Posts Tagged ‘Judy at Carnegie Hall’

vall4

 

Click here to read Part I.

 

I fall asleep. Or do I pass out and pass back in? Do people pass in, like they tiptoe into a room? I guess hazily that we touched down and came back up somewhere over Las Vegas, so that first pill must have worked.

 

“Did it?” Judy asks, still sitting next to me but with greater distance between us. We no longer shared an armrest in coach but now each of us has our own – somehow we had moved up to the first class cabin. I have no recollection of taking such a status leap or, in the process, transferring my rattling knapsack down what a potentially resentful aisle. Like denying a memory before someone produces photographic evidence, in those first few moments I would have sworn on a stack of Judy albums that our arms still remained locked in battle over an armrest back in coach. But here we are, Judy Garland and little old me, soaring over Las Vegas on the first anti-anxiety pill that I have taken for its intended purpose.

 

“I passed out for, what, ten minutes? I ask her. “That’s gotta be some kind of record for my sleeping on a plane. Draining the consciousness out of a plane ride is a dream scenario.” I lean back into my roomy seat. “That, and flying first class with Judy Garland,” I add, unable to delay the precious moments between thoughts and words.

 

And yet she doesn’t take the compliment, no doubt immune to gay men gushing over her after so many years, at times, sadly, by way of a marriage license. After decades of living next to the gay track, I suppose she has to make an effort just to notice the train . . . the rambunctiously flaming train, emitting rainbow-colored smoke that was probably good for the environment. I knew it well, for recently I began to feel like just another faceless passenger.

 

Planes, trains, contraltos.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

“You never told me what happened on the Valley of the Dolls set,” I tell her, shifting into “tabloid reporter” mode, listlessly filling in the plot holes for myself.

 

“The truth is what you choose to believe,” she whispers coyly, popping another is-it-a breath mint. But like any good reporter, I do not accept that kind of answer, especially from someone whose mind and words I love to pieces.

 

“Oh don’t give me that crap, Judy,” I hiss with an eye roll. Heavens, I never thought I’d take such a tone with her and surprise myself with such an outburst. I pivot back to the compliment, giving the approach a second try. “You’re smarter than that.”

 

She turns and looks out her window. “She’s smarter than that,” Judy echoes to the clouds outside. And she was, for it must have been only a day or two out of infancy when she learned the harsh ways of the stage and the harsher personalities that appear on, behind, above, and below it. On-the-job training at its most brutal – at an age when I was cheating on spelling tests, Judy Garland was seeing the business side of the The Business.

 

She turns her head back towards me, her body still pointed towards the window. “Okay, kid. If I’m so smart . . . ma’am, a scotch and soda, please.”

 

Finally, a flight attendant appears to give our necks a break. Definitely breath mints.

 

“If I’m so smart, why didn’t I make it to 50? If I’m so smart, why was always I broke the harder I worked? If I’m so smart, how did . . .” She stops. “Oh, you’re right; I have more answers than you have excuses.”

 

She is feisty but not restless. Good God, where was her drink?

 

“You’re not afraid that you’re going to choke on these pills, are you?” she asks. “They’re flea-sized, for Heaven’s sake.”

 

“No, of course not. But you’re avoiding my question. C’mon, tell me about the Valley.”

 

“You have a favorite truth already, and what’s wrong with that one?”

 

“Is that what happened?” I ask. “The way that Patty Duke said? Did the director purposely keep you waiting in your dressing room, hoping that anxiety would pave the way for some addiction to come knocking?”

 

Addiction.

 

There it was. The word I dread. Pills equaled addiction equaled loss of control equaled rock bottom equaled asking for help equaled codependence. And other than flying, there is nothing worse than codependence. Am I right?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

 

The scotch and soda arrives as the word “addiction” floats above us, pushed down by those plane air vents that drive everyone mad. Although Judy had ordered only one, the flight attendant puts down a second one in front of me.

 

“Patty talks a good game. Her acting . . . well . . .” She gives the thought a half-smile. “And is that what you’re searching for now, before popping another one of those flea pills?” she wonders. “A director to take direct responsibility for you?”

 

“It worked for you. Or, at least for your legacy.”

 

“Darling, I got fired. Or I quit seconds before the bastard fired me; I can’t remember which.” Pinky in the air, she breaks ground on her cocktail. I’m surprised it took her so long.

 

“Well sure.” I admit. “In a perfect world, I’d throw an entire bottle down my throat before every flight and knock myself out. Hell I’d do it before every bridge crossing or before leaving the house to face the crack heads of San Francisco. But I choose not to conquer anxiety with science. I do it the old-fashioned Jewish way – ignore the problem and never talk about it, until eventually it doesn’t exist. Compared to pills, don’t tell me that’s unhealthy.”

 

I hope for a full smile from her, and I get one.

