A Helluva Town
by Jack Scribe
I ushered in 1997 and heralded the end of my Navy enlistment, New Year's Eve at Dave's San Diego house with the guys. Although I was mustered out a week earlier, as the clock struck 0001, January 1, I was officially a civilian and a soon-to-be working actor in New York. Dave, Mark, Tom, Doug and I celebrated earlier with dinner and wine...Mike got home from the North Island Officer's Club New Year's Eve party in time to join us in the countdown, watching Dick Clark broadcasting from Times Square.
Doug and I were pleased that we had bought the two-bedroom condo at the Remington on Wilshire Boulevard three months earlier - as predicted by the real estate broker, condo prices were increased 20% the first of the year. Sam arranged a non-interest bearing half-million dollar loan from CAM against our earnings over the next 10 years to cover the purchase price, after our down payment, and decoration costs. Sam smiled cagily when I observed that he had effectively locked me into CAM for that period. However, I planned on paying off the loan at the earliest time to give myself some wiggle room. 'Two can plan that game,' I thought.
We planned that while I was in New York for the run of the play, the condo would be decorated and furnished. Having gone through that drill with Dave's San Diego house almost a year earlier, I was more than willing to cede that responsibility - Doug received my 'fair warning' with a shrug. He planned on enlisting the aid of his mom to help coordinate the various contractors and the designer.
The Saturday night before my flight to New York, Doug and I had dinner with his folks at the DiMarco home. Mom - she was officially 'mom' and Mr. DiMarco was 'dad' - pulled out all the stops to prepare several of Doug's favorites including manicotti, veal cacciatore, eggplant parmigana, a big salad, and the garlic cheese bread. Dad DiMarco had brought assorted berries home the night before and marinated them in Amaretto. After dinner, the berries were served over fresh homemade peach ice cream.
After thanking them for such a wonderful meal - knowing that this would be the last home-cooked food for a while - and the love shared around the table, Doug and I adjourned to his bedroom and our last night together for a while. We lay side by side in bed and reviewed our plans for the next six months.
"Babe, we're both going to be pretty busy for a while," Doug said, "but it's the pits that we're going to be 3,000 miles apart." He looked at me soulfully, while his hand stroked my thigh.
"It'll go fast. You start American X on Monday, and I begin rehearsals in New York." I smiled and looked deep in his eyes, as I thought about going back east for the first time in several years. "By the time I finish my contract with the play at the end of May and return to L.A., we can move into our new place."
"I'll be able to come out President's Day weekend in February. The producers are shutting down the set for a long ski weekend holiday."
"That's super. I'll get tickets for Pam and you for that Saturday night. She'll enjoy going out with her new brother-in-law."
"Yikes...I'd forgotten I have a sister-in-law. I look forward to meeting her and seeing the show on Broadway. You're all set on housing?"
"Part of my contract is an apartment. I understand the producer has arranged for me to live in a small, furnished studio on West 46th Street that's within walking distance of the theater. And just to be on the safe side, Sam demanded a car service for me after the show's final curtain. He's been great."
"Sam's wise. No way is my love going to be walking around late at night in the theater district. That's the old Hell's Kitchen area, isn't it?" Doug asked.
"It was pretty rough years ago when mom was in the theater. Today, there are luxury high-rises on the same real estate."
"Just be careful. I want you back in one piece cuz we've got a long life awaiting us."
"Oh, I got a call from Trevor Winston, today," I announced, casually. Trev, along with Jim Weiss, had successfully filled Doug's and my shoes in Memphis when we moved to the West Coast.
"How is our buddy? I haven't spoken to him for a while," Doug replied.
With the training that I helped Trev through, we had a close friendship. And during the same changeover period, Doug had taken Jim under his wings.
"He's at the top of his class and will be finishing school in June. He's going to officially retire from Argosy in May, with Tan Man's blessing, and go on to graduate school. He has applications out to several right now. He also said that he and Jim had broken up, but they're still friends."
"I'd love to see Trev, again," Doug said, sincerely, "but right now I want to concentrate on you and make love."
He moved closer and kissed me with an intense warmness and I welcomed his probing tongue. "I look forward to that for many years to come."
There was no urgency as we slowly started our coupling ritual.
'Jesus,' I thought, getting out of the cab in front of 545 West 46th Street, 'January in New York is friggin' cold. I've been in the South and California too long.' I had brought three suitcases that the driver begrudgingly retrieved from the trunk. Hopefully, the packed clothes would last me though the five months. I was wearing jeans, construction boots, sweater, shirt, a Warner Brothers baseball cap, and Doug's heavy UCLA jacket - enough layers to cope with brief bursts of winter from a car to a warm lobby. As I paid the fare, a heavy-ish doorman came out with a luggage cart. He wore a twill gray uniform, white shirt and a black tie.
