Jason Warner by
200
(361 Stories)

Prompted By Dangerous Deeds

Loading Share Buttons...

/ Stories

Let me begin by saying that I have not widely shared this story; perhaps I’ve told a handful of people, total, in my entire life. So it is with more than a little trepidation that I share this here, but it fits the prompt perfectly. I thought long and hard before I chose to write about it. This is not a chapter in my life I dwell on or choose to revisit often. I remind every reader that I was a naïve 18 year old at the time, feeling her way in the world; just dumb enough to think she knew much, when in fact, she knew very little. Be kind in your judgement as you read this.

I was assistant stage-managing my first show at Brandeis, a Main Stage production of two new one-act plays, with my junior friend Cindy, who was also a mentor to me. I called the first show from the lectern off stage left; “The 50 Year Game of Gin Rummy”. It had a two-person cast – a “lights-up, lights-down show”; easy to call. The other play, “Nocturnes” was very complicated with tons of cues. Cindy called that one from the booth high in the back of the theater. We each were on headsets and could hear one another, as could the people running the lights.

May 1, 1971 was the tech rehearsal, when all the lights, with their levels and exact placements are set, cues are run, any wagons that have to come on or off the stage were pulled (this was long before anything was electrified). Every cue was set and rehearsed. It made for a long day. The rehearsal ended around 11pm and I was exhausted.

Side view of Spingold Theater

We call Spingold Theater the “cupcake building”. It is round with three theaters, rehearsal space and a dance studio in the center of the circle; classroom, costume shop, Green Room, dressing rooms on the floor below and scene shop on the lowest level (accessible from the lowest, parking lot level, with a large elevator to bring the set pieces up to the theaters). Since the theaters are back to back, it is not a thoughtful design, as the noise from one production (if it is loud) bleeds through the walls to the other theater back in the day when there might be multiple shows running at once (due to budget constraints, this no longer happens). But running around the circumference of the theater to find where you want to be, or how to get to the lower level can be confusing to the uninitiated. There is a narrow corridor from stage left out to the outside perimeter, but you need to know THAT door, and THAT corridor, otherwise you will get lost.

And that is how I found myself, quite late that night, face to face with a curly-headed stranger. Like Alice through the Looking Glass, he had opened an unmarked door and found himself in a narrow corridor that led him backstage. He had no idea how to get out. I was tired and cranky.

For those of you who have never met me in person, I am 5′ tall and at that time, weighed 90 pounds. I remember that I wore a too-tight Harvard tee-shirt my parents bought me when they were in the Boston area a few years earlier for my brother’s 1969 Brandeis graduation (of course I didn’t wear a bra, this was 1971 after all), and brown, hip-hugger jeans. Nothing out of the ordinary for a long day at the theater. He wore sandals, blue jeans and a suede, fringed jacket, sort of hip-looking for the time. We passed in very close proximity in that tight corridor. He stopped to ask me a few questions, but started on a sour note: “How old are you?” (Fighting words for me.) My rejoinder, said quickly, in one breath: “I’m 18, I know I look like I’m 12, but I’m 18.” Startled, he asked, “What do you say when people tell you that you look like you are 12?” ” I tell them to go fuck themselves.”

Me in my dorm at end of freshman year, 1971 – poster of my dad provided by my cousin, Alan Jackson. Everyone thought Dad was a movie star.

OK, we were not off to a “great” start. His eyes grew wide. I didn’t care. I was SO tired of that question. Clearly, I had piqued his curiosity, which honestly, was not my intention, though now I can see how my response was provocative (but that is how I spoke at that time in my life – I did like the shock value). He regrouped, then asked if I could show him how to get out of the theater. I told him I had to gather my things, but would be ready in a few moments, so we were off. It wasn’t difficult if you knew how to do it. He chatted with me on the way out. What did I want to do, etc. I told him I was a Theater major, hoping to be an actress.

He had a little red sports car parked in front of the theater. One didn’t see many of those on campus. He enjoyed seeing my reaction. As he opened the car door for me (!), he pulled out his business card: it was embossed in gold and red lettering and said his name: Jason Warner, and had the name of a well-known studio: Warner Brothers Seven Arts. I was sort of dumb-founded. If one could see a thought-bubble over my head, the words would read, “I’ve been discovered”. But I said nothing to him. As if he could read those thoughts he said, “That’s right, I’m Jack Warner’s son. I’m in the Boston area visiting friends, thought I’d check out Brandeis. I think you have potential”.

I carried that card in my wallet until I was pickpocketed on the subway while visiting a friend in New York City my senior year. But I remember it clearly. While trying to find the logo for this story, this is the logo that I found for the company at that time:

Warner Brothers 7 Arts logo (his business card did NOT look like this)

I assure you, the logo on his card did not resemble this. Too bad we didn’t have smart phones in 1971. Then I could have googled him and his phony logo. But I couldn’t 52 years ago.

