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.

DAME LIZ-PS


She was not very deep, but she was not shallow, People had gifted her from infancy for just being beautiful But there had not been beauty that intense and unmistakeable on the screen before.
To go out with Mike Todd, who hungered for her from afar, she demanded a jewel, Of course he sent her one. That was not so unusual. Men sent her things all the time.
Theirs was the perfect relationship: as in all great love stories, they were crazy about each other, and it ended too soon and tragically. Maybe God is a screenwriter. Maybe God saw that if Mike had lived, it would have become ... what? Boring?
She was so easily bored. But she was smart, which you didn't expect, and how else could she be but spoiled. So much adulation from the world. So much vanity without self-esteem. A gorgeous little girl with a driven mother, What else could she have been but self-absorbed, when the world was absorbed with her,
If there is Peace that you can feel, may she rest in it. If there is an Afterlife, as we all hoped, where the wits and hunks and romantics who enhanced her passage through this earthly vale are really all waiting for her, let them not fight over her, Or., maybe considering how much she enjoyed a good drama, let them fight.
We will miss her presence, But she will live forever on Netflix.

the end of the world

So it's the end of the world as we knew it. As much as we understood, sadly,that Borders was over, it was still a shock to pass Barnes and Noble at 66th and Broadway and find it not just disappeared, but papered window to window to ceiling to floor in red, with some announcement of a company to come, that, I believe, will sell clothes.
For some time now the writing has been on the wall, or, more accurately, the Kindle. Someone was reading one in the park this morning-- a beautiful day, PAY ATTENTION! THIS COULD BE OVER SOON, TOO!--- and I sighed as I read, (still on paper, The New York Times, to be edited came the bulletin on my e-mail, by Jill Abramson, who was taught the business by my beloved Sandy Burton when she was the first woman bureau chief of Time in Boston--) the growth in celebrity novels by Kardashians whom I still don't consider celebrities & Snooki who can't read. Heartened by the next two benches' occupants, one reading Balzac and the other Agatha Christie from actual books, I returned to my less than spacious apt., its view bleakened by the high-rise-in-progress, to see my next door neighbors' Wall Street Journal on the floor headlined: Economic Outlook Darkens. No shit.
The good news is that I have two friends just back from death's doorway. The bad news is I was not with Shelly and Byron at Lake Geneva during the summer they were all so productive and sexy. Woody Allen has co-opted living in another time, and done it prettily and fairly cleverly, too, so I had to put aside my long-time antagonism/jealousy--as I have told before, we shared office space at NBC during my first and only job when I was 20, and were supposed to save the Colgate Comedy Hour, and he came to work only on the day we got paid, whereas I was there every day with a new sitcom or a musical and you know which one of us prevailed. Still, I would not mind having the opportunity to time-travel and hang out with Percy and Mary and the rest of the laudanum-inspired gang on the water that glorious summer, and maybe teach Shelly to swim, which would change and extend the course of English poetry.
Two guys just came to check on my awning, the motor having died so I cannot lower it and hide the lego orange and black obscenity that is the new building. One is from Nigeria, where an uncle came back from America with jeans and sneakers so he could not wait to emigrate, won the lottery, and so is here but has a friend who spent ten hours in the emergency room and no one ever helped him so says America is not what it was. Really? Snooki, jeans and sneakers notwithstanding?

