N a p a l m H e a l t h S p a : R e p o r t 2 0 0 9
THOMAS R. PETERS, Jr.
One hot night in July, I had just spent the last three & a half hours talking to the thirty-five year old amateur stripper I had been courting for a few days. We weren’t sleeping together because her “best-friend,” & my buddy’s wife, one and the same, had told me she had some type of venereal disease. So much for romance in Hollywood. Most of the time she was telling me about Woodstock and how she had been an absolutely straight “Daddy’s girl,” until the day her dad died when at twenty or so she went straight to the medicine chest and got out the morphine that she’d been fixing him with for the two weeks before he died. He had been through a lot of pain & after he was relieved of his, she turned the needle on herself. I don’t remember her name & if I did, it wouldn’t be important. She was beautiful in a blonde California way, liked leather mini-skirts before they became popular again was smart in a sharp way, but hid it with coy stupidity and told good long honest stories. She also made her living by winning amateur strip contests and liked to sit in one of those blue kiddie pools on her back balcony at night, all that was enough to make me, a kid from the midwest, thrilled with her, all except one thing: she had the clap.
She lived on Wonderland Avenue, and I left early for me, at about 4 am, because I was getting the creeps and because I wanted her so desperately but did not want the clap at all. Months later, I found out minutes after I left, John Holmes, the porn star & a bunch of coke-freaks had been clobbered to near death by one of Eddie Nash’s boys. Eddie owned the Starwood and was a known creep who had befriended Holmes because he liked to hang around “stars.” I was fed up and just to increase my feelings of anxiety, I drove down Santa Monica Blvd. towards the Okie-Dog for a Teriyaki Steak Buritto & a bag of fries before I went home. The Okie-Dog is where all the punks hung-out all-night and even though I had shoulder length hair, they knew I was basically one of them. Just past Peanuts there was a girl-woman hitch-hiking, a strange sight anywhere but an especially strange sight on Santa Monica Blvd. I pulled over in my white 1964 Chrysler and picked her up.
“Thanks a lot,” she said putting her head in my lap.
“Didn’t you just come out of Peanuts? That’s a lesbian bar, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but I just go there ‘cause I like to dance.”
“Where you going?”
“To San Bernadino.”
“Hey, well, I can’t help you much there. I’m broke & tired & I’m not even sure where San Bernadino is.”
“That doesn’t matter. I know where it is, besides, I’ll fix you something to eat when we get there.”
“I have plenty of food at home, besides, I don’t have enough gas.”
“I’ll put some in up here. Stop.”
So I stopped & she put in five bucks, which wasn’t enough, I complained. She said it would be plenty, and it turned out later it was enough to get me there & three quarters of the way back. She had tanned skin, a very pretty face, a space between her white teeth, long brunette hair, and her head in my lap. I gave her a ride to her door & she wanted me to come in.
“I’m too tired,” I responded.
“Come on in,” she yanked.
I went in. It was one of those non-descript California-mirage-ranch-track houses only instead of going through the front door, we went through a side door into her bedroom.
“Do you have anymore pot?” she whined.
“No, I just spent my last sixty bucks on this, and it has to last a while.”
I was particularly crabby, maybe truly crabby and ornery for the first time in my life. We went on the bed and began to make out. I went to take off her pants and she said:
“Hey, slow down. I’m not used to this.”
“Come on, it’s early in the morning. Are we going to get naked or not?”
I had never been that straight forward in my life. It was all get home, get naked, or get to sleep for me.
“Come on,” she said. “Look here.”
She reached into the drawer next to her bed and pulled out a Hustler magazine and handed it to me.
“What’s this for?”
“Look.” She opened it up.
There was somebody in various positions holding her lips open like my many girlfriends have promised me most girls don’t do while they are alone. Other things, sure, but this, no. I had never liked this magazine, and I didn’t understand why she was showing it to me, even when I did have a taste for dirty magazines, I liked Playboy & the more clean, girl-next-door types.
“Yeah, it is. See, I’m not such a prude.”
“I don’t care if you’re a prude or what you are. It’s just late.”
