|Jan/Feb 2009 Nonfiction|
I remembered how it started, forty years ago in Fort Worth. I said goodbye to my wife, slammed the door behind me, and walked out to the Interstate. Facing a stream of traffic in a light flurry of November snow, I put out my thumb. It took me five days to get to Manhattan. On the morning of my arrival, I sat at the counter in a coffee shop with steamed windows and scanned the classifieds in The New York Times. I found a small furnished room on the third floor of a brownstone on West 89th street, near Broadway, for seven dollars a week. Then I signed up with Brooks Street Bureau of Mayfair, Ltd., a ritzy employment agency, after I demonstrated to those elegant British ladies that I could type 80 flawless words a minute. They found me a job at Doubleday Publishers at 277 Park Avenue, where for several months I tapped out hundreds and hundreds of glib, breezy rejection letters.
Soon they discovered I had an extraordinary command of the language, so they made me a copywriter in Ted Macri's syndicate department. I wrote promotional material for newspaper serializations of Doubleday's bestsellers. My very first one was on Norman Vincent Peale's Sin, Sex, And Self Control. I thought this assignment was deliciously ironic. Doubleday was overflowing with cute young secretaries, editorial assistants, and junior editors with degrees from Bryn Mawr, Sarah Lawrence, Smith, Radcliffe and Columbia. To my delight and surprise, many of these fresh beauties were eager to have sex with me. Almost as eager as I was to have sex with them. We all were caught up in the wave of a heady, intoxicating revolution. Make Love, Not War. Get our troops out of Vietnam. NOW. Elvis Presley, The Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, The Mamas and the Papas.
Thin, moody Bobby Dylan provided the essential survival guide and overall philosophy of life:
...you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.
One afternoon, Dan Levant, my boss, asked me to personally deliver the manuscript of a book serialization to Leila Hadley Smitter, an editor at Diplomat Magazine. My first impression was that for an older woman—I guessed she was in her early 40s—Leila looked pretty good. She wore a tailored red jacket, black silk blouse, several gold necklaces, and jangling gold bracelets. Her hair was long and brown, her eyes hazel—just like mine!—and she was slim, with a narrow waist, nicely rounded tush, substantial breasts, and a charismatic, dazzling smile. She immediately put me at ease.
We talked for a while about language, and writing, and reading. She said she loved words and word play. Evil spelled backwards is live. Love is contained in evolution. Lust is tsul. Tsu. Tsunami, a great sea wave formed by earthquake or volcanic eruption! A word might contain its exact opposite, or a vastly different meaning. Words can be turned upside down or inside out. All the universe is somehow connected, a profound unity of art and life, matter and anti-matter. Everything is of intrinsic value. Everything therefore must be equally honored.
Absolutely fascinating, no?
On an impulse, I pitched her an article idea. Leila listened carefully. When I was through, she didn't hesitate. "Oh, it's absolutely marvelous, darling!" she said. She asked me how much I wanted for it. I replied the going rate would be just fine.
Not too long after that meeting in her office at Diplomat, I was her house guest at 1160 Fifth Avenue. I was seated before an antique table near a tall window overlooking the pale green budding trees of Central Park, typing rapidly on her IBM Selectric. An Irish maid in a black dress with starched white collar and cuffs entered the room carrying a brass-trimmed teak tray. She poured jasmine tea into a delicate china cup on a saucer, put the tray on the table to my right. She asked if there was anything more I would like. Maybe some scones? Chocolate cake? Blueberry muffins, freshly baked this morning? "No," I replied, "thank you very much, Sheila, the tea is just fine." I resumed typing.
The phone rang. It was Miles Davis. In his intense, whispery voice, he said to me, "Listen, man, I've got the solution to all this Vietnam war shit. Want to hear it?"
"Okay. Just draft a bunch of white blonde bitches and send them over there. The fucking war will be over in two days."
"Put THAT in your fucking article."
"I will, Miles. I will."
I got another call. John Berendt, my editor at Esquire. He told me he was delighted that Miles had invited me to the Jazz Workshop in Boston to see him play. "Take the shuttle," Berendt said. "We'll reimburse your expenses."
Leila, through mutual friends, had set up my interviews with the great jazz trumpeter. And I was in her penthouse study when she'd talked to Berendt on the phone. "John Palcewski," she said with a wink and a twinkle in her eye, "is an amazingly talented 24-year-old poet, short story writer, and freelance magazine journalist. His stuff is absolutely first rate."
She went on to describe the publication of two long poems of mine in Barney Rossett's Evergreen Review. The ninety-six lines of "Elegy, As If I Meant It" appeared in a two-page spread, beautifully illustrated with a delicate India ink line drawing by Eugene Karlin, and the other, entitled "Peripatetic," was on a full page with eccentric comic book panels by Robert Crumb. Also, she said that Ralph Ginzburg at Avant Garde was about to feature one of my articles in an upcoming issue.
"At the moment John is working on transcribing notes of his interviews with Miles," she said. "Yes, yes, I know. Miles never talks to journalists, but now he's finally breaking his silence. If you'd like to meet John, he'll be delighted to stop by. Of course. Three P.M.? Yes, that will be fine."
Leila looked me over. Oh, dear. I could not possibly appear at the august editorial offices of Esquire Magazine in a sweat shirt and jeans and ratty sneakers. Absolutely out of the question. She guided me into her bedroom, opened the double doors of her massive closet, and began inspecting two tiers of racks jammed with clothing. At the far end was a small collection of men's suits, shirts, and slacks. On the wall was a chrome bar full of silk neckties. She impatiently slid the hangers back and forth. "Ah. Here it is," she said. A silky soft black alpaca turtle-neck sweater, which I should know was designed by London's Barbara Hulanicki, founder of the legendary boutique Biba. She handed me a pair of tan trousers and a dark blue Yves Saint Laurent blazer with an embroidered royal crest on its breast pocket. "Now put these on darling, please," she said. "Thank you."
Then she rummaged in a bureau drawer. She pulled off the shiny top of a small bottle. It was Parfum de Thérèse, a most exotic fragrance that Edmond Roudniska refused to put on the market because it is aesthetically too advanced for its time. "Just a few drops on that little hollow at the base of your throat, darling, and on the pulse points of your wrists."
"Fragrances in the bottle smell one way," she said, "but then they take on depth and resonance when they merge with the natural scents of your skin." She moved near my face, closed her eyes, and inhaled. "Mmmmmm. There's just a subtle hint of mandarin, on top of melon, and jasmine. Also rose, plum, nutmeg, cedar, vetiver."
