Something (someone) in the air . . . and gone . . .

Lee Grant: Actress, director, activist, she who refused to cooperate with the shameful House Un-American Activities Committee, has written a memoir, I Said Yes To Everything (CLICK HERE).
While Ms. Grant is renowned for her many and various accomplishments, not least of which is her Oscar winning portrayal of the deliciously sexual Felicia in Shampoo, what I remember most is her short-lived run on 1975 sit-com, Fay. Watch:

It was revolutionary at the time. I watched it, but alone. I was in my early teens and to have revealed my identification with Fay and Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda would have further alienated me from the few half-friends I’d managed to fool into liking me. The people with whom I lived were not interested either; my Mom and stepfather were more Gunsmoke and Barnaby Jones types, and my younger sister – who with me was the last of the six children from my Mother’s first marriage left in the house – was busy being the kind of popular I would never manage.

So, after Fay, I would often call my aunt, Sissie, to discuss the episode.

We talked a lot. I called her in secret because the simpatico nature of our connection bothered my Mom. What I didn’t understand then was that Sissie had refused to process my father’s death, had transferred her favoritism of him to me the second he died, osmosis-like, and that my Mom, over-burdened with six demanding and very different children had guiltily allowed Sissie to semi-take over the care and maintenance of the most-different one of all. What my Mom didn’t understand was that I would have been bookworm, nerd boy, musical theatre loving, weeping at commercials, towel-on-the-head as pretend-luxurious-long-blonde hair girly-boy whether Sissie had been there or not. My Mom, for years, worried that giving Sissie such access to me had made me – well – a sissy.

What it did, in fact, was save my life. Sissie gave me books and Broadway and the beauty of space to be me, whoever that was, with the knowledge that there was at least one person in the world who would always be on my side and think that this crazed, delusional boy with a feather and costume-jewelry brooch-festooned towel wrapped round his head, clad in the discarded velvet-dresses of long-dead relatives, flouncing down the steps weeping and singing If He Walked Into My Life like some extremely-small-bus and truck tour Mame, was worth talking to and loving.

Sissie and I were like that. For decades, until she could no longer see to read and write, even when we lived just across town from one another, she would send me two or three notes a week through the mail, filled with articles clipped from newspapers and magazines, and typed jottings of gossip and news about people we knew and precis about the shows we watched or the books we read or the theatre we wanted to see. We made and shared a phantasmagorical world of sophistication and elan, a faux-Manhattan-esque-literary-Broadway-Paris sort of fantasy of the lives we’d NEVER have outside the connection we shared, inside of which – our own little suite in the Algonquin-in-our-minds – we were both happier than anywhere else, any time else, with any ONE else.

I miss her every day. Ten years she has been gone and I still want to tell her things all the time. So, when I read an article about Lee Grant’s book signing in New York in Matthew Rettenmund’s (follow him HERE on Twitter) blog, Boy Culture (Click HERE) which I read daily, there was a picture of Miss Barbara Cook in attendance. I have been terribly worried about Miss Cook since I last saw her in concert at the Kennedy Center and she was walking with a cane. In the photo, she is using a walker called a Rollerator —

Barbara Cook and Barbara Barrie at Lee Grant's book signing. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

Barbara Cook and Barbara Barrie at Lee Grant’s book signing. Photo by Matthew Rettenmund

— it is almost exactly like my Mom uses — and upon seeing the picture and knowing Miss Cook was up to being out and about and too, my remembering Fay and calling Sissie after each episode and the Rollerator for Miss Cook who – it turns out and how did I just discover – is the same age as my Mom and too, the recent death of Elaine Stritch and that awful photo of her where her arm-bones Portrait of Elaine Stritchare so skeletal which was just how Sissie was toward the end and all of this input firing my circuits both emotional and intellectual flummoxed me and I thought;

“I’ve got to call Sissie and tell her this.”

Somehow, for whatever split-second required, I was thrown out of time and into a reality where Sissie was alive and I could call her. And after that split-second ended, when I was slammed back into the loss of Sissie, I was destroyed. Just that breath of believing her here took me back to having to lose her all over again.

I’ve been a little crazy (crazier?) ever since. A crazy which has translated into intense anxiety that something is going to happen to my Mother. A crazy NOT helped when she told me this week on our Tuesday jaunt, “I dreamed about Peggy last night. That’s the first time since she died in October. I’ve lived too long. You shouldn’t have to lose your children.”

