Coincidences certainly enliven life. Especially if one is aware of them as they occur.
Early this month, I uncovered a book I’d bought some time ago. That edition had been catching dust hidden beneath a pile atop a table. Funny thing is chance only revealed the particular title after I accidentally knocked over the short stack obscuring it.
Like Charles Foster Kane and his snow globe, I grasped the book and all the past it restored.
Eve’s Hollywood the title, written by Eve Babitz. She died in December 2021. I first read her in 1977. How I became a fan of her work emerges from dumb luck circumstances of more than four decades ago.
To me, Babitz is a latter-day Dawn Powell. Both writers were women who didn’t know their places or thought anywhere was her place. If one hews to traditional male prerogatives then it’s the first; if a reader believes gender shouldn’t limit possibilities and exploration, then surely it’s the second.
Powell chronicled postwar New York Café Society. Her work is wry, her observations astute and cutting. Babitz arrived on the literary scene 20 years later. A Californian, an Angelena at that, she was privy to an intermediate layer of the movie industry as well as demonstrated an audacious precociousness as a girl that developed into an expansive womanhood.
The 1960s’ changing mores and attitudes are probably the greatest shifts in societal comportment and thought America will ever experience. Babitz enthusiastically pushed those limits through what conventional thinkers may mistake as devil may care conduct. Instead, let’s see such as escaping expected bounds and becoming the fullest woman possible.
Only through fortune have I read Babitz.
Back in 1977 I was a university freshman at Arizona whose mental clay waited to be kneaded then shaped. If 18-year-old me considered that last sentence at all at the time, I would’ve believed this sculpting solely took place in classrooms. Happily immersed in a wider wilder world among more diverse humans, while given greater freedom with its attendant responsibilities, being an eager student sorely and thankfully proved that assumption wrong.
There’s book learning, then there’s curiosity and sating it.
Throughout March 2014, I presented a three-part fictive version of that time. Intrigue the Boy, Three Kimonos, His Azure Adventure Ends. Before writing this, I returned to those chapters to see if they creaked. Eh. Can we truly be objective about ourselves?
Did I maintain the proper observance of an older man reflecting on events involved in as someone younger? Now in my 60s, I’m smarter, more knowledgeable. Then, I was hormonal and callow. Who wasn’t?
And it was fictive because using the third person opened the telling. That device wasn’t resorted to from shame. This mechanism lessened possible confusion. Details could be sharpened or parsed completely to strengthen episodes and escapades. Real life does not operate as smoothly as fiction. The truth can be constrictive.
Who didn’t know that?
So, early this month I reread Eve’s Hollywood. I hadn’t looked upon those pages in ages. In 1977 I been lent the owner’s prized hardcover edition. Again, this was back when people valued books. Being entrusted with one wordlessly demonstrated a kind of deep faith.
When first read, the situations Babitz chronicled were unfamiliar as were many of the people and sites referenced. These were plenty to absorb and compute. And lacking the background then, I admittedly missed acres of her narrative. Same with her other books that I read then and would later reread.
Before the internet made digital editions available or eased possibilities of buying hard copies from myriad vendors nationwide, one actually had to haunt secondhand booksellers to find Babitz titles. She’d gone out of print.
During the 90s on a Tucson visit, I struck literary gold in a used-books store’s aisles. Not only did I mine a copy of Sebastien Jaspriot’s Sleeping Car Murders (if this French author known in America, it may be for the movie version of his A Very Long Engagement) but found a paperback edition of Babitz’ Slow Days, Fast Company. The latter had a distinctly 1970s style cover. It was way too flunky for the cooler graphics of the Clinton years.
Nonetheless Babitz’ scarcity developed a legion of fervid adherents, younger readers mostly who not only “rediscovered” Babitz, but “revived” her. Foremost among them let me place writer Lili Anolik.
Perhaps Anolik’s February 2014 feature in Vanity Fair magazine of Babitz was the impetus behind her work being reissued and sparking renewed reverence for the author. A VF subscriber, seeing the subject relighted out of nowhere stirred me into remembrance.
My March 2014 feuilletons had as their featured figure a woman body and soul kindred with Babitz. If my math is correct, she and the author were contemporaries. Both shared the same attitudes. The woman on my pages unquestionably idolized Babitz, and who knew, random as life is/was maybe in the former’s prior profession the pair could’ve crossed orbits.
How might that have gone?
Unfortunately or fortunately, those precious years in journalism imbued in me a logical disposition some might mistake as Vulcan. Or with an indifference that could chill a Borg. Having been around celebrities, having grown up among people with money, while I may admire or detest such luminaries I can’t be dazzled. And having been privileged to have met a literary fave or two, each older then than I thought I’d ever become – Funny how age works out, huh? – I wonder if the cool absolutely in control woman encountered at my 18 might’ve possessed the same equanimity had she ever met the figure from whose writing she took guidance?
Let me reject any notion the woman who enhanced my 18th year would’ve gone wobbly in front of her idol. Rather, I prefer an image of author and fan girl appraising each other favorably during their meeting.
Jump to the here and now in Las Vegas.
Between the rodeo packing up and leaving town in mid-December and midway into January, weeks of cold settle upon Southern Nevada. Okay. A chilly stretch. If you’re from the Northeast or Midwest, you know if you’re not shoveling snow or scraping ice it’s not cold. But in the Mojave, long-time residents somehow believe 50° days and nearly freezing nights portend the Second Coming of the Ice Age.
Break out the mukluks, people!
A day or so after what passes for winter abated, I drove home beneath a pastel-blue afternoon sky whose sun already huddled low in the west. About 60, therefore a nice shirtsleeve day, I’d rolled down the window to catch some air. At an intersection with the common to Las Vegas interminably long red light, a woman driver stopped beside my car. Her window was open as well. We inspected each other.
White hair pulled back and tied into a ponytail, glasses upon a face indicating a long life returned my gaze. A handicap parking tag hung off the rearview mirror. She spoke first, asking where I was from originally. A former North Jersey resident, she knew my New York hometown.
Seeing my window open, the other driver saw me unlikely of having been a Nevadan. We were still warm-blooded. We had a laugh of recognition then exchanged brusque observations about our respective hardiness and Nevadans’ lack thereof.
Nonetheless she was glad to have relocated to the Mojave. Enduring age-related infirmities as she was in Southern Nevada, these would’ve had her further bent and aching had she remained in New Jersey. I commiserated. Indeed, both our leap over tall buildings in a single bound days sat behind us.
The Adventures of Superman reference elicited chuckles from us both. Seconds before the glacial signal light turned green and we diverged, she confessed, “To be honest this part of life never even crossed my mind when I was laying all those 18-year-olds.”