Sunday, October 31, 2010

Zen Preludes

Seven Zen Preludes: Halloween Morning: Times Square

This is the corner where the tourists stand
to have their photo taken
before the greatest possible concentration
of bazillion kilowatt billboards.

I’m surprised to feel so tenderhearted toward them.

They will think when they look at the picture later,
“My friend took this.
That was the day we had raw salmon.
That was the day we got the last seats at the matinee.”

That it is Times Square is irrelevant.
It might as well be
Iguazu Falls
or a stand of trees
weighed down with autumn.

Oh. I wish I were taking somebody’s picture,
kneeling, ignoring the crowd
to get a better angle.

The pigeons note my pigeon-disgusting chai, move on.

The brown sparrows come after,
perching on the rim of my table.
They’re sure I’ve something hidden,
something kept from the complacent pigeons,
but that may yield to them. The brown of their feathers
is more complicated than one expects.
I rise. Go to the Starbucks. Buy a bagel.
Crumble it pieces and present it to the sparrows,
bit by bit. You can tell by the casualness of receipt
this is what they expected all along.

A tiny Japanese girl with her face made up
to be a kitten offers me a plastic pumpkin
to put something into.
Her parents watch, beaming.
They have got the custom slightly wrong.

I have nothing. I have a plastic bottle of antacids.
I put that in.
The girl-kitten dances for joy.
The smiling parents bow, and bow.

The woman with the cigarette catches me
cleaning my glasses with a dollar bill.
“I learned that from my father,” I say.

Then tears course down the lenses,
and I have to take the dollar out again.

The domes I cover myself with
are the color of the air, therefore invisible.
But I know they rise above those towers
and seal the square, the city, the gray Hudson
flowing down, against what ever danger
I was sent here to prevent.

Who knew that they took in so much?

The policeman and his horse
pose for photographs.
The horse is beautiful and allows
on his nose the caress of children.

Some life in this city will be saved
by a caress on the muzzle of a beautiful horse,
and the cop and the horse chant
from their quarter of the well of light

O come, O come


I am sitting here weeping in gratitude
for the gift of poetry.
Passers-by think I have lost someone
and the news had just come.
October 31, 2010

Must praise Halloween in New York. The dark, quite streets of Long island City were haunted by ghouls and princesses, and Times Square around midnight was carnival, joyous and absurd, everybody talking at the top of their lungs for delight. Ever corner was a theater and ever gaggle of black girls or team of white boys in borrowed uniforms was an act.

Somewhat unintentionally, yesterday was museum day. Started with the Met, where I wrote in the sunny hall of all the broken statues. Concentrated on portraits, and came away with the lingering mirth of Raeburn’s The Drummond Children. All those masterpieces. . . sometimes the abundance is nauseating; yesterday it was a field of flowers. On to the Guggenheim, which had by far the most satisfying show I’ve ever seen there, Classicism and Chaos, I think, gleaming with Marc, Kandinsky, Nolde, Leger, Kirchner, all the moderns who had not abandoned painting.

Went to the theater to see if I could exchange my A Life in the Theater tickets so I could see Cody. Under a sign saying Absolutely No Refunds or Exchanges they exchanged them, so off I went to the Irish Center on Jackson Avenue in Queens to see the play called Wake. How quiet the streets were there! You could cross one without looking. Ghosts and fairies walked to parties somewhere looking quite ghostly and isolated. The theater– an Irish social hall-- was all very casual, and the actors were clumped up in the main room getting ready, and I talked with beloved Cody for a time, hiked off and found an Irish bar, threw one down with a guy who was rooting for Texas in the World Series because they were the ones who had beaten the Yanks. The play was three hours long, it turned out. This becomes an issue because it was also not very good. The first 20 minutes were electrifying, because they were brave and poetic, and in fact the whole piece was brave and poetic, but the plot was a skein of threads dropped on a carpet, the structure was chaos, the playwright far, far too in love with her material to have thought it through. But what it also signified was the depth of acting talent in the city, for whatever else, the actors were every second committed, “on”, expressive, working to professional standards. Plus, they had memorized all those peaks after peaks of marshmallow. There was a lot of shouting when all the passions were meant to be on display, but that too was over-thought, and misdirected into a torment of crescendoes, each trying to top the last. I suppose real family quarrels go like that, but real family quarrels aren’t so damn literary. Plus, by that time I’d lost track of both characters and issues and didn’t know who was being petulant and who was being reasonable. Was proud of Cody out there, handsome and professional. He had one long aria when he was trying to marry a woman he didn’t love, for the sake of his dead friend who did love her, and it was virtuoso, and, beyond that, real.

