Friday, December 22, 2006

An anniversary

Twenty-three years ago, perhaps to the day, I first met C in a bar called the Chez Est, here in the Wretched Little City.

That bar has been torn down and recently replaced by a tall sand-colored Marriott in which none of the surfaces are what they attempt to suggest. Last night we attended a gathering of two hundred local men held in a glitzy reception room of that fauxtel, and we took a moment to stand in the very spot in which we first met.

We were delighted to find that the party included a few men who were at the Chez Est on that night twenty-three years ago. One of them, Donald Funk, recreated his famous imitation of Hazel, the maid, running to get the door, while screaming “Mr. B! Mr. B!” (We will never know how many potential boyfriends he may have scared off over the years with this dramatic bit. He was a handsome and hot man way back then, and he’s the same today.)

Later in the evening, Donald and I performed an “RBF”, a bar maneuver invented by Donald and practiced to perfection by the two of us at the old Chez. It consists of walking backwards side-by-side through the bar at its most crowded, proving the point that we could go unnoticed from one end to the other no matter how absurd our movements. “RBF” stands for “Reverse Beauty Float”, and whenever Donald suggested one, it was a sure sign that we were bored, and that the night was not going well. The standard “Beauty Float” was what one did when one felt the need to break away from one’s friends periodically in order to cruise the crowd for new arrivals, as in “I’m gonna do a BF. Back in a minute.”

The night I met C, Donald had suggested we attempt a one-footed hopping RBF. This seemed preferable to his suggestion of a week earlier that we attempt the RBF on our knees in order to see the bar from the refreshing perspective of dwarves. We performed the hopping routine, which resulted in joint pain and a headache, all of which evaporated the instant I saw C.

Someday I suppose I’ll write about the rest of that night. It almost seems a little too valuable to me for the telling. Maybe I’ll get to it next week when we are in Braindeadlia (Fort Lauderdale).

Here is the earliest picture of us. We moved in together one month after we met. Seems like five minutes ago.

Redding Street 1984

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What I learned this year

1) I do not need 90% of the supplements I have been taking for the past few years. I have stopped enriching GNC and The Vitamin Shoppe.

2) I do not need my AOL account. I need to figure out how to cancel it.

3) The mysterious lyrics to Jamiroquai’s 1994 release “The Return of the Space Cowboy”. The word that gave us trouble turns out to be “Cheeba” which means pot.

4) I can and will continue to publicly and loudly chastise parents who scrape my ankles with their tank-like Maclaren strollers on the sidewalks and in the retail establishments of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (Maclarendale, of thee I sing). Some of those strollers hold school age kids who seem to be drugged.

5) How to find and change the fuse that controls the CD player, clock and rear view mirrors of my car, making me a certifiably butch auto mechanic.

6) How to arrive at the doors of the Madrid and Barcelona Eagles without a map, and, the merits of each.

7) Any taxi driver who says he can get you to JFK in time for your flight is a liar.

8) I am not successfully atheistic, although God knows I’ve tried, and it really doesn’t show.

9) The meaning of the following words, some of which I have avoided for years (I kept a list):

bespoke (the trendiest word of 2006)
and my 2006 favorite: tarantism, meaning “a malady characterized by an uncontrollable urge to dance”.

(I have not yet performed the induction ceremony that will add “melismatic” to the list before the end of the year.)

Next to this list, I have kept on my desk the usage rules governing the following sets of similar:

affect vs effect
foundered vs floundered
immanent vs imminent
scrimmage vs skirmish
discomfit vs discomfort

Reviewing these words and these sets shows me that I still avoid most of them and have an oddly natural resistance to the retention of their definitions.

10) Urine, as sexual currency, does not interest me at all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Solandra Maxima

solandra maxima, originally uploaded by farmboyz.

Our Solandra Maxima bloomed this week as if to defy the freezing temperatures just outside the windows. When I came home from work, its scent rushed to greet me before I turned on the lights. (It is like the Night Blooming Cereus in that way, but not nearly so poisonous.) Commonly known as the Golden Chalice, this wonderful flower will send out ballooning buds wherever you prune it. The blossoms are eight inches long and turn a deeper golden color as each day passes until they droop and fall to the floor after about two weeks. left to its own inclinations, this plant would form a huge shrubby mass, but it does not seem to resent being kept small. A wonderful bonus: I once pruned off several branches and shoved them into a clear glass cylinder of tap water in which I watched them sprout roots. I kept postponing their transplant, and after a year, they went into bloom anyway. I gave them to a co-worker who has a degree in botany and a large greenhouse. She potted them up properly and they are performing gratefully as foster children. Our Solandra Maxima is over twenty years old. Next year at this time, we will have sold this house, and we will be full time in NYC and Fort Lauderdale with no room for our tropicals. We'll have to find good homes for them, and will miss them dearly.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

White Christmas

Go to Starbucks to obtain a copy of their DVD issuance of the movie “White Christmas”, complete with the usual interview and trailer frills, and, a CD of the soundtrack!

