Saturday, June 21, 2008


Cole Porter Woodall had seen better days. His arm was killing him. His soon-to-be ex-wife, the former Claire Morganstern, the love of Cole's life, told him that she would pack his arm in ice, but that was it. Cole, a former major league prospect pitcher, a blue chipper, but a badly injured man, wants to renegotiate his marital contract.

"I'll take less ice ... and more love," Cole said one day as Claire was heading out of his newly rented apartment in Ducktown, Tennessee -- "of all places," Claire had remarked -- near Cleveland, which is thirty miles north of Chattanooga.

"Your definition of love sucks the big wiener," Claire said.

"What do you mean by that? Why did you say wiener?"

"Because that's all men are, if they aren't tormenting you."

"So, then, half of that is a compliment ... the big wiener part?"

"Your head is a big wiener. The one on your shoulders. Wiener, wiener." Claire pointed first to his head and then his crotch.

"I should be so lucky," Cole said trying to make Claire laugh.

"You should take a cold shower, Cole," Claire said turning her head and the doorknob in Cole's apartment at the same time, trying to keep him from seeing her trying not to laugh. It took her a moment to collect herself, and kick into what she called her "preservation speech": "I don't love you at this time. I can't love you, if I'm not secure. It's hard enough being a woman than to have to keep looking back over your shoulder to see if the fucking love of her life is pouncing on her at that very moment, about to go postal ..."

Cole shook his head. "I'd say if you're in mid-pounce you're already postal," Cole said. "You wouldn't be about to go postal."

Claire would have laughed at that ... had she not detected how glassy and red Cole's eyes were. He looked horrible. He had gained weight, which was driving him crazy, because he thought Claire was leaving him for a man in better shape than him -- when the truth of it was, Claire was leaving to keep from being petrified of him. It was affecting her work and her relationship with peers, which was all beginning to snowball ... and she had called "time out. You're off fucking sides, pal." Several minutes after which Cole had chased her out of the house, with her screaming "Don't you hit me. Don't you hit me, you bastard!" The neighbors, who all hated one another, including Cole and Claire, shook their heads and cursed all the way back into their own homes, and sometimes arguments would erupt there.

"You oughta call the cops ... if he's slugging that bitch," Shirley Cunningham, whom Cole thought looked like a female version of Jackie Gleason, but not that fat, said to her second husband. "I think that's just horrible. You damn men are all alike."

"Aa, go fuck yourself," had been Paul's reply.

"You fuck your own self, mister!" Shirley screamed. "You said you were going to stop cussing."

Paul was a big guy. If he had any somewhat close bond with anyone of the street, it would be with Cole, because they had sports in common. But Shirley despised the man, both of them, because the Woodall's dog, whom Cole also hated, kept relieving herself in their pristine, manicured lawn. Cole barely regularly cut the grass. Cole's days, now that he was in early retirement after so many failed attempts at having a career following his injury, were spent doing two things, three. Hanging out with his dog, Rocket, getting high, driving his model trains ... and playing the banjo. Four. His train layout in the basement of the Woodall's Tennessee Appalachian home, was a dazzling treat for the eyes. His banjo playing wasn't as dazzling. But Paul had been impressed with anybody "who could just get a sound out of the thing." Paul loved bluegrass music. And that's what Cole tried to play. That and American standards, like those written by Stephen C. Foster, whom Cole could sit and talk to you about and very likely convince you that America's first popular songwriter had been murdered.

Shirley's first husband had died somewhat brutally in a strange boating accident on nearby Chickamauga Lake.

"Hey postal is postal, Cole," Claire said. "If postal is going nutso ... you're postal at least thirty percent of the time. Ten percent is too fucking much."

"If postal is going nutso, would I like what, like dress up like a letter ... and throw myself at you?"

Claire hadn't laughed so hard and as deeply in months. Of course she loved Cole. She would always love Cole. But Cole's moods took him from overly affectionate, to the point of being vulgar, as far as Claire was concerned, to becoming disoriented and flying into an explosive rage, during which anything in his path was as good as smithereens. Unless it's made out of metal, like some contemporary coffee tables are, with the angular steel and glass. That raging episode put Cole in the hospital for two weeks, where they sewed him up, having taken the shard of glass out of his leg, with nearly 100 stitches, and then opened him back up when the infection set in.

Despite his doctor heavily dosing him with antibiotics to stave off the deadly staph infection, Cole was sick enough with a high enough fever to be on the verge of going into shock and a coma. His respirations slowed dangerously. When Claire took his hand, within hours Cole began to make a remarkable recovery, but they kept him three days more to be sure the infection was gone after he'd had his best day in a week. Obviously, Claire was torn, good half Jewish girl that she is, and half the time wanted to run into Cole's arms like in a movie, which would only result in more blood, as Claire reflected to her girlfriends, while the other half would rather spend the day punishing herself. Or her vocal chords. She claims she learned her screaming fits from Cole. To which Cole had replied:

"We both brought the screaming mimis from our dysfunctional families when we entered into holy matrimony, so what you're saying is that I damaged your damaged goods?"

"Damage this," Claire had said, flipping Cole off.

Cole did an up yours sign which he knew had pain written all over it as his left hand raced down to his throbbing right bicep and shoulder. The howl, which she was used to from Cple's younger days, was not anything she expected or wanted to hear. Cole would be 55 this coming summer, and over and above any arm or leg problems was the head injury which happened when she and Cole were in college. He at Fordham University in New York, she at UCLA in Berkley. She was at the game, or arriving, when Cole's most intense competitor going all the way back to grammar school in Santa Fe, New Mexico threw a fast ball up and in, which caught a distracted Cole squarely in the left temple. Cole was in a coma for six months ... and remembers having a second life in heaven in little bursts. Some of what he saw wasn't pretty. Some of it was magnificently beautiful beyond description. But Cole survived. He fought back. He had a slot waiting for him with the New York Yankees as soon as he graduated college, where Cole studied to be a priest.

The pitcher of the ball is probably not as important as his father and his family. They were Yalies. And boners. And were staunchly competitive, to the point of all-out brawls, where one would be laying for the other all the time, for a time. They hated each other. Their families hated one another, although Cole's had been slimmed down considerably once he was old enough to pitch at 12. His mother Patsy, a former model, was a middle-aged Hispanic woman, at one time beautiful, now poisoning herself with alcohol. Her years in New York as a model took their toll on her. She named her son after the real Cole Porter, when the frail and enormously talented man had intervened at a party he was throwing in his New York apartment to keep a group of men from gang raping her. However, the third man had already finished, and the fourth was unzipping his pants when Mr. Porter burst into his own bedroom. He found four men holding her down, and she had been blindfolded and gagged. When she discovered she was pregnant, she moved to Virginia and then back to Santa Fe, never knowing with any certainty who her son Cole had been fathered by, though she knew well enough, but had promised herself and made her live-in friend Sadie promise too never to tell Cole who his real father was. As far as Cole knew, his father had been a Broadway producer.