Relationship and Destiny
The driving force of my life has always been my relationship to relationship. Perhaps this is the arena , more than any other in my life, including my work,in which I have invested the most energy, shown the most commitment to and which has taught me the most about myself and human nature.
People often say I am wise and if indeed I am wise, I have become so thru my interaction with people, thru my willingness to jump into the deep end of other personalities.
When I was 22 living on the island of Formentera in Spain, before it became the party island it is now, although to be honest it was always a party island in the summers. It was on Formentera that the now ubiquitous Full Moon Parties first occurred. 30,40 people playing drums,improvisationally singing and dancing and another 40 sitting around smoking hash and/or tripping or both, but those parties were for a very specific kind of person then,seekers not just kids on spring break. Formentera in the 1970’s attracted people who were able to be in an unmapped territory,say opposed to Ibiza, which was then as now , very much a scene. The first morning I arrived in Ibiza on the overnight ferry from Barcelona, the first person I saw was a scenester from NY and I hid behind a palm tree so he wouldn’t see me and I took the first ferry to Formentera without even entering Ibiza.
The first person who mentioned Formentera to me was Sandy Sawyer, then the girlfriend of my friend Richard Hannemann. Sandy showed up at Max’s Kansas City one night and said she was there to give me a message from Richard. Then she said just three words to me “Come to Formentera”.
Sandy didn’t tell me where Formentera was and before I could ask she had disappeared, as if her only reason for coming into Max’s was to say those three words to me. A year later, in 1971, I went to Amsterdam with John Vaccaro and The Playhouse of The Ridiculous. Things didn’t pan out. Vaccaro was out of his mind in Amsterdam, inspecting our living quarters, turning up and down the heat, deciding who could sleep with who. After a month I bailed after the whole company had barricaded itself in an apartment and Vaccaro on an old bicycle stood outside the window screaming at us while we sang the overture from The Wizard of Oz for the Wicked Witch riding her bike. Ellen Stewart arrived from NY one day and met with us but there was nothing to be done.John was angry and screamed “I don’t need any of you ! You are all coke machines! but later he said “I don’t want anyone back except Penny Arcade and Jerry Harding but it was too late for me. He had been focusing his rage on me, probably because like him I was Italian and he couldn’t stand my inherent humility. I think it reminded him of what lay under his own huge ego. But in Amsterdam I think the issue was that I had hooked up with Amsterdam’s most handsome and eligible male hustler. I moved in with Rene Hammink, half Dutch , half Indonesian, almost immediately because our housing situation, where we were crashing with different Dutch artist freaks was damp, crowded and annoying in the frigid Amsterdam winter. I had stopped into see Rene in the old shop he was fixing up in the center of Amsterdam. He had gotten the space a two story store front from one of his clients a famous antiquarian. I brought him a bunch of yellow tulips and he seduced me by using a turned upside down lamp fixture for a vase. There was a certain primal elegance to his silence combined with his dark unusual beauty and that stood in bold relief to his notorious reputation. Months later my sister Lorraine, who was three years younger than I came by herself to Amsterdam looking for me as soon as she graduated high school.
I got word of her arrival in Dusseldorf where I was staying with my friend Caroline.
I had originally met Caroline on the plane from NY to Luxemburg, having won the lottery of being her seat mate. On the 6 hour stop in Reykjavik, Iceland I had lain on the tarmac next to the plane hysterically laughing while the flight crew watched me in disbelief. Caroline and I laughed about it all the way across the Atlantic.
