Thursday, December 08, 2011

Ducks have no Leader-Are They Republicans

From my window I can see the plucked-dry-of-rice rice fields, part of them slightly flooded with water, awaiting, I would guess, the next crop to be planted, and temporarily inhabited by about two dozen ducks. I watched them this morning, a symphony of rustling feathers, checking themselves, I would guess, for fleas, wagging what would have been their tails if they were dogs, and I guess these are tails, too, or we wouldn't have had the ducktail haircut. They have left behind their morning task of foraging for leftover grains and insects, and have moved, in a white and speckled brown group, to the side of the field where they appear to be dozing. But I could not see which one, if any, gave them the signal to change functions, but they seem all to be following suit.
I am going today to the holistic doctor to see if she can help me with my allergies, which are killers right now, the air being heavy with humidity and the inside of walls probably the same. Jack told me to go to Thailand, but I am not yet in the frame of mind to move on-- still hoping for a creative breakthrough-- and even if I do I just found out I have to get an exit visa, since I was successful in getting residency for a year, so I understand suddenly what it means to be an American, free to come and go with no red tape as long as you have a Passport. Which I don't have, as it has not yet been returned to me, and that makes me uneasy.
But I am somewhat soothed from within by having seen Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs which explained to me my entire Gestalt, the wicked stepmother who was at the same time my fascinating Mama with an accent over the a, fearful of losing her looks and wondering why she had been saddled with this chubby little girl when she hadn't liked children even when she was one of them(her own words), the joy of working(Hi Ho, Hi Ho) the prince(he came, though he also went) the promise of life as laid down by Disney.
Today, determined to make the best of everything in spite of being itchy, I had cereal for breakfast with a banana which I don't really like but reminded me of my Uncle Ralphie, when we all lived together on Melwood Street in Pittsburgh, in spite of my mother's thinking she had married a rich boy who then moved in with her family, so there were more sharing the one bathroom, usually co=opted for inordinate amounts of time by my father, who Grandpa called 'Lew W. Davis' to emphasize and satirize his elegance. Ralphie was the sweetest one, in spite of calling me Baby Elephant, and had an unexpectedly dark life after the Navy, marrying Honey Sue Schugar(no kidding) the mad daughter of Pittsburgh's leading undertaker. She was crazy as a loon and they had a wild-eyed daughter who I hope is okay, though I've lost touch.(a break to go to the allergist.)
So the homeopathic doctor who still gave me a shot said I had to move, and poor Sabine, my landlord, already had a headache so I hope I have not given her a worse one. I seized on the first hotel room I could find that seemed reasonable, and it is but the air conditioning isn't really working so I am not long for here.
I hope I will find the right place, one where I can write the book I think I have started: that is to say, it feels like the start, but who knows. Tomorrow I go to start celebrating the birthday of Scott, an Australian married to an Indonesian woman whose story gave me the beginning of what feels like my book, and I tell it well enough I think that I don't want to dilute it by telling it here. But he is very open and cheery, as most Ozzies are, not having been on the planet long enough as a breed to become devious.
Anyway, this is just to reconnect with all of you and tell you I miss you, and hope some of you miss me. The best thing in my life is the friends I have been lucky enough to make, even on the spur of what seemed an insensitive moment. Witness the breakdown of my computer, which closed me out because I didn't have the right password, it insisted, and then cut me off completely. One of the times I went to the Apple store on Fifth I had connected with Fernando, who coached me for those fifty minutes-- interesting that a 1on1 at Apple lasts the length of what used to be a psychiatrist's appointment. Then another time I connected with his wife Gabi, and we became what I thought was friends, but you never can tell really in the world anymore till you get to the crunch.
Well, yesterday came the crunch, because I couldn't send or receive from thegwen and was forced to open a new account under RitaFavorita, the name of my sort-of-heroine from SCANDAL, the woman who brought down someone who seems curiously close to Berlusconi(good timing!)available shortly online at Amazon. com, shallow but eminently entertaining and readable, downloadable soon in print from Telemachus Press and Amazon for $9.99 in honor of Herman Cain. So even though I had an e-mail, I longed to have myself back, and feared losing all of you because you wouldn't know who Rita was. Somehow I got through to Gabi. She spent two hours on the phone with me from her home, from midnight till 2 AM her time-- Skype it was, God Bless technology even though technology seems godless-- and she fixed it. Got me back thegwen and also my faith that there are sensational people out there, you just have to patiently make your way through the universe and Trust. Patience was always my short suit, but Trust has always been a long one. I am a very lucky woman. Now that my faith in people is restored, I must have a shot at God.
Love and xx from Gwen in a steamy room, not for the reason we might hope.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NOW,VOYAGER: Mimi goes to Sea

The placing of Mimi's ashes in a young coconut, and sending her to sea off Bali, had to be postponed until the day of the full moon, which is now, because when you do ceremony in Bali it has to be at an auspicious time, or the souls do not rejoice as they should. At least, I think that's the reason. There's so much mystery and superstition around Bali that one cannot be quite sure. You just have to leave your heart open and see what happens. At any rate, I do.
So Mimi, whose last great earthly journey was to Bali in my suitcase, in a little flower-printed metal box from Hartsdale pet cemetery where she was cremated, got taken to the beach at Canggu, because that is where you are allowed to do your ceremonies. Yoni, my darling driver came today bearing five little baskets woven from palm, with tiny flowers and petals from flowers in them, and we went there, pausing for her to light the incense, and scatter a few of the petals. Then we went down the stone steps to the sand. The waves were very strong and forceful so even though I had been ready to take the coconut into the water and send her on her journey to the Infinite, I thought better of it and signaled to the single surfer taking it all on, and asked him if he'd carry her out beyond the crash of them, and he did. His name was Alex, a French Swiss, very handsome and blond and young, so I think she would have liked that. He said I spoke excellent French, so you know he was that rare Frenchman who doesn't turn up his nose at Americans and say "I speak English." I invited him to the ice cream party I am giving at Gusto on Saturday to celebrate Kurt Vonnegut, whose actual birthday is tomorrow.
I never really knew the exact date of Mimi's birth, but I do know the exact date she died, June 17th. It was all very sudden and hard, because I hadn't really known she was ill-- there was just a few little signs that something was off. As my friends knew, she was brilliant, and could spell, so when I said 'You want a T R E A T?' she would run to the closet and stand on her hind legs. Lately she had stopped jumping up onto my bed-- I had to lift her-- and when I spelled TREAT, she started running to the wrong closet. But I took her in to see the vet just as part of a regular schedule, stopping first at the very pricey groomer so she would look her best for her appointment. I had told the vet she seemed to be favoring her neck, and the vet, a very sharp woman, said 'Call the neurologist.' And I said 'What?' And she said 'Little white dogs.' By the time we got to the hospital, it was like everyone knew, and they put their arms around me, knowing. They did a spinal tap and an MRI, and she had eight spots on her brain-- there's a mysterious virus that attacks toy dogs, mostly female. A sexist virus. There must be something we can do. Gloria?
Carleen, who loved her as much as I did Had been up all night, as I was, and said: "We will see her in the clouds." When we went back the next morning and sat with Mimi, she wasn't really there anymore. So I sang her a lullaby and they put her to sleep in my lap, and somebody came from Hartsdale to pick up her body for the cremation. She was all over the sky in New York, but clouds in Bali, where I came to recover from my loss, courtesy of Denise, are different from the clouds in Manhattan. They are pretty much strung out across the horizon, instead of fluffy with holes in them that looked like her big black eyes. But today, after we sent her out to sea in her young coconut, there were Mimi clouds, puffy and lush and generous, some of them gray around the edges like the day was, I guess from the ashes.
I had lost an earring in my bed before leaving New York for this move, and Carleen, who is very good at finding things that seem to have disappeared didn't feel like looking for it. So I'd brought the other one, the one I still had in my ear when I woke up. It was a star, a diamond. I put it in the young coconut with Mimi's ashes. It is only right that she should have left with her own diamond. She was a star.

