Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Palin Says: “This Isn’t About Me”

Oh hahahahahahahahaha! Oh ROTFLMFAO!!!

Gotta catch my breath! Okay…I’m composed now.

The New York Times reported this morning (“Obama Benefits in Having Palin as His Foil”) that on Monday, Sara Palin had assured Sean Hannity on Fox News that “she was not going to be silenced, no matter what abuse might come her way”. And she added, several times, "This isn’t about me".

Well of course it’s about Palin as far as Palin is concerned. There’s nothing that is not about Palin, to Palin. If a butterfly flaps its wings in Timbuktu, the resulting ripples are about Palin to Palin.

And as the NYT said, a lot of Repubs wish it weren’t true. But Palin taking advantage of being center stage because of her inappropriate remarks in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting, the GOP news is all about Palin.

And Palin in her self-absorbed glory cannot see that her motor-mouth ignorant arrogance is the best thing that could have happened to Obama. As the NYT says, every president needs the kind of critic who can remind the public of why he seemed so presidential. 

Or, as a writer who is not as circumspect as an NYT reporter (me) might say—every president needs a loudmouth gormless asshole to remind the public that the prez is an intelligent and caring class act.

Carry on Sarah Palin. Your getting it wrong is doing right by the Dems.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Some Things Always Make Me Smile

I was thinking about the apartment I wrote about in “Yeemin, Jason, Sukarno and Me”.

That apartment was at 302 E. 70th Street in Manhattan. We’re talking about 1956. When Fritz Bultman’s father died, Fritz and Jeanne bought a really nice brownstone on 95th Street between 3rd and Lex. That meant Fritz could move out of his painting studio which was on the top floor at 302 E. 70th St. Which meant Ron and I could move from our slum apartment at 516 E. 12th Street to a slum apartment on the fourth floor of a slum building on the upper East side. Much better. 

Betsy Ross Zogbaum and her son Rufus lived on the first floor at 302. Betsy was an editor on a fashion magazine and her boyfriend was Franz Kline. I don’t remember who was on the second and third floors. But Karl Mann had a studio across the hall from Fritz’s studio. Karl was making pots of money with his seed paintings and he needed a whole studio for his assistants to do the seeding-by-numbers drill with Elmer’s Glue and fingernail files in order to crank them out. 

Smile No. 1

My husband and Karl had known each other in high school in Chicago. 

I’m really fuzzy on the particulars now, but Karl wanted to take off for six months to study acting or film-making or some such in Mexico and Ron wanted to take off and paint in Mexico. So Karl said I could stay in his studio as a sort of apartment sitter for the time they were both away.

Karl had fixed up his studio. And although it had no heat, he’d put in a hot water heater and he’d stripped the walls down to brick and the place looked really nice, compared with the scuzzy painter’s digs we had across the hall.

When Karl got back and Ron and I had gotten back together again and were living across the hall again, “The New Yorker” decided to profile Karl because he had become a real mover-and-shaker in the art world. Ron and I eagerly read the Profile. One line stuck out. Karl complained that he had let a couple impoverished artists live in his studio while he was away and they had eaten all his expensive seeds.

It was true…I had. Heh…heh-heh.

Smile No. 2

Karl’s expensive seed paintings started to sprout on people’s walls.

Yeah…some things never cease to make me smile.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sara Palin’s “So What” Paragraph

When I was doing investigative reports for the Philadelphia alternative newspaper “Welcomat”, we had a name for the ubiquitous paragraph that had to appear in newstories to reiterate well-known facts. It was the “So What” paragraph.

For all of Sara Palin’s pains to cast herself as the injured party in recent newstories about her notorious and ill-conceived rants against government, the So-What paragraph appearing in all the stories is haunting her re-inventions of herself.

Up until this morning, that paragraph has been: ”In the midterm elections last year, Ms. Palin used a map with cross hairs over several swing Congressional districts, which Ms. Giffords highlighted in a television interview at the time as an example of overheated political speech.”

But now, as of this morning, a new entry is sure to be added to reports about Palin. And that is: "Referring to the Gabrielle Giffords shooting, Palin said: 'Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own, especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible.'" 

Blood libel yet. 

