I bought my Penguin paperback of Moby-Dick on February 23, 1988. I’m certain of the date because it’s scrawled on the first page, just above a thumbnail biography of Herman Melville. I used to have a habit of noting a book’s purchase date on its first page, and sometimes I would add the store where I bought it, though I only added the city in this case: “NYC.” I remember the circumstances vividly. I bought Moby-Dick at St. Mark’s Bookshop on St. Mark’s Place while headed to see, for the third time, a Brazilian-themed production of A Midsummer’s Night Dream at the Public Theater. Then, at a stationery store, I bought a blank greeting card with a Monet landscape on the front. The card was for Elizabeth McGovern, who was playing Helena in A Midsummer’s Night Dream, and I inscribed the card at a coffee shop cater-cornered from the Public Theater on Lafayette Street. “I’m an actor and writer in town from L.A.,” I wrote, “and I’m planning to see the play tonight and I’d like to say hello afterward,” describing myself briefly—“I’m tall and wearing a black leather jacket”—so that Elizabeth McGovern—or “Liz,” as she was known to friends—could recognize me after the performance. I listed a few mutual acquaintances without mentioning Orrin, as I’ll call him, who was also in the cast of Midsummer and had advised me against trying to contact Elizabeth McGovern, and I certainly didn’t mention that I had seen the play twice already. She might take me, rightly, for a stalker.
An hour or so before curtain time, I bought a ticket at the Public. I had wanted to work there ever since I moved to New York from Virginia, but I could never infiltrate the Public or Playwrights Horizons or Circle Rep or any of the other prestigious Off-Broadway theaters. My paid acting and writing jobs had all been in film and television, so it made sense for me to live in Los Angeles, where I had spent most of the previous year. I met Orrin in L.A. I hoped he wouldn’t spot me, yet again, in the lobby of the Public. Staffers didn’t wear uniforms, but I noticed a kid, slightly younger than me, who looked like a probable staffer, and I approached him with the card in hand and asked if he could deliver it backstage.
“Sure,” he said. “Who’s it for?”
The kid’s helpful expression dissolved. “Oh,” his eyes seemed to say, “a stalker.” Still, he took the card and hurried away, possibly to alert the cops or bouncers, and I busied myself elsewhere until curtain time. My memory of that hour is hazy, but if I returned to the coffee shop to begin Moby-Dick, I doubt I got much further than “Call me Ishmael.” Orrin had told me that Elizabeth McGovern was reading Moby-Dick, and I would brandish my copy as an ice-breaker or, as I dared to imagine she might interpret it, a potential sign of destiny. Stalkers are often deluded romantics, if “deluded romantic” isn’t the redundancy I believe it is.
My obsession with Elizabeth McGovern started with Ordinary People, the movie that launched her as an It girl of the early eighties. I was in the midst of my James Dean phase when I saw it, mumbling my way through acting classes in thrift-store clothes bought near my flat on the Lower East Side, and Ordinary People was about a kind of James Dean character, played by Timothy Hutton, though his family had money, unlike mine, and his teenage angst, unlike mine, had a tidy cause: his brother’s death, which led him to attempt suicide, a subject avoided by everyone in the movie save for his therapist and Elizabeth McGovern, his love interest and classmate. She reminded me of former classmates of my own in Virginia, preppy girls who wore plaid skirts and knee socks and Fair Isle sweaters, and favored the “wedge” hairstyle popularized by the Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, and greeted friends pretentiously with “Bonjour” or “Hola.” All of that was true of Elizabeth McGovern in Ordinary People, but she was the bighearted opposite of preppy girls I had wooed in vain in Virginia. Misfits, especially poor misfits, weren’t on their menu, and I aimed to punish them and other former classmates, those who rejected me socially, by becoming the James Dean of our generation, and an equally famous paramour would salt the wounds. A sample caption for a fantasy paparazzi photo: “Elizabeth McGovern, an Oscar nominee for Ragtime, with her boyfriend, Darel Haeny, soon to be seen in Roaring.” I spelled my name “Darel Haeny” at the time because I considered it more eye-catching than “Daryl Haney,” and Roaring was a screenplay I co-wrote with my manager (the title, which I hated, was his); but even if Roaring had been realized on film, it surely would have starred a celebrity and not Daryl Haney, as I reverted to spelling my name on hearing “Darel Haeny” mispronounced once too often. However, Elizabeth McGovern really was nominated for an Oscar for Ragtime. It was her second movie, and she was only twenty.
