By Susan Lilley
one late college night when I learned Sal Mineo
was our next big draw at Once Upon a Stage
dinner theatre. He would star in a stupid play
about romantic entanglements, perfect for group sales
and Sunday matinees filled with oldsters on field trips
from the homes. I had been too young to see Rebel
on a date at the movies, but my babysitters swooned
over James Dean, and I figured Sal was the same
kind of deal, only a survivor, now in his handsome 40’s.
On the show I was the star’s dresser,
waiting in a tiny curtained square
for him to run off the stage during quick changes.
I helped him take off his clothes
and put on different ones.
He shone in the backstage dark, and we all
fell in love, boys and girls alike.
But I was the one he asked to bring
a Sprite with lemon from the bar.
He closed the dressing room door,
looked me in the eye: I have been watching
people here all day and have decided to ask you.
Do you think you could find me some really good shit?
That night I called every pot-smoking friend I knew.
I buttoned his shirt while he zipped his tuxedo pants.
We had five seconds. Sal snapped on the fake bowtie
as I presented him the nickel bag,
and he beamed his Hollywood warmth at me.
Thanks, kid! He jammed the bag into his pocket
and leapt back to the stage.
He was near the end of his life
and he had no idea. One night before the curtain
went up on another awful play, the news spilled
from the hostess stand
that Sal was stabbed to death
in a parking lot in L.A.
For years I kept his dressing room stereo,
moved it from life to life, let my kid spin
endless Sesame Street, then Michael Jackson
and Van Halen until it finally died, with a fuzzy needle
and four old pennies taped to its stylus.
From the collection Satellite Beach (Finishing Line Press 2012), originally published in The Other Journal.