Friday, July 27, 2007

Pickup Lines you may not have heard

"That tattoo around your (extremely impressive) bicep -- it's in Kufic script, isn't it?"
Okay, I did not actually say that to the extremely impressive torso with tattoo, sculpted beard, plucked eyelashes and broken, Arab nose on the E train tonight while heading home from "The Day Before Spring" (Lerner & Loewe's first musical, 1945, flopped -- NO SIGN that these guys would come up with "My Fair Lady") at the York Musicals in Mufti series.
But it was what I would have said if he had given me so much as a glance. He was giving glances only to much younger men. Well, if THAT'S what you're into, I thought (sour grapes, sour grapes)....
But you do agree with me, don't you, that it would have been a most original, however unsuccessful, pickup line, had I had the balls to attempt it?
He got off at 23rd Street in deepest Chelsea. Well, if THAT'S what you're into, I thought.
Nice view of wasp-waisted, big-chested torso in one of those fashionable square-cut undershirts, as he strolled down the platform.
Too tall for me anyway. (Like you believe I mean that.)

"The Day Before Spring" was not a good show (you could easily understand why it failed), but Lerner & Loewe recycled quite a lot of it over the years -- one recit turned up in the movie "Gigi." Others (a guy told me as we left the theater) are in the stage version of "Gigi," which I do not know. There are several very pretty songs in DBS worthy of cabaret recycling: The title tune, and "My Love Is a Married Man" (the somewhat well-known one), "A Jug of Wine," "This Is My Holiday." (I'd heard the second and third of these at Broadway-By-the-Year's Musicals of 1945 at Town Hall.) There's a splendid little scene in which Plato, Voltaire and Freud sing different advice (in different pastiche styles -- did young Stephen Sondheim see this show?) to a wife considering whether to leave her husband for her lover -- this is the sort of thing that could be excerpted for variety performance very well indeed, and it brought down the house tonight.

Not to change the subject, in "No Man of Her Own" (not to be confused with the Stanwyck weepie of the same title), Carole Lombard plays a small-town librarian and Clark Gable (this was years before they married) is a gangster from the city who is lying low in the small town. She is affronted by his appraising look -- or at any rate, it makes her kind of breathless. But he seems to have vanished, and she's turning out the lights, row by row, in the dark library -- when out of the stacks he emerges, looming over her with THAT smile. She falls back, and he says,
"What do you DO with all the hearts you break?" --
whereupon she gives a great big Carole Lombard gasp. And falls for the lug.
I loved that scene when I saw it at an impressionable age (I'm still impressionable, actually), and I have often used the line. Well, not often, because the first five or six times it did not get anything like Carole Lombard's reaction ... in fact guys tended to edge to the other side of the bar. So I cooled it. I only use it now on guys so hot I know they're not going to respond no matter what I say. It breaks the ice. Sometimes it's even worked.
You never know. But that's a Cole Porter show, come to think of it.
What would you say to a really stunning muscular Arab with a tattoo in Kufic script around his bicep on the E train on a Friday night?
("It's Friday night. Shouldn't you be in the medrasa?")

DBS was not the best thing I've seen at Musicals in Mufti by a long chalk (it was the opening night, true) -- I think that title goes to Rebecca Luker in "Darling of the Day" -- but the show would be infinitely more likable if the cast -- especially the ladies -- would project their lyrics, sing them louder and e-nun-ci-ate. (Like, say, Rebecca Luker.) Todd Adams, who had the best voice, had nothing to sing; Robyn Kramer, who was the funniest performer, did not project her songs. Daniel Levine was amusing as Voltaire, Hunter Bell as a valet, Tia Speros as a confidante (the Eve Arden role), Mark York got laughs where there weren't jokes and played piano good. Pleasant show to finally see. (Next in the series: Zorba.)

P.S. In the Barbara Stanwyck "No Man of Her Own," which is mercifully rare, Ruby is knocked up by a lout, Lyle Bettger, who gives her a train ticket to get rid of her. Naturally, as so often happens in real life, she's just trying on the wedding ring of another pregnant woman when the train crashes. The other woman and husband are killed, and his family mistakes Ruby for their unknown pregnant daughter-in-law. For the sake of the baby, she goes along. But Lyle Bettger turns up and blackmails her into marrying him. The whole flick's deadly dull until the moment the Justice of the Peace says, "until death do you part," and then the famous Stanwyck eyes light up. All the while, on the drive home, she is staring at oblivious Lyle, and it's perfectly obvious what she's thinking: "I'm Barbara Stanwyck. I'm married to a man I despise. I know how to handle THIS." Those five minutes are the only reason to watch the picture.
Truth to tell, I don't recommend either movie. Or "The Day Before Spring." Or musclemen with plucked eyebrows and tattoos in Kufic around their biceps.
York Theater Company, however, I approve.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

A Celebrity Hug

Perpetual search for clean, well-lighted, quiet and civil places to sit, write, edit/proofread undisturbed; lately these have been literally fading in the West Village (Café Henri dims the lights in the evening, Risotteria has got all snarky about people sitting alone at their cruddy tables, but I do love their food), but I think I shall start spending much time at the new Whole Foods on Bowery. However, they close at 11pm.

