Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Wonderful Town (#3)

Mitzi Gaynor with Robert R. Blume, Executive Producer of the Drama Desk Awards.
Walt Whitman heard America singing. I listen chiefly for New York.

Nary a note was sung at the 55th Drama Desk Awards show this past Sunday evening. But everyone heard New York singing—in the emotional and raucous acceptance speeches, in the grace of triumph and the grit of dedication, in the shared reality of dreams.

“It’s a party among themselves,” says super-genial Awards producer Robert R. Blume. “My goal is to create an environment that allows them to celebrate each other.”

What else could induce Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas, Liev Schreiber and Alfred Molina and Matthew Modine, Angela Lansbury and Mitzi Gaynor and Patti LuPone and Scarlett Johansson and Anne Hathaway, Edward Albee and John Kander and Twyla Tharp, to give up an infrequent night off to enter the portals and file through the corridors of a New York City public school—all right, it’s the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music and Art—even better, it’s in the “Performing Arts Concert Hall at Lincoln Center”—to give or get an award too fragile and light to stop a door? Everything in “The City of Music and Art” flourishes on a different scale, not always larger and grander, just dependably wonderfultown-indigenous. The Drama Desk is distinctly New York.

What I like most about the Drama Desk nominations is that they’re all-inclusive—they encompass Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway—and they’re apolitical. I tell nominees how flattered they should be: they’ve been singled out solely for merit. What playwright could imagine that?

Whitman heard and in turn sang the praises of mechanics and carpenters. These theater-community evenings, intimate amid throngs, belong to the mechanics of language and the carpenters of song. “Each singing what belongs to him or her…” as Walt and I observed, 143 years apart, “Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.”

Talking “their strong melodious songs,” that is. Arias for unaccompanied orators. Weaving tales or chattering, gesticulating and jesting. In addition to “God Bless America,” Irving Berlin should have written, “The Muses Bless New York.” Obviously, they did.

The muse of the night turned out unexpectedly to be a glamorous Hollywood guest who, after a 60-year career starring in film, television, nightclubs and concerts, made her New York debut only a week ago. (Who says this isn’t a tough town?) That’s how long it took Mitzi Gaynor to “make it anywhere” but “New York, New York.” Well, hello Mitzi.

Martha Plimpton took the stage all aquiver, explaining, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my shoes!” She was followed by Mitzi herself, who was greeted by a wonderfultown standing ovation. Not long after Mitzi had departed, Matthew Modine approached the mike to announce, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my underwear.” He was followed by Ana Gasteyer who, patting her thighs, said, “Mitzi Gaynor said she liked my Spanx.” Minutes later, Jim Brochu, accepting his award for “Outstanding Solo Performance” for “Zero Hour,” brought the house down with, “Mitzi Gaynor told me to go fuck myself.”

It only remained for Brooke Shields, at the podium for the evening’s final presentations, to share, “I can’t even repeat what Mitzi Gaynor said to me.”

It surely is a wonderful town, but I don’t think you’ll see the likes of an evening like this at the Tonys. Unless Mitzi Gaynor wants the last word.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Gutting the Vote

Political analysts can natter and squawk all they want about what’s going on in the minds of voters in America today, but their sights are fastened on too lofty a source. The naked truth is that the American voter doesn’t use his or her mind when it comes to candidates or issues—the choice comes from the gut.

It’s enough to make Plato or Dante dyspeptic. The gut is the new brain. Talk radio is its digestive tract, cable TV its enzyme. Guess what that makes the gullible voter?

Campaign managers and talk show hosts know. They bank on the gut being unable to digest more than one issue at a time—such time ranging from the length of a succulent sentence to the length of a bacchanalian campaign. They bank on scaring you, then comforting and possibly even inspiriting you. The heart is offal before the unlikelihood of anyone even noticing it's missing. They get you in the gut. If it gets you to the polls and delivers your vote to them, amen.

The table was set earlier today with unappetizing candidates in Pennsylvania, Arkansas and Kentucky primaries. Insiders and outsiders accusing each other of being, of all things—one issue at a time, please!—insiders and outsiders. If you look to see who wants to “throw the bums out,” you’ll see it’s more bums. Two tough birds, incumbent U.S. Senators Arlen Specter (the artist formerly known as a Republican) of Pennsylvania and Arkansas’ Blanche Lincoln are seeing their gooses half-cooked and trying desperately to roll over onto a better side.

Voting from the gut is so precarious that half of America went to the polls in this decade to elect a reformed drinker President of the United States—twice—because he was someone they wanted to have a beer with. (Just one?) As the Commander in Chief of Gut Choices would have it, his gut was the decider. It’s enough to render St. Augustine… or Will Rogers… colicky.

Gut positions? After U.S. Senator George LeMieux publicly broke ranks with his friend of fifteen years, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, the man who chose him for the Senate seat, LeMieux couldn’t wait to refuse to support Crist’s own non-partisan candidacy for the U.S. Senate, calling his decision "a gut check.” LeMieux’s gut-wrenching should not be confused with intestinal fortitude.

Our newest U.S. Senator, Scott Brown, counseled college graduates “…if your gut tells you otherwise, then go with your gut." I wonder if his inspiration was a man who previously held Massachusetts’ Senate seat, gutsy John Quincy Adams, or the crease in the former male model’s gut from the centerfold of Cosmopolitan magazine.

I don’t gut-begrudge anybody per se who gets free gut-counseling, be it gut-checking or gut-listening. It’s certainly not gut-envy. But it’s a bellyful.

