FAKING IT

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Even as a young girl eagerly devouring the “ladies” magazines my mother brought home from the corner newsstand, I thought the advice I found there about keeping a husband’s interest after marriage quite unfair. Especially the part about hurrying to the bathroom to apply makeup before he woke up and caught you with a nakedly unadorned face.  Although privately agreeing with the magazine beauty columnists that one looked much better enhanced by the sorcery of cosmetics than not, I did wonder how come the man didn’t have to do anything special to keep the marriage going.  Of course this was a long time ago, when in most marriages — as I realized long before I had finished high school — the man earned all or almost all the money and the woman’s job, if you could call it that, was to make sure he wanted to go on supporting her.

Whether a heavily made-up face was what a man fantasized about in the privacy of his side of the double bed is another question entirely, and not within the purview of this piece, wherever you thought its headline was leading.  But even if the magazine editors didn’t quite get the male psyche, they were right on the button with the then-economic interests of their readers. Keep yourself attractive, by whatever standards then obtained. Whether “attractiveness” also included faking pleasure between the sheets even where there really was none was probably determined privately by the woman on a case-by-case basis. In any event, back in those long-ago days when I was still living under my parents’ roof, I thought both parties simply exploded simultaneously with some kind of as yet unimaginable joy upon vaginal entry,  which meant that kind of fakery was not an issue.

When at last old enough actually to share a double bed with another, I never was able to force myself to reach for the cosmetic case before he opened his eyes.  However, time had marched on and that was no longer key.  What you were supposed to be was thin, or thinnish (even if “thin” didn’t come naturally); you also had to wear a panty girdle or girdle even if you were thin so nothing at all could possibly jiggle, so your behind was one unbifurcated cheek (preferably perky), and also so any bumps at the top of your thighs, however slender, wouldn’t show in a sheath dress or skirt. That was just to get to first base with a man — long before the necessity of having to keep his mind on you after marriage.

Ideally, you also had to be able to manage your hair, do without glasses in social situations, be a lady in the living room and a whore in the bedroom.  Of course plenty of women did get to first base without some or all of these qualities (myself certainly included), but most of us nevertheless hated one or more parts of our bodies because they didn’t look the way they were “supposed” to look and therefore struggled with as many fakeries as we could afford. (Hot rollers, padded bras, stilettos that improved the ankles but were killers to walk in, dieting in public but raiding the fridge once the girdle was off for the night; I’m sure every female reader of a certain age has her own list.)  I remember asking both a journal when I kept one, and a psychotherapist when I could pay one, “Why can’t I be loved just for me?”

Indeed, who doesn’t want to be loved just for being who they really are?  And yet long after marriage — or multiple marriages — most of us continue to play games with the truth. If we’re lucky, not so much on the domestic front as we and our men grow older and more realistic about what is important, and lovable. But almost always in the outside world, in order to survive. Although I haven’t worked for pay for over ten years,  I still keep a moralizing magnet on my refrigerator acquired during all those decades of having to market myself to successive employers, latterly at an age which on paper might have looked like the kiss of death: “Good clothes open all doors.”  They do, and they did.  Of course, once the door opens and you walk in, the clothes aren’t enough.  You’ve got to be up to scratch on all the multiple facets of the work you’re applying to do.  But you never get to that if the door never opens.

Bottom line: some form of fakery is probably necessary in a market economy for almost every kind of success.   For instance, as a new late-life lawyer in a large firm I soon learned my professional survival would likely depend on keeping to myself all real opinions about the value of what we were doing on behalf of our huge corporate clients.  Do I therefore owe my legal career, and consequent ability to achieve a modest retirement  before death, to the fact that I had little yellow stickies on my computer and inside my front desk drawer reminding me all day long to KYMS?  (My personal acronym for “Keep Your Mouth Shut.”) Not entirely. Good work was also involved.  But KYMS was an excellent start.

Which brings me to yet another example:  selling residential real estate, where the fakery is known in the trade as “staging.”  I learned all about staging in 2005 while selling the first property I had ever owned only in my own name: a two-bedroom, one-bath walk-up apartment on the second floor of a a semi-historic building in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  The building may have been old, but it did have charm and a good address, and the floor-through apartment had “good bones.”  Moreover, I was basically neat, and didn’t own a lot of crap because I had left most of it in the marital home when I moved out six years before buying the Cambridge apartment.

Then I met Bill.  I had bought the apartment  without foreseeing a second occupant, especially one who collected “stuff.”  Bill brought his smaller possessions with him.  (The larger ones, I learned later, were in storage.) Where to put them?  There was one sizable locker unit two floors down in the basement of the building, but it was already fairly full of beloved old grade school math notebooks and incomplete sets of Clue and Monopoly belonging to my two adult but as yet unmarried sons.  Besides, Bill didn’t really want to be rummaging around in a dark basement locker every time he wanted something.  So any available surfaces of my previously uncluttered home began to look like this:

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Cambridge 2005: End table in den (aka second bedroom). Formerly holding only lamp.

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Cambridge 2005: Other table in den. (Formerly holding only lamp. Big pictures mine; small pictures his.)