"Darling, it's a grass—Vetiveria zizanioides—of tropical India, with aromatic roots that yield an oil used in perfumery. And do you smell the leather? Yes, most definitely the leather of a horse's saddle, and the hint of a stallion's virility. Very masculine, very sexy."
From an end table's large glass bowl containing a collection of matchbooks, she selected one that said "Twenty One" on its cover. "As you are speaking to Mr. Berendt," Leila said, "you will light up your cigarette, and then after a few moments toss the matchbook, ever so casually, onto his desk. Above all, you will be calm, self-assured, casual. And another thing. If you send him a letter or a note for any reason, be sure to underline your signature. Don't laugh. This has a motor effect on the mind. The royalty in England do it, and for good reason."
During my first visit to her penthouse, Leila and I shared a settee near a low table, and we talked for hours and gradually filled a bronze ashtray with crushed butts, one after another. Hers were Larks, mine were unfiltered Pall Malls. From time to time Sheila silently refilled Leila's silver coffee pot and brought me a fresh bottle of Chivas when the one I was working on ran dry.
In the nearby living room, a glass box roughly the size and shape of a coffin was filled with hundreds of variously shaped and colored seashells, which Leila herself had gathered on beaches in the South Pacific and elsewhere around the world. She pointed to one and said that the Queen of the Nicobars had guided her to that particular shell, as well as many of the others.
An antique harmonium, with foot pedals and a tarnished mirror on its front in which you could watch yourself play, stood solemnly against the north wall. On the floor was an intricate, faded Persian rug, which she said contained a flaw put in deliberately by the weaver to honor the fact that only God can create perfection. In the corner a grandfather clock, the sun and the moon on its face, its gold disc pendulum swinging slowly back and forth, tick-tocked gravely. On a marble pedestal was a strange, dark brown ceremonial cup from Tibet, made from the sawed-off skull of a child.
Books, books, books. They were everywhere, on shelves in every room. Wobbly stacks in corners on the floor, on the end tables, and on Leila's messy office desk. Clutter, chaos. Yvor's mother, a psychologist, used to tell Leila that compulsive neatness is a sign of interior chaos, a reaction formation, a defense to ward off the feeling that one is going to pieces. Leila's own mother, Beatrice, insisted that there must always be a place for everything and everything in its place. Everything easy and quick to come to one's hand. Quick. "Yes, quickness is the opposite of being dead. Don't you think?"
Among the fat file folders and piles of torn-out sections of newspaper and magazine articles was an enormous Rolodex with hundreds of cards with the names of actors, authors, book publishers, editors, magazine writers, movie stars, and numerous blueblood relatives. Many of the cards were typed, and some were hastily scrawled with blue felt-tipped pen.
Leila began assembling this large collection of names, numbers, and addresses when she was a publicist for the famous cartoonist Al Capp. You've heard of Lil' Abner and Grandma Yokum and the Schmoos, haven't you? "Al," she said, "is an insatiable Satyr. Each and every day he has sex with three different girls. It's true! These days he just hates anti-Vietnam war protesters."
She also did publicity for the TV show Howdy Doody. Oh, yes. Everyone knows Howdy Doody. Then she collaborated with Bergen Evans on naming an over-the-counter medicine. He came up with Quil. She came up with Ny. Or was it the other way around? They both got $500 for it.
Well, anyway, Sid Perleman—"a darling man, an absolutely fascinating and talented man"—came back from the Far East and told her that she ought to quit all this ridiculous PR stuff and do what she was meant to do, which was to travel the world and write about it. She realized he was absolutely right. So she quit her job, packed up, and booked passage on a steamer. And then while she was in Bangkok—and in surely what was a stroke of magic or predestination, she encountered the three-masted schooner California and talked the four young sailors into taking her and her six-year-old son, Kippy, aboard as crew.
Kippy was her son from her first marriage to Arthur Hadley, a grandson of the economist Arthur Twining Hadley, president of Yale University from 1899 to 1921. As an undergraduate, Arthur was editor of The Grotonian and she was editor of Tit Bits at St. Timothy's School, so she truly thought they had a lot in common. Anyway, at first the California crew members refused her request to join them, but then when a dear editor friend of hers from New York showed up and told them how valuable a story this would be, they finally agreed. And one of those handsome, golden, and acutely intelligent young men was Yvor Hyatt Smitter. After that long journey to Naples, they talked long-distance, and he invited her to visit him, and she flew to the West coast, and they married. Yvor was Victoria, Matthew, and Caroline's father. After that she wrote a book about the sailing adventure, Give Me The World. Nadine Gordimer provided her title, from Yeats. Philippe Hallsman took her photograph for the cover, and she just adored that picture! Yes, she had an extra copy, which she gave me to read. "Oh, that schooner California! It had three masts of sails, one of them gaff-rigged. Which means square, not triangular."
She inhaled deeply, paused, and blew out a cloud of pale blue.
"Joseph!" she said, radiantly beaming. "Now there's a truly extraordinary man. An amazingly talented surrealist with a true vision of the ineffable. He's addicted to all sorts of sweets, sugar covered doughnuts, and so on."
"What do you find so amusing?" she asked.
"You leaped from the sailboat to an artist," I replied. "I'm just curious: what's the connection?"
"Ah," she said, "you must understand, darling, that all things in the universe are somehow inter-related, and it's just a matter of digging down, finding the links. The word California subconsciously took me to the early typesetters. They used a metal composing stick, a flat steel device that held the type they selected from what they called a California Job Case! Which is a large hardwood tray divided into various sized compartments containing lower and upper case letters, and numbers, and various other symbols. Now, the shallow case resembles Joseph Cornell's famous glass-covered shadow boxes. Both have compartments that contain essential elements of language and images, of thought, of meaning. Don't you see?"
"Yes," I said. "I see."
Leila told me more about her great multitude of dear life-long friends, her numerous lovers, her mentors. For the most part she used only first names, as if somehow I would know who they were. Joseph, whom she had just alluded to. And Nadine. And Lev. Sid, Hank, Patty, Charlie. And Gloria, Hank, Arthur, and Joseph. And, of course, Hank.
