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.