Thursday, January 18, 2018

My insane Iran connection

I received an e-mail via my website today.  It was from Iran.  Here is the first line:

"It's so hard to find the best opening sentence when someone wants to write a letter for a great writer."

They think I'm a great writer in Iran!  Well, someone thinks I'm a great writer in Iran!  Unbelievable.  I've never had an Iranian fan, as far as I know.  I wonder how they got my books?  Or what book of mine they read?  I settled back, ready for Persian adulation.  The e-mail continued:

"It's a long time I'm trying to buy or a book of yours ; "how to hide your insanity", i live in Iran and my country is banned by the laws of US government. I can't buy it from amazon or anywhere else or even download it from some ebook websites can you help me by that? from your loyal fan Saj"

For just the briefest second, I thought: Did I write How to Hide Your Insanity?  The thing is, I want to hide my insanity.  I need to hide my insanity.  If I didn't write that book, I should have.  Thinking carefully, though, I realized I probably hadn't written it.  I'm pretty sure, anyway.  Great title, by the way.

So what Richard Goodman did write this book?  And how could I order it?

Google turned up the book on Goodreads, but the author is Richard Goodmoon.  Not me, Richard Goodman.  It's not listed on amazon. You can't buy it anywhere.  A little more poking around, and I conclude that it seems to be a fake book--i.e., ha ha.  There appears to be no person named Richard Goodmoon, either.  At least neither Google nor facebook brings up anything.  But some people really want the book!

On Reddit, somehow they link Goodmoon to me (why?) and to my website, and so I figure this is how Saj found me.

Sorry, Saj!

Then I started thinking about Saj.  (Is Saj a male name? Female?  No idea.)  I wonder if Saj is being observed writing to me, somehow.  Will this mean consequences?  I hope not.  Then I thought, how in heaven's name did Saj find the fake book, How to Hide Your Insanity?  Did Saj do a search for books that help you conceal your insanity?  Is Saj insane? 

Or, like me, does he/she just feel that way a lot of the time, especially these days? 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Growing old is like...

I don't know what it's like.

What I do know is that at 72, my feeling about aging changes almost every day, if not every hour.

Some days I feel just fine about it.  After all, I'm healthy.  My eyesight is good.  I have energy (until about 8pm).  The brain seems in decent shape. (Did I mention energy?)  My body is holding up.  What else can I ask for?  So many people younger than I am have less.

Other days, I'm terrified.  I'm terrified I'll have a stroke and end up with half my face dragging and move around like Quasimodo.  Or that I'll end up with no money, a disgrace to my daughter, living in some godforsaken Medicare facility sitting in a wheelchair all day in some dimly-lit hallway. Which, don't kid yourself, is possible.  Think of all the sad endings we know.  We read about them every day.

In all cases, whatever I feel, I can't change what's happening. 

The thing is, I think it would take a lot for me not to want to stick around.  I understand people get to that place.  I don't judge them.  How can I?  Those people in unbearable pain?  Who has the effrontery to tell them what to do?

But now more than everand this is clearly a result of being aware of agingI find myself noticing the most peculiar manifestations of being alive.  Opening a jar, for example.  Putting a key into a lock.  Turning on a faucet.  Tying my shoe.  Simple, inconsequential things.  But all things I could not do if I were dead.  And, that at one point, I will not do, ever again.

Aging, with the emphasis on "ing", as in living.



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Thread count

I got an e-mail from a friend telling me about an emerging literary dust-up.  Seems a writer just published a short story in The New Yorker that some people are calling out as being a ripoff of a story by Mavis Gallant.  The writer Francine Prose is probably the most vocal of those in the hue-and-cry camp.

Prose writes, "I find it painful that Mavis Gallant is now so unread that one can claim to have written what's essentially her story and publish it in The New Yorker (where in fact her story first appeared) and it’s okay...It's just wrong."

Prose then goes on to enumerate on her facebook page, with examples, the ways in which the writer, Sadia Shepard, "borrowed" from the Gallant story.

But what really is the most important aspect of this story is the enormous, multi-headed thread Prose has going for her on her page about this.  I did a rough measurement, and it's at least fifteen feet long.  I'm sure I missed some of it, too, passing by a few "more replies" without clicking on them.

