Aerial View was WFMU’s first regularly-scheduled phone-in talk show. Hosted by Chris T. and on the air since 1989, the show features topical conversation, interviews and many trips down the rabbit hole. Until further notice, Aerial View is only available as a podcast, available every Tuesday morning. Subscribe to the newsletter “See You Next Tuesday!” and find tons of archives at aerialview.me.
On this Aerial View you'll join me out in South Brooklyn as I attend a new play from the founder of Coney Island USA, Dick D. Zigun. The show is Killing Republicans: A Rock Opera, a first-class fantasy about well-heeled passengers entertaining themselves on a long flight by musing over Republicans, assassination attempts and the evolution of the GOP. You'll hear audio from the evening, including an interview with the playwright and the Q & A that followed the gala performance. Here's the main cast (L - R: Nikos Brisco as BillyBob from Biloxi, Juliett Schaefer as Jodie Foster and Jessi Williams as Nollywood Star Goodness Gracious):
Listen for a conversation with Dick about the other plays he's written (including the two in which I appeared) and how this particular show came together. The Q & A (pictured below) after the show was led by Pulitzer Prize-winning Playwright Lynn Nottage (center) and featured Dick Zigun (right) and Director Terry O'Reilly (left). Also in attendance is Mabou Mines stalwart and playwright Lee Breuer (in the green hat). This Aerial View will be of special interest to the theater geeks out there but anyone who's struggled to bring their art to fruition will relate.
Last Week: Prince RIP
Last week'sAerial View sought reactions to the death of Prince among passersby (see Billy, above) on Avenue of the Americas, in New York. Here's a comment from a listener:
Hey!!! Mr. T
We are out here with our ears on. Keep the production line going! Make podcasts great again... each frigin' week!
Like you minglin' with the folks of NYC or tearing up the roadways.
Say hello to Wild Billy for me.
All Cats Are One
During this Aerial View, whileinterviewing Dick Zigun,I mention a short story I wrote about an actress I met while in the play The Misadventures of Miss Alice E. Neumann. The actress is the sister of a well-known character actor who, at the time, was on a top-rated weekly prime-time show. I eventually met that actor and gave him a copy of the short story below, along with my business card. In retrospect, that was probably not a good idea. I never heard from the guy. I've run this story in this newsletter before but thought you might want to see it again or for the first time, if you missed it.
There was this girl, an actress, who I'd been working with in an Off-Broadway show (so far off Broadway it was staged on Coney Island) and we’d become close after long hours rehearsing, performing and driving to and from Manhattan (I’d transport her on my way back and forth from New Jersey). She was relentlessly cute - small, dark-haired, sharp featured - and funny as hell. All the warning signs had become apparent: comfort in one another's presence, the sharing of confidences, flirting, and the endless discussion of past loves gone bad. On this last point she became rabid. Whenever we'd get together she'd bemoan the loss of her sweet, sensitive poet boyfriend who screwed other women when she wasn't around. I wanted her to move on from him with me. I decided to tell her how I felt.
During one late night phone call I told the actress how difficult it was to keep coming by to see her and then leaving at the end of the night. She wanted to talk about this so we made plans to meet at the avant-garde theater where she worked. Afterwards, we were to go see a downtown band known for its lead singer who stripped and stuffed eggs in her vagina. Then we were to talk.
The big night came at the end of a bad week and I experienced real dread at the thought of pending rejection. I had the strongest desire to stay home with a six‑pack and the TV but I forced myself into my car and through the Holland tunnel. I reminded myself of those moments in the past when everything aligned and a woman accepted me. It'd been a year and a half since the last one and I felt overdue. I made it to the theater ten minutes early and met the actress, who hugged me awkwardly ‑ she was heavy into hugging - and we made small talk until she led me to my complimentary seat. The lights dimmed and she took the seat to my right.
The play concerned one hundred and ten rules of civility as set forth by George Washington in a pamphlet. For the next hour, members of the cast shouted these rules to the accompanying din of strident music. They were an energetic bunch and periodically would venture into the audience to illustrate rules such as, “When someone comes to speak to you and you are seated, stand up.” You were supposed to stand up and participate and try not to look embarrassed. My actress friend laughed loudly at everything.
One actor looked incredibly like Danny Bonaduce, the kid from the Partridge Family, and he ruined the whole thing for me with his blazing orange hair and impish grin. It's funny how you can get fixated on things like that. I kept thinking What's the kid from the Partridge Family doing in this serious avant-garde production? The thought drove me to distraction.