Then it was Times Square on the first night of Halloween. I thought “somebody should write a play about this,” but then I realized that somebody was, right there as I was watching.


October 30, 2010

Pale morning. I’m hoping NY’s bout with winter is over until I leave. Elisabeth’s performance was wonderful last night. It’s a tiny theater and I was on the front row, and if she recognized me I hope it was a comfort to her. 59E59 is three theaters piled on top of each other in a sort of cement box, a lovely idea, I thought, and the fact that each hosts something new and daring is brilliant, Had I known about it I would have spent all my entertainment dollars there.. I wish I hadn’t noticed with such grim clarity that Plath’s oven was electric.. Happy with my own part. My face was expressive, but way uglier in close-up than I hoped. Sprint then down to the Playwright to meet MA and Owen, who were late too so it didn’t matter. That bar was too crowded with pirates and zombies and Lady GaGas, so we came here to the lounge at the Paramount, which is very elegant, though it cost $120 for drinks for three. Great bliss talking with my boys, who were sunny and allusive and full of ambitions and ideas, the perfection of what UNCA turns out. I haven’t been able to talk about art and ideas like that since . . . I don’t know. It’s as sad commentary, considering what I do for a living. Their criticism of UNCA is that the professors let students have their own heads too much, and sometimes classes dissolve into sessions of undirected sharing. Some of the professors are not dedicated to the pursuit of truth, but more to the pursuit of good evaluations. I didn’t ask them to specify.

I will not get tickets ahead of time ever again. It causes one to miss so any immediate opportunities.

Friday, October 29, 2010

New York New York

October 29, 2010

Nineteenth floor of the Paramount Hotel, with its teensy spaceship rooms. To my joy, my window looks down onto 8th Avenue, and most directly onto the Playwright Pub and Restaurant. All the scurrying shapes. . . all the yellow taxis. The water pressure ir minimal, but I guess if I were water I wouldn’t want to haul myself up 19 floors either. Flight uneventful (though, of course, delayed). The bus from Newark got tangled in a wilderness of its kind at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. Somehow everybody got through.

Caught first preview of Neat LaButte’s The Break of Noon at the Lucille Lortel in Christopher Street. The play was not very good. Indeed it was kept from being seen-it-coming-a-long-way-off crap only by LaButte’s skill at dialogue, which makes you think, for a while, that something might actually be happening. A sensational premise (a guy survives an office massacre and becomes a prophet) wasted. But it must be said that David Duchovny puts in a thoroughly believable, nuanced, affecting, even majestic performance. His TV work has been concealing a truly fine actor. The acting in general was quite good. The producer joked that last night’s performance would differ from all others because it was the first premiere and changes would be made. Unfortunately, the things that can be changed need not be changed. The thing that needs to be, probably cannot.

Muscular Hispanic boys were doing gymnastics on a scaffold. My cabbie got honked at as he took pictures with his cell phone.

The play was not only disappointing but quite short, and I went to the brink of drunkenness in a bar next door, which was either gay or African American, maybe both. They dude next to me related how Bedford Stuyvesant is now a quiet and safe place to live. The free hors d’oeuvres were magnificent.

At midnight I was at one of those little tables on Times Square, eating my tuna fish salad. I was happy.

Meeting with my director in a café on Broadway and 86th. I took the train early because I’ve had so little time to explore the Upper West Side. Lovely, stately, quiet as New York counts that quality, an old Jewish neighborhood where the kids were screaming and laughing at recess at the Yeshiva. Spectacular (if eclectic-to-the-point-of-hideous) memorial to the Union dead of the Civil War. Standing there I received inspiration for the third part of my Lincoln trilogy. The trip was worth it if only that should happen. The golden leaves of the locusts gave all the scene royalty. A sprig of kudzu flourished in the little rose garden against Riverside Drive. I wonder if anyone in authority knows that?

