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Don't be so gloomy. After all it's not that awful. Like the fella says, in Italy for 30 years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love - they had 500 years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock. So long Holly. ---- Harry Lime

I’m beginning to understand that I’m naturally indolent.

Left to my own devices, I’d sleep 14 hours a night. Spend the other 10 hours of the day reading, eating huge vats of exotically flavored ice cream, binging on Canadian sci fi TV, and carrying out witty conversations with snarky friends. Lord Byron, T. E. Lawrence and Harold Pinter would be among those friends, so naturally many of those conversations would have to be carried out by ouiji board.

Such accomplishments as I’ve managed to attain over the course of six and a half decades – and yes, there have been a few – were achieved entirely by happenstance and necessity. Not by force of will.

I still remember waking up one morning after a night of the intensest debauchery imaginable, staggering to the bathroom and staring at myself in that mirror. I liked staring at myself in the mirror: When you grow up a neglected and abused child, and suddenly great beauty is visited upon you, it’s like sprouting a super-power or something. All of a sudden you can fly! All of a sudden you can start fires merely by scrunching your eyebrows and read minds just by giving someone a sideways glance.

I must have been 22 or so. I stared at that face, my face, those amazing cheekbones; those enormous, wide-spaced eyes, as emerald green as Scarlett O’Hara’s and now ringed in enormous circles of smudged mascara like Bizet’s Carmen or Alexandre Dumas’s Mercedes; that sweet smile of a mouth.

The light seeping in the bathroom window was the illumination of early morning at its harshest, though.

Yup, yup, the flesh was going crinkly around the edges of those eyes. And there were unmistakable beginnings of marionette lines around my mouth.

Honey, you ain’t gonna be this ornamental forever, I told myself. So you'd best find yourself a trade.

And the rest is personal history.

###

I’m pining after my lost indolence this morning because there are at least 25 things on my To Do list. Sadly, they’re all relatively high priority. Plus my kindly mechanic informed me this morning when I took the car in for its oil change that I should probably have the entire strut system rebuilt –

“It’s an old car,” he told me apologetically. “It runs good, but it looks like it’s got the original suspension system in place, and that’s gonna eat up your new tires –“

“It’s all good; it’s all good” I said. “I figure if you own a car, you’re gonna sink $2K a year into it – either as a car payment or as a repair. That’s the price you pay for independent transportation.”

Of course, I was dying to unload a more complete analysis of the true opportunity costs inherent in the automobile economy, but I held my tongue.

These days when I deal with retail clerks and service professionals, I use the ditzy Golden Girls approach for charm since beauty has undeniably faded. Yes, I look good for my age. Looking good for 65 is not the same thing as looking good for 22, however.

I do think it’s kind of unfair that I don’t have an extensive staff of brownies and leprechauns scurrying around the periphery of my life to do all the bor-r-r-ring maintenance and upkeep for me.

Taxes Plus Driving in the Rain

The Tax Squad decided to go with a completely new software package this year.

The new software is actually a vast improvement over the old software, which was completely arcane, really terrible on pensions and capital gains. Moreover, it used this minute, antiquated font that made me feel, as I sat there laboring over returns, freezing in my fingerless mittens, in that ancient flagstone library FDR’s father erected for his few literate vassals in Hyde Park, as though it was something Ada Lovelace might have developed had she written word processing programs for the Babbage Engine.

But the new software is not finished. There are huge numbers of glitches. For the qualifying exam, you’re expected to know the tax code, and you’re expected to know the glitches – which could disappear at any time.

And I’m supposed to take the qualifying exam by Friday.

“I’m not sure I will be able to take the exam by Friday,” I told Barbara. “I’m going to D.C. for the Women’s March on Saturday. I’m kind of preoccupied.”

Barbara raised her eyebrows. “But you have client appointments. We’ve already scheduled them.”

Nice of you to let me know, I thought.

But she was smiling. I suppose because this is my third year volunteering with the free tax preparation program, I’ve somehow made the cut. I’m no longer this disruptive fringe character; I’m now a charming eccentric who is part of the team.

I’ve been doing tax review classes for the past week. But yesterday I cut out early; I simply couldn’t take those ghastly ACA worksheets one more second.

