Labor Day

Dressing Sal Mineo

By Susan Lilley

sal mineoI watched Rebel Without a Cause on TV

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.

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