Toward the end, the play became an anti‑war parable (Desert Storm had just begun) with yards and yards of camouflage cloth put to metaphorical use. After the lights went up, one of the actors stepped forward and cajoled the audience to join the cast in an impromptu peace demonstration at a nearby intersection. Candles were hastily lit and passed among the audience and a solemn procession took to the street. At first I thought of staying behind, not wishing to be attacked by patriotic carloads of kids returning to Brooklyn. Then I realized I was in a pacifist camp and should get with the program.
I took a candle and crossed the street to a lamp‑post in front of a bodega. The wind was from the north and cared nothing for naive displays of peace. I kept re‑lighting the candle with my Zippo and one of the actors joined me, offering advice on how best to shelter the flame. We talked about America, war, death and the befuddled looks from passerby. After five or so minutes we filed back inside the theater as a few cast members sang “Give Peace a Chance”. I gathered up the actress, who said, “We have to swing by my place so I can feed the cat and then we'll go see the band.” We climbed into my car and set off for her apartment.
“Well?! What did you think of the play?”
“I liked it.”
“Is that all? Don't you have any criticism?”
“The music was too loud - some of the cast couldn't be heard.”
“You know, I've been saying the same thing right from rehearsals. Maybe if I tell them an audience member said so they'd listen.”
“A few of the motions were contrived. The hand motions. Some of that stuff was overwrought.”
“I don't know, I kinda liked that stuff...”
“I'm not a big fan of that kind of thing… I guess I like a narrative. Call me old‑fashioned. And what about that Danny Partridge guy? Was that strange or what?”
“What? Oh, the guy with the orange hair and the freckles. He was really good.”
I knew I shouldn’t have brought him up. The conversation degraded from there. She became agitated and bristled at every fault I'd found. Soon enough we were at her apartment. I wanted to double‑park while she went to feed the cat but she insisted I come up so she wouldn't feel rushed. I didn't want to climb the eight flights of stairs for a half hour of gabbing ‑ she always made me remove my boots because of the carpet ‑ but I put on a brave face and went.
I gasped for air when we got to her door, quietly huffing so as not to seem totally out of shape.
“Take your boots off, come in.” She went to her answering machine and played back her messages. One was this long pathetic monologue from some woman obviously experiencing a nervous breakdown. I moved into the kitchen in an attempt to get out of ear‑shot but still heard every apology and confession of unworthiness the poor creature blurted. Never leave personal, intimate messages on an answering machine. God knows who's listening.
The actress went for some cat food, amused at my embarrassment for this woman I didn't know and would never meet, and it was then she noticed the cat wasn't quite right. It was hunkered down by a wall, listing to one side, its head bobbing barely upright.
“Cassandra? Honey? Are you okay?” She knelt down and stroked the cat's back.
“How old is she?”
“Thirteen. She had a real bad kidney problem a year ago and nearly died. I have to put her on an IV every night.”
“That's not a well cat.” The cat looked to be buying the farm. I know - I've seen cats die before. My sister was once on a devil kick and kept getting these black cats and naming them Lucifer, Satan, Beelzebub - all of them got run over right in front of our house. They couldn't be seen at night. Some hapless driver would see a flash - cat's eyes reflecting headlights - and then it'd be too late. Skidding tires and a thump and my sister would be in the street crying and screaming at some poor apologizing soul. Then she'd get another black cat and it'd last maybe three months until the next inattentive motorist.
I once saw a kitten get stepped on and crushed. My other sister's cat had just had a litter and a family friend was over, showing off her new baby when she took an unfortunate step backward and stepped on one of the kittens. There was blood everywhere. My sister went absolutely berserk. She was inconsolable. Someone ushered her out of the room and tried to calm her down but she just kept screaming and yelling at this poor woman who still held her baby but now had a stunned, pained look on her face. My mother and I gathered up the kitten, most certainly dead, just blood and fur, and placed it in some newspapers and made a big production of rushing it to a vet. It was for my sister's sake: she refused to believe it couldn't be saved. The woman who crushed the kitten was banished forever from our house and my sister never forgave her.
My favorite cat when I was growing up, Crazy, who would sleep on my chest every night and was as malleable as cats get, disappeared one Fourth of July never to be seen again. I figured some local cat‑hater had shoved a bottle rocket up his ass and made sport of blowing him to hell. Through all the cat death, one hung on: Socksie, who was a huge orange tabby with white paws. He lasted eighteen years, got blind and incontinent and died a natural death. My brother came home from school to find Socksie no longer moving. He put him in a Stride‑Rite box and buried him out back with all the other long‑since departed.
