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1. Hero Adored by Beautiful Women! Falls in Love!
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When I was a boy growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia during the Great Depression I was filled with dreams. My dreams were fired by the books I read, and while my body was chopping wood or milking the family cow, my mind was strolling down the Champs-Élysées, swimming at Malibu, signing autographs at Sardi's, having tea at the London Ritz, or hailing my gondola in front of The Royal Danelli. Most of all in my fantasy life, I dreamed of becoming a writer.
All of these dreams have come true, and they began to materialize in 1953. It was a year of many landmarks in my life.
Random House had just published my first novel, Fifty Roads to Town. The reviews were good, and a few copies had been sold. I suspect they were bought primarily by friends, but still I felt good. I had known the exhilaration of holding the book in my hands. I had finally arrived as a real writer. I was a success!
Success brought remarkably little money. But there were other rewards such as a good review in the New York Times! It also brought its share of disappointment such as going in Scribners and asking for the book only to find that they had never heard of it. It was at that point that I decided it would be wise to hold on to my job as a scriptwriter at the National Broadcasting Company.
All around me my friends were getting married and having children. They would invite me over to see the baby and atnine-thirty the father, who would once have been a drinking companion until the last bar closed for the night, would now begin to yawn and make noises about having to take the four o'clock feeding! What happened to the women was even worse. Beautiful young things who used to dance until the Rainbow Room closed and then take the ferry to Staten Island to watch the sun come up, these lovely sinful young women overnight became saintly and maternal, seemingly interested only in the merits of formula over breast feeding.
I resolved never to get married. Life was too full to be burdened with children, responsibility, and routine. I would write more books. I would travel. Perhaps I would live in Europe. I had lived in Paris for a while after World War II and I imagined myself returning there to a cozy little apartment where I would write my novels under a skylight and go to sleep at night to the music of an accordion playing a song about the joys of being young and drinking the white wine in Nogent.
And then one evening I left my office at NBC where I had been preparing an interview to be featured the next morning on The Today Show. I was on my way to a restaurant on Forty-seventh Street to have a drink with my friends Noah and Sherry. On my way to join them I stopped at a table to say hello to Susanne Salter, a friend from the publicity department at NBC.
"I'd like you to meet my roommate, Jane Martin," said Susie.
As my Italian cousins are wont to say, "The earth moved." Only later when I was more coherent was I able to remember details. She was blonde. She wore her hair in a bun. Her eyes were blue and when she smiled the whole room was illuminated. I could go on but she will read these words and will be embarrassed. To be conservative, in my estimation she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
I later had the impression that I made several brilliant remarks befitting a young novelist. But Jane and Susie to this day insist that I spoke not a word.
What I am sure of is that when I reached Sherry and Noah's table, I said, "I have just met the girl I am going to marry."
The psychologists claim there is no such thing as love at first sight. They claim that when two people "fall in love" what really happens is that the two lovers recognize a myriad of interlocking needs—psychological, sexual, social, economic, spiritual, etc. I'm not sure I go along with all of that, but I do know that one of the qualities that I recognized in Jane was an overwhelming compassion for all of life and that she recognized in me a positive response to her feelings.
Jane had recently lost a cocker spaniel named Stormy. He had been devoted to Jane. He was fiercely protective of her and if anyone came near her he would bite.
"The janitor has been very nice about it," she said. "But the delivery man from Gristede's has sued."
"Did you ever think of getting him a muzzle?" I asked.
"I got him one," she answered, "but he wouldn't wear it."
"Didn't you ever try to make him wear it?" I asked.
"Oh," she said, "nobody could ever make Stormy do anything he didn't want to do."
Stormy had bitten a good number of people, and Jane had spent a lot of time at the Bite Division on the Upper East Side. That was where Stormy had to be registered as a "biter" and be examined for rabies every time he bit another person.
Now he was dead and Jane grieved for him. She swore she would never have another dog. And then one day she was walking along Sixth Avenue and just happened to glance in the window of the pet shop.
And she saw Clemmentine.
Clemmentine was seven weeks old. She had long, brownish-blonde hair and soulful eyes. She had already perfected the old cocker spaniel trick of gazing out of the window with such longing that even people who knew better were tempted to take her home.
After she spotted the puppy in the window, Jane began walking home on the other side of the street so she would not have to meet those wistful eyes. It was not long before she was walking along the west side of Sixth Avenue again and allowing herself just one glance at the puppy before continuing on to the apartment on Twelfth Street.
