So I have spent the time marking all the bluster surrounding Jurassic Everything, and missing my friend Michael Crichton. It seems very unfair to me, as I am fairly certain it did to Michael, that he should have been so struck down, on the brink of his greatest, probably tallest triumph.
Michael was, in spite of his brilliance and height, -- he was, as I noted, neck very stiff from looking upwards at his very good-looking face-- incredibly tall, six foot seven or maybe eight or nine, I never knew exactly and was too intimidated and also a little aware of how self-conscious he might have been to ask him. But once when he was going to do a morning talk show I was on the phone nursing him into being fearless for, the camera was above him, looking down. And on the monitor you could see the top back of his head, and it was bald, which you somehow never expected for someone who seemed so invulnerable because of his brain. And darling, too. I really liked him.
He was actually so lonely he came one night to one of those church gatherings that had nothing to do with God but everything to do with Loneliness-- a Singles evening in Westwood. Row upon row of desperate alone women in front of one of those fraudulent practitioners who's going to tell you how to nail somebody. As I remember, there were not many, if any men. But Michael had asked me about it, and showed up, smart, creative, successful fellow that he was, a marriage or two already under his good-looking belt. He didn't connect with anybody there but a while afterwards brought a date to a Sunday brunch I had, whipped into omelets by a lady chef from D.C. trying to make a career in L.A. And his date, a tall, merciless blonde lay across him on my terrace, wearing no underwear as noted by another guest though not aloud. Not too long afterwards he married her and sired a daughter, who I hope gave him more satisfaction than the wife did.
There was a tenderness Michael had that was surprising, and I hope his daughter brought him joy, though a lot of things happened like kidnap threats and having to have their Malibu home guarded, and for the remainder of their beach life I didn't see him. But I was sure he stayed sweet, and really tall, and was shocked and saddened when he died, much too soon, and very very rich.
My doctor who's a very smart man says that real height-- height like Michael's is an impairment, that it puts you at risk. I think brains like his probably also do, especially if you're kind. I have no way of knowing how he was towards the end, and am lately in the midst of disbelieving hopes about an Afterlife, or any subsequent journeys for the spirit, though I am still open to having my soul confounded, should it turn out to have a journey of its own. But I remain grateful for having known him, and impressed that anyone who actually rubbed shoulders with some of the Greaties at Oxford AND Sean Connery, should have stayed comparatively humble in spite of how tall he was.
Tuesday, June 09, 2015
So feeling dispirited and empty, I spent the day going over some of my old writings, and found this lovely (it seems now, and in view of Life, genuinely is,) recollection. From when I was still dazzled by my mother, one of the great characters of her time, who might have been more noted (and maybe even celebrated) had the novel about her, THE MOTHERLAND, not reached print and the eyes of the world at the same moment Nixon fell, when there was little interest (or maybe even reason) for Fiction.
Towards the end of her life, rather than grow old, my mother crashed parties. She was a pretty woman, tiny, dark and lively, with a dazzling smile and great legs, which, as Marlene Dietrich told us, are the last thing to go. She was as savvy as she could be engaging, so she would study The New York Times for coming events. When that information was not specific enough, she would study gossip columns as astronomers did the stars.
Usually one of the wags would brag about all the places she had been and what was coming up of particular note that she, as a stellar being, was invited to. So my mother, feeling every bit as stellar, had cards printed up with her press credentials, which were, in fact, non-existent, and would call ahead to announce that Helen Schwamm would be attending. Sometimes she would say she was with Gannett Press, sometimes with DiplomaticWorld, legitimate publications with which she had absolutely no connection. When she would arrive at the celebration of this and that, her name would be on the list. And if there was any question, she looked so good and was so quick-thinkingly charming, that no one stopped her. Thus it was that when New York celebrated its two hundred most important citizens, my mother was among them.
She was not without money, but as she had grown up in the Depression, she lived in fear of running out, and so denied herself certain luxuries she loved, like smoked salmon. But “No one need go hungry in New York,” she said to me;” there’s parties from morning to night.” So she had all the smoked salmon hors d’ouevres she wanted, and, depending on the lavishness of what was being passed, sometimes even caviar. If the event included dinner, she would wait till everyone was seated, and look for the unoccupied chair. Sometimes if she was feeling particularly social, and had found nothing in the press, she would check the reader boards in the lobbies of the Plaza or the Waldorf, check what was happening there, and attend.
She was never caught, and never embarrassed. “What if they want to know who you really are?” I asked her once. “How many people in life ever know who we really are?” she responded. “Every building in New York has a façade, and so do most of the people.”
As for her personal entertaining, she had a studio apartment at a nice address, but her quarters were small. So when she wanted to reciprocate for an evening she had actually been invited to, she would invite her friends to meet her at the U.N. for one of their receptions. It was before the days of heavy security, the guards all knew her(she had given them little gifts to thank them for their kindness), so they would let her and her tiny entourages in. She saved her key invitations for Korea. “They have the best ribs,” she said.
I knew all her stories, and marveled at them, but had never seen her in action. So on one visit to New York, I asked her to take me along. The event was the 25th anniversary of the National Review. “Avoid eye contact,” she told me by way of preparation. “Keep moving with great assurance, and let me handle everything.” We went into the lobby of the hotel where the party was being held. Not content to gain easy access, she sailed up to the security guard and asked to be directed to the VIP room. He pointed, unquestioning.
We were seated at a table with Henry and Nancy Kissinger, Clare Booth Luce, Roy Cohn, and the Baron and Baroness dePortanova. Mother introduced herself as Helen Schwamm as though it were a name Mrs. Luce should know, and told her that her daughter, pointing at me, was also a writer. The Kissingers had recently moved to Connecticut, and Nancy Kissinger, during a lull in the conversation(there are many with Conservatives) said “My friends can’t believe I’m content to live so quietly.” Without missing a beat, my mother said “My friends feel the same about me.”
She is gone now, and I really miss her. And from what I’ve observed, so does New York.