MISSING CIVILIZATION. OR MAYBE NOT.
To Live and Die For
LA, NY, SF, LONDON, PARIS, ROME, ETC
Recently a close friend, exhibiting a combination of harumph and tender concern, turned critic on me. Not the first acquaintance to note that I live somewhat isolated either, which was her complaint. And furthermore, that my insistence on doing so is to live dangerously. It was said with sympathy; a pinch of pathos underneath. She is a kind woman who encourages my endeavors generally.
She and her husband are retired teachers, scholars still living in their college town near the roosts they once ruled with considerable prestige. They remain honored by and involved in student and instructor life covering a broad span of age groups, associations with fellow educators of every stripe, and community doings. It suits them perfectly. I would never dissuade either husband or wife from their choice. But anyone knowing me would swoon at our obvious differences. My friend just supposes a woman living quietly alone (whose social life is fulfilled by traversing Safeway’s aisles three times a week) might be pitiful. From her point of view, of course.
Well, she had handed me that “you are isolated” observation about a week ago, despite knowing me. And though I have not spent much of my time on earth living my life to either mollify or impress people, what my friend said remained echoing in my head as a sort of curiosity to me, not yet entirely dismissed. Therefore I leapt to her theory when I awoke this morning to the sound of talk broadcasting up the coast from Los Angeles. It emanated from the radio I have on most all night next to my pillow. All the pretty things around me, my paintings filling my walls, shone back into my eyes in the barely pale blue moonlit air but would not block the talking man.
Not once identified by call letters or geographically telling adverts I couldn’t miss the home base: glossy Hollywood. A world I don’t notice much. This was a stunning reminder of why. Floating into my consciousness the unknown man’s voice saying (in a morning-drive-time-guy’s easy banter):
”So, we have an Iranian trainer, a woman, Jane and me, we both have this Iranian trainer, we share her, and she can really kick ass, she could kick your ass, and she has a really thick REALLY thick accent and barely speaks English so I’m teaching her I give her English words, I tell her go easy on me with workouts because I AM A PANTYWAIST and I AM A WUSS.
So now that’s all she calls me:
‘Hi, Pantywaist, Hello Wuss.’ “
Then he dove into Los Angeles news: a wretched man living in a tent on Skid Row lost his contest with a policeman over the officer’s gun and got shot dead. Then the story of the young high school photography teacher everyone loved who hung herself in her classroom so at the start of school today her treasured students found her corpse.
It was still dark out. I’d heard that news through the night along with abundant theories. I heard the talk of Netanyahu coming to make the case for his country inside the indifferent heart of America’s political hive, and all the radio hosts and caller notions about it. I drifted through wake and sleep, opinions of my countrymen and countrywomen a low buzz in my ear.
But I couldn’t go beyond the opening salvo I’d heard, the Hollywood radio guy. I knew he was a type who really existed; didn’t doubt it for a second. I was really impressed by his high score during what couldn’t have been more than a 30 second spiel. I propped myself up and opened my eyes and by moonlight I counted the points on the fingers of one hand.
He and his wife/girlfriend/significant other
(1.) Had a personal trainer! Wow. Who
(2.) They shared! Wow. And
(3.) It’s a Woman! Wow. And
(4.) She is Iranian! Double wow! And
(5.) He teaches her English words which she uses…..to ridicule him!
I mean, wow, think about that. Followed by exhibits of compassion: he’s hip but he cares. He’s perfect! I was hopelessly inadequate in very short order, no match for any of his world and hadn’t begun to consider my failures. I do not have a foreign personal trainer. Even worse, though he hadn’t gone into it, I have not been asked to design designer sneakers, and was never arrested for public intox and indecent exposure off The Yacht In Dubai. Hollywood (I’m isolated so would I know?) is not presently (trying very hard) to find me.
Since the radio guy identified the trainer as Iranian, I’m betting that’s a big plus to him and his like-minded audience. The one-up from that would be, oh I don’t know, let’s see…..having a retired ISIS chef? a reformed suicide bomber for his chauffeur? For all I know that may have been covered in the second hour. He was way cool.
So then, lasooing the flotilla of my friend’s remark about my isolation, I thought:
Hah. Lookie there. See what I’m isolated from.
