Thursday, August 31, 2006
It is said that when you are about to die your life flashes before your eyes. Well I can attest to the fact that for me at least this was true. It is a nice crisp fall night in 1981. Friday night to be exact and I’m getting ready to go to bed. Its around 11 o’ clock and my roommate Scott decides that he’s hungry and in need for a sandwich so off he goes down the stairs and around the corner to the Arab deli to get something between two slices of bread. 20 minutes pass and I think that he’s been gone an awfully long time, I mean he just went around the corner to get a sandwich, but I don’t really give it much thought as I get undressed for sleep. My bedroom opens into the kitchen and there is a door in the kitchen that leads to a long hallway and the large metal door that leads to the world outside the loft. I hear Scott’s key in the door, and I wait for him to come in, so he can piddle around in the kitchen before I turn out the lights. His bedroom is through another door that leads to the rest of the loft including the living room and my studio. I’m expecting only Scott but as he enters I see that there are two large African American men standing along side of him. At first I think they are friends of his, which of course is ridiculous and then I see that one of the guys is holding a box cutter to his throat. Scott’s cheek is cut and bleeding slightly. I freeze. They freeze and our night of horror begins. I’m trying to be real calm and as I recall I do a pretty good job of it, especially since I’m only in my jockey shorts. “Ok everything is cool, just don’t hurt him, take what you want and go please.” Time comes to a halt and the long night begins. They have already taken the bag that held the sandwich and are munching on it, as they push Scott into the bedroom with me, and start to tie us up. As one does this the other goes into the refrigerator and starts flinging stuff all over the floor. Pigs I think to myself. “Can I please put some clothes on I ask” “Go ahead but don’t try anything funny.” They are older guys. “We just got out of prison,” one of them says, and I have no doubt about that. “Hey where are der women” one asks, “what are you homos?” “They just left, the women just left” I say Great now I’m worrying about being raped by these two freaking animals. Scott is quiet, and I’m starting to get angry with him for dragging me into this mess. It’s his fault I think. Why didn’t he tell them downstairs that there were a lot of people upstairs, that there was a big nasty dog waiting on the other side of the door, why why why did he allow himself to get mugged again. This is the third time he’s been mugged since moving to the city. He’s very muggable, slight, small, nerdy and very vulnerable. This would never have happened to me I think to myself. One of them has to pee and he does this on the floor of my bedroom, on the clothes that he threw off the chair. I’m tempted to ask him to please not pee on my books but I hold my tongue, because he might out of spite let his stinking yellow stream flow on my wonderful books that fill several bookcases in my bedroom. Funny what goes though your mind at terrible times. They take my cigarettes and turn on the television. Channel 13 comes on and the movie “Blithe Spirit” is playing and I think to myself that just a few nights ago me and Scott watched this delightful film and laughed ourselves silly, now it was there to mock us. Maybe these will be the last images that I will ever see. Maybe I was on my way to ghostville like Kay Hammond in the movie. One of them cuts me on the leg. Not a terrible cut, but I’m still shocked by this. I would like to kill this guy but I can’t. I’m tied up and I think my chances of getting through this are 50-50. That’s when the life flashing thing starts. I see my mother pushing me down the street in a stroller, and then the front page of the New York Times comes up like a montage in an old Hollywood movie. I see my obit on the front page. Wow not bad I think. “Young artist murdered”. This is not the way I want to get in The New York Times. Then I see my mother crying and I’m jolted back to reality by them pulling stuff from drawers, and making a mess all over the place. God I wish they would just leave. They take my coat, cut the antenna cable attached to the TV thinking that they are destroying the TV. God are they stupid. They don’t realize that there is another big part of the loft beyond the door that luckily Scott closed before going out for his fucking sandwich. They think that the kitchen and bedroom are the whole apartment. They’re leaving. In a second they are gone, and Scott and me untie ourselves from their not very tight bonds and call the cops. I ask Scott what time it is and he says “around 3 in the morning”. I can’t believe how long they were here. The cops arrive one black, one white, I can actually see how hurt the black one is when I answer their question about what race they were. “We’re lucky to be alive,” they say. I think that if those two were young black or white men we wouldn’t have survived the night. These guys were older and tired. I don’t think they had it in their heart to really hurt us, but I hate them anyway and wish them dead. News reaches close friends and several arrive at dawn to give us support. A few are in tears realizing how close we came to being killed. A few weeks later I’m walking along 7th avenue near 14th street, and I see the two guys leaning against a doorway. “Hey man” one says. I freeze in my tracks as I realize that it is them. They suddenly realize who I am and off they run as I frantically look for a cop. Of course none are around. I decide to leave New York and I start looking for a teaching job outside the city.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
1957 marked the last year of the great Hollywood musical and moviegoers saw three
Marvelous examples of what Hollywood use to do best. The musicals were Paramount’s Funny Face, Warner Bros.'s The Pajama Game & M.G.M’s Les Girls which was the last original Hollywood musical and had a score written by Cole Porter no less. All 3 films played at Radio City Music Hall, and this then 10-year-old saw all three of them there. Maybe down the road, I’ll write about the other two, but for now its Funny Face which was based on an old Broadway revue from 1927 with music by George and Ira Gershwin that starred the brother & sister dancing team of Fred & Adele Astaire. For the film version much of the Gershwin’s score was kept and some new original music by Ira Gershwin & Leonard Gershe was added. They also attached a somewhat bright and somewhat new 50’s story to it to fit the large talents of Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn. In the film Astaire plays a fashion photographer loosely based on Richard Avedon (By the way Avedon designed the stylish snazzy opening credits) who works for a top fashion Magazine, (think Vogue) whose editor played by the great Kay Thompson (think Diana Vreeland) is looking for the perfect new face. They stumble across Hepburn (never more beautiful) working in a dusty Greenwich Village bookstore (remember those) while on a location shot, and before you can say Christian Dior, everyone is off to Paris, where Hepburn is touted as "the new face" and gets to model some swell de Givenchy gowns amid lovely Paris locals. Needless to say Hepburn falls for Astaire, which in the uptight 50's was pretty racy stuff, since Astaire was 58 at the time & much older than Hepburn who was only 28. That pretty much is the plot. Not much to work with one would think, but the director Stanley Donen has taken this cotton candy of a storyline and fashioned one of the most enjoyable and best musicals of the 50's. There are several set pieces most of which the great Kay Thompson takes part in and she pretty much steals the show. Her performance is one of the most manic and some might even say psychotic performances ever put on celluloid, and I don’t hesitate to say that if this was a real person a net would be thrown over her and off she would go to the looney bin where she could sing and dance to her hearts’ content and trade stories with Baby Jane Hudson, Dr. Mabuse and Norman Bates. Thompson only made three films., and most of her Hollywood work was behind the scenes as a vocal arranger & lyricist for several M.G.M. musicals of the 1940's. She is probably best known as the author of the annoying and everlasting children's book Eloise and for being the Godmother of Liza Minnelli. We’ll forgive her for those trespasses and instead say thank God for those fabulous open toe shoes that she wears through most of the movie. Some of the stuff falls flat, especially Hepburn's on again off again infatuation with a phony Paris philosopher (think Satre) who is more interested in Hepburn's body than her mind. That's a minor fault, because this is a musical that offers so much in the way of its music, performances dancing, decor, costume & cinematography.
