My Take on the topic 'Homework'
By B Benham Feb 2015
Foreword: This is a case of writing as therapy, a gratuitous follow up of particular yearnings.
Acknowledgements: Conrad – who supplied the New Yorker magazines.
The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world. F. Scott Fitzgerald
I’m seated in the bar of a boutique hotel under a retractable glass ceiling with a stunningly gorgeous view of the Empire State Building, a fireplace, high tables and low couches, tiered plates of food and a menu of Bites, Flats, Crispies and Balls. The noisy young professionals are drinking sauvignon blanc. A waitress said that a jazz singer was about to perform: ‘She’s very soulful and she scats up a storm.”
Bar Tab has fast become a favourite column for a vicarious New York outing
Two scruffily elegant girls walk towards me on a bleached out African savannah while a giraffe gazes curiously from the background. They sling along large sumptuous Louis Vuitton handbags.
I love this treacherous advertising for the savvy readership. It’s followed up by abundant ads for financial planning, including philanthropy, art financing, estate planning and global insights. Hey, you need that kind of help to live successfully in New York. But what I’m really going to need is the ultimate shock absorbing footwear for full street cred on the sidewalks and pathways of Central Park. The gravity defier shoe. I’ll be there with the look as I merge into riffs with a djembe group, or reading my latest edition Kindle Paperwhite on a park bench as the golden Ginkgo leaves drift down.
Culture doesn’t finish there. I’m drawn to the next exhibition at ‘Aperture Gallery’ and the photographs of Richard Renaldi who asked complete strangers to make close contact for his creations. Oh, it’s sooo New York. There’s all that visual arts culture on one endless spiral. Suck it up buttercup! Off to the Met, scene of my favourite New York novel, The Goldfinch. Its Cubist exhibition is described, not so much as a show, but an institutional organ transplant. I don’t know what it means, but I’m loving the feeling! The Whitney has a new gift, priceless beyond belief, 78 works by Picasso, Braque, Gris and Leger 1906-1924. The Guggenheim has spinning mirrors, flashing lights and nail studded white canvases.
What is this cultural consciousness raising I find myself indulging in? It’s this month’s ‘Homework’. Just another form of grist for the mill, hipster class, permission to fantasize and pad my travel dreams. It’s a New York state of mind, a transcendental state brought on by a long meander through the pages of New Yorker magazine. A deep dive beyond the iconic covers of signature type- face and satirical artwork.
I’d waded through back copies of the London Review of Books, valiantly trying to get my fix…of what; I’m not quite sure. The articles are a tricky, academically demanding to read. They bore me to tears. I stall at the back pages ads. Great fantasy fodder. Oh yeah, I’ll take that writers’ retreat in a Florentine palazzo, then hire that cottage in Cornwall to finish of my novel.
The New Yorker Magazine has a brasher, more eclectic beat, a staccato rhythm. It reflects my fantasy of the New York pulse. Gets my juices and yearnings flowing for this minestrone of culture, layered movements, literary identities, and places to hangout. The projections of many a fantasist before me.
I always wanted to walk these streets, for the art and passion of it. Hear cool jazz on warm nights, hail a yellow cab from a street corner, and see the lights of Time’s Square reflected in a puddle at my feet clad in their gravity defier trainers.
New York! New York! … endless deep cultural indoctrination from a steady stream of novels, films, songs, TV, and friends’ eye witness reports. Absorbing the words of the prophets like Dylan and Paul Simon as they wrote them on the subway walls and tenement halls. Or over in the Factory, musing among the endless silk screenings of Marilynn Munroe, with Andy Warhol, the slightly creepy genius and all his hangers on. Craving their fifteen minutes of fame. Hitting up in the toilets to a half formed soundtrack by Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground.
I’d settle for a brownstone walk-up anytime complete with its shabby chic interior of collectables. Emerging around 10pm after a day of writing at my laptop to wobble down the sidewalk, this time in my Manlo Blahnik stillettoes and carefully thrown together funky outfit. Off for a discussion with Carrie and the posse, over a Cosmopolitan. The exciting freedom of sex and the city, but hey why are all our best mates single chicks and gay men?
Compulsory would be to drop into the New York yoga scene and take a class with an original brilliant yogi. David Life and Jivamukti Studio, here I come! I'm ripe for a role as your aging yoga groupie from Down Under. Sanskrit chants with Krishna Das, and immersion into the modern athletic yoga culture with side dishes of gluten free veganism and animal rights.
Back to the New Yorker magazines, I’ll just go get a strong coffee brewing, switch on the milk frother and heat up a bagel. The rest…well. I’ll do it all from my chair.