I used to swim with these fish. Ah yes I remember them well. Maybe I can be forgiven for my long overdue retreat. Maybe I even earned it. For most of over three decades back east and again on the west coast up until about a decade ago I had been keenly involved in the competitive world this radio man represented though I grew increasingly skeptical of its worth to me.
In fact, the Pantywaist DJ with the Iranian Personal Trainer was very much of a type I’d overdosed from. There is a non-stop, radioactive effort by such to out-do one’s contemporaries, neighbors, the world, in order to leave everyone else feeling small. I just don’t hear it much these days because I, well, I isolated myself from it.
I know its toxic pull. I know it is not hard to get caught up once you turn the knob, open the door, find the curiously isolated looking-glass, fall through, and on its other side to land in a room where you inspect and partake of bottles labeled Taste Me, Drink This, Go This Way. (Had Lewis Carroll’s generation done detox, a bottle might have been inscribed ”Colonic”).
I reflect on my (isolated) life (so far) in the face of all this, and kind-hearted protestations from more socially minded friends. Where, after all, am I now. Where did I head; where did I get; does it serve…or am I off the mark.
Well, I am virtually residing in a botanical garden night and day where the sunlit air glows green, the moonlight coaxes pale tropical blooms, and abundant flowers of every hue prosper. It is my heart’s desire since infancy. I paint my paintings and write my stories, in both cases to continue learning how I may master those crafts which I embraced increasingly over the years to the exclusion of other imaginings. These are things which bring me pleasure. And I have only just discovered gardening. From what I have witnessed and been told I contribute in some small measure not just to myself but to the pleasure of those in the world who have found my work and like it.
So far, so good.
A little over a decade ago I was hired as Assistant-to-the-Cameraman on the new, wildly popular Survivor TV show; this was Survivor-Africa. It was too deliciously cool and actually a lot of fun, paid well, and got me somehow a much coveted admission to the Director~Producer’s Guild. It wasn’t very far afield from what I’d been doing over the years preceding it in NYC, but my first such excursion on the western frontier.
I had kind of done with careers. I had been waitressing at the wonderful Little Swiss restaurant in Carmel. I had time on my hands, the wisdom of age, and liked the cameraman so I said yes when asked and off we went. We traveled all over the country, maybe 10 different states or more by car and plane hauling 11 huge aluminum suitcases of equipment, tracking down and filming the still secret hand-picked, yet-to-be-announced contestants. In each case when packing up to leave we’d have time for a meal and chatting with the excited winners of Round One. Only once did a contestant show curiosity about my life and the cameraman’s life. She was a twenty year old gorgeous physical specimen, a kick-boxer and model, on the doorstep of a terrific career, about to be a TV star and win a million bucks, bright and educated, and she asked about us.
Had the cameraman indulged her with an answer revealing his life, beyond currently shooting several TV series and Survivor, she’d have learned that in the ’60’s he was the first to play electric violin and did so with The Mamas and the Papas; was an early courageous rock climber; climbed The Himalayas twice; got into film and was currently an Extreme Sport filmmaker who shot documentaries, and the occasional Hollywood spectacular.
When she asked me, I told her this:
I am living on a horse ranch, in a barn’s tackroom on a hilltop out in Carmel Valley. Out the door in the hundreds of acres of pasture in front of and around me are two donkeys and a mule, three goats and a ram, cats and dogs, opossums and skunks, owls and raptors, coyotes in the hills, rattle snakes, wild boar, mountain lions, dragon flies, frogs, and bugs. And closest at hand were 150 spectacular boarded horses, all filling the exquisite scenery owned by a multi-millionaire who rented the odd little painting studio to me which I’d remodeled into a home. On weekends I help manage the ranch weddings. I am writing a novel (NOISE), painting paintings and trying to get published. And I spend days on end not talking to anyone.
My earlier careers in politics and journalism I did not mention.
To my amazement, she said, near bursting with enthusiasm at the thought: “OH! How perfect for a writer and artist? How fantastic is that! I want your life! “
“You do?” I said,. “No kidding. I don’t know, I never lived like this before quite. I like it a lot. It amazes me that I’ve seen more people in the past month on the road doing this than in six months on the horse ranch, how I normally live.”
“But that’s what writers need, and painters. The solitary life.”