What I share won't come from after dark but rather the quiet before the light, warm morning kisses, and the cold grip of the day.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Erotic memories hang like old clothes in the closet

Erotic memories hang like old clothes in the closet
Talisman of a style you can’t bring yourself to part with
They remain, faded and musky, shoved aside for what’s current
The deluxe piece at a heart stopping cost
Something you had to possess
Indiscriminately mixed with cheap attractive items
Secondhand finds from bargain bins, a
Raiment never to be pulled out, slipped into, flaunted at a party
Each gave pleasure against your skin

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Water Works

In twenty odd years [some odder than others] of living in New York City, I took numerous part time jobs.  Golly.  The catalogue of which would be a good read on its own.  In my early twenties, married to a woman with a young daughter from her first marriage, I needed to contribute some income.  During this period, I studied acting, got some TV commercials, did plays off-off Broadway, and performed with a company that made short tours around the country.  I pieced together a living.  At one point I worked as a life guard.  Twice.  A young woman named Carol was in my acting class.  She was tall, with luxurious long brown hair and had a kind of Judy Holliday quality, of being less than bright, but street smart and possessed of a personal dignity.  As an actress, her work was limited, but cast in the right part she could be lovely, just being herself.  (A lot of actors have made good careers understanding that.)  At one point we worked on a scene together.  In fact, it was from Born Yesterday, the role that won an Academy Award for Holliday, as Billie Dawn.  Carol lived across the George Washington Bridge and I, in lower Manhattan.  I had a car at the time, and to rehearse, I’d drive to her high rise in Fort Lee, NJ, with its panoramic view of the Hudson River.  It was a nice place, nicer than what most struggling actors could afford.  And, she dressed in expensive suburban clothes.  Not especially hard working as an actress, Carol could get easily distracted by phone calls, or digress into conversation.  One day she told me about her job as a receptionist at a midtown massage parlor.  It was frequented by a lot of film and television executives, writers, and businessmen, and I think she thought one day she would be plucked from obscurity.  It wasn’t cheap to be a member.  Yearly dues were paid, and an entrance fee was required for every visit to the club.  Massages were extra, and tips were expected.  She asked me if I needed a job.  I did, actually.  What?  The club had a pool, and the state required a life guard be on duty.  I had been a life guard in high school and college.  Was I Red Cross certified?  Oh, yes.

Well, once upon a time I was, but my certification had expired.  The massage parlor needed it to keep on file – in case anything came up during an inspection.  I visited the Red Cross headquarters in Manhattan, not far from the massage parlor.  Red Cross also had a pretty young receptionist.  I told her my situation, that a job depended on my having the certificate, and could I simply have mine renewed.  No.  I would have to retake the life guard course and exam.  I have a family to support, I told her, and I don’t have time to do the course.  More than that, my grandmother was one of the first Red Cross volunteers during the Spanish-American War with Teddy Roosevelt.  (That was true.  We called her “Grandma Red Cross.”)  Isn’t there a way to make an exception, I asked?  She was so nice and seemed to want to help me.  She played with papers on her desk.  She said, let me go speak to someone, and walked away.  When I glanced down, I saw she had fanned out blank life guard certificates.  I looked up and the receptionist was talking to someone in the big open office.  Her back was to me.  I picked up a blank license and put it in my briefcase.  She slowly returned and said she was sorry.  Would I like a schedule of classes?  Yes.  I thanked her, sincerely, and left.  I filled out my stolen certificate, handed it to Frankie and his wife, who ran the club, and got the job.