Monday, November 07, 2011

WATCHING OUT FOR COBRAS

So as I was immediately informed after my arrival by the Tarot reader who may or may not have cancer, and may or may not have been looking to excite my sympathy(she did, I find it hard not to care about people who are suffering, especially when they can tell fortunes or pretend to) that Bali is full of demons, which claim I put aside, except it would probably sell well, unseating vampires, I could not that easily dismiss the caution of my smart sort-of-friend Rex Reed, who says if there are rice fields, there are cobras. Not too long after that e-mail, I met a nice English couple(they are careful to say they are not British, but English, insisting there's a difference, not being Scottish or Irish which I know from Belfast friends is someplace they were not meant to be anyway) and she told me of a favorite cat who was killed by a spitting cobra. Well, there's something to avoid.
Woke up in the middle of the night with absolutely no sense of having to go back to sleep or attempt at meditation, just content to be quiet and wait for the light, which does, eventually come if you're still alive, and saw a man working the rice field with his right hand, while he carried his baby on his left arm, little head cloaked in white like a lama, the wise kind not the animal. Babies do not cry in Bali, mostly, I think, because they are held in someone's arms until they are two or something like that, because the soles of their feet are not closed, according to the locals, so if they were set down, demons could come in. But what about spitting cobras, while Daddy works the rice?
Spent yesterday as a kindergartner learning how to touch type from the BBC online tutorial, which has music, cartoon yaks, and Oops aloud if you make mistakes. Had a good time finding out I am still a student but I was only up to 16 words a minute after graduating from that level, and I think I am faster than a speeding bullet if I type wrong, which I have done for eighteen books, more if you count the ones that never saw light which doesn't necessarily come in the book world even if you're still alive. So am abandoning my attempt to touch type and will simply try not to go blind, so I can still see the keyboard and whiz into my next literary adventure. Have no idea what it may be, which would be partly the definition of adventure, according to my wonderful friend Sandy who was murdered here but we won't go into that, as my wonderful friend Denise who is still alive says that way lie cement shoes.
Denise is the once-pastry-chef-now-restaurateur from Seattle who kindly sent me the e-mail when Mimi died saying 'Come to Bali,' so I did. She visited me yesterday afternoon at my present locale, a stable with rooms upstairs, a lovely pool and a not-bad restaurant, and a new French restaurant across the un-motorcyled road, unique in Bali where all is Vespa-clogged and buildings-in-progress. Went in there the other night in a rare moment of panic at What Have I Done? aka What Am I Doing?, and had a really bad pizza, but as Denise pointed out: "It's across the street." A gift from cholesterol Heaven.
Today, having been up most of the night, I had a true longing for French toast, so went to La Lucciola, Denise's restaurant by the ocean, at 8:45 only to be told they didn't open till 10, inaccurate, I found out later as most things in Bali are, but by the time that misinformation was corrected I was at Ku De Ta, the very pricey expat place near the Oberoi that I used to walk to mornings when I was staying there, to be served in those days by Mahar, a lovely boy-man whose wedding chest I contributed heavily to, as he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said "I will always miss you," which touched my soul and my pocketbook. I went to look for him last time I was here, but he has gone to sea with the cruise line that the Nation voyages on, so I guess he was looking for me.
Well, there I was at Ku-De-Ta where they didn't have French toast so I ordered ricotta pancakes, very disappointing, but happily there was a piece of plastic baked into the middle of them, which I got to show a waitress who remembered me, and she replaced them with a croissant. Then I passed two earnest young men who had been talking potential deals but had left untouched their plate of beautiful cut fruit so I also had a piece of papaya on my way down to the beach to visit Heimisch, or it's probably spelled Hamish, a 17 month old who had been working the faucets that wash off sand as you come up from the beach. That caused a bit of a stab to my heart, because I remembered Robert at that squeezable age, when he had a love affair with our garden hose. Power to a toddler. Our friend, great writer of mysteries, Bill McGivern, wanted to invent something called 'Stay Baby,' that you could spray on them and keep them that way. Alas, he never worked it out, so Hamish's Grandma Janet said he was inching toward the Terrible Twos, which count for nothing as compared to the Frightening Forties.
Maybe I'll take a nap.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

THE VIEW FROM POMPOUS ASS

The Above Title will date me, as does almost everything these days, including the date.
The view below will help explain to you my move, as in Manhattan, in the beautiful and indisputably tasteful(see classic Deco lobby) Hampshire House, my 'Juliet balcony,' real estate jargon for a little thing that overhangs a fifteen-story drop, now looks out at a hideous 91-story-monstrosity-in-progress that will eventually blot out the sky. But one should never be arrogant about where one is going, as indisputable Paradise or no, Bali has flaws, among them, for starters, a very vocal frog that does not Gribitgribitgribit as Tommy Smothers used to imitate, but is a basso, relentless and very loud and all night long.
It really didn't bother me as much as it would have if someone a little odd hadn't pointed it out, along with the cockroach on my ceiling-- I am living at Umalas Kauh which means 'horses,' there being a well-maintained stable downstairs, but it is, after all, a stable-- and my first victory, having gotten here with no major jetlag, courtesy of a brilliant hotelier friend almost always enroute to somewhere, who told me to stay up the whole transit time(approx. 20 hours from New York to Hong Kong, 2 hour wait, five hour trip to Denpasar, Bali) until I fell asleep(I never did) and then go for a walk in the sun(didn't have to, it radiated the car in which Yoni drove me to Lestari, the more poetic name for Umalas Kauh, meaning Beauty or something like that) was that I have been rightside up the whole time, with none of the suddenly pitching over head first I am used to with jet lag.
But a vague sadness has set in, a low-level not-exactly depression, where I examine the Farewells of some friends who talked about how courageous I was to come here, which I didn't think I was. Courage would have been to stay in New York and watch the further disintegration of everything I loved about my country, including the country itself. But courage, as I pointed out in one of my books that may or may not have seen print, comes from 'heart,' and I like to think I still have much of that, the hope that things will turn out to be excellent, that love and kindness will prevail, that my children will be glad they have lived, my grandchildren be able to go to the best universities as I was privileged to do, in spite of the American Dream(not a cliche, it was, it WAS) seeming to have been co=opted by morons and lunatics. I was at the point in New York this past early Autumn where I believed America had been my Imaginary Friend, something I had attached myself to as a little little girl, two years and three months old, saying the Gettysburg Address, so believing I had an actual tie to Lincoln or I couldn't have recited it at that age, in exchange for a piece of Beech-Nut gum. Then came my affection for Ben Franklin, my particular pal among the Framers, his starting the libraries, which of course I loved and supported, the post office, which seems not long for our world, and swim fins, something I never used but could feature him wearing, jumping into whatever river it was flowing through Philadelphia. Those of course may last, as will electricity, but I wonder about the chances for the rest of his ingenuity.
An imaginary friend of course is what a child invents or actually sees to dispel the loneliness. It seems to me we are a very lonely nation now-- that everyone is frightened to some degree, wary. But enough of all that. Let's just focus on the rice field outside my window. The streamers are made of plastic, some looking like they were torn from garbage bags. There is no wind now, so they are not waving, but the rice is almost ready, and the birds come in the late day, so someone stands at the pole to which the string is connected and pulls at it, so there's movement, and some sound, as halfway along the string is a can with stones inside and they rattle like a castanet.
I sat here last night with the Tarot reader I found in the restaurant Biku, Christine, who may or may not have cancer-- medicine here is beneath iffy-- no real doctors and they don't let Westerners practice,-- and she told me of her son who is a Bali priest and can see the evil demons who are everywhere, and I of course silently chortle. I brought Mimi's ashes-- I left a few of them in Circo, where she used to love to go, and was well-received and entertained, stashed them in a plant outside the entrance of that New York restaurant-- with the intention of giving her some kind of ceremony here, ritual the Balinese have for just about everything, birth, death, clearing the throat, since it was her sudden and premature departure that brought me to Bali, it being the one place we hadn't traveled together, as bringing dogs in was not permitted. Oh, that's another thing: my landlady has five wild dogs and they bark all the time. I have written to Cesar Milan inviting him, which she wishes to do, for a segment of Dog Whisperer, but it is almost impossible to get through his highly commercial wall, ads, video auditions, really annoying, but the point is I also have these barking dogs. No place is Paradise.
Anyway, Yoni and I were supposed to put Mimi's ashes in a young coconut(who wants an old coconut?) and send them out to sea, but she told me her mother said that yesterday was not a good day, that we should wait for the 10th and the full moon. So I'm waiting.
And trying not to be impatient, my worst suit. Waiting for sleep, waiting for inspiration. Probably I'm jet-lagged and it's just manifesting in this vague pall of uncertainty. Jamie told me I could always go home, that this was just 'an extended trip.' But home doesn't feel like home to me anymore. When this vague queasiness descended on me yesterday afternoon I turned on the TV and Trading Places was on HBO, so I considered that a personal gift from the programming gods, who may or may not also have demons among them. I just don't know. But then, 'not knowing' is a great spiritual state, if you can accept it and be with it.
I don't know that I can. I am hoping for a great book, or even a fairly acceptable one. I am going to try and teach myself touch-typing-- 18 novels and never used anything but hunt and peck, and what if the eyes go and I can't hunt and peck? Jack told me of a Buddhist (I think it was a cartoon) opening up a package and finding nothing in it, saying "Oh, Look: Nothing! Just what I always wanted."
Wish I could be like that. Or maybe not. Maybe I just need a nap.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

