Read Dog Stays in the Picture Online

Authors: Susan; Morse

Dog Stays in the Picture (11 page)

David hates the mask even more than I do. We keep it in the attic, and muddle along with our spray bottle, hoping for the best.

9.

The SBDs

OCTOBER 2010

S
he says,
“Watch the house, Lilly, I'll be back
.

And she closes it.

You wait.

You're not hungry now, but you will be. You need to SEE her.

If you had more of us with you, you'd be safe. But none of us is here. Only you.

Oh, please, where is she? You want her BAAAACK, and you hope she's on the other side, so jump up there and see. Just jump, now!

Oh, it's so high and slippery, you can't stay here. This is not good. Call her! COME BACK! COME BAAAAAAACK! BAAAAACK!

Maybe she's here, like when you're sleeping and you wake up and you go find her. It's so big in this place, she could be anywhere. Could she have come in another way? Keep looking, everywhere, everywhere. Oh, you can't stop panting, and you're so thirsty. Everywhere, look everywhere, COME BAAAAAAACK!

This is not the place, but you have to do it, you can't help it, it's coming out, oh, here it comes. COME BAAAAAACK! BAAAAACK BACK BACK BAAAAAACK!!!

Go to where she closed it, and try your teeth. It hurts, you're so tired but too bad, you have to keep trying.

COME BAAAAAAAAAACK.

Here's the thing: David and I have been under surveillance for decades. We've never seen them, but I'm positive they're out there. If I were really clever, I'd put them to work—they could take out the trash, maybe, or keep Lilly company so she doesn't freak when I have to leave.

At first I thought they were crouching in the shrubs outside our kitchen window. Eventually, I came to suspect they were also employing sophisticated equipment to tap our phones and e-mail correspondence. It's not exactly clear whether their long-term goal is to preserve our family or destroy it. I have my theories. What I do know for sure is they have superb connections in the entertainment industry. This is why we call them the Show Business Demons, or, informally, the SBDs.

The SBDs are disturbingly skilled at ruining things. Their specialty: Securing Inconvenient Out-of-Town Job Offers for David—the lengthier the better, right when something important is happening. When a child is born, say, or we're packing for a move or there's some special parent event at school.

Looking back, I now believe it was SBDs who almost wrecked our Philadelphia wedding in 1982. David and I were so gullible in the early days. We were based in New York at the time—although David was mostly in L.A., just beginning a new television series called
St. Elsewhere.
We wanted a traditional ceremony at my parents' church in Philadelphia, and when we discovered there was a generous, ironclad three-week gap in David's shooting schedule right at the start of my summer break from acting class in New York, we thought:
Perfect.
David could spend his break in New York with me, allowing plenty of time to get the license in Philly, make other preparations, and finally tie the knot on a Saturday in late June. We might even grab a quick honeymoon somewhere nice before spending the rest of the summer together on the West Coast while he was filming.

The innocence! It never even occurred to us how laughably naïve we were not to anticipate the multitude of things that could and would go wrong, from the moment I committed us to the June date by slipping all those stamped, hand-addressed invitations in a mailbox on the corner of Ninth Avenue and Fifty-First Street. We were not yet acquainted with the SBDs, who started with one of their simplest tactics: Screwing with the Production Schedule.

Sorry
, David's producers said.
The hospital set looks a little dark on film, and we need to recast two key characters. We're going to reshoot the pilot. No June break
.

No problem
,
David told me on the phone.
St. Elsewhere
didn't have him on the schedule that last Monday before the wedding. Back then you needed a blood test to get married, so David would get his done in L.A., he said, then fly to New York on Sunday and hop on a train to grab the license with me at Philadelphia's City Hall. Then he'd fly back to L.A. for a few more days of filming and be back in Philly with plenty of time to prepare for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.

Deftly, the SBDs shifted to one of their favorite ploys: Loss of Vital Documents.