Hank! Her prickly cactus, martinet, marvel. Her marlinspike, her darling boy! Since the departure to the Philippines of her husband, Yvor, and even long before that, Hank was a truly important part of her life. She was a bridesmaid at Hank's first wedding, to Patty, at Lu Shan, his mother's country home, and she remembered the flower-banked altar in the sunken garden, and Patty's gown. It was ivory satin with a close-fitting bodice, and a long veil of heirloom rose point and Brussels lace, which of course was worn decades earlier by her great-grandmother, Mrs. William Livingston. She remembered Patty's bouquet, too. A collection of camellias, gypsophilla, and bouvardia. The bridesmaids wore white taffeta with coronets of pink roses. Now, Hank was present at her wedding to Arthur, Kippy's father, at the chantry of St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Her gown was ivory-colored taffeta with a bodice finished with a heart-shaped neckline edged with heirloom rose point lace. Interesting, isn't it? That Patty copied it three years later? Guess who caught her bouquet? Hank, of course. Why? Well, to show the bridesmaids how to do it.
Currently Hank was Time's bureau chief in London and Claire, his second wife, was with him. Thank God he took that job, because before then he didn't know who and what he was. Sometimes he telephoned her, but most of the time she called him. Hank told her not to call him during business hours, and of course she couldn't call him at home at night because Claire might pick up the phone. It was clear Claire thought she was a man—Hank's animus actually, his despised self, and part of Leila's own despised self as well!—which might explain why Claire kept encouraging him to be friends with Ted, whose wife happened to be a Lesbian. But Claire insisted her happiness was Hank's happiness, and that was good for Hank, but then she was turning into a fat lush.
Hank had one annoying habit that she couldn't ever get quite used to, and that was he hardly ever kept his appointments or dates with her. He may promise to be at The Four Seasons for lunch several weeks hence, confirm it, and then later she'd hear from his secretary, "Oh, so sorry, but Mr. Luce must cancel because of other pressing business." She didn't like this at all. It was untrustworthy, unreliable, and not worthy of her or of him. Leila would never do that sort of thing, so why on earth should he do it to her? Hank would say, "as soon as possible," but it usually meant next year. Or never. It was a sign of his submerged anger. Toward her, toward his fearful father, toward everyone. "But since he refuses to talk freely about these things, he's just stuck with them! Along with his silences, he's reluctant to be kind or generous because he fears being exploited, taken advantage of. The rich man's curse, what?"
As for sex, well, Hank was absolutely insatiable. He always said—and she agreed completely—that one may have many sexual objects, but only one love object. Much of Hank's libidinous energy was tied up in numbers, beginning when his grandfather taught him fractions. He actually got an erection when you read to him the Dow Jones Industrial Index or the money exchange rates. She witnessed it one time in the limo on a back road on Fishers Island.
But at the same time he was obsessed with business and politics and philanthropy. He surrounded himself with old men—former cabinet officers, senators, governors, corporate board members, all those dreadfully stuffy, pompous, humorless people. Why? Perhaps because they made him feel more important than he was, or because he enjoyed proximity to power. But all that to Leila was so awfully boring.
"You know that last year Hank's father, Henry Robinson Luce, co-founder of the Time-Life empire, passed away. Hank was primary beneficiary, and got 71,555 shares of Time, Inc. common stock. Millions. Millions. Millions! And Hank is determined to make at least another million each year to add to his fortune. Why? Well, why not?"
About this she was ambivalent. On the one hand he was an adorable man, ever so sensitive and vulnerable. On the other she often thought he would never sacrifice anything for love because he was incapable of loving anyone except as an extension of himself. As the son of a world famous, wholly work-driven figure who barely had time for him, Hank was immersed in a contradictory morass of great privilege and cold neglect. He always got everything in the way of material things and comforts he ever wanted, but he hardly ever saw his father. "Think of the narcissistic wounds that come from trying to move out of a truly great man's shadow! In that horrid circumstance how on earth can you expect one to form a mature sense of identity?" Charlie Adams kept telling her he didn't understand how she could love a man like that. Well, maybe he was right. Maybe Hank was her invention, her creation. Maybe she was giving him all sorts of qualities he simply did not possess. She was very good at that.
Hank had a close friend and business associate in Saudi Arabia, a sheik actually, who had palaces all over the country, each with a harem of hundreds of girls. Eunuch staffers recruited them from elementary and high schools. Hank thought it was fascinating that the sheik reserved each Thursday for the deflowering of a virgin! "A virgin every Thursday, can you imagine?" This was right up Hank's street. He also was enormously drawn to pairs of women, and most exciting of all to him would have been a mother and her virginal daughter. A ménage a trios. "But that happens to be every man's fantasy, no?"
"Perverse? Perhaps. But various world cultures have vastly different ideas about what is proper and acceptable, and what is not. Don't you agree? You must read about Captain Cook in the South Pacific in the 18th century. The native islanders organized some entertainment for Cook and his ship's officers. They sat near a blazing campfire and were mesmerized by a naked six-foot Tahitian man insouciantly fucking a slender fourteen-year-old girl. The Captain later wrote in his log that neither of them was embarrassed—indeed, the young girl appeared to know exactly what she was doing and what's more she was thoroughly enjoying it."
Now, for a long time Hank was captivated by the idea of a ménage a trios. Hank, Victoria, and Leila. He was obsessed with the notion. And he had the nerve to tell her that often she came on too strong to him, sexualizing the word "come," and he didn't even see the irony.
As Leila rendered her endless rapid-fire labyrinthine monologues, I did not want her to think I was too lower-middle class, too conventional, or too contentious. I wanted to appear as worldly and sophisticated as she was subtly suggesting I might actually be. Plus, I thought her arguments were not wholly without merit. After all, look at the Polynesians in 1775! In their nakedness and open sexuality, they were a peaceful, fun-loving and happy people. That is, until the soldiers and pious missionaries put a stop to it and everything else. Rudyard Kipling nailed it perfectly: "The wildest dreams of Kew are the facts of Katmandu, and the crimes of Clapham chaste in Martaban."
Soft lights, warmth, the faint echoing of Vivaldi. Rain made a rushing sound against the windows. I was on my fifth or sixth or seventh glass of scotch. Hell, I'd lost count, and my head was swimming. Leila took both my hands, inspected them closely. She said it was remarkable. "Your hands are very much like Hank's. Beautiful long-fingered hands, like those of a sculptor, or a conductor, or an artist, or an architect. Did you know that if a thumb that is shaped in the form of a waist—as opposed to being plump and straight—it is a sure sign of high intelligence and artistry?"
No, I didn't know that, and I was enormously pleased to see my thumbs were indeed in that category.
"Now, Hank sometimes spoke too loudly," she said. "What do you think that means?"
"Maybe," I replied, "he wants to win an argument with someone. Or to intimidate him. My father was like that."
Leila said, "Well, maybe it's just because he wants to be heard!"
"Well, sure," I said, "that makes perfect sense."
