A cherished movie star, two recent deaths, a shitload of pills, and an idiot have been on my mind recently.
I’ll work backwards.
Chris Hayes. MSNBC. He is Rachel Maddow’s creature, much as she was Keith Olbermann’s. Difference? Maddow is not an idiot. Too cute by half and often grating, but intelligent, potent and…well, not an idiot.
Mr. Hayes, sort of cute and sort of famous for his nerdy eyeglasses took it upon himself on Memorial Day to express his hesitation in referring to men and women who fight in our armed services as “heroes.”
Now, before I unload, let me make myself perfectly clear. I think “hero” is the most overused and debased word in the English language save for “love.” I don’t know where the 20th and 21st century “hero” concept originated. Maybe during the Iran hostage crisis back in the 70’s. I recall all the references to them as “heroes” and I thought—“Uh, actually, not. They’re victims, hostages. Heroes are something else, right?” I was wrong, apparently.
Victims are not heroes. Just volunteering for the Army, Navy or Marines doesn’t automatically make one a hero. Nor does serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. Not everybody serves for love of country.
Getting your legs and arms blown off and making a life for yourself despite that, without self-pity—yeah, I’d say that’s pretty heroic. I also think firemen are heroic. And good cops and good doctors. (Good luck on finding the latter two, however!) People who work in homeless shelters, women who escape abusive relationships, rape victims who testify, investigative journalists who bring down the greedy and corrupt, those who give all they can with a truly charitable heart—heroes, all.
So, I kind of understood where Mr. Hayes was trying to come from, in his tortured, hesitant, intellectual way. BUT. Really? On Memorial Day? That’s when you decide you have that little moment on air? How about just stay at home and barbecue? Call in sick if knew you’d have to be talking about soldiers. Mr. Hayes, naturally, was obliged to apologize swiftly. Too late, asshole. Not only did you reinforce the idea that all liberal Democrats are anti-military (anti-soldier, actually) But you undermined the incredible work of Barack and Michelle Obama, both of whom have worked mightily with and for veterans.
More and more I am convinced that self-professed liberals are really conservative plants, doing damage from within. What else could explain it?
The passing of Donna Summer was for me—as it was for many around my age—another door on my youth closing. As soon as I heard the news, I recalled walking down the street with a friend inGreenwich Villagein 1975. We were on our way to a bar called variously “The Stud” or “The International Stud.” (This was where I had originally met B., a few years before.) My friend and I were breathless, discussing Donna’s song, “Love to Love You, Baby.”
“Oh, yes,” I said “She was definitely really having sex when she recorded that.”
My friend was goggle-eyed. “Really? How do you know that?”
“Oh, please,” I said with assurance of somebody who actually doesn’t know a damn thing, “Everybody knows that.”
My friend was satisfied with my “inside” knowledge, which came from inside my head. We trotted over to the bar, determined to have fun. We did. How can you not have fun when you’re 23? When pants are high-waisted, high-crotched and flare bottomed. (Really, jeans were downright pornographic in those days. Those happy days.)
Donna Summer’s greatest successes would arrive during the rest of the 1970’s and into the 80’s. By then B. and me were together. But I can’t say I stayed away from bars, or stopped leaning up against jukeboxes, or dancing my ass off. I was still young. I still wanted to have fun. And Donna Summer’s voice was part of the soundtrack to good times. And to more gossip, too. Media wasn’t what it is today. But there were gossip columns and fan magazines and supermarket tabloids. What fun we all had reading and speculating about Donna and Barbra Streisand getting together to duet on “Enough is Enough.” Who had the better part of the song…who sang better…who sang louder…who held the longest notes? It was such wicked fun.
