Fun fact: after a suicide bombing, forensic investigators immediately “look for the face mask.” The shock waves from an explosion blow the bomber’s head to smithereens but for some reason leave the face intact as a sort of peeled, rubbery pentimento of the missing person, like a condom that stares back at you. After the Benazir Bhutto assassination, they found two.
Flu shot at Dr. Isaac’s. I reminded him about his patient who wanted to buy one of the Burroughs photos, who was supposed to call me a month ago. “He did want it,” Dr. Isaacs said. “But for his summer house in Rockaway.”
Went to Uniqlo with John to buy pants and shit because I have nothing to wear and it’s nice to pack new things that are all clean and folded. We had to wait two hours for alterations. Went into a deli to buy cigarettes. After paying for cigarettes had $1 left in the wallet Rami gave me. “I thought I had more money than this,” I said. I thought about it. “They should put that on my tombstone.” Cocktails at a place on the corner of, I think, Lafayette and Prince Street: something called a jalapeno margarita. The barman said, “Would you like the spicy rim?” Not meaning to, I began laughing hysterically. “I think he already had that,” John told him.
I must have been desperate to quit smoking at some point and looked into a self-help thing online without realizing it was the Silva Mind Control website. Every time I open my e-mail now, there is something from The Silva Team@silvalifesystem.com. The latest: “The one big mistake 95% of people make—do you?” Surely, I thought, there is more than one. “So here’s the thing, Gary,” it began, with instantly alienating overfamiliarity. “You’re the kind of person who wants to live up to your full human potential. You crave deep and meaningful relationships. A fulfilling and lucrative career.” It listed some other things the kind of person I supposedly am wants and craves. “No problem, right? After all, you meditate as often as possible. You practice creative visualization. You build yourself up with affirmations.” This really ought to have left an oil slick on the computer screen. “So of course you’re probably thinking to yourself, ‘I’m not one of those people who sabotages myself at every turn!’” Oh, but you are, Blanche, you are. “It all has to do with a little trick your brain likes to play on you.” I’ve never opened one of these mailings before and I suppose now that I have I will be getting even more of them, forever. I suddenly understood how we can “objectively” prove that the world exists. If we were creating it all with our minds, we would not be receiving e-mails from Silva Mind Control.
The you-are-getting-very-sleepy tone reminded me of something. It reminded me that cigarettes are only 60 cents a pack in Cuba, of course, but something else, too.
Susan Sontag had tried hypnosis before, but we had both tried everything else, and she thought a group situation might work better than a one-on-one hypnotist had. We took a cab to an office building in Midtown where roughly twenty people, mostly middle-aged, had assembled under fluorescent lights in a room full of folding chairs. It looked like an AA meeting. The hypnotist vaguely resembled Lionel Stander. He explained the difference between the way hypnotists are portrayed in movies and how hypnosis “really works,” leading the group through various breathing exercises and other physical adjustments meant to induce a receptive state.
“Now. When the thought of smoking enters your mind, replace that thought with another one: ‘I need my body to live.’ Because, you see, your mind can only hold one thought at a time.”
Out on the sidewalk, we instantly scrambled for cigarettes and lit up. Puffing furiously, Susan said, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” “I think so,” I said. “I’m thinking, ‘I need my body to live.’” Susan nodded. “The minute he said you couldn’t have two thoughts at the same time,” she said, “I knew he was full of shit.”
I had only begun rereading Le rouge et le noir for about the tenth time when The Richard Burton Diaries beckoned from the sadly depleted shelves of the local bookstore. I am leaving town on Monday and it’s out of the question to take this fat book to Havana, but I couldn’t resist reading part of it. Burton is a little bit in the news lately because of the Lindsay Lohan Lifetime movie, which I haven’t seen. John said Lindsay Lohan only really looked like Liz Taylor in the scenes where she’s over the hill, and in the Virginia Woolf parts. “George is a bog in the history department.” How often I have longed to say that about someone.
Chris Williams, the editor of the Burton diaries—not to be confused with Christopher Williams, the conceptual artist—has left nothing to chance or the imagination. The “scholarly apparatus” attached to nearly every sentence of The Richard Burton Diaries will elucidate for at least another 100 years any possible obscurity in Burton’s diaries. Burton’s diaries will be out of print before you can blink, probably, but Williams obviously had the time of his life embellishing every proper name, literary reference, film citation, and colloquialism that appears in them. Even a semi-comatose reader might infer from the context that Booby, Glorious, Bon Apetito, Shumdit, Slowtake, Fatty, Snapshot, Burt, Cantank, and “The Baby” are Burton’s affectionate nicknames for Taylor, since she is rarely more than five feet away from him and often scribbles her own thoughts into his diaries, but, just in case, Williams annotates every one.