"Yes, Sir. You're living here? You look familiar, but I don't recognize you as a resident," the doorman remarked - with his breathe visible - as he loaded my luggage on the cart.
"Hi, my name's Brad Williams. I'm going to live in a studio that the CAM agency has arranged for me. Just came in from California," I replied, as we walked into the lobby.
"Oh, yes, Mr. Williams. I have a memo about your arrival. And, now I know why you look so familiar. You're on that show, Friends, aren't you? My wife loves the show."
"First, Miles, the name is Brad," I answered, picking up his name from his jacket, "And, yes, I was on Friends in November. But I'm now in New York to be in a play down the street." My stock rose in Miles' estimation of me as his eyes registered approval with each statement.
"Really? Which one?" Miles asked, with genuine curiosity.
"It's called, The Pleasure Was Ours. It opens at the Broadhurst early next month."
"I'll try to get tickets for the show. My wife loves the theater," Miles replied as he pushed the luggage cart.
"Then, I'll try my best to get you a couple of tickets." 'It's never a bad idea to keep on the good side of the doormen,' I decided as we walked over to the elevators.
"Ah, Mr. Wi...Brad, that would be great." He gave me an envelope and continued, "These are the keys to your apartment. Follow me and I'll get you settled." We called an elevator and went up to the 30th floor. He ran down the amenities of the building that included a gym and sauna. When we reached the apartment and unloaded the bags inside, he said, "The New York Times and Daily News will be delivered to your door each morning."
After Miles unloaded the cart, I gave him a ten-dollar tip and thanked him. The studio was compact and, thankfully, warm. It was only a little larger than a large hotel room, with a built-in Pullman kitchen and a separate sitting room area. The room was decorated in tasteful 'Marriott Modern'. It took only a half-hour to organize my clothes in the closet and drawers, and I was pleased to see the bathroom had an over-sized shower. That would come in handy when Doug visited.
After stripping down to my briefs, I noticed it was 8:30 p.m. here in New York. Knowing that Doug was waiting for my call at the studio, I found the phone and dialed his personal line.
"Is this who I think it is?"
"Yeah," I answered in a low voice, "We met at the Mother Lode last night. I wanna know if we can get together tonight. I've got something long and hard that you'll like, Mister." I started rubbing my crotch.
"Sounds good. My lover is out of town, and I'm ready to bust a nut. How much and where?" he replied aggressively, "and hold on while I lock the door."
I could hear him walking over and turn the lock. Next, a slight rustling suggested that he was lowering his pants. 'This is going to be fun,' I thought.
"Okay, I'm back."
"I usually charge five bucks and bus fare for a fuck, but for you, I'll make a deal on a quantity discount. Three times a week and ya got me for $3.50 a night. Deal?" I was breathing heavier as my sleeping cock woke up.
"Three bucks and throw in a blow job. Oh, fuck, I'm getting hard just thinking about it, champ." I had a mental image of him stroking that DiMarco log, aggressively.
"Gee, Sir, that's a pretty tough deal, but I like ya. Let's do it tonight. I'm gonna grip my fist around your hard cock and slowly stroke." I made sure that Doug could hear my breathlessness in the phone as I pulled off my briefs for better access to my dick.
"Yeah, I feel what you're doing. I know you're excited by the size of my hard-on. Man, it feels hot with the pre-cum oozin' out. Ohhh..."
"Think about my lips wrapped around your cock, licking those drops clean. And then, going down on you until my nose is in your pubes," I said, inhaling in the phone and speeding the action of my hand piston.
"I feel it...yeah...squeeze my balls. They're hot and full. Ohhh...shit...this feels sooo good," Doug muttered, panting.
"I love going up and down on your hot cock while my fingers find their way to your asshole. Ohhh...ahhh..." I could feel a tingly feeling in my balls. "Man, I'm about to explode..."
"I'm right with you. Let's go together. Oh, Brent, I'm going to cum..."
"Me too, lover. Ah...oh...yeah...here it comes," I yelled into the receiver as the first volley of cum shot up to my chest.
"Fuckin' A...urghh..." was all he uttered as I heard a rustling sound. Then there was silence. Just silence. Total silence. "Hey, babe," Doug finally said with a laugh, "we may have to do this often. It's awfully messy, though."
"Phone sex can be fun, but I'm covered with cum...thank God I have a towel with me. That was terrific." My breathing rate was slowly recovering.
"Glad to hear you made it safe. How's the place?"
