Sunday, December 30, 2012

Oh Dad, Great Dad

    I am pretending that Mark Twain was my father.
His autobiography lies on the footstool beside my bed, his fiercely dark gaze fixing mine, and I sort of hear him counseling me about what to do about my children, and what he says is "Fuck 'em." I think compassion was in all likelihood one of his short suits, so busy was he making the world a brighter place by being as sharp as he was, and dedicated to his own words. Warner Berthoff, my American Lit professor at Bryn Mawr, gave me an A+, many years after my graduation, for my "Mark Twain essay" in my novel, Kingdom Come, in which I have the great man cursing what he refuses to acknowledge are the Heavens in the Afterlife where he is consigned to the Other Place, the one for the Nonbelievers.
    I always believed Mark Twain would have been a friend of mine.  When Robert was in graduate school, coming to visit me as I was struggling to make a life for myself as a hard-working widow, renting an upmarket slum in the Hamptons, trying to write yet another novel, I said to him on the phone before he arrived: "I have a surprise for you." He said, dazzlingly on target, "We're having dinner with Kurt Vonnegut." Stunned, I asked, "How did you know that?" And Robert said, "Well I knew he was out there, and if anyone could smoke him out, it would be you."
    In fact, in Truth, I would rather say, Vonnegut, unknown to me personally but understandably a hero of mine as a deeply humanistic and gifted writer, had stood in a forum of writers and editors written about in The New York Times, and said "Today is a very sad day in literary history: a publisher has turned against a writer."  Doubleday had just sued me as a result of the libel suit against me by Paul Bindrim, the fraudulent, self-aggrandizing(I can call him now fearlessly, as he is dead) psychologist who conducted nude encounter marathons in Topanga Canyon at the end of the 60s, in one of which I had fictionally(I must hurry to say) placed my novel TOUCHING.  I had set out intending to make it my MADAME BOVARY, to prove I was a serious writer, after the sexy success of THE PRETENDERS.  Bindrim, when I attended his marathon had said "Well now that you've written the world's sexiest bestseller, what are you going to do next?" I told him I didn't know.  "I think you should write about what I'm doing here," he grandstanded.
    At the time I attended the marathon, he was bald and clean shaven, and had a Master's Degree.  When I wrote the novel I gave my protagonist a great white fox fur hat of hair and a white beard, so he looked like Santa Claus, and made him a doctor.  Bindrim sued me, saying I had ruined his nude encounter business by looking at it with a scathing eye, which I confess I did big time, as having experienced the haphazard and dangerous way he dealt with people in the pool, I was frightened for them.  The case took seven years to come to court, during which time Bindrim, in his determination to become more identifiable as the character in the novel, got a PhD from International College in Westwood,a mail-order school above the Bruin movie theater, grown a gigantic beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long, the years had turned it white, so he looked like Santa Claus.  Hr had, quite simply, become the character in the book. It was, as my attorney who didn't prepare because he regarded the whole thing as laughable, the dictionary definition of 'Fiasco,' sure it would be thrown out of court.  But it wasn't, and Tony Liebig, my lawyer, had a testy history with the judge, the Santa Monica jury was madder at me, a housewife, for going to a nude encounter than they were at Bindrim for giving it, and I lost.
    Doubleday, my then publisher,  had up to that time defended me, citing the 1st amendment,  But they then sued me on the basis of the indemnification clause that holds a publisher blameless. At that point we had to homestead our house so they couldn't take it away from us, and my daughter, still a little girl, asked if she would still be able to go to her school, if she would have to leave her friends behind, along with her room.  Robert, even younger, had a bicycle route to deliver the Herald-Examiner when I was on the front page.
Vonnegut, whom I did not know, having defended me publicly, becoming even more heroic in my eyes, and I later met at a party--it was always surprising to me at that point that there were any festive occasions. But I was kind of a shadowy literary celebrity at that point, so Gay Talese, a sort of friend, invited me to an evening where Jerzy Kozinski lolled on a couch, slicing a pear with a knife, as if in an outtake from REDS.  Vonnegut marveled over the accuracy of my recall-- Bindrim had tape recorded the marathon, and during the trial compared the dialogue from the novel on a blackboard with what had actually transpired, and it was eerily alike, as I did have great Recall. He asked me if I had had a tape recorder hidden under my blouse.
    "Kurt," I said.  "I didn't even have a blouse." With that, we became friends.
    When I moved to the Hamptons, part of my gypsying as I sought my meant-to-be nesting place after Don died, Vonnegut was kind to me.  Jill, his in-my-opinion crazy wife had left him for a good friend of his, so he was quite lost, and, it seemed frightened.  Although our relationship was tentative, he appeared grateful for it.    When I told him on the phone my son was coming to visit, he  said "Bring him around; we'll have dinner."
    So we did.  "I thought it was like being with Mark Twain," Robert said afterwards, respecting me as he never had before.
    If it was truly like that in fact, then Twain was not that communicative in person.  But you could tell he was a great guy.  Now he lies on the back of his autobiography, face up, glaring glance fixed on me.  And in the absence of God in whom he did not believe, I look to him for support and strength in this very difficult time. I am imagining him as my father, giving me the guts and tenacity you need in this life, if you are to survive, much less prevail.  
    Kurt and I stayed friends, though distant ones once Jill came back-- she told Rex Reed many years later after Kurt was gone "that woman tried to fuck my husband," which was as far from the truth as she was manipulative. Kurt was ready to tuck it in by the time we became sort of close, visibly intimidated by her,  grateful for her return, scared, I believe, that he would die alone.  I invited him to come be a guest for the big anniversary of the LA library that I was trying to be of some help putting together.  The lure they offered was the home, for his individual honoree dinner, of a society woman who collected Lincoln's tableware.  The very plates.  That didn't do it.  "I would be too sad," Kurt said.
    "Why?" I asked.
    "Because he's dead," said Kurt.
I pointed out to him that even had he not been assassinated, Lincoln would still be dead.  But that was no consolation, and he didn't come.
    Sometimes, in what is left of my life, I suffer over relationships I didn't work to the possible maximum, people I loved and admired with whom I had the luck-- grace it seems, even-- to become friends.  People like Cary Grant, a fantasy phone friendship-- he was a phone lover-- I mean he loved talking on the phone, not me-- and called me all the time, to read me good reviews of my work,("Do you mind?" he lilted, and then read it to me.) We would  talk about our daughters who were the same age, or just chat.  Then there was Stanley Kubrick, "29 year-old Stanley Kubrick" as Billy Wilder was to refer to him all through his life, though I met him he was really around 29, and at the beginning of his productive genius. when I was privileged and damned to be an unrealized, badly used part of what he was up to.  He and Kristiana, his beautiful wife, were at my wedding to Don.  My new husband at the time was the WOR producer televising the first season of the Jets.  Stanley took him aside on that occasion, telling him he should stop following the football and keep the camera on the line, insisting that was the most interesting part of the game.  And Don said to him; "Stanley, if you'll let me run a credit at the end, 'Directed by Stanley Kubrick,' I'll put the camera anywhere you want." 
    All these exchanges, among other grand and special ones I am remembering.  But none impacts me more or makes me feel better than the spare words I had from Kurt, at our last lunch.   "Women are resourceful," he said to me.  "Look at you-- you're resourceful."  
    Oh God, I hope so.
    And I am sorry Mark Twain didn't believe in You.   Though I am sure You must have believed in him, or he wouldn't have been so talented.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Great Evening in the Theater, Make that GREAT! underlined

    So just when I was wondering why I had moved back to New York to fill my soul with theater again, having been so disappointed with everything I've seen, and finding everything over-rated, I have been lifted and spiritually resurrected by THE MYSTERY OF EDWIN DROOD.  It is so charming, so funny and enjoyable, that it made me remember why I loved the theater.
   To begin with, the whole interplay between cast and audience that happens before the official start of the show, is so engaging, it brings the audience to life, making them a part of it.  (I except the people who were sitting next to my friend Susan, who were texting and checking their cell phones during the performance, and whom, in spite of my having achieved or trying to achieve spiritual serenity, I did wish dead.  Or at least out of the theater.  I imagine this to be a generational difference, but I do wish the texters of the world would move to another planet.)  
    But back to joy, which prevailed.  The sets are so good I could have moved to the streets depicted on the drop curtain.  The cast is flawless-- most especially the always riveting and energetic Chita Rivera, who herself is a living monument to talent and drive in women.  The young man who plays the young man who doesn't count, whose name I never found out, is particularly memorable except that having never found out his name, I can't remember it.  But it was a treat and a half.  Maybe two.
   The ingenious creator of the evening, Rupert Holmes, who did book, music AND lyrics is unbelievably gifted, and obviously stalwart, as we understand how hard it is for someone that multi-talented not to scare people away, in a society and profession where people are more comfortable when they can pigeonhole, put you in a particular pocket.  He has broken out of any and all of them.  A FANTASTIC EVENING!  Go go go.
    Happy holidays to all, which will be enhanced if you go see this.  xx

