Friday, December 26, 2008

the sky is falling

We took long drives to see the USA in this new blue Pontiac convertible! The open top could be quite dangerous when the sky is falling! Airline lavatory waste, bird droppings, and tossed cigarettes, oh my!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Comic Strip: Holiday Party 2008

from the 12/25 NY Post: Comic Strip holiday party


I saw the film "The Wrestler" yesterday. Before the film even began, the theater reeked from a combination of feet, farts, and garlic. I always carry a small bottle of my favorite perfume, Clinique Elixir, so that in situations like that I can spray some onto my wrist and take quick hits when I get nauseous. I never put my head back on a high theater seat. It's a good way to catch pediculosis. I drape my coat over the back of the seat and rest my head on that. The guy in front of me in the theater had a raging case of dandruff and I felt bad for the person who would follow him into that seat.
I also have taken to going to the movies with a hefty bag. I am not a bag lady and I do not sit there wrapped in it while I mumble comments to the characters in the film. I use it to cover the seat. I find it gross to sit in an upolstered theater seat that somebody sat in (for over 2 hours) just 20 minutes earlier. I notice on buses when people get up the seat is sometimes moist from toches perspiration, but on a metal seat the moisture evaporates... maybe leaving a toxic residue, but what can you do? In an upolstered seat, all that toches perspiration gets absorbed into the seat. I do not want to sit in that hot mess, so the hefty bag serves as an extra measure of protection. Then when the film ends, you gingerly pick it up and throw it away.
The film was long and I had to leave to use the bathroom. How come women who stand to pee do not lift the seat? They spray all over it and then they do not follow the rule: "please be neat, wipe the seat." It is uber-gross if you are a sitter and sit down on a wet seat.
I was riding in a cab yesterday and an inch from my left shoulder, on the outside of the taxi window, was a load of fresh bird shit. Oh, and never send food back in a restaurant. I heard they spit in it. I once saw a chef in a restaurant blow his nose on his shirt collar and then proceed to make a salad. Once I ordered lean corned beef on rye in a diner with an open kitchen. The chef coughed into his hand and then proceeded to let the the beef he was slicing drop into that same hand.
Have you ever strolled the city sidewalks and stepped in gum, spit, or dog shit? I have. I have thrown away many brand new pairs of shoes due to that disgusting stuff. Once, I was walking on West 45th Street and I was wearing sandals. I was talking and laughing and stepped in a fresh pile of horse manure. It happened when I was still teaching and I ran back to the school and the custodian hosed off my foot in the school playground. I threw the sandals away (changed into a spare set of mocassins) and a teacher took the sandals out of the trash and kept them and wore them the next day! Can you believe her habits?
When I was an active teacher, a kid spit on the staircase bannister, and I hold onto that railing as I walk down the stairs. I caught a handful of fresh saliva on my way down to the gym.
Once on the bus I had just come from the hair salon and a person sitting directly behind me sneezed right onto the back of my head. I touched the back of my hair and it was wet with sneeze residue.
How come in apartment houses residents use the laundry carts to take down their dirty laundry? I don't want to remove my clean laundry from the dryer and use one of those contaminated carts. I saw a guy washing his sneakers in one of those machines! And his dirty underwear, spread out on the table, could have first used a nice cold water hand soak.
Now we have to worry about bedbugs when we travel! This is a new hazard! Good grief!
My habits are impeccable, but I see many people do not follow common rules of sanitary behavior. It is very disconcerting and gives me pause for thought on this Tuesday night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

at an event at the Drama Book Shop

These were taken in November 2008, at an event at the Drama Book Shop with Ilene Kristen and Brian Gari. I am holding Brian's book "We Bombed in New London." I also got his mother's book "Don't Wear Silver in the Winter" which is about her relationship with her own mother. I could not put it down and read it in one sitting.