And instead of scowling, Barbara actually beamed at me and called out, “Good luck in Washington, Patrizia!” as I beat my retreat.

###

We’re into our fourth straight day of doom, gloom, and pouring rain.

I get that rain is necessary. Nature’s own maintenance and upkeep.

But maintenance and upkeep are actually pretty alien concepts to me. I suppose that’s because I have absolutely no earth signs in my astrological chart.

Driving to Dutchess Literacy last night in a downpour while the ground mists rose was a pretty terrifying experience.

During class break, Romulo – my most advanced student – decided to describe to me in great detail his brother’s recent car accident on Creek Road. In the rain!

“A big bus. You know, a school bus? It loses its brakes. It comes right at him, and he has time to – you know – “ Romulo made a zigzag motion with his hand –“

“Swerve,” I said.

“Swerve?”

“S-W-E-R-V-E.” I mime the action for him.

“Swerve. Yes. He swerves. But he hits tree.”

“Goodness!” I said. “Is he okay?”

“Yes, but truck is –“ Romulo makes a slicing motion. “He is okay because he is driving a truck. But if he was driving a car like your car…”

Duly noted, Romulo. Duly noted.

In fact, Creek Road was the shortcut I was driving last time I was motoring in the rain, convinced I was going to die. It was that detour the Former Democratic Congressional Candidate forced me on.

Life is just one long hazard course, isn’t it?

Why would anyone ever willingly leave the house in the months between November and March?

Dreams and Signifying

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DREAMED that Robin was a baby and that my mother was dying – two events that were separated by seven years in what we laughingly refer to as real life. Both parent and progeny required frequent diaper changes, feedings, etc, and I was doing a piss-poor job keeping up with it all, self-absorbed grasshopper that I am.

Then I woke up.

It was the middle of the night, and my throat was really, really sore.

I drank cognac – not really advisable when you want to fall back asleep since alcohol is a stimulant. But alcohol fuzzes those sharp edges, which makes it easier to sail off them when you want to sink back into unconsciousness. And I watched Dead Like Me, one of my happy-place TV entertainments. I really like snappy dialogue and supernatural plotlines.

When I woke up a few hours later, I felt fine. No sore throat.

###

I will be going to Washington, D.C. for the Women’s March on Saturday. Something deep inside me sez it’s really, really important to signify.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to wear one of those ridiculous pink Pussycat beanies though.

Why would anyone think those hats are a good idea? They’re incredibly stupid-looking. Can’t we signify with some virtue-signaler that’s a bit more fashion-forward?

Empowerment and Near Death Experiences

I’m so glad I went to the DCPAA meeting! It was fabulous! Energizing! Empowering! Productive. Positive.

Thirty-five or so people. About half of them were people I met around a year ago when I first helped set up this group up to get some sort of traction in the mid-Hudson Valley for Bernie Sanders’ campaign. A lot of new faces, too, including a surprisingly large contingent of people who live in NYC but who own second homes here.

Three people who are running for the Dutchess County Legislature.

I have no idea if they do this in other states, but in New York, in addition to the State Assembly and Senate, each county also has a legislative branch and a chief executive. While you might be inclined to think this is a stooopid job, on a par with County Dogcatcher, county legislatures, in fact, are charged with disbursing county moneys left over after subsidizing operational costs associated with county services. These funds are collected from local sales taxes and property taxes. (And I confess: I don’t have a clue what services the county provides.)

This means the Dutchess County Legislature is essentially responsible for funding large portions of the services offered by local nonprofits – like the Anderson Center for Autism, the Child Abuse Prevention Center, El Centro De Abriendo Puertas Para Familias, the Coalition on Elder Abuse, the Hudson Valley Boy Scouts etc etc etc etc.

Dutchess County actually has a considerable surplus of $$$ right now, but few of these nonprofits are receiving any of it.

Electing progressive-minded County legislators is completely doable!

I mean, we’re talking about elections here that can be won easily with 100 votes.

We’ll take back the Dutchess County Legislature in 2017, and we’ll take back the United States of America in 2020!

###

I almost didn’t go to the DCPAA meeting.

At 6:30 at night here, it might as well be midnight, and it was pouring rain. I hate driving even under the best conditions.

