Saturday, March 31, 2007


I cannot help thinking that there is a curious parallel between what Howard Stern is doing to 'American Idol,' and what the Clintons are doing to the election. To my chagrin, because of Pam Korman, a darling friend I have made since moving back to L.A., I started watching 'Idol,' and, to my deepening shame, got hooked. My addiction to my country, though, has a long and I hope more illuminated history, starting when I was a very little girl, and understood words and voices, and thought I could hear in F.D.R.'s reassuring resonances, that everything would be all right. My student days were lifted by Adlai Stevenson's humanistic concerns and the possibilties of greatness, what was left of my idealistic youth elevated by Kennedy's eloquence, shattered, along with everybody else's, by his assassination, when I turned the channel from Cronkhite's wiping his eyes after looking at the clock and announcing the death, to NBC where I thought he might still be alive. After that I had babies, so my affection focussed elsewhere until Johnson said he would not run, when I re-began loving America.
As I have already written in these reports, I felt I had a personal hand in bringing down Nixon, voted Republican because I trusted Gerald Ford, and later mistrusted Jimmy Carter. Don would not die until he signed his absentee ballot for Mondale, which I took to the polling place, sobbing. So my sense of connection is passionate and deep-rooted. Along with my thinking friends I have suffered through this abysmal administration, wondering why we were not taking to the streets.
And now comes our chance to pull ourselves out of this cesspool, and I am fearful we are going to blow it. Though I don't know David Geffen, I agree with him that Hillary is polarizing, and that if she is the candidate, the Democrats lose. But as Howard Stern maniacally undermines the genuine talents with the farce of getting his listeners to vote for the desperately ungifted Sanjaya, so the (almost) irresistible Bill is out beating the money drums for Hillary, to try and overcome Obama.
The true horror is that this all seems to be about money. Pols understand that it has ever been so, but I really don't. I thought it was about serving our country, about finding the person with the most to give, the ability to unite, lift, inspire, and make other nations respect us, not laugh and/or tremble as this joker has done. So that it all comes down to the buck is enough to turn me against the whole system.
Even my own personal choice, John Edwards, has a staff that hassles me for money, when I ask if I can write for him, volunteer, man phones, anything. Having sent in one donation, I get an e-mail a day with a solicitation, a cry that if more money isn't sent in, he might not be able to emerge as a candidate. I hate all this. Howard Stern is a malevolent geek who likes to undermine and show his own wacko power. But who/what is the force behind our elections turning on the dollar?
And what are we going to do about it? Let's get Sirius.

Thursday, March 29, 2007


How young we must have been when we wanted to conquer New York. How brave our hearts were, and how blind our eyes. I cannot be sure whether it is the city that has grown harder, or my own skin that has thinned, but the place that gave rise to the circle at the Algonquin has given way to a restaurant owned by Graydon Carter. That is to say, aspiration, wit, and poetry have shrunk and morphed into a celebrity culture, if a culture it can still be called, and if those looked at with... what? awe? shock and awe? can be considered true celebrities, paralleling a president not in the least presidential. What a great country we were. What a great city New York was. Or maybe, in the words of my fellow P.S.9 alum, Hal Dresner, we were strengthened by having the John Jasper Journal, in which both our works appeared on the same page when we were nine or ten, to affirm us at an early enough age to make us think all things were possible when we grew up.
My own sensibilities seem validated by Mimi's. The whole time we were there she appeared reluctant to pee, she is SUCH a lady, and is not sure if the sidewalk outside our apartment building is the continuation of the lobby. The park was either frozen over, black-slushed, or a fetid dark puddle, so we rarely made it into that sometimes sanctuary, instead circling the block so she would eventually relieve herself at the back entrance of the Essex House, where there is a mat she could use unobserved, while I looked around and whistled. Once back in LA, however, her sense of relaxation is visible, and she lets go every few feet on the grass. I am not usually fixed on the toilet habits of little beasties, but the parallel between human confusion/tension and theirs is evident.
