Thursday, October 23, 2014

NOT SO SWEET SURRENDER

So I have given up my conquest of New York, never really having started it, except in mine own imagination.  I have made more inroads in Amsterdam over my chilled, wet stay there, and Paris in one weekend than I have made over the years in all these intermittent stays in New York, where all my buddies are those I made at Bryn Mawr. The great songwriters I was privileged to know, Frank Loesser, (a shit, but he thought me gifted at twenty and flattered me, I guess, by stealing a couple of my songs for an out-of-town tryout in Boston that never made it onto the Great-Not-so-White-Way) and the truly wonderful Yip Harburg, who was the father I'd never really had, and with white hair, yet, so long vanished that nobody knows who they are anymore.  I have a hard time believing how old I am, as I was always the youngest one, and that was my handicap.  Had I but known! 
     At any rate(what does that phrase mean exactly?) I have just made my reservations to go to LA for the winter, maybe more, as if I were an old Jewish woman, which I guess (how is it possible?) I am, though spiritually I am Buddhist, which means Jack wouldn't get mad at me if I wasn't devoted.  Don used to(SOOOOOO long ago) tell me to tell them that at Bryn Mawr reunions, that I am a Quaker-Buddhist-Jew, and see what they made of that.  It's the truth, but only if you don't have to observe any of the above.  The Quakers that I loved, and I did, were observant only in their silence, which amazingly I could honor, the Buddhists in their retreats, to which I stopped going but still admired, as Jack is a great teacher and became a truly trusted and helpful friend, and the Jew you can't stop being no matter how little attention you paid to your religion, because when the Nazis came-- as sadly, they still do-- denying your Judaism would not keep you from being rounded up.  
   In the meanwhile, another one of those phrases, I have made treasured new friends in a place I don't have the strength to live (Amsterdam) and am returning(if all goes wells) to LA so can get my things out of storage, including a keyboard I bought but rarely tried to play (will do better this time) above which I will hang the gorgeous bag Jamie gave me with my initials on it, as part of the decor.  I no longer hope for or even more plan for a conquest of Broadway, as I am the wrong sex, and the world, as some poet said, is out of time, meaning, I would hope, not over, but not allowing for something from another period to happen in this one.  It is enough, I hope, as I am no longer that crazy, that there is a welcomed and cheered revival of ON THE TOWN, where my once great(I thought) dancing teacher Gene Kelly became a star, the first to screw me, in the spiritual sense, taking my young inspiration, WHAT A WAY TO GO, and bringing it to the screen via Arthur Jacobs who thought it was me who screwed him (in the show business sense) as MCA threw the blame my way, a lie, but that was MCA.  All these things were terrible surprises, as I really loved show business and other people, and apparently was sufficiently wounded that I never forgot any of this, but now I can, along with everything else that vanishes into some kind of elder fog.
  The weather here is enough to drive me away, along with the bad theatre and the lack of compassion.  I spoke last night to Shan Cretin, the soft and loving high-posted officer in the Quaker not-exactly-hierarchy, who is in Philadelphia, and admitted, gentle and brilliant as she is (also speaks Chinese) that when she comes to New York she feels a certain harshness-- didn't use that word-- in the attitudes of the people.  This, a woman who doesn't judge.  But almost all the friends I have made are either leftover and treasured ones from Bryn Mawr, or strangers from other countries I have picked up on street corners or at the opera.  There will be a song in ON THE TOWN which I will hurry to see, called LONELY TOWN, and it IS, it IS!  I was born out of time-- that is to say I should have been here to emerge in the period when it was still all right and exciting to have been a gifted lyricist, and nobody noticed you were a woman.
    But I am just about finished lamenting what I have missed, and will set out to try and realize, in the realization sense, what it is I can still make happen, if anything.  So I will leave the town to Comden and Green, whose place it really was, and apparently still is.  Better them than Lady GaGa.

