Tuesday, January 13, 2009
My friend Anita says I have to should make a list of the celebrities I have met throughout my life. I have no idea why this would be interesting but she says it is a must --so here it goes chronologically.
1. Marilyn Monroe
I met Marilyn when I was around five or six years old. I worked in my father's drug store in Niagara Falls and she was making the film NIAGARA in 1953. I was on delivery with Roy the driver for the store. Marilyn didn't want to answer the door of the hotel room until I informed her that I had her Nembutal and that was the open sesame. Believe it or not she had on a thin white slip and a black bra and girdle. The bra came to two sharp points and was made of material ringed in concentric circles. She seemed confused and annoyed. she had chipped red nail polish, dark hair roots and cigarette ashes in her makeup tray. She asked Roy if he could peel her a piece of Jucy-fruit gum since her nails were wet. As she signed the narcotics log, she asked Roy if he could come back that night with some more Juicy Fruit and some Photoplay magazines. When we left I told Roy that I was shocked that a woman would answer the door in a slip. When I said it was disgusting, he said he didn't think it 'was so bad.'
I met Rick when we were both high school student living in Buffalo in the early 60's. He lived in the downtown core and I went to a suburban high school. He was, even at the age of 16, an amazing entrepreneur. He would bring acts to various venues and come and tell me about them so I could promote them in my high school. We saw all kinds of amazing blues players and down and out guys like James Brown and Chuck Berry before they'd made a comeback. We saw Sly and the Family Stone before they'd made it big. Rick used to come to my high school and park in the lot, he always had a different car, and he would sell items out of his trunk. I actually believed his father was a jobber, I had no idea the items were hot. When I asked him how anyone was supposed to wash the leather shorts he was selling, he said, "Honey they're a dollar-- throw them out when they're dirty."
Seven years later when I went to Graduate school, I was amazed to run into Rick again in Toronto in the Yorkville area the first day that I moved to Toronto in 1970. He was AWOL and had skipped out to Canada. He was singing and playing with the Mynah bird nightclub. He said the band was "a bunch of white dudes ( Neil Young) but they had the 'what for'". When I asked how he found these guys, he said, "Honey I got my ear to the ground and you know I can hear a mouse piss on Cotton." When I found an apartment in Toronto and wanted to look him up, I was told he was in jail. I never saw him again. I had no idea he'd become famous later as I'd dropped out of the music scene. I was in the dentists office thirty years later and I opened a TIME MAGAZINE and they had a full page obituary tribute to him saying he wrote all kinds of songs, and was responsible for building the wall of sound.
3. Tim Russert
I only knew Timmy in high school in buffalo. He went to Canasius, a catholic school and was taught by the Jesuits. I had cousins who were Jesuits and Tim and I often wound up chatting about the Jesuit mentality. I thought at that time that Tim would become a Jesuit priest. I went to Amherst, a public high school. Buffalo is a bar town. Everyone piled into bars from the age of 16 on. We all had fake proof made by brothers who eventually went off to Parsons school of design. Sometimes you can tell when a person will become famous from their drive, charisma, intelligence or their looks. There was nothing about Tim Russert that indicated he would head Meet the Press and become a famous broadcaster. He was one of those boys who was not a ladies man. ( Like most Jesuit trained boys he didn't marry until he was in his thirties) He was a nice, grounded, happy guy who everyone liked. He laughed easily and knew how to fit in. Maybe listening, remembering what people said, and fitting in, is what made it work for him. He was living proof that you don't have to be ruthless to get ahead. I admired how he kept his faith and knew his roots. He did have the good sense at 16 to suggest to me that my play involving a spoof on Lee Harvey Oswald might be in poor taste one year after the Kennedy assassination. I owe him for that one. I had no idea until thirty years later that he'd become famous. He was quoted at a dinner party I was attending in the 1990's. When I said I knew someone with the same name from South Buffalo, you could have knocked me over with a feather when it was the same guy.