"Hank's voice," she said, "sounds so much more pleasant and resonant when he speaks normally.
I wondered: Do I speak too loudly? Like my father?
Leila rose and left the room. She came back with an engraved silver box, in which were glass ampoules covered with roughly woven pale yellow cloth. "Just relax, darling!" she whispered, as she crushed one of the ampoules and placed it beneath my nose. I inhaled the scent of dirty socks, then suddenly was flooded with an enormously pleasant, warm, orgasmic rush.
"Amyl nitrate," she explained. "Poppers."
An hour later I heard the sound of a key in a lock and a door opening. Footsteps in the hallway. Then a gentle, feminine voice in an English or East Indies accent. I opened my eyes. Victoria's long, carefully brushed golden hair was parted in the middle and fell down both sides of her face. She was in a private school's blue blazer with gold buttons, an embroidered gold-crowned crest on the pocket. White blouse, plaid skirt, white knee socks. Her eyes were crystalline blue, a pale transparent blue, the blue of a wood hyacinth blossom. When she bowed her head, her face disappeared behind the soft gold cascade.
Leila made no attempt to hide the silver box and the scattering of spent ampules. Victoria saw nothing out of the ordinary. She called Leila "Mummy." She curtsied at Leila's introduction, then after a very formal and polite exchange with me, she silently departed.
"It is late," I say. "I must go."
"Nonsense, " Leila says. "It's raining. You will sleep here tonight."
She heads toward the bedroom, disappears inside. I remain where I am, thinking that she intends for me to sleep on the couch in the living room. She reappears. "Come!" she says, amused at my hesitancy.
I follow her into the bedroom. Five bulging white pillows are propped against a huge, antique, carved wood headboard. The bed is enormous. She says, "Please excuse me, darling, I'll be right back. Why don't you undress?"
With great self-consciousness I take off my clothes and slip under the light down-filled quilt. An ornate, antique silver clock beside the bed tick-tocks. Leila returns, nude, with a tray bearing two small white handle-less cups. She gives me one. "It's hot," she says as she carefully pulls aside the cover, and with small motions settles beside me. The liquid is sweet, pungent.
"A drink from India," she says. "Dahi."
"It tastes like almonds."
"Yes, almonds and anise. And bhang. Ground hemp leaves."
She leans over and lights candles, sticks of incense. I drink deeply from the cup. The liquid burns at my center and spreads outward. I have no idea what she has in mind, what she expects me to do. She's an attractive woman, yes, but she's in her 40s, and she reminds me of my mother. I much prefer the company of girls my age, all those cute editorial and secretarial types at Doubleday. With those girls I'm comfortable and I know exactly what to do, and I enjoy doing it. But this? It's way, way beyond my experience. So I do nothing. I lie very still and await this intimidating woman's instructions, her commands, which I feel obliged to obey.
Leila was entirely at home in her world of upper class bluebloods of the right breeding. The Dowager Lady Eliott of Hallrule House, Roxburghshire, Scotland, and Sir Arthur Boswell Eliott of Stobs, a descendant of James Boswell, the biographer of Samuel Johnson, were her grandparents. She grew up hearing wonderful tales of kinsmen who were governors and viceroys in India. Her godmother was Julia Ward Howe. Luther Burbank, the great horticulturist, was among her uncles. Leila's family was comfortable but not super-wealthy. Which is why her mother married a rich man. Anyway, Leila attended Green Vale boarding school in Roslyn, Long Island, with Gloria Vanderbilt and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney Henry, among others of that class, and then she went on to St. Timothy's school, in Maryland.
Leila always sought out and cultivated a variety of non-bluebloods, like writers, artists, musicians, cartoonists, and so on. She saw herself as eclectic about people as she was about furniture, china, silver, seashells, artifacts, and antiques.
But what on earth did Leila see in me?
I imagined that for her I was a minor diversion. Not her official lover, of course, but rather more like a transient sexual buddy. Or boy toy. A naïf with a few rough edges who found her history, lifestyle, legion of wealthy and famous friends, and her endless chattering fascinating.
Ambition, greed, and selfishness compelled me to go along with everything she suggested. I never dared to contradict or challenge her, I just nodded my head, and repeatedly said, "Yes, you are absolutely and totally right, I can't agree more." Well, I had plenty of experience in adopting this sort of passive sycophancy because I was reared by a volatile, self-absorbed father who was very much like her.
We had much in common. For instance, her father, Frank Burton, was an alcoholic. My father was a chronic drunk, and I was eagerly following in his footsteps. Leila was addicted to Larks, speed, and poppers. I was addicted to unfiltered Pall Malls and alcohol in any form. Frank abused her emotionally and sexually. My father did the same to me. Frank was the grandson of the founder of Burton's Irish Linens and Textiles, and thus in the "rag trade." My father owned and operated first a clothing store, then a tuxedo rental. Leila's stunningly beautiful mother, Beatrice, was emotionally unavailable. My mother, also beautiful, abandoned me when I was about a year old. Beatrice fired every single nanny Leila ever got deeply attached to and loved dearly. My father suddenly announced I could no longer see my mother anymore, since she "lived in sin." Leila, like her distant ancestor James Boswell, was a journalist. I desperately wanted to be a writer. Leila was a master of the language. I, too, was good with words, but she was better. Leila's father silenced her. My father silenced me. Thus Leila and I found in writing a way of finally saying all the things the tyrants forbade us to say. Like, for instance, the truth of the abuse we suffered at their hands. And so on.
Despite all this, I was perplexed when she continued to ignore the huge social and cultural gap that separated us. She always talked to me as if I were in her class, among her numerous friends and lovers, like Joseph Cornell, Al Capp, Richard Condon, Robert Ruark, Al Hirschfeld, Tom Hyman, Charlie Adams, Edgar Bergen, Sid Perelman, and Marlon Brando. I got the sense—which I couldn't really articulate at the time—that for some unfathomable reason she was merely projecting onto me qualities I didn't have. I felt she wasn't really talking to me, but rather to her idea of who I ought to be. Or maybe I had a cold premonition that one day she would take back every supportive, adoring, and flattering thing she'd ever sent my way.
Leila came into the bathroom as I was ready to step into the shower. Her white terrycloth bathrobe fell to the floor, revealing her taut, nude body. She nuzzled my neck, then lifted my right arm and buried her face in my armpit. "Mmmmmm," she said. "The acidic, primitive, natural, un-deodorized scent of sweat is incredibly stimulating, penetrating, sexy, erotic. They should bottle it. It's the world's most powerful aphrodisiac."
