Sad About Susan

I read this morning in the NYT that Robert Durst; a.k.a. Bobby went on trial today for the murder of my former sort-of friend Susan Berman.

Img via NYT

Img via NYT

She and I must have been more simpatico than I knew. A couple of years ago, when my publisher told me I should start blogging, the very first one I wrote was about Susan. That was before the HBO mini series wherein Durst all but admitted his culpability. Though not before the movie that came out that was more about Durst and his relationship with his wife who disappeared and whose body has never shown up.

Susan would love all this attention. She would be totally comfortable with all eyes on her. She probably should have been an actress not a writer; she came alive when all eyes were focused on her.

It said in the article in the last years of her life she was down on her luck and out of work. And that was the phase when I knew her.  She had already blown the money she inherited from her father the gangster; and the book deal and the movie projects.  She was living in some house without heat in Benedict Canyon, one I never saw, though during our brief friendship she often came to my house to dinner. She was writing WOM-JEPS, as she called them that paid by the word.WOM-JEPS is an acronym for Women In Jeopardy. I read one of them, the heroine whose father was a dead gangster, as Susan’ father had been, was running away from someone who was trying to murder her. Was that someone Bobby Durst who is charged with her murder? Did she know her life was in danger? Or was she just nuts from worry about money, feeding her dogs, feeding herself?

Susan was older than my sister, who basically came from a different generation. The one that didn’t do drugs. And though they misbehaved just as much—if not more—than people my age, were brought up not to flaunt it like we were.

Susan liked the fact that I ran a fairly tight ship at home and that my son had good manners.  I think we were even doing Shabbat in those days, as it was the years my son was going to Sunday school. And I have a faint memory of some challah and my son with a little bird voice saying the prayers and Susan’s little dogs quivering on her lap.

She always brought her dogs with her everywhere, the dogs whose paws were covered in blood and whose barking their heads off after the murder alerted the police.

Susan recommended me for two jobs, neither one of which panned out, but both had come her way, and she didn’t want to do either of them. The first one with Sid Luft, one of Judy Garland’s ex-husbands and I went for the interview. Luft was an old man and he had cancer. He needed a ghost for this book deal he had gotten. And we got along really well. Halfway through the interview his gorgeous new wife walked in. She was years younger than I was and back then I was pretty young.  Luft continued to call me for a couple of years and referred to me as the ghost girl. He reminded me of my garmento uncles. He died. I never got to do his book.

The other one was an expose of soviet orphans who had affectional disorder.

After Susan was murdered, I thought about writing a mystery roughly based on the murder, but I was afraid of Bobby Durst, who had turned up dressed as a woman and who had gotten off killing and decapitating someone else and was running free. I don’t know how in my fantasy Bobby Durst would come and get me, or even how everybody always knew Durst probably killed Susan.

But I remember my son calling me from college when the news came out. He really had liked Susan who knew how to handle young boys, who knew how to handle practically anyone! She was a great flirt. And a very seductive person, though I was always, why I don’t know, immune to her charm.

But was I really? All these years later, I still think of her, whether or not a trial is going on, whether or not Durst gets off yet again.

I think of her, and I feel guilty I didn’t do something to help her not get murdered. I ask myself whether I would have been more accommodating had she not been so down and out?

She haunts me. That cold dark night. The dogs barking. That long horrifying moment when the mobster’s daughter opened up the door and knew her number was up.

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Where’s Laszlo?

I’ve never seen anyone besides Laszlo selling cheese at the Saturday market in Santa Monica. But yesterday, Laszlo wasn’t behind the little stand with the banner of the goat, and the amazing cheeses. A young woman was there instead.


“Where’s Laszlo?”

“He went back to Hungary,” she replied. “He was getting sort of freaked out in America.”

I sighed.

The young woman sighed.

Laszlo is adorable. I always forget he’s Hungarian and think he’s French because he speaks English like a French person and of course sells this amazing goat cheese.

“So are you the new cheese person?”

“Yes,” she replied.

Lately, we’ve been into the crotin that has a layer of what looks like dangerous mould on the outside. Last week when my friend Kady came for lunch, I was so gratified I could bring out this masterpiece whole with two perfect pears for desert.

The new cheese person asked me, what I wanted today. I told her about the fabulous crotin and pear experience and I reached for one of the crotin now. She shook her head at me, took back the cheese and told me the goat Brie would be a much better choice with pears. I put the Brie in my shopping bag and paid her. But I continued to stand there.

“You look so familiar,” I told her.

“You also look familiar,” she replied.

We smiled at each other.

This young woman had dark brown hair, very pale skin, the kind that burns and blushes easily, and greenish blue eyes under straight dark eyebrows. I remembered when I was her age; I had eyebrows just like that. My Grandma had warned me not to pluck them so thin, and never on top, but of course I didn’t listen to her. And now they are not so thick anymore. This strange familiar young woman also had a little ring in her nose. Probably if I was her age, I’d have gone in for nose rings, all kinds of piercings.

“Where are you from? You sound vaguely ESL. But not entirely.”

“You’re right but not entirely. I was raised by my Grandparents who barely spoke English. They were from Czechoslovakia. Before Hitler, they won the lottery. And were able to get out. They were practically the last Jews to get out of their town.”

I nodded, replied, “My Grandmother was from a little town in Ukraine. They got out because a priest warned my Great Grandfather about a pogrom and he managed to get his family out.”

Now it was her turn to nod. We understood each other in the way that people who have the memory of racial laws in their DNA understand each other: fundamentally and absolutely.

Suddenly it came to me: She looked like me. That’s why she seemed so familiar. She looked like me. She looked like my son. She looked like my brother’s daughter, though not my brother; in fact, she could have been my daughter.

“Do I look like your mother?” I asked her.

“No,” she said. “But I was thinking you and I look alike.”

I took off my dark glasses and showed her my eyes.

Same color, same shape. Same eyes.

Our families were the lucky ones. The ones who got away. I thought of all the people who didn’t get away. And weren’t getting away at this very moment in awful places all over the world, even awful places just a few miles from where we stood in grace and safety. It hit me in the face as it does from time to time, the hugeness and the horror of it.

Impulsively I leaned over the cheeses and gave her a hug.

“See you next week!” I said.

Today is Sunday and we had the Brie with pears this afternoon for lunch.

My husband cut into it suspiciously.

“I told him the story about the girl in the market.”

“You should take a picture of her. Then we can put it next to the picture of

you at that age.”

He put some of the Brie on a piece of pear and popped it in his mouth.

Presently he said, “It’s a great story, I love the story, but the other cheese is better.”

“The crotin?”

“Yeah. Get that one next time.”

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