|"....you do not just met Bea Arthur.. she has happened to you.."
||[02 Oct 2003|12:28am]
Bea Arthur doesn't enter the room, she happens to it. Strapping and powerful, she crosses the hotel lounge with purposeful strides, her impossibly wide hips propelling her forward. You knew she was tall, but at almost seven feet, you find yourself face-to-face with her monogrammed belt buckle. Her shadow engulfs you.
For a moment, you are wrapped in a world all-things Arthur, but then she breaks the spell with a handshake that would make John Wayne's seem like a curtsy to the Queen. Your hand hurts. Your hand hurts like a son of a bitch. You think the third knuckle on your left hand has suffered a severe sprain.
Bea Arthur orders a martini. "No fruit. No veggie," she tells the waiter. She isn't seeking his approval. She simply wants him to get her drink. He starts to smile but notices she isn't kidding. He scurries away.
Her sturdy frame, draped by a loose, black pantsuit, is a study in transvestite chic. She has lived eighty-two summers yet only eighty-one winters. Even Bea Arthur has no monopoly on Father Time's time.
Arthur doesn't look at you. She looks through you. She tosses her hair like an old ballplayer tosses out the first pitch at a game. A baseball game. Or like a Frenchman tossing a coin into a Champs-Elys�es fountain on Bastille Day.
When Arthur speaks, it's not her words you hear, it's the culmination of all sounds, of all noise becoming one, entering your ears like a professional jewel thief. Except this thief's object of pursuit is your soul. She hollers down the abyss of all that is you, while coyly beckoning to those wanton desires you thought you had stowed away in junior high school.
She slyly lights a cigar.
Even in repose, deep creases carve V-shaped brackets around her mouth, between a squared chin and a narrowly angular nose, her piercing black eyes cut through you like Braveheart's saber. Her manner is European but not in the modern sense. A native New Yorker, Arthur says she descends from Flemish mercenaries who came to fight Colonial rebels, and it doesn't take much to imagine her astride a horse, on an 18th-century landscape, hungrily eyeing George Washington's ragtag band of rebels.
If she wasn't exactly a rebel herself, Arthur certainly chafed as a teenager against small-town conventions. She joined the high school wrestling team as a heavyweight. With her patented sleeper hold, she began punishing boys. For their awkward gropes. Their heavy-handed remarks. Their man-organs. "I reached the state semi-finals," she intones. "But my unitard proved too confining." She dares you to ask what she means, but you're as frightened as a chambermaid who's just accidentally interrupted a Siegfried and Roy lovemaking session.
Your head swims with Arthurian memories - the subtle butchiness of Vera in "Mame," the odd masculinity of "Maude," the testosterone-driven Dorothy on "The Golden Girls" - when she reels you back in. "A critic once described me as "serpent-tongued," she rasps. "I liked that."
Norman Lear created Maude as an answer to Archie Bunker. Arthur's commanding presence gave authority to a show whose topics included women's liberation, race relations, and pornography. "It's funny you mention porno," says Arthur. "After being in the business for such a long time, I've done everything but rodeo and porno." You are conjuring up images of Arthur tackling both in one fell swoop - flashes of rodeo clown makeup, lassos, spurs, steers - you suddenly feel as discombobulated as Robert Downey Jr. at a second-tier awards ceremony.
She tells you only the things she wants you to hear. When you mention Rue McClanahan and Estelle Getty, she lowers her eyes. "Come closer," she beckons. Whispering now, she breathes, "We weren't called the 'Golden Girls' for nothing, you know." You have no idea what she's talking about.
In town to promote her one woman show, "And Then There's Bea," she confesses that she recently turned down a role in the off-Broadway showstopper "The Vagina Monologues." "I thought, 'My vagina can't give a monologue!" Something tells you that if it could though, it would be something the audience would not soon forget.
While on the topic of her bodily parts, you seize an opportunity. You say to her, "Has anyone ever told you that your breasts are the size of small cannonballs?" She coyly smiles, and without missing a beat, says, "Melons yes, cannonballs, no." You gulp and subtly reach down and adjust your stones like they're two marbles that you're about to flip.
That voice. If it was a prepared meat, it would be hot pastrami. Very hot pastrami. It pervades you in an Elizabeth Ashley "Cat On A Hot Tin Roof" kind of way. It lingers like the smoke from the corner bar on a summer frock.
"People ask me, 'Do you have a penis?'" she says, smiling a bit uncomfortably. She takes a large bite of her glazed salmon salad, and pats her lips with a napkin. The intrigue hangs in the air like a bad gas expulsion from a Bowery Bum. I try to cover my eagerness for her next sentence with an air of insouciance, but it's as obvious as George Hamilton at an albino convention.
And how does she answer those people? "I don't." She pauses.
She doesn't? She doesn't what? Does she mean she doesn't answer, or is she putting decades of whispers behind her? She knows she has me.
"But if I did, you can bet your last dollar that it'd be the size of Polish kielbasa at an Italian delicatessen." Before you can ask why they would be selling Polish meat at an Italian deli, Bea Arthur leaves you. She simply vanishes. She's gone like a late-night visitor on a hot August night.
You're left with a memory, but not one of clarity. Rather, it is one of fragments - lust, envy, pride - wound up in a tight little ball the size of the sock in Ms. Arthur's pants. Was she even here? Or was she merely an apparition, leaving behind a vapor trail of sausage-related innuendos and not a cent toward the check. Your eyes regain focus long enough to drink in her empty martini glass, her cigar stub, all that she has left behind.
You have not just met Bea Arthur. She has happened to you.