Monthly Archive for January, 2010




Chapels are filling. Mourners are milling. Rabbis are chafing. Patience is waning. Thoughts turn to the lox and bagels, the chopped liver and pickled herring–the rugelach and Russian coffee cake that await the bereaved at the end of this long day. But the caskets stay in the service elevator. The lockstep march of funerals has abruptly halted. Every employee of Riverside Memorial Chapels is jammed in the back room watching my interrogation.

I’m downplaying the incident, but they’ll have none of it.

“Did she scratch your wrist with her nail?” Aiello/Shmattner asks.

“Maybe accidentally,” I say. “She didn’t want to fall on the ramp…”

DeSousa/Strauss grabs my hand. “Did she gently rub your palm with her fingertip, like this? That’s the universal fuck me signal.”

I hesitate…

“He don’t remember,” says Cesario, the mobbed up chauffeur, full of contempt. “You were scared, weren’t you kid?”

“Did she ask your name first or did you tell her?” someone asks.

“She asked me first, I think,” I say.

You think?”

Albino pushes his way in, flushed and indignant. “You didn’t do what I tolya, didja?”

“I made conversation,” I say.

“Didja look in her eye and imagine her takin’ her clothes off like I tolya? Didja imagine her pullin’ that dress over head…?” He shakes his head, mourning my lost opportunity. “While you were makin’ small talk didja imagine that soft white skin, those boobs swayin’ to and fro. ‘Cause that’s part of it. You hafta send a signal. I told you that…” He addresses the crowd. “I tole him to do that…” He waves an accusing finger. “Didja leave an opening where you had a good excuse to call her? You didn’t, didja?”

My voice cracks. “It all happened so fast..”.

“Was she lookin’ at your crotch when she talked to you?” DeSousa/Strauss asks.

“I couldn’t see her eyes, she was wearing dark glasses.”

“When she bumped you in the elevator, did she rub against your pants ?” someone asks.

“I’m not sure. You know how that elevator kinda jerks when its starts…”

“Like you’re gonna be jerkin’ for the rest of your life,” Cesario says and turns on Sconzo. “See, that’s what you get for sendin’ a boy on a man’s job.”

“He won the lottery,” Sconzo says. “Besides, what makes you think she’d fall for you? She’s already had one guinea in her life–Joe Dimaggio– and kicked him out.”

I have been shunted to a corner of the back office, dismissed as the the least reliable witness to my own encounter.

Arguments break out all over the room.

First the coat:

“Dyed mink,” Albino says.

“Dyed mink is what a Jew dentist buys his wife when he’s caught cheatin’,” Rizzo says. “This is Marilyn Monroe. They give her the coat just to wear it around. It’s a ten thousand dollar sable.”

Every moment of the experience is deconstructed.

“She likes the kid,” Albino says. “I seen her lean over the balcony and take her coat off to show him her ass.”

“She was waving to the old man,” I correct timidly from exile.

“This is Marilyn fuckin’ Monroe,” Albino cries out on agony. “You think she don’t know what she’s doin’ with her ass?”

Rizzo snaps his fingers as he remembers. “Yeah! She took her coat off when she got into the car. And shook it right in his face…” He shoves me. “She likes you, whaddya arguin’?”

They grab the matchbook out of my hand.

“She dropped this for him,” Albino says.

“It fell out of her pocket,” I say.

“She dropped it on on purpose, you little putz!”

They examine it like archaeologists with a puzzling find.

“Danny’s Hideaway,” Cesario says. “That’s Dimaggio’s favorite hangout.”

“Maybe they’re gettin’ back together.”

Cesario offers more inside information. “Danny’s is a protected joint. Frank Costello said they didn’t hafta have the union…”

“Betcha she’s bangin’ Costello,” Rizzo says. “These movie stars love the tough guys. Bugsy Siegel banged Lana Turner…”

“Longie Zwillman banged Jean Harlow,” says Cesario.

“Look at this!” Rizzo says. And turns to me with a smile. “You’re in, you lucky bastard.”