"Small, but nice, and I'm up on the 30th floor. It'll be a great place for the two of us when you visit next month."
"You're all set to start rehearsals tomorrow?"
"The first day will be pretty basic - listening to the director and getting to know the cast. It'll take a couple of days just getting used to the theater. And I'm sure that they'll be judging this kid from Hollywood." I was the only member of the La Jolla Playhouse cast in the play. Everyone else was a highly respected New York actor with tons of credits.
"You'll have 'em by the balls in a week. Any plans with your sister?"
"Pam and I are planning on having dinner tomorrow night on the West Side near her apartment. The restaurant - Caf des Artistes - is an expensive place that was a favorite of mom's, years ago. It'll be a major hit on my budget but revisiting the place will be worth it."
"Do you plan on seeing your dad?"
"No plans at this point. That's one of the things sis and I have to discuss."
"Good luck on that. I know it won't be easy for you."
"I'll cross that bridge later. Listen, I'm tired and need to shower off this mess that you caused so I can read the script a few times before bed."
"That I caused? Imagine me in my tiny office, pants down and sticky stuff everywhere on my tummy. You horny devil...I love you. Let's both get ourselves cleaned up and we'll talk tomorrow night?"
"Love you, too. Tomorrow then. Bye, Doug."
CAM's New York office had provisioned the apartment with all the basics for breakfast. After a fast read of the papers while having coffee, juice and toast, I checked the weather forecast on the 8:25 a.m. local break in the Today show. 'Yuck,' I thought, seeing that the high today would be 35 degrees with snow flurries displayed on the TV screen.
I walked the five blocks to the Broadhurst Theater on 44th and 8th Avenue bundled up with several layers of clothing. Cast call was scheduled for 10:00 a.m., and I didn't want to be late. At the corner, I looked up at the theater marquee and saw the billing. The first line announced "Margo Fontaine ~ George Lemmings". They were legendary actors who were playing the leads. On the second line, before the title, was "and Brad Williams" in the same size lettering. 'Shit,' I thought, with my eyes tearing up, 'it really is something special having your name up there before the title.' After standing still and looking up for a few moments longer, I pulled myself together and found the stage door.
As I approached the backstage desk, before I could say anything, an older security man smiled broadly and said, "Welcome to New York, Mr. Williams. Everyone is looking forward to working with you. I'm Steve, by the way. Guarding the door and managing the backstage is my little world."
"Swell, Steve," I answered, taken back a little that he knew my name. "I look forward to working with everyone. By the way, I go by Brad," I said with a big smile as I extended my hand. "Were do I go for the cast call?"
"Let me show you your dressing room, first. You can store your coat there. It's about 9:45 a.m. and the cast is just starting to assemble on stage," he said as we walked up a metal stairway to the catwalk and dressing rooms. I almost choked at the first sight of my name on the door below a star.
"Thanks for taking the time, Steve. I appreciate it. I'll be down in a few." It was an effort to revert back to civilian terms - rather than saying 'below' and 'deck'.
"Brad, one more thing...there's coffee and Danish on stage left. See you downstairs," he said with a wave as he departed.
Walking into the small dressing room that was clean but a little threadbare, I immediately saw a bouquet of roses with a note that said, "Break a leg. Sam." I smiled as I removed my jacket, sweater, and cap, before going down to the bare stage and my new cast members.
I immediately went to the table off stage left for a cup of coffee. 'Is there some unwritten law,' I wondered while pouring the coffee, 'that says all paper coffee cups in New York have to have this generic blue Greek design?' I took a deep breath, turned and walked over to the cast and director.
"Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think we are almost complete with Brad Williams here. Brad, welcome to the company. I'm Nelson Lewis, the director."
"Mr. Lewis, it will be a pleasure working with you," I replied, walking over to him.
He introduced me - in a formal, but friendly, manner - to the other cast members. He took the time to give me an individual capsule brief of their credits. All were present except George Lemmings. I smiled with just a hint of nervousness because I knew that they would all be appraising 'this actor from out there' for the first week. My mom had told me years ago that the New York stage actors considered the Hollywood actors inferior in their chosen craft. She also said that there was much envy concerning the high salaries film actors received.
"Sorry, cast. I'm running a few minutes late, I'm afraid," came a deep voice from the wings. As the man came forward, I recognized the face of George Lemmings. "The power was out on my block early this morning and messed up my bedroom clock." He walked over and shook the director's hand and gave Margo an air kiss. Coming up to me, he asked, "And you're Brad Williams?"
"Yes, Sir," I answered, extending my hand.
He took my hand, studied my face and replied with a raised eyebrow, "Williams, as in Brenda Williams?" By now everyone was watching and listening to the two of us.
