"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice
Category: Pat Jordan

Trouble in Paradise

From the vaults here’s Pat Jordan’s profile of Steve and Cyndy Garvey. The piece caused a stir when it was published and the Garveys filed a suit against Newsweek, Inside Sports and Pat Jordan. The case never made it to trial and was eventually settled out-of-court. Soon after, Steve and yindy Garvey separated.

The following is Jordan’s original manuscript–featured in “The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan.” I’ve reprinted it here, with permission from the author, as an example of the kind of lengthy magazine writing that was fashionable at the time.

“Trouble in Paradise” is far from Jordan’s best work, but it captured a time and a place well and offered a candid look at the difficulties of celebrity marriage.

Enjoy.

Trouble in Paradise

This is a story about Southern California, and baseball, and sex, and fame, and wealth, and beauty, and the American Dream. It is a story about a famous athlete and his beautiful wife and the life they live in that rarefied atmosphere that few of us will ever breathe. And yet, despite its uncommon trappings, it is not an uncommon story. It is simply a love story about men and women who marry when young, when they are merely tintypes of one another and their lives together are spread out before them like some preordained feast. It is a story about husbands who go off to work, and wives who become mothers, and the ordinary lives they slip into along the way—lives that are satisfyingly simple when they are young. It is a story about people who change over the years, who grow older in different ways, who become different people from who they once were, and how this is really no one’s fault. Finally, this is a story about people who have slept together in a familiar bed for so many years that it is a profound shock to them when they wake one morning to discover they are sleeping in a strange bed alongside of someone they no longer recognize.

THE HOUSE

The house is decorated in a style common to people who have the resources for instant gratification, but who have yet to grow into a style of their own. The young wife did not have the style, or the patience, to coordinate every detail (the plaid wallpaper with the print sofa), which might have taken years, and so she merely hired the right decorator to whom she could entrust the ten-room house while she and her husband were away. When they returned, the empty house had been filled with things. There was a color television set in every room, and two in the family room. There were eleven LeRoy Neiman prints on the wall of the library. There was a pool table in the den, a few balls scattered across the felt as if to imply a game in progress. There were plants everywhere: hanging-plants in hand-painted pots, floor-plants in wicker baskets, wall plants in elephant horns, plants with spidery tendrils, plants with cactus-like trunks, and plants with rubbery-looking leaves as large as the blade of a shovel. There were three bars done in a Mediterranean style, but no liquor bottles, since neither the wife nor the husband drinks. There were four bathrooms done in Italian marble, with gold-plated fixtures, and a toilet, which, when flushed, spewed forth royal blue Sani-Flush. There was an art book or a high-end magazine in every bathroom, and on every coffee table and end table in the house (Architectural Digest, Paintings by Norman Rockwell, Paintings by Vincent van Gogh, Celebrity Houses), and there were three such books on the massive glass-and-chrome coffee table in the living room, each book arranged casually atop the other, just a bit off-center. There were oriental rugs, too, and inlaid tiles, and matching white linen sofas, and a brick fireplace with a large gold fan in front of it. The fan was so large, in fact, that it obscured the fireplace it was meant to adorn. There was a cut glass sherry decanter ringed by tulip-shaped, long-stemmed glasses on a silver tray on the bar in the library. The decanter was a third filled with an amber liquid, and it was arranged on the bar in such a way that, on sunny days, the light through the window would reflect off the cut-glass in a rainbow of colors. Soft music floated through the house from unseen speakers.

The children’s bedroom overflowed with stuffed animals of every pastel hue. Pinks and yellows and baby blues littered the beds, spilled onto the floor, rose, in a miasma of color, to the ceiling. The master bedroom was done entirely in white. There was a telephone in each of the dressing rooms off the master bath. There was a sauna. There were photographs in the bedroom hallway. Photographs of husband and wife and children. Photographs of the husband and wife. Photographs of the children, two young girls with windblown hair—one blonde, one dark. Photographs of the blonde daughter, laughing, with an upraised can of soda. There were more photographs downstairs: The husband in a baseball uniform, holding two small American flags in each hand and smiling at the camera. The wife in profile, her blonde hair as unreal in its perfection as that of a Breck girl. The wife getting out of a car. Posed getting out of a car, the car door opened, the wife smiling as she points one leg out of the car, her silky dress hiked past her thigh. The husband in uniform again, the wife beside him, holding a baby in her arms, the microphone, home plate, and, unseen, thousands of adoring fans. There were dozens of such photographs, and more. Photographs of the husband swinging a bat, throwing a ball, sliding into home plate, posing with other baseball stars, posing with actors, actresses, politicians, and presidents. All the photographs were the same. Stylized. Posed. Perfect exposures without a blemish. They were the photographs of an unseen portrait photographer, who had spent weeks following the family, taking snaps, developing them at his studio, discarding hundreds of possibilities before, finally, selecting those snaps from which he would let the wife choose.

There were mementoes, too. In glass cases. World Series rings. Golden Gloves. Bronzed spikes. Metal sculptures. Framed magazine covers. Civic awards from the Israeli government. From the Junior Chamber of Commerce. From charities. The husband contributed his time and energy to this charity and that. The husband was one of the ten outstanding young men in America in 1977. The husband was a Guardian of Freedom.

All the mementoes were the same. Recent. Expensive-looking. Freshly-minted reminders of the husband’s past, as if, for this family, there was no past worth recalling other than the husband’s, and no past more distant than that of a few years ago.

Everything in this house looked the same. Unblemished. Freshly minted. Disposable. Objects with no real past. Objects that could be replaced instantly with enough money. There were no rotting, gray, baby shoes of a revered grandmother. There were no brown-tinted photographs of some stern great uncle in a high-button collar, his slicked down hair parted in the middle. There were no off-focus photographs, poorly but lovingly taken by a young husband with his first Polaroid camera. There was none of that faintly shabby, comfortably worn feel of a house filled up in stages over the years as the family prospered and grew. This was a house in which most of its objects seemed to have been purchased at once, and, if they are replaced, it was not because they had been broken, but because someone had had a whim, to change a mood, to redecorate. This house was stuffed with such things. There was no unused space. It was as if, for this family, all these expensive-looking objects were needed to fill in the gaps in their unformed natures. Outside, the house and its surroundings are typical of a certain kind of affluent Southern California architecture and landscaping. Stucco walls. Orange Mission tile roof. Greenhouse plants and flowers. Grass the color of forest green and laid down in sod strips that could be rolled up like a carpet and replaced when the strips died in the Southern California heat. There is the obligatory swimming pool, reached through sliding glass doors in the den. There are floodlights aimed at the house. And a sprinkler system. The sprinklers are aimed at the house, too, not at the grass, because this is the San Fernando Valley, the land of brush fires, a land without trees, with only tall, dried grasses that flame up in the summer, a land once so uninhabitable that only coyotes and rabbits and rattlesnakes thrived.

The house sits at the end of a dead-end street on a bluff overlooking the valley and the community of Calabasas Park. Below in the valley lies a spotless, geometrically laid-out community of similar houses, of streets with vaguely European names (Park Capri, Park Siena, Park Vicente), of schools and shopping centers and country clubs and a man-made lake. All of it looks as if it sprang up, full-blown, only yesterday, without the benefit of a past, a real past, a past more distant than a few years ago. It is not the kind of community in which people go from birth to death without leaving. People move into Calabasas when they become suddenly affluent, and then, after a few years and an amicable divorce, they move back to Los Angeles, thirty miles to the south.

THE WIFE

The Wife is thirty-years-old. She is tall and thin. She has long blonde hair. She is pretty. Conventionally pretty. Pretty in the manner of a Miss America contestant. Undistinguished. Lacquered. She embellishes that look to give it distinction—bleached hair, heavy make-up—but her efforts only underline its lack of distinction. It is a look thought glamorous in certain regions of this country, and despite her protestations to the contrary (“I don’t try to look this way. I just always was glamorous.”), it is not a look acquired without effort. She claims her looks are a burden. “As a kid, they made me shy. People reacted to me in a negative way because of them. I always wanted my personality to overcome my looks, but it was difficult for people to get past them.” Her ambivalence is not uncommon among women who have been pretty all their lives. They have taken satisfaction from their looks for so long that, even when they wish to break the habit, it is not easy. “Men bother me on planes,” she says. “Businessmen. Sometimes, I leave first class and go back to coach to read in peace. Sometimes, though, if they’re only trying to be polite, if they say something like they like my profile, well, then I have to stay and talk to them.”

She was born in Detroit of Czechoslovakian ancestry. Her father was an Air Force colonel who dragged his family back and forth across the country. She attended more grammar schools than she can remember, and four high schools before she finally graduated from one in Washington State. She learned early how to forgo a social life in favor of academic achievement. She learned also, how to be alone. “I’m still not comfortable in group situations,” she says. She describes her parents as “harmonious opposites.” Her father was very strict with her, more strict than he was with her two brothers. “Still, I loved him,” she says. “But I identified with my mother. She kept the family together. She made a home wherever we were. And even though she taught me domestic skills, I’ve always felt she wanted me to be something. To achieve. She was not a career woman herself. She could have been, I think, if she hadn’t followed my father all over. When I was a little girl, I told my father I would never marry a man who was gone all the time.”

She met her husband at a dance at Michigan State, where she was a freshman, he a sophomore and a professional baseball player. Although he was then in the minor leagues, he was one of those golden youths for whom major league stardom had already been predicted. It was merely a matter of time.

“He was different from anyone I’d ever met,” she says. “He was a gentleman. He was not all over my body the minute I saw him. He seemed so stable. Maybe it was because of my childhood, but it was terrific to talk to someone who knew what he wanted to do. He’d already signed then. He was so directed, you know, to be a baseball star.”

They dated for two-and-one-half years, during which time he did become a major league star—he was the National League’s Most Valuable Player at the age of twenty-four—and their relationship reached a point where, as she puts it, “either we married or it died. I’d never thought of marrying a baseball player. I wasn’t even a fan, and then, suddenly, I was the wife of a major leaguer. The wife of a star.”

For the first time in her life, the wife, always a pretty woman, became visible in relation to someone else—her husband. It was exciting. She would walk down the ramp leading to her seat with the other wives at the stadium and fans would turn in admiration. Children, even grown men, begged her for her autograph. When her husband came to bat, he always paused a minute in the on-deck circle, and looked for her in the stands. The camera quickly panned to her (she was easy to spot, with her long blonde hair). She cheered her husband on. He hit a home run, or a double, or a single, and, in a way, she had shared in it.

“The high point of my day was going to the ballpark,” she says. “Soon my entire satisfaction was in my husband’s career, his day-to-day achievements. Some of the wives tear their hair out during the games. I watched one wife unravel the entire hem of her dress. Another tore her nails off. I wasn’t that bad. I wasn’t that team-oriented. Until my husband came to bat, I would read a book to pass the time. I made sure the book was in my lap so no one would notice.”

In her early twenties, she became used to living her life in the public eye, in that rarefied atmosphere of adulation and deference and instant gratification so familiar to famous athletes, politicians, actors, and rock stars, who, after awhile, see it all as their birthright. Her husband bought her a baby blue Cadillac with a vanity license plate—“Cyndy N6” (her name, his uniform number). Her husband took her with him when he was a guest on a television talk show. While she waited in the wings, he took his place beside Johnny or Dinah or Merv or Mike.

Wearing a three-piece-suit, his thumbs hooked into his vast pockets, looking for all the world like a young Southern entrepreneur, the husband could not contain himself. He waited for an opening, forced it even, and then began to tell Johnny or Dinah or Merv or Mike about his wife: how intelligent she was (3.8 grade average in sociology), how beautiful she was (a model), how talented (a dancer), what a great wife she was (she inspired him to hit home runs), what a great mother she was (for by then they had two daughters), and, finally, how much he loved her. The audience applauded. (At home, unseen, more than one ordinary housewife groaned at his effusiveness.) Then, the husband, hinting broadly, told his host that his wife was waiting for him off-stage. The host invariably took the bait. Well, let’s bring her out! She slipped through the curtain onto the stage. The audience applauded, again, applauded as resoundingly as if she had been a famous actress or singer, and not merely the wife of a baseball star. As she walked across the stage towards her husband, he beamed.

The husband took her with him everywhere, and always, it seemed, it was a public occasion recorded by the media. She went to banquets when he gave a speech or received yet another award. There were mostly men at these banquets, older men, baseball executives, Rotarians, and they were all charmed by the wife. “They always said the same thing,” says the wife. “‘Oh, isn’t she lovely!’ They said it to my husband. In front of me. ‘Lovely’ became my middle name.” She went with her husband to charity functions, too, and political fund raisers (for even then, the husband harbored distant political ambitions) in which she and her husband were as celebrated as the politicians seeking office. “When we walked in,” says the wife, “the crowd parted for us as if we were royalty.”

Their public perceived then as a handsome, loving couple. And nice. Nice in that bland, middle American conception of niceness (“If you can’t say something nice about someone, then it’s best not to say anything at all.”) It seemed almost irrelevant that, despite their image, they were nice, truly nice to those who got to know them. The media, in which, increasingly, they seemed to live their lives, began referring to them as baseball’s perfect couple. The blonde wife with the perfect smile (so what if, picture after picture, it was the same smile and her hair seemed a solid piece?). The handsome husband with the blow-dried hair (so what if he looked a bit too boyish and his hair was done at Jon Peters’ Salon in Beverly Hills).

They signed on with the William Morris Agency. Endorsements began to pour in: Pepsi (“As soon as I get to my seat at the stadium,” says the wife, “I order a Coke. . . . Oh, I mean Pepsi!”), Jack LaLanne (the husband and wife exercising, smiling, not a drop of sweat anywhere, and the wife, curiously, appearing taller than the husband), Mattel (the makers of, among other things, Ken and Barbie dolls. After they signed with Mattel, the media began to refer to the couple, not without a touch of sarcasm, as “the Ken and Barbie dolls of baseball.” The sarcasm escaped the wife, at first: “I was so flattered,” she says. “I only wish I had…” (modest pause) “…as much on top as she does.”)

Soon, their public image began to work against them. No one could be that perfect! No couple could be that much in love! No life was that simple! “But it was,” says the wife. “It was simple. We were just young and in love and we did a lot of charitable work.” Her husband began to have trouble with his teammates, who felt he was receiving a disproportionate share of publicity. Worse, they felt he courted it. (More than once, he was heard saying to a magazine writer, “Will this be a cover story?”) His image grated on them. They questioned its sincerity. How could someone, a baseball player, a star, on whose time the public had made unfair demands, be so nice to everyone? Before every home game, he went out of his way to say hello to two little old ladies in the stands. “They’ve come to every game,” he says, and then adds with all humility, “They just wouldn’t feel right unless I said, ‘Hello.’ It makes their day.”

There was a much publicized locker room fight with a teammate. Punches were thrown. They grappled on the floor. Their teammates had to pry them apart. Afterwards, there were televised apologies. The husband began to crack. In an emotional speech, he told the audience he was defending his wife’s honor. He refused to elaborate.

The bad feeling that some teammates harbored against the husband spilled over onto the wife. The other wives complained that she was too often with her husband, especially on those public occasions when the media was present. They told her she had never paid her dues in the minor leagues as they had, as if this was the wife’s fault. They complained that a woman’s magazine photo lay-out of the team wives carried a disproportionate number of photos of the wife. They threatened to withdraw their approval of the lay-out unless the imbalance was rectified. They complained, finally, that too often during a game the television camera panned the wives and focused on the wife.

“It wasn’t my fault,” says the wife. “It was just that my hair made it easy for the camera man to pick me out. And I didn’t tell the magazine to use more pictures of me than the others. It was their decision. A few of the wives—and I want to emphasize this point, I’ve only had trouble with a few of them—maybe were not as pretty as I am, and maybe they didn’t have a vehicle like I did—” meaning the husband—“I began to sit off by myself at games. Why not? I’d always felt their conversation was so trivial, anyway. I mean, those few I didn’t get along with. They spent hours talking about make-up. I would go wild. They said I was a snob for not sitting with them, so I went upstairs to the Stadium Club. I watched the game from behind a glass partition.

“I phased out of baseball three years ago. I don’t see the wives much anymore. I don’t have to ask them about their kids or their husbands or anything. I only went to eight games last year. It wasn’t any one big thing, it was just that a season came along and I said, that’s it. I don’t go to banquets anymore with my husband, either. I told him I couldn’t take it. I wanted to scream! All those men talking baseball. I was just a ‘lovely’, that’s all. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that anymore. My husband says I don’t want to participate in any part of his life now. He gets invitations that say, Oh, and your wife came come, too. She can sit on the dais with you. Of course, she isn’t gonna do shit, but so what? I wouldn’t go. There would always be this empty place beside my husband with my name tag, and my name spelled wrong. I hate that. But that’s the way it was…I don’t go with my husband to talk shows either. I’ll only go if I have a vehicle of my own. I can sing, you know. I can dance. I can talk. I can chew gum.”

The wife was twenty-nine-years-old. Life was no longer simple. She took a job.

THE JOB

The chef is smoking a long cigar while plucking the feathers from a dead chicken. The lady from Adopt-a-Dog is sitting on stool with two whimpering puppies and a towel on her lap. The male model is smoothing the sides of his hair with the flat of his palms. The housewife, who lost her husband to her best friend and wrote a book about it, is talking to an actress whose career was based on her talent for marrying a succession of men, each more wealthy than the last. The actress, a plump little blonde, is telling the housewife how she has managed to retain her taut facial skin without benefit of a facelift. She throws her hair forward, over her face, and points behind her ears. “You see, Dahlink,” she says. “Not
even a scar.”

Suddenly, there is a call for quiet on the set. The director, a slim black man with a gold earring in one pierced ear, begins counting down, out loud, from ten. “Nine…eight…seven…” Behind him, a New York commercial actress is telling a bearded man about her network coffee commercial.

“You see this,” she says, pointing to her face.” This is the face that launched a thousand coffee cups.”

The director whirls around on his heels, plants his hands on his hips, and snaps, “Quiet, LOVE! If you please!” He returns to his counting. The battery of cameras begins to move forward, towards the talk show host, a dapper man in a pinstriped suit, who is sitting on a large sofa. Sitting beside him is the wife, the show’s co-host. The director points at the host and nods with great exaggeration. The host begins his monologue. The wife smiles at the camera. She is sitting up very straight, legs crossed, hands folded in her lap, leaning slightly towards the host. Every so often she interjects a comment. The host responds without looking at her. She smiles at the camera. The host goes on. From the shadows, the New York actress whispers to the bearded man. “It’s a regional look,” she says of the wife. “It would never play in New York.”

The wife is wearing a teal blue, Qiana, pajama suit with white high heeled shoes. The suit is belted at the waist with a large, cloth flower. There is a string of pearls around her long, tanned neck. Her blonde hair is pulled back into a pony tail revealing a pair of oversized bulb earrings. Her hair is pulled back so tightly from the sides of her face, stretching the skin, that her face looks gaunt. She is too thin. Her thin arms appear as sticks protruding from her sleeveless blouse. On the television screen she appears only as slim, but in person she looks emaciated. There are deep lines, parentheses, on either side of her wide mouth, as if from too much smiling, or too severe a diet, or maybe just from an inner tension that is finally beginning to show in her face.

The host is telling a funny story directly into the camera. The wife adds a word here and there, no more than a phrase. She punctuates her words with a taut smile, a laugh, a flutter of eyelids, a gesture of her hands, all of which seem a bit out-of-sync with her words. She smiles too broadly, too often, too late. The host finishes his story and she laughs, laying a hand on his arm and leaning against his shoulder. The host begins another story. The wife listens, smiles. She initiates nothing, ventures little, seems content only to react to his lead, as if all her life she has been only an appendage of men.