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Big Box No. 2. 1970
I was in big trouble, and I was really in for it. Its 1958 and I’m home from school because I’m sick with a cold and fever. I was in my bedroom that I share with my older brother who would soon be getting married. It’s early evening and my mother has just left for the luncheonette to begin her night shift and my father is on his way home. Suddenly I hear my sister scream out my name. She is 6 years older, and at 17 she is very pretty but still a bitch to me. She’s getting softer and a bit nicer in her later teen-age years, not as mean to me as she was when I was younger, but still not a joy to be around. I get out of my sick bed pushing aside my drawing pad, my Hardy Boy books and film magazines and go into the kitchen where she is standing and in her hand she is holding her pink diary. “What is this Ira? Did you do this? Wait until Daddy gets home.’ My brother is just getting home from work and she thrusts the diary into his face. “Take a look at this, see what the little brat has done.” My brother who is 22 and my hero looks at it, shrugs his head and says to her” You’re always trying to get him in trouble, always trying to hurt him”. “Hurt him, she screams, I’ll kill him, just look at what he did, he broke into my diary and wrote all these filthy words and drawings all over it.” It’s disgusting, and just wait until Daddy sees it. “Did you do this Ira. Did you write these dirty words, and drawings?” She asked. Well did you?” Well of course I did it. I thought to myself. You fucking bitch, I hate you so much that this was how I could show my anger and hatred towards you. I broke open your diary and wrote every curse word my little 11 year old self knew and I knew quite a few. I also drew big dicks and cunts all over the pages, and scribbled pornographic drawings on the photos of you and your boyfriends that were laid in the book, yes I did it, and as God is my witness I would do it all over again if I had the chance. “No of course not I didn’t do it” I lied with a straight face.” Well then who did this” she screamed. I had to think fast, I still was feverish, and it was hard to get my thoughts straight. Who could I blame? My uncle Natie? No don’t be stupid. I know I’ll blame a friend, but what friend. I couldn’t blame Howie, he probably didn’t even know what most of the words meant, and he couldn’t draw a straight line, let alone a hard dick or a dripping pussy and besides he lived next door, and I had no doubt that my sister would be ringing his bell in a second if I told her he did it. No it had to be a distant friend, never seen. “It was my friend Ritchie I screamed” I felt like Bonita Granville the monster child who rats and tells lies on her friends in the movie “These Three” that my mom and me had just watched on the Late show the other week. “Ritchie, who is Ritchie?” My sister asked. She was so mad that she was actually turning red with anger. “He’s in my class and he came over a few weeks ago, and found your diary, and did the dirty with it.” “What crap” she bellowed. “How did he find it, and what were you doing in my room.?” I felt real bad, not for what I had done, but because I had got caught. And how did my eleven-year-old mind ever think that I would get away with it. I mean eventually she would open the damn book and see the words and the drawings. Well the doody was about to hit the fan, as my father had his key in the lock and was home. He was dressed in his white restaurant drag with Oscar’s Luncheonette written in blue script across the shirt. Not a happy man under the best of circumstances, he turned white when my sister showed him the diary. “Did you do this?” he asked. “No I told her that I didn’t, my friend Ritchie did” He was towering over me, and had murder in his eyes. I really thought he was going to hit me, but he knew that if he did, my mother would be home in a flash with clenched fists pounding his head and body. Actually he never had hit me, but in later years when I was 18 or 19 we would come to blows but at this time he didn’t have to use violence to intimate or punish me. Just his presence in my life was punishment enough. Between him and my sister my young life was hell enough. They were my concentration camp. My Auschwitz, my Dachau. My sister sat down at the table and started to erase my artwork. “Do you want me to help you”? I asked. “No.” My father went in the living room to watch TV. My brother got ready to go see his girlfriend and future wife, and I crept back into my bedroom and my sickness. “Well in time I thought all would be forgotten, maybe in a few months or years.” Yeah right.
Thursday, August 24, 2006
On June 18, 1953, Sam Fuller’s film “Pickup on South Street” opened at the Roxy Theatre in New York City. Which is amazing since this is such a raw nasty little flick for a “family“ theatre to show. But the Roxy would and could play this sort of film as it was a step below and down the block from Radio City Music Hall which would never think of showing this sort of a film, but the Roxy would pretty much show anything that came out of studios of 20th century fox in the 40’s and 50’s. I would have loved to have seen it there. With the film was a nice ice stage show and revue that featured the McDonalds, Bobby Blake, (I wonder if this is the Bobby Blake, child actor and future murderer?) the Bruises, (Now how appropriate is that) the Skating Blades and Belles and the Roxy Choraleers. Wonderful. This 1953 Sam Fuller movie contains some of his best work, and its sad that he couldn't continue to get the backing of major Hollywood studios to do his stuff. The story line goes something like this. A tough hard broad (read Prostitute) is riding the subway one hot summer day, and gets her Pocketbook picked (or to use pickpocket slang “dipped) by Skip McCoy. What Skip (and the dame) don't realize is that she is also carrying some microfilm to be passed to commie spies. This opening shot without dialogue, and mostly in tight close-ups is a beaut, and is but one of the many close-ups that Fuller uses throughout the movie. Playing the babe known as Candy is Jean Peters who was once married to Howard Hughes and who was never better nor better looking even when she is battered and bruised by Widmark into unconsciousness. One forgets how beautiful she was, and she handles this role very well. The Pickpocket is played by Richard Widmark, who had already made his mark, and set his style with 1947's Kiss Of Death as Tommy Udo the crazy creep with the creepy laugh who pushed a wheelchair bound Mildred Dunnock down a flight of stairs, and although he's a little "softer" here, he's still scary. These hard edged Characters do have soft spots here and there, but its noir and nasty all the way. The standout performance belongs to the wonderful Thelma Ritter, who Plays Moe the stoolie saving up her dough to pay for her own funeral. Ritter received a well deserved Oscar nomination for her performance, but lost Out to the boring but popular performance of Donna Reed as the B-girl (read Prostitute) in "From Here to Eternity." Hollywood loves it when a good Girl goes bad, and loves to Oscar them even though their performance is usually Awful. See for instance Shirley Jones in "Elmer Gantry. Set among the docks and dives of New York City, with crisp black and white photography by the great Joe MacDonald, and some very good art direction. Especially fine is the set representing the New York City subways and Widmark's shack near the river. Made at the height of the cold war and red scare, the villain of the piece is the ordinary looking commie, played by Richard Kiley who is much more dangerous than the pickpocket who although a criminal is just trying to Make a living and above all is a loyal, truth, justice and the American way American. Almost 20 years to the day that the film premiered Vincent called me on the phone. “I have someone here who wants to talk to you hold on.” “Is this Ira? This is Sam Fuller and I just love your work.” It seems that Fuller was giving a series of talks at the college where Vincent taught and was staying at his home. Vincent had one of my small boxes, bought a year or so earlier and Fuller loved it. “I want to buy one. Send me one at my California address and I’ll send you a nice check.” After saying good bye I floated into my studio and picked out a nice box for him, and I also threw in a lovely drawing as a gift, free of charge I think I wrote in the letter accompanying the piece for making “The Naked Kiss.” I packed the work up real good and the next day I cha cha’d over to the UPS and the sculpture was on its way. How happy was I. I mean come on, one of my favorite directors had just told me how great he thought I was. I was in heaven and told all my pals at the bookstore where I worked about how Sam Fucking Fuller was buying a piece of mine. A few weeks passed and no word or check came. Finally an 8” x 10” envelope arrived. I opened it up and there was an inscribed photo of Fuller to me with his ubiquitous stogie slammed into his mouth and a letter. In the letter he said how much he and Christa his wife loved my piece, and how he was working on a new project and blah blah blah but no check fluttered out to greet me. I was heartbroken and angry. The photo went into the garbage. I was ripped off bamboozled, scammed robbed by Sam Fuller. I immediately wrote him a nasty angry letter telling him how terrible it was that he would rip off another artist. I never heard from him again. He, his family and my box moved to Paris. Vincent felt real bad, after all he had set the deal up, had unknowingly put the scam in motion. Oh I got over it, it took a while but I got over it. I still love his films but not the man. Now switch to the recent present and I have the new Criterion DVD of Pickup On South Street in my paws and I watch it with pleasure, the juices running down my chin it’s still that good. One of the extras is a series of photos and there is one of Francois Truffaut sitting in The Fuller’s living room in Paris, and in the background I can make out my box attached to a shelf on the wall directly behind the great French director’s head. Life imitates art.
