Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Wherever You Go, There You Are

So I have left the cold, weatherwise and personal,of New York to return for a while to LA, where I know to expect emptiness. On the way out I flew Jet Blue and tuned to the Fox Movie Channel which back-to-back showed first Carousel, and then The King and I. So I had a coast-to-coast weep, for the beauty of the songs, for the death of the American musical as we knew it, including mine own, which I understand now I must give up on, seeing what's happened on Broadway. Landing in a fog, the weather's, not mine, I drove North with a quiet ferocity, since my assignment for Christmas dinner with friends was Cranuberry Much, something I learned to make in a cooking course in DC during the Carter administration, which included a Thanksgiving dinner with grits. But the stores were all closed, so I couldn't buy cranberries, and Ralph's, which was open, closed its doors just as I pulled up. I pleaded, but they said their cash register was broken, so so was that bubble.
Christmas Day I joined my wonderful friends who had exiled me last summer because of the Reports, Republicans who wrote me they were inflamatory with one 'm' and I didn't correct the spelling. But life is short and growing shorter, and the woman, my best friend at Bryn Mawr, had a health crisis so we healed it, and I went to their daughter's Christmas as I had last year, when the husband, Rummy's good right arm, raised his glass to the Republic and to those who had fallen in her defense and I gagged visibly and asked some searing questions, but this year kept my mouth shut. That discretion did not extend to the gift I received from their beautiful child, whom I love, but gave me a poetry book by Maya Angelou with whom I have a great deal of history and know how full of merde she is, although no longer in Paris. God Bless America, truly the land of opportunity especially if you are revered by Oprah.
Mimi was wearing her fur collar from her godmother who espouses simplicity but apparently not in dogs, and was loved by all.We returned to the apartment rented from a friend I will not name as the joint is out of joint, as Shakespeare might have put it if he was a little less clear. I had planned to clear my own head/soul via a daily morning swim as I did last year in Bali, but of course the pool is not heated and it's cold here, though nowhere as cold as New York. I have to get a parking permit daily, as there's no room in her garage. The TV doesn't work, but last night my friend Joie came for dinner bought at Whole Foods which charged me $5.99 apiece for papayas that were supposed to be 2 for $2.99 but I caught them, (Whole in LA apparently doesn't mean what it does in the spiritual realm.) Joie figured out how to work the VCR and we found tapes of the great old series The Prisoner, with Patrick McGoohan, so after she left I watched the first episode. And I was young again, and Don was still alive, and the two of us enjoyed what was without question the most innovative and commanding show on TV. It was all shot in the village of Port Merrion, an actual place built by an inspired, apparently very rich lunatic in Wales, that I visited during my Oxford summer, after Don had died. I don't know how anyone can really live there.
Then the VCR stopped working, and there was nothing for it but to be with my own thoughts which boiled down to this, that i wrote on the top of The New York Times because I couldn't find a piece of paper: 'A Life well lived, with all its pain, loneliness, silences when you would have noise, and noise when you would have silence.'
Then I wrote "Life at base is a..." and then a word i cannot read. I have studied it for many an hour, but cannot make it out. I think it begins with a p, but cannot be sure because I scrawled it in the dark. Perhaps it will haunt me the rest of my life. Perhaps I had the answer to everything, the riddle of the Sphinx, the reason for it all. But if I did, it has eluded me, as, I suppose, all great answers to everything are meant to,
But I did manage to write in the book I finally found, a gift from Mimi's indulgent friend, something I can read:
The test here is to love life with all its difficulties, its irritations, its disappointments and challenges, its rude awakenings, and to feel absolute ecstasy in those rare moments when things go right.
