Looking back, Krasner blamed the husband. Being stuck next to Goldsmith as one of a group of four men invited to a Saturday Dodger game meant three hours of hearing him pontificate about baseball, politics, books, and restaurants, then rant about traffic, kids, and most of all what he called his pain-in-the-ass wife.
Worse, each time Krasner voiced even the slightest disagreement, Goldsmith bristled. Initially the older man’s responses were simply patronizing, as when Krasner was told, “You’re young. You’ll learn,” or, “I, too, was once naive.” By the fifth inning, due to an excess of sun and beer, Goldsmith’s condescension had morphed into belligerence. “You don’t know shit!” he exclaimed when Krasner countered that Ray Charles was far more important than Neil Young, and that the late Bobby “Blue” Bland, even with laryngitis, would have out-sung Michael McDonald, David Bowie, or Harry Connick Jr.
Krasner knew full well that he could have, and perhaps should have, lightened up rather than goading a guy with a desperate need to be the ultimate authority. But due to an aversion to the loudmouths, taking the high road was not an option.
When, during the bottom of the sixth inning, the bombastic one dismissed millennials as know-nothings too goddamn lazy to think and Too self-absorbed to care about anything but their own dicks, Krasner shook his head. “What the fuck does that mean?” Goldsmith promptly demanded.
“You calling ’em self-absorbed is funny,” Krasner responded.
“Because all you talk about is you, you, you.”
Goldsmith glared, then began to pout, granting Krasner much appreciated time to focus on the ballgame.
The respite, however, came to an abrupt halt at the top of the eighth inning when Goldsmith leaned Krasner’s way. “You probably like French films,” he snarled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“A guy who’s nothing but a school teacher.”
“What’s that say about your wife, who also happens to teach?”
“Another fucking know-it-all!”
All too aware that the private high school where he taught was Gossip Central, Krasner had, with the exception of one frenzied hook-up with an art teacher after her birthday party, avoided entanglements with faculty, staff, parents, and students. Therefore, he was far from happy when Steffi Goldsmith approached him while he was munching a burrito outdoors at lunchtime the following Monday.
“I owe you an apology,” she said.
“My overbearing and far too full-of-himself husband. Was it excruciating?”
“My root canal was worse.”
“Not that it’s likely any interest to you, but now you know what I live with.” When Krasner failed to respond, Steffi seemed perplexed. “No comment?” Seeing Krasner shrug, she pushed further. “What’s that mean?”
“You chose him.”
“Thanks for reminding me. Got time one of these days for an off-campus lunch? Or better yet, a glass of wine after school?”
“To do what?”
“If I had the guts I’d say to run away to Paris, but actually for help. I’m finally finishing my Master’s at UCLA, and I’d love to pick your brain about the French New Wave.”
Krasner nodded, then was about to dive back into his burrito when Steffi wandered off with a smile. But another interruption came in the form of the school’s basketball coach. “Careful,” Jamal Stokely said as he neared.
“What’s the easiest way to sleep with a married woman?”
“I give up.”
“Listen to her, ’cause ten-to-one the husband doesn’t. Lend an ear, show some sympathy, and suddenly you’re the nicest, most sensitive guy in the world. Then they can’t wait to say thanks.”
At a wine bar after school the next day, with a bottle of Rose de Provence in front of them, Steffi Goldsmith faced Krasner. “For my thesis,” she said, “I’m trying to show that after World War II, youth-inspired cultural revolutions sprung up across the globe. The Beats in this country. The Angry Young Men in British theater. Am I right in assuming that La Nouvelle Vague constitutes yet another?”
“They were certainly young and outsiders. Godard was Swiss, Truffaut had a troubled childhood, Agnes Varda a woman when directors were almost exclusively male. Chabrol, Demy, Resnais, and Rohmer, thanks to Les Cahiers du Cinema, were fledgling critics. They were rebelling not just against the reigning culture, but even more against the proper and pretentious films produced in France at the time.”
While explaining how their quest to make a different kind of film was facilitated by new, lighter, and cheaper cameras, plus cinematographers like Raul Coutard who came from newsreels and could shoot hand-held with available light, Krasner found his wine glass being refilled, then topped off again.
As the two of them finished the bottle, Steffi smiled. “That was really helpful,” she said. “Okay if I ask a personal question?”
“Were you worried the older woman might proposition you?”
“An awkward attempt at seduction never crossed your mind?”
Steffi reached over and took Krasner’s hand. “I have a little office that’s very cozy.”
Once, twice, three times Krasner nearly bolted as his dented Volvo followed Steffi’s Range Rover through Santa Monica into Pacific Palisades, where they parked on a street north of Sunset.