I didn’t want the meeting with SB to be too business-like, but he did steer the conversation immediately to The Loves of Mr. Lincoln. What can I say? I expected him to say that they had dropped the project, but he was horrified at the thought. It seems to be in a suspension zone, not as near to realization as I had hoped, much nearer than I had feared. Much uncertainty comes from their determination for find a “star” to play Lincoln. “We’ve sent it to two people so far and they LOVED it.” What does that mean in ordinary speech? If they loved it then why– well, anyway, I came from the meeting neither elated nor distressed, so I suppose that is well enough. I hoped the meeting would be like someone kicking a stone at the top of a hill, which ends up in a landslide, but we’ll see. SB has done a lot of work on the script, and made suggestions that are actually useful.

On to MOMA, where there is now an important exhibit of Abstract Expressionism. I came away muttering to myself, “that Jackson Pollock is just not a good painter.” Compared to people in the room with him, Pousset-Dart, Klein, de Kooning, etc, he is their inferior in every measure but reputation. There’s no denying the power of the drip paintings, but whatever excuse we make for them, they APPEAR to have been made by simply throwing paint around, an accusation made by the public against most modern painting, and a perception modern painting seems to want to canonize by accepting Pollock as its god. It’s a kind of counter-Reformation which says, “we are going to make our orthodoxy that which you despise most, and we are doing so BECAUSE you despise it.” One might interpret this another way, as “We hate the tradition of our art so much that we will apotheosize someone who seems not to have profited from one lesson of its thousand years of striving.” It is an odd fact that no one has ever revolutionized an art form by intending to. The A-Es simply tried to hard, and though some of the work stirs my soul, the school is–even now– a moment in history only, not the paths ages, or even decades, will tread.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

October 27, 2010

Rain. Good and ample rain.

Bill Greg calls from SART to report that I won the commission to write a play for them based on the life of Zebulon Vance. I get to wallow in ignorance until next week when I meet with the historians the grant demands. We all agreed I shouldn’t be forming my own ideas until I talk with them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 26, 2010

My spider is gone, her web a sing thread whipping in the breeze.

The house hunt has become traumatic to a degree I wouldn’t have anticipated. I’ve seen two properties that I like, and letting them go (I have already refused one of them) is painful to me, and yet I can’t commit. It’s not money. BB&T allowed me to think I can have anything I want. But the question is, what do I want? Do I want to live like a hermit on a mountain, more isolated than I already am, however surrounded by acres and square feet? I sat in my house last night pretending that the night was the night of a mountain ten miles away from anybody, and I was, frankly, anxious. I called the tree guys to cut down the gloomy hemlocks on either side of the back yard, thinking that if every possible square inch of this property were lit and tillable, I would be content. In any case, my package from the nursery came, and I planted two kinds of lilies and two kind of fritillaria.

Some of this day has been brilliant, some has been (such as now) gloomy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

October 23, 2010

Met TB at 5 Walnut last night, to take in that venue’s unique charm and to catch up a little. TB was looking good, with what he describes as a “Big Boy” haircut suiting him fine. I enjoy his company. I cannot foresee what his plans to go to TISCH will come to, but we did consider my applying as well, and our living together as freshman roommates. Charming thought, but more exhausting than charming. What he remembered most fondly from our cohabitation in New York were my outbursts of profanity.

Ran into Kathy, late of the Usual Suspects, on the street. She and Les are opening a wine shop on Broadway. Less stress than a bar, for sure, and nights home.

Lovely high round moon over downtown Asheville, happy people on the street.

Disappointing news from the provost and the academic appeals committee, which, deliberately I suppose, misrepresented my response concerning the young woman dissatisfied with her grade. Doesn’t matter much, but it does matter some. There’s a world of difference between seeking the good and avoiding the blame, and that difference remains unaccounted for in this matter.

Oklahoma at the Thomas Wolf. I stuffed envelopes and handed out programs for free entrance. I have never seen so many wheelchairs, so many walkers. Good looking kids with lovely voices. I sat considering the virtues of predictability, a quality which I have left rather under-explored.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

October 22, 2010

One orange bachelor button seed fell into a crack between bricks on the porch stairs, and now blooms there in proud and lonely splendor. My spider continues her tenancy on the porch. Will she die when winter comes? I suppose so, though some must live in order for there to be spiders in the spring. Does she think of this blazing autumn as a lingering twilight for her and her race? Is she capable of melancholy?