So, after an evening chez Chris, who lives over a hetero leather bar beside the Billyburg Bridge (what a weird neighborhood), listening to his matchless collection of obscure musicals (Foxy anyone? Drat! The Cat! or Juno or Nymph Errant or Hannah in 1939 or Her First Roman?), I biked about midnight up to the Odessa on Avenue A to edit a bit. In walks a familiar face – because I’ve been sending her youtube video of “Yolanda at the Bottom of the Stairs” to everyone I know and watching it every day for weeks. (And here it is: )“Are you Lorinda Lisitza?” I said, for once not tongue-tied in the face of fame. (Well, it’s not like she’s an opera singer.) “I saw you sing ‘Yolanda’ at the Night Life Awards,” I babbled (she stole the evening). “So then I went to see you in Happy End.” “Well – hug me!” she cried. And then she took my email and introduced me to her dinner companion, Joe Iconis, composer of “Yolanda” and “Blue Hair” (q.v. on Youtube), who looked very Greek and spoke very dudely. “Besides,” I told her, “we have the same hairdresser.” “Giovanni! When will he be back in town? I need a cut!” (So do I.)

“Blue Hair” is a remarkable mating of words (what it’s like to be a teenage girl in the U.S. in the 21st century) and melody, because the latter recalls the sort of semi-tuneless taunting chant of kids on playgrounds everywhere: Niener, niener, nie-ner (as they voice it out West). That sing-song fits the lonely girl in the song to a T -- to an iron cross even.

Thirty years ago (can it have been?), writing book reviews for the NYTimes or whoever, I used to get a cup of tea from an all-night diner and go sit at one of the cement chess tables in the SW corner of Washington Square (park officially closed at midnight, but no one minded quiet me) and write at 4am or something by the light of streetlamps or gathering dawn. One such night, a shadow fell across my manuscript. I looked up to see the New Yorker’s nightmare: a great big black guy glaring down at me, and no witnesses on the lonely street. Me, heart in throat: “Yes?” And he: “You got any … pieces?” He wanted to play chess. (I never have a chess set on me when it would come in handy. Monopoly either.) (This is likelier to happen nowadays, with New York full of Russians.)

New Yorkers: From a Personal Directory

Sunday afternoon, Café Horus on Avenue B, popular for its flavored hookahs and satellite channels of ancient Egyptian music videos – I hear sexy Lebanese music videos are now corrupting the youth of the whole Middle East; Go Team! – but the café also has the best chicken kebab lunch special in town.

At the next table three attractive girls were sharing a hookah (pineapple?). I was attentive when I heard their accents. One, slim, dark-skinned, curly-haired, was from Saudi Arabia – I am fascinated by that society, and asked more. She lives three months there, then three here. “Isn’t it awkward going back and forth?” I asked, meaning socially. She said, “No,” meaning, the visas are all taken care of. “I have a car – I can drive around.” “But can you drive it yourself?” “No – I have a chauffeur.”

“Why do you want to know?” said the second girl, round face, brown-blond hair; not rude, just letting me know: Try anything, buster, and she’s got friends. Very New York; I approved. She was Turkish, from Adana in Cilicia, very impressed that I knew so many classical destinations I wanted to visit there.

The third girl had what I call Persian eyes: eNORmous, ox eyes, Hera eyes, almond-shaped, with long straight black hair. She was from Istanbul but Kurdish; she was playing Kurdish songs on her tape deck for them, translating the lyrics (girl runs from an arranged marriage but she’s pregnant, husband can’t decide whether to kill her or let the baby be born first, love oh careless love). “I wish you could understand it,” she sighed to the others. “It’s so good – the lyrics.” To me she said, politely, “Is the music bothering you?” which must be a first – as it happens, I enjoyed it greatly.

They talked only in English, their one common language. “We all live in New York and we’re best friends,” they told me. Only here, because their three races detest each other. Obviously they all came from good, probably well to do families, but still I doubt if they would have been able to associate – except perhaps at secular universities in Turkey – back home. A hundred years ago, they would never have left their separate communities, would never have met, but the cities had more minorities then – all keeping to themselves – as they do in New York when immigrants first get here.

Dream on a Sunday morning

Dream on a Sunday morning after too much vodka:

