Short Story by Theodora Keogh (1919-2008)

This week someone - not me - put up an entry for the late Theodora Keogh in Wikipedia, so it seems a good time to insert here the only known short story she published, in the September 1957 issue of Dude magazine (a minor Playboy imitator).

The Man Who Loved Old Ladies

It seems long ago now that I met the man who loved old ladies and I never saw him again. Our meeting was a pick-up, really. I was waiting for the Seventy-second Street cross-town just outside Carnegie Hall one summer night. Rehearsal was over and I carried a little suitcase with me containing a sopping wet leotard and my practice shoes. I can still remember the feeling at my temples where the breeze blew on my wet hair. How young I was that burning New York August, sweating the salt out of my skin! And I was uncertain too; beginning to feel the pinch, to see ahead of me the hard artist's life whose rewards sometimes don't come or come too late. My parents wanted me to give up and lead a more traditional existence and I had promised them to go to our family house for the weekend and "talk things over." The weekend was tomorrow and pre-discussion nerves were tightening my stomach; parental authority from which it is so hard to recover and whose qualms I fought in vain.
Anyway there I was, tired in the particular way dancers are tired; a sort of light exhaustion as if some giant hand had been pressed down on me and then released, leaving me weightless by comparison.
The bus didn't come and there was no one else waiting for it. Everybody who could possibly get out of town had done so. A few couples, the men in shirtsleeves, drifted by coming from the park where they had gone to lie in each other's arms on the grass. They had a relaxed, easy look and I envied them. I felt very lonely.
A young man, walking quickly, passed me and exclaimed: "Oh hello! How are you?"
"I'm fine," I said. His voice and manner made me think I must have met him. He looked the type to be in or around the theatrical world.
"What are you doing here so late and all alone?" he asked.
"I'm waiting for my bus." I was young enough to be ashamed of being alone because I thought it meant I wasn't popular. "I've just come from rehearsal," I said to explain my solitude.
"Well, I don't see any bus," he said. "Perhaps you'd better come and have a drink. I'll let you order Coca-Cola."
"Ginger ale," I said. We went around the corner to where a small bar was open to the night.
"Where do you dance?" he asked.
"I'm just rehearsing now," I answered, wishing it were otherwise and then I told him I'd forgotten his name because I never could remember names but I never forgot a face.
He smiled and the rather lax lines of his jaw were sweetened. "We've never met," he said.
So he had picked me up! He didn't seem the type, this blond young man who might have been good-looking but was not. Perhaps he read a question in my eyes for he said quietly: "I hate young girls."
"Then why did you pretend you knew me?" I asked, trying not to let my nose get red from the sting of the ginger ale.
"Your nose is red," he remarked. "That's adolescence." A discordant note in his voice made me uneasy. I decided to change the subject.
"What do you do?" I asked. I had decided he was either an actor or a musical comedy singer of small renown.
"I love old ladies," he said. He twisted on the barstool and looked out at the street through which the couples still strolled. Midnight and the dawn hours could not refresh the air imprisoned in those dry gulches and the faint breeze stank of flesh. He turned back and looked at me, at my long hair hanging rather dankly on my shoulders and my dress clinging to my half-formed, muscular, young girl's body. "Sometimes I'm sorry," he said.
"Well, it's a living." I didn't know what else to say and thought this sounded worldly.
He shook his head. "It's not the way you think of at all." He murmured so softly that I could barely hear him. "You see, I love them."
"Love them?" I was not sure of my ground now and I didn't want to be caught out again.
"Yes, I love them. I love the feel of their skins, their pursed mouths, their soft, soft thighs. They give me money, but they wouldn't have to. I make a living from my vice."
I sipped my drink. "Then why are you sorry?" I asked. I was at the age where, although I knew I was no longer a child, other men and women were still grownups. There was a film, a membrane, between these grownups and me.
"Oh, I don't know, " he answered, frowning. "When I see someone like you: so -- healthy." He paused before the word "healthy" as though it were a second choice to him, as though he had been searching for another one and had not found it, or had swallowed it unsaid. "But I can't help it," he continued. "I was spoiled very young."
"By your mother?" I suggested wisely. I had heard of such things.
"Oh no!" He looked surprised. "You don't understand. I'm talking of old ladies. Mothers are young. They are the youngest people in the world. Far too young for me." He was drinking bourbon on ice and now he finished it and ordered another. As he called out to the barman I examined his profile. His nose turned up between rather drawn cheeks and his skin was curiously faded. There were too many wrinkles for his age or even for his sex and he didn't seem to have much beard. He ground out a cigarette at that moment and I noticed that his hand, although slender, was not well fashioned. It looked as if he had no bone inside, only cartilage.
"If you're not happy about things why don't you change?" I asked. But I wasn't really interested in his changing. I wanted to go. He shrugged and I got down off the bar stool. "Thank you for my ginger ale," I said.
He didn't try to stop my going, but when I reached down to get my suitcase he leaned over and touched my forearm lightly. He stroked the hair on it with his forefinger. "Do you have those all over?" he asked. His voice sounded just like his finger felt.
Later, swaying along Fifth Avenue, I looked out of the window of the bus and across at the parched darkness of Central Park. I was the only passenger and all my loneliness returned. Yet I was happy with it now. I was glad to be alone in the middle of the night in this bus which went so fast through the deserted streets and I was glad to be tired too. It was wonderful to be tired from dancing, to sweat, to struggle, to be alone -- with love just there, somewhere, waiting to come into my body.
Then I decided not to go to the family's in the morning to talk things over. It didn't matter any more if they understood me, or if I understood them. Perhaps we weren't meant to.
For was not life like a vast, dark garden, like Central Park across the Avenue; dark, used, corrupted, but filled with the marvelous and varied fruits of the earth?

have kept-

-busy lately. See and Mark Sarvas' Elegant Variation for more, or put "nedelkoff" and "theodora keogh" into Google.