THE ROAD TO BALI- sans Hope and Crosby


So I am looking out at rice fields, grown high now, and, I would imagine, almost ready for harvesting. There are streamers of all different raggedy colors, waving in the not-very-strong wind, to scare off the birds. One man in a black and white cap was out there early this morning pulling up a few sheaves-- are they sheaves?-- and laying them on the side. To me they looked no different from those he left, but then rice fields are not mother's milk to me. But then, if you knew my mother, neither was mother's milk.
I just know that an almost fierce sense of peace has settled on me, that I am rejoicing in my heart, as Ingrid Bergman said in not so many words at the end of Gaslight, and that I left New York without a shred of regret, which she did say exactly. The scene I left behind me was one of an ugly skyscraper being built in orange and black, on its way to blotting out the sky, with scaffolding on the roof opposite my 'Juliet' balcony, (yeah, sure,) the scaffolding strung with rope that looked like thick clothesline. Right. Not a shred of regret.
I woke last Saturday morning in Manhattan with the first small ripple of trepidation at the prospect of moving to Bali in my soul, which feels almost palpable now, only to look out the window a few moments later to see the blizzard. And I thought, no, I am not making a mistake. Right after that Jack, my Jewru, called and concurred: NOT A MISTAKE. I had travel advice from my wonderful friend Neil, the Divine Hotelier, and he told me to stay awake on the plane until I fell asleep-- I never did-- and then when I got here to walk in the sunlight-- I didn't have to, as it shone into the car where Yoni was waiting for me to bring me back here, to Umalas Kauh, which means horses, where Jordan the gelding sleeps downstairs, and having sorted out what I brought of my belongings(Yoni had washed and ironed the ones I left and hung them in my closet) spent some time with the owner, Sabine, a German in her young forties who has lived here for twenty-two years and has trouble when she goes back to Germany because how could they have killed all those people, arguing now they didn't know what was happening, and suffers over the bears having their feet cut off in China and how can people do that to animals. I sent her off to bed, as I have written about the first in LORELEI, the novel I wrote when living in Weinheim during the Reunification, when the joke was, in Munich, "What's the difference between the Jews and the Turks?" Punchline: the Jews are already dead. That novel was never published as the argument was 'There was no more anti-Semitism in Germany.' Ha.
Anyway, that is in the past, and I, like the Indonesian language, intend to have only a present tense. Or rather, a present relaxed.
New York Magazine had on its cover as I left the newsracks behind me, my hero Gloria Steinem, still beautiful, which I know doesn't count for the Feminists, but it makes me really happy, especially around the eyes, starting MS. magazine forty years ago. There was a picture of her on the cover, with that hair, that I didn't know if it was now or then. But she was smoking, so it must have been then, as she is much too smart to have done that in recent years. I met her for the first time when The Pretenders, my bestseller, was happening, and Bob Gutwillig, my then editor, brought her to have dinner with Don and me at Stefanino's in L.A. I was frightened though excited to meet her because she was such a serious, important figure, and I was having this shoddy success. Then she arrived and said "A novel. That's Grown-Up time," so I fell in love, which anyone of sense had to do with Gloria. Over the years I got to see her from time to time, at a distance-- she was the woman of the year with the American Library Association, where I was honored to be a footnote, and she said, in front of all those librarians "I am told I am one of the twenty-five most admired women in America, which shows what deep shit we are in," so I fell in love with her again.
Then I got a chance to really be with her when she was married, at long last, at sixty-two, to a wonderful man-- she had had a treasure chest full of interesting opportunities, and passed on all of them until Wilma Mankiller(I couldn't help smiling) an Indian chief(tess?) told her to marry David Bale, which she did. He was tall and devastatingly handsome-- he was physically not unlike his soon to become a major movie star son, Christian-- with those same carven features and eyes that were obviously adoring Gloria, a wit that was sharp enough for her, and causes of his own, a social conscience that was on a plane with hers. It was a gorgeous match, and I was lucky to interview them for the Wall Street Journal for which I was stringing at the time, doing a feature called Shop Talk. We went dog supply shopping, as they had a dog, and they bought things at Socially Aware pet stores. We ate breakfast at a coffee shop where she told me she had been addicted to ketchup as it was filled with sugar. Now I loved both of them. The article was never published as it read too much like a "puff" piece, critics said, as I could find nothing to carp about with either of them, they were so wonderful, so ideally suited.
But as we know, happy endings do not often come along, or if they seem to, they abort. He died painfully and unfairly of cancer, as Don had. I didn't see her again for a number of years, but when I did, even in passing, she was beyond gracious and still beautiful, which I know shouldn't count, but it does. Then, when I sent her an e-mail to congratulate her on her HBO show, she told me she envied me Bali. I hope she will come visit me, as it is beyond beautiful and peaceful, as I think she is, too, though in an Activist way. Serenity can come from being on track, which I believe she has always been, and continues to be.
And there is work to be done here, in a gentle way. Yoni, my driver, this darling young woman who has two little girls which doesn't count for much in Bali where the men want sons, has an ex-husband who holds onto the two little girls and doesn't let them see their mother, not because he loves them but wants revenge on her for divorcing him. And Komang, my advocate who helped me get my visa to stay here long term, had three girls with her husband, which didn't count, and found out he had another woman, so divorced him. Then he had a son with the other woman and she has to take care of the little boy because-- if Yoni had the story straight, --the other woman ran off, leaving him with the son. So I am thinking of writing The Yoni Monologues, since I think that is the word from the Bhaghavagita or however you spell it, for Vagina. Women here do not have it easy, which is putting it mildly.
And still they smile and look happy. And all the children are black-eyed and beautiful. Today I met a two year old named after Mohammed's second wife, (can't spell it yet,) who come here to ride a horse (clip clop outside my window) before going to nursery school which she doesn't like, so her father, an Aussie who thought he couldn't have children and was put in jail for adultery before the baby was born and came out white, so they are married now and have a second who is the little rider, but that is another story. She is invited to the ice cream party I am having to celebrate Kurt Vonnegut's birthday next week, as are all of you. Hop a plane. I'll be waiting at the airport.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

