caroline, yes

(8 december 2008)


despite the fact that i am not from new york, do not live in new york, and do not particularly love new york, it matters very greatly to me that caroline kennedy become the senator from new york.

i was trying to explain this to a friend the other day. how the election of barack obama was great and all and a huge step for racial reconciliation and hypo-allergenic dogs, but this was different. this was cataclysmic.

if caroline kennedy were put in a senate seat, we would officially have attained heaven on earth.

a huge fan of socialist monarchy, i harbor a fervent belief that, put simply, this is the kennedy family seat. rfk carpetbagged his way into it. jfk, jr. was going to snag it. it seems somehow fitting that it fall into caroline’s lap now.

and it seems somehow fitting that this outlandishly intelligent woman whose political role, until this past summer, has been confined to being the family delegate at state funerals of dead presidents, should finally- please, God!- leap into the fray.

i’m leaving town, baby/ i’m leaving town for sure

(12 april 2007)

once upon a time, in one of my editing groups, a girl got to bitching about the south. she used the term “backward.” she was talking about alexandria, virginia. i wanted to slap her and say, honey, you’d think mississippi was the third world, but the tall guy who never turned in his work quickly lept in to defend the charms of louisiana and the conversation turned elsewhere.

that happened three years ago and i’ve not forgot. maybe i never will. maybe because i kind of sort of think it’s true- an admission that is akin to standing amidst the daughters of the confederacy and bursting into a rousing chorus of “while we were marching through georgia.”

maybe this is the curse of the southern immigrant- one must endlessly defend the south while also harboring an extreme awareness of its inadequacies.

i adore memphis. at least i always did and even though i ran from it, i think i kind of still do. it’s my homeland, but not my home. and that’s a really bizarre thing.

i can’t begin to explain this city to people. it’s a politically incorrect, charismatic, strangely generous guy with a raunchy sense of humor and mismatched socks. you want to introduce him to your other friends, but you’re pretty sure the minute he opened his mouth, they’d know he’s bad news. aristotle onassis, but without the business sense or the millions- just the barstools.

that’s not an explanation though. it’s just a string of faulty metaphors.

to me, memphis is the most restless of cities. there’s a rhythm to the streets- as though the current of the river were shaking the bluffs and elvis was just humming along. while i’ve always loved this quality, it’s like dating someone who’s entirely too like you, so you just wind up driving each other mad. memphis and i are too similar. we’re too tightly wound. and that makes me want to run.

and yet there are these moments and there’s that river.

i called a friend once in the middle of a memphis moment, blubbering that i was driving down beale with the river ahead. i probably sounded drunk. because that means nothing to you if you’re not from memphis. if you are from memphis, it means the world.

because in the end, it all comes down to music and muddy water.

fight club


PART TWO

(miss PART ONE? go HERE)

First Ladies aren’t supposed to raise hell. Especially not widows. But Jacqueline Kennedy was no ordinary First Lady. When she beckoned William Manchester, her obstinate author, to the Cape that August of 1966, she greeted him with steely determination and in hot pink pants.

She had summoned Manchester in the hope of winning him to her side. She knew her charms and was adept at the soft sell. In Jacqueline’s view, if Manchester would agree that there was no genuine Kennedy-approved manuscript, Look magazine would be forced to cancel the serialization. The Kennedy camp, in turn, promised to compensate Manchester with a higher percentage of the royalties. Manchester just didn’t get it. He could not grasp that Jacqueline had wanted a book no one would see.

When Richard Goodwin, who was present, promised Death of a President would be published “with dignity,” Jacqueline amended that it would be published without “magazine hoopla and promotion.” Manchester was unmoved.

The talks rapidly devolved into a heated argument. Unable to dissuade the author from proceeding, Jacqueline fell into what Manchester later described as a “completely unrealistic” frame of mind, railing against Look, its publisher, and other books on President Kennedy: “She was going to fight, she said savagely, and she was going to win.”

In Jacqueline’s eyes, Manchester had failed. To make matters worse, he had betrayed her trust by including elements of the “frightfully emotional interview[s]” she had given and then denied her the cuts she requested. Suddenly, she had no control of a project that had initially been her’s.

Unable to garner Manchester’s cooperation, she invoked her last avenue of hope— the press— and flippantly boasted: “Anyone who is against me will look like a rat– unless I run off with Eddie Fisher.”