I was happy to learn that Burton loathed Franco Zeffirelli, a repitilian hack whose movies my late, dear friend Werner Schroeter always referred to as “close-ups of hemorrhoids.” Williams adds to the fun with his poker-faced exegeses: “Crisis after crisis with Zero a Sharaff over the costumes.” (Note 76: “Zero meaning Zeffirelli.”) “The normally nervous but dignified Irene Sharaff opened a meeting… with these immortal peace-loving and diplomatic words: ‘I would like to say before we go any further that you Franco are a fucking liar.’ Good for starters. Later out of the mettle European mask of her face came another qualifier for Bartlett’s Dictionary of Quotations—‘You are nothing but a fucking fag.’ That’s my Leslie!” (Note 77: “A reference to John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, which first appeared in 1855. ‘Fag’ here being short for ‘faggot,’ a derogatory term for a homosexual.” Note 78: “It is possible that Burton is making a reference here to Sharaff’s homosexuality.”)
Lest these look like passing aberrations, let me throw in a few more. “I entered the father’s race which due to the devious machinations of a black Somali, an ambassador, and three Bloody Marys, I lost.” (Note 119: “A Bloody Mary is a vodka based cocktail usually including tomato juice, lemon juice and a dash of Worcestershire sauce or Tabasco.”) “I bet Roddy they knew the purple passage from Dante.” (Note 121: “A reference to the Divina Commedia by Dante Alighieri (1265-1321).”) “And he is clear-skinned as a girl, while here I am, fanatically clean, pocked, pimpled and carbuncled as a Hogarth.” (Note 134: “Artist and cartoonist William Hogarth (1697-1764), whose depictions of individuals were often unflattering.”)
Only a reader with a heart of stone could resent being taken for an idiot by an editor who so clearly is one. Williams’s bizarrely industrious footnotes aren’t quite as insanely self-revealing or funny as Charles Kinbote’s in Pale Fire (Note 1: character in a novel by Vladimir Nabokov), but they do give the whole book a spoofing frothiness, especially since they aren’t merely egregious but often incorrect as well.
Burton himself cuts brilliantly through the grease in his desultory observations. “[John] Huston is a simpleton. But believes himself to be a genius. And a self aggrandizing liar.” “Dorothy Jeakins [costumer on Reflections in a Golden Eye]… has the hallmark of the consummate bore—a sweet half-smile that plays across her self-conscious mouth… Her eyes are dewy with youth and look at you with trusting confidence… There are worse people in the world I suppose. Like Jack the Ripper.” “Have been reading all kinds of books. Europe without Baedeker by that pompous bastard Edmund Wilson. He seems to be wrong about everything.” “Maria Callas told us on Sunday that she and Ari had parted. Said he was too destructive and that her singing was affected. I think she’s a bit of a bore.”
Come to think of it, Werner put one of Burton’s Hamlet soliloquies on the sound track of The Death of Maria Malibran. I still know it by heart—it gives me the chills: “How stand I then,/That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,/Excitements of my reason and my blood,/And let all sleep, while to my shame I see/The imminent death of twenty thousand men,/That for a fantasy and trick of fame/Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot/Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,/Which is not tomb enough and continent/To hide the slain?”
The pull-quote on the back cover has Burton buying Elizabeth “the jet plane we flew in yesterday,” a surprise he describes, accurately, as “beyond outrage.” But less of an outrage when it’s him and Liz than some other people I can think of. When Jack B. (“educated beyond his intelligence,” as we used to say) taught a semester at UCLA years ago, I asked if he missed his adorable cats in New York. “Oh—it’s a little embarrassing to say this, but we flew them out in the jet.” What he meant was, “I hate to let you know how much money we have. But we also have our own jet.” Conversation with John about the so-called “fiscal cliff” and how lucky Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein (“well-heeled excrement,” as one blogger describes them) are that an enraged mob hasn’t strung them up from a lamppost by now. These people keep pushing their luck. They should never have been bailed out, but thrown overboard. Next time, hopefully. Bought three pair of pants, one sweater, two t-shirts, six pair of socks, four underpants.
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