It was pouring with rain outside, so I figured I would sit down with my Dean & DeLuca cappuccino and take a little break from my go-go-go vacation/work trip to Manhattan. Oddly, I was there to attend a summit on how best to move the cataloging process into the digital age of book publishing, thus terrifying the older generations with the loss (or tapering off) of print production. I used to rage against such a shift in the book business, but eventually I had to accept the job security involved in embracing the new technology of publishing. See, not all of me remains stuck in the past – when I need to pay rent, buy a round of margaritas, or save up for tickets to Liza’s next show, I’m all about the future.
Remnants of our treasured movies are all over the city of New York, and everywhere I’m reminded of the films that made this town a fantasy island to me before I visited for the first time. On the 24-hour stage in my head, Gene Kelly, Frank Sinatra, and Jules Munshin have been singing “New York, New York” (no, not Liza’s) from On the Town (1949). The statue of Atlas outside Rockefeller Center welcomes Gregory Peck back into my heart, and I send an email to myself to revisit Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) as soon as I get home. At brunch, it was challenging to look up from my gorgeous stack of banana pancakes and a mimosa (for good health!), but there above me was a wall-sized poster for La Dolce Vita (1960). Had it been smaller, or had the restaurant owner been less friendly, I may have been charged with “theft with intent to frame.” And of course there’s the Casablanca Hotel which, as we all know, has absolutely nothing to do with the film . . . but it’s always nice to see that word on a sign.
Scenes from all of the Woody Allen films that added zing to my childhood appeared on every corner, and the Plaza Hotel (although under construction) was as just thrilling to see at it was for the first time when I was 17. In the pouring rain I flung my umbrella down on Eighth Avenue to snap a picture of a drenched Bill Cunningham biking away from the New York Times building in his blue poncho. A dinner at Sardi’s was a hoot for reasons having to do less with the food and more with the kooky celebrity caricatures on the wall (if you’re curious, Liza’s was in a corner, and I wasn’t elated with this placement). In the final hours of my final 90-degree day, I happened by Dan Savage in Bryant Park signing copies of his new book, and I considered proposing to him on behalf of myself and everyone I know. Was I really expected to work in this city?
Yes fine, I was there for solemn, work-related purposes and hopefully a bit of networking (that word has become a necessary set of nails on my chalkboard), and moments of the work hours were of interest. But there were two hours of this trip that became two of my life’s finest.
Before Judy… Before Liza… Before Katharine… Before Lucy… Before Madonna… my first love was Bette Midler. My parents are fairly confident that, at two-and-a-half, surely I was Bette’s youngest fan, and I defy the universe to find a younger, more devoted enthusiast. Any other kids out there bringing her records to preschool for Show and Tell? I don’t think so. I had seen the Divine Miss M. perform twice before, and nothing, I tell you, nothing takes a man’s breath away like a mermaid speeding around stage in a wheelchair cracking the filthiest of filthy jokes. Already I had seen ads for Bette’s new show, I’ll Eat You Last, and I knew this one was not the showgirl we have come to love more and more with every flip of her fin. In this production, Bette was performing a one-woman show, stepping into the shoes of Sue Mengers, a Hollywood talent agent who represented countless actors and filmmakers throughout her career. As Sue, Bette was going to sit on stage for the entire show and talk about celebrities of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Excuse me for a moment . . . you’re telling me that Bette Midler was going to lie on a fancy couch, smoke fancy weed, drink fancy booze, and talk about Faye Dunaway and Barbra Streisand for 90 minutes?
Was I really expected to work in this city?!?!
Always a sign of a perfect performance, I was furious with her when the show came to an end. Surely this unbelievable experience of mine was destined to go on forever; how dare she allow that curtain to come down? After the show the entire audience gathered in the alleyway behind the Booth Theatre to catch a glimpse of Bette and maybe persuade her to sign an autograph or two. The crazy city wind was beneath our wings, in our faces, coming up under our coats, so the delicate so-called fans left after only ten minutes of waiting. A few more weak little groups left after 20, and after 45 minutes passed, many had decided not to stick around. Amateurs.
For they overlook one simple force of nature: far beneath the bitter snows lies the seed that, with the sun’s love, in the spring becomes the rose. If you’re incredibly lucky, she’ll wave at you.