I put the magazine down with its huge fold-out holiday gatefold of her exposing her insides to the world and thought no that is not her. But it was, she had her mouth closed in all the pictures as not to expose the gap between her teeth. Some gaps, but not others.
We began kissing and fondling again. I stood up and took off my pants. She began to laugh & I thought, what’s so funny? I certainly don’t have anything to be ashamed of. She was laughing at my boxer shorts. Something I’ve always been proud of and the way my anxiousness was making them stick out like a tent.
“It could be worse,” I said, peeling down my shorts.
We made love once & went to sleep. The next morning, I wanted to fool around when I woke up, but she said:
“Your breakfast’s ready.”
“Yeah. My mom made us breakfast.”
“You live with your mom.”
This was a new one. Her mom had made us grilled ham & cheese sandwiches and coffee. Later when the joint I rolled her wasn’t big enough, and I told her it would have to do, she threw her luke warm coffee in my face, and I left, running out of gas not too terrible far from where I’d picked her up, and I never saw her again until one day years later at Central Michigan University, her picture, eight folds and all, was on the wall of the greenskeeper’s shed.
“I remember something about romance.”
I was never cut out to be a writer. Now a poet that’s a different story, I couldn’t even get through the second sentence without bringing “her” up, but I guess she’s what this is all about. When you get right down to it I guess it’s more about me in relation to her. And what better time to start than now, because like I was saying she is what I’m thinking about now. But I’m not cut out for this prose writing stuff. Reading it is a different story. I could tell you a story or two that would… Now where can I find a job as a raconteur, an anecdotologist, a fucking storyteller—Nowhere, that’s right. But I’ve got this notion that instead of drinking beer and watching the late movie I can tell you this story…
…she didn’t like the fact that I was so referential, self-referential, she all of a sudden got the idea that the “idea” was the “thing,” the very thing that she was attracted to in me to begin with, was the thing that pissed her off the most in the end.
We met at a Valentine’s Day poetry reading and I was reading a very long autobiographical piece, it was my most recent and best poem and she wanted to meet me and I wanted to meet her, I was tremendously attracted to her before I even saw her face—the back of her head, her hair turned me on. It was just a regular cut, a non-cut: the way your hair grows long naturally and it was beautiful. Not long and not short and it made her seem like an older woman. She was sitting next to Book, who was married to one of my teachers, and I immediately thought that this was his new girlfriend. And I was jealous, which was really kind of a new experience for me. I figured he was with her to piss his wife off who was sitting with this other guy, one of the few people I don’t care for. So, I was jealous about this girl—this woman, and I hadn’t even seen her face. I was fascinated by her, she became the only person in the entire room, but I tried not to be obvious about it because that would have blown it. Book got up at one point probably to read and the only two seats open in the whole room were next to her, I was sitting in the back on the riser that the sound board was on, next to Mickey and Nancy Sue, so I went and sat in one of the open seats and tried not to look at her too much, but she was all I could think of, not in a sexual way, which is not the way I think about women. I don’t know who I am attracted to, but just in a way that I think how great they are and how wonderful and how much I want to get to know them, but I’m liable to be less outspoken or zealous with them than just anybody. So, I’m just sitting there somehow keeping my composure but thinking of nothing but her: as if we were two complete strangers (which we were) that happened to get seats next to each other on an otherwise completely empty plane. So the set is over and we both (not together) go out to smoke in the lobby and Dianne introduces us in this crowd of people, probably so she wouldn’t have to entertain her anymore, because Dianne can’t devote too much of her energy in one direction, towards anyone, unless maybe she was having sex with them, which isn’t necessarily one of her bad traits but just something that happens when you spend to much time at parties in New York or L.A. She’s getting better actually, so she