Since I wasn’t blogging in those days, I have no photographs of his side of the bed with its cluttered bureau top and piles of books on the floor, or of the single bathroom after it had acquired his toiletries and nutritional supplements as well as mine. However I’m sure you can imagine. (Having the two photos above was dumb luck.) “Great apartment,” said the friendly realtor. “But you’ll have to clear all this stuff away.”

“Where shall I hide it?” I asked plaintively.

“Wherever.” She waved her hand blithely.  “I’m sure you’ll find a place.”

[To be concluded in next post.]

 

 

 

 

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TELEPHONE CALL

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The man to whom I was married for twenty-six years telephoned the other day. This is not a common occurrence; I hear from him only rarely. He told me his older brother, aged 93, had just died. He wanted me to hear first, he said, because I had known the brother longer than anyone still alive.

The brother’s wife, 87 or 88 herself, had called to tell him. The brother and his wife were childless, but she was Dutch and had a daughter by a previous marriage living in Holland; they had moved there two or three years ago to be near this daughter in their extreme old age.

My former husband said he knew it might be coming. His brother had been failing since early June and his sister-in-law had been keeping him posted. It was an infection of the kidneys that didn’t respond to antibiotics and couldn’t be scanned because of a prior hip replacement. The brother died at home, “full of tubes,” after several days of extreme stress. Per their prior agreement in America, his wife finally authorized termination of life support.

The brothers had shared a bedroom all the time they were growing up. Even as adults, the younger looked up to and admired the older one. But after the older brother married forty-six years ago, there was some alienation I won’t go into that didn’t resolve until relatively late in life. Only more recently, as they became the remaining two of their generation of a large family left alive, did they seem to have overlooked their differences, and began to stay in touch regularly.

The voice on the telephone was audibly shaky. “It’s so final,” I heard. I had come to dislike the older brother; he had treated us shabbily and then completely turned his back on us when we were going through hard times. But I was sorry all the same, and said so. Certainly sorry for my former husband’s loss, and also sorry to hear of anyone’s death.

Later, however, what struck me most about this relatively short telephone conversation was something else. Apparently when she called with the final news, the sister-in-law was so overcome she could hardly speak. “I hadn’t realized they were so close,” said the man I lived with so long about two very old people who had been together forty-six years. He said it three times before we hung up.

I’m not sure whether he may have not been somewhat envious of their feelings for one another. I am sure his inability to realize people married nearly half a century would feel so close to one another explains yet again, more than anything else that happened to us while we were a couple — why we no longer are.

WHAT’S IN A PET NAME?

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Early in my girlhood, I became aware my mother and father called each other a name I visualized as “Mi” although they both pronounced it “Me.”  I had no idea what it meant or where it came from but knew it was not a name I was supposed to use.  It had something to do with whatever went on between them that didn’t concern me (lower case), their daughter.

“Mi” was used more affectionately than another mysterious word they sometimes called each other — the one I visualized as “Bubi” but sounded like “Booby.”  “Bubi” was matter-of-fact; “Mi” meant something a trifle more intimate. I eventually figured out “Mi.” It was the first syllable of both their names in Russian — his, “Mikhail,” or “Mischa,” hers, Mira (pronounced “Meera”).  Since they were using it while speaking English, it was a trace of their early days together in Baku before they emigrated — the memory of which was exclusively theirs. The provenance of “Bubi” remains unknown to me to this day.

My father sometimes had another word for my mother: “Youshka.”   It showed up in the context of satisfaction with or approval of something she had produced around the house — a good dinner, nicely ironed handkerchiefs, the fragrance of lemon-scented Old English furniture polish.  When reminiscing about his boyhood to me many years later, he once mentioned his family had had a servant called “Youshka” whom he had liked very much; she had brought back candy for him from her day off.  I don’t know if my mother ever heard this anecdote.  She can’t have been very fond of being called “Youshka” though; she never called him “Youshka” back.

Bill recalls his parents called each other “M.”  “M” was the initial letter of each of their first names: Morris and Mary.  (Bill’s grandmother, who was Mary’s mother, called her daughter Miriam. But that began with “M” too.)  No one else called either of them “M.”  It was just for, and between, them.

My first husband, when pleased with me, called me “cute sweet.”  It’s scribbled all over dozens of household notes and post-its which I stuffed into a large manila envelope after reading them with increasing irritation.  Whatever affection all those “cute sweets” may have contained, they sounded patronizing to me, as if I were some small something that he had acquired and was fond of but wasn’t in any way central to his existence.  He was nine years older than I and over six feet tall, so I couldn’t really have called him “cute sweet” back even if I’d felt like it.   It may be I never threw the “cute sweets” away because as long as I felt I had to stay in the marriage, that might have been bad luck. Then I forgot about the envelope after things went from not-so-good to worse and he stopped calling me that or using it in little household notes. An upside to keeping them:  although the last “cute sweet” was probably written in 1959, because I run across the envelope from time to time while looking for something else in the basement, I still remember all those “cute sweets” well enough to tell you about them.

