My Celebrities

I notice when people die. I remember the shock waves that went through my life when little Alfalfa from “Our Gang” died. I remember next the sickness of losing JFK, MLK, RFK. People born in the same generation as my parents; my parents no longer immune to death. Marilyn Monroe! The names were big.

Then we entered a period when Robert Frost, Groucho Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Elvis, TS Eliot, Pearl Bailey, Jack Benny, John Lennon were gone. I sometimes wonder how many of these names are known to those under 50. John Lennon of course. Elvis too. But Jack Benny? Pearl Bailey? Duke Ellington? Will TS Eliot remain in any format other than CATS? I feel a kind of grief that the people who amused me when I was younger may fall into oblivion. As the people who appreciated them get old and die they will be one more step away from eternal obscurity. Greta Garbo?

This year more and more of my “people” are parting: Henry Aaron, Cloris Leechman, Hal Holbrook, Christopher Plummer–people I remember in the vibrancy of their youth. People just a little bit older than me.

As an old woman, I also know that there are people I know as young: Brad Pitt. LeVar Burton. Zadie Smith. George Clooney. Dana Gioia. Mary Jo Salter. Nicole Kidman. Johnny Depp. –these people are possibly the “old” people to millenials. Are they certifiably young? And who judges or gives the certificates.

And then stretching far into the future are those famous people I know almost nothing about and cannot name. Perhaps Miley Cyrus is one of the oldest of them.

I am a person who remembers music before the Beatles became famous; the person who sees Glenn Gould, Van Cliburn, Richard Wilbur, Maxine Kuman, Renatta Scotto as the up and comers: freshly minted celebrities. Vicki Hearn will be a celebrity professor. Elizabeth Taylor will always be young, nubile, and “Maggie the Cat” in my memory; Teddy Kennedy is fresh-faced.

How many of us can recall Teddy Kennedy as fresh-faced?

Each generation or each person born in a little space of time–3 or 4 years maybe–watches their young celebrities age. I am much closer to Christopher Plummer’s generation than I am to anyone born around or after 1970. Age is relative but also very specific: how many of us staggered out of classrooms when JFK was assassinated spilling our weeping youth onto the streets trying to find our way home in the midst of the unthinkable.

“Provide, Provide”

by Robert Frost

 

The witch that came (the withered hag)
To wash the steps with pail and rag
Was once the beauty Abishag,

The picture pride of Hollywood.
Too many fall from great and good
For you to doubt the likelihood.

Die early and avoid the fate.
Or if predestined to die late,
Make up your mind to die in state.

Make the whole stock exchange your own!
If need be occupy a throne,
Where nobody can call you crone.

Some have relied on what they knew,
Others on being simply true.
What worked for them might work for you.

No memory of having starred
Atones for later disregard
Or keeps the end from being hard.

Better to go down dignified
With boughten friendship at your side
Than none at all. Provide, provide!

 

********************

When I first read “Provide, Provide” I was little more than a child and was enchanted by the triplet rhymes.  I think that a bombshell actress from the 1940’s ended up mopping floors but now of course I cannot recall her name.  It was not Betty Grable but it may have been a woman with a similar name.

Of course it’s better to go “down dignified” but so many of those who made “the stock-exchange” their “own” are unethical and repulsive people.  I’d rather be alone and unprovided for than to have been on the top of the financial/food chain.

So I rely on “what [I] knew” and turn more and more to poetry and music to accompany me.   I could never “buy” a friend.  I can’t afford it. But good books and music are better than most friendships I’ve had.

More than anything else I miss my memory.  I’ve lost a lot of my hand to “Arthur Itis” and my legs and neck like to spontaneously freeze.  My skin gets papery.  Most of all I miss having a trustworthy memory.  It was my biggest pride.   Watching Jeopardy! is a moral teething for me.  I garble syllables.  I have to search deeply into my mental encyclopedia to retrieve anything of help.  I sometimes get 19th century presidents confused.  Did Polk come before or after Pierce?   Why was Chester A. Arthur president during the 1880’s?  I would have guessed the 1840’s!

I have never really entered the 21st century.  While I am out of place in this new dispensation, time whizzes by at warp speed.  My only remaining goal is to vote in the 2020 election in 364 days.  And the futility of my vote washes over me.

Who wants to live in a world where Buffalo Wings allows a racist to determine who gets seated where for the weck?  A world with republicans and their hostility to anyone who is not a billionaire is a dangerous plutocracy based on the fundamental American evil–the Eurotrash of the 15th and 16th and 17th century blithely spreading pox and measles and effectively creating a genocide?  A world gleefully continuing its ecocide…..  It’s time to check out indeed.