A Tear in Every Room

When I saw David last week he said, “everybody in town is talking about your prostate.” Why shouldn’t they be? Most of them have played with it.

I did not want to turn my blog into a cancer gazette. Since the word is out, however, the hectoring for more details has started. I owe at least one follow-up.

Today I visited the land of a thousand turbans, the Kaiser Radiation Center. I discussed treatment options with the urologist.

The hour long appointment started out awkwardly. As he went into his spiel his eyes were on the ceiling. Occasionally he’d glance at me but then he’d go back to counting the pinpoints in the tiles as he talked. When he got to the Gleason score I put my foot down.

His explanation was one only a comedian like Jackie could appreciate. There are 3:4’s that are sometimes referred to as 3+4’s. These are not to be confused with 4:3’s (no mention if there was a corresponding 4+3 or maybe 4-3.) Although they both add up to seven there are good sevens and bad sevens. What you have to do is factor in…..

I asked him to please stop. I told him I felt like the victim of a shell game, never in a million years could I follow him or guess the right answer. Which may have been his point, neither could he.

After that exchange we saw eye-to-eye and the options became clearer. Everything about my case is borderline (including sanity). It’s acceptable to watch and monitor. If or when things become worse, the less invasive form of radiation would be the initial treatment.

He said the drawback to this approach is that after a couple of years of having a blood test every three months, it gets to be a drag and guys stopped following up. I assured him the choice between a life of pissing and shitting myself and not being able to get it up versus the ennui of a quarterly blood draw was enough to motivate me.

In addition to the early stages of cancer I have strains of other things coursing through my body. Namely personal vanity. To support one of his arguments the doctor said, “but we usually see this in guys much older than you, in their late 60’s.” You can’t get any later than 69.

I really do need to lay off the Estee Lauder Anti-Aging Emulsion. It’s complicating treatment protocols.

To occupy my time with all this going on I did what I do best. I took on a project that I have no experience with or talent for: sewing pillow covers.

For over a year I’ve coveted this remarkable French mirrored vinyl from Mood Fabrics. I was never quite sure of what I’d do with it and at almost $50 a yard it was too pricey to experiment with.

Then in June it showed up at my discount fabric outlet for $23.  Jesus spoke to me: “pull the trigger, motherfucker, shit or get off the pot.”

I went online and assembled the foam, pillow protector, and interfacing. They are all of the finest quality from China’s Amazon Province. Then I went up to Cliff’s to buy the metallic thread.

There’s been a learning curve. Things like you can’t sew the gussets together if you expect the pillow to slide in. But I’m getting there.

Normally I would wait to show the finished result. But I wanted to document that I have not been sitting idly by while waiting on the Obamacare Death Panel, The Hon. Sarah Palin, Regional Chair, to rule on my case.

Hit it Tammy.

Shantih Shantih Shantih

She could have been Mrs. Eliot.

The mention of the Maharani and Paris in the last post reminded me of India and the friend I made, Elaine Wolfson. One of her tales was prefaced by casually asking, “you remember Maxim’s back room on Friday nights, don’t you? All the maharajahs in their finest?”

I would have been 8 years old at the time plus I’ve never been to Maxim’s. I said no so she continued on with whatever story she was telling.

We met on a three week architectural tour of India sponsored by the University of Miami Art Museum. There were 20 in the group, 3 from San Francisco, the rest from Florida. They included museum sponsors and donors like Elaine.

The Miami crowd stuck together and to a person didn’t care for Mrs. Wolfson. They thought she was a bitch.

There must have been some deep background behind that opinion because I didn’t notice anything terribly offensive. She was remote and self contained but that doesn’t warrant bete noire status. She’d sit at the front of the bus by herself not seeming to care if anyone sat with her or not. Over the first several days I slowly began to interact with her.

I’ve had a life-long penchant for making difficult people my friends. You have to pick your spots, it doesn’t always work. But sometimes you can sense when a determined effort might pay off.  I’ve found if you waste time obsessing on the prickly surface of these sorts you often miss out on the luscious creamy centers

One day someone asked me why I let Elaine speak to me the way she did. She was nervously watching me load her suitcase onto the bus when he heard her say something.

She was in her late 70’s, I was 30 years her junior. I was concentrating on helping her so what she said or how she said it didn’t register. It’s like toddlers who hate their mommies. Something needs attention that has no relation to what they’re saying.

Rollin’ on the Ganges. With Judy from the Miami Art Museum crowd.

As she and I became more friendly, others in the group took note. At breakfast one traveling companion said I’d been so kind to go buy Elaine water the day before in the blistering Jaipur sun. Without thinking I responded, “it was either that or mouth-to-mouth.”