Friday, December 14, 2012


    I cried from the beginning of Lincoln, the new movie, for two reasons: one: a friend I admired, a critic who hated the movie, I realized I would lose because I liked it, and two: when I was two years old and three months old I recited the Gettysburg Address, which made me a star in Pittsburgh. The words, tumbling through my soul, must have tumbled through that torrential time, with parents who despised and were violent with each other, when I didn't yet understand what life was about (do I now?)  But I got that being bright and commanding attention could get you something.
   The  movie itself broke my heart, because much as I would like to dismiss Steven Spielberg as the greatest filmmaker of our time, there is just no doing so.  I can be personally heartbroken because I had the curious privilege of being at a party in Malibu when my son, who seemed like he had all the gifts at six, was in a corner with Spielberg the whole time.  And when, some years later, I encountered Spielberg again, I reminded him of the seeming idiocy of that moment, and he said, when I asked him why he had spent that whole time with my son, "I remember: he was the most interesting person at the party."
    The years have splintered into the reality of life, and everything is shattered and disappointing,  But there is no doubt that this is a magnificent movie.
     And there is even less doubt that life is not fair.  That we all come in with our gifts, and our moxie, our ability to fight to change things, make them better.  Some of us give up.  Some of us stand against what seem impenetrable odds, and do it anyway.  It is a privilege to have lived in the same country as Abraham Lincoln, and to speak the same language.  Surely goodness and mercy shall do whatever it is they do.  But I am not so sure that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  But it is a great movie.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The One and Only Mel

    Having been through some arduous and difficult days, but believing as I do in a benign Universe, in which you are rewarded for not cracking or trying to retaliate for pain caused, my trust was vindicated last night when HBO aired a special just for me: Mel Brooks.  Mel and Annie, the wonderful actress Anne Bancroft, were very close friends of Don and mine in the early days of their and our courtships.  Annie and I would go for long walks in the city, and she would rhapsodize about how much she loved him-- that sometimes she would check his breathing as he slept to make sure he was still alive, because she couldn't believe how happy she was.  
    Mel chased Don around our kitchen on 72nd St. telling him every line, twist and turn of The Producers, which he was cooking in his wonderfully crazy head at the time.  We were very much in love with both of them, and Mel said "Isn't it wonderful when two people can love each other and be together and don't feel they have to get married in this society,"-- it was the early 60s. Then we got married and he stopped speaking to us until they got married, too. 
    I was especially in love with Annie because she was, I thought,the most gifted comedienne in the theater, and I wanted to write a play for her, which I did.  When written and  ready for production, I gave it to her, but she said "I can't do it.  I'm doing The Devils."  "Why?" I asked her. 
"I've never played a hunchbacked nun before," she said.  "Besides, who knew you'd be finished writing it in three weeks?"
    The play, under the crazy aegis of Hilly Elkins as producer and the somewhat urgent and patently dramatic circumstances-- I was very pregnant with Madeleine-- was in Philadelphia for out-of-town tryout, a standard at the time as was pretty much the budget, $150,000, so you know how long ago it was-- when Mel came down to help us with some comic fillips.  Don and I remembered having laughed hysterically at everything he said, but being unable to recall a single do-able suggestion.  The show, with the ill-chosen title, THE BEST LAID PLANS, had received favorable notices in Philly, "a hit with fixing" said the reviews.  But the fixes that Hilly wanted, which was to turn the heroine, who pretends to be a drug-addicted sociopath in order to win the love of a disturbed playwright, were intolerable to me, as he wanted her to actually do drugs onstage, and it was Philadelphia, for God's sake.  So I refused, and Hilly said "Bitch... you'll change it or I'm closing the play," and Don said "Hilly, you're talking to a woman with a baby in her belly," and Hilly said "Cunt, you'll do what I say," and Don said "Hilly, you're talking to my wife. One more word and I'll have to kill you," and Hilly said, "You and what army?" and BAM, he was down, and Don was on top of him.  Paul Bogart, then(but not for much longer) the director came over to the battle and took off Don's glasses, so Hilly's flailing wouldn't hurt Don.  All of it observed by Mel.
    I was in the hospital in New York giving birth when Bogart was fired and Arthur Storch, a mistake, replaced him, and made everybody so nervous with so many arbitrary changes they all went up on their lines opening night.  My obstetrician wanted to go to the opening, so he let me out. I got to the theater in time for the curtain going down and the last laugh, which wasn't there.  So I knew it had been a disaster.  Mel and Annie drove me back to the hospital, and Mel said, "Well, you had two things happen this week.  If one of them had to be less than perfect, if your daughter had been born with six toes and two noses... that would have been okay.  What mattered was the show."  I laughed so hard he saved me
     They visited us a few days later at home, and Annie read the reviews--there were seven newspapers at the time-- out loud.  She spit at them, literally, and said "You're never as good as they say, and never as bad.  My aunt says that's why there's chocolate and vanilla."
   Then they moved to Hollywood, and so did we, and as such things go, we drifted. But the love for them never did, and we rejoiced at Mel's becoming a comic force in films, though we both were somewhat intimidated, as happens in LA when loved friends hit it, which they obviously had, between Annie's great success as Mrs. Robinson, and people really getting Mel.  When Annie, who'd told me how busy she was on her one visit to us in LA, opened in The Little Foxes in New York, I went to a restaurant after I'd seen the play, and ran into Frank Langella, who'd been another fun friend-- they had played clever games in their Village house, where he was best at Dictionary-- and we talked about the play.
    At two o'clock in the morning, the phone rang, and it was Annie, breathing fire.  "You were at the theatre," she said, "and you didn't come backstage!!!"  I tried to explain to her that I thought she was too busy, sent her flowers, a gift.  But she never forgave me.
    After Don died and I moved to San Francisco, and there was an earthquake, my phone rang, and it was Annie.  "I'm calling everyone I know in the Bay Area to make sure they're all right," she said kindly, and then told me she was going to do a play at Lincoln Center.
    "I'll come see it," I said.
    "Good," she said.  "And afterwards YOU CAN COME BACKSTAGE."
    I did, but it was never the same.  Back in LA I met with Mel at Fox on a project of mine, and Annie came to lunch, a surprise guest.  I wrote something for her that she wanted to do, but we couldn't get it going.  Then I saw her in a restaurant with Mel and asked if I could get together with her, and she said "No," and I saw that her teeth were gray.  And after that came the news that she had cancer.  And then she was gone.
     I saw Mel a couple of times after that-- he was always ready with tips and wanted one or two from me.  I didn't see him again until last night.  God, he's funny.
     I know he didn't like getting older.  Some things we talked about in passing underscored that in the show last night.  But I loved it when he said "Look how handsome I was," about himself in an early movie.  
      And he was.  He really was.  But at the time, you couldn't see the forest for the laughs.     

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Jazz High in the Poconos

    So all these years after the demise of the original Birdland, when even the Faux, like Feinstein, have folded their musical tents, true jazz has literally taken to the road.  Down Route 80 to the Delaware Water Gap sits the Deerhead Inn, scene Saturday night of the birthday of the 89th birthday of Bob Dorough, legendary musician-- certainly to me.  When you mention Schoolhouse Rock, which Bob composed, even the twenty year old salesgirl at Banana Republic brightens with recognition.  But he is more, much more than that-- certainly to me.
   When I went to Paris to study music after Bryn Mawr, Bob was playing piano at the Mars Club, a cote to the rue Henri-Etienne, where the greats of the 50s, from Eartha Kitt to Blossom Dearie held sway.  At the time he was accompanying the after-hours singing act of the lead dancer in Porgy and Bess, a tall Kentucky woman who told me she was the daughter of a Cuban and a Watusi warrior, and I believed her, so charismatic and convincing was she.. and not a bad singer.  Her name: Maya Angelou.
     All these years later, Bob, God Bless him, is still warbling away, his rendition of Baltimore Oriole even more moving than was Hoagy Carmichael's.  And around him gather in the white-wooded farm-like splendor (if there can be splendor on farms) of the Deerhead Inn, a cluster of those who love what jazz used to be, and still is, at least here. Peter Grant on drums, John Eckert on trumpet, (passionate!) Tony Marino on heartfelt bass, and Steve Berger sweet on guitar, filled the clearer-than-city air with music on Saturday night.  
     Diana Krall did a hot version of Dorough's great number, "Devil May Care," but there's something pure and electrifying about Bob's own rendition.  Especially against a background of happy locals and dedicated waitstaff bringing spinach pies and salad and booze.  It is curiously uplifting to have this (seemingly) last vestige of Americana full out and free of pretension in this rural setting, one of the few places a real musician can find to hide out in public.
    In an era where you no longer make easy eye contact, as people trip down the sidewalks with glances focussed on their Iphones, it's beyond a gas, and the gas it takes to get there, to come across real musicianship.   Worth the journey.  Really a trip.