My second husband didn’t go in for pet names, So any pet names arising in my marriage to him were the ones I used with my small children when tucking them into bed at night, Since they would now be extremely embarrassed were I even to hint at what they were (if indeed they remember them), I won’t.  When they reached adolescence, the pet names fell into disuse. But they developed special names for me and their father when speaking about us to each other, which I got to hear but he didn’t.  I was “the Ya!” and he was “the Uh!”  I have my own views on what ” the Ya!” and “the Uh!” meant, but if I go there, we will need to commence an analysis of that marriage and our somewhat different approaches to parenting that would be unwise.  Besides, “the Ya!” and “the Uh!” are not pet names within the meaning of this post. I believe they too were abandoned by the time their users reached college.

Bill and I also began our life together with pet names for each other, reserved for that private place between the sheets where they will stay.  All I will say about them is that (1) these names are not based on either the initials or sound of any syllable of our respective first names, which isn’t what you wanted to know, anyway; and (2) a pet name as I conceive it must be accepted by both parties, the one who speaks and the one to whom it refers.

As witness the day when I suddenly burst out not with my usual pet name for Bill, but with “Baba!”

“Baba?” he not unreasonably inquired.

But when I explained I had no idea where it came from but it meant him and it was good, he soon began calling me Baba too. Not always, you understand.  Just, impulsively, now and then.  I even made up the first two lines of a little song about it. (You will have to create the extremely short tune for yourself.)  “I’m a Baba; You’re a Baba; We are Babas two.”

When I connect with my brain, I suspect that “Baba” is a corruption of “Baby.” But believe me when I say that at such times as “Baba” falls from my lips, my brain is usually in sleep mode.

Then came the cats, Sasha and Sophie. Sometimes, when one of them was being particularly adorable, I began calling that cat Baba, too.  What do you know? Before you could blink an eye a couple of times, we were a family of Big Babas and Little Babas!

Is “Baba” sufficiently acknowledged by the cats to qualify as a name accepted by both parties and therefore a bona fide pet name of the sort I’ve been discussing? (As distinct from a “pet” name given to dogs, cats, or parakeets.)  I believe I can assure you that it is, at least as far as the cats “accept” that their individual names are Sasha and Sophie.  They do know the difference between those two “S” names and sometimes come, correctly, when individually called. And when they feel like it.  By now they will also come to the sound of “Baba” — when they feel like it.  Of course, they may simply be coming to the sound of my voice, the voice of the treat-and-food provider.  But these are mysteries beyond the purview of this post.

Lately, when Sophie — the dumber of the two — is particularly slow to grasp something, such as that it’s okay to eat from her dish while Sasha is eating from her own dish — I have begun  to call her “Poo-poo,” or “Poozie.”  Bill is still trying to wrap his mind around that one — “Why? Why?” he asks — so it may not become shared family vocabulary. If it doesn’t, it will simply be my way of venting annoyance that both our Little Babas are not equally brilliant (for cats).

How did I fall into this seemingly nonsensical post, anyway?  Because if I can’t think of something to write next, I look at the title of the blog.  This time, it occurred to me that when one of us survives the other (as will certainly happen when two people are getting old together), the pet names for each other will go too.  But not the pet names we gave together to our relatively young cats. And that will be a comfort.

When my father died, my mother had no one to call “Mi” and “Bubi” anymore, except perhaps in her heart. She didn’t even have cats. But in her last years she did start feeding a non-feral stray cat, lost or left behind, who came to her door every morning and evening for the cream and tuna she put out.  “Why does she keep coming?” she asked me ingenuously.  She looked forward to it though. So I do hope she gave the cat a pet name she didn’t share with me. A name that was private — just between her and the cat.

A pet name means more and more as you get older.  It means you’re still not alone.

AD BIZ FOLLIES (#1)

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The offer of a first Madison Avenue agency job in September 1958 at $7,500 a year was cause for initial rejoicing. Compared to retail advertising, agency work had all the professional prestige. (Even if the agency hiring me was a block and a half west of Madison, on 55th Street.) And it paid $2,500 more than I had been happy to get just eight months before. I never thought to ask what had happened to the previous copywriter. How could I know it was an era when the agency art director was king and the copywriter chopped chicken liver?

To be entirely self-referential, it was unfortunate that about four years previous, three guys named Doyle, Dane, and Bernbach had gotten together to transform the industry.  Before then there had been heavy emphasis on what ads said (which was the client’s pitch on his product), the headline identifying what was being sold and the picture serving mainly to show what the product looked like.  The bright star in this universe of ad thinking was David Ogilvy, a man who brought great literacy as well as imagination to wordy ads.  He showed us a photograph of a Rolls Royce without the expected “Greatest car in the world” underneath.  Instead, his headline ran, “The only thing you hear at 60 miles an hour is the ticking of the electric clock.” This was followed by two columns of small print extolling the excellence of every detail of a Rolls, which you had to read if your own car was giving trouble, because what other vehicle could make that claim, even when new.