As the host is finishing his monologue, the wife interrupts him with a truly funny comment of her own. The camera crew breaks into laughter. The host turns his head towards her, simultaneously pulling away from her as if her touch carried contagion. “What the hell do you know?” he says, only half-kidding. “You’ve only been doing this show for a year. I’ve been doing it for five years.” She smiles at him, as a dutiful wife would a husband who has chastised her in front of guests. Unseen by the camera, she kicks him in the shins.

“Oh, Jeez,” says the New York actress to the bearded man. “No wonder she doesn’t have much confidence. He won’t give her a break. He’s a real cunt.”

Before the commercial break, the host introduces the day’s guests. The camera pans to each of them at various parts of the set. The chef at the kitchen set. The Adopt-a-Dog lady on the stool. The blonde actress and the housewife-author. The male model in a jogging suit. The model looks properly macho into the camera, a snarl on his lips, and then, when the camera leaves him, he dashes off, like the athlete he is supposed to be, towards a make-shift dressing room in the shadows. A male attendant is leaning against the dressing room wall. As the model dashes inside, the attendant disdainfully peels off after him.

During the commercial break, the wife takes a sip from a mug of coffee. When she returns it to the coffee table in front of her it is smudged with lipstick. She climbs down from the elevated sofa set and goes over to the Adopt-a-Dog lady and sits on a stool beside her. She smiles at the lady and pets the whimpering puppies with a wary hand. The black director hands her a towel. She lays it across her lap and reluctantly takes the two puppies. She is holding them stiffly in her lap when the camera returns to her. She smiles into the camera as she begins to interview the Adopt-a-Dog lady.

She gives the audience a number to call if anyone of them wishes to adopt one of the puppies. As she finishes her interview, she looks suddenly startled. She looks down at the puppies in her lap. She shakes her head and rolls her eyes heavenward. The camera crew breaks into laughter. The Adopt-a-Dog lady blushes. The wife forces a smile into the camera as it pans away from her for another commercial break. The wife, with a forced smile, dries her lap with the towel and goes back to the sofa set with the host to wait for the camera’s return. The host points at her soiled lap, and laughs. She says nothing, smiles at him, and sits stiffly waiting for the camera to return. When it does, and the host begins to introduce the next guest, the male model, who is now in a white summer suit, the wife takes the wet towel in her lap and lays it gently over the host’s shoulder.

After the segment with the model, the wife goes over to the kitchen set with the chef. She is replaced at the sofa set by the housewife-author and the blonde actress. The blonde actress stops at the foot of the elevated set, her arms held out from her sides like wings, and says, “Dahlinks, somebody please, give me a step up.”

The director holds her under her outstretched arms and helps her up. Soon the camera pans back to the sofa and the host begins interviewing the housewife-author, who is plugging her book, and the blonde actress, who is plugging a line of cheap cosmetic jewelry. Waiting at the kitchen set, unseen by the camera, the wife is laughing softly with the chef. He is a robust, barrel-chested man with a van Dyke beard and slicked back hair that curls up at the nap of his neck. He tells the wife something with a lascivious grin, flourishing his cigar for emphasis. Laughing, she brushes lint off his navy blazer and straightens the handkerchief dripping from his coat pocket. At the sofa set the housewife-author is telling the host about her experiences. “The problem with most women,” she says, “is that their self-esteem is always tied up with a man.”

Finally, the camera pans to the wife and she introduces the chef. He drops his cigar and steps on it as he greets her and the audience with a booming, good-natured voice. He resembles an 1890s circus strongman. He says he is going to teach the wife how to prepare a chicken for stew. He hands her a pot-holder glove. She looks at it, holds it up to the camera with a thumb and forefinger as if it was rancid.

“What’s this?” she says. “I haven’t been in a kitchen in three years.”

The chef roars with laughter. The wife shrugs, slips on the pot-holder. She is no longer studied, seems very much at ease now, and confident with the chef. Perhaps it is because she is freed from the tyranny of the host, or perhaps it is merely because the chef is such a good-natured, sexually robust man, and the wife is so obviously attracted to such men.

The chef holds up the plucked chicken by the neck. It is a ridiculous sight. He pinches it in various places, slaps it a few times to the delight of everyone on the set. “You know,” he says to the wife, “I used to be a geek in the circus.” The wife laughs, a truly genuine laugh, and as she does she slides her arm around his back and clings to him… At the close of the show, the camera pans back to the host who announces tomorrow’s guests. The wife stays to talk to the chef. From the shadows, the New York actress says to the bearded man, “You know, she could make it in New York. If I was a casting director, and she came to me for a job, I’d tell her to go home, wash her face, cut her hair, get some sleep, gain fifteen pounds, and then come back and read some copy…Oh, and of course, she’d have to get over whatever it is that’s making her so drawn and tense.”

THE HOTEL

The two producers have taken off their suit coats and silk shirts against the morning heat as they sit by the hotel pool playing cards and talking business into telephones. They pause in their business dealings only to acknowledge each other’s play of cards with a nod and a flourish of their long cigars. They are in their sixties, distinguished looking men, in that typically Southern California manner. Tanned. White-haired. Mustachioed. Vigorous-looking, with the faint muscle tone of older men who train daily with chromium-plated weights. They are wearing gold medallions around their necks, the medallions partially obscured by the white foliage on their chests.

The pool, like the pink stucco hotel beside it, is camouflaged from the street by palm trees and dark, tropical vegetation, as are most of the pools belonging to the mansions on this residential street of millionaires. The pool boy circles the pool, laying white towels over the arm of each deck chair. A woman is swimming laps. She swims from one end of the pool to the other and back again. She swims with a maddening precision, altering her stroke only to lift her head from the water for a breath, before plunging on. The pool boy is oblivious to the woman in the pool. He is wearing white tennis shorts, and he moves with a ponderous, thick-legged slowness. He is blonde, but no longer youthful, and his body has not aged well as it has taken on flesh. He stops to hand a towel to an actress reclining on a chaise lounge reading a script. She is wearing dark glasses, a string bikini, and satin short-shorts. She accepts the towel with a languidly raised hand without taking her eyes from her script. She resembles, faintly, Jane Fonda, only in a more conventional way, with less of Fonda’s distinct, big-jawed prettiness.

A few chairs away, a party of men in bathing suits is seated around an awninged table, finishing their breakfast. One of them is the son of the wealthiest man in the world. A few years ago the son was kidnapped and held for ransom in Italy, and after he had been released there was talk that he had engineered his own abduction to bilk his father out of millions. Every so often, one of the men at the table glances over at the actress. Finally, the youngest-looking man, red-haired and freckled, with part of an ear missing, leans forward and whispers to one of his friends. The friend gets up and goes over to the actress. He is wearing Bermuda shorts and white patent-leather loafers without socks. He hovers over the actress for a long moment, waiting for her to acknowledge him. She does so, only after she has finished a page of her script. He smiles at her, and says something. She looks at him wearily, closes her eyes behind her dark glasses as if to erase him from sight, and, without speaking, returns to her script. The man utters a curse and returns to his friends. The actress does not look up from her script again for a long while, and when she finally does, the men have gone. Only the remnants of their breakfast remain. Two hummingbirds are hovering over the plates, pecking at the morsels of food.

The maitre’d sighs, snaps up the menus he has just deposited on the table near the service bar, and leads the wife and her gentleman companion to another table in the center of the nearly-deserted hotel restaurant.

“Will this do, Madam?” he says.

“Yes. Thank you very much,” says the wife, smiling. They sit down. After the maitre’d leaves, the wife says, “Well, I just don’t care. I will not be seated near the service bar.” Her companion nods. He is a tall man, in his forties, with a salt-and-pepper beard. He unbuttons the cuffs of his silk shirt and is about to roll them back, when the wife says, “Oh, let me do it. I think it looks sooo sexy.”

She rolls back the cuffs twice, smiling at the man as she does so. It is the smile of a coquette. Of someone who thinks they are being sexy. Of someone who is trying to be sexy. Of someone who has read too many of the wrong women’s magazines. It implies nothing, is merely a dessert filled with empty calories. Falsely satisfying, yet without substance. She knows, and she assumes her companion knows, that her flirtation is meant to lead nowhere. She is the wife of a star, who can afford such a luxury. She is used to flirting without having to deliver on it. It is safe. Most men are gratified by it, by her merely laying a hand on their arm, a small blessing, for which they are grateful.

Her companion asks how she manages to put up with the talk show host. She smiles and says, “You mean, Bozo? Oh, he’s my big bad brother. He’s always teasing me, but I can put up with it because I don’t need it. The show, I mean. They told him the show would be a lot better if he’d do less. But he won’t. Actually, he’s good for me. There’s a lot of give and take, and I have to hold my own against a very strong man. Viewers like the way we bicker back and forth. It’s like a husband and wife bickering over coffee in the morning. The funny thing is, we really like each other. I mean, he was in a bad mood today because he didn’t get a commercial he auditioned for last night. That’s all. He took it out on me, but that’s the way it is. Still, I really do like him. And I love the atmosphere of the set. It’s kinda like a baseball locker room, only on a higher intellectual level, don’t you think? Oh, that’s dumb to say. I’ve never been in a locker room.”

A waiter comes to take their order, and then leaves. The room is filled now, with voices and the clatter of silverware against porcelain. The people at tables in the middle of the room are talking to one another, while those at the more prestigious booths along the walls are talking into telephones. The telephones are green, hospital green, their wires are a faded pink. Everything in this hotel-lounge, which is famous for its movie star clientele, is done in pink or green. Napkins (green). Table cloths (pink). Rubber plants (green). Carnations (pink, their stems, green). Leather booths (green). The telephones are green and pink. A woman in a turban is seated alongside of a man at a booth. The man is eating while the woman is talking into a telephone. The man says something to the woman. She puts a finger into the ear nearest the man so she can better hear the voice coming through the telephone. The man sighs, disgustedly, and pours heavy cream over strawberries in a silver dish. He sprinkles powdered sugar over the cream. At another booth, two men in dark suits are talking very loudly into telephones in order to be heard over the chatter of the three young blonde women interspersed between them. The men are leaning back in the booths, away from the women, who are leaning forward over the table, chattering gaily.

“Actually, this show is my kindergarten,” says the wife. “I’m working, learning, and some day I’ll graduate. I’ll be all right. I’m not twenty-two anymore. I’m no little nymphet. But I’m no ballsy career woman either. I’m just trying to balance a career with being a wife and mother. I have all this energy and nowhere to channel it. Now I have a voice of my own. I’m gonna do something with my life. Maybe I’ll do news, or straight acting, or a talk show. Whatever, I won’t go through life wondering what I might have been… Would I like a career in New York? You mean, if my husband was traded to New York? Oh, you mean just me.” She laughs, as if embarrassed. “I can’t answer that right now. The way things are…”

After the waiter brings their food, the wife is quiet for a long moment. She picks at her food. Finally, she looks up and says in a flat voice devoid of emotion, “When I married my husband, I had no idea it would lead to a career of my own. I never intended to be anything but a wife and mother until a few years ago. I was bored, so I took a job. I know my husband wants me to be happy and fulfilled, and if this job does it then that’s what he wants for me. In the long run, my career might even be bigger than my husband’s.”

She laughs again, as if contemplating a fantasy. “You know, a woman in her thirties needs mobility to grow,” she continues. “When she gets into something she’s hard pressed to give it up…even for a man. I know in my own case, if I was single now, I’d be a hard person to marry…But still…my career doesn’t fill the void of not having my husband home during the baseball season. He’s gone 92 days out of the summer, and during the offseason, he’s very active in business. He’s got to take advantage of his peak earning years as a ballplayer. He’s got to capitalize on his success now. Of course, he only endorses products he uses…But God, sometimes, I wish I could cuddle with someone. I have to have someone to talk to at night. Baseball is a tough sport for a wife. A baseball wife can’t work at a conventional job, like teaching, or else she’ll never see her husband. Baseball doesn’t leave much time to be together, unless the wife goes to the park and sits in the stands and cheers her husband on. I don’t do that anymore. I’m sick of baseball. It’s fun for guys, but it’s a watching sport for girls…Jeez, when there’s no man in your house you can really go nuts…

“The wife of a baseball player must see that baseball is his main thing. I have to be a constant support for my husband. If I’m angry at him when he leaves his house for the stadium, I feel guilty maybe he won’t do well. Of course, he always does do well.” (She says this, not with pride, but with sarcasm.) “At first I channeled all my energy into him. Now he calls home, and I’m not there. A baseball wife either lives her life around her husband’s career or else she gets frustrated and this affects their marriage. A lot of us discover a need for our own identity at 30, but we’re so used to thinking in terms of a man, we think all we need to get rid of the frustration is a different man. We trade up, we think. It’s a halfway measure. If the new man’s an athlete, we’ll outgrow him, too.”

Throughout her monologue, the wife is speaking in a brusque, nasal voice that sounds almost whiny except that there is no self-pity behind it. Her voice is perfectly flat, objective, punctuated here and there by quick smiles and brittle laughter that seem rarely to correspond to the words she is speaking. In fact, her style and words contain none of the nuances of felt emotion.

“Of course, baseball leaves the wives a lot of time to develop,” she continues. “The men are gone so much of the time. It’s one of the advantages, if that’s what you want. If you don’t, you’re lonely. I’m both. And wives left alone tend to take charge. But charge of what? You think, great. I’ve got a famous husband, a big house, a career, everything, but what good is it? Go try to sleep with it. There’s always a dark moment when you want to make love to someone and there’s no one there, so you go stumbling around an empty house talking to yourself.

“The off-season’s no better when your husband is like mine, with a lot of outside business interests. You try to fulfill social obligations, go to dinners, shows, friends’ homes, and still you’re alone. You end up talking about a ghost person…You know, baseball wives are told how lucky we are, and we’re not ungrateful for the good things, but…it’s just that sometimes you crave good conversation, a laugh, and in baseball these things aren’t there for women. If a woman shows a baseball player too much in a non-sexual way, he doesn’t know what to make of her. That’s why I love older men. They can appreciate you. They’re their own men. They aren’t still growing up. I mean, I always wonder, am I gonna go through life knowing only baseball players? They’re so shy around real women. They’re nice guys, but I don’t have much to say to many of them. Is that what a hero is? Of course not. I wouldn’t want my child to look at baseball players or any athletes as heroes. It’s such a limited endeavor. You train so hard, for what?

“My feelings about baseball must sound trite to fans who see players as heroes making so much money. I mean, I don’t want to sound ungrateful. As Chico Escuela on Saturday Night Live says, ‘Baseball been berry, berry good to me.’ And it has. I’ve got security. How do you complain? The average fan is gonna read this and say, ‘What the hell does she have to be frustrated about? Hollywood must have turned her head.’ But they don’t know…Do you want to hear a baseball story? A real baseball story?

“The other day my daughter fell out of a tree and broke her wrist. My husband and I rushed her to the hospital. While she was in the operating room I had to fill out a questionnaire for a nurse. When I said my husband’s occupation was ‘baseball player’, she asked, for what team? I told her. Then she asked, what position? I got so pissed off, I shoved the paper at my husband and told him to deal with her, she was obviously more interested in him than our daughter. Now there’s another woman who’s gonna think I’m just the stuck-up wife of a star.

“Anyway, just before they set my daughter’s wrist, my husband had to leave to go to the stadium. He couldn’t wait. That’s the clearest vision of when the game comes first. Before anything. It’s so cut and dried with him. I got furious. It’s always been like that. Another time I had a baby while he was playing in the World Series. When they wheeled me back from the delivery room—I’m just coming out of the anesthesia—the nurse is putting on the TV. ‘I thought you’d like to watch your husband playing in the World Series,’ she says. I screamed at her to shut it off. Hell, he didn’t come to watch me. I could have died in childbirth and my man wouldn’t have been there. The burden is always on the wife’s shoulders. Her man is never there. You can’t even make love to your husband when you want to. You’ve got to wait for an off-day. What if you get your period? What if you don’t feel like it then? How often can you put that aside? Do you think a marriage can survive that? I need to be cuddled, tested, talked to, made love to, and if I don’t have those things I turn into a stone princess. I’m very sexual looking but I can be like ice when I’m near someone who doesn’t give off a sexual aura. I’m much more sexual than my husband. I need a man more than he needs a woman. And I want a man when I want one. That’s my ideal fantasy love. I love men. Men who are their own man. I don’t want a man who’s still growing up. My husband is the same person now that he was when I first met him. On exactly the same emotional level. He’s so goal oriented. He wants to be a senator. Ten years from now I’ll be a senator’s wife. Isn’t that funny? When he wants something he puts blinders on. That’s why he’s so successful. He’s disciplined and controlled. He’s never loose. He can’t be mussed. We play tennis, and after a few minutes, I’m a mess. He doesn’t have one hair on his head out of place. It’s not that he tries to be that way, he just is. He’s neat. Everything about him is neat. He’s the pinnacle of what everyone should be. Really, isn’t that awful? It makes life so boring. His image has been carried over on to me. We look alike so people think we are alike. But what have I ever done to make people think I’m so cherry pie? I’m not like him at all. I’m street smart. Emotional. Sensitive. I mean, he edits his thoughts. I can’t. It drives him nuts. I’m so uncontrollable he’s afraid of what I’m gonna say. I’ve been misquoted so often. I get so angry when I’m thrown into an article about him without my being talked to. He didn’t tell me you were doing a story on me, because he wasn’t sure I’d agree to it. When I found out, that old feeling clicked in me. I thought he set me up for it so I couldn’t refuse. He’s still reverberating from my wrath over the last story. Old news about the wives all hating me. A lot of Ken and Barbie shit. I told my husband, thanks a lot. Now, what are you gonna do about this? He said there would come a time. I said, when? My husband’s been in this town for twelve years and if people respected him as a man, they’d respect his wife, too…”

When the wife and her companion finally get up to leave, the maitre’d comes over to them. He apologizes to the wife for not having recognized her earlier. He is ashamed of himself, he says, Why, he watches her on television every morning. She forgives him with a smile, and then brushes his cheek with hers, her lips puckered into a kiss that caresses the air.

THE HUSBAND

The husband, dressed in a white baseball uniform with royal blue letters and red numerals, goes to the refrigerator in the clubhouse and withdraws a bottle of diet Pepsi. He does not bother to ask his guest, a bearded man in jeans, if he wants a soda, too. The husband scoops up some ice into a plastic cup and then pours the soda over the ice in such a way, the cup tilted at just the right angle, that the foam will not overflow the cup. Satisfied, he scissors his hair off his forehead and hands the cup to his guest.

In person, the husband does not look so boyishly soft as he does on television. He looks more rugged, manly, but in a Hollywood way, with a handsomely lined face. He is too handsome to be a long distance truck driver and not nearly scuffed enough to be a rodeo cowboy. Yet, his face has more character than one might expect, certainly more than that of the messianic Jim Jones, whom he closely resembles. The husband is sitting on a sofa in a small room off the clubhouse, watching a video tape of himself batting in a game. He stares at his image through narrowed eyes. Without taking his eyes off his image, he tells the man running the video tape to replay it. His image back-tracks like that in an old time comedy movie. Then it goes forward again, slower. He watches himself swing the bat. He fouls off the ball. Still without taking his eyes off his image, the husband says, “Not that far off. Yes. Not that far. Maybe move back in the box a bit.”

He speaks in a soft, droning, almost hypnotic voice, and it is not clear whether he is talking to anyone else in the room, or merely to himself. His image swings again. The husband says, “Hmmm. That’s it. That’s a training guide right there.” He nods his head and smiles. It is a small smile. Smug, almost. The smile of a man who is so obviously satisfied with himself, in a world of the dissatisfied.