This morning, the New York Times noted that “blood libel is a phrase fraught with religious symbolism about the false accusation used by anti-Semites of Jews murdering Christian children.” The NYT said it wasn’t clear whether Ms. Palin was aware of the historical meaning of the phrase. 

And that, of course, is the problem with Palin issuing her own responses from her own studio. As the NYT said, Palin’s video "showed her continued determination to tend to her image on her own terms and under her own control, without responding to questions or appearing in a public forum.”

And obviously, her home studio output is not being vetted by anyone who has even a vague knowledge of appropriate verbiage and/or historical facts. Because, as we know, Sarah Palin is absolutely certain she knows what is best for herself, her family, the nation and the world.

I am fervently hoping wiser heads do not prevail on Palin to listen to their counsel. I can’t wait for the next unsuitable, tasteless, wrong-headed, ill-timed, incorrect and out-of-place video to erupt out of Palin’s home studio. The spin generated by frantic Republicans trying to mitigate the political damage Palin’s ignorance causes the GOP, generally has been hilarious.

However, the idea that Palin might listen to an adviser is ridiculous. In Palin’s unstable mental condition, there is no wiser or more informed person in this world or the next than Sarah Palin.

Friday, January 07, 2011


This is a story about New York in 1956. Every word is true. And though we all are ancient or dead now, names have been changed to protect the people who don't want to remember.