My end of the table erupted with laughter.  I had slain the beast.

But I hadn’t intended for it to sound cruel. I really thought if she didn’t get something she would faint. She wasn’t at breakfast but she laughed too when I told her later.

The Miami crowd dismissed Elaine as a pretentious snob. But she wasn’t pretending. She’d lived it. She wasn’t softening her ways to please those who thought in superficial stereotypes.

On the train to Varanasi she told me stories of working in Manhattan as a hand model in the 1930’s. She would often travel to Connecticut for the weekends.

On one trip an attractive man sat next to her. He was very flirtatious and aggressive. He tried to convince her to get off at his stop with him. She was about to agree but at the last minute changed her mind. After the gentleman departed she realized it was T.S. Eliot.

Elaine wasn’t bothered by long silences in a conversation. I think she enjoyed them. She did, however, have the ability to end those silences quite abruptly. Once, out of the blue, it was, “do you ever drink alone?”

With my buddy at the Red Fort.

The highlight for most of the tour group was the roadside jewelry store we visited. The hen party descended on the joint in a cackling heat. Elaine found a seat and lit up a cigarette.

I did a brisk walk through the gallery to see the display then returned to the settee to sit next to her.  She turned to me saying, “I just don’t understand why women go so gaga over jewelry. They act so foolishly. It must be insecurity.”

Eventually she took a turn through the place. She was back quickly, none of the jewelry interested her. Elaine was at the stage of life where she was giving her pieces to her family and her maid. She didn’t need more bounty.

She did mention a tiny landscape in precious stones the size of an index card. The miniature mise en scene had caught my eye too. We talked about how beautiful but impractical it was. The $38,000 price tag didn’t phase her so we went to examine it again. She decided against it. It would be just another thing to give away.

We visited on the day that would have been my Grandmother’s 100th birthday.

The last time I saw Elaine was in the Delhi airport lounge at 1:00 a.m. We were waiting for our respective flights home. When I stood up to leave she extended her hand. To kiss it would have been affected. To shake it, pedestrian. So I held it for a few seconds.

In her low, smokey voice she said grandly, “Come to Coral Gables,”

Jackie Gets a Facelift

As I continue to tie up loose ends around the place–clearing brush down by the crick, taking care of the larvae infestation in the chicken coop–sights were turned to the Jackie door. Not really her door but a door saluting the sensationalist tabloid school of journalism that made her a household name. And kept her that way for decades.

The Baader-Meinhof color scheme of steel gray and neon yellow did not flatter the former First Lady. To her credit, I didn’t hear a peep. She’s never been one to complain.

The real problem was the veneer molding on a roll, fake wood crap used to section off the articles. It had about 20 coats of paint on it because I could never get the color even. By the time I gave up it was buckling and warped.

Poor Mrs. O had to live with it for a year and a half. I felt if she can survive having her husband’s head blown up in her face, or being held captive on a remote island by a pot-gutted Greek thug for five years, she could handle a little adversity in home decor.

Her patience has paid dividends. Now she’s all dolled up and ready for dinner at La Grenouille followed by a frolic in the backroom at Studio 54.

The new presentation is reminiscent of the mid-century, tutti frutti pieces Cartier made with precious stones. Which brings to mind one of the great stories of 20th Century Jewelry.

The Duchess of Windsor was a client of Cartier and had a few of these multi-colored pieces. Many of her jewels were custom made from stones given to the Duke when he was Prince of Wales. Technically they were given to the people of the United Kingdom but the Duke appropriated them anyway. As royals are wont to do.

The Duchess wore one of her original necklaces for the first time to a Paris Ball in 1957. Her bib was the talk of the night and met with universal acclaim from everyone she encountered. Including the Maharani of Baroda.

The Maharani possessed one of the world’s largest private collections of jewelry and had an encyclopedic knowledge of precious stones. She studied the necklace carefully for a few moments then expressed her admiration. She specifically remembered the emeralds. They’d once been part of anklets she wore.

The Duchess stormed home from the Ball, put the necklace back in its case and never wore it again. I’m sure the Duke was browbeaten that night for letting her make such a fool of herself. Probably for the rest of his life as well.

The idea that her anointed-by-god jewels had once adorned the feet of another woman was just too much for the Duchess. And a non-white woman to boot.

It’s this depth of thought and feeling that characterizes the House of Windsor even to this day.

The googley eyes contain mini-webcams. Like Chuck Berry, I keep tabs on what people do in my bathroom.

450 6th Avenue

One sunny morning last week I left my apartment not knowing where I was headed. I only had an address. When I got there I knew exactly where I was. It was the building where Brian died in 1991.

