Lessons From The Grave


The other day I was driving along the bayou with a friend.



The weather was fine.

The livin' was easy.

My travel companion mentioned, in passing, that the 1950's Hollywood starlet/bombshell/hot mess Jane Mansfield, had died 'just over there'.
"Over there, down by the bridge, and it was horrendous."
"R-e-e-e-a-l-l-y?" (picture one left eyebrow raised and the twirling of a mustache end)
Slowing down making a u-turn navigating a pot hole and a pick-up.
"Tell me more..."
Vera Jayne Palmer, was born in 1933, the only child of two very strict Pennsylvanians.
Her father was a lawyer who died of a heart attack while driving his wife and child to church. 
Fatal cardiac arrest while driving the fam people.
Her mother quickly remarried and relocated to Texas, where, young Janye, found out she had inherited $126,000 (in 1940's dollars) from her mother's deceased parents, thereby hopskipping over her mother.
Jayne decided she had the capitol to bankroll her way to Movie Stardom, so she did what any clear thinking young woman of seventeen would do: she got pregnant, married the salesman, and began taking drama classes, with a few nude modeling gigs thrown in for good luck.
This led to a photo spread in the burgeoning Magazine for Gentlemen- Playboy.
Off she went to Hollywood, on the skirts of divorce papers, with a baby in tow, where she met Mr. Universe, Mickey Hargitay, and between the two of them, decided they could rule the universe with their large mammary glands.
After much publicity, a heart shaped pool, cheetah bikinis (with matching man thongs worn by Hargitay), many conveniently photographed wardrobe malfunctions, public brawling and boozing, public make-up sex, and pretty much a copyright on the color pink, they had three babies and divorced.
But not before Jane (without the 'y' and now known as Mansfield- after her first husband) hooked-up with an Italian-born film director, who led her down an increasingly sloppy looking garden path that included mega blockbusters like Promises, Promises and The Las Vegas Hillbillys. 
You remember those- right?
Less then a year later, Jane had resorted to doing cheap burlesque, drinking cheap scotch, and taking cheap lovers: namely her latest divorce attorney, who was with her and her three children (from Hargitay), at Gus Stevens Supper Club in Biloxi, Mississippi, where she was, shall we say, performing.
Jane had a television interview the next morning in New Orleans and her car was on it's last legs.
She borrowed the club owner's 1966 Buick Electra 225 at around midnight, and packed her crew (which included her children, her attorney/lover, the family dog, and her driver) into the car.
She promised to return the next day by curtain call.
The children slept in the back with the dog, as the thick bayou air laid down next to them, the sound of bullfrogs likely lolling them towards sweet dreams, and the fog of mosquito chemicals impairing the vision of the adults in the front seat.
The what?
At approximately 2:25 am, on June 29, 1967, Jane Mansfield, and entourage, crashed head-on into, and under, a tractor trailer that had slowed down because of low visibility due to a chemical mosquito fogger's activity only a mile ahead. 
Only the children survived.
So, I continued to drive.
Into the city.
Wind in our hair.
Blessings being counted, until suddenly...

'Holy Shit!'

A landscape truck, with a huge, attached flat-bed thingy, jerry-rigged off the back, full-up with all sorts of equipment, decided to forgo the use of the turn signal (and all sense of physical space), and spread itself across an intersection, that was already congested with cars appropriating said 'space', WHILE, at the same time, the traffic signal turned from green to red (Orange? What's orange? Not in New Orleans).

I began to brake, and then brake some more, when I saw in my rearview mirror the classic inner city urban ride (dark 2-door sedan with black-out windows) of the iconic hoody-clad speakers-blaring I-am-the-whole-universe youth bearing down on me at an alarmingly not- aware of what-the-fuck-is-going-on speed. 

So, it was the landscape flat bed in the front, the gangsta' up my back, and cross traffic from both sides.

And, somehow, I nailed it. (And by nailed it I mean I did not get nailed). 


The youth was irate and began hand-gesturing at me.

I could see this in my rear-view mirror.

I was not amused, and seeing as how the intersection would not be passable for at least another few minutes, I decided to have a talk with him. 


In the intersection.

And we talked of Old Hollywood and the illusion of grandeur, and good intentions run-amouk, and how misspent minutes add up to years, and how it only takes a second to ruin your whole life.

I hope Jane would be proud.


Jane Mansfield

What's left of the sand road
US Highway east of Rigolets Bridge
Slidell, Louisiana

The very spot of the accident,
looking west towards Rigelots Bridge.
No marker placed in memoriam.
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