She called herself Yeemin.  We accepted it because she had an exotic background. Forget that she had gone to Bennington, the weaving and pots school. She had in fact lived in Jakarta.
Her name was Nancy Perkins.
The most striking thing about her was the thick straight as a stick naturally blond hair that hung to her shoulders. And her blue eyes. She spoke Indonesian and French and some Mandarin Chinese. She'd lived in Hong Kong off and on.
Her English had a clipped quality, not really American, but certainly not British. She sounded like someone who had been away a long time.
Men routinely fell in love with Yeemin. There was the way she moved her mouth. I know for a fact she copied it from Emma Blakely. All the girls at Bennington had copied Emma Blakely--right down to Betsy Stokes who was the most level-headed of the lot. Emma talked out of the corner of her mouth, just slightly. It was very engaging and it was absolutely unique. And Yeemin and Betsy copied it. If you hadn’t known the original, seeing Yeemin talk slightly out of the corner of her mouth would have knocked your socks off. But I knew Emma. Still, Yeemin had so much going for her that wasn’t off-the-rack that the way she moved her mouth was just one more charm in her treasure box. She would suddenly appear, stick around for a few months and then go back to Jakarta or Hong Kong or Paris.
I’d been subletting a railroad-type apartment in a slum building at 70th Street and Second Avenue when the telephone rang one torpid August afternoon. It was Yeemin. It was 1956.
Her voice was unmistakable. I knew who it was as soon as she said Hi.
“Where are you?”
“Here...I mean, New York.”
“For how long?”
“I’m not sure, but certainly until mid-September. Sukarno is coming over then.”
I wasn’t particularly interested in international politics or what the tyrants in small countries were up to. But I did know Sukarno had been making noises about becoming more than just a figurehead. And I knew Yeemin was on a Howdy basis with him.
“What’s he coming for?”
“Just a press relations tour. I have to find entertainment for his reception. Are you still singing?”
I told her to come over. I said we’d talk. The idea of an Indonesian dictator having to listen to Benjamin Britten at an Upper East Side soiree was particularly appealing.
When she arrived she ran up the four flights of stairs as though she did it every day. She wore a white cotton shirt and a full skirt. Both were hand-woven and hand-embroidered. Her hair was the same tow color that I remembered when we had met a few years before. She was a little younger than I. She was maybe twenty-three.
“I just got my hair cut,” she said, walking into the kitchen. “If that barber in Chinatown dies I'm sunk. He’s so old. But he just cuts. No talk, no baloney and I pay him. He doesn’t like me though. I know that.”  She twirled in a circle and her skirt fanned out as her hair fanned out. “See what it does when I turn. Isn’t it perfect?”
She sat on a bench at the kitchen picnic table and rummaged in the huge straw bag she always carried. This one was shocking pink.
“Here, these are for you.” She held out a little package of purple tissue paper. I unfolded the paper. A pair of delicate silver earrings lay on the tissue. I thanked her but she was wearing the ones I really wanted. They were heavy silver and had little balls on the tips reaching nearly to her shoulder.
“My ears aren’t pierced. These would look better on you anyway,” I said.  I handed them back to her.
“Well, get them pierced then.”
I shrugged. Yeemin had grace and elegance and I felt rough, jagged and sweaty by comparison. The purple tissue lay on the table between us.
“Do you have a potato?” She looked around the kitchen and back to me. It wasn’t easy to follow her conversation sometimes. She flitted from thought to thought, from here to there.
“Sure. Why?”
“How about a darning needle and dental floss?”
“Yeah….” I thought for a minute. “Oh God're not going to....”
 “Why not? We’ll need a couple ice cubes, a cotton ball and a little rubbing alcohol.”
I had no time to think. I gathered together the things Yeemin said she needed. She fetched up an eyebrow pencil from her bag and I sat down on the bench. She stood over me and marked dots on my earlobes. I had wanted pierced ears all my life.
It didn’t take long. She swabbed my ears with alcohol and told me to hold the ice cubes on my earlobes for a minute to get them numb. She cut the potato in half, held it behind my ears and dipped the floss-threaded needle in alcohol. She poked the needle through my earlobe into the potato and pulled it out the other side. I had little loops of dental floss hanging from my ears before I could change my mind.
“Take these,” she said, pulling off the earrings I liked so much. “They’re more you anyway.” In a week, she said, I could put in gold posts. She took two little gold eardots from her bag and handed them to me. I reached up and touched my ears.
“They won’t bleed, keep them clean and move the floss around a lot.” She folded up the purple tissue and put it in her bag. She smiled and sat cross-legged on the wooden bench.
“So...what’s new?”
Yeemin and I hadn't had a long shmooze in over a year. We caught up on the meat and potatoes of our lives. Vic and I had separated. He was in Mexico trying out abstract expressionism in the crystalline air and bright sunlight. I had quit working at Bloomingdale’s and was modeling in art schools while I auditioned in every theater in town but no one was interested. The owner of a piano bar in the Village said I sounded too legit.
