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The Executioner's Fork

In the fall of 1968, five of us were trying to live together in three bedrooms, a kitchen, and the one bath of a stout white apartment building near Harvard Square. Charles, the producer of the unfinished film that gnawed at our waking lives, shared the room he reserved for worrying and tossing in his sleep with Beryl, who ate only with chopsticks and spent her days with runes and Tarot cards.

I'd dropped out of graduate school to operate a Nagra tape recorder for Charles as he ran his lens across the new consciousness developing in the Haight-Ashbury. In Cambridge my friends were dealing blond Lebanese hashish. I bunked in a sweaty leaded-glass turret with a radiator that sounded like it was puking hailstones. There were brown roses on my wallpaper. If I pressed my thumbs on my eyes, just so, the roses swirled, collided, and turned pink.

On the third floor, in twin beds placed as separately as possible in a twelve-by-twelve room, slept Eva and Ladd, two New York film editors who had been dropped into Charles' art by the television company which had underwritten our voyage to San Francisco and two hundred hours of footage of the Summer of Love. The company was hungry for a return on its money. The film simply must be cut, soon, they insisted. Charles believed the film would bloom from his vision.

Eva was a shy crossword-puzzle addict with the professional fingers required to splice film precisely and quickly. She missed her two cats, Honey and Muhammet. She wanted to finish the film and get back to New York. She waxed her shoes nightly and disliked stepping on the leaves that cover everything in Cambridge in October.

Ladd talked loudly, chewed with his mouth open, and limped. He showered Eva with harsh direct commands. He used the triple-negative "No, no, no." when he disagreed with  not bring himself to terminate Ladd's employment. The whirling dance of Golden Gate Park rapture had softened Charles' approach to vermin. "Do ants believe?" was the central question of his new theology.

So Charles stewed and the film sank slowly into a month of muddy indecision. Eva carried bundles of New York Times crossword puzzles to work. I painted the editing room floor. Ladd spent hours on the phone with New York. Beryl whittled bundles of chopsticks from elm twigs with a kitchen knife.

Until one Sunday morning...

We rotated the cooking chores for our communal Sunday breakfast at the grey and chrome table in our kitchen. It was Charles' morning to cook. He carefully sculpted twenty crepes on an upside-down cast iron frying pan, opened a quart of his mother's Indiana apple butter, squeezed a gallon of fresh orange juice, whipped a quart of cream, sweetened it with maple syrup, brewed coffee with chicory, then whacked the wind chimes to call us to the table. We all came a-running, except for Ladd, who was chronically late for everything. Way up in the attic we heard him swing his locked knee off the side of his bed and begin to dress.

Eva, Beryl, and I politely sat at attention, sipping coffee, watching the crepes cooling and the cream deflating, while Charles slouched with his chin on his chest, tracing his fingers back and forth along the chrome molding on the table's edge. Ladd thumped down two flights of hardwood stairs and into the bathroom, where he hummed a piano concerto while he operated his electric razor.

The kitchen air smelled of lightning and aluminum by the time Ladd nudged Eva forward, hooked the crook of his cane over the chair at the small of her back, waved his napkin twice before placing it in his lap, smiled, and said, "By God, let's eat."

As Ladd reached across the table to yard the entire plate of crepes closer to his grasp, a knotted leather button on his camel hair blazer caught in the tines of a fork beside his plate, and the fork sprang off the Formica and down onto the checkerboard linoleum floor. It rang like a sleighbell.

That tiny tinkle brought Charles to critical mass. He leaped from his chair, pointed to the fork as though it were a viper, screamed at Ladd, "You are fired, you bastard!" then stormed out of the front door, off the veranda, and into the orange Harvard Square streets.

Beryl plucked at a crepe with her new chopsticks. Eva took the cane from the back of her chair, leaned it against Ladd's knee, and said "I shall not be accompanying you." Ladd sat dumbfounded and grave for a few moments, then struggled back up the stairs.

I ate the bowl of whipped cream, then went in search of Charles. I found him reading Friday's Variety over a bowl of noodle soup in a Hayes-Bickford cafeteria filled with hangovers. We finished the film in a week, then I drifted back toward California.