The husband hops up the dugout steps onto the field and breaks into a trot towards first base while, around him, his teammates are taking pregame batting practice. He moves precisely, with a textbook stride, almost in slow motion. He is conscious of the way he runs and of the fact that he is being watched. His pumping arms are properly bent into L’s at his sides, and held away from his body a bit, like wings, as if to keep his shirt from wrinkling. He resembles a man trotting to catch a bus in a new silk shirt on a hot day.

A fan in the stands calls out his name. Without breaking stride, the husband glances back over his shoulder and bestows a blessing. He smiles. It is an odd smile, both humble and smug, and it is the same smile he shows in every newspaper and magazine photograph of himself. It is automatic, perfected, the smile of a man who is used to smiling often in public, even when the occasion does not demand it, just as a foreigner smiles too readily at things he does not understand.

Standing at first base, the husband takes ground balls during batting practice. He moves deftly around the bag, scooping up balls with studied nonchalance, and then pausing a moment to examine each ball. He looks for scuff marks or caked dirt that might cause the next ground ball to take a bad hop. If he finds a blemish he either tosses the ball into the dugout or else scrapes off the dirt with his fingernail before lobbing it back to his coach. He sets himself again in a classic first baseman’s pose, and waits for the next ball. He moves to his right, bends low and spears the ball. He moves with a certain stiffness, as if he has yet to loosen aching muscles. His are the movements of a man with a single focus of concentration, a man for whom nothing—running, picking up a ball, smiling—is natural or intuitive and everything is learned.

The husband trots over to the batting cage to take his swings. There is a crowd of people around the cage. Teammates. Opposing players in orange and black uniforms. Photographers with cameras slung around their necks. Reporters with tape recorders and steno pads. Television announcers wearing patchwork sports jackets and white patent leather loafers. The husband shakes hands with an opposing black player and makes a joke, “No socialism before a game.” It is a malapropism. He means socializing. He allows each writer a few moments for an interview; he poses for photographers; he stands for an interview with a television sportscaster. He greets everyone around the cage with good cheer and a smile. (“You should say something nice to everyone,” he has said.)

It is the same smile for each. Only his compliments vary. They are personal to each man. He asks one man what kind of gas mileage he is getting with his new car. He congratulates another on his daughter’s acceptance into a prestigious college. He compliments a third on a book he has written. (“I gave it to my wife,” he says. “She read it three times.”) Each person is slightly taken aback at his knowledge of their personal affairs; and then flattered that he, a star, has taken the time to bestow a blessing; and, finally, disturbed, although they are not sure why. It is, as if, like a good politician, he has memorized the voluminous file cards his advance men have accumulated on the personal lives of each constituent he is about to meet at a fund raiser.

Twenty minutes before the game is to begin, the husband is seated by his locker in the clubhouse. Around him, his teammates joke amongst themselves, ignoring him. (“I don’t understand how he does it,” says the wife. “His locker is between those of two players he doesn’t get along with.”) “It’s not so hard,” says the husband. “You have to learn to live with thirty players because you’ve got to play together.”

Then he tells a sportswriter it would be best to conduct the interview in the concrete runway where they can have some “privacy.” They go out to the runway and sit on uniform trunks. Before the writer can even ask a question, the husband begins the interview in his soft, droning voice. A star, he is used to being interviewed. Immediately, he steers the interview in the direction in which he wishes it to go. He talks about his children. How he sent them to a Catholic school to get a Catholic base. How difficult it is for him to function like other fathers. Still, despite the burden of his stardom, his daughters are very well-adjusted. He and his wife try to be like other parents, he says, and then, “I can be a silly daddy, too, you know.”

He looks down and flutters his eyelids as he speaks. It is meant to be a humbling gesture, The Emperor Without Clothes, but it comes off only as contrived. Self-conscious in the extreme.

“I always try to do what I feel like doing,” he continues. “I’m not acting. This is not a concentrated effort. I am the same as I was ten years ago. Everyone has their own space and they have to decide how they want to use it. It’s natural to me to say, ‘Hello,’ to everyone. To wave to those little old ladies who haven’t missed a game. I look forward to seeing them. In life, you’re either a people person or a private person. I’m a people person. I like dealing with groups of people. I think I can get along with banker’s sons and blacks from the ghettos. When I retire, I’d like to go into politics.”

He talks for a few more minutes about his political ambitions, and then he begins to talk about his wife. Her 3.95 grade point average in college. Her energy. Her deep insight. Her talent for interviewing. The speed with which she mastered her talk show format. “It amazes me,” he says, truly amazed, and he goes on. He can’t stop. About his wife, he is compulsive.

It is Band Day at the stadium. A few minutes before the game is to begin, a dozen or so colorfully-uniformed high school bands assemble in front of a small conductor’s platform at the pitcher’s mound. The public address announcer introduces the guest conductor. It is Lawrence Welk! The fans applaud. Welk, smiling, wearing a powder blue blazer, white slacks and shoes, leaps out of the home team dugout as agilely as any young player. He walks briskly towards the pitcher’s mound. His hair is slicked back into a stiff pompadour, and he looks remarkably fit for a man in his seventies. The public address announcer calls attention to this fact, to Welk’s age—seventy-seven. The fans applaud louder. Welk breaks into a trot.

“Isn’t he amazing, folks, seventy-seven years young!” says the public address announcer. Welk is running now, as fast as a seventy-seven-year-old man in patent leather loafers can run on slick grass. When he reaches the pitcher’s mound, he is exhausted, but still smiling. Two men grip him by each elbow and propel him up the platform. . . .There is something disturbing about Lawrence Welk’s vitality, about his show of vitality—at seventy-seven. It is not enough for him to be remarkably fit at that age—an age when most men are tending a lone orange tree behind their mobile home in St. Petersburg, Florida—he is compelled to show us how fit he is—at seventy-seven. He intends to remind people of what they will never be, to remind them of how dissatisfied they should be in the face of his obvious satisfaction with what he is. He is gloating in the same way many people feel that the husband is gloating over the successes of his life—his wife, his children, his talent, his image, his future. To make matters worse, the husband is satisfied with himself so soon, at thirty-one! He seems so positive he is the best he can be, that he strives only to protect the delicate balance of his perfect life without ever questioning the worth of what he’s created. It is an enviable state, and those who have not reached it resent him for implying that this is their failure. But he doesn’t. Unlike Welk, the husband does not intend to rub our noses in his perfection. He is merely a simple man who has worked very hard at being what he thinks he should be, and now he is single-mindedly compelled to maintain the standards he has set for himself.

THE PROBLEM

“My husband is a very warm, gentle, understanding, considerate…father. His controlled traits pay off with our children,” she says. The wife, dressed in a peach-colored, velour jogging suit, is sitting cross-legged on the print sofa in the den of her house. A bearded man in jeans is sitting in a chair beside her. He is leaning towards her, his elbows on his knees, his hands folded in front of him. There is a tape recorder on the coffee table in front of her, the microphone aimed at her. She does not look at the microphone as she speaks, nor does she look at the man to her left. She stares straight ahead, through unseeing eyes, as she speaks in her brusque, whiny, yet absolutely unemotional voice.

“We don’t talk baseball or my show, anymore,” she says. “Just the children. We’re not good in certain areas. I’m not as affectionate as I used to be and he, he’s so jumbled up in his career and his outside interests…When I say, ‘Let’s talk about it,’ he says, ‘Whoa! Is this gonna be the same old stuff? How unhappy you are?’ I say, ‘Oh, forget it, then!’ Maybe relationships are just bound to deteriorate gradually, I don’t know? Don’t get me wrong, we’re not serving papers, or anything. It’s just…I wonder, are marriages ideal anymore? I mean, I’m out here in the land of fantasy and I see relationships come and go and I don’t know whether or not it’s worth it to cash in on something stable in order to find something more fulfilling. That’s why I want to try everything to make this thing work. During the off-season we’re going to Europe. I really hope in the next year my husband can develop to keep my interest. I want to see if what I feel in love with is still there…

“Sometimes, though, I feel I’m banging my head against the wall. I’m trying to get him to see other possibilities, that the way he sees things is not the only way. But he’s so satisfied with the way he is. He’s stayed the same all these years. He does everything the way people wish they could do them. He can’t break that mold. It’s really him. He’s a nice guy. He gives and all, but…ah, I want electricity, a spark, some idiosyncrasy…Now catch this act. It was so stupid. A few days ago we had three hours to ourselves. We’re driving in the car. He says to me, ‘Where do you want to go to eat?’ I mean, I’d love my man to say, ‘I’m taking you here and then back home to make love.’ Now, I could have said that, but it wouldn’t be the same. I want him to be smart enough to arrange his meetings around me. I don’t want him to have to be told. I don’t want to teach him anymore. Oh, he tries, but he can’t be something he’s not. He has no interests other than baseball. He doesn’t understand music, or art. Those LeRoy Neiman prints? They all look alike to me. And he’s not a sexual guy. Sometimes he teases me. He walks around the house with this great body, and when I try to focus love and attention on it, it’s not there. I’m a girl who needs a regular sex life…I’ve reached the point where I don’t care anymore. Then again, maybe it’s me? Maybe it’s not his problem, but mine? Maybe I haven’t told him exactly what I want? Maybe this will pass and I’m just going through a cycle? Sometimes I think I’m distorted, that what I want can never be. I told my husband he should have married another girl. I don’t want to sell him short. I don’t want to downgrade him; he has no choice because of the structures of this sport. When we have our little fights, I say, ‘How do you fight with a sport?’ How do you do that?

“I’m open now, because I’m angry. I’m tired of that Ken and Barbie shit. I never questioned before. I was always busy with the children. The suburbs drove me nuts. I had to get out. That’s why I went back to work. Maybe my job will be a way out. I don’t want to give up what I’ve got unless I can go to something else. I don’t want to drag my kids around during my indecision. If I can tolerate it, if I can live within the confines of this marriage, I’ll stay. I’m not wanting for anything. It’s convenient. No, it’s not even that. That’s not enough. Maybe some miracle happens to help you make up your mind? Sometimes I wonder if I met someone would a relationship develop. I haven’t had any affairs yet, but I wonder what it would be like. Someone who is his own man. I’m untapped. No one touches me. There’s no mentor in my life. Someone to tell me to shut up. I get so depressed. I have too much time to think. What am I doing here? Life is going on around me and I’m not participating. My security is to go out and then come back. I can’t keep doing this. Everyone tells me how lucky I am. If I divorced my husband I’d have to get out of town. He’s a god here. Where would I go without my husband? Do you know what a price it is to be told that? A real kick. I mean, just because he doesn’t beat me or anything, it doesn’t mean. . . .”

She falls silent for a moment. She is still staring straight ahead. Throughout her monologue, the tone in her voice has remained constant. Brusque. Unemotional. Confusing to her listener. How can she reveal such intimacies without the nuances of felt emotion? Does she feel nothing? Or is it simply that there is some strange lack in her, some inability to communicate her deepest emotions in conventional ways? She does not cry. Her voice does not falter. Her expression never varies. In fact, at times, she flashes her brittle smile precisely at that moment one expects her to cry. She reveals everything—trivialities and intimacies—on the same note. It is the single note of a Public Persona, of one who is used to smiling in front of a camera, or the public, no matter what the mood of the moment may be. It is, as if her nature had been formed in some Charm School where she was taught always to smile, to be nice, to express herself in a pleasant way. Now, at thirty, when she is feeling unpleasant emotions, she knows of no other way to express them. It is her curse. She will always be misread. She will always appear to be cool, aloof, unfeeling, no matter how deeply she feels. She is like her husband. Their style will always be misconstrued as a lack of substance.

She begins again. “Sometimes, half-kiddingly, I say to my husband, ‘If I ever left you, would you always be my good friend?’ He says, ‘No,’ and then a little later, ‘O.K.’ He’s like a brother to me. What I’m hoping—if I don’t get involved with a lover somewhere—is that…I’m going to have to…” She falls silent again. She is still staring straight ahead. Her face still has that perfectly composed look, only now; she is trying very hard not to cry. She forces back her tears with a weak laugh and a brittle smile before she can continue, “…we’ll have to be good friends for awhile…maybe we can…I mean, sometimes, I’ll catch a vignette, it’s like I’m wearing 3D glasses, and suddenly I’ll see something we’re doing together, and it’s all right again. Maybe we’re at a show, or playing tennis, and I’ll say to myself, ‘Oh, that’s it! That’s fine!’ But then it goes away and a few nights later I’m sitting home alone, crying, thinking, is this the future for me? To gut it out…”

THE COUPLE

It is dusk in Calabasas Park. The bearded man walks up to the front door of the house on the bluff at the end of Park Vicente, and rings the door bell. The husband appears, smiling, and welcomes him inside. The husband is wearing a V-neck sweater and gray slacks. He leads the bearded man to the family room where he has been watching television. They sit down on a sofa, and, after a few words of small talk, the husband returns his attention to the television. He is now watching a program, whose premise, in imitation of the Superstars competition, is to find the best bar bouncer and the best belly flop diver in the country.

A huge black man (Mr. T), who claims he was Leon Spinks’ former bodyguard, is the last contestant in the bouncer competition. Mr. T has a shaved head, a goatee, and a ring through his nose, and he looks like someone who should be hanging by one hand from the Empire State Building. A bell rings and Mr. T dives over a fake bar, picks up a dummy and heaves it, head first, through a plate glass window. Then Mr. T crashes through a door, splintering it, and rings a bell. His time is recorded and he is judged the winner. He is interviewed by Bruce Jenner.

After a commercial, during which the husband is still silent, the belly flop championships begin. A man in a straw boater and a tuxedo climbs up onto a diving board and leaps off into a pool. He lands with a splat on his stomach. The audience around the pool cheers wildly. The next contestant, a man in a red t-shirt, dives off the board and as he is suspended in mid-air, his arms outstretched like wings, he bursts into flames. The flames are doused when he hits the water. The bearded man can’t keep from laughing at this. The husband looks at him for a moment, and only then does he smile.

The wife appears, holding the daughter with the broken wrist. The daughter, a beautiful blonde child with pouting lips, is sobbing with pain. The husband says to the bearded man, “Well, let’s get the interview over. We can do it in my office.”

But before he can raise, his wife snaps at him.

“Oh, Garvey, you make me sick,” she says. “Stay right there!” She goes over to the television set and turns it off. “Did you offer him a drink, at least?”

The husband jumps up and asks the bearded man if he would like a Pepsi. He goes to the kitchen to get one. While he is gone, the wife says, “Sometimes, he just…I mean, he leaves the dumb TV on when you’re here. I hate that. And then he pulls that interview shit…” She shakes her head.

When the husband returns with the Pepsi, the wife hands him their daughter for a few moments. The husband is very careful in the way he holds his daughter. While his wife and the bearded man talk, he sooths his daughter with his voice. Soon, her eyes fill with sleep. He gently presses her head to his chest. Finally, the wife tells the bearded man she had best put her daughter to bed, and then get to bed herself in order to get up in time for tomorrow morning’s show. The husband hands her the child, and the wife and child go upstairs. The husband looks down at his sweater. His sweater is wrinkled from the warmth of his daughter’s body. With the palms of both hands, he smoothes away the wrinkles, and then sits back on the sofa.

“This is the first year, she’s been out working,” says the husband. “She’s sacrificed a lot for my career. I’d like her to have a job of more importance than mine, not so much for her to be a success, but so she’ll be happy. I love the woman very deeply. I have this sense of injustice because of what I do. It’s been draining to her. You see her now in a period of frustration. The things she’s told you, she’s told you out of emotion. Deep down she knows there’s nothing I can do about my job. She used to do a lot of things with me but now she doesn’t have time because of her job. I do things alone or else I try to fit my schedule into hers…

“We’re not so different from most people, really. People would see that if they just didn’t take into account our appearance. We’re just two people who love each other and who have gone through a lot…I hope…maybe…it’s just a cycle she’s going through…what do you think?”

When the bearded man tells the husband what he wants to hear, the husband smiles. It is unlike his other smile. It is a smile of absolute vulnerability. The husband is genuinely infatuated with his wife, in the same way a porcelain collector is infatuated with an exquisite piece—a ballerina poised on one toe as she is about to pirouette. He has loved her in the same way for ten years, and now that that is no longer enough for her, he is confused.

Finally, the bearded man gets up to leave. The husband shakes his hand at the door and tells him he is sure he and his wife will resolve their difficulties. The bearded man says he is sure they will, too. The husband opens the front door and the bearded man steps outside into the darkness. It is night, now, and strangely quiet. There is not even the sound of crickets in the hot stillness of this arid land that was not meant for human habitation. The bearded man gets into his car, and as he pulls out of the driveway, he sees the husband, a silhouette, framed in the doorway by the light at his back. The silhouette waves once, and then turns its back and closes the door.

Lethal Weapon

From the Pat Jordan archives here’s “Bad,” a piece he wrote on Rorion Gracie. It originally appeared in the September, 1989 issue of Playboy.

 

Rorion Gracie is willing to fight to the death to prove he’s the toughest man in the west.

The toughest man in the United States holds no official titles and has had only one fight in years. He lives with his pregnant wife and four children, three small sons and a baby daughter, in a modest ranch house on a tidy little street of similar homes in Torrance, California. He is 37, tall and skinny at 6’2″, 165 pounds, and he does not look very tough. He looks mor like Tom Selleck than like Mr. T. He is dark and handsome like Selleck, with wavy black hair, a trim mustache and a charming, self-deprecating smile. He spends more time in the kitchen than his wife does and wears a woman’s apron. He has an idiosyncratic high-pitched laugh. He picks up a yellowed newspaper with an account of one of his father’s fights, adjusts his bifocals and reads. “‘The most savage, stupid bloody desires of the audience were satisfied,’” he says. Then he laughs. “Heh-heh!”

“I never spank my sons,” Rorion says, “because my father never spanked me.” He spends as much time as possible with his sons. He drives them to their soccer practice in his station wagon. He spends the day with them at the beach.

Rorion once fought a kick-boxing champion and made him beg for mercy in less then three minutes. Before the fight, the kick boxer had stood in his corner of the ring and flexed his muscular arms. He cut the air with savage kicks. The crowd oohed and aahed. Rorion, skinny and stoop-shouldered, stood in his corner and waited. Two minutes and 15 seconds after the bell sounded, he was straddling the kick boxer on the mat in such a way that, if the kick boxer had not surrendered, Rorion would have “choked him out.”

Rorion has made a standing offer to fight anyone in the United States, winner take all, for $100,000. So far he has had no takers – for one simple reason. Rorion’s fights are fights to the finish with no rules. His fights are merely street brawls in a ring bounded by ropes. Kicking, punching, head butting, elbow and knee hits are all fair play in a Gracie fight. Only the accouterments of a street brawl – broken bottles, ash cans, bricks – are missing. The only purpose of referee serves in a Gracie fight is to acknowledge his opponent’s surrender when he taps the mat with his hand or passes out from a choke hold.

Rorion (pronounced Horion, in the Portuguese way) is a master of a kind of no-holds-barred jujitsu practiced by his family in Brazil for 60 years. Gracie jujitsu is a bouillabaisse of the other martial arts: judo (throws), karate (kicks, punches), aikido (twists), boxing (punches) and wrestling (grappling, holds). Its primary purpose is defensive; i.e., to render attackers immobile. Rorion believes that since most real fights end up on the ground 90 percent of the time, Gracie jujitsu is the most devastating of all martial arts, because it relies on a series of intricate wrestling-like moves that are most effective when the combatants are on the ground. All a jujitsu master must do is avoid his attacker’s kicks, punches and stabs until he can throw him to the ground and then apply either a choke hold to render him unconscious or a hold in which he can break his attacker’s arm, leg, back or neck. A jujitsu fight is like a chess match, in that the winner is usually the one who can think the most moves ahead of his opponent.