I never expected to see Caroline again. She was heading for Germany when we parted in Luxemburg but one day in August of 1971 she came into the small vintage store that Rene and I created when I left The Playhouse in the same shop Rene was fixing up when I met him. She looked at me and said “Penny? Hey! don’t you remember me? Caroline ? From the plane?’ and then “You look unhappy.” It was true. I was unhappy I just didn’t realize it till she said it. I had just returned from a short visit to NY but I had felt empty there the whole time. New Yorker’s don’t like it when you leave NY and that was even more true in the early 70’s when there was so much flight from NY and the hard core downtown people hunkered down and anyone who left was considered more or less a traitor.Everyone asked me how I could abandon my career.Patti had encouraged me to stay in Europe, “We’re all just slaves here” she had said. I was getting a lot of attention when I left NY. Warhol had crowned me his latest superstar for my work in Women In Revolt in a famous gossip column and He wanted me to star in a movie about Rona Page, the girl who gets beat up in Chelsea Girls but I didn’t really get it. Jackie Curtis who had been my best friend turned against me because I had gotten singled out in reviews for Femme Fatale and Tony Ingrassia who was about too direct Pork in London hated my idea of playing my role as Andrea Whips Feldman although Andy loved the idea. “Christ” Tony shouted at me,”Isn’t it bad enough we have to watch Andrea do Showtime at Max’s every night? YOU want to put her on stage?” On top of this my relationship with Danny Goldberg who I had lived with for 2 years was over. Weweren’t even friends now and instead of staying with him , I found oout he had gathered all my stuff when i said I wasn’t coming back to pursue my career and dropped them at my old studio on East 9th St next to Jaimie Andrews. Jaimie had sublet my place to Cyrinda Fox who was going out with David Johanson but she was a stone junkie and and had stopped paying the rent.I had an eviction notice which was why I had returned to NY. I had written a letter to Loudon Wainwright who sent me the airfare. I let myself into my studio one night and found Cyrinda passed out on the floor, she had cut her wrists, not deeply it turned out but i thought she was dead. I nudged her with the toe of my shoe and she roused, got up wound white gauze around her wrists and went out to Max’s. Then as now NY has always been the center of desperate ambition. I came back to Amsterdam and I turned 21 that July. An American expat in his 40’s had done my astrological chart as a birthday gift and he handed it to me saying “I asked Max to buy you a Mack truck to go thru life in because with this chart you are going to need it.”
Max was a painter with a trust fund we both knew from NY. I didn’t think about what the astrologer said one way or another. I knew I was at the end of something in my life. While i was in NY Rene had met some girl with a baby closer to his age,he was about 28 at the time and he had moved her and her two year old kid in with us.
She was French, pretty and quiet.She barely spoke and she was obviously enthralled with Rene in a very submissive way. I didn’t mind. I have never been possessive or jealous. I just never had that sense of entitlement I guess or perhaps I have always been pragmatic and accepting when it comes to other peoples inclinations, or else too proud , too independent. Any way, I have never believed in unrequited love, not that I was in love with Rene. I don’t think I ever was. It was a conquest of some kind, that as a faghag I could tease gay men who drooled over him with. Anyway, I believed in people being free, I really did. I have always had a mystical, fated sense regarding what occurrs in my life, It is part of my southern Italian culture. Il Destino, Destiny, and good or bad I have always accepted it. Amora Fati. The love of ones own fate. Life has always seemed to me to be a game of chance. Chance and destiny. I embraced everything that came to me. I was a little lost.I remember writing to Patti Smith earlier that spring from Amsterdam, already bored with Rene but too loyal to leave, asking her “Is my life tragic?” as Danny had told me in a long distance phone call when I told him I wanted to stay in Amsterdam.”What about your career?” he had asked me “What career?” I answered “This is tragic” he said “You are talented” Patti wrote me back a long letter and she repeated that question in a box at the bottom of a page “Is my life tragic? They thought in unison”
I suppose I was looking for sanctuary at that point because I still lived with Rene but I didn’t have the apartment in NY.I had paid the back rent for Cyrinda but now two months later I got another eviction notice and this time I didn’t go back.
When we had met Rene didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Dutch but after 8 months in Amsterdam I spoke passable Dutch and Rene passable English and we had found out we didn’t really have very much in common once the heat had passed,.I was at a loss about what had kept us together for 8 months. I guess it was curiosity, my most elevated personality trait. The novelty of working the Waterlooplein, The Flea Market at 6am , searching and finding endless Art Nouveau and Art Deco treasure for 50 cents and a dollar or two. Drinking Pea Soup from big caldrons that steaming in Waterlooplein for breakfast at 8am, eating raw herring from little vendors on the Brukkes, the bridges over the canals. Smoking joints with dinner in the basement Indonesian restaurants where you ordered for pennies from stoves where everything was cooking. The spicy Sambal I ate with everything. The hordes of black 1930’s bicycles on the cobblestone streets stopping at the red lights every morning.The whores who plied their trade in the Red Light district in colorful windows and on street corners everywhere like it was the most wholesome and natural of activities was set against the bleak the remnants of World War 2, the rolls of barbed wire no one had taken down and in 1971 almost no one spoke English. Caroline felt sorry for me, that much was obvious and I appreciated it like the survivor I was because feeling sorry for myself was a vulnerability I couldn’t afford. She invited me to Dusseldorf for a break.In Dutch Dorje means little village and I mistakenly thought Dusseldorf was a village. When I stepped out of the train station at 8pm in the pouring rain and saw I was in a big, sterile city, most of it rebuilt after the war, I stood in the dark wet and cried while I looked for Caroline’s phone number. Dusseldorf was unbearably bland after the charms of Amsterdam and the edgy chaos of NY’s East Village.
