Rod has thrown himself into the life of the bohemian Parisian painter. His output as an artist flows readily from his brush as he breezes through brief dalliances with women on the Left Bank, seeking pleasure and satisfaction before anything else.
Rod has his youth, his money, his art, and an active sex life—everything he could want. At least, he thinks so. Until he meets an attractive male model who will forever change him and the way he thinks about love. At first, Rod assumes their trysts are simply a quirk, a twist on the rendezvous he has had with girls throughout his time in Paris. However, as they spend more and more time together, Rod realizes that this feeling isn’t a quirk: It’s who he truly is.
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About the Author
Gordon Merrick (1916–1988) was an actor, television writer, and journalist. Merrick was one of the first authors to write about gay themes for a mass audience. He wrote fourteen books, including the beloved Peter & Charlie Trilogy. The Lord Won’t Mind spent four months on the New York Times bestseller list in 1970. Merrick’s posthumously published novel The Good Life, coauthored with his partner, Charles G. Hulse, was a bestseller as well. Merrick died in Sri Lanka.
Read an Excerpt
By Gordon Merrick
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1978 Charles G. Hulse, Estate of Gordon Merrick
All rights reserved.
"No. Please. I mean it. I want you to."
"It's too much, monsieur. I simply can't. We must be serious."
Rod laughed. Serious? He wanted to give the man a small painting. He didn't want to be serious. He had been learning recently that he didn't have to be serious about most of the things people insisted he should be serious about; he could turn life upside down and come out on top every time. He moved toward the door to indicate that the incident was closed.
"Truly," he said in French that was rapidly becoming idiomatic. "When people like my work I'd like to give them everything I've done. As you say, art should be a necessity, not a luxury." This plumber or electrician, whichever one took care of water heaters, had actually said it and had so delighted Rod that for the moment the idea of putting a price on pictures seemed beneath him. His enormous gamble hadn't been for money.
"If you refuse to let me pay, I will be here without charge whenever you're in difficulties," the stocky stranger said. "M. Valmer knows how to reach me."
"Perfect," Rod agreed, still laughing. A deal between specialists. His work had as much practical value as a functioning water heater.
The man picked up the tool bag at his feet and, holding the small canvas carefully by the stretcher, lumbered to the door. Rod followed. The man turned back to him and disengaged one finger and offered it in lieu of a handshake. Rod shook it and let him out amid expressions of mutual admiration and satisfaction.
He turned back into the big high-ceilinged room and looked around it with a proprietary grin. He stretched his arms out at his sides and flexed his finders. Space. His secret hideaway. Not even the girl he loved–who was thrillingly in love with him–knew where he lived. People might be sleeping in the Métro, but he, one of the Americans who were urged to "go home," had a place of his own in Paris. The price he was paying might drive him slightly schizo, but he wasn't even much worried about that anymore. He had the world by the tail.
He chuckled and dropped his arms to his sides and headed back to his easel. Everything was perfect. The enormous gamble, the gamble that had kept him in a paralysis of foreboding and indecision for almost a year, was paying off royally. Why had he ever doubted that it would? Why had he been so terrified of questioning the outmoded conventions that had ruled to first 25 years of his life? A month ago he would have been tongue-tied at the prospect of discussing art with a plumber–never dreamed that a workman would want one of his pictures. The fact that he had given it to the man was symbolic of his liberation from the prevailing obsession with money. Money. He was finally free of it; he knew what it felt like to be happy.
His biggest recent discovery was that torment was greatly overrated as a spur to creativity. He had never heard of the Greek who had said that no man could be counted as happy until he was dead, beyond the reach of life's hazards and vicissitudes. He hadn't learned that happiness is a volatile blessing frequently leading to folly. This had been the year of the big decisions. Next year they would bear fruit and make his name a household word. Let his future biographers make note of two crucial dates in the annals of contemporary painting: 1960 and 1961. Rod MacIntyre didn't have quite the ring of, say, Pablo Picasso, but it would do as well as Jackson Pollock.
He was right that the dates were crucial but in ways that were to come as a shocking surprise to him. Shrouded in secrecy, his name was soon to appear in a report given strictly limited distribution in an obscure office in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. It read in part:
REF YR 1274-27-C SIDECAR BADLY STALLED, SUSPECT NEW BIRD ABOUT TO FLY COOP. WILL FACILITATE DESPITE STICKY SITUATION WITH AUTHORITIES HERE. POSSIBLE MANSLAUGHTER CHARGE PLUS REALLY WEIRD SEX. YOU NAME IT, WE'VE GOT IT. SEE MY 746. IF SUSPICIONS CORRECT, YOUR PEOPLE WILL TAKE OVER IN NY. NAME RODERICK MACINTYRE. FAMILY WITH BIG BANKING AND DIPLOMATIC CONNECTIONS. KID GLOVE DEPARTMENT. SWORN ENEMIES OF OLD JOE AND THE BOY. SON A MAVERICK BUT CAN BE TAMED. WHY NOT? WE HAVE HIM BY THE BALLS. POSSIBLY USEFUL IN ONGOING INFILTRATION OF NIXON OPERATION. WORD IS OUT THE BOSS-ELECT ISN'T HAPPY WITH HIS NARROW WIN. BIG BREAK THERE FOR YOU, BOY. COMPLETE DOSSIER FOLLOWS AS Z-720-12. COTTON.
