After reading women’s accounts of assault and abuse by Harvey Weinstein, I’m inspired to write about an event that happened to me 55 years ago. It’s a little bit Hollywood too, because it involves Barry Levinson and the boys he made famous in Diner, including the one who was played by Kevin Bacon in the movie. It’s a little bit cinematic too, because the second part of my story is fantasy. The first part is all too real.
In September 1961, I was a freshman at Goucher College, at that time an all-girls school on the outskirts of Baltimore, exotic, full of nice Southern girls wearing circle pins. Some girls actually brought their horses to school with them. I was from the Bronx and a fish out of water, a 17-year-old who told everyone, “I believe in free love”. I considered myself an existential artist, me the four-eyed, flat-chested wallflower now blossomed and wearing turtlenecks from the Army-Navy store.
Then I met a local boy named Stewart Reichlyn.
Stewart was beautiful. He was always surrounded by a sea of minions, guys who hung on his word and laughed at his jokes and ogled his girls. He sparkled with manic flash and ideas.
I ran into him in the Goucher canteen. The canteen was a hangout for students where you could buy a milkshake and burger, a welcome change from cafeteria food. One day while I was sitting at the counter, Stewart walked in surrounded by his entourage. The song of the day was playing on the jukebox, Hit the Road, Jack. Stewart smiled at me as I exuded pheromones of vulnerability and after some conversation, asked me on a date.
We went to a restaurant. We went to bed. We cheered at a lacrosse game. We went to bed some more. We hung out with his friends. I fell in love. I felt extraordinarily lucky to have attracted such a wonderful man.
You know how there are some events in your past that don’t lose sharpness with the passage of time? One night Stewart asked me, “Want to go to a party?” “Sure,” I answered.
We drove to a suburban house and got out together, walked to the front door. Someone opened up for us, and I stepped in, Stewart right behind me. I looked around, and I recall the exact second when I realized that the house was full of men. Not couples. Not a single girl except me. Just men perched in anticipation all over the living room, on chairs, on the arms of a couch.
I didn’t have a chance to go into the living room. Stewart took my arm and led me through a hallway to the stairs. He whispered, “These guys are waiting to get laid, okay? They paid me, and they’re expecting to get fucked right now.” I looked at him uncomprehendingly and shook my head. I said, “No, I just want to be with you!” He tried to soothe me. “No, I don’t want to,” I repeated. This was not my idea of free love. Finally, Stewart said “If you don’t do it I’m going to call your parents and tell them you’re a whore.” Those were his exact words, burned into my brain forever.
The night did not go well. Numb cornered rat meets overanxious horny dogs. Rat engages in what she prays is emasculating repartee in the forlorn hope that dogs won’t be able to get erections. Rat amazed at dogs’ persistence in the face of unenthusiastic and limited cooperation.
The evening cured me of my attraction to Stewart. But it wasn’t until decades later that I could allow myself to think about what happened and to recognize and deal with the trauma. Writing is very therapeutic.
So, I have written a story about Barry Levinson, who wrote and directed the movie which glamorized and normalized the behavior of the man who pimped me and the men who raped me, who might have been waiting in line himself that night. At a minimum, Levinson approved of, colluded with, and befriended those who did.
I dream a fantasy where I stalk this famous writer who writes about his growing up years in Baltimore, discover he’s got a house in Beverly Hills and one in Italy, he’s not exactly the kind of star personality who has hordes of paparazzi around him at all times so this information is a trifle difficult to dig out. I have to call around, pretend I am a potential investor, until one of the aides or secretaries or staff people reveals an address, and I hardly wait a moment to get in my rented car and drive up the road to his gated driveway.
I am nervous because I am not sure what I want to do. It might be fun to get this writer in a room and tie him to a chair like they do in gangster movies and sweat him. I could jog his memory until his eyes light up with the knowledge of who I am and what he did and how he was Stewart’s wing man, and how he rejoiced in that, and how the whole world outside their sick nasty coterie was dead to him, and then, I would like to make him regret that he is still alive and notorious enough to attract my attention so many years later. Of course, I won’t really do that, I am still civilized and come with certain ideals that will force me to do bad things in a much more subtle manner.
Eventually Barry leaves his house and I follow closely, not being very practiced at this tracking business. We drive for about 10 minutes and he pulls into a restaurant, hands his keys to the attendant, and I park around the corner. When I enter the restaurant, he is already seated at the bar, and luckily, I can claim the stool next to him, what luck finally, I think to myself. The writer and I are of an age, I see, I am in my early 70’s and he is very gray and wrinkled and a bit potbellied, I guess not interested in botox treatments and Hollywood liposuction.
I don’t recognize him at all but plunge ahead, saying hi, I bet you don’t remember me, and he turns his jowly head to me and smiles politely and we chat for a bit, I say, I knew you when I was at college in 1961ish, I was a friend of Stewart’s, I was so in love with him, those were the days, weren’t they?
Barry looks down at his drink and toys with the straw and doesn’t say anything, is he putting two and two together? Does he have an inkling of who I am? Or were there so many similar scenes, so many times that he followed in Stewart’s wake that he no longer can remember any particular girl, any single event?
“How is Stewart?” I ask, “Do you still see him?” The writer is sipping his drink and doesn’t respond to me, what am I doing, talking to the wall? Finally, Barry sets down the drink and turns to face me again, and this time seems to be really looking at me, studying me, you can see the gears cranking as he tries to remember me, impossible I think to recognize the bewildered 17 year old girl in this old lady but maybe not, maybe I made such an impression that he has never been able to put the incident out of his mind, maybe it has haunted him and is one of those regrets you tot up at the end of your life, if only I hadn’t done that, if only I’d stood up and said no.
“I think I remember you”, he says, as if the timber of the event is slowly forming in front of his eyes, as if this is one of his films and the flashback is taking place and the calendar pages are flipping backward, and the orchestral music is playing, and he blinks and there he is again, back in the living room in the Baltimore house, and Stewart is ushering me in, telling me about this great party we are going to, but then seeing that the room is full of boys, men, that they have been called here by Stewart and will pay money to have sex with this girl that he is bringing to the house, this girl who Stewart is manipulating through love and blackmail, for the last time of course, but in the middle of the event it is not very helpful to know it is the last time this particular girl will be subject to Stewart’s machinations.
“Yes”, I say helpfully to Barry, “You remember me? Come on, you must remember me.”
And that is my fantasy.