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Articles Of Impeachment
One day in the spring of 1974 I found that I couldn’t get out of bed. I felt a shooting pain down my leg, and my back was killing me. I just lay there. I finally moved and slowly got up from the foam mattress that rested on the wooden platform bed that “M” had built for us when we first moved into the loft. The pain in my left leg caused by sciatica almost took my breath away and I could barely straighten up. I made my way to the bookstore in the village where I worked and suffered through the day. I had just broken up with “M” for the first time and was living alone. It was spring in New York I was single, 27 and I felt like shit. The pain didn’t diminish so I started the doctor journey which lasted from the spring until early fall with me finally spending two weeks in August in traction at Lenox Hill Hospital. I hated it there and they hated me there. I was a terrible patient, cranky and and always complaining. Of course to my mind I had every reason to bitch and moan. I was in a ward, which was ok, but they moved a terminal patient on a life support machine right next to me, and I didn’t sleep a wink for the nearly two weeks I was there. “Move him somewhere else” I pleaded. The noise from one of those giant tin cans was unrelenting and brutal. “Move me somewhere else” I pleaded. I actually told them to pull the plug on him, that’s what pain can make one do and say. I carried on so, that at night they would move me to any available space just to shut me up and this included bedding me down in a storage closet. At least I slept. The nurses all bitched me behind my back, and you know that the 1st rule when in a hospital is never complain and always be good because those in control will get revenge for sure. They ignored my calls and rings and pleadings for more painkillers. They gave me Tylenol. I had an orthopedic surgeon and and neurologist. The orthopedic guy, said I would always have back problems, nothing to be done. They had more tests to run including the dreaded Mylogram sometimes known as a spinal tap. “Don’t you let them doctors do no mylogram on you” warned the young African American male who was in the bed next to mine when I arrived. I had a visit from my parents. My father as usual was his miserable self telling me There’s nothing wrong with you” “No Dad, I’m only doing this because I have nothing better to do.” Being a man of 27 I finally felt free to tell him where to go. “Get him out of here I told my mother, and they both left. “M” came bringing a copy of his latest book that I did the drawings for and yellow lined pads and markers for me to drawn on. I must have asked for them I mean why else would anyone bring me yellow lined pads to drawn on. He was leaving for a trip to Japan and I felt so alone and depressed. We still loved each other, but his alcoholism had finally driven a wedge in our relationship and we had separated earlier that spring. Now on to the mylogram. Please see the drawings posted to get a visual idea of what one of those things is like. First they only drugged me somewhat, as you have to be conscious during it, why I don’t know. Then they tie you to a rigmarole and flip you upside down, and inject dye into your spinal column. I screamed all the way through it. I have never felt such pain, and the bitch nurses to get even, didn’t tell me not to lift my head up off the pillow because if I did I have would the worst headaches imaginable. They were right about those headaches. The results came back and they could find no damage to my spine.Was it psychosomatic, a hysterical reaction to my breaking up with “M”? Anyway I would be going home. I was fragile and weak, but I slowly began to walk down the hospital corridor to get used to walking again. My mother took me back to the loft in a cab, and I got back into bed where I would stay off and on until September. I ate, read and watched on tv the House Judiciary Committee show vote for articles of impeachment against Nixon. I had spent the whole spring and summer in bed and now the fall was approaching and I had to get better. I was on my own and I just had to get better. I needed help though and friends would drop by to cook for me and keep me company. Vincent came to New York for one of his whirlwind trips of men, Broadway shows and booze and he slept on the spare bed in the living room. He wasn’t there much, a smile here, a joke there, a cooked dinner of pasta and he was off to see the wizard. My mother came quite a bit, and one morning as she cooked breakfast for me, Vincent trotted in after a night God knows where without his shoes. My mother tried not to notice. “Vincent I asked what happened to your shoes?” “Oh I guess there somewhere else where I’m not .” And that was that.
Monday, August 21, 2006
I have three of my paintings included in the latest issue of Otolith Magazine. This is my first contribution to an on line literary magazine. I also got word today from Cerebration that they want to use one of my drawings for the cover of their final issue of the year. Here is the link to my work on Otolith magazine. You can of course view the entire issue.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
I Have Always Hated Sundays
Even since I was a little boy I have always hated Sundays. This probably has to do with the fact that both my parents were at home on that day, and inevitably before the sun went down they would be at each other’s throats both literally and figuratively. I was a captive audience until I left home at 19. Where does a 10 year old kid go to escape violent and mean scenes between his parents. In the closet, out to the street, under a bed? My bother and sister were both older than me, my brother by 13 years and my sister by 6 years, so it was easy for them to get away. Occasionally though they too would be drawn into my parents whirlpool, as the violence would sometimes come unexpectly and they wouldn’t have time to get their shoes on and jump ship leaving me to fend for myself. My father owned a luncheonette under the elevated subway (el) in Borough Park Brooklyn and both he and my mother worked long hard hours there. He had the day shift and my mother would go in the evenings to relieve him. She would leave his dinner in the frig.or on the table and I would be left alone until he came home. I dreaded his coming. He wouldn’t say a word to me. If I were watching a program on the TV he would switch the channel in mid program to something he wanted to see, he just wasn’t capable of giving, and as a I grew up I would often wonder what the hell went wrong with his childhood to turn him into this monster. To this day I don’t know the reasons. I do know that his mother, my bubby was a scary thing who frighten me from the day I met her. She owned a brownstone in Williamsburg Brooklyn way before it became the “in” place for young yuppies to live. Gnarled and tiny she spoke only Yiddish and was always complaining about her health. I would hide behind my mother when we would visit, and I could only imagine what it was like for my father and his 3 brothers and sister to be raised by her, their father having died young. I would get up from the couch and go into my room where I would read or drawn or make things hating him all the time. He would flick his cigarette ashes anywhere he liked usually on the carpet or into his finished plate of food and he would throw the butts also anywhere he liked. On the carpet, in his glass of Coke and even sometimes in the ashtray. Around 7 or 8 he would go into the bedroom next to the living room and go to sleep. I would clean up his mess and then the TV was mine again and I was free to watch the situation comedies or the scary shows or the plays on playhouse 90 or studio one. Sometimes my brother and sister would be home with me, but I was usually left alone to my own devices. I would be asleep by the time my mom and my uncle Natie would come home from the store (as we called it) which was only 2 blocks from our apartment on 12th ave and sometimes usually in the summertime when there was no school I would stay in the luncheonette and hold court in one of the booths where I would drawn and color in coloring books or read my favorite comics and movie magazines that lined the shelves in the front of the store. One of my favorite things to do was to unpack the new comics and magazines that came tied up with thin wire cord every Tuesday and Thursday. I would carefully cut the thin wire with cutters and place the new comics and magazines on the shelves removing the ones that didn’t sell and helping myself of course to some of my favorites for my collection. I generally would have dinner in the luncheonette and the food was good as my mother would cook and prepare some of the menu at home or in the tiny kitchen