The club, in the basement of a Deco, door-manned, building on West 57th Street, had been a gymnasium at one time. Originally designed for residents to use for working out, rather than as a luxury suite of assignation, the ceilings were claustrophobically low.  It had been remodeled in hues of silver and black, with a 1970’s eye for fern and chrome.  The entrance opened into a wide lobby, with lots of potted plants, glass tables, and plush sofas, which no one used.  Lights were kept dim throughout.  The first thing you saw was Carol sitting behind a broad desk.  As hostess she wore the uniform bikini that all the girls wore, distinguished by high heels and a long, sheer diaphanous cover.  The bikinis were the same style, in various colors, and tied behind the back and on the sides for quick release.  The girls rarely wore their tops.  The gentlemen clientele wore only big white towels they would fling aside to take a dip.  Off the reception area were two locker rooms, a hall with individual massage rooms, and the pool.  Five feet at its deepest end, most adults could have stood up rather than drown.  It was 30 yards long, 15 wide, and you could actually swim.  A grouping of tables, chairs and chaise lounges were at the far end.  Drinks were available, which Carol, or one of the girls, would serve.  There was a rotating mirrored disco ball, which shared the area over the pool with a trapeze, the bar of which was a foot and a half above the water.  A girl would often take refuge on it, and it was a good way to advertise.  She had to hook her feet over the bar, and pull herself into a sitting position, swinging playfully like a naked moonlit damsel in an art nouveau poster.  Sometimes, one of the fat-assed executives would attempt to mount the swing, struggling with bravado to hoist his corpulence.  If they couldn’t make it, they’d just plop back into the pool.

They weren’t all fat.  In the six months I worked at the club, I recall four who weren’t.  The club had a small, but complete weight room just off the pool area from the days when the gym was an amenity, and it was still part of the lease agreement that it be available to residents.  Only two continued a membership.  I thought of them as Tweedledee and Tweedledum, short, pear-shaped, twin brothers in their early thirties, who wore matching Olympic-styled weightlifting onesies in different colors, like the bikinis.  They would work out two or three nights a week.  They exchanged pleasantries with the girls, but never with the clients.  The twins took a liking to me, and they showed me body building magazines, and suggested that I take up lifting.  In two or three years, they said, I could look like Arnold Schwarzenegger.   The other two slim fellows were an actor who starred in a 60’s TV series called Twelve O’clock High, about a World War II bombing group, and the writer Gay Talese.  (It turned out he was writing an expose, and our club was prominently featured.  My wife called me one day, and started giving me hell.  Did I know there was an article in New York Magazine about the club where I worked?  She was furious with me.  You’re in the article, she said, and I know what you’ve been doing.  The thing is I hadn’t been doing anything.  I even wore a Speedo and was never nude around the girls.  I was perplexed, and tried to assure her I was innocent.  Eventually, she started to laugh; she’d been having me on.  I wasn’t mentioned.  Nevertheless, the article was quite the talk of the town for a while, and Talese was not only a chronicler of the massage parlor phenom, but an open participant and a proprietor, as well.)

The girls all used one name, a made-up Continental name.  Danielle, Alena, Shari, Veronica.  My favorite was Luba, which she told me was Russian.  Very tall, with thick black hair cut into a short bob.  I was in the theater, and saw gorgeous actresses and dancers all the time.  This was an assembly of astonishingly beautiful women, something akin to the original group of Victoria’s Secret models that would appear a decade later.  Only these girls were up for grabs.  I will say this, Hell Hath No Fury Like a Whore who didn’t get the tip she expected.  When they would come back out after an appointment, you could see it, feel it, and you knew not to talk to them.  They’d dive into the pool as if to scream under water.  I didn’t hit on them.  The last thing any of them wanted was sex for fun.  I was the harmless side kick, who made a few lame jokes, share a smoke, someone they could make small talk to.  All the better to see them, stand close, inhale.  I was like the little match girl, looking in at all the sumptuousness, but couldn’t have any.  I was all right with that.  (You might say, “Well, you were married.”  As if that ever stopped me.)  I understood this was not my world and I wasn’t any part of it.  I made it almost seem like a regular job, someone to chat with on a break.  I was utilitarian, like the women who vacuumed or empted the trash in the massage rooms.  Mine was the only dick the girls didn’t have to look at or deal with.  (Each new girl would have to go through a “training” session with Frankie.  Though, there wasn’t much of a turn over; the money was too good.)  Danielle was a bony blond who chain smoked, and talked openly, and we would sometimes share a cab downtown after work.  She invited me up to her loft one night, and I met her boyfriend.  Funny, she didn’t seem to lose any of her edge, or become anything like carefree when she got home.  I never saw any of the girls really relax, or be genuine, or let down their guard.

