The heat in Boston was intense and it drove us onto the Cape a day early. Provincetown was exciting, vivid and packed. I have to laugh when I remember our last dinner there. We sat at a bar overlooking the activity of Fisherman’s Wharf till the sun was setting. Dorothy brought my attention to the fact that the bar had become packed with men. Of the two remaining empty seats, one was on my right and the other on her left. Our dinner waitress informed us that this was the “in” spot that summer for the 25 and over “swingers”. We went elsewhere for dessert. Out last stop was Chatham. And George.
Chatham Light House was to be my flashing beacon for the remainder of that summer. Later on, when some of us from the theater would get ourselves together walking that moonlit beach at the end of a grueling day, I would remember the emotions shared with George that foggy Saturday afternoon.
It was the first time we were together since Christmas. He squired us to dinner that evening at the Wesquasette Inn. The rambling restaurant caps a small hill and presides over a lovely bay. We drank and laughed on the tree shaded patio till the twilight chill blew us inside. After maneuvering for a window table, he ordered baked stuffed lobsters and a delightful puckery white wine for the three of us. No, I don’t remember whose or what wine it was. While dancing in the bar later, I suggested that we drop Dorothy at the motel and go back to his boat. He refused and said since I came with her I would remain with her till we took her to the airport on Sunday. He added that we would make up all lost time the following two days. We did.
Tuesday at noon we parted. George drove back to Lee and I had to report in. In full theatrical splendor I entered the hallway and fell over a piece of luggage. It took me ten minutes to find our noble director. And he was noble, believe me. I only saw him lose his calm once all that frenzied summer. He said I was lucky because I had the only single bedroom in the house. After one look at the room I decided that there was no luck involved at all, it was an oversized closet that you could only get to by going through the cook’s bedroom.
The house itself was enormous and ugly. There were twenty-four of us bedded down in the two ramshakle wings of the main structure. Eight females shared the same bathroom. By the end of the summer we had our processes of elimination down to seconds.
The theater was only fifty feet from the side entrance of our dwelling. It was beautiful. Before I unpacked I had to see the stage to which future generations would point and say SHE spent a summer here. Who cared about the bedroom, I would spend my summer in this plush little theater prancing about the stage.
We had our first group dinner that evening and it was as bad as opening night. Only a few people knew each other and they sat together. The rest of us nervously praised the bread, margarine, dishes, food and the weather. I felt badly because I couldn’t get the names straight… then someone called me Bud.
Over coffee our director made general announcements about how our working day would be divided. We did have some time off; Sunday till noon. The other six days would consist of morning voice and diction classes, lunch, afternoon rehearsals for the following weeks play, dinner, and make-up for that evening’s performance at 7:15. Since we were doing eight plays in ten weeks, we would have to find our own time for memorizing lines. Our first play would open twelve days from now he said, so we moved into the living room for tryouts. The cast list would be posted by nine the following morning. Tryouts. My fingers began to tremble and my nose to twitch. On opening night you could hide in the character, during tryouts you were bare and vulnerable. Since there were only five females picked to act, my turn would come soon and often.
Luckily I was last and encouraged by hearing the others misread the pithy, witty lines of Christopher Fry. I did well and got the part I wanted. An auspicious beginning to my chosen career! Now if I could only manage not to fall when I made my first entrance.
The opening productions were two one act plays. In my play there were three characters, two females and a male. Most of the action was the interaction between the two women. Sheri, the other woman, was 21, luscious and totally devoid of any emotion or feeling that did not pertain to sweet-talking, snarling or clawing her way to success. This did not include working hard. Only my theory of solid effort tempered with occasional lunacy kept me from drowning here in cold cream. She frequently interrupted rehearsal to tell the director that, perhaps I (meaning me) should move this way instead of that, or say thus instead of so. During the first dress rehearsal Sheri neither knew her lines nor all of her blocking but outdid Helen Hayes in charm and sweet apology. That was the only time I saw our noble director throw his cool that entire summer. His anger left her in shreds. It took her two days to regain her normal vigor and then she spent the rest of the summer verbally castrating our director. Except to me.
Saturday morning at 6 A.M. George threw stones at my window. He motioned me down and I scrambled into clothes and makeup in seven minutes flat. As I finished, Flora, one of the cooks, bounded in to tell me that George was in the kitchen. She later told me that he pounded on the door demanding to know which room was mine then came back and demanded a cup of coffee.
I found him there, sitting on the sink and both Flora and Dee fighting over his refill. He patted them both on the fanny, grabbed my arm and whisked me out to his Lincoln. Making love early in the morning on a secluded shore is an experience. The only drawback was one vigorous sandcrabs.
