During the Depression a little over 60 million people in America went to see movies every week — that translates to over 3 billion pairs of eyes in front of a screen over the course of a year. When you think about how many Google searches there are in a second (63,000) and in a single day (over 5 billion) and how many people are parked in front of their devices — all the time — it’s a little unsettling.
In the 1930s people spent 90 minutes watching a movie. Now I don’t know how long people spend watching their screens, but it can’t be good.
Why am I talking about this?
Because, until a few weeks ago, I had stopped blogging.
I think the most basic reason is because I’m getting older. Time seems more finite and I want to spend it living, not watching. Reading is an entirely different story. We’ll talk about fabulous books I’ve read this year in a later post. Right now it’s time for this week’s excerpt from the novel.
HOLLYWOOD & MINE
“People in the East pretend to be interested in how pictures are made, but if you actually tell them anything, you find they are only interested in Colbert’s clothes or Gable’s private life. They never see the ventriloquist for the doll.”
Life is a series of metamorphoses. Some of them get more airtime than others. I remember once waiting in a gynecologist’s office to see the doctor. There was his desk, on the walls family pictures, on the shelves, some weighty texts. I was curious about hot flashes, so I pulled one of the volumes and flipped to the index. There was a single page referenced, and on the page one paragraph. It said, to paraphrase, that your internal thermostat might go haywire, the medical establishment wasn’t sure why, they hadn’t really studied it much, and the publication’s advice was: dress in layers or take supplemental estrogen and don’t worry about it. Oh. And it (it, meaning menopause) can go on for ten years.
That’s a long time.
Jane, Polly, and I all had our own take, which we discussed frequently. My favorite meeting place was the fastidiously refurbished Sunset Tower, a last bastion of grace and vertical Art Deco on the billboard pocked Sunset Strip. When I first arrived in Los Angeles the building was a ramshackle remnant of a bygone age, once it had hosted elegant apartments but that was long ago. At first notable stars and notorious mobsters made it their home but in the decades that followed it fell into disrepair, prompting one of its last tenants to greet his guests, “Welcome to Beirut West.” When I was in my twenties it was largely uninhabited. Up top in the penthouse though — driving by around Christmas, when the rest of the building was dark — lights would glow in the windows and I could make out a tinselly tree touching the scaffold where once there was a ceiling. I fell in love with it then, majestic, forlorn, and romantic.
At the Tower Bar Jane would enter into a lengthy peroration about menopause between sipping on a Moscow Mule and biting on a pig in blanket. Menopause, she said, was a return to our quintessence, once the hormonal tides that ruled creation had subsided. I broke out into a grin that was going to grow into a giggle; instead I lifted my chin and waved at an imaginary friend across the room. “Billie,” she said, former nanny on display, “Eyes front.” I redirected my gaze. “Do you know what a quintessence is in the study of physics? It’s a field of dark energy, everywhere and in everything — it’s the stuff that makes the universe expand.”
Polly raised her glass and clinked it against mine. She was relieved and relaxed once her periods stopped, forever shed of any thoughts of expansion. Natalie was an anomaly, but she did have a very interesting viewpoint. “I’ll tell you. Let your hair go grey. Seriously, look around. Nobody, but nobody, here does it. It’s an instant signal of wisdom and maturity, and if you’re tired of the once-over, that momentary summation of your entire being by every man you meet based on your ability to carry his seed, well, that suddenly stops. And I wouldn’t know about menopause.”
Polly said, “What’re you talking about?”
“I’m still having my period every month.”
Jane was astonished. “I thought you were 60?”
“I am,” Natalie replied.
“Damn, no wonder your skin looks so good.” I said.
“Do you know you’re born with every egg you’ll ever have? That means mine are 61.” Natalie shook her head, like a disapproving aunt.
“So the guys don’t give you the once-over, but you can still, theoretically, have a baby.” Polly stated.
“I’m not about to test that theory out, but yes. My child would be wise beyond their years.”
“So you’d give birth to Yoda—” I said.
“Nap time not to be! Tantrum I will!” Jane chimed it, and we, the former nannies, all lost it.