Serial/ Jinx Fever

I’m late. I jumped on board for “Serial,” at the end, listening to all 12 podcasts within a couple of weeks. In case you’re out of the loop, I’m talking about National Public Radio’s breakout show “Serial,” which since last October, has held a million and a half listeners enthralled each week as Sarah Koenig weaves her deft, intelligent recounting of the true crime murder case against then 17 year old, Adnan Syed, who continues to claim his innocence after having been convicted of murdering his ex girlfriend 16 years ago, then burying her body in a shallow grave with the help of a not so close friend, Though many support Adnan’s story, many do not. Yet most who knew him agree that the Adnan Syed they knew would not have committed this crime.

Adnan’s appeal will soon be heard in a Maryland court. Who knows what will happen. The mystifying trajectory of the show itself, with its interviews, and events and stories, plus Koenig’s sympathetic narration, act as a mirror for personal and group belief systems, prejudices, sympathies, interests and experience. Particularly appealing is Koenig’s personal uncertainty about what’s up or down, true or false, and how easy it is to fall under the story-tellers spell, whoever that may be at the moment.

Stranger than fiction

Like attracts like. With “Serial” done, we now have HBO’s true crime/horror story: “The Jinx,” the story of Robert Durst who was born into great wealth and might easily be called the Prince of Darkness with evil laying down a bloody path before him wherever he goes. Quirky, tetchy, bizarrely, sneakily, intelligent, and peculiarly seductive, he abides in his secret world of nervous ticks and mumblings, Durst’s saga concluded yesterday with the last of six episodes, wherein he was accused of offing three people including his beautiful young wife, a close college friend, and a Texas neighbor,

Durst remained free since his wife Kathie’s 1982 disappeaance. The law failed to make anything stick, even the admitted dismemberment of his Texas neighbor, This past Saturday he was arrested in New Orleans. He’ll soon be extradited to Los Angeles where he’ll be tried for the first degree murder of his old friend and confidant, Susan Berman,15 years ago. The timing coincides almost perfectly with the last episode of the series.

Only The Shadow knows

Was it the handwriting evidence the series brought to light that provoked this arrest? Does the fact that when he was ten, his father called him to the window to wave goodbye to his mother just before she jumped off the roof of their Westchester home, and that he was passed over in favor of younger brother, Douglas to head the Durst empire, give him license to kill?  Who knows.

What I do know is that the Durst family is very rich and very powerful. That F. Scott was right.:the rich are different from you and me. That the Dursts closed ranks after Kathie’s disappearance and refused to cooperate. That instead they referred the poilice to their lawyer and never called Kathie’s family when she went missing. That the Dursts raised the bridge, And that Kathie became a “Gone Girl,” — murdered frst by her estranged husband, then  by his family who used a dispassionate silence to  put the extra nail in her coffin  And that That was That!

What fascinates me beyond the unknown details and secret intentions embedded in  the Syed and Durst sagas is how we all hear the same stories and draw different conclusions, conclusions we become attached to, even enamored of, when perhaps we’re best off in most situations, especially in ones like these, to draw none at all.

People are far more complex than we can imagine, including ourselves. “Who knows what evil dwells in the hearts of men. “Only The Shadow Knows.” And possibly not even him.

A Postscript for Robin

 P.S.

After posting my letter to Robin yesterday, I heard something from an impeccable source whose wife, was in an improv group with Robin, pre- Mork & Mindy days. He shared the following about her experience:

“Robin was the Brilliant One who always got the biggest laughs, but he also was the most generous performer in the group, using his comic genius to set up another actor who would almost be forced into improvising a killer blackout line that tore the house down. He never ducked old acquaintances and even if he forgot your name, he remembered the face and often made the first move to say hello. Terribly sad that such a mensch should have been so tormented by demons we can’t even imagine.

Also:

Shortly before Robin opted out of this life he spoke to the media about his tight finances and how he was seeking all the work he could get, even work he ordinarily wouldn’t have taken. When asked what happened to the money he said “Alimony.” That he was supporting two ex-wives along with his current family. He failed to mention his habit of generosity, personally and globally. He was close with Christopher Reeve from their time at Julliard, and after Reeve’s accident he stood by him and became a big donor to Reeve’s Foundation, along with his work for, and donations to, the homeless, and for other causes throughout the world. Money slipped through his fingers. Like his talent, he wasn’t attached to it. He was always generous. He did everything full out.  Whatever he had, materially, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, he shared it, or gave it away.