The theme for today’s house hunt was inaccessibility: roads impossibly steep and unpaved on which my little Prius spun her wheels hopelessly, narrow ways with precipices on either side, hideous botches of architecture mercifully hidden in the high forest.
October 20, 2010

The garden had never been richer in roses. It is a cruel blessing, coming just before the frost. Red and gold and pink. I really want to move so I can have more land to plant more roses.
October 19, 2010

They delivered my bed yesterday. It looks huge in the room, and is rather severe in the firmness department. I had a touch of fever last night, and the inaugural sleep was full of investigation of various features of the bed–buttons to push, services to experience–which of course it does not have. The two Haverty’s delivery men had piercing blue eyes and a sense of humor they must have honed on each other through the long hours. The big one was twenty five and already had severe back problems. I saw him carrying the mattress by himself, back bent in an S, looking down at the difficult stones .

Drove down Pisgah Highway today looking at properties I had read of online. Actually found some of them. Every such foray has made staying put look better. I think that I’d rather live where I lived once in the past, when it comes down to it, rather than forging ahead into the new. I lay down on the huge hard new bed and dreamed a nap dream, and in it I was traveling with Maud the Cat. At one point I got sick of traveling, and the cat and I took a turn and found ourselves in Galway. It was night, and the streets were dark and bright at once, full of laughter, and I was so, so happy. I had come home. Not only was I in Galway, but the Knoll Shop, the candy store that delighted me when I was a boy in Akron, was there, and just as it was.
October 18, 2010

Dark of the morning. Dream: I was at the Dublin airport waiting for a bus to Sligo. I’d lost my passport, and had to decide whether t stay in Dublin and try to get my passport back, or continue on. I thought that if I could just get to Sligo, everything would be all right, passport or none.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

October 16, 2010

Music from the court of Charles V on the CD. Days of flawless, radiant blue sky. The hills are blinding in their variety of colors. It is the Lord’s own autumn.

Looking hard at a property on Pine Forest Road in Weaverville. It has the forest I need to transfigure, and the rest is, at least, adequate. The house looks like a Hobbit dwelling. I can live with that. It will look less Hobbity when the toys disappear from the yard and the zoomorphic windchimes from the eaves. I have one more day to think about it before I phone the bank and begin the process, or don’t.

The property has the further merit of being close to Reems Creek Nursery, where I stopped to buy–something–which turned out to be a holly tree. I actually bought the tree for the woods at Pine Forest, but I don’t own it yet, so I planted it in my own front yard. The planting was unusually laborious; I don’t think the tree will survive, for that reason, because it was so laborious. Things that will prosper usually have a lightheartedness, a kind of inevitability about them. I take it is a sign of probable failure when I have worked too hard.

Angels in America at NC Stage last night. MM’s Roy Cohn added something missing from every other interpretation of that part I’ve ever seen, including Pacino’s, and that is humanity. One might say MM the man is not capable of inhumanity, but one might say the actor found dimensions in the character which made him, at times, almost too complicated for the play, an evil too multi-valenced to be entirely hissed. Ethel Rosenberg came off as a bit of a harpy, foretelling the bitter death of one we did not entirely hate. The production had everything talent and skilled rehearsal could bring to it. It was, in that sense, flawless. It lacked dazzle, sparkle, surprise, but those come and go with the night and the spirits that rule the corners of the stage, and their descent cannot be prepared for any more than the angel’s.

Had to fight the receptionist to have before theater cocktails at Zambra’s. I asked to be seated, and she said that we had to have a reservation and that all the tables were taken. The fact was that NONE of the tables were taken. I asked to see the manager, and he seated us. It was 6, and she was keeping tables open for reservations at 7:30. Plus, she had too many tattoos, and I think sometimes that introduces impurities into the blood which block good sense. We had to dodge a fight between the (perfectly enormous) bouncer and a drunken patron to get into Scully’s afterward. A laborious night. Except everyone in Scully’s that evening was physically beautiful, so it was worth the labor.
October 15, 2010

DJ and I cruised Weaverville and the Reems Creek area looking for likely properties. I sort of like doing it, but it’s a huge syphon of energy and time. Even the evening after was laid waste. Like any kind of shopping, it exhausts and discourages me.

