THE DAY THE ART DIED
Leonardo © 2012
Each time I read that chapter a part of me hopes the outcome will be different, as if the words in the book can actually change themselves. Alas, they don’t, and I always say the same thing: “What an asshole he was, and what he did to that poor girl.”
It’s really her – Edith Metzger – that I feel the most pain for, and I’m sure her friend Ruth Kligman, who got her into the situation in the first place, spent the next fifty-six years of her life crying over it. At least I hope she did.
Regardless of what happened in the days and years since, and no matter how many times either a little-known artist like myself, or well-established artists, historians, or Islanders try to analyze and understand the man, the events that led to that day, or the day itself, it still happened, and there’s nothing any of us can do about it.
The other thought that spins around the wetness of my cranium is how today things would have turned out so differently; how neither Ruth nor Edith would have gotten into that car when he met them at the train station seeing he was already “feeling good”. How his friends would have taken his keys, even if it meant a fist fight, and it would have, with that hardheaded son of a bitch. And what about the bar-keep who served an already drunk patron; even if he was a famous patron. Or the cop who found them on the side of Airport Road, with the driver slumped over the steering wheel, and felt satisfied after being told, “We’re just talking,” then drove away leaving a man barely able to speak, let alone operate a big, beautiful, Oldsmobile 88 convertible with two frightened female passengers. And then there were the friends who pulled up moments after the cop left and had a “conversation” with the slobbering idiot and felt fine about driving away, leaving behind the familiar Ruth, as well as her friend, “out here for the very first time.”
I can’t help but think that all it would have taken was one of those situations to have been different. For just one of those friends or bartenders, or the cop, to have said, “No. We are not letting you drive any more today,” and taken the keys, by any means necessary.
Or, if they didn’t take his keys, or stop him from driving, at least they could have made the girls get out of the Olds, for then his insane bravado behind the wheel would have been blunted without impressionable young girls to show off to.
When Edith refused to get back in the car after stopping at a bar, he demanded that Ruth “get her back in here,” and Edith said, “But Ruth, he’s drunk, I don’t want to drive with him.” And her good friend, obviously under the influence of the heavy brow of her famous-drunk-hot-headed lover turned around and said, “No he’s not; he’s fine.” If that weren’t bad enough, Ruth told Edith another lie, “Where going directly to the house, two minutes away.”
So Edith acquiesced and climbed back into the rear of the car. Even before her tush hit the seat, the asshole attempted to slam his foot, with accelerator pedal attached, through the floorboards of the car. Edith immediately responded with ear-piercing, non-stop screams as her best friend’s world-famous lover, mad at everything and everyone, clad in grungy, paint-splattered clothes, and stinking of booze, pushed the mighty automobile to fifty, sixty, seventy miles an hour, up the tiny roads of Spring.
As the Olds flew upFireplace Road, Edith continued to scream, and Ruth continued to lie. “Stop making a fuss, he’s fine,” she told her pretty girlfriend. The more Edith screamed to be let out, the more the fool pushed the big convertible. By the time they crossedNorth Main, the man-made wind was blowing the girls’ long hair around at over seventy miles an hour.
The wind was so strong that when Edith attempted to leap out of the car it actually forced her body back down back onto the seat. She sobbed and screamed, unaware, the worst just seconds away. The curve in the road wasn’t designed for an automobile to negotiate it at seventy plus miles an hour, and the convertible could never hold on at that speed.