Friday, May 13, 2016

THE BIRDS- not the Hitchcock version

So as close friends know, and some who are not so close, I have been, as are many in the world, in a struggle in my late age with some who are still in a fairly early one.  To center my soul, and, hopefully, my concentration, I had been sent the unexpected gift from the universe, of a mother Morning Dove, who made herself at home, or, more accurately, at nest, in what had been a flower arrangement on top of the air-conditioner outside my window. I watched first one egg be laid, then a second, saw her sitting on them, then was present, talking to a friend on the phone as the eggs hatched.  Since then I have been, from time to time, hypnotized by the very slow progression of baby birds into bird-Being, as they chewed at the underbelly of their mom, came out, looked around, and slowly grew.
      Then yesterday, when I came back from a less-than-enriching walk, my spirits being not quite as substantially lifted as one might wish and expect from a big birthday, I saw that my two little birdies, one of them named Fiona, (am not sure yet about the second,) were completely exposed, their little feathered backs not quite heaving, but moving up and down in clear indication that they were still alive, though vulnerable.
     The same just before midnight, at least as well as I could see, and again a little after five-thirty in the morning when I got up to check again.  I couldn't go back to real sleep after that, as concerned as I was.  After all, it had been a while since I'd had a pet, and Carleen and had come to the airy conclusion that "anyone could have a dog."
     Now it was seven, the air was clear, and there was still no sign of Mom.  Today is Acacia's birthday, so I called to sing her a birthday song badly sung, and also to share my concern and worry about the borderline disappearance at the flight of my mother bird.
"She'll be back," said Acacia, being a Texas girl, where they still have small towns and country.  "She had to go look for food."
      But of course I had gone to Bryn Mawr, so thought I knew better.  So I moved the wire-flowerpot-thing to the ground on the other side of the not-quite-fire-escape that overhangs the citified abyss, so when Sasha came to put in the air-conditioner, which he would have to do anytime now, because this is New York where the weather is irrational and we can't wait for real summer, he'd be able to do it without disturbing the birds, in the unlikely event their mother should return and they should live.  No sooner had I done that, of course, it now being about seven-thirty A.M., than she came back, standing on the rail of the not-exactly-safe-place-to-go, strutting back and forth looking for them.  I told her they were on the other side, opened the door to her, and short of shouting, struggled to make her see where they were, on the other side of the metal-I-guess-you-could-call-it-Balcony.  But I guess she does not speak English or frantic gestures.  So she flew away.
     What to do?  Is there Bird-Pray?  Desperate, almost, and of course more than sad, for I had not understood Nature or listened to Acacia.  So hoping for redemption-- after all, it was my birthday, and today is Acacia's, I moved the improvised flower-pot-holder-transmuted-into-nest back where it had been before, and butted out.
The baby birds were backwards: that is to say they were on the right side of the flowerpot holder where before they'd been on the left, but hopefully that wouldn't be too much of a non-stretch for Mom.
     And sure enough, thank God, or thank Bird, within the half hour she was back, and they were feeding from her mouth or her throat or her belly, wherever they could find anything.  So it is a tragic tale nipped in the bird.  The whole little gang is at rest now, Mom on top of them, parts of them sticking out now that they've grown.  I can only hope, pray, sing, visualize, whatever, that they will be grown and flown by the time I have to have air-conditioning or die, as one could in New York.  
    Or else maybe I can fly someplace else.  Any suggestions? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