Be forewarned. This soundtrack is not literally the soundtrack, but the original studio recording of what was delivered in this 1954 polonium 210-laced ginger house in which I am doomed to dwell for life. The four walls of “White Christmas” are my orphanage, my prison, my asylum, my boyhood home, my aerie, my palace and my sarcophagus.

Rosemary Clooney, under contract to Columbia at the time, was not allowed to do the soundtrack, and was replaced by Peggy Lee. Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye are there, as is Trudy Stevens who was the voice double for Vera-Ellen in the film. PL delivers an imitation of RC so accurate as to make me fish out the liner at several points just to make sure they had not snuck in a bit of RC’s own voice here and there. (Less slavish and highly delectable is PL’s rendition of “Love, You Didn’t Do Right By Me”.)

The other three are glorious in the delivery of one jazzy number after another. In song, they pretend joyfully to climb the post-war American temple steps leading to the civic duty of marriage to a member of the opposite sex. This culminates with a reverential offering of America’s own Forever Song, “White Christmas”.

They are accompanied (sometimes assaulted) by Joseph J. Lilley and his orchestra and vocalists, the sound of whom, as a teenager, could make me literally nauseous. Now, as I hear them merrily chugging alongside the stars, their arrangement makes me simply happy, and nostalgic for a childhood I never really had, and for a country in which none of us ever really lived.

I have always felt uneasy about the fierce fascination I have for this movie. I have tried to hide it over the years, but friends, including one who gave me this original movie poster, could easily read the fact that I become immobile when it is shown on TV.

white xmas poster

In the early and giddy days of videocassette, when classics were at last released from the imprisonment of annually scheduled network showings, several gift-wrapped copies of this movie came my way. I soon discovered that my addiction to it could not (unlike chocolate) be happily indulged at home, privately and whenever the mood struck. The tapes gathered dust on top of the VCR.

I needed to come home after dark, flip on the TV, and find that it had inconveniently already started. I needed to turn the TV so that I could prepare dinner while watching. I needed to run to the bathroom or to the washing machine during the commercials. I needed to annoy C by singing along loudly enough to force his attention. I needed to stop whatever I was doing to give my full attention to certain curious scenes that still make me squirm:

a) Crosby, Kay, Clooney and –Ellen make a snow scene out of a napkin and condiments in the club car of a train en route to Vermont.
b) Rosemary Clooney slams the sheet music down on the top of an upright piano saying that she does not like the song, that she won’t sing the song, before briskly walking out of the rehearsal hall.
c) The general gets bad news in the mail and takes up a horseshoe.
d) The housekeeper at the inn, honking into a giant handkerchief, admits that she is a busybody and has listened in on a telephone call.
e) The shot lingering on the face of the General’s granddaughter when she sees him in his uniform.
f) The anorectic Vera-Ellen in a gigantic round rug of a dress placing a hand on Danny Kaye’s thigh while asking him to affirm that she is not exactly unattractive.
g) The long gloves and lightening bolt neckline of the black gown worn by Rosemary Clooney in her post-flight-to-New York solo night club act.

These scenes are deeply etched into my soul’s hard drive whence they color and guide my every utterance and reaction to the world around me, come what may.

Of course, the elephant in any room in which this movie is viewed is its homosexual over and under tones. Danny Kaye is oh so gay in his worshipful “buddy” relationship with Bing Crosby, in his obvious enjoyment of their drag version of “Sisters” and in his recoiling from the advances of Vera-Ellen. One never questions the fact that the General is a sexy unmarried widower who wants to re-enlist. It just seems natural that a man like him should live with other soldiers now that he’s done his civic marital duty. The housekeeper at the inn is a frighteningly mannish thing. Rosemary Clooney’s performance as a man-hater is entirely convincing. There is Vera-Ellen, a weird species unto herself (famous for having the smallest waist in Hollywood) whose mimicry of female sexuality in “Mandy, There’s Minister Handy” still makes my skin crawl a safe distance from the TV screen. Finally, those songs by Irving Berlin. “Gee, how I wish I was back in the army” includes the line “The army was the place to find romance” quickly reeling itself in to mention women in slacks. The “Choreography” number mentions “Queens with routines”. “Sisters” speaks for itself.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as Christmas outside this movie. In its final scenes, in which ballerinas flit in front of a decorated tree on stage at the inn where the two couples have sufficiently but unconvincingly overcome their instincts to Velcro themselves into hetero-coupling, the back walls magically open to reveal a new snowfall traversed by a sleigh. Cue the big song.

