My talent, merely sleeping, began to rouse once again.
No matter the final form that resulted, I had always written from a germ of personal experience. That might be a situation or a person or a line to be embroidered upon, but whether they came out of personal experience or hearsay or personal fantasies or reading or movies, plays, television or Hindu mythology, my mind made them my own and then watched that personally felt germ blossom, as realistically and imaginatively as I could make it, into a story. Reality, I remember pontificating in my youth, was just stuff to make fiction from. And now I had set aside the necessity for sexual content, I needed some new shard of reality to bite me unawares, and then fester under the skin like a sliver of wood.
My experience, personal and mental, had mostly been things literary. I'd been a theater critic and a bookseller --- and a dishwasher more often than I'd ever expected! --- and a writer, both published and un, and damn little else. Protagonists turned out often to be the same; I reached not very far for details, and would filch any facts I didn't find nailed down. So what, I began to wonder, did I have in hand, to fashion fiction with? My NIGHTWING experiences were much too close to the bone to think about, at least for the moment. And writing about a writer while I was a writer incapable as yet of writing sounded like it'd be an ugly exercise of eating my own tail. The genially helpful old professor of literature I thought briefly about seemed a vapid Mr. Chipps. Theater people? Theater people! I decided when I next attended one of Eliot's soirees to drink a little less and listen a little more.
And that very night, Stephen drifted by again, still seeking congenial and untried eyeballs for yet another Sunday afternoon try-out. I wondered, trying to draw him out and maybe hoping his generating-circumstance might trigger one of my own, why he didn't do autobiographical writings instead of using only cuttings from the Williams plays.
"Because Williams always lied --- except in the plays --- about himself. I read one interview where he insisted 'my friends have always called me Tennessee,' and in another "well, all my intimate friends always call me Tom'! No, he only told the truth about himself through those plays. Everything else is 'illusion in the guise of truth'.
"Of course, I never realized when I started what deep and subtle things that man was dealing with! Every time I think I've reached the essence, there's a damned new insight I have to work to get right. I'm finally off book and adding props --- I'm going to do a whole ballet-number just choosing the proper combination of pills from an arsenal of little bottles; there's going to have to be a typewriter; and I've still got to find a Meerschaum cigarette-holder before I'll really feel comfortable with my hands. Hell, it doesn't feel anywhere near ready yet --- though I'm getting closer every week. At least I'm not still fiddling with the text!"
"You mean like Billy is with Alucard, eh?"
"Oh you know Billy! God, don't remind me! I'm afraid I ruined that poor little man totally!"
"How? You don't mean you stopped him juggling do you?"
"Yes! How did you know? I was doing GODOT back in college, and no one would do Lucky for me. And no wonder! It's a real beast to memorize that incomprehensible speech, and you spend all the rest of your time onstage as Fourth Banana! Well, Eliot said he knew a mime who wouldn't mind the silences --- and he became the perfect Lucky! I don't think he ever got all the lines or ever got them in the right order, and the- thu- thethat stutter and hehesita-ation was Lucky down to his toenails! And that frail little man just Standing There, or doing such subtle mime-things? Hell, he turned out to be the star of the show! Everyone else had to work our asses off just to hold our own on stage with him. I mean, during the dress my Pozzo nearly tried to kill me for using Billy, but once he got going he was unstoppable! "And it was like a kid with his first joint, or his first fuck; he couldn't get enough! Someone had him do Feste in TWELFTH NIGHT and told him Shakespeare wrote poetry, and ever since he's been writing and re-writing and fiddling with that Terrible text of his! Oh, please! Let's have another very big drink and you must tell me a funny story so I forget what Sins I could have committed just to get a play to work right on stage!"
Actually, we spent quite a while assuaging his guilt-pangs with drinks and trading funny stories. Stephen finally topped me by showing me how to make the lighting-crew's traditional drink.
"Light-crew always got to the cast-party late, because all those instruments and trees and cables had to be disassembled and stored, so when we arrived the mixers were always gone and the gin was always gone. So one night we invented our own Lights Out Special: equal parts of straight vodka and straight bourbon --- over ice. I had four that night, walked all the way home and fell into bed --- and in the morning discovered there were no knees in my trousers."
I can't remember any other funny stories, but I do remember Eliot shoving cab-fare into my pocket and pushing us out into the rosy-fingered dawn. Stephen and I said sodden good nights, or good mornings, and I walked three-quarters of my unsteady way home before I noticed an empty cab that actually stopped. I was feeling good, powerful, pregnant with some indistinct possibility at long last. I marched --- well, lurched more often than not --- up a brightening Commonwealth Avenue marvelling at the decorative ironwork and entablatures of all those historic old Back Bay housefronts thinking I had to remember something, something I'd heard earlier that night that seemed terribly, terribly important, something that nudged an earlier memory that tonight made, under all that alcoholic haze, tremendously important.
And so I plodded home and fell into bed, and it wasn't until considerably after noon, as I was slathering a very hard bagel with enough creme cheese and raspberry preserves to make it palatable, I suddenly remembered who it was I'd heard calling Tennessee Williams "Tom".