Saturday, December 08, 2012


    I had a great editor once, mad as a hatter, but brilliant: Donald (he had a middle initial, I think it was 'I',) Fine.  He had edited James Jones, Norman Mailer, a parade of the Greaties, so in spite of how crazy he was, I admired him, and often listened.  He was also hilariously funny in his insensitive way.  When my husband died, he called me and said "Well, I know you're upset.  But how do you think I feel?  I don't like many men."  So what could I do, but love him?
    When he was sick-- and devastated--- he had sold his publishing company to Hearst, then tried to buy it back, and they locked him out of his offices-- he was in Mount Sinai, dying of cancer, and wouldn't let anybody see him-- I had lunch with Kurt Vonnegut, whom I also loved purely, in spite of the accusations of his mad and cruel wife, and Kurt said to me about Don: "Go see him.  It'll do him good to see a pretty woman."  It was a compliment that reverberated in my soul, as Kurt had never said anything flattering to me, besides that Touching, my controversial novel that brought us together, was "well-written," which, considering the source, sounded to me like a symphony with full orchestra.
     So I'd gone to see Don, who was horrified when I showed up.  He did not quite throw me out of his hospital room.  But the wide-eyed glare that glowered at me was enough to show me what pain he was in, exacerbated by his being so vulnerable, actually embarrassed to be dying, as if there is something shameful about the end of life, especially when you are one who has exercised a lot of control.  I did not stay long, but made a friend of his nurse, so she let me know how he was, as long as he was.
      Don's favorite word was "ineffable."  It meant "unspeakable," or something so powerful that you couldn't say it, as I learned when I looked it up, which I had to as I had never heard it before I met him.  So much of my life since then has been garlanded with the ineffable, that I think of him all the time, which I hope is a fitting memorial.  He was a very little man, but in his nutsy way, a giant.  I wish that there were people like him in publishing today, which is more than a pipe dream.  They would have to be on another planet, considering what publishing has become.
       Don published two novels of mine, Marriage,  which is probably my best, and Romance,  which is fun but lightweight.  He did not have much success with either, as he told me one of his outlets told him "There's a shadow around this author,"-- or a word like shadow that I can't call up right now, that existed because of the lawsuit brought to 'Touching,' which was noisier than ineffable.   The big fat blowhard who conducted those nude encounters in LA that I had used as a setting for what I hoped would be a modern Madame Bovary, Paul Bindrim, a not-quite psychologist who was bald and clean-shaven and a florid egotist, whom I described in his fictional incarnation as "looking like Santa Claus," as far away from the reality as I could conceive, sued me for libel, saying I had ruined his nude-encounter business, because I looked at it with "a scathing eye.'  The case took seven years to come to court, and by that time he had grown a gigantic beard, let the fringe of his hair grow long, time had turned it white, so he looked like Santa Claus. So he had become the character in the book. T
   The jury was madder at me for having gone to a nude encounter than they were at him for giving one, and found against me, an argument that raged all the way to the Supremes.  Off the record which we now can be completely, since he is dead, the man was a sadistic shit, having his cohorts spread-eagle people in the pool and beat on their innards.  It was a frightening experience, and after he died, his obituary included the people he'd driven mad and/or to suicide.  Too many years after the trial, and the subsequent review by the Court, to do me any good.  Or Don Fine either.
       But I am thinking of him so hard now, in the absence of any real heros in the publishing world, or even a few who are less than strong, as we watch what seems to be the death of books.  The stores are gone, except for a few, and when a friend of mine who has leather-bound, signed  first editions that she wanted to sell, and asked for an outlet, the smartest woman I know said "No one wants books anymore."
      Oh it is so sad.  Ineffable, really.  Still, I have the last book I gave to Don Fine, discovered, uncovered, really, after the floods here, when I went down into my basement locker to see if there was any damage.  And there it was, this little book that he would have been brave enough to publish because he really liked my writing, THE DAUGHTER OF GOD.  At the last minute, all those minutes ago, I declined to give it to him, because he wanted my next novel included in the deal, and my lawyer didn't think that was a fair deal.
      So here it is, or here it soon will be: "This time," it begins, "instead of a manger, he was born in Youngstown, Ohio.  And this time he was a girl.  Father always liked a good joke."
      To make it clear: Christ comes back as a woman.  Not a moment too soon.
      I am self-publishing, an expression that sounds horrible to me, but what can you do?  I would dedicate it to Don Fine, but he didn't believe in the Afterlife.  So I am dedicating it to a friend who really believes in this one.
     There is wonderful art, sketches that look to me like they could be by Rembrandt, by my gifted friend Joel, who, for purposes of this book is Joe L.  I hope you will all seek it out, and be happily astonished.  As it turns out, I believe we are all Holy.  Well, maybe not Bindrim.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


    So I had the great seeming privilege of seeing what has to be the hot ticket of the current coming season, the recently ex-Mrs. Tom Cruise in Dead Accounts which I thought was going to be about dead accountants.  As it was, it was about a jammed night in the theater, because apparently there is great curiosity about seeing her in the pretty flesh, or many people know that Norbert Leo Butz, her co-star, or as should be correctly heralded, the one who carries any show he's in, so whoever else is in it doesn't matter, even if she was married to Tom Cruise.  The play is a less than a slight comedy with a premise that turns out to be ingenious but is revealed too late, set in a wonderful kitchen with a roof that recedes and has slats in it and lights up in brilliant ways in-between scenes.  But none of it is substantial enough to make up for the price of the ticket, even when, as in my case, it was free, as I was invited by Rex Reed.  He was, from all appearances, slightly more infuriated than I by the events, or lack of them, onstage.  
    But we were both enchanted by Norbert Leo Butz who tears through and up anything he's in, a marvel of charm and multilayered gifts, though we were both concerned about his health as he eats about six pints of ice cream in the first scene and even if it's yogurt he has to be in trouble unless he goes offstage and throws up or it's Activia in which case he'd have the runs.  He also swills several cans of Coke it looks like (I had a very good seat since I was with Rex) in which case he would have to be up all night from the caffeine.
   All of this compulsive behavior happens immediately, so one is so caught up in the frenzy that the presence of the sweet(I have to assume she is) Katie Holmes seems very much beside the point, as it probably was to Tom Cruise.  She is slender and solicitous, as her voice is, so one strains for a note of specialness, that doesn't really make itself evident until just before the curtain call, when she lets down her hair in a Rapunzelian moment, as if to tell us what there is/was of special femininity that got her into such an elevated(in terms of US magazine) position, Hollywoodmarriagewise.  The play itself is even more fragile than she is, and it is not until the second young woman, as the recent ex-wife of Norbert appears, with an even reedier voice that Katie sort of holds her own.
    One has to wonder, in this era of multi-million dollar losses, global tragedies, and the recent devastation in this once great city, why anyone would put up several million, which even the flimsiest of productions costs on Broadway, for what could be at best a modest success.  There is a wisp of wit in what is revealed, at too long last, as Norbert's folly, a clever crime for which we do not know the results or ramifications by the final curtain, and remains a puzzle as theatergoers who have never seen each other before are brought into a kind of camaraderie as they leave, asking what were until that moment complete strangers, "Did you understand the ending?"
    Jack O'Brien, usually a very clever director, maybe understood.  Theresa Rebeck who wrote the thing, is, according to my host, a great favorite of critics.  So perhaps one of them will be moved to explain it.  Meanwhile, the woman who played Norbert's mother, Jayne Houdyshell, was valiant, and Josh Hamilton, a touching Cincinnati pal of everyone in that terrific kitchen, got to kiss Katie, which seemed a source of great relief to the audience, all of whom were probably wondering the same thing:  Huh?