At this moment, the viewer should feel warmth of heart. Instead, as a child watching this on TV, I hear my parents in another room, tearing apart their marriage. We feel the grim realities of the 1960’s ripping apart the entrails of 1950’s romance and duty. We imagine Danny Kaye on his knees servicing the General and the two of them talking about it decades later on Oprah. We see in the frightened face of Rosemary Clooney her spiral into emotional undoing followed by years of therapy, obesity and a broken voice hawking Coronet bathroom tissue. Are those Vera-Ellen’s little arms embracing porcelain while practicing the bulimic arts? Have you read what his kids say about Bing?

White Christmas is a strong eggnog of unintentional cinema verity and the grandmother of reality TV set to the gorgeous music of Irving Berlin. What’s not to love? Perfection. Home.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Gore Vidal

I am caught up in Gore Vidal’s second volume of memoirs, Point to Point Navigation. A welling up of sadness overcomes me in waves as I complete each short chapter. He has lost his partner. He has sold his house in Italy, and, he is missing his deceased editor, Barbara Epstein. This third mancanza is the one most severely felt by his readers. (He always said he never cared much for writing, that he did it only because it presented itself to him as the surest way for the making of money.)

He is eighty-five years old. He seems to have been rushed through this book by a publisher who was perhaps worried that death might rupture certain contractual obligations. I mitigate this suspicion with the realization that once GV had finished the draft of it, wouldn’t the publisher have calmed down and taken the time needed to clean it up? To fix the rough parts no more refined than scribblings produced at 3AM while just having sat up in bed with a freshly caught dream in hand?

The book’s title, needing too much explanation, seems to be an excuse for not producing something more skillful and finely wrought. Who among us has not resorted to melismetic rambling when our daily schedule does not permit the disciplined ordering of thought?

His first volume, Palimpsest, was much better, and I am left assuming Ms. Epstein provided the shake-and-bake to that earlier raw material. In the second volume, on page 173, we find the following baffle:

Goldwater fans were angry because when I had noted that as a public-relations man for his family’s department store, he had also invented a line of men’s boxer shorts decorated with red ants.

Aren’t we rather missing a second half to that thought? Perhaps some junior editor reading the draft while trying to negotiate a pastrami sandwich simply assumed that GV knew where he was headed and had arrived there intact.

On page 176, we are reminded that the comma is our friend whose absence makes us grind teeth.

Some years before he had entered, at the last minute, a presidential primary against Carter.

There are other similar moments. You get the point. Still, his valiantly restrained recounting of the death of his partner moved me to tears, and his loathing of Truman Capote is to be understood with salt and consumed with amusement, as is his need to be associated with famous names.

He lived a short walk from me in Rome, but I could not talk any of my professors who knew him into an introduction. They knew he would devour me. They also must have known how much I wanted to be devoured by him. Sometimes, on my way home from the Gregorian University, I would swing by the Piazza Argentina and look up at his building, trying to guess which set of windows was his. I wondered if he would step out of the shadows and onto his balcony to observe the famous cats that swarmed the ruins of that sunken square to see me there among them, eating an orange, licking its juice off my fingers, a winsome and young seminarian, pretending bravado, ready to know the man behind the words. (Instead, my superiors offered to introduce me to Muriel Spark…)

Despite his lack of focus, which I deeply hope is not caused by some loss of faculty, he remains frequently brilliant and provocative. I share his lack of memory for the personal paesaggio of one’s past, and, as he points out on page 111, must rely on what I have written to recall much of what I have lived. C is frequently astounded by my having totally forgotten places, people and adventures we have shared. Like GV, I grind them up, making a pate, spiced to enhance itself, and ready to be shared.

Finally, there is his frightening conclusion to Chapter Twenty-Two:

It has been my experience that writers, myself included, often forget what they have written since the act of writing is simply a letting go of a piece of one’s own mind, and so there is a kind of mental erasure as it finds its place on the page in order to leap to another consciousness like a mutant viral strain.

Where was I?