“Life goes on,” I said. That seemed to sum it up.
She had been happy in Indonesia, Yeemin said, but rebellion was always a threat with so many factions. “It’s only a matter of time until there is big trouble. I’m really at loose ends.” She didn’t want to live in the United States and couldn’t stand France and Hong Kong anymore. “Things have changed so in Indonesia. Sukarno openly opposes U.S. policies. I’m not sure what I should do.”
“I hear he’s randy as King Farouk.”
“Well...say what you will about him, the United States government seems to be interested in Indonesia. So it might do you some good to sing for a bunch of diplomats while he’s here. Just say you’ll do an audition.”
“Sure. What the hell.”
She sat with her hands folded in her lap and I suddenly realized I hadn’t offered her anything to drink. She was Indonesian enough not to ask.
“How about a beer?”
“I brought some marvelous tea,” she said. Once again she reached into the bag and brought out a little parcel. It was wrapped in green tissue. She moved to the stove, picked up the teakettle and filled it with water. I showed her where the teapot was above the sink and set out two cups on the table.
I sat down and let her wait on me. She did everything so easily. She poured hot water in the teapot, swished it around and poured it out before putting in the tealeaves. “I ran into Morley on the way over here. Wait till you see his car! Did you know he was in the CIA?”
I had heard the rumor. It lent a romantic aura to Morley-the-mystery-man. No one knew much about Morley. Where did he get his money? What went on behind those steel-rimmed eyeglasses?
“What’s his story anyway?”
“He’s a voyeur.”
”What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He can’t seem to live his life. He just watches everyone else’s. This is a bathtub, isn’t it?”  She pointed to the large porcelained metal top covering the tub next to the sink. I never tried to follow Yeemin’s train of thought. It chugged along making unscheduled stops.
      “Stoking up the fireplace in the winter and taking a long bath is wonderful,” I said. I knew I didn’t have to defend the facilities. Yeemin was as fascinated with how I lived as I was with her intercontinental hopscotch. We all seemed to watch each other. I had never heard Yeemin's complete curriculum vitae, not from her anyway. But I'd gotten bits and pieces on the grapevine. Her American father had either owned or managed a rubber plantation in Java. Her Brit mother had gotten sick of the whole Malay culture years before and had bugged out to live in Hong Kong. Yeemin had been raised by tutors and nannies and pretty much had done whatever she liked her whole life. I only wished I could live the way she did for a couple months.
The teakettle whistled. She made us wait while the tea steeped exactly five minutes. It was strong and acrid and had a kick like espresso coffee.
We quietly sat drinking our tea. It was nice not having to make conversation with Yeemin. Words came when they came.
“Did you ever have the feeling you could completely change your life if you wanted to?” I asked. It had been something on my mind since Vic took off for Mexico.
“Anyone can.” Yeemin said, tracing her finger over a wet circle on the tabletop. “We all can do that anytime.” A breeze gently blew through the windows while the sun streamed in and we drank the hot tea.
“I’d never realized it before,” I said. I looked at the tealeaves in the bottom of the cup. “I mean I know that all I’d have to do is make the decision right now and everything will be different. I know I have that power but I would feel so guilty. Like it’s unfair.”
“Then you’re a fool”, Yeemin said, suddenly looking serious. “Men don’t think it’s unfair to change their lives.”
I stirred the tealeaves with my finger. “It’s frightening though, you know? I wonder if I can get along without Vic.” Yeemin reached over and squeezed my hand. The buzzer rang from the vestibule downstairs.
      “I’ll bet that’s Morley. He said he wanted you to see his car.” We ran down the hall to the living room and stuck our heads out the windows facing 70th Street. Two men walked down the front stoop of my building and crossed the street to stand by the most amazing car I’d ever seen.
“Jesus! Yeemin! What is that!”
“A 1937 Phaeton touring car. Did you ever?” Morley Huxtable and another man waved to us. They lounged against the car, smoking.
“He can’t get the top to go up...but what the hell,” Yeemin said, waving back. They yelled for us to come down. Every kid on the street was running around the car screaming, “Mira! Mira!”
My heart was pounding. I went to a chair and sat down.
"Do you know who that is? The man with Morley?”
“Well of course. It’s Jason Berman. He played at Betsy’s wedding. You were there.”
“This is awful. God! I can’t go down there....”
 “Oh no! Oh how funny! You’ve got a crush on Jason!" Yeemin yelled out the window that we’d be right down. "Oh God! This is too great!”
She grabbed the huge canvas bag I used for a handbag and tossed it to me.  I looked down at my khaki shorts and work shirt.
"You look terrific, you have no idea!" Yeemin said. “Got your keys? Come on! We’ll make them take us for a ride.”