introduces us and at some point soon after she directs her attention somewhere else. So, I’m talking to her and smoking a cigarette but don’t want to leave her to ash my smoke or to put it out and I don’t want to appear careless and just put it out on the ground because that wouldn’t be like me, so while I’m taking to her I’m ashing my cigarette on the wall behind me which I’m leaning against and put it out very casually behind my back and drop the butt behind me or put it in my pocket and we’re talking and I like everything about her, the way she’s dressed: funny boots that are brown, beautiful little black jeans that are just are just little too short but just right, very tight little jeans but they’re still a little big on her, a black sweater and a beautiful sparkly, heavenly blue scarf that’s a bit affected and wrapped the first time too tightly around her neck but brings out the blue in her eyes, light blue and somehow languid like you could swim in them. I always thought that if I could paint, I’d paint a picture of her but it would be nothing but the blue of her eyes and there was a scared look in them, a kind of crazy, uncomfortable look as if she was terribly uncomfortable, maybe the most uncomfortable person in the world, but she wasn’t going to let anyone see it and it didn’t come out anywhere except in a glint in her eyes and she loved me and hated me for seeing it. She couldn’t possible have looked more comfortable otherwise, with her cigarette painting the air held up near her face between two fingers where it would take only the slightest effort to bring it to her mouth where she could suck the life giving air right out of it, a slight bend in right knee as if she only needed one leg to stand on, perfect posture yet relaxed and her upper body, a wisp barely containing a breath hanging from the tops of her shoulders as if she was sitting down, her purse hanging comfortably from its’ thin strap (with a knot in it) from the delicate valley between her shoulders and pale, lovely neck and the little black make-up she had around her eyes somehow overdone and we talking about what she loved which was what I loved, like she knew. And I couldn’t help thinking how she reminded me of Diana Scarwid playing Christina Crawford alone at her kitchen table in Mommy Dearest. It was the hair and look in her eyes again but every time I had that thought I felt bad and got rid of it as fast as I could because she was much more infinitely beautiful and when we talked I knew she had that interesting problem of the young and beautiful, that is, not having any problems—any real problems at all so adopting them from films and literature that curious group that have Edie and Zelda Fitzgerald as their patron saints and want the problems they had, so desperately, until they taste them and get so scared and withdrawn. This was where she was now. And when we were first in love, lying in bed, she would want me to tell her stories about myself and part of me didn’t want to so much and sometimes it made me feel egocentric and bad about exposing her to so much experience because sometimes it made her feel like she hadn’t done anything. But I would do it anyway and she seemed to like it and it gave us both a chance not to think and just be together in the soft darkness of the room and sometimes she was thrilled but never too outwardly and sometimes I knew it was just so she wouldn’t have to think too much about her own life and sometimes I wanted to stop, but she would say, “no, I like it,” but then later in our relationship the only signs she would ever show of being unhappy was sudden (out of the blue) outbursts, maybe twice, three times at the most saying in a group of people, “you are the most self-centered person I’ve ever met,” sometimes angrily and sometimes with a smile like it was the most wonderful twisted compliment and then when we broke up it would be, “you don’t talk about ideas, you just relate events in your life to the situation,” which made me feel bad in all kinds of ways and would make me think that these events were the seeds of my art, they are the meat and they are the reason I write they are actually my subject matter and they “are” my writing at least as long as I write the way I do know, and it was the most frustrating thing in the world because it had seemed to make her happy and there were times after we broke up where the mere sound of my voice would turn her attention elsewhere to the point where it was so obvious that I would cut myself off there mid-sentence as if her audience was the sole reason to speak.