But I’d promised the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress a ride.

The Former Democratic Candidate for Congress suggested a shortcut. The shortcut took me through a maze of narrow, twisting country backroads. I’d forgotten how to operate the defroster on my car. And the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress was regaling me with her latest adventures with anal/rectal cancer –

“Yes, they’re gonna take it all out!” she said cheerfully. “I’ll spend the rest of my life with a bag.”

One of the things I actually like about the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress is her affect. I have never known her to be bent out of shape by anything but social injustice. The vicissitudes of her own life she accepts very matter-of-factly.

“And then I asked the doctor, ‘So what if this doesn’t work? How much pain are we looking at?’” she went on. “’Oh, a lot,’ he said. ‘But we’ll give you morphine. And, of course, you’ll have access to all the latest assisted suicide technology – ‘”

I’d slowed my car to about 20 miles an hour, and I felt like a goddam parade marshal because there was a line of cars in back of me that probably stretched back an eighth of a mile. Some of those drivers were actually honking.

Well, this is it, I thought. One of those cars – driven, no doubt, by an enraged Trump supporter who instinctively knows I’m a progressive – is gonna go all Mad Max on me, ram his car into me. Get out of his car and shoot me through the window. I will die listening to the Former Democratic Candidate for Congress babble about anal/rectal cancer.

Fortunately, at that very moment, some circuit in my aging brain kicked in, and I remembered how to use my defroster!

On the way home, I drove back a different way, on a route I was familiar with.

More Words

I've been entertaining myself today by playing around with the stuff I did for NaNoMo. I have no idea what, if anything, I'll do with it, but its voice is noticeably different from most of the stuff I write, so I'm intrigued. I think partly that's because if I'm writing about Henry Miller and June, then I channel Miller to some degree and some of these descriptions do feel very Miller-esque to me (although my mind was completely empty while I was writing.) Of course, I'm a big fan of paragraphs, and Henry Miller was not.

DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU'RE UNDER 18, OR YOU PREFER TO AVOID SEXUALLY EXPLICIT PROSE.

This isn't at all erotic, but it uses sexual imagery with that Miller-esque sense of the grotesque.

Hidden for lengthCollapse )

Never Enuff Tom's Midnight Garden!

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The Mayor of Roanoke, Virginia wants to set up internment camps for Syrian refugees. El Manzanar!

Plus there’s a Twitter campaign - #JeSuisDiesel – that invites canines from all over the world to join in anti-terrorist solidarity.

You could not make these things up.

###

Yesterday was a very productive day. In the evening I watched From Time to Time, written and directed by Downton Abbey puppet master Julian Fellowes and using many of the actors who star in Downton Abbey, plus one who starred in Upstairs, Downstairs, from which Downton Abbey clearly draws its inspiration.

From Time to Time is not a particularly good movie, but I’m a sucker for Big House movies. (Of the English manor estate variety, not Sing Sing.)

Plus, you know, magic.

I don’t know the YA novels the film is based on. They’re written by someone called Lucy M. Boston whose Wikipedia bio makes her sound insufferable.

But the movie clearly owes a debt to one of my absolute favorite books of all time: Tom’s Midnight Garden. An unacknowledged debt, I might add. Shame, shame.

###

Tom’s Midnight Garden takes place in England in the 1950s. A boy – Tom Long – is forced to spend a summer with his bor-r-ring aunt and uncle after his brother is quarantined with measles. The aunt and uncle live in town in a Victorian mansion that’s been partitioned off into flats. There is an ancient grandfather’s clock right next to the front door, but in all other ways the foyer, the house, the apartment Tom’s aunt and uncle live in, are nondescript.

Tom is semi-quarantined, so he can’t leave the flat. Also, the old crone who owns the house lives on its top floor and is rumored not to like children. Tom develops insomnia.

One night as Tom is tossing and turning, the grandfather’s clock strikes 13.

Tom creeps downstairs to investigate. And it’s daytime, and the front door is open on to the most amazing garden

In this other world, no one can see Tom except for a girl named Hatty, who is a kind of ward of the family that owns the house, and one of the gardeners, a religious zealot named Abel.