Letter from an agent admiring the power of The Riding Funhouse but complaining that the opening sounds sketched in and hasty. I tamped down my scorn and looked at the book, and the opening is sketched in an hasty. He was right. In one of those great and silent victories, I went back to the beginning. Deep into it now, liking it better, smiling as Im write, and there has not been on ray of fury.
October 13, 2010

Bought a bed. Never have had my own bed, but a mattress and box springs on the floor all my adult life. Enough of that.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

October 12, 2010

Four in the morning. Why? So I can tap-tap-tap on this machine. Talked to Sarah about her wedding, met her lanky groom, shared gossip about the dragon lady of our common experience. Would I go on the way I was going if I were certain everybody hated me for it? Would I lose friends and leave a bitter taste in all mouths only to have it the second best way? Went to the Woodfin Y after WEEKS away, and J at the counter said, “You’ve been away so long and you haven’t sent my any pictures of your summer adventure,” and why was I set the trial of not being able to say, “I can’t come here because of the sure knowledge that you will nag me for the pictures that I told you the first time do not exist.” If I could just walk in and work out and nothing more, life would be good. Being asked the second time for what I decided not to provide the first time infuriates me more than anything else. People have the idea that persistence wins in the end, but me it seals like an angry clam. Please, world, learn this.

Golden waterlily in the golden autumn.

Titus speaks through the open window at something lurking out in the dark.
October 11, 2010

Began looking the properties the real estate lady has been sending me. DJ and Iooked for three, found one, but the one was a gem, a sort of moss green gingerbread house back in the woods in Weaverville. The house may be ideal, but the property is not, quite. I wish I knew what I was looking for, or whether the whole enterprise is just the release of excess energy. DJ said “I can see you pottering around in a place like this.” I could, too, though it makes me seem rather more Hobbit-like than I would prefer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

October 10, 2010

10/10/10. If I waited a few hours it could be 10/10/10 at 10. Palestrina on the CD.

Took DJ to the see Asheville Lyric Opera’s The Magic Flute. The orchestra had some intonation problems, and the conductor didn’t seem completely comfortable, but the overall effect was thoroughly entertaining, and the piece settles deeper into its status as one of my perpetual favorites. The music is beyond flawless. The plot is ludicrous, of course, and this production’s approach made the funny spots truly funny, rather than just weird, which is what some settle for. The transcendent quality of the play comes from a vision which Mozart shares, in my experience, only with Shakespeare: that is the smiling conviction that the highest solemnities in the world and the most raucous earthiness are on exactly the same level, and each the road to joy. Those of us who are high and solemn are saved by conviction and solemnity. Those of us who are simple and kind are saved by kindness. Silliness from a pure heart is as good as heroism. Tamino is a hero and does everything right. Papageno is a appetite-driven lout who does everything wrong, and yet both get their hearts’ desires, and no one would contest the Papageno is the apple of Mozart’s eye. Papageno, after all, finds and rescues Pamina; he is unfallen Tristan, a hero who never beats his shield and shouts. Mozart mocks chivalry without dismissing it. It’s fine for them for whom it is right. Most of us can’t carry it off. Most of us are hungry, scratching Papagenos who forget the solemn vows we just made and wander about in a chaos of appetites, which we trust–correctly, it turns out-- to pure-heartedness to redeem. The slob next door is not necessarily any less sanctified than Galahad on his white stead. ALO was fortunate in having a Papageno who was personable, comic without exertion, an actor of great skill, and all the qualities mentioned above were asserted without being preached.

DJ and Bill and Amy and I had dinner before and drinks after the opera.
October 9, 2010

Fuzzy stars before morning. Beautiful and healing dreams before waking, metamorphic. Some power (I don’t know whether I was the power, or the beneficiary of the power) was turning people into the gods they would be (or had been) and gods in to the people they would be when all the world was divine. We were clanking about trying on our new powers and splendors. When I woke I had a flawless feeling of well-being, and so many ideas for creation I haven’t enough hands to carry them out.

Roses–all of them–and honeysuckle join the more expectable low cloud of asters as autumn coolness warns everyone of final chances. Took the truck shopping and bought azaleas and bulbs. Dug mightily to get them all into the ground. The front yard flutters with pale butterflies. My spider has grown perceptibly.

