Welles and John Houseman created the Black Theatre in Harlem, an offshoot
of their W.P.A. federal-funded Mercury Theatre. They produced "Macbeth"
there in 1936 and I took a school chum, Ruth, to see it on a date. I was
19; she was 18.
The witches scene: A Caribbean island and
a voodoo ceremony. Celebrants are painted, feathered and bedecked around
a blazing fire; pounding drums and raising dust with dancing feet. Goats
and chickens wait for the sacrifice.
It was offputting. Either the production or
the date or both. Ruth was a hip young radical; I was striving to get ahead
in a business career. I had the hots for her. She didn't have the hots for
me. We drifted apart.
Harlem is my fate. I was born on West 130th
Street. It was white then; 1917. I met my date at City College on 133rd
Street and now I'm into a Black Macbeth on 135th Street.
Four years later, the story resumed.
on the wall speaks, "My father is the sun, my mother the casement
window. My straight black lines on the wall of the living room frame a
tableau of a young woman taking a picture of a newly married couple. They
are smiling and happy and beautiful. It is their first weekend in their
The building is a cooperative at 433 West
21st Street in Chelsea, New York City. The Theological seminary, occupying
a square block, is visible through the open window. The sun is streaming
into the room. Bessie, the bride's friend, is snapping the photo.
Bessie has just arrived at the apartment
after a session posing for the sculptor Chaim Gross, in his Greenwich
Village studio. The nude figure of a chunky, nubile young girl will find
its way one day to the Hirshhorn Museum.
They met in the common room of City College
at the stand-up lunch counter. She asked him for a cigarette. It was the
beginning of the fall semester, 1936.
Their first date, a few days later, was
riding the Fifth Avenue bus downtown after school. They went on top and
sat on one of the front seats. The beginning of love was ever after associated
with views into second-story windows on Fifth Avenue. They were seeing
moving pictures of Oriental rugs, antique furniture, portraits, sculptures
and Beaux Arts architecture.
They stopped at the Brass Rail for coffee
and cherry cheese cake before parting; she to Queens and he to The Bronx
Four years later he was living at the Regent
Hotel on upper Broadway. They had recently resumed a relationship that
had been broken off for three years. After their long-delayed love making
that evening at the Regent, they drove to Gallagher's Steak House on West
52nd Street. They arrived after midnight, dined on steaks and left after
3:00 a.m. Both basic drives were appeased and the feeling was bliss. They
pledged their love and decided to marry as soon as possible.
Christmas holidays delayed blood tests and
it was January when Henry Schimmel, City Court Judge, performed the wedding
ceremony in his chambers in the Municipal Court House at City Fall Plaza.
Judge Schimmel, a good and sweet guy, was
a Tammany Hall stalwart. He was secretly married to Kitty, an Irish-American
school teacher, who lived with her parents in Jersey City. The judge lived
with his widowed, Jewish mother in Manhattan. The union was secret because
all the parents were violently opposed to a "mixed marriage."
The loving couple did share a Manhattan apartment on weekends until time,
curing all things, removed the objectors.
After the wedding supper at Cavanaugh's
on 23rd Street, they drove to Herald Square, home of Gimbel's and Macy's.
At midnight, flower wholesalers loaded the sidewalks with fresh cut flowers
from far and near to supply the city's florists with their flower needs
for the new day. They bought armfuls of California-grown jonquils, purple
heather and mimosa and then drove to their new apartment in Chelsea. The
flowers were placed in a laundry bucket, a wood fire was lit in the fireplace
and a 50-year tradition of anniversary flowers began.
Later, he mused, "What did the shadow
see?" He didn't understand.
things are too wonderful for me;
Four I do
The way of
an eagle in the sky,
The way of
a serpent on a rock,
The way of
a ship on the high seas,
And the way
of a man with a maiden.
home one early afternoon on a hot July day at an unexpected time -- tried
the key in the lock -- the chain was fastened and he couldn't open the
door. He knocked and knocked again. And again. It was three or four minutes
-- it seemed longer before his wife released the security chain and opened
She was flushed -- and embarrassed. She
was nervous and anxious.
He asked why she had double locked and chained
the door. She didn't answer.
The answer soon appeared from the bedroom
-- her former lover with his shoelaces untied.
He shouted -- "Get the fuck out of
here and don't come back!"
He did without speaking.
The wound scarred over but never really
Later -- 50 years later -- she said nothing
She said, "I liked Bill." He said,
"Why didn't you marry?" She said, "I didn't like him enough."