Jujitsu originated in India 2000 years ago, travelled to Japan (via China) three centuries ago and was introduced to Brazil through Rorion’s family 60 years ago, when a touring Japanese master taught Rorion’s uncle some basic moves. His uncle taught Rorion’s father and the two men grew enamoured of it, as only two small men with monstrous egos could. They took Japanese jujitsu a step further than their teachers by introducing techniques that required less strength than Japanese style and would make their family the most feared and famous in all of Brazil. Rorion’s father, Helio, once fought an opponent in the ring before 20,000 screaming spectators for three hours and 40 minutes, nonstop, before the police finally separated the bloodied combatants. In another ring fight, he so savaged his opponent with kicks to his kidney that many attributed his subsequent death to the fight. When a rival martial-arts teacher once accused the Gracie family of fixing its fights, Helio, surrounded by a taunting crowd, confronted him on the street. He had broken the man’s arms and ribs before the police arrested him. He was sentenced to two and a half years in jail for that beating, but the president of Brazil, a fan of the Gracie family, pardoned him within a week.

Rorion laughs and says, “Heh-heh! My dad kicked his butt.” He is sitting in the den of his tidy little house, sifting through the many newspaper and magazine articles written about his family, while his sons wrestle, jujitsu style, on the floor.

Rorion holds up a photograph of his father in a kimono taken when Helio was 34. He is small, slim man at 5’8″, 135 pounds, with slicked-back hair, an aquiline nose and a pencil-thin mustache. He is hip-tossing his older brother, Carlos, in an open filed. “That was the year my dad read a Reader’s Digest article that said a boxer beat a jujitsu guy,” Rorion says. “Heh-heh! My father offered to fight five boxers in one night. At various times, he offered to fight Primo Carnera, Ezzard Charles and Joe Louis. He put up sixteen thousand dollars and told Louis he’d fight with Louis having no gloves, just taped hands. No one took up his challenge.” Rorion shrugs. “Louis was on vacation and here was this little bee buzzing in his ear and giving him no peace. Heh-heh!”

Helio reigned as the self-proclaimed toughest man in the occidental world for 25 years. He fought 14 fights in the ring and lost only two of them, one to Japanese master Kimura and the other to a much younger man – in fact, his protege – when Helio, at 42, was out of shape. Helio is 75 now, the patriarch of a family of nine children, including seven sons, and 18 grandchildren. Rorion has a photograph of his father at 73, still fit, gaunt-faced, with his aquiline nose and menacing pale-blue eyes. He is posing in his kimono with three of his sons, Rorion, Relson and Rickson, in their kimonos. Father and sons are standing identically – legs spread, arms crossed at their chests, eyes glaring at the camera – underneath a seal of the Gracie Jujitsu Academy, which Carlos and Helio founded in Rio in the Twenties. Helio’s sons have all taught at the academy at one time or another. They are black belts. They are bigger than their father, darker, but the look in their eyes is only a parody of their father’s truly menacing look. Except for Rickson. He has his own look. Not menacing but devoid of emotion. The blankness of the supremely confident. Rickson is 29, as muscular as a bodybuilder, with a Marine’s crewcut, the high cheekbones of an Inca Indian and a square jaw. If Rorion is amiably handsome, Rickson is devastatingly handsome. Noted photographer Bruce Weber devoted 36 pages of his book on Rio (O Rio De Janeiro) to the Gracies and Rickson. Rickson as a baby being tossed high into the air by his father. Rorion and Relson as small boys on the beach, Rorion hooking his leg behind his brother’s before throwing him to the sand. Rickson, in bikini shorts, on his back on a mat in a ring, his legs wrapped around the hips of a muscular black man, also in bikini shorts, who is trying to strangle him.

“Zulu,” says Rorion. “A street fighter. He was thirty pounds heavier than Rickson. He threw Rickson out of the ring four times in their fight.” Rorion gets up to put on a video tape of Rickson’s fight with Zulu for the title of the toughest man in the occidental world. A grainy image flickers on the screen. Zulu is sitting astride Rickson, on his back. He trying to gouge out Rickson’s eyes. Rickson keeps twisting his head left and right to avoid Zulu’s stabbing fingers while, at the same time, he is kicking his heels in the sides of Zulu’s back where his kidneys are. Rorion laughs and says, “Heh-heh! After the fight, Zulu was pissing blood for weeks.”

The two men, locked in combat, roll toward the edge of the ring. The crowd surges forward. Hands reach out and slap at the combatants. The referee kicks at the hands, trying to drive the crowd back, while he grabs the combatants’ legs and pulls them back to the center of the ring. A rain of crushed paper cups descends on the ring. The referee kicks the cups out of the ring like a soccer player.

“Wild people, huh?” says Rorion. “Brazil is a violent country. Watch here.” Rickson stops kicking Zulu’s kidneys, locks his legs around his hips and rolls him over so that now he is on top. He unleashes a barrage of bare-fisted punches to Zulu’s face. Zulu tries to block the blows with his hands.

Zulu manages to roll Rickson over now so that his is on top of him, close to the edge of the ring again. Before Zulu can set himself, Rickson twists Zulu’s body so that Zulu is lying on top of him, both men facing the overhead lights. Rickson gets Zulu in a choke hold and squeezes. Zulu’s eyes begin to roll back in his head.

Rorion, smiling, turns off the video and says, “I used to change Rickson’s diapers. Now he’s the best in the world. Heh-heh!” It amuses him that he is the toughest man in the United States and yet he is not even the toughest man in his own family. “Rickson has never been beaten,” he says. “No on will challenge him after Zulu. It’s been three years. The Gracie family is the only family in history that will fight anyone with no rules. The Gracies don’t believe in Mike Tyson. Rickson issued a public challenge to Mike Tyson, but he has not responded.”

All the while Rorion has been talking. His three sons have been grappling on the floor, like monkeys, in a silent parody of their father and uncle Rickson. Their names are Ryron, Rener and Ralek. Nearby is his daughter Segina. Rorion has two daughters by a previous marriage in Brazil, Riane, 12, and Rose. Rorion believes that the letter R has mystical powers. He also shuns common names, like Robert, because they carry their own associations. “An original name has only the aura you give to it,” he says. It is a belief, one of many, that Rorion inherited from his father, whom he worships almost as a god. (Rorion’s other siblings besides his brothers Relson, 36, and Rickson are brothers Rolker, 24, Royler, 23, Royce, 22, Robin, 15, and sisters Rherica, 20, and Ricci, 12.)

Rorion’s beliefs were fashioned out of Helio and Carlo’ devotion to jujitsu, not merely as a martial art but as the cornerstone for a way of living that encompasses every aspect of a man’s life, from morality and sex to diet. Rorion, for instance, eats only raw fruits and, occasionally, vegetables, and only in certain combinations as prescribed by his uncle Carlos, a nutritionist. His back yard is a greengrocer’s market of boxes of apples, watermelons, bananas, mangoes and papayas he has bought in bulk. A typical Gracie meal might include watermelon juice, sliced persimmons and a side of bananas, and the talk around the Gracie dinner table between Rorion and his wife invariably concerns such questions as whether apricots should be combined with mangoes at a meal. His sons have only a passing acquaintance with foods other than fruits. They have had chicken maybe three times in their lives, and once, at a friend’s birthday party, they were given lollipops, which they began smacking against the side of their heads because they didn’t know what they were.

If the Gracie family’s belief in the efficacy of fruits and the letter R seems nutty, if harmless, then their devotion to warrior values such as courage, honour and chivalry borders on the fanatical. Gracie men do fight at the drop of an insult, with predictably savage results. When Carlos and Helio returned home one night and found a robber in their house, they offered him the choice of fighting or going to jail. He chose to fight. In minutes, his screams woke the neighbourhood: “Jail! Jail! Jail!” When Uncle Carlos fought, he was not content merely to beat an opponent, he also wanted to teach him a lesson, or, as Uncle Carlos likes to say, “He’s gonna get to dreamland all right, but first he must walk through the garden of punishment.”

Rorion laughs and shakes his head. “Uncle Carlos was a bratty little kid. WHen he saw a Japanese guy carrying heavy loads of laundry, he liked to trip him. Heh-heh! He was very aggressive.” When Carlos found opponents scarce for his ring fights, he advertised for them in the newspaper under the headline that read, “IF YOU WANT A BROKEN ARM OR RIB, CONTACT CARLOS GRACIE AT THIS NUMBER.”

Rorion Gracie first visited the United States in 1969, when he was 17. He bummed around New York, L.A. and Hawaii for a year. He worked in a restaurant and on a construction site, where he slept. “I was always the first one on the job in the morning,” he says. When his finances got precarious, he panhandled on the street. After years of being protected in the Gracie bosom in Rio, he learned to live on his own. “I grew a lot,” he says. “Trouble only comes to test our reactions.”

When Rorion returned to Brazil at the end of 1970, he went to college, got a law degree, though he has never practiced law, got married, had two children and then got divorced. In 1979, he decided it was time to cut the Gracie umbilical cord and return to the States for good to establish Gracie Jujitsu in the States.

“I felt there were more opportunities in America to spread the work of the Gracie myth,” he says. “I felt that in Brazil, the Gracie family had reached the top and I didn’t want to stay there and live off of my father’s fame.”

The Gracie myth in Brazil began with George Gracie, a blue-eyed Scottish sailor who settled in Brazil in the early 1800′s. His descendants were bankers, diplomats, rubber-plantation barons and confidants of Brazilian emperors. A different kind of fame commenced with Carlos and Helio, whose fights were the stuff of legends. Helio was the first jujitsu master in the occidental world to defeat a Japanese master, Namiki, in 1932. He challenged any and all comers to fight in the ring with him, without rules, to the death. He fought a man to the death, only to have him surrender after four minutes. A newspaper story the following day said that the man had chosen not to die and dubbed him “The Dead Chicken.” Helio fought Fred Ebert for 14 rounds of ten minutes each, until the police climbed into the ring to separate the two combatants, who had broken noses, lost teeth, welts over their eyes and blood streaming down their faces. The fan rioted at the halting of the fight. When Helio challenged a famous Brazilian boxer known as The Drop of Fire to a fight to the death, more than 20,000 fans showed up at the stadium. Only The Drop of Fire never showed, and overnight, the press dubbed him The Drop of Fear. Once, Helio dived into the turbulent, shark-infested Atlantic Ocean to save a man from drowning and was given his nation’s Medal of Honour for his heroism.

Finally, in early 1951, Helio choked to unconsciousness Japan’s number-two master, Kato, in a fight in Brazil that earned him a shot at Japan’s premiere jujitsu master, the toughest man in all the world, Kimura. The fight took place in October of 1951 before thousands of Brazilian fans. kimura, 80 pounds heavier than Helio, agreed to the fight only if Helio, who had a reputation for never surrendering, would promise to tap the mat in surrender if his position seemed hopeless. “kimura was a gentleman,” say Rorion, “and he didn’t like to go to sleep at night dreaming of the sound of broken arms.” The fight lasted 13 minutes. Kimura got Helio in a choke hold and noticed blood coming out of Helio’s ear. “You all right?” Kimura said. “Yes,” Helio said. “Good,” Kimura said, and grabbed Helio’s head and began to crush it like an overripe melon. Carlos threw in the towel.

The next day, Kimura appeared at the Gracie academy to invite Helio to teach at the Imperial Academy of Japan. Even though Helio wasn’t scheduled to fight, Kimura could not guarantee his safety in Japan, where the fans often threaten to kill non-Japanese masters to maintain their monopoly of that martial art. Helio refused the offer. None of the current Japanese masters have dared venture to Rickson’s home turf of Rio.

“The Brazilian youth had no idols before my father,” says Rorion. “They felt there was nothing important known about Brazil. My father gave them hope. Something to believe in.”

Rorion was 27 when he decided to come to the States to spread the word of the Gracie myth. He felt that the seed of Gracie jujitsu would flourish in the fertile soil of America, where men are bigger and stronger than in Brazil. He felt that American men could become a kind of master race of jujitsu warriors. Furthermore, he felt that men, and their women, too, were tired of their world image as the wimps of feminism. As proof, he could point to the popularity of such American movie actors as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Chuck Norris, who personified in their movies the kind of macho warrior that bore the striking resemblance to the roles assumed by Gracie men in real life in Brazil. Only the Gracie men did not need bazookas and machine guns.

Rorion moved to Southern California in 1979 and began to spread the word of Gracie jujitsu while trying to support himself in a strange country. He took a job cleaning houses. He met a woman whose husband was a movie producer. “You should be in movies,” she told Rorion. Her husband took him to Central Casting and soon he was appearing as an extra in such TV series as Hart to Hart, Starsky and Hutch and Hotel. Rorion left the housecleaning business and set up a jujitsu mat in his garage, where he began to teach students. The youngest was the four-year-old son of a movie producer and the oldest, a 75-year-old retired Marine general. When a movie producer saw his fight against Ralph Alegria, the kick boxer, he hired him as a consultant for Lethal Weapon. Rorion choreographed the final fight scene between Mel Gibson and Gary Busey in that movie. Then he met Chuck Norris and began to teach him jujitsu for his movie Hero and the Terror.

While he waited for Gracie jujitsu to catch on in the States, Rorion busied himself with his movies, his students, demonstrations for law-enforcement agencies and colleges and an occasional challenge from a beach bully. He issued a $100,000 challenge, winner take all, to a fight to the death. Finally, a few months ago, a producer called to tell him about a documentary movie he was filming on the martial arts. A kick boxer in that movie, who claimed he was “the baddest dude in the world,” had put up $100,000, winner take all, to fight anyone. Rorion accepted the challenge immediately and then told the producer, “First you better tell him who he’s going to fight.”

Rorion laughs and says, “I sparred a few times with him before. I was very gentle with him. I took him to the mat a few times, showed him some nice choke holds and he tapped the mat. Heh-heh.”

The next day, the producer called back and said that the kick boxer would fight Rorion only under the following rules: Rorion had to put up the entire $100,000, the fight would consist of ten rounds of five minutes each and the two combatants could not stay on the mat for more than a minute at a time. Rorion laughed. “But that is not a street fight,” he said. The producer never called him back.

In the den, Rorion passes his time browsing through the many books, newspapers and magazines with stories about the Gracie family. He holds up pictures of his father fighting Kimura and studies them. “See here,” he says, “the choke.” He memorizes that choke hold and the many facts of Gracie history: the names of long-dead ancestors; the dates of famous fights; the nicknames of vanquished opponents; Dudu, The Elephant, The Drop of Fire, The Dead Chicken, Zulu. He glances at his young sons in kimonos, wrestling on the rug. They grapple, silently, trip one another, tap the mat, stand, begin again. He looks outside to the garage, where two men in kimonos stand in front of the closed door. One man opens it to reveal a spotless, empty room with a grey mat on the floor. There is a photograph of a gaunt, mean-eyed old man, his arms folded across his chest, underneath a seal that reads ACADEMIA GRACIE. The two men step inside onto the mat. They are barefooted. They face each other, plant their legs wide, like crabs, and begin to circle each other like ancient warriors. They circle and circle, looking for an opening on this peaceful day on this quiet street in Torrance.

This article appears with permission from the author.

I Ain’t ‘Fraid of No Ghosts

“If you were a ghost, would you rather hang out in an empty house with other ghosts, or with people and have a good time?”

Case you missed it, here’s Pat Jordan’s little essay for the Times magazine on the Dixie Ghostbusters:

Except for the eerie flickering of our flashlights, we batted away low branches and overgrown shrubs of the old cotton plantation in total darkness. There was no moonlight. It was, Grady Carter noted, “a perfect night for ghosts.” At that point his nephew Andy held up a hand and pointed into the woods. “I heard voices,” Andy said. We all stopped. Chris Carter, his cousin, whispered, “I see a red light.” “The spirits of dead slaves,” Grady confirmed. “A demonic orb.”

Grady, 66, is the winner of three purple hearts in Vietnam; his son, Chris, 41, is a former long-haul trucker; and Andy, 46, is a former bodyguard. Now all three Carter men are Twisted Dixie, a team of paranormal investigators — or, to use their less preferred term, ghostbusters. For fees upward of $2,000 per demonic possession, they camp out at night in clients’ houses, barns, businesses or woods and “document paranormal activity,” Andy explains, referring to “ghosts, demons, poltergeists.” Twisted Dixie grosses a little more than $50,000 a year, sometimes charging fees for long investigations and sometimes working on spec at famous sites like Fort Sumter and the Burt-Stark Mansion in Abbe­ville, S.C. — often called the birthplace and the deathbed of the Confederacy, and the home of Twisted Dixie. No matter the job, they always work at night because, they say, that’s when ghosts tend to whisper.

Taster’s Cherce

Three days ago I received a package from Pat Jordan. Twenty pounds of pecans from the pecan trees in his backyard. Unshelled. The son of a bitch didn’t have the decency to include a nutcracker although he had a few suggestive hints how the wife and I could get them open. He did attach a note, however:

“To Whom it May Concern:  Send pralines and pecan-bourbon pie to Susan and Pat Jordan, Abbeville, S.C. ASAP.”

My pal.

[Photo Credit: Simply Recipes]

The Horse Lovers

Fresh direct from the vault, here’s the original manuscript version of a story that Pat Jordan did for TV Guide in 1988.

The Horse Lovers

By Pat Jordan

Prologue

The movie is “Bluegrass,” a four-hour, CBS-TV mini-series. The actors are Cheryl Ladd, Brian Kerwin, Anthony Andrews, Mickey Rooney, and Wayne Rodgers. The setting is Lexington, Kentucky, Bluegrass Country, where thoroughbred racehorses are bred and trained on rolling pastureland that is zoned strictly for horse farms. The time is late fall. The grassland is turning brown. The leaves on the trees have faded from bright orange to the color of mud. The horses graze quietly in the pasture until another horse intrudes on their meal. They twitch, rear up, and gallop after the intruder, snorting out their hot breath into the damp, cold air. They curl back their lips, baring teeth, and nip the intruder on the flanks before slowing finally and then stopping to graze again.

The fictional plot concerns the efforts of Maude Sage Breen (Ladd) to fulfill her dream of breeding a Triple-Crown thoroughbred. She is thwarted at every turn by her ruthless neighbor, Lowell Shipleigh (Rodgers) and aided by her recovering alcoholic trainer, Dancy Cutler (Kerwin). It is Dancy who wins Maude’s love in a romantic joust with the mysterious Anglo-Irishman, Michael Fitzgerald (Andrews). What unites them all, however, hero, heroine, and villains alike, is that they are all horse lovers.

Scene One

A cold, blustery day at Crestwood Farms outside of Lexington, Ky. Brian Kerwin and Charles Cooper, a black actor from Cincinnati, are huddled in the equipment barn trying to keep warm while waiting for their cue from the Broodmare Barn up the hill where, today, history will be made. The birth of a foal will be filmed for national television. Kerwin and Cooper sip coffee from Styrofoam cups while speaking in hushed reverential tones as if they were expectant fathers in a hospital waiting room.

“Oh, shucks, Miss Scarlett,” says Kerwin, smiling, “I don’t know nuthin’ bout birthn’ horses.” Kerwin, with a veterinarian’s help off camera, is expected to aid in the birth of the foal. “They told me that if it’s a breech birth I have to reach up my hand into the mare and turn the foal’s head around,” he says. He shakes his head at the mystery of what he is about to partake in. Cooper tries to reassure him.

“I aided at my wife’s delivery of our son,” Cooper says. “It was a Caesarian birth. All I could do was stroke her forehead.” He flutters his long eyelashes. “It was a beautiful experience.”

Kerwin nods with admiration. Both men look down at the dirt floor, shuffle their feet. Kerwin begins to talk about the breeding sequence he was involved in filming a few days ago. He had to help a stallion insert his penis in a mare while the crew filmed the scene. “It was all very tastefully done,” He says. Cooper nods in perfect understanding.