What did he mean by his interest? He didn’t know anything about me, he hadn’t seen me do a scene, heard me perform a monologue. WTF? He invited me into his little sports car. I hesitated. He could see I didn’t trust him and he was right. I sat in the passenger seat with the door open, my leg out the door, my foot planted on the ground. He wanted to get to know me better, but claimed to understood my hesitancy. “What do I know about you, besides that business card?” “Is there someplace on campus we can go and talk? I want to talk about your career?”

Oh, this guy was good; he kept this young girl intrigued.

My mind raced. Where would I be safe at this hour? What was open with people around. The Student Union was brand new, having just opened the previous November. It was open 24 hours a day and always had a guard at the front desk. I thought we could go to the front lounge there, where the guard could keep a watchful eye on me, so I suggested we drive around the campus to the Union and I got fully into his car. My heard sank as he drove right past the Union and parked in a dimly lit little lot behind the library, out of the way. Now I was on high-alert. But his banter wasn’t threatening and I parried each comment. I tried to stay calm and present.

He told me he could get me on “Laugh-In” right away (it was a hugely successful show at the time). I brushed that offer away. “I’m an artist, I don’t want to be on some vulgar TV show!” That flummoxed him. He’d just offered me the moon (which I don’t think was even produced by Warner Bros. but who knew that in the moment). We continued to talk about my ambitions (such as they were). Somehow, I mentioned that I had posed nude for a senior studio art major. He said he’d pay a lot of money for that painting. I told him it wasn’t for sale. It was hanging in a gallery on campus, part of the student’s senior portfolio (and the pose was twisting and back-facing, showing little of me besides legs, back and shoulders).

It must have been close to midnight when he told me had blue balls. I didn’t know what that was. I didn’t have much experience in the world and did not plan to increase mine now! He unzipped his fly and proceeded to whack off in front of me. I was horrified, but tried to stay calm. When he finished, he gave me a kiss and a snuggle, then asked if he could see me to my dorm. Even now, I can feel my heart beating wildly in fear and desperation. (Why didn’t I leap out of the car and make a run for it? Don’t you think that crossed through my mind; but I reasoned that he’d run after me and then he wouldn’t be as relatively gentle as he had been, I feared. Running would likely trigger some huge, negative reaction. No, better to placate as much as possible until I could get to safety with other friends on campus.)

Dear lord, I thought, how am I going to get rid of this guy? My roommate hadn’t slept in our dorm in days, but I fervently prayed that tonight would be different. We drove the short distance around the perimeter road to my dorm, Deroy, and he followed me up the stairs to the second floor. And there, talking on the pay phone at the end of the hall, was Carol, my roommate. I don’t think I’ve been so happy to see anyone in my life!

“There she is! That’s my roommate. Good night, Jason”. He kissed me goodnight on the cheek and walked out of life. I never heard from him again. Perhaps he figured that I wasn’t as easy a mark as he’d hoped. I was not overly-awed by his bravado.

********************************************************************************************************************

My senior year, Dan and I bought a black and white TV for my dorm room, as we were all but living together (though he graduated the previous year; he lived with his parents in nearby Newton and came over most nights after dinner). I had the news on before dinner one night and was half paying attention when an ominous story came on. A young woman in Cambridge had been raped. She’d given a description of her attacker to the police and the sketch from the police artist was shown on TV: a curly-haired white guy with a round face and even features. He looked suspiciously like Jason Warner. I started trembling. I paused for a moment, then picked up the phone in the suite and called the Cambridge police.

“I just saw the story on TV of the Cambridge woman who was raped, along with the police sketch of the rapist. I had a run-in with a man who looked very similar about three years ago out in Waltham on the Brandeis campus. I could identify him in a heartbeat.” The person on the other end of the line asked if I’d been sexually assaulted. “Not exactly” I replied. “I had a narrow escape. He had masturbated in front of me; perhaps he is escalating”. The person thanked me, but said it was not likely to be the same person after so many years (having watched years of the “Law and Order” franchises, I now beg to differ, but nevermind). So that was it and I forever closed the door on “Jason Warner” until choosing to share this predator with you now.

I had a close call that day, no real harm done except perhaps to my psyche. And a lesson learned about being taken in by strangers. Don’t engage, right from the start, no matter what the person says. Be polite, smile, walk away.

 

Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.


Characterizations: moving, right on!, well written

Comments

  1. Wow Betsy, I’ve always been in awe of your powers of recall. But I realize that skill can be a mixed blessing reminding you of things that might best be forgotten – like your frightful meeting with “Jason Warner”!

  2. Khati Hendry says:

    Maybe dredging up the memory is cathartic—and your memory is still so clear! You had a very icky encounter but were wary and managed to escape—and I hope never had a worse experience after that. You are not alone—I had a few close calls myself, and unfortunately too many others have had worse. It is easy to see the full creepiness in hindsight, but you ultimately stuck up for yourself and learned a lot. No shame. I hope they caught Jason.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I do not find it cathartic to relive the tale or tell it, Khati, but as you say, I did manage to escape and never had a worse experience. So many women suffer so much worse. Yes, in hindsight, his full creepiness is easy to detect, but it wasn’t all at once, up close. I obviously learned to never get in a car with a stranger (I’ve never hitchhiked). I did stay calm, didn’t take too much of what he said as true and survived. That was important. I, too, hope they caught that guy.