FULL CIRCLE

It is clearly time to leave my native land. The above-the-fold feature on the front of the Arts section of the New York Times today is about a video game. I remember when my sister was a follower of Meher Baba who had taken a vow of silence for the latter part of his life, and everyone was waiting for the words he would speak. Finally, as he died he said: "My time has come."
Well my time has went. I do not mind that it has become an e-world, as I did admire Steve Jobs and Apple especially after trying to deal with a renegade computer that needed frequent repair. But I do mind that even when you go to the theater, people are texting, so in-between their erratic attention to what's happening onstage, those little lights go on on cell phones, like fireflies in Central Park.
I could understand the inattention to the play, annoying as it was-- I mean the inattention and the play. The evening was the much-waited for(I think... wasn't everybody waiting?) Woody Allen piece, one of three with one by Elaine May and one by one of the over-celebrated Coen Bros., Relatively Speaking. It was the last preview at the Brooks Atkinson theatre, where, in Proustian tickle, my play The Best Laid Plans opened forty-five years ago, when Madeleine was born. I did not get there until the final curtain, as I was still in the hospital, it being those old days when they let you lie down for a few days after giving birth. But as the obstetrician wanted to go to Opening Night, he let me out, too, and rich and connected Hollywood studio friends who thought I was going to be a hit sent a limousine to take me from the hospital to the opening. I heard from the final laugh that wasn't there that the evening had been a disaster. The director had been replaced at the last minute and mucked up what had been frozen and stellar in the performances, and Polly Rowles, the one completely reliable pro in the cast-- we had crazy funny Kenny Mars as the psychiatrist, and he played it sometime on his knees, sometimes as a Cherman, so mercurial and outrageous that Mel Brooks, a good friend, scooped him up for The Producers-- but Polly, whose dialogue had been unchanged from the start burbled lines and, in the words of a cruel reviewer "stumbled under the burden of last minute rewrites." So oh, well. Mel and Annie Bancroft drove me back to the hospital and Mel said "Think of it this way: if your daughter had been born with six toes and two noses... that would have been okay. What mattered was the show." That made me laugh, so I was all right again, sort of.
But the ghost of Brooks Atkinson theater past was there last night, exacerbated by the truth of Woody Allen's being a prime figure in my failure to make inroads in comedy, one of my paths when I was very young and had my only job, with the Comedy Development program at NBC, sharing office space with Woody. I had plenty of room, as he came in only on the day we got our checks, and was out free-lancing the rest of the time, while I wrote a sitcom a day or a musical. So he was already smarter than I was, and I have to admit that I was jealous, but had to set aside my scorn finally with 'Midnight in Paris' which I thought was wonderful.
Last night's play, not so much. The first of the three was borderline unbearable, the work of Ethan Coen, with a mental patient and his doctor, and then a revelation of his background with a detestable couple, a pregnant mother who was as soft as Judge Judy, and no real form or content. The second was Elaine May, and featured a much-redone Marlo Thomas, looking like Erica Jong, crying out narcissistically over the death of the husband she didn't really care about and going on and on until it wasn't funny anymore. Then came Woody's, where theatergoers murmured during intermission that it was up to him to make the evening.
I don't know that he did. I was with the smart Rex Reed who didn't have a good time at all, and a venal woman said aloud that was because he wasn't Jewish. I found that insulting, not only to Rex, but to the whole idea of comedy. I remember when we were all in the Comedy Development program together, all us bright and fresh-faced young aspirers who went to Upstairs at the Downstairs for smart cabaret, one of our members had written a song: 'When you're in Love the Whole World is Jewish." It was a waltz of course, sweeping. Being Jewish has nothing to do with enjoying comedy, though Woody really milked it with his rabbi, the character I found most annoying. The rest were, by turns, cute: Steve Gutenberg as what you think is the groom coming to the Honeymoon motel(spoiler alert: he is the stepfather of the groom and has run off with the bride,) noxious: the mother of the jilted bridegroom; unbearable: Julie Kavner as the mother of the bride, doing so many takes you would have thought she was from an era even older than mine, a pizza man, and a character I didn't know who he was until Rex explained he was the best man. I don't think so. Still, I have to admit I laughed, but I don't remember at what: certainly it was not the ethnic crap. So I shall wait for the reviews tomorrow and see if Woody's survival mode, like his career, is better than mine.
On the non-theatrical side, I spoke to my once college president Pat today and she agreed that my leaving the country could not be at a more propitious time. I don't think I would survive working the next election. I am so disappointed in Barack, enraged at Michelle for a stupid personal slight to a friend who is heading up a program to improve Food in America, allegedly Michelle's 'cause,' frightened of the Republicans(why? you might ask if you are retarded, or as they say now, 'intellectually challenged") and sad sad sad for my country. Pat, who is of my vintage, said, along with me, that we never thought we would be saying, like our parents, or maybe even our grandparents, "it was better then." But it was. I grew up in an America where everybody could become, truly a land of Opportunity. All you had to do was aspire, get an education, and then the world was open to you. But that world is now on fire. The astrologer at Kamalaya, the Wellness center(read Spa with really knowledgable people in charge) said the stars now are in exactly the same alignment they were at the time of the French Revolution. Not that we believe in such things, but has anybody seen the news?
So I leave on Halloween for Bali without, as Ingrid Bergman said in Gaslight, " a shred of regret." I was here for the good part. Now it's time to move on. As my books become e-books, (go to Amazon.com, or Kindle, tell your friends) something I might once have grieved over, as turning pages and feeling bindings was a sensual pleasure, like riding in a car with new upholstery, I must re-upholster myself and move with the times. Flee them, actually.



Saturday, October 15, 2011

THE END OF THE DRUGSTORE

When I moved back to New York not long after Don died, in my quest to find a place where I wasn't lonely, I had the unexpected gentle good fortune to be befriended by Kurt Vonnegut, who I of course very much admired, as would anyone who could read or have an original thought. When I would do something like call to wish him 'Happy Birthday,' Kurt would say things like "That's very neighborly of you." When I complained, or, trying not to complain because you don't want to whine to a man like Kurt was, but borderline sorrowing over the truth that writers as a rule don't generally support each other, and what I was looking for and hoping to find was a community, Kurt said: "Go to the grocery store and introduce yourself to the clerk, go to the dry cleaners and say hello to the owner, then go to the drugstore and meet the pharmacist, and you'll have your community."
So recognizing wisdom behind the sweetness I went to the Duane Reade and introduced myself to Frank, a bright-eyed, dark haired young man who had two sons, updated not long after to three. In the impersonal world of 'press 5 for the pharmacy', I would skip to the number he told me to press and get Frank. There was a certain Jimmy Stewart dearness to it, connecting with Frank, and I followed the steps of the latest family addition as he sat up, started talking, and then ran around destroying things, all the time feeling a sense of connection, since my Uncle Ralphie, one of the darling men in my early history, was a pharmacist, as my father had been in his search for where he belonged, doing what, before his later, surprising success as mayor of Tucson.
When I came back to New York from a trip I would always reconnect with Frank, refilling a prescription or just catching up with what the little boy was doing, and, as drugs became increasingly expensive-- the good kind that made you better, we hope-- I would apologize at having found a way to get them cheaper, and listen to his counsel about whether or not they had sat around too long and lost their strength if they were made in another country. When I returned from my latest foray to Bali I went straight to Duane Reade, which, to my horror, had been transformed into a One-Stop shop, with fruit and groceries and a vast downstairs of cosmetics where it was hard to find aspirin. With some difficulty, I located Frank. To my astonishment, he seemed pleased with the transformation. "You have to change with the times," he said, "or..." I don't remember what the 'or' was, but it was something like die or fail, but in any case Orwellian.
Then yesterday, as he had been aware of my chagrin at this unwanted glamorization, after beaming at the huge additional footage-- it had been something like 14,000 square feet and now was 20 something(I have never understood any of that, how they measure) he took me aside when I said I was going to drop my insurance company because they wouldn't make a deal with Duane Reade(I think I would have to go to Walmart.) He told me, in a hushed voice, that in fifteen years there would probably be no pharmacists-- the drug companies or the insurance companies or whatever companies that have no sense of or wish for connection- were trying to get it to the place where everything would be online. They had already made him cut out 2/3 of his staff, that kids graduating from college now with MDs could not earn a living even as assistants in pharmacies, that he would counsel his own sons not to try even to be doctors, as they soon would be unable to feed their families.
So 'It's a Wonderful Life' which almost all of us swallowed and loved as the Frank Capra pastille of optimism and naivete,' where the pharmacist was a central figure in that good-will Fairy Tale will no longer obtain. In a world where people don't talk to each other but engage electronically, a blessing, sure, we all love Steve, and many of us wish he had been in charge of the economy instead of the die-easies who were, it is still a tragedy that we are losing the art of real communication: people looking each other in the eye and saying exactly what they mean. I guess it's for the best that Vonnegut isn't here to see the end of what is "neighborly," though I still miss him.
But I will give a birthday party for him on November 11th, which is also Memorial Day, once Armistice Day, all the things he sorrowed over, war being the stupidest thing in his experience and people having gotten no wiser in spite of Slaughterhouse Five making it all so clear. The party will be in a Gelati parlor called Gusti in Bali, as close as I can get to the ice cream parlor that was so "neighborly" in "Wonderful Life," but with better ice cream, run by an Italian woman and her French husband who makes it fresh every day. They have three little girls in the French school in Umalas, and the school itself has created a community, so there's one for starters.
I am inviting everybody who made it possible for me to move to Bali, so of course you all will be welcome. Because without your invisible support I would never have made it to this glorious transition, where I had the clarity to know when the time came to move, and to where. E-mail me when you're coming and I'll be there at the airport. It's the least I can do to be neighborly.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

