Friday, July 31, 2009

The Best Scenes in Bed

I have received an unexpectedly poignant e-mail from an intimidating writer friend I long admired, never knowing he actually admired me. This is what he wrote:

"OK, I give up and give in. Where are the blogs that keep life sane for so many of us? Where are the reviews of Broadway plays nobody has any attention of seeing for $300 a ticket? Your disappearance is more mysterious than Sarah Palin's plans for the political future."

Had I but known that anyone really needed or wanted or even slightly relished my ramblings, I probably would never have put aside the Blogs. My reasons for doing so were three-fold. First, I remember that Hemingway, whose actual prose I did not that much admire but felt compelled to read and envied because of the lions, the mountains, the bullfights, the wars, the romantic adventures and the public esteem, not to mention the sales, said he never made love during the course of writing a book as he was afraid he would leave his best writing in bed, though I suspect he was not all that good there. As I am revving up to write what I hope will be my best novel, I didn’t want to leave my best writing in blog.
The second reason is that I got a bill from my Tekkie on moving from California that broke down his billing, where he charged like a lawyer, by the hour, a very high hourly rate, and in several instances charged me for that hour when it had only been one phone call, for example, that took five minutes. So when I by mistake deleted my ‘Friends’ list, which made it easy to assault all of you at once, I could not bring myself to ask him to reconstruct the list for me, and a friend who volunteered to help me reconstruct it for nothing, never did(it’s okay, she was not that long, or apparently, that good a friend.) Therefore a combination of my natural thrift, learned from my mother who had lived through the First Great Depression, and feared nothing so much as running out of money except running out of men, coupled with my saving up my juices, led to, or rather, out of my blogging.
The third and possibly most honest reason is that I am basically lazy, and have not allowed myself the luxury of lassitude for lo these many years. Some summers ago I led a Writer’s Workshop at the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference where a guest Real Writer (there were many Bogii—I believe that to be the correct plural for Bogus,-- including the man who ran it, an amiable alcoholic who had once run with the bulls and/or Hemingway) was Eudora Welty. I asked her if she wrote every day, and she replied in her quavery, wavery, high-pitched Mississipian, “Oooooooonly when I haaave a project.” I took that as my dictum, if dictum be the correct word, and never again worked every day unless I was immersed in something I hoped would be major, taking exception for poems, all of which were rejected by the New Yorker. Until I began to Blog.
Still the bleat of longing from that unexpected source has touched my heart, or my ego(probably both,) as there is nothing a writer needs more than approval, except a publisher and most of them are dead or made redundant now. I asked my Last Therapist(cue Robert Browning: “That’s my last therapist hanging on the wall, looking as though he wants to help,”) to make me able to love myself unconditionally, just because I was a good person, and not just if I had a work accepted or was engaged in writing something, and he said without hesitating: “Too late.”
It is too late for a lot of things, including finding that Great Love (I already had it, but wasn’t fully cognizant of that fact till it was gone and I saw what was left in the world,) or rescuing my darling friend Tom Korman’s languishing career as an agent/manager with something I wrote that would be “Happening,” and so would give him the chance of being back in action. Pam, Tom’s loving and adorable and level-headed-in-spite-of-living-in-and-around-Show Business wife, called me this morning to tell me that Tom had died. That he managed to stay alive these past few years was a tribute both to his love of the business, in spite of its more or less shutting him out, and Pam’s love of him, never wavering, in a town and so-called society that drops people the moment they stop being of use. He was heavy on humanity, but short on loyalty from those he represented, most of whom he made big stars at which point they dropped him for one of the powerful agencies. He and Sue Mengers, who were partners in New York at the beginning of her now notorious career, represented me when I had my play on Broadway the week my daughter was born, before Sue stole Phyllis Rabb’s Roleidex from her desk at William Morris and struck out on her own, making big waves, one of them Goodbye to Tom, who she never again honored as he deserved to be honored, including with a returned phone call, unless somebody they both knew like Lee Solters died, and maybe not even then. He called her when he heard she was ill, and she never even bothered to call him back, but I am sure she will wish she could call him back now and say how sorry she is, and how much she loved him. I am really sorry, as he was a genuine mensch in a seemingly glittery world that doesn’t have many, never turning ugly, never turning bitter towards those who betrayed him in the least auspicious way, the suddenly unreturned call that lets you know, in spite of all the costly parties you gave when things were good and everyone came, that you are no longer a viable part of the action. But he had a great big heart that finally, quickly gave out on him. I have suggested to Pam that she send his ashes to Sue Mengers, in lieu of flowers.
