June 30: In the middle of the night, the temperature drops about thirty degrees, and I am wide awake at 3 AM again. I get up, change into the sweats I brought, throw on another blanket, and go back to sleep. Which is when I have this really weird dream that there is a fortune in gold bullion hidden in my mother’s coffin. So of course I have to dig her up and get it before any of my law-defying brothers get their hands on it. There’s no memory of the actual digging; it’s like a movie cut. One second I’m thinking I have to get to her coffin before anybody else, and the next I’m opening the lid in the pitch black of the cemetery at two in the morning. Because it’s dark and I don’t have a light, I’m feeling my way around the lining. I also have my eyes closed, just in case I can actually see my mother’s body. The coffin is lined with what feels like plush velvet. It’s also padded with paperback books –- because my mother was so tiny, we had to wedge her in by surrounding her with books, like the way you support an air conditioner on a windowsill. So I’m feeling around for gold coins and finding nothing but paperbacks, and then suddenly my hands touch what feels like a dried-up tree branch, and I think to myself, “Oh God -- sorry, Mum, that must be your leg.” I make sure I don’t put any weight on it, because it’s incredibly brittle. I keep feeling around, but there are no coins anywhere, no gold at all. And then I have a Charade epiphany, and light a match to look at the books that are littering Mum’s coffin. Sure enough, it is a pile of priceless first editions, in pristine shape: Catch-22, Lolita, Catcher in the Rye, all 23 Man from UNCLE books, and the prize of prizes: the Puffin edition of Agatha Christie’s And Then there Were None under its original racist British title, Ten Little N*****s. I can live off that one alone for ten years, I think to myself, and that’s when I wake up.
Up at 7:15, on the beach at 8:30. Temperatures in the mid- 70’s, and the water is deliciously warm. Stay on the beach till 11, home for lunch, then pop back. As usual, I have the entire beach to myself all morning, and only after noon do the invaders come and try to take it away from me. I defend my territory as well as I can, and I have to say, my Beach Fu is strong. Every time some woman with her six kids comes down the stairs, I scowl at them and give off GO SIT SOMEWHERE ELSE vibrations, and they all do. And then, of course, because I'm only human, I think to myself: "What? I'm not good enough to sit next to? Jeez!"
My sister Monica comes down around 3ish with Dennis The High School Graduate. I hang out on the beach with them for a while, then head back to the house where I take my first nap of the week. I wake up when they come back to the cottage. Monica gives me a pile of books to choose from and the DVD remote, which is the only way I can watch all the TV show DVD’s I brought down with me. The second she and Dennis leave, I throw on Cowboy Bebop and watch six episodes in a row. Then I eat dinner and watch Antonioni’s Red Desert, which is unnerving in a lot of ways: one, because Monica Vitti seems to be impersonating a woman having a nervous breakdown, instead of actually portraying her; and two, because Richard Harris is overdubbed in Italian, I can’t help but notice that he’s actually speaking the English translation that’s in the subtitles, so whenever he’s on screen it’s incredibly distracting. I can only think that I am going to have the same problem with Burt Lancaster in The Leopard, which I finally picked up a week ago but didn’t bring with me. Oh well. Hopefully watching Alain Delon and Claudia Cardinale will make up for it.
July 1. Another chilly night. Up at 7:05. On the beach at 8:20. Stay till 11, when I’m so weak with hunger that I head home. Which is odd, because I’ve been having four slices of toast with jam every morning, along with cranberry juice and a cup or two of coffee. In other words, I’m actually eating breakfast, which if you know me is, oh, like an Australian winning a whispering contest. Back on the beach at 12, where my brother David calls me and wants to know if I’m free for an early dinner at 4. I say sure, and head home at 2ish to clean up and watch a couple of episodes of third season Coupling. I am now reading one of the books Monica brought, The Physic Book of Deliverance Dane. Haven’t gotten very far into it, because I spent the entire day writing sonnets on the beach to Little Miss Hopeless.