Monday, December 22, 2008


Freud would say the reason for everything is the parents. Well my parents kept putting me in dangerous situations!

meet the parents

Get a load of these two! I was raised by these two, and I am amazed I can function. If that Alec Baldwin tape with the message that he left his daughter is a barometer of bad parenting, these two should have gone to the electric chair. My mother made Deirdre Burroughs look like Carol Brady and my father made Dr. Finch look like Jim Anderson. 'Nuff said.

meet me

Well, that was me. It was me, in the photobooth... in the photobooth, indeed. There I am, at a certain place in time. I awakened yesterday... surprised to be here in this place, instead of in another place. It was 5:30, and I dressed to go to work. Look at me! I had forgotten I am retired. That was mistake number one. Then, I collected myself and stopped dead in my tracks. It was not morning... it was evening and I had not just awakened after a night's sleep, I was up after a nap.
On any new day, I have to decide how to spend the day. Do I go left or do I go right? I have to decide where the day will take me. At the end of the day, no matter where I go... at some point I will be right back here. Right back here, indeed. The choices I made in one time and the turns I make in this time along the way make me a self-published soul. Had I one day perhaps turned left instead of right, all the pages that follow here would perhaps have been different. But since I didn't... it's all now set in stone. If I had not seen the documentary, "Wide Awake," and then sent an E-mail to Alan Berliner... all of this might have ended up in a Staten Island landfill because at places in time I made a decision not to partner-up or to have children. People used to scrawl on public bathroom walls, "I was here." Then the internet and Google came along and I get a sort of bittersweet and ironic last laugh. I created a blog, a blog indeed! I can tell the world, "I was here." And the photos in this blog are the pieces of my documentation to prove it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"the atomic flyer"

... at Coney Island

amusement park photo

... and when the two children find the photo years later, they play with lipstick and rouge.

let's all play

"Scribble That Face." We had no Nintendo, Game Boy, Grand Theft Auto, internet, or cable TV. We had only channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11 and 13. We were bored. So, we invented activities. This is a photo that clearly shows what fun we had playing a favorite game called: "Scribble That Face."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

wraiths on boats

The ghosts of ancestors,
Resting on the deck of an invisible boat,
Offer kind words of encouragement
Adding seconds to midnight
When dreams turn to film noir. ® WGAE 2004 by Marjorie Levine

three love letters

I found two old long forgotten photos while rummaging through an old shoebox. I also found three letters from a summer of long ago:

August 3rd,
Dear J:
I want to tell you what happened on a hazy hot sunless Sunday, in July, at Long Beach. A few feet from where an amnesiac sat on the boardwalk eating hotdogs-- a lady, a blue blood, and a wanderer observed in the sand a mystical image. Well, because they were frightened that the startling sight might rapidly disappear or be scrambled by an insouciant breeze, an attempt was made by the lady to photograph the sight-- to freeze and thereby validate the remarkable event. The lady put down her translucent parasol and a love letter that was written in Sanskrit on an ancient faded doily. And as a tow headed child paddled to shore in a teacup, a picture was taken and developed. It passed from the lady, to the blue blood, and then to the wanderer-- from whose tired, careless fingers it slipped. The wind carried the picture down and up, up and down; it danced the tango for a few seconds before it collapsed in my open right hand. I swear J, in that photograph I saw the transmigration of a soul!
Kindest regards, L

August 12th,
Dear L:
I love you and want to marry you! Why didn't you tell me you were spending July out at Long Beach? I desperately wanted you to know that I enrolled in a film workshop and I will complete the requirements and be eligibile for a certificate in film. By the way, the theme of my first project is the lost years of Jesus. I wish you were with me supporting my cinematic aspirations and visions. Last Tuesday, while I dined at an outdoor sidewalk cafe on Columbus Avenue, a lady passed holding a translucent parasol. She was walking her Shih Tzu and when she paused, in front of my table, she allowed her thirsty pet to take a few swigs from a bottle of seltzer. I took a picture of the lady and her dog, and I am sending it to you.
Love, J

