Thursday, February 18, 2010

Dreams of a Jew and Goy

Observe the confluence of Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year (Tiger).

So many expectations and yearnings.

The “Domains” column of this past Sunday’s (February 14th, 2010) New York Times Magazine revealed the Manhattan rental apartment of Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent.

It was heartwarming to discover that Amanpour does not know how to cook.

I have not seen my own kitchen stove in several years. Our relationship was basically dysfunctional. We simply could not tolerate each other.

Last summer, I merrily indulged myself by going to see the movie Julie & Julia twice in the same week. It was playing at The Pavilion, right here in the hood. I laughed, I cried—but I still refused to make amends.

I used to try to cook, but all my attempts at the culinary art proved humiliating, even more humiliating than the time I auditioned to be a touring Muppet.

I had actually aspired to impersonate a toy.

The trial at The Jim Henson Company took place while I was still living in Chelsea, on the island of Manhattan.

Caetano Veloso’s version of Rodgers & Hart’s “Manhattan” changes a few words; instead of “dreams of a boy and goil,” his rendition cites “dreams of a Jew and goy.”

That is just the type of thing my mother would have picked up on immediately. She was exasperated by Joan Baez’s alteration of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” The distinctive lyrics “For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind” were flattened to “ ’Cause she’s touched you, and she’s moved you, and she’s kind.”

I think my mother would have found Veloso’s change of the “Manhattan” line very amusing. We were crazy about a Lower East Side bialy bakery.

When I was working as a figure model, my mother was impressed by my range. Besides drawing and painting classes, I posed for sculpture classes. “You mean they’re putting up statues of you?” she asked.

The sculptors measured my flesh with calipers.

(I am remembering all this because of the current frigid temperatures. At art schools, I often posed in cold studios that employed inadequate space heaters.)

My mother predicted, “Someday, Hollywood will pay you a million dollars to take off your clothes!”

Way back at the celebrated House of Chan, on West 52nd Street in Manhattan, show business clientele befriended the young maitre d’, Kim, who offered them drinks on the house.

A famous white bandleader asked Kim to find him some attractive young Chinese ladies.

Kim’s father, Lem, developed a crush on a famous white chantoosie.

A famous and infamous white actress with an enormous appetite grabbed Kim between the legs and proclaimed, “I’ve got to have a Chinaman tonight!”

Life was work and work was life, because that was what immigrants knew.

Near The House of Chan stood movie houses. The fare was in English, still a mystery to Kim, but he surreptitiously devoured whatever was screened.

There came an evening when Lem demanded to know what his son had been doing for the past few hours. Out of Kim’s mouth spilled words catalytic as well as false: “I washed my socks.”

Lem’s response lacked empathy and compassion. He grabbed an umbrella belonging to one of the paying customers blissfully gorging on duck or lobster. Lem whacked. The umbrella broke.

But Kim did not. He went to work for some of the show business people that Lem considered trash.

Last year, some longtime pals discovered a DVD of one of Kim Chan’s early (April 17th, 1951) live television appearances.

In “The Juiceman,” a previously “lost” episode of the series Suspense, he was a thug who twisted the arm of a Chinese-American schoolteacher played by Cloris Leachman.

Lem Chan’s instructions: “If you have a talent, keep it to yourself.”

The site of The House of Chan is now a Rosie O’Grady’s.

No comments:

Post a Comment