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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Calls Came

Tuesday September 13, 1983 - Two calls from strangers came last night, both prospective buyers for my car. I had forgotten that I advertised it last week: "1973 Volvo Wagon 145, Fuel Injection, air-conditioning, body excellent."

It sounds like a great car, but truth be known she's ten years old, has been parked at the end of Pier 40 off West Houston Street for her entire life, taking the full brunt of winter storms and ice. As an owner I've been terrible. I hustle over there with the keys after not visiting her for at least four months, counting on her to start and drive me three hundred miles to the Adirondacks. She starts every time.

Lately, she's begun to fail. She coughs, spits. Her engine rasps terribly, yet like a Scandinavian dowager, she bends to the task of transporting me where I need to go. Each time I park her I promise a visit to a mechanic, but truth is I can't afford it. A coat-hanger wire repair made to her carburetor linkage when she quit on the Taconic is still there under the hood.

But now's she started to cost me. So I've decided to sell it. What an ungracious wretch I am!

Strangers call me in the early evening, they want my precious lady! Even more heinous was that I made public my desire to part with it - with her!

 "Twas 'narry a Norseman that didn't love a stove boat!"

All this makes me chuckle. Cars are a symbol of women, always were, like boats and ships. Is it any surprise that I come from Viking stock? My grandfather used to wax poetic about his own grandfather's ship, "Beowulf" that he captained for forty years in the early 1800's. Then in his sixtieth year, he set off around the horn, and was never heard from again. Perhaps if it had been called "Lady Beowulf" . . . he'd have made it.

The truth is I am at the verge of selling her. I've crossed that bridge, practically and emotionally. So I am indulging in the thought that comes with the decision - so it foretells the possibility of my taking a wife. I've been 'a viking', (meaning that I go out into the world as a raider), all my life. I must be thinking of taking up the plow, and settling down on the farm.

All this sounds evil and sinister when I read it over. I whisper to myself, "For God's sake man, get a grip. Rid yourself of that vehicle! Junk it, scrap it, sell it, run it into a swamp. It's ruining your life!"

All resolve is dissolved by preparations for another long trip. Each time I go out into the world I go further, stay longer, Europe. The East. India. One of my journeys will last five years. At the end of my life I'll return an old man, Peer Gynt, with prophesies, vain and foolish. What can all this mean to me? Nothing! I have not found a wife, nor have I made a home. I have partially learned the trade of filmmaking, and like that of the mariner, requires that I travel to where the winds of fortune take me. Am I only to be a soldier of fortune, a speculator and a dreamer?

Preparations to depart. I paint my apartment, not especially to increase my enjoyment during the time I have left here, but to make a change, and in so doing, effect a mark, place my stamp, an improvement, that will guard my possession of it while I am gone. A man possesses only that which he is willing to improve or change. That which is idle falls away. It will be important for me to know I have a place to come back to, however noisy, however modest.

Barbara Egan, Glenn O'Brian's wife will be using my center room as a workplace. They live upstairs on the sixth floor, catty corner across the stairwell from Chris, across from Pablo the furniture maker who sends his money back to Mexico where he is building a house, right beside Robert Aaron the musician who plays occasionally with Blondie and all the major groups. Barbara and Joe Terranova, the super, get on well. She'll be quiet and when she walks around my place it will be with a light foot. I haven't told Joe yet that I am going - I am counting on him to preserve my stake here.

Ismail calls me."Mark, we must talk!"

I can always tell from the tone of Ismail's voice what it is that he thinks, wants or is about to ask. He's just been to the Museum of Modern Art, and there heard two little old ladies making flattering remarks about his films. He wants me to go there with a tape-recorder, half-hidden under my coat, and record their conversations. This he hopes will become the soundtrack of a short piece of propaganda, which will air on Channel 4 in London. Today we are meeting to talk this over. I have already decided what to tell him; concentrate on making films, not making publicity for yourself! Have the humility to allow good press to work on its own without meddling and interference. This is going to be difficult but I must tell him. Otherwise there will be no end to the type of requests that he'll make of me.

"If you asked me to go back to serving ice-cream at Raja's, I would not do it!" There, that will stop him!

Sometimes I'll call the Merchant-Ivory office for some little reason or another, like asking for tickets to a film uptown. Will O'Conner is the one I talk to - no use bothering Ismail about tickets, besides Will's the one with all the plug at theaters around town. Midway through our conversation I'll hear Ismail screaming in the background. "Did you mail that letter? . . . You didn't type it? You stupid man! What did you do with the Almi file? Who's that you're talking to?"

Poor Will's life is utterly miserable. Ismail treats him like dirt, worse than dirt. Will's predicament is a tragic one anyway. Stress at work has made him at least a hundred and fifty pounds overweight. Why put up with it? For the glamour of being associated with Merchant Ivory? For being a part of the Merchant-Ivory retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art? Before he quits I'm sure his nerves will give out. But Will leave with one ounce of appreciation or thanks from the boss? Never. "Will O'Conner, that stupid man," Ismail says. Another strange face will take his place at the desk, and if they are bright enough to make sense of the general chaos of Ismail's files and financial records, will know then the wisdom of quitting with peace of mind. The madness stems from Ismail himself; no one or anybody can change that. Two kinds of people work for Merchant-Ivory, mercenaries and slaves. I started as the latter, but have evolved into the former for my own survival, a transformation for which Ismail has never forgiven me. It deeply pains him every time he writes my paycheck. Yet I exact my price before going to fight his battles. Some of those times I have refused, sometimes on principal, sometimes because of price. It's an awful thing to have to threaten to throw a can of negative into the Thames in order to get enough of one's pay to be able to ride the subway. If it isn't reward enough to warrant the hell one will go through, one refuses. Simple. The ones I pity are the lifetime slaves, the bonded servants, film stars one moment, sex slaves the next. They all get something from his demonic energy. They cling, like flies to honey. It's madness. It's about energy. About 'chi'.

They all want it.

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