Both lonely children, Hatty and Tom develop a friendship. Time is also curiously elastic in this alternate universe: Early in his explorations of it, Tom witnesses lightening hitting and toppling one of the tallest trees. The next night, however, the tree is still standing.

Tom and Hatty have many adventures together, but Hatty is changing all the time although Tom is slow to notice.

“You’re a ghost!” Hatty tells Tom.

“No, you’re the ghost,” Tom tells Hatty. Which makes her cry.

Toward the end of the novel, when Tom escapes into the garden universe, it’s winter. Hatty is excited because the river has frozen over, and she is going to skate it – all the way up to the cathedral at Ely.

“Come with me,” Hatty suggests.

“But I have no skates,” Tom says. Then he has an idea. In their respective time periods, Tom and Hatty both live in the same room, the Victorian mansion’s old nursery with bars on its windows. There are loose board in that room over a kind of hiding space.

“When you leave the house, put your skates in the hiding place,” Tom suggests.

And the next day, when Tom is back in his own time/space continuum, he looks in the hiding place, and sure enough: He finds a pair of rusted, antique ice skates. With a note in faded copperplate script: I place these in fulfillment of a promise I once made to a little boy…

Next night, Tom grabs the skates and sets out into the garden. Hatty and Tom put on their respective pairs of skates – PARADOX ALERT – and begin skating.

When they finally get to Ely, Tom somehow runs into his be-measled brother, Peter, to whom he’s been writing about his midnight adventures, all summer long.

Peter is shocked. “You told me Hatty was a little girl,” he says. “But she’s a grownup.”

Next night when the grandfather clock strikes 13, Tom runs downstairs – and there’s nothing. The front door opens on to an alley with garbage cans and the usual municipal clutter.

“Hatty!” Tom screams in despair.

Pandemonium ensues. Everybody in the house wakes up, including the elderly ogress who owns the house.

The next day, Tom’s aunt and uncle tell him that the landlady has insisted upon meeting him. Doubtless, there will be recriminations, but he must man up.

Except that when they meet, the old woman says, “Oh, Tom. Don’t you recognize me?”

Because, of course, it’s Hatty. Who’s been dreaming of her youth. Though that last night, she had been dreaming of her marriage.

##

In the very last scene of the book – narrated through the POV of the prosaic aunt character – the tiny old osteoporotic woman in black with her dowager’s hump and Tom embrace.

“It was almost like watching two children,” says the aunt.

###

Most elegant time travel device ever!!!!! For years and years and years, I’ve wanted to plagiarize it somehow. Make it my own. The chronology would be difficult: Someone in her 80s now would have been a girl in 1945. Not a time when a lot of Big Houses were being built, I’m afraid.

The time travel device in the main novel I’m working on these days, Where You Were When, is not quite a Tom’s Midnight Garden plagiary but certainly an homage.

###

Tom’s Midnight Garden inspired the bicycle trip I took to the Ely Cathedral in – 1974? Must have been.

I saw a ghost there, too.

But that’s another story.
Still hatin’ on Bruce Jenner, ‘cause you know what? I loathe all Kardashians, regardless of gender.

###

On the drive back from Santa Fe, Max and I got into a massive argument about an NPR story. A female student at one of the few remaining all women’s colleges had decided to come out as a male in her/his junior year and was now on the warpath because there weren’t enough men’s bathrooms on campus.

I thought this was one of the most ridiculous stories I’d ever heard.

Max railed against my ignorance and narrow mindedness.

He’s right about this much, at least: The whole transgender thing is a complete nonissue to me.

I’ve always supported the right of any individual to do whatever the hell he or she wants to do with his/her own body. Tattoos, piercings, penile implants, vaginoplasty – Go at it; you have my blessing.

I don’t see this as a political issue.

And for the most part, I don’t see gay rights as a political issue either -- at least not in this country. It is in other parts of the world, clearly. It may be in other parts of this country. But I don't live there, and I make a clear distinction in my mind between social mores and political rights. I think you can influence social mores -- and in that sense, True Blood, Modern Family, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show have done more than Christopher Street -- but you can't really force them. (Though, arguably, there wouldn't have been any True Blood, Modern Family, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show without Christopher Street, I suppose.)

I say this as someone who’s fallen in love with both men and women, and had passionate sexual relationships with both men and women.