Much love to all of you, and a better year to come.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Chip off the old Aunt

Unaccustomed as I am to public name-dropping, filled with loathing for the celebrity culture we have become, with Nick and Jessica on every newstand and who the fuck are they anyway and what have they done, by the way? the moment does come once in a while, where, in my serendiptious fashion, I cross paths with someone noted who is worth paying attention to. Thus it was that I went with my beloved friends, Joe and Shirley Wershba, great journalists and arguably even greater human beings who worked with EdwardR.Murrow and thus became characters in and consultants to Goodnight and Good Luck, to a screening of that remarkable movie at the Writer's Guild, with George Clooney and crew doing Q & A afterwards.
For those of you who have been victimized by these reports for many a year, you will remember that at the height of my frustration at not being able to get anyone to listen to my musical;('What are you doing writing music?' gravelled Jimmy Nederlander, 'You're a bookwriter!) I wandered into a grocery store in Beverly Hills during this selfsame season, my hissy fit intensified by the fact that there were no Christmas Carols anywhere, and heard them at last. Someone was singing along with the Muzak. Turning the corner I saw Rosemary Clooney, pushing her cart and singing 'Hark the Herald Angels Sing.' I went over and introduced myself to her, and said I wanted to talk to her about something. She said "Good." Then I said "I think God sent me in here," and she replied "I believe in that." So I told her about my musical,and a few days later she came to my house and I played the score for her. She laughed and she cried and said all the right things: "Usually when you have lyrics this good, you have to make musical sacrifices; but that isn't the case here," she soothed on. "This would be a great singing experience."
A while afterwards,I wrote her a letter asking if she would consider recording some of the songs for me. My lawyer negotiated with her manager, and she did them IN EXCHANGE FOR SANDWICHES FOR THE MUSICIANS. I capitalize that info for you to emphasize and make clear what an amazing soul she was, and what a generous heart. When she did a concert in San Francisco I went backstage, and she introduced me to her friends as :"One of the great songwriters of all time." There are certain phrases coming from certain people that should put your spirit to rest. I ought to think of that once in a while, when I grind my teeth.
Anyway, in the Q & A, wherein George was as quick and funny as he is great-looking and seeking to do more with his gifts than just be pretty, though that doesn't hurt,someone asked him if he was being audited, and he said "Not yet, but I did do Syriana so I may get an anal probe." Then someone asked why the jazz punctuating the music, and he said, smiling sweetly, "I had an aunt who sang a little jazz."
Cue. Shirley introduced me to him afterwards, and I gave him the CD of Rosie singing my songs, and said "This was a gift to me from your aunt who sang a little jazz, so I'm giving it as a gift to you." He was Adorable+, genuine and smart, and said to me at one point "You're lovely." Rest, rest, per-tur-bed spirit. I shall remember these things and add them all up and try to stop being an assholette about not being able to break into the light, since light comes sometimes in unexpected ways, and in his case pretty darling.
Yesterday I went to an off off off performance of a show by my one-time collaborator when I wrote my first musical, that was supposed to be produced by Kermit Bloomgarden, the great producer of his day which was in my true youth, except that he put all the money he had raised for our show into Mel Brooks' 'Nowhere to Go but Up,' which tanked, taking all our capital with it. Phil's show was especially sad because he was incredibly gifted and wrote many fine songs, especially the ones in our show, an adaptation of Mark Twain's 'Million Pound Note,' and had a couple of big hits, missing from yesterday's dirge-y salute to the Brill Building, where songwriters used to go to flog their tunes. Worst was the last before the intermission, The Highway of Life, about when you see someone with their thumb out pick them up because they may be your chum, with lyrics by my mentor and father-figure when I was a baby,Yip Harburg, who wrote the lyrics for Wizard of Oz, and what remains the #1 song in the history of American songs, 'Over the Rainbow.' There was never a better, wittier poet in songdom than Yip: "As coroner, I Vocifer,I thoroughly examined her,and she is not just merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead." But Yip had a heaviness in him (Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? the best depressed example) so someone needed to be around to feather him up, and poor Phil was clearly not the one to do it, at least not on that highway of life, to which a cast of grateful to be working performers did a step-crosstheankle-step, step crosstheankle step in funereal tempo as if, said my sister-in-law, Arline,'they were serious.' I hope if I live long enough to lose my sense of humor, someone kills me.