She lost the Oscar but won an Obie, the Off-Broadway counterpart of the Tony, the same month she appeared on the cover of Newsweek. People named her one of that year’s twenty-five most intriguing personalities. Harper’s Bazaar declared her one of the world’s ten most beautiful women. Was she that beautiful? “She looks like Tweety Bird,” a young actress remarked to me. “She walks like a duck,” another young actress said. They were jealous, presumably, but I knew what they meant. She had a round face and puffy cheeks, and there was something a bit gawky about her, but her peachy skin and periwinkle eyes made her springtime personified, as far as I was concerned, while I identified her dark hair with winter, for whatever reason, and in Ordinary People she was shown walking to school on a path covered with dead leaves, and she never entirely lost that autumn association for me. It was hard to picture her in Los Angeles, mythically a city of perpetual summer, but she moved from Evanson, Illinois, to an L.A. suburb at age ten, when her father became a professor of law at UCLA. (He had previously taught law at Northwestern University in Evanston.) Academic parents were practically mandatory for the preppies I knew in Virginia, and if any of those preppies had been interested in acting, they probably would have studied at exclusive Julliard, like Elizabeth McGovern, and lived near Julliard in uptown Manhattan, also like Elizabeth McGovern, and upscale uptown and boho downtown were worlds apart in those pre-gentrified days. I had swapped the class divisions of Virginia for the class divisions of New York and show business.
I learned that Elizabeth McGovern lived uptown through “Captain” Arthur Haggerty, the best-known dog trainer in New York and a frequent guest on Late Night with David Letterman, though, since I didn’t own a dog or a television, I had never heard of Captain Haggerty before we met in Frank Corsaro’s acting class. He was a fiftyish man with a shaved head and a sumo wrestler’s build, a good type for a scene I wanted to perform in class, and he agreed to be my scene partner as long as we rehearsed at Captain Haggerty’s School for Dogs, where some of his pupils were kenneled out of sight and silenced by Captain with a single command—“SHUT UP!”—when they barked during rehearsal. His assistant, meanwhile, manned the phone, and one day she interrupted rehearsal to announce that she’d just gotten a call from Elizabeth McGovern.
“Oh my God,” I said. “I am in love with that girl. I want to marry her.”
“She has beautiful breasts,” Captain volunteered. He had seen Ragtime, obviously. Elizabeth McGovern had a nude scene in Ragtime and a Boston terrier in urgent need of Captain’s housebreaking services. Rolling Stone had recently run a photo of Elizabeth McGovern and her Boston terrier in a short item about her latest movie, a romantic comedy with the apropos title of Lovesick. I had pestered my manager, John, to introduce me to her, but John had only met her once through an actor named Todd, and Todd wasn’t about to introduce to Elizabeth McGovern or assist me in any way after hearing John praise my acting talent. Now, maybe, I could meet her at Captain Haggerty’s School for Dogs.
But she was never at the school when I was there. I asked about her, of course, and Captain affirmed his judgment of her breasts, while his assistant said she was very nice and lived on the Upper West Side. Somebody else supplied the intersection, and I walked past it the next time I went to the Thalia, a repertory cinema on West 96th Street, and decided Elizabeth McGovern lived in a particular building, and for weeks, whenever I saw a movie at the Thalia or otherwise found myself on the Upper West Side, I would return to that building and stare at the windows, wondering which were hers, and sometimes loiter for a few minutes at the corner or across the street, hoping she emerged from the building and so corroborated that I had it right. At least Jay Gatsby, one of the foremost stalkers of American literature, knew he had Daisy Buchanan’s residence right, but her dock was rigged with a green light that directed his gaze and reinforced his yearning.
One summer day, I dropped by Writers & Artists, a talent agency in the Fisk Building on West 57th Street. Writers & Artists represented Elizabeth McGovern, but my visit was unrelated to her. I was with John, who had some business there, and we had just left the building when John froze on the sidewalk and said, “That was Liz McGovern,” motioning toward a tall girl in new jeans and a yellow polo shirt. Her back was to us—she was walking in the opposite direction—and I thought John was mistaken or putting me on, so I turned around and followed her. She entered the Fisk Building and crossed the lobby with me four feet behind her, and as we neared the bank of elevators, an elevator door opened and a girl stepped out, a girl who knew the girl I was following, and they stopped to chat, and finally I saw the face I had longed to see in life since Ordinary People, and no images—or words, for that matter—could do it justice. She glowed: her skin, her eyes, her smile. I fled before she noticed me gaping. Then, outside, I reproached John for failing to introduce me when he had the chance. Why didn’t he say hello?