August 28th,
Dear J:
Your letter was forwarded to me from the Long Beach address. I am now staying in Westhampton. While I was having dinner at a restaurant in East Hampton, I was introduced by a blue blood to a group of young Buddhists. In the early mornings, I joined them at a mansion for the recitation of five prayers. I want to tell you what happened at the beach on a hot sunny Sunday in mid August. A dilettante, a pacifist, and a codependent led me to a spiritual man, who for a short time in July posed as an amnesiac at Long Beach. He now conducts a series of past life regression sessions and I was persuaded to participate. As I reclined on the Westhampton sand, a lonely seagull flew overhead and a tow headed child paddled, in a teacup, to shore. In time, I recalled a past life! I realize now, Jason, that we were together as lovers during the French Revolution. So, I will be returning to Manhattan at the end of August, and we shall plan our wedding.
Love, xxxooo, L ® WGAE

M: "Today was a bleak day. I stayed in all day. In the distance, I heard a fog horn. For some strange reason, that made me sad. So, I put on the TV and watched "The Real World." On bleak days in the now, there is always reality TV!"

Thursday, December 18, 2008

and it all goes by so fast

a special thank-you

I want to thank Alan Berliner. I met with Alan last Fall, and a visiting class studying film archiving at NYU suggested I begin this specific process of saving old family photos. Alan is a truly gifted, imaginative, and creative documentary filmmaker. Thank-you again, Alan, for graciously inviting me to your studio. Your help and ideas continue to inspire me to work on this project (which now has over 350 entries and exists as a memoir). Here is a site I found dedicated to this theme: family old photos. And below is a photo of my mother's ancestors taken in Vilna... and a photo of my father's family taken in Brooklyn in 1916. My father is the little boy sitting on the stoop looking back at his older brother.

On an old maroon table in my grandmother’s house sat an incandescent pink seashell. I would hold it to my ear and hear the far-away sounds of the ocean. In the foyer, the steady whir and flutter of the slats on off-white Venetian blinds made me sleepy... as chill winds passed through the most haunted and haunting of places: Brooklyn.

a mother, a daughter, a swing, and a bike

maybe circa 1925?

a letter written in 1928 to a daughter

This letter was written by my grandmother to my mother:
"What do you want I should get you..."
"What is the matter papa did not call up..."
"... tell him he should eat red meat, go outdoors for his health, go for a ride every night that he will sleep well."


At dusk, a dream through stained glass:
In a hazy deciduous forest, I am almost naked-
Pristine gown clinging like translucent second skin,
Chartreuse satin slippers, cheeks pale porcelain rose,
And humidity turning my hair burnt sienna.
The scent of dried lavender drifts through trees-
“Alone in nature, by nature,” ventriloquists murmur.
Bejeweled spiders, resting on carefully crocheted cobwebs,
Melancholy widows, eyes green tourmaline,
A soldier seduced by indifference...
Haunted beauty washed forever in soft pink light.

A fading fragrant French cologne-
Earlier a sweet intoxicating elixir- melting and melted.
An elusive black-throated warbler,
Pausing on a great oak, bears witness:
An icon is shedding mellifluous silver tears,
Reflecting my grandfather, wrapped in his tallit
Stirring, turning, saying, “You look very familiar to me.”

A clammy breeze passes through Manhattan.
I awaken this time, awakened last time,
Acquiescent and still, not knowing
If it is evening... or morning.