I said I’d been a life guard twice in New York.  I don’t recall why I quit the club.  I think, like the girls, I couldn’t stand the men.  I left on good terms, I guess, as I got a recommendation to life guard at a real pool in the unreal location of a high floor in a condo on Manhattan’s East Side, directly across the street from one of the city’s top restaurants on First Avenue, called Maxwell’s Plum.  (The New York Times gave it their highest score of four stars and wrote of it, “the flamboyant restaurant and singles bar, more than any place of its kind, symbolized two social revolutions of the 1960’s – sex and food.”  I first met my wife’s family at a dinner there.)

This was a bit of play land for the couple of months of sticky hot summer heat in NYC.  About twenty stories up the building narrowed, and the rectangle pool was outside, open on three sides, with fencing.  The forth end butted up against the higher tower of the building.  Access to the private pool was from the elevator, and it was always packed, because it was beautiful with it views of Manhattan to the North, South, and West toward Central Park.  I never rescued anyone accept to clean up glass if they dropped a gin and tonic, and the sexual traffic was of the pedestrian type, mostly.  I did meet a young woman who was put up in one of the condos by three businessmen.  She had her own version of play land.

When the pool closed for the season, I hung up my Speedo.  I think back to the young woman at the Red Cross office - “Always there in time of need…”    She rescued me.  “Trained individuals…ready to use their Red Cross skills to save lives.”   In truth, I was a reluctant life guard.  I didn’t like to get wet.  But, I could have got a john out of the pool.  “To alleviate human suffering...”   Well, Grandma Red Cross, not sure.  Maybe some of your gentleness helped me offer a shade of relief to some sad girls.

Anon, James

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Half Life

I’ve read, or heard people say, after a loved one dies the memory of what they looked like fades in a blur of time.  That hasn’t been my experience.  First off, don’t they have a photograph?  Unless they’ve fled from a pogrom, or went through a hurricane and no family albums survived, there must be a picture.  Or, it could be their imagination is faulty.  There must be people, visually challenged, who aren’t never-forget-a-face types.  It may be the pain of loss prevents them, protects them, somehow, from the recollection; suppresses the memory.  I’m not sure.  I may forget when and where something was said, but I see the face saying it.  I lost a five dollar bet with Kid when she was 15 about a scene in an old movie.  One of those 40’s madcap comedies we both love made with a stable of great Hollywood character actors.  I saw the actor in my mind, and could imitate him giving the line, but I bet on the wrong film.  I can call up my father’s face, the beginning of jowls perspiring, bristled with whiskers, like a clear cut slope after a rain, his handsome forehead, eyes the color of pumpkin pie, small ears, features as clear to me as if he’d just left the room.  He died almost fifty years ago when I was a teenager.  In fact, seeing pictures of him gives me the creeps, but I can look at him in my mind.

