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                                                                                                Allen McGill

Gene and Roddy     Exits and Entrances

Best Laid Plans     Surprise!

   

Gene and Roddy

Growing up in New York City, I was fortunate to be part of the “small town” community that Greenwich Village was back then. Long-term residents of one of the city’s oldest communities knew each other, tolerated each other and cared for each other. As with all neighborhoods, especially of the “artistic” persuasion, we had our characters. Gene and Roddy were two who were special to all of us.

Gene was an old man who, in his day, must have been quite the dandy. He was always nattily dressed with jacket and tie, always erect as if on parade, and always ready to tip his hat to a passing lady. He was also always inebriated.

Roddy was his white and tan Jack Russell Terrier. He was older than Gene in dog’s years, friendly, feisty and in his later years blind. By sense of smell, it was presumed, he recognized everyone who lived on the street who took the time to stop to pet and say hello to him. He returned all such greeting with finger-tip kisses.

The two were inseparable. Gene would tuck Roddy under his arm, carry him down the steps from his top floor apartment in a converted townhouse to the tree-lined street. He’d place him gently beyond the curb near a car wheel, so Roddy could sniff out any new visitors to the neighborhood. Gene always managed to do so without falling, no matter how tipsy he was. And Roddy didn’t need a leash, since he never strayed more than two feet from Gene’s pants leg. They’d been together for years, two old gents relying on each other for love, comfort and companionship.

One crisp Autumn evening, a taxi pulled up in front of the townhouse and Gene emerged, considerably less able to maneuver than usual. He stumbled out the door, swung it shut behind him and leaned through the window to pay the fare. He then forced himself upright, and the taxi drove off.

“No, wait!” Gene cried frantically, waving his arms and staggering after the cab. “Roddy!” The cab drove out of sight. Roddy had been in the back seat, momentarily forgotten by Gene.

The news spread quickly that Roddy was missing. Neighborhood residents were thrown into stunned concern. They joined forces to search and call throughout the city in an attempt to find the elderly canine. No one gave voice to the images each of us had of the horrible things that might happen to poor Roddy, an old, blind dog in city of millions. Every avenue of tracking him down was followed, which included the calling of all known taxi companies, various Police Precincts and the ASPCA—with no results.

A week passed without Gene leaving his telephone. But one night he did appear: unshaven, gaunt, disheveled—and sober. He took to roaming the streets nightly, to search beneath parked cars, peer down basement stairs and look through store windows. I walked with him, in silence, just so he wouldn’t be alone. Another week passed; Gene seemed to grow more and more frail with each passing day.

“Let’s sit for a minute,” I suggested one night, when we again reached his stoop.

He nodded, then eased down onto a step, wrapping his arms around himself. After only a few minutes he rose again, saying, “I’m so cold. It’s time for me to go,” and turned to wend his way up the long flights of stairs.

“Hey, mister,” I heard a man’s voice call. “You lose a dog?”

Gene spun around so quickly I was afraid he was going to tumble down the stone steps. “Yes!” he croaked. Hope and disbelief burst forth in the single word.

“Thought I recognized you,” the voice called again. A large, black man stepped out from the driver’s seat of an Off Duty yellow cab. He reached back inside and drew forth a small dog into his arms. It was Roddy!

With an outcry of laughter mixed with tears, Gene stumbled down to the sidewalk, arms outstretched, unable to speak. Roddy struggled in the cabby’s arms and let out a single “Yip!” That was the first and only time I ever heard him bark. The cabby handed him over. Roddy, tail wagging with the vigor of an excited pup, placed both paws on Gene’s face to hold him still while he covered every inch of lickable face with kisses.

The man turned to me: “It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered the little fella in the back seat of my cab.”

“But we called all the taxi companies,” I told him. “How come...?”

The man shrugged. “I notified headquarters, but it was late. The message must have gotten lost in the shift change. I own my own cab and that was my last call of the night, so afterwards I drove home. I was going on vacation the next day, but when I found this little guy I realized the old man must be frantic. I know I would be. So I’ve been driving around this neighborhood and the one where I picked him up every day for the past two weeks, hoping I might see him. I was giving up after tonight.” He glanced at the notice on a nearby tree, then added, “Guess I should have walked. I couldn’t see the ‘Lost Dog’ flyers from the cab.”

“I can’t tell you how much this means to me,” Gene managed to say, still choked with emotion.

“You don’t have to,” the cabby said with a smile. He reached out to scratch Roddy under the chin and was rewarded by Roddy nuzzling his face into his palm, adding a few licks for good measure before returning his attention to Gene’s nose.

After effusive thanks and offers of a reward—refused by the cabby—each of us went our separate ways. Things returned to the way I’d always know them—well, almost. Gene still took Roddy for his evening “constitutionals,” but they lasted longer than they had before. Each one now ended at an AA meeting, where Roddy slept in Gene’s arms until it was time for them to go home again, together.

   

Top of Page Exits and Entrances

The party was held on-stage, everyone milling about, somewhat sadly, as is usual when a play has completed its last performance.

“Well, that was it,” the aged actor announced to the small group around him. “I just don’t have it any more.” He waved his hand and smiled with professional jocularity. He recognized the half-heartedness of the “Oh, no’s,” and the “Ah, you don’t mean it’s,” that came from the cast and crew members. Nice of them, he realized, but they knew as well as he that memory and concentration lapses are anathema to actors.

“Don’t be silly, Teddy,” Mitzi, one of the dignified character actresses, said to him privately. “We all flub from time to time.”

“Every night?” Teddy said, an eyebrow raised in mock sarcasm.

“You covered it beautifully,” she said. “You always do. I’m sure no one in the audience even noticed it.”