I'm so jealous.  I would do anything to have a thread like that.  A thread that went on and on, with all sorts of angry rebuttals and hearty affirmations and sidetrackings and bitter renunciations.  The importance of this person and what they have to say cannot be denied with a thread like that.

Where is my long thread?  Where are my bitter renunciations?

I have none.  Not one soilitary bitter renunciation.  Not to mention my threads in general are threadbare.  They can hardly be called threads.  Maybe threadettes would be more accurate.  Or quasi-threads.  

I want a bigger thread.  I know.  I know.  I can hear you: "Well, say something interesting or provocative.  Then your thread will improve."

That's why I'm seeking your help.  Can anyone provide me with something I can post on facebook that will get me into the big leagues of threads?  I don't mean anything sensational just for the purpose of being sensational.  Sure, I could post something like that.  But that would be cheating.

Is it too much to ask that before I die that I get just one awe-inspiring, jealousy-provoking thread that goes on and on and on as far as the eye can see?

I don't think so.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

The last face


There comes that moment. It may be sudden, or it may take a week or a month. Nevertheless, it eventually arrives, if you live long enough.

It's the revealing of the last face. The face you have before you die. You can be old and still not have this faceyet.  It comes when the end is near. Gaunt, big-eared, nearly skeletal, the neck narrowed, there is no hope in this face. You have left you behind. This is the you at the close of day, with just hints of who you were. Sometimes the change is so marked, others don't even recognize you.

Do you know who this is?
                                                                                                                                     

Let me help:
                                                                                

I wonder what my last face will look like.

                                                           
Watch this space.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The 2nd Ave Deli


I am half Jewish (father), but I was raised Christian.  I always identified with Christianity. Until I stopped identifying with anything.

That changed when I came to New York City to live in 1975.

I was lucky. I arrived in New York at a time when the old Jewish culture was still alive in Manhattan, especially on the Lower East Side. It wasn't nearly as vibrant as it was years earlier, but it was still there. I moved to 10th Street, in the East Village, between Second and Third Avenues. On 12th Street and Second Avenue there was a Yiddish Theater. On Second Avenue and 10th Street was the incredible Second Avenue Deli. A mere three minutes from my apartment, this was my grammar school, my high school and my college for all things Jewish in New York City. It was probably the most famous Jewish deli in New Yorkneck and neck with Katz'sand was acknowledged to serve the best food.

On the sidewalk in front, were embedded the names of the stars of the Yiddish theater along with other names I did not know.  In the evenings, old people would have dinner at the Deli and slowly walk the two blocks to that last Yiddish theater to laugh or cry or both listening to a language that was slowly dying butnot yet.


The Second Avenue Deli was the perfect place for a sheltered, Christian-raised Virginia boy to get an education. It was raucous, it was noisy, it was crowded. The waiters were old, distracted and determinedly not polite. I did not know what 95% of the food they served was.

But if your first taste of pastrami was at the Second Avenue Deli between two pieces of rye bread, then God favored you. I don't even think I knew what pastrami was or corned beef, for that matter. A waiter must have told me to try it.

Holy Mother of God. As Mel Brooks once put it, "My tongue just gave a party for my mouth." I feel fortunate to have discovered and relished this food before I became burdened by the knowledge of its unhealthiness.  I only experienced the joy of it.  

Heaven, I'm in heaven...

And the people! The owner was Abe Lebewohl. He was everywhere, cajoling, ordering, inspecting, admonishing, greeting. Pudgy, with decreasing hair and unlimited energy, he really did seem to be three places at once. I heard him say to someone once: "I'm gonna be on Channel Five tonight! I made a huge Empire State Building entirely out of chopped liver!" R.I.P., Abe. 

Abe

What Fyvush Finkel, a famous actor in the Yiddish theater, said about eating in another Jewish restaurant two blocks away could well apply at the Deli, "I ate there for 30 years and never got what I wanted. The waiter always talked me out of it." Indeed, they did. That world! So liberating from my tight-sphinctered Virginia Episcopalian origins. People raised their voices! People gestured!  People disputed! People were alive! I felt like I'd been given a purge of chicken fat and matzo ball soup.  Ahhhhhh. Slowly but surely, simply by living in New York City, part of me became distinctly Jewish.  It still is.  

