September 23, 2012 § 5 Comments
Lisa took me to a one-man show by Jean Claude van Itallie at La Mama Friday night. The veteran playwright, long connected to La Mama and its founder Ellen Stewart, told the story of his life from a childhood in Europe during/after WWII to discovering his homosexuality, becoming a writer, falling in love.
The audience was arrayed in a circle around this slender, lithe 70-something, this gay Jewish elf, long-simmered in Tibetan Buddhism. He asked us all to stand up, say our name and where we were born. It sounded nothing more than friendly, yet there was a cumulative power to hearing each voice name a city or country—Brooklyn; Chicago; London; the Bronx; Portsmouth, New Hampshire; Hackensack, New Jersey. Milan, San Francisco, The Philippines, Japan. Detroit, Germany, Fayetteville, Alabama.
Jean-Claude talked about the stamp of fear left on him from his early childhood, though he never saw a Nazi. He described his youth in 1960’s Greenwich Village. “I slept with over 1,000 men,often three a day, and I think the cruise was what mattered more than the sex.” I wanted to know more about that, the current of desire and curiosity that takes you from one man to another all day long—something no woman I know would do for pleasure. “Sometimes we’d talk a bit later.” What I’ve experienced of strangers in the night required a lot of talking beforehand. How does one reach that dream state where the body and the willingness is all that matters, no need to find a hook in personality?
Paris Hilton thinks it’s disgusting that gay men (some gay men) have frequent sex with strangers. I think most women kind of do. I just find it mysterious.
Jean-Claude had other tales to tell, mostly about the theater, and the disappointment of botching opportunities—a rave review from Walter Kerr, not followed up on. The regrets and might-have-beens. He paused at key moments to sing snatches of the popular songs of his era: Some Enchanted Evening when he fell in love; Cole Porter’s You’re the Top to accompany his tale of living vicariously through his boyfriend. I never tire of those songs.
He ended with something that jerked me out of my own regretful might-have-been state: a fierce message about Global Warming—why the hell aren’t we all screaming in the streets?
I know why I’m not, and it doesn’t speak well of me. Activism requires a belief in oneself, a belief in success, as well as a desire to change the world. But there must be something a person with no confidence can contribute. (I have contributed a little bit, through the Cathedral.) As for contributing on my own time, I’m thinking about it. I’ve given up trying to drill through my emotional issues. I’m going back to the old fashioned work-around, with the advantage/disadvantage of some insight into how and why I fall short.
I talked to Lisa about climate change on the walk to the subway—in the gently cool September night, with just the right, fluttering breeze. Friday night in the East Village, crossing Lafayette, Broadway, University, then a diagonal through the lit-up park—as usual full of competing musicians, lonely souls, college kids and strolling lovers—and west to Sheridan Square. Everyone was out on the first night of Autumn.
I talked about climate change; she didn’t. I interpreted her silence, and it was eloquent, but I won’t offer that interpretation here, since this is not fiction and I don’t have the right to inhabit her skin.
What I said was how hard it is to be in a city you’ve lived in for years, to know it so well, its past, the lives it’s held, to see it night after night full of activity and imagine that in the not-so-distant future it could be a ruin or under water. I won’t live to see that (I hope), but New York is supposed to continue, to seduce and thwart and parent each generation. It’s only the beginning, isn’t it? When do the flying cars arrive? What about the robot waitress; the new outpost of artists; the sleek buildings rising, skins glimmering with color; the money; the fame; the stories; the surprise. How does one imagine that it’s possible—not certain but possible—that this city may be living its last century?
Something will happen. We’ll adjust. We’ll adapt. People will demand change, insist on it, and fortunes will be made in solar and wind.
That’s what I hear. Then everyone goes to dinner.
I Have News For You
There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood
and there are people who don’t interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.
There are people who don’t walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past pleasures unrecoverable
and then stand there blocking the sidewalk for other pedestrians.
I have read about a town somewhere in California where human beings
do not send their sinuous feeder roots
deep into the potting soil of others’ emotional lives
as if they were greedy six-year-olds
sucking the last half-inch of milkshake up through a noisy straw;
and other persons in the Midwest who can kiss without
debating the imperialist baggage of heterosexuality.
Do you see that creamy, lemon-yellow moon?
There are some people, unlike me and you,
who do not yearn after fame or love or quantities of money as
unattainable as that moon;
thus, they do not later
have to waste more time
defaming the object of their former ardor.
Or consequently run and crucify themselves
in some solitary midnight Starbucks Golgotha.
I have news for you—
there are people who get up in the morning and cross a room
and open a window to let the sweet breeze in
and let it touch them all over their faces and bodies.