Excerpt: Tutor to the Stars

Writer and satirist David Belz published his first volume, White Asparagus, a collection of personal favorites that illustrate his slightly off-kilter sensibilities.

Released in July by Apprentice House, White Asparagus includes essays, short stories, poetry, and three cartoons from Belz’s 30-year career. Belz, whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Examiner, the Baltimore Sun, The Evening Sun, City Paper, and numerous literary magazines, teaches at Loyola.

In this piece, the author recalls the time his wife tutored a young actor on a popular television crime show.

Tutor to the Stars

By D.R. Belz

That morning my wife left me for a Hollywood star. She’d been doing this for some time. She said she’d be back later that afternoon. And I was wondering why I put her up to it.

The Hollywood star was involved in homicide.

“Be careful,” I said when the affair started.

“He’s only thirteen,” she said. Besides, she reminded me, he didn’t really commit a homicide. He was an actor in the TV show Homicide, which debuted that Sunday after the Super Bowl. The Barry Levinson Homicide. I said I’d be watching for the kid my wife tutored, to see if he blew any lines or anything.

My wife said he was very polished, that he was a good student and liked his regular school back in New York. She said his mother came to the set with him in Fells Point and was very protective.

“That’s good,” I said.

As a writer, one of my habits is to read the daily newspaper cover to cover, searching for interesting or bizarre stories, tidbits to spin off into plots and articles. The other people who do this are the ones who play the ponies.

It all started when I spotted an ad for a tutor. My wife was a foreign language tutor at the time, so I clipped the ad and taped it to the refrigerator door. She called the New York telephone number and talked to a company that set up tutoring services for children when they toured the country shooting movies and TV series, performing on stage and training for athletic competition.

My wife commuted to the Homicide set in Fells Point in the morning, and when the kid actor wasn’t on the set, he was “in school” with tutors the New York company had hired. The actors’ union regulations stipulated a certain amount of time each day the kid stars had to be embraced in the bosom of academe.

That evening, my wife said that as soon as her feet hit from the car, she was escorted everywhere she went by someone with a headset. When she was tutoring the young star, this assistant to the assistant to the assistant director hovered anxiously nearby.

I tried to sound as if I were a party to this newfound glamour, a co-conspirator.

D.R. Belz. Author's photo by Jim Burger

“I’ll bet you eat very well,” I told her before the first day. “That’s the thing about movie sets. They always get great caterers.”

I knew this because I used to write television commercials and got to sit around and yuk it up on the sets as the commercials were filmed.

Food, it seemed, was something just short of a fetish for the production crews. This is probably because shooting commercial film consists of seconds of extremely tense work juxtaposed against hours of mind-numbing tedium. Eating takes the edge off.

That evening, my wife acknowledged that there had been much grazing in Fells Point. “It was amazing. I could basically get whatever I wanted to eat.”

“Did you see anybody famous? Did you get to meet Barry Levinson?”

“No, but a nice, young man did come up and welcome me to the set. It turned out he was the series director.”

“Did you get a chance to talk to Ned Beatty?”

“Who’s Ned Beatty?” My wife spent the better part of her childhood in foreign countries, so sometimes she doesn’t recognize icons of popular American culture like Ned Beatty (“Hear My Song,” “Deliverance”). She can, however, regale you with interesting details about Diana of Great Britain and Caroline of Monaco. She can tell you their brand of underarm deodorant.

Later, watching TV, we saw a program with Ned Beatty in it.

“That’s Ned Beatty,” I said.

“Oh, yes. He speaks to me all the time. He’s very nice.”

“Yeah, well, he’s famous,” I said.

“Daniel Baldwin speaks to me, too,” she said.

Then it was my turn to be ignorant of the famous.

“I don’t know him,” I said.

“He’s Alec and William’s brother. He’s very friendly.”

“What’s this Daniel Baldwin got that I ain’t got?”

“A hit TV series,” she said.

From then on, I started to curb the urge to clip from the newspaper—unless it was for the ponies.

White Asparagus, is available at bookstores throughout the area. He can be reached at dbelz@aol.com and at Facebook.