The Ambassador From San Francisco State

by Lenore Weiss

 

It was around 1978. Lawrence was an actor who’d directed a play I’d written while we were in school together. I mooched cigarettes from him, the dark, expensive kind that came inside a box. For a long time, I watched him from the back of the class.

 

Workshops were long and seats uncomfortable.  It was well past an hour and a half when the teacher formally announced a break. Everyone stepped outside.

 

“He’s in our class this semester,” I overheard a theater arts student say, spreading her painted nails to their fullest effect.

 

“Really?” said her friend. Theater arts students were so much more demonstrative than the writers and well, they seemed to know their way around the world better spending less time with their noses buried inside books and more time at callbacks. I listened to their conversations hoping to pick up a valuable tidbit. “I heard he was going to El Lay.”

 

“He just came back from there. They went touring during the summer and now he’s back.”

 

Her friend absorbed the information. “I want to work with him on a project. I hear he’s good.”

 

“I hear he drinks.”

 

“Well,” she laughed, “who doesn’t?”

 

“No, I mean I hear he drinks a lot.” She turned toward me. I pivoted and tried to make it less obvious that I was hanging on to their every word. “You’re one of the writers in the class,” she said, being polite to blow her smoke around me and not directly into my face. “Aren’t you?” They were both so stylishly coiffed and dressed in high fashion gathered from the racks of closeout sales. “Well, I hope you know how to put together a script.”

 

I hoped so, too.

 

The class was the brainchild of one of the teachers at San Francisco State University, Robert Gordon, who also was a playwright. He thought that by bringing writing and acting talent together, each group could reinforce the other and learn the entire process. I was interested in dialog and voice.  During the first semester, writers and actors met separately. Now during the second semester, we’d work together.

 

After working for several years in the Bay Area, I lived on my unemployment checks in an East Oakland cottage. It had a grapevine in the back and a peach and apricot tree in the driveway. All summer I ate fruit and tried my hand at making some kind of relish with cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, driving over the Bay Bridge every day to attend classes, eating my fruit relish for lunch and dinner.  During that time I hankered after a certain physicist who was teaching a class at San Francisco State based on a book he had written that was getting attention from the New Age set. I was excited by the book and discovered he was teaching locally.  Instead of an aging physics professor with suede elbow patches sewed to a herringbone jacket, I discovered a John Lennon / Bob Dylan wanna-be with a European accent.

 

With his first utterance, “The multiplicity of particles in the universe is astonishing,” I was mesmerized. “All signs point to the existence of an alternate universe.”  They certainly did. After class I approached him, surprised by my own come-on line, “Would it be possible for us to meet and discuss your ideas?”

 

“There’s a café not far from my house on College Avenue. Maybe you’d like to meet there?” I let him know that I would very much like to meet him there, and so we began an affair that kept my sexual fantasy fires smoldering for a year.  Maybe I was a good lay or part of his ongoing experimentation regarding the multiplicity of the universe, but I didn’t care. Our relationship gave me a confidence after a number of encounters that were all too fleeting to be called anything else. I was looking for a confident and good-looking man who combined intellect with creativity and genuinely loved women. I thought he matched that description. We visited each other about once a month.  He was separated from his wife.

 

I was in his apartment. Bob Dylan’s “Oh, Sister,” played in the background. The physicist had to return to writing his book and invited me to leave.

 

“So soon?” I had been granted a two-hour audience. I wanted more. He proposed a threesome to explore the multiplicity of the universe.  I told him it wasn’t my thing.

 

“Well,” he advised looking very professorial wearing his glasses. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

 

I completed my script for the Playwrights Theater Workshop and went to San Rafael in Marin County to meet with the woman who was to direct my play. The idea was for a writer to get feedback from actors and audience. We critiqued each fledgling script for its essential elements: character, action, motivation, and sequence.

 

It was toward the end of my affair with the physicist that I noticed Lawrence. One of our classes featured a group of readings. Lawrence played the wolf in a spoof on Little Red Riding Hood. He stretched out his black leather boots on granny’s couch and started to sing a few bars of, “Hey, hey, Red Riding Hood, you sure are looking good,” a popular song by a group called Sam and the Sham. He looked up at me as he sang the ending wolf howl, “Owwwoooo,” so cunning as he waited to ensnare Little Red with her basket.

 

Lawrence was a Peninsula boy from Redwood City. He grew up in this bedroom community of the defense industry with its jet propulsion push toward Silicon Valley, bounced along the community college circuit and later moved on to the Haight Ashbury before it became a destination for a generation.  We shared the ethos of the activist sixties, iron filings of a magnet pointed in the same direction.  I felt I had met my soul mate and called the physicist to say that I did not wish to share him with either a third party or his estranged wife.