So said my step-father, Saul Schwamm, affectionately or sneeringly known as 'Puggy,' because of the wonder of his lower jaw, protruding into the conversation.  Asserting itself, as he usually did in business but rarely, after time went by with my mother, with whom he had been crazily in love in the beginning, but gradually, I would imagine, came to dislike, despise, and ultimately fear.  As I remember, and memory is something that is still working on more than a few occasions, she came to wake him for work, bringing him a glass of juice or coffee, while telling him she didn't know why he bothered to get out of bed in the morning, he was such a loser.  Kindness was not her best suit, though Elizabeth Taylor wanted to play her, so it must have been an impressive role.
   But when I wanted to quit Bryn Mawr, because Freddie Sadoff, at that moment a force at the Actor's Studio, wanted me to write a play, or I had already written one, probably in a few hours, that he wanted to put on, and my mother locked me in my room at their apartment, shrieking: "They told me this would happen at the Beauty Parlor!" Puggy came in.  "It's okay," I said. "I wanted to quit because I had no reason to stay.  Now I have a reason.  You won't let me quit." "No, Gwenny," he said. "There's your reason." He pointed to the painting on the wall above my bed.  "All art will show itself in its time.  Don't rush the calendar."
     Well, I certainly haven't.   Tomorrow is my birthday, and I won't tell you how old I am because I don't want you to get scared.  I certainly did, until I went back to Bryn Mawr yesterday and saw that I could still think.  And even better, feel.
    Then today I heard from the social worker on the case of poor Jessica, my mother's child with Puggy, my mad half-sister.  So sad, from the era when the over-valued and in-the-long-run insidious Reagan had the mentally ill turned out of hospitals.  Jessica had had her nose fixed again, "back the way it was," she'd said, an implant put in to make it look Jewish. Not long after she'd ripped it off, saying "Jesus didn't like it and Mary didn't like it."  Some years later, she'd crashed my mother's funeral, in morbid not-quite-in-imitation of my mother's crashing parties, as the family was afraid and hadn't invited her.  Since then she has been holed up in a house in the desert and they just went in and found fifteen cats, some of them dead, and took Jessica to the hospital.  
    This is stuff I can't make up, but had, not having actually experienced it, made into a comedy.  That's the one Elizabeth wanted to play.
    So very sad.  Especially now that Elizabeth, as well as my mother, is dead.
    But I am especially remembering the painting on the wall.  It was a Jackson Pollock.  8 by 12, The Blue Unconscious.  Clement Greenberg, the art critic who discovered Pollock was Puggy's good friend, and he'd urged Puggy to buy it because he was the only one with money, and Pollock didn't have money to eat.  So Puggy had bought it.  My mother had turned it on its side, saying "What difference does it make?"
      I don't think you can say the same about human lives.  Or the country.

Monday, May 09, 2016

The Gift of Life

So if anyone doubts that Life is a present, along with learning, they should visit Bryn Mawr on a Spring day.  The secret of the other meaning of "present" is what I learned from Jack-- to be where you are, your awareness fully focussed on exactly what you are going through, and being there completely.  Of course it helps when the day is a perfect one, the only clouds in the sky like a detail in a Van Gogh painting, to accentuate the beauty.  I have long had the conviction that we are held in invisible hands, and if our hearts and our minds are open, the hands will be, too.
     In the background and foreground there, of course, was the Gothic architecture, formidable, great arches, actual turrets, all the aspects that seemed as forbidding as they might have when seen for the first time, but ultimately majestic as the whole opportunity of education was and is.  Softened by the view of newly blossoming trees, at their base, dedications to students past and gone calling up remembrances.  I realize I sound elated, but elated is what I was by all I was seeing and feeling, and the gift of a perfect day.  As friends know, I have a tendency to take things personally, so just as I feel wounded when I would be better off letting go, I am lifted by what might not seem so glorious to others.  But I don't think that would be the case of my visit to Bryn Mawr.
      Everything in blossom, including the students, revving up for graduation, lining up to receive their caps and gowns, only one visibly unhappy one, her father, an educator from another place, waiting for her return from a professorial appointment, reading Hamilton.  So many languages, so many shapes of eyes.  And even as the Sunday papers headlined discouraging news, the reality of all those bright young minds heading semi-fearlessly out into the world signaled encouraging one.  And it's helped by the campus.
     We were all so lucky.  Even those who might not have thought so.  The one who went off the tower at Rock because of love unreturned.
      The day unfolded, like the gift cards in the basement at the student store, sun gilding the stone. I had a great meeting with the new president, Kim Cassidy, as tall as her spirit, and gave her two of my better books, The Motherland and Marriage, the last unfortunately marred by a couple of uncorrected typos Don Fine had been unable to change by the time of release, prompting him to threaten the printer with throwing him out the window.  What a colorful career I have had, everything seeming so grave at the time, all of it now fairly funny, or at least colorful.  It is my hope, of course, to do something before my exit, that gives a financial lift to a theatrical arm of Bryn Mawr, now apparently severed.  I can't imagine my having done anything I did without the boon of theatre and original musical that Bryn Mawr encouraged and promoted, Miss McBride having said to my mother after Junior Show, -- I'd written most of the songs and had the comedy lead, "This is the most exciting theatrical event since Katharine Hepburn was a student here."  Of course there was my mother's gazing after her, asking "Who was that?" and my saying, "The president of the college." And my mother's saying "Oh, I thought it was the washerwoman."  Never underestimate the power of cruelty in inspiring comedy.   
     I called Miss McBride from a pool party in Hollywood some years later to try and help my step-brother, Mickey, Puggy's son, get into Harvard, and as Tab Hunter splashed into the water, Miss McBride said "Well, Gwen, of all the places you might have ended up, I should have known it would be Hollywood."  I really loved her.  I don't think a lot of people knew how funny she was.
      Lunch was at the Deanery, with Wendy Greenfield, the wonderful executive director of the Alumnae Association, a loving and giving human being, which one doesn't always (or even often) expect in someone so organized.  I have always been so lucky in the friendships I managed to established, even in dining rooms.  Then I walked the campus, hung out till parting time, when the colorful driver of the taxi, friend to the college and very much in charge of the wheel took me back to the station, where I bought myself flowers to commemorate the day.
     With people standing in line waiting for the train to start boarding, I tapped into a youngish blond man and asked him to hold my place, sitting down on a bench like the older woman I now understand I am. When the train boarded, I told a woman trying to take the seat beside me that the place was saved, and when the young man passed I invited him to sit down.  And who he was, as I could not have invented, was an art dealer from Berlin, smart as a (what is the German word for whip?) and funny.  So I have a friend now in Germany with an art business, as well as some of the most interesting friendships in the galleries.  Is there room in my mind for a new subject?  Was there a reason I slept under Jackson Pollock?  Is it late for a beginning? We shall see, unless we don't. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016