Saturday, November 24, 2012

An Old Friend Found

     Saw a remarkable play, very sad, but good, about end of life, called THE OUTGOING TIDE, conveniently just a few blocks up 59th Street at a nice little theater,59 E. 59th Street,  acted very well by Peter Strauss, Ian Lithgow(John's son, and a ringer for him) and my old, loved friend Michael Learned.  Michael played Xantippe, Socrates' wife, in a staged, gorgeously dressed reading of a play I wrote some years ago, called THE WOMEN UPSTAIRS, about what the women were doing during Plato's Symposium.  Kind of the other side of the quad from the fellows who ruled the day.
     It was veddy intellectual, and I went back to Bryn Mawr to write it at the invitation of President Pat McPherson, to make sure it was authentic.  When I'd told Pat the idea, she said "Tell Mabel."  So I had the great joy of working with Mabel Lang, great Greek professor and formidable (and scary she seemed to me as an undergraduate)scholar, who waltzed me through ancient Athens so I actually thought I had been there.  We sort of constructed the text together, or, at least, she aimed me in the right direction for every scene which I then wrote and returned for her approval.  When it was finished, I brought her flowers.  And she said, this woman I had thought intimidating, "But I should be giving flowers to you!! I've never done anything CREATIVE before."  And with the word 'creative', she actually danced around the office.  This epitome of the old spinster schoolteacher.
     It was as heart-lifting a moment as I've had in my life.  And the play was actually funny if you didn't mind blank verse.   I wrote it in that because on the way there, in Philadelphia, I'd dropped my typewriter, it still was then, so the carriage locked halfway across the page.  I took that as a sign, and a guide to the direction I was meant to go, as I often do with  what otherwise would seem disasters, and so wrote the whole thing in blank verse.  With songs, yet, ancient seeming but really quite melodic and lovely, I must say in all lack of humility, written singing, as I wafted around the campus I loved, realizing I was having a blessing, to be able to return to that great institution in what is laughingly called mid-life, hang out, swim, write, and be with what was going on then with the undergrads. It was a true rejuvenation, in every sense.  
     Joanna Semel Rose, about whom I have written before-- she was the smartest one in the college when I was an undergraduate, a few years ahead of me-- was kind enough to love the play, and sponsored a production some years later.  But early on there was this glorious staged reading in Beverly Hills at the Canon theatre, in gorgeous costume, where Michael played Xantippe, and a raft of lovely actresses played the other roles, and a beautiful young woman with a gorgeous voice played Chorus, and sang the songs.
    I hired a videographer to record the evening, memorable and exquisite as it was.  She forgot to plug in the sound cable.  I marked it a huge leap in my spiritual journey that I did not kill her.
     But I still have the tape, pre-recorded of Michelle, the singer, (I think Piper Laurie had found her for me) so the lovely songs, and they were, still exist.  They played them off stage for the production that Bryn Mawr did with Joanna's backing.  This time the students were in charge of arranging the videotaping, which once again went awry.  So I have to believe it wasn't meant to be.  Oh well.
    Anyway, I am happy to have seen Michael, although the play, except for the performances which were upliftingly fine, was a downer.  Afterwards Michael and some other friends of hers who had come to see the play had a sidewalk discussion about end of life plans, in which I did not participate.  I mean I still barge through life as if everything were still ahead.  And who knows.  Maybe it is.
   A musical?  Some more songs?  A new book?  An agent who reads?  God?    

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Purpose of Life

    As it seems to be, as we move into Thanksgiving, is to enjoy it.  Celebrate our ability to cook, as much as the joy of having a really stupid bird to do it to, and the revealed fact that we have hearts to open and check if everyone we know has someplace to go.  We are, I believe, a genuinely caring people, we Americans, even if we get sidelined into absurdity with a frequency that is dazzling.
    Now that the first blush, and the deeper reddening of the Petraeus scandal is off the rose not to mention various body parts of America, especially Paula's upper arms, the newspapers can return to their real interest: war.  I have been pondering the last few days the early days of literature, Homer and the rest of the kids, wondering why it is that humanity has been consistently propelled in the direction of battle and conquest.  I mean, God comes into this a little, I would think, since Bill Maher notwithstanding, these past few weeks with their disasters and salvations have sung to me clearly of the Hand of God.  Even as parts of the country sank, its basic spirit was lifted, along with its continuation as an evolving manifestation of its founding principles.  All sounding pretty arch, unless you actually read them, and see what Greaties Jefferson and Franklin were from the creative point of view, not to mention sentence structure.
    So the United States for the moment having been preserved, except of course for the states that now wish to secede, the Middle East is free to flare up, which it could not wait to do.  It's a head-scratcher really, though, why people want to hurt each other, our tenure on the planet being so short and fragile to begin with.  I have to figure it's about greed, fear, all the negatives of human nature that make us willing and ready to hurt.
   But not on Thanksgiving.  
   To cure myself of this mawkish love of country I am going to all the movies just coming out.  Yesterday, Tuesday, which I thought was Wednesday, I saw Starlet, a curiously touching little movie with Dree Hemingway, Papa's granddaughter, who is indeed as charming and fine-featured as one would wish, and apparently sufficiently free-spirited enough to unselfconsciously play a young porn star.  Today I am going to see everything else, before making my contribution to the Thanksgiving dinner at Sue's house, up a few flights of stairs.  Some of my closest friends in life have been Sues, but this one belongs to the Angel Carleen, whom I have known and loved since San Francisco.  I am making Cranuberry Much, a side dish I learned to make when I went to a cooking class in D.C. during the tenure of Jimmy Carter, when I was learning about my country from Marty Hoffman, patriot husband of my loved classmate Muggy, and staying with Sally Nevius, who took me to her cooking class, where, because of the then current climate, they taught turkey and Grits. 
    Cranuberry Much has chopped celery in it, only slightly cooked, so it crunches.  I have the same feeling about America.     

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Day of Redemption

   So today was, after all the difficulties that have, I would venture, captured our attention, from not losing our country, which we didn't, (relieved exhale) to finding out a great general was only a man(what a Surprise!) nonetheless a very positive day.  Certainly for me, at least.
   I had the great pleasure of meeting with the smartest woman to go to Bryn Mawr, which is really saying something, and afterwards seeing the scion of a great restaurant family in his new digs.  The woman, Joanna Semel Rose, frightened me when I knew her towards the end of her college career, as she was so patently smart I felt failed in her company.  This was later enhanced and intensified when I had the great pleasure of meeting and interacting on a pretty deep level with Joe Mankiewicz, the great writer/director of some of the best films of our time, or at least that time, and he reinforced my impression of her, as she had worked for  him. Joe had been at a dinner at Bennett Cerf's, where he expressed the opinion that of all the writers who were bestsellers at the time, the only one who was really a good writer was Gwen Davis-- I didn't know him, and was yet to meet Bennett, who told me when we did meet that he said at that dinner: "That's going to cost me some money," as he was bidding for my next book.(He didn't get it, but Doubleday did, and it was TOUCHING, which ended up in an important publishing scandal/setback/disappointment/borderline obscenity, and was the reason for my friendship with Kurt Vonnegut, which made the whole ordeal worthwhile.) 
    Anyway, I loved Joe, who came to visit me in San Francisco with his wife,  and he loved Joanna.  So in the ensuing years I always felt privileged if a little handicapped to be in her company, as she is truly extraordinary, and a great argument for women, many of whom are incredibly special and making the world a better place.  We spent some good time today and she approved of my new book, which means a great deal to me, though I am not saying what it is because I am publishing it anonymously, as I think befitting, since if I didn't have the consciousness of the great women(and some not so great) who have helped fashion me, it wouldn't exist.  So I feel it is from all of us.  To the benefit of all of us, I distinctly hope.
   After that, I stopped in to the new Sirio's on Fifth Avenue.  Sirio Maccioni was the great restaurateur I wrote about for The Wall Street Journal Europe when I had my strange and curious and unexpected career with them, and I loved him and Egi, his wife, and their sons.  Marco was dashing, handsome and charming, and I worried about him, because I wondered how it would affect someone so open-hearted and caring (he really loved dogs, including mine) to have such an overwhelming dad.  But I am delighted to report he not only grew more handsome and genial, he seems completely on top of his act, not to mention Sirio's.  The new restaurant is flagrantly glamorous, and people seem to be flocking to its dashing interior by Adam Tihany, where they actually look as tastefully glittering as the place.  
    I was genuinely relieved, as I have watched with some regret the downsizing of 'Dashing' during my run on the planet, as people seem to have lost interest in what is genuinely attention-worthy.  Instead we have really silly people capturing what is the truly diminished limelight, like the Kardashians, who have nothing really going for them but a bright dead lawyer  father who I think would be embarrassed.  So it is a joy to see an heir of a darling family standing up to fully meet the task, better-looking than ever, increasingly gracious, married to a lovely woman who has produced yet another winner, Massimo.  I so love Happy Endings, or, even more, Happy Continuings.

Monday, November 12, 2012

How Silly We Are

     So having just averted losing this great country as its Framers envisioned it, to the audible relief of a winning percentage of its inhabitants, (you could hear the exhale, almost as palpable as the storm,) we can now return to our true preoccupation: gossip.  That the staid New York Times, since its exhale, has right hand columned Petraeus' infidelity shows what a still young and very funny country we are.
    When I was visiting my friend the journalist Sandra Burton in Paris where she was a bureau chief, every afternoon at 4 the limousine of Mitterand would park downstairs on the rue Meziere, where lived in the same building Dominique Sanda.  Of course it was France, so people hardly noticed.
    How silly we are, and how sad that the poor man can't just do a little tap dance on the side, exhausted and stressed as he had to be,without being lynched.
Oh, well.
On the local destruction front, the ugly crane that snapped outside my window has been secured, but that doesn't help the building.  Along with being silly, we are apparently so greedy that the skyline of Manhattan is being savaged by this monstrosity, with its undulating blue and yellow facade that looks like a poor grade of plastic.  The seemingly better news is it will go only up to the 75th floor, not the 100th as was previously rumored.  And the hundred and first floor penthouse bought by an Arab in advance will be only the Seventy-fifth floor, though he is still an Arab.
     During the snow I took refuge at a restaurant behind my building.  The only other patron  turned out, as is my wont, to be a story: he is an engineer for the building.  So he did tell me of how cheap the materials are that he is using, and how other owners in this city are not that different from Donald Trump, though one hopes they are not such stupid bullies.
   Ah, New York.  Destination of Dreamers and those with true aspirations.  But that was Ago.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