We still didn't smell a rat when David arrived in New York, looked through his bags, and couldn't find his blood-test results.
No problem
,
my parents said, and they set us up with a doctor friend who could perform a quickie test in Philly on Monday morning. Blood test in hand, off we went to City Hall.

Which, we discovered on arrival, was closed.

Here's a little-known bit of Philly trivia: Pennsylvania is the only state in our union that observes an obscure public holiday in June called Flag Day. Hardly anybody around here acknowledges Flag Day as far as I can tell—just random public institutions like post offices and the Department of Motor Vehicles—so it's quite easy to live in Philadelphia for years without even realizing this holiday exists. Flag Day has something to do with Betsy Ross, we've been told, but I know better. Flag Day is an SBD tactic, proof that they've been at this a very long time—I'm guessing they put Betsy Ross on the payroll way back in 1776.
The Morses will be marrying in June of 1982,
they told her.
We'll need an Unanticipated Closure of Public Buildings around then, so please be sure you finish sewing that flag by the end of May.

We left City Hall empty-handed and David had to fly back to L.A. on a red-eye that night. He still had one other day off before the wedding, allowing just barely enough time to squeeze in a second round-trip to Philly for the license, returning that night to L.A. for work on Thursday, and finally, grabbing a third flight Friday morning for our rehearsal dinner. After Ping-Ponging back and forth across the country six times in five days, when David headed down the church aisle that Saturday in his seersucker wedding duds, he could barely walk straight.

I was in love—so young and foolish—flattered by my gallant groom's determination to claim his bride. I thought we were simply living a charming real-life romantic comedy. The SBDs must have been laughing their scaly little asses off.

Sometimes we appreciate their humor. Sometimes we don't. David missed the funerals of both his father
and
his stepfather.

It's a kind of lifelong sporting event. We've tried various strategies over the years—for a while we made plans very loudly, in backwards code:

—
Susan, I've got the dates for the Lars von Trier movie in Sweden this summer. When do you want to bring the kids?

—
Um … I don't know. They're pretty busy this summer
.
What are the dates?

—
Well, the producer told me they could put us in a house on a beautiful lake in June.

—
A house on a lake? David, why would we want to stay in a house on a lake? I mean, who cares about lakes?

—
You're right. I'm sorry, it's just I've been away a lot and I miss everyone. I know it won't be any fun. All they have is boring ponies and sheep there, sort of wandering around right outside the house. And they say the owner will take the kids out in his boat to catch trout, and he shows them how to smoke it, and then everyone eats freshly smoked trout for dinner that the kids caught themselves.

—
Oh, I HATE smoked trout. And June will NEVER work. School is over the first week in June, which means if you have them book us on a flight to Sweden for JUNE TENTH, the kids will be REALLY DISAPPOINTED, because I have just this minute found a TENNIS CAMP starting that exact week. They would NEVER agree to pass up on a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go to tennis camp just so they can ride dumb ponies and fish for trout on some HORRIBLE, ICKY LAKE in Sweden. So whatever you do, don't book us a flight for JUNE TENTH. In fact, as soon as we hang up, I am going to call and sign them up for TENNIS CAMP the week of JUNE TENTH.

—
Got it. June tenth.

June 1999, Gothenburg

The SBDs just kept compensating. They formed a new specialty unit, which has become their signature: Orchestration of Inconvenient Last-Minute Weather and Health Glitches. Children developed sudden fevers the Friday night before a trip to visit David on location. Air travel was unexpectedly shut down by ice storms in April. I'd call the airlines, trying futilely to change flights, picturing SBDs out there in our bushes or wherever they were, high-fiving a job well done. Pouring buckets of Gatorade over everyone's heads and slapping one another on their creepy hunchbacks.

When I was acting as well, in the times BC, I spent a lot of time on David's sets, because there was so much to learn. It was a real thrill to watch shows
being filmed,
at first. After a while the slow pace can get to you—sort of like a baseball game, with long hours waiting between camera setups, punctuated by quick flurries of action, and then more waiting. Nothing to do but eat snacks laid out at the craft-services table and make small talk with whoever else is standing around. It's the small talk that gets me in trouble.