This heartless pile of prefab concrete has been printing money for the “non-profit” Kaiser Permanente Group for 40 years. Back then it was a hospital/hospice. Today it’s doctors’ offices.

The memories of Brian’s time there are random and sometimes silly. When his elderly parents visited I rented a car for the week to chauffeur them around. They looked overwhelmed when I met them at the airport’s baggage claim. Second generation Polish immigrants, they’d rarely been out of their Chicago suburb.

What I did for them was no big deal. I picked them up and drove them to 6th Avenue every morning. Then retrieved them in the evening, stopped for groceries and took them back to Brian’s.

They were so grateful. They acted as if I’d moved mountains. Actually, it was only a small foothill of Brian’s porn stash that I hid before they arrived. For the rest of her life, Olympia sent me a religious card every Christmas containing her blessings.

One evening I ran into David at the hospice. We waited for Brian to fall asleep then he drove me home. On the way he said he couldn’t believe I got Brian to take the ice chips. Every time he offered him something or tried to feed him he refused. Apparently, I just started spoon feeding him without asking or saying anything. And he enjoyed them. Being pushy has its moments.

Brian had such an explosive and inventive wit. He was like Robin Williams just not as obnoxious.

On another visit I found him having a fitful time. Tossing and turning, feverish, he couldn’t get comfortable. All they gave him was sponge baths. He longed to take a proper shower again. At one point he told me, “I must smell like a Safeway chicken.”

My trip to 450 6th this month was for a biopsy on my prostate. Earlier this summer my PSA tested slightly elevated from a year ago and out of the acceptable range. They had me wait a month to repeat the test. It went down some but was still too high so the urologist scheduled the procedure.

Today I found out that of the 14 biopsies taken, four showed signs of cancer. When I asked the doctor about stages he said it’s still early. He said it hadn’t even reached Stage 1 yet. It’s in something akin to pre-kindergarten. Because of that he thinks it will be easily treatable. We’ll see.

The past two angst-filled months I’ve thought of being just another cipher, more grist for the cancer industry’s mill. But mostly I’ve worried the disease will end my sex life. That would be untenable.

No one likes to talk about elder sex. It’s the new love that dares not speak its name. Or maybe the name’s spoken but not heard because people are not turning up their hearing aids. It’s unexploited territory, sure to be the next great genre of pornography.

I was heartened recently to find a clip of Joan Rivers on Graham Norton when she was 77. She professed to still have an active sex life but it was not without its issues. “My vagina is so dry, camels follow me home.”

Gay men are obsessed with youth. They pressure each other in every stage of life to be younger than they are. They do, however, draw the line at someone my age supposedly not acting it by still whoring around.

I’m not trying to be anything. I want to continue what I enjoy. Sex is the most effective form of non-verbal expression ever created. Which brings us to a teaching moment.

Seated in an airplane exit row, I silently fume when the attendant asks if I’ll perform the required duties. They insist on a verbal response. I’m inclined to take a pen and write “yes” on something. Or answer with sign language.

What the attendants want is an audible response. They confuse verbal with oral which are not interchangeable. One pertains to the use of words. The other the use of the mouth. And during sex, one is completely optional while the other is almost always mandatory. Discuss among yourselves.

In Valley of the Dolls, Sharon Tate laments her mastectomy with “My breasts! My breasts!” It’s so corny and so poorly acted. Yet, so memorable.

After the biopsy I waited in front of 450 6th Avenue for Lyft. A bit groggy, an inner voice kept repeating, “My dick! My dick!”

Tete a tete with Brian at Chez Panisse Cafe, early 1980s.

What Price Paranormality?

During the run of the play we plastered these stickers all over town. This is the only one left in captivity (that I know of anyway.)

Jim wrote 1968 for me. I was his muse which was both flattering and unsettling.

I get satisfaction out of being the center of attention at times if I have to work and fight for it. A muse just has to exist. Where’s the fun in that? Being on a pedestal felt like there was only one way to go: crash.

Although the play is highly stylized, which makes it feel artificial, we tried hard to get the facts right. Many of Valerie’s lines she actually said: she did surrender to a policeman on the street by telling him “he had too much control;” and, the court room line “it’s not everyday I shoot someone” is hers.

And her SCUM Manifesto is so rich. When I was tasked to cut 16 single spaced pages down to about 100 words for her speech, it just couldn’t be done. The Manifesto is an absurdist’s delight.

Then there’s the bop cap. It was her signature item of apparel but we could never find one or figure out what one was. Even if we did, I told Jim I wasn’t going to wear it. I don’t like hats and this one sounded kind of hokey.