Friday, October 8, 2010

October 7, 2010

Turbulent return. The flight from London seemed very long. I slept fitfully through it, and when I was not asleep the thoughts in my head were unquiet and disturbing. Very nearly the most disturbing thoughts I ever had. But I was sick and exhausted and uncomfortable, so maybe there was nothing to them. Delayed in Atlanta because Delta had not thought to secure a pilot, apparently. Came home to a new bathroom compliments of Matthew the Handyman. All green and cream as it was before, but without the cracks in everything, and the tiles seceding from the floor. He will appear in a few moments to tell me how much I owe. Went to choir rehearsal, and was glad I did, for there was something fresh and adventurous about it that reminded me why I joined in the first place. Discovered this morning that my computer had given up the ghost–or rather added some. Nothing would load, nothing would delete, nothing would respond. I tossed it with some vehemence into the trash and moved a laptop up to take its place, and it seems to be doing fine. So, this lordly morning I am fully home and caught up with myself, and Circe has acres to nap in where the fat computer tower used to be. A little stuffed panda bear sits on my desk lamp. It was lying on the cement path that leads to the Millennium Bridge, dropped or otherwise abandoned. He lived in my pocket fot a while, and now he lives here, plush against the plush back of the cat.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

London Last

October 6, 2010

LGatwick. In my departure haze I gave the cabbie 70 pounds more than I meant to. Hope he can make use of that on his honeymoon in Las Vegas, The sickness turned out to be phlebitis, which I fought back with antibiotics, but which took Monday evening out of the schedule, and slowed down Tuesday. Monday night was the hateful miasma of fever delusions, Thought of Steven, sometimes in the midst of delusion, sometimes weith sweet clarity. Everything is lost, always, but somehow there is always something more. I did taxi to St. Paul’s and took the Millennium Bridge to the Tate. The Gauguin exhibit was sensational, and re-convinced me of his status as a major figure. Went to the play Lower Ninth at the Trafalgar Studio 2. It was the story of three men (one dead) on a New Orleans roof during the hurricane. It had dramatic occasion and great energy of language, and though it ended abruptly, as if somebody had suddenly called “time!” it was a good evening of theater. It’s hard to gather one’s thoughts in a space like this, but the basic thing to say is that I was not done with London. I had more to do, more to see. Since Dublin broke my heart, maybe this is the prime destination for a time. I have an hour before I have to appear at the gate. Maybe I’ll spend the last of my pounds.

London 5

October 4, 2010

The west gleams peach and gold, deepened by blue-gray, the great round tower with the revolving purple band at the top stabbing through. It is early Monday evening, and I have arisen from a sleep that accompanied some kind of sickness, though I don’t know what. Flue-like symptoms, maybe flu. Arrived back in London in the midst of an underground strike, which didn’t affect me as I was walking anyway, but Kings Cross was apparently the epicenter of discontent.

Took the train yesterday To Cambridge. Steve can’t drive because of a series of DUIs, so I was picked up by his girlfriend Karen and driven out to Willingham. I assumed she was his mother, so I’m glad she introduced herself first. The back of the car, and indeed everything in their lives, smelled sharply of dogs, specifically three versions of a ratty terrier I forget the name of. Steve has two of them, with much too much personality, and a certain amount of time needed to be spent learning to keep them under the level of hysteria. Willingham is a quaint and scenic Fens town, the kind people put in TV shows, but the old town is surrounded by council housing, such as Steve’s, heavily subsidized by the government for people in various stages of ill luck. I did a riff on “Willingham”– reluctant pork, eager bacon, etc– which Steve didn’t seem to understand. Steve and I cooked an elaborate curry, and then headed out to the local in Willingham, the Black Bull. The Black Bull was joyful, friendly, and at the end of the evening four of us were left– the landlord, a man whose speech could barely be understood, Steve and I, the three Brits talked with surprising knowledge and interest about American comedians. Steve was broke, so I bought the drinks, which included samples of all five colors of Sambucco, which each taste mostly of anise, and are each a little more disgusting than the real thing.

What do I say of the visit? I came away feeling that my love for him is better informed and stronger for the weathering of contact with his actual situation. I looked at him watching TV, and I knew I have a friend for as long as circumstances allow. I had hoped for romance different from the kind that happened. It was romantic, but chaste and poor and sad. Steve cuddled me as he did his dogs, as a physical comfort, as a kind of living wall between himself and the darkness. Finally, one of us had nothing to give. It was all right. I might have gone to Willingham for the sake of both of us, but it turns out I went for his sake, and that is well. Any purpose is a purpose.