“Because,” he said, “I ogled her before I realized it was Liz McGovern and she saw me do it, so I didn’t want to remind her we’d met before. Did you speak to her?”
“I couldn’t, goddamnit. I don’t want to meet her like that.” But I did regret running away so quickly. A glance could reveal instant attraction, I believed, and I hadn’t waited for a glance that proved or disproved reciprocal attraction, even if nothing came of it.
My playwright friend Peter, who had been produced at the Public Theater, knew Elizabeth McGovern, but not well enough to arrange an introduction. He had a celebrity crush of his own, Rob Lowe, and when he teased me about my celebrity crush, I would retaliate by saying, for example, “I hear Rob Lowe is cheating on you with Nastassia Kinski.”
“Oh, that Rob. At least it’s not with Dudley Moore.”
Dudley Moore was Elizabeth McGovern’s costar in Lovesick and her rumored lover offscreen. I was mystified by the rumors, since he was half a foot shorter than her and old enough to be her father. Surely she would prefer a tall, young James Dean type who read classic literature and could turn her on to hip New York, or so I joked to friends. I always treated my crush on her as a joke, while part of me believed that I might genuinely have a shot at dating at her if we met through someone with clout, like Peter. Once, after he had coffee with Elizabeth McGovern, Peter called to inform me, and I said, “Great, thanks. I don’t suppose you could have called me while you were having coffee. I could’ve joined you, you know.”
“It wouldn’t have worked. It wasn’t just the two of us.”
“Did you talk about me?”
“I’m hanging up now.”
Then calamity struck: Elizabeth McGovern became betrothed to Sean Penn, her costar in Racing with the Moon and, according to Rolling Stone, “the next James Dean.” I refused to accept Sean Penn as the next James Dean, though my James Dean phase had ended. I was growing up, a little. I had a girlfriend, and we lived together in Soho, across the street from Madonna, who married Sean Penn soon after he broke up with Elizabeth McGovern. By coincidence, not by design, I broke up with my girlfriend at the same approximate moment, and for a period I crashed on the Upper West Side, where I occasionally passed Elizabeth McGovern’s building, assuming she still lived in that building, if she had ever lived in it in the first place; but I never saw her on the Upper West Side, just as I didn’t see her outside the WPA Theater when I attended a play she did there. I met more and more people who knew her, and one of them told me that she was now involved with Rob Reiner, a beauty-and-beast combo as unpleasant to me as the Dudley Moore rumors and, possibly, the engagement to Sean Penn. “Please introduce me to her,” I begged. “This is a goddamn emergency!”
Finally, at the Actors Studio, I had another brush with her. I was an observer at the Studio, not a participating member, and one day, after a session, I went downstairs to use the pay phone and found myself waiting behind Christopher Walken, who was waiting behind Harvey Keitel, who was waiting for a girl to finish her call. The girl was facing the phone on the wall, her back to the line, and suddenly she turned to survey the line and shock me inadvertently. She didn’t glow as she had glowed in the lobby of the Fisk Building four years earlier. She looked at Harvey Keitel, then at Christopher Walken, then at me. Our eyes met for a second or less. Then, listening but not speaking, she turned back to the phone and replaced the receiver and hurried away. I didn’t follow. I had gotten the glance I wished I had gotten at the Fisk Building, and it didn’t reveal instant attraction or even modest curiosity. On the other hand, she was rushed and distracted, and she hadn’t been perceptibly impressed by Harvey Keitel or Christopher Walken, so I was in famous company, at least.