Last Night’s Dream: Little Miss Hopeless and her daughter are walking up one of those hilly San Francisco streets as I’m walking down. She’s in town for a teacher’s convention; I’m in town for a film festival. “You free tonight?” I ask. “That depends,” she says, and gives me her daughter’s hand. Then she turns around and walks away. “I’m hungry,” says the girl, whose name I have caddishly forgotten. “So let’s get something to eat,” I say. “What would you like to eat?” “First we have to get my dolly.” “Okay, where’s your dolly?” “I gave it to my friend Erica.” “Okay, where’s Erica?” “Arizona.” “Okay, where in Arizona?” “I don’t know!” she wails and starts crying. “Okay, okay.” I say, because people are starting to stare at us, “let’s get to Arizona and we’ll take it from there, okay?” The rest of the dream is this incredibly complicated video-game quest to find the little girl’s dolly, which involves half a dozen challenges and side-quests, after which I finally get to feed her, in Tombstone, of course, which is where Little Miss Hopeless suddenly appears as a 19th century schoolmarm. She takes her daughter back and gives me a peck on the cheek. “Will I see you at the church social tonight?” she asks. Since this is pretty much the 19th century schoolmarm equivalent of, “You know how to whistle, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow,” I say, “You certainly will,” and then go off to drink cheap whiskey at the Bella Union. Where, surprise surprise, Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp is playing cards with Kirk Douglas as Doc Holliday. When I order a shot of Jameson’s, Lancaster looks over at me and says, “I don’t drink whiskey.”
ME: Why not?
LANCASTER: Because it looks like swamp water and smells like my mother’s aftershave.
ME: Your mother used aftershave?
LANCASTER: Damn right she did. Had a moustache on her as thick as Sherwood Forest. Couldn’t clear it with napalm.
And on that anachronistic note, I wake up.
4PM. Brother David shows up and we go to dinner at The Fairview. I order scallops, and when the waiter says, “How would you like them?” I revert to Manhattan mode and say: “Medium.” David cracks up, and the waiter very kindly says, “Sorry, I should have made myself clear. Would you like them baked, pan-seared, blackened, --” “Blackened,” I say, thankful that my face is so red from the sun that no one will be able to see me blush for the next month. “And a cup of clam chowder.” “Make sure it’s medium,” says Dave. We catch up as we eat. One piece of bad news: he tells me that Auntie Ellie, Eleanor Tagrin, the mother of my childhood sweetheart, passed away today, and I’m instantly depressed. She was one of my mother’s closest neighborhood friends; as my sister says in an e-mail later, you can bet that the two of them are having coffee and smoking cigarettes as they catch up with each other. I tell Dave about my dream of Mum’s coffin; he says that his daughter Jenna had a Mum dream a few days ago as well. “She’s trying to talk to us,” he says. “I bet it had to do with Ellie,” I say. I spend the rest of the afternoon and most of the evening trying to write something I can send Ellie's family, and I come up blank. This is my life, ladies and gents--I can write three sonnets in two hours to someone who barely knows I exist, but I can't string a sentence together about a woman who was one of my non-blood aunts growing up.
Movies: Stagecoach and Pierrot Le Fou. Orson Welles famously said that he screened Stagecoach 20 times before making Citizen Kane, and when you look at Ford's film through that pair of glasses, you can see what Welles took a fancy to: the interior sets with actual ceilings, natural light thrown in through windows and doors, the deep focus corridor shots, and all those Indians, who were in the Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show scenes of Citizen Kane that wound up on the same cutting room floor as the Lady From Shanghai funhouse sequence.* As for Pierrot le Fou, watching it with a knowledge of Godard's (shall we say) possessive passion for Anna Karina is like watching Manhattan with a knowledge of Woody Allen's creepy underage girl fixation: real life bleeds through the edges and stains everything.
July 2-July 4: Thinking too much about writing and taking too many pictures. So I put the camera in the suitcase, leave my notebook in the shoulderbag, and as lagniappe, I stop reading as well. And that, for me, is independence.
*Kidding about the Indians, but not the funhouse.