There came a day when she could resist no longer. She stopped and knelt down so that she was eye level with the pup. Knowing damn well what it was doing, the puppy pressed its nose to the window. Whatever mysterious bond that is formed between a dog and his special person was cemented at that moment. It was further strengthened when Jane entered the shop and asked permission to hold the puppy.
At dinner that evening Jane confessed to Susie that she had lost control of herself, that she had held the dog and could not live without her.
"Why don't you buy her?" asked Susie.
"Thirty dollars," answered Jane. "I don't have it."
"Neither do I. Not if we're going to make the rent next month."
"Maybe I'll drink a martini," said Jane.
"I don't think getting drunk is the answer," said Susie.
"Oh, I don't mean to get drunk," said Jane. "But a martini might give me the courage to call home and ask for the thirty dollars."
The drunken appeal to Davenport, Iowa, was averted when Susie called me.
"Janie-Poo's gone lunatic over that puppy in the pet shop on Sixth Avenue. I think she'll absolutely perish if she doesn't get it."
Susie invents and uses language imaginatively. Jane often became "Janie-Poo." I am a staid-looking, buttoned-down person, the last man alive one would call "The Pearl," but Susie sees no inconsistency in calling me "Earl the Pearl."
"Why doesn't she buy it?" I asked.
Susie explained about the thirty dollars and the rent.
"Why don't we each pitch in ten bucks and surprise her with it?"
"That's only twenty," said Sue.
"We could hit J. Dale for the other ten. He's rolling in money."
J. Dale was an associate producer on The Tonight Show and sure enough, when Susie hit him up for the ten, he agreed to pitch in.
The three of us picked up the puppy. On our way to the apartment she peed on me twice. It was a pattern that would continue till the end of her days, for she was a nervous and erratic dog and the only way she seemed able to cope with life's crises was to relieve herself wherever she might be.
Susie had made sure that Jane would still be at the apartment. We arrived, opened the door, put the puppy inside and stood waiting out in the hall.
For a long moment nothing happened. And then we heard a surprised shriek followed by low crooning noises, and finally the suggestion of a sob. Knowing the grief Jane had suffered over the death of Stormy, we withdrew.
"How about a drink?" suggested Susie.
"Ice Bar's just around the corner," said J. Dale.
"Let's go," I said.
The Ice Bar was not really the name of the saloon. Jane and Susie called it that because they had made friends with the Irish bartender, and he would provide them with free ice when there was a party or when their refrigerator broke down.
"I'll have a Sazerac," said Sue to the bartender when we found a place at the bar. She was forever learning about fancy drinks uptown and then ordering them in the local bars where an order for anything more complicated than a bourbon and water would raise a blank stare from the bartender.
But this bartender had already been won over, and following Susie's directions, he began mixing her Sazerac. Finally, when we each had been served and taken a sip of our drinks, Susie turned to J. Dale and me and said: "What are we going to do about Janie-Poo?"
"Why do we have to do anything about her?"
"Well," said Sue, "she went home for Christmas."
You learned after a while to hear Susie out. A simple declarative sentence might announce a theme, and then variations would gradually emerge until finally the full body of her meaning would become clear. J. Dale and I listened patiently.
"She had that terrific job as an editor at Harper's Bazaar, but they wouldn't give her any time off for Christmas. So she took it anyway, and they fired her. And then she found something with the Yellow Cab Company, but the drivers all got in fights over which one got to give her a ride home, and now she's doing research and has to sit in that gloomy old public library writing down things when everybody else is out having a divine time. What are we going to do about her?"
"If she'll have me, I would like to marry her," I said.
"Oh, Pearl!" screamed Susie. "What a perfect solution!"
"Oh, I'm not doing it to solve anything," I said. "It's just that I'm in love with her."
Following that, Susie cried and J. Dale ordered another round of Sazeracs. We were all busy toasting one another when Jane slipped in and joined us at the bar. She carried the cocker spaniel puppy, which had already lost its look of longing and taken on a secure, if not downright smug expression.
"Her name is Clemmentine," said Jane, "like in the song `Oh, My Darling.'"
"Janie-Poo," exclaimed Susie, "Pearl wants to marry you."
"Well, all right," said Jane, and when I leaned over to kiss her, Clemmentine bit me. She was already a one-person dog, and I wasn't the person.