Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Summing Up

So I end the year with quiet satisfaction, glad that I came, happy to be going back to California, particularly pleased that I don't want to go to any parties tonight as the police have barricaded my street and I understand it will be too hard coming home, and not very wise, as we leave at 9 in the morning. Mimi is in her usual state of anxiety when we are about to set sail, as she is never sure I am taking her with me, and starts guarding the luggage the moment I take it out. But I am curiously serene, bien dans ma peau, as the French say, comfortable in my own skin, which is especially funny coming from them as so few of them are. I am pleased to spend the evening in my NY studio, finessing the frivolity, such as it may be, content to stay home perhaps for the first New Year's Eve since Don died, and maybe a few before, because even as a couple we were worried we might be missing something, as Hollywood gives you that feeling even if you are attached to a firecracker, or are one yourself.
But my hope for romance(the word seems smarmy to me now) is gone, so venturing forth is not necessary. On this holiday I saw the last man to whom I was
drawn some years ago, and (epiphany!) realized I would probably have gone mad if we'd really connected, and that I was doubtless mad at the time I thought him worth worrying over. Also I had the best Christmas dinner ever, two of them: the one I imagined would be downmarket, in the home of friends of a friend, turned out to be Dickensian; and the one I thought would be top of the line was, after the lavishness of the first, sort of ordinary. The festive board in the 4th floor walkup: wild boar stew, venison pie, a goose(Mimi disappeared for a while and I remembered she could jump, and jump high, so went out to the kitchen and she sat by a thigh bone picked clean, looking very innocent) plus the most amazing brussel sprouts ever, luscious in a sweet and sour sauce with crispy onions. The seated elegant one in the Museum Towers, le plus upmarket co-op in New York, was traditional and a bit of a letdown after the unexpected wonder of the first. But I was honored to be invited to a family celebration of a celebrated family so I won't say who they were as they would be hurt to have come in second.
Now I end the year as Turner Classic Movies and The New York Times Magazine ended it, saluting some of the people who left us this year that I knew, and in one case really loved. The Times bade a surprisingly affectionate farewell to Glenn Ford and June Allyson who were never in a film together but would have made, they ventured, the perfect couple. Glenn I knew fairly well for all the years Don and I were in LA. We met at our first star-striking party when I saw him standing with Rita Hayworth, and, still in my overly-ebullient self cried:"It's the lovers from Gilda!" I was, at the time, wearing a ring my Mother had found at auction, a 19th century mourning ring, one side of it onyx framed in seed pearls, with the golden inscription, 'In Memoriam.' It flipped, and on the other side was a daguerrotype of the mustachioed departed. Rita, still beautiful, and apparently with her wits still about her, said morosely "He'd be dead by now even if I hadn't married him." Stunned that she could actually think, I offered the ring to her, as Glenn stood behind her back and violently shook his head. "I couldn't possibly accept it," she said, and wrenched it from my finger. The next day I suffered Giver's Remorse and wanted it back, but there was no getting it from her. "I tried to warn you," Glenn said. I consoled myself by saying How many people had given a ring to Rita Hayworth? Me, Orson Welles, and Aly Khan.
Glenn and I stayed friends. He was a quiet, kind man, occasionally funny, who fell into a deeper and deeper depression as he grew older. He doesn't have to worry about that anymore.
June I knew because her daughter, Pam Powell, was a freshman PR at Rogers and Cowan when that firm was handling ThePretenders. When I hit the St. Louis Hilton on my book tour, I ran into a farewell party for Warren Burger, who was leaving to become the Chrief Justice of the Supreme Court. Crashing the line of Secret Service men, I gave him a copy of my deliberately sexy novel, inscribed "Yours to determine what constitutes Obscenity: Good Luck in your new job." I called Pammy, and the next morning in their PR meeting she told of the incident to Warren Cowan, who was elated. "Get me Drew Pearson on the phone!" he instructed. Pammy quietly said, "Mr. Cowan, Drew Pearson is dead."
That should give you some idea how fortunate it was that the book emerged.
But Pam and I stayed friends, and when I moved to San Francisco after Don died, she brought her mother for a long visit. Gays had not yet received a universal welcome mat, but San Francisco was way ahead of cutting edge, and Junie, still cute, was a High Camp Festival, so the city loved me for bringing her there. And she, still with that deep, sugary voice, loved San Francisco. Maybe that's where she got to go when she left.
TCM saluted all those in the entertainment business who passed this year, and though I knew a few of them, the one I really loved, who, even as she reached for something in a brief clip from 'Reds,' touched me. I have written before of Maureen Stapleton, the last of that great group I was lucky enough to meet when Janice Mars, uncelebrated but a greatly gifted singer/actress wanted a song of mine and invited me to the Falmouth Playhouse one young summer, for her old lover and still friend Marlon Brando's single foray into stage direction with 'Arms and the Man.' Maureen and I bonded-- she was there doing 'Three Men on a Horse' with Sam Levene and Wally Cox, a bright diminutive darling, and Marlon's best friend. Maureen and I stayed very close, though her passionate, combative friendship with Janice degenerated as she did. But I never stopped loving her, great actress that she was, and great lady, albeit a two-fisted(one glass of red in each hand) drinker. I am protecting her. She was a drunk. But dear, and sooooooooo gifted.
There was a waiter at Ku-De-Ta, a beachfront restaurant in Bali, named Mahar, who became a friend. When I left he put his hand over his heart, and said :"I will always miss you." I will always miss Maureen.
Then yesterday, for my sins, I saw arguably the worst picture of the year, or many others, 'The Painted Veil.' Through the first lugubrious third I kept thinking how lucky Somerset Maugham was, to have all those exotic locales no one had been to but him, where he could send colonial wives to get bored and have adulterous affairs that made good reading. But not good movies(except for The Letter.) Drained, and enraged, (all that money wasted, not to mention what felt like several years of my life watching) I returned home and turned on Turner. They were running "Foreign Correspondent,' starring Joel McCrea, with whom Maureen had been girlishly and from a distance in love, still bobby-soxy when she spoke about him. So as a tribute to her, I watched him with her eyes which she can't anymore.
I always liked Joel McCrea, but was more caught up admiring Preston Sturges when I watched 'Palm Beach Story' or 'Sullavan's Travels." But from Maureen's POV, he was a man beauty. No question.
Eerily, the movie ended with his reporter character in front of a microphone, broadcasting to the US from London during the blitz, as bombs exploded and the lights went out. And his words were: "Hello, America! Hang on to your lights. They're the only lights left in the world."
Well, not anymore. May this coming year bring us back to what we were.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! God Help us, Every One.
Tiny Gwen

Saturday, December 30, 2006

A New York Minute

Lured by the photo of the young Stanley Kubrick in The New York Times, leaner than when I first knew him, his dark, hooded gaze caught in a mirror as he photographed a showgirl for Look, I made my way to the exhibition of that magazine's photographs at the City of New York Museum. It was a circuitous path, as I thought the exhibition was at the New York Historical Society so planned to combine it with Mimi's grooming, just a few blocks away, only to discover at arriving at the desk I was at the wrong museum. Fortunately there was a young woman from New Jersey, of Asian extraction, who had made the same mistake. We called the other museum to make sure it was there and took a taxi over together, she and I and her boyfriend, a Colombian composer who had arrived in the US before 9/11 so they let him in. She is an artist, living in Miami, where she had been promised a growing colony of artists but can find none, so wants very much to move to New York, where she is sure she can find one. I wish her Good Luck with her quest, trying not to edge my good wishes with irony, as I have several times moved back here with the same hope/aspiration/longing, only to find myself more isolated than I felt in LA.
My Inner Sardonic was tempered by the fact that I had had lunch with Annie Navasky, as smart as she is amiable, who a while ago codified New York for me when I was in one of my struggles to belong somewhere, and had told Jules Feiffer that I was looking for my community. Jules said "Do your work and your community will find you," Annie amended "He forgot to say 'Provided you are wildly successful.'" I cited Jules to Annie at lunch as one of the two members of the Literary community who is a whole person, the other one being her husband Victor,long-time publisher of The Nation Magazine, new grand-father, and recent minister, an addition to his impressive CV acquired over the Internet, so he was able to perform the wedding ceremony of his daughter, though he is not permitted to do circumcisions. But whole as Jules Feiffer may be, and usually captious, Annie's take on the scene here is more acute than his. Success is the doorway, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free being a long time away and ago and New Yorkers in general being, in Annie's words, 'overcommitted.'
So it was with some sad amusement I viewed the quote on the wall that is the keynote for the Look exhibition, E.B.White's. "No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky." The reverse also obtains. And even more naive and touching was the one on the wall from Moss Hart who wrote in Act One "The only credential the city asked was the boldness to dream." Yeah, right.
Still, entering the exhibition, pegged on Stanley's having become such an icon that an event can be hung on his star, I did truly enjoy what was on those walls: old black and white photos of who mattered when, Sherman Billingsley,the owner of the Stork Club, Elsa Maxwell, the hostess with the mostess, in true disheveled disarray, not that her array when sheveled was much better, Fleur and Gardner Cowles, (he started the magazine), the 23 year-old Marlon Brando having just taken the town with 'Streetcar,' already uncomfortable in his own skin. Then, the center of the exhibit, Stanley's photos, an extensive array of a Copacabana girl, not particularly pretty, except for a dimple in her right cheek, and terrific shots of Rocky Graziano, who had six-pack abs probably with a bourbon first. Another of those pronunciamentos on the wall says Kubrick shows "the glamor New York promises to the lucky masks a world of physical brutality and emotional degradation." Well, I wouldn't have gone that far, but it can be a disappointment.
On the way out of the museum, beyond First Rate as most New York museums are, offering histories of the town as it made its way to super-city, as Stanley made his way to superstar, there was a salute to Black Style-- I do think they dared to label it that, no 'African-American' cloak- with stunning gowns on mannequins. And on a poster, a quote from Maya Angelou: "We have survived, flourished, and thrived, with passion, compassion, humor and style." She forgot to add in her particular case, Bullshit.
Oh, I know I'm not supposed to say that, as it will keep me from being on Oprah, Maya is more than revered, and as an editor of mine once said "A girl's got to do what a girl's got to do." But as I knew her, and well, in Paris when I was 20, so understand much of her pseudo-biography, and have observed her grande-dame-ing over the years, watched her orating her 'Good Morning' poem at Clinton's inauguration, while on the line with my musician friend Bob Dorough who played for her and with her at the Mars Club in Paris. When her inaugural performance ended, I said into the silence on the phone "What do you think?" And Bobby drawled, in his Mississippi way: "We-llllllllllllllll. She got the gig."
Indeed she did. And so did Stanley.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Merry Kratzmas