I likened it Hartford,Connecticut, The insurance Capitol of the world. Dusseldorf was the banking capitol of Germany. I didn’t understand then that most of the city had been bombed within an inch of it’s life. I just hated it’s square ugly buildings. My second day in Dusseldorf, I wandered around the Alt Stadt, The Old Town, so boring and ugly compared to Amsterdam and out of nowhere two drag queens came running out of a shop, following me down the block screaming “Andy Warhol”. A few months before I left NY the year before, a bunch of Warhol superstars, myself included, had done a photo shoot for Stern Magazine for the film Women In Revolt. I had forgotten about it but the queens were carrying the magazine, pointing to my picture, holding it up by my face and babbling in German. I made my way to a park with a lake and stood watching the black swans gliding on the water. Finally beauty! I need beauty like humans need water. When I got back to Caroline’s flat I heard the news that my little sister was in Amsterdam. The next day I went back to get her. Afterwards, with her in tow, I stopped at the shop. Life was running smoothly there. People were shopping but then I saw some of my dresses were for sale and a bunch of my baby pictures and family photos were sitting in a bowl, for sale in the store’s window, along with my favorite vase. It pissed me off and I went to get the rest of my stuff from the souteraine, the basement on the Prinzengracht, the canal that fronted it were I had lived with Rene. We spent the night and the next day Lorraine and I went back to Dusseldorf on the dark train, back to Carolines. A few days later Caroline suggested we go to Spain for a holiday. She said we should go first and that she would follow. Caroline’s mother had a hotel on an island there, on Forementera called The Casbah. She had remarried and she and her German husband practiced a religion called Subud that they had picked up in Bali.Caroline said we should go straight to the Casbah and her mother would put us up.
We took the train from Dusseldorf to Barcelona and from there the big overnight ferry to Ibiza and then a couple of hours after I hid from the scenster from NY, a small ferry, the Joven Delores to Formentera. I planned to stay a week but I didn’t leave for 3 and 1/2 years.
When I arrived on Formentera I was sure it couldn’t be the same place that Richard and Sandy had told me to go to. At first, Formentera was visually unappealing. There was a bleak harshness to the flat landscape dotted with scrub pines and fig and almond trees.There were few other trees just pines and century plants, nowhere to get out of the hot unrelenting sun. The long haul expats refered to it as the “Rock” among ourselves. But for those for whom Formentera played its siren call,it was magnetic.We rented a small one bedroom house on the beach at Migiorn. Caroline’s mother and stepfather had taken one look at Lorrain and i and didn’t invite us to stay. Maybe it was the bright red lipstick, or the wild black hair or the 30’s dress I allowed to decay onto my body, with big rips that showed my young flesh but Caroline’s mother referred us to her handy man Juan who had some bungalows for rent.Lorry and I loved the beach which was 5 minutes from the white cube we lived in. We got watercolors and painted each other and strode naked among the the tall grasses at the edge of the beach and carried long reeds we pulled out of the ground. One day giving Bill Harriman a 70 something year old former army alpine skier a shock that knocked him off his bicycle when we stumbled in front of him, our naked bodies and faces painted and dressed in long rosemary branches we plaited into skirts held up with rope. We became friends with Juan’s mother Maria who lived in her old Finca at the top of the hill behind us and from her we bought fresh baked bread, goat cheese, eggs and figs dried with the island’s herbs,anise, thyme and rosemary.The Pais didn’t speak Spanish, they spoke an ancient dialect of Catalan called Eivisenc. It was very similar to our Southern Italian Lucanian dialect which is also influenced by old Norman and Provencal. It was easy for me to learn to speak Eivisenc. That stunned the other expats who struggled with Spanish. Most of them had no idea that most of the rural Pais didn’t even understand Spanish.We were befriended by Sue and Bill Wright, a young Scottish couple who rentedone of the fincas Bill Harriman owned. A beautiful old stone house covered in fushia bougainvillea that sat on the hill looking down at the sea. This landscape was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. In the early morning fog sat low on the almond trees, as if painted in whisps down to the sea framed by red stone walls that were everywhere on Formentera. Sue and Bill were a few years older than me and Sue quickly became my guide to all things Formenteran. It was she who found me the house I rented a little ways up from the