So I am back in New York where walking in the street is like taking a warm bath, but not one that makes you comfortable, where a darling new friend called me this morning from what sounded like her bathrtub, but it was the traffic splashing by on 30th Street. She is a fabulous woman who carries enough burdens for five 21st Century heroines, a child with learning and attention disabilities, a husband depressed because he has no work, a mother with dementia, and a job she somehow manages to do brilliantly in spite of all, to my never-wavering wonder. If I have any penchant for self-pity, (and what writer doesn’t, with the possible exception of Phillip Roth who converts it to pitilessness?) I am brought up short just reminding myself of her. And of course Tom. As long as you are alive, there is a chance, except of course in Hollywood.
Which brings me to today’s New York Times, which features on the front of the Weekend Arts section, an article on Cary Grant, headed ‘Once Upon a Time, A Real Leading Man.’ As my longtime friends know, I had the privilege of having Cary Grant not only as an actual friend but a fan, which made bubbles in my brain when he would call, as he did often, once we were friends, as he was a telephone freak, had a never-ending curiosity and interest, and, I would venture, the occasional feeling of boredom or loneliness in spite of being Cary Grant, when he would call and go on sometimes for hours. He called me one Sunday at a quarter of eight in the morning, giving the opening salvo that always dizzied me: “Hello, Gwen: this is Cary Grant. Am I disturbing you?” Well, hardly. That day he was calling because there was a review of my poetry book 'Changes' in the LA Times that was highly favorable, and he said he wanted to be the first to read it to me. Sometimes there’s God so slowly.
His birthday was the 18th of January, two days after Don’s, one after Ben Franklin’s, so I used to do a three day Polish birthday, celebrating my three favorite guys. I always invited him to the party for Don, and he never came, but he always called to give him a birthday wish, and when it was my daughter’s birthday—Madeleine was the same age as his late-come Jennifer, who was invited to his party but didn’t come—he sent Western Onion, a costumed trio to sing Happy Birthday to her. He was a true gent. He was really Cary Grant.
The headline, reading as it does, gives the aura of Fairy Tale that he gave off: Someday my Prince Will Come, which he was, on screen and in life. We first became telephone buddies at the finale of the 60s, when he called to tell me that he had had “a devil of a time getting your number from your publisher. I wanted to thank you for sending me this copy of The Pretenders.” Garbage-men didn’t bother to thank me. I had to lie down on the terrazzo floor of the kitchen so my face would cool as I realized it was really Cary Grant. Charles Champlin, then the Arts Editor for the LA Times suggested the screenplay had yet to be written that could bring Cary Grant out of retirement. By that time we were actual friends, so I wrote it, a lively(I think it was) romantic comedy for him and David Niven about two old guys who had both had an affair with the same woman(Irene Dunne, Voice Over, Off-Camera) and now her grand-daughter, eight, was a multi-millionairess and was left to the two of them to court her on a yachting-trip through the Greek Islands, at the end of which she would choose between them. “It’s very funny,” Cary Grant said. “But why are you sending it to me? I wouldn’t want Jennifer to see me up there on the screen, looking so old.” Old he was still the handsomest. I wrote a meditation for men, some years after his death: “ Cary Grant still looks better than you do.”
Anyway, the movie got made, badly, without him—I will not say who played the Grant part because I don’t want any of you to try and find it to see it, it was so awful. I forgave him for passing on it, but I still haven’t forgiven him for dying. The world, as is pointed out in the article, is a much less classy place, and the movies—well, what have we got for Romantic Comedy? Adam Sandler? Seth Rogen? Is it a wonder we have turned our erotic imaginings to vampires?
But to leave the not so wondrous wonders of CelluLa La Land and turn back to the front pages, there is that picture of what the media called the Beer Summit. A friend of mine, a serious journalist at Time, expressed pain yesterday because it was the 40th day since the killing of that beautiful young woman in Iran, and 40 days after death is important in Muslim culture, so there were protests and demonstrations(over a hundred of the earlier protestors have been beaten to death in prison) and here the top of the news was that conciliatory, stupid(can I use that word that Obama wishes he hadn’t?) beerfest. Jon Stewart made reference last night, sotto voce, and seemingly in passing, to the waning days of our empire. Frank Rich wrote that we can’t leave our commentary to Jon Stewart, but I am afraid that is as incisive as it’s going to get. The downside is that who Jon Stewart interviewed was Judd Apatow, the singular force behind lowering movie comedy standards, who first gave us Seth Rogen, moving us a million years away from Cary Grant. The upside is Apatow had the cover of Time Magazine( he showed the mock-up to the camera in his carefree romp through self-adulation) but Obama knocked him off it, with his wished-for program for Health Care. The Downside of the Upside is that Health Care got scuttled by beer.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Gwennie's Most Excellent 4th of July Adventure