A boy, a hellion, I hung out with because I craved something sensational in those days, died, like James Dean, alone in a one car crash.  He had oily blond, wiry hair, combed back from a part on the left.  Some years later, when Jeff Bridges was first appearing in movies, he reminded me of my friend Mike, whose last name, it occurs to me, was also Bridges.  He’d encourage me with manic energy (which today would have been medicated) and his coyote laugh, to burn rubber in my Dad’s new GMC pickup, to steal booze and cigarettes, to skip school.  It isn’t Jeff I see in my memory’s eye, it’s Mike.  If I could lay hands on a yearbook, I know his picture would match my recollection, but, I don’t need the confirmation.  Ask me what year I was in Shaw’s Misalliance, and was it before - or after - I did Michael Weller’s Fishing, I’d have to pause, place it, chronologically, by the face of lovers at the time.  It’s the reason I write, and usually about the past: I see it, and that vision, a sense memory, helps me work out how I felt, or feel now; what I was wearing, textures, the light, an expression.  When our friend Audrey died suddenly in 2003, we were all those things that people are, sad, shocked, it can’t have happened, missing her.  Now that it’s been ten years or near about, I could write of her, a rectangle of a woman with bird legs, delicate hands, her voice, thought process, her loyalty, wisdom, the collection of miniature chairs, her beach house, the day she showed us her first cell phone.  I see Kate Rooney, a childhood playmate from Kansas farm days, with a fox face, kiwi-green eyes, gamine, a gentle hoyden.  I never got enough of that face.  We’d play imaginary games beneath bridges, climb trees, in and out of barns, walk the fields, talking for hours, sometimes, seriously, about the dysfunction of our families, though we didn’t know it was called that at the time.  Notwithstanding, a start of a smile was always on her lips and her laugh was like a trill of a golden flute.  Kate didn’t die.  After elementary school, our friendship became a wave in the hall, and since college, we’ve never seen each other.  I could give more details of her.

My step daughter, Shannon, was about 12 the last time I saw her in 1978.  I was stoned and on one of the arranged visits after I divorced her mother.  I asked her if she had been smoking marijuana yet.  It had been a couple of years since we’d lived together, and she was in New York public school, so I didn’t know.  Did she want some?  No, she said, thankfully.  We had lunch, she got on a bus, and it was the last time I would ever see her.  She told her mother I offered her marijuana, which I had, sort of, conversationally.  Robin called to say she would not let Shannon see me again.  Probably, deep down, it was what I wanted.  I was not meant to be a weekend father at that time of life, though there was a cost to her in my finding out.  It was a shameful way to go about it.  I wish that girl well, smart, wonderful kid.  I see her face, too.

 Anon, James

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do Super Heroes Have Sex?

Do super heroes have sex?  I ask sincerely.  Greek heroes and gods were randy and adulterous and it led to a lot of problems, though their pride, desires, egos, reflected the foibles of our own mortal souls.  To the point, however, the Olympians had families.  Parenting skills were in the early stages, but children were born of their couplings.  I didn't read a lot of comics, so I don’t know if they begat, etc., or even if they have the requisite parts for such practical purposes.  The physiques of super heroes make you look.  Muscles and breasts, O my!  Wonder Woman?  Captain America?  For all those tight suits and bulging deltoids you don’t see much in the way of a basket.  Maybe it’s the steroids.  I mean, you go to the ballet, and at least they have socks in their dance belts.  Bruce (how do you get lucky with a name like that?) Wayne and Tony Stark may be heroic but they aren't super heroes, they’re men of mystery.  Iron Man is more of a jet pilot.  It’s the clothes that make the man.  Rich, handsome and, “O, I’ll reveal my true self to you, Miss: I’m a hero on the side and I suffer for it.  Please don’t love me; it wouldn't be fair to you.”   It’s annoying.  I saw that kind of panty-dropping routine all the time in New York from privileged playboys.  Those with true super powers have the potential for gratifyingly intense sex lives, one would surmise.  Is it evolution's way of righting the population?  Would we really want breeders who are faster than a speeding bullet?  Spiderman?  Good luck, Gwen.  A peck of Peter Parker Spiderbabies would have you crawling up the wall.

