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By Leslie Nipkow

And so I entered Corinth, a plastic Garden of Eden, overrun with silk lilies, hand painted Astroturf, and cloudless blue cyclorama skies. Here every hour was magic hour, and Mantooth was king, CEO, and father of the bride, all rolled into one.

That was when things began to go south. Rather than dispatching me to Mantooth's side of the church, the stage manager sent me to the groom's side with the other Jews, truck drivers, and pudgy people. Lamenting my working class punim, I took my position by the canapés, and, suddenly, I felt Him near. Slowly, I turned to find myself just a few feet from Mantooth himself, now aged like a fine, slightly over-tanned wine. I had done it. By sheer force of imagination, I had transported myself from my childhood living room into Mantooth's presence.

A fellow extra, Alan, so garden-party-worthy he looked like he'd been beamed straight out of Greenwich, Connecticut, followed my eye line. "You're not even blinking. What's up with that?" Overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment, I gave him the Reader's Digest Condensed version of my fantasy life, and, to my abject horror, he made a beeline for the 'Tooth. As I watched Alan's mouth move, I prayed to God and Werner Erhard that whatever he was saying included the words "adorable" and "hot tamale." Then Alan pointed in my direction.

As I posed "nonchalantly" in my flapper dress and white tights, stomach sucked in and eyes bugged out, a blowfish at full blow, Mantooth's eyes met mine. I smiled a smile that said, "Remember Sensuality Exercise Number Fifteen, The Hoover? That was always your favorite." Mantooth's look replied, "Who let that in here?" And then he turned away.

Alan slithered back to me with a look of chagrin.

"What did you say to him?"

"That you loved him when you were eleven. What's that guy's problem, anyway?" I knew. I was the human equivalent of carbon dating. I made him feel like a fossil.

"Did you mention the dollar he owes me?" I blurted.

Alan lent me ten bucks to get home.

Fast forward seven years to 2007. Loving and Mantooth's career have long since bitten the dust. I, however, have become a writer for the soap opera One Life to Live, wrangling my own tribe of white faux-ristocrats, the Llanview Buchanans, cowboy oilmen who live on the Main Line, like the Bushes of Connecticut.

In my time on the job, I've executed a man by lethal injection (he survived), outed the Lieutenant Governor, split a mother and daughter into multiple personalities with rhyming names, stolen babies, shattered marriages, and engineered false arrests, a natural disaster, a matched set of mine collapses, and three organ transplants, two of them successful.

So it is that my fellow writers and I are sitting in a network notes meeting discussing a white supremacist storyline. We're mulling the character of the racist's father, when my boss announces, "I just cast Randolph Mantooth."

"Oh no."

It's out before I can stop it. Ordinarily, I never utter a word in these meetings, afraid that if I let down my guard, I may slip and tell the truth. If the outside world finds out what my insides are saying, I'll be fired so fast, time will go backwards, taking my bank account with it. Too late. All heads turn toward me, as my sordid tale spills out: the 8x10 I've been waiting for since the '70s, the Loving fiasco, the suppurating psychic wound left by Mantooth's cavalier dismissal of my devotion.

My confession is met by the same expression previously seen in the mirthless eyes of Mantooth, his derisive stare salting me like an errant slug. My outburst is dismissed like the ravings of a garden gnome on crystal meth. But I refuse to slink off with my tale between my legs. Mantooth owes me, and one way or another, I will collect.

I visualize the moment Mantooth realizes he now works for me. For thirty years, I have registered barely a blip on his radar, but soon he will know me as air traffic control. He's passing through my town.

At this point, I don't even want to meet him. No, I intend to enjoy pulling his strings from the comfort of my living room. I will prepare a pu-pu platter of revenge. I am schooled in delicious evil, and I will have my dollar of flesh.

Mantooth will do what I say, and say what I want.

I'll have him run into the show's matriarch ("Big Mama") in the hospital waiting room, as her daughter (the one with extra personalities) undergoes her second liver transplant in as many months. Mantooth will offer Big Mama ("BM") a cup of hospital coffee; she will respond with the standard knock at institutional beverages, then accept his kindness.

I know how actors think. This on-screen moment will send Randolph crowing to the soap press about his upcoming love affair with BM, ending a long stretch of romantic constipation for her, and heralding a big, fat, contract for him. He'll start working out, get Botox, and rehearse his devil-may-care smile till his teeth hurt.

Once Mantooth embraces the idea of steady employment, I will send his character to jail to take the hit for his racist, arsonist, murderous, ex-baseball star son. I will write him weeks of scenes in an orange jumpsuit, letting him believe he's headed for exoneration, high romance, and a daytime Emmy.

Overconfident Randolph will go out and buy a new car. And as soon as he drives that baby off the lot, I will kill him -- onscreen, where it's permanent. Not at the hands of another major player, no. He will be shivved in the liver at the hands of a prison extra, preferably one with an actual rap sheet.

I will leave him devastated and broke, the way he left me all those years ago. Who says there is no justice?

Sadly, my revenge never achieves its full bloody bloom. The suits quickly discover how tough it is to tell a story about racism without minority characters. They pull the plug, ordering Mantooth iced in a fashion far colder and more mercenary than any I have imagined: he dies off-camera. I take satisfaction in writing him out using as few syllables as possible.

Entering the writers' room a few weeks later, I sense something amiss when my boss actually meets my eyes. My missile shields go up. I reflexively compliment his Gucci loafers, and he hands me an 8x10 publicity photograph of Mantooth posed in front of a fire engine with his defibrillator kit. He has inscribed it: "To Leslie, Love and Kisses, Randolph Mantooth."

I stare at the picture in shock and awe, wanting desperately to feel something. I've waited for this moment for thirty years. All eyes are on me, awaiting my response. And that's when the "marvelous bitch" inside me slips and tells the truth.

"Thanks, but I'd rather have my dollar back."

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