So my darling friend Pam of Melbourne, in New York by Divine Coincidence-- I can attribute it to nothing less, as I have not seen her for Australian Eons, and she is in the city at the same time as me, with a travel buddy-- and I had dinner with her, twice.  First time in a restaurant I thought I'd discovered happily last night, understood at eating there in an appropriate hour that the only reason I'd delighted in it was it had been the wrong time, so it was empty, second time in the restaurant just behind me on 58th street was the right one.  We had a good time and a good meal when we ate again.  I could leave this city chubby as I was as a girl, though arguably not with as much potential ahead of me.
       The weather here is saddening, overcast and dreary, though most people don't look up as they walk, transfixed or committed to sidewalk-gazing.  Tour buses go by with passengers who do a little routine as they wave by, looking as though they are having a good time so engaged.  I am having a difficult journey as all these years into Jack-study, I still don't know how to live in the moment.  The greatest pleasure for me is still my bird, who seems comfortable now with my presence, more or less gazing up at me sideways as I lean over to look inside her box.  The Angel Carleen said " And you thought you wanted a dog."
     Pretty funny.
     Am going to go this early evening to the Cy Coleman musical at the church I ogled and ear-gled on Sunday.  Cy was the nicest man in the music game after Yip Harburg, or maybe even alongside of him.  He was having a sex Affair(I cannot swear it was love) with Madelyn(maybe spelled line) Gottlieb who enjoyed getting hysterical.  When I was in the middle of writing my musical, ready to make any compromise to get it on, Cy was in an elevator I was standing in front of, and I urged him to step out.  Being more than kind and/or accommodating, he did, and I played him my musical.
"Write bigger endings," he said.  "If I came in on it I would tear the fabric of these numbers apart."  So I listened to him, wrote bigger endings, it still didn't get on, but I truly loved him-- in a creative context-- and he died anyway.  This early evening I will go to hear what became of that idea he had and didn't mind writing with another woman.  A really sweet man, and he did have rhythm.

           Well, I went, and it wasn't there.  That is to say, I went to the place where it was supposed to be put on, and it wasn't.  I'm sad and frustrated, and without a melody.  I walked home, and maybe that was good for me.  But song would have been better.   So I came home, and looked again carefully at the program.  It's next Spring.  Oh,well.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Understanding, as I have to now, though still unable to learn how to do the right print after all these years, that I may not be able to write/fully record all the memories I have while I still have them, I am trying to empty my desktop of some of the notes on them that may be of some meaning, if not value.  So I found this old pome, as I used to call them, as that sounded less affected; it is on a notepad from the Cipriani, the Great hotel(it deserved capitalization,) at least it was when managed by Natale Rusconi, arguably the greatest hotelier in Europe, if not the world, whom I had the privilege to call friend.
     So here it is.

     Free me of Ego
     Free me of Regret
     Teach me to forgive
     What I struggle to forget
     Raise me above
     Foolish earthly cares
     So I fly on a higher plane
     Than do the billionaires.
     Keep me aloft
     Loving, caring, soft
     Hold up my soul
     And make me whole.