beach on a red dirt road with a big pomegranate tree. Two months after we arrived my sister left for the States. Caroline never made it to Formentera that year. A few days after my sister left I rode my bike to La Mola ,the mountain on one end of the tiny island. La Mola was internationally famous to nomadic hippies and travelers. There was even a phrase that often accompanied people remembering their adventures there “Far out La Mola” they would say. As I coasted back down the mountain, I looked out over the island. I could see the slim waist of both coasts,so narrow was island at that point. I wondered if this was the same Formentera Richard and Sandy had meant. As I twirled down the steep road on my bike, the scent of Pine trees deeply filling my nose, the soft wind whipping back my hair, I was filled with the enormous sense of place that Formentera gave me. I said out loud to the wind “Too bad Richard and Sandy couldn’t hack it here”. I rode across the island to San Francisco Javier and dumped my bike on the little sidewalk next to Luna Bar and went in to order a cafe con leche. Coffee in hand I joined the assembled freaks at the outside tables in the sun. Everyone came into town for the mail twice a day and gathered at Luna Bar in the mornings and the Descanso Bar in the afternoons. Talking and laughing, I was eating an empanada stuffed with spinach and raisins and cod fish that Luis the owner had brought to my table when I suddenly realized that a light blue Volkswagon van was backing over my bike. I ran to the passenger side and pulled the door open shouting ‘You are running over my bike idiot!!” and there at the wheel sat the blonde and tanned Sandy Sawyer, looking all the world like a tribal Vermeer madonna, gently smiling at me. She jumped out and after excited hugs and hurried conversation that included that she and Richard were living out on The Cap , the southern cape of the island that balanced LaMola at the other end, we put my bike in the back and she drove me out to the Cap and to Richard. They were leaving in two days for Africa, and then India and it turned out that they had never left Formentera at all but somehow I hadn’t never heard anyone speak of them when people spoke of the other Estranjeros, the other expats who were living on Formentera year round but then as i would come to learn Sandy and Richard didn’t mix in that much,they had their own rich life out on the Cap.
It was a fantastic reunion, sweetened by the fact I had just that very day thought of them, knowing that regardless of whether or not it was the same Formentera, I had unconsciously chosen to go with Caroline, because of the name of the place.
Months later when they returned from their trip, Richard let me choose from sarongs he had bought on the island of Lamu, off the coast of Nairobi. I still have the yellow sarong printed with blocked blue batik symbols. After they returned from India, Sandy had started to live with a man named Drew up at the DanCorda’s, not very far away. Drew and his former wife Doya were legendary on Formentera. Their wedding on the Cap a few years earlier was famous.It had been a huge gathering of hippies, freaks and the Pais , local peasants. All of whom drank copiously from a big wine punch full of LSD. All without incident. Many nights when i shared a Pais family dinner out on the Cap by kerosine lamp , talk would turn to Drew and Doya’s wedding. Each time I would ask one of the prim Pais ladies in their ancient costume and covered head “What about the wine at Drew and Doya’s wedding?” and they would smile at me indulgently and say “Oh the wine was VERY good.” Drew lived out at Pep DanCorda’s. A strange and slightly bizarre Pais family, who for some unknown reason had dug a six foot ditch around their old Finca, their ancient stone farm house. Drew had bought land from Pep who owned vast tracts out on the Cap and he was building his own stone house in the pine trees. Meanwhile Richard returned to his solitary life, pretty much the gay man I had known him to be when I had met him in NY with Jaimie Andrews one saturday afternoon at the Gay coffee shop on Greenwich Avenue, the same day I met Jackie Curtis, while I was sitting with Richard and Jaimie. Richard was gay as far as I knew except for Sandy. Richard and I had barely known each other in NY.He was a sometime lover of Jaimie’s and Jaimie had been our linch pin but now we began an intimate friendship which was perhaps one of the dearest of my life. One night at his house on a moonless night,shortly after he returned from India, we had an oddly disconnected sexual encounter but at a certain moment in the proceedings I had looked up and said “Richard? Do we need to do this?” and Richard relieved and laughing said “No, We really don’t” and we experienced that only as more proof of our magical connection and our friendship grew deeply, emotionally and intellectually intimate which is what intimacy meant for us.
