At the end of my period of “channeling” music from my dead grandfather, I turned away from the five-song cycle (“Songs of Puberty”) I had composed with his help, and turned to a new project. I considered my career as a singer-songwriter to be over, and an opportunity had come along to pursue my long-held ambition to be novelist.
I don’t want to dwell on the subject of my book “Dry Hustle”; suffice it to say that I spent part of 1976 traveling with a pair of women who were con artists. They specialized in preying on males, raising the men’s hope of sexual favors and then absconding with their money. I go into greater detail in my author video:
This adventure went against everything I’d been raised to respect. I could legitimately call it research, but the fact remains that I did participate in behavior that was immoral, illegal, and ungrammatical. I readily absorbed lessons for lying and psychological manipulation; I was thrilled to be in the world of criminals; I adopted their patterns of speech, employing lots of double negatives: “I don’t got no morals.”
I ignored the cries coming from my lacerated conscience, making myself deaf through routine applications of Irish coffee. This is one of the evilest drinks ever: an over-the-counter speedball. The coffee makes you manic, the third-rate whiskey makes you morose, and the Reddi-Whip is the final insult. In case the whiskey won out over the coffee and I blacked out, I carried a concealed tape recorder in my purse and taped our encounters with our “marks” so I could replay it the next day and thus remember what the hell I did.
On one such morning, following a blackout, I woke to find myself in a Las Vegas hotel bedroom which I shared with one of the con women. Her bed was empty. And sitting in a corner armchair, silently observing me, was a strange man.
My blood froze. Then the phone beside me rang.
The guy continued to stare at me as I picked up the receiver. It was my roommate. “Happy birthday,” she crowed. (It was not my birthday.) “I picked him out for you as a present. You need to get laid. He’s the drummer in Elvis’ band,” she added before hanging up.
Ah, a musician. Somehow that made him okay, because otherwise he looked like a drug dealer. My curiosity aroused, I surreptitiously reached into my purse and turned on the tape recorder. Thus I have it on record that he was not Elvis’ drummer. Later I learned he was not a drug dealer either. He was a drug runner.
I liked him, though. He was surprisingly witty and courteous. I told myself he would make a good character in my novel, my excuse for deliberately courting disaster in those days. He was consistent with my ongoing romance with the criminal underworld.
Months after my “research” period, I holed up in a cheap apartment off the Pacific Coast Highway to continue writing my novel and drinking Irish coffee. I suppose I can blame the Four Roses for contacting the drug runner, who lived south of L.A., and inviting him over. So he made an excuse to his wife and drove up.
He seemed sort of wobbly when he showed up, but his wit was intact and I still liked him. So we got horizontal for a while. The tape recorder in my purse beside the bed was on, of course. But even without the tape I can well remember his face inches from mine as he told me he shot and killed a guy in Mexico once, for being a snitch. When I looked horrified, he explained, as if it was normal, “That’s the only thing you can do with a snitch. ‘Cause he’s just gonna snitch again.”
I did not feel very secure after his confession. I was relieved when he excused himself to go into the bathroom so I could be alone to consider my situation. I told myself: Now you’ve really gone and done it. You’re alone with a murderer. You don’t got no more sense than a turnip.
I was about to throw on some clothes to escape, when he emerged from the bathroom. He could barely walk. Instantly I knew he’d shot up in there. Make that a murderer and a junkie. As he made his way back in my general direction, he lost his balance and fell to the carpet.
He was trying to struggle to his feet when there was a wrenching sound from the wall heater. The entire metal cover burst off the heater and was hurled at him, slamming him hard on the shoulder.
As I said, Grandpa did not approve of some of my boyfriends.
The last thing the junkie heard before his eyes rolled up in his head and he passed out on the carpet was me yelling at my grandfather.
(To be continued.)
- I am a restless writer of fiction, film, and music. I scripted such films as 9 and ½ Weeks, Sommersby, Impromptu (personal favorite), What Lies Beneath, and All I Wanna Do which I also directed. Both my documentaries, Marjoe and Thoth, won Academy Awards. Formerly a recording artist, I continue to write music, posting songs on my website. I live in New York with my husband James Lapine. My second novel, the paranormal thriller Jane Was Here, was published in 2011. My latest film, Learning to Drive, starring Patricia Clarkson and Ben Kingsley, came out in August 2015, now available on VOD, DVD, and streaming media. This blog is a paranormal memoir-in-progress, whenever I have spare time. It's a chronicle of my encounters with ghosts, family phantoms, and other forms of spirit.