Those of you who have known me for some years know also of my (as yet) unproduced musical comedy, about a woman, down on her luck in New York, who crashes parties, looking for love and free hors d’oeuvres. I named my heroine Sylvia, and yesterday, in an effort to pull myself from my summer torpor, I Sylviaed, going in for the second act of Mary Stuart, which I had seen the first act of when my darling Fiona was here from Belfast, and I had been too sick to tough out the entire play, which renewed my admiration for Shakespeare, who really knew how to lay down what was going to unravel later at the same time always moving the action along, something that cannot be said for Herr Schiller. Anyway, I brazened it out(“Your ticket?” “My husband has it,”) and was glad I had gone, enjoying the play not more than one act at a time, bumping into a friend and his friend, livening up the afternoon with frozen margaritas. On the way home I fell into conversation with a young couple who had just come from HAIR, she an artist, he an actor, which brightened up a day I had thought would go uncelebrated, even though it was the Fourth of July, something we had always made festive when Don was here, the nation had a prominent place in our hearts, and the children were still adorable.
I had had an e-mail from a new youngish friend asking me if I would watch fireworks, and had sent a peevish reply that that was something I didn’t do anymore. But lo, as I walked on Central Park South about to enter my building I saw a young woman, very sweet and pretty, wearing a black T=shirt and four long strands of South Sea seed pearls that I had noted that morning, falling gracefully as they did across her bosom, and greeted her, remarking that I had seen her before. She seemed a little flustered, and it turned out that she was from Brazil, an au pair whose brother and mother had flown in from San Paolo for the week; they had locked themselves out of the apartment where they were staying. She introduced me to her mother, whose name was Silvia. Naturally I didn’t need any more reason to come to their aid.
I got a locksmith’s # from our security guard, called and was assured the locksmith was on his way, and we went to meet him at the building of their absentee host, a student of Silvia’s--she teaches Ayengar(sp?) yoga in Brazil. Portuguese is the one language I would yet love to learn, so my good Samaritaning was not without a degree of self-interest. We went to the building, a toney brownstone on East 62nd Street, just a few doors from the Park Avenue synagogue and even more importantly in this alleged culture where celebrity means more to us than God, Joan Rivers. I rang all the bells, and a kind art dealer, a Dane,-- I don’t think there was anyone in New York yesterday from New York(they were all probably in the Hamptons) let us into the building, since he had seen them there before. The locksmith arrived, an Israeli, and I asked if he had gotten his training in Israel but he said, no, here, something that was soon substantiated by the fact that didn’t know what he was doing, pulling what looked like a wide palate knife from his sack and trying to jimmy the door. Silvia, concerned that he would damage it, said that they would go instead to a hostel, where they could stay till getting hold of the maid, due back on Monday.
But it was the Glorious Fourth, and she’d told me her story—like my heroine she was a widow—there’d been a gas leak from the heater in their bathroom when Laisa was seven and Miguel was one, and her husband had been asphyxiated, and it was only recently she’d been able to speak about it, the pain of loss had been so shocking and intense. So we went back to my place, I checked the computer, and found that the fireworks were going to take place on the Hudson River near 57th St. at 9:26(nothing will be left to the world as unfathomable mystery with the Internet, and I suppose that’s a good thing) took a taxi to 12th Avenue and 57th—barricaded, thousands of people and a lot of nervous police(I didn’t think until later that more than crowd control they might be concerned about terrorists) who advised us to go further uptown where there might be a view. We took another taxi to 66th and the river and got there just in time.
My friend who had e-mailed me, Megan, said that nothing could touch Redentore, the fireworks in Venice, but this certainly came close. The exact number of pops and bangs and lights and trickles can probably be found on Google(Macy’s Fireworks, July 4th, 2009) and twas truly a sight to see. Missing was the music(that was further downriver) but I heard in my head The Stars and Stripes Forever, and was tempted to sing it aloud as the crowd oohed and aahed, but contained myself, having broken out in several directions already that day. Afterwards I took them to dinner at Ollie’s, a Chinese noodle place on Broadway, and we called a few hostels(they’d downloaded them at the Apple Store—is there no end to the seeming e-miracles)--when all I had thought to do was call Traveler’s Aid(they were closed for the weekend) and found them a place to stay. They dropped me at home on their way to the hostel, we exchanged numbers, swore eternal friendship and parted, and Silvia said she would pay me back with yoga lessons, when I visit her in Sao(pronounced San) Paolo.
A good, longtime friend I’d called in the country to ask if they could stay in her NY apartment(mine could sleep only one, even with yoga mats, of which I have two) said to be careful, that if they were Brazilians visiting here they had money, and I shouldn’t be so generous, and then there is my wonderful friend Gary the attorney who long ago told me not to confuse what is insane with what is fascinating(best public example: Sarah Palin) But anyone who can articulate the way your bones interlock with your soul when you do Ayengar yoga cannot possibly be a bad person. Even more important, when I looked in the mirror this morning, I appeared strangely younger, as if an act of kindness had stripped away, if not some years, some cares. The other night I saw again ‘The Wizard of Oz’, when Frank Morgan looks in the crystal ball and describes Auntie Em as ‘careworn.’ And I could not help but think how much more poetic it seemed to have suffered the years on the farm in Kansas, rather than in the great cities of the world, where we get to become simply ‘old.’