The Perils of Pandora
Inspired by Peter Smallwood's 50 cliff hanger intro lines.
“ Help! Save me!”
It was take number seven of a less than lacklustre performance on the set of The Perils of Pandora. Tallulah moaned her lines. That didn’t matter; it was overacting that was required of a silent movie star. There was no writhing, eye rolling or terrified mooing of the lips. Tallulah was as motionless as a corpse, despite the fact that her red head rested on one shiny steel rail and her slender ivory ankles on the other. She stared deadpan at the dusty blue Californian sky blazing above the film lot, the flimsy scenery wobbling with the approach of a mock up steam locomotive.
The director dropped his megaphone, gagging in disbelief. How could this stunningly beautiful star, act so indifferently? She was the ‘It’ girl of her generation. Her tangled red hair had earned her fame and upped the sales of henna. Why, Betty Boop the cartoon character was based on her! She was the most bankable starlet in Hollywood.
‘Cut’ yelled the director. The train ground to a halt yet again as the pounding pianist quelled the music. The celluloid diva was having a bad day, and no one could help. The evil moustache-twirling villain stepped aside to let her pass. The swashbuckling hero, of course, was nowhere to be seen. Predictably he was preening in his trailer mixing another whisky sour and snorting a line of coke.
Tallulah Sedgwick retreated to her trailer to contemplate the crazy highball cocktail of her life. There were many myths surrounding Tallulah and toxic lies spread like summer wildfire in the Beverly Hills canyons. Ironically the reviews of her acting continued to glow spectacularly, like neon.
Tallulah was the subject of wild rumors regarding her sex life, most of them untrue. One tabloid accused her of exhibitionism, incest, lesbianism, bestiality, drug addiction and alcoholism. The editor of the tabloid tried to blackmail her. Life was getting sticky and sordid for the young actress.
On top of these worries she was cast yet again in another movie with a hackneyed plot. Oh not to have to play another squirming, screaming heroine bound with ropes. Where were the decent roles for women?
Tallulah Sedgwick, a penniless Appalachian girl from a family of sharecroppers had stunned Hollywood when she appeared on the scene. From Hog Farm To High Life crowed the tabloid headlines. She had youthful confidence, determination and ambition. As well she was blessed with a genuine spark of divine fire. Her beauty was almost enough to carry her to success without the aid of the brains she possessed.
Screen tests showed her talent immediately, a range of expression that provoked enthusiasm from every casting agent in Tinsel Town. She screened perfectly. She could open the floodgate of tears almost as soon as a director asked her to weep. Variety Magazine said of her, ‘She is refreshingly unaffected … Tallulah uses a dangerous pair of eyes… she is the sensation of her generation...’ and promptly put her coifed close-up on their cover.
Despite these accolades, Tallulah wondered if everyone would be tired of her by the time she was a legendary star, She took a handful of Nembutal, washing it down with Southern Comfort and cried herself into a fatigued sleep.
Tallulah awoke. A tall dark figure loomed over her. She could just make him out through the blur of drugs and alcohol and her tangle of trademark red curls. She smelt the Jack Daniels on his breath. This was her treacherous co-star in The Perils of Pandora, none other than the debonair Sunnybanks Montez! A year ago his Latino good looks and charm had lured her into an unconscionable affair. ‘The Femme Fatal and The Lady Killer’ the tabloid headlines screamed at the time. The predatory Sunnybanks was in like Flynn.
‘Help! Save me!’ she screamed piercingly, and with conviction. She writhed, terror registered on her face, she transformed into Pandora, but this time it wasn’t an act. Tallulah had experienced Sunnybank’s violence before.
‘Stop! Stop you blackguard! You have milked me for everything!’
Tallulah and Sunnybanks continued to struggle as he lowered himself on to her.
‘I don’t believe what I see!’ exclaimed a little known Irish actor of considerable talent, Danny O’Rooney. He had come running when he heard Tallulah’s screams. Accompanying him were four federal agents who’d been staking out the set of The Perils of Pandora. They all stared through the locked screen door of Tallulah’s trailer at Sunnybank’s ungentlemanly behavior. The fallen hero was arrested and was sentenced to eight years in prison.
A month later, Perils was in the can, Danny O Rooney brilliantly assuming the leading role as the hero, and Tallulah turned on her chimera of cinematic magic. A box office blockbuster was guaranteed. The famous couple was in love and soon to be hitched at the Snow White Chapel in Vegas. A Match Made in Hollywood Heaven yelled the tabloid headlines.