Getting out of his car, Krasner again came close to fleeing, then yielded when Steffi took his hand. Moments later, in her office above a dress shop and a French cafe, she was unbuttoning his shirt.
“First a ground rule,” said Steffi as she unbuckled his belt. “I’ve got too much equity for this to be anything more than sex. Clear?”
Krasner nodded as she unzipped his fly. But while removing his boxers, Steffi started to giggle.
“What?” asked Krasner, immediately self-conscious.
“A terrible joke. Ready?” Krasner nodded. “Why,” asked Steffi, “is a blow job like Eggs Benedict?”
“I give up.”
“They’re two things no Jewish guy ever gets at home.” Steffi laughed, as did Krasner, then she feigned seriousness. “Fortunately for you,” she stated melodramatically, “we’re not at home.”
While spooning on the sofa twenty minutes afterward, Steffi broke the silence with a question. “Weird for you to be lying here with someone old enough to be your mother?”
“How old are you?”
“Almost twenty-five. You?”
“Which means too young to be my mother.”
“Unless I was precocious.”
“And a child bride.”
“So tell me the truth,” said Steffi. “Was this payback?”
“My husband for being a dick.”
“But it was a factor, right?”
“Let’s not go there.”
“Thank you for ducking. But now that you’ve gotten back at him, what are the chances of seeing you again?”
“You tell me.”
The next afternoon, cuddling on her office sofa after another torrid bout, Steffi eyed Krasner. “So why are you teaching?”
“Because I’m too tall to be a jockey and too short to play in the NBA.”
“Seriously. Is it what you set out to do?”
“I’m trying to write scripts.”
“And here I am, stealing your free time. Do you like it? Teaching, I mean.”
“I like teaching and writing. How about you? Since it sounds like your husband does well, how come you’re teaching?”
“First, my husband doesn’t do well – he does exceedingly well. But as to why I teach, it’s something I started doing when he was in law school and we needed the bucks. More importantly, it gives me an identity of my own. But so that you know, I, too, do some writing.”
“Short stories mainly. And a novel for which I’ve got to find a publisher. Plus a play I’ve been fiddling with for far too long. But know what’s the fringe benefit?”
“This place, which now serves another purpose besides writing.”
Because in most of his previous relationships Krasner was constantly, and often relentlessly, the one who suggested, urged, begged, and pleaded for what one girlfriend termed hanky-panky, and another called mischief, he found it surprising, not to mention pleasing, to have Steffi take the initiative.
And take it she did, day after day until Krasner found himself with almost no free time, especially when she began texting him for additional get-togethers on Saturdays, plus quickies on Sunday afternoons.
Even more embarrassing were the presents she started bringing. First was a watch, which he never felt comfortable wearing. Then a cashmere sweater, which he promptly said was too much. Next a Ray Charles box set, then a signed photo of Mose Allison.
When Krasner began to beg off occasionally, then asked for a brief hiatus, not because of diminished interest or an absence of ardor, but simply to have time to shoot hoops, ride his bike, and maybe even figure out what would be his next screenplay, the number of calls and texts from Steffi doubled, then tripled, as did the frequency with which she popped by his classroom to say hello during school hours.
“Am I getting too needy?” Steffi asked one Tuesday while the two of them were lying naked on her office sofa.
“Which one of us talked about having too much equity?”
“That was before we… umm… started. And besides –”
“I thought you’d be flattered.”
“Occasionally I need some breathing room.”
Steffi darkened. “You’re seeing someone.”
“Not really? Or no?”
“Not that you wouldn’t be entitled –”
“I’m being silly, aren’t I?” asked Steffi. “I go home every evening to my husband, yet I’m expecting you to be monogamous. Forgive me?”
Pleased, Steffi kissed him.
A month after getting a script to an agent through a guy he knew from a Saturday morning basketball game, Krasner was surprised by a request for a meeting. Girding himself for disappointment, he drove to the agent’s office at the designated time. Then, after waiting impatiently for what felt like three weeks but was in truth thirty-five minutes, he was granted an audience that was over and done with in record time.
Trying everything imaginable to keep from screaming, Krasner strode toward the exit, only to be intercepted by the agent’s assistant. “Unsatisfying?” she whispered.
“Unconscionable, unacceptable, and downright shitty!”
“Wait for me out front in five minutes.”
Three minutes later, Krasner was joined on the street. “What exactly did numb nuts say?” the assistant asked.
“Prefer His Royal Majesty?”
“He said the writing was wonderful, but the subject matter not commercial.”
