I STEAL A MATCHBOOK FROM MARILYN MONROE
THE SECRET OF THE CRYPTIC MATCHBOOK
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.”
“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.
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.
“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.”