September 15, 2006

Superman's fiancee

How else dignify, in 1959, the relationship between my father's first and only cousin, Lenore, and George Reeves, aka Superman? Did she have a ring? Or did she think the third time would be a charm? Annulled once, married to a wife-beater next, it seems no wonder that the 35-year-old Cafe Society socialite-aspiring starlet (the Jewish Brenda Frasier, as she was known in the 1940s), would have clung to the label. What 1950s newspapers called "socialite," we now know as a party girl.

Fiancee has a much better ring to it than homewrecker. (At 17, Lenore was a co-respondent in a divorce case, in the days when the term had a very specific meaning.) Aspiring starlet means approximately now what it did then: long on beauty, not so much on talent or on ready cash. I think Lenore lived on what can charitably be described as "no visible means of support." Draw your own conclusions.

The day following Reeves' death, in an Earl Wilson New York Post column, Lenore said, "the [Hollywood] system is what killed him." Wilson continued to follow Lenore's adventures in his column throughout the rest of his career. Did she or didn't she pull the trigger? Not even Hollywoodland has an answer.

Can Ben Affleck act? Do I care? I will see the film for personal reasons; critical acclaim or lack thereof is beside the point.

I never met Lenore. We communicated via telephone, echoes of my late grandmother's voice, slightly slurred, in her speech. I let the social worker be our go-between. She was estranged from her father, my great-Uncle Arthur, to the point she didn't attend -- and her absence was noted -- his funeral. Uncle Arthur was as close to a grandfather as I had.

The Superman fanatics I encountered 12 years ago, in the days of Web search infancy, all considered Lenore the evil Eastern influence. Given her capacity to overindulge, I rather doubt she had the coordination to hold the gun. And it is my adult experience that no one can influence you unless you permit it, whether you are over it or under it. For generations my family has thrived under it.

Our family maid, sent to clean Lenore's apartment at my father's behest, was allowed only to bartend, she told me. From what I could see in the 1980s tabloid TV shows, Lenore's fabled and chronicled looks swam in a case of empty vodka bottles.

Robin Tunney, who played her in Hollywoodland, has said, in essence, "she had balls." Welcome to my family: strong women, however willful, are our specialty. Our dulcet tones could kill. Needless to say, no wusses need apply. Since I can't hold my liquor beyond the first glass, it is a wonder we are related.

Lenore died a year before my father. Only I know where the bodies are buried. And I'm not telling.

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September 12, 2006

The day after

Everyone speaks of 9/11, an historic date that changed the way most Americans view the world. It certainly changed the citizens of Wonderland.

No one speaks of 9/12, the day after, the first day of search and rescue, what has happened to the first responders and to the EPA's lie a couple of months later that sounded an "all-clear" on air quality.

In a letter to the editor of Salon magazine, an unidentified woman wrote: "I am sick of hearing about 9/11 and New Yorkers." To her I say, on behalf of all my friends and neighbors, FUCK OFF AND DIE. Don't think we aren't tired of media saturation/exploitation of the day; we are. There are other, more sympathetic ways, to commemorate unnecessary loss of life.

Yet 9/11 and its aftermath are not going to go away, and if you think they are, try getting on an airplane. Wonder if your phone lines are tapped. Are your e-mail conversations monitored? Aren't you curious how the Feds are funding all the end of privacy as we knew it? What exactly are we saving here?

Lady: no one wanted to see you dead. From Alice's vantage in Wonderland, no one thought you and your town were worth the effort to destroy. It reminds her of the survival rate of cockroaches. You can put them through almost anything, and they will live. They won't be any more pleasant to have around, but they'll still be there.

I think about August 7, 1945, in Hiroshima, Japan. That was the day after there, another day that changed the world. More than 100,000 civilians were killed a day earlier, never mind the subsequent radiation sickness there and in Nagasaki. That was 61 years ago, and I expect that no one in Japan doesn't know someone, someone's mother, grandfather, who was affected.

The History Channel is still running World War II documentaries. Locally we call it the war channel when we are charitable; the Hitler channel when we are not. You don't see documentaries on the suffrage movement or recreations of the Seneca Falls Convention of 1848. If you see a woman on the History Channel, it's either Eleanor Roosevelt or Mata Hari.

In media land, women still don't count. Five years later, on the day after, when tradition would have women nursing the wounded, their standard role in wars passed, no one has paid attention to them -- or to the heroism of either gender who sifted through the rubble, whose children may see their parents' lives cut short for their bravery.

Personally, I can't watch any of the 9/11 offerings on TV, no matter what their guise. Some of my friends hiked home four hours on the original date; others lent their efforts to the rescue team at Chelsea Piers. I wrote an article on disaster preparedness, and donated my fee to the fraternal associations of New York's finest and bravest.

Every year I write another check. It is not much, but it is as much as I can manage. I don't need TV to remind me of the 9/11 horror show. But if you always thought New Yorkers were indifferent and callous, think again. We in Wonderland stick together, be it the day after or years after.

Last year I borrowed the entire Thin Man movie series from a friend. This year, I rented the first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Once upon a time, love was all around.