mary, me and canters
Someone asked Kurt Vonnegut why he wrote.
He said: “I write to kill time. Why are here?
We are here to kill time—to fart around. That
is my view”.
I fart around at Canters deli. I do it with Mary
Woronov. The name may be familiar. Mary
was a movie star. She was a movie star for 3
months. Sometimes you are a movie star for
45 years and sometimes its for 3 months.
She was in a movie called Eating Raoul in
1985 that had a modest success. Later it
became a cult favorite. Shes a cult star.
We get together once or twice a month to
split a reuben at Canters. She lives in the
'hood--on Beverly and Kingsley. I am on Third
and Kenmore. Its the neighborhood without a
name. It isnt Koreatown or East Hollywood or
mid-Wilshire. I once thought of giving it a
name, something that would capture the flavor
of these parts, a word like garbage would
work-—or a good symbol-—a hovering
chopper at 2 am—-and sending it along to our
intrepid councilperson, but never got around to
Mary lives in a courtyard type situation with a
driveway down the middle and parking in
back. She has a duplex. You enter via a small
room—a study area. There are books,
paintings, memorabilia, souvenirs and artifacts
gathered during her travels. The room has a
thoughtful quality to it that is satisfying. Its
philosophic. She likes philosophy.
Up a narrow flight of stairs to the studio--a
long room that bridges the driveway below
with windows on both sides and some
gorgeous light pouring in.
There is a feeling to this room also—not so
philosophic. Mary is a painter. She is a painter
who supports herself through acting jobs.
She's had many shows but the paintings are a
hard sell. She’s the German Expressionist
type—-twisted, perverse, haunted by angst,
From time to time she will shift gears and do
a still life or some small landscapes in a more
inviting vein. Last year she banged out 30
paintings in 30 days, small landscapes, 12 x
12, beautiful and they sold like hotcakes.
Then she burned out on the landscapes and
returned to her preferred style--Berlin in the
On to Canters. There is something about
Canters. It relates to the concept of time and
the puzzling ways this concept can be altered
by the environment. Canters would have been
a good place for Einstein—-another Jew who
enjoyed a good reuben—to invent the theory
of relativity. Its open 24 hours and you can sit
there for 24 hours and some people do. I
frequently go there to write.
We pass the Canters bum on the way in,
hunkered outside the door. There are several
Canters bums. They work in shifts.
We eat in the back room—a cavernous space
used for parties and banquets. Its quiet and
we are not near people. Will Rogers said he
never met a man he didn’t like. Charles
Bukowski said he never met a man he liked.
Mary falls into the Bukowski category.
We order and conversation begins. The
conversations always begin the same way.
Mary says: “I have no money”.
Here is a woman with a beautiful studio to
paint in, no day job, her time is spent painting
or writing or day trading on her lap top and on
Sundays she hits the Hollywood farmers
market to buy organic produce for $4/lb. Its
amazing what passes for being broke these
We move on.
She says: “I want to kill my mother”.
This is more like it. We are both members of
the aging mother club. Marys mother is 85;
mine 87. Her mother lives in Florida. Last
week she drove the car through the front of a
store. Now they want to yank her license.
Mary has an impersonation she uses for
auditions: she impersonates her mother
responding to an unacceptable notion such as:
no more driving. She screws her features up
in an evil way and peels back her lips to
reveal these little pointy fangs, the weasel
effect, and her hands come up in front of her
like paws, nails forward, puncturing the air
and she screeches obscenities. Its terrifying.
This is why we must isolate ourselves in the
back room of the restaurant.
While Mary’s mother was driving the car
through the storefront in Florida, my mother
was falling down a flight of stairs at the airport
hotel in Buffalo NY, breaking her hip as it
turned out, on her way back to Los Angeles-—
to Ontario where I picked her up-—in a wheel
chair—-and got her into the car and onto the
freeway for the drive to Yucca Valley where
On the freeway she says: “I have to pee”.
“Why didn’t you pee in the plane—or at the
airport where they have 170 toilets?”
“I was in too much pain”.
I'll make a long story short. After controlling
her bladder for 2700 miles she gets to within
25 feet of the toilet of her own house and
there she is, standing outside the car, and she
cant move another centimeter and pees her
pants in the driveway.