A year later, I flew to L.A. to star in a Roger Corman movie. I planned to stay only until the movie wrapped, but it immediately begat more work, which kept me in L.A. for another six months. Orrin auditioned for the Corman movie. He was bicoastal, an increasingly quaint term in an era of preposterously overpriced rents. I wanted to be bicoastal, but I held the lease on a place in Brooklyn with a fluid cast of roommates and I couldn’t fill the frequent vacancies from afar. No, for the time being, I would have to commit to L.A., a city I didn’t love but seemed to love me, offering me the kind of opportunities reserved by its rival for the privileged, with token exceptions that proved the rule. New York is one of the great unrequited crushes of my life, and when I returned in December to officially terminate my lease and ship my belongings to L.A., I lingered for a long goodbye. There were nightly games of poker and pool with friends, and we bar-hopped and club-hopped till last call at quarter to four in the morning. Interrupted flings were resumed and new flings initiated. Weeks passed, and at one point I bought a biography of Jack Kerouac and wrote, on the first page, the purchase date—“8 Feb. ’88”—as well as the bookstore—“Shakespeare & Co.”—and this unique note: “How many days to L.A.?” By then, I’m almost positive, I had seen A Midsummer’s Night Dream twice. It opened in mid-January, Google reminds me, and I read the New York Times every day and the Village Voice every week, so I would have known about it while it was in previews. Well, well, well. Orrin was doing Shakespeare with Elizabeth McGovern. I would have to renew acquaintance with Orrin in the lobby of the Public, where actors mingled with well-wishers before and after performances, and if a certain someone happened to pass us in the lobby, maybe Orrin would flag her down as a favor to me and vouch for a few of my virtues. He owed me such a favor, by my reckoning. I had introduced him to a lusty Nordic type—I called her the Viking— in L.A. The Viking was too imposing for me, but she made a snack of Orrin, and vice versa. Orrin was lusty in his own right.
He received me warmly in the lobby of the Public, but he hardly had a moment to speak, and the certain someone was nowhere in sight. He invited me to see the play again as his guest. I sat next to his latest girlfriend that time, and he left with her almost as soon as the performance ended. I tried to stall him. I asked for help in meeting one of his castmates, and he guessed without a hint or pause the castmate I had in mind.
“Liz,” he said. “This isn’t a good time to meet Liz.” But that was as far as he went at the Public. He was more forthcoming later on the phone.
“She just broke up with Rob Reiner,” he told me, “and she sits around reading Moby-Dick and eating a lot of popcorn and drinking a lot of coffee, and do you know what happens when you eat a lot of popcorn and drink a lot of coffee? Do you?” he repeated for dramatic effect. “You fart. We’ll be on stage in the middle of a scene and she’ll let one rip, a silent but deadly one, and I’ve got to just stand there in this cloud of blue smoke and gag through the rest of the scene. Trust me, you don’t want to be around her right now. She’s not in a good place.”
But I was in a good place, now that my career was kicking in, and I rarely thought of the preppy girls who rejected me in high school and laid the foundation for my crush on Elizabeth McGovern. The very notion of a celebrity crush seemed puerile to me now, but something of this one had stuck after years of moonstruck speculation, and if nobody was willing or able to introduce us, I could introduce myself. She was single again, but, farts or no farts, she wouldn’t stay single for long, and I knew where she spent part of every day, except when the house was dark, and I was far more confident than Darel Haeny, so that I wouldn’t gape or fawn or otherwise embarrass myself as that green kid would have done. It was a good idea. It was a bad idea. Back and forth I swung, and I had to act before Roger Corman or some other producer offered me a job that would force me back to L.A. Should I bring or send her flowers? No, flowers were too solicitous. I should keep it simple with a backstage note that cited some of the people we knew in common, people like Peter, not Orrin, who might speak ill of me if she showed him the note to confirm that I wasn’t a stalker—“He is a stalker, and he farts!”—and I could manufacture a coincidence by buying a copy of Moby-Dick, a book I intended to read anyway, and if Moby-Dick or something else sparked a conversation in the lobby of the Public, I could invite her to have coffee across the street, where I would feign surprise if she mentioned, for instance, her breakup with Rob Reiner or the Boston terrier that used to have a problem of the excremental kind.
Lord, what a fool this mortal be, to paraphrase the catchphrase from A Midsummer’s Night Dream.