But on the way out I introduced Arline to Joe Franklin who was on local TV forever, and he remembered her brother, my husband, from when Don worked at WOR, and even knew how to spell his name,which thrilled her. So no experience is wasted except the one you waste.
And news of a different coin, Joel Iskowitz, the gifted artist who designed the new cover for The Motherland, my best novel which will shortly be re-issued and available on Amazon.com please God, has just had his coin design chosen for the platinum one to be released by the treasury in 2006, that depicts the legislative branch of government. His coin for 2008, depicting the judicial branch, will also be issued. He did not design one for 2007, the executive branch, "for reasons",he said, "that will be obvious."

Thursday, December 08, 2005

New York on a Strange Anniversary

So the air being much less bitter than yesterday, I decided to be the same. It was a walking day, and walking is one of the finest things New York has to offer, there being hardly a block you can go by without discovering something interesting or evocative, provided you can lift your face against a less than Arctic wind. I began my walk at Columbus Circle, finally finished, with a statue saluting Christopher, adding all the scorn and danger he had to face to discover this country, and how belittled he was in spite of giving the world a new world. They have put benches in an arrangement I would know how to describe exactly had I been more attentive during Geometry, with greater gifts for that terrible subject than I possessed. But they are not quite semi-circles, and very welcoming i would imagine when the weather gets better and people want to rest halfway across the street, before tackling the multi-placed white-lined alleged pedestrian crossings to the Time-Warner building which I worry about as it is a new, tall, sparklingly capitalistic target, but no matter. I stopped in to FACE, a dazzling make-up boutique inside the splendiferous mall, to buy Annie Navasky, Victor's wife, some lip gloss called Gracious,since she is, but they were all out of it. Oh well.
Then I started up Central Park West, passed the Century, a building where lived Dorothy Loudon, a greatly talented musical comedy performer who was kind of shelved by the show business crowd when Ballroom failed to be the success it might have been if lofted to the level of her gifts. She told me once that she thought maybe there was something wrong with her answering machine, that there were never any messages on it. I understand the feeling. As writ in these-- what are they? Not exactly pages-- Jules Feiffer said to me "Do your work and your community will find you." Annie Navasky said "He forgot to add:'if you're wildly successful.'" I mentioned once to a friend when passing that building that Dorothy was lonely, and my friend said "Not anymore.". Oh well.
Then I passed Ethical Culture, with its planned sermon for Sunday:' Embracing the Infidel.' Sure.
There were TV cameras and trucks on 72nd Street, helicopters hovering, a line of people gathered outside the Dakota, and I realized that today is the 25th anniversary of John Lennon's being killed. I knew John Lennon for a brief moment, when he was separated from Yoko, hanging out for that evening at the weekend pool-table party of Jack Haley, Jr. He was visibly depressed and drinking heavily, and I thought to ease his anguish by telling him how wonderful he was, how important he was to so many people, how great were his gifts. He finally rose from beneath my barrage of attempted uplift, and said "Gwen... if you really love me, you'll stop talking."
I remember on this day all those years ago, I was on the phone early in the morning with Bethie, a friend from Bryn Mawr, when she told me John had just been shot. Somehow these things are softened when you hear them relayed by someone kind. But it remains to this day very shocking, stupid and pointless. I met the psychologist for the prison where Mark David Chapman was incarcerated, and he told me Chapman got love letters from many women, married one of them, and would get all buffed up when she was coming to visit, but when she left visibly deflated, down to the bone. You wonder sometimes if you believe in a benign universe, which I try to, why it is the murderers who are left alive.
