I’m sick today, with the kind of head cold that would probably be sizably corrected by a stint in a bath of something mentholated and grimly medicinal. But I got into the bathroom to run the tap and was feeling enormous and sardonic and too Bea Arthur by half, and the prospect of an hour’s basting with Vicks felt like just another starless and wearying thing in a starless and wearying week.
So I took instead a few of the old glass bottles that line the tub’s edge and ran them in, and got in and closed my eyes and stayed very still until I felt appreciably more like Cleopatra swanning down the Nile, or an ill but very elegant girl in an English novel of the 1920s who was very smart and very brave and obviously going to die very very young. I stayed there until the bathroom took on some of that hotel bathroom glow, all divine scents and chrome fixtures and smart dark on the walls and then I wrapped myself in two bath sheets and hoped for the best.
Which was, it turns out, entirely futile: I’m still absolutely sick, still squinty and runny and moping theatrically around the house like Isadora Duncan with a migraine, but at least I smell delicious. Which, even when it’s only me here cocooned in this cloud of scent and slant of sun, makes for vastly more agreeable company for all.
The other comfort of my days is Eve Babitz. Who? You ask? By God, I say! Although that’s not entirely fair, because I only heard of her last November and it felt like a secret being passed along.
All the descriptions of her I’ve read – ‘A Joan Didion who parties’, ‘Hollywood’s Best Girlfriend’, ‘The Best Girl in America’, reportedly from a Beatle, – inevitably seem more about someone else than her. She was always more than the sum of her parts, which were nothing to sneeze at: the goddaughter of Igor Stravinsky, the (nude) star of the famous photograph of Marcel Duchamps playing chess, the periodic lover of Steve Martin, Ed Ruscha, Jim Morrison—Jim Morrison!! She was enormously talented –and, one suspects, behind all the cocktails, vastly more serious than credited to be-- but always in on the joke, launching her career with a fan letter to Joseph Heller that read, in its entirety:
Dear Joseph Heller,
I am a stacked eighteen-year-old blonde on Sunset Boulevard. I am also a writer.
She seems custom-engineered for cult status: the kind of sex appeal where glasses seem like a joke, an exacting talent unbowed enough by writerly neuroses to go for cocktails often in the middle of the day, to while away untold hours contemplating a friends’ unusually ravishing eye makeup or French lace skirt or funnily sexy way of smoking without entering a coma of self-recrimination. Sharp and clever and self-loving, with charisma that could level a building. And the kind of starburst persona who inspires even her detractors to rise to their best work; as a male contemporary once said, ‘In every young man’s life, there’s an Eve Babitz, and usually it’s Eve.’
She is also about as different from me, and maybe from you, as it feels possible to be. I read her moody, funny, atmospheric stuff (I particularly like Slow Days, Fast Company) and contemplate her aphorisms, like “sex is our art.” I reflect on the degree to which my art is not sex and then laugh for about thirty minutes and sometimes cry a little. And probably Eve’s languor and polyeverything looks about as natural on me as that time I tried Joan Didion’s famous packing list and spent an entire two weeks in Paris looking like a Missouri ballerina with a gland crisis. So I stick to my knitting, and she sticks, irreproachably and inimitably, to hers. But at least I get to take her tour of LA, cocooned here in my terry as snow falls and my head aches, and I imagine the sirocco whaling up 63 street, and being a girl seems a little more powerful for a while.