I wasn’t eager to see A Midsummer’s Night Dream a third time. It was an agreeable production with a competent cast, but as a broad rule, I preferred and prefer Shakespeare’s histories to his tragedies, and his tragedies to his comedies, and the fairy characters and transformative spells of Midsummer work better on the page than they do on stage. Then again, I’ve never seen a British production of Midsummer, and the British could surely pull it off, with their overall feeling for Shakespeare that’s as much a matter of blood, I’m convinced, as it is of training and tradition. Even mediocre British actors make music and sense of Shakespearean language, while American actors sound off-key and clueless by comparison. Marlon Brando is among the anomalies. He electrified as Mark Antony in the 1953 film adaptation of Julius Caesar, and if he had played Oberon, the king of the fairies, or Theseus, the Duke of Athens or Bahia or wherever in Brazil this version of Midsummer was set, I would gladly have seen it a third time. As it was, I thought of skipping the play after dropping off my card with the Monet landscape on the front and returning to the Public when the play was nearly over; but if I did that and something freakish occurred, if a stage light exploded or a heckler got ejected or an actor collapsed mid-soliloquy, I would know nothing about it, and I would have to know to comment persuasively later.
No lights exploded that night. There were no hecklers. None of the actors collapsed, despite the alleged flatulence. Maybe Elizabeth McGovern had changed her diet. Her performance was the same. She played Helena as a kind of exasperated wallflower, coltish and a bit nasal, and she was effective: comedy was more her métier than drama, I had come to decide. Evelyn Nesbit, her character in Ragtime, was a real-life siren at the center of a sensational murder case in Gilded Age New York, but she was mined for laughs by Elizabeth McGovern, who implied an unwritten line: “Somebody killed for me?” The fictional siren and object of Robert De Niro’s decades-long obsession in Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America was played by Jennifer Connelly in the movie’s puberty scenes, but the obsession became less credible when Jennifer Connelly matured into Elizabeth McGovern, who didn’t seem to own or recognize her sexual power, not just in the movie but generally. There were hints of the wallflower in everything I had seen her do, and the charm of it had started to fade for me, if it hadn’t faded already, but that was voided by the image of her reading my card in her dressing room before the play that night. Finally, I thought, she had tangible proof of my existence, and she knew I was now watching her, unless that kid, the staffer, had ditched my card after I gave it to him in the lobby. But he wouldn’t do that. Would he?
Orrin’s girlfriend was in the lobby when the play ended. If she had been in the audience I would have noticed her—it was a weeknight and the house was half full—so she had evidently turned up after the play, and since avoiding Orrin meant avoiding her as well, I ducked behind a column before she saw me. There were several columns that made for convenient hiding places, but Orrin appeared quickly and disappeared with his girlfriend, freeing me to mill openly, and soon the lobby was almost empty except for me and a gay couple with the buzz cuts and trimmed facial hair and pristine lumberjack clothes that were then the norm on Christopher Street. What had happened to Elizabeth McGovern? As far as I knew, there were no stage doors at the Public, so she must have exited through the lobby invisibly, on cat feet, a third time.
But she hadn’t. Here she was, walking toward me in ankle-high basketball shoes and a plush coat almost as dark as her black tights, a boho style she wore well. She looked better than she had looked ten or fifteen minutes earlier, taking a bow onstage. Her hair was attractively disheveled. Her skin shined if it didn’t glow. I was about to speak, to say hello, but she walked past me and over to the gay couple, greeting them instead. She was friendly or friends with one or both of them, clearly, and I was a stranger, so of course she would speak to them first. She would get to me in a minute, I thought, and I expected a glance that said as much—“Oh, hey, you must be the guy who sent me that note”—and I moved a little closer when there was no glance and stared in lieu of clearing my throat—“Ahem!”—or otherwise intruding, but she went on talking to her friends, oblivious to me or pretending to be. I wasn’t close enough to eavesdrop, but whatever she was saying, she said it theatrically, mugging a bit and gesticulating, and I began to wait theatrically; I paced and stopped to stare or thumb my copy of Moby-Dick, then I paced again and so on in a pantomime of waiting that pleaded for attention. Eventually one of her friends murmured a question about me, “Do you know this guy?” or “Do you have plans with him?” or something like that, and she shifted her gaze a hair in my direction and said, tersely, “No.” Her flashing glance at the Actors Studio had been a study in duration compared to this one. Then she resumed chatting with her friends.
