Kids talk about taking a year off between highschool and college—between university years-- Well, I’m having a gap year. I’m not young and not old. I’m not quite bitter but I’m having trouble getting optimism to leave my tongue. I’m suffering from motherhood but never actually get to give maternal advice; I don’t get or give any full-arm embraces; kids are too spiny. I’m working but don’t feel any calling. The treadmill thing.
I’m reading Elmer Gantry. I missed this one when I did Sinclair Lewis. Seemed a decent way to commemorate the death of Jerry Falwell. Elmer reminds me of my 17-year-old—the bullshit artist/jock. Lewis got the religion thing but good. And whatever they crucified him for, it takes a true believer to point out the holes in the argument. It takes a man with a pure heart to see the bullshit, because he’s secretly longing for purity and in this state of innocence and true believing, the bullshit stands out like false teeth under a black light. In fact, I always thought this was kind of the meaning of that Christ painting with the elephant shit that caused such a stink at the Brooklyn Museum (pun intended?). Anyway, they nailed Lewis for the truth, because the people in charge always underestimate the ability of the human mind to actually think, and assume they have to present a pretty landscape even when poisonous snakes are hiding in the trees. They think hiding the bullshit is a form of innocence. This is false innocence. Nothing worse.
That guy Braunstein was nailed today. I couldn’t believe anyone thought he’d get away with that crap under the umbrella of mental illness. It’s nearly as bad as those pederast priests hiding their fidgety hands under their cassocks. Okay, I sympathize with mental illness. I even might have wandered over and smelled the green grass on that side a few times. Not just some but most of my favorite people have done a stint in the psych ward. It’s like a degree for artists. For real artists, that is, not the bullshit kind, which includes fully half and maybe more of the guys whose auction-stats last week put them on the hedge fund map for at least this fiscal year. Another column.
I live near the park, and maybe 2 or 3 times a week there’s a Race-for-a-Cause….sometimes AIDS, sometimes MS, the John Doe organization….you name it… roadrunners everywhere, with numbers and T-shirts, many of whom haven’t a clue about the cause but just like the race scheme-- food and freebies at the end—their daily exercise, for a purpose. Young people mixing, meeting. Charity, socializing, workout: 3 birds, one check.
I also notice people rallying around their own little causes—their personalized disease. Celebrities, too--they pick their charities, dress up and look perfect. My cause of choice has been Breast Cancer, which maybe 10 years ago was not as trendy and politically correct as it is now. I went through a vicarious hell with a sister-in-spirit who had a devastating diagnosis, radical disfiguring and arm-crippling surgeries with drainage tubes hanging out, chemo ports painfully visible under the skin, weekly horrific chemo drips, bone marrow transplants… the torture of the damned. Before Estee Lauder built a spa…just the depressing office, with me trying to tell jokes while I held the bucket for her. Anyway, I lost this sister of mine, after a literal battle which rivals the horrors the Iraqi wounded must experience. Technical cause of death: a wasting rare excruciating complication from the immuno-suppressing drugs which ate away her skin and inner tissue. Agony. Not the fashion-ready version we get from Sheryl Crow who never looked better, with all due respect.
So for 10 years it’s been my pet cause. I’m not a rich donor but I try to do benefits, run races, perform and carefully make sure the women onstage aren’t flaunting their chests to the poor survivors and soldiers in the audience who are struggling with altered womanhood.
Recently my friend’s wife called me, to tell me she was panicked after a recent breast-lift surgery, that there was some unclear spot on her mammogram. So I went with her to a specialist—she had a tiny prick of novocaine, a biopsy…which showed, thankfully, benign tissue. One of the lucky ones. Flowers, much attention from her husband, much personal drama and weeping until she got the news. A relief-dinner at Vong—a necklace, like an offering of gratitude. And here’s the thing: it was as though she was disappointed! Like she could taste the sympathy, the martyr-thing, like after all these years of avoiding work and career, she could have walked right into: Cancer! So now, this girl, who besides whining and shopping and hanging out at Starbucks has little in her life, is suddenly the breast cancer poster-child. The tiny, totally benign biopsy, through her own personal version of the game of ‘telephone’, grew into a lumpectomy, a pre-cancerous condition, and then the ‘pre’ was sort of slurred over, and suddenly, she’s running races, running her mouth, maybe in front of women whose chests have been sliced and mangled and whose ribcages and armature will never feel the same. Not to mention the effects of the chemicals. Menopause is nothing compared to the hormonal whack of chemo; residual bad teeth, heart issues, anemia. For the ones that live. But here is this girl, hanging out in Gilda’s Club, talking on the help-line at SHARE, when the only diagnosis she’s had in 5 years is a cavity.
Recently Revlon had their annual race. The flagship one, 10 years ago, was my first. I ran for my poor wracked sister. I visited the Survivor’s tent as I’ve always done, to say hi to some of her old support team who were luckier. I promised her I’d always check in on them. One of them did an art piece this year, where breastless women had plaster casts done of their torso—some before and after, some during. Graphic and tough. In my friend’s honor, they send me the annual photo they take, these now 10-year survivors, after the Race, with their flowers and their special hats which Revlon makes each year as a kind of trophy/keepsake for these heroines. To remind. The growing and smiling rows of survivors past and present, on the one day you feel proud to be among this group, is an emotionally-packed souvenir. But this time I did a double take because there, unbelievably, in the very front, waving her flowers and wearing her 2007 survivor-hat, was my friend’s wife, like George Bush at a wounded veteran’s ceremony.
I guess there are worse lies, worse delusions. Like Braunstein maybe even believing he didn’t know what he was doing. Like OJ. Like the priests. Do I rat on her? Bad-rap her? Like Sinclair Lewis, they’ll crucify me for slandering the saints and martyrs. But for all of you true believers out there: don’t believe everything you see. Beware the poster children. Be skeptical. It may be the only true human religion.