 

“Perhaps moderation is the key,” Judy admits, raising her cocktail and giving a modest cheers to no one in particular. I still haven’t touched mine, and she’s noticed.

 

She looks at my drink, the ice slowly watering down its potency, and I see a light bulb flicker above her head. Either she’s just had a revelation, or she’s ringing for the flight attendant in preparation for round two. “You know what your problem is,” she starts, clang, clang, clanging the ice cubes in her glass and pointing it at me. “Your problem is that you don’t think you deserve to relax.”

 

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

 

“That’s not true,” I argue. “I think I deserve to relax. I just don’t feel it. I can’t get my body to catch up with that nagging part of my brain that keeps shrieking, ‘Relax!’ Thinking and feeling – huge difference there, ma’am.” I hope she’s buzzed enough to let me get away with a touch of sass.

 

“Don’t start with that ‘ma’am’ business, like I’m your aging neighborhood drag queen.” Didn’t think so. No way Judy Garland gets buzzed from one drink (but then again, those breath mints), especially a drink ordered on an airplane. Seriously, first class? I expected more from you.

 

But she’s on to something, and she’s not sure where her thoughts (or drinks or mints) are leading us. She sets down her cocktail and inches her body in my direction. Gently she puts her tiny elbow on that armrest that’s still obsessing my thoughts, her tiny hand supporting her tiny chin. Her gaze drifts over and then behind me, out the window on the other side of the aisle.

 

Suddenly I get butterflies. They start in my stomach and fly up into my chest and out of my mouth like a hiccup and land on my left shoulder where all my stress gathers due to a broken arm of my childhood. Stress and butterflies swarm to the same location – the body is such a puzzle.

 

Chin on elbow means serious business. On this plane ride to who knows where, Judy Garland was about to tell me something that was going to change my life. It’s that magical movie moment when, with 15 minutes remaining, the damaged character delivers a life-altering lecture to the I-have-my-act-together character, ultimately revealing that it’s the latter who needed guidance all along. Formula? What formula?

 

I prepare myself, and in those few precious seconds, I am ready. I am ready for the letters and words and sentences of Judy Garland that will change how my brain and body communicate and react. Her words will unblock that blockage forever, leading me to the tiptop of Mount Happiness, where a beautiful man in a loin cloth (probably named Bart) was waiting for me with his devoted love and a glass of rosé and the key to my dream house where I would find an indoor pool, a private screening room, and winning lottery ticket that I would donate to a cat shelter (let’s not get too selfish). All of this is about to happen right after she says whatever glorious words are gathering speed on the runway of her multitalented tongue.

 

“Y’know,” she sighs. “I never got to do a cover of that Dolls theme song.”

 

Excuse me?

 

That’s all I get? No mountain. No key. No loin cloth (Bart, by the way, would have known every single word to every single song on the Judy at Carnegie Hall album, including the words that she forgets). But that’s what she gave me. A missed opportunity to cover a song from a dreadful film that she quit working on, or got fired from almost 50 years ago?!?

 

I am let down by this scrawny Buddha of mine; devastated; far from over the rainbow; crushed and defeated . . . for about five seconds. Fuck it.

 

I reach into my bag and take a second pill with a sip of the second scotch and soda that she has already made her own. I mirror her pose, my elbow a tad fleshier than hers. Those front teeth of hers announce the rest of her smile, and she knows what I was about to do, probably before I know myself. I start her off, singing the first few lines.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Have to get off from this ride

 

She stands up and takes it from there. What else could she do?

 

Gotta get hold, gonna get

Need to get hold of my pride

When did I get, where did I

How was I caught in this game

When will I know, where will I

How will I think of my name

 

Sure, my voice lives in a slightly seedier neighborhood than hers, but I refuse to pass up an opportunity for a little duet action. I stand up join in.

 

When did I stop feeling sure, feeling safe

And start wondering why, wondering why

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

What’s in back of the sky, why do we cry

 

Looking back, I thought we sounded good together, and it’s not like the flight attendant was rushing over to shush us. Okay, first class, maybe you’re not so bad.

 

Gotta get off, gonna get

Out of this merry-go-round

Gotta get off, gonna get

Need to get on where I’m bound

When did I get, where did I

Why am I lost as a lamb

When will I know, where will I

How will I learn who I am

Is this a dream, am I here, where are you

Tell me, when will I know, how will I know

When will I know why?

 

The plane touches down and knocks me awake. I feel sleepy and confused, like I was about to take a final exam the morning after I pulled raging all-nighter dancing at the Cat Club. I hum the theme as I walk up the jetway, a survivor of yet another scenario into which I put myself willingly, unsure if it would end in my fiery demise. But I arrived, and I know that love was waiting outside at the curb to pick me up.

 

In the end, Judy Garland was right. Judy was right, and I was wrong – even in moderation, Valley of the Dolls is a truly dreadful movie.

 

What’s in back of the sky

Why do we cry

 

jg9