Thursday, December 26, 2013


It's raining here in New Orleans. The sound is steady and beautiful. I have both French doors in my apartment open to it.  I can feel the freshness of the rain waft into the room where I'm working and I can smell the freshness as well. The way you can breathe rain even indoors. When rain falls, I always feel a kind of absolution. It means I can start anew. It's a kind of recurring baptism. 

Yes, there are rains that are not pleasant. I think of cold windy rainy March days in New York City. Or when you're driving at night and the rain is so brutal you can't see even beyond your windshield and your heart is about to exit your body.

All in all, though, everything about rain is mysterious and poetical. It's not a coincidence that Ernest Hemingway begins his memoir about Paris, A Moveable Feast, in rainy weather. This is is a cold, sad-producing rain, but nevertheless an inspiring rain. He walks from his apartment to the Place St-Michel to a good cafe. He takes off his damp coat, sits down, and begins to write. He's writing a story that we will all read one day, and, as the writer, he knows this, because he is writing this as a man of sixty or so, looking back.  So we are conscious of this and feel, in a way, intimate with the writer.

Hemingway writes,

"A girl came in the cafe and sat by herself at a table near the window. She was very pretty with a face fresh as a newly minted coin if they minted coins in smooth flesh with rain-freshened skin....."

If rain accompanies strong sensual moments, then you live a poem, you are fully alive. In college, years ago, I was in love with a beautiful, melancholy girl. Her name was Sarah. She would stay with me in my apartment off campus over the weekend. I remember, even today, one afternoon, together, in bed. I remember it started to rain. I remember the sound of the rain slapping against the leaves on the ground, and the damp smell of it breathing into the window and cooling our bodies. My arm was draped around her bare shoulder. The cascade of her soft hair fell onto my naked arm. I often think about the soft sound of the rain against the windowsill and on the leaves on the ground. Of us in bed together as we talked dreamily to the tat-tat-tat of rain against the leaves.

If we think about the wonders of being alive, so many are simple, straightforward. Rain is one. Replenishing, cleansing, encouraging. Making us poets at least for an hour or so. The beauty of those drops coming from the sky. The mystery of it. There are things in this world that are dark. Rain is not one of them.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

John Waters: The Pope of Trash

A recent article in the New York Times about John Waters reminded me how much I dig this guy.

John Waters has always been himself. He doesn't give a good goddam what you think about what he does or says or what kind of movies he makes. He's not aggressive about it. He just is.

There are really two John Waters, at least as far as the movie-going public is concerned. The first is the John Waters of Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble and Desperate Living. The second is the John Waters of Hairspray. Pink Flamingos may be, to borrow a phrase used to describe its main character, the great transvestite actor, Divine, the filthiest movie ever made. Once, years ago, a good friend of mine, on my spirited recommendation, took his girlfriend to see Pink Flamingos. The ticket seller leaned toward them and whispered emphatically, "Do not see this movie!" There is a now-notorious scene at the end where Divine proves she is the filthiest person alive by scooping up some freshly deposited dog shit and taking a big mouthful. Just before she shoves the doggy poo into her mouth, she looks to the camera and mouths, "I'm so hungry!"

Every movie John Waters made before Hairspray was rated X or R. Hairspray was rated PG. This to many Waters fans seemed a kind of betrayal. As Waters himself said, "After that, I thought I'd never work again." I love Hairspray. (No, not the Broadway musical or the movie musical.The original movie.) It's easy to think of Waters as pure camp, but I don't think of him that way at all. I think Hairspray, which, among other things, is about racial integration in 1962 Baltimore, is a truly great comic film. Divine plays Edna Turnblad, the housewife who just can't understand her daughter Tracy's obsession with the Corny Collins Dance Show (obviously patterned after American Bandstand). One of my favorite Edna Turnblad lines: "Now l've got nothin' but hampers of ironing to do...and my diet pill is wearing off." Every child should be required to see this movie.

Now, here's the best part. I went to see "A John Waters Christmas" here in New Orleans on Tuesday evening at the Civic Center. It was a live show with the pope of trash himself. It promised to be an incredible evening. I love bad taste. I mean, what's not to like? He was f-king hilarious. One example: he said, "If you go home with someone and they don't have any books, don't fuck them." He did seventy minutes without stopping, and never disappointed once. The place was packed. It was great to see how much New Orleans loves him. Merry Christmas, John Waters!
John Waters' 2006 Christmas card

Saturday, November 30, 2013


Many summers ago, I was in Denver visiting my sister and her family. One morning, someone suggested a game of golf.