I was a fan of Superman on TV during the 50’s.  My young romantic self could tell there was a certain fondness between Clark and Lois.  (How was she not able to see Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same?  Apparently, horn rims were an effective guise.  Maybe she’s the one that needed glasses.)  What might have passed for sexual tension between them was more on the part of Lois, a real, red-blooded woman, if impetuous, and darn fetching in fitted suits.  Kent had eyes, hell, he had x-ray vision!  There is the reality of being a professional woman in her day and age, having to work harder than Kent to prove herself in the work place.  That left little time for a personal life.  Kent couldn't reveal his secrets as it might have put her in jeopardy from various malefactors, I get all that, but he was continually coming to her rescue, anyway.  Having to save Lois, and Jimmy, from two-by-four situations must have been a terrible distraction.  Metropolis was a big city with tall buildings to leap, multitudes nefarious schemers, citizens in peril, and it might have been a big turn-off, her constantly stepping in it.  Thought bubble over Superman’s head: “Nincompoop!  I could go for her if she wasn't a member of the 40 Watt Club!”  Another bubble: "Now, Donna Reed!  She’s a whiz and mint.  May have to blow some wind up her skirt.”  And face it, Lois, for all her pertness, lacked a sense of humor.  Not to mention, what happened to all his business suits left behind in phone booths?  How about his cash and driver license?  Draft card!  (They probably could have used a man like him in Korea.)  I suppose he had to fly around downtown and upend some bum to get his stuff back.  Whatever the explanation, there was a lack of nookie.  What kind of life is that?  The futility just takes it out of you, I guess.  Clark put on the milk toast ruse, but Superman seems to have been deeply exasperated most of the time; to have an aspect both benevolent and condescending toward his flock.  And, how could Lois get close to a man like that?  Was he even capable of intimacy?  Maybe he liked Jimmy.  Perhaps, it isn't how his kind reproduced on Krypton.

Comic book super heroes make me rather sad.

Anon, James

Take a gander at Noel Neill:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

“Turning Retrospection to the Future”

Things come back.  Thin ties.  Cat-eye glasses.  Cocktails.  Writers.  Expect fins on cars.  My fashion dowsing rod is pulling toward the double-breasted jacket…again.  (I must check in the closet in the hope Darling hasn’t Goodwill-ed my navy blue Donna Karen double-breasted blazer!  Classic; just a hint of shoulder pad.)  Go further and bring back the “Hollywood Roll,” a double-breast style from the early 50s with a long, wide lapel and one button near the belly.  Not to mention, a nifty pun.

I have designs on the fashion of language and call for some of that old-time slang to reappear and, to put into the closet warn out, threadbare, contemporary slang.  ‘Whatever’ - needs a moratorium.  Says you!  Get out!  Who cares? Tell me another!  ‘Get a life’, can go buh-bye, as well.  Most of us use popular words and phrases as linguistic, trendy shorthand; it can be fun and current.  But, ‘24/7?’  Round-the-clock. Habitual. Ceaseless.  If I never hear ‘the whole nine yards’ again, I will be relieved.  (What does that mean, when you think about it?)  ‘Whole enchilada’ isn’t any great shakes, either.

I’ve begun to seed my conversations and missives with jargon from various eras.  It’s time for ‘dude’ to take a hinge and to bring back cat.  Cat has some dignity and edge.  It’s jazz age.  ‘Cool’ is the black of slang: you can’t go wrong using the word and I was delighted it reentered the scene many years back.  It may be irreplaceable, like, ‘like’ (talk about overuse), or OK.  That’s hunky-dory.  Why not vary it with keen, neat, hip, ace, top-notch, the berries, ducky, or copacetic?  (From Copacabana.)  ‘Right on’ surfaced during the millennium and ‘totally’ blew me away.  Utterly.  Flat-out. Sheer. Purely. Indubitable.  Anyway, we sound Swedish when we say, “toe-tahlee.”

I had to explain, and produce confirmation, to convince Kid, a college sophomore, that And, how! is a legitimate old time expression for You bet! Right on! Indeed!  She’d never heard it used or come across it reading.  (So many ways you can spin that one, too: Annnnd, how!  And, HOW!)  When I was a boy and saw the film “The Music Man,” I got a hoot out of Robert Preston warning the town folk of River City to watch out for words sneaking into their kid’s conversation.  “Words like – swell.”   At which point the chorus of folk all gasp!  I’ve been using swell, recently.  It takes people a back, at first.  They’re not sure what I’m saying, or whether I’m being sarcastic.  Not all of the old-fashion slang is wimpy.  I’ve commandeered one from my dad.  He would use balls as we use crap, hell, damn, give me a break, or even shit.  Perhaps, bull would be a back-up if balls is too hairy.  My mother, if I overstepped, would say, “Don’t give me any sass!”  Isn’t that the cat’s pajamas?  If she felt someone was a pain in the ass, she’d say they were a pill.