My Uncle Ralphie, who was a pharmacist, worked in a drugstore in Pittsburgh where we all lived together, Pappy(Grandpa) and Mammy(Grandma), their nicknames taken from the L'il Abner comic strip, as they were so little, my Aunt Bessie, her husband Jack, Uncle Harry, my Aunt Rita, my mother and my father whom my mother had married mostly because his family was so elegant and well-to-do she thought she would live in Squirrel Hill, where the better class of Jews lived. But my father was so stingy he moved in with her family, and my mother almost died. There was only one bathroom, and because my father was as meticulous as he was tight-fisted, he was in it most of the time.
It was the tail-end of the Depression, so the feeling in that crowded, loving (except for my mother and father whose coupling was steeped in violence) was not so much that we were Jews as that we were Americans. A portrait of FDR cut from the cover of the glossy color magazine in the Pittsburgh Sun Telegraph was pressed against the front of the glass in the cupboard above Pappy's worn leather chair in the corner of the dining room, so Roosevelt overlooked everything that went on in the the heart of the apartment, as if he were the real head of the family, which in a way I suppose he was.
Christmas morning, I as the baby of the extended family, would awake filled wih happy anticipation, because Jewish though we were, we celebrated it, and I believed in Santa Claus. But I also believed in Uncle Ralphie, because he worked in a drug store and always brought home good things. So there were oranges which always seemed a delicacy in harsh Pennsylvania winter, even though Pappy had a fruit stand, and the very full color comics, which Ralphie would read to me aloud, some candy (given reluctantly, as I was already porking up, with Ralphie calling me 'Baby Elephant'-- once more ahead of her time, childhood obesity before it made the news) and some little gifts from him beautifully wrapped, with fancy paper from the drugstore. And he would say, with a big grin 'Merry Kratzmas!' satire in the salute, as if we had taken this Gentile holiday and made it our own. Which I suppose we really had, since there was simply joy in the day, with no religious connotation.
Our own Judaism was restricted to matzoh ball soup, gefilte fish made from scratch by Mammy on Friday nights, followed by something like pot roast that I understand now is considered ethnic, though I doubt Mammy and Pappy knew that word, bright as they were, and grateful to be in this country. Most of her family died in Therezienstadt, and Pappy never talked about his relatives, or in fact very much about anything except how foolish my mother, his favorite, had been to marry Lew W. Davis, whom he always called by his full name including initial, as if to underscore how deluded my mother had been, imagining him to be an aristocrat.
The family in full, as Tom Wolfe might have it, can be found in The Motherland, my novel about them, which can probably be had on for about $1.19. My mother famously stopped speaking to me when it was published. In spite of her being depicted fictionally as clever and beautiful, she was outraged because her family had been depicted as poor, which of course they were, as that, apparently, seemed the greatest sin to someone who had later arrived. She said that my Grandma, too, would never speak to me again, as I had written of her wearing a worn mink coat at a funeral, except that Mammy, being the great heart she was, apologized to me for the novel's not being a greater success, blaming herself, as Grandmas will, for the family's not being more interesting(an incorrect assessment-- publication collided with the fall of Richard Nixon, and my publisher also had All the President's Men.) My mother solaced herself by writing a note to the gossip columinist Liz Smith who was our friend, saying that the book upset her so much she became bedridden for the weekend, and regretted not having committed infanticide. Liz published that letter in her own The Mother Book, but she now does not speak to me either. I do not miss her, though I still long for some exchanges with my mother, with whom happily I reconciled many hundreds of times before she left for that Great Plastic Surgeon in the Sky. I am in her apartment now, a little studio she left me in New York that she always raged that she wouldn't, but did, and at some point during the day when I remember how witty she was, how dazzling her smile, and her jewelry, much of which I have lost, how sharp her brain, a little gasp of loss escapes me and I say 'Mom!' hoping she can hear me and knows how much she is missed.
I do that or the like very often now, as some recollection of someone beloved no longer on the planet flashes across my brainpan like a shooting star, and I say 'Suzanne!' or ''Sandy!' or 'Susie' or 'Donny!' or even the names of some I did not like so well, but whose absence is palpable.
We must all love our friends very much, including the ones who hurt our feelings, because the silence goes deeper than the wound. I mean, most of the time.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Following Yonder Star

I took off from the Long Beach airport, where the conning tower is the one used in the last scene of 'Casablanca,' and the walls inside are postered with flying lore. The decision to go to New York was a last minute one, be-sherty, a Yiddish word I have made inappropriately into an adjective or maybe it's an adverb when you add the y, meaning 'Meant to be'/, and as it's Hannukah I suppose it obtains. I was sittingin front of my computer having just received a rather rude message from one with whom I intended to spend the holidays, wondering how to get out of it, when what to my wondering eyes should appear but a pop up notice from Jet Blue that I had earned the reward of a trip. So I took it.
The weather in New York is incredibly mild, giving even more weight and credence to Al Gore, but, one must admit, making life seem easier, at least until the planet burns up. Sunday was glorious, chockablock with tourists, me and Mimi, people waiting on line for the ice to be cleaned at Wollman Ice Rink, people lined up beside the fence above, watching the people waiting in line. I guess people feel more festive when they are forced to wait for what they feel festive about.
Walked over to Madison Avenue where the sun was so bright I breakfasted in a sidewalk cafe as if I were in Paris, and as the waiter was French, my eggs came with Attitude, without my even having to cross the Atlantic.
Dropped a note by Joan Rivers' apartment-- the lastest photos of her look like the final days of Zsa Zsa Gabor. We made a record together an eon ago-- the making of it a great story I may tell another time-- called 'The Other First Family'-- it was right after the 'First Family' about the Kennedys. We were The Kruschevs, George Segal playing Nikita, I was Mrs., Buck Henry was the palace guard, and Joan played my maid though in her autobiography she said it was the reverse, and I was her maid. Apparently she knows how to get even her facts lifted.The night Edgar, her husband, committed suicide she was having liposuction: once more ahead of her time.
New York is less than Christmas-y, what with the mild temperatures and not all that many decorations, except for a huge new star in the midst of 57th and Fifth, Fiberoptic it looks like, its dazzle consistent and eerie, like the pumpkin I bought at Beyond Scents that will orange eternally as long as it is plugged in. Everything in New York is pretty plugged in, I think. There was a huge Menorah being carved in ice on the corner of Madison and 41st Street, beautiful and oddly touching, they were working so hard to perfect it as I passed. The night before I had passed the Chabad truck, the one from the temple of my little cousin Susie's Rebbi, the Lubavitch who was supposed to be the Messiah, and was going to save Susie from her cancer and be immortal himself. She is now buried with him. Anyway, a little boy in full orthodox regalia, about 12, gave me a Menorah and candles, and hesitated to shake my hand until he realized I was probably too old to sully him. It was nice to get an indirect gift from Susie.
Met with a bright literary agent who is encouraging, and then had lunch with Egi, wife of Sirio Maccioni who owns Le Cirque and suffers every time he gets an unkind review. He'd just had an 'Et tu, Brute' unkindest cut of all from the vile food writer Gael Greene, to whom, thinking her a friend, he told his hopes and fears for the new restaurant and a coming chef and she used the info to kill him in New York Magazine. I have always found her loathesome and self-serving-- she eats men and it can't be that fun a process for them. At Sandy Burton's farewell party many decades ago when she was leaving LA, a West Coast writer she was dating to whom I had, regrettably, introduced her, read aloud from the letters of Gael Greene. Huh? That was a salute to Sandy? So I have disliked him and her ever since. But when Gael wrote a book with sex in it, a critic wrote that she had now "proved herself a pig in every area." I softened that to "voracious" when I wrote my angry rebuttal to NY mag. Twill be interesting to see if they print it, this being as closed a city as Rome was Open.
I am off now to Circo, the less upmarket arm of the Maccionis, whom I do love, and on the way will pass the star. I shall see if there are any Wise Men following it, but mostly I think it's rich guys on their way to Brioni.
This may be the last communique for a bit. But know that I love you all and wish you Joyful Holidays.

Before I go, let me pay sad tribute to the Plaza, which at this season would have been the best, most festive place to go, but greed has torn and ripped up everything there, and it will never be the same or even good enough-- they're going to make it into Time Shares. Huh? The ghosts of those who picked up dates in the Oak Bar that worked out well whirl in the air, as do some who were married in the Gold and White Suite, had elegant teas in the Palm Court, and Eloise.
Even worse, the Essex House is now the Jumeirah, bought by people from Dubai, so they're in the process of tearing it apart. Gone are the touches of elegance, including incredible black and white photos from the 30s and 40s that lined the walls in the corridor I used as a short cut to get to 58th Street, sort of loving them out of the corners of my eyes, but not eating them into memory as I might have done if I knew they would take them down. So, a pome:

There were some great renditions of New York
Photographs from times
When photographs were photographs
Black and white and trenchant and severe
That hung along the walls I passed through
In the Essex House
On my way to something more
Significant, I thought
And so was only half aware
How beautiful they were:
Women in cloches
Huddled in Flapper concentration
Holding holders more intense
Than FDRs
Men with important cigars
Because I knew they were there
I took them for granted
Never stopped to examine them
And tonight they are gone.
Where was the notice?
Why was there no sign? Attention!
Look hard! Soon they will be gone!
Why did I not study more carefully?
Like friends you take for granted
Whose words you do not really hear
As you imagine they will say it
Another time
So you can't remember exactly
What they said
And then they're dead.
The universe should give us clues
Look well! the air should shout
Make sure you see
The lights that will go out.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Easing into the Holidays

