IN BED WITH ALEC BALDWIN
Each night I’m happily ensconced in my bed with Alec Baldwin. Let me clarify. I’m in bed with him; he’s not in bed with me. Given the movie sirens he’s bedded—Kim Basinger, for one—I’m not sure I’d be his ‘squeeze’, but he’s not to know. This is my private fantasy. I dive under the covers, plug in, tap on the app displayed on the lighted screen of my iPhone, and surrender to the story.
Alec may be in New York and I, in Melbourne, Australia but we have a long history, so maybe I’d better move backwards before I move forwards. I didn’t get a real lock on him until recently. Sure, in his earlier work his talent and good looks earned him a tick. Contrary to my personal bias, he pinned it when he said ‘Soaps are the best’, in reference to his hilarious portrayal of television executive Jack Donaghy, in the TV soap, 30 Rock. What was it about him that got under my skin? Could it be his tendency to thumb his nose at authority? To be ‘up for a fight’? To call out hypocrisy? I still wasn’t committed. There was something else about him.
I can overlook his tendency to be garrulous and a bit over-enthusiastic, for when he nailed President Donald Trump on Late Night Live, I had an epiphany. He had once said, ‘I wanted to be president of the United States. I really did. The older I get, the less preposterous the idea seems’. On LNL he channeled an actual President. It was Alec’s vocal expression that held me in its thrall; his inflection, speech patterns and rhythm demonstrated intellect and sharp powers of observation.
Yes, it was the voice. Each night Alec’s husky voice sweeps me away in my bed-come-magic-carpet to other places, other times. I invite him to my bed—beamed in over the airwaves from New York on NWYC.
His voice connects me to my past, my present and who knows what else?
I have long embraced the stillness of the night. Darkness brings a time for listening, a time for magic carpet rides, outrageous fantasy, even the macabre. Voices on the airwaves evoke almost-forgotten visual and sensory images.
As a child, I lived for a period in England with my war-obsessed grandmother from Liverpool. Each night as we snuggled under the blankets, she told me stories about the Liverpool Blitz, bloodthirsty ‘Boche’, and the smokestacks of Belsen. If I was lucky, she turned on the radio instead. The golden beam from the ‘wireless’ teleported the chilling anthem of The Price of Fear into the bedroom.
‘Glancing through an old book one day, I came across an old Scottish prayer to ward off evil spirits…’ Vincent Price’s sinister voice slithered like an oily sheath, over our recumbent bodies.
At those moments, I was glad she was beside me. Strangely, I grew to love that experience. Later, I broadened my listening menu to include more uplifting, cheering themes. This included Alec Baldwin’s podcast Here’s the Thing, beamed all the way Down-Under from The Big Apple, on NWYC.
‘I’m Alec Baldwin and you’re listening to Here’s the Thing, from I-Heart Radio. My guest today is…’ and I follow my Pied Piper down the labyrinth of streets, bridges and neighbourhoods that are New York, hearing the now-familiar names: Tribeca, Soho, Times Square, Staten Island, the Bronx, Manhattan, Midtown, Greenwich Village, Broadway—it goes on.
When I say ‘now-familiar’ New York streets, I speak of a week spent there recently with my sister Jenny and niece Kat. As a Canadian, I had often breached our southern border. From Montreal, it was a daytrip to the beaches of New York State; from Edmonton, Alberta it was a five-hour flight. Until then, I had taken for granted the version of New York City portrayed in sit-coms, with its patina Jewish and Italian idiosyncrasy. As a world traveller, cosmopolitan cities were no longer on my ‘to-do-list’, yet when my sister invited me to join them on a mid-summer escapade one August, I leapt at the adventure.
I should alert you that mid-summer in Alberta can be unpredictable. We had that fact confirmed in the small hours, the morning of our departure.
‘I hope the flight isn’t cancelled,’ Jenny’s husband said, as the tires crunched over the ice, and flurries of snow obscured visibility through the windscreen.
‘Whoopee!’ Jenny giggled as we buckled up for take-off. She leaned across me, gesticulating at the window. ‘That’s Alberta for you!’ A curtain of fat snowflakes swirled across the dawn-darkened runway.
‘It’s gonna be thirty-five degrees in New York, Auntie. Hold ya hosses!’ Kat laughed. ‘Nice and…sweaty.’
Upon arrival late that day, a wall of sounds, images and stifling heat rose up around us; Gospel Hall lay to our left, and Times Square with its long queues for Half-Tix theatre tickets, to our right. Our shared room offered a brief air-conditioned respite, and I flung myself onto the bed.
‘Get y’r skates on, Sis! You can do that later.’ Lanky Jenny hopped from foot to foot.
‘You’re in for a treat. We’re off to Ellen DeGeneres’ Starlight Diner.’ Kat laughed. ‘Don’t worry, it’s not far.’