“Just sayin’!’, ‘no offense’ but we could all endeavor to be a little bit more creative, and if we can’t find an old-fashioned word, create a new idiom, with the proviso that at soon as you hear your invention said back to you, drop it, and find another.   In the nineties it was rather dear to hear a masculine man use ‘sweet’ for nice.  My 11 year old nephew says ‘awesome’ is passé and epic is now.  ‘Shut up!’  I recently attended a national sales seminar, where our trainer sprinkled modern idioms like confetti.  ‘Oh. My. God’, he used ‘Really?’ in that sarcastic manner of you gotta be kidding, forty-seven times in four hours‘Seriously?’  The first dozen, I thought, well, he has the lingo to show he’s au courant…then, after a while, I started counting them and (‘Duh!’) not listening to his message.  ‘Shoot me now.’

When you get down to it, many idioms are pejorative, hurtful denigrations, and require a more serious discussion than I am up for.  It’s certainly demeaning to refer to a young woman as a ‘babe’, or a ‘chick’, and so many terms we all should stop using and perpetuating.  Euphemistically, older isn’t necessarily better: tomato, dish, toots, chica, skank, bushpig, fox, woofer, sea donkey.  (Old joke – so old nobody gets it: Why are mother-in-laws like seeds?  You don’t really need ‘em but they come with the tomatah.)  Skirt?  Dame?  (When it comes to a broad, I’m a gam man, myself.  But, then I’m a closet dick.  That is, I read old detective novels.)  There are instances where slang, a diminutive, shouldn’t be applied in gender, race, religion; respect should trump our baser motives.  Repressing the use of the word won’t make the hate go away.  Sad, isn’t it?

Admittedly, old nomenclature may be just that: old and from an era that is best forgotten.  I wouldn’t want to see ‘Boss!’ invigorated, or ‘Groovy!?’  ‘Eew!’  ‘Get out!’  Trends can overwhelm our creative, snappy spirit and soon what seemed ‘fresh’, ‘dope’, ‘sick’, ‘rad’, jaunty, raw, crisp, recent, or just plain catchy, is spoiled forever; its very uniqueness, old hat.  (Does every ‘dork’ sport a pork-pie, now?)

Anon, James

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have a friend, let’s call him Bud.  He is older.  If I were casting Bud in a movie it might be Dustin Hoffman, trim, good head of hair, a schnoz, always has a bit of a smile, as if something is pleasing him deep down and bubbling up.  Costumed like a tidy professor.  Direct him to leap up from a table when a friend approaches - a spry 80-something bantam.

Bud greets his day with jauntiness.  His profundity catches me off guard.  I don’t know why it should.  I know him to be very well read, a culler of the Times, educated, traveled, retired from careers in the military and the arts, and to have been bruised by life.  Without spelling it out, Bud has faced what most of us shouldn’t.  Is it that face-off with tragedy that has made him so appreciative of the graces he encounters?  Whatever it is, he points them out with impunity.  That catches me off guard, too.  His compliments arrive stealthy, like a drone, with precision.  It’s easy to get used to, as with someone who massages the knot in your shoulders without obligation.  Such generosity of spirit is like beautiful weather: it makes you feel good.  Perhaps, it is faith (we don’t discuss it), but he’ll frequently use the word “bless,” as someone might pepper their speech with a “cool” or a “sweet,” a pronouncement of fact.