Just then, a woman enters the barn. “It’s time,” she says to Kerwin. He crumples up his coffee cup and discards it in a trash barrel. Then he smoothes the sides of his reddish hair. His lean face is bruised and cut. Make-up applied today, after last night’s flight sequence staged at a roadside tavern.

Scene Two

Flashback to midnight of the night before. “Little Jim’s Tavern” out on Georgetown Road next to “The Slumber Inn Motel.” The dirt parking lot, which is usually crowded with rusted Chevys and battered pick-up trucks, is dominated this night by the huge vans of the film crew. Two police cars, their lights blinking, guard the road as if for intruders.

Inside, the small, cave-like, drinking man’s bar is strangely lighted by colorful neon signs that the crew has placed on the bar’s usually blank, concrete walls. The middle of the small room is dominated by three cameras and their crews and bright spotlights aimed toward a corner of the bar where the fight sequence will be staged. The actors are settling into their places for last minute instructions.

At the other end of the bar, in darkness, the bar’s regulars, farm hands, construction workers, and long-haul truck drivers, are loitering around, drinking beer and bourbon, smoking cigarettes, and shooting a few games of pool with Jimalou, the bar’s regular, plump, blonde waitress. “My father owns this place,” she says, as she leans over the pool table and sights the eight ball. “He always wanted a boy.”

Bonnie, the regular barmaid, is pouring drinks for the regulars as she is expected to do for the actors when the scene begins. Bonnie has short, dark hair, lots of blue eye-make-up, and she talks out of the side of her mouth, just as one would expect a barmaid in a roadside tavern to talk. Bonnie is a barmaid. Tough, funny, caustic.

“What’s the difference between being a barmaid and playing a barmaid?” she says. “Simple. I get it right the first time.”

“Bonnie’s the reason we come her,” says Marshall, a regular. “She makes us feel at home.”

“Sure does,” says D.B., tilting back his cowboy hat. “Abuses us just like our wives.” Everyone laughs out loud. One of the film crew looks back at the laughing regulars as if they were misbehaving third graders. He is a very short, bald, finicky-looking man with a red beard. He puts his hands on his hips.

“Quiet, puhleeeze!” he says. Then he turns toward a man who is smoking a cigar. “An no cigar smoke in here,” he adds.

“You’re kidding?” says the man. “In a bar?”

“No cigar smoke in this bar!” says the red-bearded man. Just then one of the crew turns on the smoke machine. Smoke billows into the bar until visibility is zero. Bonnie fakes a few coughs and flaps her hands at the smoke.

“It’s never been this smoky in here,” she says.

“And we never had a fight in here·, either,” adds Jimalou.

The second assistant director, a woman, begins to wave her clipboard wildly in the smoke to get the extras’ attention. “Everyone, everyone, to their places, please!” she calls out. “Have we had everyone?”

(more…)

Dad’s Last Visit

He spent his life pretending to be someone he wasn’t. Now he wanted me to know the real deal.

Here is PJ at his best. This essay about his father first ran in the November/December issue of AARP in 2006 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Dad’s Last Visit

By Pat Jordan

My father died in the spring of 2005, a year and a half after my mother died, and a week after he visited my wife and me in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He was 95. She was 97.

My niece was with my father when he died in a hospital room in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She told me at his funeral that he had awakened from a coma and began shouting for me, “Patty! I have to call Patty!” Then he died.

My father’s visit was my brother George’s idea. “To connect with Dad one last time,” he said. Actually, he’s my half brother. We have the same mother but different fathers. His father left him and our mother a few years after my brother was born. Then my father married our mother and raised my brother as his natural son, although he never adopted him legally. I came along 14 years later.

I went to the airport early to meet Dad. My brother told me to get him a wheelchair. I said, “He’s too vigorous for that. It’ll embarrass him.” He said, “No, he likes the attention.” I pushed the wheelchair to the gate and asked one of the exiting passengers if he remembered an old man on the flight.

“He’s bald, with a white mustache,” I said. The man said, “You’re the writer! He talked my ear off about you the entire flight.” I said, “That’s him.”

Finally Dad came hobbling out of the jetway, clutching a small bag in one hand and, in the other, a paperback book. I hadn’t seen him since my mother’s funeral. He looked the same, only more halt. He wore a navy blazer, rep tie, and gray slacks. His con. “I always dressed Ivy League,” he once said.

“The suckers bought it.”

“Curly!” I said. He looked up with his opaque, gray-blue eyes. We kissed on the lips as did all the men in our Italian family. “I got you a wheelchair, Pop. But you won’t need, will you?”

“I’d like it,” he said in a weak voice. I settled him in the wheelchair and began pushing him through the crowded airport. He arranged the paperback book on his lap so that its cover showed. Kafka’s Metamorphosis. People smiled down at him, and then up at me, the dutiful son, also an old man with his white beard.

I leaned over him and said, “How does it feel to be 95, Pop?”

“Not like I felt at 80.”

We stood outside in the hot sunshine and disorienting traffic. “Wanna wait here while I bring the car around?” I said.

“No, I can walk.”

A sheriff’s deputy stopped traffic so Dad and I could cross the street to the parking garage. It was dark and cool in the garage. I sat him down on a bench near the elevator. “I’ll get the car,” I said.

As I walked toward the car, I called Susan. “How is he?” she said.

“The same,” I said. “Only older.”

When we got home Susan greeted Dad at the front door with a kiss. “Wait here, Dad,” she said. “I’ll put the dogs in the backyard.”

“That’s all right,” he said. “I want to see the orphan.” He meant Matthew, our mutt, the one we’d rescued. Our other five dogs were thoroughbred Shiba Inus we’d bought. Matthew was always deliriously happy. Our Shibas were aloof. They thought we were lucky to have them.

Dad had never met Matthew, but he identified with him from the first moment we got him. “An orphan, like me,” Dad said. Dad never knew his mother or his father. His mother was a 16-year-old girl from Italy who gave him up to an orphanage the moment he was born to her in a strange land. Dad lived in the orphanage for 15 years, then he got a job sweeping out a pool hall. He slept on the green felt tables. Over the years he became a great pool shooter for money, and then an expert with dice and cards, and every form of gambling. That’s how he made his living. His secret, he said, was that he always looked for the edge. Marked cards, shaved dice, and an affected intellectualism that was a masquerade. He would hustle the Palm Beach swells for inside information at their private club box at Hialeah Park racetrack during the Flamingo Stakes, flaunting a Jay Gatsby-esque manner of speaking and a superficial knowledge of the Greek philosophers, without any notion of what they meant, except to use them in his con to separate the “suckers” from their money. But he gave his money away, to his cronies, his wife, his sons. It was the con he loved.

Shortly before I was born, Dad went to a judge to get his name legally changed from Pasquale Giordano to Pat Jordan so I would be born “an American.” The judge said, “That’ll be $17.” Dad said, “I don’t have the money.” The judge felt sorry for this poor Italian, with his lowered eyes and deferential slouch, so he changed my father’s name for nothing. What the judge would never know was that my father had over a thousand dollars in his pocket in that courtroom. Dad’s con gave him his sense of worth as a human being. Every time he conned the “suckers” out of money, or love, or intimacy, it was proof in his mind’s eye that he was someone special, smarter, better. Dad’s con was the most important thing in his life.

Matthew was a con, too, but in a more elemental way. He ran out of the North Carolina woods one night and up onto the porch of our cabin with his two brothers. They were straggly, starving, flea- and tick-infested mountain puppies no more than 12 weeks old. We fed them all. Matthew’s two brothers wolfed down the food and ran back into the woods. Matthew stayed. He tried to climb into our laps. He licked our hands. He lay on the deck on his back with his legs spread, his pink belly and tiny balls exposed. So, we adopted him. Our Shibas resented him at first, this interloper, until he conned them, too, and they accepted him into the pack.

Susan opened the front door wide and Dad stepped inside. Our dogs came running. Our Shibas sniffed at Dad’s shoes and pants and then lost interest. Matthew leaped up on Dad with his paws, whimpering and wagging his tail, as if he had been waiting for Dad all his life. Dad giggled. “See!” he said. “My fellow orphan loves me.” I didn’t tell Dad that Matthew loved everyone; that was his con.

We got Dad seated at the dining room table. Matthew stood up on his hind legs and draped his front paws over Dad’s knees. He stared up at Dad with his huge brown eyes filled with such love that Dad was almost moved to tears. “He loves me,” he said, and petted Matthew’s floppy ears. I made Dad a drink, a Tanqueray martini. “You remembered, son,” he said. He sipped his drink. Matthew lay at his feet. Dad smiled down on him. “He won’t leave me.” Susan brought a tray of cheese and crackers. Matthew perked up. Dad took a bite of cheese and crackers, and a crumb fell to the floor. Matthew licked it up.

We put Dad’s bag in the guest room. Susan set the table for dinner. I heated up the sausage and peppers. I had cooked in the morning, and served it to Dad with hot garlic bread and a glass of red wine. Dad ate methodically, silently, and when he finished, he said, “I’m tired. I think I’ll go to sleep.” He went into the guest room as Susan cleared the table.

“So far, so good,” she said.

“So far,” I said.

Susan went to sleep in the bedroom with the dogs. I lay down on the sofa in the Florida room where I could see into the house in case Dad woke and didn’t know where he was. I watched TV late into the night, glancing toward the guest room, until I fell asleep.

(more…)

Inside Marilyn Chambers

Here is one of Pat Jordan’s classic magazine profiles, “Inside Marilyn Chambers,” which first appeared in GQ (September, 1987). The article is reprinted here with permission from the author.

The constable who arrested her stands in the witness box, his eyes lowered to his notebook, and in a monotonous voice describes her act for the Provincial Court of Windsor, Ontario. “She pushed her breasts together and pulled them out by the nipples. Then she wrapped her legs around a pole onstage and pushed the vagina area of her female anatomy against it. She began to go up and down in a gyrating motion with the pole between her legs.” He pauses, clears his throat, tugs at his shirt collar, a portly little man with thinning gray hair and a wrinkled suit that is too tight across his stomach. “Then she made a…ahem…a flicking motion with her tongue at the pole.” He looks up with pleading eyes.

The judge with the Lincolnesque beard is dozing in his chair. The court clerk, a mousy-looking woman, is glaring at the defendant. The prosecutor, a boyish-looking man in a navy blazer, is looking down at his notes. The male spectators in the courtroom are grinning. The prosecutor’s wife, sitting in the last row, is staring at the defendant. The wife leans forward, rests her chin on the tip of her forefinger—a beautiful, fresh-faced woman with sharply cut black hair—and studies the defendant for a sign.

The constable goes on. “Then she went down into the audience and laid across three patrons’ laps. A little bit of squirming went on. Then she sat up and pressed her breasts into a male person’s face.”

The men in the courtroom laugh, and the judge wakes with a start. He swings his chair around and says, “And what was the attitude of this male person?”
The constable tries not to smile. “He didn’t seem to mind.” The men laugh again.

The judge waves a hand at the constable to go on.

The constable lowers his eyes to his notebook. “When she got back onstage, she stood with her backside to the patrons. Then she spread her legs, bent over and spread the fleshy part of her buttocks with her hands to expose the inside of her…her…”—he squints lower to his notes—“…her vulva.”

The defendant lowers her face and covers it with her hands. When she looks up again, her face is red. She is an attractive woman in her thirties, with long sandy-colored hair, small eyes and thin lips. She is wearing a loose-fitting grayish-blue sweater with a matching skirt that falls below her knees. And panty hose. She purchased the outfit only hours before at a dress shop on Ouellette Avenue. The women in the dress shop had gushed over her when they found out who she was. They told her she looked beautiful in the outfit. She told them she didn’t really want to buy any new clothes because she was trying to get pregnant. “I just got married,” she said. The women congratulated her. Before she left, they asked her to autograph scraps of paper for their sons and husbands. For the husbands, she wrote, “With lots of lust and hot licks, Love, Marilyn Chambers,” and for the sons, she wrote, “With lots of love and wet kisses, Marilyn Chambers.” The women thanked her profusely and wished her luck in court.

Now, in court, she is humiliated by what the constable is describing. The judge asks him to demonstrate what the defendant did onstage. The constable puts his hands on his buttocks and tries to bend over, but his ample stomach stops him. He straightens up and says, “I could, Your Honor, if I was built like her.” Again the men laugh.

The defendant leans back in her chair and whispers to a man in the first row: “It gets to you after a while. Being arrested and fingerprinted just because you’re giving people pleasure. It’s so degrading. You begin to wonder if you’re as bad as people say.”

The man nods and whispers, “You didn’t do all those things, did you?”

She blushes again. “I don’t know. Maybe. Probably. I just get so hot onstage.”

When court is adjourned, the prosecutor’s wife goes to him and kisses him on the cheek, but even as she does, she cannot take her eyes from the defendant, this modest-looking woman who, above all else, knows that great secret. How to please men.

* * * *

Sixteen years ago, Marilyn Chambers, nee Briggs, was a 19-year-old aspiring model and actress who was making her living as a topless-bottomless dancer in San Francisco, where she was married briefly to a bagpiper who played on street corners for change. “It was the age of being free,” she says. “Love, Sex and Happiness. I was just a hippie chick.”

She had a bit part in one feature film, The Owl and the Pussycat, with Barbra Streisand, and an offer to be the girlfriend of a famous producer. “He told me he’d make me a big star if I had no other boyfriends but him,” she says. “I thought about it and decided I’d rather fuck in films than fuck to get in a film.” Shortly afterward, she went to a casting call for a film to be produced by the Mitchell brothers of San Francisco.

“They asked me if I wanted a balling or a non-balling part,” she says. “The only stag films I had ever seen had fat ladies and guys in black socks. They said it wasn’t going to be like that, so I said I’d take a balling part for 10 percent of the gross. They told me to take a hike.”

When the Mitchell brothers discovered that the “hippie chick” who wanted 10 percent of the gross was the same woman who appeared as the mother on the Ivory Snow box, they immediately called her back, and the rest is porn history. Behind the Green Door, starring the girl who was 99 44/100 percent pure, became one of the biggest-grossing X-rated movies of all time. It made its star not only famous but wealthy. Today, the 1972 film is a classic of its genre. It can be found in full view in the video racks of respectable households across the country, right alongside The Sound of Music.

The secrets to its success are many. It had the high-quality production values of a feature film, rather than the hazy, bouncy look of a stag film made by two men taking turns with a hand-held camera while one of them masturbated. It also had a plot. A dreamy, almost romantic fantasy of a fresh-faced innocent seduced, in stages, into various carnal delights. The turn-on was in its star’s seduction, not in her acts. It was the thinking person’s porn flick, and its star was perfect for the part. She looked like a girl who was experiencing these carnal delights for the first time and, much to her surprise, was loving every minute of it. Marilyn Chambers was the first porn actress who looked as if she were really having orgasms onscreen.

“Each sequence was a surprise to me,” she says. “They never told me what was happening next. I just did it as it happened, and it worked. I’ve always been highly sexed. Oh, my god, I love it! Insatiable is the right word for me. Even in my dance shows I get really hot. I want to spread my legs and give as much as I can. This is the perfect business for me. I love to give pleasure to men.”

After her follow up, The Resurrection of Eve, was released, Marilyn decided she needed a personal manager to guide her career, so she called Chuck Traynor, an ex-Marine who was beginning to make a name for himself in porn circles as Linda Lovelace’s manager and husband. Traynor was having trouble at the time trying to guide the Deep Throat star in her career because, as he puts it, “she envisioned herself as the new Katharine Hepburn, and all she really was, was a body without a head.”

When Traynor and Lovelace split up, Marilyn moved in with Chuck in Los Angeles, where he took over her career and eventually married her in 1974. Traynor decided that Marilyn shouldn’t oversaturate the X-rated market, so he had her branch out. They formed Chambers Traynor Enterprises and moved to Las Vegas, where for the next ten years Marilyn starred at nightclubs like Caesars Palace, performed in straight plays such as The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and occasionally made X-rated movies (Insatiable I and II), though a total of only five in her career.

They split up seven years ago, in good part because Marilyn wanted to wind down her career and Chuck didn’t. Marilyn moved to L.A., where she had a couple of devastating accidents to her legs, even more devastating love affairs and, finally, a bout with drugs and alcohol that brought her to the brink of suicide. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous, got sober and met a hardworking trucking-company salesman named Bill Taylor, whom she married a few weeks before she returned to Windsor for her court appearance.

Traynor remained in Vegas during those years, spending most of his time running the Survival Store, a sort of arms warehouse for the Soldier of Fortune types who spend their vacation time in Honduras and with whom Traynor was on close terms. He also spent time hunting around for a girl to replace Marilyn Chambers. Enter Crissa “Bo” Bozlee. Seventeen years old at the time. A dead ringer for a young Jane Russell. Bo had had a bit part in a soft-porn movie (“You get to see my tits,” she says. “I love to show them off”), had been the Soldier of Fortune magazine poster girl (“If the contras ever take power in Nicaragua,” says Traynor, “Bo will be their first lady”) and was a crack shot who liked to go into the desert, strip naked and fire M-60 machine guns while fantasizing that millions of people were watching her.

Bo also had a penchant for older men, like Traynor, who is now 52. “They can teach me so many things,” says Bo, “like etiquette, and how to be perky so people will like me, and how to be the cutest and glamourest I can so I can turn on an audience.” Traynor became her lover and her manager, and one of his first tasks as the latter was “to create the need for a product that didn’t exist yet.” He telephoned Marilyn and asked, as a favor, if she would go on a few more club dates with him so that he could book the unknown Bo in those same clubs as “the New Marilyn Chambers.” One of those clubs was Jason’s in Windsor, where, on a June night in 1986, Marilyn was arrested for giving a lewd performance. Marilyn wanted simply to plead guilty and pay her $300 fine, but Traynor prevailed upon her to return to Windsor in late January 1987 for the trial so that Jason’s management could make her arrest a test case for the nude-dancing law in Canada. “Whichever way it goes,” says Traynor, “it’ll be called ‘the Marilyn Chambers law.’ That’ll be neat.” (In July, she was found not guilty.)

Marilyn agreed to return, and when Traynor told her she might as well pick up an easy $15,000 dancing at Jason’s that same week, she agreed to that too. Bo was also appearing that week at Jason’s.

“I used to love the order of going on the road,” says Marilyn, “of doing each show at a certain time. But now that was an intrusion into my order as a housewife. Cooking and vacuuming were a joy to me for the first time. I love taking care of my husband. It’s more fun to make real love to one man than the fantasy of making love to 500.”

Traynor thought that the only fantasy Marilyn harbored was that she could ever be happy as a housewife and mother. “I don’t think she can walk away from it,” he says. “The adulation. She loved it too much. She might fantasize about having kids, but the reality is telling them someday what she did all those years. I thought about having kids at 18 but decided I didn’t want to leave anything to anyone. I just want to be cremated and made into douche powder for nude dancers.”

“I know what Chuck thinks,” Marilyn says. “But I’m not worried.” Her new husband was worried, however. He didn’t like the idea of his wife returning to her former career. She told him not to worry. She was 34 years old. She was overweight, and she had bad knees. This would be her last dance.

* * * *

The second-floor dressing room is a war zone of women’s debris. Clothes. Costumes. G-strings. Boots. Hair dryers. Makeup. Crumpled wads of tissue. Bo, in a sequined cowgirl costume, is doing splits on the dirty linoleum floor. Chuck, in a brown suit, is rolling up Bo’s posters and putting a rubber band around them. Marilyn is sitting naked in front of a mirror, applying makeup for her 9:30 P.M. first show, which follows Bo’s by half an hour.