Still, we must love New York for a number of things: the friends we still have there, the fantasy that it is the hub of the universe, which I suppose it is if you are a theater junkie and cannot get to London, where Kevin Spacey is in charge of the National, so how good can that be? We must also love it for its restaurants, most treasured of which on the High End is Le Cirque, because we love the Maccionis. That is not the Royal We, but the Me and Mimi We, since Sirio and Egi are beloved friends of mine, and Marco, the middle son, is beloved by Mimi. Marco wanted to be a vet, and has a bull mastiff named Mostro who, on pleasant days, guards the entrance to Circo, the less expensive, more neighborly arm of their restaurant kingdom.
Pleasant days, I understand, have returned to New York now that we have left. I try not to take it personally. I try not to take anything personally, but a lot of the time I lose that battle, including what this admininstration has done to our country, which all of us should take personally and maybe it will finally get us into the streets. One of the great Justices, I think it was Frankfurter, said the 1st amendment should not apply to crying 'Fire!' in a crowded theater. I believe that 'Off with their Heads', as the Red Queen kept crying in Alice in Wonderland could now be the acceptable roar, as the worst of them will not back off from a crowded theater of war.
It really feels like Impeachment should be back on the table. Pelosi's chiding him like a strict disapproving Mama just doesn't seem enough. I'm sure he already had one of those, and look at the result.
Well, Easter is coming, and Passover too, so maybe the Hand of God will make an appearance. I would turn to prayer to ask that, but am afraid my words might get caught in the updraft coming from the evangelicals.
Love and kisses from a Kinder, Gentler Clime.

Sunday, March 25, 2007


I have written before in this report of my old editor, Don Fine, from whom I learned the word 'ineffable.' It became a favorite word because there are more things in this world, Horatio, that are 'unspeakable' than one could have predicted. Still, I use the word rarely, because it has such power in my mind, that one must be discriminating and not abuse it. But now I am afraid that our whole culture, indeed, perhaps our whole so-called civilization, has become one of such ineffable bullshit that we are poised on the brink of... well....falling so deep into bullshit we won't even be able to speak. Or maybe not even note it anymore, the Emperor's New Clothes cladding everything from our political system and our alleged leaders to our books, our fashions, and, God Help Us , the The-ah-tre.
I am in this particular ineffable rage because I went to the Tom Stoppard's 'Coast of Utopia,' a troika of plays(they were supposed to be) yesterday, having bought tickets for all three in their marathon form on my last trip here, imagining that Spring would be coming this time of year, and my consciousness would be in full bud. So yesterday morning, filled with hope I went at 11 Am to the first of the three. It was very Russian, having many characters with names you couldn't distinguish when you were making your way through their novels, which at least had plot, and were, in the best of them, gripping human tales. Tom Stoppard has apparently done his research, and there is no question he is intellectulally adept. But oh, my dears, it was so very unmoving, except for the staging and scenery, which included projections where we swirled in a deep ocean that I eventually decided was his ability to fool people. I could remember my husband saying 'Dazzle 'em with footwork,' but this was wordwork, none of it leading anywhere except to the carotid artery. I also remembered my darling Mabel, the Greek teacher at Bryn Mawr, telling me when I went back to write a play under her aegis "Drama means 'To do.'" I could also hear Shakespeare citing himself, pointing his finger at 'a poor player who struts and frets his weary hour upon the stage, full of Sound and Fury, signifying nothing.' But oh, what a rogue and peasant slave are we, that we buy into this pretentious pap, now at $100 a throw.
Still, I went back for the second play, having bonded at intermission with a nice lady named Lila, all preened for the event, having come up from Philadelphia, having wanted to get her Master's at Bryn Mawr but they made it too hard for her(my second beef with them) who asked me over lunch what my children did and if I was involved in their lives, and in a magical sweep of word economy, reacting to the surfeit of verbose, I said "Not much. Not very."