I don't play golf. But I figured, nice day, get some exercise, move the legs, see some scenery, try my hand at it. What the hell. So, off we went to a course whose name I no longer remember. My brother and brother-in-law were playing, and my nephew was there, too. Playing at a high altitude helped, since even a bad shot went further in the thin air. The course was fairly narrow, and some new houses were being built on either side of the fairways. Around the third hole, I realized I was actually having fun.

Not that I knew what the hell I was doing. I just reared back and let her rip. Sometimes the ball went somewhere, and sometimes it trickled off the tee disconsolately. I took a lot of mulligans. No one cared. It was just a good time on the links.

Somewhere along the seventh or eighth hole, I teed up. It was a par five. I would have been happy with a ten. I wielded some kind of driver, a number five, if memory serves. I liked that little head. I did some obviously fake warm-up stuff, stepped up, reared back and swung. Thwack. Miraculously, the ball took off from the head of the club and sailed high and long away. That felt good!

And then mid flight or so, the ball began to curve right. What is that called? A slice? Or a hook? Well, it curved right and headed directly for the houses that flanked the side of the course. "Uh-oh," my brother-in-law said. "Get ready to pay for a window," my brother said. I didn't hear any glass breaking, but of course we were pretty far away. "Nice shot," my nephew said. "Even better of it had gone straight."

We walked down the fairway until we came to where I thought the ball had gone. There was a house, and then, next to it, a house in the middle of being built. I walked to that house, the walls of which hadn't been raised yet, and encountered a man, obviously a carpenter, lying face up on the wood floor, arms outstretched, a hammer in his open hand. One of his fellow carpenters was kneeling next to him and saying, "Dude! Dude! Can you hear me! Dude, are you ok?"

Next to the prostrate man was a golf ball. Indeed, as it turned out, my golf ball.

Restraining my first urge to flee, I walked toward the poor guy who was moaning, but not dead. First good stroke (no pun) of good luck.

"Dude! Speak to me!" his friend said. And, thank the gods, he began opening his eyes.

"Whappened?" he asked dreamily.

"You got beaned by a golf ball, Dude. I think it was this dude who did it." He looked at me.

"Hi there!" I said.

"Oh, my head hurts," the injured party said, rubbing the back of his head.

But the fact is, he came around. He even sat up. I apologized like an insane man, offering to take him to the hospital and pay whatever bill there might be to be paid, hoping an operation wouldn't be necessary.

"No, man," he said, continuing to rub the back of his head. "That's ok."

"What are the odds of that happening?!?" I said cheerily, picking up my ball.

And guess what--it was ok. I got his number and called him the next day, and he couldn't have been sweeter. I apologized again, and he really was all right about it.

But for years afterward, I would hear that refrain at family gatherings,

"Dude! Dude! Can you hear me? Dude!"


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Getting rid of my sex toys

I saw a column in The New York Times a while back by a woman urging older people to get rid of their sex toys before they die so said toys are not found afterwards by their children. Who will be embarrassed.

"Look, Timmy, Mom sure had a big dildo, didn't she?"

Or, "Is this garter and stocking thing Dad's?"

Or, "Sis, I just can't picture Mom shoving this up her butt."

I actually feel the opposite.  I don't have any sex toys.  But now that I'm getting older, I may get some just to give the impression that I had a tumultuous sex life.  I want to appear rakish, daring, uninhibited.  I want them to whisper things about me.  I want them to be envious. Awed

"Gosh, he must have had a lot of wild sex in here!  Look at this box labeled, Handcuffs. Don't lose key!  And this leather mask!  Wait, there's a note under it: Too small. See if can exchange for Large and a knitted scarf."

"Oh, look over here!  Is this ring for what I think it's for?  Whoa."

"I didn't know you could buy condoms in bulk. But look at this tub from Costco!"

So, hand me that "Sex Toys R Us" catalog. I'll make them think I was the Marquis de Sade, Warren Beatty and Frank Sinatra all rolled up in one.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Courage of Thomas Lanier

I'm living in New Orleans, not far from where Tennessee Williams once lived.

He lived in several places in the French Quarter, and my current apartment is close to where he sets A Streetcar Named Desire.