that was located in the back of the store. Sometimes I would fall asleep in one of the booths my face pressed against the warm plastic seat cushion waiting for my mother and uncle to close up the store. Then the three of us would walk back home through the quiet streets of Borough Park, my sad mother, my sweet simple uncle and me. But on Sundays when they were both home, arguments and violent fights would always occur. I would grow up dreading the 7th day. They would usually not talk to each other and were barely civil to each other. On Sundays my uncle would usually take me to the movies or in the summer to Coney Island, but I would at some time have to return home. I grew up knowing to keep out of his way, to avoid him and his psychotic temper. The first sign of his anger would be the biting of his lip then the name calling would start, then objects, and food that was once on the table would go flying through the air. The fights would be about money and the lack of it, his gambling, their addiction to my mother’s diet pills, who was at fault for recently smashing up the car, or setting the bed on fire or imaginary and real affairs, whatever it really didn’t matter. Lets eavesdrop now on Oscar and Roz and see what they’re up to. She: “You mockie kike pimp”. He: “Get out of my sight and take your sissy Mary son with you” She: (screaming) “you broke my eye in”. When I heard this I thought he had broken her eye, when in fact he had broken her iron, which was probably a crime just as bad to my mother as his “breaking her eye in”. He did on occasion give her a few shiners, which she would hide from view with sunglasses that matched her raven black hair. She was a good-looking woman and he was a good looking man, and for 50 years they hated and loved each other until that February morning my mother woke up to discover his cold dead body lying next to her.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
For the last week or so, Philip Glass’s wonderful score that he composed for Paul Schrader’s film Mishima has been playing madly in my head. Its there when I try to go to sleep at night with the air conditioner blasting away, and its there during my usual ordinary daily routine of riding the subways, working out, reading, making art or buying food. The music makes even the most mundane things that I do during the day dramatic and exciting. The reason that this film score is in my head is because I recently saw the film again on DVD, and hearing the music brought back memories of the first Philip Glass concert I went to, and what happened to “M” on that day. The concert was being held at the Leo Castelli Gallery which was located in the Soho of 1972, before the boutiques, before the rich and their off spring had chased all the artists away, before the unreal estate barons had taken over this once barren neighborhood with the magnificent cast iron architecture on the other side of Houston street. That Saturday in the spring of 72 “M” woke up with a terrible hangover. He had been drinking heavily the night before which was nothing new for him. He drank a lot, and I usually drank right along with him. To keep him company, to amuse myself, to ward off boredom I don’t know. More than likely we were at a dinner party with notable writers of poetry and prose that Friday night. More than likely there were also some heavy duty artists there also. In any case “M” had a hangover, but he still wanted to go to the concert and so did I. The gallery was packed with people who sat and sprawled on the smooth expensive wood floor. We also sat and sprawled, but “M” looked pale and drawn. His hangovers were usually dark, dramatic and very frequent. Out of the corner of my eye, I recognized someone I had gone to high school with a decade earlier as Glass came out to clapping hands, and the music began. I don’t recall it at all, except that the music they made started to freak “M” out. It was turning him green and he looked as if he would vomit all over Mr. Castelli’s beautiful wood floor so we left. We left carefully so as to not disturb the sprawling people, we left and walked down the stairs to the spring afternoon and we left to walk through the village as “M” needed air, the fresher the better and to walk off his hangover that hung over him, me and the spring day. I was concerned. We walked north on 6th Ave, or if you prefer The Avenue Of The Americas”. When we reached 8th street, “M” was feeling somwhat better and he suggested that we walk over to the 8th St. Bookstore so he could find some new sci-fi fiction or cookbooks to read. Just as we reached the bookstore, “M” started to make moaning sounds and started to fall towards the bookstore’s large display plate glass window. I caught him in time to avoid a horrible accident, and he fell rather nicely to the sidewalk. Cop cars, people and shock. He was out, blotto, cold to the touch but still alive. He slowly came to and I got him up off the sidewalk with the support and help of strangers and cops. We got into the police car and took him to St. Vincent’s Hospital. The doctors there told him he had a seizure from alcohol withdrawal and told him the best thing would be for him to stop drinking. They gave him some anti-seizure pills the kind that epileptics take and we went home. This was not the end, as he would have another seizure a few weeks later on his way to the supermarket to get food for a dinner we were giving for Linda and Klaus. As he lay on the sidewalk unconscious, animals went through his pockets and stole the $100.00 food money he had on him.
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
Five Stories Of The Music Hall
Working for a strange Uriah Heep sort of a nut, in order to pay for the printing of this monograph (book) on Radio City Music Hall. It's really of the Music Hall, rather than about the Music Hall. Uriah Heep wasn't the real first name or the real last name of the nut, but his name isn't that important to the incident anyway. It was late summer or early fall, but it wasn't spring. I'm in his apartment now, which is cluttered with scraps and papers. A bed-spring leans up against an off-white wall, and closets can't be opened. I was afraid to look at any piles on the floor because they might start moving towards me, thinking that they know me from somewhere. This time its a run-down boarding house on West 12th street, 38 blocks from Radio City. Several years before Fritz Lang had used this very site for the main set for one of his movies. Joan Bennett had sat where I now sit. I take out a cigarette and start looking for an ash-tray, some rubber cement, and a sheet of 78909 typeset. He is not here now, but any minute now he may come back, so I can't waste any time. If Only I can finish pasting up this last page of his magazine called "Off-Off...Whats Happening Off Broadway," I can leave. Everything is going as planned. Nancy is doing all the typing at her office at Seventeen Magazine, and each night the pages are smuggled out to me via a Mercury Messenger. It is early evening now and the street outside the dirty windows is taking on that 1969 look of evening that one can really appreciate after being locked up in a hole for two hours. Uriah is back now, the hair on his head going off in all directions, dripping Mr. Custard down the front of his black and blue sport Jacket. I can actually visualize the pages of the Music Hall book before my eyes.
Now it is the fall of 1957, waiting outside the second mezzanine on a long line with my mother and sister. It is a fall evening but it's warm and feels like a spring evening. Spring afternoons in New York are quite different from spring evenings and I feel this is important enough to point out. It is two years before a woman tourist will trip and fall in front of me and my uncle Natie as we enter the Music Hall to see "Count Your Blessings." This time we--by "we" I mean my mother, my sister, and me---are waiting to see George Cukor's "Les Girls," in Metrocolor. My sister is wearing red lipstick like Mitzi Gaynor will have on, when she does her big dance number in the movie. My sister is looking at the program, as the sound of the biggest organ in the world filters out into the foyer. I don't have this program anymore, and it's quite possible that I miss it, especially the smell. (More about the smell of the Music Hall Programs later.) She points out to me in the program that one of the numbers in the stage show, that we will see very soon is called "Silhouettes" which was the nineteenth most popular song in 1957 (according to Cash Box.) We both like the song very much, and look forward to hearing it. As it happened, it turned out to be something completely different, the wrong "Silhouettes," and we are very disappointed. On the way home in the car we sing the songs to each other that were done in the movie.