I actually met Jimi twice. Both times were when I was in England going to Oxford. I went to London with some classmates and saw Jimi, before he was well known in a small London bar. My friend Margaret-Ann and I , both American, were stoned. We had eaten browies in a car that unbeknowst to us were laced. ( I know this sounds like , 'I didn't inhale,' but it is true.) My friend and I started acting ridiculous and screaming to Jimi on the stage, saying we were also Americans. I guess stoned at twenty-one we thought that was a miracle-- seeing another American in London. Finally Jimi recognized our loud pleas of American Patriotism and played THE STAR SPANGLED BANNER saying it was for the two American girls near the stage. At this point, unsolicited, we took a bow.
Almost a year later the same friend, Margaret Ann, who was majoring in religious poetry of the Tudor songs and sonnet variety ( You get the picture of the world's most repressed woman, right?) was diagnosed with Breast Cancer that had spread. I asked if she wanted me to do anything for her, and she said she didn't want to die a virgin and would like to have sex before she died with the guy who played the STAR SPANGLED BANNER on the one night of her life that she had been stoned. I promised her I would make it happen. We had a hilarious trip to London to one of Jimi's concerts at Albert Hall. We had everything mapped out and we were waiting for him in his hotel between shows. I Basically shoved her in the elevator and ran. That was over forty years ago. History has its ways of playing tricks. My friend had a radical mastectomy and lots of Chemo and is still alive, if you can call being an academic being alive, and Jimi died within the year of his fateful mating with Margaret Ann.
5. Richie Havens
In 1969 when I went 21 I was at the Paradiso night Club in Amsterdam. It was the first club in the world where drugs were sold legally. I wanted to see the sociology of the operation. My friends from Oxford refused to come. They were interested in seeing the red light district where prostitutes sat in store front windows. The Paradiso was an old forbidding looking church that had changed into a nightclub. There were a few tables but it was mostly an open room where people sat on the floor on mats. It was full of black lights so I could see all the lint on my black t-shirt. As soon as I sat down on the floor a cart, the type they use in Dim Sum restaurants to send around the tiny treats, wheeled up to me. There were piles of Hash on each plate as though it was a dessert and the waitress would cut off a chunk for you and weigh it like a clerk at a grocery store. Each brick looked like a piece of Irish peat with a Popsicle stick stuck in it. On the stick was the name of each hash and where it was made in several languages. (Example Maui-Woowie, Hawaii)
Then a woman who was topless and painted black from head to toe began dancing to Light my fire by the Doors. She urged us all to lay down and to put our head on the stomach of the person next to each of us. The person next to me was a tall black man with no teeth and when he sang his gums showed and he resembled a tiny bird still in the nest yelling for a worm. After the song I introduced myself and he said he was Richie Havens. We danced and listened to the music and he introduced me to his friends. It was before Woodstock which made him famous so he was just another face in the crowd. Later I took him with me to meet my friends for a midnight snack. He was the first vegetarian I'd ever met. I thought vegetarian was a religious sect from the deep south. I asked him if he started out in the vegetarian choir. When I saw him in the Woodstock Movie I was amazed.
6. Za Za Gabor
In 1982 I was in The Bra Bar on Yorkville Avenue in Toronto buying a bra from the two Hungarian women who are self proclaimed 'international foundations experts.' Za Za arrived, and the two clerks acted like it was the second coming and jabbered on in Hungarian. It was a a tiny shop with two dressing rooms so Za Za and I introduced ourselves and she said that the answer to a good figure is to have twice as much foundation support as you think you need. I came out of my dressing room in my bra and she said, "Those girls are looking down darling. We only have so long to utilize our assets. Now back in there with something more uplifting." She then went on with a long diatribe about how women in North America have no idea how to age. I was 34 at the time and didn't think I was aging at all. She was at least 65. I have to say she looked great and was a lot of fun. The clerks got us coffee from next door for as ZaZa said, "Getting everything in the right spot was exhausting."