I am going through a squeeze of little inspiration, sort of like getting stuck in the birth canal, which is always hard on me, because I still think I exist only in my writing-- or at least more completely, as I feel most alive when I am writing. I remember Howard Auster, Gore Vidal's longtime companion and partner, said that Gore could live in LA because "he can write here." I happen at the moment to be reading Gore's second, and I would assume, last memoir. It is, as always with him, brilliantly written and emotionally contained. A gay friend of mine said he was afraid it would become sentimental when he wrote of the death of Howard.. But that never needed to be a worry. When I visited the two of them in Ravello some years ago--'86, I think it was--(Howard said, rather testily, "Gore didn't tell me you were coming,") I asked Gore if he had ever written a personal book. He said "I am not a personal man." I was in the throes of grieving, still, for my young husband, how much he had meant to me which I didn't realize fully till he was gone, traveling a world that seemed to offer only bad guys as replacements, one of whom I had tripped over in Hong Kong, and I grieved for him, too, that he was a lout, which meant, I suppose, that I was really sorrowing over my own feelings for him. "Men understand that sex means nothing; that it's just for fun," Gore said at dinner. "The trouble with women is they think their feelings matter." I did not punch him at the time, because I was still so impressed by him that argument was out of the question. Still, Howard complained that he felt like he was eavesdropping. But no one needed to be afraid Gore would get mawkish, though it's interesting how much he loved Howard's singing. It feels very 19th century to be writing "I've been reading..." as writers used to write each other with their plumes. But I do remember, and vividly, when Maureen Stapleton was dating George Abbott-- I believe he was 93 at the time, and they would go out dancing-- he wrote her, and she read his letter to me "I've been reading The Pretenders. I understand it's supposed to be about Billy Rose." Their romance ended when he started going out with other people, and she was hurt. "Don't tell me," he said, and she repeated to me, "you're one of those women who's jealous." Other women. 93. Lawd a Mercy. I also remember Oscar Levant's saying "The night June stabbed me, I was reading the Life of Berlioz." Some there are who think always in terms of biography. But this defining myself only by what I am in the process of writing, or what is on the celestial blackboard for possible happy surprises from what is already writ and out there is a sad and folly-filled thing. Richard Gilman, a fabled teacher at Yale, just died and in his obit they quoted his having written "the American compulsion to take your identity from your profession with its corollary of only one trade to a practitioner may be a convenience to society but is burdensome and constricting to yourself." I hope my writing is never as elaborate and self-conscious as that, but he was smart, and remains right, even in the Afterlife, which I hope there is one for academics. This life we have right now, though, although obviously blessed(I can walk Mimi in the morning, without wincing before the weather, and they have forgotten to turn off the heat in the pool yet, so I can still swim, and oh yes, let us not forget I can get out of bed in the morning, and am at loving peace with my son) is nonetheless difficult for me as I feel no sense of purpose, in spite of my burgeoning skills as baby-sitting Grandma. I remember when I was passionately writing Marriage, I asked Jack, my Jewru, if I could put aside my spiritual work till I finished the novel-- I used to sit for an hour in the morning before going to my typewriter, it still was then. And Jack said "Your writing is your spiritual work." That was at once freeing and elevating, but then, the book was good, and completely engaging of my energies. I have nothing like that right now, and feel incomplete and restless. But then I am alive, and that, in spite of my once optimism about the Afterlife, is to be cherished.
Here are some things that constitute loss:
The undelivered gift
The occasion uncommemorated
The loving word unheard
Or Unexpressed. _______________________________________________________________________Check

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Special Day

So today is the day that Donnie left the planet, my sweet, funny husband who put up with everything I did to aggravate him, and rejoiced in and reinforced everything I was and did that he was proud of. I write this not to make anyone sad, as I am of the conviction that there is no sorrow for the one who goes, only a hole in the heart for the ones left behind. But the hole has healed, and is planted with merry memories, as it should be, as the good part, the only part that matters, is that we connected for the time we did, and that is a blessing, as my sometimes religious friend Hal says, before he becomes cynical.
Don was one of the loving people who dips down to touch the earth from time to time, like a hummingbird, and for my sins, or lack of them, he touched on me. I found a note he wrote me on my birthday in 1981, saying "Gwen: Shut up! Say thanks! Happy Birthday, Happy Mother's Day, Love Don & Co." That, for those of you who don't know me well, was because I talk too much. He would turn to me from time to time and say "Are you still talking?" and that would make me laugh, and register my own foolishness, the greatest gift I was ever given. He checked out 22 years ago today, which seems hard for me to believe, but how time flies when you're not having a good time, or when you are having one on occasion, which today clearly is.
I had made a lunch date with a new not-quite friend, who called me ten minutes into being late and said she hadn't felt well and had fallen asleep longer than she intended, which turned out to be fine, as I realized I was supposed to have lunch with Don. It was in an Italian restaurant, which was appropriate, as he came from that part of the Bronx where Jews and Italians were indistinguishable, and had his chance to join the Mafia, which he declined, but could still talk knowledgeably with Mario Puzo. He was a defender of the weak-- a man was hitting a dwarf(hright challenged we would have to say now) on a barstool in a pub where we had a date early on in the courtship, and Don went over and dedked the guy who was punching up the dwarf) and he put my mother out in the hall like a cat when she was awful to me. When he was producing a children's show at WOR-TV, Columbia pictures was touring Elsa the lioness from 'Born Free,' the lioness broke loose from her trainer, the trainer got his leg caught in a collapsible chair, and Elsa pinned three screaming children. The director, and the crew all ran inside the control booth, locking themselves into safety. Don went over to the lioness, and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck(no main) and held her till the children could roll free and the trainer loosed himself from the chair and get back control of the lion.
Then he came home and told me about it, turned chalk-white, and fainted. That's who he was: a man who saved children from lions, and only afterwards, realizing what he had done, was afraid. Bennett Korn, who was the president of WOR at the time, sent him a memo
RE: The Wonderama Lion Incident
and then congratulated him on his bravery. Robert, our son, has the memo. I hope he understands, or will understand at some point, who and what his father was.
I certainly do. We had a nice lunch together, with Bresaola, arugula, and shaved Parmesan cheese in the sunlight.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

God Bless America

I had almost forgotten what a darling country this is. I use the word 'darling' advisedly, meaning lovable, deserving of affection, cosseting, cherishing.
This burst of feeling actually preceded all the good news in last night and this morning, engendered simply by my going to vote yesterday morning at the Barrington Recreation Center, where there is a gym, an indoor basketball court, the sign still posted at its edges, 'Visitors', "Home," when I was struck with the truth that this really is an Andy Hardy nation, filled with innocent hearts and young enthusiasms. You can use my barn!
Tying Mimi to the doorway, I went inside and marvelled at the process, thought of all the post offices and schools and churches throughout this truly wonderful country, that were host to the identical opportunity. I was given my choice, on a sample ballot, of being able to vote for Thomas Jefferson,-- too much to ask for-- but at least enjoying the freedoms that remarkable gentleman helped set in motion.
Last night I was conflicted about what to watch on TV, because as hungry as I was to know the news, I had read a great review of Peter Bogdanovich's documentary on John Ford, and didn't want to miss that. My husband Don, in the early days of his might-have-been career as an agent, worked for Freddie Fields and David Begelman, and had been given the assignment of taking Ford to the airport. When he dropped him off, Ford, apparently a great student of human nature, gave Don his soft, sloppy hat as a parting gift, maybe having gotten what a sweet spirit Don was. So I always admired him, and as 'The Quiet Man' had been the only movie I could watch over and over as a very young woman and still be moved, and as I admire Bogdanovich, rather than being torn, figured that the news would still be there when the special wasn't, so turned to the Turner channel. They were showing 'Stagecoach,' and, as I watched the end of that epic, I realized that indeed i was still tapped in to the news. Because America is a Western. The bad guys come in to town and take it over, but sooner or later the ones in the white hats arrive and drive them out.
God Bless America. I think we forget, in the swirl of TV news, insider information, and high level arguments among like-thinking friends, or sad separation from the ones who stand on the other side of the sharp divide this country was in, how smart not only the Framers were, insisting on this system of checks and balances, but how stupid the American people aren't, after a point. You can fool some of the people, etc.
So we have, apparently, gotten our country back. The people have spoken, and their words are a roar. It is just short of the Munchkins coming out and singing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead." Oh, on second thought, maybe it isn't short of it at all. It's dead on. "As coroner, I, Vocifer, have thoroughly examined her, and she is not just merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead."
'Vocifer' means the voice of the people. I learned that from my friend Gary, a fine First Amendment attorney. That lyric was written by Yip Harburg, whom I had the joy of having for a mentor when i was a songwriter. Yip didn't believe in God, even though his gift was one of the best evidences I ever saw of God's provenance.
But Irving Berlin did, little Russian Jew that he was, judging from the open-hearted, unqualifiedly respectful and joyful song that he wrote. We have the same birthday, which I always imagined gave me a leg-up in the songwriting world. But if that failed to materialize, at least my love of country has been shored up, reinforced, reinvigorated. It really is the land of the free. Thank God.

Saturday, October 28, 2006


So I see New York as maybe Francoise Sagan might see it, if she were alive and still greeting Tristesse, having spent one exquisite morning which I luckily wrote about before it started to rain. This is definitely a city of ups and downs, with which I confess to having a love-hate relationship. That is to say, I hate it when it doesn't love me.
We have almost come to the end of our New York sojourn, me and Mimi. She is still not too sure about New York dogs, which is okay. It is a hard city, and the dogs are not all sweet-natured as she is.
We went out yesterday morning walking in Central Park, where the air was crisp and clear and the view around the pond was paintbrush dazzling. Any good artist could have captured the beauty: trees along the far bank, their leaves all changing, reflected in the water. All the colors of Autumn, lined up twice.
That was Then. NOW: IT"S POURING!!! Mimi is at the Groomer's, preparing for her return to LA(they do groom her better here, I like my dermatologist, my dentist, and some friends I cannot do without, but autremente I could just stay West.)
Dazzle to the brain occured at the First Amendment Breakfast, a feature of the Columbia School of Journalism that makes me feel very alive, even though it takes place at eight in the morning. Floyd Abrams, the great 1st Amendment atty(though not as great as Gary in my opinion, which is constitutionally protected) presides, and this time the subject was protecting confidential sources. On the panel besides Jim Kelly from Time was the reporter who broke the Barry Bonds steroid story and now faces a jail sentence because the Balco(made the steroids company) case was before a Grand Jury and someone leaked and he won't/can't say who.
Dazzle to the eye, quiet dazzle, was at the retirement party for Owen Laster, my long-time-while-ago agent, at the Four Seasons restaurant where he was once afraid to go because it cost too much money, Imagine he made some, being at Wm. Morris for lotsof years. Met some nice people, including Dominick Dunne whose full attention I caught several minutes into our conversation when I said, of a mutual friend, gone now, that "her whole life was a struggle to seem superficial." His eyes widened at that, and he said "Great line," so look for it in his next book..
Stayed in the city long enough to find out who the hypocrites are and the ones you can't count on, which is relaxing to the spirit when you stop trying to connect with them. So on balance, which it apparently gets to be if you stay centered against the odds, what with the energy here, all driven and desperate(catching!!) you can accomplish a great deal. Why, simply by staying the course in the course of my stay I have watched the weather-vane catch the wind and move us in a new direction. I devoutly hope.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Will Blog for Jools

Dear Everybody,
Went to the Ellen Barkin auction last night at Christie's, and wrote the following piece, which in case The New Yorker doesn't accept it, I thought you might enjoy.
Local color that isn't emeralds and sapphires: walked Mimi this morning in a darkening Central Park(the bright, warm days appear to be over.) I ran into a homeless woman and having been deeply moved by last night's Boston Legal, a truly great show, I asked her what she would do in winter. "Don't worry about me," she said, through only occasional teeth, "I'm a survivor. I lived in an unheated log cabin in Montana when I was a little girl."
She was very far from being a little girl, and, still touched by that teleplay, I gave her two dollars, which she was reluctant to accept. So she let me choose from a variety of postcards and I picked the one with Times Square blazing, that I will send to some little friends in Paris who, childlike as they are entitled to be, being children, imagine this city to be one continuous treat. Not complaining, you understand, just observing. I can't go too far into the park in the dark as there are rafts of Homeless, and one can't be sure they are all in the benign mode of this woman. James Spader, one of the lead actors in that amazing series asked in the course of his closing argument why we have a million homeless in this country. More importantly, why aren't some of them Congressmen?
Here, the piece on the auction.

A few minutes into the Christie’s Auction of the jewels Ron Perelman had given Ellen Barkin, I heard her voice saying, like Marley’s Ghost, “I wear the chains I forged in marriage.” Several of the chains were of diamonds, long loops of them connected like crystals, hanging low on the model’s spare breast, some ropes of huge pearls, strands of cabochon rubies, that looked to the untrained eye (mine) like beads, but went for small and not so small fortunes to those who knew better. One cord of emeralds the size of immies in a long- ago children’s marble tournament was sold for $480,000. The woman behind me, one of the few visibly chic bidders—I kept looking for the Beautiful People, but if there are still any above ground they were someplace else—told me that most of the prices were “justified.” But there were bidders on the phone connected to Hong Kong who were clearly there for the celebrity value, paying $7000 for a Cartier lipstick holder (was the lipstick radioactive? Did it still have the imprint of her lips?)
The lips themselves were captured in a black and white photo portrait that hung in the front of the room, with Ms. Barkin’s interesting and unsmiling face, the eyes double-lashed, top and bottom, with fake lashes, framed in a neat side-sweep of hair, and dangling diamond earrings, the only item that did not seem to appear in the sale, four rows on either side down to her sharp collarbone and bare right shoulder, over which she peered challengingly. A sweater hugged the top of her arm. There appeared to be jewels edging the sweater, too, but perhaps that was just the glitter attached to such a fascinating not-quite beauty. The portrait captured her unique combination of insolence and vulnerability, which I suppose must have been called heavily into play when Mr. Perelman dumped her.
As with hearing her voice, my imagination leapt to the possibility that perhaps the earrings in the portrait had been kept by Ms. Barkin in an unfettered burst of sentimentality. There were any number of other dangling diamond earrings, the prettiest of them, like chandeliers, bought by the stylish woman behind me, others with huge stones hanging at sort-of discreet intervals all the way down to the throat of the model who sported them. The model’s own comportment was well worth observing, as she began her low-cut, black-gowned, tiny-framed saunter around the stage fairly shyly, but by the evening’s end, apparently fortified by the jewels she had worn, appeared absolutely brazen, casting a self-assured, puckishly arrogant eye into the audience as though searching out Mr. Perelman to give him What For, and show that she, like Miss Barkin herself, was undiminished by his caddishness.
The courtship and marriage of this couple has of course captured much print, though none to match the furor over the divorce. Mr. Perelman, the well-known bald billionaire(I wondered if while wearing one of the many rings she ran her fingers through his scalp) has a penchant for noisy, much publicized divorces, so much so that the poem ‘Ithaca’ is called to mind, in which the poet explains it is not the destination that is important, but the journey to get there. One has the feeling it is not the marriage that so intoxicates him as the prospect of the press explosion when it ends.
In the course of this one, though, one would hope he loved her, sexy woman that she seems from her films, reputedly good mother, talented and clever actress. Certainly there is evidence that he was enchanted, from the mounds of jewelry that he heaped on her, some of it, like diamond wrist cuffs, seeming to have been duplicated, so either he has A.D.D. or didn’t remember he’d already given her a pair of those. But everything was sold for astonishing prices, tallying twenty million by evening’s end, including her Bulgari wedding band, which the auctioneer, tres discreet up to that moment, being French and a master of his game, took Gallic pains to announce was, indeed, “Miss Barkin’s actual wedding ring.” That set off a flurry of phone bids from Hong Kong, where they love movies.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Autumn in New York

There are patches of Silence in Central Park, places where you can sit on a bench as though waiting for the leaves to turn or the House to be won by Democrats. I mean, you sort of know it's coming, but there is still no certainty, no evidence, except for a few treetops swaying slightly yellowish in the borderline bluster.I had heard that the weather in New York was the best it had been in many a season, but naturally it was raining when I arrived, had one brilliant day and then it turned cold and windy. That's fine with me, as it was the weather that drove me away, at least on the face of it, so it would be disconcerting to have it be beautiful and seductive and welcoming. As there is little danger of what really chased me out of town turning around and becoming those things.
It is a city that is all about being driven, which is good in only one aspect, and that is when it is literal: my friend Chase has a London taxi lined in Burberry, with a gentle chauffeur named Alex, and that is when it becomes a joy. The rest of the time I see the look on people's faces as they rush to whatever they';re chasing, little pulls of anxiety at the corners of their lips, lest success elude them. That look is almost always often softened when they see Mimi, who is at her best in New York, groomed by Jose at A Cut Above, who knows how to cut Bichons, something they have not perfected in LA, where they know how to cut Paris Hilton. Speaking of which, Mimi, a traffic stopper here except when you try to cross the street when you have to make eye contact with the drivers in cars careening onto Central Park South, as though they were bulls and you the matador, dazzled a woman exiting the Essex House yesterday. She is a jewelry designer from LA, who has a friend who designs jewelry for dogs, and asked if Mimi would be willing to model. I of course said Yes, as I know every dog has its day when they belong to me, and immediately thought of getting Mimi in a sex video released to YouTube, in which case she could become a Superstar, although she has many more gifts than Paris, and is probably more articulate.
There is no question there is much to do in Gotham, all of it seemingly rushed, even if you take your time which I seem to be doing, carrying the ease of California with me, so I lost the whole day yesterday doing nothing-- didn't even read the paper till I went to bed. I was supposed to meet my friend Enid Nemy who is very strict at the Metropolitan Museum at 5:45 for a chamber music concert, when I saw to my horror it was 5:30 and I had still been unable to get a cab. So I frantically hired one of those bicycle rickshaws ridden by those who know when someone is in time trouble, so charged me $40 to get to the Museum. His gears locked and broke down at moments, but I got there by 5:55, and went with her to the Patron's Lounge on the 4th floor, where they have these Friday evening events, courtesy of the Dorothy Strelsin Foundation of which Enid is the administrator. Dorothy was (I understand) in her youth a breathtakingly beautiful blonde showgirl who married The Industrialist(he was always described as) Alfred Strelsin. He left her a fortune and jools that she kept in a box. The rest of her bounty, though, she shared openly and generously, letting friends stay in her Fifth Avenue duplex aerie overlooking the park and a few eagles that perched on her terrace. I stayed with her often when I came to New York, and Franco Zefferelli stayed there with his whole entourage when he would come to do an opera, cooking with her pots which he would then take back with him to Italy, not inviting her to dinner parties in her own home, nor, the last time, even to his opening. A real prince. By the time I met her she was more Dotty than Dorothy, but a good soul to the core, so I miss her and it's nice there are concerts in her name-- Enid noted that Dorothy would enjoy having her name around.
Her name is also on the statue in the park commemorating Lewis Carroll, surrounded by all his Alice creatures in metal. I am feeling oddly akin to him at the moment because I wrote a nonsense poem after reading Harry Potter to my two little grandboys, and having tripped my tongue over Dumbledorfs and Thrumwhistles or whoever they were, realized that a part of Rowling's success was giving children words that sounded funny and so enchanted them. So I awoke the next day and write a nonsense poem called 'Gobbledegook,' in which i included a carload of words that were synonyms for nonsense. I sent it to my friend who handles children's books. She wrote me back the following.

Dear Gwen,

Both Meredith and I read your story, and we both loved it. And so, we took it to our in-house expert, George Nicholson. George was formerly the publisher of Delacorte Press and has now become an agent and is our expert on picture books for children. Here is what he said.
Essentially, he felt that what you’ve created here is a political fable for adults, in which the protagonist – when he appears – is basically an adult. We all agree that children love language, and the language here is indeed incredibly clever and fun. But George informed us that verse of any kind sets up an immediate wall with most editors. He was further concerned that the average child reader would not understand phrases like “some dim politician,” “a fustian bombast” or “an angel has fallen,” nor easily comprehend who the enemy of this story really is. An editor would say that the concept behind the story is simply not something most children could digest.
I know how important it is to let children explore the complexities of existing language and experience the freedom of creating their own. But unfortunately, our expert ultimately felt the context of this book has an adult aim – it’s really an adult, bureaucratic fable. And because the incidents of the story never really involve the protagonist directly, the feeling remains abstract and faraway throughout and not something that children could glom onto or make their own in a way that would make this book saleable in the current children’s book market.
Well, I loved it, but I’m glad that I took it to George because I think I read it without analyzing its content in terms of children in that market.
A POLITICAL FABLE. Holy Shit. I wonder what he would say about Jabberwocky.
I wonder what the world would say about anything I tried to do. I am in a struggle not to feel despondent, when the world is so welcoming of bullshit, and we have this administration. I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho on the plane here, a book that has sold about a billion copies world wide, looking for its secret: it seems to me to be spiritual Gobbledegook, filled with that same kind of nauseating would-be-hidden-currents of WISDOM as The Celestine Prophesy. Coelho's bio says his parents, alarmed by his wish for a life devoted to art, put him in an asylum and gave him electro-shock therapy. Later he lived in Amsterdam where he met a man who came to him in a vision, probably in the same coffee shop you buy hashish. Also he was in the music business in Brazil, which I imagine comes with some really good plants from the Amazon.
Those of you who know my early history or read The Motherland or met my mom, Helen Schwamm, understand I have had the equivalent of electroshock therapy just in my home environment, and as I have followed Jack my Jewru on the path to enlightenment, also spent a bit of time in Amsterdam, and its Hollywood Branch, Abbott Kinney Road, would imagine I could be like-minded, or like-out-of-my-minded, what with how the world is. So my life-changing work should be just around the corner. Oh, if only I knew which corner it was.
At any rate I sat through the concert last night (piano and clarinet and a claque of young operatic male Russians who screamed "Bravo!" at everything and openly fondled each other) trying to be present, and Quakerly. Though I could not perceive That of God in everybody, I did see That of June Allyson in a heavy-lidded but bright-eyed blonde who pressed against a column, and That of Ina Balin in a crook-nosed brunette. I understand that sounds judgmental and shallow, but that seems to be how one becomes in New York. Unless of course everyone is after you, entreating, admiring, all the superficial lathering that one spends a lifetime struggling not to long for, succeeding only on occasion, and then, only if one lives long enough. Towards the end of one interesting cacaphony, I saw That of Andy Warhol in one lively old woman, wearing a cape, and a rapt expression. And I remembered how once, on the best day of Memorial Day weekend, I passed Andy himself on Madison Avenue, alone and vacant-eyed lonely, and realized that not even the Fifteen Minute Icon in the pallid flesh was assured of a weekend invitation, or someone to play with.
So New York, like the rest of life I guess, remains a struggle between Faith, losing Faith, Face and losing Face, and finding Face or Faith in other people, who may or may not have in them That of God. If there is One. We will know better after the election.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Lioness has left the Streets

Ann Richards is gone, the great, funny, feisty woman who was Governor of Texas, beaten unexpectedly for re-election by George W. Bush in 1994, thus ending her own political career, and signalling the end of America's being held in esteem. I was with Ann in the earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco, where she'd come for a fund-raiser in her gubernatorial campaign, due to start just after the quake hit. So she huddled with a group of other women in Huntington Park, none of whom knew each other, waiting for the aftershocks. A friend came by and picked us all up and took us back to her house, built on solid ground, as Ann was. We spent the night by a great picture window, the living room lit by the firelight of explosions in the Marina, and each of us told our stories, like it was Chaucer.
Her story was best, because she was so ribald, and honest, and savvy, taking herself not so seriously as she did the future of the country. She had aged in the way that fortunate men do, so she was handsome, senatorial, her white mane leonine, her strong face craggy. At the time it occured to me she might become the first woman president, but of course we all underestimated George. As she was later to say to Harris Wofford, "Don't underestimate his skill as a campaigner."
It is a great loss to the political scene, an even greater loss to the nation, as she was the best of us: frank and forthright, but kind. We will not see her like again. Unless someone gets braver and funnier.
Went last night to yet another political event at UCLA, this one featuring Elizabeth Holtzman, who drafted the original articles of Impeachment for Richard Nixon's unseating, and who wrote an article in The Nation, calling up the same for 'W', whom I might have forgiven the squandering of Ann, had he not turned out such dangerous jerk. The other speaker was John Dean, of Watergate fame, who carefully weighed the offenses Holtzman listed as to whether they were legally impeachable offenses. He has become no less measured, if balder, and struck one again with his quiet intelligence, making one(Me, anyway) wonder how he could have ever allied himself with the people he did. But I have a once close friend who explained to me long ago he was a fiscal conservative, and liked the Republican conservatives better than the Democrats. He stayed my friend for almost my whole adult life until the rent in the country appeared, and we all stood on either side of the Great Divide,unable to speak to the opposition, even those who might once have been good friends.
John Dean lived up above me on Rembert Lane. I have a Friend, David, who once said I was Zelig-- that when these people turn up, I always know them. I had spent the early 70s devoted to the task of bringing Nixon down, in my head, anyway. During that period, my most metaphysical one, I was sure the Founders were all back, reincarnated, rather than simply twirling in their graves, determined to get the country in shape for the Bicentennial. As my looney but darling friend Pattie the psychic had said I was one of the Framers in a previous life, I hoped I was up to the task.
At the time, I was researching in Washington for my novel TheMotherland, staying in the home of my then good Republican friend, making friends with others of them, like Deputy Press Secretary Gerry Warren, who also gave me sanctuary when I went to D.C. Every time I would fly there from LA, something would happen to damage Nixon: Agnew's resignation, the Saturday night massacre, the firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. So when I would call my Republican friends and say I was coming, they would respond with "Oh, my God, what's going to happen now?" Staying with the Warrens, every morning the phone would ring with at 4 AM with another revelation from the Washington Post. Naturally I began going as often as I could until I had finished my job, and Nixon was out of office.
All this time we were living on Rembert Lane, a fairly deserted street up off Cherokee Lane, with one vacant piece of land above us, on which building began. In the Spring of '74, on the day The Motherland was published, the house on the hill above finally finished, a moving truck having installed my new neighbors, the doorbell rang. I opened the front door and it was John Dean, asking to use the
phone. If anyone had doubts until then that in some invisible way I was connected, they sort of vanished. I wish I had those powers still. I wonder why it is that every time we have a Dick in the Executive branch, the country goes down the tubes.
I asked Gerry Warren when it was all over why he had let me observe so closely what was going on in the Nixon White House, when he knew I was the Enemy. He said "Because I knew you would be fair."
I try to be, but it gets harder. Still, I went to the event last night with a bossy Democrat I met at the Vidal event, who has a handicapped parking permit although she appeared okay to me. I asked her about it, and she said she has sciatica, and would be in constant pain if it weren't for taking Vicodan every few hours. I have a close friend who was famously addicted to Vicodan, so I asked this overbearing woman if she wasn't worried. "I am not an addictive type," she said to me as she drove me home, "so I don't have to be concerned." At that point she turned left into Barrington, in the wrong lane, and faced opposing headlights obviously driven by someone sane and sober, so they got out of the way.
It is a relief, somehow, to know that all those in denial are not Republicans.

Monday, September 11, 2006

How to Commemorate September 11th

One of my closest friends, who shall be nameless in case of patriotic ricochets, is ostriching out, hiding his eyes and his spirit from the barrage of Sept. 11th programs on TV, whether controversial(ABC's ill-advised and irresponsible miniseries) or respectfully inane, articles in the papers, interviews with orphaned children, etc., choosing instead to watch The Wire, or read pleasant books from yesteryear, when life was simple, or, perhaps, simply mercurial. I remember waking up that morning to the news, the full, surreal view of it on my TV which I never turned on in the daytime, but I had been alerted by a phone call, and thinking there was no point in getting out of bed again, maybe ever, my dreams of making a difference in an indifferent world now obliterated.
Yesterday I went to a Democratic fund-raiser in Malibu that seemed to shore up the American Dream as some used to dream it, especially in other places, held in or rather alongside an enormous mansion with huge grounds, pool, gazebo, shaded porches, and its own three-block long parking lot, that had been built by a Sikh dentist, who immigrated from India in the 50s, and apparently found gold in them thar fillings. The key speaker, after a scatterspray of local candidates, was Gore Vidal. Though obviously physically compromised, he is still handsome and commanding, the voice strong, opinions stronger, wit undiminished. He can go back through history in a sentence, calling up facts and quotes from his grandfather Gore or Teddy Roosevelt, and seems to hold onto little that is less than brilliant, except perhaps an irrational dislike for Woodrow Wilson, of whom I am personally irrationally fond, as he was briefly president of Bryn Mawr.
The highlight of Gore's (I can call him that, we have some history) restrained rant-- he was never overtly passionate, his voice steady, like his hooded gaze-- was his coming out for the first time publicly endorsing his cousin Albert for president. He has gotten hold of, Vidal conceded, "the only issue that really matters," because if we have no planet, we have no elections. Then he went on to some lesser issues, like deceit, and profit, and exploitation, and the demonization of the word and position 'Liberal.'
Afterwards he signed books, and I bought one, leaned over and whispered "I used to be Gwen Davis." Without looking up, he said "I'd heard that, that you had a sex change." Tired as he was-- he had spoken for a very long time, and his hand was less than steady after much signing of just his elegant name-- he personalized his inscription to me. I was suddenly moved, by his frailty, his unflagging intelligence, our history, and by how evanescent everything is, and asked if I could kiss him. "You've been important in my life," I said truthfully. He offered his cheek, and I kissed it, backing away just as he reached out his hand to touch me, so it fell on air, and we missed each other, which is pretty much the story of our relationship.
Then I came home to the news that my Aunt Bessie, the last except one of my mother's siblings, had died. Bess was the one in the family who was funniest, an uneducated kind of humor, combining boisterous irreverence, lusty femininity, and yoga(which she still taught into her eighties) with great generosity(she was the relative who scratched my back when I was little, while singing 'Twas on the isle of Capri.') She lived a long life, was Susie's mother, which leant her a touch of unexpected spirituality-- as Catholics see the Virgin Mary in really strange places, Bess saw Susie's face in the swirling water when she washed her hands after Susie died. That's a lie. She saw her face when she flushed the toilet, but I had trouble writing that as it seemed past irreverent even for Bess, though she never saw Susie till after the waste had disappeared.
I had a number of funny dreams last night-- I was about to miss planes-- the usual anxiety crap-- and awoke this morning wondering what I could do to improve the day, seeing what day it was. So I made French Toast, one of two dishes my mother knew how to make(the other one was spaghetti) in spite of my Grandma's being one of the great cooks ever. There were blueberries in my fridge, and I'd tried to eat them for their anti-oxidant wonders, but they were sour. So I put them on the French Toast and doused the whole concoction with Maple Syrup from New Hampshire which Heidi, the most American spawn of my most American friends, Muggy and Marty, had brought me for my housewarming, but which, before today, September 11th, I had never even thought about using, self-indulgence of the eating kind being outside my permitted perameters. Perpetually on a diet, I have had maple syrup only on the day the doctor was checking my blood, so I had to fast and then eat something with maple syrup on it, HOORAY! License!
So that, it seems to me, is how we should commemorate today. Do something you wouldn't ordinarily have dared to do, outside your boundaries, that harms no one, except maybe yourself if you consider self-indulgence harmful, and if you do, forget it for today.
Life, even when you think you hold it in your hand, is quicksilver. Fate is capricious, those you love vanish, none of us can predict what our end point will be. Add to that unstable mixture zealots who despise us, and what are the odds?
Or, if you have to connect your mind to the obscenity, read David Friend's astonishing book, Watching the World Change, which actually puts you there, on the spot with the photographers who bore witness, giving you a safety net of quiet intelligence, and a shield of compassion to hide behind. And while you read it, eat French Toast.

I Feel Bad about Nora Ephron

Some years ago I had a novel, Romance, coming out at the same time as Heartburn, Nora Ephron's less than heavily-disguised roman a clef about the end of her marriage to Carl Bernstein. As the novelist who had become, alas, the landmark libel case in Fiction, (Bindrim vs. Mitchell,) I was booked onto the CBS Morning Show with Ms. Ephron. Though it was agreed within the writing and publishing community that my case had been ridiculous-- the plaintiff being a trendy California psychologist who said he was the therapist in my novel, Touching, grew a beard and gained weight to appear more like that character, alleging I had ruined his nude encounter business by looking at it with a scathing eye--Imagine!-- and The New York Times after it was all over quoted several prominent lawyers who deemed the decision "an aberration," one that would have never stood in New York where they better understood what fiction was, the case itself threatened to doom my career. The prospect of appearing on TV, bright as I still seemed to be at the time, and lively, promised me a chance at Redemption, not to mention life for my novel.
The day before the show, I was called by Shirley Wershba, the producer, to tell me that Nora Ephron's publisher had said if I was on the show, Nora would not appear. So I lost the best chance I had to promote the novel I wrote in spite of the huge setbacks, professional, emotional, and monetary I had suffered.
Still, I wrote on. ("They could cut off your arms," Gay Talese said generously, "and you would write with your stumps. They could cut off your legs and you'd crawl. All you have to do is decide not to die and you'll live forever.") But the novels after that had a hard time finding a home. ("There's a cloud over this writer," Don Fine, my last great maverick publisher, head of Arbor House, was told when he took my novel to market for paperback sale, which never happened.)
From time to time I would try moving back to New York, home of "serious" writing. I loved writers, and having suffered the isolation of being a novelist in Los Angeles, I was searching for 'community.' "Do your work," said Jules Feiffer, a trusted friend, "and your community will find you." Said Annie Navasky, delightful wife of The Nation's brilliant publisher. Victor, “He forgot to add ‘provided you are wildly successful.'"
Needless to say, I wasn't. But in the meantime I had entered the land of Everything Happens for a Reason. As Nora Ephron herself said in a recent interview, if it hadn't been for her unfortunate--as it turned out-- marriage to Mr. Bernstein, she wouldn';t have her house in the Hamptons, not to mention.. it did seem an afterthought... her two wonderful boys.
If I hadn't been booked on the Morning Show, I wouldn't have the friendship of Shirley Wershba, one of the great television journalists, along with her husband Joe(see 'Good Night and Good Luck',) a connection made more intense by my having been elbowed off the air. As it turned out, Shirley cancelled the whole segment, as she wasn't about to have a booking dictated by a publisher, especially since she had envisioned it as a stimulating literary discussion about romans a clef. Had the program gone ahead as originally conceived, I might have been witty on the air, maybe even clever, and my novel might have taken off, so the dark shadow of the lawsuit might have been erased by light. But then, if I had been more successful in placing my next six books (see Mr. Talese, above) I might have become spoiled and rotten and lazy and complacent, and not risen to the life worth examining, (see Socrates) and some(I hope) true perspective on what constitutes success, nor been in tune for today's #13 on The Times' Best Seller list, Overcoming Life's Disappointments.
Still, I have not evolved enough not to feel a bit of a twinge in my spirit at seeing at #1, Nora Ephron's I Feel Bad About My Neck. How charmingly she wrote in Heartburn about faithless man's inhumanity to woman. But where has she addressed the issue of woman's inhumanity to her fellow woman?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Morphing Through Babylon

So having failed to take my cues from inside my own consciousness and write about losing Don all those many end-of-the-summers ago, listening to a friend who said there was nothing that interesting about widowing, I doff my curls to Joan Didion who has done it better than anyone could, except that she was spared the additional gut-wrench of watching it happen, slowly, and unashamedly parodize her best title to tell you where I am now. Having settled in Brentwood, quite surprisingly an actual neighborhood in this spread-out locale where neighborhoods don't much exist, that is to say, those little patches of community one can feel a part of and walk the streets of without being stopped by a Black and White to ask you what you're doing there, not quite ready for the answer "Walking," much or most of the interaction being on the telephone, with any movement in cars-- not even a lot of splashing in the fairly ubiquitous swimming pools, since I seem to be the only one using them for exercise, at least in my building, the pool being at the rear of the parking garage so it offers little lure for lounging-- and having forsworn, for the nonce, travel,like Napoleon's army I am traveling on my belly. That is to say, I am donning the cloak of Foodie, and touring through my tongue.
Mimi and I have been lunchtime headquartering at an amiable trattoria called 'Sortino', where I can sit under an umbrella at a table with a friend I actually have something to say to, though that, too, has become occasional and minimalistic, as I got an e-mail from my Scottish Quakerly buddy Rosie in response to one of my poems, saying I am best when I travel inside, so I am paring off people rather than pairing off, and farming my solitude. Then, down San Vicente I found an exquisite Italian restaurant called 'Pecorino', where the fior di zucchini was as light and creamy when the crunch of the breading was bitten into, oozily, as opposed to that in an impossibly noisy restaurant in Hollywood called 'Jar', which is, as the late Paris Hilton might have said if she could speak, 'Hot', except it is also tasteless. The waitress, one of the few doubling as actress women in town who was charmless and funless, announced they had 'squash blossoms,' and when I asked if she meant 'zucchini blossoms,' that most delicate of summer dishes in Rome, gave me a stare as blank as her brainpan, and brought the dish, so flat and heavy it was, indeed, squash blossoms. All this to say I will do an extensive piece on Pecorino to inaugurate my new websites,, and I am transforming into my next skin, that of Foodie, since I am still cuter than Gael Greene and writing food is the same as writing about sex, with all the like adjectives, and I always did that better than almost anybody, Don would be the first to tell you if he were here.
In the meantime, I go for actual lunches, and write poems. Here, the one from Katsuya, newly opened just down the road on San Vicente.

Now whether or not you've been there
Japan is very pricey
So the tourist
Which I am,
Just passing through Life
On my way to someplace else
I sincerely hope
Feels somewhat pressed
At a sushi bar in Tokyo
So I recommend Katsuya
On the corner of San Vicente
Where the pale, stripped wooden floors
Recall a ryokan in Kyoto
And the recorded music
Sings of a vanished love
That only seemed like love at the time
For the heart was empty
And the arms ached to be full.

So much for the poem. The food, Pan-Asian or something equally affected and bullshitty unless you're having handrolls, --for example, the seared tuna and spinach salad comes with too much soy sauce. Mimi, however, enjoyed her water in a very fine ceramic bowl.
Much love to you all. We who are about to eat salute you.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Our Hearts were Young and so were Our Spades

So having been invited by a few of you to yes, tell the early Las Vegas adventure, I take you back to the time when the earth was still fertile and cold in the right places. I was just over twenty, and had come to Hollywood with my passel full of songs-- I was a songwriter then-- and had been signed by MCA in New York which is another story. Bobby Helfer,a cousin of the composer Elmer Bernstein, was the west Coast agent assigned to take care of me, and being an honest and sweet soul told me frankly that MCA was not about to offer me for projects when they could get multiple tens of thousands more for Les Baxter. But listening to my music he said "the hell with it. I'm going to sell you. That's really good stuff." (So was he, by the way. He later committed suicide on the eve of his 42nd birthday, taking 42 sleeping pills.) So he set up an appointment for me with Frank Loesser, who listened to my songs, said "Kid, you're the biggest talent since me," preceeded to make as his own several of my numbers, but hey... he was my idol, and what could I do?.
Less my idol was Jennings Lang, very high up in the agency, famously shot in the balls by Walter Wanger for screwing Wanger's then wife, Joan Bennett, later married to Monica Lewis, a saloon singer aching for a comeback. I wrote a poignant piece of material for her for which I was paid $2500, exactly the price, what a coincidence, of the yellow Plymouth convertible Jennings sold me from the MCA parking lot, the agency at the time also doubling with a car business.
Now in my convertible, I drove to Las Vegas, where MCA had set up two glittering appointments for me: I was to write a number for Judy Garland and another for Gordon MacRae. When I arrived at her hotel, Judy Garland had a nervous breakdown. Still with springs on my spirit, I bounced back and went to the Desert Inn to meet with Gordon MacRae. He was at the crap tables, and when I stepped up and introduced myself to him, he lost thirty-five thousand dollars. He growled: "Get her out of here."
Before they acted on that instruction, I put a dollar down on the pass line, and in my by then hypnotically disconsolate state threw the dice. Seven. So I took a dollar off and shot again, and said to the man across the table "Tell me how this works." He said "Shut up and keep shooting." So I did, continuing to make my point(I later learned what I was doing was called) each time taking a dollar off, saying "Somebody please explain to me what I'm doing." But everyone said "Shut up and keep shooting."
By the time I had made twenty straight passes, word had spread along the Strip to the Sands, and many serious gamblers had come to bet with me.When I said "What am I doing...?" they said, in chorus, "Shut up and keep shooting." In the end, I held the dice for over an hour, one man made eighty thousand dollars, and a man betting against me lost tens of thousands. I finally crapped out, when someone, at last, explained to me how it worked.
You couldn't cash a personal check in Las Vegas, but I had with me a company check from NBC, where I'd had the only job I ever had, as a writer for the NBC Comedy Development Program, sharing office space with Woody Allen, who was already smarter than I was, coming to work only on the day we got paid. The check was all the money I had ever earned. Carl Cohen, the heavyweight pit boss at the Sands, okayed me for cashing, as I was friends with his son(Corey Allen, the actor who went over the cliff playing 'Chicken' with Jimmy Dean in 'Rebel Without a Cause.') As I went to get my check out of the safety deposit box I passed the dour comedian Jackie Miles, and said 'Stop me, Jackie, I'm on my way to the box.' He held up his hand in sallow-faced benediction, and said "Go my child, and learn."
So I cashed it, and now, knowing how to play, played. It took me two and a half days but I lost every penny I had made at NBC.
Now, at a later time,with my friend Louise Glenn, I drove back to Vegas. My car, a convertible, top down, turned over on the way there, righting itself. By some miracle we were not killed(pre-safety belts.) A man from the cast of Toonerville Trolley came running out of his shanty and said "You're the first crash we've had here where the people wuzn't killed. This be the curve where Sammy Davis lost his eye."
Heavy credentials.
Now we proceeded to the garage where the car was fixed, sort of, continued on to Las Vegas, where i put a hundred dollars on the pass line, won, and having smartened up, immediately got back into the car. We stopped for gas in Barstow, and somebody stole my wallet. So I understood that even when I won, I couldn't.
But all through my early married years when Don and I would go to Vegas, which we did, I would sneak out as he slept to shoot craps and lose.
The night that Liza Minnelli opened at the Riviera at the height of her young celebrity, a planeload of those who were considered good press which I was for a fleeting moment, was invited to jet along. It was a rough time for Don and me, because he was having career trouble, my novel was a big success, and I had never imagined I would be doing better than my husband, and neither had he. So we had trouble. Major. We were mad at each other most of the time, I, because I had succeeded, he because he hadn't, and there was no quarter in that era fpr a woman's being more successful than her husband, or the beauty of my success being very much due to him-- with his cheering me on, spurring me, really, as I wrote The Pretenders: "Now get down there and give them one for the healthy heterosexual!" he would say as I headed down into the basement to write a libidinous scene. "This is really good," he would opine as I handed him the pages at the end of the day. "Now go back downstairs and make it worse."
But as we neared our room in the Riviera, I was afraid I would not be able breathe, with all the unexpressed disappointment and rage in the room with us. "God," I said, silently addressing that Deity I still spoke directly to at the time, the world having done little yet to disabuse me of the notion there was an Intelligence behind it all, even a world where a woman who thought men were better was being given this bitter lesson, "get me through tonight and I will give up gambling." And so it was that there descended on me perfect Peace, and the marriage that sustained me for the rest of Don's life, which was not to be very long, but during which time we both learned what a blessing it was to have someone who really supported you, fuck the money, endured.
And I never gambled again till I lost the dollar at the airport. And so it was, moving West.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Viva? Las Vegas?