1965. (We will have to go back further than that for all the facts, but this will do for now.) It's May in New York. Spring and warm. I'm on the subway coming from Brooklyn and going to Manhattan. The Brooklyn I've lived in for all my eighteen years. The Manhattan I've visited for all my eighteen years. I'm to apply for a job as an usher at Radio City Music Hall. I don't get the job, but it doesn't matter that you know this before the incident is over, before I finish telling the incident, because there are no surprises. Out of the subway and up to 61 West 50th Street to a small door on the side of the Music Hall. I'm to enter through this same door eight years later to meet with Patricia Robert, the Director of Publicity, to discuss with her the article on Radio City Music Hall for Artforum Magazine that I might write. But now I'm met by an acquaintance of my mother who works at the Music Hall at some job I can't recall. As I walk down some small steps he says: "Your mother tells me you're interested in art. You Know the Music Hall awards scholarships in art every year to the children of parents who work here. Perhaps if your mother got a job here, you too could qualify." "But my mother sells donuts on the 50th Street subway station of the BMT. She can't work here. Besides what will she do with all the donuts?" Then he said: "Well, maybe if you get the usher job, your children will be able to qualify for one of the scholarships." "Impossible! I don't ever intend to have children and even If I did they wouldn't be interested in art." An elevator takes me down to the basement of the Music Hall. It's not unlike the subway stations that New York is famous for. There are tiles on the wall; there are hard wooden benches for tired ushers to rest on; there is even some graffitti, but not in the epidemic proportion that has recently manifested itself in our subway system. There are only boys down here, some off-duty, some about to go on. Each one checks the big black board outside the head usher's office for his daily assignment, and the schedule of the program for the day. Nausea sweeps over me as I'm led into the head usher's office.
A number of incidents take place in New York in the springtime. It seems that everything happens in the spring. I would tell this to my analyst ten years later on a spring evening. But in the spring of 1959, I'm on my way to the Music Hall with my uncle Natie. It's a Sunday, because it had to happen on a Sunday. We had already been to the Paramount, stopping to take photographs of coins in a window, finally reaching our destination via Sixth Avenue. It was spring and just as we were about to enter the theater, a woman tourist, leaving, tripped on something and fell on the sidewalk in front of us. I felt rather strange and had a feeling of deja vu, followed by a mild case of depression for the rest of the afternoon.
Now it's the beginning of spring 1961, March 15, 1961, and we come to see "The immortal story of the loves and triumphs of a man and his woman...the epic cavalcade of a headlong surge to a glorious new land with its deep passions, earthy humor and throbbing romance." Waiting on a small line of people along the side of the 50th Street facade, I'm there with Bob Smithson and everyone is there to see Anthony Mann's remake of Edna Ferber's "Cimarron." A light spring rain, lukewarm by the time it falls on Atlas holding up the world. Bob takes out a cigarette. I wonder if perhaps it would have been a good idea to have used the hidden passage-way that connects the IRT Sixth Avenue line to the Music Hall. The head usher beckons the crowd to come forward and we enter, paying our admissions one right after the other. I pick up some programs and smell them for a few minutes; Bob does likewise. Now another line. This one is located in the Grand Foyer. Two chandeliers weighing two tons each hover over our heads and I wait for them to fall. Now everything finally starts to come together. Bob points up to the people leaving the auditorium from every mezzanine, first, second and third. Leisurely leavers lean over the mezzanine balconies that open above the Grand Foyer where Bob and I stand, waiting to enter the auditorium and our front row seats. Mirrors reaching six stories in height reflect the whole scene. Brahms' "Hungarian Dances" can now be heard and just as a woman standing in back of us starts to hum along, I spot a man leaning over the third mezzanine balcony, trying to see if he recognizes anybody on the line. Bob thinks he knows him from somewhere and starts to run up the main staircase in an effort to warn him that he is hanging over too far, that he's in danger, that he will fall or be pushed over the edge by the crowd that is now surging all around him. I hold my breath and wait. Perhaps this man falling to his death from the third mezzanine balcony on to the carpet below was necessary. Bob tried and I held my breath and waited. He was pronounced dead by the head nurse, Emma Heller, as we found our seats in the auditorium and waited for the lights to dim and the film begin. As we left the Music Hall, I knew that it would be eight years before I would see Bob again.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Bar Mitzvah Boys (thats me on the left & Howie on the right)
My 13th birthday was fast approaching, only a year away and with that fact came the nightmare that I would have to be bar mitzvahed. I had never attended Hebrew school, nor did I ever want to and my parents went along with it. I don’t know if this had to do with their religious non-beliefs, lack of money or just not caring, but lucky me I was never forced to attend. My family was very non-practicing, I can recall very few times that they attended synagogue even on the high holidays. On those holy days when I was 11 or 12 my mother would sneak us out of the house to have Chinese food or we would go to Manhattan and take in a few movies. I believe that we went to see Psycho in Times Square on Yom Kippur in 1960. Later that night after returning to Brooklyn from the movies or Chinese food my mom would park the red and white Pontiac blocks from our house and we walk back to our apartment passing some of our neighbors and yentas sitting outside resting after a hard day at the synagogue. But now we would have to face the fact that I had to start learning Torah for my transformation from a boy to a man. On the recommendation of my friend Howe’s mother I was to take private classes in Hebrew and Torah from a Rabbi Schatz who lived in the neighborhood. It just so happened that Howie was also studying with him and on some days we would take our lessons together. This was great because we were close friends. What was not so great was that we liked to goof off and to laugh at people who we thought were funny. We found the Rabbi, his wife and his ancient mother in law quite funny and we would crack up all the time during the lessons. When we misbehaved, the Rabbi would take his strap from his pants and hit us. This hurt but that didn’t stop us from laughing and carrying on. We would leave his house with welts on our thighs and asses. We were two little Jewish boy hipsters, wise guys and know it alls who would stop at nothing for a good laugh. We knew who the beats and Lenny Bruce were and for 12 year olds our humor was quite sophisticated but also silly and hurtful. The Rabbi would greet us at the door having just finished with his dinner, but his dinner was not quite finished with him, as traces would always be on his clothes and in his beard. He smelled. His house was dark and full of stuff and that also smelled. We sat in a small inner room off the front entrance way and over and over we would recite passages from old books in this strange language that had absolutely no meaning for me or Howie. To me all a bar mitzvah ever meant was that your parents threw you a big party with bad music, lousy food and lots of relatives who you had never seen before or would ever see again, and you got money or a watch or a fountain pen.As a young boy I always found the Jewish religion creepy and off puting. In synagogue You had to sit on hard uncomfortable wooden benches for hours as smelly dirty odd looking old men would sing or moan in Hebrew. The whole thing frighten me. I much preferred Christianity, not because of any beliefs, (this is another scary religion) but because it was pretty, what with all those glowing candles and twinkly Christmas lights and wonderfully wrapped presents. Growing up I had an Orthodox Jewish friend named Heshie who with his family lived in our building.. He was a nice boy and he would sneak up to our apartment to watch Superman on our TV. which was the only one in the entire building. The only Jewish holiday that I did like was Sukkot which was one of the few happy holidays in the Jewish religion. Observant Jews would build little houses on their property or in the backyards of apartment houses and would celebrate and actually live in them for a week or so. The holiday was celebrated 5 days after Yom Kippur and was symbolic of how the Jews lived in temporary dwellings after getting the hell out of Egypt. Heshie’s father would build the sukkah in the back yard of our building and the smell of the hay, bamboo poles, branches and wood that they would use to build the dwellings and for covering the roofs was lovely. To me it was like playing house or living in a little cabin in the woods, and looking back I can now see how these sweet odd buildings influenced my art. Forget Picasso or Matisee I was inspired by skukot. They would decorate them with colorful pieces of crepe paper and decorative hangings sometimes using fruit and vegetables. For a short time when I was a young boy I would go to synagogue on Friday nights with some of my more religious Jewish friends. I would put on a white shirt, my best pants and shoes and before going to services, Jeffrey and Eddie’s father would allow us to have sips of that awful sweet wine. I quickly became bored and uncomfortable with the whole thing and stopped going.. After studying with Rabbi Schatz for months, I decided that I could not go through with it. The thought of getting up in front of people and singing those words in Hebrew mortified me. I just wouldn’t do it. When I told my parents that I didn’t want to go through with it, they said “Fine.” I think they were relieved at not having to go through with this event either. So that year I went to Howie's, Marty's, Harold's, Sheldon's & Sid's Bar Mitzvahs and I knew that my day of reckoning was fast approaching. I would have to make up a good story about why I didn’t have a celebration for this my 13th birthday. I told Howie and others that I just went to synagogue with my parents and did the bar mitzvah only among them and the Rabbi. Of course Howie saw through the lie, after all he lived right next door to me for many years, and knew that I did not want to be Bar Mitzvahed, but he never questioned me about it. Years later we discussed it, and all he said was that he knew, but at that point neither of us cared anyway and Howie had converted to Christianity.