Strangers at a Funeral

About a week ago, I watched a Louie CK episode. Just Robin and Louie. at a funeral. They’re the only two people at the cemetery. They stand there in the cold, before a huge mound of dirt, watching. Silently. They go out to a diner afterward where they introduce themselves to each other, announcing just their first names. ”Louie,” “Robin.” As they’re about to part ways they agree in a bumbling, cryptic shorthand that whoever dies first will attend the funeral of the other. Robin looked lost, subdued. The moment was chilling. More now than it was last week.

Acting Lessons

I turned on the TV last night and the normal Showtime programming had been preempted by a rerun of “Dead Poets Society.” And there’s Robin, young, charming, brilliant, giving every one of those kids in the movie the greatest acting lesson of their lives. He  impersonates Marlon Brando and John Wayne doing Shakespeare. And you can see the kids’ faces turning bright red as they laugh. Really laugh, because, he’s so funny, so outrageous, and he, may, indeed, have come up with this, in that moment, out of the blue.

Of course there’s more. A never-ending stream of more. Until now. “More” is over now. What a loss. What an incredibly tragic ending. This will take a lot of people, including me, a while to process. I think we should all take as long as we need. You deserve it Robin, and so do we.

Chef-itis

I never applaud at the end of a movie.  It seems ridiculous, even stupid.  But last Sunday, when I saw Jon Favreau’s “Chef,” I broke my own rule, got down, got stupid, and clapped my head off, then danced my way through the streets to Cubanos, a restaurant that’s a ten minute walk from the Majestic Movie theater in Silver Spring, Maryland, my new home. I needed to keep the spirit going. To stay in the groove. To bask in the glow of this delightful film.

Some things can’t be explained. This is one of them. I’ve seen better movies. But none that made me feel this good. And that counts for a lot.

If you like great music. If you’d like to see a kid actor you could swear isn’t acting. If you like cooking, eating, dancing, New Orleans, road movies, cool restaurants, food trucks, nasty critics, crazy chefs, buddy love, Scarlett Johanson, Robert Downey Jr., Oliver Platt, Sophia Vergara, John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale, and Latin-American culture, go see this movie now.

It’s a summer movie. It gets you out there. At Cubanos I ordered a Mojito. I had never tasted a Mojito. It’s a dangerous drink. I thought it would be like a Margarita. It’s not. I was looped after one sip. I was hugely happy after two. I was speaking Spanish after my third, and one of my table mates thought I actually WAS speaking Spanish. HA!

It might be time to learn. Not just to mimic the tone, the rhythm, the accent, but to speak the words and know their meaning. It’s got something English lacks. Its got spice and heart and music.  I  want that, even now.

It’s what “Chef” has too. It’s “Life Lite. Who couldn’t use more of that?

 

A Tale of Two Harriets: On Friendship, loyalty and love

I once knew two Harriet’s. The first was my sister, beautiful, kind, and beloved by all. But beyond being my sister, she was my Sister-friend. To her, I was the baby. The one whose accomplishments she praised to all who would listen, even to those who would not. I was the brat who followed her around and sat between her and her fiancée on the green damask couch. Both were super tolerant until they’d had enough of me. Then they were not. Our sister-friendship stayed close and true until the day she died a little over a year ago. It continues, even now, but in a different form, one that leaves me at a loss, wanting to hear her voice on the phone saying my name, or at least to meet up with her in a dream.

I met the second Harriet in college. She was the friend whose favor others sought, the person you felt honored to be with. She gave her attention begrudgingly, as though your desire for her company might encroach upon her soul. Despite her stand-offishness, or because of it, we became friends when we worked together on a musical competition called “Hunter Sing.” I was Sing Leader. She was the accompanist. Aligned in our inflated view of ourselves and our gifts, we quickly formed a winning team. With a friendship, nurtured by common interests, we shared the same intention to be heard, appreciated and known, while bound together by a genteel poverty and our determination to leave both the Bronx and Hunter College behind.