Alas for me, the times (as I said above) they were a’ changin,’ and Ogilvy’s agency — almost one of its kind — was very hard for copywriters to get into.  The change came with Bill Bernbach, whose new agency produced a stream of work that brought admiring “ah!”s from art directors throughout New York.  It was mostly picture, clever headline, very little text.  One famous example:  A subway billboard of a little Asian-American boy beaming as he bit into a large slice of rye bread. The headline?  “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s.”  (Levy’s being the maker of the bread, natch.) Another was an ad featuring a photograph of the original Volkswagen — the bug — shot small against no-seam white paper.  The headline? “Lemon.”  (The copy went on to explain, briefly, that this particular car had failed Volkswagen’s exhaustive testing before release into the market.) My particular favorite was a full page picture of a cat’s face looking right at us in the New York Times. The headline? “I found out about Joan.” (Joan managed to afford all those designer clothes by shopping at Orbach’s, the discount store that was the client.)

Ads like these made art directors saddled with Seventh Avenue merchandise (dresses, pants, blouses, sweaters, coats) unhappy.  They tried to be clever. (See above, with the butterflies.) But the constraints of making the clothes look good enough to please their manufacturers defeated them every time.  No Art Directors Association awards for them. And guess who they blamed?

But I am there before my legs.  (To quote Shakespeare.)  The Gilbert Agency that had hired me consisted of its owner and principal, Richard Gilbert, a nice-looking man in his late thirties or early forties who sat in the only good office in the agency, the one fit for meeting clients because it had a window facing the street. It was Gilbert who brought in the business, with some help from his brother-in-law, an older gentleman with droopy cheeks.  There was also a lady of fifty or so — Bess, I think she was called — a relative of the brother-in-law, who kept the books in a nook behind the receptionist’s desk and tried to be friendly when she came out of her nook, but that wasn’t often. Myrna the receptionist, was nineteen and engaged; she seemed always preoccupied with her switchboard despite there being so few of us making or receiving calls, but that was all right with me because her mind, when not preoccupied, was on getting-married-related matters and I was disinclined to discuss my own marriage, with her or Bess or anyone.

The disinclination was perhaps understandable.  My husband Ed  — he of the MFA from Yale — had given up looking for a respectable job to write unsaleable novels. Now he had finally sold one, after agreeing to take out the tender, sensitive parts and put in some sex.  The publishers had also changed its title from “Rose on the Vine” to “The Fires of Youth.” It was to be marketed as one of a paperback genre then popular called “Juvenile Delinquency” and was dedicated to me. Unfortunately, the literary agent who had managed this feat of sales legerdemain after thirty rejections was not forking up our $900 of the $1,000 the publisher had paid. Perhaps he thought he had earned the whole thing. Undeterred, Ed was now at intermittent work on a second opus, to be called “The Young Wolves.” He had also recently connected with a man who managed strippers for clubs and burlesque houses and was planning to interview prospective strippers in our apartment. Only in the evenings of course, when I was home.

The rest of the agency was down a corridor away from the street and Myrna; it had two offices facing a dark narrow courtyard and a unisex bathroom at the end.  The first smaller office was for me; the second larger one was for the art director, who we shall call G.G.  G.G. and I were supposed to work together as a “creative” team — coming up with bright ideas that G.G. could translate into award-winning visuals without too much copy in them.  (You see how small the type of my job-winning copy is on the Aileen ad at the top of this post?)  This obligation did not at first seem an insuperable obstacle to job security because there were still a few more Aileen ads already photographed that required no colloquy with G.G. I only had to come up with copy for them.  Here’s a second one:

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Just in case you can’t read it because G.G. made the type so small, this is what it says:  “Angel! If you want to see something out of this world, keep an eye on the guy who eyes you in your heavenly cotton knit coordinates by Aileen!”  [Never mind the colors, sizes and “at fine stores everywhere” bits.]

Not so incidentally, we may be at a good place here for me to explain the difference between retail advertising (my last position at Lane Bryant, for instance) and agency advertising.  Retail, as its name implies, was designed to move a particular product out of a particular store or chain of stores right away. It ran in daily newspapers and was directed at the hoped-for consumer.  Agency advertising was intended to persuade retailers to acquire the branded product  by showing them it had appeared in various magazines and the Sunday Times Magazine section, where the ultimate consumer would see it and therefore be familiar with the brand name and want the item when the retailer ran its own ad.  That’s how agency art directors were able to squeeze words out of their ads so easily. All they absolutely needed to show was the product and the brand name. Therefore all they really wanted from the copywriter (unless the client insisted otherwise) was a headline that caught the eye,  just in case the merchandise failed to do so all by itself.

[Sometimes, however, agency ads ran directly in trade publications; when they did, the same strictures about relationship of visual to copy applied. Here, for instance, is an ad from Women’s Wear Daily, I think, inviting shoe buyers to see the fall line of Mannequin shoes showing at the New York sales office, and also to see Dick Nahouse at the Pittsburgh (Shoe) Show and Dave Spivack at the San Francisco (Shoe) Show the following weekend. Don’t ask me about Dick and Dave; I have no idea who they were.]

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But I digress.  Let us return our attention to Aileen, which I had to do more often than I would have liked.  Never a man for a word when a picture might do, G.G. soon “persuaded” me, in his monosyllabic way, that what this account needed was one short snappy line per ad and more photography — inspired by the short snappy line.  Who was I to protest? After a week or more of collegial distress, we moved on to:  “FUN IS MORE SO WITH AILEEN!”  and “A GIRL IS MORE SO WITH AILEEN!” Notice how this maneuver gave the photographer and the art director so much more leeway to push the merchandise off to the side and gambol through the ad with a camera, almost as if they were making a movie. Girl, boy, garment: who needs writers?  (They also pushed the sizes and colors off the page too.)

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I can’t remember what came next.  “Life is more so with Aileen?” “Love is more so with Aileen?”  Since we worked six months to a year ahead of publication date, I was out of there, not voluntarily, before later “More So with Aileen”s hit the newsstands.  So you will forgive me for failing you to fill you in on the continuation of this entirely forgettable campaign.

You think sitting around being half of a creative team with G.G. was easy?  It was a relationship made in hell.  This man who had somehow become my office husband literally couldn’t talk.  In sixteen months of cringing when he walked past my door or called for me from within his own office, I never learned much more about him other than that he was married, had a small son, deeply admired Bill Bernbach and hated the merchandise we had to work with. He was skinny and losing his hair, something he never mentioned, even in jest, and had absolutely no interest in me or my life before advertising.  When his unhappiness with work, or life, or the universe, reached some undefined nadir he developed nosebleeds and needed to retire to the unisex bathroom.  Gilbert thought the world of him.

One of our clients made French leather gloves, said to be washable. The brand name was Kislav. (Qui se lave: “that which washes itself.”)  Ads for Kislav were nightmares.  We sat together in G.G.’s office in miserable silence, me doodling on a pad and hoping for a a drop of blood from his nose that might permit retreat to my own office for a while, he arranging the sample gloves in various configurations on his drawing board and probably hoping a hole would open in the floor and swallow me.  Once, after a week of agony, he brought in some of his little boy’s toys, from which I squeezed a drop of inspiration (“child’s play”) and the following finally emerged:

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CASTING A SPELL IS CHILD’S PLAY WITH KISLAV…THE LOVELIEST YOUNG GLOVES IN THE WORLD. Made of famed French kid…delectably fitted, delightfully washable.

Don’t miss the ungloved little hand coming in from the right:  G.G.’s idea.  For once, he seemed not unhappy with me.  A temporary triumph over adversity.

I spent nearly every lunchtime in the public library on West 53rd Street just off Fifth, as far away from merchandise and advertising as I could get for an hour.  My preference there was biographies of mistresses of poets of the early nineteenth century, when women were taken care of and didn’t have to work if they picked the right poet.  But I didn’t see how I could really leave my life.  I suppose I could have abandoned both job and Ed and fled west again to my parents, who might have sheltered and fed me while I tackled the dissertation that would have enabled me to take up an academic career. [I was toying with this dissertation some evenings, after making supper and cleaning up, but it was barely budging. I was always tired and cross and often didn’t give a damn any more about placing Edmund Wilson, my dissertation subject, among other mid-twentieth-century literary critics, especially since it required reading William Empson’s Seven Levels of Ambiguity first.]  But I didn’t have any savings with which to buy a train or plane ticket. And more to the point, I did still think marriage was forever, so that I had either to make this one work or endure it as it was.

By now Ed was indeed interviewing strippers in the evening.  I sat on a kitchen chair and watched when I wasn’t running the sound:  we used “Let Me Entertain You,” from the record of the musical Gypsy.  One candidate had a monkey, who had been trained to undress her garment by garment.  Another had no gimmicks, not even underwear.  I had to loan her a pair of my underpants for her eventually to take off.  When she gave them back after her audition, they had blood stains on them.  She had got her period. She didn’t even apologize. Ed said I should try to wash them, but I threw them out.  There were certain depths to which I couldn’t sink.

I have no idea how I lasted sixteen months with G.G.  I know he complained about me, because Gilbert called me in and said he knew G.G. was difficult but could I please try to humor him because he was a very good art director.  My education did kick in to help with ads for the Great Lakes Mink Association — Ranchers and Producers of North American Natural Dark Ranch Mink. That may have prolonged my stay. We didn’t have to show mink coats, thank God, and by now well steeped in early nineteenth-century poets, I became irreverent. “Earth has not anything to show more fair!” I declared.  “What?” G.G. demanded, not believing his ears. “It’s Wordsworth,” I said. “But he wasn’t talking about mink coats.”  G.G. didn’t care. I had served my purpose. He was happy all week:

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All the world over, the letter and spirit of fashion finds its finest expression in North American mink.”  Ta-da, ta-da, ta-da.

I was also reasonably conversant in French.  Once G.G. grasped the idea that “American” could be said in other languages, his dour face lit up. With help from the language section of the closest bookstore, he was on his way:

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“French, English, Swedish, Italian…whatever her native tongue may be, the wise woman of fashion asks for North American mink!” [Followed by much use of other adjectives — such as “fine,” “superb,” “superior,” “superlative,” and “treasured.” What can you do? The client asks, the client gets.

But my days were numbered.  Ed and I spent Christmas 1959 in Rochester, New York visiting his parents and aunt.  We drove up with a shelter German Shepherd, his no-cost present to them.  The dog loved hard boiled eggs, and consumed a dozen of them which I had pre-prepared to keep him occupied while we packed for the trip. (I didn’t yet know much about dogs.) He was so eager for more he swallowed the last six whole.  Somewhere near Albany, the last six eggs came up, unchewed, in the same condition in which they had gone down. That’s about all I remember of that Christmas. When I got back to work on January 2, there was no more work.  With some expressed regret from Gilbert, I was let go. Two weeks severance pay.  I did not bid G.G. farewell.  Who ever said life on Madison Avenue was glamorous?

[More to come on request.  If you’ve had enough, give a shout out and we’ll go back to cats.]

FIRST HUSBAND (II of II)

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[A story continued from previous post.]

Inertia won out. It was easier, and at least marginally more interesting, for Millie to resume her thrice-weekly meetings with Richard when he returned a divorced man than not to. Another thing: she had begun to miss the sex. While he was gone, she found herself leaning forward with spread-apart thighs and rubbing herself back and forth on the Chevrolet seat at red lights.

It was less easy to fool her mother.

“Where are you going?”

“Out.”

“With whom?”

“Friends.”

“What friends? April?”

“Other friends.”

“So what time will you be back?”

“Late. Don’t wait up.”

At least she always made sure to drag herself out of the Murphy bed by one o’clock or so, pull on her clothes and drive home, so that she should be in her own bed when her mother got up to bring in the morning paper. Which was something. (And not easy.) But not enough of a something to warm up the chill that was enveloping the parental breakfast table and the many dinners a week she still ate at home.

For his part, Richard objected to her not spending the night. He thought she should rent a furnished studio apartment of her own. She could afford it now that she was a copywriter, he said. It would also solve her mother problem. Why was a grown woman  — was that what she was, a “grown woman?” — still living with her parents? Dutifully, she found a vacancy in a decent-looking building and put down a $55 payment for March. The apartment was just like his, Murphy bed and all. But whenever she thought of living by herself in that gloomy, ill-lit and transient accommodation, soon to be hers, she felt only fear.

February inched along. She made no preparations for the move or for explaining her imminent departure to the two people who cared about her so much. Just before the end of the month, she summoned up courage to confess. Her hitherto gentle and forbearing mother spoke sternly. Millie was on the verge of an irrevocably awful act. There were only two reasons an unmarried girl left her parents’ home: Either she was going to do something very bad she had to hide from her family — here her mother paused meaningfully — or else she was such an unpleasant and difficult person even her own flesh and blood could no longer bear to live with her!

Head pounding with tension and guilt, Millie knew this was both nonsense and true. Did she really want to move out? Of course not. She just wanted everything to be all right. She began to cry. Her mother soothed her. In the end, she told Richard she couldn’t bring herself to hurt her mother, which was a kind of lie but not entirely.

“So there goes $55,” said Richard.

Why should he care? She was the one who had lost it. What a failure she was!  One day when she knew he had morning classes, she let herself into his studio with the key he had given her and called in sick at work. Then she sobbed aloud, hugging herself on the shabby green sofa against the grimy window. There was very little comfort in the apartment when Richard wasn’t in it. After a while, she got up, locked the door, and drove to a doughnut shop, where she bought six jumbo doughnuts with yellow custard filling and chocolate icing, plus a quart carton of milk. Parked in a neighborhood several miles away where no one could possibly recognize her, she methodically munched her way through all six doughnuts, washing them down at intervals with gulps of milk from the waxy triangular opening in the carton.

When she was done, she felt very full and slightly nauseous, but not enough to throw up. She unbuttoned the waistband of her skirt, stuffed the debris back into the empty bag, which she left under her car before pulling away from the curb, and drove home. She told her mother she had felt ill at work and needed to lie down. Drugged with starch, she fell asleep at once. Next morning she had a terrible taste in her mouth, but it passed.

“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” said April.

“Oh, April,” Millie exclaimed. “You’re my only friend. What would I do without you?” Actually, Millie didn’t have a very high opinion of April. No gumption, no ambition. Ironing her cotton blouses night after night. What did she know about life?

But it soon began to look as if April might be right.

Millie’s mother decided to look for a job herself. She made it known at the breakfast table. Now that Millie’s father had a broker’s license and was selling real estate days, evenings, weekends, and Millie was working and (she added darkly) doing who knew what else — what was there for her at home all alone? Back in New York, she had once sold gloves at Lord & Taylor during the Christmas season. Maybe she could find something like that downtown.

“Good, that’s good, Bubi,” said Millie’s father, turning a page of the newspaper and getting butter on it. “It doesn’t hurt to look.”

Her Russian accent and good taste in dress put Millie’s mother on the floor of the Arts and Gifts Department of Robinson’s within a week. She reported back proudly to Millie and Millie’s father that Mr. Wonderly, the buyer, had told her she was charming and that customers were going to love her. After that, she rose before dawn every morning to take the curlers out of her hair, carefully apply makeup, and leave breakfast on the table for Millie’s father before she ran for the downtown bus. (She wanted to get in early to help Mr. Wonderly arrange the floor and make sure her sales book was in order before the store opened.) At night, she was tired. Millie could count on an announcement to that effect as soon as she walked in the door, always later than Millie herself. (Well of course, thought Millie; what did she expect, standing on her feet all day?) Then she would hurry to change out of her good clothes into a housedress and get some food on the table — sometimes a warmed-up casserole she had prepared the previous Sunday but more and more often something she had recently discovered in Ralph’s called a “TV dinner,” which you could defrost in the oven and eat right out of its own aluminum tray and which meant very little washing up.

Millie’s father was not entirely pleased with these developments. There was occasionally some parental bickering about Millie’s mother’s new life. But the mournful looks and sighs Millie’s mother had previously lavished upon Millie disappeared. Her head was now full of Mr. Wonderly and the sometimes famous clients who sought her assistance in selecting exclusive gifts for friends and dear ones. One afternoon she helped Rita Hayworth choose a vase. She was so gracious, said Millie’s mother. Millie knew she should be relieved, but she sometimes missed the days, not so long ago, when her mother was always worrying about her. It often seemed as if no one cared what she was doing anymore. Except Richard.

Richard definitely cared. He thought she shouldn’t be wasting her talents writing about navy rayon crepe dresses. (“Navy’s in town!”) Or little fur capelets. (“Take a stole to heart!”) He told her about teaching assistantships. She hadn’t even known they existed. Why, if she got one it would pay enough for her to go to graduate school, maybe even go far away. He also generously offered to write a letter of recommendation. As her instructor, of course. So it was really lucky she hadn’t been able to give him up. And wouldn’t her going back East for a doctorate be the perfect bittersweet ending for what they had had together!

Beach weather arrived. Every weekend, they drove out to Santa Monica, or sometimes Venice, and spent whole glorious days walking up and down in the surf and splashing in the sparkling water. She tanned easily and smoothly; her hair bleached in the sun and salt until she was almost a California blonde. Richard taught her how to get far enough out to turn her back and jump up just as a big wave was about to break so that she could ride it almost back to shore. The other thing she loved was to stand with Richard where the water came up to his chest, put her arms around his neck and wrap her legs around him. The water helped him support her bottom, so they could kiss like that for a long time, their bodies rubbing wet against each other, their mouths salty and their eyes laughing at each other.  Sometimes other people in the water looked at them, even though they couldn’t really see what was going on beneath the surface. Millie liked that, too.

After the beach, they would come back to the studio apartment and shower. Then she would make supper on his two-burner hotplate. She had it down to a science. A skirt steak in the frying pan on one burner, frozen vegetables (usually string beans) in the sauce pan on the other burner. And for dessert, farmer cheese mashed with diet grape jelly (so that it tasted like cheese cake without crust) and then patted into little custard cups. He thought she was a wonderful cook. When they had finished eating, she would wash up in the bathroom sink, because the alcove holding the hotplate and mini-refrigerator had no running water. That was kind of a pain but wasn’t forever, she kept reminding herself. And in bed, after they had finished with the sex part, he would tell her stories about his more unusual erotic adventures before he had met her. Rather like Scheherezade in reverse, she thought.

“And you liked that?” she would ask, incredulous but feeling at the same time quite worldly as she heard about these secret, somewhat slimy practices. (Although she certainly would have refused to do such things herself. Thank goodness he never suggested it.)

“Well, yes,” admitted Richard. He curled around her, nestling her back against his chest. We’re like spoons, she thought. That must be why they used to call it ‘spooning.’ She pressed her naked rear more firmly against his naked crotch. This was the coziest thing about being with Richard. She would miss it a lot when she went away to graduate school.

For his birthday in August, Millie bought him a charcoal grey flannel Ivy League-style suit at Bullocks. Being out of season, it was on sale. She might be going away to school soon — by now she was almost sure of it — but he deserved something better than the two terrible polyester suits he had. (They were his entire wardrobe if you didn’t count the worn tweed jacket.) Even on sale, the suit was $75. Millie was making $50 a week, paying a one-third share of the expenses at home, and trying to save at least a little bit, to build up her bank account again. So she knew she shouldn’t have spent this much money on Richard. But she did want him to look nice. And his eyes became wet when he saw what was in the gift-wrapped box. Millie had never seen a man cry. She hugged him. Richard said no one had ever been so kind to him before. After Millie dragged him back to the Bullocks’ tailor to get the cuffs to hang just right — alterations were free — he looked so wonderful in his new suit she also bought him two button-down cotton oxford shirts and a silk rep tie to go with it.

Fat envelopes came in the mail for Millie. She’d been accepted into the English Department doctoral programs at Radcliffe, Columbia, Cornell and the southern California university where Richard taught, to which she’d applied as a back-up. But there was only one offer of a teaching assistantship. From the back-up, where Richard’s recommendation had counted for something. Richard was very pleased for her. “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” he said.

“I’ll miss you,” said April.

“I’ll be right here, in L.A.,” said Millie. “We can still go to movies.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” said April. “Enjoy your life.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, April!” exclaimed Millie. “You’d think we’re never going to see each other!”

But April was right again. There were no more movies. Although they exchanged a few phone calls over the course of the next year, they never managed to get together. It wasn’t until much later when Millie was back in New York with Richard that she realized it. Afterwards, whenever she saw someone wearing a freshly ironed cotton blouse she thought of April, and wondered what had become of her, and if April was wondering the same about her. But by then, there was too much that Millie couldn’t talk about. So she never made a transcontinental call, or wrote.