I was a veteran of cat death and knew Cassandra was rapidly exhausting her ninth and final life. The actress grew more alarmed and called the animal hospital, telling me she didn't think we'd get to see the band with the singer who stuffed eggs in her vagina. She told someone at the animal hospital that we were bringing in a very sick cat and then I helped her get a pet carrier off a high shelf. I put my boots back on and went downstairs for the car.
Soon enough the actress appeared at the passenger door with the cat in the pet carrier and we made for 62nd Street and the animal hospital. Only in New York will you find a 24-hour eight story hospital strictly for pets. I was driving swiftly, trying to make time and the actress starting crying softly, saying over and over, “Okay, Cassandra. Mommy's here. Okay. It's okay, honey. Mommy’s here.” The cat mewed forlornly, ready to give up the ghost. At 34th Street a taxi shot across two lanes to deposit a fare, nearly sheering off my left front fender. I cursed the driver who looked at me like a child who'd just broken a toy, and the actress admonished me to slow down. But it wasn't my cat fading away on my lap.
We got on the FDR drive headed north and we were soon at the animal hospital where I paid five dollars to park while the actress rushed the cat up to the emergency room. I followed her up and watched her disappear behind sliding doors. I got a Canada Dry from a vending machine and flopped down on a wooden seat in the waiting area. It was now 10:30 pm and I wondered what kind of karmic debt I was re‑paying to find myself in a yellow room with sick animals on a Saturday night. I closed my eyes and try to remember the last time I’d been in this situation.
I was nineteen and still living at home. The family next door had a daughter my age, Denise, who became the object of my hidden desire. Denise was like the girls I'd seen in my father's Playboy: blonde, curvy, big-breasted. She was my actual girl next door and during the late spring and summer she'd tan herself in a little black bikini on a chaise lounge in her backyard. From behind the drawn curtains of my bedroom window I'd spy on her. She followed the same regimen each time: she’d pull the chaise lounge into a bright spot, cover it with her towel, set her portable radio at arm's reach, put on her sunglasses, uncap the suntan lotion, lay down and lather herself. First, her arms, right then left, then her neck and upper chest (always lifting the bikini top slightly to check her tan lines); then her stomach and as much of her back as could be reached; then down to her hips, her crotch, again lifting the bikini; then her inner thighs, her calves, ankles and feet. She'd then check all over to make sure the job was complete, and when satisfied, she'd lean back, arms at her side and drift off. I'd be there, crouched down in the dark, studying every inch of her and committing it all to memory for later that night.
Denise had a cat, whose name I forget, and sometimes it'd jump on the chaise lounge and demand attention. It was an intruder and would always spoil whatever fantasy I'd work up in my mind. Although we were the same age, Denise went out with older guys and I could never find the courage to talk to her except briefly. I was afraid she somehow knew about my spying.
One afternoon I was in the driveway washing my car when I heard this loud wailing. It was something from a nightmare ‑ the howling of a banshee ‑ and soon it was joined by another voice yelling “Ohmygod, Ohmygod” over and over. It was Denise’s mother. She was standing in their driveway in front of their Volvo station wagon with her hands over her mouth and tears in her eyes. She looked like she was going to vomit. She saw me and ran over to the fence separating our yards, screaming “Help me! Help me!” I met her at the fence and she tugged at my sleeve, dragging me toward the car. Between sobs she blurted out, “Ohmygod, help me, help me, I think it's the cat, I think it's under the hood of the car!” We stood in front of the Volvo and Denise’s mom got more frantic than my sister when she saw her crushed kitten.
“She's under the hood of the car! She's under there and I started the engine and she's under there and I can't get the hood opened… Ohmygod…my daughter is going to KILL me. I've killed it. It's dead, I know it. I can't open the hood!”
She was shaking me and turning red in the face. I opened the hood of the Volvo and there was the cat, wedged in between the fan blades. It was still howling and louder than anything I'd heard from a cat. The fan had sliced the cat's scalp nearly off leaving the skull partially exposed. There was a deep crack in the skull. One of the cat's rear legs was dangling from a piece of fur, the bone had been broken. The animal looked like it'd been through a thresher with a can of motor oil
“Ohmygod! Ohmygod, it's dead! Ohmygod, what are we going to do? What are we going to do?!”
I leaned into the engine compartment of the car and got a firm grip on the cat's rib cage. By turning the fan blades slightly while tugging the cat gently downward I was able to dislodge him. His eyes were wide and he howled in my face. His breath smelled like something already dead. Denise’s mother smelled it, too and backed away, her hands over her mouth, still saying “Ohmygod, Ohmygod, Ohmygod.”