I don't support state-sanctioned gay marriage because I don't support state-sanctioned marriage. But, yes, I believe that everyone should have access to the same set of rights so in that sense, I do support gay marriage.

I don’t like the current tendency to herd people into easily definable niches. I suspect this tendency evolved not to give people more freedom – Fly your own freak flag proudly! – but to categorize them so that Google, Facebook, and all the other social media that are rapidly becoming the equivalent of feudal overlords can serve targeted ads more successfully.

We live in an age where biological determinism is alleged to trump any kind of personal motivation, so reams have been written about how gay behaviors are not a choice but a hard-wired brain feature, which I think is (a) bullshit science and (b) actually demeaning to gay preference – See? I can’t help myself! (It’s bullshit science because so far as I know, none of the brain experiments have been done as predictive studies on infants and young children, and the brain has an exceedingly supple feedback loop, which, one assumes, affects its structural features as well as its supply of neurotransmitters.)

Apparently, believing these things makes me a dinosaur reactionary, somewhat to the right of Genghis Kahn.

So be it.

###

In the car, on the ride back to Albuquerque alongside Max, I snorted with disgust about the plight of Jace, the transgender Wellesley student, denied free restroom choice. “This is such a non-issue.”

“It is not a non-issue,” Max said, his voice struggling with emotion.

Bathrooms? Oh, give me a fucking break, Max –“

“It’s part of a human rights struggle for an important disenfranchised faction that is finally finding its own voice –“

“Faction?” I said. “You mean like .3% of the adult population? Sorry, that’s not statistically significant. Jace could pee behind a bush. Or grow some balls – heh, heh, heh – and storm the women’s bathroom.”

“Mom, you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about!”

“Max, you know when I’ve had to pee really, really badly, sometimes I walk straight into the men’s bathroom – right past all those guys in front of urinals – and find myself a stall! ‘Cause I’ve always thought it was fuckin’ unfair that it takes women so much longer to pee because we have to sit down and unwrap so to speak. Should I start a political movement around that? The guys peeing get really disturbed when I claim their bathroom as my own, but hey! My bladder is an equal opportunity activist!”

“Now you’re just being ludicrous as well as disrespectful!”

I’m being ludicrous? I’ll tell you what’s ludicrous. Demanding that that school should spend thousands of dollars to build more men’s bathrooms to accommodate the needs of exactly one student who if he's really a guy should think seriously about transferring out of an all woman’s school –“

“Mom, just stop –“

“I mean, think about it for a second, Max! That money could go to scholarships –“

He has the right to have his needs accommodated to!” Max screamed at me. “It’s a civil rights issue!

And then we sat in complete silence for ten minutes or so, past the flashing neons of the Sandia casino, because it dawned on me that I was in danger of trespassing that invisible boundary in Max’s mind where on one side I was his eccentric but essentially lovable mother and on the other, I was Rick Santorum or that guy with the ponytail and the grizzled beard on the Duck Dynasty.

##

In other news, I started reading Wolf Hall. It is indeed wonderful. Hilary Mantel’s writing style is immensely accessible – kind of like David Mitchell or Kate Atkinson in Life After Life (which I loved beyond measure.) On that last note – Atkinson appears to have written a Life After Life sequel called A God in Ruins, which I’ll have to track down.
Still in the throes of relentless activity. Upside is that I feel just like Maria in West Side Story, twittering around on my toes; trilling, I feel pretty! slightly off-key. Downside is that I tend to lose purchase of my own thoughts if I don’t spend at least a couple of hours every day sitting in a corner with my eyes unfocused. Maybe that’s some metabolic equivalent of mediation? Dunno. Anyway, I can feel my attention span growing shorter and shorter and shorter.

I am having fun, though.

###

Like, for instance, I had a totally terrific birthday weekend. L took me out for lunch at CIA’s excellent French restaurant where I had one of the most fabulous meals I’ve ever eaten: deconstructed pineapple upside down cake and BLTs as amuses bouches; a chestnut soup; a grilled dorade that actually, yes, melted in my mouth; Mimosas with mint; and a deconstructed lemon bar, which the restaurant comped (without being asked.)