So having had a great negative adventure in Sin City in my youth-- details to follow unless I lose interest in telling the story-- and divested of my lust for travel, or even a vague hunger, but cherishing a friend who headquarters in Venice where I have oft been but need go to no more for reasons laid out in my pome, --he attending a convention of hoteliers and travel agents only an hour away, I hied me to that desert honky-tonk to say Hello, and maybe Goodbye, because these days one never knows. The trip there, it being Jet Blue, was comparatively pain-free except for the prospect of losing my lip gel which I didn't, which non-loss made me regret not bringing my toothpaste. I flew from Long Beach, twenty minutes more on the freeway past LAX which I recommend to everybody because you can park and there is no hassle getting out on that airline including with luggage especially since i didn't take any. Arriving in Vegas, I grabbed a cab to the Hotel Paris, a place I had discovered when staying last time at the Bellagio, there being so many drapes and velvet swags and carpets in that hostelry that the dustmites had a victory over me, and I hid out at the other casino just breathing, floors at the Paris being marble, with nothing to offend my sensibilities except the Eiffel Tower that overlooks the pool. Oh, and once you're there, of course, you do notice the ad in the elevator for weddings, saying there is no better place for saying 'I Deux.' The stomach does churn, but everybody wants to be international. Or at least they used deux.
Once checked in which was not easy as they say 'Bonjour' badly and want picture ID, still a strain to the unpoliticized spirit used to a free country which many of you remember this used to be, I went across to the Bellagio where my friend was conventioning, and joined a cocktail party filled with hotel people who invited me to guest in exotic places I no longer care to go, unless they have transportation and allow small dogs. After that we had an exquisite dinner of light Japanese fare in the only restaurant you can see through, it being constructed mostly of glass and sheet rock, which comes as a comfort to the eye after all those busy walls.
Then I went back to the Paris(thinking perhaps I would write 'The Last Time I Saw etc.') waiting for The Daily Show, calling the concierge who is on record saying 'Bonjour' and 'all of our busy staff are occupe' till you could go bair-zairque, to find out what channel Comedy Central was, but when you finally get through they don't have it so one had no choix but to think and read, not necessarily in that order. Also I needed to get a new room key, as they have those magnetic-in-the-slot ones, and mine didn't work, and after a half hour of 'bonjours' they sent up a bellman with one that didn't work either, but I couldn't go through that again, so went to sleep.
I arose, did my yoga, went to swim, throwing the dead bolt so the room was open, and I wouldn't risk standing in the hall in my wet bathing suit, took my purse with all my limited valuables(priceless ID-- what if it's lost and they don't let me into the room or onto the plane home? racing through my brain) came back to the wrong floor, found the right one, (door still open) dressed and suffered through long checkout, and went to the Venetian for breakfast, that being the hotel everyone wanted to see. It is veramente grotesque, with millions of chandeliers that look like Versace's surving sister, a canal with Gondeliers, a museum with paintings from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg where I have been(the city, not the museum, as I bolted the tour and joined a Russian family I picked up at the bakery where bread was $10.00 a loaf and they said they were better off when there was a Cold War, even though they were glad we didn't hate each other anymore) but the museum charged $15.00 and I figured Las Vegas was not somewhere you looked for Kultur, or, in view of all the young hookers, a late-life love. So instead I asked Darryl, the bartender who served me breakfast at the bar at the Venetian, the only place you didn't see faux Tintorettos on the ceiling, what was good to visit and he said Mandalay Bay. So I crossed the Strip and made my way through a number of hotels, the most peace-a-fying of them being the Mirage, because there's a fish tank behind the desk that soothes the eyes, none of the fish having a frantic agenda.
All the lobbies I saw seem to be populated in great part by Asians, Chinese being driven gamblers, the tendency having apparently spilled over to Vietnam, and disconcertingly obese people,many of them pushing baby carriages, the rest seemingly carrying unborn twins in their buttocks. Made me sad.
At last I went to the Four Seasons, the only place that doesn't have a Casino, and made a phone call saying goodbye to my friend from somewhere I could think, then tried to call his daughter in London, only to discover I had lost my credit card. Called Darryl at the Venetian, and he had it, so took a taxi back to the Venetian($12.00), asked the driver to wait, got the card, zipped to the airport (10.75) and gave him a $7.00 tip so he'd go see 'O', a spectacle I'd caught in-between allergy attacks at the Bellagio last visit that everyone really has to see if they can. 'Love,' the Beatles Cirque de Soleil, which I really wanted to see, was suspended during my stay of course, as the Universe has a way of sending out little darts of seduction to get you back to places you are better off not going. I played $1.00 in the slot machine at the airport where a man had won 13 million last week and lost it, of course, which brought my losses to $26.00 including the unnecessary cab ride. Moral of the story: even when I don't gamble I lose, and if God had meant us to go to Las Vegas, She wouldn't have taken us out of the desert.
I'll tell you the other Vegas story another time. Always leave them wanting more. Do you?

Thursday, August 10, 2006


So we must all put aside feelings of frustration because we are not where or what we want to be. For some reason we have come into the world in an apocalyptic time, when the most we can do is try not to step into the fissures. Hell gapes, Shakespeare wrote. He had no idea. Not bad enough that life kills you anyway-- there are these suicidal homicidal lunatics who want to make sure it happens sooner. So lift your heads, hug your friends, make up with those you have offended unless they are carrying liquid that explodes.
At times like these I am moved to call my childhood friend Joanne Greenberg, who wrote I Never Promised you a Rose Garden, and has grown into a vessel of wisdom that still stays funny. When the Tylenol killer was loose-- oh, what a gentle madness that seems looking back!-- I suffered aloud to Joanne, and she assured me that there had been just as big lunatics in the Middle Ages, we just didn't hear about it because communications were slow. Now we have TV so we can learn this afternoon that we almost got killed yesterday, and it still could happen tomorrow. But Joanne sees the bright side: How wonderful that they found out! How great that all those people were in touch with each other so this could be exposed in time! Now maybe the CIA and FBI will follow suit.
Joanne was a rescue fireman in Colorado when she wasn't writing, and pulled children from privys where molesters had thrown them, so these things kind of slide in her eyes into a cosmic overview. She has just finished making the year's worth of Shabbas candles, and i consider her my Rabbi. At the same time she sorrows over Joe Lieverman and likes Coors, the company not the beer, because they did good in the community in spite of being Republicans, so I can't listen to her about everything.
Thus it is that I turn to Jack, whom some of you may remember as my Jewru, for what the Buddhists say at this time, although he is quoting a Sufi. "Undertake to overcome any bitterness that you are not up to the magnitude of the pain that has been entrusted to you." Azoy.
I had lunch with my son, my former little boy, on Sunday, to celebrate his birthday. I saw where his wild thatch of brown hair, so thick that when I was caught in whimsies of reincarnation I thought he might be a Kennedy-- he was in my belly when we lost Bobby-- had a few spikes of gray in it at the crown, antennas signalling age. It made me sad in an unaccustomed way, because i had just more or less come to terms with the truth that I was aging. It never occured to me that he would be, too.
Therefore let us all get our heads out of our asses, and delight in life while it's here. As Scarlett noted, Tomorrow is another day. Unless of course we have to fly somewhere.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Remembrance of Things Passed