® WGAE 1994, renewed 2004 by Marjorie Levine

kiddie rides

I sat in the microforms reading room in the Genealology Division of the New York Public Library. My obsession was old Brooklyn telephone directories. I surrounded myself with hordes of microfilm and I was determined to put myself in touch with the past. The year under my analysis was 1952. I noted with childish glee that Barbra Streisand had indeed lived on Newkirk Avenue. I moved on to discover the exact location of the old Garfield Cafeteria, and then I verified the addresses of my deceased grandparents.
The woman sitting next to me did not hesitate to reveal that she was adopted as a child and she was looking through material that might help identify her birth mother. Another lady searched through a roll of film that contained a list of the surviving soldiers of the Civil War. She was tracing history in order to compile a family tree. A man, who looked like Fyvush Finkel, was somberly looking through the Census records of 1920. All the visitors to the library were turning the wheels of the microfilm machines in complete unison! Oh, the fellowship of spirit! I felt we should all stand, hold hands, and sing a song!
Memories of summers filled with kiddie rides came flooding back to me. I remembered the miniature boat rides, the little car rides, and the small pony rides near the boardwalk. When I left the library, I longed with desperation to return to Brooklyn.
I wanted to walk down Flatbush Avenue in 1948, to go to old Steeplechase, to have lunch at the Famous on 86th Street... and most of all I wished I could visit my long deceased grandparents. But instead, I exited the library and found myself drenched in bright hot sunlight and walking down a long staircase covered in pigeon droppings. I limped down Fifth Avenue because my heel spur was killing me and all the way home I disgustedly dodged the rushed Manhattan congestion.
I entered my apartment and immediately took a short nap. When I awakened, I did not know if it was evening or morning. It was still light at dusk, and I got into my car. I drove south on the West Side Highway and the pink sun soon sizzled and set to my right over the Hudson River. I was numb, and I headed for Coney Island. By 9:00 PM, I realized that the cure for my nostalgia will always be the smell of sea air, the sight of the Parachute Jump in the distance, and... Nathan's. ® WGAE 2004


I awakened and longed with desperation
To return to Brooklyn.
I wanted to ride until dawn on a creaky
Ferris wheel left behind by a carnival and
To visit the still standing luminous
Chartreuse home of my grandmother.
Memories behind stained glass windows
Beckoned like some naked amnesiac
Who struggles to reach home.

In the air, I could still smell the fullbodied scent
Of burnt potato pancakes that wafted through that
House and I often glimpsed the ghosts of ancestors
Lurking and sucking juice from the backyard peach tree.
I longed with desperation to return to old Brooklyn.

At 6 P.M. I slipped into my car
And drove south through Manhattan streets.
Streets at night eternally bathed
In disconsolate orange moonlight...
Trapped in an endless maze of mirrors.
The pink sun soon sizzled on the Hudson River
And set, to my right, in bright blazing Technicolor.
In the distance, one kittiwake
Seemed to have found the way.

I headed for the elixir of the spinning
Teacups: the kiddie rides at intoxicating
Coney, the most haunted and
Haunting of places: Brooklyn. ® WGAE 2004

SOCA, 1961-1962

These photos are for Dana, Nicky, Barbara, and Laurie... The first is of the campers sitting on the tennis courts after a much-needed hot shower. The second photo was taken of the girls on the rocky beach of Vineyard Haven. The third is a photo of two campers practicing a Kathleen Hinni choreographed dance in the tree-shaded area next to the cabins. These past two weeks, more than forty-six years later, Dana, Nicky, and Laurie found me and I found Barbara. Now that's the power of the internet. Thanks, Google!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

It Sticks With Me

bumped up...