Afterwards, I drove out to Rhinebeck and wandered around that quaint little town for an hour or so. Carmel on the Hudson, right? Scored a trio of exotic eaux de Cologne at a little tchatche shoppe that was going out of business plus a remaindered copy of Little Failure at the surprisingly good indie bookstore. (I’m a beeeg Gary Shteyngart fan.) Went to see Noah Baumback’s While We’re Young. (Five-word review: All About Eve Meets Williamsburg.)

Next day, accompanied Seraphina to Harlem for Ayana’s Natural Hair Expo. Almost bailed on that ‘cause you know – natural hair, not a White Girl thing. Plus my eyes needed unfocusing.

Very glad I didn’t, though, because I had the best time, not necessarily at the Expo itself (which was very badly organized though I walked away with an enormous number of samples, which now, of course, White Girl Hair or no White Girl Hair, I’ve got to try) but just hanging out with Seraphina in Harlem on a glorious, glorious day.



We sat on a stoop in the radiant sunlight waiting for the fashion show to begin and just gabbed about everything – childhoods, families, hopes and dreams. Talk fest continued over lunch at Sylvia’s and after the show, when we spent several hours shopping along 125th Street.

Back in my day, 125th Street – particularly its intersection with Lenox Avenue a/k/a Malcolm X Boulevard – was the heart of the riot zone.

Today, though, it’s one huge shopping mall.

Seraphina is looking to get out of the social services business and into the hair business, so after the fashion show, she carted me into half a dozen or so of the hair emporiums lining the Ave, and I scored five boxes of that cheap, cheap, cheap Revlon 112 Colorsilk Luminista, which is the only hair dye evah to turn my locks the deep aubergine I adore, and which, sadly, is not being manufactured anymore, so whenever I go anywhere, one of my quests – like finding the Holy Grail or that winning Lotto ticket – is to hit up every pharmacy in a five-mile radius in the hopes of hunting down a single box.

On the Metro-North ride home, we were surrounded by all sorts of bizarre people having bizarre conversations, which drove us into absolute hysterics. Don’t think I’ve lost it that hard since Susan and I got booted out of a Tai Kwon Do dojo 30 or so years ago for laughing hysterically through Master Bliss’s lecture on rising chi.

So much fun.

###

This is the final week of taxes, so I’m doing a lot of work in the Tax-Aide brigade, too.

Yesterday, for example, I had this client who brought in an oversized Manila envelope bursting at the seams with receipts, which he obviously expected me to organize. I mean, no shit – there were at least 200 of them. And they were all donations to Brother Parsley Jack’s Christian Brigade or Sister Amy Lordpraiser’s Hallelujah Life Mission. The absolute dregs of the TV evangelical channels, in other words.

He was a sweet little guy who obviously meant well, which is why I didn’t tell him to organize the damn things himself. He’d retired from some state job – probably as a janitor at some high school or something – and that pension combined with his Social Security gave him a rather substantial retirement income for a single man living alone in a mobile home park.

Took me an hour and a half to organize his receipts. They totaled something like $14,000.

At first, I was outraged. Wondered if I should call the Dutchess County Social Services hotline and report this as elder abuse.

Then I thought, Hey! It’s no business of yours how this gentleman chooses to spend his money.

Are these nonprofits to which he’s donating money complete scams?

Sure.

But then, so’s Hillary Clinton’s contribution pitch webpage.

Of course, I would prefer it if he was donating $14,000 to cancer research.

But, you know. I don’t get to make decisions for other people on how they spend their money.

###

I’ve also been reading RTT’s novel-in-progress. He sent me the first 120 pages.

It’s good. The kid has a natural sense of rhythm, momentum. That’s something you can’t be taught – you’re either born with it, or you’re not. Sure, it has issues. It’s gonna require a lot of line editing and some serious plot tweaking and reorganization of the info flow to the reader if RTT wants to snag an agent. But that’s stuff that can be fixed in a subsequent draft.

A rhythm problem can’t be fixed, ever. A rhythm problem means the person writing what you’re reading doesn’t know how to tell a story.

I was gonna tell RTT how great it was regardless of how great it was – I am his Mom, after all – but I was very happy that I could say it and mean it. I was really impressed.

Alice and Snow



This is the year that people in my life have begun dying.