Then I arrived at my true destination, The Museum of Natural History, on the inner walls of which are written many fine things said by Teddy Roosevelt, who rides a metal horse in front of the museum. Character, he said, is what ultimately determines the fate of a nation as well as a person. It would be good if they could lasso the entire congress and walk them by those messages, including the ones Teddy, the great conservationist, gave about our owing future generations. I went upstairs to the dinosaur floor and bought a backpack with scales on it for Lukas, who is six now, and a dinosaur book for Silas, who is two, and can say 'Hello' and 'Goodbye'in exactly that same basso profoundo that his father had at hismost adorable. My wonderful friend Bill McGivern, a mystery writer, long gone,once said he wanted to invent something called 'Staybaby'that you sprayed on them at the perfect time.
Then I told a little boy who was crying that everything would be all right, that he would find the world a very nice place and there was nothing to cry about. He was so stunned that he stopped immediately, and his mother suggested I begin a service,to which she would subscribe.
I took the subway then, that I need to be in a courageous mood to do, but having been counseled by Teddy that that was an aspect of my humanity that I would do well to cultivate, I had it. Went to Lee's Art Store on 57th St and bought some silver spray paint, took it out on my little iron balcony and sprayed all my Thanksgiving leaves that no one had seen and made them Christmas to which you are all invited. Also inadvertently spray-painted my boots. Silver Boots. Silver Boots. It's Christmas time in the city. Well, it almost makes it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Tis The Season

to be jolly,or depressed, depending on how things have been going,and what prospects there are of their going anywhere else. But tis also the time when the studios glut the writers with movie invitations, so they can get in there in time for nominations. Thus it is that I have been to almost everything, and will herewith give my reviews. Good Night and Good Luck is my top pick, not because George Clooney is not just another pretty face, and is trying really hard to lift the level out there, and maybe even make an important political point, but because it is riveting, smokily on target, and my darling friends Shirley and Joe Wershba, who worked with Murrow and are portrayed in the film by Robert Downey, Jr. and Patricia Carlson, which has given them a new lease on life, especially Shirley, who has probably always wanted to be a blonde. The movie is as intense as that period we lived through as concerned baby girls, which, when contrasted with the present horrors in government seems kind of like a bicycle ride.
Next, I would recommend King Kong, with someone next to you to hide your eyes on, as the violence is excessive--after the dinosaur stampede and fa;lling through chasms there's a cave full of worm things that eat off people's heads while they can still be heard screaming inside the worm,something I could devoutly have done without and children everywhere will be nightmared by. But Naomi Watts is lovely, Peter Jackson is clearly brilliant,though someone should have said 'Enough,' and the guy who played the ape, who was present at the Q&A, and honored by all, especially Naomi who had to do everything against a blue screen but could see his eyes, which gave her ballast, according to her testimonial. Jack Black, too, is surprisingly good, having made the transition from clown to a man of greed quite niftily. Having gone alone,so having no one to be terrified with, I bonded with the SAG member next to me, a black actress named Pat Dixon, so we will be going together to the Sarah Bernhardt exhibition at the Jewish Museum, the exchange being I have to go to the Slavery exhibition at the NY Historical Museum which will probably be wrenching.
Syriana is so intense that even if you watch every single frame as if you were an editor you will still be confused. But an interesting effort. Avert your eyes during the torture scene.
Friday night I'm invited to a big fund raiser for Memoirs of a Geisha, which is both a nice and a very sad thing, as that is the same time as the WGAE party at the Friars, where I wish I could go, but my arrested spiritual development precludes my being in two places at once. Those are the only two invitations I have for the holidays, which makes me feel very sorry for myself, especially when played against a minus 2 centigrade day. I don't know what the fuck I'm doing in New York. I was looking forward to entertaining a friend I made on the Nation cruise, but he opted for a political lecture when I was impelled to go to the screening of Brokeback Mountain. I had to go to that because afterwards there was to be a Q & A with Larry McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize winning author I have always admired and wanted to meet.