Teddy’s laugh was theatrically broad, but genuine. “They could have gone out for drinks in the time it took me to finally get back on track. I was alone on stage, in a spotlight, for Christ’s sake! What do you mean, they didn’t notice?”

Mitzi’s eyes left his face. She scanned the party, slightly embarrassed.

“I’m sorry, darling,” Teddy said. “I sure as hell don’t want to take it out on you. You’ve been an absolute gem throughout all my screw-ups. I just don’t know what the problem is. Rehearsals were pretty decent, my acting hasn’t waned; it’s just that I go into total white-outs at times, without a clue as to what my next line is.”

Mitzi touched his arm and looked up at him, concern and love showing on her face. “I know how much this bothers you,” she said, “but you can’t just give up theatre. What would you do with yourself?”

He shrugged. “Well, I’ve got a bit of a name. Maybe I’ll try television, or film. At least there if you screw up a line, you just do it over and over again until you get it right. I’ll just have to learn to tone down my actions and expressions. God! Can you imagine? Me, going back to acting school?” He laughed again, joined by Mitzi.

She slipped her arm under his and led him away to the bar. “Look, sweetheart,” she said. “You have more than just a name. You’ve done extraordinary work throughout your entire career. Everyone in the business loves you, wants to work with you. And I,” she added, squeezing his arm with gentle pressure, “have loved you for years, both as an actor, and as a friend. And if that little tryst we had a few eons ago had been a little more—”

“Let’s not go there,” he said quickly, with a look of mock shock on his face. “That was a more embarrassing flub than any flub I’ve ever made in front of a audience. And I loved you—still do—always will.”

“You’re still handsome, even more so with the white sideburns; you’re tall, sparkling, admired and liked by all. If you decide to give up ‘trodding the boards,’ you’ll do very well for yourself.”

“Only problem,” he said quietly. “I’ve discovered that now that I’m well into middle-age, I don’t photograph well. In fact, I photograph lousy! That’s why I’ve been thinking about my options.” He cringed a bit. “I could possibly teach. Or, God forbid, becoming a director!”

“Wash your mouth!” Mitzi said in her most commanding tone, then burst into laughter along with Teddy. Directors were their best allies, as they well knew, the good ones being truly dedicated to steering performers toward greatness.

He took two glasses of champagne from the bartender, handed one to Mitzi. “I certainly know what I like in a director, but can I direct other people? I’ve never been one to give orders. I just take them...or not.”

She smiled. “Yes, I do seem to remember certain...disagreements between you and some un-named no-talents who tried to pull rank. But even they appreciated you later. They realized that you knew more than they did—oh, here’s my driver. He probably couldn’t find a parking space.”

She rose on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. “You keep in touch with me. Do you hear? Let me know what you’ve decided to do. We’ll have lunch together really soon. Ok? Love you—I really do.” She crossed to stage left with a flutter to all the non-revelers, and disappeared into the wings. A temporary exit.

Teddy turned to look out into the audience, the rows of empty seats receding into the darkened house. His whole adult life had played itself out in settings like this, with himself portraying a variety of characters: good, evil, funny, dour—performing. The group behind him grew quieter still, the pretense of enjoyment having grown stale.

“Well, I must be going,” he announced; the word had more meaning for him than ever before. He waved, hugged, kissed and exchanged pointless promises to “get together soon” with any number of colleagues in theatre. He made his way off-stage, then stopped to look back. The party seemed to have mired to slow motion, lights dimmer, sound muffled. He seemed to be no longer a part of it. An outsider.

Memories of his many years in theatre seem to swarm around him, to flit through his mind as clearly as if they were happening for the first time. There were so many roles, successes and occasional failures. Lovers came and went, as did the various actors he had to compete with for the choice parts. There were so many tears, but oh so many more laughs. The scandals and secrets—

Perhaps he’d write a book.

   

Top of Page Best Laid Plans

“And have you reached a unanimous verdict?” the judge asked.

“We have, your Honor.” The chairperson looked directly at me, her voice taking on a harsh edge: “We find the defendant guilty!”

My knees buckled and I nearly collapsed. The roaring in my ears blotted out all sound.

This couldn’t be! Barb and I had planned it so carefully. Everything, every step of the way. After her mother was dead, Barb would be free to handle everything if I were accused of the drowning. We’d worked up an unshakable alibi for her. And there was plenty of money; her mother’s will had already been probated.

Barb told me the judge had been taken care of, that she’d even paid off one of the jurors to make sure. What the hell had gone wrong?

I looked for her in the melee as the court officers grabbed my arms. They were pulling me away as I caught her eye. She stood talking with my lawyer, a hand stroking his upper arm. They turned to look my way, ever-so-slight grins playing around their lips.

Before I was dragged out, Barb raised her hand—and blew me a kiss.

The door slammed shut.

   

Top of Page

Surprise!

The little girl crept upstairs to the dark attic, silently; she wasn’t allowed. Mother always hid things in the corner under cover, so she tiptoed across, heading straight for it.

Peeking beneath the dusty sheet, she found something that hadn’t been there before. A wooden box, for jewelry maybe, or dolls’ clothing.

She chuckled. The box was big and would make noise if she tried to drag it out, so she decided to peek inside, just once, to see what mother had planned for her.

Slowly, she undid the lock and lifted the lid...then began to shriek, to throw herself about the attic, hurling things, wailing, swearing loudly and howling like a banshee. She slammed it shut.

“I told you not to come up here,” her mother shouted from the doorway. “That box was for your birthday and now you’ve spoiled the surprise! There’s just no hope for you, Pandora!”

   

                                                                                                © Allen McGill

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Loch Raven Review Fall 2005 — Vol. I, No. 1
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