The deli is closed now, has been for years.  A bank occupies the space. (The Deli relocated in Midtown, but I haven't had the heart to go. I only want the original.)  But it will always be there, in my heart.  A cholesterol-laden heart, I'm sure, after eating so much of that calorific, delicious food.  But not so laden as to not always to have a place for the Second Avenue Deli.

I remember one day, after a typical heavenly meal, stepping up to the man behind the cash register to pay my bill. He looked to be in his sixties, was dressed in a faded shirt and tie. I recognized that tie!  

"Hey!" I said. "I have a tie exactly like yours!"

"If I were you," he said wearily, "I wouldn't be so proud."

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Becoming Jewish in New York


I am half Jewish (father), but I was raised Christian.  I always identified with Christianity. Until I stopped identifying with anything.

That changed when I came to New York City to live in 1975.

I was lucky. I arrived in New York at a time when the old Jewish culture was still alive in Manhattan, especially on the Lower East Side. It wasn't nearly as vibrant as it was years earlier, but it was still there. I moved to 10th Street, in the East Village, between Second and Third Avenues. On 12th Street and Second Avenue there was a Yiddish Theater. On Second Avenue and 10th Street was the incredible Second Avenue Deli. A mere three minutes from my apartment, this was my grammar school, my high school and my college for all things Jewish in New York City. It was probably the most famous Jewish deli in New Yorkneck and neck with Katz'sand was acknowledged to serve the best food.

On the sidewalk in front, were embedded the names of the stars of the Yiddish theater along with other names I did not know.  In the evenings, old people would have dinner at the Deli and slowly walk the two blocks to that last Yiddish theater to laugh or cry or both listening to a language that was slowly dying butnot yet.


The Second Avenue Deli was the perfect place for a sheltered, Christian-raised Virginia boy to get an education. It was raucous, it was noisy, it was crowded. The waiters were old, distracted and determinedly not polite. I did not know what 95% of the food they served was.

But if your first taste of pastrami was at the Second Avenue Deli between two pieces of rye bread, then God favored you. I don't even think I knew what pastrami was or corned beef, for that matter. A waiter must have told me to try it.

Holy Mother of God. As Mel Brooks once put it, "My tongue just gave a party for my mouth." I feel fortunate to have discovered and relished this food before I became burdened by the knowledge of its unhealthiness.  I only experienced the joy of it.  

Heaven, I'm in heaven...

And the people! The owner was Abe Lebewohl. He was everywhere, cajoling, ordering, inspecting, admonishing, greeting. Pudgy, with decreasing hair and unlimited energy, he really did seem to be three places at once. I heard him say to someone once: "I'm gonna be on Channel Five tonight! I made a huge Empire State Building entirely out of chopped liver!" R.I.P., Abe. 

Abe

What Fyvush Finkel, a famous actor in the Yiddish theater, said about eating in another Jewish restaurant two blocks away could well apply at the Deli, "I ate there for 30 years and never got what I wanted. The waiter always talked me out of it." Indeed, they did. That world! So liberating from my tight-sphinctered Virginia Episcopalian origins. People raised their voices! People gestured!  People disputed! People were alive! I felt like I'd been given a purge of chicken fat and matzo ball soup.  Ahhhhhh. Slowly but surely, simply by living in New York City, part of me became distinctly Jewish.  It still is.  

The deli is closed now, has been for years.  A bank occupies the space. (The Deli relocated in Midtown, but I haven't had the heart to go. I only want the original.)  But it will always be there, in my heart.  A cholesterol-laden heart, I'm sure, after eating so much of that calorific, delicious food.  But not so laden as to not always to have a place for the Second Avenue Deli.

I remember one day, after a typical heavenly meal, stepping up to the man behind the cash register to pay my bill. He looked to be in his sixties, was dressed in a faded shirt and tie. I recognized that tie!  

"Hey!" I said. "I have a tie exactly like yours!"

"If I were you," he said wearily, "I wouldn't be so proud."
                                                                                                 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New York, Winter, 1979


It snowed in New York all that Saturday night.  It snowed heroically.  Some flakes were so large they seemed like little rafts floating waywardly down.  The snow didn’t stop.  It continued hour after hour.  I went to sleep watching it through my curtainless window.