I don't know.  It doesn't look as good as it did on that little pad when I still had my Bryn Mawr print going for me.
   I use to sit behind those girls who'd gone to finishing school and prep places where they'd learned to squarely primp on their pads, and wonder if I could ever seem as elegant as they were, albeit Jewish. That I ended up traveling the world, sometimes repping places in it, seemed, and probably was some kind of miracle, a kiss blown to me by the gods or goddesses of exploration, though they likely understood I was better off not attempting to plan what exactly was happening to me.  Just as right now, the little bird, a dove she apparently is, who is sitting on her eggs(two they are now) in my window box, has obviously become more comfortable with my presence, as she has turned so I can see her face, and her eye is toward me, looking, I would have to guess. I would show you but I don't yet know how to send the picture, though I have taken what are obviously a couple of splendid ones, one as she has stepped aside to show me her eggs-- "Look what I've done!" and the new posture today: "See, I can trust you, so I'm looking at you almost directly, instead of simply showing you my tail."
    Am off now to check out what there is of New York that I can access easily, as ambition, longing, exploration seems to be eluding me.  Maybe this will pass as the weather warms.  Living in California has apparently made me slothful.  Or at least less exploratory than I was.
    Or maybe that is just life itself, since I have been lucky enough to live so much of it.
    But on the simple side, the sneakers I bought yesterday were a weighty mistake.  I miss my Adidas.  Is there a poem in that?

    Oh my.  I just remembered.  Today is my Anniversary.  April 26, 1964, I married Don at the Plaza Hotel.  It was a Sunday-- it had to be: my mother was suing my father for child support, for me, and that was the only day he couldn't be served.  I was twenty-nine years old.  

    He owed her for all the years of child support he had been supposed to be paying her, between my twelfth and twenty-first years, which he hadn't done. To let you understand more about my father, he had moved to Arizona because his wife, to whom my mother had introduced him because she'd destroyed her first husband and Helen, Mom, assumed she'd do the same to Lew, my dad. Instead, they moved to Tucson to heal her allergies. 
   Mel Brooks, a good friend in my youth, said "A man moves to Tucson, looks around, says:'Who's the Mayor?  Nobody!  Okay, I'm the Mayor.'" Funny as Mel always was, but not exactly accurate.  But Lew might have looked around and become a Republican, because that was the party that could win.  He was never a Republican in Pittsburgh.  But then, in Pittsburgh he was never much of anything.  It was Helen, Mom, who got him a commission in the army during their separation-- she had worked her way up from a secretary to know everybody and got him officered and sent to Asia, Korea, someplace where he could send her money but didn't. That was usually his shortest suit. 

    There was a process server waiting outside the room we got married in at the Plaza, stationed there until it was midnight, when he would be able to hit my dad(I think I can call him)with the subpoena.

I brought the process server a glass of wine from the wedding.  Harry, my father-in-law, had brought us the wine, which he, as a restaurateur got us wholesale, and which might have been his gift, I can't remember.  But he was generous, albeit with a Bronx accent.
    As I remember, everybody had gone home long before midnight, so the summons was never served.  I don't think my father ever paid my mother back.  But then I don't imagine it ended up meaning that much to either of them, and certainly it couldn't now, as they're both long dead.  Selma, my father's second wife, to whom my mother had introduced him, imagining she'd kill him, I would guess, lived to 99.  As Cary Grant, to drop my favorite name, said: "Hate will keep you alive longer than love will."


