The whole event was mired in anguish, because my son has no real expressed love for his father. gone these many years. Don was not a success in terms of this town, which is all and only about success, so no child was named after him-- Silas is adorable and commanding, but he is Silas, with an S, and there is no one with a D. And last night, in between a radiant expounding of Bible stories by Jonnie over dinner-- "Are they true?" I asked him. "It doesn't matter," he said, and continued my overdue religious education.
Then on the way home he asked about Don, with the inevitable question, although it surprised me coming from an Aussie-Israeli, "Was he successful?" So in truth, I had to say No, as that was without question the most painful part of Don's life, his career, or, more aptly, his failure to attain what was commensurate with his interests and talents.
I remembered a Saroyan quote that I could not quite call up in its entirety till later, "In the time of your life, Live. But when the time comes to kill, kill and have no regret." Don couldn't do that. He would have been able to kill in defense of his children, or me. But not in business, and in the business of Show, you need to be able to ruthlessly cut down and/or out an adversary. And that was just not in his make-up.
But when I went to bed I thought: As a human being, he was about as successful as you could get. I remember, patchily-- some of the words are gone-- when we were in Guaymas, Mexico, during the making of Lucky Lady. I had been invited for the shoot by Liza Minnelli, whose friend I was that week-- she had come to a party at Elizabeth Taylor's, whose friend I also was at the time, as Elizabeth wanted to play my mother in The Motherland, my best book that never happened(it came out at the same time as All The President's Men, Nixon was a catastrophe, the air was heavy with the fact of country's almost falling apart, so no one cared about Fiction.) Liza, still young and hot, came into Elizabeth's party, and as I was the only one she knew aside from their credits, came straight over to me and said "I'm making a movie in Guaymas with Burt Reynolds and Gene Hackman, and I don't know any of them. Will you come?" As I had just started a novel that was a murder mystery about a movie company on location, something I knew nothing about, it seemed the answer to a prayer, one I hadn't sent up to God, but had mentioned to Don,-- "How will I learn about a movie company on location?" He'd gone to the LA library that day and brought back the article, from Esquire, I think it was, "SARAH AND BURT AND THAT DIRTY LITTLE DEATH IN THE DESERT." (Her writer friend/lover/harasser had been found dead, a star-shaped wound on his skull, and a lot of men from MGM arrived, allegedly with suitcases full of money to pay off the local authorities.)
So I went to Guaymas, where I became, at first, the darling of the producer--"Maybe you could write a piece for the New York Times about the making of Lucky Lady," he said to me. Then as things began to go wrong-- the camera boat sank, etc.-- he was afraid I might write a piece for the New York Times about the making of Lucky Lady. So he told the owners of the hotel I was an itinerant, and would be unable to pay my bill-- I was waiting to pay the whole thing at once-- and tried to have me thrown out. But as it turned out, the company that financed the hotel was underwritten by a bank whose board my father was on. Still, we decided it would be best if I went home with my family at the end of the Easter holiday. As we sat by the pool that evening, the producer said "What a shame that you have to leave," in a tone embodying derision, said it several times. At which point Don said "Get the needle out of my wife. Get the needle out or I'll drown you in front of your whole fucking crew." And the producer, Mike Gruskoff, turned into Road Runner. I'd never seen anyone move that fast.
So Don was, when the situation called for it, a Hero. As he was dying-- his doctor, his best friend, had failed to catch the cancer in his early x-ray and was treating him for a bad back when they finally x-rayed him and saw his whole right lung was gone-- he sat on the edge of the bed in a heat wave like this one, where we had no air-conditioning. As I put on shorts to take him to Emergency, he looked up from between his knees and said "You look so cute." I said, "Oh, honey-- with all you're going through, that you would take time to compliment me." He said "But it's true. You look really cute." Then he said, "You can tell them for me-- your friends on 'The Path,"-- he could not help making it sound slightly sarcastic, as he had been skeptical about my spiritual study, not able to believe I could spend weeks at a silent retreat without talking, so had been sure I was having an affair-- "You can tell them for me you've made it to a whole new level."
"Thank you," I said.
"Don't thank me," he said. "You're the one who did it. I just gave you the opportunity."
So that was the man this town would not have considered a success. The Rabbi at Lukas' temple talked of a Rabbi looking constantly at his watch, and a member of his congregation asking him what he was doing, and he said "Getting ready to die." I know it sounds like a downer, but the truth is we all have to do that, and maybe it's just part of the journey, and there is something, as we can hope, and I have written in a loftier moment--something that comes After. But for the time he was here, and the support, emotional and physical, of me and our children, he was a Hero.
I had a dream (cue the orchestra) where a man dies and goes to a place where everything is easy, so he thinks he is in Heaven. Eventually he realizes he is in Hell. Because what gives Fulfillment as a human being is stepping up to and meeting a Challenge. If everything is Easy, and nothing is a Challenge, that is real Death.
Hey, I know it's heavy. But you haven't spent an evening in Kate Mantelini's with a Bible scholar.