He was furious with me. He accused me of putting my vanity before the aesthetics of the play. He said we shouldn’t sabotage Valerie’s style or that of the era.

I shot back, “oh you mean like how listening to couplets for an hour really brings the 60’s back to life for most people?” Just an example of one of our many heady arguments over details.

I contributed plot ideas to the script, research and a few barbs. Jim was the wordsmith, however, the poet. The lines are his.

When I pulled out the play a week ago I hadn’t seen it in 30 years. A lot surprised me and a lot I’d forgotten. I may not have created or remembered the words but on every page I heard my voice. He really did write it for me.

Jim and I working together was a disaster. It almost destroyed our friendship.   We did not speak for two years after the run. Then he became ill and I did everything I could to help him.

1968 had been too much for both of us, There was so much sturm and drang over the production, in the hands of the right person there’s probably enough fodder there for another play.

That person died in 1988. He was 37.

Opening the Vault to: 1968, Act Three

This Big Slit

Viva was played by my friend Juliet. Her character was dazed and confused, a role that came easily to her. Why should she be any different than the rest of the cast? Directions were changing in the middle of performances. No one knew what they were supposed to do.

Valerie’s love for Viva is unrequited. But she pursues her anyway with a fool’s hope that she can change her thinking.

Thoughts do not go very deep with Viva. If it doesn’t involve her image, she can’t be bothered.

When Valerie finally understands the score, she identifies Warhol as the source of all her woes. Emboldened by her stirring aria I a Woman, she decides to clean house and off Andy.

Opening the Vault to: 1968, Act Two

American Gothic, ’68 Style

The End of Human Nature

Test shot for my Valerie Solanas look.

One of the reasons I liked Hamilton was because it reminded me of the play Jim and I did, 1968. Both were done to a beat. were heavy on the couplets, and had some wacky, against the grain casting: blacks as whites, men as women, one dude obviously playing three different people. The two plays did not accurately reenact events. Rather, they relayed historical details in an entertaining way.

Acting went through a severe identity crisis in the 20th century. For millennia, stage actors had ruled the roost with exaggerated gestures and loud voices projected to the back of the theater. All this while supposedly whispering sweet nothings in their lover’s ears. It was just accepted by players and audiences that it was the way it was done.

With the advent of film, however, you could physically whisper without all the gimmickry. Relatively speaking. It was still coming across at decibel levels way above normal. But compared to the other sounds in the movie they were just right.

The biggest dilemma in the early days of film making was that all actors had been trained for the stage, a style too broad for cinema. It took decades to breed the ham out of the Barrymores.

When auteurs finally got what they wanted and realized what they had, the pressure in the 50’s and 60’s was to be as natural as possible. And no one did that better than Warhol in Sleep and Empire. So natural, soooo boring.

Once film found its Terms of Endearment niche, there was no way theater could physically compete. It resorted to schmaltzy musicals and endless examinations of self worth. With a smattering of social justice avenging thrown in now and then.

What Jim and Hamilton did was to stop spoon-feeding the audience and use a format that forces them to think.

Art is not a controlled environment where a + b = c.  If the artist does their job creating a + b then c will have a million different values depending on the perceptions of the viewers.

There are no right or wrong answers in art. There are no answers at all. There’s only the experience.

Jump in, Mabel, whenever you’re feeling it.

I once had a fan tell me I reminded him of Mabel Mercer. At first I was offended. I remembered her as being kind of dog meat-ish, a little porky.

As I processed it, however, I thought of the many show business insiders who adored her. Frank Sinatra said she was the master of phrasing and timing. She taught him everything he knew.

If that’s what the fan meant, I’ll take it any day of the week.

August marks the 5th anniversary of ls2lsblog.com. I started in 2014 by circulating drafts to friends for their opinions. In particular, I wondered what Carl and Ellen thought.

Carl’s advice was to keep the pieces at 500 words. You can see how well I’ve done with that.

Ellen, on the other hand, had tried for two decades to engage me in a writing project. The things I showed her never passed muster. She was not mean about it but neither was she satisfied. Her responses were gentle but lethal. “Let me know if you want to continue this.”

When I read the first two words of her reply to the drafts I started to cry: “Well, well…..” It only took 20 years but I was finally on the right track. I’m still riding the fumes.

In late 2017 I promised readers a revamp and new feel for the blog. True to my word and a mere 22 months later that process begins today.

The emphasis is on archiving things of mine and things of the era. Up first is Act One of 1968.

I haven’t formulated an archive plan yet but my style has always been to force the issue then make sense of it later. The Mabel inside me says I can do this.

Opening the vault to: 1968, Act One

SCUM personified.