Excerpt 52

The phone call came about eight in the evening. The caller introduced himself as a friend of my father’s. He got my telephone number from Robert’s handsome, German, blond draftsman.

Henry lived in Dell, Arkansas, and was a gentleman farmer. He wanted to talk with me because he was about to die (congestive heart failure) and missed my father terribly.

“Robert taught me how to look at the world,” Henry explained.

“I learned so much from him,” he said. “I remember looking at photographs of Russian cemeteries in a book that he gave me. When I was in New York, I spent hours at the Frick and Metropolitan Museum looking at paintings that your father told me to visit.

And he did so much for our little town; the downtown area is lovely because of the plantings and fountains that your father suggested for the town square.”

My father gave to his male lovers everything that he denied from me. Robert never ever had such conversations with me.

Then Henry proceeded to describe in intricate detail the interior decoration of our house in Frenchtown.

Spooky! How much time had he spent there? “Is your mother still alive?” he asked.

“She was really scary,” he stated matter-of-factly.

“Still alive. Yes, she is really scary,” I agreed.

We talked about forty-five minutes. I never heard from him again.

children’s book: Fantasy Friends on Furlough (in a putrid pandemic)

Reader’s review:

A jewel that grew out of the darkness of these times. It is a children’s book with hidden sophistication. It is a book the child may read. It’s a book you may read to the child. It’s also a book you may wrestle from the child, curl up in a cozy corner and read to yourself. And lastly, it’s a book you don’t need to read, but slowly turn the pages from one treasured drawing to another.
Elliot Rais – Author of Stealing the Borders

Excerpt 50

Memphis

1958

In my parents’ house, nothing was traditional.

For Christmas, sometimes, my father created a tree from small green umbrellas sprouting up like giant cattails from a New Jersey swamp. Other times, Robert sprayed enormous magnolia leaves gold and bound them together like large fans used to cool off a surly pasha.

In those politically incorrect days, there was an institution in Memphis called Home for the Incurables. Nancy briefly belonged to some women’s organization that  visited the patients, all of whom could have appeared in a Flannery O’Connor novel.   I accompanied her there once.

I had never seen so many helpless, hopeless, and deformed people, and I began to cry.

A nurse softly said to my mother, “You really shouldn’t bring a young child to a place like this.”

Nancy did not respond.

When we were inside her Chevrolet station wagon with the batlike fins over the rear lights, she screamed, “Stop it with the crocodile tears! That’s life. Get used to it!”

Excerpt 49

[Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana]  Music that should accompany the memories…

(My father always said:  Don’t settle for an ordinary life.)

 Other lovers from the 1970s…

 The married French radiologist, Pierre, with the severe features of a Christian Schad portrait, whose patients included many celebrities and Manhattan socialites.

Our first date was in the King Cole bar of the St. Regis Hotel. We hurriedly drank Kir Royales. A very attractive young woman sat alone nearby. He invited her to join us for dinner at Gino’s restaurant on Lexington. She accepted. The dinner was just dinner. She was an actress from Los Angeles and had come to New York to work on a film. Pierre wanted a ménage à trois; but it didn’t happen. (I think she was just an expensive hooker looking for customers.)

He came over to my apartment once a week with a cheap bottle of Beaujolais, some smelly French cheese, purple grapes, and Carr’s crackers. But, he was also cultured and refined; I learned a lot. He always wore underwear that came from Switzerland—softest fabric I ever touched.

We met in an elevator in the medical office building where both of us worked, when he complimented my black fedora with the wide brim. He liked to spank me, lightly and playfully, and talk dirty simultaneously.

The South African psychiatrist whose fingernails were always dirty because he rode his bicycle everywhere and kept it well oiled. He thought I desperately needed him because of my unsavory childhood. We met on the street when he almost ran over me.

The Croatian who always giggled before and after sex. He gargled his snot and rinsed his teeth at meals with coffee. That was a very short-term relationship.

