issue 30 > slavitt tribute > rudman
The Race is Not to the Swiftby Mark Rudman
Anyone who hasn't had a private performance, with David doing all the voices for the opera he wrote in collaboration with Frederick Wiseman, should immediately sign up. I had the chance to spend some time with David when he lived in Philly and I was travelling to Rutgers, Camden to teach one semester. I can see David now, waltzing through the numerous tergiversations (if that's the right word) embedded in the music and lyrics, both of which he sang, as I see him now, simultaneously, while I relaxed in a deep light green sofa so I could sink deeper when David returned to lean over me slightly while conducting a passage and transferring the pleasure he was taking to me. This barely scratches the surface of the kind of fun I've had with David. This and the absolute candor and abandon of our conversations. (Ok, I admit it, we're both Jewish, and I for one, among my few regrets, regret I was never pleasant at the legendary manic laugh fests in the company of Mel Brooks, Joseph Heller, Philip Roth...whomever...but hanging with David is as good as I could do "one to one.") Then there was, not his fiftieth birthday party, but his fiftieth book party. At his party, where he could not escape from the burden of addressing the guests, comprised of family and his friends none of whom thought twice about the distance to Philly from Patagonia, or the expense of travel, but just-showed up-
he interrupted his "speech" with a look of such severity that it set of a fusillade of laughs. There I saw how loved he was by his children. And a few symptoms of jealousy among some of his anonymous guests, one of whom was muttering, in a drunken atoll, "fifty books...what does it mean?...," and I posed to him the same question that the otter Midge poses to Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (in a sequel to Born Free about an otter, which caught my special interest because I'm "completing" a book about a turtle who tells me what to write down through sonar): "wha wha wha wha wha?" which in our language and in this context means: give it a rest. And he should know that the tortoise who entered the poem is on his way to Cambridge as I write, he's so taken by David's poem…:
You pull in your head and legs and tuck in your tail,
to shut out the affronts and all the thoughtless assaults
as if they were from some other world, to withdraw
to that sweet dark and the reassuring rhythm
of your beating heart that cannot be broken again
by ex-wife, children, disappointing grandchildren,
as you endure, like a rock, inert, indifferent,
invulnerable…that's what we tortoises learned
over the millions of years, with each of us living
not merely decades but hundreds of years to add
his tiny hard-won grain of strategic wisdom
to the species' collective hoard. Inward, inward,
and let them say what they want, or not say, not even
talk, or even acknowledge you're there at the table.
The tender flesh that used to be feel such wounds
is hidden within the elegant shell they may use
after you're dead for combs or spectacle frames.
But you won't feel it, any more then than now,
and sooner or later, one way or another,
if noise stops, and you can stick your head out again.
I doubt that David engenders many neutral or moderate feelings or responses in other people, but to stand among people who truly love this most changeable of men, in addition to being among the most decent of men, is a privilege, a gift, and a honor. If this sounds phony I can only say I have eleven minutes before I hae to meet someone eleven NYC city blocks away from here and I haven't got the time to double think myself. I have always felt uncomfortable writing tributes, unless I could root them in an emotional connection rather than a canonized form of admiration for someone's achievements, which, among friends, and no one has too many, is, to use a word my wife Madelaine, who is very quiet, likes to use-…the rest is tacit. Love to DS.