Labor Day weekend 2000 my father had passed away on July 21st & had been dead 39 days or so, I was at the Telluride film Festival & I had just bumped into my friend Stan Brakhage who I had known about for 20 years and had known personally for about 13 years both as teacher, friend & confidante, I had also known him as a film maker, painter, lecturer, we had gone to the movies together so I knew him as a film lover, I had watched him work & for the last 7 years or so we had discussed film every Sunday night, he was a customer at my shop & had been a good friend to me in times of trouble & I had seen him in almost every state of mind possible, to name a few, suffering from cancer, divorced, remarried, the father of adult children (5) the father of small children two, I had seen him spitting tobacco juice or snuff into a flask when I thought he was drinking, for a while before I knew who he was I thought he was blind, I knew there was a Brakhage from film school but I didn't know this strange blind man was him, he looked like Gene Hackman in Young Frankenstein & he had a rather pronounced brow which shaded his eyes with a unusual effect, he later said he was having eye problems at the time, once my friend saw him & said "there is that famous underground film-maker what's-his-name," which caused Stan to laugh real loud & later we discussed the whole idea "of famous/underground" & "what's-his-name" confirmed his underground status... he said it was one of his favorite stories, I had sat with him in the morning while he was having his Irish Coffee, I had spoken with him on most subjects including girls, God, movie legends, Jackson Pollack, Christ, Creeley, naropa, ginsberg etc. ad infinitum, like I said my Dad had just died & I was out of my head with mourning but very pleased to bump into the one guy who seemed to understand me, he had said everything you could imagine to me over the years, including once very oddly in front of a whole group of people "I like your beard, very much," he had said I was prescient and said in my life and poetry I seemed to have one foot on the other side, (I had asked the director of the Film Festival in passing, when was he going to invite Stan back a few years before, telling the guy, Tom Luddy, that Stan was recovering from Cancer for the 3rd, 4th or 5th time & it was never to soon to invite him back,) he was invited back every year for the rest of his life, (but I never mentioned this interaction to Stan, I had no pull there at all, but that prompt didn't seem to hurt any) on this sunny Telluride day Stan invited me back to his room for a drink in the middle of the day and the festival had provided him with large and small bottles of Gentleman Jack, they were sponsors and Stan had two drinks every morning but never drank for the rest of the day or night, we had quite a sober cocktail and then he invited me to go see the world premier of Ken Burn's Jazz which was showing in 10 parts over the weekend, Stan had never been an aficionado of Jazz and had basically shunned all popular trends in his lifetime & career, Stan sat on the aisle of the Mason's Hall and I politely allowed one seat in between us and sat down, it wasn't sold out & there were other empty seats, as per usual whenever you have perfect seats and there are empties in front of you right as the film begins someone or another invariably plops their ass down right in front of you, three folks came in and were leaning their asses into the three seats in front of us & I looked at Stan and made a magical go away gesture towards their backs with both hands and they magically all in perfect choreographed motion didn't finish sitting down but all moved over three seats each and left the three empty seats in front of us, Stan handed me a one and a half ounce bottle of Gentleman Jack and gestured good job Tom, we sat through the bebop legends and at one point I was about to see if Stan had any more small bottles on him, about an hour into it, but he looked horrified that I seemed to be about to address him during a film which I never did before or since, the empty seat between us seemed to be occupied by my father's ghost and I kept thinking how great it was that he could join us for this film which was right up his alley, as soon as the film was over Stan looked over at me and said, "I read your Dad's book and knew how much he loved Jazz, especially this period and I had the strongest feeling that he was sitting between us during the whole film."
Which had been my thoughts exactly, throughout the documentary.
We walked out into the sun and later, the next year we saw The Cat's Meow, afterwards when I saw Peter Bogdanovich embracing the 19 year old Kirsten Dunst who had slept through the premier feigning altitude sickness, I was so jealous I imagined Bogdanovich to be dating her, I knew his whole dating history including dating his dead girlfriends' much younger sister who he married, she was about 35 years younger than him & they stayed together for a long time, later that same afternoon I was chatting with Tobey McGuire about what a great job he did in Wonder Boys, and Dunst who was actually his girlfriend that day or covered wagon, one of the two, she stood next to him listening to our conversation and every few minutes someone would come up and ask her if they could have their photo taken with her & she would graciously say yes and when the camera was pointed at her she would "light up like a pinball machine and pay off in silver dollars," everybody with a disposable camera got her star treatment, it was unbelievable and she was built like an alien the tiniest waist in the world, small frame, but perfect medium sized breasts, she was wearing a really cool polo style (no emblem) rugby shirt with blue and orange stripes and a white collar, the kind I wanted so bad in high school, tight perfect fitting jeans and 1975 style suede nikes, blue with an orange swoosh, she was devastating & the only strategy I had, was to not look at her or address her in any way but just pay attention to her boyfriend, we talked while she listened, later that night I walked into a small romantic restaurant by myself and the first thing I saw was the two of them, Tobey & Kirsten at a romantic candlelit table for two and they turned to me and smiled and I turned and walked out, I just couldn't take all that happiness at that moment in my life and I didn't want to make them uncomfortable so I left.