Hot water streamed down our bodies, and she lathered the scented soap and spread the slippery foam from my neck to my nipples, to the small of my back, and then her slippery fingers caressed my buttocks and slid in to tickle my anus. I felt myself involuntarily contracting, hard, against her intrusion, and she made threatening little pushes against my tightness. I tried to pretend that I was used to it, and that it was really all right, when in fact her fingered thrusts were just too unfamiliar and strange and excruciatingly uncomfortable.
Her smile was utterly self-confident, amused, knowing; I was in the hands of a master. She commanded, and I had no choice but to obey. She grasped my cock. She knew exactly what to do.
Not yet! she whispered. Not yet!
I understood the game. Come to the point of coming, then stop. Then begin again. On the third or fourth cycle she led me out of the shower, and she turned around and very slowly descended to her knees on the white tile hexagons. I grasped the soft curves below her slim waist and I thrust violently from behind. Her cunt was as slippery as her soaped fingers.
Victoria entered the den. She was a slender, ethereal, bewitching young woman. Impeccable white tee-shirt, jeans, pristine white tennis sneakers. She bent down over my shoulder and studied the sheet of bond paper in the typewriter. I felt her radiant heat. It was highly charged, erotic, slightly unnerving. Her scent was flowery, probably jasmine.
"This musician Miles Davis," she said in a whisper-soft voice. "Do you like him?"
"I admire him, yes. He's enormously talented, a true musical genius."
"Who else do you admire?"
I thought for a moment. "James Joyce. Ernest Hemingway."
Victoria smiled. "Ah, the perfect safari! Where nothing bad can ever happen, where you get to shoot all the right animals. And then write deep and poignant prose about death and dying."
I replied that despite all of Hemingway's macho posturing, his early stories are superb, brilliant. "The Snows." "A Clean Well Lighted Place." "My Old Man." "As for poetry, have you read Allen Ginsberg's latest? Howl was tremendous, but his 'Wichita Vortex Sutra' is about the best antiwar lament I've ever read."
"I prefer T.S. Eliot," Victoria said. "My pash!"
Victoria rolled her eyes. "Pash, pasha. In Turkey or North Africa a man of high rank or office."
I resumed typing. Victoria went to the corner, lifted a guitar. It belonged to her father, Yvor, also known as Daddoo, who in addition to the King's English could speak Papuan, Mandarin, Afrikaans, and Spanish in a wonderfully deep resonant voice. In a silver framed photo, he was lithe, bare-chested, sunburned, an exceedingly handsome blue-eyed man, who before she was born went to Johannesburg as a Fulbright Scholar to get his Ph.D. in geology from the University of Witwatersrand. He knew the names of all the trees and plants and animals wherever he went. He might—or might not—come back someday.
Right then he was busy in the Philippines on still another desperate get-rich-quick scheme, squandering what was left of Leila's half million dollar inheritance. Daddoo's business failures had come one after another. Like a swimming pool construction company. And then a synthetic emeralds operation. Followed by a rock lobster farm. Not to mention a cloud-seeding venture in Jamaica that for various economic, religious, and political reasons caused a furor that led the government to ask Yvor and Leila to leave the country.
Leila's capital was now very nearly exhausted, and there were endless bills to pay. Obscene rent for the penthouse, and utilities, groceries, car and driver. Private school tuitions for the children. Servants' salaries. Clothing. Gifts. Where would it come from? Where?
"Oh, well. Don't worry. Mummy will work as a magazine editor. She'll write a best-selling book. She might soon marry someone with money, like Hank, or Lev, or whomever. Somehow she'll take care of everything, she always has. I wish Daddoo would come back, I wish he had never left us. Mummy says she once had to pull him back from leaping in front of the subway because he was despondent. He loathed living on Mummy's money, he wanted to make it all himself. Did that make him mentally ill? Well I found one of Mummy's little scribbled notes in one of the books on her shelf, entitled "Language and Thought in Schizophrenia." She wrote, "Yvor and I don't speak the same language." When Daddoo saw this and some other little notes, he said, "Christ Almighty Jesus!"
"Mummy always wants to talk about feelings, and of course the past. Daddoo hates that. Probably because his mother, Dr. Faith, was a psychologist. Unlike her and Mummy, Daddoo doesn't ever acknowledge or talk about the powerful emotions churning away inside. He rather likes to sit all by himself, staring at some faraway frontier. Mummy keeps telling Daddoo there is significance in everything, especially personal preferences. Even food choices. Daddoo loves chicken a la king. Eggs, too, which he calls eggy-peggies."
"Maybe he wanted to kill himself because of guilt. Before I was born he made Mummy get an abortion, because at that time he knew they couldn't afford to have a child. It might just as well have been me."
"Now Mummy says nearly all our money is gone. In school all my classmates say talking about money is horridly vulgar. I'm the only one with these vulgar thoughts, and I have to keep them secret. That makes me an alien, an outcast, not truly of their world. In her office Mummy keeps paper clips in one of Daddoo's flat, round tobacco tins, with an arrangement of four red squares on its lid. A gaff-rig, like the front mast of the schooner California, where Mummy first met Daddoo. Did you know my middle name is California? Yes. Victoria California Smitter."
Victoria pulled a black plastic pick from between the strings of her father's guitar and ran through a few gentle arpeggios before settling into Donovan's "Mellow Yellow." Her fingering was precise, her enunciation distinct, her voice clear, and her melodic line solid, measured, sure. She was a relentless perfectionist, something she inherited directly from Daddoo.
Suddenly, there was a commotion in the hallway. Shouts, a banging, rapid footfalls. Victoria turned. "Caroline! Matthew!" she shouted. "STOP IT!"
They appeared at the door. Caroline, six years old, in a pink dress, white ankle socks with frilly tops and black patent leather shoes. Matthew, in a pale blue Oxford shirt with a button-down collar, chinos, and a mop of yellow hair that resembled a polo player's helmet, or a cloche, one of those hats women wore in the '20s. They were beautiful, adorable children. So well groomed, so perfect.
Our conversation continued. She said that she had a Jewish boyfriend, whom she was keeping secret from Mummy, because Mummy would never approve, but of course nothing sexual was going on. She was actually a virgin. And...
Matthew laughed. "Oh stop it, you're making me sick."
Victoria gave him an evil glance. "Go play with yourself, why don't you?"
"You lost your virginity in Central Park ages ago," Matthew said.
"Aieeeee!" Victoria howled. She lunged toward Matthew, but he scurried out the door, laughing, with Victoria close behind. And then sweet, silent little Caroline skipped out of the room as well.