The Jewish art director who airbrushed photos for multinational cosmetic companies. He liked for me to wear a black garter belt and long silk stockings. We met in front of Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” at the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street.

Excerpt 48

London, England

1972

“I’m leaving right now! No one ever ever slaps me!” I shrieked. “Get away from me, Yanni!”

Hurriedly, I packed.

Yanni apologized and begged me not to leave.

I dragged my two worn-out yellow Samsonite suitcases up the two flights of stairs and out the front door of our Earl’s Court bedsitter and waited for one of those shiny, spacious, perfect black London taxis to pick me up and drive me back to my familiar run-down hotel in the Paddington section of London.

The following morning I looked at the fifth century-B.C. Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.

Yanni was so blindly patriotic; amazingly, he had been able to deliver lengthy disquisitions in broken English about Greek history and how those marble panels belonged in Athens: The glorious Greeks and all the infidels.

It rained all that day. London seemed almost empty; the streets were deserted; most of London must have gone away on summer vacation. Everything—buildings, sidewalks, sky, trees, and a few lost souls—all looked ashen.

I had never been so lonely in my whole life.

When I got hungry, I entered a small Indian restaurant and sat at a corner table. All of the customers were Indian, and all of them stared at me with large, dark eyes as I ate my spicy lamb and creamy yogurt. It must have been the first time that they saw a young woman eating alone in a restaurant.

I was a Martian on a foreign planet.

The following morning, I telephoned Yanni. “Can I come back?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of course. That’s wonderful news!” he responded.

When I arrived at the bedsitter, there were piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and laying on the rickety dining table was a signed black-and-white photograph of a glamorous blonde woman holding a microphone.

He really had missed me!

The night before he had picked up a nightclub singer and brought her back to “our” apartment for cold ouzo and hot sex.

Excerpt 47

In the 1970s,  I was the poster girl for multiculturalism.

My curiosity was boundless; my lovers came from all the over world.

Among them:

The Jewish cosmetic dermatologist, Alan, whose bedroom and bathroom walls were completely covered in mirrors, including the ceilings. He dated mostly models, and his sister acted as his personal maid. She cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed the living room, while we fucked in the bedroom. Alan and I met at a party given by a German doctor, whose Chinese butler hit the bottle sometimes…once he put cherry tomatoes in the fruit salad!

When he served dinner, his face turned bright red and he merrily chuckled.

###

Joshua, the married Zionist, who criticized the way I dressed; he said I was always so buttoned up. Too conservative.

If you want Las Vegas, go to Las Vegas! And he was so cheap!

He was involved in all sorts of political organizations and would get discounts on rooms at the Sheraton on Seventh Avenue. We were not allowed to lie on the sheets because the rooms supposedly were used only for meetings. We had to lie on top of the bedspread.

He was impotent and insisted on masturbating above my stomach. When it was time to go home, he always told the taxi driver to drop him off first (we lived about ten blocks from each other).

He would give me a few bucks for the taxi—never enough to cover the bill and the tip.

[Men who are stingy with money are equally stingy with emotion. Stay far away from them!]

Whenever we lay on top of the hotel bedspread, I thought about my former Greek husband who insisted that bedspreads in hotels were always filthy. He also had a fetish about library books; he would never touch a library book. Dirty pages! And he wasn’t talking about pornography!

Others…

 Jesus, the Puerto Rican, who was an honors student at Columbia University and had won a full scholarship, lived in International House. His room was about seven feet by four feet.

He taught me how to carry my purse in bad neighborhoods. We spent a lot of time in a bar on West End Avenue and in his tiny single bed.

###

Gordon, the  African-American professor of African studies at Hunter College. He was from Tanzania. His perfect classic features made him look like an Indian maharajah. All he needed was a jeweled turban to complete the picture.

###

Leon, the investment banker, who stacked towels beside the bed because he sweated so much during sex.