An Old Post Rediscovered

I received a query from a loved friend who wondered why I hadn’t sent off one of my missives, exuberant and detailed. In fact, it was a curious night. I am so used to losing, combined with where I was, that I believe I was in kind of a state of spiritual shock, a weird emptiness. In 2000 I was in London for the election, voting absentee, sitting in the bar of the Connaught when John Kerry walked in, looking as distraught about the results, still then up in the air, as I felt, so I introduced myself. He said that everyone in politics in Europe thought we were crazy. A few weeks later I was in New York, and he was standing on 7th Ave., hailing a cab. I went up to him again—by then the truly crazy thing had happened, the Supremes had given it to Bush—and Kerry wrote me a note, “twice in three weeks on different sides of the pond—what are the odds?” At the time I was in my Mystic phase, so I figured him to be truly in tune, space-y-wise, and was delighted at his 2004 candidacy until he stepped up to accept the nomination and gave his Wussy salute, and I felt it was all over.
Nonetheless I voted for him with the same urgency a lot of us felt, the point being to get Bush out. I was in Skibo Castle, in Scotland, the night of that election, and went to sleep with the televised news that Kerry was winning. At dinner the other guests at the long table at which Andrew Carnegie had entertained world figures were rich golfers from America, those with many homes, none of them in difficult places(Tahoe, Palm Desert) who’d come there for the course, and one of them had murmured thickly, “You know, we could wake up and find John Kerry president,” to which I had silently swallowed my Amen, since I was a guest at the place, and unaccustomedly didn’t want to offend anyone. I woke up to the horror of a probably stolen Ohio, and all the GOPers preening around a Bloody Maryed breakfast table, cockatooing over the fact that Bush had won. One of them apologized to me, but as I was still an America, even being in Scotland, I told him not to suffer over a difference in opinion.
The Manchester Guardian that day had a front page all in black, with the smallest print in its center in white: “Oh, no.”
That is pretty much how I, and most of my friends have felt through the past four years, sustained only by MSNBC and Jon Stewart, whose observations and wit made it possible for me to go to sleep at night. So the fact that I did not become euphoric when Obama won is a puzzle to me, as I am certainly euphoric in my heart, as Jimmy Carter was an adulterer in his. I can only conclude it was because I was with no one I loved. Alone, these past few elections, I have suffered the loss of the country I really loved. In Nixon times when I suffered just as much, Nixon was laid out on the bed in our bedroom, a mask with a joint hanging out of his mouth, while people voted in our front hall, a polling place at that time. There was love around, Don, and laughs around, Tommy Smothers. And all of us were allied in our loathing and distrust. When he won, we moved to England. But I always had someone dear and funny to suffer with. During the OJ flight, compelling as it was, I watched the chase on TV in the bar of the Hotel Bel Air, and there were people I felt close to, including Gus the bartender, so the moment was curiously bonding.
But I guess for this I should have been in Chicago, or in LA with my family. I know it was one of the important moments in my lifetime, and I was sort of stultified, being in the company of people I hardly knew, hard as it was to throw off the mantel of dread.
Then came the news about Michael Crichton, which stunned and saddened me, great friend that he had been for a while in my life, giving it much mental stimulation as he was really smart, and really tall, so most of the time I spent with him resulted in a stiff neck. But I cared about him and sorrowed over his sorrow that all he had was success and money, with no one praising his writing. When he showed up with the blonde who was to become his wife(the last one? The fifth? I’m not sure) it was more or less the end of our close friendship, as she didn’t like him to talk to other women. He also sorrowed over the fact that he had no time to be with even the closest of his friends, as he was so busy being successful. But we both hads had our first bestselling novel on the same Time Magazine list,-- his, the Andromeda Strain, mine, The Pretenders. Of course I never got near the number of his winners, and assumed, with my still Pittsburgh mentality, that if you were that big a hit all the time, you would live a long life.
So I am sorry he is gone. He called me when I was living in San Francisco and I told him I had a three Landmark view, as the realtors like to say up there: Coit tower, the Golden Gate bridge, and Alcatraz. And he said “The story of my life. Sex, Escape, and Imprisonment.”
Well, at least the country is free again. Free at last, free at last; Lord, God Almighty, we are free at last.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Our Vines Have Sour Grapes