"She was...my mom," I said, swallowing hard, trying not to let the dynamics of the moment get the best of me.
"Your mother and I worked together on Guiding Light for two years," George said, putting his arm around me. "I see where you get your looks, kid." Smiling, he announced to the cast, "If Brad has the acting chops his mother had, I'll be proud to be on the same stage." There was a slight murmur.
"Mr. Lemmings, I hope to do your comments justice." I let out a deep breath as his hug became firmer.
"Thank you, George," said Nelson Lewis, as he gestured for everyone to sit down. "Over the next two days we will read the script at the table. You've all had the script for the past two weeks. I expect to do an initial walk-through Friday with the lines memorized. All next week we will work on blocking, followed by working with the set the week afterwards. Ladies and gentlemen, we have our first public preview performances three weeks from Thursday."
After a full day of general discussion of the script, the characters and the director's vision, we were dismissed at 5:00 p.m. 'Not too different from the La Jolla Playhouse,' I considered, 'I'll have to pause and project my lines differently because of the larger house.' The ornate, 80-year old Broadhurst Theater had almost 1,200 seats and was in the epicenter of the theatrical major leagues. It would be my challenge not to strike out. 'Bring it on. I wanna hit a home run.'
Hurriedly, I returned to the apartment to get cleaned and dressed for dinner. Pam had made 7:30 p.m. reservations at Caf des Artistes on West 67th Street. It had been mom's favorite restaurant for special occasions. I remembered going there for my birthday as a boy and being fawned over by the owner, George Lang.
The restaurant, originally opened before World War I, was famous for the Howard Chandler Christy nude women murals on the wall. The art in pastels, rich walnut paneling, soft lighting, damask linen, and an over-abundance of long stem flowers gave the room a very warm feeling. Entering the restaurant, wearing one of two suits I had brought with me, I was greeted by the Maitre d'.
"Mr. Williams, your sister just arrived. Allow me to escort you to your table. We're honored to have you with us. Your appearances on Friends were very well received in New York," he said, as we wound our way through the crowded room. When we arrived at the table in the front room, I smiled broadly.
"Hey, Sis," I said to the most important person in my life after Doug. I nodded to the Maitre d' and leaned down for a light kiss before sitting down across from Pam.
"Brent, I can't believe my brother is a big Hollywood and Broadway star. You look scrumptious, Bro, and don't look now, but the entire room is following your every move."
"Pam, don't exaggerate." However, subtly turning around, I discovered that she was right. "On second thought, did I come in with my fly open?" I asked, with a laugh.
"I wish mom could see you now. She would be so proud."
I looked at Pam a little sadly and said, "You don't know how much I wish she was still with us, every day." I reached over and squeezed her hand as the captain arrived with menus and to take drink orders. Pam ordered a Lemon Drop, and I selected a glass of the chardonnay.
"You're all settled in at your apartment?" she asked.
"Yeah, it'll be fine. Just a studio, but it's nicely furnished and close to the theater. You'll have to come over some night next week and check it out. We can go over to Joe Allen's for dinner, later. After next week, I'm sure rehearsals will be in the evenings."
"Being a single career gal, I'm always up for dinner with a handsome man. Speaking of handsome men, when do I get a chance to meet Doug?" she asked. I had sent her a few pictures of us and mentioned him whenever Pam and I spoke on the phone. "I guess I should think of him as a brother-in-law?"
"Brother-in-law or another brother. He makes me very happy and we're going to be together for the long haul," I said with a warm, glowing smile. "He's coming out the middle of next month for the long President's Day weekend and you'll have to entertain him when I'm on stage."
"If he's as nice as you say, I'd love to show him around. We'll certainly see the play one night. Gives me a chance to do those touristy things that all New Yorkers secretly love to do, but are ashamed to admit."
"Plan on coming to the play that Saturday night and I'll get house seats for you two. I'm starved, Sis...why don't we look the menu over before the captain returns?"
"I know exactly what I'm going to have. Cold asparagus vinaigrette and rack of lamb - pink. I've been ordering that since I was a little girl when mom and dad used to bring us," Pam said, with a smile.
"Well, Sis, I'll up your memory game. You remember what I'd have mom order for me?"
"Oh, sure. You loved the escargot, I seem to recall."
"Yep, garlicky snails. Don't ask me how I acquired the taste as a boy, but I would always order the escargot and breast of duck. I guess we don't have to look at the menus?" 'Jeez,' I thought, 'how great it is to be with real family again.' When the captain returned, I ordered for both of us. In addition, I asked that a bottle of Rhone red Hermitage "La Chapelle" by Paul Jaboulet 1992 be brought to the table for breathing.