Monday, October 20, 2014

GONE WITH THE WIND GOES MORTAL

My wonderful friend, the journalist Sandra Burton, killed by her boyfriend in Bali, where you can get away with murder if you have a couple of bucks, had been so busy all her life trying to make the world a better place, which she did by exposing wrong, that she had never seen GONE WITH THE WIND.  I gave it to her for her birthday when I was visiting her in Hong Kong, but I don't know if she ever saw it. 
    I am of course hoping for an Afterlife, where I will be able to ask her, but I do recognize that as probably delusional, just like the idea that there might be justice in impoverished places, where everything can be paid off and covered up.   As I have written, he got out of the truck in Bali carrying her body to its cremation, wearing shorts and a dirty shirt.  But he did get dressed in a shirt and tie for the mini-memorial Time held for her in New York, and got up and spoke of how great it was between them, not mentioning that he beat her to death, or using correct grammar.  "Things were so great between Sandy and I," he said, wrongly, stopping just short of asking the fairly impressive assemblage for a job.
    I have never gotten over grieving her, because I really did love her and she was smarter than anybody. I had been with her having a great lunch the day before she was killed, and helped her through a creative problem: there was nothing she didn't know or couldn't find out fact-wise, but she was having some difficulty with the logic of recounting various explorations in the history of the oceans down there, and because fact meant so little to me as a novelist, I walked her through it.  She wrote me a long e-mail that night, thanking me and rejoicing in the fact that she would now be able to finish it, not anticipating of course the fact that he would kill her.
      Jill Abramson, recently the first woman editor of the New York Times, fired, was Sandy's assistant at her first being-in-charge post in Boston, so I recently wrote Jill asking for some help.  But she says there is no factual support for my suspicions, which are (in truth) that she was beaten to death by her "boyfriend," a word I find sticking in my brain channel because it sounds so amiable, the last thing he was.  He told me on the phone before her funeral in Bali that she fell and hit her head on the toilet, an assertion that sent my wonderful doctor Agre in LA, a kind and brilliant but basically humorless man into a comic spin, where he boomed and bounced against an imaginary toilet seat.  And when I repeated what the man had said to me on the phone-  that "the houseboys wiped up all the blood," said "With a head wound you bleed internally.  If there was blood, somebody  whacked her."
   I have spent all these years hoping to get some kind of Justice for Sandy, because I have never had another friend that smart, and in such a selfless way.  And now that Gone with the Wind turns 75, according to Entertainment Weekly, I am sad again, wondering if she ever saw it, if she ever took the time for herself in the world she was working so tirelessly to make better, to watch the movie.
    I think she left him what there was of her money, as her family was mostly gone, parents and a sister she loved who died young all departed.  Death, inevitable as it may be, seems not enough of a punishment for him.  And the end of great journalism, in a world where nobody has the attention span to read or probably even write a great story, likely ushered in with it the failure of anybody to give a shit.  I believe he turned to another "career," maybe even fishing on a boat that would have been a great setting for his unloosed and supported villainy.  But then, what I was for a very long time was a novelist, so you can't go by me.
    

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

LEARNING TO RELIQUISH

My old agent, Owen Laster, head of Literary, such as it was, at the William Morris Agency, said what he loved most about me was that I never gave up.  But he is dead now, so that no longer seems a vital evaluation.
   What I loved most about me, if I really loved about me at all, was my conviction that if you were indefatigable in the pursuit of some worthy purpose, you would never grow tired.  But I am afraid I was wrong.  A few weeks in New York, darkening skies, and a darkening world have borderline sapped me of my energy, and very much robbed me of my childlike vitality and optimism, which really are hardly applicable to one of my years, which I have always discounted, but my bones begin to be aware of.
     Battles rage on the literary front, of which I am hardly conscious, except that Philip Roth, great writer and heartless narcissist, is on the front page of the Business section of the Times, decrying the battle for writers to get what is due them, via Amazon and Hachette.  I remember with something more than a mind's eye the wonderful recently visited bookshop in Amsterdam, savored only briefly, that had real books in it, stacks of shelves, a checkout counter, as in days of yore, and, even more yore-ly, my vanished youth, so much of it passed in bookstores.  I can conjure like the wounded child I was, shelves low to the ground I sat on, turning pages that made me smile or raise a tear or two.  As it is now, I do not even really connect with the vanishing book world, since the last thing I wrote was not even given serious attention by an agent who had no idea who I was, if indeed I was ever anybody.  So interesting, really, as the last few years of my life were spent trying to learn to live fully in the moment, as the moments vanished, struggling to give up attachment to wanting to be Somebody.  And now I no longer am.  I wonder at that not making me happier.
         Had lunch at the Metropolitan with Betty Srere and Suzie Habachy, friends from Bryn Mawr, and lifelong friends as it happily turns out, two excellent women who remind me how lucky I was to go to that great college, with its values that never desist.  Would that the world could hold to that level.
      