So the time has definitely come to set sail for happier climes. I return to a New York where this week's New York magazine arrives with a cover picture of a beautiful, waif-like blonde who I wondered why she was naked to the waist when she had no breasts, and it turns out she is the Male Model of the year, Time Out New York is a sex issue, with 'Hook-up bars' and different groupsex venues, and I am sad now not just for my country, but what was never really my city. Just wrote a food piece about Bali for Food Arts and even while I was salivating, I wondered what I was still doing here, when the lunch I had at DuCasse's Benoit was notable only for the fact that my wonderful companion, a man of flawless manners and behavior, when confronted with an attitude laden server first queried her with quiet geniality, and then, eliciting no civil reaction, laced into her, in French, no less. She snapped to like a sergeant in the Foreign Legion. Or, if you're old enough to watch re-runs(the most seasoned of us was not here for the original release) Brian Donleavy in Gunga Din. Loved him, loved the not quite outburst, but food was just food. So when I think of Denise's guava juice starting my day in Jalan wherever that is, as opposed to the tasteless orange section I tried to eat pretending it was fruit, I long for my overcrowded, over-motorcycled and probably doomed little island, which still has a pocket of peace in the place I found where I am going to live. In the present, which is the only tense they have, and the only life that makes sense, since, as Jack says, "the past is history, the future is fantasy." I can hardly wait, but I have to, to try and get all my affairs, in the boring sense, in order.
Today I lay out the family silver for the man from Doyle gallery and leave at least that nonsensical part of the material world behind me. My children are not the formal dinner-party type, to put it mildly, and I don't want it just sitting around to tarnish. I put it out yesterday thinking that yesterday was today, which gives you some idea where I am jet-lag wise, and had to put it away so I could go to sleep so hope that today is really today. It is tomorrow in Hong Kong, but everybody is having a national holiday, so I can't find out what October 1st signifies but am confident it is not the Jewish New Year. I want to know the meaning of that date because it is the one I woke up on really clear that the time has come to move. I am sad for my country, hold no hope for its immediate future, hope there is a long-term one, but am frightened by the seemingly comic but clearly insidious presence of people like Sarah Palin, whose documentary as reviewed by Rex Reed is terrifying enough so I don't have to go see the movie. I am also sad for the presence in what used to be movies of Seth Rogen, whose appearance on the Daily Show the other night, with his offensive, mindless, inhaled giggle actually made me turn off Jon Stewart, the only thing I missed about TV, as you can download Rachel Maddow in Bali.
So as I laid out the silver on the bed a day too early, I had a little Proustian experience, where I went to some of the dinner parties we had, graced by the Acorn pattern in Jensen my mother had given me and Don, even though she didn't think he knew everything. There was Robby Lantz, the truly literate literary agent, and Larry Turman, flush from his triumph with 'The Graduate', a bit full of himself, so when the waiter passed the brandy and ignited it and the glass stuck to Larry's lip, Don had to run into the bathroom so he could laugh. Larry's then wife, Suzanne, was to become my best friend, but she left the planet some years ago, much too young. Then there was Mario Puzo, for whom I gave a dinner party, making myself all the dishes he described, writing bout food as I in those days wrote about sex, in The Fortunate Pilgrim, the real book he wrote that preceded the Godfather. At the time he was my best friend, the only one in the literary community who accepted me as a serious writer, saying "You wrote The Pretenders for the same reason I wrote The Godfather---to have a bestseller. But the good writing is undisguisable(sp?) I really loved him, but he got mad at me for writing too many books, so he left the planet without our ever kissing goodbye.
Lawrence Harvey was at that dinner-- the most witty and charming of (almost) leading men. Don brought in a cake for dessert as a surprise for me, in the shape of an open book, with all the titles of books I'd written, and I burst into tears, and Larry said "I wish I had a husband like that." And Pauline Stone, Harvey's mistress said "I wish I had a husband." They married I think, and then Larry got cancer, which Seth Rogen would make into a comedy. I remember Larry's being carried into the Movie Star all-white living room he lived in off Coldwater Canyon, and his smiling at Don and me, and saying so lovingly, "You both look so healthy." I still miss him, and did get to kiss him Goodbye, which I also did to Don not too many years later, another Rogen comedy, I suppose. It was at Larry's funeral that I met and became friends with Elizabeth Taylor when she was still Elizabeth Taylor, handing out sprays of violets to the mourners, to match her eyes.
Those, I guess, were what Erica Jong would probably call her "fabled" dinner parties. Everything else was just family, all of us sitting at the table on Hillcrest at Thanksgiving, when I would make and serve pumpkin soup in a pumpkin shell, Teriyaki turkey with Chinese stuffing, and Cranuberry Much, a dish I learned to make when I was in Washington and went to a cooking class during Jimmy Carter's reign, and they taught us turkey and grits. But I came away with Cranuberry Much, (my title) which adds celery and apples so there's an infinite crunch, and I do love that which is infinite. So few things are.
But I will not make this report one of them. I love you all for the sustenance you have given me during the long, dry periods of wondering whether anyone would ever know I was a real writer, and very few would care that I was a real soul. I always felt you were out there, or you wouldn't have been on the list. So I hope I haven't too heavily bombarded you, and that you will come visit me in Bali. And of course, that you have enjoyed these Reports, which I expect will continue, as in spite of how charming the Indonesian language is, and easy, I do so love English. And all of you.
xx
Gwen of (soon-to-be) Bali

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sampah Jumpah lagi

So as the West sinks slowly in the west, we say goodbye to the not-so beautiful island of Manhattan and set sail for the not-any-longer-that-beautiful either island of Bali, unless you stay off the roads, clogged as they are with motorcycles, sided by construction of hotels and villas; but staying off the roads is exactly what I intend to do. The place where I am going to live sides a rice field, so that is what I look out on when I get up in the morning, and that is what Mimi looks out on, from her photo on the rooftop which I have in the bathroom window. There is a simple blue-bottomed gracefully shaped swimming pool(I'm not sure it's a kidney, but if an organ it is, it is a healthier one than one might have in States, where I expect and am afraid medical benefits to those who need them will soon be rescinded. The pool is next to a lovely open restaurant, called Lestari,(meaning exquisite or infinite, I'm not quite sure but I will learn Indonesian,) as are the stables beneath the rooms of the Inn where I will be livin, very clean, so there is no smell, and the day begins with the gentle slip-clop of their hooves on the cement paths to the riding ring, as children come to learn how to ride.
A new, great restaurant just opened up across the street, French, where I had Mahi Mahi I didn't even have to chew, and a glass of rose, (not Bandol, but not bad) a salad and ratatouille for $11, including tip. There are no other buildings around, the rice looks ready to pick or thresh or whatever they do with it, so when I come back the fields will be bare and ready for replanting.
I have a sense of perfect peace unlike any I have ever experienced, except when I go online, --that isn't easy, and is probably a blessing,== and see what is happening in the Weimar Republic, which is what I think we have become. Fear and envy and greed are running what was our wonderful country, and madmen(and women) wait in the wings to take us all the way down. There is a professor of economics here from Koln(umlaut over the o) who says that fear constipates the brain, so it can't really function. I am a little sad, as I spent most of my life being and feeling like an active patriot. There no longer seems any point.
There are of course palm trees everywhere, the trunks of the ones around the pool strumg round with fairy lights in the evening, and one of the palms drips seeds that look like an art director's decoration, a clump of yellow(the yougest one) a bright red, and a darker one. Everywhere there is inestimable beauty. A round marble bowl floats circles of flowers in a design they freshen every evening, magenta bouganvillea on the outer rim, then yellow frangipani half-open, besseching the sky, then pink, then orange, then at the center a spice called daun pandan in Indonesian-- they don't know what it's called in English, but it's dark withered green and has a lovely smell. I have never been aware of so much beauty, and I have struggled for awareness all my life.
So I will miss all of you, but if you can save up the fare, you can stay here cheaply including breakfast, and I will welcome you with open palm trees.
It really is Paradise. I looked up all words for that in my synonym finder, and some of them, of course are very right wing(EVEN THERE!) But Elysian fields works for me, as does Heaven.
Back in NY briefly, Sept 20 so call me to say Goodbye. It's been the best journey of my life. Oh, and yes, by the way, I finished my novel.
Love and xx
Gwen of Indonesia

Change of Venue

The day here(in Bali) begins with four little ladies working the rice fields outside my window, the sound the gentle clip/clop of horses' hooves as the horses in the stable downstairs are taken down the cement path to the ring where children come and ride them. It is a little different from looking out my window in NY and seeing the progress on the orange and black monstrosity on 57th Street that is going to be ninety stories, eventually blocking out the sky, the jackhammering and the noise of renovations in my building. Have finally managed to connect to the Internet which was a mistake, as I see where Obama has led with an opening salvo of more benefits to be given up before the Republicans even begin their assault on Medicare. I am reminded of the Ray Bradbury story I think it was, or a Twilight Zone, where a woman is trying to figure out which one the Martian is and it turns out they are all of them Martians, everybody, and that's how I feel about what was my country. They are all of them Republicans, including Obama.
So I do believe it is time for me to get my ass and what is left of my awareness out of the USA. I am staying in an Inn where there are, as I said, horses, paddocked downstairs, directly beneath me a stallion named Jordan which makes me smile as I have a dear friend with that name. The horses are well kept, and so are the stables, so there is no smell, and I figure if it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me. I was going to lease a villa, but I like this place. There is a great restaurant, a beautiful pool, trees that are lit up with twisting lights at night, and a caring staff, small but on the job. The boy who fixed my TV-- it doesn't work too well but that's probably better as when in New York I have a tendency to surrender to reruns of Law and Order-- strew(ed?) my bed with frangipani that made a heart, and spelled out 'Gwen' so I felt I was in the Bali version of Sex and the City, except there was no city and there is no sex and all that is also probably to the good, so I can concentrate on my writing. The boy, Koman, says when he sees me he thinks of his Grandma, and I will try to feel good about that.
Anyway, all this is my way of telling you I am, if all goes well, making the move here, probably in November. I can no longer invite you to my villa, as I don't think I'm going to take that on(needing security, a staff, a pool cleaner, etc. and if something goes wrong like the AC I have to get it fixed and most of you know how handy I'm not) but the rooms here are inexpensive and maybe you can sleep above Omega, a white horse, and that must have some mystical significance.
I love you all and loved my country but it seems to be disappearing, and, like I said, the rice fields are a better way of beginning my days. The Tarot reader at BIKU says I am going to lose a lot of friends, not through enmity or death but because of the move.
I hope none of them is you.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

