I BUY A TOE TAG FOR MARILYN/PART THREE
Hollywood has names for them. The "double-takers" --the ones who look familiar so you look again and still can't remember their names. The "isn't that," or "wasn't he in" celebrities. I'll learn those categories in a life to come. Now it's 1961 in the Riverside Memorial Chapel across from Prospect Park, and we get plenty of double-takers. Comedians, supporting actors, politicians--a slight thrill of recognition and they melt into the crowd.
But everybody in the world knows Marilyn. Every man has fantasized a lurid encounter with her. Every woman has wondered what it must be like to have every man in the room lusting after you. Gay men, too, I suppose, but they are still in very deep cover.
How much seed has been spilled over Marilyn's calendar? How often has she substituted for a humdrum partner?
And now she's coming to a funeral. She'll walk through that door and one of us will be there to escort her.
Thirty guys are jammed into the tiny back office, each hoping to be the lucky one.
Sconzo, the day manager, originally appointed himself to the job. But he has been shouted down by the mob.
"Okay, we'll make it democratic," he says.
He takes out a handful of toe tags, the name tags, tied to the toes of the deceased to identify them.
"Everybody pays a five dollar entry fee and gets a tag," he says.
There is a roar of protest, but Sconzo doesn't waver.
"If you guys give me a hard time I'll pull rank and you can all take a walk," he says. "You buy a ticket for the Irish Sweepstakes, don't ya? Well, this is the Marilyn Monroe Sweepstakes..."
"Yeah, but five bucks," whines Aiello, a young apprentice.
"You give three bucks to that fat old hooer on Pitkin Avenue," Sconzo says. "You won't pony up a fin for Marilyn Monroe?"
Out come the fives.
"No owsies," Sconzo decrees.
"But I only have three bucks on me," says Rizzo, the grave robber.
"So go borrow a deuce from your wife," says Sconzo.
The limo drivers in their dark coats and gray striped pants take a flyer. Earl, the handyman in his greasy work clothes, promises to rush home and put on a suit if he wins. The black porters, Marshall, Bill and Walter, right off the tobacco fields of South Carolina, watch from the doorway. Sconzo waves to them.
"You guys in?"
"Who you kiddin'?" Marshall says." You just gonna palm our tags."
"If you win, you win," Sconzo says.
The porters caucus, still mistrustful, and decide to buy one ticket with all three names on it.
"If we win, we'll pick the guy," Marshall says.
We write our names on the tags. Sconzo puts them in a trash can and starts to draw.
"No, no," says Rizzo, also a card cheat and a thief. "You could crimp your own tag that way."
"Mix 'em up," we say.
Sconzo empties another can and pours the tags from one into the other, mixing before and after each pour. After the fourth pour he looks up.
He reaches into the can and comes out with a tag. "And the winner is...Gould..."
A chorus of groans, a shaking of disgusted heads.
"Marone, what a waste."
I am pushed, reviled.
"He wouldn't know what to do with it."
A shove from Albino, a semi-dwarf with a banana nose, who fancies himself a great lover.
"Tell the truth, kid. Didja ever get laid?"
I take a beat too long to answer.
"Sure I did..."
Albino reaches up and clocks me with the heel of his hand. "Fatchim! I'm not talkin' about a handjob under the stairs." His face screws up and he blinks back a tear. "I'm talkin' about makin' love to a real woman." And turns away in despair. "This is a tragedy. A fuckin' tragedy..."
Cesario, a hearse driver, shoves a handful of bills at me. "Cut the crap. Thirty bucks for your tag."
The room gets quiet. Ceasario is rumored to have mob connections.
Still, I waver. I am stung by the sneers at my manhood, my inexperience. I know that if I surrender the ticket I will be seen as a coward.
Then, Sconzo comes to my rescue.
"He won it fair and square," he says.
Cesario turns to him. "And I'm makin' him a fair offer," he says.
"No propositions," Sconzo says. He checks his watch. "Funeral's at one. They said she'd be here at twelve-forty five. Better get out there to meet her."
Cesario is humbled, his power broken. He pockets his money and walks out. In a second the mood has changed. Everybody is grooming me for my big moment.
"Button your jacket..."
"Stand straight and look her in the eye."
"If you get a chance to shake her hand, see if you can put her finger on her pulse. That gives broads chills..."
Albino takes me aside with an urgent look. "When you talk to her, keep a normal face, you know what I mean, but try to imagine her takin' her clothes off. You know like pullin' the skirt to unhook the stockings. Unbuttonin' the blouse...Just keep thinkin' it, y'see and that'll give her the idea..." He breathes a blast of expresso and Lucky Strikes in my face. "Okay?"
Mourners mill in the lobby. Nobody knows that Marilyn Monroe is coming today.
It's a warm April day. The chapel is on a traffic circle that feeds to the park, the Parade Grounds baseball fields and Coney Island Avenue.
A charcoal Lincoln Continental Convertible, top down, comes around the circle. In the front seat, a chauffeur with a gray cap. In the back seat, a blonde wearing dark glasses. The Continental pulls up to the curb.
I hear Albino's anguished whisper. "Shmuck! Go grab the door for her."
Too late. The chauffeur opens the door, and offers a helping hand.
Marilyn Monroe steps out and looks around.
NEXT: MARILYN GETS THE GRAND TOUR
Causes Heywood Gould Supports
Leukemia and Lymphomia Association
American Cancer Society
St. Jude's Children Research Hospital