The cat clawed at me and scrambled over my shoulder and down my back, then tore off across the lawn, dragging its ruined leg behind. Denise's mom screamed something about calling her daughter and ran into the house. I went after the cat and found it cowering beneath rose bushes at the back of the house. I crawled under the bushes on my belly, cutting myself on the thorns and scratching my arms and face until they bled. I located the cat and pulled him out, holding him tight against my chest. He did not want to come with me, he wanted to stay where he was and lick at his wounds and it was only force that convinced him otherwise.
I brought him around the front of the house and sat down on the porch. I could hear Denise's mom frantically explaining what'd happened and telling her daughter to come home, saying she was in no condition to drive. She hung up and came to the screen door.
“How is he?” she sobbed through the screen door.
“Not good. Can you get me a towel or a blanket or something?” She went and got a towel and I wrapped the cat in it and held him on my lap.
“My daughter's coming home and we'll take him to the vet. Do you think he'll be all right? What the hell was he doing under the hood of the car?!”
“They go under there at night, for warmth. My mother always told me to bang the hood of the car in the morning, just in case there's a cat under there.”
“My daughter's going to kill me.” She went back to the phone and called the vet. I looked down at the cat, who kept yowling, squirming to be free. I thought of putting it out of its misery.
I could just twist its neck...
Denise pulled up in front of the house, tires screeching, and bolted from the car. She was still in her waitress uniform. She worked at a Friendly’s half a mile away and there were ice cream stains on her apron. When she saw me with the cat she flew into a fit to top her mother's. Her mother came out of the house and they stood on the porch yelling at each other and crying. I heard myself quietly say “Let's get this cat to the vet or it's going to die.”
We piled into the car and Denise gunned it the two miles to the vet's office. She ran stop signs and red lights, cut across lanes, cut off other drivers, swerved around corners and frightened pedestrians. Her mother sat in the back, sobbing.
“Denise, slow down. For chrissakes, slow down! I'm sorry, I didn't know he was under the hood, I'm sorry. Slow down! What the hell was he doing under there? Ohmigod, please slow down, you're going to kill us all! We’ll get there. Don't drive like this, you're scaring me!”
Her daughter kept a hand on the cat, trying to pet it through the blood and grime, and paid no attention to her mother. Soon we were at the vet's and I carried the cat inside and handed it over to a man in a white lab coat. The vet laid the cat on a steel cart and removed the blood‑soaked towel. Denise decided she couldn't watch so she begged me to stay with the cat. The vet gave it a needle, some painkiller, and told me it didn't look good. “Fifty‑fifty,”
Fifty-fifty. This cat hovers between life and death.
I joined the distraught mother and daughter in the waiting room and when it was seen there was no more we could do, we got in the car and went home. Three days later the cat was back home, minus a front leg, and getting around quite nicely. Denise sent me a six‑pack of St. Pauli Girl and a note calling me her “Hero”. I was never able to watch her sunbathe after that.
And here I was again, back in the waiting room. I found some literature on ear mites and heart failure in cats. Two cops came in with a little girl. One of the cops had a kitten bundled up in a sweater. The little girl was crying and one of the cops tried to calm her down as the vet explained that the kitten had an ear infection and would have to stay overnight.
The actress came out a while later to say that they were running all kinds of tests on Cassandra and before they were through it'd probably cost $450. The actress fretted about the cost, saying she didn’t have it. I certainly didn’t have it either.
“Look. I’ve been a cat owner all my life and God knows I love the little bastards but I can't see parting with $450 over a thirteen year‑old cat with severe kidney problems.” The actress began crying, softly.
“I wouldn't keep her alive if she didn't have any 'quality of life'. If she's going to be in pain I'll have her put to sleep.”
“'Quality of life' to a cat means a warm place to sleep and steady meals. Besides, there's so many cats in the world and all cats are one, in a Zen sort of way. You'll get another one.”
An hour of stony silence later we were told that the cat probably had a stroke, a new one on me. We left it overnight for “observation” after much overwrought agonizing by the actress. She felt it'd be emotionally better for the cat to be at home with her and I reminded her that it would be “emotionally” better for the cat to be in an animal hospital if it had another stroke in the middle of the night. She wanted to leave something for the cat to sleep on, something that smelled of home, but couldn't bear to part with the sweater she wore ‑ it'd been a gift from her father. I suggested she leave the towel that was in the bottom of the pet carrier and she thanked me for my thoughtfulness.
