f all the people in the world to notify me of Bob Thompson's death in Rome, it's my landlord, fulfilling that strange feeling that comes from an Angel of Death (though this one not angelic looking) in a letter from Provincetown. It is a blow to me like a death in my own family. Young as Bob was at 29, and vital as a tornado, black and beautiful, his death seemed the expected next act of his drama. But unplanned. His death left a hole I my life that has never been filled. My own body then was turning thirty-eight (how very many are the poets who die at thirty-nine, I thought, and me slowing, tiring for the first time in my life at night from perpetual dancing in the newly unfolding rock scene of San Francisco.
Back in New York that fall, the central circle of Bob's friends gather at his widow Carol's new loft for her birthday. Seated at a round table, more as at a wake than a party, it was the first time we'd all been together since his death. A silence descended on the table like an invisible huge bundle that unwrapped itself, blanketing all the guests. Was Jay Milder the first to rise and make his farewells to Carol? Were did Red and Mimi there? When did Paula leave? In no time at all, it was over, and that old gang never gathered again until the opening night of Bob's show at the Whitney in 1998.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
1966 Marines Memorial Theater, San Francisco, California
1967 Theatre de Lys New York
I get Jack Smith cast in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He is to be Snug, the joiner. He is so artful he misses all his cues 'preparing'. The Director explodes, running down an aisle screaming all the way to the orchestra pit, where he says,
(his favorite line) and turns, walking back up the aisle toward his desk. Jack leaps from the stage, runs up the aisle behind him and kicks him in the seat of his pants and leaves the theater.
Move: Desire Caught by the Tail
by Pablo Picasso
Julia Miles says I may be nominated for an Obie. I let the remark pass through my mind like a little piece of praise for my work. Months later, Ira and Rosalind make me buy new shoes. We are shooting Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda in New Jersey. I've gone to location late so I can attend Don McNeill's funeral at St. Marks in the Bowerie. Then, much is made of me attending the Obie awards ceremony. Seated with the Voice's minimal beer and chips celebration of Off Broadway Theatre, I'm surprised to hear John Hancock's name called for a Distinguished Direction Award for A Midsummer Night's Dream. I am surprised to hear Midsummer and Endicott called together and then my name.
After all the special preparations getting me there, I still hadn't gotten it, that I was up for an award, and then had gotten two of them on one day.
The last I saw Neal was a year or so ago at the end of 1967. We were going to live together in the little apartment I sublet from Richie Bright on East Second Street. He's just settling in when a girlfriend arrives and off he goes. Oh well. Then he's back for my move down the street into a big loft. He moves in with a duffel bag. We go out to Steve Paul's Scene with Hugh Romney. Tiny Tim is a new act there and after his last set, we go for a Cassady drive around New York to meet the dawn, our travels accompanied by Tiny Tim in the front seat, sounding like an old wind-up phonograph as he does his shtick with the toy guitar. Neal leaves for Mexico with the girlfriend and I never see him again.
Trying to sleep this morning of January 15, 2001, my mind mulls over these events, seen anew, only by virtue of this assemblage of paintings and memories. The events of the fall of 1969, the painting I call Number One, 1970, the breakthrough in my work is being painted while Jack's blood comes up and he goes down, to death.
As I write this, during the hiatus of history taking place in Florida, I think of Tango Palace, and for its sea of index cards I see IBM punch cards. I see the play performed, in all its satin luxe, on discarded IBM cards flipped atop a pile of nuclear waste. I want to ask what play Ms. Fornes will write after the Bush putsch, but I think Tango Palace was already it in 1959, the time of Theatre of the Absurd. Will the Bushes get the trillion they missed when Clinton beat Dad. There goes the FDIC. Again!