I would spend days out at his secluded house on the Cap, sharing Richard’s orderly life so unlike my own. Richard’s days were marked by meals, chores, study and opera. Many hash joints were smoked in between. It was Richard who taught me the difference between labor and work. Labor being things one had to do over and over. like sweeping the floor, cooking and washing the dishes. Richard did these tasks whole heartedly like a monk, as meditation. Work was creative and for him it included listening to opera, reading and his study of astrology as an art form. To be more specific the interpretation of astrology. We would speak deep into the night and then Richard would excuse himself with his small packet of heroin and a spoon, lifting a box of matches with a shy smile and retreat to his room. He never asked me to get off with him, sensing it was something I had left behind in NY I thought and I experienced that as a deep caring for me, for my welfare. In the mornings Richard would make a delicious breakfast which always included his very special oatmeal filled with dried fruits and nuts and topped with Patipan, a Spanish margerine that passed for butter sort of, and honey made from bees that fed on wild poppies on the Cap and we would sit outside in the bit of spring sun we could find against the house. When I think of that time now, it is always spring and the vast flat landscape that held the little stone house was filled with purple lavender as far as the eye could see. At the hottest part of the day I would carry water from the well for Richard. While Richard worked alone in his room during siesta, I would walk down to the well and pour water over my head and bathe in the open sun far from the well to not get soapy run off.The well lay far from the house, out in the flat scrub. It was a holy place.
One night months after Richard had done my astrological chart he said to me “One day Penny you are going to be very wise.” and I was shocked because wisdom didn’t seem an attribute one could easily imagine for me. At another time when I had experienced a particularly crushing fall from grace regarding my popularity among a certain sect of international hash dealers who lived on Formentera between runs to Afganistan and Denmark, a popularity I hadn’t understood to begin with, I brought it up to Richard. “I don’t understand” I confided to Richard, “Why these people put me on a pedestal that I never asked for and then knocked me off ”
“Well”, Richard replied “You see Penny , people think you are too smart to be good.”
I didn’t really understand what he meant but it felt true. “ You are too unusual and too smart , you are difficult for simpleminded people to understand.” and for the rest of my life I have remembered that statement and it is helped me navigate the quicksands of social terrain I find myself in over and over. It turned out that Richard had told people about my life in NY , about my theatre life and Warhol,and me as Penny Arcade. It was something I never spoke of, it wasn’t very important to my life as it was in Formentera and frankly I didn’t think it was a big deal. Obviously! I had left. People do need glamour and if they don’t generate it themselves they need proximity to it and so then and many times in the future, I learned that the fact that I didn’t define myself by what I did or who I knew, or what I achieved rubbed people the wrong way. Somehow they took it personally that I wouldn’t be that for them, as if I didn’t think they were cool enough to participate in that aspect of my history. But to me it was only my history, it was only what I had passed thru, it wasn’t me.