An ex-girlfriend called him Skunk, not because of body odor, but because of his hairy chest, which was all dark hair except for a white streak exactly in the middle of his chest, as though it were a precise guideline for open-heart surgery.

At Christmas, even though he was Jewish, he recycled the holiday cards that he’d received; he crossed out the greeting and signature of others and sent them to his lovers and business associates!

In his den, he had an oil painting of a naked man chasing another on a football field; the chaser had an enormous erection.

He was 48 years old and still desperately in love with his mother. The initials for his company were M.O.M.  He was a creative and ruthless businessman. Made a fortune on Wall Street.

 

Excerpt 46

Years later, she and my father boycotted my wedding and sent a neatly typed note on engraved eggshell stationery: “Mr. and Mrs. Robert R. Smith, Jr., will not attend.”

I waited for an explanation for their absence. I waited for decades, but it never came.

My mother and I were master/slave; Hitler/Jew; shark/bloody leg; Mr. Murdstone/David Copperfield; Johan/Henrik in Ingmar Bergman’s Saraband. 

Whenever someone asked about my “Mom,” my gut reaction would have been to answer, Mom? I don’t know anyone like that. Nancy, my biological mother,  the popinjay, the vituperative termagant, was certainly no Stella Dallas.

To my mother, every aspect of life was categorized as a bargain or overpriced.

That included me: poor Return On Investment.

I had no siblings. To visit her after I left home for college, a formal invitation was required. Christmas was the only time that I was permitted to return to my parents’ house.

Excerpt 45

Thanksgiving. Memphis. 1966

My father and I went to the local Holiday Inn for our Thanksgiving dinner.

My mother was indisposed, once again, because of her drinking.

We ran into Anastasia at the restaurant; she was one of my father’s loyal,  female friends. If I had looked closely, I might have seen the Trojan condoms in her Lucite handbag; Anastasia was a wealthy divorcée who got her kicks by pimping for the secret society of artistic, homosexual men in the East Memphis neighborhood.

She threw raucous, extravagant parties where handsome young boys and older patrician men were introduced. Women were invited also, but they tended to be in their 50s and 60s and were oblivious to Anastasia’s lascivious machinations.

 

 

Excerpt 44

Writing in my diary is my therapy. Goethe said:

“The beginning and end of all literary activity is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me by means of the world that is in me, all things being grasped, related, re-created, molded and reconstructed in a personal form and an original manner.”

Often, I wish I were a ballerina so that I could sweat blood for beauty and for art. I gesticulate in front of the mirror, with my arms outstretched reaching farther and farther.

Art has helped more people recover from abuse, abandonment, and betrayal than all the psychiatrists in the world.

If not that route: War…Hitler, Stalin, Mao—all were abused children. The plus side???

Abused children have much more interesting sex lives as adults. There are roles to be played: domination/submission; fetishes to act out; neurotic kinks that find expression at some deep, dark primal level.

I must bring energy to despair. Move over Jean Rhys!

 

 

Excerpt 43

Manhattan

1971

Weeks later in New York City, I lost my virginity to Noah, a not nice Jewish boy from Brooklyn,  on a large, heated waterbed behind blood-red padded leather doors in a closed wing of Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital on First Avenue.

After fucking, he told me that he felt like he had been through a meat grinder!

Noah had an amphetamine-addicted roommate who shared his East 24th Street apartment. Both were dental students at New York University and had easy access to Bellevue.

 

 

Excerpt 42

My parents never even had medical insurance, which they considered an extravagance, until they were eligible for Medicare. They gambled…and won the health lottery.

And when my father died, Nancy gave his body to a medical school so that she wouldn’t have to pay for cremation. Afterward, she refused to accept his ashes; she told the hospital to dump them in a public veterans’ grave.

However, when Robert’s clients expressed interest in making charitable donations in his name, she made a wise decision: Their money was used to buy magnolia trees to be planted  in a large area, which was being developed into a community  park, near the Memphis city limits.