Thanksgiving Therapy With Turkey
“How do people get to sleep? I’m afraid I’ve lost the knack. I might try busting myself smartly on the temple with the nightlight.”
That was Dorothy Parker, commenting on what becomes increasingly elusive as one grows older – slumber. At least Mr. wOw has found it so. I’ve been taking sleeping pills for years, to only so-so results. When my stress level is especially high, not even the pills work. And unlike Patty Duke in “Valley of the Dolls,” I don’t mix them with liquor so they’ll “work faster!”
Recently a number of people have commented to me, “How are you? You look a little tired.” Hmmm … when somebody tells you that you “look tired,” check your pulse. Yes, you look that bad.
But I wasn’t aware of how stressed out and sleep deprived I was until the recent Thanksgiving holiday. It was a veritable orgy of sleeping, napping, dozing off. Of course, I roused myself to eat B.’s wonderful feast. But he had to wake me to remind me it was, after all, Thanksgiving. (I had been more or less unconscious since Wednesday evening.) I ate in a slight coma and then vanished upstairs to continue sleeping. My dreams were powerfully vivid and strange. But I love to dream. I know Edgar Allen Poe called sleep “a little slice of death,” and perhaps it is. But it’s death with bonuses.
On Friday, I was only slightly more alert. I picked up the new biography of Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff and dove into that. I also watched “Niagara” with Marilyn Monroe. MM’s only bad girl role captivated me as usual – and made me ponder the direction of her career had she lost out on “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” Ms. Schiff’s take on Cleopatra is captivating, as well. But I was reading and watching in a prone position. I didn’t feel I had the strength to sit up properly. My languid pose encouraged me to keep falling into those sometimes irritating, sometimes fascinating half-sleeps. With the TV on, your dreams become really interesting. (Why was MM trying to kill me?!) So, I’d read a chapter or two of Cleo and kind of pass out, awaken, channel surf … Was I up to a “Nanny” marathon or an insane History Channel block of programming on “Ancient Aliens”? I decided they were both pretty much the same show.
More reading. Miss Cleo was something else! I managed to finish the book, wondering who the hell could do it justice if indeed Schiff’s book is optioned for the movies. As much as I adored Miss Claudette Colbert, Miss Vivien Leigh, and Miss La Liz, they were paper tigresses compared to the real woman. (Nix on Jolie. As with Taylor, it is impossible to separate her from her public image, and at 36, she is now nearly as old as Cleo was at the time of her death.) I also went through a lot of back issues of GQ that had piled up. I really do need a new wardrobe! And a raise to finance it.
Saturday I woke early, but not for long. I made coffee, a huge scrambled egg thing – with cheese, natch – went back upstairs, and fell into another dramatic bout of deep, though not dreamless sleep. I must say, I have a terrifically interesting life in dreamland. I love the way people morph. I’m dreaming about my boss, B., or a friend, but it doesn’t look like them at all. Who are these imposters?
I was alert enough, at some point, to see a lot of Ava Gardner movies on TCM. Yikes, what beauty! Among the films was 1967’s “Mayerling” with Ava as Empress Elizabeth of Austria, circa the late 19th century. It’s not very good, but Ava drifts in and out as Omar Sharif’s mother (with maybe a ten year difference in age), looking fantastic and delivering one of my favorite passages in a film. Talking to a rather pudding-faced Catherine Deneuve, Ava, a restless and discounted royal, whispers: “Listen. Wait. There it is. A spoon dropping, a servant laughing. One is never really alone, and yet one is quite, quite alone.” Kate Middleton, are you listening?
I began another book, one by Sinclair Lewis that I’d not even known about. (I’m a great admirer of Lewis. It began with my childhood adoration of the screen version of Dodsworth, which prompted me to read the book – then Main Street and Babbit.) This is It Can’t Happen Here, about how a fascist society/president/government could rise to save the country from liberals. It was written in 1935, just as Hitler was taking hold in Europe. B. passed it on to me, saying, “You’ll recognize certain people.” I’m only about 15 pages in.
By now, I was feeling much more alert, even if I continued to recline like an Egyptian. I got caught up in a CNN special about the kidnapping of Patty Hearst. It rushed me right back to 1974/75 when the pre-Internet, pre 24-hour cable news world was gripped by this story. I remembered so well arguing Patty’s case as she transformed herself, incredibly, into gun-toting Tania. Clearly, something terrible had happened to her! She’d been kidnapped, dragged screaming from her college dorm. There were real conversations back then, even if they became heated. Watching that, I felt I had the power to rise. But … only as far as my computer.