Later, after an enormous breakfast, we talked. We drank more coffee and talked. We could have talked non stop for a year. Since I didn’t have to be back at the theater till one (classes didn’t start till Monday) we managed to cram a whole day of sharing into a few hours.
George picked me up at seven Sunday morning and waited for me while I attended Church. We repeated Saturday except that after breakfast we returned to the beach and walked. George brought up a subject that I usually avoided: marriage. He was separated with his wife wanting absolutely everything. I, happily, was not the cause of the Big Split but was the reason George wanted the final decision quickly. He wanted us to marry the day, the hour, that the divorce became final. I agreed but only if it were late Spring or Summer. George questioned this and I said that I couldn’t legally or morally walk out on my school without giving sixty days notice. He said screw the school. I said I would never be able to get another teaching position… and from the way things looked financially, wouldn’t my working be a real asset? Yes he mumbled, yes God-damn it, yes. He had me back at the theater at 12:58.
Wednesday, opening night. Make-up, panic, lights and applause. Just before curtain call I saw George’s car in the parking lot. He drove 300 miles round trip just for my opening. He didn’t come backstage afterward. I was to see him two more times that Summer.
Thursday at five minutes to five every cast member appeared at the drugstore to catch the Review. Some slinked away, some smilingly walked and one strutted. Me. Even my mental reviews weren’t as glowing as the real one. Geraldine Page, move over, you’re about to be usurped.
Three weeks, two plays, and minus six pounds later, I realized that I hadn’t heard from George. Seeing him for more than an hour would have been impossible but he had neither called nor written and I was vaguely disturbed.
The following Wednesday, during the opening night intermission of JOHN BROWN’S BODY, I saw his car in the parking lot with the overhead light on. I waited 30 minutes after curtain call then checked the lot, his car was gone.
I had missed the beach walk with our cooks, Flora and Dee, and Bud, our house manager, but was in time for a couple of “last calls” at the Wayfare Inn. I was happy that the cooks liked me. If they hadn’t I would have had to sleep on the couch any night they felt like locking their door, and consequently, my closet/bedroom.
That night we had the first thunder storm of the summer. Even the brilliant flashes of lightening couldn’t blur the image of his car with the overhead light on. I took the script of the forth-coming play under the covers with me. The rain chilled wind sent love pats through the two blankets and thick bedspread. Adding my robe helped but apparently it was too cold for the fleas on the beach blanket and they migrated to me for warmth. Even when my single window was tightly closed-there was a two inch gap on the right side of the sill. I could hear the rain plopping on the floor until the sky started to lighten.
The last bell for breakfast rang allowing me seven minutes to dress, make-up, and obtain the bathroom. I managed the first two in a record four minutes but it took another five to obtain free access to the toilet. Flora and Dee allowed me to snatch oleoed toast and lukewarm coffee as I raced through the kitchen to the theater. The cooks were limited to $2.00 per person per day but managed to make the other two meals more enticing by holding breakfast to about $0.15 per. Consequently the starches were astronomical, but the meals filling.
I slithered into line three seconds after the class bell and was annihilated by one glance from Miss Stratford, as we had unanimously nicknamed her, our Voice and Diction coach. Punctuality was next to Godliness she had announced on the first day of class and if one could not manage to be Punctual, then one should not attend class at all…etc… all said with her most clipped British consonants.
For one and a half hours we, breathed, gasped, hollared and beat our diaphragms into fuller and richer consonant sounds. At the end of ten weeks, any one of us could have passed the afternoon in a London pub without being recognized as an American. Release came with the 10:30 coffee break. Most of us sneaked a cigarette while either in the coffee line or the mailcall. Between the two, the time was blown.
My most welcome letter was always that grey high school paycheck. After eight years, I was now earning a livable salary. One third went for the car payment, another third into savings and the final one hundred and twenty dollars went to me for two weeks blow money. The cigarettes evaporated and hands surreptitiously failed the smokey air when Miss Stratford cheerily announced Dance Time. That muscle bruising and pounding half hour was only to be dismissed when it rained. Needless to say, other than nighttime storms, the only day it rained all that summer was on a Sunday. As I limped into lunch I spotted a dark, green Lincoln parked on the street. Taxi! Taxi! I shouted as I raced for the back door of the car. George usually enjoyed idiocy, but not this time. Get in front he said. How much time do you have? Since I didn’t have an entrance until second act, I figured I had a good two hours. George stopped the car in front of Ho Jo’s and reappeared five minutes later with a bag of food.