Two years later in 1973 when Richard returned to NY, I visited NY for a few weeks and went to see him and his lover Dr Frank on Fire Island where Frank was the Pines doctor for a summer or three. Richard met me at the dock and when he asked me about my trip over I told him how none of the gay men on the boat had spoken to me. “It’s all about sex for gay men now” Richard had said “Faghags are obsolete.” I turned around and shouted to the people getting off the boat , “I’m sorry I helped invent Gay Liberation!I’m sorry I threw bricks at The Stonewall” and Richard laughed in the face of stunned people on the dock and he shouted “Me too! Me too!” This little story is one of my favorites in my show Bitch!Dyke!Faghag!Whore! and it is how I keep Richard alive. In 1976 when I returned to live in the USA and was living a similar rural life to Formentera in the backwoods of Canaan on Easy Street in Central Maine, only with snow and blizzards, Richard and I corresponded, writing poetic letters back and forth. When I moved to Orr’s Island in 1979 Richard visited me and said “You need to come back to NY” and I replied “But I want to live in Maine.” but somehow I sensed Richard understood something I didn’t. In 1980 I visited Richard in NY as I would many times between 1978 and 1980. He lived in a tower next to Lincoln Center with Dr Frank and one night I came home to find the apartment empty, with all the lights on. Richard had stayed home from work that day saying he had hurt his back. He was doing Art Direction somewhere in Chelsea but he was largely a kept man, and at that point, an unhappy kept man. He was planning to leave Frank and said they had discussed parting in a friendly way . Richard was 18 years younger than Frank. I stumbled from room to room,looking for Richard , filled with anxiety, I sensed something wasn’t right and walking into his bedroom I saw in plain view, on the bedside table, an empty spoon and a syringe and I realized that Richard who had been clean for 5 years was using again. A few minutes later he came in, smiling, the NY Times under his arm, his baseball cap pulled low on his forehead. “Richard! You said you stayed home cuz your back hurt.’
I blurted “Feeling lots better now” he said sailing past me into the bedroom. I followed him and I wordlessly stared at the syringe and spoon on the table.
Richard said nothing and started to move the things on the bedside table around with one finger as if he was looking for something and then without looking at me he said very slowly with a lot space between each word ” Do You Want to do some coke?” I felt shocked and betrayed in some sense and angrily I said “Ok Richard! I’ll do some coke with you” Expecting him to back off, to change his mind, to say ‘No That’s a bad idea.” But instead without meeting my eyes he had only quietly said “Good.” and then more slowly Do you want to snort it …….or shoot it?” I was furious in a way I didn’t understand and I shouted “Oh! lets do it your way Richard ! lets shoot it.” and all night long we took hit after hit of coke and Richard opened up and told me everything he had been hiding . The drugs, the pink newspaper were he cruised compulsively for anonymous sex. His despair at leaving the comfort of Frank’s life. The honesty that Coke brings for some people poured out . Deep into the night and many shots later, an industrial clanging sound track I started playing in my head. I stoop up and I started to dance. Richard sat on the bed , an intricate butterfly of tubing crossed the inner pit of his elbow, creating a boosting technique, where the drug and blood ebbs and flows, in and out of the body prolonging the rush, in a masterbatory way. “Richard” I shouted over the noise in my own head, my arms snaking into the air, “Do you know what I am doing?” I asked him . Richard watched me for a few minutes, the tubing running bright red over his arm. “It’s the dance of death Richard” I said , “Richard! I am dancing your death.” “It’s beautiful” Richard said nodding his head. I was filled with sorrow, side by side with emotionless knowing.