Well six celebrities is really not very many. I think my friends think it is a lot more because I manage to worm them into conversation whenever I can. If someone mentions Hungry I bring up the time I was bra shopping with Za Za or even if someone says they are hungry, I mention ZaZa pretending I think they are talking about the country. It is a lot harder to bring up Rick James for he was only popular with people younger than I am. My friend Anita who is now 40 ( 21 years younger than me) said she was in a state of permanent shock that I knew the singer of the amazing tune, Superfreak. My husband was shocked I knew Tim Russert and was totally blown away that I called him Timmy. I have never once in my life impressed my children with anything I have ever done. I can tell you one thing however, they sat up and took notice when I said I knew Jimi. Of course I've milked that for all it's worth. My suggestion if you know a few celebrities is to recirculate them in conversation. However, you have to be careful. I was giving a talk at a high school about my memoir Too Close to the Falls and I mentioned to the whole school who was in assembly that I knew Marilyn Monroe and no one in the entire room had ever heard of her. I was shocked at first but when I thought about it they were 17 and were born in 1992 and Marilyn Monroe died of an overdose in 1962 which was 40 years before they were even born. I think I need some new celebrities to drag out at dinner party conversations. Five of my six claims to fame are dead. Pretty soon I'll be like Norma Desmond in Sunset > Boulevard, I'll be 80 looking in my mirror and saying "I'm ready for my close up Mr. DeMille."
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
I just heard five minutes ago from Knopf (Random House) that my new book AFTER THE FALLS will be published this fall. It is volume two of my memoir series. TOO CLOSE TO THE FALLS was the first volume and covered my life as a child from four to fourteen. My new volume covers ages fourteen to twenty one.
I am sitting at my computer hyperventilating and sipping cold decaf coffee. Now everyone is going to read what a whack job I was as a teenager. I never had to worry about embarrassing myself with the childhood volume because no matter how strange I was, I was still 'just a kid'. Eccentric children can be engaging, especially if they wear cowboy suits. Nothing is really bad because you are exploring the world and sometimes things don't work out as planned. That is part of what makes childhood so entertaining. However, when you are a teenager, you are supposed to have some common sense. Look at these two pictures above and you can see what I'm getting at. I mean that hair style is right out of the TV show I Remember Mama or else some bad Bergman made for TV special shown only in the Fjords.
It isn't only the photographs, although they tell their own story, I go from longing to be a country club member to longing to blow up county clubs. I go from sweater sets in 1966 to getting labelled as a subversive sympathizer by the FBI in 1968. Actually that isn't so bad either. Almost everyone in the 60's had dramatic changes from bourgeois to hippie--politicized.
What is particularly close to the bone is the initiation into an interest in the opposite sex. Learning how to flirt, and how to be 'a date' was all so painful. Why??--because I didn't do it remotely correctly. I simply didn't get it. Since I have a really good memory I could sit at my computer and conjure up each idiotic sequence and describe them in all of their slow Technicolour idiocy. When I was writing TIGHTROPE alone in my third floor study, I was so concerned with getting the details down, that I never once asked myself if I wanted to have people read about my adolescent fumbling. If I had thought then of the public actually reading the book, I never would have written the unvarnished truth. It's too late to turn back now. My only hope is that everyone else was as hopelessly naive as I was and it has simply never come up on conversation. Without giving away anything in the book, I can picture a reader from a small town near Medicine Hat reading it and exclaiming, "You didn't know that!
The second thing I worry about is how mean I was to my parents, particularly my compassionate, kind father. I never once gave the guy a break. I refused to listen to him--ever. In those pre-Walkman, pre-ipod days, I wore a hair dryer around my home and when he spoke, I turned it on so that the plastic hood would fill with air and he was rendered into a mime performance. I didn't do this for one or two years but for all of my teenage years.
When I was crossed by someone, I spent inordinate time 'paying them back' for 'their crime.' I never once remember crying, I only retaliated to any pain with rage. Now that I know that thousands of people are going to read about my misanthropic shenanigans, I am nervous. I hope that I have captured the teenage voice enough so that my sadism is slightly comprehensible to someone not in the throws of adolescent angst.
I guess these last minute cold feet are the exact reason why most people write fiction and not autobiography. Fiction writers can always claim the embarrassing dating encounters were only flights of fancy, and that the cruelty to the only parents you'll ever have was simply based on an overactive imagination. I can make none of these claims.
Of course I'm going ahead with the sequel and actually writing this blog has calmed me down. In the end the only real crime is not capturing the teenage years as they really were.