I gave up. She may or may not have gotten my card, but the situation was too awkward to continue in any case. I went to make a call on the pay phone in a corridor to the side of the lobby. I had wasted the evening by seeing the play again, but the night was still salvageable, and the purpose of the call was to get the night rolling. The phone was at the end of the corridor, and I headed back to the lobby after hanging up, and there at the other end of the corridor, alone and again walking toward me, was Elizabeth McGovern. She passed me again, eyes averted. Apparently she needed to use the phone, but here was my chance to speak to her, if I could summon a voice. My confidence had ebbed in the lobby.
“Did you get my Monet?” I managed to say; and she slowed and turned with a puzzled expression.
“Oh,” she said, “yes. Thank you.” She beamed as she said it, still moving toward the phone, and I reached for inspiration to stop her. I had a short reach. Essentially I repeated what I had written in the card—I was in town from L.A., and we shared friends and acquaintances, and I just wanted to say hello—and she half turned and said again, “Thank you,” not beaming so much as smiling politely. Then, having gotten to the phone, she went to make her call. Her back was to me. I left the theater.
It was a mild night for New York in winter and a quiet night for New York in any season, or so it seemed, but I was numb to the point where sound and temperature barely registered. I walked a block from the Public to Astor Place, and as I was about to cross the street, the last few minutes caught up to me suddenly with the force and sensation of a blow to the head, and I steadied myself against the big black sculpture of a cube near the Astor Place subway station, rubbing my brow to relieve the pressure I felt there, or really—that is, unconsciously—I think I was trying to rub reality through my brow and into the part of my brain that was stunned to discover how deluded I’d been about this person, the part that didn’t treat my crush on her as the joke I knew it was in the sensible part of me. I should have listened to Orrin when he warned that now wasn’t a good time to meet her, but there would never have been a good time; I had seen nothing in her eyes when they met mine that day at the Actors Studio, and I had to embarrass—no, humiliate—myself to learn what instinct told me then, even though my attraction to her had since largely faded. Was I out of my mind? I must be, I thought while I walked in a daze around the cube sculpture, again and again, as if that would help to repattern my brain, and maybe it did help: I’m obsessive by nature, but I would never obsess again about her.
A few days later I called Peter. He was often away overseeing a production of his work or serving as writer-in-residence at this or that regional theater, so we hadn’t spoken in a couple of years, but he surprised me by answering his phone and I surprised him by announcing my move to L.A. I had called to leave a message about the move, but naturally, once we started talking, I recounted my encounter with Elizabeth McGovern, and he laughed gently here and there and said, when I had finished, “Well, you know how the Public is. It’s sort of gothic-looking, and it’s got those stairs by the phone, and she may have had Phantom of the Opera fantasies of you chasing her up and down the stairs.”
“I never thought about that. I guess I thought my motives were transparent. I never thought she would find me threatening.”
“Well, you are pretty cute. Not as cute as Rob Lowe, but cute.”
In fact, since we lost touch, he had met Rob Lowe at a regional theater where Melissa Gilbert, Rob Lowe’s on-off girlfriend, was doing a play. He spent the better part of a day with them, so he could technically claim to have had a date with Rob Lowe, though I gathered that personal contact had been almost as deadly to his celebrity crush as it had been to mine.
“He said he was trying to improve himself by reading more books,” Peter told me. “I said, ‘Oh, like what?’ and I thought he was going to say, you know, Leaves of Grass or The Brothers Karamazov, but he said, ‘Well, right now I’m reading a book about the Actors Studio.’”
That was the last time I spoke to Peter, who later had some success as a television writer. Orrin also had some success in television, costarring on a crime show, and John, after we parted ways, became the manager of a multimedia phenomenon whose empire began in television. Elizabeth McGovern, meanwhile, moved to England, the genesis of the preppy look, where she married a producer-director, had two daughters, and worked predominately in television, enjoying a second wave of fame as Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, on Downton Abbey. Few remember the first wave, so that when I refer these days to Elizabeth McGovern, as I very seldom do, she’s usually confused for Elizabeth Montgomery, the lead witch of Bewitched, and I’ll say, “No, no, she’s on Downton Abbey. She’s the American, and Shirley MacLaine plays her mother.” I can’t say more because I’ve never watched Downton Abbey, or Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or any of the other TV shows that obsess or obsessed most people I know. Nor, despite numerous attempts, have I read Moby-Dick, the story of a singular obsession that ends badly; but I was familiar with that story long before I bought the book, and I would give my farewell New York performance of it offstage, like always, at the Public Theater.