That evening Victoria and I were alone in the dining room, at the end of a leisurely meal of lamb cutlets, new potatoes, and asparagus. The candles in a pair of silver holders flickered. Victoria rang a brass bell. After a few moments, the maid appeared.
"Sheila, more strawberries," Victoria said in an imperial tone. "And more cognac. Immediatement!"
"One deals with servants in a certain detached way. Mummy always says that one must not allow oneself to become too familiar, or too friendly with them, because these people will try to turn it to their advantage, and of course they take enough advantage on the sly anyway, without one inadvertently encouraging more."
"Yes, miss," Sheila said, and departed.
"Sheila is from Galway," Victoria said. "She's an illiterate peasant."
"But nevertheless you needn't be rude to her," I said.
A flush appeared on Victoria's neck and face, but she said nothing. Her silence was neither agreement nor contradiction.
I was inside Leila, grasping her knees, spreading and pushing her legs against her chest so I could penetrate her as deeply as possible. She crushed a popper under my nose. The first time she did that, I got a nice, warm rush. But this? Oh, Jesus. This time it was overwhelming. Tantric. That's what she called it. A merging of body and spirit and soul, a profound connection. Plato's idea that humans are split into two at birth and then we become whole again when we find our departed half. It was an intense, profound sensual pleasure, beyond anything I'd ever felt before, not even with those fresh, bright, taut Doubleday cuties. No, not even with Gabrielle, a German girl I'd earlier encountered at the Metropolitan Museum. Gabrielle. The most beautiful, the most erotic woman I'd ever seen naked in the flesh. A goddess. A blonde, blue-eyed, sexual Playboy fantasy with a pubis with just a trace of precious blonde hair. Sex with Gabrielle was one thing, but this sex-with-popper experience was something entirely different.
Then Leila nudged me out of a deep sleep. "Come on," she urged. She reached down. Her fingers brought me back to life. She pulled me on top of her. "Don't hold back," she said. I thrust hard. "Come on," she breathed. "Come on." I pounded even harder.
"Tell me what you're doing to me."
I paused. "I'm making love to you."
She shook her head. "No, no, no, NO. Tell me what you're doing to me!"
"I'm fucking you."
"Tell me what you're doing to me, come on."
"I'M FUCKING YOU."
"Tell me again."
"I'M FUCKING YOU!"
I paused again. Why would she want me to do that?
"Come on, slap me, go ahead. It's okay."
I slapped her cheek.
"Harder! Slap me harder!"
I tried, but I couldn't. I just couldn't. I didn't feel like slapping her, and I didn't want her to slap me, either. There was something fundamentally wrong with it, either way. She was just too much like... like my mother, and I would never do that to my mother, ever. But then... but then, there I was fucking her!
No, no, no, no, no. I didn't want to go there. Nope. I needed a drink. Honest to God, I needed a drink.
Before and after our sexual gymnastics, Leila told me one story after another about Hank. And she peppered me with questions. What do you think Hank meant by this? What was his motive? What was in his mind? I replied that I had absolutely no idea, because Hank and I occupied totally different worlds. I knew nothing about his circle of friends and associates.
"But you are a man," Leila insisted with just a hint of annoyance. "As a man you know how you would think in a similar situation. So tell me what he's doing when he keeps me hanging, keeps me waiting, and makes himself unreachable, hiding behind his secretaries and assistants and God knows who else? What's his purpose?"
I tried to tell her what she wanted to hear. It had to be plausible. Believable. "Well, playing hard to get might be his way of making you want him more."
"Ah, yes, of course," she said.
"Or he may be punishing you for something his wife did to him."
I took a break from working on my profile of Miles Davis and picked up Leila's book, Give Me The World. I read it through at one sitting. It was hard reading. Then I read it again. Leila and little Kippy, her six-year-old son, on a round-the-world trip, first by steamer and then aboard a small three-masted schooner named California, with a crew of three handsome, strapping, virile young men.
On this journey Leila was determined to see and taste and touch and hear everything she saw in those exotic ports, and write it all down for a magazine article or a book. It was clear she valued her writing more than she valued anything else.
The tiny cabin of the California was gently illuminated so that the three shirtless men inside looked "gleaming and golden." And, "In the cabin, Kippy and I lay on our bunks. Even with the vent and forward port opened wide and the fan on, it was crazily hot. Kippy stretched out in lax, wet nakedness."
I tried to imagine what it must have been like from Kippy's point of view. That tiny confined space, out in the middle of the South Pacific. Claustrophobic. Nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. And what about those muscular young men, who always had their eyes on his mother when they thought she wasn't looking?
On a layover in Hong Kong, Leila took Kippy to the Tiger Balm Gardens. He was captivated by the frescoes of criminals being whipped, beheaded, and disemboweled by fiends, roasted on spits, devoured by tigers. Kippy saw them as forbidden images, thus all the more desirable, like the horror comics his mummy forbade him to read. In the face of all that horror, little Kippy laughed. He was his mother's son, after all. She believed that laughter was a defense mechanism that sustained balance.
Toward the end of the book, the California pulled into the harbor of Heraklion. By then the crew's cash supply was dangerously low, and so they all agree there was to be no borrowing or lending between them, not even a penny, as a matter of principle. Before going ashore, Leila slipped into the cabin, and when Art, the engineer, wasn't looking, she pocketed a handful of change he'd left on the bookcase. It was stealing, pure and simple. Which later in life she would with a wicked grin call her "five finger discount."
I preferred not to think too much of this and all the others among her candid self-revelations. I preferred to think of Leila's more positive qualities. She was, after all, my patroness, my benefactor.
Leila's lengthy morning ritual: She sorted all the mail into separate piles and put them aside to answer or discard later. Then she read, cover to cover, all the magazines that had arrived that morning. Then she turned to the New York newspapers. Whenever she spotted an interesting item, or something relevant to her most recent literary project, she tore the article out and stuffed it into a folder, which would soon join hundreds of others in bulging cardboard boxes. When she spotted the name of one of her multitude of friends or acquaintances or ex-lovers, she hastily penned in a comment or two in the margin, ripped it out, stuffed it into an envelope, scrawled the person's name and addresses on the front, and put it into the growing stack of outgoing mail. Then, having brought herself completely up to date, she turned to the New York Times crossword puzzle.
I entered the dining room. Leila looked up, beamed at me. "Good morning, darling!"
Sheila brought me coffee, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast.
