhere else.

I found a roommate (I had a big two bedroom-two bath apartment and needed help w/ the rent), chopped off my hair and moved on.   The roommate did PR in the music ‘biz’ and, when I found a new job as an 'agent in training' at IFA (International Famous Agency) the predecessor to the world famous theatrical agency ICM (International Creative Management), she wrote a little ‘satirical’ piece about me for Cashbox magazine that gently shoved me into my new life w/ a smile on my face.

Six – seven years later, I had gone back to my maiden name, my hair was again long but no longer straightened, and I had moved on from ICM and was freelancing as a writer.  Once again, I found myself in search of a steady income. The word was out and I got a call from Marty Bregman’s assistant.  Al, now famous as Michael Corleone and Serpico, wanted to produce and was looking for someone to develop scripts, run his office and more or less take care of his life… would I be interested?  Why not? 

On the night of the interview it was pouring rain.  I had to be there at 7:00 and I knew I’d have to walk six long city blocks (you can never find a taxi in Manhattan when it’s raining), so I put on a great pair of Italian boots, jeans, a cashmere sweater, a Ralph Lauren hacking jacket, topped it all off w/ my Burberry trench coat, grabbed my Vuitton shoulder bag, my resume and an umbrella and went out into the storm.  I arrived a minute late, drenched – took off my trench coat and went into the office.  There, sitting behind the desk eating a corned beef sandwich on rye was the Al Pacino, Mr. Moviestar.  His demeanor told me that.  He wasn’t just ‘Al’ anymore… He was pushing 40 now (maybe already 40).  He looked good.  But he was still short.

We talked.  He asked me how I envisioned the job. He ate more of his sandwich.  I told him.  He had some cole slaw.  My stomach growled.  We talked some more.  He sipped a soda and took another bite of his sandwich.  I flashed on giving him half my tuna on white and wanted to grab half his corned beef.  I restrained myself.  He told me how much the job paid.  I told him it wasn’t enough.  Then suddenly he stopped eating and sipping.  I waited.  He stared at me - then asked, “Did we date?” 

I don’t think I stopped laughing for a full two minutes.  When I did, I explained.  He smiled. 

I didn’t take that job w/ Al and ended up working in production for David Susskind/Time Life Films/TV where I met Richard, the head writer of one of our television shows.  We became writing partners, fell in love and got married in the Louise Nevelson chapel in St. Peter’s on the old site where I shared my tuna lunches w/ Al.    
  The beautiful old cathedral had been torn down to make way for the CitiCorp skyscraper, and the beautiful new church w/ a theater, music rooms and chapel was built into the ground floor.  Pastor John Gensel, New York’s ‘jazz minister’ (and a Peter Jennings “Person of the Week”) performed the ceremony in front of our friends and family.  It was a beautiful September day so we all walked from the CitiCorp church complex back to our apartment to celebrate w/ food and wine... but no tuna sandwiches.

My very own happy ending.  Now, I no longer wallow, mope, sulk or cry.  Well, at least not from a broken heart.


Stu said...

Terrific piece. One of your best. And interesting, too. I didn’t know you knew Al. – Shouldn’t you write a book about your “single girl” adventures in NYC? -- Stu

ilona saari said...

Maybe someday... when everyone's dead but me ...

CraezieLady said...

Beautiful! What a great story! I wish I could write like this! Great story telling, without sounding sappy and phony - awesome job, Ilona!

Bryson said...

I love when you write about your life experiences! It's quite interesting to learn things about you that I never knew!

Michael said...

Very nice! Good job of telling that story. I've heard it in shortened versions dozens of times, but you filled it out beautifully and made it sing.

BTW I never signed a release on that photo.

ilona saari said...

When you became best man for Richard, you gave up your photo rights

Gayle Dallas Blackston said...

I loved this story. You very naturally captured your excitement in the rock world, your virtuoso breakup, couch time, up and out to the ocean, and emergence with a musical rhythm. I adore the story of your mother and this too. You should write more about people.
This is perfect!

Anonymous said...

Love the story and the PHOTOS! Keep 'em coming!

ilona saari said...

Thanx - I'm so happy you guys enjoyed this little 'memoir' - Had to laugh Michael re: the 'wedding party' pic - you all had such 'dark' hair ... And, Gayle, I do hope to be writing more 'stories' like the Al & Me and my night at the opera one.

Lana said...

I loved this piece. I'm trying to imagine who should play you in the movie. It should be one.

ilona saari said...

LOL - if it were a 100 years ago, Lana - Jill Clayburgh? ;o) Thanx so much for the compliment.