At dawn Dr Frank returned and now I knew. They were both completely strung out on coke. Frank was an expert on addiction. He had originally met Richard in Bellvue Hospital when Richard had od’ed on smack 5 years earlier. Frank who was 50 now, had been one of the original Doctors who had introduced Methadone to NY in 1969. He was already a legendary psychiatrist, famous for refusing to turn over the records of an inmate who had killed a guard at San Quentin and he one of the people who had turned over the medical ruling that categorized Homosexuality as a mental illness. From Montana, Frank had been heterosexual till he was 40, married with 4 children. He was also a medical doctor and had delivered over 50 babies. He liked good wine and a little weed but on Valentines day of that year Richard had brought home a treat: Coke and as Dr Frank, the expert on addiction said simply to me that morning as the sun came up over Lincoln Center, “I guess i found my drug of choice.” The next day I experienced one of the most horrible come downs of my life. Never, not with all the speed I had shot as a teenager, had I ever experienced a crash as awful as coming down from a night of shooting coke. Later that afternoon Frank asked me to accompany him to his dealer. We entered the freezing air-conditioned apartment in a doorman building on South Central Park and in the center of a huge pile of disorder, the dealer sat free basing. I had heard of free basing but had never experienced it or even seen it. The dealer looked at me with an odd combination of hunger and disinterest and passed me the contraption. Frank was smiling. I understood I was some kind of a gift or at the least a new distraction. I took the pipe in my hand and the dealer lit it. I inhaled and immediately coughed.”Ugh” I said “Instant emphysema” and handed it back to him. That was the end of my freebasing. Back at the apartment, Richard was waiting for us.Richard found my account of the experience entertaining. I don’t remember if I got off with Frank and Richard again that night. I probably did but it wasn’t an all nighter. That much I do remember. Sometime before I went to bed Richard said “You know Penny, you have to come back to NY.You need to do theatre here. “I’m doing theatre in Maine” I replied , “I want to live in Maine.” I said plaintively. “You need to live in Maine in the summertime like other people.” Richard relied and we both laughed. “You need to come back and do a one woman show” Richard said ” A one woman show? and who is going to write it? “You are going to write it” “But what would it be about?” “It doesn’t matter. We just want to be with you.” Two months later in the big wooden house in the woods of Bowdoinham I had moved to after Orr’s island I dialed Richard’s number. The phone rang and rang.The answering machine kicked in and I shouted “Take the needle out of your fucking arm!” and slammed the receiver into it’s cradle. Two of the guys who lived in the house were walking thru the kitchen and looked at me strangely. Jon, my boyfriend came in and I was crying. “Richard is gonna die” I sobbed. Jon touched my head and said “you Don’t know that.” “Yes I do. I do.” I cried. Jon needed to pick something up in town and we rode out in his beater station wagon. Somehwere on the backroads of Bowdoinham , we heard a strange scraping under the car. Jon said it was probably a branch but after 15 minutes I insisted Jon stop the car. He looked underneath the car and slowly sighed, the air making a whistling sound as it came out of his mouth. “What is it?” I asked him. “It’s the gas tank” he said incredulously. “The gas tank?” “Yeah” , he said shaking head, “It could have exploded.” Jon pulled the tank up on the station wagon’s tailgate. He went to a nearby house and pressed the owners for rope and duct tape.
An old Mainer came back with Jon and together they rigged the gas tank in place and we slowly drove back to our house. We came in triumphantly shrieking our story of near death. When we finished Ted one of the housemates quietly said “Hey you got a call. You need to call Dr Frank”. “No ” I said ,”You must mean Richard.” “No’ he insisted quietly, “Dr Frank called. I’m sorry. Your friend Richard. He died.” “No ” I screamed “Thats impossible.” Jon and Ted stared at me. I dialed the NY number in numb disbelief. Frank answered. He was calm. “Richard’s gone. I found him when I got home.” The words sounded hollow and strange.
I knew Richard had wanted to leave Frank but not like this. Richard had plans for a new life without Frank, without coke. 6 months later I sat in Greyhound bus heading back to NY for good. I was coming to do Ken Bernard’s play Nite Club with John Vaccaro for LaMama’s 20th anniversary, the last play I had done in NY in 1970.I tried to imagine NY without Richard. I didn’t know what I was doing. I only know I couldn’t stay in Maine. I was afraid. “You just have to remember not to shoot up” I told myself. “Thats all. Thats the only thing. Just remember not to shoot up.” I remember thinking it was a way to stay alive and to honor Richard. I had just turned 31. Ten years later I walked across my kitchen to put a cup in the sink and in my minds ear I heard Richard’s voice. “You have to do a one woman show, you will write it, It doesn’t matter what it’s about. We just want to be with you.” I stood by the sink the cup still in my hand. What Richard had suggested to me and what I couldn’t understand ten years before, had been true for me for a long time.it was so much a part of my life now that I couldn’t understand the earlier me’s voice in my head, “But who will write it? What would it be about?” The young me and this later me stood in the same space, a bit incredulous.That is what I did. I wrote one woman shows. People knew this about me. I knew it about me.How had this happened? How had Richard known? Would I have done it if Richard hadn’t suggested it? if Richard hadn’t been so sure? I had never thought about my performance art work in terms of Richard before .When I thought of Richard I only missed him. There wasn’t room in that sorrow for anything else. How did Richard know I wondered. I still wonder about that.