    Well, we aren't exactly dancing in the streets, the streets being hobbled by a serious snowfall.  But mark how it came the day AFTER the voting, so people were not discouraged from going to the polls.  
    I am convinced in the part of me that is a serious secret believer, that all this was the hand of God-- don't tell Bill Maher.  That for all the horror of the storm, the loss in life and property, it gave Obama the opportunity to appear presidential, which he is, and so saved this country.  And it is a great country, that deserves to continue on the idealistic rails that were laid down by the Framers, who, the best of them at least(Ben Franklin and Jefferson) believed in Reincarnation.  So I hope they were here to see.
    But we are embracing in the hallways.  Cerene, the wonderful, big-breasted bird who helps keep this building in order, and brings me clean sheets and a vacuum cleaner once a week, said she had to give me a hug, and did, as she knew how worried I was.  It was like being a part of a very high end soap opera-- nobody knew how it would turn out; the suspense was terrible and wonderful.  But it gave a reason to get out of bed every morning, and fall asleep at long, restive last,  every night.
    A reason to live, really, loving your country,  caring deeply what happens to it.  And seeing it work the best it can work, when people really put themselves on the line, or at the end of it.
    Cerene had to wait an hour and a half to vote, after waiting a useless half hour that got her no nearer to her vote, making it necessary for her to go home and get something to eat (she is diabetic) and then come back and wait again.  But it was worth it, because we won.  The country won.
     I would like to say something gracious about Mitt Romney, as our president did, saying he was going to meet with him and enlist his thoughts about the future, but I can't.  That Obama was that generous of spirit is proof of who the man is, after the flanks of Romney's army stood stubbornly insisting Ohio was not over, his minions waiting at the airports with their suitcases read to fly out and fight against the announced result.  I did not see Obama's victory speech until today, I was so exhausted last night, having fought this whole campaign right along with him, at least in my belly, which was heavily engaged.  I think all  felt this way who supported him, even those of us who had friends we could temporarily not speak to, because it was so hard to understand how they could possibly support Mitt.  I mean, just listen to his name.  Reaction to who he was, or, more important, who he wasn't, was absolutely visceral.  Much as I didn't like W., I never felt quite the same degree of distrust and.. sorry, God... loathing.
     He seems to me, Romney does, to be the box he came in.  
     So thank God, who had a vested interest in this great Republic from its very beginning-- check the beliefs of its Founding Fathers.  And thank all of you who voted.  Even those who voted against him, because that was all part of the drama.  Apparently even the Almighty enjoys great Theater once in a while.  Or else He/She wouldn't have given us Shakespeare, and, at too long last, someone as intelligently eloquent as this remarkable man.  

Sunday, November 04, 2012

The Sword of Damocles

    The broken crane on 57th Street hangs over my neighborhood like the Sword of Damocles, an expression that many of us have used all our lives, that we may not have known the meaning of exactly, like my friend Susie confessed, and I shared in the ignorance.  Apparently in the court of Dyonisus there was a sycophant (we all know what that means) named Damocles, who envied Dionisus it may be spelled, until he said "Maybe you'd like to walk in my shoes" which he didn;t say exactly but may have been thinking how Bob Dylan might make it into a song.  So they changed places, and Damocles had a fine time enjoying all the wealth and comfort until he noticed a sword hanging over his head, and Dionisus told him "That's how I feel all the time, governing."  
    The sword that hangs over us at this moment, forgive me, Republicans, many of whom I count as true friend, is Mitt Romney.  I have never been so uneasy in my life.  Call me on Wednesday.  He is not so much an unknown as an empty suit, a bully, and a man who changes postures as some change their clothes.  I'm scared.
    But today I saw a movie that actually made me forget the election: A LATE QUARTET.  Rush.  It is an argument for art like none I have seen before, and I am grateful and cleansed by the experience.
    Along with other disasters, my MAC, preceding the disaster, died, and I have now to go to the Apple store on 5th(I am at the one on the West Side,) to see how much, if any of it, can be saved.
    These are the times that try men's heels.  Are you listening, Mitt?

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Halloween Postponed

    Last night was a disappointment to the children in my neighborhood, with the exception of Eva.  Eva is a bright, beautiful tiny dark-eyed provider of light in my building, even when the electricity might fail, as was feared with the recent dreadful disaster/crisis brought about by Hurricane Sandy, that flooded much of the East Coast and gave the lie to those who refuse to acknowledge Global Warming. (I just made a typo, and wrote 'Global Warning,' which I think it indeed was.)  
    Anyway, Eva, all pink and sequined in her Fairy ensemble, with a tutu and shiny shoes, and a wand that she was to have tapped along with the spoken 'Abracadabra' that she could not quite manage, still being two,-- though she did say 'Baba da kababa' while hitting me on the head with her wooden, sequined star wand--  was undeterred from the wonders that are Halloween to the kids, and those of us who are still basically kids enough so it is our favorite holiday.  She passed me in the hall on the way to meet her grandmother, who is lucky and clever enough to live in the same building, so she can see this little package of delight as much and as often as she wants to.  
    But the story on the street was different, as confused tourists dragged wheeled suitcases to different hotels, the planes having been cancelled and buildings in this vicinity evacuated because of the hanging crane on 57th street, a testament to the greed of men even if they aren't Mitt Romney.  The building was a hideous, plastic blue and yellow(can you imagine?)  eyesore going up, in this unnecessarily overbuilt city, where there are already too many empty apartments because no one has the money to live in them, but of course there is an Arab who has paid a rumored ninety million dollars for a yet-to-be-gotten to hundredth floor, which will be only seventy five floors in reality, enough to destroy the view of Central Park for for those who live in Carnegie Tower, and more than enough to ruin the previously iconic skyline seen from Central Park.  Quelle horreur!   
    There was a mystical thrust for me for the event.  I had called my teacher of the spirit, the consciousness raising maestro Jack Kornfield, with whom I have studied since the 70s, to ask for an assignment for Halloween, hoping for inspiration.  Jack, probably tired from non-stop workshops and lectures, rather than doing a guided meditation, said I should read The Tempest during the tempest.  I did, and as a once Shakespeare major, was stunned by how much I missed, and wished I had a summary of the plot, the kind of thing my stepfather Puggy used to read to us at dinner on Thursday nights before we went to the Met, something he had a season subscription to, in order to feel as rich as he had struggled to become, having been an impoverished and orphaned Jew who had risen high (read The Motherland.)  All during the Milton Cross summary, my mother would nag "Skip! Skip!"  But he never did, and we would go by limousine(not so much a symbol as proof of the fact that he was afraid to learn to drive) to the Met, then on 39th St.  Once in his seat, one of four, he would turn devotedly to the opera and promptly fall asleep.  So my experience of opera is limited, and except for a few, less than addicted.   
    Still, when I walked on Broadway and saw that the Met, now at Lincoln Center, a few blocks from where I live, was playing that VERY night a new opera of The Tempest, I did consider it an answer to a kind of prayer, and bought a ticket.  So there I was, beside a lovely couple from Brazil, who had endured the hardships of this difficult time, staying in a hotel downtown where there was no power, and no hot water, his young wife being pregnant.  He is a lawyer and an opera buff, but what he was looking for was a genuine opera, and this one is modern, atonal and dreadful, and had I not been seated next to them, finding them dear and interesting, would have left at the first intermission.  There were scenic splendors, but the music was, in many instances, a literal screech, with Ariel, the spirit in thrall and service to Prospero, actually screaming her entrance.  All in all an agony, except that I'm now clear on the plot, though I still wonder what it was that Jack would be teaching as he expressed a wish to do.  Shakespeare's magic is, I'm sure, a course for scholars.  But I would have enjoyed actual music.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Carnegie Hall