My mother discovered, when I was a teenager, an all girls' summer camp called: "School of Creative Arts." The School of Creative Arts was owned and managed by Kathleen Hinni, who from September through June, was the modern dance teacher at the The Chapin School in Manhattan. The "School" was located on Martha's Vineyard. It had opened in Oak Bluffs in 1949 with 20 girls ages 6-16. Later, it moved to the former Whitney House, "Hedge Lee," in Vineyard Haven, where the school remained for 4 additional years. During those years Regina Woody wrote: "Ballet in the Barn," a children's story based on the school.
Eventually, the school moved further north on Main Street to West Chop, and was housed in a huge old barn style mansion with 3 floors, 30 rooms, and porches all around the outside. On the grounds were about 12 small one room cabins where the older campers lived. The house was close to a steep bluff and the cabins were surrounded by trees. Days were filled with classes in dance, drama, music and the arts.
So, off I went to spend 4 consecutive summers (1959-1962) with a load of girls my age, many of whom were from very different backgrounds. These girls were "socialites;" some from families listed in the "social register." They had "coming out" parties at the Waldorf Astoria and private planes and parents who summered in the south of France. What did I know from this? My mother played mah-jong in Long Beach. I learned the meaning of "old money" from Cynthia Wainright, my bunkmate, who later went on to become "Debutante of the Year," and was a guest speaking about the topic on the David Susskind Show.
The school was run in an old-fashioned strict way, to the point where we called the school: "Pure Hell at St. Trinian's." There was a boys' camp next to ours, and sometimes we would go to the fence to see if we could catch the eyes of some willing participants in some mischief. One night, we arrived back at our cabin to find scrawled in red lipstick on the dresser top: "Tonight we come to get you." Needless to say, we all ran screaming to the main house and next thing we knew the police were called and we hovered in the woods until it was safe to return.
We danced on the bluffs with Charles Weidman, had classes with Merce Cunningham, sang opera with Lotte Lenn and folk songs with Burl Ives, and we were treated to special performances by Pearl Primus. Margaret Bourke White spent several summers at the school during the time she was writing a book. I remember those hot days she would play jacks with me under the trees to increase her mobility because she was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Her photos decorated the living room of the great house where many younger girls lived. But, the common denominator was that we all hated the place and we were so homesick we sometimes made ourselves literally sick. And the strict rules were unbearable. KT, as we called her, made us do the dance to Bloch's "Concerto Grosso" so many times we literally collapsed in exhaustion (in the rain) outside the ballet barn.
We would take afternoon naps to the sound of the wind rustling the leaves of huge oaks and down below the bluff the ocean waves crashed to the shore. These sounds seemed to increase our feelings of unhappiness... yet for so many summers we returned.
This wonderful 14 year old dancer, Gail, said to me once in the ballet barn: "Every time I turn around, I am here."
From time to time, I open my eyes in the morning, and in a split instant I am startled to be here and not there. Well, I hear the large old house is now an assisted living facility and nursing home. So, I may open my eyes one morning, and really find myself right... back... there.

a place to go

The year was 1974. I was teaching at a small school on West 45th Street. I had a wonderful 6th grade class. The students were bright, creative, and they had a real sense of humor. The school was on the same block as the Actor's Studio, the Manhattan Plaza had just been completed, and on nice days I could walk home. I loved going to work.
One day, a student named Christopher came to school a little bit late. I asked him the reason for his tardiness, and he told me that the night before he had attended an opening of a movie in which his father had a role. I asked him the name of the film, and he replied, "Godfather 2." "Oh," I said. I asked, "What part did your father have in the movie?" He replied, "Frankie Five Angels." I did know that Christopher's father was the playwright who had written "Hatful of Rain." But, I did not know that he was in the film, "Godfather II." So! Christopher's father was "Frankie Pentangeli;" interesting... Godfather II, was released and it opened at a Loew's theater on Broadway. It received phenomenal reviews and I couldn't wait to see it.
Soon thereafter were parent-teacher conferences. I am lucky Christopher was an excellent student. I do not think I would have had a comfort level sitting across from that father and giving a bad report. Mr. Gazzo had written a note to me during that school year asking permission for his son to be excused early on an October day and I saved the note. It was not just a signed note, it was an autograph.
A few months later, the Gazzo family moved to Los Angeles. Christopher kept in touch with all of us through letters he sent to the school addressed to me. In one letter, Christopher asked me if I was still singing because I was awful. I was a teacher who sang while she taught? He said he was going to a school 20 times better but he would rather be going to our school because he missed all of us.
I think about all of the students I had in so many classes over the years. Eddie, who died of a drug overdose. David, who fell off the roof of his building one hot summer day when he was up there with his brothers playing ball. Debbie, who was crossing 9th Avenue and was hit by a car. Brenda, whose mother we saved.
Larry David was asked why he still works. He clearly does not need to work. He said his mother had told him many years ago that we all need to always wake up in the morning and have a place to go.
I had a place to go.
(I cannot believe I saved that note all these years. I also saved John Lindsay's autograph, which he gave me on a hot summer day at the Sands Beach Club in about 1966) Maybe I will scan that one next...

