Tuesday, July 11, 2023



WWW. WEDNESDAY asks three questions to prompt you to speak bookishly. To participate, and to see how other book lovers responded, click here

PS I can no longer participate in WWW.WEDNESDAY via that link because her blog won't accept Blogger comments. I mention this only to save you the frustration I experienced trying to link up.

1. What are you currently reading? Onassis: An Extravagant Life by Frank Brady. It occurs to me that Ari Onassis had turned up as a co-star in many, many of the biographies I've read. Jackie's second husband, business partner to Prince Rainier of Monaco, party pal to Liz and Dick and frequent host to Winston Churchill in Churchill's later years. So everything I know about him tangential. Until now.
I'm not that far into yet, but already I'm impressed with both the story and the storytelling. Aristo (as his family called him) is getting ready for college and can speak four languages (Greek, Turkish, Spanish and English). He's such a good student that at 16 he's considered for admission to Oxford. Though only 5'5, he's a lion with the ladies. Then the Great Fire of Smyrna hit. The Turkish military took over the Onassis hometown of Smyrna (now Izmir) and intentionally burned it to the ground, killing up to 125,000 Greeks and Armenians. Soldiers raped countless women. The Onassis family lost everything, and this teenage boy witnessed it all. My heart goes out to him. I always knew Onassis was considered a self-made man, but I had no idea the tragedy he endured when his family's upper-middle-class lifestyle was destroyed.

2. What did you recently finish reading? Such Good Friends by Stephen Greco. This is a fictionalized account of the real-life friendship between Lee Radziwill and Truman Capote. It's seen through the eyes of Marlene, Lee's live-in housekeeper. Slowly over time, Marlene becomes a friend to Truman, who encouraged her as a writer.

This novel concentrates on 1961 to 1984, so Marlene there when Lee was at the epicenter of society. She was Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis' sister, and the glare of Jackie's celebrity lit Lee up, too. During those years, Truman was one of America's premier writers. Together Lee and Truman partied with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Nureyev, Mick and Bianca, and Warhol. Marlene, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks with a mysterious past, saw it all and took notes.
While I didn't NOT enjoy it while I was reading it, Such Good Friends does not bear up under scrutiny:
•  It's a historic novel, so I shouldn't be too bothered by inaccuracies. But this one really bothered me: BOTH Lee and Truman were alcoholics, BOTH Lee and Truman sought treatment. Truman's dependency is depicted in detail and Lee's is glossed over. 
•  Lee had two children, Tony and Tina, whom our narrator had to watch grow up. I mean, Marlene lived with the Radziwills in that Manhattan apartment for more than 20 years! Yet the kids are scarcely mentioned. Wallpaper patterns and couture are described ad nauseum, but Lee's relationship to her children is non-existent. It left me feeling that both Lee and Marlene had to be very shallow women.
I don't regret reading this book, but I don't recommend it to anyone, either. Life's too short.

3. What will read next? I don't know.


A mixed bag

So many feelings on Monday! My friendships made me happy and sad. I guess that's just the stuff of life, right?

First I got a text and an email from John, thanking me for celebrating his birthday with him. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn't be that big a deal. After all, we've been doing birthdays together since the 1980s. Plus this year was especially low key. All we did have drinks at his favorite bar. The Cubs were playing the Yankees and I really wanted to see the game and John wanted to show me off to his tavern buddies. (He feels my knowledge of baseball is unexpected and impressive.) While the birthday gifts were carefully chosen -- a pin from the TCM Film Festival, a magnet from my trip to Springfield last year, and a bawdy mug and equally NSFW bar napkins from Tampa -- they were certainly not expensive.

But he and I have been somehow "off" all summer. He's been grumpy and finds me especially annoying at times. It's bothered me and, I sense, he felt the same way because he seemed so happy that we're happy together again. We've been friends for 40+ years, and it's such a comfort to know we're still us.

But then I stumbled upon a quote from Jose Marti, and my heart broke. I only know Jose Marti because of my dear friend Henry. We saw his statue in Key West's Bayview Park one day and Henry told me Marti was a Cuban poet, revolutionary and hero during the Ten Years War.

Henry was so well educated and so intrigued by Key West's rich and colorful past. But now he has the mind of a child -- the cumulative effects of alcohol, traumatic brain injury and dementia -- and he and his husband, Reg, are leaving Key West forever this week because if they didn't sell the house, they would lose it to the bank. I fear that Henry will fade further into his own world when the ballasts of his life in Key West -- his friends, his church, the familiar surroundings -- are gone. 

I try not to be angry, but it's a losing fight. I miss Henry so much, and I can't shake the suspicion that if Reg had not been so fucking stubborn and gotten real help for Henry earlier, we wouldn't be here now.

But that doesn't really matter, does it? We are where we are and it is what it is. Henry is receding from me and at an alarming pace. I must accept it.

As light as being good with John feels, that's how dark that Marti passage made me feel.

Little things that mean a lot

 "You're cool. You're a nice lady." So said the homeless man who chatted me up this morning while I was on my way to yoga class.

I'm always in a hurry and kind of embarrassed when I go to yoga because I'm wearing yoga pants and a Bruce Springsteen t-shirt. And carrying a mat. I think I look quite silly, but it's only around the corner and I remind myself I'm not a Kardashian and there are no paparazzi waiting to splash my déclassé attire across the internet.

As I'm headed toward the streetlight at the corner, I hear a voice behind me say, "Hi." I'm in front of the bank and look into the reflection in the windows to see a young man I don't recognize. It was a fleeting glance, and I assumed he was talking on his phone through headphones.

"I said, 'hi,'" he repeated. I turned and took a closer look. It was the young man who usually sits in front of the bookstore. I think that's probably where he was headed to begin his day of panhandling. 

"Oh, hi," I said. "I'm sorry. I thought you were on your phone."

Stuck beside me at the red light, he said, "You're the one who gives me the bag with the food and the money." It's true. Every time I see him I give him a blessing bag with a $1 bill, a breakfast bar, a packet of tissues, cough drops or hard candy, and a chapstick. Since I shop at Dollar Tree, the baggie probably costs me $2.

"That's me," I said. "But I don't have anything with me now. Just my keys and my yoga mat."

"I know. I just wanted to say 'hi.' You're cool. You're a nice a lady."

I was both pleased and embarrassed. "Well," I said, "I'm happy to help because we're all in this life together, right?"

"Not everybody thinks like that. Wish they did, but they don't." 

I didn't know what to say to him and was grateful the light changed. I crossed and he turned left. "Take care," I said over my shoulder.

During a quiet moment in yoga class I smiled to myself. It feels very good to know my little efforts made another person feel good. "You're cool. You're a nice a lady." felt like great praise.