Hmmm. Cloudy day today here in West Hollywood. I am sitting at a sushi restaurant on Sunset Strip with my dear pal, Phil DeMuth, world’s most reliable human. The food is fine and Phil’s conversation is brilliant, as always. He is a super-smart analyst of family life and intergenerational dynamics. He and I often talk of our fears for the generations now in school or recently out of school, and how little they seem to know. They especially know little end of their feelings of entitlement.
We often talk about that woman at Columbia who carried a mattress around with her for a long time to mark what she called a rape. That was her senior thesis. Yes. At Columbia, my college alma mater.
Yes, the NYPD found no evidence of rape. The school found no cause to believe there had been a rape. But some worthy faculty member had told her she could get academic credit for carrying around a mattress and repeatedly demanding that the man she said had raped her be punished.
The man in question is suing her, Columbia, and her advisor. I hope he gets a billion dollars. For the school to sanction what seems to me to be unmixed libel, well, maybe mixed with a truly sad narcissism, is just a disgrace. Just an opinion from an old alum.
Anyway, Phil and I are talking and as we are talking, I am watching the men and women pull up in their Bentleys and their Aston-Martins and Maseratis and Ferraris and get out, walking proudly a few feet across the sidewalk to talk to their pals in Farsi or Arabic or Russian or whatever it was. They look tough. I mean, scarily tough and relentless.
The men and the women look terrifying. I am surely not talking only of foreign born. Everyone nearby looks terrifying. Tough. Twisted features. Angry. Cagey. Some have Brooklyn accents. Some have no accents at all.
I am talking to wonderful, trustworthy Phil, and I am reminded of when I first moved to L.A. in 1976 and looked at the women in their Rolls-Royces and Benzes in Beverly Hills. They looked so frightening I would pull off the road and go home to avoid their glare. It might turn me to stone.
So, as I am talking to Phil, I think, “Benjy, old sport, you’ve been here in L.A. most of your life. Why do the people on Sunset today upset you so much? Why aren’t you used to them by now?”
I am not quite fully senile yet, so I realize the answer almost immediately. One two syllable word: Greenville. You see, I have just come back from almost a week in Greenville, SC, with happy, clean featured, cheerful looking men and women. The Greenvilleans look like men and women from the 1950s. They don’t look twisted and corrupted by whatever moral virus has wrecked Los Angeles. If you walk down Main Street in Greenville, you see people who look as if they look forward to just going through their day, doing an honest day’s work, meeting their pals for lunch at Nosedive or the Poinsett Club or the Commerce Club or the Spoonbread Café, then strolling under the oaks and maples on Main Street to get sushi or barbecue with their families after work.
These people look as if they have found the secrets to a peaceful life — a happy, unstressful life, a life lived at life’s pace.
You sense it as soon as you land at Greenville Spartanburg Airport. In my case, I left behind the worst airport-waiting area in the world, gate 35X at DCA, the Room 101 (where you meet whatever you fear most, according to George Orwell in 1984, in the hero’s case, having rats eat out his eyes), gate 35X, a sardine can, and at GSP, you enter a spacious cheerful airport with travelers and family who are actually calm. Room 101, Gate 35X, is a million miles north. You sense it as soon as you walk down one block on Main Street. The people in GSP (Greenville-Spartanburg) know how to live.
How did they manage to remember it when we in LA lost it so comprehensively so long ago?
Anyway, Greenville: the coolest small city on earth. The land of pleasant living.
It was by the comparison of pickup truck people of GSP with the Bentley drivers of West Hollywood that I was so frightened. I had forgotten that there were so many normal people left. Of course, they are in Sandpoint, too, and Omaha, and Oxford, Maryland. But Greenville sits atop the heap for contented-looking people. I love it there. Don’t get me wrong. Hollywood has been great to me. But the view from Sunset Boulevard — once you have spent some time in Greenville-Spartanburg — is painful.
Another upsetting day. A dear friend texted me that she was in City of Hope, a cancer hospital about fifty miles from my home. She asked me to come visit her as she was infused. I was exhausted, so I asked my friend Robert to drive me there.
It was a hellish rush hour drive. When we got there, the reception desk had no record at all of my friend’s existence. A fantastically confused security guard stared at me for a long time, wondering if I could possibly be the man from the Clear Eyes commercial. I told him I was. His buddy at the computer asked if I was Henry Kissinger.
But my friend was not there. And no answer at her home. Like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. I went home and at about 11 PM, my friend called, sounding drugged out of her mind. Is she having delusions? Is she losing her mind? I don’t know. I just know I have too many crazy people around me and I want to go to sleep.
Before I do, I must harken back to Greenville. There we all are, hundreds of us, watching Scottish bagpipers, drinking beers (I don’t drink at all), laughing and carrying on in a lazy Spring evening (this was Saturday). All of this, I thought with prayerful thoughts, is because of the heroism of our fighting men and women, their families, their friends. The seas at Omaha Beach were jammed with American dead on June 6, 1944. The seas ran red with blood from wounds from German machine gun fire. U.S. Navy torpedo bombers attacked the Japanese fleet at Midway knowing they would die, that their torpedoes didn’t work, and men of my generation — incomparably bigger men than I, Larry Lissitzyn, John Keker — fought off suicide attacks by the enemy at Pleiku. Uncle Bob Denman fought the Chinese hand to hand at Cho-Sin and my father in law, Dale Denman, Jr. of Prescott, Arkansas, earned the Silver Star for combat gallantry near Zeitlen in 1945. My grandfather, David Stein, whom I never talk about, was a sharpshooter in the U.S. Cavalry in the fight against the Aguinaldo Insurrection in the Philippines over a hundred years ago.
All our merriment paid for by their courage and sacrifice. And I get the ultimate prize: the chance to spend my life in America with the world’s most wonderful woman, my wifey, who walks on water and has no meanness of spirit in her at all. None. Not any.
If being devoid of empathy is the sign of a criminal, my wife is an endless beaker of empathy, and that makes her my saint. She is a perfect Southern woman. A perfect American, an infinite distance from those gargoyles in their Aston Martins on Sunset Strip.