Friday, August 11, 2006
A Year In The City
I did the drawing on the top based on the cover of a book from my childhood that I received when I was 8 or 9 years old. Still have the book. I would guess that I did the drawing maybe when I was around 11 or 12. At one time my sister had it in her first apartment, but for some reason gave it back to me.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
My close friend Vincent treated me to a trip to New Orleans for Thanksgiving week in 1981. He booked separate rooms for us in a charming old Victorian guesthouse at the very end of Bourbon street. When he first told me this, I thought “hell we’ll never sleep,” but I was pleasantly surprised by how quiet it actually was, all the action was further south on the street. The ride in from the airport was nothing special as the outskirts of the city could have been in New Jersey, but as soon as we arrived in the French Quarter I knew I was in a special place. Even from the cab I was totally charmed by the architecture and the exotic feel to the Quarter and the wonderful smells of food and foliage that gently assaulted my olfactory organs. Vincent met me at the guesthouse with a big hug and kiss and we were off and running. This was about an hour before AIDS and sex in The Big Easy was very easy and very everywhere. So was great food and booze. Vincent loved all three and partook in them even more liberally than his politics. I was a bit more conservative than him, I didn’t like booze all that much and besides I could never keep up with him when it came to drinking. Not only did he drink me under the table but he could also drink me over and sideways all the furniture in the room. Once in New York he took me to have drinks at the old O’Henry restaurant on 6th ave in the Village, and he insisted that I try a Brandy Alexander. We sat at a table outside the bar in the cool spring night, and he promised me that I would love the cocktail. What he didn’t tell me that they were also lethal. Well to me it was like drinking chocolate milk and after the 3rd or 4th one I became so drunk from the sweet stuff that I had to leave the bar and try to make my way home. Vincent was also bombed, so much so that he didn’t even realize that I had left. He simply went on drinking and for all I know sat there having a wonderful conversation with himself. Back in the Big Easy I wound up spending quite a bit of time by myself. We would begin the evening together in some bar but as Vincent drank and drank a glazed look would appear on his face and I knew from past experiences that I would soon disappear from his consciousness as he zeroed in on some pretty southern boy and eventually went off into the atmospheric New Orleans night with him. In the morning I would head down to the garden for my morning coffee and crossoints and there would be Vincent with his conquest from the night before. Every morning there would be a new lad, each one charming and sweet to be sure but I felt like the maiden aunt along for the ride. One morning Vincent came down for his tea alone and I exclaimed in my best Edith Evans imitation. “You’re alone? What happened? Did All The gay boys leave New Orleans”. He let out one of his wonderful laughs and after breakfast we went on to spend a lovely day together visiting some of the museums & shopping for postcards and souvenirs. I had met Vincent in 1971 when he was teaching theatre courses at a small southern university and he had arranged for “M” to fly down to give a lecture on African-American women playwrights before 1950. Because I had never flown before “M” thought that this would be a good trip for me to take with him since he knew Vincent was a member of the tribe and felt comfortable bringing me along so to speak for the ride. He also wanted me to see what it was like to fly. Vincent and his boyfriend who he was living with in a beautiful Moderne house on a hill overlooking a still and peaceful lake met us at the airport and me and Vincent liked each other right off the bat. I was about to turn 24 and would be having my first exhibition that fall at the Fischbach Gallery. I had already been included in the Whitney sculpture annual the previous winter, but Vincent had no idea who I was nor was he familiar with my work. I forgot how he finally saw my sculpture, maybe I had brought along slides with me, and when he finally did see my art he loved it and promptly offered to buy one of my sculptures the next time he came up to New York. I didn’t care much for his boyfriend Albert though, I thought him unattractive, humorless, cold and secretive. He also taught at the university I think in the English Dept. We stayed in their guest room, which was tasteful and nicely decorated with Art Deco objects and furniture. “M” & me adored Art Deco and had slowly and fugally started to acquire a few pieces of pottery and furniture here and there. At this early date it was still possible to pick up some stuff on the cheap. Both Vincent and Albert were very gracious and nice to be around, but I especially enjoyed talking to Vincent about movies and some of our favorite stars. He would put some wonderful blues or jazz singer on the stero and showed me some of his scrapbooks that he had kept when he was a kid which were full of movie star clippings and photos along with his adolescent comments which were pretty funny. He also owned lots of books, which immediately drew me to him, and I spent some time alone browsing through them. There were also many signed photos of movie stars and writers lining the walls of the house. Vincent was and is a swell cook and would serve up lovely candle lit dinners for us on the concrete & wood patio overlooking the lake. I still remember the veal and potatoes dish he threw together and the big chocolate cake that he whipped up for us, because I had spoken to him about when I was a kid in Brooklyn I used to love Ebingers Bakerys’ Blackout Cake which to this day was the richest chocolate cake I had ever eaten. After getting back to New York, I dropped him a line thanking him for his hospitality and inviting him to visit us when he came to New York. What followed was a long and rich correspondence that really only stopped when they “invented” the internet, but our 35 year friendship is still going strong..