We agreed to have dinner together but all the restaurants around :Lincoln Center said they were "fully committed." As it turned out, I didn't make it to dinner, and left play two at the intermission, which I had hoped was the end of the play, there being no way to tell since there was much strutting and fretting its weary hour and a half upon the stage but not a single thing that touched the spirit or moved,except the scenery, including the French Revolution which was staged with full smoke and banners and a horse statue on the Concorde that came apart with the first explosion. I tried to sell my ticket to play three, but the box office had several from those who had wised up before me, and at dinner, sitting at the bar at Josephina's, I couldn't even give it away. On the way out, by the way, I told the Maitre d' that he should say 'Fully booked' instead of 'Fully Committed' as that meant having some emotional stake. What a fiasco! At one point a little boy in the play(I use the word advisedly--- it was more a flash of all the information Stoppard had under his raincoat) went for a walk and his mother said "Don't let him play on the riverbank!" so I was hopeful he might fall in and give us one moment we had to shrink from, but no such bad luck.
To be fair Ethan Hawke was surprisingly good, full of bombast, as suited his character, and as Lila from Philadelphia said, it gave work to a lot of actors. But when I came home I did my laundry, which turned out to be more exciting, and then watched 'Judgment at Nuremberg' where Spencer Tracy's looking out the window at the Germany that had wrought the enormity of this sorrow spoke more than all Mr.Stoppard's words.
Happily I had reuned this trip with a bright Brit friend who'd told me she always found Stoppard, ultimately, light. I was glad not to feel alone, though I would have said 'empty.' But then it's all empty right now, isn't it, here on the brink.
Today I had brunch with Tyne and some of her friends. Happily, she'd saved me from 'Year of Magical Thinking' along with my smart friend Carol who also found it "tedious." I'd suffered for a few years because when Don died an otherwise wise friend dissuaded me from writing about it, because she said no one wanted to hear about a widowing, so when Didion wrote her book with her scalpel(I think that's what she uses rather than a pen,) I felt bad, although as I read it I could not help musing that she had, in truth, for all her pain, been spared the real agony, which is the process of losing, watching someone hale and funny and, in my case, hunky, gradually-- though speeded up with Don, who took eleven weeks from diagnosis till death-- disappear. Tyne says that Vanessa Redgrave actually announces in Didion's words (something like) "I'm going to tell you, because this is what you're all going to go through" which would be haughty and presumptuous even if not put in the mouth of a usually British-accented actress(though not here; I'm told it's acceptably American) We all have or will have different experiences in connection with loss, so she has SOME nerve, and that's okay, she's suffered in her way, but nobody did it for all of us except Jesus and then not unless we're Christian. So I'm glad to have skipped that, and saved several people on the street from going to 'Utopia.'
Now if there were only some way I, we, God, --anybody,-- could save the country.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Foul Weather Friend

This visit has been a test for Mimi. Probably the whitest dog in Life Biz,(she will probably end up in Show Biz but will always try for a sense of Balance,) she has been groomed three times, or thrice, as Tommy Thompson would have writ, since coming to New York. Forced into boots, very smart but annoying, to preserve her paws in the snow, she has suffered in silence, waiting for Spring, which officially starts today but teased everyone into thinking it had come last week, only to be undone by ice storms and sleet storms and all the garbage that could possibly have been thrown into the atmosphere, sending us both into retreat, quite literally, giving us cabin fever, locked in as we were. When she could finally venture out, it was only the Beggin' Strips bought especially for her by King, the tall black doorman next door at the Essex House who missed the dogs of his boyhood, that gave her the strength and will to continue, the streets were so icy and slick.
Then yesterday, my mother's birthday and the 4th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, something my mother would never have started unless it was with a husband, it seemed a fair enough day so we could walk up Fifth Avenue. The West Side of that majestic boulevard was still cluttered with empty grandstands from the St. Patrick's Day parade, the cracks in the sidewalk aglint with tiny fallen green foil shamrocks. So we walked uptown on the other side, where the grand hotels(what's left of them, the Pierre having been diminished along with the Sherry-Netherlands) and elegant apartment houses are, so the sidewalks are cleared, none of those buildings wishing to have lawsuits. (Snow is still piled high and black, as it used to be in Pittsburgh when I was a little girl, and the air was filthy, as it no longer is in Pittsburgh, the steel mills having been vanquished, apparently relocating here, or maybe it's just the smoke from politicians.) The Frick Museum, having the most money to lose, had salted the sidewalk alongside, so I had to carry her for a block, as that salt is murder to paws, and she wasn't wearing her boots. She has porked up in her confinement, so it was a furry handfull, and her belly had been blackened by the excursion, so it wasn't easy for either of us.