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A FUNERAL AT ARLINGTON

More than a few years ago, when I still believed I could change the course of my own life, and, hopefully, maybe some others', I wrote a novel about this country I so loved, called THE MOTHERLAND.  As there was in it a funeral at Arlington Cemetery, which I called in the novel "the death place of American heroism," I enlisted the aid of  the wise and knowledgable friend I had who knew EVERYTHING about America, Marty Hoffmann, married to my beloved Muggy, the prettiest girl in the class at Bryn Mawr, to teach me about my country, so I could write the book.  I spent a lot of time in the downstairs guest room of "the Hoffmanns of Virginia," to whom I was to dedicate the novel.  And with Marty's particular gift for eloquence, I relied on him to walk me verbally through a state funeral, which he did, and on which I relied verbatim.
    Yesterday, sadly, but powerfully, I went to Marty's own honoring at Arlington, even more stately and moving than the one in the novel.  (And fine as that was, the author's own ego cannot forego noting, with her editor, Michael Korda, convinced the book would be the Biggest of the Year, it came out at exactly the moment Nixon fell, and All the Presidents' Men came out, so nobody paid any attention to Fiction.)
     Marty was, more than anyone I have ever been privileged to know, an American, fiercely eloquent in his country's defense, wise and gentle in recounting its virtues, sad but honorable acknowledging its failures.  He made it possible for me to love a Republican, and to believe that had been the party of Lincoln.
     As the mourners gathered yesterday at Arlington, in the chapel at Fort Myers, I was among them, with my friend Bill Danoff, songwriter and leader of the Starland Vocal Band, ("Afternoon Delight.")  The occasion was particularly real and moving, because of eulogies that were not so much praise as the actual renderings of why it had been so wonderful to have him on the planet, as told by his children, Heidi, Bill, and Bern.  
    I had known all of them since their beginnings.  Heidi had screamed with grief at one year old, when Don dove into their pool, and, disappearing beneath the water, apparently made her think he had vanished forever.  They were, inarguably, the finest family I'd had as friends in my life. 
     So as sad though inevitable as such occasions are, it was, in its very Republican way, wonderful, as elegant and reverential as such an occasion could have been. Most moving were the pictures of Marty on display at the reception afterwards, so you could see how really a handsome man he was, and how alive, sailing a boat just big enough to contain him, if not all his energy.
   And as I have always been helped and guided by the Hoffmanns of Virginia in life, I am guided by them in death: life is short, and I think I have to get back to California.  A chill wind caught me as I came out of Pennsylvania Station back in New York.  And I realized how young I no longer am, what a tough burg this is, how unconnected I am here, how bad the musicals are, and how unlikely it is that I will get mine on.  I think I'd rather be comfortable and alive.  
   So I think I will be headed back to where I can be at ease, going for walks, swimming, and writing ditties on my keyboard.  And,  one can but hope, something really good on my iPad.  And not dreams on a wind that it is unlikely will blow my way. 
   Ah, Reality.  It does strike you at a funeral.
     

