Dancing in the Dark

by

10/13/2014

Neighborhood: Greenwich Village, Upper West Side

Dancing in the Dark
Photo by TOM81115

In 1974 I was twenty-five. I’d just left my secure job as a kindergarten teacher. The job: compliments of my, Bubbie, who was always yelling, “Get security. Be a teacher!” Deciding to leave the job? That was compliments of my Women’s Consciousness Raising Group. Every woman in the group encouraged me to leave my job and follow my passion to be a singer.

That’s when I met him. Fourteen years my senior, in the theater, and unbeknownst to me on that night, a man with a very checkered past. I hadn’t yet heard of Freud or Oedipus. Even with my one short lived marriage to my high school sweetheart, behind me, all I believed in were happy endings. I was at Jacques’, a neighborhood bar on Bleecker Street. There was music every night and no cover. I was sitting at the bar, drinking a Diet Coke. Jim Roberts, the Wednesday night piano guy was playing standards. The chords of “Every Time We Say Goodbye” were floating around me. I was aware of the song while I concentrated on picking out the best picture of myself from a contact sheet with twenty small photos on it. I’d had a session with a professional photographer that afternoon and at this moment nothing was as important to me as choosing the right photo. I felt a presence next to me. When I looked up and saw him, he was staring at the contact sheet.

“Can I help? I stage manage over there”, he gestured out the door towards the Circle in the Square theater, across the street, where Hot_ L Baltimore was enjoying a long run. “I’m good at this kind of stuff. Let me see those.”
He sat down next to me and pulled the sheet over to him. It is embarrassing to remember how I felt. He was a hunk. Honestly, he looked like Clark Gable. All the people around him turned into stick figures. He was the only flesh and blood person in the place. I felt like I was in a movie but one that was real. By the end of the evening I think one of us actually said , “Well, will it be your place or mine?” His name was Bill. He told me he’d been been an actor, a lawyer, a producer and a stage manager, in that order. Our whirlwind romance continued through the summer. We lived a noon to 2am life, with dinner after the theater and lunch at 5pm. He took me on weekend jaunts to the races at Saratoga and Joyous Lake, a famous café in Woodstock.

He was my biggest fan, sure I would make it as a singer. When I spent my savings paying an arranger/pianist to write a cabaret act for me, he was there in the front row when I got a chance to showcase it at Reno Sweeney’s, a well known Village night spot on West 13th Street. He told me he was in love with me a month in. His prior marriages and careers took up as much space in my brain as a teaspoon of sugar. Holes in his resume, missing months in his story with no explanation of what he’d been doing, even less. I couldn’t wait to meet his parents who lived in Houston. My mother, in Queens, was flirtatious with him. (He was actually closer to her in years than to me) I was angry with her, possessive of him.

He loved that I was a singer. I loved that he was in the theater. In September I landed a gig as the singer with a band, traveling down south to Oxford, Mississippi. Singing in the lounge of a Ramada Inn with a group called Thomas’ Promises, I was probably the only band singer with a Masters in Early Childhood Education. The bandleader once introduced me that way. Three weeks into it, missing Bill more than I thought possible, I came home. He’d been living on the upper East Side in an old girlfriend’s apartment who was at the time, touring with The Rocky Horror Show. I had sublet my Greenwich Village walk-up to a couple of gay guys, expecting to be on the road singing for at least three months.

Bill had gone to Columbia University for his B.A. He loved the neighborhood – the upper west side. Back then it was a neighborhood in transition, sort of like Brooklyn is now. We moved into a pre-war, one bedroom apartment on 103rd street and West End Ave. for $300 a month.The early years were the same as the beginning. Intense, either volatile and teary or romantic and hazy. Evenings began in a neighborhood restaurant with friends and wine and music. They often ended in the bedroom. I’d been sexually asleep for years. With Bill, I suddenly woke up.

He had a temper. Sometimes he scared me. It was like living with gathering storm clouds, waiting for the thunder to begin. He’d get jealous, especially after a martini or two. He would accuse me of coming on to one of his buddies. I’d cry and talk to him as if he were reasonable. By morning all was forgotten, at least by him. I had no idea what living under a storm cloud was costing me. I put my anxiety and fear in another universe.

One month, after living together for more than a year, my period was late. Thinking I might be pregnant, the idea of being married suddenly became attractive. With one hitch. I was still technically married. The year of being legally separated from my first husband wasn’t over. Bill supplied an easy and dramatic solution. As he was still a member of the Bar in New York State, he drew up the papers demanding an immediate divorce. I knew Paul wouldn’t contest. In fact, he didn’t even show up when we went to court. A laughable scene, right out of a screwball comedy. Bill questioning me on the witness stand as to my desire to end the marriage. And no one, including the judge, knew we lived together.

The pregnancy turned out to be a false alarm, but we still got married: on a Monday because in the theater, Monday is a dark night, no performance. The ceremony was at City Hall. Bill’s brother and my best friend from Performing Arts High School were witnesses. Afterwards, lunch at the Algonquin Hotel and then a party that night at a friend’s loft on Christopher St. It was a great opening. How long we would run was a mystery.

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§ 10 Responses to “Dancing in the Dark”

  • leslie flood says:

    Enjoyed, would like the see more

  • maxine herman says:

    I am already loving this and can’t wait for the next installment. In addition to recapturing some of my own sense of the locales of the time, the author has a light touch and sense of whimsy that draws the reader in. Thanks!

  • m.bell says:

    Helen,

    Somehow misplaced your e-mail. Thoroughly enjoyed reading another chapter in your engaging, ongoing saga. Hope you had a good summer and all is well with you.

    Best,
    Myrna Bell

  • Cindy Bodge says:

    Fun

  • Mark Sehl says:

    Hi, Joyous Lake- that was my favorite place in Woodstock. One day (back in the day- i am around your age) ) I did not have money- forgot my wallet- and they said “don’t worry about it” and I went back and paid.
    I used to enjoy dining and dancing there.

    I just wrote you on LinkedIn. It is a small world. I like the beginning of your story and want to hear more.

  • mark sehl says:

    I left a comment and pushed send but your site may not be working

    I used to hang at the Joyous Lake about the same time you did give or take 3 – 4 years. Small world. I remember going there (back in the day) and I forgot my money and they – that’ a long time ago- said Don’t worry about it and of course I went back and paid it. I loved the place-eating and dancing- my mother would go there (Woodstock) and paint every summer with her sister. I went camping a lot up on the mountain-stayed there alone by myself-no contact with anyone, nothing to read, no telephone – for 7 days.

  • mark sehl says:

    On youtube there is a subscribe button also like the video if you do. I also Have been to the restaurant just opposite Cornelia St. Nice place-

  • Met Helen in Cambria at my old house couple weeks ago. Love this first installment and was left wanting more. Great read keep writing girl , look forward to the finished work. See you at the top !

  • Loved this tightly written piece. More. More. Where can I get the rest???

§ Leave a Reply

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