 

I threw a party at my house, invited a few friends to my cottage, including acquaintances from school. My friend brought over a flat of red strawberries with fresh whipped cream.  As the last berries were being eaten, Lawrence made his entrance. It was late. People already were leaving.

 

He was out of breath and mopped his forehead with a tissue. He explained how he had gotten lost but stopped by a liquor store to ask for directions. He wore his blue San Francisco Fireman’s jacket.

 

After everyone left, he asked about my script.  I didn’t feel it was complete. We talked. He kissed me gently. We made love, not just one of those first bumbling and awkward attempts with a new partner, but a sense of seeking each out in our nakedness. Later in the evening he drove home back over the Bay Bridge. I kept playing the Fred Neil album he’d left on my turntable, “The Dolphins.”

 

Our class met as a larger group during the second spring semester. Directors read from a pool of scripts.  Lawrence had selected my script, Towel, a feminist piece set in a sauna room with a Greek chorus-styled background of voices. Slowly in the social barometer of a college classroom, we were beginning to be acknowledged as a couple. We moved in together. Suddenly, there was the novelty of another person in my life, someone to talk to, to eat with, and to share the small pleasures of going shopping at the supermarket. I can remember the beauty of the moment.  “What do you think we’ll be doing together in about 10 years from now?”

 

He thought for a moment.  “Fucking,” and we began to set the pace.

 

***

 

He lights several candles he had crafted himself with layers of fragrance. He sits by his desk in an oak chair.

 

“Would you like a glass of wine?”

 

“Sure.” For a moment he gets up and goes into the kitchen and brings back an open bottle with two glasses. He removes the cork and sniffs it before placing it on the desk. I prefer red, but also enjoy the taste of the nutty cold Chardonnay that is his favorite. He hands me a glass. We toast, “Nostrova.”

He changes the placement of several pencils on his desk. All paperclips face in the same direction, outward.

 

Right now I watch him work. He rolls a few joints and lines them up in a red leather case like fat Russian soldiers. “Carmina Burana” plays in the background.


Floret silva undique,

nah min gesellen ist mir we.

 

The woods are burgeoning all over,

I am pining for my lover.

 

I enjoy watching his hands, economical in each gesture. I place my wine glass on the parquet floor. “Are you tired tonight?”

 

“Depends who’s asking.”

 

“I’m asking.”

 

“No.”

 

Then it happens.

 

The two of us are tied to each other with a bungee cord.  We go in and out of our virtual reality. I sink into him, taste root beer with a salt-water undercurrent. It’s Atlantic City, the smell of hot fudge and corn on the cob intermingled with the spray of the ocean and I feel him covering me one shovelful at a time. I run to the shoreline and my mother’s there, her hands form a raft underneath my belly so I can swim in the warm water. I’m wearing plastic pants over my diapers and I’m taking in water fast.  I don’t know where our blanket is and she points to the beach where he is sitting underneath a red and white striped umbrella.

 

He waves. I don’t understand why my mother is here in the middle of our making love. What about the right to privacy?  I return to orbiting his nipples inside my mouth.

 

He dives between my legs and conjures up a desire so strong I let go of it.  I click the highlighted word, partially resenting the return of underlines, blue and purple ones.  Socks are not obligatory.

 

I’m on my own, aerial wires span a half mile inside the main theater and lead me away.  He yanks on the bungee and starts playing a bagpipe.  I don’t know if I’m upside or downsized. With each note, he spells his own Morse code, two short and one long, two short and one long. I get the message. A glass of root beer spills and fizzes like a wired snake at the boardwalk.

 

Now there are braziers of incense. He drinks from a ceramic goblet. We are in a series of gigantic halls flanked by suites of apartments. I am in a dress of silver tissue with a long train edged in ermine. He has been waiting to interview me. I see that he is wearing diamonds epaulettes. He is Prince Galitzen, the Russian ambassador to Hungary.

 

“I saw a man,” I begin to report to him as he stood with arms crossed, “who rode a chestnut steed with white forelocks. He talked to me in a language that wasn’t Hungarian, some Middle Eastern dialect that I half understood. He took me to a place filled with horses and the smell of a black fire that sent frogs leaping. He placed me between two strong branches that were made of garnets, leaves as dark as blood being pumped to the heart. I held on to the trunk with both of my hands. He told me to tell the Ambassador, “You will never live with a volcano for a heart.”

 

 

Lenore Weiss’ collections include “Tap Dancing on the Silverado Trail” (2011) from Finishing Line Press,“Sh’ma Yis’rael” (2007) from Pudding House Publications, and “Cutting Down the Last Tree on Easter Island” (West End Press, 2012). Her latest collection, “Two Places” is being published by Kelsay Books. Lenore teaches memoir writing at Ouachita Parish Public Library in Monroe, Louisiana. Her blog resides at www.lenoreweiss.com.

 

 

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