Betsy and Jack’s wedding in June had been the biggest event in the East Village in years. It was as though everyone had put on clothes from their parents’ attic. Betsy wore an antique lace dress. Jack had found white tails and a top hat in a thrift shop. Vic wore a white suit and Panama hat. And I made a dress out of mattress ticking. It had slits up the side nearly to the waist and an orange silk slip.
Every young artist and musician in New York turned out for the wedding to play dress-up and to party.
Jack had begun to make a name for himself with his animated cartoons. He used cutouts, clay figures and wild colors. His films were years before Monty Python. A screening at a Madison Avenue art gallery had caught the attention of the major art and film critics. And it didn’t hurt Jack’s reputation that the fast action and visual effects made one patron sick to his stomach at the opening and he vomited on at least ten of Jack’s fans. Jack was the avant-garde filmmaker of the season.
The wedding reception went on for a day-and-a-half.  They had rented a jazz club. Jason was the other jazz-French horn player in the world. He rounded up his friends for a jam session marathon. The hash, grass and Champagne supply seemed endless.
The minute I walked into the reception that Saturday afternoon and saw Jason in his white tux everything seemed brighter, more intense and a few rpm's faster. He and the wedding party and a couple early arrivals were sitting on a low platform just inside the club's front door. Vic and I beelined to Betsy and Jack to say our Best Wishes and Congrats and Jason smiled and said, "Hey! Look who's here, now the party can begin." Jason and I had met once before at a gallery opening. My heart had raced then. It raced now. Vic went to a table loaded with bottles of Champagne. He filled two glasses and brought them back for us. Jason and I couldn't take our eyes off each other. Suddenly a group of twenty people burst in the door and broke the spell.
By the time the party was at full frenzy Jason had taken off his tux jacket, shirt, shoes and socks and stood sweating, hairy, barefoot and magnificent playing the French horn like no one had heard it before. I sat down alone at a tiny table close to the bandstand watching. You could see all the muscles in his chest and stomach when he took a breath. He seemed to be in another world--only the music mattered. He kept his eyes shut as he played. Or they seemed to be shut. Then he stepped out of the group, walked to the center of the stage, turned to me and played a hauntingly sweet solo chorus of “Tenderly”. He jumped down from the platform, let the other musicians finish the set and came over to my table.
“I love that tune,” I finally managed to say.
“It seemed right.”  He sat down and grabbed a napkin lying on the table. He was wet all over. His whole body shined. He mopped his face, his hair, his neck. “I just wanted to say I’d like to get to know you.” He smiled. I could smell the metal of the horn mixed with the smell of his sweat. It was so hot. There was so much pungent smoke in the air. I felt dizzy.
He picked up a bottle of champagne from the table and filled my glass, then tipped the bottle in my direction. “L’chayim,” he said and put it to his mouth nearly draining it. I wondered where Vic was.
“Is it true you’re married?” he asked, cocksure and smiling. His confidence amazed me.
“Yes, it’s true.“ I drained my glass.
“Seriously married?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Okay...I’ll drink to that....”    
Jason finished off the champagne. Reaching across the table he took the two pins out of my hair that kept it from tumbling down. It fell all the way down my back. He kissed me on the forehead and went back to the little stage.
Everything that was familiar seemed to be shifting and sliding. Even the floor had become shaky. I stood up to leave but the room started spinning. I sat back down.
Yeemin and I ran down the stairs to the waiting Phaeton. I wound my hair into a bun on top of my head and jammed in hairpins as we flew down the four flights.
An open fire hydrant half a block away made a river in the gutter. We jumped across. Morley tossed his cigarette away.
“What do you think?” he said, motioning to the car that had taken up a space-and-a-half along the curb.        
The street kids couldn’t believe the headlights staring out bug-eyed from each side of the radiator. They walked reverently around the car, touching the hood and sides gingerly. “It suits you Morley,” I said. Jason opened the door to the back seat for me. The jump seats rested against the leather of the front seats. You could stretch out full-length from the back seat and still not touch the jump seats.
”I haven’t seen you since the wedding,” Jason said. He took my canvas bag and put it on the floor.
“It’s a wonder you remember....”
“I wasn’t stoned. I can’t play high.”
“I was.”
“Yeah. But you do remember....”
“Yes. I remember.”
Yeemin sat in front with Morley.
"Sorry. My manners are slipping,” Morley said, turning around and looking first at me and then at Jason. “But I guess you’ve met. Where shall we go?” There wasn’t any doubt where to go on a sweltering August afternoon in New York.
“Coney Island,” we all said.
Morley started the engine and we smoothly pulled away from the curb. All the store proprietors came out to watch the open car glide down the street. The women, whose chief entertainment was leaning out their apartment windows and sitting on the stoops, waved and the kids shouted, “Mira! Look at the movie stars!”
“I have to get some entertainment together for Sukarno’s reception,” Yeemin said to Morley. "I think Liz should sing."