“Which means he’d rather have writing that sucks as long as there’s a High Concept? Know what’s rich?”
“I read it, not him. I’m Ginnie by the way.”
“Just like on the script. So what else did the birdbrain say?”
“To call if I come up with something saleable.”
“What if I tell you the script’s terrific?”
“Not in the eyes of agents.”
“Want to bet?”
“You heard what he said.”
“Look, I’ve got a friend who works for a woman I think would get – and really go for – your script. Can I send it?”
“Only if you like Chinese, Thai, or Ethiopian food.”
“Because at risk of getting rejected a second time this afternoon, I’d like to buy you dinner.”
Aside from having what Krasner playfully deemed to be impeccable taste in screenplays, plus being bubbly and blessed with freckles that he found adorable, Ginnie proved to be a perfect dinner companion thanks to her affection for many things Krasner adored. What started with a meal in Thai Town led to evenings in Middle Eastern, Chinese, and Ethiopian joints.
Table talk ranged far and wide, revealing shared fondness for films by Claude Sautet and Savage Steve Holland, books such as Pynchon’s “The Crying Of Lot 49” and Chad Harbach’s “The Art Of Fielding,” songs by Slim Harpo and Amy Winehouse, plus a taste for vintage Stan Freberg commercials and silly “Baywatch” reruns.
During their very first meal together, Ginnie brought up business only once by asking a pointed question as they finished their main course. “Got something else in the works?” she asked. “Something dickhead might call commercial?”
“Guess I don’t have the imagination to come up with a girls- or boys-raunchy-night-out, a post-apocalyptic, or a super-hero movie. Seems I can only deal with stuff that in some way or other happened to me.”
“Which is why I liked your script about growing up white in a black neighborhood. It’s the first one I’ve read in ages that seemed derived from life rather than from other movies.”
“So what’s your next one about?”
“Once I know, I’ll tell you.”
“More like distracted.”
Whereas with Steffi everything revolved around bouncing on each other’s bones, with Ginnie, in contrast, Krasner was so chaste that one evening, while wolfing a Hanoi fish dish called Cha Ca, she asked if he was in another relationship. When he said no, which he considered to be not entirely untrue in light of Steffi’s demand that their kinship be only about sex, Ginnie pondered for a moment. “Can I ask another question?”
“Are you gay?”
“It’s okay if you are. Even, I guess, if you’re just seeing me in the hope of –”
Krasner took Ginnie’s hand. “Even if that agent winds up hating my script, I’ll still be crazy about you. But so that you know, I’ve just been trying to be respectful. Okay?”
“On one condition. Ready?”
“You come home with me tonight.”
“Before dessert, or after?”
“Dessert can wait.”
Two days later, while lying beside Steffi on her office sofa, Krasner waited for what seemed like an appropriate moment, then spoke. “I think we should cool it for a while.”
“You’re tired of me.”
“Not at all.”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“Know how you were wondering if I was seeing someone?”
“What about it?”
“Now I am.”
Steffi went silent, closing her eyes for several moments, then sat up. “So what’s wrong with an embarrassment of riches?”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“I get afternoons, she gets evenings and weekends. For you, isn’t that the best of both worlds?”
Instead of breaking things off with Steffi, Krasner hedged, getting together with her every so often instead of nearly every day. Sensing she was losing him, Steffi spoke up one Wednesday while undressing him. “Charlie knows a ton of people,” she said. “How about I get him to reach out to agents on your behalf?”
“I just signed with one.”
“Without telling me?”
“Who’s the one who said this is only about sex?”
“You really know how to hurt a guy,” Steffi said. “Besides, that was then, this is now. And if I’d known about the good news, we could have celebrated.”
Krasner studied her for a moment, then began hesitantly. “Maybe –”
“We ought to cool this for a while.”
“Why make a decision in haste?”
“This is not in haste,” Krasner said, reaching for his shirt.
Two evenings later, while leaving an Indian restaurant, Ginnie elbowed Krasner, then gestured toward a white Range Rover parked across the street. “Is that woman staring at us?” she whispered.
“I-I don’t know,” he lied, leading Ginnie toward his car as quickly as possible.
That night, lying beside Ginnie in her Echo Park apartment, Krasner found himself hoping that Steffi’s appearance near Urban Masala had been an aberration owing to a moment of insecurity or pique.
But when he spotted her car in Koreatown the next evening, then caught a glimpse of her cruising past the Mongolian place where he and Ginnie dined two nights later, he knew the time had come to speak up.
During lunch at school, Krasner approached Steffi in a hallway. “It’s got to stop,” he stated.
“This monitoring, or spying, or whatever you want to call it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s called stalking.”
