Thursday, October 20, 2011


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, 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


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.