 “I think Jason should play,” I said. The more I thought of it the more I knew I was not Sukarno’s dish of tea.
”And I think Sukarno wants a gamelan and hootchy-kootchy,” Morley said.
Morley and Yeemin yammered away about politics and world affairs. He couldn’t ask her enough questions about Indonesia. Jason and I said almost nothing in the backseat.
The sun was setting as Morley parked near the beach.
“I hate to leave this rig for long, you know?" Morley said.
“At least it won’t get stripped,” Jason laughed. “Who could use the parts?” Morley was not amused.
The beach crowd had thinned out. Most of the bathers had already packed up their paraphernalia and headed home, leaving chicken bones, french fries and orange peels to the seagulls. They screamed and swooped down. The tide was going out. The sky was blue and orange and aquamarine striped.
Yeemin took off her shirt and skirt and ran into the water in her underwear. Jason took off his jeans and teeshirt and ran after her. Morley and I sat down on the sand.
“Where’s Vic?”
“You split up?”
“Sort of. I don’t know. We’ll see.” Morley took off his shoes and dug his toes in the sand. “In France they’re smarter about going to the beach.”
“People wear their bathing suits to the beach, take them off at water’s edge, go for a swim and come out and put on their suits. Makes sense.”
We watched Yeemin and Jason ducking each other and playing in the surf. They ran back to us dripping and panting. They looked like the healthiest happiest two people in the world.
“Those wet things are going to feel great going back,” I said, squinting into the setting sun at Jason.
“No sweat,” he said.
“No sweat,” Yeemin said. They both took off their underwear and put their clothes back on. The few people on the beach either didn’t notice or didn’t care. Jason grabbed my hand and pulled me up. “Let’s go for a walk.”
“Don’t be too long,” Morley said. He and Yeemin headed for the car.
“Vic finally make a run for the border?” Jason asked. We walked and kicked at the water lapping the beach.
“Why? You talk to him about Mexico?"
"He talked to everybody about Mexico. I ran into him at the Cedar Bar. "
"He never mentioned you."
"He wouldn't."
"He wanted to try painting down there. I don’t know what's going to be. I guess we’ve got to decide.”
“You don’t know what you want."
“I know what I don’t want. I’m scared. I’m not going to make it as a singer, I know that.”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t care that much. You’ve got to care. It’s tough enough even if you care. What about you? Going to play jazz the rest of your life?”
      “Jazz isn’t my life.  It’s part of my life. I’m a composer. I happen to be good.”
      “Ever have a performance of your stuff?”
      "You been living in a cave or what?"
      Jason picked up a small flat rock and skimmed it over the calm water before the next wave came in.
"I had a world premiere with the Philharmonic last year.  I thought you were a musician.”
We stopped walking and Jason pulled me close. He smelled like salt-water and the sun. He kissed my check. His mouth was cool against my hot face.
“We’d better get back,” I said.
“Morley won’t mind. He’s always had a letch for Yeemin. Even if he doesn't know what to do with her."
      I stepped back. “And you would do what?” His hair had dried. The curls had red glints in the sun.
“That doesn’t matter. I’m not Morley.” Jason took my hand. “But if you want to know. I’d just drive her home and take her to bed.”
“What a Romeo."
“Well you asked and if it was me and if I felt what Morley feels, then so would she. You don't have to talk it to death.”
We turned our backs to the ocean and walked in the sand toward the street and the car. We could see Morley and Yeemin from two blocks away. The car was in the shade. They leaned against it eating ice cream cones.
“Hungry?" Jason asked. “We could go back to my place.”
“Oh Jason! No, I’m not hungry. No, I’m not going back to your place. “ I stopped in my tracks. Jason turned with his arms outstretched, “What?”
"I'm not any good at this."
"Jesus! At what?"
"You know…all this casual bullshit. I really like you Jason…a lot. "
"And I can't…."
"I'm not going to…."
I started to cry.
"Don't do that."
"It's so complicated."
I wiped my nose on my sleeve. He reached into his back pocket, took out a handkerchief and handed it to me. He put his arm around my shoulder and pushed a wisp of hair out of my eyes. "It's okay…it's okay."
The ride back was silent in the back seat. Yeemin and Morley talked and laughed and argued.
Jason climbed up in front with Morley when they let us out. “Take it easy,” he called as we walked across the street.
Yeemin and I fixed a salad from whatever was in the refrigerator. I poured out a shot of gin and drank it down.
“Want me to read your palm?” she asked after we’d eaten. She was having a cup of tea. I was having more gin.
“What’s the point? I can tell you my fortune. Jason and I will get involved for a couple of months. Vic and I will keep breaking up and getting back together, I will remember this summer for the rest of my life and Jason will forget it by Thanksgiving.”
“Well smarty, if you know so much you can avoid the misery, right?”
The phone rang. I knew it was Jason.
“Wrong. I can’t avoid one minute of it.” I reached for the phone. “That’s just how it is.”
As it turned out, my crystal ball was very accurate. 
And so was Morley’s.
Sukarno wanted gongs, dancers and hotcha!