I found out then about Obama’s busted lip. I went to the Fox News website to see how they covered it. The reportage was fine (better than posting a satire from The Onion and passing it off as a real story, anyway!), but the comments from Fox fans were disheartening in their viciousness. Then again, so were the comments on The Huffington Post, regarding the story about a gonorrhea epidemic in Alaska. Ugly remarks about the Palin family abounded. I think the join-hands-and-sing-“Kumbaya” train left the station and went right off a cliff a long time ago.
Okay. No more Internet! I went back to channel-surfing “Golden Girls” and “Murder She Wrote” (which I abandoned because I could not abide the giant Hallmark logo on the right side of the screen, nor the even bigger coming attraction logo on the right, shaped like a Christmas ornament; Jessica Fletcher often appeared to be wearing an uncharacteristically tacky brooch, snatched off Mr. wOw’s tree). I went to Turner Classic Movies, where I watched, well into the a.m., three great big juicy musicals – two of them much overrated, one unfairly maligned and, in fact, splendid. I do mean, in that order, Judy Garland’s “A Star Is Born,” Barbra Streisand’s “Funny Girl,” and the Roz Russell/Natalie Wood/Karl Malden version of “Gypsy.”
Now, I love Miss G. and greatly admire Miss S., but these two famous films do not, despite what legend insists, show them at their best. Garland is physically ravaged and far too mature and neurotically intense to play the little singer who loves an abusive, fading movie star (James Mason, to whom the film really belongs). The movie still looks great; but George Cukor’s direction of Judy was all wrong, and the film goes on for hours and hours. And hours. I suppose Judy should have won the Oscar for her already-legendary career and brilliant bits offered here and there in “Star.” But … it does not hold up.
As for “Funny Girl,” it exists to showcase Streisand in the role she perfected on stage. Her voice is exquisite, but she really cannot act at this point. Her dramatic scenes are hilarious. She is photographed like a goddess (despite the fact she is supposed to be plain), but William Wyler’s direction and editing is erratic. And this one, too, goes on way too long. I still don’t regret seeing it six times in original release or memorizing the movie soundtrack, which I can still do (won’t say “sing”). It was Barbra’s confidence that was so extraordinary. She did not deserve an Oscar in tandem with Katharine Hepburn.
“Gypsy”? Great from start to finish. A better score than either “Star” or “Funny.” Roz Russell is terrific as Mama Rose. So what if Lisa Kirk dubbed part of her singing, or if Rose is really Auntie Mame in vaudeville? Russell is electrifying. (Let’s not get into Rose’s originator, Ethel Merman. The Merm was boffo on Broadway. Movie producers hadn’t made a dime off her, despite numerous efforts. It’s dollars and cents, not sentiment, in Hollywood.) Natalie Wood remains the quintessential Gypsy to me. She is perfect in every aspect of this role. And nobody has ever played the final Rose-Gypsy confrontation better than the ravishing Miss Wood. Also – the three strippers who bump and grind out “Gotta Get a Gimmick” were never surpassed in any version Mr. Wow has seen onstage – and he’s seen every production except Merman’s. Anyway, “Gypsy” needs re-evaluation. The other two will go on being adored by fans of Garland and Streisand – fans who, I think, really know better.
Finally, Mr. wOw always has to have some sort of big emotional moment during a siege like this – something in his reading or watching (or sleeping!) that opens the floodgates. It came to me during an episode of the nature series “Great Migrations.” Of the three migrations shown during this hour, one was a tale of zebras crossing from lush Botswana into a dry desert land. It focused on one “family” and its tribulations. The climax arrived when a female zebra died. Her foal, still nursing, is distraught and will not leave the body and travel with the rest of herd. This includes the foal’s father and rest of his “harem.” The father uncharacteristically allows his tribe, including his “women,” to go ahead. He stays near his son, and for hours attempts to lead him away. Ultimately, a horde of vultures descends on the fallen mother, and father and son flee. But they have lost the rest of the family. Still, as the episode ended, they were shown trotting along together, bonded. As the last “sponsored by Honda” commercial faded, Mr. wOw was a wreck. I sobbed into my pillow ridiculously. Zebras! What was this all about? I never cared a whit about my father, whom I never knew, nor did he care about me.
Okay. Maybe some of that is finally surfacing. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for zebras.
In any case, today is Sunday. I have just watched John McCain talk about how the Marines have to feel “safe,” and naturally they can’t with any known homos around. What a pathetic excuse for a man is Mr. McCain. Oh, and here come the WikiLeaks. I’m sorry. I don’t approve. Sigh! Oh, well. Back to the real world of assholes. That’s really something to cry about!
And back to work tomorrow (today, actually, for those reading). I’m feeling almost anticipatory. It’ll be a while before anybody tells me I look “tired.” Well, at least until Wednesday.