I’m not good at goodbyes and I can’t articulate the welling of feeling at the moment of departure.  I choke, verbally and emotionally, becoming lumpy.  I have stopped beating myself up about it, it’s just how I am, and those to whom I bid farewell, if they have half a heart, figuratively, pat me on the head.  Dear, dear.  My daughter very adroitly deals with this trait in me, by simply standing quietly outside of airports or a dorm, like ignoring a faux pas at a holiday table.  Bud, on the other hand, is good at so-longs.  He will sum up the visit, toss in a “bless,” and off he goes.  You begin to look forward to the next time he comes to visit in however many years.  Years.  Years can bollix even the most faithful.  In a recent email he confessed to being in a “mid-January funk,” to having “winter grumbles.”  Bud went on:

The last 10 days have been filled with obituaries of dear friends and lovers.  It is a sign of my age that when I call a former buddy to tell of another friend's passing, I discover that the former buddy has also recently died.

Dear, dear.

In Renascence, Edna St. Vincent Millay tells of a young woman (she herself was a teenager when she wrote the poem) who lies back in some fresh grass, looking at the sky, and naively, as a young mind will, probes eternity.  Abruptly, she is sucked down into her grave.  (Before we had CGI, there was poetry.)

I saw and heard and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core…

For my omniscience paid I toll
In infinite remorse of soul.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath…

After she has felt, infinitely, the agony of all dying souls, seen her vision of eternity made manifest, having “ceased” – just as suddenly - she is yanked from her grave, and her nightmarish vision, her “thatched roof”…

Fell from my eyes and I could see,
A drenched and dripping apple-tree…
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell -
I breathed my soul back into me.

(I have never taken for granted the sight of rain dripping from a leaf, not in the forty years since reading that line.)

I have had a lot of older friends.  When I was 21 (no, it was not a very good year), I moved to New York City, and socialized with no one less than 70 for the first six months.  It happened those were the people I was first introduced to, and, subsequently, their cohorts.  I liked them and I learned of their wisdoms and was ever comfortable in their company.  For the most, I was ignored or spoken over.  What had I to offer other than to be able to go for gin?   I provided witness to the telling of lives.

I have continued to friend elders and heard their plaints and rants as they endured the price of long life, longer than those they have loved.

T.S. Eliot:
And I have known the arms already, known them all –
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair.

How do you say goodbye to that?  That memory, I mean?  Life, I really mean.  Repeatedly.

Don’t ask me.  I am soon enough to find out for myself.  In the – mean – time, it is mine to tut “Dear, dear.”  I have often quoted, in my lame attempt to condole, the etching on the grave stone of Emily Dickenson: “Called Back.”  I guess that’s comforting.  I am not religious but it doesn’t matter, we all go back to some essence.  It isn’t the past I address, but the present, with empty, tepid, puerile efforts.  But, then I apply the advice of Eva LeGallienne, my teacher and friend who was in her 70’s when we met, when she spoke about the task of acting, “DO something about it.”

I wrote to Bud:

Very, very difficult…facing such sadness…and no real help for it…perhaps the only thing to do is watch a silly, wonderful movie, like “Funny Face”…or any of the Thin Man series, embrace the day, eat a piece of cake, give a kindness – as I know you do, continually, generously.

A few days later, I received an email back from Bud in which he said he had been watching “Glee” on television.  (That fits into the Silly, Wonderful category.)

Yes, I'm in a better mood now.  I have a new tooth, $1100-worth, to smile on the bleak terrain.  And I've been to three musical evenings so diverse, I had to smile! Last Friday to hear the Shaun Booker Blues Band.  I've become a fan of the dynamic singer with shoulders to match the First Lady. 

Better than contemplating a wet leaf.

