I STEAL A MATCHBOOK FROM MARILYN MONROE
I GIVE MARILYN THE GRAND TOUR
I have a guilty secret: I’m not attracted to Marilyn Monroe. I’m a serial self-abuser when it comes to her earthy imitators–Mamie Van Doren and Jayne Mansfield. I can sit through seven cartoons, a newsreel and a Randolph Scott western just to get a second look at Jane Russell in The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown. After I see Janet Leigh in Psycho, I lock myself in my room for days, only coming out for meals. I’ve spent so much time in the shower with Yvonne De Carlo I’m getting webbed fingers. But Marilyn just isn’t on my Fantasy team. She has an aloof, distracted look like she’s getting messages from another dimension. I can’t fit her into any imaginary scenarios and it bothers me. I fear for my masculinity.
Marilyn is standing so close I can smell her perfume. It’s a warm April day, but she is wearing an ankle length fur coat, opened slightly onto a black dress. Her breasts seem to quiver with the slightest movement. I’ve never known a woman, from 11 to 90, to go braless so I am transfixed. No jewelry, nail polish, make up or lipstick. Her skin isn’t blushing ivory as it is in Technicolor, but pasty with a tiny pimple here and there. Her eyes are invisible behind the dark glasses and her white blonde hair disappears in the sunlight.
“Miss Monroe?” I ask.
She gives me the “Duh” smile.
“I’d like to see the the Miller family?” she says.
“I will direct you,” I say with my best funereal politesse.
“Do we have to go through there?” She gestures toward the milling lobby. News of her arrival must have spread through the ether. People are peering through the glass doors. A traffic jam is forming on Coney Island Avenue. A mounted cop rides out of the park at full gallop. ” I don’t want to draw attention,” she says. “Is there another way?”
“We can take the back elevator,” I say.
I lead her around the corner. My colleagues are standing at the office window, waving and shaking their heads. In the parking lot the chauffeurs step out of their limos, putting on their caps. Sconzo runs out the back door, buttoning his coat.
“Mr. Gould,” he calls
“Excuse me, it’s my boss,” I say and leave her on the ramp leading to the basement.
“Are you fuckin’ crazy?” Sconzo whispers.
“She didn’t want to draw attention so I’m taking her through the back elevators,” I say.
“You’re gonna walk her right by the embalming room for Chrissake,” he says with a panicky look. “Alright, alright, I’ll call down and tell them to close the door…” He shoves me. “Go, go…”
It’s been fifteen seconds and already Marilyn has drawn a crowd. A column of horseback riders from the Prospect Park Riding Academy next door rides by. There is a chorus of “whoas!” The horses stop and plop. Bowlers pour out of the Park Circle Lanes across the street, some still holding their balls.
“Hope I’m not causing any bother,” she says.
“Of course not,” I say.
She teeters on her heels and grabs my wrist as we walk down the steep ramp. The sunlight stops at the garage overhang. It is suddenly very dark and shivery. I walk her past the hearses down a narrow hallway. Marshall, the porter emerges from the supply closet lighting a cigarette. He gapes, match in midair.
“Hi,” Marilyn says.
At the end of the hallway is the harsh light of the embalming room. Two bodies are on the white porcelain embalming tables. Marilyn stops for a moment. A dark figure–probably Marshall– whooshes by and closes the door, but we can still hear the tinny radio playing rock and roll.
“Is that the morgue?” Marilyn asks.
“The embalming room,” I say.
She walks on ahead of me.
“Then, what’s this?”
I realize with a jolt that we haven’t closed the door of the tohorah room where Orthodox Jews prepare their dead for burial.
“That’s for the very religious people,” I say. “They have a special ceremony…”
Marilyn is staring into a small bare room where a shrouded body lies under a bare bulb on a long wooden table. It is a female–we can see the sparse white hair against the bony skull. An elderly woman is bustling around the body with a sponge.
“What’s she doing?” Marilyn asks.
“Purifying the body,” i say. “You see the religious people don’t believe in embalming. They wash the body in vinegar and eggs and bury the person within twenty-four hours.”
A bent old man with a white beard comes out of a dark corner, mumbling. Marilyn gasps and reaches for me. “Who’s that?”
“That’s the shomer,” I say. “The religious people believe the deceased should never be left alone. This man watches the body and prays over it…”
“He scared me to death,” she says.
The service elevator is full of casket dollies. I push them out and escort Marilyn in. The door creaks slowly shut. The cables squeal and the elevator labors.
“You know a lot about this,” Marilyn says.
“I’m working my way through college,” I say. It’s a senseless response, but she doesn’t seem to notice.
“Oh,” she says.
The door creaks open on the second floor. I lead her down a crowded hallway. Mourners from other funerals are jostling for a look.
As we approach the Miller family room Marilyn steps behind me. Nobody ever wants to enter a reposing room. No one knows how to condole. I suddenly feel protective.
“Excuse us please,” I say.
The crowd around the door parts. An old man staggers up from a sofa near the casket.
He falls into her arms.
“They’re very close,” a woman whispers. “He’s the father she never had…”
The visitors step back as she leads him to the couch.
“Watch, see, if she even says a word to Arthur,” a woman says. “From what I hear it’s not amicable.”
Mr. Miller reaches under Marilyn’s coat to embrace her.
“That’s right Izzie, get a good handful,” someone says.
It’s a bent, squinty old man with Maalox crust around his lips.
“Shut up Ben…”
This from a stout old lady with swollen ankles in a black dress with a lace collar.
“Wonder who I can get when you go,” the old man says.
“I’m warning you, Ben…”
The old man prods me in the ribs with thick working man fingers. “Hey kid, you booking this? Can you get me Mitzi Gaynor for her funeral?”
Albino, the semi-dwarf with a beak nose and patent leather hair, steps into the room and clears his throat, dramatically.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, will you all please take your seats in the chapel now for the Miller services. Only the immediate family need remain.”
The visitors file out, leaving Marilyn, the old man and a young women who I guess is the daughter. The tall guy standing by the window must be the son, the famous playwright, Arthur Miller.
Albino gives me the let-me-show-you-how-it’s done wink. He tries to take Marilyn by the arm.
“If you’ll come with me, Miss Monroe…”
But she pulls away from him…”Wait…” And goes to the tall man by the window. He stares down at her as if he doesn’t understand what she’s saying. She turns away and looks around like she’s lost.
“Come Marilyn, sit with me,” the old man says.
“No, no, Papa, I’ll see you later,” she says.
Reluctantly, Albino, leads the family out of the room.
Now it’s just the two of us. Protocol dictates that the last visitor be out of the room before the casket is moved.
“Do you wish to be seated?” I ask Marilyn.
“No, no, wait,” she says.
Aiello and Celiberti appear in the doorway.
“Mr. Shmatzner, Mr. Plotzstein,” I call. “You can come in…”
They enter…”Excuse us…”
As they are wheeling the casket out, Marilyn turns to me.
“Stay with me, please…”
NEXT: I TAKE MARILYN TO THE SECRET PLACE