By mid-December, Jacqueline decided to sue. “I have to try,” she told a friend. “I can’t lose all that I’ve tried to protect for these years.” Thus, she set in motion what Time declared “the biggest brouhaha over a book that the nation has ever known.” Ultimately, Look capitulated and deleted 1,600 words. As Editor-in-Chief William Attwood boasted to the New York Post, “We gave up some slush; a little gingerbread’s off the top, but the structure’s intact.”

Jacqueline openly admitted that the deletions she requested were of no historic value, but that was precisely the motivating factor. She was taking pains to erase any detail that could be exploited by the popular press. Richard Goodwin made a note in the margins of the Manchester manuscript’s galley proofs that made this point. Around a passage in which the President and First Lady embraced before going to their separate bedrooms, Goodwin wrote: “Mrs. J.F.K. feels very strongly about this. Their sleeping arrangements, embracing, etc., will all be taken by Modern Screen, etc., sensationalized, cheapened. Asks if you will please take this out.”

The lawsuit was a hollow victory for Jacqueline. The passages she most violently objected to had long since filtered into the press. In December, Time published a bulleted list detailing half the passages that had been removed. As Cleveland Amory pointed out in Status and Diplomat: “Mrs. Kennedy . . . succeeded in publicizing the very things she did not want publicized, far beyond any publicity they would ever have had if she had not sued.”

The excerpts’ appearance in Look not only extended the book’s exposure to a much broader audience but also grievously commercialized the President’s death. The excerpts were printed on a high-quality paper to differentiate them from the rest of the publication, but advertisements were still included at the beginning and end of the passages, which, in the words of one commentator, created a sense that “This assassination has been brought to you by Goodyear Tires.”

Mrs. Kennedy strove to prevent the cheapening of her husband’s death, but she had inevitably become a participant in the very sensationalism she abhorred. Jacqueline later told Professor Joe B. Frantz, who interviewed her for the Lyndon Johnson Library’s oral history project, that the fight over the Manchester book was

the worst thing in my life . . . I’ve never read the book. I did my oral history with him in an evening and alone, and it’s rather hard to stop when the floodgates open. I just talked about private things. Then the man went away, and I think he was very upset during the writing of the book . . . Now, in hindsight, it seems wrong to have ever done the book at that time.

Publicly though, she treated William Manchester with extreme graciousness. Following the legal settlement, Jacqueline Kennedy released a laudatory statement to the press: “I think it is so beautiful what Mr. Manchester did . . . all the pain of the book and now this noble gesture of such generosity, makes the circle come around and close with healing.” A rosy view that wasn’t quite realized. Rather than closing the circle with healing, the Manchester controversy had, in fact, blown it wide open.

Just as Robert Kennedy’s attempts to stop the serialization had opened him up to accusations of censorship, so the lawsuit brought the former First Lady under attack in the press, particularly among the tabloids. In assessing the Manchester melodrama, the movie magazines were all over the board in their opinions. If this was to be the press’ first peek at the character “Jackie” was becoming—one who beneath the velvety surface was alarmingly avaricious—the press were not entirely sure what to do with her yet. And they were having a devil of a time assigning blame.

Some said “Jackie” was wronged by Manchester, by Look, by the press, while other publications dismissed her as “The big loser,” a selfish woman who’d pitched a public fit because she hadn’t gotten her way.

Perhaps the most fascinating article from this period is Screenland’s piece entitled “How JFK Would Have Stopped The Vicious Attacks,” wherein writer Judi R. Kesselman approaches the Death of a President controversy almost exclusively from the context of gender. Since it “was always the feminine hurts in the book that [“Jackie”] objected to,” “Jackie” “reacted purely femininely.” And, if anything, “Jackie’s” girlish impulse to protect her privacy only further endeared her to her female public: “We women understood why Jackie didn’t want a book to reveal whether they slept together or separately that last night [ . . . ] We women still love her, and feel she was right in wanting to keep her privacy.”

After a series of quotes that describe “Jackie’s hysteria” and her “unbalanced” behavior, we reach the conclusion that if John Kennedy were still alive, he would have deflected the attacks against his wife by reminding people that “Jackie acted like a typical woman [ . . . and] that it’s a fit and proper thing.” After all, “Only a husband can wink to the mass of men about him and say, ‘She’s my wife, poor, weak woman, and isn’t she a honey?”