On the way home she asked me if I might be in the city the next night, “In case I need a ride back from the animal hospital…” and I begged off with some lame excuse.
“I think it would be hard for me to discuss our relationship in light of what's happened tonight.” We pulled up in front of her building.
“I'm sorry because I think I have some good news for you, I know you've been depressed lately and this might've cheered you up.” I double parked and asked her to please tell me what was on her mind, thinking maybe the night wouldn't be a total wash‑out, hoping she'd tell me how much she'd come to like me and appreciate me and saying she'd like to see more of me. She initially demurred, but then began.
“You have a lot of negativity and self‑destructiveness. It's probably because of your family background. From what little you've told me I can tell it must have been hellish. I think you're problem is that you're an alcoholic and I want to tell you that you don’t have to keep on that road. I was an addict for many years, going from one addiction to another until I got into a program.”
“What makes you think I'm an alcoholic? Because you've seen me have a few beers?”
“I saw you at that Christmas party. You drank all night. You've had a few every time I've been with you.”
“Did you ever think that maybe it's because I'm so damn nervous around you? Maybe I'm scared to be around you and I need something for my nerves?”
“That sounds just like an addict - 'I need something' is the first justification. Your pain is self‑imposed. You can be happy if you want to. I can give you the number of an Adult Children of Alcoholics chapter near you.”
“What I really need is for someone to accept me. Some member of the opposite sex to take a chance on me.”
“You have so much anger in you. You remind me of me six years ago, before I got straight. I was so bitter and mad at the world and no one wanted to know me.”
“I'm just lonely, that's all.” I rested my head on the steering wheel. “I spend all my time by myself. I’m sick of always being by myself. I want to be with a woman. Spend time with her. Go places with her. Wake up with her. I'm excluded from that world because I'm imperfect. I must go and be perfect so I can be accepted, is that it? 'You must love yourself before you can love others', is that it?”
“It's true. How can anyone else love you with all that self‑hate?”
“But we all need approval and acceptance. We all need a minimum of feedback, someone telling us we're okay, we measure up. No one is entirely self‑supporting. We have these egos that need support, somehow. Didn’t you ever hear that ‘No man is an island’ stuff? Didn’t you ever wonder that it means?”
“So if I become your lover that'll make you think you're okay?”
“It's a start.”
“It doesn't mean anything. I keep friends much longer than I keep lovers. If you're my friend, you're my friend for life. If you're my lover it might last three months.”
“So this is a quantity versus quality thing, huh? I have these feelings for you and I should just shut them off and be glad that you’re my friend and the first time some big, strapping surfer dude comes along and lights your fire I just say to myself, 'Big deal, he'll only last three months. I have her for a lifetime'.”
“That was a low blow. You know that's not my type. I like men like you.”
“'Men like me'? How can you mean that?! Who's more like me than me?! Just tell me I don't make the grade, that's all. Quit trying to let me off easy with this 'Let's be friends' shit. I can't be your friend.”
“Well, that's all I can offer. I'm sorry if it's not enough. But please think about what I said, about getting help.”
She hugged me goodnight, waiting for me to throw my arms around her. I hit her in the face with my elbow as I made the awkward turn in my seat.
“Call me tomorrow.” I started the car and headed home.
I got to my place in record time and cracked open a bottle of Old Grand Dad. I listened to Pretend by Nat King Cole until I was loaded and ready for bed. I awoke just past noon, stayed in bed another hour and went downstairs to a message on my answering machine. Cassandra had died during the night. We finished the run of the play and the actress and I fell out of touch. Two years ago I finally met her famous brother, who told me his sister is doing fine, making jewelry somewhere in California. She has cats.
Grand Old Chris T. Party
Baby Aerial View Elephant Walk
Next Week on Aerial View
I took quite a while but I was finally able to sit down with my Podiatrist, Dr. Thomas Azzolini, to talk all about my surgery. But the conversation is far more free-range than that. We also spoke about the current state of the medical racket in the United States and why Prince might've died because of his feet. There was so much conversation that this show will end up being a two-parter. I head back to surgery on Friday, May 6th, so wish me luck.
Permanently unelected Mayor of Coney Island, and playwright Dick Zigun, has a new production - KILLING REPUBLICANS: A ROCK OPERA - now in residence at the Shooting Gallery Arts Annex in Coney Island.
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Obligatory Throwback Pic
1972, South of the Border, South Carolina
L - R: Marc, Pedro Chris, Nana
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