That lay in the future. But even if Rod had been granted a glimpse of things to come, he probably wouldn't have heeded the warning; he was more and more inclined to believe that the future would take care of itself. He had hit his lucky streak about a month ago and the gift of the picture was an offering to the gods who governed it. Luck had to be nourished whenever the opportunity arose.
In a sense it had all started with Lola. He remembered (only a month ago, but it seemed like another age) how close he had come to not seeing Lola again. He stood in the slight crouch he had adopted to compensate for the low ceiling of the cheap little hotel room and wondered if she was worth the bother of putting on a clean shirt and a tie. He glanced out the window, above which a small skylight has been added so that the management could rent the attic room as a "studio," and caught a glimpse of moldering gray masonry against a leaden gray sky. Depressing. Perhaps a brief wallow with the rich would be sufficiently grating to make him contented with his lot.
He backed away from his easel and his stacked canvases and the other litter of his work–the big portfolio of drawing paper, the newspaper-covered table strewn with tubes of paint, the jar containing a bouquet of brushes–and in a few paces crossed the room with his head down to another table and rooted about in a drift of letters and envelopes and gallery catalogues until he found Lola's card. He took another few steps and let himself collapse backward onto the lumpy bed and held the invitation up before his eyes. Beneath the coronet and the interminable name, a few words were written in a large, firm hand. "Come to tea on Wednesday the 12th at 5:30 (a drink of course). We must know each other."
A tie. He couldn't expect a woman like Lola to know a guy without a tie, although why they should know each other escaped him. Because "his grasp of the interrelationships of time, space, and matter have carried American painting a giant step away from the domination of the failing European tradition"? Because he had created "a world of astonishing architectonic solidity whose sharply defined patterns of vibrant color bring coherent order into the disparate elements of modern life"? Or because, according to one important fashion magazine, "people are talking about Roderick MacIntyre, whose soaring arabesques, whose fresh-from-the-paintbox colors have lit the Paulus Galleries with a blaze of young vigorous talent"? He laughed aloud. The memorized quotes from the art critics paraded gloriously through his head, but he doubted if they would make much more sense to Lola than they did to him. He had already met the lady, an imposing dowager who, through several of the more cosmopolitan members of his family, was a link with the life he had left behind. Out of affection for a favorite aunt, he had let Lola know of his presence in the city, he had been invited to a grand but boring party, and he had sent flowers. A social obligation had been discharged. Why have what was apparently intended to be an intimate meeting with her this afternoon? Perhaps he could use her as a test of his resolution to turn his back on all that she could offer him, on all that she represented. The hell with a shirt and tie.
He skimmed the card in the general direction of the table and looked at the ceiling. A long dark stain extended from one corner almost halfway across it. From the middle of the ceiling hung a wire; to the end of the wire was appended a light bulb covered by a misshapen but determinedly frilly shade. His eyes ran down over the wallpaper that crammed the tiny room with enormous, vaguely Cubist flowers interspersed with what appeared to be flashes of gray sky that was getting darker.
He pulled himself up into a sitting position, his long legs sprawling out in front of him so that his feet almost touched the opposite wall, and glanced at the trunk in the corner. It was not yet completely unpacked even though he had lived here for weeks. His glance took in with approval the tangle of clothes piled on a chair. The place was a mess, and it suited him. It was his mess, more his than anything had ever been his. Its impoverished impersonality soaked up his imprint as parched earth soaks up water. He burrowed into it and pulled it up around him–depending on it to cure him of the habit of money.
He looked at his watch. Almost time for Lola. He rose and hunched himself over to the window where he picked up the canvas he had been working on earlier and turned it to the last dead light of the dying day. His eyes probed into it, fixed and searching. It was dense, highly charged, and yet perfectly controlled. Architectonic. That was it. He could laugh at what the idiots had written about him, but he couldn't deny that they had played their part in his big decision. Without them he might still have his lucrative job with a successful firm of industrial designers. He might still be engaged to Carol–or even married to her. (He hadn't decided against Carol. It had been the other way around. She had treated him as if he had gone mad and turned a deaf ear to his suggestion that they let things ride until he saw how it all worked out. She had undoubtedly been right. She meant even less to him now than Jeannine, and that was saying something.)
He returned the picture to the easel and turned back into the room. He ran his hand over the dark stubble of the day's growth of beard. Unshaven, tieless, in a dirty shirt–this was probably the truthful way to go to Lola, the Left-Bank rebel invading the elegant sanctuary of the Right-Bank aristocracy, but there was no need to push it. The fact that he didn't have to shave every day was part of his new freedom, but he was still sensitive– oversensitive?–to the demands of propriety. He would shave for Lola. He would wear a clean shirt for her if he could find one in the depths of the unpacked trunk. He would revert once more to the Rod MacIntyre whose death sentence he had decreed several months ago after his successful New York show when he had sprung fresh from the paint box into the pages of the art journals.
