Monday, May 09, 2005


Thoreau said 'We need the tonic of wildness.' I need, on occasion, more than occasionally, the tonic of tranquility recollected in bullshit, which I find when I go to LA, and stay at the Hotel Bel-Air. The hotel itself is a miracle of salvation in that Porsche-driven company town, one of the three major company towns in America, the other two being Rochester, New York, where the company is Eastman-Kodak, and Washington, D.C. where the company is the government, whose present company I wouldn't like to keep, and hope we get rid of before they get rid of what used to feel like America. In Hollywood, which LA is unless you live in San Marino, the company is, of course, the motion picture industry. When I lived in LA, and was a victim of the same kind of yearning to be part of it as poisons the soul of the purest of people, of which I did not have the hubris to consider myself one, but I was at least a seeker, I could go into that canyon and cross the bridge to the hotel, and immediately feel a sense of peace, as though it were a Power Spot, acceptable to Carlos Castenada and even Shirley MacLaine. It offered Renewal, as Power Spots will, and restoring, like the best of spas, the lush foliage beneath the bridge, when you walked along that fake waterway, with its signature swans, wrapping you in a sense of tranquility almost as palpable as you feel in Bali, the world's best Power Spot, in my opinion. No matter what bullshit was going on on the patio, where stars eat and you can't take a picture, especially if Sean Penn is at the next table, lest he punch out the photographer, where Nancy Reagan lunches, where Oprah leaves her self-appointed post as Just One of the People, you can always heal your spirit with minimal effort.
My minimal effort consisted of swimming for fifty minutes in the oval pool(my riff on the alloted head-clearing time with a shrink.) I had the privilege of doing that even though I wasn't a guest at the hotel, because I was friends with the then manager. Special occasions were always celebrated there: my daughter's Sweet Sixteen, my husband's last public meal when he was mortally ill. At my most restive, I had a nose for serenity, and as I morphed into a better person, or tried to, I cloaked myself in the hotel like a comforter, and it was. I had a sweet little Yorkie who became, for a while, the hotel's somewhat celebrated symbol, a canine Eloise who appeared on Oprah, though she didn't show the book, the bitch. When my daughter married (for the first time: she grew up in Beverly Hills, alas) it was underneath their beautiful white, flower-draped-for- the occasion, gazebo. When she divorced not too long afterwards, I suggested to the manager that the wedding-arrangement contract should have a rider where for an extra $10,000 the hotel included the divorce. The survival rate of marriages held there is apparently not that high, in spite of the glorious surroundings. One couple attacked by the swans during the ceremony, myth hath it, did not make it through their honeymoon.
But now that I live in New York, or try to, after a chill, cruel winter, and some brief but evanescent pleasant days where I walked Mimi, my Bichon Frise, through a serpentine swirl of tulips in Central Park,--on one foray we encountered Leona Helmsley's well-dressed dog, Trouble, who was about three pounds, a third Mimi's size but attacked her anyway--when the weather turned bleak again, I JetBlued to the Left Coast, as it is called by cynics, of which I am sometimes one. And there I was, back at the Bel-Air. Mimi, by nature an aristocrat, took to it like a swan to water, and was unimpressed at her first evening walk when she ran into Robert De Niro. He seemed uncomfortable at having been discovered, even by a dog, but by their second encounter was actually affable, and accepted with grace my congratulations at the success of the Tribeca Film Festival, and what it had done for New York. So I did what I had to do to get my heart back into a good place, swimming for the fifty minutes every day at 6 AM, talking to Gus, a bartender Damon Runyan would have liked to stay alive for, and listening to his troubles, working writing a play in my florallycheerful room, getting a haircut from Dusty Fleming, seeing my friend Baby Elizabeth, who teeters prettily on the brink of being Middle-Aged Elizabeth now, and the new twins produced by my accountant slash psychological counselor Lisa, who knew I needed babies to play with, and is generous to a double fault. Then I went to a Safe House for a meeting with my most fearsome adversary, the Safe House provided by Heidi, the wise and gifted daughter of my best friend from Bryn Mawr, Muggy, who is married to a close associate of Rummy's, but we love them anyway. One of the mornings I was joined for breakfast by Jamie(Lee Curtis, for those of you who are new to these reports) who added to her role as movie-star hyphen children's book author to become my financial consultant, telling me I had enough money to live fully the way I wanted, since I got $900 a month from Don's Social Security, and $400 from the Writer's Guild, which adds up to $1300 a month, so she said was over $130,000 a year, but I explained to her that was the year she had skipped in school, when they taught math. Anyway, I am back from there now, fully revived, and ready to take on New York, where it seems to be Spring at last, my having pulled California back with me.
Some sad news: Herb Sargent, one of the great, funny men of my lifetime, that is to say, he was a great man, and funny, kind and generous and smart, the constantly re-elected president of the Writer's Guild East, who we joked should have been elected president for life, which turned out, unhappily, to be how it was, died last week of a heart attack. Adding insult to mortality, his death was announced in an e-mail from Dan Petrie. president of West, who probably contributed to it, having initiated a civil war in the Guild, trying to turn West against East, which punishing rift Herbie was desperately fighting to avert.
And from across the sea, another sadness: my lovely friend Denise Fehlmann in Lucerne-- I met her when I was writing travel for the Wall Street Journal Europe and she conducted me through that city's magnificent concert hall-- lost her husband, Kurt, the former chief of police of Luzern as it's spelled in German, a post that sounded very romantic to me, especially when coupled with a girl from Seattle, which she was. But Kurt was fired when politically-opposed-to-him people took power, and gave out the propaganda that he had been fired because he was burned out. The humiliation destroyed his spirit, and he took his own life two weeks ago, walking in the woods where he used to walk his dog. So there are places that are more venal politically than the US, for the moment anyway. The tragedy iis that men define themselves in terms of what they do, instead of what they are.
But to end on an up note, tomorrow night I will be celebrating my birthday, and the milestone is marked by the fact that Tony, Lisa's husband, father of the twins, has taught me to blog. So I'm not getting older, I'm getting bletter.

No comments: