Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Opus Deities

I think I thought my mother was a movie star. She was tiny ---you can’t tell that when you’re little, looking up, but you can see that men are watching her. And you could observe her smile, dazzling, even white teeth behind parted shiny red lips, great legs, and the power, like The Shadow, to cloud men’s minds, starting with my father’s. He was madly in love with her, ‘madly’ being the operative word, as the violence between them was consistent and regular, charted by me on a calendar as soon as I was able to read numbers and make circles, around the age of four. I would draw a ring around the date of the last explosion, estimate the probable time of the next one, and was eerily accurate. Incidents when the police came, summoned by my grandpa—we all lived together in those early times—were noted with a star.
I suppose I thought that great love was signaled by bursts of passion like in the movies, absent the blood. Mostly, as I remember, and was able to reason in recollection, the fights were provoked by her, she was so disappointed by his moving in with her lovable but poor family; his family, though irascible and not much fun to be around, was on so much higher an economic plane, she’d imagined she would be marrying up. His failure to rise—he was a pharmacist and sold condoms for Bauer & Black, a kind of road company Johnson & Johnson, and she mockingly called him a ‘cunjun salesman,’—added to her rage, exacerbated by her conviction that he was cheating on her, a seeming irrationality that might have found footing in the fact that he hit on her younger sister.
The movie star Helen, aka Mom, most resembled was Paulette Goddard, being little and dark, saucy, with that flashing smile and perceptible wit. So when I heard, in Key West, where we’d fled when I was five, under cover of darkness so Daddy wouldn’t intercept us, that ‘Reap the Wild Wind,’ starring that actress, was filming there, I played hooky from school to watch. I’d written a note (I could write by then) signing my mother’s name, saying little Gwen was ill and could not be in school that day. So I stood hypnotized and enchanted on the dock, arduous and uninspiring though the actual movie-making process was, until it was time to go home.
My mother was by then a secretary in the offices of the U.S. Army—as bright as she was fetching, she had mastered Gregg shorthand on our train ride South—but the school had managed to get through to her to report my truancy(I guess my handwriting, at six and a half, was not too convincing.) So when I heard her high heels clacking in the hallway, the fury audible, I braced myself for the worst. It came. She hurled a lamp that missed me, and wielded a wooden yardstick that didn’t. The physical mayhem that apparently gave her and my father such disturbed satisfaction, serving as a kind of foreplay before they healed their anger with sex, had morphed its way onto me, the object of her disaffection. She was always sorry afterwards; I always forgave her. How could I not, when she was a movie star?
So it is at the feet of that apparent masochism that I lay my infatuation with the movies. Not that movies were unkind to me. On the contrary: it was in that protective, cosseting darkness that I was most comfortable. But many were the stars with whom I was besotted, several of whom I came to know personally, through quirks of Fate, or maybe some invisible, guiding hand that elected to impose on my life a deep superficiality. That is not an oxymoron, but an observation. There’s comfort in superficiality, the layers of fat and tissue that lie between the harshness of the world and you, cushioning its ability to inflict an actual wound.
Maybe that’s what accounts for the current celebrity craze. Maybe what’s going on in our time is just so painful and insoluble that most people take refuge from the war and the blind ignorance and their comfort from endless dispatches about Anna Nicole Smith. Or Brangelina, or Vincifer, if, praise God(Jennifer Hudson would say) Aniston gets it back together with Vaughn, or her nose job straightens out more than her septum.
In any case, this is by way of a confession that movies as church for me are over. I knew that the other night watching the Oscars, a ritual I have observed with reverence for more years than I thought to count, the weighty trio of directors having announced, when they finally got to give the award to Scorcese, that they had been close friends for thirty-seven years. I realized then that that was the exact number of years since Sandy Burton had covered our Academy Award mock-party for Time Magazine. 1970. The 42nd Academy Awards it was, given by the Mitchell Academy of Arts and Games, the raised print invitations read. Sandy called it an anti-Oscar party, because it was in the midst of Vietnam, all the liberals hated Bob Hope who was hosting, and John Wayne who was up for, and would receive the award for ‘True Grit.’ So, as noted in a previous Report, everybody who was anybody (and many who weren’t, since Don and I still had a taste at the base of our tongues for real friends) came to 9492 Rembert Lane in Beverly Hills.
But the darker part of the confession is that for me it wasn’t a bit ‘anti.’ I was thrilled at the presence of all those stars, elated and probably drunk with the truth that Time Magazine was at our house and I was getting publicity, which was more than Mother's Milk to me, since my mother's milk was a little sour even at the breast. But still sort of grounded in domesticity—a classmate in the Creative Writing program at Stanford where I went after Bryn Mawr(not as good) said that the reason I was crazy was due to an inner tussle between my mother and my Grandma Gussie, who only wanted to give love and food—I made all the hors d’ouevres for the party, won tons and empanadas and tiny franks rolled in dough (also hand-rolled) which had kept me cooking and baking and frying for days. Still, I also put my children, Robert(2) and Madeleine (4) in black tie, and myself in a beaded Michael Novarese. That is to say I admit not only to buying into but also buying for the Bullshit.
I watched this year’s awards from bed, alone, except for Mimi. I experienced no wish that I were there, or near, or leaping over the giant hedge outside Morton’s that Graydon Carter had had shaped into letters that read VANITY FAIR, that reminded me, when I attended, of the topiary in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Shining,’-- equally scary. I remember a story of E.M. Forster’s called ‘The Other Side of the Hedge,’ written, I would guess, some time on the brink of his fascination with the mystical and his dance with the Great God Pan. I think, I hope, that I have made it to the other side.
What's there is magic, and invisible. It turn out, particularly in these times, what matters most is that which we cannot see. Especially on television.