"So tell me," Leila said, still entering bright blue letters in those tiny crossword puzzle boxes. "How did your interview with Elaine go? Did she give you a lot of insights?"
Elaine Dundy was one of Miles Davis' many ex-mistresses. She was the author of a best-selling first novel, The Dud Avocado, as well as another one entitled The Old Man and Me. Her husband was Kenneth Tynan, the famed English critic.
"Actually," I replied, "she was quite evasive and didn't tell me anything I haven't already uncovered elsewhere. It's hard to believe she was sexually involved with Miles. I really expected that she'd have a lot to say, but all she gave me were short and dull answers. By the way, her breath stank of vodka. That would explain it. She was as much a dud as that rather lame book title of hers."
Leila looked annoyed, then resumed scribbling. But then she stopped, rose, and threw down her blue plastic pen, which clattered across the table and fell noiselessly onto the carpeted floor.
"Come here," she said, going into the kitchen. "What's that on the counter?"
It was a terra cotta pot with a slender-stalked plant with wide green leaves. "An avocado?" I said.
"Yes, of course, it's an avocado," she said. "Now if you had been observant, you would have earlier seen it and wondered what significance this plant has for me, or at least you would have recognized the connection it has to my dear friend Elaine. The significance goes further. An avocado was my very first gift to Hank several years ago."
It was in Hank's living room, and even though he told her that she came on too strong, she gave him a plant like that because it was the only present she could think of that meant something because she had grown it herself from a seed. She was so very impressed with Hank because he was everything she thought a man should be. But then she also knew—from the sound of his voice in their first phone conversation—that he could be equally wonderful or destructive for her.
"I didn't know that," I said.
She shook her head contemptuously. "Of course you didn't. But you should know a journalist is always wholly and fully aware of everything that surrounds him. A journalist absorbs and records every detail, large and small. Now, I even remember what I was wearing when I gave Hank that avocado plant. A dark green Austrian dirndl with silver buttons down the front."
Leila went back into the dining room. I followed obediently like a cowed little puppy.
"I have to tell you, John, that I am literally astonished and wholly taken aback at the horridly arrogant way you've just dismissed Elaine. I have known her for years and years and years, and it's utterly inconceivable to me that after trying to help you, you suddenly turn around and insult her—and me—the way you just have. It's outrageous and ungentlemanly, and coarse, and vulgar, and common, and it reveals an unbelievable and shocking lack of gratitude."
Her words cut me. Stunned me. My neck and face burned. "I'm sorry," I said. "I really didn't mean to offend either you or her."
"But you did offend me!" she shouted. "Can't you see that? You shouldn't have brushed her aside as if she were a mere ant on a picnic cloth. How dare you! How dare you! I invited her for the specific purpose of helping you write your article. And for my generosity I am rewarded with arrogance, contempt, utter thoughtlessness, and ingratitude. I just can't bear that, I really can't. It makes me want to scream, don't you understand? I need everything to be happy, harmonious, smooth as silk, pleasant, compatible, civilized, courteous, comfortable. You ought to know that by now, because everyone who knows me knows that. And your disgraceful behavior throws everything into disharmony. So how can you just stand there and deny your culpability, your responsibility for this? I heard what you said, and I heard your tone. It is horrid. Absolutely horrid."
"Leila, please," I mumbled. "I had no idea."
"But you obviously did mean to offend me because you are utterly thoughtless and insensitive and ungrateful and disloyal. You have no regard for me, and by the way, you most certainly don't have any regard for my property."
"Yes. Your cigarette burn on the end table in the den. I suppose you thought you could hide that from me indefinitely by moving the ashtray to cover it. As if I am too distracted with work and correspondence and a hundred telephone calls to notice these things."
"I'm sorry. I'll fix it."
It wasn't a valuable antique, like the table in the study near the window overlooking Central Park. It was rather an ordinary creaky little flea market thing covered with white sticky plastic, which comes in inexpensive rolls from the hardware store. But nevertheless she kept going on and on about how she detested broken or stained or ruined objects, it just made her crazy, and didn't I realize the terrible consequences of my inattention?
"And it's not just the table, after all," she said. "What would have happened if the rug had caught fire from your carelessly placed burning cigarette? Have you given any thought to that?"
I shook my head. Obviously I hadn't.
And then Leila returned to my vulgar, coarse dismissal of her precious Elaine. On and on and on, an endless stream of hateful, spit-flecked accusations. She paced back and forth. Her long pink crepe chiffon nightgown flew open, and billowed and fell like a flag at the entrance of the Waldorf.
"I'm sorry, Leila, I really am."
Finally she stopped. Her chest heaved, and she stared at me. "Will you take care of it? Immediately?"
"Absolutely," I said quickly. "I'll fix the table, as good as new."
That evening, while Leila was having dinner with Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper and a few hundred other of her closest and dearest friends at 21, I wrote a long account of this bizarre episode in my journal, and I concluded with words to the effect that actually I was quite accustomed to this sort of extended rage-filled ranting. My drunken father had subjected me to it all the time. After a while you get used to this kind of crazy raving. You learn how to deal with it. When I finished writing, I hid the book under the couch in the den.
The next day I discovered that the pages I'd written earlier were missing. I looked closely. The fuzzy edges of the torn paper were clearly visible in the journal's crevice. I was deeply offended, but I dared not say that to her. No, that would surely send her flying into still another rage. Best to pretend it never happened.
Robert Devereux, Second Earl of Essex, the lover of Elizabeth I, was well aware his temperamental queen may on a whim reward him with great riches and power, or conversely condemn him to exile or prison or death. To survive, he did everything he could think of to please her. And above all, to obey her in all things. At least for a while.
I was young and arrogant and emotionally immature, and I mistakenly thought telling Leila the truth about Elaine was the best thing to do. But of course I should have lied. This is what I should have told her: "Elaine was fabulous, marvelous, wonderful, darling. She gave me a lot of insights into Miles's character, and I'm absolutely grateful to her, and most especially grateful to YOU, darling, for your generosity in making it possible for me to meet her."
A few weeks later I browsed the windows of Second Avenue junk shops and saw an old brass-trimmed kaleidoscope and bought it on impulse, intending it as a gift for Leila. I knew she'd laugh at the symbolism, the metaphor. The device turns random, meaningless arrangements of pebbles or gemstones or confetti into highly structured snowflake-like patterns, which suggests order, structure, significance. But then, immediately recalling her psychotic harangue at me for not fully appreciating that drunk Elaine Dundy, I decided no, I'll just keep the thing for myself. The kaleidoscope's transformations may be artificial and false, but they are entirely benign. Leila's harangue was artificial and false as well—but hurtful. To ME.