Can you imagine the fallout from a raw body politic fused to Rush Limbaugh’s paunch while he shoots from the gut? Or is that hitting below the belt? How about the bellyaching of Glenn I-Will-Say-Anything-For-A-Fast-Buck Beck? Get you right in the you-know-where? Calling them as I see them, The Duodenum Twins are the pap, gurgle and plop of the air, and if ever they tune in to their own reckless gut-slinging, they’ll probably drown in their own tripe-talk.

The only good advice my gut ever gave me was to let me know it was time to stop eating. I have no appetite for being led by the nose, ear or any other organ that comes to mind, my mind, although I like to believe I don’t lack the guts for it. It’s enough to give me reflux.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Estranged Bedfellows

A man buys a truckload of sardines from one man and sells them to another for a nice profit. The new buyer sells them to yet another man, who in turn sells them to another buyer. The truck sits in front of the newest buyer’s house for several days, in full sight through his picture window, until his mouth begins to water for sardines. He goes out to the truck, unlocks the truck’s rear doors, swings one open and is blown back by a hot wave of rotten fish stench. He charges into the house, calls the man he bought the truckload from and starts screaming through the phone how he’s been cheated… the sardines stink to holy hell, they’re rotten and inedible! The previous owner calmly explains to him, “Those aren’t eating sardines, you schmuck, those are buying and selling sardines.”

In the frenzy of excess speculation, greed and irresponsibility that infested our economy all too recently, yesterday’s derivatives became today’s buying-and-selling sardines. No matter who opened the package then, they stunk.

We’re left with the big guys blaming the other big guys for not examining the “truckload” closely enough to get a whiff of the rot within—or, to put into plain language what the big guys converse in with numbers, for not being distrustful enough.

A brief recap (in plain language): AIG was the primary insurer of Goldman Sachs’ derivatives, thereby enabling the ratings agencies to give their triple AAA blessing to Goldman Sachs’ “sardines.” Goldman Sachs repaid them by playing both ends against the middle: selling the derivatives and selling AIG short in the event AIG couldn’t fulfill its insurance commitments, ultimately making a fortune; and by demanding additional collateral from AIG, which hastened its downfall, and by subsequently receiving 100 cents on the dollar when the government bailed out AIG. Do you believe this—there’s nothing wrong with any of it?! Unless you believe in ethics. Disclosure. Fair play.

Thus far (in plain language): Thanks to government funds fulfilling AIG’s commitment, the bottom line is AIG saved Goldman Sachs’ ass. And thanks to the staggering cost to the government, AIG became, overnight, the newest company everybody loved to hate.

Business is business (in plain language): AIG planned to retain Goldman Sachs to advise the company regarding its restructuring. But the government stepped in again, this time to make Goldman Sachs the newest company everybody loves to hate.

Of what interest is it to this site? Two days after our Pickle Award Poll asked: Which Partnership Was Most Clearly Not Made in Heaven?, AIG broke off its almost-on-again relationship with Goldman Sachs to run to the open arms of two waiting suitors, Citigroup Inc and Bank of America Corp. Frailty, thy name is Finance! At the altar stood the intended, Goldman Sachs, solemnly swearing to take this fallen wastrel AIG for counseling or worse—but at the prospect of getting back into bed with an entity presently in more disrepute than itself, AIG grew cold-hearted and hot-footed it to the competition.

In plain language, payback is a bitch.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It Might As Well Be Summer

The drums came out last Thursday. Bold and insouciant, announcing the beginning of summer in New York City. The bongo drums, the congo drums.

The call to bare arms. To buy short. To sandal up.

According to my datebook, summer doesn’t officially begin until June 21st. But what do the planners of monthly planners know about having summer fever when it isn’t even summer?

Time to go almost native in the city. To straighten your brow and wrinkle your cottons.

“June 21st” means kids have to start cutting school early to head for Central Park or presumably any park for the drums. The pervasive and prosaic drums.

Summer begins, it says (in significant italics) in the otherwise-empty square for June 21 in my month-at-a glance planner. The day after Father’s Day. As if there’s a connection. Do you see one?

The oldest in the family asks four questions: Why isn’t this day different from all other days? Don’t the drummers have fathers? Don’t they want to spend part of the day together? Were they born and raised in the park?

May or June, rain or shine, through September or October, the bongo drums, the congo drums, play on. Pronounced and percussive.

A moment of nostalgia heralding another year in New York dissolves, almost cinematically, into memory… of a book-lined study overlooking Central Park. And trying to write against the background of drums. Unremitting and intrusive bongo, congo drums.

Saturday afternoons my telephone would inevitably ring and I’d answer with reasonable certainty it was Isaac Asimov calling. Isaac and his wife Janet lived three blocks south and a half-block off the Park, on the top floor of their building. “Are you hearing what I’m hearing?” he would ask? I would acknowledge I was. The pounding, unbearable drums. “Don’t they ever stop?” he would ask. I always had the correct answer. “Janet’s writing a letter to the mayor’s office,” came next.

I have always wondered how many New York City mayors received how many letters from Janet Jeppson Asimov. Neither Janet nor Isaac ever referred to a response from the mayor’s office. Saturdays, which should have been writers’ sabbaths for the three of us, were days of predestined torment.

I mentioned this year’s outbreak of drums to someone who told me he found them “liberating.” I told him the one thing I will never miss about living on Central Park is the drums, not the f#!*ing bongo drums, not the f#!*ing congo drums. I think I made my point.