Volume 4, Issue 25. Originally published September 4, 2014
The year was 1954. My parents, whom I called Pop and Sandy at that time (later Ned was renamed “The Chief” by a Native American horn player in his band and I then switched from Pop), took me out to dinner in Manhattan, which I loved. (We lived in Brooklyn.) Gallaghe’s Steakhouse or perhaps it was Joe Marsh’s Candlelight Clurb, which isn’t there anymore. I had a steak. We had a terrific time. I was in a warm glow by the end of dinner when they revealed to me their secret purpose for me that night.
Joel Grey’s “Star Time Kids” was shot at the CBS studio around the corner and I was to be on live TV that night, in fact, right after dinner.
I went from cloud 9 to hell in one second flat. I couldn’t explain why the idea was out of the question, I was too upset to think clearly.
They had always gotten what they wanted out of me in terms of onstage performances. They inculcated in me from my earliest memories that I had been born in a trunk and there was no question of me not getting up there and doing whatever the act was at the time. I don’t remember ever putting up any resistance to it until the night in question, since resistance was futile. Nevertheless, suddenly I was in a situation where for reasons I could not even articulate to myself, this trouper was going to let the public down. “The show must go on” (years later my father said this with a choke in his voice, the night he went to the club the day Sandy died) but in my case the show would not go on.
They tried to compromise with me, first saying, “Okay, just sit in the peanut gallery and you won’t even have to say anything,” but I would not hear of it. The best they could do was to get me to peek in at the studio, hoping that I would relent at the last minute and show what a trouper I really was. But one look at the blinding battery of klieg lights was it. I had my fill, and we went home in a sad cloud.
Sandy tried to make us all feel better. She explained what had happened, saying, “Billy is a trouper. But he is a perfectionist and wants to prepare fully to give his best performance every time. This time we forgot that and thought it would be easier on him to not have him know about it until the last minute. It was our fault.”
Ned agreed she was right but it never made me feel any better. All my life, whenever I was having a bad moment for any reason, this was one of the regretful memories that I would beat myself up with once again.
Separately I wondered from time to time how my life might have been totally different if I had gone the other way that night.
One night I was dreaming that Lalita and I were at an advertising/media industry conference somewhere, not in NY. I would be speaking that night. We were meeting people before the conference. Yana, my editor (who puts in all these commas), would be joining us but was late as the conference was about to begin. At the last second she came running faster than I have ever seen her move, down the long empty corridor with a red face and a big smile.
The conference started and a gent got up and gave a tepid 5-minute opening remark. Then the MC — of all people, the late Ben Wallach, who had been the Athletic/Social Activities Director at the Hotel Brickman — called me to go on next.
In the dream I suddenly realized we had forgotten to bring the slides. I didn’t even know what the conference was about.
In previous dreams of this kind there was a hideous moment and then I would wake up.
This time was different. I realized I had no idea what I would say, but something in me felt perfectly willing to go up there and see what would come out of me. I started for the stage.
And then I woke up.
When I told the story to Lalita she said, “You woke yourself just in time to not have to experience making a fool of yourself.”
But it wasn’t like that at all. I woke up feeling exhilarated. I didn’t know exactly why at first. I knew I was pleased with myself for the total acceptance of the challenge that traditionally had been my Waterloo: being unprepared for public performance. I knew that the way I react in dreams is exactly what I would do in the future. I felt liberated, released.
Then it hit me: this was the erasure of the Star Time experience. Closure of that karma. Full circle. After a lifetime of disappointment in myself for how I’d handled that moment, I had redeemed myself. I am a trouper.
So what’s the point of my sharing this story? What do you, the reader, get out of it?
We all have deep wounds. Some are papered over by repression and some may be with us all the time. Whatever they are, if we take them out and look at them from time to time, and make it an active intention all our lives to become that which we hold as our own ideal self in real everyday life, inevitably in time — sometimes decades as in this case — we get there.
Best to all,