January 17, 2012

James Wolcott's Lucking Out

Spent much of Monday afternoon curled up with a good Kindle. Doesn't have the same ring, 'eh? I was reading James Wolcott's memoir of Pauline Kael and life in '70s New York. His prose is electric and often poetic. It's pretty amazing he can write like that for such a sustained burst. There's certainly a reason he makes a living doing it. Funny thing is I'd never head of him before; I simply thought that I'd like to learn more about what it was like living in Manhattan during the '70s.

Some excerpts:
The dance critic Deborah Jowitt had the fine-boned fortitude of a frontier settler with eyes forever fixed on future horizons;
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The classical music critic Leighton Kerner, with his stooped posture and ever-present briefcase, resembled a sad pachyderm covering Willy Loman’s old rounds.
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Office renovation removed private sanctuaries for a more open cubicle layout that allowed greater visibility for frank exchanges of differing opinions that could be overheard the length of the floor, depending on wind conditions.
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A lesson it would take me a while to learn was that nothing makes writers happy for very long, there are always ravens pecking on the roof.
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I don’t regret my days in gladiator school. Having your ego slapped around a bit helped the blood circulate and would prove a superb conditioning program for a future sub-career in blogging, where a tough hide would come in handy every time the Hellmouth opened. Every time I’m abused online with a battery of scurrilous remarks of a personal nature, I’m able to let them bounce off like rubber erasers, having been called an asshole by professionals, experts in the field.
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I was too untutored in the art of deference, oblivious to the danger signs, and lackadaisical in the time-honored mime of looking busy when there was a significant lull in the action.
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Pauline agreed with Nabokov’s contention that sentimentality and brutality were the flip sides of a subservient mind.
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De Niro’s entrance into the Little Italy bar to the sound of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” one of the great character intros in movie history, the rest living up to its kinetic promise, a film in which Catholic guilt earned its own dressing room.
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In the Blue Bar there were no table bells to ring, leaving you sitting stranded, making little hand wriggles to attract the attention of waiters who struck neoclassical poses at the bar like chipped pieces of statuary, to borrow an image from the novelist Anthony Powell.
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Her sexual forthrightness was the flip side of the pickup-artist swagger Pauline found so amusing, and here she was, seated on the edge of Pauline’s bed in the Royalton, looking up at me with licky eyes, as if I were that night’s barbecue special, or was that my tropical imagination?
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In her review of West Side Story, she talked about the unendurable vexation of dating someone whose movie tastes you didn’t share. “Sex is the great leveler, taste the great divider,” she wrote.

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