    So having returned to New York filled with a wish to love New York, the first day here, still mildly jet-lagged, I bought a ticket for Barbara Cook's 85th birthday appearance at Carnegie Hall.  Still mildly out-of-touch, I did not anticipate the huge turn-out that would be there for her being alive, and still really touchingly able to sing, if hardly able to walk.
     Though not as old as Barbara, I was in my young prime when she was not only a lovely performer, but still mobile enough to be considered perfect for the lead in my then brand-new musical, now called SYLVIA WHO? by my actual producer, a (I thought) lovely man who rejoiced in its being all the work of one person, and introduced me to the audience at his backer's audition as the three people who wrote book, music and lyrics.  Anyway, he went to New York to see Barbara who had to go Christmas shopping, so would not commit.
    The long list of disappointments and abandonment that transpired after that-- none of his previous backers would come back, as he had been a bit of a scoundrel, robbing Peter to pay Paul, or in his case, Richard(Harris) to support Rex (Harrison,) will make for a fine tale of unthwarted resolve, should it ever come together.  After that there were no more major supporters, except for my friends the Temples who loved it and came through with financing for the recording Rosemary Clooney did of the score-- her participation was in exchange for sandwiches for the musicians, because she, too, great generous spirit, thought it "what people needed to hear... They're just waiting for this."  And of course they still are.
    Anyway last night I went to see Barbara, whom I had seen in The Music Man when she was still adorable, that being the musical that most heartens me since it took Meredith Wilson more than fifteen years to get it on, which record I have since long exceeded. But the good news is that the only great thing about our economy is it's right for the musical-- makes it all make perfect sense.  So maybe everything is a question of timing.  
      My take on the audience-- chock-a-block, not a spare seat in the whole many tiers of that great auditorium-- is that they both grieved for her loss(she apparently had one great love, which is more than a lot of people had, as I had) and supported her gain, the weight that would, of course, make it impossible even if she were still young to do a demanding musical, which SYLVIA WHO? certainly is.  Her voice continues to be wonderful, and except for one ill-chosen (and not very good) song about how she loves to eat, the songs she sang were great.
    Most moving was "If I Love Again," which really tore me apart though by that number I had waxed cynical, and her dismissal of Cole Porter had antagonized me, as he would have been a very good friend of mine, had I ever met him, as I did have the good fortune to do with Frank Loesser and Yip Harburg, both of whom were kind enough to endorse me as a talent.  And I do, after all, have the same birthday as Irving Berlin, which I always considered validation from the universe.
    But in any case, as I left after her last number and a standing ovation from the audience, and walked up the aisle, I noted one woman's face that was wracked with pain and adoration, as she was obviously torn apart by worship and the bond of lost something, love, maybe, youth, aspiration.  Right after that, as i reached the last row and started to exit the hall, a musician came in named Pete Pizzi-something to give Cook the honor Bloomberg had accorded her, making her a living landmark of New York, and then lowered the level of the tribute by bringing on his wife to sing a song, which I could feel even that far away from the stage really must have pissed Barbara off.  After all, it was her evening, and for him to capitalize on that audience to get a hearing for his wife was pushy and inappropriate.  In my opinion, anyway, which grows stronger every day as I worry over a country that could be stupid enough to vote for Mitt.  Oh, well-- that's show business.    

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

My Country, 'Tis for Sale

    So I went yesterday to the Players, the wonderful club started by Edwin Booth, loved by Mark Twain, and all manner of Greaties of the Past, that has fallen onto hard times along with everyplace else that is not funded by the Koch brothers, to hear Colin Powell, as I guess I am allowed to refer to him, as he has long since retired from being a General.  My beloved friend Sandy Burton,sharp, keen, impeccable journalist, and first woman Bureau Chief at Time, would have taken the offered post as Washington Bureau chief had he run for president, as many hoped he would do.
    He was there yesterday to flog his new book, and was gently witty as he told us what a leader had to be, the most important thing being "kind."  He told one anecdote that was scored with audience(a huge one, the place was overfull) laughter, involving George W. Bush, whom he said he had briefed on everything necessary to know before the meeting, because "I'm no fool."  Everybody chortled, as we all know who was.
    Anyway, he was quietly riveting, and did explain why he didn't run for president-- he didn't have the passion for it, he said.  We know who does have the passion for it, though he clearly has no passion for anything else, being one of the most bloodless and uninspired human beings(I am giving him the benefit of the doubt, ascribing humanity to him) I have ever seen, and that is Mitt.  Never have I seen anyone more patently empty, feigning having something inside.  It is all so sad, this election.
    I would have liked to have asked the General how we end these wars, but of course that wasn't his job.  His job was the best way to keep them going, and of course trying to win.
    As for this election, I have just submitted this editorial to the NYTimes, among the  last bastions of Liberty.  Last night made me sick.  "Sinister" is originally a word that meant, in other languages, ' left.'  But here it is 'right'.  Mitt Romney is sinister.  Feigning every emotion including emotion, he scared me.  Where will we go if he wins?
    God Bless America, or, in this case, God help America.
    Here's the piece.    
    The saddest thing about this election, for those of us who grew up with a genuine love of country, is the loss of what made us America.  That was, from my vivid recollection, a deep admiration for the Framers,-- men like Jefferson, Franklin and Washington, who overcame impossible odds and chilling hardships to put us, literally, on the map.  That was the country I was born in, undeniably the greatest country in the world, where, because of the education that was available, and the prevalence of American initiative, once known as "gumption," everyone had a chance, with hard work, to be whatever they wanted to be.
    All of this seems to have gone out the window with the partisan divisions that threaten to tear us apart.  Even worse, the deep pockets of the SuperPacs, which could build shelters for the homeless, feed the hungry, and solve myriad problems here and around the world, are being plumbed solely to to buy this election.
  Sadly, we are not as smart as our history should have educated us to be.  That it will end up being how much money is spent to fool the largest number of the mindless, riveted to their TVs, that will could determine our future, is the new American Tragedy.

Friday, October 12, 2012


    So on September 19, with a frazzled and harried heart, I made it to the Trattoria del Arte to have lunch with Wendy Weil, a bright and (I thought) spiritually radiant literary agent, if it is not a contradiction in terms to imagine an agent could radiate spirit.   But Wendy had gone to Wellesley, one of Bryn Mawr's sister colleges, giving it immediate cache in my mind, since little has served me as well as my Alma Mater, which it turned out really to be, the friends I made, and the presidents I knew there having given me strength and validation over the years.  Wendy was also the clerk of a Friends' alumni group, and having spent a sizable part of my inner questing at Quaker meetings, there was that, too, to be explored.
    We had made a short inroad into real friendship some years ago, even though she had declined to represent my Venice book, although admitting she had enjoyed and been fooled by it, but didn't think she could sell it.  But after that we went out one night to hear her friend Nancy, a contemporary, (meaning that she, too, was tiptoeing into her seventies) do a cabaret act of Yip Harburg songs, Yip having been my mentor and lyrical father figure for the beginning of my would-have-been career as a songwriter.
     But I was really looking forward to the lunch, as my return to New York had been less than wondrous, there being few people here to whom I feel connected, and the general sense of urgency surrounding almost every step you take in this city being in direct confrontation to the peace I had managed to maintain the past few months. The lunch, being so happily anticipated, had been nearly scuttled by some hysteria surrounding my daughter in Arizona, and I was relieved to be still in New York to catch up with Wendy, and threw the whole unpleasant story on the table when I got to the restaurant, late, which she immediately pointed out was not my usual style.  She fielded all the grim personal stuff with  gentle panache, and we ordered lunch.   I know better than to reveal stuff I am going through with my children to someone who would rather be someplace else, but I couldn't help myself. And she was very kind, but then, even though she didn't have children, we shared a love for dogs. 
      Anyway I told her not to worry about my new manuscript, which I thought I'd brought with me in an envelope, that she should just read it for pleasure, as I understood from the way things were in the book business, that it would never be published.  When it turned out I'd brought the wrong manuscript, she walked me back to my apartment, so I could go upstairs and get the right one, and waited in the lobby while I scoured through my papers to find the right one, which I couldn't.  When I went back downstairs she smiled and said "I knew you were looking for it and couldn't find it," and assured me that my e-mailing it to her office would be fine, even though we were both of the generation that liked to turn pages.
     "And you don't know that it will never be published," she opined most sweetly, and we said our goodbyes.  The next day she e-mailed me that my e-mail hadn't gone through, and the day after that, that her office e-mail had been corrected, and she had the book.  That was Friday.
     Saturday she died.
     I did not find that out till Monday, when her office e-mailed everybody I guess.  I have not been struck so low, or so unexpectedly, in all the years since Don died, and for that I had some preparation.  I have been off kilter since I heard, deeply sad and feeling... what?  Things so deep and unexpected they puzzle me.  I think of the Quakerly things we might have discussed had the friendship had time to flower. I think of the gentle, smiling way she said "You don't know that it will never be published," and wondered if that was her Inner Light, the Quakerly thing that guides that religion, or some prescience she might have had.
     Whatever it was, I have been blown away since, sorrowing over her, wishing there was something I could do, when that's the thing about Death-- there really is nothing. It's over.
     Then last night I suddenly understood the depth of my grieving, for this woman I believe was wonderful, but in fact hardly knew.  It was not just Wendy I was grieving; it was Death.  It just seems so irrational.  Much as we know it is coming for everyone, it appeared, this time at least, completely out of line.
    She was there, she was perky, she had light in her eyes, she was kind. And then she was gone.  It makes no sense, for all that it is real.  The realest.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

