Pictured here is my amazing cousin Martine, as featured in a lengthy New York Magazine profile. Ironically, though she shares my suspicion of DNA bonds, she’s a new millennium incarnation of our outlaw grandmother Masha Rubenfire. A Polish Jewish immigrant who ran a successful Salem, Mass, brothel, Rubenfire made it all happen when her schnorrer husband ditched her with two small kids and no language skills. Martine–who looks more like Rubenfire than anyone else in our family does–has constructed a gender reality, a financial reality, a relationship reality, a technological reality, and a spiritual reality not only for herself but for others, including me. Say what we will but the blood is fierce in our line. Rubenfire helps from beyond the grave.
Used to be, when I came home, my permakitten Grace would come sauntering to the door. It wasn’t like she catapulted into my arms as my dearly departed calico Maxiemillion Rosmoon always did. She’d greet me more like–Oh! You’re home? I just happened to be walking down the hall and here you are. Still, as I put down my things, she’d bump me—casually, super-casually—until I lay down on the floor and scratched behind her ears. It was a perfect ritual for shedding the mishegos of the outside world, and I appreciated it all the more for the effort it required of my normally reserved cat.
Nowadays, I don’t hear word one from Little Miss when I come home. Frankly, I blame it on the Magic Chair. Ever since I dragged it home from the Hamptons earlier this summer, Gracie has spent all her time lolling in its wooden splendor. She doesn’t sleep with me anymore, she doesn’t perch on my legs as I write, she doesn’t even trot around the apartment, prowling for evil, evil dust mice. She just snuggles in that blasted rocking chair, communing with the Good Grandpa Ghost who came with it. I get the sense that he caresses her all day long, rubbing her striped belly and purring softly like the mommy from which she was mysteriously separated when she was but a month old. (We found her as a still-bleating baby, mawing Doritos and malt liquor from trash cans like all the other toughies on the block.) The other day, when I was very stuck on a review, I displaced her briefly so I could soak up The Chair’s good writing energy–this grandfather liked authors, methinks–and she glowered until I ceded what she apparently now regards as her rightful throne. Twas no joke, I assure you.
I’m torn: I miss my tiny friend’s companionship but am glad she has found a way to quell the anxiety that has plagued her since she was small. To that end, I leave a small glass of water every night on my ancestors’ altar for this grandpa of another man–I know his spirit boasts an uncomplicated kindness that only can be good for us both—and I have placed a striped cushion on the chair to make my sweet friend even cozier. Even witch’s familiars need familiars, and it is my duty to respect that.
We Americans pretty much never shut up anymore. With all the technological advances of the last 20 years, there are virtually no moments left in which we have to sit and grapple with the sadness that can lurk in modern life. Only an increasingly rarified strain of cinema offers the stillness our days so sorely lack, and, at their best, such films allow us to channel ourselves with a quiet that we moviegoers crave more than we realize.
European filmmakers have always proved quite handy with quiescence; the confidence and depth it requires distinguishes such masters as Bergman, Fellini and Tati. Not surprisingly, Americans emulators have produced more varied results, as if we’re such a young nation that we’ve yet to stop fidgeting. (Woody Allen’s efforts in this area are especially awkward; his Bergman knockoffs are best forgotten.) Of today’s American directors, only Richard Linklater and Ira Sachs seem fully capable of burrowing into that cinematic silence which can yield old-soul lessons and pleasures, and I believe it’s no coincidence that their latest projects have proved the film events of the year so far. In “Boyhood,” Linklater slows us all down by making time itself his central character. Now, in “Love Is Strange,” Sachs has created a moving picture that looks and feels like a still life—a happier sort of “Scenes From a Marriage,” if that film were an enlivened oil painting featuring an older gay New York couple. Continue Reading →