“Is that an accusation?” Steffi asked, displaying a haughtiness Krasner had not experienced before.
“Let’s call it a request,” he said.
Krasner’s hope that his conversation with Steffi would help was shattered by an unexpected call from her husband. “Your overtures,” announced Charlie Goldsmith, “have been totally out of line.”
“Of a suggestive nature toward my wife.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.”
“Do I strike you as someone who kids? In addition to the Cease & Desist letter which you will receive, I reserve the right to take all appropriate legal and punitive measures. We clear?”
“You’re out of your fucking mind!”
The next day proved the surprises were far from over. Upon arriving at school, Krasner was immediately summoned to the Assistant Dean’s office.
“You’re aware of a statement you signed promising no sexual advances or harassment?” asked Tom Cavanaugh menacingly.
“What of it?”
“A complaint has come in.”
“Okay, are you going to tell me more? Or is this simply an accusation?”
“I believe I’m entitled to an explanation.”
“Without stating what I’m accused of? Or to whom? Tell you what. How about starting by telling me who made the complaint?”
“It’s not appropriate for me to say.”
“Then know what that makes this?”
“A kangaroo court.”
“I resent that,” said Cavanaugh dismissively.
“But you haven’t said it’s not true.”
After pounding his fist against a hallway wall several times, Krasner was stewing by his car when Steffi Goldsmith approached. “I’m really sorry this has escalated,” she said.
“But there’s an easy way to calm things down.”
“By simply going back to the way things were.”
“Whoa! Your husband threatens legal action, the school is talking about firing me, and you want to turn back the clock?”
“You know who they’ll believe if it’s your word versus mine.”
“Is that the game you’re willing to play?”
“Then maybe you’re forgetting something.”
“Something called evidence.”
“A zillion text messages? A ton of presents?”
“You’d do that to my reputation?”
“Wait a goddamn second. I could wind up out on the street, and you’re worried about your reputation?”
Check your messages read three texts from Ginnie, and Call your agent said two others that Krasner found when he drove to Venice and sat down on the beach. Gathering himself as best he could, he called Laurie Frankfater.
“Want good news or bad?” Krasner’s newly acquired agent asked.
“Let’s start with bad since it’ll fit in with my day.”
“Four dimwits and one stupid jackass have passed on your script.”
“Know a bridge I can jump from?”
“A guy who produced a couple of interesting indie films has made an offer.”
“Please tell me you’re not kidding.”
“Not a chance in hell. Put your thinking cap on, or hit the internet.”
“Pick a place where you, Ginnie, and I can celebrate tonight!”
“Happy now?” Tom Cavanaugh asked after informing Krasner the next morning that the complaint had been withdrawn.
“Do I look like Mahatma Gandhi?” Krasner responded.
“I’m not sure I understand the allusion.”
“I’m not someone who turns the other cheek.”
“I expect you to make amends.”
“Giving me tenure.”
“We don’t do that until someone teaches here for five years.”
“Show me where it’s written.”
“It’s more a convention.”
“For which an exception is about to be made.”
“And why’s that?”
“What if I say my girlfriend’s father, who considers this discrimination because of age and gender, is a litigator?”
“How do I know that’s true?”
“Maybe it’s not, and I’m bluffing. But is it worth the gamble? You win, everything’s peachy. You lose, there are damages plus publicity galore for you, the school, and the wonderful person who complained.”
“I-I’ll have to talk to the Board.”
“You’ve got until the end of classes today.”
“That’s not fair.”
“You want to talk about fair? I also expect a written apology.”
That evening, after they ordered bademjan, fesenjan, and a soup called ash joe at a Persian restaurant near Westwood, Ginnie studied Krasner. “After all that’s happened,” she began, “you okay?”
“What’s crazy is I’m fine.”
“For openers, I’ve got you.”
“Thanks to you, I’ve got Laurie.”
“Much of that owes to the script you wrote. But go on.”
“Remember how I told you I’d be no good at girls- or boys-raunchy-night-out or post-apocalyptic or super-hero stuff?”
“Because you can only write about what you’ve experienced?”
“Exactly. And remember how I was searching for something to write about?”
“Well, guess who now has a whole new story.”
Ginnie smiled. “Tonight,” she stated happily, “you and I are having dessert.”
Alan Swyer is an award-winning filmmaker whose recent documentaries have dealt with Eastern spirituality in the Western world, the criminal justice system, diabetes, boxing, and singer Billy Vera. In the realm of music, among his productions is an album of Ray Charles love songs. His novel ‘The Beard’ was recently published by Harvard Square Editions.