My Parents' Anniversary

    I am always grateful when I wake up in the morning, because I realize I could have died in my sleep.  
    Yesterday, October 4th, was a really hard day for those who believe in Truth, and positive movement, it being the let-down-day after the  much-anticipated first debate between Barack and Mitt, whose name was until Oct. 3rd, a good projection of his oafishness. But since our president let us down Big-time, and not a single lie out of Mitt's mush was pointed out or argued, or even minimally Reaganed, ("There you go again",) I think I will spend today, Oct. 5th, in bed. 
     Last night was also the date that my parents, Lew and Helen, got married, their wedding party in the basement of her family's Oakland home in Pittsburgh, which my Aunt Rita, the only surviving member of the Finks(no kidding, that was their name,) was not allowed to attend because it embarrassed my mother that she had a sister that young, Rita having been Grandma Gussie's change-of-life surprise.  Helen was expecting that after the ceremony Lew would whisk her to the loftier environs of Squirrel Hill, where dwelt the more arrived, upmarket immigrant Jews, of which his Romanian father was one, -- the only one who could get credit in the new country, so opened an account that all the frightened and unsettled  comers could charge their purchases to at Kaufman's and Gimbel's, paying back Grandpa Adolf(the perfect name for him) at what I am sure were usurious rates. A sweetie he wasn't, -- in the words of my Grandpa Moisch (a sweetie he was,) "If you have a Romanian for a friend, you don't need an enemy."
     Then, to my mother's horror, after the party Lew simply whisked her upstairs to her crowded family apartment, where I was also to live when born, which I apparently was.  That is maybe the only reason to be glad about the October 4th date, as the marriage did not work out Big Time, police being called at regular intervals when my father beat my mother, something she brilliantly provoked, telling him what a loser he was, usually on her back on the floor kicking in bicycling circles in the air, where his balls were shortly to be as he charged in to strangle her.  It was a lively babyhood, some of which was recalled as Mitt charged in for the kill.  I have rarely been so disappointed.
    But that was somewhat ameliorated last night when I went to the Players' Club on Gramercy Park,where there were some delightful people arguing the eventual- let us hope-- beside the pointedness of just one debate.  All present, though amiable, seemed to be suffering in different ways, to different degrees, some because they were young and just starting out in uncertain times, some because they were no longer so young, and a few because they were attached to the club, and the club-- with its John SInger Sargent portrait on the still well-maintained walls of Major Player Edwin Booth,-- is suffering because people are lax with dues, or unwilling to spend on joining.  
    Still it is a nice place, and they were bright and overall, kind.  I will return there again on Wednesday, when Colin Powell will appear in the afternoon.  I must do that especially since my lost,  beloved Sandy would have considered taking the post as Washington Bureau chief of TIME Magazine, which was offered her, only if Powell had chosen to run for president, which, alas, he chose not to do, bringing less than glory to our presidency (except maybe for Bill) and posts for Sandy which turned out, eventually, to be lethal.
   But I happened (?-- or are our steps all guided?) on Miguel Covarrubias' Island of Bali again.  He wrote that the elders of Bali, not acknowledging that they are getting older and so physically disintegrating, are supported by supernatural powers that are so impressed they come in to bring strength and, oh well, why not, supernatural powers.  So I invite them all in so I can hold my head up long enough to accomplish that which I hope to accomplish.
   And that, perhaps, will be a justification for the anniversary that commemorates, on the face of it, little to be happy about.  Besides me, of course.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Shanah Tovah, I think

    I had some breakfast this morning in spite of the fact that I usually fast on this meant-to-be solemn occasion, because I was meeting the columnist Liz Smith for lunch, an old friend to whom I owed gratitude (she was very kind and supported me during the best of my writing career) -- I remember after the success of The Pretenders, and the election of Richard Nixon, after which we moved to England because we could,  I was sitting with her downstairs having breakfast in the Regency, where we staying because we could, when Robert ran by the window in his adorable toddlerhood. When he came in, she said "I saw you running in the street," and for several minutes after that, he chanted, ecstatic, "You saw me running in the street.  You saw me running in the street."  I believe it was the highlight of his New York visit, since he never liked anything more than being observed.
   She had also turned away some attractive man at a cocktail party who was interested in me, saying, very calmly but severely, "She's already taken." (I believe she really liked Don, as I did, too.)  The Pretenders had soared high on the bestseller list without much help from the publisher, being a surprise hit, and one of its most witty advocates in the Hearst papers had been Cholly Knickerbocker, whom I didn't know but who roundly admired my novel in print.  Then at a cocktail party, I was introduced to Liz Smith, and she said "I'm Cholly Knickerbocker."  After that we were great friends for a while, and she even marked the antics of my mother when she had her own column, so my mother felt like she, too, was a hit.
    I was very grateful to her, but then pressed for more publicity, as I was success-mad, and fearful it was going away, which it was, so Liz got mad at me.  Because my life has changed so completely, as I believe I have, I wanted to smooth it over before one or both of us left the planet (she is almost 90, and I am surprisingly old, having been the youngest one in my class at Bryn Mawr, and having started my life over after Don died, and several times since, writing travel for the Wall Street Journal Europe, my first real job since I was 20, when I had a brief run in the NBC Comedy Development Program, where I shared office space with Woody Allen, who was already smarter than I-- as he came in only on the day we got our checks, while I wrote a sitcom, songs, or a musical almost daily.)  So I made this date with Liz, which I did not want to re-set even though it was Yom Kippur, on which I almost never eat, though I am far from an observant Jew, or a steadfast observant anything, though Don said I should put in my reunion update that I was "a Quaker -Buddhist-Jew-- that'll really give them something to puzzle out at Bryn Mawr."
   Anyway I went to Swifty's. and she wasn't there, having apparently cancelled last night, but I didn't pick up the message, since most of the calls I've received lately have been disturbing for reasons I hope I am too private to put in a Report, as open(too) as I am.  So being uptown in a neighborhood where I used to live I decided to just wend my way home, chicly dressed as I was, and hoping that God, should He/She be looking, would see that I was making an effort to be present, the best thing I think you can be in this life, even as the mind wanders.
   First I went into the Christian Science Reading Room, to see if something could offer me illumination.  Neither any of their literature nor the messages opened and underlined in the window did it for me.  Then I went into a church-- I am not quite sure what denomination, and let the hymns fall open where they would, seeking guidance for the crap I am going through, and studying the Gothic architecture and the really lovely stained glass.   Then I passed a store called 'Worldly Things,' which was going out of business, and had a sign in its window saying 'The end of Worldly Things,' that I considered perhaps spiritually significant. But going inside, even their sacrifice prices were a bit too worldly.
   So I made my way to Temple Emanuel, where my parents belonged in my youth, and went through the side entrance for those who cannot afford to be in the congregation, passed through the metal detector and set it off with my new hip, and went downstairs, where there were hundreds of seats set up, and only about six or eight people in attendance.  But I heard the sermon from upstairs, and, more important, the singing voices of children, which kind of lifted me.  Then the woman rabbi read a story, but her reading was singsong and less than inspiring, so I left.
   And as I did, I encountered on the sidewalk a very fine-looking young father, holding a three-month old baby in his arms, fortunately a girl, as she had beautiful eyelashes, and it is only right that they should not be wasted on a boy.  "What's her name?" I asked the dad.
    "SYLVIA," he answered, immediately balming my soul, and giving my heart hope. For that, as my friends know, is the name of my musical, or was -- it is now
"SYLVIA WHO?"  And that is the reason I am back in New York, as the only really good thing about the economy is it's right for my musical.  It is the tale, begun long ago, but because of the way things are now, being timely and truly pertinent-- inspired by my mother-- of a widow whose husband leaves her a co-op on Park Avenue, and just enough money to pay the maintenance, so in order to live, in order to eat, she crashes parties, looking for love and free hors d'oeuvres.  That was, of course, what the late Helen Schwamm, aka Mom, did, except that in her case love came along a lot but never settled, though she was oft commemorated by Liz.  Nor did she have an apartment on Park Avenue, having panicked and sold everything of real value she had, silver, crystal, china, and a gorgeous place with terrace and many rooms on E. 60th Street for $60,000 to a British director whose name I don't remember since he wasn't very good, but struck a fine bargain with a woman who wasn't thinking.  From there she moved to the studio where I live now, as she was kind enough to leave it to me, but sad she divested herself of most everything but the chutzpah to crash parties.
    As old friends know I was originally a songwriter, (Frank Loesser said "Kid, you're the biggest talent since me.)  But Don told me early in our marriage: "You mix people up: you write plays and songs and poems and movies and books, and people are only comfortable if they can pigeonhole you.  So do one thing and one thing only and then you can surprise them."  So I wrote twelve books and figuring I had made my point, presented my musical to Jimmy Nederlander who rasped: "You're a bookwriter! What are you doing writing a musical?"
   So it's been a very long struggle to get people to listen.  The songs are, understandably, the kind of songs that used to be, because that's who Sylvia is. But they're good, and the lyrics say something, and the wonderful Rosemary Clooney whom I didn't know liked them so much she recorded them for me in exchange for sandwiches for the musicians.  Then one day during my recent sojourn in LA, as I swam in the pool at the Mosaic, an old friend appeared and said "I haven't forgotten about SYLVIA."  She would like to establish herself as a producer, is very sharp, and has the wherewithal and connections to do it.  But she isn't well, so I am, of course, praying for her good health.
  We'll see.  Meanwhile, there WAS that baby outside the temple.  You just never know when the signs mean something.  At least one can hope so.  Or, as Blanche DuBois might have said, slightly rewritten, "Sometimes there's God so slowly."