As Tallulah gazed into Danny’s smiling Irish eyes, she knew there would never be secrets between them. ‘I’m a very lucky woman,’ murmured Tallulah, in her smokey voice, ‘I've never been satisfied with myself or my work or anything...I’ve played all sorts of parts in all sorts of movies... I’d cry myself to sleep from sheer fatigue after eighteen hours a day on different sets, but now I am glad of it. With your help Danny and the Mt Sinai Clinic, I’m off Rohypnol for ever!’ Tears of gratitude shone in her luminous eyes and she wasn’t crying on demand this time. It was real life and she was greedy for more.
Everything changed as talking pictures took over the Industry. Tallulah Sedgwick and Danny O’ Rooney bowed out gracefully. They open The IT GIRL Cafe near Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles. The screen legend drew crowds, and they made a bomb from BLT’s and macchiatos, enough to retire for life. They moved to a Dude Ranch in New Mexico. A pretty place, the painted mountains reminiscent of a mock up Western in the back lot of MGM. They christened their ranch ‘Pandora’, in honour of the cherished cult movie that drew them together in 1920’s Hollywood Babylon.
Writing Exercise : A 50 word 'cliff hanger' to be continued...
yes! it includes a cliff if you like
A young woman parks her car on a secluded side track in State Forest.
She takes a sketchy network of rough pathways, leading through dense bush and along a steep ravine.
Is she being shadowed...something moves just at the edge of her peripheral vision, as her destination nears.
The occasional laughter of ducks on Quart Pot is the only interruption to a deep starry night blazing over our house. The older one gets the less sleep one requires. Anyway, what is insomnia really? Am I sliding into a dream state or returning to the present ground of a sharp edged three a.m. nadir?
Dormiveglia or einschlafen, the passage in and out of sleep there is no word for it in English. My mind travels on unfettered journeys to obscure places. The forfeited, blurred land of the past. These are ‘mull-ments’, where life is a scree of rocks and pebbles swiftly slipping down a mountainside. Is this how we see it in our dying moments? A kinetic twirl of the kaleidoscope?
He sleeps still and gentle beside me, rarely a snore from the throat that’s scarred from the burns of radiation treatment. The sylphlike body that sustained so much weight loss. Despite where he’s been there is immunity to the hour of the wolf
I’m drifting in staccato hallucinations. I alight on something. Sunshine picks up a glitter of feldspar in a rock I have extracted from the mountainside scree…
The scenery unfolds along winding Edwardian carriageways lined with dark ominous conifers. Bhutan cypress and monkey puzzle trees planted when my grandmother wore button up boots. Carriageways branch into a labyrinth of serpentine paths punctuated with ornate finial topped gazebos, miniature sanctuaries of introspection. Deco white marble angels stare off into the distance. Shiny black marble graves inscribed with classical golden lettering, mirror silhouettes of trees.
The urgency of someone to meet in this eclectic, sombre, city of the dead. Despite the depth of its inhabitants’ repose it seemed to be a tacitly rowdy place. Burke and Wills, Sir Robert Menzies, and Sir Redmond Barry rest alongside Quakers and koories. I wander through a democracy of the dead in Melbourne General Cemetery.
Its rich brew of funereal motifs and convoluted timelines was a means to an end. An appointment to celebrate diverse landscape eras abiding in peace. Yes, I invited him to join me on this Saturday afternoon foray He was non-plussed. We were both mature age students re-educating ourselves in various ways. We knew it wasn’t all about landscape design and finishing our garden history assignments on time.
The outing has the simplicity of a picnic in a Little Golden Book. One Perfect Day! A graceful oak arching shade across the simple fare. The cloth with bread, apples, Camembert and two stubbies of Tooheys Old spread on a slightly lurching gravestone.
I am perceiving him with my third eye. From his lived in face shone clear blue eyes and a bemused curl at the corner of his mouth that said Yes! He’d kissed the blarney stone. I hoped he would kiss me.
Beyond this expression of his face’s history I sensed a peaceful demeanor, an indefinable steadfastness of no frills honesty. He knew who he was. It reinforced the feeling that intrigued me from our very first meeting, it was ‘like at first sight.’
I re-enter wakefulness to feel him drifting beside me through the rush and rubble of scree. Some stones are hard as we slowly roll over in bed; others glow with a kryptonite energy. We hover to our own nebulous toehold on the spectrum. Someplace between the births of the Indigo and crystal children, and the departure of all our beloved elders.
I walk on... along the serpentine pathways, there’s a smooth washed pebble in my hand, and it feels warm. It’s his hand. Are you awake? He asked me softly.
I often have scant ideas, until I begin writing or drawing, then snap, crackle, pop, something fires off. The result is often not what I expect, but usually frustrating and challenging fun. I am a keen art journal-er, expressing myself in text and pictures.