We visited my dermatologist, then returned on foot, and by the time we got back here she was filthy. So I put her into the tub, where the water turned black as her eyes, and she had her second home bath in-between groomings, and looked at me with a look of absolute betrayal. What had she done?
New York New York. If you can stay clean there, you'll stay clean anywhere. I shall not lament returning to LA, where all you have to deal with is your brain turning to mush and the occasional earthquake.
Meanwhile, my friend Tyne Daly who moved back here has just returned from the 'Ms.' Magazine cruise, and says that Eleanor Smeal is between a rock and a hard place what to do about Hillary, or, as I put it, Barack and a hard place. Tyne says it is exactly the same situation as after the Civil War, when they didn't know whether to give the vote to black men or women. I'm not sure of the accuracy of that statement, but she reads all the time, so it's probably true. But many are those who are trying to find the neat way to dump Hillary. Harris Wofford, once president of Bryn Mawr, which is how I know him, studied with Gandhi, worked with Martun Luther King, JFK, RFK and Clinton, and, difficult as it is for him, has stepped away from her as he doesn't "want to hear her voice coming out of the TV for the next 8years." He assured me that Barack can indeed, do the job, as he worked with poverty for ten years before he became a senator, and is three years older than "John" (I love that) was when he became president, and though "John did manage to graduate Harvard Law, he did so with no particular distinction, whereas Barack was the first black editor of the Law Review."
I watched Obama last night on Larry King and he certainly can handle himself, with enough grace and smarts to make even Larry King tolerable. I dreamt last night I went to visit the Obamas at their home, which was on the side of a hill, and they were wonderful hosts and very helpful afterwards when I couldn't remember where I parked my car-- there were a lot of cars and I think I had rented, so maybe the confusion was I didn't know which was mine. I am unable to interpret the dream, but I did want to report they were good company. But I still like Edwards.
Tonight I go to the Italian Cultural Institute for a reception for Charlotte Chandler, a nice woman who lives in my building, and has written a number of star biographies, tonight's being Ingrid Bergman's, Ingrid Bergman in Italy, the title of the book, celebrating her time with Rossellini, which I hope it was. A celebration I mean. She seemed borderline despondent when I met her later in her life, and told her in the rush of enthusiasm I always seem to have around those I admire, especially movie stars, that she was the most beautiful woman who had ever been in films('tis true: check out her supporting role in 'Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,') and she said, rather sadly, "How very lucky for me." I was strangely moved until I saw Saratoga Trunk on TV a few years later, and that was a line in the movie. You always think these people have brains, confused by their beauty and the sound of their voices.
The world will not feel that with Mimi. (Her picture TK. That's journalese, I think, for 'To come.') .

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Spring is Here

So Mimi and I had a few blighted, icy days, one where she had to wear booties and walked as though she had been gang-banged, but today the sun is out and we came home from the groomer's through Central Park. In a tunnel, the best in the park acoustically, he said, having tested them all, a piper played Irish tunes though he wasn't Irish and didn't want a dollar. He is Italian in origin and a lawyer who just enjoys music. I wished him well and told him to keep his soul. It can't be easy to do that if you're a lawyer.
We ran into another lawyer, she the mother in a young Chinese family, and I said the few words I can remember in Mandarin, which is little more than Hello and Good bye, Thank you, and Fabulous!(loose translation of Bang, which actually means delicious) when she told me she had passed the bar in English and Chinese. She must be truly brilliant, as the biggest waste of cerebral time and money in my life has been the study of Mandarin, begun when I found a flyer that said 'Cecilia Rasmussen, linguist to the Stars, as featured in 'In Style Magazine', which I thought had to be a hoot. It wasn't, though the upside is I reeled in a buddy and we have gone through it together and bonded, as nothing will bond two bright women faster and better than both of them feeling stupid at the same time. Initially I was studying it so I could speak it when I went to Shanghai, a trip I figured I would make this Spring, but I am sufficiently put off by the language to have given up all thought of going. Partly, I think, that is because I feel unsure, as do many, of what will happen in the world, but mostly it is because I have no love of the language, and that is what has bolstered me through most of my adventures, including the ones where I spoke English.