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Unexpected Mischief

    It is amazing what trouble I can find just walking through the park.  Example, below. This is the woman who was kind to me on Saturday, when I suffered over being rejected by someone I didn't even know, which is my way.  If you want to call her, that's up to you.  But I shall await the arrival of Jack Kornfield, my friend and teacher, to pick up my healing.
    Honest to God. 
    What a world! what a world! as Margaret Hamilton would say just before they threw the water on her in Wizard of Oz. 
    Breathe and stay healthy, and out of the way of.. how can I put it poetically?...bullshit?
    One day I will tell you about my adventure on Sunday, going to a beloved friend's husband's memorial service at Calvary Church in Stonington, Conn, on a train that left at 7 AM so I was up at 5 and got there at 7 and the service wasn't till 1.  So there I was all alone in an unknown venue but the sun glittered on the water, and I found some friendly faces and a few pelicans.  I wrote about it on my Ipad but can't send it as I forgot my password for that particular Apple device, which we know from yesterday's headline is from what will be the first company to break a trillion.
   Oh, I hope there is a Heaven, so Steve Jobs knows what he hath wrought.  Not to mention Ash Green, the great gentleman whose sad celebration it was.
    Here's the lady in the park.

About Kat Katsanis-Semel

Kat Katsanis-Semel, M.A., is a Reiki Master, an Integrated Energy Therapy® Master, an Angel Therapist® and a Magical Awakening® practitioner. She is the founder of KaTransformations, which is a revolutionary, personal transformation business. Kat received her Bachelor of Arts from Sarah Lawrence College, and her Master of Arts from New York University. Through introspection, as well as through her studies in academic and holistic health environments, Kat discerned her dharma, or life’s calling. Kat is called to support others in their personal evolution of moving from fear based belief systems, to those rooted in love. KaTransformations offers this support in an LGBTQ-welcoming paradigm, which reflects her core value of conscious inclusiveness.
(THE PLUG IN, whatever that means, I guess her picture, is missing.  But you get the idea.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Autumn in New York

So yesterday was spent traversing the doggie hot spots in Manhattan, looking for the little girl who can never replace, but might warm the spot formerly camped on by Mimi, whose loss, you may remember, sent me heartsick to a welcoming recuperation at a kind friend's home in Bali.  That of course resulted in two books, the first, one that was fun but didn't matter, SCANDAL, the second the task gnawing at my gut and heart since 2004, when a truly beloved friend died in a mysterious and improbable "accident" in Bali, never investigated, even though she herself was arguably one of the great woman journalists of our time-- certainly mine.  That book being finished, although orbiting into a world bereft of Barnes and Noble and publishers filled with purpose-- oh ghost of Maxwell Perkins, have you found anyplace to rest?-- felt like a true achievement, if not for my career, for my soul.
    Returning to what is essentially the supercharged, driven, but empty place that is New York New York if you are not on top of the heap or self-appointedly so (see Donald Trump) my apartment felt particularly vacant without Mimi.  So the lovely and kind Susan Dady, who worked with my magnificent mentor(character-wise, I could not hope to stand even a long way behind her, academically) Pat McPherson after she left her post as president of Bryn Mawr and went to the Mellon Foundation.  Pat had once again sent me looking for a dog, and knowing how susceptible I am, counseled me to take Susan along to give me ballast.  Our appointed meeting place was the pet store on Lexington where I had found Mimi, an aberration for a pet store, angel dog that she seemed and now is in fact, where I had the sense not to be taken in by the doggies in the window, advertised outside at $699 and being once you inquired, $2500 but they would come down a little. Really.  I mean even the wonderfully ugly dog who looked a bit like MuMu, the Dachshund/chihuahua that was one of the litter of three totally different mixed breeds all from the same mother(and three different fathers, apparently dogs can do that) that I had come to love in Bali, was over the top in price, $ 3300 but they would come down a little.
     We taxied up to the neighborhood where the adoptive pets were, had a tasty lunch on First Avenue and 110th Street at Wing Ho, vegetables and Lo Mein, then made our way to the place advertised where my new dog wasn't.  But they suggested we go to the ASPCA and the Humane Society further downtown.  So we did.  On the way, having saved $3300 but they would come down, I bought my first pair of heels since my recent realignment, checking if I could actually maneuver in them, which I believe I could if I had an arm, so that might become my second Manhattan quest after Whoever She Is.  At the Humane Society I made a human connection, with a wonderful, seemingly hard-bitten interviewer who morphed instantly into a sensationally accessible woman, we became friendly, and I am sanguine that if the dog exists, she will find her for me.  
      Then I hobbled home, this having been more on-the-ground running than I have done since returning to this city of cement sidewalks and hard countenances, everyone on their way to something, nobody being exactly where they are.  But all that will be put into clear perspective next weekend when my beloved teacher and friend, Jack Kornfeld, whom Don called my Jewru, comes to town, a gift from the universe during these troubled and confusing times, to teach at Omega, quartered while he's here at the Ethical Culture Society, just across the park from me.  
      Sometimes the blessings are so elusive, but in others, they are held out like welcoming hands.  With very soft skin, and no callouses. 
      That night I went to the opening of the antiques show at the New York Armory, loaded with flashy and over-the-top jewels,  beautiful furniture, and a cast of hundreds mooching free eats. Dinner on the sidewalk with my old friend Isobel, and then another long walk home.   So the next morning I went to the chiropodist, and then stopped in to see a friend with whom I shared a vet whose name I couldn't remember, and her receptionist told me she doesn't have the vet anymore, because her dog died. 
      I don't know. Maybe it's better if I don't get a pet.  When you love, in one way or another, you lose. 
      Then today, as I walked back through the park after catching up with the gorgeous Tarp children, Viktoria 3and 1/2 and Winston, a giant six months, and their beautiful parents, both of them making the world a better place (working for the UN in spots that need them)  I chanced upon a party on the grass behind a bench.  Two friendly Hispanics were sitting there drinking from silver chalices, having been invited, they told me, to share in the happiness.  The man whose half-happiness it was-- he and his partner were celebrating the partner's birthday, and the bench itself, he told me.  The birthday man said they had bought the bench so that their children and friends, when they were gone-- dead, I imagine, he meant-- instead of going to a cemetery friends and family could come to the park, sit there and remember them.  It seemed quite a beautiful idea, as the day itself was mild and beautiful, and the un-birthday boy invited me to come to the other side and share the happiness.
    There were two or three tables laid with wine and gorgeous cakes and pies, and although I took only a glass of water, I was impressed with the beauty and generosity of spirit.
     Not so fast.  This is, after all, New York.  The daughter Jennifer, a second grade school teacher, already knew we had the same name, both of them derived from Guinevere.  "It's my name, after all," she said.
     So basking in the benevolence, I just looked, and smiled, and then, it being my-- as they say in Italy, only in Italian(I don't want to show off)-- greatest virtue and worst fault that I am very, maybe completely open-- I tried to be friendly and asked the lovely Jennifer which of the cakes she had baked.  At that point she threw me out of the party.
     New York Hos, is what I dub that, fair Guinevere descendant.  Hos for hospitality, until a moment later when it becomes hostility.  So I left, at which point I encountered two women, one of them a healer/medium, and they both agreed that that was VERY  New York.  Open-hearted, with a knife in it.
     At that point the conversation turned to Mitt, the only one I imagine who has perhaps had a more tumultuous and upsetting few days than I have had, and the healer expressed the opinion that he was a sociopath, more extreme than the idea I had, which was that he is quite simply a moron, in an empty suit.  She said that what characterizes a sociopath is that they have no empathy, which young Mitt demonstrated at an early age when he cut the hair of the young gay guy.  They pointed out that this week he even turned on his poor, falsely smiling wife.  
     By then we had reached Columbus Circle and the two women went on to heal. intuit;whatever their plan was for the rest of the day, while I crossed the street to Fedex to pick up the print-out of my ticket to Mystic, Connecticut, where I go tomorrow morning on my way to Stonington, for the funeral, alas, of Ash Green, Ashbel in full, one of the great editors of my time, though I never had the good luck to be edited by him, though he did have a great suggestion for my new book which he really liked and may or may not ever see the light, what with Barnes and Noble becoming a Century 21, and there being not that many publishers hungry for product, as nobody knows what's going to happen with books as we knew them.  Ash, who was married to one of the great ladies,( she really is)-- Betsy Osha, whom I love-- was for much of his life with Knopf, probably the best publisher there is, though I never pirouetted that well or that high.
     Maybe he knows now where publishing is going, or If.  Or maybe when I get back to New York from this sad but inevitable occasion, I can ask the healer/medium.  I hope I didn't lose her card.