Saturday, April 23, 2016


So have come home(which I think I can call it, though I don't yet feel like I really live here) from a great lunch with my beautiful friend Pam from Melbourne, who's in town by Divine Coincidence, with her best friend.  We ate and wined and they were ready to take on more world, but I was already ready for uptown.  So I came back to the apartment.  And what should I find in my window box, but a second egg!  What does that mean?  I thought the first egg was the possible production of my comedy.  The second...?  Is it time for the Memoir?(hate the word.) 
        The prideful papa has just come back to the railing of my not-quite terrace, and he is perched there, tweeting.  I tried to come closer to better observe his feathers, to deeper determine the kind of bird he is, but my movement seemed to have frightened him away.   His bride is still resting comfortably in the box, warming the eggs, I guess sort of comfortable with my presence by now. 
         After a wonderful New York dinner, the kind of thing you can be grateful to New York for, trying to get past/over/beyond the endless sites of construction/guard against/repair that make up and mar the streets, realizing of course that what this city is all about is profit, I brought the gifted and generous actor/director Nick Corley back to see my bird.  Nick is that most unusual, unique thing in the theatrical world, or more probably anywhere: selfless.  I came to know him through an unexpected and lovely friendship with the wife of a noted producer who supported me in my creative theatrical efforts, who then turned away from me for reasons I didn't know or understand.  But Nick told me last night that she had been told I said I didn't need her anymore.
     Baffling.  I'd never said or thought any such thing.  Just had been puzzled by the abandonment, and given up trying to reconnect.  Other times in my life I'd actually lost whole communities, quite a feat for a woman more or less on her own, for example when my novel, Touching, had been the basis for the landmark libel suit in fiction, which is a saga I should probably write while I still can.  I'd gone to a nude encounter (Yes, really) at the tail end of the Sixties, and written a tale of a woman in midst of a marital crisis who'd attended.  I'd given the fictional practitioner a beard and a huge head of hair, the real Self-Aggrandizer conducting the thing, being bald and clean-shaven.  The practitioner sued me, claiming I'd looked on his Nude Encounter with a scathing eye (Really?)  The case took nine years to come to court, and by the time it did, Bindrim, the alleged doctor, had grown a gigantic beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long, wound it around his head and gotten a PhD from a mail order college in Westwood.  My lawyer had not prepared for court, as he'd considered the whole thing and the man himself a joke.
    The jury didn't understand what Fiction was, and was madder at me for going to a nude marathon than they were at him for conducting it. I lost.  My publisher, Doubleday, having defended it all the way to the Supreme Court on the basis of the First Amendment, when the Supremes, as I too blithely thought to call them, with the exception of Justices Brennan, Stewart and Marshall declined to hear it, then turned and sued me.  So I was a pariah, terrified, and borderline impoverished.  Not the right costume for a writer of what I hoped was sharp fiction.
    My husband, the nicest man in America, but a son of the Bronx where trouble was the side street, was devastated.  And I, a formerly bestselling author, was without a career.  Don Fine, a maverick publisher took me on a few lists down the road.  But he was more or less over, and so was I.  But that of course was when people still bought books, in stores, that were still open.
     Even writing this I can feel myself growing older, graver, and less joyful about being alive, with eggs underneath a bird on my sort-of sill.  I am going to quit now and get dressed and try and get into the matinee of a musical comedy.
    Good Lord!-- one day long ago that's who I was and what and who I wanted to become.  Today I am just grateful that a Morning Dove-- which is what she is, we looked it up, the advantage of having endured till the world was online-- is on my not-exactly sill.  And the sun is coming out.
      We'll see.


Wednesday, April 20, 2016


        I am adding up what there is of my life.
I have never considered doing that before, because I never thought in terms of its ending.  I thought only in terms of failure and success.  Not living or dying.
         But here I am in New York on a truly glorious day, if one can define ‘glorious,’ by a radiant sky, patches of truly warm sun, and a crowd of enthusiasts screaming out their approval for those who could get into ‘Hamilton.’  There were hundreds of them I would venture, screaming out their enthusiasm for the fetching kind-of barker she was, the actress calling out the numbers of those who’d won in the raffle for who went inside to see the show.  It was probably as dramatic as what went on inside, on the stage.  There was no guy in the crowd as cute as she was.
         I hope one still find romance in New York.  I mean romance the way it used to be.  With a guy you were attracted to.  If you were a girl.
     Am I terrible?  I miss romance the way it used to be.  Where some words were exchanged that seemed friendly.  Wrist brushed against strangely electric skin.
      It is my hope that somewhere, maybe not exactly where I was, because to my surprise I am older, I who was, almost always, the youngest one, romance exists.  But except for what I have seen of a sort of passion, New York is still streets freckled with garbage.  Trucks waiting and cranes hauling up.  No place to come for peace.
       And yet that is exactly what I am seeking.  I have come to that point in my life where I no longer think about conquering.  I wanted nothing more once than a show playing on Broadway.  I had one once, and it failed, Opening Night, like in the bad comedies.  The same week I gave birth to my daughter.  My sweet, handsome husband drove with me back from the theatre to the hospital, after the last laugh.  It wasn’t there.
     Mel Brooks and his beautiful wife, the great actress Anne Bancroft, came with us in the cab.  “Well, you had two things happen tonight,” Mel said.  “If one of them had to be less than perfect, if your daughter had been born with six toes, or two noses… that would have been okay.  What mattered was the show.”
          That was my life Ago.  I am trying to live in the present.  It’s hard.
          But I have a pigeon, or a small bird of  some kind—I am not a student of ornithology—is that birds?—on my window sill, in a flower box she nested in, on top of an egg.  We are expecting a chick.
       I can hardly wait.  I take it to mean We Have a Future.