Steve is handsome and presentable and capable of suave conversation, and has an MBA, so it’s clear his present state of near-indigence is caused by something other than ability. He’s in the midst of a soul-quest, of which he speaks at length, but how can you tell someone the gods are speaking something other than he thinks they are? The book he is writing is fascinating to a friend, as it is autobiography and fills in the blanks of his conversation, but it has no commercial value–unless he were already a celebrity. He foresees a time, a few months off, when the money from selling that book puts his life back on track. I am powerless to say what I think, even though he asks me. And at then end of it, how do I know I’m right? Things may go exactly as he foresees.

He found the wishbone in the chicken, and we pulled it, and I won, but I did not get my wish. I’d be glad to relinquish it if I thought he got his.

Stopped between the hotel and the station to eat at a Greek restaurant. The tables were on the sidewalk, and I’ve become enough of a Brit not to be bothered by the mist of rain. A boy was singing at the next table, singing to the music of his headphones, loud and happy and oblivious. He was partially annoying and partially festive, and at last I decided that the festive won.

A bird sings on my balcony, a sweet small London bird singing in the gathering darkness.

London 3, 4

October 3, 2010

Sunday morning. Skipped yesterday because I got home too drunk and wet and happy.

Strolled most of Saturday, to the National Gallery where I was stuck by painters I had never noticed before, and returned to old friends like The Shrimp Girl and Salisbury Cathedral from the Water Meadows. Sat a while in Trafalgar, realizing one could have a pretty full tour of London just sitting there. In the evening I went again to Covent Garden to see the Royal Ballet do Onegin. It was perplexing to me. By the end of Act II I was in to the story and the characters, but I must say that, though I love dance, classical narrative ballet has always struck me as superfluous. It’s about perfection of execution, and the execution was indeed perfect, but there must be something original and vital to be executed. In narrative ballets, good dancing is sadly coupled with very bad acting. I remembered from my days in The Nutcracker Ann’s admonitions to dress the stage and stay active and to stay in character, and I could not avoid seeing those things in Onegin. Is ballet acting deliberately bad–I mean, is it part of the form?–or is it that the dance takes so much effort they leave the rest to chance? I tried to push down the word “preposterous,” but it pretty much was. The Nutcracker is mostly fantastic, and for fantasy ballet works fine, but for anything that is supposed to be “real,” is just doesn’t. Unless your story is about swans or fairies, ballet is not your medium. The work dates from the 60's, but it seemed to have take nothing from a milieu within sixty years of its own time. I suppose that if one likes Eugene Onegin one might be interested in a dance version, but why, exactly? Without a great book shoring it up at every point, it is a very silly dance. Beautifully done, of course. Onegin was wildly handsome. Plus, I had a stupendous seat, At intermission, digging my ice cream out of its carton with one of those little spades they give you, I flipped a big dollop of chocolate onto a Japanese grandmother’s skirt. She was so polite she was going to pretend she didn’t see it happen.

Pouring rain when I left the opera house. Drank at the Freemason Arms, and thought of Jason. Drank at O’Neill’s on Long Acre, which was loud and merry, and where I met short dark Rick and tall red Bruce. I bought them a round of what they were drinking, and they bought me untold rounds of Sambucco, which I’d never had before. Bruce is an engineer and Rick was leaving for Japan in the morning, and had not yet packed. Bruce was a hugger, and soon I was being enveloped in drunk boy hugs and plied with Sambucco, and I was happy. Why does one leave one’s front door except for that? In the driving rain on Southampton, the Sambucco and the cider rose up in conflict, and I vomited lustily, but I was happy even while engaged in that. What did O’Neill’s have that the ballet did not, I wondered, seeing that one was a delight and the other had to be endured, considering what one had paid for the ticket? I suppose the answer is inspiration. On the stage nothing was new. In the bar, everything was.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

