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Monday, August 24, 2009

A Friend of Mine

It was Bee who introduced me to the absolutely hilarious Gilda Radner Live From New York, the recording of her performance on Broadway at the Winter Garden theatre (later home to Cats) which was first released in 1979. She talks dirty to animals, tap dances through "I Love To Be Unhappy," sings an ode to saccharine as Rhonda Weiss (& The Rhondettes), has an unfortunate moment as Roseanne Roseannadanna in Walter Cronkite's office, reads from a little book entitled "Tiny Kingdom" as befuddled Emily Litella, and as punk rocker Candy Slice, extolls the virtues of Mick Jagger.

In junior high I was utterly obsessed with the whole thing and still relish it today. Having had the album back then, I just found and subsequently bought the cd online. When I listened to it after so long, a flood of memories were unleashed, particularly about Bee. He was a great influence to me in many different ways, in parts engaging if not more enraging. We listened to Blondie's Parallel Lines together, I remember him writing to me from summer camp, eagerly anticipating The B-52's latest album, he told me about his trips to New York and shopping excursions in Bloomingdales, and whenever I make a vinaigrette or pasta sauce, somehow I think of him and his family. You see, I didn't know one could do such things. As far as I knew, vinaigrettes were salad dressings out of a bottle and sauces were from a jar. But there it all was, homemade, one evening, when I was invited over to Bee's house (a wretchedly grand statement on the outskirts of our little town with an environmentally sound, water-saving toilet that would be considered 'green' these days, although this was 30 years ago now).

Bee could be a bitch for a nickel, and I can't say I ever really liked him and I don't know why he liked me over our brief, intense friendship, the word used loosely here. At least, we hung out together all the time. He was always so belittling to me, which made me feel terrible, and otherwise was what everybody else that I knew in my hometown called "a snob." Once he told me his sister's rather horsey field hockey team-mate said not to wave to her as I passed her house on the way to junior high. Sometimes I'd see her waiting outside for her ride to the high school in the morning and I just would wave, is all. It was a really rotten thing to tell me and the way he disdainfully did so implied that he agreed too: I was wrong in my behavior, and was not to wave to her again. The sister, by the way, was a prime candidate for anorexia, when that was popular. Who cares, they were all just a pack of Dover's dreadfully finite mean girls, who weren't ever quite pretty enough, and wore a sense of entitlement as one would apply make-up to cover imperfections.

I haven't seen Bee in over 25 years, since he went away to boarding school and yet when it comes to sauce and vinaigrette, there he is, with his family at that dinner, like repressed characters out of the Ordinary People movie, which had just come out: the gelid, frigid mother (clinging to life in a tightly cinched pale silk robe); the frustrated, absent lawyer father (he walked out on her eventually or she him, I don't know); the wraith-like older sister; the stinging Queen Bee; and the younger, sweet little sister with braces on her teeth and a flurry of hair who always made me wonder how she wound up in that family. The mother's pasta sauce was watery, I remember that and I remember not liking it too, but still was astonished by the enterprise behind it. Perhaps it was a balsamic vinaigrette that dampened the leaves of lettuce with such lingering resonance.

The last time I remember seeing Bee was the moment after he had delivered some withering riposte to me, expectorated from the region surrounding his pituitary gland. We were in English class, sophmore year. I grabbed hold of his shoulder, pinching the muscle hard and deliberately, asking him just who exactly he thought he was. I could feel his shoulder tremoring but he didn't respond.

There was the time too when he suggested I subscribe to Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, which I did (I still have the tee shirt that came with the subscription), my collection resplendent in 80's grandeur, featuring advertisements of exotic French Gitane cigarettes and Cafe Luxembourg (where I later had one of my first New York dinners with a famous author) and chronicling just what Halston, Liza and Bianca were up to. Celebrity today pales considerably. Poring over the pages confirmed what I knew already, that I wanted to move to New York and attempt to carve out and create a life for myself, which I have done, beginning when I moved to the city 17 years ago.

Bee introduced me to Gilda Radner Live From New York and Blondie. He infuriated me with his insulting condescension. We spoke of Bloomingdales and Ralph Lauren, I got my first Izod shirts and Sperry Topsiders because of him. He tried to take over my friends. We laughed reading Fran Leibowitz's bloodless, wry observations. He was moved to embarrass me with notions of class and things I didn't know about when I was 13 years old. I suppose he inspired me. We ate homemade sauce and vinaigrette.

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