Some years ago, when I was still a hit, I got a fan letter from a woman saying that her favorite authors were Larry McMurtry and me, so I wanted to say hello and tell him that. But as I introduced myself and started to explain who I was, he stopped me and said he knew who I was, that Ken Kesey had given him the novel I wrote about him. This came as an incredible shock for two reasons: first, I hate that book, Someone's in the Kitchen with Dinah, since it is, among all my work the one I would erase,and second because Kesey was so angry when I wrote it that he threatened to sue me.
Back story:Kesey and I were at Stanford in the Creative Writing Program together. He was adorable, funny and wrestler stocky, with tightly curled kinky yellow hair, young Paul Newmanish. He was obviously gifted and boisterous, and lived on Perry Lane, peopled with bright and rebellious cohorts, whom he had organized into what fell just short of being an official association of wife-swappers. He assured me that his wife would welcome me into the club, but I saw the sad look in her eyes when he went off with someone else. Besides I was very young and a bit of a prig. So I resisted his obvious charms until the night he taught me to smoke dope,an event that took place at my house. I had lost my Standard Oil charge card and reported the loss.After Ken and I had done the naughty, both of us stoned, there was a banging on my front door. When I asked who it was,a resonant, deep voice said "Sergeant Riley." I remember the comic spectacle of Kesey bolting out my patio door, bobbing like a jackrabbit over neighborhood fences, burying the stash in someone's brick barbecue. I could barely speak as I opened the front door, steadying myself by leaning against the wall, shaking, the scent of our mischief still hanging in the air. Besides that grass made you paranoid to begin with, I was sure that I was being punished, busted for my first official stray off the straight and narrow. "I just wanted to check," Sergeant Riley said,"if you found your charge card." Exhale.
Then, while I was waiting for my professor to read the first draft of The Motherland (a really good book,) I dashed off a little comic novel about wife-swapping in the suburbs, once more ahead of her time. The book sold at once. Doubleday, who was to be the publisher, received a letter from Kesey. I still have it. "We are the wife-swappers," it said. "If you publish this book you will have a liable(sic) suit, in fact several liable suits. My wife is seven months pregnate(sic) It will jeepardize(sic) our position in the community, and I am a graduate student in the English department at Stanford University." That, in spite of the spelling, was a crystal truth. Kesey told me once that if it hadn't been for the Honor system, he never would have gotten through graduate school(we had to sign our bluebooks that we hadn't cheated.) Anyway,Doubleday bought the letter and cancelled the book,publishing it reluctantly after I'd bowdlerized it completely, changing the locale from Northern California to Long Island, making the nearby Veteran's hospital(the one that Ken and worked at that was the inspiration for Cuckoo's Nest, where I'd volunteered, too, but didn't partake of the mind-altering drugs,-- missed it again!) into a spa. What was funny in it was lost, but what really pissed him off, I think,was that I opined that the character, for all his apparent sexuality, hadn't been that good in bed. I mean, nothing to write home about, unless it was a novel.
So over the years he continued being mad at me, making me a character in the first printing of Cuckoo ("A Red CrossLady named Gwendolyn... taking notes on the pain and hell around her, plans to write a funny novel about it later on")-- out of the rest of the printings thanks to Obnoxious Mel, a lawyer who was courting me and spoke to Viking. I wanted many times to make it all right with Ken, to heal it, but when I finally saw him in the collapsed flesh, I was too sad at what he had become to go up and speak to him. And then he died.
My question,doctor: If it made him so mad,why did he give a copy to Larry McMurtry? Interesting, yes? Why would you give a book in which you insisted you'd been libeled to another writer you admired. Could it be he was actually pleased I wrote about him? No way to know now. Oh,well.
No review of Brokeback Mountain here. Beautiful picture, beautiful men. But I was strangely unmoved. Maybe I identified too much with the women. See the Tab Hunter biography, re Tony Perkins.
Happy Holidays.