Down the hall, the rest of the nude dancers, mostly young French-Canadian girls, are chattering in French as they put on their makeup in their dressing room, emerge from the shower with towels wrapped around their hair and talk to their boyfriends on the telephone in the hall, where a painter, a gaunt old man, is trying to paint around them. The girls are all naked, and indifferent to it in front of the painter. Yet there is a certain innocence about them. At Christmas, they raised over $10,000, donated it to a variety of charities and were stunned and hurt when a few of the charities refused to accept a contribution from nude dancers.

“Look at him,” says Chuck, gesturing toward the painter. “He’s been painting that same spot for a fucking week.” He laughs. Bo is oblivious. Marilyn turns and smiles at Chuck. She sees a big man, balding, stoop-shouldered, slow-moving, with jug ears. In her book, Ordeal, Linda Lovelace portrayed Traynor as an evil Svengali who kept her a sexual slave for years. Today, Traynor looks less like a Svengali than like a hick from Homestead, Florida, where he was born and raised. “I was a hick,” he says. “I joined the Marines at 18, and the first time I went into a city this black pimp told me he had thirty girls dying to meet me. I gave him all my money, just to hold for me, and he took me to an empty room. He told me to wait for a few minutes and those thirty girls would be right out, and then he split. I waited an hour, and for the rest of the week I ate peanut-butter sandwiches.”

Traynor served in Vietnam, returned to the States, where he was a crop duster for a while until he got poisoned by the insecticide he used, and then drifted into the porn business. He became successful not because he was an evil genius but because he was ploddingly shrewd and a stickler for details. “I worked hard,” he says. “Marilyn knows. There was a lot of resistance to X movies then. Now it’s commonplace, which is why it’s dying. I used to watch 1,000 X movies a day. I’d show them on my refrigerator door and title and price each one of them while I ate doughnuts and drank chocolate milk.”

“Chuck was bitter over Linda’s book,” says Marilyn. “He gave her a house in Beverly Hills and a Cadillac, and when he left he took nothing. He’s a very giving person. When I met Chuck I was 19, and I needed guidance. He had me under his control twenty-four hours a day, but he never tried to control my thoughts. People say he exploited me, but I exploited myself because I wanted to. Gloria Steinem wrote a book in which she said Chuck was exploiting me and I should come to her for help. That woman never even met me! How dare she assume I wasn’t doing what I wanted to! I think she should be using her vibrator a lot more.

“I know I learned a lot from Chuck, how to dress, how to clean house in a military way and how to be sexy for men. He taught me to be a whore in bed and a lady in public. Chuck’s secret is he’s every Joe Blow in the audience. He knows what turns them on by seeing what turns him on. He’s lived out most of his fantasies, but he still doesn’t know what’ll make him happy. Bo seems to have helped him there. He’s lost that angry edge he always had. I just hope she doesn’t hurt him. He says she’s his slave, but he dotes on her. It’s cute the way he fixes the bow in her hair. He sews all her costumes himself, by hand. I think he’s more interested in holding on to her than making her a star. That’s why he’s on the road again. To keep her happy. She’s not inclined to be barefoot and pregnant. He just needs to keep her needing him without her becoming famous. I just hope he hasn’t lost his perspective after all these years.”

Bo, standing now, spreads her legs, bends over and tries to stick her head between her legs. “Look, Chuck!” she says. “Almost!”

“I told you not to try that yet,” he says. “I’ll fine you if you do.”

Bo, still bent over, looks upside down at Chuck through her legs. “I would never do that, Chuck,” she says, wide-eyed. “You told me not to.”

Marilyn glances at Bo and rolls her eyes heavenward. She has difficulty hiding her distain for Chuck’s protégée, even when Bo’s being generous, or, as Marilyn would prefer to think, cloyingly obsequious.

“Marilyn,” Bo says, “I saved the big dressing table for you. Do you want it?”

“Of course.”

Bo smiles up through her legs but says nothing. She has an almost eerie remove and self-control for her age. (“When I was 15,” she says, “I wanted to be a ballet dancer, so I starved myself so I wouldn’t get breasts. When I didn’t want to be a ballet dancer anymore, I forced my breasts to grow, and they did.”)

Marilyn is not sure whether Bo is a naïve young girl or a totally self-absorbed woman, or maybe a little of both. On the one hand, Bo keeps a scrapbook of her newspaper clippings and thinks that men who fawn over her are “silly.” On the other hand, she says she could have kicked herself when she ignored a nerdy-looking guy who, she later found out, had won a million-dollar lottery, and she can say of an aged Texas boot maker, “I ordered as many pairs as I could before he dies.”

Marilyn examines her makeup in the mirror, where she has stuck a photograph of her new husband. She says, “I hope this audience is better than the last. They were so cold I couldn’t work up any energy.”

Bo smiles up at her and says sweetly, “Oh, they were cold for me too, but I supplied my own energy to get them hot.”

Marilyn glares at her. Then she looks at Chuck and says, “I heard Sammy’s down to 113 pounds.” She is referring to Sammy Davis Jr.

“Sammy who?” says Bo. She straightens up and shakes out her hair.

“Yeah,” says Chuck. “He’s playing the Holiday Inn for crissakes.”

“Jesus, remember when he used to play Caesars with us?” says Marilyn. “Yeah. He used to love to watch Behind the Green Door.” She laughs that sexual laugh of hers. “Especially with me sitting right beside him.”

Bo plops down in her chair and purses her lips. Marilyn knows it annoys Bo when she and Chuck talk about some intimate detail of their past life together that Bo was not privy to. Marilyn smiles at Bo. She sees a pretty girl with cascading black hair and the kind of big, soft, pale, bosomy body that was a sexual fantasy for men, like Chuck Traynor, who came to manhood in the Fifties. It is the lush, lascivious body of a Fifties pinup lounging on satin sheets, sucking a bonbon between her harshly painted lips. (“I like big tits,” says Chuck. “I make Bo eat a lot to keep her tits up.”)

“I told Chuck she was gonna have a weight problem by the time she reached 30,” Marilyn says, “but he just said, ‘Who cares? I won’t be around to see it.’”

Marilyn thinks it is fantasy for Bo to believe she will ever become a sex star. “She’s playing it, not being it,” Marilyn says. “She doesn’t feel it. She works at it.” What Bo works at most is studying Marilyn Chambers. Her eyes click like a camera taking photos of everything Marilyn does.

“Why do you put lemon in your Coke?” Bo asks.

“To cut the sugar.”

Bo nods, clicks and continues to stare at Marilyn. What she sees is an older woman, thick-waisted, whit a big, smooth belly and pendulous breasts, who bears only a faint resemblance to the slight “hippie chick” who starred in Behind the Green Door. And yet, despite Marilyn’s added weight, she looks harder than Bo, more substantial. She has a flat voice and a harsh, throaty laugh that is faintly masculine. She talks about sex, jokes about it, in that same, confident, macho way that men do in a bar over drinks. (“Sure, John Holmes fucked me up the ass,” she will say in that flat voice. “It took me a week to learn how to walk again.” That throaty laugh.)

“I’ve always been highly sexed,” she says. “I think it’s good for you. But the funny thing is I never felt sexy with Chuck. I didn’t have big boobs. I was just this hippie chick with long, straight hair and no hips. I don’t think I turned Chuck on. He had to learn to like me sexually. I worked so hard at it, just to please him. Chuck’s a voyeur, you know. Sometimes he’d want me to get into these scenes, you know, and I didn’t want to at first.” She laughs, and then her voice lowers. “But once I got into them, I loved it.”

* * * *

Jason’s lounge is filled with businessmen sitting in groups at square tables or singly at the bar. They are mostly from Detroit, just across the border. The Ford executives arrive in Lincoln stretch limousines and the GM executives in Cadillac stretch limousines. They check their coats, smooth the sides of their hair and pay $10 to the tuxedo-clad doorman before entering the dark, smoke-filled room.

The Jason’s dancers, wearing negligees or bikinis with their high-heeled shoes, drift through the room, each carrying what looks like an old-fashioned milk crate on top of her head. They look like some strange sexual version of coolie laborers. When a table of men stops one of them and slips some bills into her G-string, she puts down her box, stands on it and begins a slow, sensual striptease. “They can’t touch us,” says Jasmine, a dancer. “But they don’t really want to. The fantasy is enough.”

Throughout the darkened room, girls undulate like snakes in the smoky-blue light. They touch themselves and close their eyes as if in heat. Each bends over at the waist so that her behind is only inches from a man’s face. He stares, perfectly still.

Onstage, Bo, stripping off her cowgirl costume, works hard under the bright lights. She bumps and grinds, does splits on the floor, wraps her legs around a pole, rubs her groin against it, puckers her lips in a pseudo-sensual way that only vaguely resembles the hot sensuality of the Jason’s dancers on their tiny milk crates.

Chuck Traynor stands in a darkened corner of the room, his arms folded across his chest, and watches through his small blue eyes. He says, “Why Bo? After Marilyn left, Bo was just there.” He laughs. A Jason’s dancer drifts past him and smiles seductively. Chuck smiles back. “My reputation precedes me,” he says. “They all think I can make them a star. That’s why I stay in this business. All that young pussy. If you keep 18-year-olds around you, you stay young.”

He watches Bo’s act without interest for a while, and then he says, “The secret to this business is to give everyone what he wants. The guy who thinks a girl looks fresh-faced and the guy who thinks she sleeps on satin sheets should both fulfill their fantasies with the same girl. The reality, of course, may be something entirely different. I remember once I had this girl come into a strip joint in a Girl Scout costume. She started selling cookies to the guys while another girl was onstage. The DJ starts harassing the Girl Scout and everybody think it’s legit, and then suddenly the Girl Scout begins to strip, and everyone went wild. Now, that was really hot. That’s what it’s all about. Living on the fine edge. The one who goes to the edge and doesn’t fall off—now that’s the one.”

When it is time for Marilyn to appear, the Jason’s dancers stack their milk crates along the far wall and then stand back in the shadows to watch. “Forget about Bo,” says one of the dancers. “She’s a no talent with no body. Marilyn’s the one.” When Bo finishes changing back into her cowgirl costume, she joins the girls along the far wall, a little apart because the Jason’s girls do not like her much, and Bo knows it.

The DJ announces Marilyn Chambers: there is thunderous applause from the men and the Jason’s girls, and Marilyn bounds onto the stage. Bo, silent, watches. Marilyn is wearing a red sequined dress, elbow-length red gloves and red suede cowboy boots. She sings a few songs (“Ooh, Las Vegas”) and then banters with her audience. She tells them a few intimate details about her porn career, and then offers to answer their questions. The men are shy, reticent, as most men are when they confront her. Men unfailingly treat her like a lady in her presence, but then, out of earshot, they make their course comments.

The men here tonight, however, are perfect gentlemen. They ask her a few innocuous questions, as if in awe of her. Marilyn Chambers is nostalgia for these older men. She represents the sex of their youth, long gone, after years of marriage. Finally, one of the men stands up, blushing. “You would know,” he says, stammering. “I mean, your background and all. I’m talking about how important it is, you know, how big it is, for a woman to be…satisfied.” He sits down. There are a few hoots of derision, but Marilyn raises her hands for silence. Then she says seriously, “You know, it’s a shame we women do that to men. All that talk about fourteen inches. It’s not so. Just remember, it’s not the meat that matters. It’s the motion.”

The men break into wild applause and cheers. The Jason’s girls shout, “Right on, Marilyn!” Bo, in the shadows, watches. Then Marilyn begins to strip.
She gives “a good, legal show” that is in marked contrast to the show described by the constable in court only hours ago. Her act is not much different from Bo’s. She bumps and grinds and wraps her legs around the pole onstage as she discards pieces of her red costume. When she is naked, except for her red sequined G-string, she goes down into the audience and dances around the room. She stops here and there at a table of men, shakes her breasts at them and then moves on. The men cheer and yell approval, but after she turns away, one or another will comment, “Jeez, look at the belly on her!” When Marilyn passes Chuck standing against the wall, she stops and dances close to him for a long moment. Chuck, his arms folded stoically across his chest, gives her a small smile, and then she moves on.

When her performance is over, Marilyn stands onstage and bows to boisterous applause, not only from the men but from the Jason’s girls. They cheer her partly because of who she is and partly because it is obvious she loves what she has just done. She smiles, her face glistening with sweat under the stage lights. Then she turns her back demurely to the audience and bends over to pick up her discarded clothes.

“That’s the difference between Marilyn and Bo,” says a Jason’s girl. “Bo makes love to herself onstage. Marilyn makes love to the audience. That’s why I dance. I love turning men on. I feel good about myself. I feel as if I’m giving these men pleasure. Maybe I’ll turn ‘em on so much they’ll go home and take care of their wives better than ever before. There are a lot of wives out there who should be grateful to Marilyn. More of them should see her perform. They might learn something.”

After her show, Marilyn, wearing only a G-string, goes out into the lobby to pose for snapshots with her fans. The men line up like schoolboys, and Chuck ushers them in turn to a little corner of the lobby, where each poses with Marilyn. As the men pass Chuck, they slip him a $5 bill, which Chuck pockets much as the maitre d’ does at a fancy restaurant. He then tells the man to smile, and he aims the camera. The men stand stiffly next to Marilyn, as if posing for one of those nineteenth-century daguerreotypes. Chuck snaps. Marilyn’s smile breaks. She signs the still undeveloped snapshot, and each man walks off, grinning, staring at the picture as it slowly develops before his eyes. “Divorce Polaroids,” says the doorman.

* * * *

I was born and raised in Westport, Connecticut, a suburb for executives who worked in New York City. My name was Marilyn Briggs. I was a cheerleader in high school. My mother worked as a nurse, and my father was an ad exec in New York City. He worked on the Avon account. My parents were not into being affectionate. I craved that. Mostly from my dad. He was a handsome man. A silver fox. I had this mad sexual fantasy about him. It really was incest. But it was all right. Sometimes fantasies are okay, if you leave them fantasies.

When I was 18, I wrote him this love letter, but he never responded. I was crushed when I learned he had a girlfriend all those years. I was 21, playing the Riverboat Room in New York, when he walked in with his girlfriend. It shocked me even then that he wasn’t perfect. All my life I have tried to please my father, but I never could. Then I tried to please Chuck, Uncle Chuckie, I call him, but I knew I didn’t. There’s something in me that doesn’t please men. I don’t know. Maybe that’s why I worked so hard at it all these years. Maybe that’s why I always need a man to take care of me. To be Daddy’s girl. That’s the way it was for me with Chuck, and that’s why I need his blessing now with my new husband.

That’s all I want from Chuck, his blessing. I want to show him I can make the transition from pleasing all those men to just pleasing one man. I think I can. I hope I don’t miss it. Sometimes I don’t want to think about it. I love my husband. He’s a normal, hardworking guy. I just want to be a good wife and have kids someday. I know I’ll have to tell them what I did all those years. I hope they’ll understand. But still, I don’t regret my career. I wouldn’t change a thing. I wasn’t much of a straight actress anyway. Just mediocre. I might have had a career if I slept around with all the right men. It may sound funny, but I don’t think what I did was the same as that. I gave it away. If I have any morals, that’s what they are….

You know, my father is divorced from my mother now. He lives alone in an apartment. He told me for the first time only recently that he has kept my love letter in his dresser drawer all these years.

* * * *

It is midnight. Marilyn is sitting in her dressing room, naked, preparing to put on her red costume for her last show. She is exhausted and her knees ache. She massages them. There are white scars on each. A few years ago, she dislocated one knee so badly she almost lost her leg. She pleaded with her doctors to save it. “I kicked a door after a violent argument with an old boyfriend,” Marilyn says. “The door shattered, and so did my knee.” Her other knee was broken in a fall and had to be rebuilt. That is why, only moments ago, she consented to meet two of her fans, physicians, in her dressing room. The two doctors had told Chuck they had some new medicine that might ease the pain in Marilyn’s knees. The doctors stood awkwardly in front of Marilyn, who seemed not to notice their embarrassment before her nakedness. When they gave her the medicine, she said, “I’m an addict, you know.” They assured her the medicine wasn’t addictive. She thanked them, then signed posters for them. They left, grinning at the posters they held out before them.

Marilyn puts on a pair of woolen socks, and then another, to keep her feet warm. Then she puts on her red cowboy boots. “I never wear high heels,” she says. “I need the boots for support.” She holds up her red dress and shakes her head. “Jesus, it’s filthy,” she says. She laughs that throaty laugh and shakes her head. “Who cares, huh? This is my last show.” She puts on the dress and stands up to examine herself in the mirror. “Jeez, it looks like shit.”

When she pulls on her long red gloves, the seam of one of them rips at the wrist. She laughs out loud and then sits down to finish putting on her makeup. She pauses a minute, takes the photo of her husband from the mirror and stares at it. “He’s a good guy, you know,” she says. “He treats me right. We met on a blind date. After he found out who I was, he wouldn’t go out with me for a while. Then he got over it. It was hard on him.” She sticks the photo back in the mirror just as one of the Jason’s dancers comes into the room.

“Marilyn, can I talk to you?” the girl says in a thick French accent.

“Sure, honey, sit down, if you can find a place.” The girl sits on a sofa strewn with Bo’s and Marilyn’s clothes and belongings.

“I’m going to Acapulco for a week,” the girl says.

Marilyn turns in her chair and looks at her. “You better be careful,” she says.

“I know. I’m going with this guy.” Marilyn shakes her head in warning. “But he’s on the program, Marilyn. We help each other stay clean.” The girl, like Marilyn, is a member of AA. She is in her early twenties.

“Did you take another chip at the last meeting?” Marilyn says.

The girl smiles. “Every ninety days. For a year now.”

“Don’t get too cocky. I know a girl who was clean for ten years and then she went off. It can happen.”

“I know. I’m so emotional I could go just like that.”

“When I see the signs with me, I get my ass to a meeting as fast as I can. Everyone has to slip once in a while. It gives you more humility.”

“Did you get your cake yet?”

“Yeah. After one year.”

“Me too.” The girl smiles. “It felt so good. When I was on coke it made me paranoid. I used to walk the house all night, check my watch fifty times, smoke ashtray after ashtray full of cigarettes. You know how it is.”

“I sure do, honey.” Then Marilyn stands up. It is time for her last show. She smooths the front of her dress with the palms of her hands and shakes her head. “I look like a fucking slob.”

The girl grins at Marilyn and says, “Marilyn, I think red looks good on you.”

Marilyn looks at her and grins back. “You bitch!” The girl laughs as Marilyn leaves the dressing room. She walks past the Jason’s girls’ dressing room, which is deserted now. She comes to the top of a narrow stairway that leads down to a door to Jason’s lounge. The stairway is dark. From far down the hallway, the girl who has just been talking to Marilyn calls out, “Good luck, honey.”

“You too, baby. And don’t worry. God watches out for you.”

Marilyn begins to walk cautiously down the stairs. Her knees buckle in, and she must hold on to both walls with the palms of her hands. She takes each step slowly, her boots clunking heavily against the stairs. When she reaches the bottom, she pauses a moment in front of the closed door. In the darkness, she says to herself, “All right guys. I’m gonna get your butts moving one last time.”

She opens the door.

[Thanks as always to Dina for transcribing...] 

 

The Curious Childhood of an 11-Year Old Beauty Queen

This story originally appeared in the April, 1994 issue of Life Magazine. It is included in The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan and appears here with permission from the author.

The Curious Childhood of an 11-Year-Old Beauty Queen

By Pat Jordan

It’s eight a.m. The lobby to the Riverfront Hilton in Little Rock, Ark., is crowded with pretty young girls. Their faces are elaborately made up — lipstick, mascara, false lashes; their hair is in curlers. The girls are not playing or giggling. They are just standing there.

