Sondheim makes me sad

Watching the Sondheim documentary on the plane.

That was a mistake.

During this scene from Pennebaker’s movie I had legitimate concern that I would make a spectacle of myself by loud, gulping sobs.

dean on the plane

It is not possible to react with silent, tasteful tear rolling down the cheek. It is not that kind of art. I seem to fall down into Dean Jones’ gaping maw straight to his broken heart.

It was Billy who introduced me to Sondheim, back in ’89. We both worked the night shift at a giant New York law firm. He was a traditional actor in the musical theater. He’d been on Zoom as a kid. Did a touring production of Little Shop.

He had a fag’s trigger wit and bravery. He read any and everyone. Pencil-thin Penny walked by our desk. He watched her gangle by then drawled, “Penny, eat a sandwich!”

He took pity on me and made tapes of all his Sondheim albums: Company, Sunday in the Park, Merrily We Roll Along, A Little Night Music. I still have some of them, thought I have no way to play them.

I hold on to them for his handwriting.

He had the flu, and was out for a few days. Then a few months. I came to visit him in his apartment in Manhattan Plaza. He’d finally gotten in after years on the waiting list and now he was dying. What a waste.

He wore a diaper and dragged an IV pole. I was terrified. I led him through a meditation I’d learned in theater class, as if that could reach him. He looked at me with that same desperate, bewildered stare I would be unlucky enough to see a few more times in my life. “How can this be happening to me? I am not ready to go!”

When he died, I had the sense, perhaps narcissistically, that he’d left me his ambition, of which he’d had loads. And here I am, 20 years later, having squandered it.

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