Wish I’d thought of that title. I’d put it on my business card, if I had one, because I am constantly explaining myself. This fabulous title is the mastermind of a new aquaintance I’ve met while walking my dog. This mastermind has a dog, too, and extremely expensive hornrim glasses that darken automatically to the same green/gray hue found on dollar bills. He’s smarter and more worldly than the other dog walkers on the boulevard. Born and raised in a Manhattan infused with jazz and art, long before artists without trust funds were forced to relocate, he witnessed the greatest performance of all time: Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall. The experience entered his soul and filled his heart with the wisdom of pure genius. I could see Judy’s performance in his coutenance, his voice, his eyes behind the green tint.
He had seen “IT”. My heart ached because I had not seen “It”. I’d experienced things in life that were close to IT, but not IT, and now that Judy Garland was gone, I never would see IT.
The closest I would come to “IT” was a seltzer I’d shared with Liza Minelli at L’Hibiscus on St. Bart’s in 1992. I was hired to sing jazz at the club, being that it was a jazz club, but got stuck with a pianist from France who only played classical music. I was trying to swing “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing” and it wasn’t swinging. Not even close, which is when I learned that a jazz chart, when played note for note, sounds like country-western music.
My legs were caught up in my microphone cord. My silk dress, worn without a slip, (who brings a slip to St. Bart’s?) stuck to my damp, stressed body like plastic wrap. I snapped my fingers at the piano player in an effort to jolt any dormant hip-ness. At this moment, Billy Joel walked in with Christie Brinkley. He looked very depressed. She was wearing a quilted frilly Swiss Dirdel that had been highlighted in an especially tacky boutique on the island. He seemed to melt into the Bird-of-Paradise upholstery as he tried to disappear from his life. Liza, on the other hand, was having a grand time laughing at me. Her boyfriend, what’s his name, the pianist, wasn’t laughing. He was sneering with superiority at both me and my accompanist. I waddled closer to my pianist, the microphone cord pulling against my ankles, until I was in lock-down, unable to move.
Billy Joel in one corner, Liza Minelli in the other. A big moment. I hissed at the piano player, “We’ve got to swing this. This is a swing number, God Damn, do you understand!!?” The pianist, a tall, black, handsome bulk of a man, suddenly slammed the lid down over the key and slowly stood up. He towered over me. He just stood there. He didn’t say a word. Liza was laughing hysterically now. She started to applaud and called me over to her table. “That is the funniest thing I have ever seen!” she said. “A black piano player who can’t swing! You with the cord around your ankles! Brilliant!” She thought I was a comedienne. “I can see you on a theatrical stage, a one-woman show, the cord wrapped around your ankles, the piano player! Hysterical! You are the real thing!”
And we drank seltzer. And Billy Joel got up to leave and said, with earnestness, “Good Luck.” And Liza and her chubby boyfriend said good-bye. And that was IT. — At that point in my life, I did not know I was a comedienne, so I drank four martini’s in a row and staggered off to my room, horrified, depressed, confused, hyper-ventilating.
I’d blacked out the experience for ten years. It came back to me like a slap when my new aquaintance mentioned Judy’s performance. I wanted to say, “I had a chance at IT”, “I understand IT”, “IT’s something that’s IN me” “But I didn’t know IT and so I didn’t pursue IT” “I had IT” “I AM IT” Who was going to believe me? This new aquaintance, who had seen all the IT’s that could be seen during his years in New York? Did my ‘misunderstood artist’ story reveal my Irish ignorance and negativity? Was it sour grapes? Was it coulda-woulda-shoulda? Yes, it was, and no more.
I told the man I was a performer. I gave him my website address. We talked about being Irish and how the Irish often sabotage their success, shoot themselves in the foot, cut off their noses to spite their face. It was all happy, happy. Clever. A connection. He’s lived with an Irishman for forty years. An Irishman who has always wanted to be a painter, but only started two years ago, at the age of 68. “So” he said “Never give up.” And if I feel beaten down and washed-up, full of regret and “if only’s” what do I say if I give up? Have I given up? — I’m Irish, that’s why.