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Cynthia Heimel is dead.

She was an incredibly unpleasant person who made my pal Abe’s life a living hell (although I would be the first to admit that even at the best of times, the demons were veritable Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on that door.) But a very funny writer. Her essay Zen and the Art of Diaphragm Insertion once seemed destined to become a timeless classic. It didn’t, of course, because who uses diaphragms as birth control anymore? Thus do all seemingly timeless references metamorphose into items on the broken toy shelf.

Now, I wish, wish, wish I’d paid more attention to the screaming temper tantrum she had that night when I was visiting them in the slums of Beverly Hills. (The slums of Beverly Hills look like the most upscale housing development in the quaint and scenic Hudson Valley.) Because, you know, dialogue! That never goes out of style. Screaming Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf-style tirades! Always fresh! And good dialogue is surprisingly hard to invent.

I didn’t, though, because my only concern was getting out of there as fast as possible in a way that wouldn’t hurt Abe’s feelings too much.

A year or so later after that marriage crumpled, Cynthia Heimel turned up as the Sugar Mama of a pal in whom I maintained a kind of avuncular interest due to the fact that his first marriage broke up in my guest bedroom. He and his wife had come down to Monterey for a bridge tournament, and the wife had fallen desperately in love with her bridge partner. All weekend long, there were tears and tender reproaches behind closed doors.

I practically had my ears glued to the wall.

“Jesus, Patrizia,” Ben said, rolling his eyes.

Cynthia Heimel had bought this pal a shiny new Volkswagen Beetle in a luminous shade of poisonous green. I was envious. I had to pay for my own Volkswagen Beetles!

For whatever reason, I ended up accompanying Cynthia Heimel and my pal-turned-Boy-Toy to multiple dinners at the Chez Panisse café where I was required to be pleasant and civil (although I must say, I entertained vivid fantasies about pushing her down the steep flight of stairs that separated the barely affordable Chez Panisse Café from the Not-Unless-You-Win-Lotto Chez Panisse restaurant itself.)

Abe got a book out of the breakup of his marriage, and the book was very well received, so it wasn’t as though the marriage was a complete wash. From the book came a flurry of writing offers from high-flying lifestyle magazines like Gourmet, Food and Wine, The New York Times. He bought a charming little house in Normal Heights. He seemed to be doing okay. But my interactions with him were confined to occasional phone marathons – Abe is one of the only two people on the planet with whom I actually enjoyed talking on the phone; the other was Lucius – and my annual visits to San Diego after I dropped Max off with his father for the summer.

I didn’t see the pattern of his daily life. I really wouldn’t have tracked if something was not okay.

And such, it turned out, was the case.

He sold the house! I really didn’t understand it. He’d planted lemon grass in the front yard! The value of the house was only going to go up and up and up!

He’d gotten offers to write from all these high-paying magazines, but he only ended up writing a handful of articles! And he never wrote a follow-up book.

In the middle of one night while I was sleeping in his guestroom, I heard him outside my door. Talking to himself. Crazy stuff! Voices, I thought. He’s hearing voices. I knew he’d had the equivalent to a psychotic break many years before in Israel. It’s happening again, I thought.

I stopped visiting him.

We lost touch.

But couple of years later, I got another phone call.

“I want you to tell Cynthia to give me a divorce,” he said after an initial round of pleasantries had been exchanged.

“You’re not divorced from Cynthia?” I asked.

“No! She refuses to sign the paperwork.”

Refuses!” I said. My understanding was that Cynthia despised Abe. Had accused him of all sorts of physical abuse in the course of their short marriage. Although knowing the two of them, it seemed far more likely that if shoving or punching had been going on, she was the likely initiator.

“Abe,” I said. “I barely know Cynthia. She doesn’t like me. I can assure you that if I asked her for anything, she’d say, No. Just to piss me off.”

“Ask ___ _______ to help.” The name belonged to a popular San Francisco newspaper columnist with whom I also had an – ahem! – complex relationship. Although I was fairly sure those particular complexities translated into a kind of cosmic beholdedness: ___ _______ would help me. That was implicit in our strange understanding of one another.

So together the popular San Francisco newspaper columnist and I brokered a divorce for Cynthia Heimel.

And now she’s dead.

I don’t usually like to think ill of the dead but good riddance.

This entry was originally posted at http://mallorys-camera.dreamwidth.org/696953.html. You may leave comments on either Dreamwidth or LiveJournal if you like.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 27th, 2018 04:35 pm (UTC)
Another well written and entertainment entry into your entertaining life!
Feb. 27th, 2018 04:46 pm (UTC)
Yes, and because she's dead, I can name names! :-)
Feb. 27th, 2018 11:38 pm (UTC)

Interesting that there’s no aunt-style term corresponding to “avuncular”

Feb. 28th, 2018 01:13 am (UTC)
I know! I almost considered not using the word and then thought, To hell with gender! :-)
Feb. 28th, 2018 04:21 am (UTC)

There is this: A female version of “avuncular” Q: A caller asked you on the air if there's a feminine equivalent to “avuncular.” The Oxford English Dictionary lists “materteral” as meaning “characteristic of an aunt.” It comes from the Latin “matertera,” which refers to a mother's sister

Clearly about nobody would know what you were talking about if you used it.

Feb. 28th, 2018 12:18 pm (UTC)
I didn't come across "materteral," but I did spend the whole morning muttering to myself, "Female avuncular, female avuncular, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon." :-)

Incidentally, I just finished a book that I think you would like a lot! The Word Detective, John Simpson. All about his adventures with words as the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Packed with delicious deconstructions of word definitions and etymology!
Feb. 28th, 2018 04:24 am (UTC)

BTW. Shouldn’t we be surprised when writers turn out not to be monsters of one sort or another IRL? Maybe Fielding was a nice fellow, but one can’t be certain. You’re one counter-example of course.

Feb. 28th, 2018 12:13 pm (UTC)
Ha ha! Well, thanks. :-)

I don't think "monster" necessarily comes with the writing territory. I think "monster" comes with the celebrity territory, Oddly enough, Cynthia Heimel was a kind of minor celebrity in certain circles 15 years ago.
Feb. 28th, 2018 02:21 pm (UTC)

Because i’m a sort of a bastard, I never got the memo that death constitutes a free pass against criticism for what someone did when she still had the opportunity to do anything at all. Nothing about being dead constitutes an excuse an apology or restitution

Feb. 28th, 2018 02:39 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't call you a bastard. Not even close! :-) You're an extremely generous person - and that translates into your friendships.

You aren't in the least bit sentimental, though.

I don't like talking ill of the dead because, you know... They're dead! They can't defend themselves. They can't redeem themselves.

In the case of Cynthia Heimel, though, she was just so awful.

It's a bit funny reading through the LUV fest going on today throughout our mutual circle of acquaintances. The pleas for donations on her behalf to worthy Alzheimer's charities! (Apparently, she was diagnosed a year ago. I think that diagnosis came 20 years late!) I have to sit on my hands to avoid typing, Obviously, you didn't really know the lady... :-)
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )