Sunday, October 9, 2016

About Alice

Last night was my last New Yorker Festival event - for a while, I think. It was a staged reading of Calvin Trillin's book, About Alice, which was published in 2006, five years after Alice, Calvin's wife of 36 years, had died. The book is a love letter to her... to her whole life, really. It paid tribute to the young woman she had been before he met her, to the friend she had been to countless people - whether they were close friends or 'the friend of the sister of the woman we met at that party' who had cancer and whom Alice felt would get better medical care if she made a few calls, to the wife she had been to a man who clearly adored her, and a tribute as well to the mother she had been to her two daughters. Alice was diagnosed with lung cancer (both her parents were heavy smokers) in 1981 when she was 43. She was given a 10% chance of surviving, she lived 24 more years. All those years later, when she thought her cancer had resurfaced, it was instead heart disease which took her life. The radiations treatments she'd endured to treat her cancer had weakened her heart; she died from the cure, not the disease. By then, her two daughters were grown and married, and she said that she had imparted to them all the wisdom she had to give; she said it would be ok to die then, where it most certainly would not have been had she not survived the initial diagnosis when her children where small.

The reading was done by Tony Shalhoub and Jessica Hecht. They sat on the stage with the script which was almost entirely derived from the prose of the book, and occasionally interacted with one another in short vignettes of dialogue. Calvin Trillin was in the front row, flanked by his two daughters, and I was in the second row almost directly behind him. There were laughs in the story, certainly, but as the performance concluded and this treatise of undying love headed toward its end, I saw Mr. Trillin repeatedly wipe his eyes; and when Tony Shalhoub stood to take his bow and then gestured toward Mr. Trillin to stand and take his, I saw the tears fall from his face and hit the carpet.

Alice has been referred to as Calvin Trillin's 'muse' and that seems an apt description. He has said that he wrote to impress Alice, and given the number of awards and accolades he's received, I'm sure that goal was accomplished. In About Alice, he paints a portrait of a woman worthy of impressing. And while certainly this is an idealized version of a woman who had flaws and foibles, the book is a lovely tribute to a wife and mother, to a complex person who gave joy and strength, and to a relationship that perhaps can be striven for. I read About Alice every few years as a reminder of this.

Friday, October 7, 2016


I discovered David Letterman when I was just a kid. I remember my brother and I, home for the summer, turning on the TV one morning and finding a talk show host with a level of irreverence and dry wit (before we were old enough to know what 'dry wit' was), and being instantly hooked. We loved Dave, we watched him all summer, and even though that show didn't last, it was the beginning of my 30+ year TV-relationship with the man. Through his cranky years, Velcro suits, working the drive-through at a Taco Bell (lady ordering from her car: "I'd like a medium Coke..." Dave on the head-set: "'Medium... relative to what?"), heart surgery, scandals, and everything in between, I was there, and tonight, Dave was there for me. Well, for me and about 450 other people who were lucky enough to get a ticket to see him being interviewed by Susan Morrison.

They say don't meet your heroes because you will be disappointed, but Dave was everything I ever wanted him to be. He was funny and smart, he was kind and self-deprecating, he called Donald Trump (whom he referred to as "Trumpy" over and over again) a "badly damaged human being," and there was something about him... a generosity of spirit -- in the way he listened so intently to Susan's questions and participated so fully in her discussion, and also in he way he interacted with the audience during the Q&A, asking each person who stepped up to the microphone their name and where they were from -- that made me appreciate him even more. Maybe a talk show host/comedian isn't the loftiest person to have as a hero, but for over 30 years, watching Dave made me happy, and some days, that's almost the same as saving someone from a burning building.

Thursday, October 6, 2016


I wasn't going to come to New York this year, I really wasn't. I had a good time last year but I just remember being so tired, and a bit cold, and thinking, "ten years is enough; next October: Mexico." But then the New Yorker Festival line up enticed me with something almost too good to be true... and even then I hesitated; but I went online the morning of the ticket sales and I told myself getting a ticket to that enticing event was going to be a long-shot, but I might as well try, and the next thing I knew I had three tickets to three wonderful-sounding events, including the one that changed my mind about the whole deal -- so here I am, in Brooklyn.

No festival events tonight, but I got in early enough to drop my stuff at this really nice apartment, meet Nick, my host, and take the subway to Chelsea for an 8 o'clock show at the Upright Citizens Brigade. The show was Rumpletaser: Musical Improv, and it was described as a group of improvisers making up a musical on the spot. At the top of the show they asked for audience suggestions of "anything," and if the premise is to be believed and the guy who yelled out "celery" hadn't been planted there by the cast (and I don't think he was), then what they did was pretty impressive. For one hour, a piano player banged out numbers and the cast created a story, complete with songs, in front of the audience; the first number was "We Work in a Juice Bar," and it went from there. 'Celery, the Musical' isn't going to hit Broadway any time soon but it was fun and silly, and for 5-bucks a ticket, a good way to spend a Thursday night in New York.

The two New Yorker events on Saturday will be nice, but the event tomorrow is the reason I'm here... I think it will be worth it.
Nick's apartment in Brooklyn
Le District, French grocery downtown
Oscar Murillo: through patches of corn, wheat and mud
at the David Zwirner Gallery.
I don't know.
Fred Sandback: Vertical Constructions
at David Zwirner