But it most definitely Spring. Flowers are not yet budding, though people are, coming out in droves as they do in Paris the first decent day. When I was in New York in December, and the weather was milder than it is now, I walked along Central Park South and at the curb outside one of the buildings someone had put out for garbage collection a big box of old 33 1/3 albums. Angled at the top, propped up and smiling at me was Rosemary Clooney, so I took it as the greeting it was, commandeered the album, subsequently made it into a CD and put it in my car CD player in LA. The best song on it is 'Spring is Here', that captures to the full Rosie's magic, a kind of honey-throated reverence for lyrics that sounds like she is on the verge of tears. It is easy to do that with that lyric by Lorenz Hart, filled with the only admirable kind of self-pity: "No desire no ambition leads me-- maybe that's because nobody needs me," belly-button staring turned to art. I loved that song when I was young, and love it still, though the fears on it are very outdated. It is not lack of romance we have to be afraid of anymore as much as these guys. I do not have to tell you who I mean, since you have all received my last poem and I have been cautioned(warned? threatened?) by a Republican that I am now available electronically so I should watch what I say.
Anyway, after a most pleasant afternoon I went with Billy Danoff, my friend who wrote 'Country Roads' and 'Afternoon Delight' to a concert at Zenkel Hall, a bamboo(it looked like) and metal-lighting fixtures on the ceiling side-adjunct to Carnegie Hall, to see some performers who play with Billy at the John Denver memorial in Aspen that takes place every year- Denver fans being true fanatics, coming from as far as Japan to remember that dorky guy, as Billy refers to him, but with affection. Bill and Taffy, his then wife and singing partner were an act called 'Fat City' when Denver walked in on them at the Cellar Door, a once boite in DC where they were loved, went home with them, laid in the first line of 'Country Roads' and the rest is pop history(Billy got $89,000 in royalties from Germany this year.) I myself found Bill and Taffy when I went to DC for the restorative debut of Tommy Smothers as a single(his initial outing at the Troubadour had been upended by a rude, drunken display by John Lennon who, after a smoke-filled(it still was then) room-ful of Tommy friends unsuccessfully tried to to quiet him down, was carried out of the club like debris on a wave atop an ocean of hands, with a tampax on his nose(self-applied.) The DC debut was a lot more friendly, Harry Nillson having flown in along with other noted well-wishers, all of whom ended up at Bill and Taffy's house on Chain Bridge Road. And twas there, just like in the movies, that everybody played guitar and sang and wined and puffed in talented circle on the floor, and Billy played a tune for which I laid in a lyric that became a song for 'Kingdom Come' my movie that never got made but the song exists and is fine, and Bill and Taffy recorded it when they were much loved, which they still are by me, and the legion of Denver fans. Billy remains one of the most eclecticly knowledgeable people I know, having studied Mandarin(he must be smarter even than I imagined) at Georgetown where he was classmates with Bill Clinton(he did the music for their 25th reunion.) By eclectic, I do mean eclectic. For years I have been walking into the park by a statue of Jose Marti, and never knew who he was until yesterday when Billy informed me Marti was a revolutionary and also the author of the lyrics of 'Guantanamero.' "Tommy Smothers sang that," I said to Bill, with some sense of wonder at the breadth of his knowledge. "Sort of," Bill replied.
Last night's concert, however, was not as memorable as that night on Chain Bridge Road, except for the playing of a phenomenally gifted guitarist named Pete Hettlinger(I think) and the greater amazement at all those who had flown in from everywhere to hear these people who are associated with Denver only from his memorial concerts. Staggering. Well, throw a little sunshine into this world, and there's no telling who you'll touch or how long you'll be remembered. I try to think of that when I read Frank Rich on Sundays. . .