Monday, September 19, 2005

The box office of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kalita Humphries Theater in Dallas is shaped like a coffin. I was there working during Adrian Hall’s reign during the 80’s when it happened. It’s fair to say that Adrian didn’t care for me, often referring to me as “that woman”. So I spent my years of employment there doing the not so creative work of box office and house management. This was okay with me at the time. I had burned myself up like a white goat on the altar of Los Angeles and spilled all my creative blood so that I had nothing left to give. The Dallas Theater Center was a break I needed badly.

I consoled myself by remembering that the coffin shaped office was exactly where Preston Jones had penned A Texas Trilogy. If The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia had emerged from this hopeless place…perhaps I wasn’t completely washed up at 24. Maybe I could go on to do something wonderful like that.

And it was a good place for me then. A time and place of unbridled silliness where we giggled and “corpsed” each time Mrs. Polly Baumfalk came to exchange her tickets. (Could you spell that for me, please Ma’am?) I’d bleached my hair an absurd platinum color that, to my delight, seemed to absolve me of any expectations of intelligence.

In 1985 were doing a production of C. P. Taylor’s dark musical tragi-comedy Good. Good is set in 1930’s Germany and is the story of a basically decent “good” man, a professor, and how he ends up supervising the final solution at Auschwitz. It’s about how “good” people become encompassed and overtaken by evil. Slowly, seductively until in utter horror…it is too late to turn back. In 1985, the Holocaust was still a taboo topic. It was before the Shoah Project and Schindler’s List. It was like saying the word “cancer” in those days…also not a topic for polite conversation. People were still uncomfortable about what had happened to six million souls in Hitler’s death camps. We knew the play was going to be controversial. I just wasn’t prepared for the first and only complaint I handled.

She came in the big glass doors using a cane that seemed poorly suited to support the weight of an entire world. Her frailty seemed a symptom of more than her advanced age and when she spoke you heard the echoes of long dead happiness. She slowly advanced on the ticket window and pushed her season tickets through the window. Her hands were talons that grew sideways from crippling arthritis and were decorated with huge gold rings like jewels on bleached bones.

She grasped my hand when I reached for the tickets and asked, “Why?” Her rheumy eyes, filling with watery tears.

Stupidly I looked from her tickets to her face, not knowing what to say.

Frustrated, she released my hand and rolled her sleeve up. There, still visible, in the creases of her skin was a death camp tattoo.

“Why?” She asked again and grasped my hand, digging into my flesh.

I excused myself and joined her in the lobby. Still quiet, still searching for something I could say, and gently guided her to a seat and sat beside her.

I then said the only thing I could say.

“Because it is important that we, all of us, never forget this. It needs to be remembered.”

I knew when I said it that it was the right thing and the true thing, but I also knew that it was coming from a blonde bubble-headed gentile twenty-something and nothing that came out of my mouth was going to sound right. This grand old woman had more experience of cruelty and brutality and hatred than I would ever in my life imagine.

“Why?” She said again with a sob. “I can think of no good reason to remember such a thing. Such a ugly thing I’ve spent my life forgetting.”

I could not argue with her.

“You know, I there is nothing I can do to stop this play. What can I do for you?”

She seemed to tremble in her delicate, precarious unhappiness.

I called the general manager and we cut her comps for another show. I remember watching her leave the theater, still abjectly unhappy that this terrible thing was going to happen.

She was the first Holocaust survivor I ever met.

I hadn’t thought about my frail little Jewish lady in a long time. Lately, seeing the faces of these new survivors of an entirely different sort of cataclysm, she has haunted me. I doubt she lived long enough to see the efforts that have been made since to remember what happened to her and so many others. She was old beyond her many years even then.

I am tormented by my species’ inability to learn from past mistakes. We seem doomed to repeat history under different circumstances, never taking notice of the ominous similarities from situation to situation. We are like the friend who intentionally seeks out abusive relationships, one after another, each time thinking this time it will be different. All the while ignoring the fact that the new person is really the same person as before…just in a different skin.

I am a Cassandra. There are many of us and our numbers are growing.

Because it is important that we, all of us, never forget this. It needs to be remembered.

1 Comment:

  1. Jessica Gottlieb said...
    And from your coffin you touched a woman who had examined her own and walked past it.

    There is not right thing here. It's beyond fixing and therapists are doomed to failure because it's an oddity of the human condition that anyone could survive.

    I will stand on a street corner and demand the world hears your words. Especially when the contain, nigger, kike and faggot, gypsy, catholic, retard...

    I want the world to see and recognize you because you are like mushrooms and you multiply quietly in the dark but with sunlight and motion you are broken into bits of mold.

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