Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Literary Life

It is the kind of weather today that traps people into moving to California. The air is clear, swept by Santa Ana winds, and the sun is warm, but not too hot,and there are no shadows, since nobody walks. On such a day, were I in Paris, everybody would be casting off their scarves, coming out of their caocoons(sp?) and crossing those fabulous, often gilded bridges, and Mimi and I would walk from one end of that gloriously walkable city to the other, as we did in our September adventure. But as I am here, and have to stay alert and awake this evening, I cannot walk to anyplace where I might have a meal, and Mimi has had two breakfasts(one from me at 7, another from Carmen who comes to clean once every three Sundays, who didn't know she had already had a comida.) So instead we walked to Dutton's bookstore, not a great distance but at least one that stretches the legs and seems to serve a bit of a purpose.
I think I could live in a bookstore, but even Lasiked, would have to have my reading glasses, as though I can see the words, naked(the words AND my eyes) I have to struggle a little so the words cannot dance, they lumber along. I had meant to buy the Letters of Noel Coward, as he has always lifted me-- Tony Perkins gave me his memoir at a down time in my creativity, to reinforce the point that you should never give up. I opened that huge new book, as I do metaphysically from time to time to see what word or thought is seized upon, to a letter to or from Marlene-- it was not clear,-- about a dinner party where Yul Brynner, with whom she was in love, was there and also Susan Strassburg(sic.) whose name was misspelled, which spoke to the fleeting nature of fame even when you're having it. Susie (Strasberg) was a dear friend and the end of her life still makes me mad, as the evil second Mrs. Lee did not even give her the money from the sale of Marilyn Monroe's white piano which was her gift to Susie, who considered her a sister since she'd been essentially adopted by Lee and Paula, or even anything for insurance, so Susie died alone and untended in somebody else's apartment where she went into the bedroom because she was cold and wanted to lie down, which our mutual friend the psychic Pattie McLaine said would have preferred to the hospital that wouldn't admit her, but one should have options.
So my interest moved to the book below it, a biography of Edith Wharton, which I bought instead to get over my sorrow at never having lived the literary life. As previously noted, the poet HD, from Bryn Mawr, my college, ran off with Ezra Pound and later became a lesbian, neither of which experiences are mine, although I did have an almost close relationship with a German named Wolfgang who claimed not to be a Nazi but when living in Singapore said they should line up and shoot all the rebels in East Timor, so so much for that assertion. Nor have I ever been embraced by the community that Gay Talese whines constantly about having to spend so much time with. So I figured reading of the life of the estimable Edith would get me over my envy, as she was tight in the circle of Henry James, who I'm almost sure would have been as boring as his novels.
Even as I start to write" I am reading the life of Edith Wharton," I can hear the voice of Oscar Levant around whose brain I had the privilege of waltzing for one night, one night only, saying "The night June stabbed me, I was reading the life of Berlioz." Gone now from the planet almost all memory of Oscar Levant, along with the immediacy of having witty friends in LA except for one, a gay dope dealer. It is too sunny a day to be overcast with any feelings that one has not been in the right place at the right time, but it would have been fun to know Hemingway when he was vital and in shorts as he was in today's New York Times with a recently discovered letter, or Saint-Exupery, or Yeats, or D.H.Lawrence, whose poetry was reviewed in a poetry magazine they had at Dutton's, by Joyce Carol Oates, whom I do not grieve over not knowing, as she scares me.
The phone just rang, and it is a recorded message from Michael Winship, president of the Writer's Guild East to which I belong as I always loved Herbie Sargent who was its president and infinitely smarter than the one from West, telling me I can cast a ballot on Tuesday, Feb. 12th, as to whether or not to end the strike or wait till all negotiations are formalized which will take several weeks. I will of course say yes, as I am especially aware that that is Lincoln's actual birthday, and as he freed the slaves it will be good to free the writers. Still, selfishly, I will hate giving up all the muses who had noplace else to go but my house.
The day ended with the great sickness of the country being celebrated, Celebrity Worship. A good friend who works at the Beverly Hills, where the Grammy parties were, invited me to come, and as I walked up the (mandatory) red carpet, I saw the lineup of the victims, the our-lives-depend-on-intrusion Paparazzi. They are of course a sorry lot, but there might be a real story in there somewhere. The first time I saw them I was going to an event where Michael Douglas was a heavy name, and as he entered, they screamed 'Zeta! Zeta!' at his wife, who might have been the best shot of the evening. It was terrifying, but not yet, as it has become, the national disease. A cult of personality, mostly about those who don't have one.
Still, once inside the hotel, with the bar set up with a giant screen and standing speakers, so eatching and hearing the Rhapsody in Blue, played by two great musicians, Herbie Hancock and Lang Lang, conducted by John Mauceri, was like having the best seat at a concert that reminded you there were great composers in this country, before there was dope.