It’s a phone number behind a row of unused matches. An “M” has been hastily scrawled over a number that is smudged and hard to read.

This is 1961 and all phone numbers start with letters which give an idea of the part of the city where the phone is located. This number begins with MU…

Rizzo snaps his finger again. “Murray Hill. Midtown, East Side. She lives there, right by the river…My brother-in-law dropped her off in his cab…”

Cesario grabs the matchbook. “The numbers are blurry. Like she wrote it at the bar and it dropped in a puddle or somethin’…”

Rizzo grabs it back. “If it fell in a bar puddle how come the matches are dry? She wrote it in a hurry with a ballpoint pen is what happened.” He squints hard at the number. “Can’t make out the last two digits…” He hands the book back to me. “You gotta dial every combination…You’ll get it.”

“Call her,” someone urges. It swells to a chorus.

“Call her!”

“Can’t do it cold.” Albino says. “Too obvious. It’ll put her off.”

Voices are raised in protest. “But she wants him to call,” Rizzo says.

Albino, raises a silencing hand. “I know how this is done, alright?” He’s a dwarf with a comb over and a hairy wart on his beak, but everyone accepts his authority. “You don’t wanna spook her by bein’ too anxious. You gotta have an excuse…” He leans back, eyes closed… “Go into the lost and found. Pick up somethin’ she mighta dropped like a glove. You call her. This is Heywood, from Riverside, Miss Monroe. Did you by any chance leave a glove?”

His voice gets breathy. “I think I did, she says. Then you say I can bring it over if you wish…She says, sure, why don’t you come by tomorrow afternoon?”

He’s lost in a reverie.

“Matinees are the best times,” he says. “Don’t worry about bein’ a superman. She’ll do everything…Then one day you say I need a suit for my cousin’s wedding. She slips you the cash…” He opens his eyes with a beatific smile…”You’re set…”

Rizzo pinches my cheek. “Look at the fatchim on this kid. Cheer up, you’re set.”

They were romantics with an unshakable faith in male power. But I was a timorous boy, convinced nothing momentous could ever happen to me. I never called.

When they asked I said a man kept answering.

“Some wise guy got there first, and he’s keepin’ her out of circulation,” Albino said.

I carried the matchbook around with me for a few years. I would take it out and say: “Marilyn Monroe gave this to me.”




She’s Marilyn Monroe. But she has to go.

We have twenty funerals today. The Miller mourners have departed, leaving wisps of smoke, gum wrappers and crushed dixie cups. Now the reposing room has to be turned over. Porters are poised in the doorway with dustpans, vacuum cleaners and air fresheners. Behind them Shmattner/Aiello and Plotzstein/Celiberti have wheeled out another casket containing another freshly embalmed, cosmetized and dressed decedent. In the lobby a new bereaved family is waiting to enter the room and receive visitors.

I take a baby step toward Marilyn.

“Uh…The service is about to begin…”

She has been standing under light in the casket alcove like an actress on stage. She blinks and stares at me in utter disbelief.

“Excuse me…?”

In a life to come I will realize how presumptuous I must have seemed. Nobody tells Marilyn Monroe what to do. She is famously late and everyone waits. Directors, movie stars, studio heads, columnists–she even showed up late to sing “Happy Birthday ” to JFK.

“The service is in the main chapel,” I say. Another non-sequitur, but Marilyn understands.

“Look…I don’t want to draw attention to myself. Is there a private room or something?”

There is a small two-seat opera box overlooking the chapel. No one ever sits there. It’s used as a make out spot with the girls picked up in the bowling alley across the street.

“We have a special reserved balcony area for private viewing,” I say. “Mr. Shmattner, would you tell Mr. Squires I’m taking Miss Monroe to the special balcony,” I say.

The room is on the other side of the building, which means another trip down the service elevator through the basement. We pass the tohora room where the watcher stands over the shrouded body chanting in fervent prayer.

“Does he do this all day long?” Marilyn asks.

“He’s supposed to,” I say.