The next morning, it was still snowing heavily.  I got up and got dressed.  It was still early.  I  opened the door to my loft building and walked outside.  I was living in Soho at the time.  The neighborhood had been painted with a vast white brush.  The sidewalk, and even the cobblestones, were puffy white versions of themselves.  Everything was doubled.  This was the great advantage of it snowing on a Saturday or Sunday.  People never emerged that early in New York on the weekend.   It wouldn’t last long, though.  There were no trees in Soho like there were in Greenwich Village.  There was no shrubbery, no plants, except on rooftops, no eye-level window sills, no cast iron gates protecting small plots of earth, nothing to catch or hold the snow, except cars and the street.  There was nothing upon which the snow could make soft white sculptures and remain on display all day.  This kind of perfection was transitory in Soho, since it was presented on the cobblestones, on sidewalks.  That’s why when it snowed significantly, I always returned to my province in Greenwich Village.  It was the most stirring New York snow experience.

That day I walked north, crossed Houston and went west to Seventh Avenue.  The sharp damp air woke me.  There were only a few people trudging along in the swirl.  I crossed Seventh Avenue and arrived at my destination: West Fourth Street.  When most people think of snow, they probably have a Robert Frost-like image of easy wind and downy flakes.  I think of West Fourth Street in New York in just a brief length, between Seventh Avenue and West Twelfth Street.  It passes by lovely, ancient brownstones and crosses some of the city’s most memorable streets: Bank, Charles, Perry, West 11th.  It’s quiet.  It’s fairly narrow.  Trees line both its sides.  It’s heaven in the snow.

I walked along, my footsteps muffled, my progress slowed, my legs breaking trail.  Just a few cars had gone by leaving perfect parallel trenches.  It was so quiet.  I could smell the snow.  I could almost hear it.  As I walked I looked into huge brownstone windows to see life stirring inside.  Some windows had curtains, some did not.  I saw a woman in her robe pass by one window inside.  A cat stared at me from the windowsill, its eyes following my every move.  I could feel its warm inside comfort.  I crossed Perry.  I was tempted to turn and go down that street.  Every street was tempting.  The snow was stacked on grates and plants and sconces to the very brim, waiting for that one bit of snow that would force it to tumble.  But that hadn’t happened yet.  Everything was soft white perfection.  I didn’t want Vermont, I thought.  I didn’t want Robert Frost.  He could have his woods, lovely dark and deep.  I wanted this.  I wanted New York. 

Then I saw Clara.  She was part of my writers group.  We were all trying hard to write, to be the person we believed we should be.  She was walking toward me.  She was dressed snugly, a big scarf wrapped around her neck up to her lower lip.  She had a camera.  I went and stood in front of her and blocked her way.  The snow made it hard for her to see.  She had that typical New York reaction, What-the-hell-do-you-think-you’re-doing, before she looked closely.

“Fancy meeting you here,” I said, my lips moving turgidly in the cold.

“Yes, it is,” she said and then laughed that beautiful laugh of hers.  Her bangs peeked out from a knitted cap.  They were flecked with snow.

“Taking some snaps?”

“Oh, well you know, if I see something,” she said.

“Want to grab some coffee at the Bonbonniere?”

“Sure.”

We both stood there for a minute or so letting the snow fall on us, reluctant to leave the white perfection.  Then we turned and walked away together toward the grimy familiar coffee shop on Hudson.  The place was nearly empty.  There were just a few customers at the counter and Nick the owner.  We stomped our feet on the floor, found a table against the window and sat down.  The place smelled of fried eggs, coffee, bacon and grease.  There was nothing to recommend it except that it was ours.  We loved it.  Clara asked for tea.  I said coffee.  We sat facing one another as the snow fell outside.  We are so seldom aware of the preciousness of our experience.  It’s only later that we remember and assess and sigh at its beauty, now gone.  But I knew then.  I knew that I was young, and strong, and capable and living exactly where I should be living.  I had no doubt. The coffee came, and I inhaled deeply the fragrant smoke rising from the cup.