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
Karate If You Can
Sometimes in the Fall, when I have my bedroom windows wide open and a delicious breeze blows off the body of water that is 3 blocks from my apartment & the scent of burning leaves perfumes my sleep and bedroom I dream about karate. In my dream I’m a much better karateka or student than I ever was in real life. In my dream I’m kicking and flying through the air like some Hong Kong martial arts superstar. In reality I studied karate for 4 years and reached the level of green belt which is 3 belts (and for me many years) below a black belt. This did not come easy for me. I began karate. Not as a youngster but when I was 43 years old which is quite old to begin the studying of this difficult martial art. Now why, you might be asking yourself would a 43-year-old man want to suddenly learn to do karate. Very simple. I wanted to learn how to fight. I wanted to learn how to defend myself if attacked on the street. In other words I wanted to learn how to kick ass. The summer of 1990 saw a dramatic increase in attacks and crimes against gay men, and these attacks made me angry and scared. I wanted to make sure that I would never be a victim of this kind of rage and physical prejudice. In the past I had come very close to being gay bashed but my luck held out and I walked away unhurt but shaken. The idea that I could be hurt simply because of who I am was crazy to me and I knew that I had do something to protect myself from such attacks ever taking place. The few times I had been confronted by these cowards and most likely closet cases, I had stood my ground, and they backed down. But what I often asked myself would I have done if they didn’t back down and attacked me, tried to hurt or even worse tried to kill me. I didn’t know the first thing about fighting or defending myself. So one late summer afternoon over lunch with “T” I told him that I had decided to learn karate, and later that week I went searching for a school. Happily that was quite easy, as there was a well regarded dojo a few blocks from my loft. So began my journey in the sometimes strange secretive and very strict world of traditional Japanese karate training. As I said I studied (lasted is more like it) for 4 years before I decided that I had enough of the bowing, strict obedience (I had problems with some of the higher belts who were to my mind complete assholes) and the pain that I felt after every class. The promotions we had to take before going to a higher level were all day affairs and unbelievably difficult and stressful (how I managed to get through 4 of them I’ll never know.) I also drove my friends crazy as the karate “thing” took over my life. I made them come with me to karate tournaments, I frightened the daylights out of them as I demonstrated holds, kicks and punches on them and their hair would stand on end as I let out with loud kiais which is a blood cuddling scream used to shock our opponents and throw them off-guard. I also of course developed huge crushes on some of the teachers and some of my fellow students, and in the warm weather the heat was unbearable, as the dojo was not air-conditioned. I had reached a glass wall in my training. I simply could not improve my skills. My mind wanted my kicks to be high and strong, but my 40+ body had a different notion. For sure the experience was well worth the pain and money and I learned how to defend myself which was the reason why I took on this responsibility in the first place. I just hope I never have to use it.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
It Must Have Been Moonglow
The first time I saw Picnic was from the smoke filled balcony of my neighborhood Loew’s theatre in Brooklyn on a warm spring Friday night in 1955. I was eight years old and was there with my mother who had left the care of the luncheonette to my Uncle Natie and her friend Anna who sometimes worked part time there so that we could go see Picnic. I kept falling asleep and waking up with my eyes watery from all the smoke. This was the first time I saw Kim Novak in a movie and I immediately fell in love with her thinking that she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Now all these many years later and after seeing Picnic several times, the last being several months ago on the newly restored letterboxed dvd, I can happily state that Picnic is still fine and tasty after all these years. Although no longer in love with Ms.Novak I still think she was one of the best looking female movie stars of the 1950’s and also somewhat underrated as an actress. Picnic was based on the well received play by the tragic William Inge who killed himself in the early 70’s, and both the play and film covers a short span of time in the lives of a family living in a small town in Kansas. Theres the single mom Flo Owens played by the fine Betty Field and her two daughters, beautiful Madge (Novak) and younger tomboy Millie (a stand-in perhaps for a young Inge) played by Susan Strasberg. Into their dreary lives comes William Holden a drifter with a past and a real nice smooth chest that we get to see a lot of during the film. He soon turns things and lives upside down & inside out and although its been pointed out many times that Holden was too old for the role, I have to disagree. Watching him sway, swagger and move you can understand why Novak and most of the other women in the film would be taken in by him, you can feel the sexual tension crackling and sizzling like a Summer lightning storm. Novak is engaged to the town rich kid played by Cliff Robertson also young and handsome but as soon as Novak catches sight of Holden without his shirt on, its bye bye Cliff and hello Bill. Momma Betty is aghast at the thought of her daughter and future “Queen” of the picnic giving up her chance for the good life with Robertson. Holden who it just so happens went to college with Robertson but dropped out is in town to look Cliff up and hit him for a job in his old man’s plant. Also hanging around is Rosalind Russell who is a spinster schoolteacher boarding with the Owens and her timid boyfriend Howard played by Arthur O’Connell. Both are fine and Russell especially has some wonderful moments including her drunken scene at the picnic and the scene with her begging Howard to marry her. Silly Roz gave up her sure shot of winning a supporting Oscar for this film because she refused to be considered as a supporting player and was not nominated. Big egos sometimes get no little golden men statues. Of course I cannot fail to mention the sexy erotic dance at the picnic between Novak and Holden which to this day is still one of the great sex scenes ever filmed. Joshua Logan who filmed on location used many of the town folks as extras especially in the lengthy and leisurely paced picnic sequence, and this gives the film a nice touch of reality. Also of note are James Wong Howe’s beautiful soft pastel cinematography, George Dunning’s score, Jo Mielziner’s production design and the great aerial shot at the end of the movie. Nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture, it won 2 for art direction and film editing. One of the memorable films of the 1950’s.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Sunday, August 06, 2006
Learning to draw
Today while browsing at The Housing Works bookstore in Soho, (it was their monthly 30% off sale which I never miss) I came across this Jon Gnagy learn to Draw book which I promply bought. Although a much later version than the one I had as a kid from the early 50’s it included the same material as the original and when I looked through it at the store such a flood of memories came back that I had to sit down. When I was about 7 or 8 years old I would love watching Gnagy’s t.v. program which in those early days of television was only about 15 minutes long. In that short time period he would do a drawing and finish it off with a francy frame placed over the finished drawing. He would also push his Jon Gnagy drawing kits, and one day my mother brought me one. The kit included all sorts of wonderful drawing tools and materials that to me were as strange and mysterious as the stars ,the moon or the malted milk making machine in my father’s luncheonette. At this young age I tried very hard to follow Mr. Gnagy’s instructions but they were way beyond me so naturally the drawings never looked like the ones in the book or the ones he made on t.v. but they were mine and I loved them. My brother Phil who was 13 years older than me did much better in copying the examples that filled the book. My favorite one was of the Mexican boy with the chubby cheeks. To me Gnagy with his plaid shirt slightly opened at the neck, his slicked down coal black hair and his well trimed goatee and mustache was what an artist should look like and even at that young age I knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. .
Saturday, August 05, 2006
It is Written
Released in 1956 and considered quite racy at the time Douglas Sirk's over the top candy colored melodrama "Written On The Wind" is still a wonderful thing. The plot concerns the goings on in an oil rich dysfunctional Texas family that includes big brother Kyle who is insecure, weak, wounded and very alcoholic played by Robert Stack in a very touching & vulneable performance and his sluty sister Marylee played in an extreme manner by Dorothy Malone. Ms. Malone's performance is telegraphed to us via her eyes which she uses to show us her emotions which mostly consist of lust (for Rock Hudson) and jealousy (for Lauren Bacall). Malone is the only actress I've ever seen in movies who enters a room eyes first. Now don't get me wrong her performance to say the least is an absolute hoot and one of the supreme camp acting jobs of the 1950's. But it is also terrible because as likeable and attractive as Malone is she is not a very good actress, and she's not capable of subtly or shading. Her performance is one note. She does get to do a wicked Mambo and in a great montage as her unloving daddy played by the always good Robert Keith has a heart attack and falls to his death climbing a staircase, Sirk mixes it up with an almost mad Malone doing a orgasmic dance as she undresses. Stack (who should have won an Oscar) & Malone (who won the award, but shouldn't have) are the real stars of the film, the ones who set all the hysteria, both sexual and otherwise in motion while the "real stars" of the film, Hudson & Bacall fade to gray and brown which are the colors that they are mainly costumed in. Hudson who it turns out was a better actor then given credit for plays the childhood best friend of Stack's and the stalked love interest of Malone's who moans & groans over Rock through most of the film. However Hudson wants no part of her and instead is in love with Bacall who is married to Stack. No one is very happy & no one is happy for very long. The Stack-Bacall marriage falls apart big time after a year and Stack pretty much drinks himself into oblivion because he thinks he's sterile and can't give Betty a baby to prove that he's a man. Sirk who was a very intelligent man had a long & fascinating career both in films and the theatre in Germany. He ended his Hollywood career at Universal in the mid 1950's with a series of intense vividly colored "womens' movies" or melodramas that although they were mainly adapted from mediocre or trashy source material became in Sirk's hands masterpieces of the genre. Sirk had a wonderful sense of color & design which he brought to play in these films filling his wide screen spaces with characters who played out their emotional lives among weird color and lighting combinations, make believe shadows and lots of mirrored reflections. In "Written" the characters are always peeking out of windows, listening at doors or sneaking around. So in the end, after much violence, an accidental murder & more Sirk ends the movie with a final & startling scene of a "reborn" and seemingly reformed Malone in a man-tailored suit sitting at a desk foundling a miniature oilwell.