Skidoo? Or Don't?

Earlier this month I saw (in a pan-and-scan version rather than its original widescreen) Otto Preminger's 1968 film Skidoo, one of the most notorious box-office flops in the era. It's about a retired gangster (Jackie Gleason, in a role reportedly intended first for Walter Matthau, then Sinatra) who takes LSD in Alcatraz and gains inner peace. That's about the shortest summary possible.

It also has dancing girls wearing trashcans, Arnold Stang being murdered in a carwash, Mickey Rooney talking to the back of a TV, Frank Gorshin speaking through clenched teeth, Frankie Avalon with a penciled-in mustache, a bush-league pro team pretending to be the Green Bay Packers playing naked, Carol Channing washing a hippie's hair in a kitchen sink in the most down-to-earth scene (kitchen-sink realism, get it?), Carol Channing (again) dressed as if she were about to wed either Big Bird or the San Diego Chicken, George Raft performing a wedding at sea, Groucho's disembodied head sitting on a giant wood screw, and several other notable things.

Describing all of this does not spoil the film. You'd really have to see it to believe it. Fred Clark, the neighbor on the final season of the Burns & Allen show, turns in the finest performance as a prison guard; sadly, he died two weeks before Skidoo opened. Austin Pendleton, playing an early Silicon Valley freak type in his film debut, does the second-finest one. Oh, and did I mention that it also has scenes of Joe Pyne ranting juxtaposed with a cigarette-smoking "Little Rascals"-type dog?

The whole thing was on TCM week before last and can be seen entire on Google Video and Youtube; the latter also has the film's trailer, which features Sammy Davis and Timothy Leary endorsing it, the latter urging young theatergoers to "bring your parents to it and turn them on." Turn 'em on, indeed. Skidoo has never come out on VHS or DVD, reportedly because Preminger's children own the negative and feel that such release would diminish their father's achievement. Oh, and if you see it, remember to stick around for the credits. Which are all sung. Down to the Roman numerals on the copyright date. Plus Slim Pickens is in it. Absolutely five-star in some places; overall a three.

photo of me-
-taken probably in summer of 1979 or 1980. I don't have the T shirt anymore. What else? Have been doing some reading: Gregory William Mank's "Hollywood's Hellfire Club" recently published by Feral House about WC Fields, Johns Decker and Barrymore, Gene Fowler, Sadakichi Hartmann, Errol Flynn et al, under their collective identity of "The Bundy Drive Boys." Not very well written - especially in comparison with Gene Fowler's excellent book on the same subject, "Minutes Of The Last Meeting" - but with some useful quotes, info, photos. Happy Holidaze.


-have been watching (with Rene) some of the old videotapes I made between 1998 and 2001 of cable-TV programming - films, TV specials, whatnot. I had about 80 unlabeled tapes, so I had to fast-forward thru them to figure out what was on them. In the process, have watched some stuff I meant to watch then - or, maybe, watched in those days, but forgot. One of these was a two-hour A&E special tracing the history of pro wrestling - narrated by Steve Allen, probably one of the last things he did before his death. And also some movies - like "Million Dollar Legs" with WC Fields and Jack Oakie. This was a film I'd wanted to see since the early '70s. In 2000 or thereabouts I taped it off TCM - via the timer, while I was sleeping. Finally, a few days ago, 35 years after I first heard about it, I saw it. Just about worth the wait.


-and many a month has passed since I last wrote - so time to write something. Well - here's one thing: in May and early June, read a couple of novels by David Stacton (1925-1968, or maybe 1923-1968; nothing is certain about his biography, least of all that David Stacton was his name; he may have been born Arthur Kingsley Evans). These are "Old Acquaintance" and "The Judges Of The Secret Court." A very individual stylist, and certainly worth reading. Now it's time to go home and have dinner. I may post again tomorrow, or I may not.

adios to-

Kurt Vonnegut who died Wednesday night in New York. In a two-year period from the fall of '71 (that is, from 14 to 16) I read all his books published to that date - "Player Piano" to "Breakfast Of Champions." Later I read "Slapstick," which struck me as pretty weak, and I never got around to reading his later books though I read some of his essays and interviews. Of the books I read, I thought "Mother Night" was the best. I read that three times, most recently around the time its film version was released, 11 or 12 years ago. I also greatly liked "Cat's Cradle" and "The Sirens Of Titan," and most of the "Welcome To The Monkey House" stories. Requiescat in pacem, fellow Hoosier.

later in week-

-and have read some more about Tupper Saussy. Unique fellow, to say the least. (run by Andy Zax, who put together a limited-edition Neon Philharmonic compilation CD for Rhino) features some mp3 files offering a cross-section of his music. In some respects he reminds me of my old guitar teacher Chris Lee - except that Chris was a hippie and Saussy evidently wasn't.