Jet Blues

I wrote an e-mail yesterday to David Neeleman, CEO of Jet Blue, responding to his personal e-mail to me as a Jet Blue loyalist, in which he apologized to me along with all his other customers, promising a "passenger's bill of rights" and compensation if another horror ever takes place as it did in the ice storm at JFK, where passengers were kept on runways for up to twelve hours with no chance of escape, food or clean toilets. I congratulated him on his unending round of public mea culpas, from the Today Show to Letterman, because he took full personal responsibility, admitted all the airlines' errors, and promised he would do all possible to rectify and see that it never happened again. My congratulations were based on the fact that he stepped up, something none of our leaders have seemed able to do, and suggested he run for president.
Thia after a blow up among the Democratic frontrunners, Obama and Hillary, because David Geffen, a very deep pocket and a very big mouth, threw a fund raiser for Barack and a brickbat at the Clintons, via Maureen Dowd, the savvy and extra sharp editorial columnist for the NYTimes who must have been exhilarated beyond belief that she had a new target besides her aptly labeled but (it was getting tired) Vice. For those of you on distant shores, the brouhaha was created by Geffen's saying the Clintons lie with "great ease", Hillary is polarizing and unelectable. I happen to agree with the last, and hope that all of this, her contained but perceptible rage, decrying against Democratic infighting, and asking Obama to step away from Geffen, and the money raised, (it was Big Time,) which Barack has declined to do. So he hasn't taken the high road that so far he has skated along, all of which is okay with me, as I hope it will clear the arena for the man I think can do the job, John Edwards, the only one of any of them whom I have believed all along, including when he took the 2nd spot to the phlegmatic, pompous and disappointing Kerry. From the first time I listened to Edwards, I was convinced that every word that he spoke he really meant, and that they were from the heart, which he still visibly has. His wife is no less touchingly magnetic, having lost a child then had two more, and is a breast cancer survivor without wallowing. They seem truly estimable people, and it would be a major healing for this country to have people as our hood ornament who were genuinely admirable for a change, not driven by self-interest or oil, or satanic, sweaty, growling billiard balls(I wonder who she means by that?)
Anyway, in spite of my sincere regard for the airline, we left Burbank this morning for New York and headed instead for Denver as the plane didn't have enough fuel what with the heavy load and the wrong runway out. And twas then I began thinking about what must have happened to the pets that Jet Blue allows you to have under the seat for a fee during that ordeal in New York, and what Mimi might have endured.
Mimi, as friends know, has been traveling with me everywhere, and in spite of the fact that she should know by now that she will not be left behind, gets crazy for several days before I leave, which she knows out of some deep brilliance and intuition that seems not to carry over to the fact that she will be going along. So I can't start packing until just before. Even so, she guards the door for several days, and once there is luggage, sits on it, lest I leave her behind.
A very smart friend suggested to me that I put Mimi's travel case out the day before so she understands she's going too. I did that yesterday, and last night I couldn't find Mimi and she was in it. She slept in it all last night,
LATER: I am rescinding the letter I wrote to Neeleman. Though we arrived in NY only an hour past our original slated time, it took us another hour and a half to get our luggage. Then there were no taxis and it was cold. My solution" STAY HOME. But first: FIND OUT WHAT REALLY FEELS LIKE HOME.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I, the Jury

So I am in a courthouse for the first time since I covered the Jeffrey Masson- Janet Malcolm libel trial for The Nation Magazine, wherein I had the joy of encountering Gary Bostwick, her defending attorney, a very smart man, and only the second time I have ever been in one.The first was my trial in Santa Monica, when the self-promoting and egregiously lying psychologist, E. Paul Bindrim sued me for libel, claiming he was a character in my novel, which he grew a beard and lengthened his fringe to become, as well as getting a PhD from International University, a mail-order college above the Bruin Theater in Westwood. Everything passes, including Bindrim, and the queasiness when I would drive by the old courthouse, but as I go to eat lunch today, it all rushes back at me, especially the panic for food. I knew how badly it was going for me when, during one break, I put a Milky Way in the freezer so I could have it, frozen, at the next one.
Downtown LA doesn't feature any places you might find in Raymond Chandler, who would be hard put to set a scene in Subway or MacDonald's. The streets are colorless and sad, although one of them has a sunny side. The jury room, where about fifty people are waiting in the pool to see if they are chosen, has burgundy benches and a cheap matted gray rug, some computers to the rear, a snack machine, and a Pepsi one, and a TV set to the front that I have turned down th volume on and set to "The People's Court" so those who are watching can feel pleasantly surreal. Most of them have magazines or that glazed look of inattention that comes from being bored and not having anything particularly interesting they seem to be thinking about. There are several books people have left on the table include a novel by Gore Vidal. He would probably be pleased, though I cannot imagine his ever having served on a jury, as what he mostly does is judge.
This citizen duty is not as vexing as it might usually be since I have absolutely nothing I am passionate about right now, no feeling i am being wrenched away from a true calling. My voices, unlike St. Joan's, have not deceived me: they have simply shut up. Jack, my Jewru, said my muse is on vacation, most likely in Bali. Have opted not to go there as was my plan, because the world seems very Iffy at this moment, we are despised almost everywhere, and-- oh, yes -- I had a loved friend who was killed in Bali, the death is on the book as an unsolved homicide, but I don't think so. And he's still there.
So I thought in terms of where it was I used to go when I still took real holidays, a little place beside the route to Ramatuelle found when that loved friend said to me "Everybody says: 'St. Tropez, c'est finis' but I think you'll like it." So Don and I and the kids when they still listened found Les Bergerettes, a charming, humble little stone hotel by a forest of maritime pine, where she joined us for one magical weekend. We stayed there for something like $100 a day. I contnued to go back for many years, for as long as a month when I could, or my spirits were flagging, climbing the hill every morning, a challenging stretch of the legs, sitting on top by the edge of a vineyard, looking across the ravine to the mountain opposite, and the ancient, walled city of Gassin. I would stay there for an hour, so when I walked down the hill again I would be really centered, clear, and serene. Having decided it would not be wise to Bali, I tried to find my old hotel. It is unchanged, except for the angle from which the pool is photographed, which makes it seem more exotic, and is now, perhaps heated. And the price is now $400 a day. Oh, that. I haven't been away that long. So I won't be going. I will try to remember the glitter on the Gulf of Grimaud, and the poems I wrote there.
I think that God Septembers
In the south of France
God knows He needs a vacation.

But the new question-- can he afford it?
I wish it were Cheney on trial. Oops. They're calling me to the courtroom.