It was the next day I was walking by a little downtown church on a side street and saw a sign “Annual Book Sale” and, me being me, went inside. I bought every large print book they had. Then yesterday, I went to the Girl Scout discount book place and bought every large print book they had. I called my Mom and asked if I could come over. She told me to wait until 2 when she’d be done Wii bowling. I did. I could tell not all the books interested her, which I knew would be the case, and, too, that I had miscalculated thinking she would be okay choosing among them. She was afraid she was going to hurt my feelings. I explained they were only a dollar a piece and to just give away to the library there at Country Meadows the ones she didn’t want. She was clearly irritated by this and was eager for me to leave so she could head down to the lounge for Happy Days – a trio of drums, bass, and tinny-electric keyboard featuring the off-warblings of a poodle-skirted chanteuse. Let’s just say, me with a towel on my head doing numbers from Mame would have been better . . . but I digress.

I left her to her party-ing. Good for her. I went to the grocery store. There I discovered the return of Girl Scout Cookie Candy Bar things. My Mother LOVES these!

candy bars

However, they are $1 a piece and so I suspected she would not buy them for herself. It is one thing to buy countless shorty-pajama sets at Wal-Mart and Target (three in the past two weeks, just when I was along) and blouses and shoes and so on — but, food? And food with sugar, at that? No. So, I bought — uhm — a lot.

I called her to share this information. Okay, so, I had called her earlier in the day to ask if I could visit. And, so, I had visited and dumped TOO MANY books on her. And so, okay, maybe I am bothering her too much. BUT REALLY, when I breathless and excited told her I had found the candy bars at the store she said, “Yes Charlie, I know. I already got some.” Shortly followed by, “I’ll talk to you later.” I could barely squeak in an “I love you” to which she replied, “What?” I repeated, “I love you,” and she said, “Me too.”

Guess I’ll just keep that rather large cache of candy bars for myself.

LOL. Saturday night. Girl Scout candy bars and wine. Sounds decadent in a sad, pathetic way. And,  my very own delightful Momma doesn’t want to talk to me. Full circle, right? And so, who did I dream about last night? Peggy.

Bottom line: I’m likely to live long enough to experience my Mom’s death. I’m likely to live long enough to experience Barbara Cook’s death. I’m likely to live long enough to experience another sister or brother going.

Bottom line: the imaginary world of the Algonquin in our mind that Sissie and I shared, I now have no one in real life with whom to share, but I do have the Algonquin in my mind virtual community of Twitter writers and musical theatre divas I pretend are real friends.

The Duchess Goldblatt (HERE) is the most important person in the world to me (she insists on this from all of her followers, and she deserves it) and I stalk Elizabeth McCracken (HERE), Julia Murney (HERE), Wes Taylor (HERE) and his genius web-series It Could Be Worse (HERE) — and, here is the thing about that imaginary world — Julia Murney (HERE) is appearing in a production of Seussical, The Musical with Beth Crandall (HERE), who I taught when she was a six year old, wrapping her in a feather boa and having her sing My Heart Belongs to Daddy. I wrote her YEARS worth of musicals and shows, she was long my muse – I taught her who Mary Martin and Ethel Merman were, once, even, dressing her up as part of a trio called THE MERMANS.  And in Wes Taylor’s It Could Be Worse, there was once an appearance by Broadway actress and Wicked Elphaba, Julie Reiber (HERE), who, ages ago, played Johanna in Sweeney Todd when I was Sweeney. And Elizabeth McCracken (HERE) taught at the summer Iowa Workshop where, a few years ago, my life was changed and I determined to write “full-time” — such as it is and finish my novel, Libertytown, much based on Sissie. And so, SEE HOW EVERYTHING CONNECTS?

I don’t have Sissie in real life. But, I have her. Just like the Algonquin-in-my-head-Twitter world I have. So, I will – in all likelihood – never have in real life someone again with whom to share Fay or who even knows what the hell I’m talking about half the time. I do not share a frame of reference with anyone anymore, but, I have virtual world, virtual love.

And some very good, very real friends too. And, right now, my Mom. And Barbara Cook is still singing. And Beth is getting to perform with Julia Murney.

And there are books to be read. And some day, I believe, probably when I’m gone, one of those will be a finally discovered Libertytown (sorry Cody, my assigned literary executor).

It will have to do.

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