The second Harriet sent out warning signals early on: Danger Ahead. But I preferred not to notice. They included little head tosses that indicated her displeasure. Remarks like paper cuts of pain (e.g, her classic, You’re getting on my nerves). And shock and horror when you screwed up, as I once did when I placed the milchig (milk) dishes in the same sink as the fleishig (meat) dishes. After a shattering scream of “Oh No!” I knew not to do this again. God was watching and forgiveness was not his strong suit. But it seemed like regular stuff. Nothing devastating. The devastation she reserved for her “best pal, Pam.

Pam was everybody’s friend. No need to curry her favor. No worries about getting on her nerves. Never tossed her head even once. Someone you could depend on to fill any role. Someone you enjoyed having around, with whom you knew where you stood, who filled in the gaps.

Through our freshman, sophomore and junior years, Pam and Harriet were like glue, together during the week, on weekends, and on holidays. Then, early in senior year, Harriet announced it was over. Done. Kaput. One day, yes. The next, no. One day going everywhere together. The next a no fault divorce. No one saw it coming. And even though the breakup had happened to Pam, we all felt betrayed and lost. It was never the same. The second Harriet couldn’t be trusted. Any one of us could be next on her hit list.

Some friendships last for decades. Some peter out, others self-destruct. Whether through, choice or circumstance, they come and go, sometimes gracefully other times not. This was an example of “not.”

When I was six my friend, Audrey Friedlander, whispered about grand gatherings of family and friends to which I was never invited, though my parents made sure to include her in ours. By the time we were in sixth grade, I was head attendance monitor and I’d had enough of her. So I took my chances and sent a school post card to Audrey’s mother, saying that Audrey had been absent for a day with no written excuse. When I got caught and appeared to be unmoved by my transgression, the principal told me this was a federal offense and threatened prosecution by the government (which was still operating without incident back then) for defrauding the U.S. Mail. Due to my unblemished record he gave me a pass. And though I was immediately stripped of head-monitor status, I remained the teacher’s pet. She was a Republican and seemed to admire my anti-establishment moxie.

Since then there have been a series of friendships going forward, including one with Maurice Katz, a schoolmate who lobbied to have me impeached as president of my fifth grade class for staying too long at the fair (My term should have ended in February; I was still reporting talkers at the end of March, and Maurice lost patience the same day he discovered his name was on my list). Eventually we became friends again, but not close. It was for the best.

When I got to high school I had a great bunch of friends, two of whom I see, speak with, and hold dear to this day. The rest fell away, one through death, the others through the natural erosion of time, space, and lack of effort.

In my second year of college my friend, Myrna, pointed out a cute boy with a serious look on his face. “He’s the one for you,” she told me. It turned out she was right. A few years later he became my husband, then the father of my children, and despite our eventual parting, he continues to be my friend. He had also dated Harriet #2. Not surprisingly it didn’t work out. Or perhaps it did.

While I lived in Vermont, I met a woman whose gifts and determination set her apart. She crafted jewelry out of copper screening and sold straw hats in the field of wildflowers below my house. Whatever it took. Years later, after we both returned to New York, I journeyed with her to the depths of Brooklyn where we attended the Polish Orthodox funeral of her Aunt Nya Nya in a church that was so icy cold I wore my coat, hat, and gloves throughout the service, then watched her father pass by with not even a nod. To this day she marvels that I bothered to come. But how could I not?

This year, after Yom Kippur services, I opened my iPad and looked up an old friend of my son’s. I had heard she was now a rabbi, and I wondered what this child I had been so fond of looked like and had become in adulthood. I found a photo of her, and forty years later I saw the same lovely person smiling back at me from the screen, this time with a Tallis wrapped around her shoulders. I forwarded it to my son.

Friends. For better or worse they embody the history of our lives. Here’s some imagery to use regarding friends and friendship, lost and found, in need of attention and healing, or ready to be released.

House of the Heart

Close your eyes, exhale one time, and go inside to the house of your heart, where you find the room of friendship. Once you are inside, see what is there. Explore the room completely, and find what is broken. Caringly, put this back together in any way you choose. Then cover it and let it be, trusting that the repair is taking place. Now clean, rearrange, or transform this room in any way you choose. You may add to what already exists, or throw away whatever you do not want to keep. See what happens and how you feel. Then breathe out, and return.