He emerged from the dingy entrance hall of his cheap hotel into the lively streets of Paris. Paris. Why Paris? Some sort of concession to a dead tradition? Whatever it had once been, now it was just another crumbling bastion of Western materialism. Its most-notable features were De Gaulle's efficient storm troopers and the bombs that had been going off with increasing frequency since his arrival. He tried not to take them personally. There was something about the place that made you think that everything had been arranged for the individual. It was personal in a way he supposed most places used to be. Maybe not. He was still trying to figure it all out.
He buttoned up his raincoat against the cold and headed toward the Boulevard St. Germain for the Métro, stopping to pick up an evening paper before forcing himself down into the stench and noise and crowd of the public transport system. He had almost never taken the subway in New York. He felt like a giant in the midst of this small, quick race.
He found a seat in an almost full carriage and ran his eyes over the headlines. Tension in the East. Tension in the West. Tension in-between. The secretary for foreign affairs says that, with patience, war might be avoided. Patience. He turned the page. A body had been dragged out of the Seine. In Italy a woman had given birth to a fish. A bloody night at Orléans. An American GI, mad with rage, had availed himself of a gun at the dinner table and killed his French wife, his baby, his father-in-law, and himself. The mother-in-law, a bullet through one lung, was in precarious condition but–
Rod let the paper crumple against his knees and leaned back in the seat. He reconstructed the scene in his mind, the bodies slumped against the table. Possibilities for an interesting composition. Family Portrait.
Peace. It was wonderful. Almost everybody he knew had been shot at by someone somewhere. He had arranged his own entrance into the world rather cleverly. He had been too late for World War II–they weren't drafting children–and they hadn't given him quite enough time to be ready to be killed in Korea. If they managed to be patient for another four years, he would be too old for the next round of fun and games, although the French seemed to have left some loose ends in the Orient that Kennedy had been talking about quite a lot recently. Thailand? Vietnam? His geography was a bit vague when it came to the exotic East.
He got out of one train and moved in a surging wave of people to another. He climbed stairs and came out at the Etoile. The Eternal Light flickered softly in the misty night. The Unknown Soldier lay in eternal solitude under the crushing weight of the Arc de Triomphe. He wondered if there was really anybody in there. It seemed unfair to pile all that on top of one poor lonely bastard.
Crossing over to avenue Foch was like entering the gate of another city. Streetlights illuminated the immaculate and artfully landscaped garden strips, as artificial as something under glass, running down the sides of the broad avenue. Behind them, set back in their own garden plots and guarded by forbidding iron palisades, were the ornate 19th-century facades of apartment buildings that somehow had the effect of private dwellings, as a few of them had once been and still fewer still were. The automobiles that prowled silently before them were richly austere–Rolls-Royces and Bentleys and Daimlers. The occasional vulgarity of a Cadillac looked glaringly out of place. Nothing crumbled here. Just walking through gave him the old familiar sense of suffocation that he associated with money. He thought of the big house he'd grown up in–a country house, if you could count Greenwich, Connecticut, as country–but with the same air of overbearing privilege as this urban landscape. A big house set on a commanding rise of land and embedded in the pompom formality of hydrangeas. Cavernous white-columned verandas. A sweep of lawn falling away behind–with the pool at the foot of it set against a backdrop of woods. There were smells associated with it–the smell of fresh-cut grass predominate–but mostly he remembered colors, the cool green of the lawn, the sparkling blue of the pool, the scarlet and blue and yellow and white of the flower beds, the crisp white of awnings and housemaids' aprons. Clean, safe, and confining. Lawns and the rainbow spray of sprinklers demanded their price in taxes and conformity. It was no wonder the break for freedom and independence hadn't been easy, no wonder he still had moments of doubt about whether his decision would offer sufficient rewards.
He had been quite simply terrified of giving up his job, with a big raise in the offing and nothing but the few thousand dollars he had made from his show to weigh against it. He had had to stiffen his will to the breaking point to face his parents' disapproval and accept their unequivocal edict that no help would be forthcoming if he pursued his foolish course. In what he agreed was his slightly mad determination, he somehow convinced himself that he didn't need their help. He was madly determined to be a painter. Even the loss of Carol couldn't deter him. He was beginning to believe that nothing could deter him now that he had the Atlantic Ocean to hide behind. Of all the problems facing the world, that of a rich boy trying to earn the right to behave like a poor boy hardly came at the head of the list. But it was tougher than people realized, and he thought he was beginning to make some progress.
Halfway down Foch near avenue Malakoff, he turned in through a massive iron gate and walked back along the carriage drive that bisected the building to the elevator. A handsomely lettered sign hung on its door: "Temporarily Out of Order." It had been there when he was here before. He smiled with satisfaction. There were a few flies even in this rich ointment. He turned and mounted wide flights of carpeted marble stairs to the third floor.
Excerpted from The Quirk by Gordon Merrick. Copyright © 1978 Charles G. Hulse, Estate of Gordon Merrick. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another terrific story and plot by this author. You have to keep reading since you have no idea where he is going next....