Saturday, September 20, 2014

AN END TO AMSTERDAM

So I have put on my keyboard by the window the outline of Amsterdam's skyline, such as it is, that was given me by my adorable neighbors across the canal there, whom I unfortunately did not connect with until it was almost time to depart, and so I now regard as officially closed my Dutch chapter.  As unexpected and unwarranted as it seemed, there must have been some treasure in it unperceived at the time, that I hope to discover as my perceptions wane, besides the few adorable and kind people I met, and the almost unmanageable stones beneath my feet.  The whole city leaks, you understand, having been built stubbornly (the Dutch rarely listen) on water, so they are constantly tearing up portions of the walkways and roads to repair, making it lucky they have built in bricked increments, making it possible to tear up only small portions of sidewalks and thoroughfares, such as they are, at a time.
     But I am back in New York with a loving vengeance, determined to find out if I really belong here, which I have never felt I have since P.S. 9 (for which I wrote the school song.) The next few weeks will determine if there is a point to it, or if I should transfer my aging bones to California, to be among old friends, a few beloved grandchildren, and an easier climate.  The very smart and witty Mark Sendroff was at 54 Below again the other night when I went back to see Christine Ebersole, and he said to me "Go home already," which I think I have to, as soon as I find out where it is.
    Meanwhile they have searched my apartment for bedbugs, as I have bites on my neck and no perceivable lover.  The dog, well trained at great expense to sniff them out, found nothing, as I haven't either: that is to say no lure to keep me here if the show isn't going to happen, especially once the weather changes.  There was one waft of winter, and it chilled me.  To my surprise I have grown older, something I never imagined I would do.  And what I want most now, besides an overture, is peace and access to those I truly love, almost all of whom are in L. A. 
    I understood coming back on Icelandair, an excellent airline if any of you are looking for the most reasonable and comfortable trip to Europe if you don't mind stopping over for a couple of hours on what may be the Pole (I skipped the year we had geography) that my travel days were more or less done, there being few if any places I still wanted to go--I have been very lucky.  So I am almost, except for the songs unsung and the wit unrealized, content, travelled out, past romanticizing, or hoping too hard.
     Had lunch at what was once Mickey Mantle's on Central Park South, but is now a lovely restaurant called Villagio's, with the Angel Carleen, my beloved friend who warms my heart and the neighborhood when she is here, whose child I found on the streets of San Francisco when I lived there, and with whom I have been lucky enough to be close ever since.  And I understood that my time as a wanderer is more or less come to a close, as there is almost no place I really want to go where I haven't been, the world becoming more and more treacherous and sad. So I am here if here is where I am meant to be-- we will see what is going to happen with my show, if anything-- and if not, then it may be time to move back to California.  I caught a harsh whiff of wind coming back last night from Lincoln Center, where I was for a wonderful presentation of City Lights, a run of the Chaplin movie with full symphonic orchestra, with music he might have composed himself if he'd known where the notes were, the kind of event you can probably only experience in New York.  But in the absence of a great personality like Chaplin himself, (whose son, Charlie, Jr. I actually dated a lifetime ago,) I think I might be ready for the settling in into the West Coast, where my furniture is in storage, and I can watch the sun where it actually sets, instead of over this sad roof with its unseemly ropes and dangles.
     So we shall see.  I am so fully aware of the great privilege I have had being where I've been,  knowing whom I've known, and having the approval and support of the great people I did and do.  But it's time to go home.  Now to determine where, really, it is.  Much love to you all, who were and are part of the journey and the search.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

A POME

Struck by a pram
In Amsterdam
Where no one pays any attention
She flew quite high
Towards a sapphire sky
And entered another dimension
Where the air seemed clearer
And God seemed nearer
And there were both nabobs and slobs
There was kindness, charity
Perfect parity
Everything run by Steve Jobs.
But behind the illusion
Of little confusion
And fellows that wore yellow ties
There was need to return to
The land where you yearn to
Have no mayonnaise on your fries.
And the hunger for square ways
So Icelandic Airways
It carried her over the pole
To the country of drama
And poor, lost Obama
Where she once again felt almost whole.
But we'll see...

