January 21, 2008

Black Wednesday

Bill was my roommate for a large swath of my two decade romp in New York City. We shared the loft in Tribeca, the floor on Ludlow Street, the little apartment on Little Jones Street. Our boyfriends and girlfriends came and went, but Bill and I always found ourselves in one another's company after the dust had settled, after the love had gone. He was one of the brightest people I've ever known, a Loyola graduate, erudite and agreeably flawed. He pretended to never forgive me for reneging on the hair cut (he liked my hair cuts) that he won, after emptying my pockets, in one of our fiercely contested poker games. I have photographs of Bill somewhere, which I don’t feel like digging out. Suffice to say he looked a little like John Casavettes and a little like Soupy Sales. An erudite Soupy Sales with a snarl.

An actor and director, his heart was in the theater but like many others like him, he often found employment elsewhere. We met, through friends, at an art gallery in Soho that he was heading up at the time. I had done a series of studies on the old West Village waterfront piers to which he took a liking, and showed at the gallery. He eventually connected with the Public Theater, and after a spell in the literary department, was soon directing the likes of Robert De Niro and guiding young playwrights to their first outings on stages that mattered. He was close friends with Sam Shepard, and accepted Sam's Obie (I think it was for Buried Child) for him one year... having borrowed my Roland Meladandri suit for the occasion. One day, practically out of the blue, he looked at me, and in one of his dismissive-sounding, and therefore all the more convincing, observations said, "You're living in a state of grace."

Bill had a penchant, as did I at times, for the odd spooky moment. One night in Sheridan square, he picked up a ringing public telephone and was greeted by a friend from California who thought he had dialed Bill at home.

An odd thing happened to the two of us, one summer night. We were leaving the 8th Street Playhouse, a movie theater in Greenwich Village, having just seen Black Sunday, a thriller about an attempted act of terrorism at the Super Bowl. Just as we stepped out onto the street, we turned simultaneously to say something to one another, and soundly bumped heads. At that exact moment, I kid you not, the lights went out up and down 8th Street. In fact, the lights went out all over the city. It was as if the energy powering the city (and lurking ominously beneath that, the very idea of New York) having derived its existence from some heretofore unrealized communion between the two of us, had been jarred and disabled. In reality (a word in this instance I’m sorely tempted to enclose in quotes), lightning had struck a Hudson River substation... it was the Blackout of 1977.

We had each our disparate missions and appointments to keep that night – by the time we met up late the next day at the loft, an easy hike from the village, electric power, and a semblance of ordinary life had returned. But I was never quite sure after that whether New York City actually existed. Bill thought it diverting to play with the idea. But he maddeningly refused, the way old friends often do when pressed for a definitive answer, to confirm or deny.

I found out recently that Bill has died. He died the day after I began this piece, and the day before it was posted. Rest in peace, my friend...