To the 21st century reader, this is appalling. It’s hard to hold back, to resist the urge to launch into an academic discourse about how, by couching the argument in gender terms, Kesselman perpetuates stereotypes of feminine hysteria and reduces “Jackie’s” violated privacy to a feminine irrationality that would been prevented had a husband been present to calm her down, an assertion that strips “Jackie” of intelligence and reduces her actions to hormonal impulses.

But to readers of the time, this was nothing. In fact, it seems to have been, by and large, what they were looking for. In my correspondence with Judi Kesselman thirty-five years later, she still believed the article gave a realistic view of the prevailing attitudes: “Women who read the movie magazines liked to hear about hysteria and imbalance. It made them feel that their lives were better than they are, less hysterical and imbalanced. Believe me, a lot of women back then, stuck in unhappy marriages and consigned to drudge, felt they’d go crazy if they didn’t have the entertainment of reading a magazine whose women sometimes, for all their fame or wealth, were as unhappy as they.”

And what the women wanted, they got. In the coming years, this is who “Jackie” would become—a hysterical, imbalanced star. She would be put in an unlikely marriage and she would be unhappy. She would fight with her daughter and her husband and his mistress. She would become an insecure shopaholic. She would almost, almost become one of us. If the Manchester dramedy did anything, it was this—it shook up the tabloid formula and steered publishers down an editorial path in which their portrayals would become less positive, in which “Jackie,” the housewifely goddess divine, would be given clay feet.

Throughout “Vicious Attacks,” it is the men who are attacking our “Jackie,” but the great irony is that it was predominantly women who read the movie magazines and it was with the movie magazines in mind that Mrs. Kennedy had requested the deletions. As Manchester himself had noted, by May 1965 Jacqueline “couldn’t even take her daughter into a drug store, because every issue of every movie magazine carried her photograph.”

© faith e.

 

teddy

(26 august 2009)


teddy and i don’t go back very far. well, we do by default simply because he’s eulogized pretty much all of my biographical crushes, but i don’t have a big Teddy Anecdote beyond what i’ve said before:

i’ve dated teddys.

i feel sorry for teddys.

i want nothing to do with teddys.

teddys are bad, bad news.

teddy will be remembered for many, many things, but i think it is quite possibly teddy’s greatest accomplishment that he was able to overcome being a teddy and get something done. it was probably also his greatest sacrifice.

there was this moment on the evening january 20, 1961 when, in the grandstands of the national guard armory at his brother’s inaugural ball, the stunning joan kennedy leaned over to her husband teddy and asked if he was serious about moving to california to start a life completely apart from his family and their politics.

he was. but he didn’t. i shudder to think what america would be if he had.

long-forgotten fairytale

(31 october 2006)

once there was a lovely girl. your standard, average, lovely girl. we’re going to call her penelope. because that’s such an every(wo)man kind of name.

as a child, penelope was a commedienne. she was the queen of faces. a student of the lucille ball school of comedic facial distortion. her parents always admonished, someday your face will freeze like that. penelope did not believe them.

as a child, penelope was rather high-strung. she bit her nails nonstop. the warnings of her grandmother rang in her ears: there are worms under there. do you want to put worms in your mouth? penelope did not want to put worms in her mouth, but she didn’t want to give up the biting either.

the habit would persist into adulthood, when penelope would begin painting her nails garish colours in an effort to cease the barbarism. penelope’s mother frowned at the black lacquer. she said, you don’t want to get black stuff all in your teeth. penelope didn’t relish that idea, but she didn’t give up her nails.

penelope continued making faces and painting her nails and biting them. until one day.

on this day, penelope bit a black lacquered nail. sensing immediately that something had gone horridly wrong, penelope raced to the bathroom mirror. there it was. a rogue flake of nail polish on the number 9 central incisor. a simple thing to remedy, yes. but no.

this rogue flake of black nail polish had not been content to simply rest upon penelope’s number 9 central incisor. rather, it sought refuge within the gum tissue above. so that it was visible through the tissue yet entirely unreachable.

penelope promptly brushed her teeth. the rogue flake of black nail polish nestled within the gum tissue above her number 9 central incisor did not budge. she flossed as though her life depended upon it. if anything the rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor situtated itself more comfortably. penelope brushed her teeth six subsequent times to no effect.

