Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Midsummer Night's Fling

At this time on Thursday night, I was dancing to the music of Prince and Michael Jackson at Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park, a joyous participant in the Midsummer Night's Swing party. For $17, I gained admission to the dance floor and a set of headphones which piped the music directly into my ears. Over the space of two-plus hours, I danced with everyone and no one. It was Manhattan Magic, as good as summer in the city gets.

Now -- 48 hours later -- I am up in the Catskills, at The Love Shack, where I arrived an hour before Shabbat, with HOBB and our pooches in tow. With Middle Babe in Atlantic City on a bachelorette weekend, Little Babe at a music program at Brandeis University until early August and Big Babe still in Berlin, we had the rare gift of a private weekend.

I close my eyes and savor the sound of silence. At this hour, our bungalow is completely quiet, save for the whirring of the electric fan in the kitchen window and the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard of my Mac.

Beneath our bed, Alfie and Nala the Pomeranians sleep the deliciously deep slumber of the happily knackered. They ran to their hearts' content from the moment we arrived, shaking off the constraints of urban canine life. Outside my bedroom, HOBB* sits in the Adirondack chair that occupies about a quarter of the teensy living room section of our summer home, working on his laptop. Through my window, I hear the Russian family in the bungalow next to us talking over dinner, three generations strong. The muted sounds of the cars along School Road weave a blanket of white noise over the placid night.

Propped up against pillows on my full-size bed, I, too, am deliciously exhausted, wondering if I should forgo the Saturday night show in Rosmarin's "casino" -- a barn-like building on the camp side of the campus, just across School Road -- in favor of staying in and continuing my reading binge.

Today, over a late afternoon game of Scrabble**, I finally finished Susan Jane Gilman's Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, a tedious and irritating memoir that I had bought at La Guardia airport two months ago, on the way to Miami Beach with Middle Babe for her long-overdue college graduation trip.

Having giddily grabbed it off the shelf while sprinting to the gate where our flight was in the process of boarding, convinced -- by the hyberbolic cover copy -- that I had found the work of a kindred spirit, I was utterly crushed to discover that like Eat. Pray. Love. (another popular memoir I hated) Gilman's book is completely charmless.

When I came to the final page, I tossed the work onto a chair with equal measures disgust and relief and picked up Raymond Chandler's The Little Sister -- a book I had taken to reading alongside Hypocrite.

Chandler's prose worked on my agitation like an antidote; it soothed me with its terse, staccato beauty. The palpable noir world Chandler constructs enveloped me. I picked up the action just as a dead man shows up at Philip Marlowe's door, bleeding profusely, "as heavy as five men." I was instantly hooked.*** (The rest of my critique of Hypocrite appears below, at the end of this blog post.)

"I'll be ready to go in 10 minutes," I called out to HOBB about 40 minutes ago. Shortly, I will change out of my shorts and bathing suit and maybe have some coffee. Of course I cannot miss the Rosmarin's Saturday night casino show. Even if the comedian is bad, it will be great. And then, there's the dancing afterwards to the house band.

After sundown, at the sighting of three stars twinkling in the Catskills sky, we made havdalah -- the ceremony marking the end of Shabbat and the start of the secular week. Holding a braided candle high, I sang to HOBB, "Shavua Tov!" -- May we have a good week! Together, we sipped wine and breathed in the sweet perfume of the mint that grows in front of our cabin, recalling the sweetness of the Sabbath day -- delicious meals, our leisurely breakfast, our mid-day study session on the final chapters of The Book of Job with our havurah****, our long, late-afternoon visit to the lake, the intensity of our intimacy.

And so, I climb out of bed and begin to change out of my bathing suit and into the black lacy dress I wore two nights ago to the Midsummer Night's Swing, spraying perfume on the back of my neck, humming as I buckle my golden sandals. Having left the magic of Manhattan for the weekend, I give myself over to Bungalow Magic, the Saturday night show in the casino, the warm company of friends and summer-time neighbors, and, of course, the joy of dancing with no one and everyone, especially with HOBB.
*Husband of Bungalow Babe

**I won. Twice.

***Billed as a memoir, one of the central problems of Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress is that it lacks credibility. There are conversations and details Gilman recreates from her early childhood and onward that are simply impossible to believe. While it is clear that she considers herself a satirist, Gilman's writing style is glib, rife with wise-guy asides and one-liners about her antic, frantic life. Her conclusions are inconclusive and shallow. One chapter in, I was baffled as to why it had become a New York Times bestseller.

Yet I was compelled to finish reading the book, out of sheer curiosity and perhaps a tad of competitiveness (I had spent the entirety of my morning walk to Round Lake and back mentally charting out a new novel).  I wanted to understand why a publishing company saw fit to print this work, so on I slogged...reading half a chapter, throwing it aside, abandoning it and revisiting it over and over again.

To reduce my agony, I found myself skipping pages, looking for benchmarks in the narrative; anything to push things along.  Though much about Gilman's milieu is familiar in a New York/Jewish/Female/Writer way, aside from a party where she found herself talking to Mick Jagger, there is no episode in Hypocrite worth recalling, or retelling. 

****Jewish study group


Frume Sarah said...

Sounds like a magical Shabbat. Blissful...aside from that dreadful book. Enjoy your time.

Shira Dicker said...

Thanks, Frume Sarah. There is a torturous chapter and change about her stint at the NY Jewish Week and her reporting trip on a March of the Living which is cynical and snarky and shallow. When the insight arrives at the end (omigod...I'm a Jew! I might have perished in these death camps I'm being cynical about) it is far too late.