SURVIVING A SUMMER

So having begun clearing off my desk in an attempt to sort out this last adventure, I find the history of a madness I must have been madder than usual to take on. Looking up the synonyms for 'adventure', as having described too many that actually were as simply that, not wanting to be repetitious as well as seeming foolhardy, which I really don't mind as long as I live through it, I come across  escapadelarkployactactiondeeddoing,featepisodeoccasionbaptismordealtesttrial,tribulationenterpriseriskventureexpeditionexploration,missionperformancequeststunt.
Of all these, I would have to choose 'escapade,' though it was closer to 'ordeal' as it turned out, and only turned out as I got out in time. And that was my Nazi summer, I think was the season.
    I find pictures of the trees, tall pines rising high, a dangling Swastika hanging between their trunks, barely perceptible, as I was, of course, photographing in secret, frightened of being discovered, though not frightened enough not to go to the Aryan Nations Congress.  No kidding.  In Hayden Park, Idaho, where they had their colony.  Encampment, more accurately.  This was particularly resonant for me, an extremely non-observant Jew, because I had gone to Cherry Lawn School in Darien, Connecticut, the signature anti-Semitic colony in the USA, where most of the students were Jews, and the townspeople closed their blinds when we walked in to the village on Brookside Road to see a movie.
      Icing on the tasteless cake, 'Gentlemen's Agreement,' was filmed there while I was a student, eleven or twelve years old.  And as Gregory Peck was reportedly filming a scene in town, a lot of the students went into town to watch.   But by the time they get there, the train had pulled in, the scene been shot, and they all went back to school except me, so avid a movie fan that I sat on the bench sobbing at having missed it.   As it turned out, the train had pulled in too far, the star had gone back to Stanford to get on it and come in again, and I was the only one left in the station.  He signed my paper, leaning it against my front left-almost breast, and I never washed that flannel shirt again.  Many years later, the universe being orchestrated, I met him in Hollywood and became friendish, and when he came to Paris, where I was freelancing for the Wall Street Journal Europe at the time, he invited me to be his date for a dinner at the American Embassy in his honor.  Live long enough and everything works out in some literary way,  God being a compulsive storyteller.  
    Then when Mr. Peck, which I still think of him as, 'Gregory' seeming too intimate with Veronique, his wife, very eagle-eyed,  recorded the memorial poem I wrote for my Yorkie, Happy's, memory, my dog had greater honor than most people.  The book would have sold millions, except that Oprah didn't show it, still another semi-disappointing saga.  You are always lucky when you have a saga at all, even one that semi-disappoints, because that at least means you have lived through it.
    Such was the case with the Nazis of Idaho.  I tried to write a novel about it and them.  But for those who still are unbelievers in a beneficent universe, it rained through my roof on the (still then) typewriter I was writing the book on, and the manuscript was destroyed.  A journalist who had attended the same conference and planned to write a book about it was found hanging from his office window in Chicago.
    I don't believe I will live long enough to describe in indescribable detail that dark adventure, except to relate that Joe Wershba of Sixty Minutes was tracking me in case they found out that I was a Jew, and for what I was doing, a man was strung up from the burning cross there when a microphone fell out of his sleeve, raised in the Nazi salute that was called for from the assemblage I skipped because I had developed hives, and Tommie, the masseuse who had joined me because she lived near, said "I don't know how you can stand it, and I'm not even Jewish."  I'm sorry I never wrote the book but it would not have been uplifting anyway, and I'm glad to be alive.  And the Aryan Nations conference in Hayden Lake has been dissolved as its crackpot leader is dead, but you would be sadly surprised to find out how many colonies there are in America.  Maybe not.  I still have the pictures though, and they are very glossy and pretty except for the swastikas perceptible through the tree trunks.
     And maybe not if you watch this morning's Sixty Minutes, or look at the front of The New York Times.  There were certain advantages to living in Holland and not being able to, or have any wish to understand Dutch.