Excerpt 25

“All art is the result of one’s having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke

My mother’s wedding night was a threesome:  My mother, father, and Joe,  an Episcopal priest, who was my father’s favorite lover. They were in Fairhope, Alabama, an artsy town on the Gulf.

No family members attended.

It was 1949.

My mother told me this when I was twelve years old. We were having dinner at Britling’s, the local cafeteria, in Memphis. I really liked their shredded carrots with raisins.




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.

I was terrified, but just wanted to get it done.

My college roommate had nicknamed me: LVOC (last virgin on campus).

After fucking, Noah complained, “I feel like I’ve been through a meat grinder.”

He 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  the closed wing at Bellevue, the spooky, dark,  gothic hospital for crazies.

Excerpt 24

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, despite their decades of heavy smoking and drinking.

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



Thanksgiving 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 men and older patrician gentlemen were introduced. Women were invited also, but they tended to be in their 50s and 60s and were oblivious to Anastasia’s lascivious machinations.



[music: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana]

November 1977

          Lovers and Other Strangers

Poor Maurice, the surgeon. He was so depressed last night because of a terrible fight that he had with his wife. She and their sixteen-year-old daughter ganged up against him.

He said his wife had lost her emotional softness ever since she published her first novel. Now she lacks compassion and patience, according to him.

What he—and, unfortunately, many men–want in marriage: cook, lover, mother, servant, nursemaid.

God forbid his wife would seek accomplishments of her own! And he was furious when he discovered that she had a lover, too. Of course, the scrofulous physician had been unfaithful to his wife on their honeymoon!

What do I remember most about him? His underwear. He always bought it in Switzerland—the softest briefs I ever touched.


The married English WASP who actually used a cigarette holder! He was an executive with a large advertising agency, but always an aspiring writer. His novel, The Girl Watcher, was published while we were dating.

He liked to have sex with me in sleazy motels in Westchester. His wife was an entomologist, who spent 12 hours daily studying the social organization of ant groups.

The handsome, charismatic art student who worked part-time as a security guard at the Museum of Modern Art. We had sex on a couch in a bedroom, while a wild party was going  on in the host’s living room.

The skinny, Australian investment banker who said that my birth control foam smelled like Pabulum.

The much older advertising executive who liked for me to hold his penis when he peed.

The mustached Hungarian who liked for me to sit on his face.

The married uber rich Greek, tall and very slim, who picked me up in his white Rolls Royce.  After a lavish meal at La Caravelle, we returned to my apartment.  He followed me into the bedroom, but instead of approaching me for a kiss and whatever, he headed to my closet and pulled out a negligee. He then proceeded to pull the silk garment over his head!

My strict Southern upbringing held me back from so many fascinating opportunities, because the culture in which I was raised hammered [sledge hammer] in the importance of being a soft-spoken, gentle, self-effacing, well-mannered lady. And I always flourished at following the rules.

Rebellion was only possible later on in my secret life of men and questionable sexual mores.

The perfect Southern female of the ’60s and early  ’70s was a reserved lady in the living room and an enthusiastic  whore in the bedroom; I managed the duality pretty well.



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 drank champagne and kir. 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.

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

The Jewish-Russian taxi driver who became a wealthy sportswear manufacturer. One night he invited his best friend to join us in bed. I dated both of them, and several times the three of us went to bed together. We practiced sixty-nine as though we were characters in Fellini’s Satyricon (which had been produced in 1969).

The Irish man whose immense fingers looked like Polish sausage—large Kielbasa.

The Swiss doctor whose wife had died from breast cancer when she was in her 30s. He sent their three children to live with the grandparents in Geneva. His favorite companion was his adorable black Labrador, Othello, who sat at the dinner table with us. Othello loved bread and cheese.

The  Israeli who was also in the clothing business. A garmento as we call them in New York. Every summer, he  sent his wife and children to Israel for an extended vacation, so that he could chase women in Manhattan.  On Monday nights, he always played poker with some friends, except when I was available.

The West Point jock who remained unhappily married for 30 years until his neighbors in Greenwich, Connecticut, started getting divorced; he then believed divorce was socially acceptable. A very sweet man and wonderful lover. He loved to go to piano bars and dance.

I hated piano bars and dancing, but if I drank enough vodka stingers  and cognac, I had dancing feet that wouldn’t quit, and the following day I would have the  blisters to prove it.