BAT SHIT

I suppose we have all heard the expression, but I've never had it on the floor before. Apparently I had a visitor or two last night, and they prefer to relieve themselves on marble.
Yesterday I went with Denise's houseboy and his family to Denpasar, for the opening of a new mall, where the son of Ketut, my masseuse, was supposed to perform. They are transfixed by noise, the Balinese, so they think loud means busy, and the sound, over an ove-ramped microphone, the various dropouts and runners up from Indonesian Idol, was so overpowering we had to leave before he sang. But in the meantime I danced with his four-year-old, Tatya, I think it's spelled, who reached for my hand after a couple of hours when I tried to reach for hers, and it was very touching and tiny and we danced. I took them all to A&W which I guess is an attempt at a local McDonald's chain and she spooned in ketchup and disinterestedly ate a few fries as a symbolic accompaniment.
Last night for the first time I watched TV and heard what fools we are making of our country. A quote from Will Rogers: We could certainly slow the Aging Process Down if it had to work its way through Congress. I am so ashamed of us.
Oh well, back to the book, so I can have the option of living someplace else if the country sinks. Love and xx

Friday, July 29, 2011

A FAIR WIND FROM JAVA

or maybe it is the fan that whirrs noisily above my head now that I have gone to my fourposter bed at 8 with the hope of ending my upside-downness. Besides that it is paradisiacal and a privilege to be here, it is also a little daunting. Every night something dark and long skitters across the marblelized terrace that sides my part of the jungle, and I say to myself, but aloud, "I hope that was a cat."
My wonderful friend Denise who was kind enough to invite me here to recover from the death of Mimi had to go back to Seattle before I arrived as her grandmother had had a stroke, from which she eased out of life early this morning, I wish a gentle sail across that great gulf to Virginia. Imagine having a Grandma named Virginia. I think in terms of Gussies and Claras, so Denise must come from early settlers.
At any rate, I am alone in this lovely house, working on my new novel and working my way out of the bad temper that comes from jet lag and being tekkie-retarded, as I was engaged in trying to online publish the Mimi memoir/travel book--here it is if you want it-- and not being able to download or upload or sideload made me crazi(er) and kept me from being clear to write and frustrated me worse than the Republicans. So I have abandoned my attempt to join the 21st century and am just hopeful that the little book will find its own way, as I hope Mimi will, too, and Virginia.
I have missed Jack, who was here and called but we didn't connect so I must accept it was not meant to be, as much else seems to. But I was in Bali once in a car and Jack was just standing in the middle of the road when I didn't even know he was here, which my friend Taffy would categorize as 'Of course.' We must never take things for granted except when they are granted. Unexpectedly, but of course.
Saw my designer/free spirit friend Nadya who lives here all the time except when she is traveling which she does a lot and with great energy, sometimes hawking her clothes, sometimes just living. She says there is a new retirement visa which permits you to stay here for longer than the once alloted six months, so I'm not saying... I'm just considering. Once you're over the jet lag and the fact that you are never going to be at the Genius Bar of Apple, this is truly the most beautiful place in the world, except for the traffic which has now become horrendous. But it is always my way to find one place I like and hardly ever move from there, which I can do and still stay alive as long as there is a pool. In New York I eat almost always in the same restaurants, the ones that I like where they're kind to me, and it is the same wherever I go, though I am wearying of going, and think I would like to stay put. My sky in the New York apartment is fast being obscured by the monstrous 90 story condo and hotel(it will be) that they're building, and New York has not fed my soul or fulfilled my adolescent fantasies of showbiz showbiz, as very little is on the boards, as we used to say, that moves me, and I doubt my musical ever will be, though Tom Meehan had a really good idea and said I should set it in the '50s, which was my kind of time, with my kind of musicals.
But right now I am happiy(today, anyway) ensconced, and working on my bestseller. Once every 40 years or so I should have one, whether or not I want to. It is as I told my once and always editor, Bob, a 'sequin' to The Pretenders. It's time.
My love to all of you who are still in what was once the land of the free. Kisses to babies, and a sunbed to John Boehner that he gets trapped in and fried.

The BALI chapter

So I am privileged to have entered my Mr. Maugham period. That is to say, I am in a tropical paradise, and have this morning pruned the portion of the jungle that grows in my bathroom, with its open shower and stones on the floor, smooth irregularly shaped but more or less round, so I get reflexology crossing that portion barefoot as they press into my soles and what I have of arches. I am still vaguely jet-lagged, and as I have no mercy for myself, am pressing harder than the stones to get back to work on my novel.
I am in the house of a friend I didn't realize was beloved, one of two who e-mailed me immediately when Mimi died, saying 'Come,' Trudi of Beverly Hills and Denise of Bali, so you know which one I accepted. The clouds in which I saw Mimi according to the promise of Carleen when I was in New York, have no sign of the little dog in them here== they are fluffy in a different way from Western clouds, thick and lush with no perceivable shapes or holes that could be mistaken by the seeking eye for features. They are just gorgeous clouds that turn pink and orange at sunset which I have missed twice. But I am confident there will be others.
The house I am in is open on most sides as homes in Bali are, and I am facing low-lying palm fronds and thin round trunks and straggly limbs. I am also attracting bugs with the light of my computer screen so think I will stop now as it is getting dark, and I want to save my energy for what I hope will be a refreshed chapter in the morning. But I am glad I came, and know that I am privileged to be here. The roosters in the distance are still crowing at intervals, demented, crowing at all hours of the day, fearful, I guess, that they have failed to signal the start of morning.
Next day: A tropical downpour. I love nothing better than that in Bali, as the roof is threaded bamboo and it sounds like peace gently pelting, reminding one that there are other things besides work. But I don't think so at this point, as I am joyfully driven to complete this novel. Interesting, as it is sophisticated and a complete contrast to where I am. I would call on old Somerset to inspire me, but I don't think it's his kind of novel, though it certainly is his kind of setting outside. I am a lucky woman. Thank you, Denise. Thank you God, I would have to imagine, as it is impossible to be here and slip back into disbelief, as a young woman comes every day armed with a small offering to the gods of flowers and incense that she sets out on the sink so I will be protected. Thank you, Whatever.
I have missed my Jewru Jack who was here and called but I didn't get it in time, so have to accept it was not Meant To Be, as everything else seems to. Love to you all.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

FAREWELL ELIZABETH

A longer time ago than I had imagined, when the world was still full of hope and movie stars were real movie stars, I had a friendship with Elizabeth Taylor, the then most legendary name on gossipy lips. I had met her at the funeral of Laurence Harvey, a delectably outrageous and gifted actor, whose death was a kind of dark present to her, as her career was in mid-sag, and she really knew how to give great funeral. She stood at the back of the Episcopal church in Westwood at the end of the service, handing out tiny bouquets of violets, that not just incidentally matched her eyes. Truman Capote had consecrated her in print, memorializing those remarkable eyes, stamping them forever violet in the popular imagination. A woman at the funeral who probably thought she looked like Elizabeth Taylor, all but decomposed in the face of the real thing, her make-up running, black hair growing limp and lank, until pieces of her white scalp showed.

The funeral’s solemnity was lifted by an impassioned eulogy given by John Ireland, Harvey’s closest friend, and, up to that moment, no more than a mediocre film actor. But when he cried as to a lost ship on stormy seas “Larushka! Larushka!” even those who might not have been that close to Harvey wept. The ‘Larushka’ was both poignant and a clue to how inappropriate the church was, as Larry, though his acting was high end British, was a Lithuanian Jew. Still, the location worked well for Elizabeth.

