Wednesday, August 26, 2009

If a tree falls in the Forest, is it allright to torture?

The worst of the weather seemingly having passed, except for some victim trees in Central Park where a renegade wind had carved a path of destruction, I decided to spend a pleasant, humidity-less morning breakfasting at Sarabeth’s, looking across at the trees that still stood, and what was left of one that had gone into making my copy of The New York Times. Thus it was that over Granola and Decaf I got to read some details of the interrogations of the HVDs, or ‘Highly Valued Detainees.’ As I chewed and sipped, there danced before my eyes pressure on the carotid arteries, causing faintings, dousing with 41 degree water, but never for more than two hours at a time, lightbulbs kept on night and day, but never to exceed a certain wattage, nakedness for only so many hours before clothes were returned, threatened rape and abduction of family members limited to minimal and doubtless selected cases, and finally, of course, waterboarding.
The Times, or perhaps it was the report itself re-worded, then delicately goes on to explain that the last has been considered torture since days gone by (they do not cite but I had heard The Inquisition) but there is still some question as to whether and who and how many will be prosecuted, or, more succinctly, if. I suppose if the sun had been beating down more mercilessly it would have been harder to swallow, but as the day was as delicious as the cereal, I munched on. The question is: will Eric Holder, Jr. do the same?
I have always been proud of my country, explaining to foreigners during our aberrant times that America really wasn’t like that, that people cared about each other and the issues, elections were fair and Bush II was a mistake. But this latest revelation of the horrors endorsed and probably conceived by that administration is insupportable, once digested.
I was with a brilliant proponent of the law last evening, and asked what he thought about punishing those higher-ups who openly defied the Geneva convention, no matter how loudly they proclaim they were within bounds. He said he had thought Obama was right, that we ought to just look ahead, not back. But now, he added, the country is so messed up, between health care and people carrying assault weapon and free speech protecting the incendiary rabble-rousers, the same stripe that inspired Timothy McVeigh—that the president, and Justice(the Department and the idea) might as well go after Cheney.
Hear, hear!!! Look, look!!! See, See!!!

Thursday, August 06, 2009


There is a saying, a superstition, probably both, in Show Biz or Life Biz or Writing Biz that when someone falls, buys the farm, or takes a cab as my darling Donnie used to say in avoidance of the word--ok, dies,-- there will be three. My first confrere to go in recent days was Tom Korman, and no fuss was made as he had stopped mattering except to people who loved him which doesn’t seem to count that much in the country we have become or maybe the world we are. The next was Sidney Zion, a smart curmudgeon who had the ability to sidle up to important people and then write about them without making them mad, but who became an avenging angel when his young daughter died in a hospitalized coma because of improper care. It was the mensching of him, because for all the self-interest he actually probably helped other people. I knew Sidney a little from the literary gatherings I was sometimes invited to, or the bars he hung around, or the estimable lawyers who knew us both, or probably Victor Navasky, the one truly generous soul in the literary so-called community. At any rate his name was brought up when I moved back to New York after my young husband died, or my husband died young, whichever is correct and more touching, and Gay Talese with his usual sensitivity about women asked me “What are you going to do for white meat?” and brought up Sidney’s name. We were never more than friends, although that was before he had been ennobled by tragedy, so he would have been more than willing. But I liked him and I’m sorry he had a rough exit.
Today, the third, and a fine lot of space it got in the New York Times which pleases me, and I’m sure would have pleased him, was Budd Schulberg, author, first in my mind, because his was the book about Hollywood we all read when we thought Hollywood might be the place we wanted to be as writers, What Makes Sammy Run, then a number of other works mighty and not so, ‘On The Waterfront,’ and The Disenchanted among them. The last was his novelistic recounting of Scott Fitzgerald’s alcoholic falling apart on a project they were working on together(lucky Budd, and he knew it.) I had just read a piece in Esquire, the magazine you had to be reading at the time, about those who shone a little too brightly and then faded or exploded, as had been the case with Thomas Heggen, I think his name was, who wrote the unbelievably successful for a very young man “Mr. Roberts,” and then committed suicide. Budd was mentioned in that piece, probably with reference to his disastrous association with Fitzgerald. I was incredibly young, it seems to me now, although I felt I was already old because I was over 21 and hadn’t yet published a novel, and living on North Doheny Drive in an all-white apartment that allegedly had been Marilyn Monroe’s—I was to use it as a setting for part of the mystery in Silk Lady—and aching for friendships as one is when they first move to LA and is doomed to be for most of the time afterwards no matter how long you stay or how many friends you think you have made, I gave a party. Nicky Blair, a darlingly pushy and anxious would-be actor/friend of the stars/sometime restaurateur and some say pimp, called and asked me if he could invite a few people, among them Cary Grant. (This preceeded by several decades my actual and still magical in memory friendship with him, so of course I must have squealed my assent.) That gentleman never came, but a raft of others did, like a skiff unloading sailors on leave, drinking my booze, meeting my friends the starlets(Tuesday Weld among them-- by today is she Friday?) And, in the midst of all of it, brought by Nicky, was Budd Schulberg.
He was a nice man, somewhat surly with curly white hair, and we got into an actual conversation, which I guess in retrospect he wasn’t expecting, any more than a woman who read. We talked of the piece in Esquire, and I said, finally, that even if Fitzgerald hadn’t drunk himself to death fairly young, the tragedy was less so because in any case “he would have been dead by now.”
Budd looked at me hard, and said “You’re a dangerous woman,” starting out of the garden. “I’m leaving for Mexico.”
“Where do you live?” I asked.
“Mexico,” he said, taking the air out of his own drama balloon. He was back in a little while and stayed for the rest of the party.
I always liked him because nobody had ever called me a dangerous woman before, and it had a dramatic sting to it, especially because the danger was that I thought. He seems to have had a very full life, extinguished at 95, writing till the end of it, dying in the Hamptons and not out of boredom.
I wish him a happy journey if there is to be one, and the peace he will have now anyway even if there’s no After. Cary Grant, when we did become friends, told me that there was nothing afterwards, that he had talked to Peter Sellers after his heart attack where he was dead for a number of minutes and Sellers, a major believer in all things WuWu, had reported back, disappointed, that there was absolutely nothing. I don’t think I fear Death myself; the thing I really fear is lawsuits since they go on forever whether or not you believe in them.
But I do hope the trio that just left us has found some comfort, or, if there’s anything more, that Comfort has found them.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009


