"I'm not a good guy. I mean, I don't hurt anybody. But I don't help, either."
This quote is by Louis C.K. and fronts a new Scribner/Simon and Schuster book titled "I Wear the Black Hat" by Chuck Klosterman.
The sub-title to this slightly mysterious ominous work reads: "Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)."
What I've read so far seems to be about the banal nature of evil in this world. Most of us have been wondering about a debased culture where manners and restraint have disappeared. People are famous for being total jerks, lechers, strumpets -- and things like that!
So, I'll tell another story, just for the heck of it. I went up to the Guggenheim Pavilion of Mt. Sinai Hospital to see my longtime friend Shirley Herz. (This theater maven had just had brain surgery for a blood clot.)
I went from the entrance to the front desk with her room number, trekked to the room with explicit instructions, was told she had been moved back to ICU and was given a mysterious direction to another floor and number. The pavilion is a modern, huge beautiful space.
I went back to the front desk -- a mile or so -- and then followed instructions to the intensive care unit. But there is a paucity of signs and instructions and long, long pristine hallways. I eventually found Shirley, but could not see her because she was in a sterile atmosphere and was going to be heavily sedated. Nobody had this info at the front desk and that is probably rightly so.
All understandable and alarming, but after chatting with two other friends trying to visit Shirley, I didn't see any point and left. Now I was completely lost. But I do want to emphasize that every time I stopped a busy worker in the hall, they paused to point out where I should go to leave the building and some even gave up their chores to escort me down long hallways and to mysterious elevators that led out.
On the street were hordes of New Yorkers tripping, ignoring and road-raging one another, but inside, everyone I asked, stopped and tried to help me. I was so impressed and not inclined to feel negative about the two hours I'd spent there trying to see Shirley Herz.
I thought of this that night trying to read Chuck Klosterman's book, which asks if people are inherently evil and tells the story of our choices. Maybe it's just this one hospital that is different. But I do salute the Mt. Sinai employees! Rude epithets rule and misbehavior and lack of concern is all around us, but those dedicated to spending their lives among true tragedy and illness may be different. I hope so.
I just closed a new book by the prolific Susan Crandall (she has written nine novels!) It is titled "Whistling Past the Graveyard" and is the latest pride and joy of its publishers -- again, Simon and Schuster. This is a work of imagination in the mind of a 9-year-old child that might remind you of Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" or Kathryn Stockett's "The Help."
Starla Claudelle is a saucy little girl who wants her family back. Her mother, Lulu, is in Nashville, having deserted her to pursue a singing career. Her dad works on an oil rig in the Gulf to support himself, Starla and his mother, Mamie, in Mississippi. Naturally, Mamie is hard-nosed and disciplinary, determined that Starla will grow up "to be a lady," imposing punishments and handing out chores.
So, Starla, of course, runs away from home and embarks on adventures. This tells the tale! It's a real winner!
Maybe you saw the "30 Rock" episode recently wherein the great actress Elaine Stritch offered her unusual "family values" to her son Alec Baldwin, thereby putting Tina Fey's ordinary family in the shade. Miss Stritch has been nominated for an Emmy Award for this particular performance.
Everybody asks me where Elaine is nowadays and what's going on since she retired to her hometown Birmingham, Mich.? I just talked to Elaine and she says she is "OK! Not loving it here or anywhere else. But I'm getting smart. I have all my stuff finally in one place. It's a condo. I care and I'm behaving myself and making the best of things."
She says she talks on the phone to Alec Baldwin a lot. "I love him and there is a documentary coming sometime in August," says Elaine. (It is hard to pin Elaine down as to what and when this really is!) "I am coming back to New York for the premiere of 'Elaine Stritch -- Shoot Me,' made by Michael Moore who is a real big deal!"
You could write Elaine Stritch at 289 Harman Street in Birmingham, Mich., suite 172, 48009. I can't give you the phone number because Elaine might kill me. She has had a contract out on me ever since 1953 when we first met in Chicago and decided that two people, born on Groundhog Day, should be lifetime friends.
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)