SEE Book of Mormon and Die


As my friends know, I just lost my adorable Mimi, the world's brightest and most accommodating Bichon Frisee. She traveled the world in a little black bag, never making a sound or relieving herself till the end of the journey, no matter how lengthy it was--New York to LA, D.C. to Paris-- up for anything as long as she could come along. The disease that felled her attacks young toy dogs, mostly female, its cause and cure unknown.
Any pet owner will understand 'distraught' is not a good enough word to describe my state of soul. I have been through this before, and all my losses have conflated, including the death of my very young husband. So I find myself sobbing in Whole Foods, and try to walk in the park, unable to lift my eyes, and often my feet.
The Animal Medical Center, where Mimi went, has been kind and helpful. Her very smart vet, when I called with the symptoms, immediately told me to make an appointment with neurology, saying very succinctly, and odiously, "Little white dogs." Everyone treated me more than kindly from the moment I arrived, as they all apparently knew even before we got there that this disease has a very rapid onset, and she was doomed. Such an Edgar Allen Poe word, for such a sweet, happy creature. It doesn't seem fair, but then, how much of life does?
It was all over so fast I haven't had time to process. The Center has a Pet Loss Support group, so I went the night after I picked up her ashes, hoping to find some kind of sustenance. Instead, the group, fifteen women and one man who said he had been a female in a previous life and wasn't exactly closeted in this one, was, to a woman, inconsolable. One woman carried a framed 8x10 picture of her little dog, a beauty, that she slept with every night, another could not forgive herself for nodding off, convinced if she had stayed awake her sick dog would not have died, another still put water out for her pet a year after its death, a cat owner who thought God had sent her her cat because there was no love in her life, and few relationships, had stopped believing in God. There was a sweet and intelligent social worker, but she was tiny, not built to stand against all the grief in the room.
When 9/11 happened, and like all New Yorkers, I was in shock, because I understood the world as I had known it was over, ambition, hope, joy, were forever compromised, I went at six in the morning to take my place outside Carnegie Hall for tickets to the memorial concert they were having, as a healing gift to New York, featuring Leontyne Price and YoYoMa. I sat on the sidewalk like the student I had long ago been, and was rewarded with tickets so good I could hear Yo Yo Ma breathing as he played. So now once again bereft, irrational and inconsolable, I went early in the morning to the theater where Book of Mormon was playing, and sat on the sidewalk, hoping for a cancellation at the matinee, as I didn't want to die, which event felt imminent, before seeing it. One of the producers, a very smart, witty woman, more empathetic to dogs than people, had been unable to get tickets for her lawyer or any number of friends who were mad at her, and asked me please to tell her if I was successful getting in.
The line for Standing Room already had thirty people waiting at nine A.M., and I was third in line for cancellations, preceded by a Bette Midler look-and-sound-alike who'd come with a folding chair, and a theater arts major from Michigan. Once again I sat on the sidewalk, this time on a cushion I'd brought, as the years have hardened my ass if not my heart. I got a ticket, and went back home to nap before the matinee, trying not to note how empty my apartment was.
Returning to the theater for the show I re-encountered faux-Bette and she told me after I left there had been a fist fight between a few people hoping for cancellations, accusations of cutting in line, threats. The lights dimmed. The show began to cheers, actual 'Huzzahs,' as if we were all part of an Evelyn Waugh novel, everyone in the audience apparently overjoyed at their luck at actually being there.
I had heard Andrew Rannells, who plays the Mormon Elder Price, sing "I Believe," on the Tonys, and had been moved by the purity of his voice and the sweetness of the music, in spite of the satirical nature of the song. So I was disappointed when I saw he was out for the matinee, replaced by Kevin Duda. But a pretty young usher assured me he was very good, and I slogged to my seat, last on the farthest aisle in the almost last row. But what the hell, I was there. Scalpers were getting $750 a ticket, and American Express had just run a double-paged ad in the Sunday Times saying their members, acting within the next ten days, could buy tickets for April. It was today, and I had paid only(gasp) $155. (Everybody's getting rich on this one: a coke to settle my stomach was $7.00, Junior Mints to rouse me from my torpor, $5.)
As one might have guessed from the elation of the reviews, the book was extremely rude, vulgar and funny, the brief send-up of The Lion King appropriate(I was not a fan of Julie Taymor's even before she hurtled out of favor, as if her very public downfall was a metaphor for what happened to several of Spider-Man's players.) Josh Gad, who plays the misfit schlub in Mormon is predictably Loser-Endearing, and Nikki James, the bright Ugandan in the village is adorable, and her love song to Salt Lake City musically fine and oddly touching.
But I wasn't really having a good time. A couple two rows ahead of me kept leaning their heads in towards each other so I couldn't see the stage, and Mimi was dead. I thought about leaving at intermission, but instead spoke to the husband who was wearing a baseball cap, something that makes me want to punch tourists even when I haven't just lost my dog. I asked him if he and his wife could stop leaning towards each other; he apologized, telling me his wife could see only out of one eye, so he would change seats with her, and that would help. I was immediately ashamed, because that was one of Mimi's symptoms: she had suddenly gone blind in her right eye. So I returned to my seat, chastened, and watched the second act, which was deeper and better, full of good points as South Park episodes always are underneath the outrageousness. And then came the song, the one song in the show that is truly, fully a song, because of the music: I Believe, what I had heard on the Tonys. And I started to cry, soundlessly and long, because the melody was so true, and when I had last heard it, Mimi was alive.
Theater as it originated in ancient Athens was supposed to be cathartic. But I don't believe this was exactly what the Muses had in mind. I am weeping even now, writing this. The show was good, though not all that it was cracked up to be. Mimi might not have been all that I felt she was. For those who have never owned one, she was just a dog. But grief, man. Grief is a bitch.