The cool morning had kept the beach deserted. The in-coming tide erased our footprints as rapidly as George’s words blurred our relationship. I wanted desperately to touch him but knew the emotional timing was bad. His words were simple, but clear. He figured his divorce for about six months hence and would I be present that same day to become Mrs. George. I said I didn’t know. George was 42. I was 28. An immediate decision that would so alter my life required more than just vibrant emotions when I saw him or touched him. I did not know.
He kissed me in front of the theater and said goodbye actress. I was on time for my entrance. My uneasiness about that noon walk dispersed when The Hulk called me to sit at his dinner table. He was an English teacher, 40 and single, and I had gently avoided him after hearing, earlier in the season, his opinions on predatory females. I was interested but only for some daily male companionship. He was subtle. “Where were you at lunch?” he said, you missed our noodle sandwiches. I was highly adept at fencing questions. “Out.” I said. We got into an argument about our fourth coming tryouts for T.S. Elliot’s Confidential Clerk. He asked which character I wanted to do and I said the director. The wordy, dry, philosophical comedy would leave the audience yawningly checking the number of acts in their programs. I was right. When the lights came up for the curtain call it was only the stagehand’s applause that caused the parking lot flight to throw a few handclaps at the stage. Maybe it was me that jinxed that play. With comedy being my forte, I shied away from straight dramatics, and naturally ended up as the tragic widow who made her only entrance the last 20 minutes of the play and straightened everybody out as to who was really married to whom and whose son and daughter was legally whose. It confused everybody, including me.
The only fauxpas I made that summer was during CONFIDENTIAL CLERK’S opening night. The review, with largesse, said it was the only really humorous line in the play. At the climax of the crucial revelations, I pointed to a husky, handsome male and said to the Duke, “…and this, sir, is your long lost daughter.” Sherri, the luscious bitch, had a screaming hernia backstage and accused me of ruining the play. Since everyone ignored her and hustled off, I did the same.
Nora and Dee had already left for the Inn, I was in a hurry to join them. As I left the house Bud grabbed my arm and asked me to tell Nora he couldn’t make the Leisure Hour tonight. I turned to go and he detained me. Hey, he said, that Sherri is a real witch. She had to hit you to cover her blowing four lines in the first act. Thanks, I said. That was one of the few generous impulses I had experienced thus far. Nora, Dee and I became slightly maudlin during the third martini. I was treating because they had produced a pretty fair beef stroganoff for dinner. The only drawback was they forgot the mushrooms. Dee explained that their home ec. major had only prepared them to cook for 150 people and our dining hall of 25 had really stumped them the first couple of weeks. That explained the first three nights of ham, ham hash and ham loaf. Nora passionately defended (no one was arguing, or had even mentioned the topic) her choice of degree as a major effort in obtaining a husband and family, in that order, or any other order. I questioned the value of cooking for 150 as opposed to a mini-gourmet class, but apparently the university only was prepared to mass produce institutional cooks.
Bud raced in at the final last call and walked us, Nora, back to the house. As Dee and I went into our rooms she asked if she could borrow my make-up mirror sometime. I said anytime except before a show. She asked if I was allowing Sherri to use the mirror and my make-up because she had been. I discovered the and there where the bitch had been headed when she left dinner early. After Thursday night’s dinner, I gave Sherri a five minute start and caught her in the act. Get out I said. She was a smooth sweet talker but left with the third, “Get out”. Dee entered her room as Sherri was exiting and, having a German sense of vengeance, I immediately offered Dee the use of the mirror, adding
I wouldn’t be using it for another two hours. Three days later Dee revealed that Sherri had just asked her to borrow my mirror and let her use it. Dee was usually a gentle person. She told Sherri to buy her own mirror and then where to put it. By the end of the summer everyone had turned on Sherri, but, unhappily, and she never understood why.
Sunday morning was a rebirth. Having appeared in six straight plays I had pleaded with our Director for a week’s break and ended with the dubious freedom of Props, 7:30 parking attendant and 9:30 concessions. Since collecting props would be finished by Wednesday eve the other duties would be joys in comparison to the backstage tensions.
Dinner was at 1:00 on Sunday and from 3:00 on Dee and Nora had their only break of the week. At 3:04 exactly, we climbed in my car and headed for the ocean. We spent two joyous hours riding the waves and straggled back to dress for Dinner on the Town.
Thompsonse Clam Bar was crowded but we amicably decided to drink the hours wait for a dining table. Being the only three single women in the bar, the call for the table came too soon. We had agreed to accept any and all offers for drinks, but no one was sterling enough to volunteer the dinner. Just as well. We had chowder, lobster and desert that could have strained the most generous wallet.
Part 3, up next!