Raising an eyebrow, Pam commented, "Well, not only have you picked up a little more worldliness about you, Brent, but you seem to be spending money pretty freely. That wine is not cheap."
"First, I was rooming with a guy in my final year in the Navy who managed restaurants. He really opened my eyes to fine dining. Second, I'm making pretty good bread these days." 'No reason,' I considered, 'to mention that my old roomie, Mike, ran the Officer's Club.'
"If you don't mind me asking, how much 'good bread' are we talking about? I thought we'd go Dutch treat tonight."
"Pam, don't worry. I'm getting 10K a week for the play. And, last year, I cleared a little over 175 grand with the two movies and the TV show."
"Wow, I'm impressed. That being the case, let's break the bank by sharing a Grand Marnier souffl and a split of champagne," she said with a giggle. I beckoned the captain and added Pam's requests to the order.
"I guess that I should ask the obvious, Pam. Have you seen dad? And does he know I'm in town?" I asked with somber lowered tones.
"Spoke with him this weekend. He's a stubborn bastard, Brent, but he seemed happy that you are professionally doing so well. I'm sorry that he's so set in his ways, but that's as far as he's able to go," she replied and reached over to my hand. "He doesn't say anything against you, though." She squeezed it and smiled in a forlorn manner.
"At least he's consistent," I replied in a matter-of-fact manner. "As far as I'm concerned, he knows where I am and it's up to him to take the first step."
"I get a good feeling that he's struggling to change. If I give you his home telephone number, would you call him? He works the 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. shift so you could leave a message when he's not home. It'd be one little step."
"Yeah, I'll do that. Maybe you could bring him to one of the performances? But don't tell me he'll be in the audience beforehand," I said, with a quietness that hung over our heads. The solemn moment was broken when the waiter brought our first courses. "Let's change the subject. Tell me about any new men in your life?"
"Not much...it looks like all the good ones are either taken or gay. Clich, but true."
"Or both, Sis," I replied with a grin.
"Touch. It's just that, at 28, I seem to be running out of time."
"Don't worry, you'll find someone special - even if I have to place a personal ad for you," I said laughing. "And I hear that the Internet's becoming a really hot place to match up with someone."
"Right," she replied and joined the laughter, "I can just see myself cruising for guys on my PC."
As we were about to take our first bite, I heard a voice with an Eastern European accent say, "Well, if it isn't little Brent Williams, all grown up. Hello, Pam."
I turned and immediately recognized the immaculately dressed bald man, now somewhat elderly, with a twinkle in his eyes. "Mr. Lang, I don't think we've seen each other for at least 15 years. You remember me?" I asked, with a broad smile as we shook hands.
"Brent, your mother was a favorite of mine and you always celebrated your birthdays here."
"With that Hungarian cake. What was it?" I asked.
"It was, and is, Ilona's Torte. My mother's flourless chocolate walnut cake recipe and we still have it on the menu."
"Yeah. It was great," I answered, seeing in my mind a younger George Lang fussing over our table. Mother always looked beautiful and composed while I squirmed around the restaurant banquette in my blue suit.
"But you're following your mother's footsteps. And your name is now Brad? What was wrong with Brent?" George asked innocently.
"SAG. Someone else had the name registered with Screen Actors Guild. So, now I'm Brad. But I'd like you to call me by my real name, Mr. Lang."
"And you should call me George. I loved you in the Friends show last fall. I know the NBC brass is very excited to have you back for the May season finale."
I looked at him with a questioning look. "How do you know this, George?" I asked. No one except Sam had said anything to me about this, other than encouragement.
"Brent, the President of the network is in here at least once a week. He was very impressed at the ratings in November. And, when I saw you arrive tonight, I watched the room very carefully. Even the most jaded New Yorker couldn't get enough of you. I'm proud to call you an old friend. Tonight's dinner is on me." George did a sweeping hand gesture and bow before a winking departure.
My mouth was partially open in surprise as Pam said, "I am impressed. The last time George did anything like that, Mom had just won a daytime Emmy. Mr. Lang has a nose for selecting winners."
"Let's enjoy the hospitality and I'll repay the favor by asking Sam Barron to have the opening night party here." I was aware that the late dinner usually included the stars, the playwright, director, producers and any major backers of the show. With approximately 20 guests, Mr. Lang would get tonight's generosity back ten-fold.
Raising her cocktail glass, Pam said, "Brent, to all the happiness in the world for you and Doug."
"Thanks, beautiful," I replied, with a light clink on her glass with mine. "I've at least got two people who I love very much."
"And, maybe a third?"
"Yeah, Pam. There will always be a spot in my heart for dad."