So trying to deal with this inferno which of course has not been caused by Global Warming which we know doesn't really exist-- oh God, I hope the AC goes out in the White House-- I went to visit my beloved friend Gena Rowlands high atop Woodrow Wilson Drive. Coming back down Laurel Canyon, where I had the guts to live when I first hit Hollywood at 20, I could not resist turning into Rothdell Trail, my first address here. Tony Perkins, with whom I was besotted, said it was "where Roth first broke through the underbrush." He was clever, and as it was still a time when nice Jewish girls didn't till after, and often not even then, I brushed aside any thoughts of his distance being for any other reason than respect. Next to me lived a director who was soon to murder his gay partner, and across from me lived Nick Adams, the least interesting boy in 'Rebel Without a Cause,' who traded on the fact that he had been best friends with Jimmy Dean, several years dead so unable to deny it. Natalie Wood used to come visit him, and Dennis Hopper, who may/may not have actually been Dean's best friend, used to swing on a rope from my roof onto Nick's little side porch, crying "Fuck Errol Flynn!" These were pre-uttered-out-loud-Fuck days, so it was both funny and impressive, except seeing the width of the street today I realize he could have hiccuped himself across, and question if I might not have made that up rather than simply re-enacting it as I did in my first novel 'Naked in Babylon,' in which Dennis played a hilarious and really interesting a clef role.
I remember standing by the barbecue on my little side porch which you can;t see from the very very narrow and winding street, waiting for a call from Frank Loesser, for whom I had auditioned at MCA, singing him the best of my songs, having him respond," Kid, you're the biggest talent since me." When he left LA, he'd said "Kid, write me a musical!" so I did and sent it to him. The phone finally rang: he was returning my call, and I asked him what had happened with it. He said "Moss and I are working on something in Boston and we've used some of your stuff." Shocked, but I would imagine in retrospect also a little thrilled that I was good enough to be stolen from by men of that caliber, I still managed to say: "Frank-- what about money?" He said: "Write your parents."
Nick Adams committed suicide some years after that, and got a lot of press. Tony said: "If he had known how much publicity he would get, he would have done it a long time ago." Compassion was not Tony's strong suit..
It took me about twenty five minutes to turn the car around in the narrow space between the brick wall and the stairwell that sided the house I lived in, overhanging the street like a box, so I wonder that I ever lived through that period, as I was a worse driver then than I am now, which is saying a great deal. At the top of the steps across from the brick wall (I didn't go up them) I imagine was a little front yard, because for sure in real life (not made-up memory) Dennis stole the bigger than life-sized cut-out of Tony in 'Friendly Persuasion' from the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese where it premiered and put it in my front yard so I would see Tony greeting me when I went out in the morning, not out of just mischief or kindness but because he was really pissed at me for being in love with Tony instead of him. Not that he was that interested in me, but he was very interested in himself, and wondered why Tony was 1) the bigger star 2)the gatekeeper of my longing.
Driving all the way down to the bottom of Laurel I turned at the boulevard, and passed a sign on Sunset saying 'No Cruising;" Anyone passing this spot twice in four hours will be cited." No kidding. If only it had been there all those years ago, my whole life might have been different. Jim Morrison also lived on Rothdell Trail, but not at the same time as me. Just a point of interest.
Then came the place where Sunset splits onto Doheny Road, so I followed the divide onto where Carol Burnett's house used to be, where we lived in the guest house when Madeleine was one, and Don came out to LA to work on Carol's show. We were the best of friends then-- Carol said she would have liked to be me, as she really wanted to be a writer, and so admired me much-- but living in her guest house above the garage till we found a house, I had to make an appointment to talk to her. And the truth was I think I would have rather been a star, but I wouldn't have had myself remade to look like Julie Andrews.
The wonder no longer seems to be that I have lived this long, but that I lived through the early part of my life, as between the smallness of the road(Rothdell Trail) and the smallness of some people's hearts, it is a miracle that neither my car nor my spirit got crushed. The triumph is, quite simply, being alive to tell the tale, and the moral: don't be deflated when people don't read it.

I sing the song
Of the uncharted road
That more often than not
Leads to the greater adventure
For if the mind is open
And the heart is pure
The full breadth of the experience
Is available to everyone among us
So, when the song is over,
We will not only have sung it
It will have sung us.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A Soggy Day in Sag Harbor

I wonder why it is we try to belong in places we don't belong. One of the sanctuaries(I tried to make it, and failed) I sought out after Don died was The Hamptons, where I rented a house in Springs, the woodsy probably downmarket part of that sooooooooooo cherished weekend and summer escape of wealthy and would-be wealthy New Yorkers. My house was a kind of loft set on the ground, belonging to a woman whose path, I think, was more self-inflicted stumblier than mine: she had a boyfriend who was an architect, so she let him build it, I am sure to increase his self-esteem, which he might have done but he forgot insulation. There were 60 foot ceilings, and it was Fall going into winter, and cold cold cold and damp. I had to keep the house at 55 degrees to keep the pipes from freezing, and that cost so much money I was afraid to turn the heat up lest my son not be able to finish graduate school. So Happy, my yorkie, very little, and a laptop, very little, and a little heater and a little TV lived in a little room upstairs where I tried to finish a novel and pretend this was a life. i had one faux friend, very rich, who let me swim in her pool even though she was too fashionable to be in the Hamptons that time of year, but I swam there in bracing winds every day just out of spite so she would be forced to pretend to be gracious which she had never been, and it would cost her money. Then, I would try to find friends.
Let me tell you about the Hamptons. The reason why Jackson Pollock and Rothko were productive, insane and drunk was there is nothing else todo off-season but be those things. You have either got to become a drunk, or join AA. I dabbled in both, not becoming an alcoholic but going with some frequency to the sushi bar in Sag Harbor and downing a great deal of Sake, as at least I could talk to the sushi master, and I went to the AA meeting in Wilton or Weston or someplace like that, because it was as close as I could come to finding friends. There was an actor in the meeting whose name I shall not tell as it's part of the covenant, but he was funny and bright and in the throes of a great love which has come to no good end and in public, so at least there were people, before I returned to my personal chill. Happy was always a sport, anywhere on the planet I took him, so made no complaint, but I think he had a better time in Germany, which should give you some idea.
So yesterday I went on the Hampton Jitney to Sag Harbor to see a friend in a play, and the rain it raineth all the time, and the sushi bar which was just six people long is now a huge, very successful and slightly overpriced restaurant, where I went first for lunch before the play, and then afterwards with my friend who had been very fine in his role indeed, and in between sushi and play ate ice cream, all the flavors I wanted in two different places because when I lived there I had restrained myself, still imagining love would come along. During the play the rains had been so torrential that the audience thought the air conditioning was turned up too high, but it was really the roof working against collapsing in the downpour. After the second sushi I stood in a doorway waiting for the bus back to town.and observed Main Street, all festooned with American flags over storefronts, and quaint architecture that whistles Americana, but finds it hard to toot in the rain.
And I came to the conclusion that there is nothing sadder than a melancholy day in a place people have pushed their way into, money having been the bulldozer, thinking one could not be both chic and cool without spending summer in the Hamptons. Even the storefronts looked down on this rainy, joyless day, flags sodden and twisted around each other outside the flower store.
The secret, I think, is to always have a resort in your heart, but see a place on its worst day before considering moving there.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Marilyn's 80th Birthday

A Tale of Two Shitties: It was the worst of theater and the best of theater. As intimates know, and some who are not even intimates, I have had a bad time in New York theater over the past several years because I had written a musical, and fine it was, too, that I couldn't get anybody to listen to, because I have no track record here, and what I saw on the stage did nothing to make me feel better. So when I came back to this city where I must admit I now feel a major disconnect, I had no great appetite for Broadway. Still, I enjoyed 'The Drowsy Chaperone,' and looked forward to 'The History Boys,' because I'd heard it was intelligent. I have also made a friend, a very nice woman producer, Chase Mishkin, who goes to fucking everything, and as I enjoy her company, especially as she picks me up in a London taxi lined in Burberry, I often go with her.
So it was that to my sadnesse(I use the Chaucerian spelling) I went last week to 'Hot Feet,' the black musical version of 'The Red Shoes,' which film buffs will remember as one of the great tasteful movies of all time, starring the very gifted dancer daughter of Debbie Allen. To the music of Earth, Wind and Fire. Oy.
Yesterday was 'Boys' day. I went to the matinee of 'The History Boys' where the real life happening was more electrifying than the play, Before rise of curtain, came the usual announcement to please turn off cell-phones and no taking pictures, with the added caveat that"Using cell-phones in theaters is now against the law," which met with applause from the audience. The came the play, with some admirable performances by several of the lads(used advisedly, as with sadnesse), but most especially by the teacher, a Tweedledum&Tweedledee (combined) spinning top of eloquence named Richard Griffiths. Came the key scene of the play, after much jollity in the classroom and some actual singing of a Rodgers & Heart ballad, wherein the fat round teacher is called into the office of the headmaster, to be admonished for feeling the genitals of his students while they ride with him on his motorcycyle, and being told he will have to retire. Just at that moment Griffiths, sitting there in mortified silence, heard a cell phone go off in the audience. He stared up at the offender, so much in character that He seemed still the teacher, and said in controlled tones that he could not compete with the electronics, stopped dead, and then told us that we had been asked quite politely to turn off our cellphones, that it was quite disrespectful and was in fact now against the law, that he was stopping the scene, would start over, and if it happened again, he would leave. Tumultuous applause.
So he started the scene again and when the dour headmaster asked him why he locked his doors while teaching, he said "Because I don't like to be interrupted." Laughter and more applause. Nothing in the rest of the play could measure up to that, and I found the second act just okay. I think we always give extra high marks to the Brits because we are so intimidated by their diction which makes us believe they're intelligent. And of course critics are afraid of Alan Bennett because he has such disdain for the US. I sort of love it myself, though I'm still not sure about New York.
Ah, but last night was a New York evening if there ever was one, one where most of the treasures of the city revealed themselves, and it was a joy to be here, collecting. First a dinner at Gallagher's, a steak house, can your mind get around that one in this otherwhere land of vegetarians and fish eaters?. Then 'The Jersey Boys,' the musical about Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, using that sensational music, and it was fantastic. I absolutely loved every minute. I have a friend who's been five times, and I understand why. There is some technical magic with comic strips, but what it is mostly is a joyful piece of theater, and I was happy the whole time, uplifted, the way God and the Greeks meant it to be. Catharsis does not always have to be depressing.
Then today to Le Cirque to celebrate Marilyn Monroe's 80th birthday, which is today. The restaurant is glamorous but not yet quite buzzing: Beverly Sills was there and there was but one empty table by the window, and I worried that the place wasn't full(the official re-opening was yesterday) Then the couple came in and headed for it, and it was Michael Bolton and a woman in shorts. Khaki. Bermudas. It's the end of the civilized world as we knew it, forget about global warming. I think she was trying to make the bottom of her look as light as the top of him(he's losing his hair, and, apparently, his taste in companions.)
Then they brought us Marilyn's cake, with a spun candy cloche, and we made a wish and blew out the candle. I am sure our wishes were about the same subject, as Chase is doing a musical and I am with novel.
Then we went to this perfectly execrable reading of an alleged comedy, where a woman from Sunday Styles, very hot part of the New York Times for those who wish they were really reading 'Us,' comes to the Hamptons to cover the wedding of a son of a Martha Stewart-like character, to a young unlikeable woman. I thought it was going to get darkly comic about a bright woman who gardens and has been in jail because juries don't like bright women, but instead it tipped over into The Philadelphia Story, only not clever or witty, combined with a prison movie. Awful. I left at the half lest it completely undo all the joy that had built up with Jersey Boys(loved it loved it!) and Le Cirque.
Saturday I go to Sag Harbor just for the matinee at the Bay Theater because my nice neighbor Simon Jones is in a play or a cabaret I don't know what exactly, with Kaye Ballard, who is very funny and talented, and Sian Phillips who is the ex-wife of Peter O'Toole and author of a book Gena Rowlands, whom i love, gave me, and the whole thing is supposed to be wonderful. Kaye is a terrific comedienne, and is the first person I ever sold Special Material to, when I was 20. It was a song whose title I can';t remember, but she actually paid me $500. Nobody could get over it. Especially everybody else who wrote material for Kaye.
Mimi is white with a new grooming, the air is heavy with humidity so it's hard to walk with her in Central Park, and you're lucky not to be here except on occasion. Love