Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Helluva Town!

    The past few days having been, as the restrained people say, as "challenging" as any in my history, beyond imagining even for an imagination as overworked as mine.  I worked on getting through it all by observing carefully what seemed real.  First there was the subway, on which I am learning to travel semi-fearlessly, though I do step far away from the edge of the platform in case there is one of those psychos who, of late, throws people onto the track when the train is coming.  Then there was 35th Street, filled with "bargains" of pseudo-Coco perfume and racks of fairly convincing and a little too colorful fake furs; then there was the showroom of Jimmy Crystal, with its jeweled glasses, which I have been wearing for several years and finally got around to having the stones re-set, as they keep falling out.  When you give your full attention to the petty you can get past the overwhelming.
    I bought an extra pair for the teller at the bank who admired them, even though we are less than friends, which the actual manager and I have become in light of my account having been mulcted, a word I learned that I thought I would never have occasion to use, but have utilized fairly often in the past week.  There were over $16,000 worth of fake charges to my Mastercard, already paid as I am on Autopay which I urge all of you to cancel if you have it, as there is better than a band of thieves working the ATMs and credit cards.  My actual ATM card, which I used on the 21st of December to get Christmas tips, was immediately mulcted for an additional $3500, in the next four minutes.  We are all trying to figure out how they do it, including the police, as it would make a great NCIS.  Then my American Express, which I never even took out of my wallet, had $1500 of fake charges.  My new best friend, Nadia, a lucky name for me, the manager of the bank told me not to suffer over it, as I will not be responsible;  my other new best friends, the cops in the station downstairs in the subway at Columbus Circle, which doesn't usually handle such things, did, as they don't want me to have to go to the precinct place a way away, since I am, to my surprise, older.
      When I went to that precinct the first time, I read the pictures on the wall, of traffic police, which is all they are supposed to be, really, who were killed in the line of duty, chasing fare evaders who then drew the cop's gun and shot them.  A heavy price to have paid for someone's not having a token.  
      My cop was still alive and a lot more savvy, a former accountant who changed professions as he was bored.  He seems quite serene now, as does the pretty policewoman who first directed me, a former journalism student who did a piece on the police and decided that was more interesting.  I am sorry Naked City is no longer on the air, as this is good stuff, as Cary Grant, my darling and fairly prominent friend used to say.
      But when I had to go back yesterday to add to the report my AMEX fraud, there was a handsome young black with earrings and his hands cuffed behind his back.  He had to be in his early twenties, tops, and his eyes were downcast, and he seemed genuinely touching.  I moved a little closer to him in what I felt would be a show of compassion, to let him know I didn't regard him as a pariah.  But then I saw that the cop behind him had a gun that the cuffed man might have grabbed and shot me and the policeman, too.  But on my way out of the station, which nobody knows is there, the glass doors are so dark and there is no sign, and if you yell 'POLICE!' which I have had to do to try and find them, nobody comes, I did wish the arrested man good luck.  It is a very sad city, in some of its more obscure corners.
      Then I went to the Fedex, the post office being closed, to send out a copy of my new book (you can get it online) The Daughter of God, which I had also given to my new best friend the bank manager, even though she is Muslim and doesn't know the Christ story (in mine, he comes back as a woman, and it's uplifting and funny but not irreverent... a lovely woman who works in the Bryn Mawr alumnae office and is married to a black Methodist mininister, says he found it "Biblically sound," which I wish I could print on the back cover.)   I was going to send a book, an old novel of mine, to my new best friend from last week, Ulisses Jung, the Brazilian, but it would have cost $111.00 so decided to wait till the post office opened which I am afraid it is not going to be doing that much longer.   I hope Ben Franklin doesn't know how badly he is being remembered.  Soon there will be no vestige of him besides electricity and swim fins, and his picture on the $100 bill which will eventually mean nothing either.
      Later I joined my beloved old friend, Steve Berger, not acquired in the course of these urban adventures but a genuine pal, a confrere of Bob Dorough, the pianist who played for me when I sang at the Mars Club in Paris, and wrote Schoolhouse Rock among other achievements besides staying for a lifetime a wonderful man.  Steve is a first rate guitarist and was also Nationals Table Tennis champion some decades back, inspired by a man who was a ping pong dynamo and partnered in SPIN, the table tennis club that has become all the rage, where last night there was a memorial for him, where everyone talked about his table tennis style and history, and not that much about what a sweet, funny man he was.  Nor did they add much of an air of uplift, except for my Steve and the amazingly lovely Susan Sarandon, who, as the gossips know, even some who are not usually gossips, left Tim Robbins for one of the owners of Spin, a very tall, and extremely affable and bright young man named Jonathan, genuinely cute, and young enough so that adjective still obtains.
     She almost literally stunned me, as she seems  genuinely present, slender and lightly curved in all the appropriate places, in a form-fitting (and why shouldn't it, when the form is still that well-shaped) black dress, with a very hip (is that word still good?) little black bag slung over one shoulder, tights, black boots and an extremely accessible and relaxed personae.    She raised a glass to the vanished co-founder, gave everybody enough champagne in theirs to salute him, and said a few excellently chosen words that elevated table-tennis to a Performing Art.
     When I was introduced to her, I told her I was a friend of Taffy, my long-time loved buddy who was one of The Starland Vocal Band who had 'Afternoon Delight' and a Grammy and would have had a great career except that they were managed by the over-rated and, in my opinion, which is constitutionally protected, egomaniacal Jerry Weintraub.  At the name 'Taffy,' Susan Sarandon did a take that would not have been out-of-line in The Three Stooges, great eyes enormously widened, with five fingers up in the air on both sides of her in a gesture of Surprise ('WHAT!)  But a second later she was once again moving effortlessly and very much at ease through the crowd, who dealt with her presence as if she were just another person.
     I must say, that did not include me.  I was blown away by her understated grandeur, and loveliness.  When I got home, I took off my make-up, and studied my own face, which I have to say is not in too bad shape considering the length of my run.  But she looks not all that different from how she appeared in Rocky Horror Show, and much as she did in Thelma and Louise.  So I would have to factor in the gods, who clearly abide by their own rules: if Talent, and Beauty, Grace and Graciousness, a sense of commitment to things that Matter, and an indulged attraction to what is vital and enjoyable keep you young, she will live forever.
   And all during this day and evening, whenever I started to think about what was really going on that I couldn't bear to think about, I wrote a song, that I sang as I moved along these alien streets.  It  the best one, I  believe, in SYLVIA WHO? which I am now convinced will actually come to be.  My job is to stay alive till it opens.