Around midnight Leila came into the guest room and shook me awake. She was still in her formal ball gown and her diamond necklace and gold bracelets. Her eyes gleamed. "Come, darling." I followed her into the bedroom. Lying on the far side of the bed was Victoria, in a soft white cotton nightgown with an embroidered lace collar entwined with blue ribbon. She smiled nervously.
"I will be just a moment," Leila said.
I crawled under the light down comforter. I could think of nothing to say to Victoria, and she said nothing to me. We were lying side-by-side, motionless, like two corpses on the cold slab of a morgue. Soon Leila returned, dressed also in a white cotton nightgown. She settled beside me. There I was between them. Victoria on my left. Leila on my right.
"Turn out the light, darling," Leila said.
"Good night," Leila said. "Sweet dreams."
In the darkness I remained perfectly still. The only sound was the ticking antique silver clock and the faint rush of traffic below on Fifth Avenue. I wondered: Is this going to be a ménage à trois, like the one Hank keeps telling Leila he wants? Is this Leila's idea of a practice run before the main event? Exactly what does Leila expect me to do? I couldn't imagine taking any initiative in this delicate, dangerous, bizarre circumstance. I couldn't read her mind. I didn't know what she wanted. So the only rational thing for me to do was... absolutely nothing.
And nothing happened between us. Nothing at all. I finally managed to drift off and dreamed of a hundred murmuring voices telling me something of great importance. But then, when the voices stopped, I couldn't remember what they'd said.
In the morning, Victoria rubbed her eyes. Leila rose, stretched out her arms, yawned, and smiled. "Now, wasn't that ever so pleasant?"
"Yes, Mummy," Victoria said. "Extraordinarily pleasant."
"But it's late!" Leila shouted. She bounded out of bed, rushed toward Caroline and Matthew's room, threw open the door. In a grand dramatic sweep, she pulled the covers off Matthew's nude little body. She moved in quickly, put her hand on Matthew's little penis and balls. Grinning, she tickled his genitals. "Wake up, wake up, wake UP sleepyhead!" she laughed.
For her it was all great fun. She was beaming, smiling, giggling. And it was over in half a minute. "Up, up, UP now, get dressed, both of you, or you will be late!"
Not one of the three children gave a hint that anything unusual had just occurred. This was just the way things were in that house. Some families are strict about sex and about nudity, and apparently others—like this one—take a much more liberal, or shall we say a more liberated attitude.
My father, by contrast, once told me the nude statues in the art galleries and museums are no better than the pictures in dirty magazines. It is ALL filth, he said vehemently. And here, in the childrens' bedroom, was a repudiation of my father's twisted, perverted ideas.
Leila entered her massive closet and violently pushed the hangers along the chrome bars, pulled off a dress, gave it a quick look, and then let it fall to the floor. Then she found another, which she discarded. There was nothing that pleased her. Nothing.
"Oh, CHRIST!" she hissed.
She stood before the mirror and in impatient, jerky motions adjusted her dress. Everything was absolutely horrid and awful and dreadful and disgusting, wholly and totally nauseating and sickening, and she didn't know what in hell she was going to do. She could get absolutely nothing done. Nothing. She had just too much to do. It was piling up into an enormity, a big writhing goddamned mess, and she didn't know where to begin.
I suggested that she make a list of tasks in descending order of importance. Take care of the first one, then move to the next.
"That's absurd," she said. "They are ALL of equal importance."
She continued her dressing. "Why don't you do something useful?" She hefted a leather covered attaché case, tossed it onto the bed. It belonged to her grandfather, a truly precious heirloom with tremendous personal significance. "There is some shoe polish in the cabinet under the sink."
We went down the elevator and then out onto Fifth Avenue. She walked ahead, clacking her heels on the pavement, raised her arm, and waved aggressively. I felt incompetent, ineffectual, because I did not take charge and hail the cab for her, like a real man would. We rode downtown, along Central Park's low black stone wall. She stared ahead, her small hand loosely curled in the mink fur of her coat. Her slender wrist was encircled by a large gold bracelet. Hers was a frail, fragile wrist. A child's wrist.
At her office at The Saturday Evening Post, she showed me an article written by a famous movie star. There was something dreadfully wrong with it. I read through it. The first three paragraphs were vague and off point. The real story began with the fourth paragraph. All she had to do was delete the awkward opening. "Ah, yes, of course," she said. "You are absolutely right. Oh, thank you darling. You are wonderful."
Back at the penthouse. After dinner, we went to the settee for another lengthy, convoluted conversation. Or I should say I sat mutely listening to her stream-of-consciousness monologue, which rambled over the place. I felt obliged to nod, to grunt in affirmation. Or now and again ask her a question meant to encourage her to continue.
She knew beyond doubt the mind has enormous power. To kill or cure, destroy or heal. When Yvor, Victoria, and she were in Johannesburg, there was a polio epidemic, and Victoria succumbed after getting only one shot of vaccine. Leila refused to put her in a hospital; she kept telling her daughter she was going to be all right. Leila exercised her legs and made her walk and walk and walk, and within a week she was OK. It was either a miracle, or an aborted case of polio. And another example was when Roald Dahl, a marvelous darling man, saved Patty Neal, one of her dearest friends, after she suffered three burst cerebral aneurisms while pregnant with their fifth child, Lucy. Roald took over her rehabilitation after the doctors all gave up. Roald simply refused to give up, he stuck with her, and made sure she eventually relearned to talk and walk.
Another example was a woman she knew, uh... named Kate. Who had a very long, passionate love affair with a man named Joseph. Kate was head over heels as they say, totally and completely and absolutely OBSESSED with the man. Couldn't get enough of him. But then what did the caddish monster do? He abandoned her for another woman named Deidre. So Kate focused all her hatred and rage and enmity and loathing on Deidre.
One evening Deidre choked on a piece of Boeuf in Bourgogne at a wedding banquet, and despite great efforts to save her, she died. Chilling, no? But it was perfectly true. Absolutely true. Now, she knew that some people call this nothing more than magical thinking, which is associated with clinical depression. Depressed people seize upon a belief in the limitless power of the mind because it's the polar opposite of helplessness. But that's just the jargon of those who see pathology in just about everything. No?
Also, William James said in 1890 that things are really being decided from one moment to another, meaning that predestination has nothing to do with it. Leila laughed at a neurologist who told her he didn't believe free will was powerful or a driving force, but instead that the more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don't have it.
"Absurd," she said. "Absolutely and totally absurd."