Friday, August 04, 2006
Summer of 53
It was odd to read that the longest heat wave on record in New York City was 12 days during the summer of 1953. I think in August. That summer I was 6 years old and I really can't recall the heat but I do have memories of my grandfather and his son, my uncle Natie taking me for a vacation to a bungalow colony in Moodus Conn. My mother and older sister by 6 years saw us off at Grand Central Station, and after leaving us they went off to The Capitol Theatre in Times Square to see "From Here To Eternity" which was the movie to see that hot summer. The colony is somewhat vivid in my memory. I have some pictures of me there. This is one of me by the lake. It was scary for me to be away from my mother for the first time. We were put up in a big Victorian guest house on the property for a while, but then we were moved into a small cabin on the grounds. Sometimes I recall some of the country smells which were new to my six year old nose . My mother had an intense fear of water because her own mother had died young taking a shower. The water suddenly turned very very hot and she was scalded to death. She would not let us take showers and she would not let me even go swimming. These fears were passed on to me and I was a young man out on my own before I got over my fear of showers and to this day I don't know how to swim, and I'm a Pisces. Since I wasn't allowed to go in the lake my mother didn't see the point in my taking a bathing suit with me, but my grandfather would let me go in the lake wearing my little white jockey underwear no doubt keeping a very watchful eye on me and keeping this secret from my mom. My grandfather and uncle were my mom's father and brother and Natie lived with us in our small cramped apartment in Boro Park Brooklyn sharing a bed with my older brother. Natie was a kind gentle somewhat slow in the mind man who took care of me for most of my childhood. For years he worked in Schrafts washing dishes all day, and after he was through there would work evenings along side my mother in my father's luncheonette. My father and sometimes my mother were mean to him and sometimes to my shame and grief so was I as young children can sometimes be. My guilt over this was so bad that I took part in a grief workshop many years later at The Gay Men's Health Crisis where I was a volunteer for several years. I named a piece of my sculpture for Natie. That summer of 53 was a turning point in my young life because that was the summer that I stopped loving my father. I can almost recall the very moment. My parents were having problems that they were careful to hide from me, but it all came out in the open the very night that I returned from my vacation. That night they had a bad fight and I saw my father hit my mother for the first but sadly not the last time. Everything changed for me that hot summer night and after that I would fear and hate my father for the rest of his life.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
Today me and "T" took ourselves to the Angelika Theatre to cool off and see Francois Ozon's "Time To Leave" which is about a young gay French photographer who is sucessful, spoiled and not very nice and is diagnosed with terminal cancer (is there any other kind?) and except for telling his grandmother keeps his sad fate to himself. The film was so-so with a few good moments but it had too many contrivances and was ultimately an unmoving experience. I did appreciate seeing a movie about a gay man (so did "T" even though he is "straight") that wasn't silly, sterotypical or teasingly sexual. Anyway the grandmother was played by the great Jeanne Moreau who I have adored for years. I once had a book signed by her but sold it which is sometimes the part of being a bookseller that I don't like, you have to part with some gems that you would much rather keep. I once ended a friendship with someone because he thought that Jeanne Moreau was just "okay." This he announced one hot sunday a few years back as me "R" and Andy walked along Christopher Street in New York's Greenwich Village. Me & "R" stopped dead in our tracks and laughed which Andy did not appreciate at all. "WHAT" I said "Just Okay" "Listen Andy Julia Roberts is just okay,Gwyneth Paltrow is just okay, but Moreau just okay?? Andy was pretty quiet for the rest of the afternoon as I sulked and quietly fummed. There was no way that I could be friends with him after this terrible lapse of taste or ever have a serious conversation with him about movies or acting after this insult to the mother of The New Wave. As "T" said to me after the movie this afternoon "don't you wish you had Jeanne Moreau for a grandmother." How beautiful she still is wrinkles and all and how great that she is still making movies for us and aging with grace and dignity. I never spoke to Andy again after that sunday afternoon.
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
bye-bye baby or how pretty was my Jewish
In the early Fall of 1976 "M" went off to a teaching gig at the University of Washington. He would be gone for about 3 months returning to New York for Christmas. I stayed on alone and went about my usual business of making art, going out to bars (we had an agreement, sort of a don't ask don't tell situation) and seeing friends. We wrote back and forth of course as I missed him, and assumed that he missed me as well. Our relationship had been through some big bumps in the last few years, and we even split for a time, with him moving to a small apartment, and me staying in our loft. He left me a mushy drunken letter on the kitchen table which I found when I awoke on the morning he left. I wish I still had that mushy note but I don't. Letters went back and forth and it seemed that all was well, but when he came back around Christmas time I knew something was wrong because we did not make love the night he returned. I thought "well he's tired from the long trip" but the fact was he had met someone else and was not in love with me anymore. I couldn't believe it. "How could you not be in love with me anymore? why the fuck didn't you write to me telling me this little fact.? He would be moving out soon after Christmas. So that was that. We spent Christmas Eve together and we both got very drunk. I threw one of his presents at him, personalized stationary which was pretty funny. He loved it. Not really. I screamed at him all night as Tina Turner and Janis Joplin played on the stero, and he screamed right back at me. One great drunken reason he gave for leaving me was "that he was tired of pretty Jewish." What did that mean, was he tired of my being too Jewish or was he tired of me because I was goodlooking ie pretty Jewish and wanted to be with someone who was not "pretty". So was "G" ugly Jewish I wondered. And why would he give up pretty Jewish for ugly Jewish? A few days later I met "G" and I had my answer.
The photo used is of me in Provincetown 1977.
Tuesday, August 01, 2006
The other day I ran into "G" at the museum where I went to pass a few cool hours. I was with my oldest friend who has been in my life for over 50 years, (yes we grew up together). "G" is the lover of "M" who at one time was my lover. "M" and me met in 1969 and lived together for some eight years. "G" & "M" have been lovers for over nearly 30 years, so I guess I was just a stop along the way. Even when me and "M" ended our relationship we remained close friends, and I even managed to become friends with "G" spending time with him alone when "M" was traveling. "M" was a somewhat important playwright and composer of light operas and would be asked to give lectures and put on productions of his somewhat obtuse and avant-garde plays and sweet little operas. "G" was very jealous of me because he felt that "M" still carried the torch for me between his hairy thighs. This may have been true as sometimes in the middle of the night "M" would call me up drunk out of his mind to tell me that he still loved me and "that I was the true love of his life" this as "G" slept by his side in their tiny bed in their tiny apartment on the Upper Westside of Manhattan. It was odd running into "G" as I haven't seen him for some years, as we had a falling out over some silly incident about a birthday party and he has been angry with me for ever over this or so it seems. It wrecked my relationship with "M" and I haven't seen him either for many years.