In the embalming room Krieger/Carraciola and Strauss/De Sousa are eating huge hero sandwiches, tomato sauce dripping. Behind them two cadavers raised up on the tables, seem to be staring covetously at their lunch.

A small elevator takes us to a dark vestibule on the second floor. There’s the distinct odor of stale beer and drugstore perfume. I open the door. Heads turn in the chapel below; it’s amazing how Marilyn broadcasts her presence. Everybody looks up at her, but Arthur, who stares straight ahead. I open a folding chair. Marilyn slips her coat over her shoulders. The rabbi waits until she is settled before he begins.

“I’ll be outside,” I whisper.

She doesn’t seem to hear me.

In the vestibule, Albino’s cigarette is glowing.

“She likes you,” he whispers. “See how she put her hand on your wrist? Didja make small talk like I told you?”

“I told her I was working my way through college…”

“Keep it up. Give her an opening to make a date…”

“But what can I say?”

“Tell her you wanna be an actor and can she recommend a class,” he says. “She’ll say the Actors Studio where she goes and maybe she can put in a word. Get your foot in the door. Make your breaks…Don’t be a schmuck all your life.”

The rabbi is a pro, no long eulogies. Soon, I hear the announcement: “The funeral cortege will be leaving from the back parking lot.” Marilyn is leaning over the balcony, waving to Mr. Miller. He beckons. She shakes her head and blows him a kiss. In a moment the chapel is empty. The casket is moved behind a curtain to a covered driveway where it will be loaded into the hearse. Another casket is wheeled in from behind another curtain. Flower pieces are arrayed. Shmattner/Aiello steps back to make sure the arrangement is perfect. The chapel door is opened and a new group of mourners ushered in.

“It’s like a funeral factory in here,” Marilyn says.

Is she giving me an opening?

“Twenty funerals,” is all I can reply..

She shrugs back into her coat. Does she want me to help? What if I try and she brushes me off like she did to Albino?

“Can you take me back to my car?” she asks.


We go back down in the elevator. She bumps against me? Is she making a move? Could be the air. People get woozy in funeral parlors. We get a lot of fainters.

In the basement the porters are washing an old Packard hearse. Marilyn steps gingerly through the soapy puddles and takes my wrist between her thumb and forefinger, grazing me with her nail. A little electric chill shoots through me. Did she do it on purpose? I don’t know, but she just made it onto my fantasy team.

The cortege rides alongside of us as we walk to her car. Every face in every window is turned to Marilyn. She puts on her dark glasses and speeds up, her heels clacking on the sidewalk. The chauffeur jumps out to open the door.

Some guys ride by in an Impala convertible. “We love you Marilyn,” they shout. She waves, absently in their general direction. Then turns to me.

“You’ve been very patient with me, Mr…What’s your name, anyway?”

“Heywood,” I say.

“Heywood,” she says. “Is that your mother’s maiden name or something?”

“My father named me after a famous newspaper writer, Heywood Broun,” I say.

“Well, what do they call you for short?”

I can’t believe I’ve hit a bonanza of small talk over my name.

“Woody,” I say. “I get made fun of a lot. You know Woody the Woodpecker or Hey-is-for horses…Heystacks Calhoun–he’s a wrestler. Stuff like that…”

“You poor baby,” she says. “Well, at least, no one will ever forget your name…”

The chauffeur has been holding the door during this exchange. Big guy with a booze dark face, he’d just love to step between us and give me a shove. “Is this guy botherin’ you, Miss Monroe? Take a walk, pal…” Instead, we’re having a pleasant conversation. And now he gapes as she reaches up and strokes my face. “Goodbye Heywood…”

Her fingers are warm and moist. “Goodbye, ” I say.

She shrugs out of the coat and throws it in the back seat. Her butt bobbles as she climbs into the car. In another life I’ll become an expert at spotting panty lines, but for now I’m convinced she is naked under that dress.

Something has dropped out of her coat pocket. A matchbook. I retrieve it as the car pulls away. I can call out to her, stop the car and return it. Instead, I put it in my pocket and saunter back to the chapel where everybody is clustered at the door eager to hear my story.