A friend of mine, whom I love, but whose view of life and books is very different from mine, has told me that if I insist on savaging Phillip Roth, which sounds to me redundant or whatever the word is that makes the adjective self-descriptive or excessive, since my dislike of him is not based on his words which are always brilliant, but his complete lack of compassion for and passion that never becomes real love so leads almost always to his savaging of women, from his, as we say in H’wood,POV., brutal and self-absorbed, says I must spell his name correctly, which is with one ‘l.’ So here goes. Philip Roth.
In the same way, I must be careful not to spell Judd Apatow with two “pp,”s as he had created in me a sense of personal loathing for someone I don’t know unmatched since Dick Cheney. I am one who grew up with a great affection for screen comedy, the wit of Preston Sturges, the oversentimental but still compelling work of Frank Capra, the brilliantly subversive satire of Stanley Kubrick, with whom I had the mitigated joy of actually working. He was charmingly mad as a hatter but unquestionably a genius, and the only good thing about his having died too soon is that he didn’t live to see what movies have become.
Which brings us to ‘Funny People,’ that I have just seen on the understated bulletin that appears in the midst of 60 Minutes has captured the weekend box-office.
My very clever, low-on-tolerance-for-crap friend Rex Reed described seeing it to me as only surpassed by bamboo shoots under the fingernails, or perhaps the other way around, surpassing them, and then I read David Denby’s review in the New Yorker, my overly esteemed magazine, and he praised it so highly, saw things in it so deep that I was unable to fall asleep, trying to figure out which of them was right, or whether they had seen the same movie. So I have decided to go myself, today. Tune in later.

LATER: As it turns out, they were both right. It is not quite Dickensian, the best of comedies and the worst of comedies, but there are elements of almost genuine humor and indisputably the pits. But that is, of course, only my opinion, and opinion is what we are really talking about here; there’s a First Amendment, we are entitled to our opinion, and people can’t be pilloried for it, except by an ignorant. confused jury in Santa Monica and a bad trial lawyer. But that is another story, one which my friend at Time Magazine says I must save for my autobiography. Meanwhile there is this movie.
To my surprise, I actually liked Seth Rogen, whom I have hitherto loathed, wondering what he was doing in movies. The easy answer to that is that movies have changed, mostly Alas, and so have audiences, so the ordinary schmuck, which Rogen appears clearly to be, perhaps gives an audience filled with ordinary schmucks the temporary license to believe that they could become comedy stars, as in olden (they ARE) days we could bathe ourselves in the comforting, non-combative darkness and believe that we, too, could become involved with that devastatingly attractive man(they seemed to be) on the screen, or, in the case of the boys who had pin-ups, the woman. The basis for fandom. In Rogen’s case, slimmed down, he still has the aura of Everyschlub. So it could happen to you, as was titled the Judy Holliday comedy when there were still unbelievably appealing cinema comedians, who could actually speak dialogue that was not punctuated with genitalia and excreta, which Funny People is. I stopped marking down the number of cock and penis references when I came to the end of the paper on my pad. But it is beyond excessive, extraneous, and as far as I could see, added nothing to either the humor or the potential pathos of the piece, which it clearly had, though by the wishy-washy finish of the movie Apatow blew it, or as he might want to put it, gave it a blow job.
The story centers around a highly successful comic, played by Adam Sandler, whom I have liked sometimes and sometimes found a cipher, wondering how he ever became a star which since I have heard he is a decent sort and most comedians are riddled with self-doubt , I figure he must fall asleep some nights wondering too. His character, George, is diagnosed with an obscure, seemingly incurable illness, and takes on as assistant, the very self-effacing (especially as he has little self) Rogen, here named Ira, to supply his needs, jokes, punchlines, and sympathy, as he hasn’t any true friends—“You’re my best friend,” George says to him, in one of the better exchanges, “and I don’t even like you.”
I will not spoil the plot for you since there isn’t really one that you can believe, but suffice it to say that Apatow surrenders any real chance to examine the true nature of stardom, ego, as well as what constitutes meaningful relationships, true comedy and love. But there is enough of an attempt to look at what’s funny to warrant a fall-by(more than more than more than enough—the movie is overlong, and even those in the quite packed audience who seemed to be having a really good time, tired by the protracted end of it, left the theater voicing disappointed opinions to which the First Amendment entitles them but it’s thrilling to observe that they were not so dulled by the extended endlessness of it that they could still think.) But these are, if course, the Dog Days of Summer, so one can take refuge in the air conditioning, even if the succor is sort of a dog.
Also I must confess that it is a long time since I whole-heartedly visited a club where there’s stand-up, so perhaps the filth, organs, excreta, and spilt semen is mandatory, part of the scene for today’s young audiences. But I couldn’t help remembering, from eons ago, a stand-up comic who played an army base, perspiration pouring off him as joke after joke met with bored silence; as he staggered from the stage, his manager collared him and taking both shoulders dripping with flop sweat, pulled him to his own chest and cried into his ear, “But Baby! You ARE funny!”