  3. John Zussman says:

    A chilling story, which (thanks to your evocative writing) we re-experience right with you. I remember hearing about it at the time, but without some of the perverse details (perhaps you shared that with Patti) and at some distance. All I can say is I’m relieved it wasn’t worse and I’m glad you learned from the experience!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Certainly not a happy memory, John, but a vivid one and one that reverberates to this day. I, too, am glad it wasn’t worse and I certainly learned my lesson. I am not taken in by foolishness so easily (and never get in cars with strangers).

  4. Jim Willis says:

    Betsy, what a close call for you, and it gave me more understanding of how these wrongway encounters come about and what the targeted woman thinks about in staying a step ahead of the aggressor. You’re thinking was crystal clear that night and it got you out of a very tight spot. You may only be 5 feet tall but the size of the woman inside is much, much taller.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      As soon as I gave him my answer about my age, I was in his cross-hairs, Jim. I might have thought I was taking all the necessary precautions, but obviously, I was not. And being so small, there was no way I could have fought him off. At least I stayed calm and didn’t fall for any of his “charm”.

      Thanks for the comment about my size. I’ve had to contend with it my whole life. In the late ’70s I was in tech sales; a woman on the road was really unheard of back then. I got lots of comments and come-ons (nothing like this night, though I did have a VP at one company who sexually harassed me, but that was before we stood up for ourselves – decades before #MeToo, read the “Good Boss, Bad Boss” prompt, and the guy I discuss in the prompt wasn’t even the worse offender at that company). One learns a lot through the years.

  5. I have a lot of respect for the present-day Betsy for being able to recollect details, look your audience in the eye, and tell this story in its full harrowing details. And I have enormous respect and tenderness for the engaging, energetic, and attractive 18 year old theatre kid, nowhere near an adult, who acted as the friendly, helpful (and not very sophisticated) person she was, showed kindness and (excessive) honesty to a stranger, and then almost had to pay dearly for it. Goddam that phony guy and good for that 18 year old Betsy who was bound for better days and greater achievements.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      I truly appreciate you seeing both the Betsys in this story, Dale. For having compassion for that distant 18 year old and for letting me tell this ugly story all these years later. As I stated in my opening paragraph, though I am an open person about most things in my life, this was not easy to talk about, but I recognized that it was perfect for the prompt so I swallowed hard and went for it. This is an enormously supportive community and I felt safe sharing. You proved me correct. Thank you.

  6. Suzy says:

    So . . . your 360th story! I love the idea that you have come “full circle”! We have been on a wild ride together these last 8 years, and I’m so glad to call you my friend! As always, your attention to detail and ability to take us along on the ride is spectacular. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes friend, we’ve come a long way together and this story at the end of 8 years of faithful writing seemed to be a good place to take a long pause. Even after 52 1/2 years, that fateful evening is incredibly vivid. I’m happy that I made it equally as compelling for you.

      Don’t be a stranger! Hope that hand heals quickly.

  7. A powerful, exquisitely told story, Betsy! Your clarity of description, from the layout of Spingold to the guy’s looks and, significantly, your own dress and actions. Together, you build a steadily increasing and frightening scenario.

    Your narrative weaves in and out of the action, your awareness so clearly described, it personalizes the interaction with this creep whose hits and misses only highlight the naive but formidable Betsy on high alarm.

    I’ve been in more than a few autos with young women, some warmer than other, but never felt moved to display my self-pleasures as an expression of desperation. As you say so succinctly, “WTF”?

    A terrifying tale that continues to this day. I also did not miss the eagerness of the cops to dismiss your call three years later.

    Thanks for taking the care to apply your skills and experience to tell a too-familiar tale. Oh… and you have nothing to be embarrassed, no matter how rigorously you questioned your actions over the years.

    Thanks for the story, Bets, and the other 359 that preceded them.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thank you for this play-by-play analysis, Chas. I alway appreciate your deep dive into my writing, particularly your comments as I give the background about the shape of the theater (which defines how easy it was for this miscreant to get lost, hence his excuse to speak to me), what I was wearing, which was not provocative for that era, and my thought process throughout the evening. And finally, how the Cambridge police person was so dismissive of me, which irks me to this day.

      I fear you are correct; this story is all-too familiar. I was one of the lucky ones who escaped relatively scathed. Too many unfortunate souls are the source of news headlines the next day. And thank you for your unfailing support over the past eight years. I have truly appreciated it.

  8. Dave Ventre says:

    That was a close call! And from what I have heard from my true-crime addicted wife, guys like that always escalate.

    As others have said, I do hope that you re-visit us now and again with more stories as the Muse of Relaxed Creativity allows.

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Yes, close call. I still shudder thinking about (which I’ve told so few people until making public by writing about it).

      I promise to keep checking the prompts (and reading and commenting on others’ stories, Dave). Thanks for the kind sentiment.

Leave a Reply