London 2

October 1, 2010

I was right about Waterloo Bridge making me feel better. I crossed it heading to the Cottesloe to see a new play called Why Don’t You Just Kiss Me? Like War Horse, it is a piece done with marvelous puppets manipulated by men in black, who are not invisible, but whose expressions are so concentrated on their work that yours is too, WDYJKM is in one sense not a very good play– the professional theater worker in me was fussing about its scripting problems near the beginning– but that magic which sometimes attends upon the stage was afoot, and by the end of the evening I’d had one of the outstanding theatrical experiences of my life. I fought off sobs at the end, until I could get out into the anonymous night. Re-crossing the bridge walking back to Russell Square, I realized that I’d had one of those experiences Aristotle talks about, which people think is just high-toned blather until they have one for themselves. I had transcended pity and terror. Catharsis wrapped me in his arms like a warm wind. The play is about ageing and death, and since my last birthday those have been on my mind. In the middle of the play I felt something I have never felt before. It is hard to put into words. I felt the actual power in me to take whatever desperate or transcendent steps are necessary to stave off what I fear and dread. I thought of the water under the bridge, and it seemed no longer cold and dark, but a radiant plenum, an open door teeming with life. People talk about taking these matters into their own hands– I talk about it–but the actual power to do so descended upon me only that night. With the power to do it comes the end of the obsession with it, and one can get on to the next stage of life with a free mind and an open heart.

Drinks in the hotel bar that night, surrounded by shockingly handsome American men, in the middle of their years, businessmen in loosened ties and expensive suits, with that air about them of men who have always been big and handsome, and assumed their words would be attended.

The Victoria and Albert in morning rain. I took a cab, and the friendly cabbie agreed to take me to Gatwick on Wednesday, and as I had got an internet connection long enough to contact Steven, anxieties were falling like nine pins. I hadn’t remembered the V&A being so gorgeous, all shining dully with cream and gold, full of delightful objects. I must have gone through the wrong entrance before. It has the best café, too, and I drank my jasmine tea and watched the Italian kids and their teacher take pictures of each other. Spencer the cabbie grew up in East London, and has never seen a stage play. I told him he should see Hamlet at the National tonight and get a good start, but he said the Missus wouldn’t stand for anything beyond the level of Sex in the City. I didn’t go into it, but Elsinore makes them look like schoolgirls. Met Simon from Melbourne at the White Horse, somewhere between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. I told him I would come back to see him today, but I am not at all sure I can find the way.

Last night it was the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, Niobe Regina Di Tebe by Agostino Steffani. The music was standard Baroque opera, and the libretto was, of course, idiotic, but the production was lavish and innovative, the singing excellent. The show was boring and delightful at once, as those things sometimes are. The boring part I got past by falling asleep and running a completely different opera in my mind to the music provided. All the male romantic figures were countertenor sopranos, Mars was a woman, and everybody wore poufy full skirts, so one gave up trying to establish any gender norms. I was in the fiftieth balcony, up against the roof. The two people behind me had taken their mother out for a night at the opera, and their ceaseless fussing about whether she could hear and did she see the superscripts and was this and that all right must have ruined any enjoyment she might otherwise have had. At the V&A I was in the tea line behind a gaggle of old ladies who- I swear–took two full minutes each trying to get out of the way so the other could be first in line. I wished I had a camera.
I can go out on my balcony and look down on the Square and whatever street it is runs in front of the hotel. Sore and stiff, but not too sore and stiff.

Friday, October 1, 2010

London 1

September 30, 2010

Hotel Russell, London. Uncharacteristically, I didn’t sleep on the flight, but played trivia on the viewing screen with other passengers, known by seat numbers and nicknames, and kept playing because I kept winning by thousands of points every round.

I keep coming back to this hotel because of its Victorian splendor, but in many ways it’s primitive and inconvenient, no water pressure, ludicrously complex plumbing, no WiFi in the rooms. It’s a lot to pay for ambience, a cozy bar, and the beautiful park across the street. Everything between landing at 7 AM and now was pretty grueling. The lines at British customs must be to some end, but it’s hard to see what, that cannot be better served in some other way. Trains and the underground to Kings Cross, then the walk to Russell Square. About half way here I felt the smile begin to creep over my face, joyful to walk again on the streets of London, but by the time the before-check-in exile had ended, the smile had gone away. I phoned the Barkley’s Card people to tell them I would be here, but still, on the very first use, they shut down my card. Drinks at the Cambridge, a tour through Soho, a couple of hours at the British Museum. I head to the National Theater tonight. Let’s see if that puts us back on an even keel.

London, unlike New York, is a place where I would be happy to live. Every time I sit down for a coffee or a rest I wonder, “What if this were my usual spot, and everybody knew me?”

A bright clear day is clouding over. I’m frantic about the difficulties of reaching Steve–most of them unnecessary and therefore provoking. I think that’s the root of my present bad mood. I’ll walk across Waterloo Bridge and all will be well,