In honor of what would have been his 78th birthday, what follows is a text I had e-mailed to Donald Schwarz, my long time friend and creative mentor back in June of 2012. The idea was we would each tell the story of our first meeting from our own point of view, then gradually document the development of our friendship from our own unique perspectives. Unfortunately he didn’t get around to it, or if he did but hadn’t told me then it is probably in a file on one of the NYPL computers which unfortunately I don’t have access to. Here, for whatever it’s worth, is the story of how I met that inscrutable and extraordinary character that I sorely miss.
A Personal “D” Day
March 6th, 1994… Melina Mercouri was a real woman, vibrant, talented, intelligent so her loss would have been a cause for sadness under any circumstances. What infuriated me about her passing was the cause – politics. The doctors said she succumbed to cancer… the reality is that any creative and sensitive being that is naive enough to believe they can actually beat them by joining them (e.g. by running for political office) will inevitably either sell their soul – or succumb to cancer.
Melina’s fighting days were over and that made me angry. I felt angry at her widower, Jules Dassin for not having been able to contrive a story good enough to excite the artist in her and pull her out of the bloody political arena before it was too late. I felt angry because even someone with her dynamism and celebrity proved to be no match for the relentless economic interests that drive the political mechanism.
New York is not a city to be depressed in – or perhaps it is the ultimate city to be depressed in. I had been receiving my own fair share of slaps in the face at various literary agencies so perhaps Melina’s passing provided a much needed opportunity to vent my own frustrations in the face of repeated failure. A more rational individual would probably have faced that dark mood by seeking escape via some light and uplifting entertainment. I agreed to accompany my aunt to a screening of “Schindler’s List” – maybe it was a subconscious attempt at psychological homeopathy.
By the time the film was over and we all managed to pull our stunned selves out of the seats and return to the damp cold of 2nd Avenue I was entirely numb, body and soul. The thought of returning to my aunt’s penthouse on East 64th presented certain dangers I sensed were best avoided: i.e. since my aunt had recently quit smoking the only place I could enjoy a much needed cigarette without her griping would be out in the biting cold on her tiny balcony 14 stories above 64th street. It was 01:30 I had to go somewhere that could provide me warmth, an astray without condescension, and a double-bourbon… and all that at ground level. Immediately the “Silver Star” came to mind, I knew good ol’ Kostas (aka Gus) wouldn’t let me down. I bid my aunt adieu at the corner of 64th and 2nd and continued alone toward the source of the soothing amber liquid my frozen soul was screaming for.
Kostas was engrossed in ESPN when I entered. Initially I thought I had the place to myself but as my eyes adjusted to the atmospheric dim lighting I spotted a curmudgeonly figure hunched over the far end of the bar. He had the home-court advantage of being a regular; I had the outsider’s advantage of speaking Greek so I could ask Kosta “What’s that guy’s story…” without him knowing what the hell I was saying. One thing was certain he looked just as cantankerous and irascible as my mood; as such I figured why not ask him to join me. If nothing else it would be a show of courtesy to Kosta – he could then serve us both without having to turn his back on ESPN.
It took the guy about 7 minutes to make up his mind, and he scowled at me as though that would somehow facilitate the decision making process. For some reason I found that hysterical. That was clearly not the response to the scowl he had counted on – and muttering various incoherent epithets he slowly moved down the bar. He didn’t sit next to me; he opted to leave a vacant stool between us. I found that humorous too – thinking to myself “Imagine the vibe I must be giving off if even a New Yorker is afraid to get too close!”.
(Having recently painted my house I had the opportunity to sort through old correspondence, snail mail Don and I had exchanged between 1994 and 2000 when I finally got internet at home. There are some pretty colorful accounts in those letters of Don’s take on meeting me, however due to language I would of necessity give them an ‘R’ rating… That’s a book for another time!)
Victoria Andre King is a freelance writer and audiovisual professional her novel The Führer Must Die is available for pre-orders and will be released on November 8th 2016 with Yucca Publications, an imprint of Sky Horse Publishing NYC.