You have to live in Manhattan to know how hot it gets here in the middle of August. The only film I can think of that conveys the sheer awfulness of the kind of heat wave that now has us in a tight, slimy stranglehold is Rear Window, whose noirish subject matter puts me in mind of one of my favorite Raymond Chandler quotes: “It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.” Alas, there was nothing dry about the heat in New York this weekend. No sooner did you step outside than it smacked you in the face like a steamy towel wielded by a sadistic barber. (See? Heat waves make everyone Chandleresque, or at least me.)
Saturday, the weather bureau warned us, would be especially brutal. Fortunately, mid-August is the slackest part of the theatrical year, and I had no press previews scheduled, nor was there anything else pressing on my calendar. I’d set the whole day aside for a friend of mine who’s moving back to California next week. I slept late and was awakened by a phone call from her. Something urgent, it seemed, had come up at the last minute. Could we possibly reschedule our farewells for later in the week? I said sure and hung up. Then it hit me: I had the rest of the day off.
Being a recovering workaholic, my natural impulse was to sit down and start writing, or at least call a few friends in the hope of filling the empty hours ahead with activity. Instead, I went downstairs to collect the day’s mail and found in it a postcard signed with a totally illegible scrawl. It read: What have you been up to? I have not seen much of your stuff recently. Hope all is well. The comical notion of my not having been up to much lately snapped me back to my senses. What better way to spend a sickeningly hot Saturday than to stay inside and do nothing? My refrigerator was full, my DVR backed up with half a dozen unwatched movies, my desk stacked high with piles of unheard CDs, my walls covered with art that longed to be looked at. “The hell with it,” I said. “I’m staying home.” And so I did.
What did I do all day? I caught up on my e-mail and took a nap. I watched Young Man With a Horn, a deliciously absurd film about a Bix Beiderbecke-like jazz trumpeter that features a lovely piece of acting by Bix’s real-life friend Hoagy Carmichael, and Colorado Territory, Raoul Walsh’s 1949 scene-by-scene remake of High Sierra, in which the middle-aged gangster originally played by Humphrey Bogart is turned into a black-hatted Western bandit played by Joel McCrea (believe it or not, it’s better than the original). I listened to an advance copy of a gorgeous new CD by Trio da Paz that comes out next month, and finished reading the pre-publication galleys of Tunes for ‘Toons,
a fascinating new book about music in animated cartoons.
The hours flew by unregretted, and at length it was eight-thirty, time for dinner. I ventured outdoors in the still-startling heat, strolled over to Good Enough to Eat, and treated myself to the special, Cajun pork tenderloin with peach chutney. Carrie, the owner, came by my table as I was savoring the last morsel. “What on earth are you doing here on a night like this?” she asked. “Did you know today is the restaurant’s twenty-fourth birthday? I’m so glad you came!” Then she signed my check and told the waitress not to take my money. On the way home I looked up and saw an orange half-moon glowing comfortingly in the warm black sky.
In the morning I headed down to the Village to brunch on apricot-and-banana pancakes cooked by a very nice intercontinental businesscouple with an arty streak (he plays bassoon, she violin). Afterward I stepped into the waiting elevator and was joined on the next floor by a gaunt, black-clad woman holding a small robot in the shape of a dog. She cooed at the robot and stroked it tenderly, and it made affectionate-sounding noises in return. “Very convincing,” I told her as we got off and walked through the lobby. She glared at me and stalked away. Laughing, I hailed an unairconditioned cab driven by an unwashed sociopath who unceremoniously whisked me back to the world.