Is this a warm-up? I cast a glance at Kat’s long, fit legs striding ahead. Hope I’ll manage this trek. At the diner, a legion of gigging Broadway talent eclipsed the iconic American fast-food menu. Stairways, balconies and tables became a stage, as the actor-waitstaff sang and danced their way through the hits of stage and screen.
Day-time New York brought resourceful African ticket vendors, squall-drenched double-decker bus rides across the Brooklyn Bridge, the John Lennon walk in Central park, visits to Little Italy and Little India. Slap-bang in the middle of it all, were 5th Avenue, ‘Museum Row’ and, of course, the 9/11 memorial. On Museum Row anti-Trumpers, a despairing socialite-gallery-volunteer, and a black woman at a bus-stop, filled me in on the latest local gossip.
With each day, my walking shoes squeaked louder and louder, reminding me of the aching feet I was trying to ignore. Jenny giggled at the sound; Kat was unstoppable. Up and down the stairs we traipsed, into the suffocating heat of the subways.
‘Here, Sis. Squash in,’ Jenny indicated a space between them on the seat.
‘Pull closer together,’ Kat held up the iPhone to take ‘selfies’.
‘Oooh, we look awful,’ Jenny and I both laughed at the photos. We flipped the iPhone camera to reverse and preened ourselves in the image, patting at our damp, dishevelled hair. Then we re-emerged on the streets, taking in breaths of slightly less hot air—and a new diorama.
Night-time along with the glitz, brought cold drinks and the cool depths of the theatre. T-shirted, photo-opping Newfies bussed down from Gander, swelled the ranks of theatre-go-ers at Come From Away. Another show, Respect gave voice through music, to the history of women’s rights.
At those times, I felt a twinge, recalling the London theatre trips Jenny and I had taken with our mother, in our girlhood. Our mother had loved those all-singing-all-dancing musicals. Until recently, I didn’t know she had performed herself. That was before she left Liverpool, home of the Cunard Line with its direct passage to New York—where she didn’t go. That was before marriage and immigration cancelled her stage-struck dreams.
I can still hear her voice, singing Broadway hits such as, New York, New York.
On the last day, we said our good-byes before returning to our respective destinations of origin. The exhausting pavement-plodding visit to New York turned out to be bitter-sweet. I didn’t expect the stream of shared memory, the tug at my heartstrings.
‘See you next year,’ we said. The warmth of their hugs and the love in their eyes lingered on. We couldn’t know the Plague would put that plan on hold.
Upon my return to Melbourne, I chanced upon Alec Baldwin’s podcasts on Stitcher. Since then, each night I return to New York and stroll those streets with Alec and his guests: investigative journalists, scintillating virtuosos, actors and public figures. Sometimes, I connect with contemporaries and other transplanted ex-pats: activists, singer-songwriters or even Robbie Robertson, Bob Dylan’s mainstay guitarist, former member of the Canadian outfit, The Band. In my night-time sanctuary, their voices call up sounds and images from my past, recharging my sources of energy and inspiration.
The written word, whether in song, poetry or prose preserves traces of living voices. In Armistead Maupin’s Midnight Listener, I caught those echoes as listener and radio presenter talked in the still of the night. I heeded Isabelle Allende’s words, ‘Write what should not be forgotten’, and surrendered my soul to the tide of her magic realism.
But the human voice conveys something else; something compelling and ephemeral. ‘A voice is a human gift,’ Margaret Atwood said, ‘it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.’ The human voice can be a magic carpet that calls out in the intimacy of the midnight hour.
Once upon a time, Isabel Allende had a steadfast, late-night listener. ‘I’m seventy-two. I’ve got no time to waste. What do you want from me?’ she had said when he persuaded her to meet for the first time. She didn’t expect her siren call to lure him away from New York—to her, in California; neither of them expected a voice in the night would change their lives.
These days, as I said earlier, happiness is a warm bed—and an authentic story told in the still of the night. My ardent lovers who promised fireworks and rhapsody fade into insignificance. I once heard Alec say, ‘Sex is like a Chinese Dinner. It ain’t over until you get your cookie.’ These days, my ‘cookie’ is the voice that calls out in the night. I share my bed with a legion of New York luminaries procured by Alec Baldwin, each one eliciting a slice of our shared history. Entertaining, whimsical, scandalous, these voices may not cure the troubles of the world, but who needs to hear that in the middle of the night? His podcasts beam down faces, voices, sensations to inhabit me, bringing memories of moments shared—illuminated by that magic week in New York.
Alec my dear, I hear whispering in my ear once more. You will have to move over tonight. My appetite is becoming insatiable.
COPYRIGHT - MAGZ MORGAN 202
Edmonton in August (Summer)
New York, the same day