I mean, people have died before – Tom in 1995, my mother in 2001 – but never en masse as though it was some sort of civic duty like voting or car registration.

It’s a bit disconcerting.

Alice’s memorial was held in her Soho apartment. Around 70 people – relatives, some colleagues from Playboy, college pals, a bunch of people from the science fiction writing community whom Alice had tirelessly championed throughout her Playboy tenure, some people from Alice’s Shakespeare Club (they meet once a month to read a Shakespeare play aloud with one another – what a great idea!)

Alice lived a fascinating life. Her father worked for the State Department. She was born in China. Unlike J.G. Ballard, she was successfully evacuated when the Japanese invaded, and her family returned to Asia after the War. She went to a boarding school in the shadow of the Himalayas run by missionaries. She came back to the States for college (Bryn Mawr), became an actress, wrote a book about the landscape and dynamics of the netherworld as envisioned by poets and religious nuts over the centuries (A History of Hell), became Playboy’s fiction editor.

Alice’s literary sensibilities were decidedly mainstream – which is to say, they overlapped with my own. I have a hard time with about half the fiction in The New Yorker, and Granta? Fuggedaboutit. PoMo goes right over my little head. I like fiction with plot and grammar. So did Alice. Although within those constraints, she explored the outer boundaries – she was one of Chuck Palahniuk’s earliest champions and is widely credited with discovering David Foster Wallace.

I hadn’t seen Alice in at least 15 years. I liked her, and she was incredibly kind and generous to me, but I always assumed her interest in me was rooted in my job descriptions – People Magazine’s Interactive Entertainment Editor, ICM agent. Alice was a connector in the true Malcolm Gladwell sense of the word. I assumed she would no longer be interested in maintaining her acquaintance with me once I no longer had those job descriptions.

Now, I wish I had made some effort to visit her when I came back to New York. Apparently, she was very lonely those last ten years.

“Oh, it was ugly,” said Stephen with whom I air kissed briefly at the memorial. “She was a very mean drunk.”

That was the central thing that only the Shakespeare Club members addressed in their eulogies.

“Mostly I knew her as this very talkative lady, usually very drunk,” said one actor type with a thick black beard. “But I remember one extraordinary conversation I had with her. Somehow we began talking about death.

“And I said, ‘Well it takes the brain eight and a half minutes to die supposedly. But a really complex dream only takes about three seconds – so really, those last minutes could take years and years in subjective time. Maybe that’s the afterlife.

“And her eyes got very wide.

“And I said, ‘No doubt, this type of speculation is boring to you.’

“And she said, ‘On the contrary, I find it incredibly interesting. What a fascinating theory. And I’m likely to find out the truth about it sooner than you are.’”

Why did Alice drink?

Oh, I mean, I get it. Once you’re a drunk, another set of physiological mechanisms kicks in, and you drink because not to drink would make you physically sick.

But why do people make alcohol their drug of choice in the first place? Why did Alice?

I have to think she was really, desperately unhappy.

The Playboy job was her life. It was glamorous, exciting, a passport into all sorts of glamorous, exciting life experiences.

Losing that passport was very hard for me to deal with, certainly.

But I’m basically an observer of the passing parade. Rather detached. That saved me. In 1997 and 1998, People sent me to do live reporting from the Oscars. Really, I don’t see that experience as qualitatively any different or more interesting than standing on line at the welfare office to apply for food stamps – except that no one is gonna pay you to do the latter.

Alice certainly had other options after the Playboy job went bust. She could have taught at the college level. She could have become an editor with a publishing house.

Instead, she chose to stay in her exquisitely appointed Soho apartment and drink.

So that was one great mystery the eulogies did not address.

The other was why Alice never coupled.

Alice was an extraordinarily amiable person in the true Jane Austen sense of the word.

So no love? Anywhere?

She went to Bryn Mawr, a famously lesbian school.

Was she gay? And born just a little too early to be comfortable with her sexual orientation?

Don’t know. Am unlikely ever to find out.

###

Afterwards, I went tromping around the city in the snow. I wasn’t sad, exactly. But certainly meditative.

His soul swooned softly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

No Dubliners snow in The City That Never Sleeps! No, as soon as the first flakes hit the sidewalk, the full shovel brigade is out.