Tacoma (a lovely seaside town in Italy), the train glides in and I am attending (with friends) some theater piece at the Pantages. Not an opera. This was miraculously touching. A tropical theme? Perhaps the most amazing thing was the emergence from retirement of Tyrone Power who, in a costume somewhere between a shaman and a white explorer (high topee? Bengal Lancer?), totters through the lead. I am distracted from the drama by trying to calculate how old he must be (97?). The play (or whatever it is) manifests in a visual symbol: some attendant behind the visionary (Power) carries a long stem on which is either some ornamental symbol (like a parasol carried behind a mandarin) or a genuine flowering bush, white blossoms emerging from the white stem. But in the course of the journey, the blossoms evolve (bloom? spring? decay?) into something multi-colored, intricate, patterned, mandalas – or is it merely diseased, decayed, impure? In any case, the play’s end appears to culminate when (though they still have not fallen) the blossoms are all transformed into greens and reds and pale blues and yellows. Touching. But then there is another scene, or final tableau, and the colors have all been restored to their initial white – for some reason this is unbearably poignant (though we argue over the meaning of the image: the ideals are not dead? the soul returns and thrives beneath the creative hurly-burly of impulses resolved?), and our view is obstructed by the antique and elaborate construction of the hall: yet we can see him there, in the limelight, with that symbolic pure blossom behind him (a real flower? a prop? an illusion? a greater, nobler truth?). Though tearing up with it, we argue, and no one shushes us. (Perhaps it’s just a dress rehearsal.) I woke up with the script of the play clear in my head, and told myself to write it down, quickly … and didn’t.

Next night: at a pagan gathering, glad to see so many old friends (Andras and Deirdre conspicuous), hugged a lot but mostly everyone is getting food in heavily timbered shelters and in fact it is pouring, muddy and cold (this is because I sleep with a fan focused on the bed), and I’m not really happy to be there at all. But I am willing to sacrifice to see all these people … half of whom I don’t even know … yet.

Next night: an arranged marriage in medieval times, or is it a theater staging a pageant to recall those times? (a la Bruges, which I was discussing last night with Cedric, who is bound thither), somehow I am to be proxy for the bride, which is okay because the groom is (or is being sung by) Mariusz Kwiecien, which is certainly exciting news, and yet at the same time I have not shaved off my beard (neither, thank heavens, has he) and the awkwardness of appearing thus as a bride (even a proxy bride) in public strikes me as all wrong, even outrageous, not to mention the fact that I am not sure (cannot believe) Mariusz knows who is going to be under the veil (and, concomitantly, in the bed), and I am heartily embarrassed to be presenting my aged, decrepit body naked (or veiled) before his splendor, and at the last moment I try to get out of it. Then I wake up, figure what the hell? and let my drowsy brain complete the erotic fantasy I never seem to get around to when actually dreaming. (Cue: baritone aria from Halka.)

My Taxi Driver Game

New York City taxi drivers are separated from passengers by a sheet of hard plastic on the upper left (passenger's viewpoint) side of which is a photo and the driver's name. One of my New York games is to read the name, study the face, and deduce the country of origin. If I'm right on the first guess, I get a Point. If it takes me two guesses, no point. (Sorry; rules is rules.) I don't keep track of how many Points I have, but it makes me feel good if I get it -- especially if the driver is from an obscure country (i.e., not India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Haiti).

The game's no fun in other towns (Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago) because they do not have their name up, and I have to guess from the face and the accent. The game does not call on my wikipedic (derivation: from enyclopedic, wikipedic means: learned but faulty and incomplete) knowledge of names and geography.

It's also good for starting a brief conversation, which takes my mind off the increments of the meter. The drivers are always delighted at my guess, even if it's wrong, and when it turns out I have heard of their country, even know a little about its politics, they all say, "Where are you from? You can't be American. No one's ever heard of my country in America." (Indians, Pakistanis, Russians and Chinese don't add that second sentence.) This comment always fills me with pride, however unjust (to other Americans) it may be.

The other day, a very pretty young woman was driving me through Midtown, and her name -- first and last, both four letters long, an X in there somewhere, no response at all from my internal database of linguistic roots -- gave me no hint. So, I deduced, West Africa -- but not a very Islamic part of West Africa, or a very Frenchified or Anglicized family. The older generation often got their names -- at least the ones they used on taxi licenses -- from the colonizing culture; the younger generation have made a point of using only names in their own tongues. (All young nations go through an adolescent stage.) Nigeria is the largest nation in Africa, but very few Nigerians come here for some reason. I hazarded, "Ghana," and got my Point. Pleased me all day -- or until the next cab four hours later, when I guessed "Egypt" and he was from Morocco.

Perhaps it's just as well no one else plays this game; competition would ruin it. For one thing, who can afford to take cabs everywhere? In New York, subways and a bicycle are the only ways to get anywhere fast, especially during daylight hours. (At night, buses are just as fast as subways, and much more pleasant.)

Years ago, during the Cold War (aren't we all nostalgic for that?), I had my one instance of a cabbie who didn't want to talk about where he was from. The name struck me as Russian, but he refused to talk about it. "I'm in America now; what does the rest matter?" He sounded suspicious and evasive. Perhaps I was Secret Police; perhaps I was INS; perhaps I intended to deport him. He wouldn't play the game.

Sometimes they're American. Boring. I'm a Xenophile: I like people from other cultures (true, much of America is different from Manhattan culture; my friends in Oklahoma and Missouri tell me about this), I like to compare and contrast. Once an older guy in a heavy Brooklyn accent said, "I'm from Ireland. Coney Ireland. Cantcha hear this brogue?" (The letter R did not occur in anything he said; it appears in the writing down of it for your convenience.) He came, it turns out, from Sheepshead Bay, a part of New York I don't know. "It's great," he said. "Three blocks and you're at the ocean ... you can just walk along hearing the tide come in."