I try to avoid the famous people on set because of my terrible Lucy Ricardo tendency to embarrass Ricky by sticking my fat foot in my mouth. This happened more and more when my focus shifted to the kids and I wasn't getting out much. I have trouble connecting faces with names, and often I'd be introduced to some huge celebrity and have no clue who they were. I once asked Lloyd Bridges if he had any kids, and he looked at me like,
What
is your
problem
?
Another time, after talking all evening to an interesting guy named Charlie, very struck by his commanding presence, I began to wonder what he did for a living. Fortunately I had enough of my wits about me to whisper my question in David's ear before asking “Charlie” point-blank if he was maybe the movie's producer or something. Oops. Charles Bronson. Playing David's father in the movie. Right, I knew that.

Even when I was still working, I was a hazard; busting into a wardrobe trailer uninvited to glimpse George C. Scott in his underdrawers right in the middle of a fitting; flashing my own undies at Henry Winkler outside the Emmys—David and I were just walking over to say hi, and a breeze lifted my flimsy silk wraparound skirt completely over my head. I encountered him again at an audition once and, of course, had to relive my mortification by telling the story to a roomful of bored executives. (Henry claimed he'd completely forgotten.)

After I stopped working, I'd bring the children so they could be with their father during holidays, and with my focus on them, I managed to stay out of trouble. On the odd occasion when I've been by myself in the galaxy where David works, I feel like a party crasher. David usually helps me avoid missteps, but there are these awful times when he's busy and I'm still expected to go. I went solo to a very private New York screening of
The Crossing Guard
,
followed by dinner. The director, Sean Penn, had invited only five guests, and I found myself plopped, terrified, between Bruce Springsteen and his wife and band mate, Patti Scialfa. Bruce and Patti were kind enough to keep things on my level by exchanging stories about our kids, which would have worked out okay except I simply could not cope having Sean, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon seated directly across from us. The basic fact of my profound admiration for them left me tongue-tied and paralyzed.

The last time I went to the Emmys with David, he was nominated for Best Supporting Actor in
John Adams
,
a show that really mopped up that year. I had promised myself I'd behave, but being introduced to the show's main actress, Laura Linney, proved to be too much. I was obsessed with her latest independent movie,
The Savages
,
about a dysfunctional brother and sister (played with searing honesty by Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura, respectively) trying to help their long-estranged father at the end of his life. I'd just barely recovered from shepherding my own mother through a major health crisis, and
The Savages
had been my lifeline. I'd been watching that movie over and over, almost compulsively, and I think I kind of frightened Laura Linney because I just could not leave the poor woman alone. All the
John Adams
people sort of moved around in a pack and it was pretty hectic, so I'm not sure she actually figured out who I was or why I was there, but I'm pretty sure she won't forget me. Everywhere Laura turned on her big night, there I was tugging at her elbow, desperate to share just one more episode of Mother Brigid's battle with her dastardly HMO.

Maybe the SBDs actually have our own interests at heart when they keep me from traveling. Sometimes I think it's best for David's future job prospects if I stay out of his business as much as possible. I've kind of come to welcome SBD interference if it means we'll be able to keep paying off the mortgage. But I simply must draw the line when whatever job he's doing involves contact with horses.
I'm
the horsey person in this marriage. I grew up riding—I
taught
David to ride. I thoroughly resented missing
Two Fisted Tales
(he was a ghost sheriff rolling into town on a dusty black horse, ready for a gunfight) and
Dreamer
,
set in the Kentucky horseracing world.
David was playing a wealthy, evil thoroughbred trainer, and he knew it was eating my insides to miss out on the fun. He'd call at night to tell me all about what a thrill it was to be near the racehorses—I'm still mad at the SBDs for keeping me away from those glorious creatures.

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