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Part One

Finally. That’s what I thought when the reporter from the Times called about Greg. Every reading I went to, every opening, every show from Chelsea to Bushwick, I talked about Greg and Cara: about our time together at Wilmott, Greg’s music, and the tragedy that took him from us. I’d corner any art-schooled, trust-funded loft-dweller who’d listen and say, “Someone needs to tell Greg’s story.” Invariably they’d say, “You’re a writer. Who better than you?” So I’d have to explain that of course I’d written about Greg, how could I not, but I only know how to write plays, and getting the backing for a show about him, enough to do it right, on the scale he deserved, was tough right now. If they knew me, or knew of me, this would surprise them. “Didn’t you win that Kennedy Center Young Playwrights thing?” they’d ask. “That’s got to count for something, right?” I’d tell them that was a long time ago, another lifetime, when Greg was still with us and I believed Broadway was just waiting for me to remake it, and Cara was the spark that kept the fire burning in both of us. The music industry had nearly missed out on Greg, and I wasn’t going to just wait around for the theater industry to wake up from its stupor. 

What I needed was someone who could get the word out right away. Someone who could make Greg’s story, our story, into news. I never doubted the call would come. I’d prayed for it. Don’t get Daniel Browne me wrong: that wasn’t the source of my confidence. I mean, I figured God owed us one, me and Cara, but I’m not the kind of Christian who thinks of Him as a wish-granting genie. The reason I was so certain was that I’d put in the time. I’d gotten to know the right people. That was why the three of us had come to New York in the first place. Truth be told, Greg and Cara never really settled in. They missed Ohio something awful, especially Wilmott, with its red brick and redder maples. I tried to get them excited about steampunk exhibitions and political burlesque, but the two of them preferred to hole up in their crummy apartment in the East Village, playing at the domesticity they would have had if they’d stayed behind: Cara canned green beans; Greg searched the animal shelters for an Irish setter in need of a home, though he knew their place was too small. I’d forward them invitations, and Greg would just say he was allergic to cheese cubes. So I had to network for all of us. You see, I said silently to Greg when the reporter called, I told you it would pay off in the end. He said his name was Mike. “Amy Wright told me about your friend.” Amy had been in a few of my one-acts back when I was killing myself trying to get into festivals. You try hard not to be too impressed by people in this town, but I was impressed that Amy had an in at the Times. I’d been hoping to get to someone at New York magazine, maybe Esquire. But the Times? “How do you know Amy?” I asked. “We dated last summer,” Mike said, which didn’t exactly answer the question but was enough for me. That’s what I admire about New York: people are sophisticated about their relationships. They hook up, they break up, but they stay cool, keep each other in mind. The door is always open to exes—and friends of exes. “What she told me was really sad and interesting,” Mike went on. “She said I needed to talk to you to get the whole story.” I waited a beat to answer. I’m an award-winning playwright. I know how to build suspense. “He was a genius and cancer ate his brain. That’s the story, man.” Mike cleared his throat. Some directors and actors I know hate that sound, but I understand what it means: someone in the audience is unnerved. You’ve got your hook in him and he feels the pull.  

“Could we meet in person, maybe tomorrow?” Mike said. “It doesn’t feel right to talk about this on the phone.” “I’ve got prayer group till ten,” I said, “and I teach an improv class at five. Anytime between, I’m yours.” I suggested we meet at the High Line. I can’t stand hanging out in the coffee shops, surrounded by all the laptop jockeys working on their “projects.” None of the successful artists I know do it. If you want to be out in the world, be out in the world. For decades, the High Line was a blight; now it’s an inspiration, tall grass and taller flowers sprouting between rusted rails, all kinds of cool art installations claiming the dead space between buildings. And who’s responsible? Just a couple of guys—one of them a writer— guys with a vision, guys who knew how to line up the right people. The High Line is my kind of place. Mike was about my size, which is to say short, but he was stocky where I was wiry, grizzled where I was clean-shaven. And his clothes—no comparison there. The summer between high school and Wilmott, I signed up for an exchange program, spent a month in China. The lasting legacy of that trip was the five three-piece suits I had made to order, still the best hundred bucks I ever spent. I was wearing the gray pinstripe for my meeting with Mike, a white shirt open at the collar, no tie. Mike was wearing jeans and a Columbia hoodie. Taking him in, I had to revise my opinion of Amy just a little. She slept with him? New York Times, I reminded myself. “Which section do you write for?” I asked. Mike took one hand out of the marsupial pocket of his hoodie and scratched his beard. “I freelance for a few different sections.” A freelancer. I smiled to hide my annoyance. I wondered if he’d pitched the story yet, if the Times was even interested. “I think this would be a good fit for Our Towns,” Mike said. I’d never heard of Our Towns. The name made me suspicious that he was going to portray us as a bunch of hicks who’d been chewed up and spit out by the big city. Be cool, I told myself. He hasn’t even heard what you have to say yet. “Hey, you’re the writer of this little piece,” I said. “I’m just the subject.”  

Mike squinted at me. “Isn’t Greg the subject?” “Source,” I said. “I meant I’m just a source.” On impulse, I grabbed his shoulder and squeezed. “But you’ve got to understand. This is a story about the three of us. Greg, Cara, and me.” I looked Mike straight in the eye and waited. He nodded and pulled his other hand out of that baggy front pocket. It was holding a tape recorder. “How do you want me to start?” I asked. But I already knew how I was going to start. “Amy said you met Greg in college?”

Feb. 16, 2017, 4:09 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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