These girls are some of the 100 contestants, ranging from infants to 21- year-olds, who will compete this afternoon in the second annual America’s Queen of Queens beauty pageant. They want to be named Baby Queen, Toddler Queen or Empress Queen — and win the cash prize that goes with each title. The overall winner, Grand Supreme Queen, will get $5,000. In room 2046, Dr. Bruce Pancake, a Chattanooga plastic surgeon; his wife, Debbie, a former Miss Chattanooga runner-up; and Tony Calantog, their 23-year- old ”pageant coordinator,” are preparing the Pancakes’ eldest daughter, Blaire Ashley, for the event.

Blaire started entering contests when she was five. Now, six years later, she has competed in more than 100 beauty pageants — and won 90 percent of them. It’s a costly hobby: Entrance fees for national contests range from $250 to $800, and that doesn’t include the elaborate gowns, voice lessons, drama lessons, Tony’s $40-per-hour fee, or traveling expenses. Blaire’s prizes range from hair dryers to television sets to a red Ford Festiva to, last year, $12,000 in cash. ”I like the cold cash,” says Blaire’s mom, Debbie. Blaire likes the crowns. ”I fell in love with this one crown,” says Blaire. ”God! I wanted that crown.” But, she says, she sympathizes with girls not as wealthy as she, girls for whom a crown is not enough. ”I feel sorry for them,” she says. ”They have to win a car because they don’t have one. Their parents yell at them. One girl dieted so much she fainted onstage.”

Child beauty pageants –3,000 or so a year–take place mostly in smaller southern cities but are spreading rapidly; more than 1.5 million contestants vie for the money, cars, trips to Disney World and, most important, the experience that will take them one step closer to becoming Miss America. There is even a magazine — Babette’s Pageant and Talent Gazette — to fuel their dreams. The cover features recent pageant winners wearing crowns and sashes. One section announces innovations like pageants for children missing an arm or with cerebral palsy. Ads pitch banners, robes, crowns, trophies, costumes and the services of makeup experts and pageant coaches. Articles advise little girls on the importance of eye contact and offer tricks for overcoming puffiness and dark circles. But the real problems are saved for the Letters page.

”The kids end up victims,” according to one mother; another writes, ”There is more to life than pageants.” Perhaps, but for some girls and for some girls’ families, pageants are the past, present and future.

Blaire Pancake’s bedroom at home looks like Cinderella’s — after she married the prince. It is filled with crowns, tiaras, batons and trophies, all glittering with rhinestones, that make her old Little League trophy look shabby. She has a bulb-lined makeup mirror and two walk-in closets overstuffed with evening gowns just perfect for a miniature adult. (When Blaire was crowned Little Miss Hollywood Babes Superstar, she had a dress named after her. The Blaire is tulle-skirted and sequined in a herringbone pattern.) Blaire doesn’t play organized sports anymore, though she skis occasionally ) with her family, and she’s just started to make time for a sleepover or two. (School is no problem: Blaire gets A’s.) ”Pageants are my only interest,” she says. ”They’re all I want to do. I love what I’m doing. I want to become Miss America.” Which is why there are no posters of Blaire’s favorite rock stars in her room. No posters of a fantasy heartthrob. Blaire’s room is a shrine to her own fantasy.

Room 2046 of the Riverfront Hilton is something else altogether, a shambles of toys, clothes, rumpled beds, potato chips, Pop Tarts, curling irons, makeup, cans of Coke. The Pancakes have brought three of their four daughters along. Alexis, one, also a pageant winner, is home with a sitter. While their mother, Debbie, hides in the bathroom — where she will stay until she is totally made up — and Tony prepares Blaire, Bruce plays with Elise, three, Miss Southern Charm 1993, and Erin, eight, who used to win pageants until she discovered art and sports.

”When Erin quit, we were sick!” Debbie calls out from the bathroom.

”White-blonde is the perfect look,” says Bruce, dreamily fingering Erin’s hair. Bruce says, ”I’m a plastic surgeon only from the neck up. I enjoy the beauty of the face. No doubt that’s why I’m so involved with Blaire.” Bruce is captivated by his daughter’s beauty but prefers it enhanced: He apologizes to strangers when she is not wearing makeup. Some parents have accused Bruce of enhancing Blaire’s looks with surgery.

Debbie, from the bathroom: ”They can be ugly.” ”It’s ridiculous to operate on children,” adds Bruce. ”But if Blaire wanted me to do something when she’s older, I’d consider it.”

This contest has the Pancakes worried. Blaire will be competing against 12- year-olds, some of whom, according to Bruce, ”have the breast development of women.” Blaire is tall and thin, like a stick figure, but this talk of breasts does not seem to bother her. She sits in a chair, dressed in a nightshirt, her hair in curlers, and watches cartoons while Tony fusses over her. Blaire is used to hearing adults talk about the tools of competition. Like the fake tooth she’ll wear today to hide the missing baby tooth. When Tony begins gluing on Blaire’s fake nails, she holds out her hands, limp-wristed, like the delicate wings of a bird. Finished, Tony dabs makeup on Blaire’s eyelids, which flutter shut, then open.

”Now Maybelline Great Lash,” says Tony. ”All the models use it.” Bruce looks over. ”New makeup! Oh, perfect!” he says. Finally, smiling, Tony holds up a lipstick. ”Lasting Kiss,” he says. ”We can kiss collars and napkins, and it won’t come off.” He turns, puckers his lips and blows a kiss across the room.

At 14, Tony Calantog weighed 250 pounds. He went on to play offensive and defensive tackle on his Pensacola, Fla., high school football team. His teammates called him Otho, after the interior decorator in Beetlejuice. But Tony preferred to decorate the faces of little girls. Word of Tony’s expertise in makeup, dance, modeling, dressmaking and fashion coordinating soon spread throughout the child beauty pageant subculture.

”I saw Blaire five years ago in a Jacksonville pageant,” Tony says. ”I didn’t think much of her. Come on! She wore blue eye shadow!” Bruce asked him to help redesign Blaire. After he did, Tony says, ”she became glamorous. She had a certain look, and beautiful hair.”

”Some parents said it was hair extensions,” calls out Debbie.

”Blaire loves the stage,” says Tony. ”She totally turns on. She becomes . . . Blaire! A total package. It’s who she is.”

”She comes alive,” adds Bruce. ”She has that sparkle of spontaneity judges look for.”

”I love pageants,” Blaire interjects, speaking in a precise, adult voice. ”Except when I have to do two back-to-back. Then I have to tell my father I can’t take it anymore. I need a break. Pageants are easy for me, except for doing my hair. I’m very tender-headed. Oh, and the interviews. I try to make the judges like me. If I don’t win, I try harder to make them like me next time.”

”In our first pageant we had no talent,” Debbie says. ”She, not we, honey,” says Bruce. ”Now Blaire looks the judges in the eye,” boasts Debbie, still in the bathroom. ”She smiles, turns on that charm that makes them look at her. That’s talent.”

”We try not to enter too many pageants where the interview is important,” says Tony.

”We put Blaire in a package deal,” says Debbie. ”Clothes, beauty, talent, because she’s got a blah personality, like me.”

”Oh, honey,” says Bruce. Blaire is oblivious.

When Tony begins combing out Blaire’s hair, so thick with curls it almost obscures her face, Debbie emerges from her lair. ”Hi!” she says. ”I’m the mom.” Her face is heavily made up, her blond hair stiffly curled. She is wearing a black velvet pant-suit trimmed with gold brocade. Debbie has a doctorate in pharmacy, which comes in handy whenever Blaire is sick, like now. She has had the flu and was coughing and nauseated until Debbie gave her Dimetapp and an antibiotic. Today Blaire is feeling better. She is eating grapes, grasped delicately between her red fake fingernails. She eats each grape in three bites, with her front teeth, her lips curled back so as not to muss her lipstick. Debbie looks at Blaire’s hair and frowns.

”It’s too full.” Tony says, ”It’ll fall.” Debbie says, ”The main thing is to frame the face.” There is a knock on the door. Tony cries out, ”Oh, my shoes! My shoes!” He rips open a box and takes out a pair of shiny silver high heels. ”Cinderella’s slippers,” says Bruce. Blaire puts them on. ”They’re too big,” she says, without expression. ”Just watch out for the cracks in the stage,” says Debbie.

Tony holds up a black rhinestoned cocktail dress and stares at it in the mirror. ”I couldn’t wait!” he says. The dress is for the talent competition, in which Blaire will sing ”On My Own” from Les Miserables as one of her numbers. Blaire usually wears coral (”her best color,” says Tony), as she will in the western-wear, sportswear and formalwear competitions, which are really exercises in modeling. (The girls walk up and down a runway, posing, hands on hips, a little turn here and there.) Tony and Debbie make most of Blaire’s costumes. When she outgrows one, they sell it, often at a profit because of Blaire’s winning reputation. Everyone wants an original Blaire. Blaire unself-consciously strips down to her panties, a seasoned performer in a crowded dressing room. Tony helps her pull on her pantyhose, then her black dress. Blaire grabs a cordless microphone. (”You should have heard her before voice lessons,” Tony says.) While Blaire performs in front of the mirror, Tony stands behind her, pantomiming her act. He spreads his arms at the finale and bows, mouthing silently but with great exaggeration, ”Thank you!” Behind them, Erin faces the wall, drawing furiously. Elise, meanwhile, is holding up a bruised finger to her mother. Debbie looks at it and says, ”Did you cry? No. Good. Don’t ever make a scene.” Bruce stares lovingly at Blaire.

The ballroom at the Hilton is packed with parents, many of them overweight women in sweat suits or jeans, and their beer-bellied husbands in long-haul $ truckers’ caps. Bruce, Debbie, Erin and Elise, all wearing badges on their chests with Blaire’s photograph on them, are standing against the back wall, trying to be inconspicuous. Some of the parents have complained that the Pancakes get too much attention. Blaire is waiting in line with about 20 other girls. She stares, without expression, at the floor while Tony fusses with her hair. A few places behind her stands Ariel Murray, her main competition. Ariel has already won three cars, and last August she defeated Blaire in an Atlanta pageant.

”Blaire won Miss Photogenic,” says Debbie. ”And we were missing teeth.” When Blaire goes on, it is a seasoned performer who stalks the stage, belting out ”New York! New York!” moderately well, except for the high notes. For the first time in hours, Blaire is truly alive. She bows and leaves the stage. As Blaire and her mother walk back to the hotel room, Debbie says, ”If you had held the mike closer, you would have been more dynamic. But you wouldn’t. Ariel did it.”

Back in room 2046, Blaire wraps herself in her mother’s white satin kimono. Outside, little girls race down the hall, squealing. But Blaire has work to do.

Debbie: ”What’s your favorite color?”

Blaire: ”Coral.”

Debbie: ”Say ‘Because it looks good on me.’ ”

Bruce: ”If you could be anyone in the world, who would you be?”

Blaire: ”Myself, so I can obtain my goals.”

Bruce: ”What’s your secret weapon?”

Blaire: ”When people have problems, I try to help them.”

Bruce: ”You mean, help your sisters?”

Blaire: ”Aw, yeah, help my sisters.”

Debbie: ”Don’t say ‘Aw.’ ”

Bruce: ”If you went to the moon, who would you take with you?”

Blaire: ”My mom, because she never goes anywhere.”

Bruce: ”If you could be like anyone, who would you be like?”

Blaire: ”Leanza Cornett, because she was Miss America.”

Bruce: ”When you look in the mirror, what do you see?”

Blaire: ”Myself. I like what I see.”

Debbie gets down on her knees and begins rubbing moisturizer into Blaire’s legs because she will be wearing shorts for the interview. ”If you cough, say ‘Excuse me,’ ” Debbie says. Blaire holds out her arms, and Debbie rubs moisturizer into them. ”If they ask what the smell is,” says Tony, ”say ‘Wings.’ ”S He throws out his arms. ”Tra-la!”

Tony takes Blaire to the  interview, which is conducted in private, and Bruce goes out for some fast food. With them gone, Debbie expresses her true fears: ”You got to watch out for them Louisiana girls. They pull ‘em out of the swamps. They’re dumb but gorgeous.”

When Blaire returns, she says she thinks she did well. ”It’s not hard for me to talk to adults,” she explains in her precise voice. ”I like to spend time with adults, even though I have to act older because they expect more from me.” Maybe Blaire, who has given up a child’s spontaneity, shows so little offstage emotion because she’s so busy editing herself with adults.

On Sunday morning, the third day of the pageant, all the girls, in their gowns, and their parents assemble in the ballroom. When last year’s Grand Supreme Queen gives up her crown, the pageant organizer, a short, bald man, begins to cry. Then the winners in each group are announced. When Blaire’s name is not called for her group, the Pancakes turn to leave. But the pageant organizer urges them to stay. Finally, after each of the group winners has been introduced, the name of the Grand Supreme Queen is called out: ”Blaire Ashley Pancake!”

Her parents scream with joy as Blaire takes the stage to receive her crown and her five $1,000 stacks of $1 bills. The huge piles weigh heavy in her hands, like bricks. Blaire stands there for only a moment, smiling, looking slight and a little bit lost, before she leaves the stage. On the nine-hour ride back to Chattanooga, Bruce, Debbie and Tony are still too excited to sleep. Tony says, ”I feel great. I did everything correct.”

Debbie says, ”My parents think we go overboard with pageants.”

Blaire says nothing. She is asleep, clutching her crown in her hands.

Running Cars

This story first appeared in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel in the late 1980s. It appears here with permission from the author.

Running Cars

By Pat Jordan

Rod Chadwick, 38, is running cars in the hot sun. He sprints across the street to the parking lot. A tall, leanly-muscled man in a t-shirt, sweatpants, and soiled sneakers. He has a Sam Shepherd face, only more gaunt, with hollows for cheeks and slits for eyes. The face of a pale Indian or a tightly-strung, ascetic.

It is four o’clock on a lazy, Sunday afternoon in May. There is a long line of stopped cars leading from one end of the street to the awning over the entrance to Shooter’s Bar and Restaurant on the Intracoastal Waterway in Ft. Lauderdale. A BMW-M3 convertible. A Ferrari Testarossa. A black Corvette. An Excaliber. A Lincoln Continental with blacked-out windows. A pink, Volkswagon Rabbitt convertible. A British Racing Green Jaguar XJ-6. A Chrysler Le Baron with a rentacar sticker on its bumper. A dove-gray, Mercedes-Benz 560 SEL. A Guards red Porsche Turbo with the slant-nose front end.

The locals are driving in from their day at the beach. Strippers, both male (“Crazy Horse Saloon”) and female (“The Booby Trap Lounge”). Bartenders and cocktail waitresses. Businessmen and lawyers. Plastic surgeons and insurance fraud experts. Importers and exporters of South American goods. Real estate ladies. Hookers. Body builders. Cattlemen and pepper farmers. Mistresses. Drug runners. DEA informers. A bouillabaisse of Ft. Lauderdale locals winding down their weekend with a few Cuba Libres and Rum Runners at Shooter’s overlooking the water. They sit at the bar, watching the white yachts, blinding in the setting sun, cruise up the waterway. They mill around the docks, seeing and being seen, alongside the docked speedboats. A band in Hawaiian shirts is playing a medley of Jimmy Buffett’s greatest hits from under the shade of a palm tree. A man on a docked speedboat invites a girl on the dock to come aboard for a drink. Maybe a little cruise, he adds, grinning. The girl smiles, shakes her head, no. A local girl who knows that such an invitation always ends with her confronting two options. Suck or swim.

The older men have swept-back, silver hair and gold chains nestled, just so, in their fluffed out chest hair. The younger men are tanned, muscular, with droopy mustaches and spandex bicycle shorts. The older women are pale, heavily made-up, with ash-blond hair that is cut severely short, but not so short as to expose the face lift scars behind their ears. They are wearing long, silk dresses and textured nylons held up by white lace garter belts and, occasionally, an ankle bracelet that reads, “If you can read this, you can eat me.” The younger women are tanned and trim, with brassier, blond hair and oversized breasts recently implanted by a Peruvian plastic surgeon in Miami. They are wearing spandex, mini-dresses or satin jogging shorts with high-cut Reeboks and some of them are still wearing their g-string bikini bathing suits with their stiletto, high-heeled shoes, their American Express gold cards tucked into the top of their bikini bottom.

Rod Chadwick, sweating in the hot sun, holds open the driver’s door of the slant-nose Porsche while a fat man-boy of twenty, struggles out from behind the steering wheel. The man tells Rod he wants his car parked up front, for everyone to see. He slips a $20 bill into Rod’s hand as deftly as a quarterback handing off to a fullback. Years ago, Rod had a football scholarship to Georgia Tech, where he majored in architecture. He transferred to Catawba College in North Carolina and switched to a history major. He helped support himself even then by running cars. When he was graduated he did a little student teaching but decided that was not for him. He opened a frozen yogurt business but didn’t like working indoors. He worked on construction for a while but even that was too confining. He began to run cars again. He has been running cars on-and-off for over twenty years. A valet, now pushing forty, or, as the writing on his t-shirt says, “Automotive Relocation Engineer.” That was Donnie Brown’s idea. He owns the valet-parking concession at Shooter’s and a number of other South Florida clubs, where the valet parking business is rivaled only by Southern California.

Donnie is 28, chubby, preppy-looking with his rosy cheeks and dark, Princeton-cut hair. He was a swimmer and football player at Pine Crest, an exclusive prep school in Ft. Lauderdale. When he left school he missed the jockey, macho image he had as a football Player so he took a job running cars during the 2 a.m.-to-4 a.m. shift at Club Dallas out on Federal Highway near the airport.

“It was a redneck club,” Donnie says, sipping club soda at Shooter’s bar. “They hired me and a few other football players because we weren’t afraid of the rednecks. Nobody else wanted to work that shift.”

(more…)

The Haircut

Here is a wonderful essay by Pat Jordan which originally appeared in The Southern Review

 

The Haircut

By Pat Jordan

Susie said I was starting to look like a French diplomat. She meant my hair. Long over my ears and swooping back on the sides like wings into a DA in back. I’d let it grow out of indifference ever since we left Fort Lauderdale three months ago to take up residence in Abbeville in the up-country of South Carolina. Abbeville was a small town of fewer than five thousand, a little bit old, a little bit worn, and a little bit out of the way. It was a “very Southern town,” code words of the locals which meant more than a few of its citizens had not yet reconciled themselves to the defeat of the Confederate States of America in the War between the States. They referred to those not born and raised in one of the original Confederate states as “Yankees,” but tried not to do it to their faces. When they slipped up, they quickly apologized, “I’m sorry I called you a Yankee.” I told them I was a “Yankee,” a Connecticut Yankee, actually, and that only people from New England were truly Yankees. People from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, et cetera, were just northerners. They smiled, but did not accept that distinction.

There was a monument on the town square, a mini version of the Washington Monument, in Washington, D.C., but this one was devoted to the memory of soldiers who had given their lives for the CSA. On special weekends there were reenact- ments on the square. Men with beards, dressed in butternut and gray uniforms, rode tired-looking horses around the brick streets of the square to the strains of “Dixie.” The men carried flags, the Stars and Bars, which they waved at the townspeople, who waved back with mini flags. Last year, two black Abbevillians had donned Confederate uniforms and marched. Shelley, the owner of the Rough House, a local bar, told me Yankees didn’t realize that a lot of slaves fought and died for the Stars and Bars. I asked, “Why?” He looked at me and said, “Because it’s part of their heritage, just like ours.”

Shelley is very Southern. Over his bar he has a yellowed proclamation heralding Senator Strom Thurmond Appreciation Day, Abbeville, 1984. Shelley’s mother owns an antiques store and one of the items she had for sale was a painting of Abraham Lincoln. When Shelley saw it, he waited until his mother was busy, then took the painting and disposed of it. Shelley is a professional actor—stage, screen, TV. I told him he’d be perfect as Jeb Stuart for one of the reenactments.

