Pulse

“I was looking at their ages…[they] might’ve been out for their first night at a gay bar…” someone says on the radio. “Seeing, you know, what I consider to be children have to face this…”

I consider them to be children, yes. Older than the children at Sandy Hook, at Columbine, but still children. I consider myself to be a child at that age. In my early ‘20s. In 2005. In Orlando. In Pulse.

“We went there,” a friend says on the phone, “we went there all the time.”

I remember going there and pacing around the block for an hour before deciding to go in. Or was that another club? That was another club. It could have been any club. It could have been me, it was not me, it is with me, it is over me, a large black umbrella that was handed to me a long time ago and it was not heavy at first but I’ve been holding it so long that my hand is shaking.

“You seem focused,” a roommate says as I unload groceries.

“I lived in Orlando.” I say. “I was at that club every weekend.” The roommate is holding the refrigerator door handle but I don’t realize and reach for it; I accidentally grab his hand, he instinctively pulls away, I open the refrigerator. I place bags of celery and carrots on cold shelves.

I reread the names, the ages. I look at their pictures again. I feel as though I am attending the ceremony of the dead in Sartre’s The Flies, where the departed souls return, enraged. They are rattling me like a chandelier in an earthquake. I want to sit in a gay bar and drink. I want to go to a gay club and dance. I want to have sex with as many men as possible. But I am in recovery. I am celibate. I am not going to do any of these things. So I get a Judy Garland film from the library. I Could Go On Singing.

Judy plays Jenny, a part written for her, a part that is her. Dirk Bogarde plays her ex, David. “I can’t be spread so thin. I’m just one person,” Jenny says to him, slightly drunk but getting sober. “I don’t want to be rolled out like pastry, so everybody get a nice big bite of me. I’m just me. I belong to myself. I can do whatever I damn well please with myself and nobody can ask any questions.”

On the radio they are interviewing someone who is placing white carnations and notes on the car windshields of family and friends of victims as they meet with the FBI. The note says, “You are loved.”

David starts to say he loves her, but Jenny places a finger on his lips. “Don’t – don’t say it. Because if you said it now, and if you didn’t mean it – I think I’d die – I think I’d die.”

The Passion According to St. Kate

Of course you could have written it better, but you never would have written it. The bi-oh-my-ography of Kay Thompson. You were too busy live-live-living it. It’s like Oscar Wilde said, “[a second-rate poet] lives the poetry that he cannot write. The others write the poetry that they dare not realize.” And it’s like Samuel Taylor said, “I think a true talent for living has the quality of creation…I’d rather live a first-rate life than paint a second-rate picture.” Except that it’s not like either. You drove Wilde and Taylor-made them both, because you could do both – live and create – and what’s more, you could live a creation and create a living.

When you wrote Eloise, it was simply publicizing a character you’d grown into since birth, the most grown up child of all, who lived at the Plaza and was the death of the management. So they invited you to live there for free and you carried on where the book left off.

And after vamping an American Vogue editor in Paris with Funny Face and wearing the pants in America’s relationship with women’s wear, you master mixed the American segment of the Palace of Versailles restoration benefit fashion show,* whipping up, as one assistant described it, “a frenzy…these were not kids at a rock concert. These were the wealthiest kings, queens and royalty of Europe.”

Even while you were showing Judy Garland how to rise and shine, you became Liza Minnelli’s god and mother, steering her career with one hand and drinking a can of Coca-Cola with the other, just because it was the perfect shade of red. When you were tired of driving, Liza gave you an apartment and became your mother until you died. Then, in an electric eulogy, she did a tribute performance of your best songs and arrangements. It was “a lot of hard work, a lot of sense of humor, a lot of joy and a lot of tra-la-la!” Which was how you described the secret to life. But your life was no secret. It was created for everyone to see.

Many thanks to Sam Irvin for his comprehensive and incomprehensibly good book, Kay Thompson: From Funny Face to Eloise.

*Kay directed the models like a poet with Tourette Syndrome: “Elocution with your arms. Vocabulary with your fingers. There’s a bird trapped in your hair. Walk like you have ice water in your brassiere,” and selected a soundtrack that consisted of Curtis Mayfield’s “Superfly” and Cole Porter.