Mary says: “They should just be put to sleep”.
I said: “Hitler tried that one. They raised a hell
of a stink”.
Next: the stock market. We are both in the
market—getting hammered. It’s a blood bath.
I have read many books about the market and
they all agree on one thing: you must have a
system. Mary has a system. She takes her
dog for a walk around the block every day at
3 o’clock and coming in the other direction
is a neighbor with his dog and when they meet
the neighbor gives her a stock tip. That’s her
system. It is always interesting to me that
people who will drive 5 miles to save $4 on an
underwear sale at Target will dump $50,000
into the stock market with zero idea of what
they are doing.
I said: “There’s an opening tomorrow—in
West Hollywood. I've seen this woman’s
work. Its great. You would like it”.
This one doesnt have a prayer. No more
openings. She’s been to 400 openings. She
despises openings—including her own. Her
attitude is: just buy the fucking painting!
Next: movies. This is a short conversation. I
havent seen a movie in 7 years. I have
declared a moratorium. Its a long story. Now
Mary insists it is time to terminate the
moratorium and the movie to do it with is a
German film, The Princess and the Warrior,
that, as I understand it, documents the many
laffs to be had by inhabiting an insane asylum.
This is Mary: anything to hammer a little more
angst into you with the greatest possible
I say: “I am 60 years old and somehow, I
know not why, the idea of sitting through 2
hours of a movie revealing the intimacies of
life inside a German insane asylum has zero
appeal for me”.
We move on. I like talking to Mary. She is
depressive, a type I normally avoid, but she is
a funny depressive. She is funny, smart and
has a good critical mind. She is into
philosophy, anthropology, primitive myths and
so forth. Its only when she involves herself
with men that her instincts fail her.
So it goes for two hours. We eat and drink
coffee, lost in our thoughts, a couple of beat
artist/writer types with nothing to keep them
going but some dismal hope that the future
will work out better than the past. But what
future? We are pushing 60. The future is
I say: “Say something. We’ve been here 2
hours. We have a half hour to go”.
We speak of Paul Bartel. Paul Bartel
produced Eating Raoul. Paul died two years
ago but we continue to speak of him. Why?
Because Paul for years had promised a
sequel to Eating Raoul, and Mary was to star
as per the original-—at a salary of
$75,000--$72,500 more than she received
the first time around.
One day Paul called. He said: “Its set. I am
making the movie. I have the money”. The
next day he dropped dead.
I call for the check. Mary is cheap. She
admits it. The check arrives and it is always
the same--$21-—and I leave a $4 tip for Paul
the waiter because my mother was a
waitress—-and I say to Mary “give me $12”
and she fishes around in her wallet and here
comes a ten and she continues to fish for the
other two, mumbling about money, and says
“I think I have another two here”, waiting for
me to relieve her agony in this one and
sometimes I do because, as she once said:
when they stop buying your lunch-—or paying
for your drugs--you know you are finished.
I pay the check and we get in line at the
bakery counter to buy an apricot macaroon
for the dog. In front of us is a guy who
catches sight of Mary pacing back and forth
in her way and he says: “Aren’t you Mary
Mary says: “yes”.
He lights up and so does she. She can turn on
the charm when she wants to and lets face
it-—you must defer to your fans.
We leave Canters, past the Canters bum, a
different bum. There is a moral to be drawn
from the Canters bum. But I don’t bother. I
have seen too many movies and I cant take
another party or opening because I have met
enough people and I have drawn every moral
in the book.
Back to the ‘hood-—garbageland.
She is working on a painting she wants me to
see. I park the car and we go up. Here is the
painting, a large canvas, 60x 72, two people
fucking. You could say two people fucking or
you could say: hideous creatures engaged in
mortal combat. It could go either way. There
is a green creature and a red creature. The
colors are wild—amazing. She has a way of
cooking up these complements—red/green,
blue/orange, purple/yellow-—to startling effect.
The green creature is on top looking up at the
viewer in a disturbed way. They fornicate in
this creepy landscape—-a poisonous yellow
sky above with a tree below, bearing some
sort of nuclear fruit and here is a low wall of
stones she has managed to paint in an evil
We stand studying the painting: two vile
creatures with repellent skin tone banging
amidst a piteous landscape.
I say: “I like it”.