Anon, James.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Super Chief

Growing up we didn’t take many trips.  Two in seventeen years.  Money was a factor.  The oppression of my father’s illness was another.  They defeated any urge to pack up and take a holiday.  I don’t feel deprived from not having vacationed, not many in our farm community did, other than a camping trip at a lake.  Remove the illness factor and I would have been a happy camper to stay home and do whatever.  That was our lot.  The first trip we did take was fairly momentous.  If it wasn’t for my father’s problems we wouldn’t have.  For that matter, we might still have been living in the hills above Berkeley, and not in Kansas.  We moved to Topeka be near the Menninger Clinic, a psychiatric hospital established in the 1920’s by a man and his two sons offering an alternative from asylums as a treatment for mental illness.  My dad started analysis, where a lot of money we may have used for vacations must have gone.  At one point, things were so bad, and my mother so desperate, he was committed there for six months.  After a few years of the renowned regimen, he didn’t feel any better, and he was committed a second time.  He came home with a beautiful round wooden tray he made as part of his therapy.  For some time, he had been in communication with a psychiatrist in L.A., and it was decided he should go out for some consultations.  To his credit, for a man who had been a WWII Navy pilot, a captain for TWA, a onetime district attorney, a rancher, it took guts to reach out for help at a time when my mother’s family thought it all so ridiculous.  Just snap out of it.

Tickets were purchased on the Santa Fe Railway’s celebrated Super Chief, which traveled a route between Chicago and Los Angeles.  It was touted as the “train of the stars”, because it was the deluxe ride of choice for Hollywood celebrities.  Early one spring day my mother and father, my older brother and I, drove from our farmhouse to the depot in Topeka.  As an eight year old, I couldn’t resist walking on the rails as we waited.  The morning dew had left them slippery and one of my stiff-soled cowboy boots wedged between twin rails in a switch area as the engine, with its famous red and yellow war bonnet paint scheme, thundered into view.  I could not get my foot out.  My mother couldn’t get me out either and I would soon to be famous for being under the Super Chief rather than on it.  Finally, she pulled my foot loose, but the boot remained stuck.  Waiting passengers watched the drama, and cheered as mother, determining I needed both boots, wrestled it free as the engine screeched to its stop.

The train was magnificent.  Maybe it wasn’t the Orient Express but it was a shiny, streamlined, American beauty.  For a kid who thrilled at riding in the back of a pick-up, to climb the steep steps was like boarding a spaceship.  Our berths in the Pullman sleeping car, a twinette for my brother and me, had bunks which disappeared into the walls, and a bathroom masterfully engineered for efficiency, with a fold away washbasin.  Confined to the speeding locomotive, I was free to explore the observation car and the lounge car.  The dining car had white linen tables set with silverware and sparkling glasses, infinite food served on china with Navajo designs, handsome black waiters in smart uniforms.

At one stop along the route, my mother bought me a silver ring I had spotted in the gift shop.  It had the face of an Indian chief in a headdress, like the one who walked the aisles of the train greeting passengers, with his long braid of black hair, beaded buckskins, and a feathered war bonnet that trailed the floor.  His nose took up a lot of territory on his etched face.  It wasn’t funny like Jimmy Durante’s, but like a bird of prey.  He looked dignified, strutting in the way of men with strong chests, nodding slightly as he passed as if inspecting us before going into battle.  Even then, I suspected he wasn’t an authentic Indian chief.  I hoped he wasn’t.  I hoped he was an actor from Hollywood parading for a living.

I had no idea who the elegant gentleman in the cream-colored suit and the cigarette was, but my parents did.  My mother whispered to me after he passed us in the aisle one morning.  She did not have a poker face; she had a stone face, like the chief, when she got excited and tried to hide the fact.  I thought it was Edward R. Murrow, but she explained it was Oscar Levant and he had been in the movies.  I remembered seeing him on Jack Parr, with a voice like the creak of a castle door.  (Years later I would see him on reruns of An American in Paris.)  My mother said he had problems with alcohol.  It could have been the moving train that made him unsteady.  Come to find out he had been committed several times in mental institutions, like my dad.  Maybe he was headed home to Hollywood after a stint at Menningers.

The morning we arrived in Los Angeles, I realized I didn’t have my ring.  I recalled taking it off the night before and putting it on the sink as I washed my hands in the observation car washroom.  I thought the soap would be bad for it.  With anything brand new, I was overly protective, like not bending my feet when I walked in new shoes.  I ran back to find the ring but it was gone.  My mother called me a dope for taking it off.  She was mad about wasting the money.

Anon, James.