FRIDAY July 27 2018
“IN THE beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move,” said Douglas Adams.
WELL, one thing for sure, Natalie Wood has not been forgotten! A lot of heartfelt notes poured in about our tribute to Natalie on what would have been her 80th birthday, including a nifty piece on Wood’s 1966 film, “This Property is Condemned” from Rick Gould’s “Ricks Real/Reel Life” blog. (In case you don’t know it, the movie, which co-starred a then-all-but-unknown Robert Redford, was expanded from a brief, unsuccessful one-act play. But, Natalie was still big box-office, and Hollywood had done well adapting Williams to the screen.)
A lot of people wrote in expressing their own opinions about Natalie’s tragic death and/or asking my “real” opinion on that event. My real opinion is that Wood wasn’t “murdered” as her sister Lana Wood believes. On the other hand, I sure don’t think Natalie just fell in the water trying to tie up a loose dingy to the yacht. I suggest all those who are interested, track down Suzanne Finstad’s 2001 book, “Natasha.” Her chapter on Natalie’s final weekend is chilling, heartbreaking and while it makes no accusations, it’s not hard to figure out what the author suggests—with the help of multiple on-the-spot eyewitnesses before and after Natalie’s death– without going so far as to open herself up to litigation.
ON a—uh, “lighter” note, I took quite a bit of criticism because of my brief remark that while I wouldn’t refuse Sarah Huckabee Sanders service in a restaurant, I’d suggest salads. “That was mean!” went the tenor of my emails. Guilty. It was mean. And I don’t apologize. To paraphrase the great Judy Parfitt in “Dolores Claiborne”: “Sometimes, being a bitch is all a columnist has to hang onto—especially these days.” Like most everyone else living through this “unprecedented” time, I have become somewhat unmoored by events. (By the way, let’s retire “unprecedented.” It is now used so often it has lost all meaning. Which in itself is an alarming thing!)
Saying something petty about Huckabee Sanders gave me a cheap, momentary feeling of satisfaction, particularly as it came as part of a thought in which I disagreed with the tactics of the “radicalized” opposition. We just don’t do that stuff as well as Republicans. Denying SHS a meal won’t help—us.
Frank Bruni’s New York Times opinion piece on July 22nd hit the nail on the head: “We’re excellent at venting. We need to be just as good at voting.”
The vote is all we’ve got, a fact I’ve pointed out here and in countless responses to people who are outraged because I criticize some liberal media outlets and pundits. “Traitor!” And that’s the nice word I’m called. But as Maggie Haberman wrote in the same issue of the Times, in an article about why she quit Twitter. “All outrages appear equal. Tone often overshadows the actual news.” And you know the worst tone to have right now? Smug.
Rome is burning. We know that. But rather than fiddle and give us five-person panels to say the same things over and over again—about Russia, Michael Cohen, the president’s tweets– how about devoting time every week, hell, every night, to men and women who are running for office in the midterms, or should be running, and who the hell is going to be put up in 2020? (Yes, I’ve seen New York magazine’s cover story on Elizabeth Warren. No, just no.) I want substance upon which to float hope, not drama queen outrage or overly animated absurdities—I’m looking at you, Chris Cuomo and your magic markers and whiteboard.
THIS brings me to an email I received that I didn’t open. It was slugged “When Columnists Have Nothing to Say.” It arrived on a day when I ran a fairly nondescript column—I myself can recall nothing of it except the “news” that the old “Green Acres” sitcom was being made into a stage musical. Oh, and the Sarah Sanders salad remark. I didn’t read this email because I knew it would say something like, “the strain is showing.” And I’d agree. And feel the strain even more.
Even after two years, I hate working alone. Access and invitations are scarce. I’ve tried being more aggressive, but I didn’t have to be for the majority of my long life with Liz Smith. Even when the column had lost some steam, it was still bylined by a legend, and news of some sort was not hard to come by. It is now, and I am no legend. This old dog can’t seem to learn a new trick.
And, at no point in my life have I been so distracted by “other things.” That includes almost dying, rather the ultimate distraction.
In 1998, I was given a diagnosis by my doctor that was a surprise to nobody except me. I was HIV positive. That’s the polite version—I had full blown AIDS and a “slight” case of TB. I looked like hell, but couldn’t see it. I felt like hell but insisted “my allergies are acting up.” When I finally gave in to seeing a doctor and got the news, I asked if I was going to die—soon? The doctor said no. He told Bruce the truth—if this “cocktail” doesn’t work, he doesn’t have much time. (I learned this bit of salient info much later, when I was safely out of the woods.) By the way, the only conversation Bruce ever broached after my diagnosis was about getting me better, making sure I always took my medication, eating properly, assuring me I was going to be fine. We’d been together over 20 years at that point. He knew me, my insecurities, my reckless habits, quite well. He could have made me feel very guilty. He didn’t. And I knew, in a way I hadn’t before, that I was loved.
The cocktail did work. I returned to Liz Smith’s office after less than two weeks abed. I weighed 125 pounds, down from 160 just a few months before. I still felt awful. I still looked like shit. I decided to bleach my graying hair a vivid blonde. I was working a skeletal Andy Warhol kind of look, but as Liz Smith said, “Denis, if you’ve done that to your hair, you must be feeling better!”
At no point did I feel I didn’t want to work, that things were “too much” for me. Quite the opposite—I was determined to prove that nothing was too much. And it wasn’t.
But it feels like it is now. I’m too old—I think—to run out into the streets with placards or make myself part of a human chain of opposition somewhere. But I am not so old that I don’t worry what my world, our world, will be like when I am old.
I worry over personal freedoms, the environment, and the “ideals” of American democracy that have been bitterly fought and fairly new—and because they are fairly new, perhaps easy to reverse and forget. (The children of the president’s fanatical base are being “carefully taught” as “South Pacific’s” great song of generationally inherited injustice goes. Who will they be, and where will we be in twenty years?)
And yet, there is still a world of entertainment beckoning, ripe for my pleasure, eager to be noticed, a balm to my worries and yours too. Hey, I want to go see “Fiddler on the Roof” in Yiddish at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. And I did see “Mamma Mia!” I feel that obligation, but…but…but.
I apologize for this, however in all my years with Liz, as Mr. Wow, and this brief time on my own, I’ve always tried to express myself honestly. (When I didn’t it was always to make someone or something better than it was—why not?)
Next week—if I still have a job!—is next week. Perhaps the screening I’m going to tonight, with a friend who always cheers me up, will do the trick. And if not, I’ve had a good run—a “career” far more exciting and satisfying than I ever could have dreamed.
If by Monday I am again excited about something silly, or grand or moving in showbiz land, and write it up with giddy, feckless enthusiasm, I will fall back on the words of Walt Whitman:
“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”