she threw herself on the bed in exhaustion and frustration. and then it hit her.

penelope would go through the rest of her life with a rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor. as long as she lived, people would think she had something stuck in her teeth.

at all future christmases, penelope’s family would harken back to the days before that rogue flake of black nail polish became situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor. the family photo albums would now be divided into the era before the rogue flake of black nail polish became situated within the gum tissue above penelope’s number 9 incisor and the era after. if penelope were so lucky to find a man who could love a woman with a rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor, the rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor would inevitably dominate her wedding pictures. every dental visit for the remainder of penelope’s life would prompt a gasp of what is that rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above your number 9 incisor? when her husband stared deeply into her teeth rather than her eyes, penelope would know- the rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor was driving a wedge between them. the adolescence of her children would be marred by the rumors that their mother never brushed her teeth. and penelope had no doubt that her future husband would leave her for a woman who did not have a rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor.

all this because penelope was a lovely girl who did not care whether her face froze or whether she put worms in her mouth.

lying on the bed in exhaustion and frustration, with the rogue flake of black nail polish still situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor, penelope ruminated upon this tragic turn her life had taken. she instinctively went to her nails for solace, then detoured and grabbed the bag of fritos instead. she wiped her tears and bravely returned to the bathroom mirror to make peace with the rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor. but the rogue flake of black nail polish situated within the gum tissue above her number 9 incisor was no longer there.

penelope pulled a face and put the worms in her mouth.

and lo! we reuned

(2 june 2007)

our graduate school experience was very unique. or at least that’s what we MAPHers tell ourselves. for 9 months, we ran ammuck, dabbling through all the “humanities”- whatever the hell those really are. most graduate programs have 10 people. there were 100 MAPHers. there was The Core. there was always an open bar.

on friday night, lara and i ventured out into the pouring rain to the MAPH fifth anniversary reunion. we were soaked and we were none to thrilled. as we climbed the steps, she whispered, “i don’t want to do this.” “do what?” i asked. “what we’re doing right now.”

but did it we did. and thank God.

because had we not, i would never have balanced precariously atop tortoiseshell heels in the middle of the tasting room in a wet pink silk dress and had a most enlightening conversation with sensei.

nothing compares to the university of chicago alumni magazine. it’s like an AARP mag edited by louis menand. i had mistakenly believed the highlight of the may/june issue to be the supplemental publication devoted to the “living legacy” of The Core curriculum- a legacy typified by the cover girls, who sit among the stacks of the regenstein library staring at computer screens with what can only be described as expressions of apathetic doom.

i laughed and thought, that’s a fan-freaking-tastic summation of u of c life, and went on with my day. i didn’t even bother to check out the actual alumni magazine, CHICAGO. its cover was dominated by an unappealing ed asner clone hunched awkwardly over a hanging file. not exactly gripping so i blithely tossed it into the pile of tabloids and time outs.

because of this, i very nearly missed the tiny wonder that lay between pages 8 and 9. the tiny wonder that pointed out as i balanced precariously atop tortoiseshell heels in the middle of the tasting room in a wet pink silk dress. what tiny wonder, you may ask?

the temporary university of chicago alumni tattoo.

because yeah, everyone at the u of c has biceps like that.

my heart’s a tart

(28 august 2006)

placebo is one of my greatest guilty pleasures. they’re huge in europe and teeny tiny in america- aside from a substantial following of velvet goldmine obsessives and people who have dated me and thus been exposed.

they’re a pleasure because no one can rock the role of whiney voiced male lead quite like the beglittered, beautiful mr. molko. guilty because they’ve put out five albums with about one album’s worth of really awesome songs. so the ratio of awesome to dud is upsettingly high.

since the fall of 1999, i’ve been desperate to see them live. since then, i’ve missed seeing them live no less than ten times. in the spring of 2001, they were in new orleans two days after i left mississippi. in the fall of 2003, they were in chicago the week before i moved to town.

most infuriatingly, during the summer of 2003, they swept through europe, hitting london, paris, rome, florence, innsbruck, venice, koln, and amsterdam exactly 24 hours ahead of me, leaving in their wake a trail of promo posters. in venice, in frustration, i thieved one off the wall of a church, the irony in that somewhat lessening my annoyance.

but then, finally, at very long last, things fall into place: me. placebo. chicago. the riv. and oh the eyeliner!