Elizabeth and I became friends in our sadness, mourning Larry, who was almost singlehandedly a justification for Hollywood, stylish and witty, a genuine toff, with an English accent so elegant it might have deluded a listener into believing the town and the industry had been designed by Evelyn Waugh. Larry had left several paintings to Elizabeth, and they hung now in her house on Cordell Drive, rented from Tom Tryon, a movie actor turned successful novelist, which still didn’t mean he had taste. The bedroom was wallpapered or rather wall-aluminumed with a metallic pattern that acted like mirrors, so Elizabeth could see herself every way she turned.

She was at the time romantically involved with Henry Wynberg, who was later to be charged with turning speedometers back so the mileage wouldn’t register on the used cars he was selling. Even without that, he was hardly a match for her. Max Lerner, the great liberal columnist who wrote for the New York Post, had a theory that Elizabeth went from weak man to strong man to weak again, and so on and so on and on and on. Henry fell, or rather rose-- as he was with Elizabeth-- into the weak category. Richard Burton, her great love, whom she had twice married, was on the phone with her frequently from Europe. She was paying his bills in spite of their having divorced for the second and final time, perhaps the reason why she seemed to be under financial pressure. Her son by Michael Wilding was going through a crisis with his wife, from whom he was separated: she was not going to permit him visitation with their child, the air being heavy with the perfume of hoped-for cash, the heady scent blowing towards Granny Elizabeth. “We’ll just have to get us another baby,” Elizabeth said blithely. I was stunned, my love of babies being even more fervent than my love of movie stars, so I’d assumed that her maternal instincts were as powerful as the best of her portrayals.

Our friendship was intensified as Hollywood friendships go by Elizabeth’s wish to play the leading character in my novel The Motherland. The sharp-tongued agent Sue Mengers, at the pinnacle of her power, quipped “Tell her to get the newspaper off her lap.” It took me a few minutes to understand that she was saying Elizabeth was playing with herself. Apparently she was no longer bankable. No one was standing in line to make movies with her. When, on top of that, Burton became involved with Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia, Taylor’s vertebrae gave out. She took to a hospital bed in her home, in traction, legs in the air, attached to a harness with pulleys. Max, who was intermittently present, feared for her long-term health and her spine, wondering if the doctors knew what they were doing, if the weights on those pulleys couldn’t possibly cripple her. But Elizabeth seemed sanguine if not downright cheerful about the whole ordeal, sickness having been a more faithful companion in her life than any of the men she had run with and through, except for the charismatic producer Mike Todd, who did not leave voluntarily, but crashed in his private plane, ironically christened The Lucky Liz.

“When Mike was making ‘Around the World in 80 Days,” she told me one day when I was visiting her semi-sickbed, “we really needed a holiday. So when we were in Hong Kong I got appendicitis.” There was no duplicity in the declaration, just a kind of innocent ditty that a composer would sing as he said ‘And then I wrote…”

She was seeing a great deal of herself between the wall d├ęcor that reflected her image everywhere she turned, and the TV, on which her old movies were almost constantly running, with herself, in traction, as a captive and captivated audience. In the TV Guide sitting atop the set, I saw that while one channel was showing ‘National Velvet’, in which she had starred as a child, another featured Village of the Damned. I asked her if she had ever seen it. “No,” she said, “but I read the book.” It was hard not to feel affection for her. A movie star who actually read.

Laurence Harvey, with his irrepressible spirit, was visiting her in dreams. This was a phenomenon I found neither far-fetched nor bizarre, as both Elizabeth and I were interested in metaphysics, convinced that signs and omens of other dimensions are everywhere, that ‘here’ is probably not all there is,. “I woke up in the middle of the night one night, sat bolt upright, looked at the clock,” Elizabeth told me once, “and I knew Gary Cooper had died. The next day it was in the papers, and the time of his death was exactly when I woke up.”

I ran that by a girlfriend of mine, the psychic Patricia McLaine, who said “What a shame, with her psychic gifts, -- Pisces with her moon in Scorpio,-- that she wastes it on something negative.” Burton’s sun, Pattie told me, was on Eliabeth’s moon, (sounds kind of dominating and kinky) so they were astrologically perfectly aligned, star-wise, and should never have parted. “But what can you do,” Pattie sighed. “It’s Hollywood.”

Though she was not well enough yet to have any grand parties, Elizabeth did manage to pull herself together sufficiently to have a picnic on her patio one Sunday. Informal as it was, she still managed to be quite late, a behavior usually allotted to time and make-up and allowing for an entrance at other people’s houses. Her entrance that day was edged with pathos: she was clearly in pain. As she slathered mayonnaise and mustard on her third hot dog bun, I resisted the impulse to spit on it to keep her from over-eating. She was a very tiny woman, so the acquired weight was beginning to seem ominous, as she moved into Muu-Muus, with turbans twisted on her head. Max Lerner was present at that luncheon, his eyes filled with adoration and concern.

“The nerve of him!” she told me one day afterwards. “He actually claimed to have been my lover.”

“Maybe he just really loves you,” I said.

“Of course he loves me,” she fumed, “but that isn’t what he told people.” Still, she kept him as a courtier.

For a while I lost track of her. When next I saw her, she was in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel. She was with a doctor friend of mine, who was gentle and fairly harmless, but very liberal with his prescriptions. At the time she was heavily into Bloody Marys and painkillers, so the violet eyes were somewhat glazed.

I asked what she was doing. “Oh, I’ve just been sort of… hedgehopping,” she said. She still looked , even with double rows of lashes drooping, every inch the movie star, but the inches were increasing. A mutual friend, a photographer who traveled with her on a holiday said she carried one suitcase that was like an arsenal, its weapons different pharmaceuticals.

When she met Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican, impressive, tall, handsome, held in high regard by the establishment, it seemed like another shot at a Fairy Tale ending, or at least a continuing. The magic during that era shifted periodically to D.C., often referred to as ‘Hollywood on the Potomac.’ The local pols were enchanted by her; their wives more so. She told me her hand hurt from having to slide ladylike gloves into eager palms. Warner seemed like the right husband material, tall, with good hair, many of the perks that come from power, and plenty of closet space, which she showed me proudly when I visited their house. She had become a Jew for Eddie Fisher, so why not a Republican for John? Hearing past the oratory, though--she was no dummy and the content was considerably less than stimulating, -- she got bored, and it ended.

Her marriage to Larry Fortensky, whom she met in Rehab, took much-publicized place at Neverland, Michael Jackson’s home/amusement park in Santa Barbara. I’m not sure where she was for her divorce.

A wealthy and prominent man who considered courting her told me he’d had to give up, because of the fuss that surrounded her, when she was still the center of press attention. “It’s a circus,” he said, “only without the clowns.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, a close friend of mine for decades, says from the inside of that cloistered world that movie stars are, as a rule, like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard , when she makes her last great speech, about its being “just me, and the camera, and those wonderful people out there in the dark.” As much as they need love, for the most part the love has to be anonymous, faceless. With movie stars, much as I loved them, and much as they sometimes seemed to love me, the relationship was, of necessity, about them and their needs. A press agent said to maintain a relationship with stars, you need to be ‘on call.’ And I had books to write, children to raise, and a husband to love.

I think Elizabeth may have understood that, if she was interested. I’m sure she was interested when she wanted to do The Motherland. But much of what would pass for camaraderie in other places is, in Hollywood, about business. So when a deal collapses, or never happens, the relationship disappears, too. People move on to the next project, and the next human connection. If everyone, as in the Andy Warhol dictum, gets their fifteen minutes of fame, in L.A., when that happens, you also get a few minutes of friendship.

But don’t think it wasn’t fun while it lasted. Even now, having seen the recent re-make of Jane Eyre, admirable as it was, I missed the scene that most moved me when I, myself, was a child. Little orphaned Jane, played by Peggy Ann Garner, in the cruel school that was Lowood, had one friend, and that was Helen, played by an unbelievably luminous little Elizabeth. She had a gentle voice, those exquisite eyes, jeweled even in black and white, and long, lustrous black curls. When the harsh headmaster cut them off and made her stand all night in the rain, holding a sign that said ‘VANITY,’ an ordeal that led to her death, I wept. I weep now.