Oh, I know. Donna supposedly got all Christian-y later in life and maybe “misspoke” about gays. Sometimes people go overboard when they discover religion. I didn’t let it bother me. She regretted what she said, IF she said it. Perhaps for her career, perhaps because she got hit upside the head with what Jesus really said and did. I met her once. She was lovely, funny, earthy. I’m not holding silly grudges. And I must say, her death from cancer certainly held up to the light all those who abused their gifts and died early from their own self-abuse—Billie, Janis, Jim, Jimmy (Hendrix), Judy, Marilyn, Amy, Whitney, etc. Donna took care, protected her instrument. Never made her fans cringe with embarrassment or be forced to make empty excuses.
The death of Mary Kennedy also struck a note. I have no particular nostalgic feeling for the Kennedy’s. I was only eleven when JFK was assassinated. It was a shocking thing, but it had little impact other than that. My Kennedy memories are mostly the scandalous/sordid/tragic years of Jackie, Chappaquiddick, Joan, JFK Jr, and other unhappy events of that family.
However, Mrs. Kennedy’s death was an especially gruesome suicide. Hanging. Unusual for a woman. She was, it was reported, fearsomely depressed for many years. Nobody could help her. Certainly not her estranged husband, Robert Kennedy Jr., (As he was quick to point out at her funeral.) She left many friends and four children. It was her children left behind that impacted me most powerfully. I could not imagine what agony she must have been in to end her life. No, let me rephrase that. I do know that agony. Over the past ten years I’ve thought of it a lot. All the ways. Even to making it look like an accident—get drunk and walk in front of a bus.
Only one thing stopped me. B. I couldn’t leave him behind. I realize suicide is an act of desperation, of giving in, ending the pain—or thinking you’ll end it. (I imagine most people fight to live in the final seconds.) But no matter how low I got—and I got pretty low—I always saw B., alone and wondering how it happened, why I did it, why couldn’t he stop me, wasn’t his love enough? And…how selfish I remained to the end. I saw his face, and knew I’d see it beyond the grave. I don’t believe in hell but I have my superstitions.
Mary Kennedy’s death came just as I began—at the urging of my friends and B.—a new round of anti-depressants and some Xanax thrown in, for the incredible anxiety. I resist so much. I have a tremendous amount of shame. Why can’t I simply will myself to a better place, to be a better person, to be an adult? Well, I can’t. Tough shit, Mr. Wow. You’re weak. Take the damn pills and at least be pleasant to those who still have the patience to love you. And don’t think anymore about leaving.
I have been more pleasant. Though not an endless party. I don’t think about leaving. I’ve been drinking less after “work.” (Yeah, that sick situation is still going on.)
It’s so funny that I always resist medication. Because I never resist anything else that can make my life easier, or at least, I put myself in situations that keep me infantile. And that seems easier. Perhaps I’m afraid if the meds really work, I won’t have an excuse anymore. We’ll see.
Finally, and on a much lighter note, I just read the trade paperback biography of Jennifer Jones, which I’d somehow missed in hardcover a few years back. It’s called “Portrait of Jennifer” by Edward Z. Epstein. Miss Jones was always a particular favorite of mine—she was gorgeous, intense, tormented, quirky and wildly sexy. (Forget modern interpretations that are “truer to the source”—Jennifer Jones is Gustave Flaubert’s Emma Bovary. Period.)
Jones herself was a mass of neurotic need, counter-balanced by extreme discipline and a mania for privacy. She was a more interesting, intelligent Garbo, a less messy Monroe.
Jennifer’s relationship David O. Selznick is one of Hollywood’s great psycho-dramas. He made her a star and he ruined her as well. Her tale—which includes the tragic story of her first husband, actor Robert Walker—just aches for big screen treatment at the hands of a Martin Scorsese.
Was she a hard-nosed girl on the make for a break or was she the victim of a system and mogul who wouldn’t say no?
I don’t know. But I loved this book!
P.S. To all of you—sorry I was away for so long.
Oh, Oh—wait. One more thing. Fox News doing a segment paying tribute to fallen soldiers on Memorial Day. The background music? “Amazing Grace.” A Christian hymn. Hmmmm…what about all the Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists or the just-plain-weren’t-sure-about-God who died for this country? I guess they don’t count.
“Taps” is the appropriate accompaniment.