I have always looked to him for courage, and now that I am growing old in his favorite city, even more so.

Every so often I pick up the marvelous biography of his early life, Tom: The Unknown Tennessee Williams.  It's a highly under-appreciated book.  I like to to read about those early struggles of his, many of which took place just a few blocks away.

You get the impression in letter after letter, journal entry after journal entry, that, no matter how bleak the situation was for him, it never came close to dissuading him.  He hocked his typewriter, he hocked his only suit, he hocked his bicycle to pay the rent, to pay for food.  He wrote.  He never stopped writing.  He was a courageous writer, a courageous man.

Brave and funny.  I remember seeing him on a Chicago talk show once with three or four other people.  One of them was a Catholic priest.  Tennessee had recently converted to Catholicism.  The priest, knowing this, said, "I shall pray for you."

Without missing a beat, Tennessee said, "I don't require your prayers."

Years ago, I read something he wrote in a preface to one of his plays: "...time is short and it doesn't return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it, the monosyllable of the clock is Loss, loss, loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition."

I can hear it, the ticking. 

Give me courage, Tennessee.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Sense of Style

Many years ago--forty to be precise--I was living in Cambridge, MA. I didn't like Cambridge, but one of the great redeeming features about living in the Boston area was reading George Frazier in the Boston Globe.

Frazier was a columnist whose writing was lively, acerbic and highly opinionated.  He wrote about all sorts of things, but whatever he wrote about he was always, in one way or another, searching for a sense of style.  By that he meant not simply what a person wore--though this was very important to him--but the way a person lived as well.  He had his heroes--Fred Astaire, being one. There was a man who embodied all that Frazier admired and loved.

Frazier's writing could be abrasive.  But it was always 100% entertaining.  He never disappointed.

He also wrote a column for Esquire Magazine.  I am thinking about that as I feel grateful for just being alive.  I know some of these posts have been dark.  Life can be dark.  And will be.  But overall, I'll turn to a cliche: It's great to be alive.

In this particular column in Esquire, Frazier was writing, once again, about a sense of style.  He put forth several examples, mostly about African-Americans, and then he concluded the column with a brief encounter he had with Duke Ellington. 

Frazier wrote, "There was a night when, as I stood with Duke Ellington outside the Hickory House, I looked up at the sky and said, 'I hope it's a good day tomorrow. I want to wake up early.'

"'Any day I wake up,' said Ellington, 'is a good day.'

"And that was style," George Frazier wrote.

That's exactly how I feel, dark thoughts or not.  Any day I wake up is a good day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Allen Ginsberg taught me this...

I mean the actual Allen Ginsberg, not his poetry.

Allen--as so many called him--lived most of his life in New York City's East Village.  I never saw him there, although I lived in the same neighborhood.

Who in my generation wasn't startled and set on fire by "Howl"?  I loved that poem so much I taught my four-year-old daughter to recite the famous opening lines, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving, hysterical, naked...."   My daughter actually did very well with it. Much to the horror of her mother.

And I, like so many others, admired Ginsberg's guts, his fearlessness about standing up for what he believed in.

So, it was with great surprise and delight that one day I saw Allen Ginsberg walking out of the now-defunct (and oh so sorely missed) Books & Company bookstore on Madison Avenue.  This was probably around 1996, toward the end of both the store's life and Ginsberg's.

I was driving up Madison Avenue in my car.  As I rolled by Books & Company, I saw him.  Allen Ginsberg.  He was standing on the sidewalk, looking, I supose, for a cab.  You couldn't mistake him for anyone else.


What did I do?  I slowed the car down almost to a stop, leaned out the window and shouted these profound words,

"Hey, Allen!  You're a great fucking poet!"

He looked here and there, not certain where the voice had come from.  Then he spotted me.  He looked at me and then said,

"I'm still here."

Indeed, so am I.  I may bitch about growing old, but I'm still here.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


Look at this woman.

She was beautiful when she was young.  But she had a haunting, defiant beauty when she was old.

She always did, always could, look a person in the eye.

She went to New Mexico, to the desert. She bought a house in 1940 and lived there until she died at 98, in 1986.

She had that essential rarefied beauty of the bleached skulls she loved to paint.

It doesn’t matter what you think of her paintings.  She was an artist in a man's world.  She did what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it.  That was character.

I'd like to have a face with that rugged simplicity in my very old age.