David Benton spent a not inconsiderable stretch of years flitting from one architectural roost to another in search of perfect aesthetic repose. His first was a one-bedroom studio designed by Rudolph Schindler on a busy street in Silver Lake. It was noisy, a little shabby, but it had a pedigree, and ancestral lineage even of the bricks and mortar sort meant a lot to him. (You’ll notice I make no comment on snobbery, this was a part of him one simply had to respect—or, at least put up with.) Besides, he was never home. David worked, lived, WAS theater. Or that was the case until he hit his mid-twenties and he decided to become movies.
Gifted with a glib tongue he moved quickly from production assistant to assistant director, and rapidly ascended the dating scale (as he saw it) from the cute craft service gal who brought cucumber sushi snacks to camera at four in the afternoon, to the daughter of the director. Everything was meteoric with David; his love-life, his career, his quick adaptation to style and circumstance, even his death.
Where do I insinuate myself into the story? I think right about here.
We were friends for some unfathomable reason, well, that’s not exactly candid of me. We were friends because I wasn’t dramatic, fiery, or any use to him. Does that sound callous? I suppose it does. It doesn’t mean I didn’t love him, or David me. It meant he could tell me stories of waking up on location somewhere far away with two bed-mates he didn’t recognize and I would gasp and say I hoped he had used a condom. He would recount evenings on hallucinogens speaking to ancient spirit guides and I would ask what they were wearing. “Toga? Buckskins? What?” He would come over for dinner and commandeer my kitchen, disparage the quality of my knives, and drain my liquor cabinet—but the meal he prepared was delicious.
David bought a house in Bronson Canyon, a gem from the 1940s, with a little stone pond in the back where the raccoons fed on the carp he diligently replaced season after season, and both a gas barbeque and a smoker. He’d come and fetch me from time to time and we would market for poussin (a fancy term for a chicken less than twenty-eight days old) which he would serve with a crisp Chardonnay on a table I had set in the garden. His admonishment, the same as always, “Don’t sip! Drink!”
Around the time he bought the house, he also directed his first film. I remember they shot late on Christmas Eve so I snuck over to his nest with a basket that I placed on his doorstep early in the morning stocked with Comice pears, eggs, cheddar cheese, tarragon, a baguette, coffee, cream, and a slim volume by Henry James about traveling in Italy. I felt like an elf, sly and happy to surprise him on his one day off. Later, much later, in the evening after I’d gone to bed he left the most angelic message on the answering machine thanking me for the Holiday bounty. Effusive, bubbling, and apparently in the company of his lead actress. The actress had flown in from New York for the part, knew nobody in Los Angeles, and as David told me in the following weeks, it just didn’t feel right having her spend Christmas alone. He further elucidated, “Besides, it helps an actress trust you if you sleep with her.” Perhaps this is some Director’s Guild code passed from one generation to the next? I think my response was, “Ah. Good to know.” I think he missed her as she had flown back to Manhattan and not only wasn’t he in a relationship—even worse—David was in between projects.
He directed a few more films and then he got a form of cancer that sent tendrils through his brain. I always gloss over this part because it’s painful to remember. People always think it’s the surgeries, or the semi-lucid waking-dream states when someone is in end stages that are an open wound in memory. For me it was a question that David asked, but more it was the certainty he had that I held the answer.
In his will David stipulated I receive a portion of his estate and a portion of his ashes. Not all, mind you, those he shared among many. The money from the estate I was to use for the trip of a life-time, to scatter his earthly remains in the water wherever in the world I desired. I banked the money and cast his ashes in the Los Angeles River. A concrete culvert that ran through a city of nearly ten million souls, catching the run-off of the Sierras, and now some bits of David.
As for repose, aesthetic or otherwise, I think it’s best at home—where I can keep on eye on him.