look what I found!

I found this story I wrote in 1956. It could be my Pulitzer!

The Drag Queens and Me

David and me; David as "Barbra" (December 1975)

In about 1975, I was waiting for the upstairs elevator in the hallway of my building and the door to apartment 5G opened. I watched as Barbra Streisand, Cher, Bette Midler, Shirley Bassey, and Diana Ross exited and walked towards me. They were laughing, calling each other "Mary," and having huge fun. We all got into the elevator and Barbra invited me to come to their "drag show" at a club located on Seventh Avenue and Bleeker Street. Well, I couldn't go that night because I had plans... but I was curious and intrigued.
The next day, a gorgeous guy named Frank knocked on my door. He invited me to visit David. "Who is David," I asked. "David Miller is the greatest drag queen in New York," he replied. "You are living across the hall from Barbra," he said.
So off I went to apartment 5G. As I entered, my mouth dropped open when I was immediately surrounded by the most expensive and ornate gowns I had ever seen. The hundreds of fancy colorful gowns and costumes hung on racks all over the apartment. There were wigs, false eyelashes, and pancake makeup stacked on trays. There were black satin heels and jewelry and real and fake furs. Many gowns looked like clothes I had seen in recent films. One was an exact copy of the Bob Mackie bugle beaded gown worn by Barbra Streisand in "Funny Lady." It hung in a place of honor on a door. A few were copies of gowns Cher had worn on her TV show. There was even the Barbra "sailor suit" from "Funny Girl." It was like a drag museum in there. And guests arrived all day. Bette, Shirley, and Cher arrived almost daily. David's bell was constantly ringing. The stereo music was loud and inspiring. I was euphoric. I had never had so much fun in my life. Gay guys were out, drag queens were in. It was all drag 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I inhaled drag and left when they started doing poppers, which always smelled to me like dirty feet.
I began to take photos of all the good times in David's apartment. And they took photos of me. Freddie took the picture that now hangs at my blog. I started going to all the drag shows. I went during the week to Les Mouches, The Ice Palace, and The Limelight. I always stayed at Les Mouches until 4 AM because that was when they rolled out the donut table. I was a chow hound even back then.
Out of so many guys, who at times actually lived or stayed for a while in apartment 5G, only a few are still alive. Frank went with me to see Adam Sank's show at Comix last spring. Oh, and in the 30 years since those great and happy and fun years of my life, Frank has not aged. He is still hot and sexy. And he is still designing bugle beaded gowns... at his own showroom like a true "Garmento."

addendum, January 2015: I reconnected with Fred on facebook, and Bobby lives in my neighborhood so we meet every now and then, and I spoke with Gaspar on the phone a while back. The memories of those glorious and fun days will live inside of me forever.

Rest in Peace David Miller.

photographic palinoias and calefacient days

When David and his lover moved in to an apartment right across the hall, they gave me cheekbones and false eyelashes and big hair and they stuck me in maribou and fur. I had for many years felt like "Charlotte Vale," but David was able to give me the "full Ivana" and I never even had to go under "the knife."

a sister act

Look what my parents raised on their watch! How do you let this out of the house and sit and play canasta and eat an Ebinger's blackout cake like you don't have a care in the world? I was stopped on that day in a store and escorted out of the store because a shopper said I was giving her toxic shock syndrome.