Then I said, “I could play Grant.” He gave me a pained smile. And then he gave me some books to educate me about the War between the States. The books claimed the war was not about slavery, that was a pernicious Yankee lie, but was really about States’ Rights. He directed me around the corner to a bookstore that would further my education about the South’s insurrection. I stood in front of the bookstore window above which was a sign, All Things Confederate. It was closed. I saw a big Stars and Bars flag on a wall inside. On the front window was an ink drawing of General William Tecumseh Sherman over which was printed: Wanted For War Crimes.

The genteel ladies of the town who live in big, colonial houses on North Main hosted reenactment parties at which “Period dress is optional.” In Abbeville there is only one period of note, 1860 to 1865. Abbeville calls itself “The Birthplace and the Deathbed of the Confederacy.” When Jefferson Davis fled the Yankee army in 1865, he stopped long enough in Abbeville to sign papers dissolving the CSA. Five years earlier he had hosted a conference of South Carolina statesmen in Abbeville, where they signed the first articles of secession of any of the Southern states. That conference was held on a hill where our 1884 Victorian house sits. It’s called “Secession Hill.” Two concrete pillars stand sentinel on either side of Secession Hill, with plaques embedded in them that urge Abbevillians never to forget that once “no nation rose so white and fair” as the CSA. Our house is on top of that hill, on Magazine Street, named not for the magazines I work for, but a munitions factory that manufactured gunpowder as far back as the Revolutionary War. There’s a big old oak tree at the top of the hill. Rumor has it that during the great unpleasantness of 1860 to 1865, Yankee spies were hanged from that tree.

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Fearsome Foursome (Plus One)

This week, Gary Smith profiled the Phillies starting rotation in SI’s Baseball Preview issue.

And in the latest edition of the New York Times Magazine, Pat Jordan takes on Philadelphia’s four aces:

Mike Schmidt was standing behind a batting cage, still as trim as during his playing days. A handsome, middle-aged man with swept-back, silvery hair and a thick mustache. I asked him what he thought of the four Phillies pitchers.

“Well,” he said, “now when the Phillies come to town, the other team knows they’re being challenged by four No. 1 pitchers. They have to amp up their mental game. I used to see my at-bats the night before a game when I laid my head down on the pillow. Gibson, Seaver, Ryan. I had to have a plan. When I went to Houston, they had three good pitchers. The fourth was Nolan Ryan. I could go to sleep with the other three, but Ryan kept me awake. Ryan! Ryan! Ryan! My plan was, don’t miss his fastball if he threw it over the plate. If he got two strikes on me, I’d have to face his curveball.” He turned and looked at me with his small blue eyes, which had fear in them. “Ryan was scary!” he said. He shook his head, as if seeing Ryan on the mound. Ryan began his motion and fired the ball at his head. Schmidt had a split second to make a decision. Was it a 100 m.p.h. fastball that could kill him if it hit him in the head, or was it that wicked curveball? If he dove away from the plate and the pitch was a curveball that broke over the plate, he’d look like a fool and a coward. But if it wasn’t a curveball, if it was that 100 m.p.h. fastball, and he didn’t dive away from the plate . . . well, he didn’t even want to think about that.

“Ryan, Gibson, Seaver, they made you defensive,” he said. “Does that make sense? You were afraid of the ball. There’s no fear of the ball today with cutters, splitters and changeups.”

“What about the Phillies’ four pitchers?” I said.

“They’re not scary,” he said. “Even if they all win 20 games, the Phillies don’t have a pitcher who strikes fear in a hitter.”

Two very different takes on “the best rotation in baseball” from two very different writers.

And while we are talking pitching, here’s Steve Rushin’s piece on the Braves’ five aces from the 1993 SI Baseball Preview.

Bo Knows Booty

Over at Deadspin, here’s my guy Pat Jordan on Bo Belinsky:

No character in sports was more authentic than Robert “Bo” Belinsky, a left-handed pitcher in the ’60s. Bo personified “cool,” real cool that was intrinsic to his nature, not his public persona. As a rookie, Bo pitched the first no-hitter in California major league history for the Angels. It made him a star and an instant celebrity whose name became synonymous with a lifestyle that was cool and slick and dazzling. But that no-hitter was the high point of Bo’s career, which, after eight years, saw him leave baseball with a 28-51 record.

After his no-hitter in 1962, Bo said, “If music be the food of love, by all means let the band play on.” Bo instantly became the first original playboy-athlete. He f**ked Ann-Margret, Mamie Van Doren, Tina Louise, Connie Stevens, and he partied with Eddie Fisher, Dean Martin, and Henry Fonda. But in those days f**king Hollywood starlets and showing up at his team’s hotel at 5 a.m., “reeking of bitch and booze,” was not exactly what team owners, managers, sportswriters, and fans expected from their idols. Bo was suspended, arrested, banished to the minor leagues, traded, and traded again and again, which confused him. Bo never understood an essential fact of celebrity in those days. He never had that knack of later, more beloved playboy athletes like Joe Namath of cultivating his persona precisely up to, but not beyond, that point at which his public would become annoyed, bored, and eventually furious with him. By the time Bo left baseball his name had become synonymous with dissipated talent.

Welcome to My Nightmare


Pat Jordan loves to trash the Yankees because he knows I’m so easy to wind up. He could not care less about the fortunes of any team in any sport other than his beloved Miami Hurricanes (and since I could not care less about college football, giving it back to him is less than fun). So we talk about the Yankees and he gets his digs in.

Last night he goes, “Hey Al, what are you going to do when Carl Pavano goes 2-0 in the playoffs against you guys? Hey, didn’t Pavano once pitch for the Yankees?”

Roars with laughter. “What? He win like three games in five years? Hey, Al isn’t he going for his 17th win tonight?” More laughter.

I tell him that Pavano winning two games agains the Yankees in the playoffs is my worst nightmare. Not even losing to the Twins–how can you be hard-on against the Twins?–just Pavano, who bilked the Yankees out of $40 million and is now pitching well while sporting the worst mustache of the decade.

“Tell you what, Al,” Pat said. “I’ll clean and polish my Glock 9mm and load the clip with hollow point bullets so you can come down here put it in your mouth and pull the fuggin trigger after Pavano beats the Yankees.”

More roaring.

[Photo Credit: Nam Y. Huh/AP]

“I. Have. Striven. For. Genius. All. My. Life. But I have known failure.”

Pat Jordan is 69 years old and still writing. He jokingly refers to himself as the “Last Knight of the Freelance,” and it’s true, he’s the last guy of his generation to still make a living as a freelance magazine writer. He writes for the dough but he also writes because that’s what he does, that’s who he is–he wouldn’t know what to do with himself if he wasn’t working.

Jordan takes on another old pro, William Shatner in a profile that appears in this week’s New York Times Magazine:

Shatner was interviewed once by a snarky British talk-show host, who showed scenes from Shatner’s TV cop show, “T. J. Hooker,” and asked, “What do you think about your acting?” Shatner replied: “Oh, I was terrible. How could I have played it that way?” Outside Starbucks, Shatner said to me: “If someone criticizes my acting, they may be right. Sometimes you shouldn’t work so hard” to entertain. Then, softly, he said: “I never thought of myself as a great actor, like Olivier. I was a working actor. I entertained people and always tried to be terrific at whatever it was.” His problem and his salvation. He played so many different roles that “people couldn’t define me like they could De Niro. I took whatever work came my way to pay the bills, even if it wasn’t a decent role.” His motto was “Work equals work,” which destroyed any hope he had of being taken seriously as an actor but also brought him longevity, wealth and fame. “I was always grubbing,” he said. “But I was saying the words somewhere.” He leaned toward me and said, with mock import, “I love to evoke the bones and meat and thoughts of characters.” He put his hand on my knee, squeezed gently, then said with breathless intimacy: “I said this one line for Priceline 20 times. I struggled to get the nuance. My silence reverberated in the ether.” His face was close to mine, as if imparting a great secret. “If you add a car and a hotel room, you will get an even better price from Priceline.com.” I nodded. “See! You got it!” Then, matter-of-factly, he straightened up and emphasized how much satisfaction that one line gave him. “A pro takes the job knowing it’s not a great role, just a paying job. But every word has music in it. My satisfaction is trying to reach that music.”

In the Name of the Father

Good piece by Pat Jordan on Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the New York Times Magazine this week:

Earnhardt and I were sitting on the sofa talking; his publicist sat on another sofa. We talked for two hours, while his publicist fidgeted, casting expectant glances at us. Earnhardt said nobody calls him Junior or Little E anymore, except his fans. “That’s off my back,” he said. He looked down at his hands while he talked. When I asked him why he races, he said: “I didn’t want to work for a living. What the hell am I gonna do with my life as Dale Earnhardt’s son if I don’t race? I was a mechanic in Dad’s dealership at 18, and those were some of my happiest days. But my name was Dale Earnhardt Jr., man. Working as a mechanic would’ve been a real pain. People saying: ‘What happened to you? You’re Dale Earnhardt’s son.’ ”

…What has been the hardest thing for him to deal with in his career?

He stared at his hands and said: “All my life I’ve been the smaller measure of the man. When my Dad died, I wanted to honor him. But I wanted to distance myself from him too. I wanted to get out from under being Dale Earnhardt’s son.”

O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Here’s Pat Jordan at his best. A first-person essay on his relationship with his brother:

My brother doesn’t know where I live. He doesn’t know who my friends are. He doesn’t know I have two new puppies. He doesn’t know I am talking again to my daughter after 20 years. He doesn’t know if Susan is still well and free from cancer. He doesn’t know if I am well or sick, working or not, vigorous or an old man. I know nothing about him either. I have not talked to him in three years. I have not seen him in five. I have seen him only three times in the last 12 years, at my house in Florida in 2000, at our mother’s funeral in 2002, and at my father’s funeral in 2005. He doesn’t know what I look like now, at 69, whether I have gained or lost weight, whether I have lost my hair like Dad, or still have it like him. But I know what he looks like because he has never aged. He looked old when he was young, but when he got old he looked the same. He’s 83 now. With short hair like Brillo, a long horsey face, and small eyes (his friends called him “Moose”). A tall, sturdily built man with a vise-like handshake that made me wince, his reminder that he would always be stronger than me, like a solid oak unbending in the wind, while I would always be a sapling whipped by the wind until uprooted.

At my mother’s funeral in 2002, my father, my brother, and I greeted mourners in the back of the church in our hometown of Fairfield, Conn. My brother, 6’4″, wore his Ivy League suit from J. Press Clothiers in New Haven, and his wing-tipped cordovan shoes, as sturdy as Dutch clogs. My father, 5’6″, at 92, wore his navy blazer with brass buttons and his regimentally striped tie. I, 6’1″, wore my black leather sport jacket, jeans, and work boots. I had long gray hair and a white beard. My father looked at me and said, “You look like a bum.” My brother said, “Leave the kid alone, Dad. He came all this way.” My brother always defended me to my father. That’s why he always called me “the kid.” It was a sign of affection. To him, I would always be “the kid”; it was his way of excusing my behavior among adults. And whether my brother realized it or not, it was a way to diminish me. Which was the problem, one of them anyway, which is also why, at 69, I have reconciled myself to the possibility that I will never see my brother again.

Breaking the Wall

[Editor’s Note: Here’s another one from the Pat Jordan vaults, a short, cutting profile of Burt Reynolds, from the late Eighties. While Pat reserves his harshest criticism for himself, but he’s especially hard on jockish, so-called tough guy actors like Reynolds and Tom Selleck. He thought Reynolds wasted his talent and was willfully lazy for easy money and fame.

When this story was published Reyonlds’ publicist called Pat and called him the “evilest man in the world, the anti-christ.” Pat said, “Then I’ll see you in Hell.”

No business like show business. Enjoy.]

By Pat Jordan

It was just a wink. But it defined the rest of his career.

“They told me I couldn’t do it,” he says. “It would break down the wall between the actor and his audience. But the movie was just a cartoon. Smokey and the Bandit. Cotton Candy. I just wanted to say to the audience, I hope you’re having as much fun as I am. So I looked in the camera, and winked.”

Audiences loved it. That conspiratorial wink united them with the actor in his inside joke. This movie was just a lark. He didn’t take it seriously. He wasn’t really acting. He was just partying with friends in front of a camera, and he invited the audience to join in. His fans were so grateful they made his movie one of the biggest grosser of the year, 1977, and they made him a No 1 Box Office Attraction. A Star. But more than that. Their favorite actor. The actor they liked the most. Which was his problem.

“I thought acting was synonymous with being liked,” he says. “I courted my fans. I passionately wanted them to like me. I thought being liked meant I was a good actor.”

The critics weren’t so accepting as his fans. That wink didn’t play well with them. They read into it, not the actor’s good-spirits toward his fans, but his contempt for them, and his craft. It wasn’t an actor’s role to be liked by his fans. It was to entertain them. Just because he was having fun with his friends – Jackie Gleason, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, etc. – in a host of Sophomoric movies (Smokey and the Bandit, Iⅈ Cannonball Run, I&II) that actually did seem to be filmed parties of actors acting silly, that didn’t mean his audiences were having fun. They would have fun only as long as that wink deceived them into believing they were inside those parties. That they were getting drunk, cracking inside jokes, oogling beautiful girls, and crashing expensive cars with the actor and his friends. But the truth was, they weren’t and never would be. They were irrelevant to those parties, except that they made them possible by the vast sums of money they paid to see them on screen. When, and if, they woke to the deceit of that wink, how it made the actor rich at their expense, they’d stop paying to see such movies. Which they did. But not until after they made him a No 1 Box Office Attraction for five consecutive years.

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Down and Out on the Beach

Here is part two and three of Pat Jordan’s spring break piece for Deadspin (and here’s part one):

It was almost 2 a.m. now, and I decided to go back to the hotel to get some sleep so I’d be sharp for the wet t-shirt contest the following afternoon. I walked back toward the hotel and passed Molly Brown’s Ladies. I asked the guy at the door if they had any kids in there, figuring a strip club was too expensive a proposition for college kids. “Yeah, we got a lot,” he said. I smiled and said, “You got any age-appropriate chicks for me? Maybe 65, 68, but without aluminum walkers?” He did not laugh. I decided, what the hell, might as well go in, but he stopped me. “I don’t want you in here,” he said. I flashed him my Gawker/Deadspin letter, but it did no good. I let it drop and walked back toward my hotel, with two thoughts: No one will let me in anywhere, and kids on Spring Break today are different from the kids in Fort Lauderdale in the ’80s. The Lauderdale kids had no money and slept in their vans. These kids stay in hotels, go to strip clubs and nightclubs and bars that are expensive. The Lauderdale kids ate at McDonald’s, and if they were lucky enough to have the cash, they stayed 10 kids to a hotel room, which they destroyed. It’s the times. There’s no free lunch anymore. Only kids with cash and plastic get to play.

What You Lookin' at Old Man?

Mr. Jordan goes to Spring Break for Deadspin (Part One):

So, the boys at Deadspin had this idea. Brilliant, really. Hilarious. They were sitting around the office one night, throwing out story ideas, coming up with nothing, getting frustrated, or maybe there isn’t actually a Deadspin office, and they really are just a bunch of guys hunched over their computers in the darkened basements of their mother’s houses, surrounded by boxes of cold pizza crusts and empty beer cans, emailing each other with one idea after another when one of them came up with this truly brilliant idea after having seen Jeff Bridges in “Crazy Heart” too many times. “Let’s throw the Old Man at Spring Break!” The Old Man with his white beard, threadbare thrift-stop Hawaiian shirt with the pink flamingos, OP shorts, Publix flip-flops, looking like a Florida derelict wasting away in Margaritaville, smoking his cigar as he tries to chat up some co-eds from Ann Arbor and Iowa City in Froggy’s and Razzle’s and the 509 Lounge with some pitiful, dimly remembered barroom rap that used to work for him 40 years ago, the co-eds thinking he’s a harmless old man, at first, like their grandfathers, until, after enough questions, they begin to think, maybe not so harmless after all, maybe a dirty old pervert actually, and they glance around the bar for a bouncer or a cop, which is why the boys at Deadspin told me, “We’ll have a lawyer on call 24 hours a day in case you need one.”

But what the hell, I’ll do anything for a story, and a check, small as it may be. What did Voltaire say? A friend asked if he’d ever had a homosexual experience. He said, yes, once. The friend said, then you’re a pervert. Voltaire said, no, “Once, a philosopher, twice, a pervert.” Which is why I drove south out of Abbeville, S.C., where I live now, in the up country, on Secession Hill in the Land of Cotton, on March 12, driving over two-lane country roads through Ninety Six and Newberry until I hit I-26 and then I-95 and headed south toward Savannah, Jacksonville, and my Spring Break destination, Daytona Beach. I had rented a white cargo van, stripped of seats in back, like a cave, threw a pillow and mattress on the floor, threw a bottle of Jim Beam Black in my duffel bag, my notebooks, pens and tape recorder in my man bag along with a 9-millimeter CZ 85 semi-automatic pistol with 15 hollow points in the clip and one in the chamber because, as Christian Slater said in True Romance, “It’s better to have a gun and not need it than to need a gun and not have it.” What the hell! I was going to sleep in my van, unless I got rousted by the cops in a motel parking lot at 2 a.m., the cops checking out my CZ, my CWP, then running my ID through their cruiser’s computer, looking for outstanding warrants, priors, coming up with only one — a firearms charge at Fort Lauderdale Airport in the late ’80s, a chickenshit charge, really, but a long story, the third-degree felony knocked down to a misdemeanor, adjudication withheld — and me in the backseat of their cruiser at 2 a.m., my hands cuffed for only the second time in 68 years (OK, third, if you insist on counting that barmaid in my St. Louis hotel room in the ’70s), trying to remember the telephone number of that Deadspin lawyer.

Never Give a Sucker an Even Break

wc

Check out this wonderful first-person essay by Pat Jordan from Men’s Journal. Jordan writes how he learned about money from his father, a professional grifter:

In many ways, I am my father’s son. once, in my 60s, I told my father, in his 90s, that I was not much like him. “How so?” he asked. I said, “I never gamble.” He laughed, a dismissive laugh, and said, “You? A freelance writer for 40 years?” He was right. He had taught me how to con people early in my life. I used that knowledge in my late 20s to hustle pool like him. I wore construction clothes at lunchtime. I conned my marks into spotting me the eight and nine in nine ball, and if I lost I always went to the men’s room, climbed out a window, and left without paying. A lesson from the old man. “Always check the men’s-room window before you play,” he said. “Because even if you lose, you’re not gonna pay.” Years later, when I became a writer, I conned editors into giving me assignments. “You got to find out what they want,” he said, “then give it to them. Tell them anything they want to hear to get the assignment, then write it the way you want.”

He taught me so many things that became a part of my life, that determined how I lived my life. He taught me that only a fool believes in perfect justice. “There’s no such thing as an accident,” he said. “You’re supposed to know the other guy always runs the stop sign.” He taught me that a man never quits no matter how defeated he feels, that a man always has to have the courage of his suffering. And most important, he taught me that “there are only three vices in this world, kid: broads, booze, and gambling, and if you’re gonna do it right, pick one and stick to it.” I was in my 20s, with a wife and three kids, and there wasn’t much room in my life for vice. Years later, however, I had more than a passing acquaintance with one of those, and it wasn’t booze or gambling.

But in the one way that really mattered, to me anyway, I was not much like Dad at all. I never had his purity of understanding of the true nature of money. That has always shamed me. I have been burdened, conflicted, cursed, you might say, by my own fearful need to hoard money to forestall that looming disaster always around the bend, the foreclosed house from my youth.

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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
--Earl Weaver