For a while Patsy and Elena filled April’s place in Millie’s life. Both were also teaching assistants in the university’s English Department. Patsy lived in Pasadena with her parents, the last child in the nest; her two older brothers were married and living elsewhere in California. She had a low sexy voice; it was too bad she still dressed like a high school girl in socks, loafers, pleated skirts and white peter pan dickeys under her slightly pilled lambswool sweaters. Elena was one of two daughters of a Greek magnate with a chain of movie theatres all over Mexico; she spoke Greek, Spanish and fluent English with a very slight lisp. She also wore beautiful slender suits from I. Magnin with handkerchief linen blouses and David Evins pumps. Elena was at first reticent about where she lived but eventually let it be known she was staying with an older sister in a one-bedroom apartment her father had rented for them in a new luxury high-rise. “He wants us to be safe. It’s very secure there,” she explained.

Elena’s family lived in Guadalajara.  “Will you go back there, afterwards?” asked Millie.

“Quien sabe?” Elena said. “Anything can happen.”

“Like what?” asked Millie, fascinated.

Elena clarified. “My father really wants us to return to Greece. The King and Queen are back, but he is very cautious. He says he will wait and see.”  Millie didn’t know that Greece still had a king and queen. She was too busy to follow everything in the world. She just nodded wisely. Patsy nodded, too.

During her first year at the university Millie was also too busy even to think where she might be headed with Richard, or whether she should be headed anywhere at all with a man who had four children. He was just part of her life every Friday and Saturday night. (They had dropped Wednesdays, because of her teaching load. She was also taking five graduate courses for her degree.)

“Do you ever think abut getting married?” she asked the other two near the end of the second year.

“Of course,” said Patsy.

“Not really,” said Elena.

“You’re kidding!”

“I don’t have to think about it,” said Elena. “If I don’t find a good husband on my own by the time I’m twenty-five, my father will find someone.”

“And that’s okay with you?” asked Millie.

“She comes from another culture,” said Patsy.

“It’s not like in India,” explained Elena. “Where you never see the man before the wedding. My father would introduce me to a number of suitable Greek men who had already indicated interest. Perhaps he would host a series of parties. Then they would each take me out. Once or more often, depending. Afterwards my father and I would discuss my preferences. All very civilized. What’s wrong with that?”

Nothing, thought Millie, if the men were young and attractive and rich. It might be nice to have a powerful father like that. To take care of everything.

“And if I didn’t like any of them,” added Elena, “my father would introduce me to more men. My father knows a lot of people.”

Millie was already almost twenty-four. Her father wasn’t going to introduce her to anyone. And there was no one on the horizon even remotely possible. At twenty-five, she would be an old maid.

Richard’s former wife suddenly remarried and moved to Canada with her new husband. She had said nothing about these developments until after the fact. No more alimony!  Richard at once produced an ugly little ring with a tiny ruby that had been his mother’s. What could she do but let him put it on her finger?  If it doesn’t work out, she wrote in her journal the evening before their marriage, we can always divorce in two years.

She finished her course work, took the written and oral exams for the doctoral degree and they moved to New York — where she wrote advertising instead of a dissertation, thereby earning their living, while he wrote unpublishable novels. In the end, it took six years to disentangle herself. Nine years of Richard all together. By then, her twenties were over.

“What a mistake he was,” exclaimed her third husband more than half a century later.

“I was just a baby,” she said. “Didn’t have a clue. You didn’t make mistakes?”  Besides, she thought, that was then. And now is now. And everything is different than it used to be.

It always is.

FIRST HUSBAND (I of II)

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[A story.]

 Richard was thirty and Millie had just turned twenty-one when they met in an introductory television production class he was teaching nights at a large Southern California university. Millie was taking it to be ready when a better job opened up at the television station where she was currently typing stencils of soap opera scripts in the mimeograph department. Only two other women were in the class. One looked to be in her late forties; the other wore a head scarf and came from a Middle Eastern country.

At the end of the first session Richard came over to Millie, asked where she lived and if she had transportation. She said West Hollywood and that she was taking the bus. He offered to drive her home. By the time he pulled up at her front door in his 1937 Plymouth, she knew he was from New York, had been at Harvard, directed university little theater and wanted to write and direct plays on Broadway. He knew she’d come to California with her parents after graduating from Vassar a few months before, was not seeing anyone (“anymore,” she added), missed the East Coast and was unhappy with her job. They’d promised it would be a stepping-stone to editorial work, but she didn’t think she could stand the dreary typing much longer. “We’ll have to find you something more suitable,” he said. Then he asked her out.

She liked his height — important, since she was tall herself. Also his worn tweed jacket and his take-charge attitude about her wretched job. His hands on the steering wheel looked competent. His being the instructor of the class didn’t hurt, either. At college, she’d spent a whole year mooning fruitlessly over a Shakespeare professor who was sending signals he might be interested but never did anything about it. Of course, television production wasn’t Shakespeare, but still…. Richard’s hair and eyes were dark, which was good. Blond blue-eyed men made her think of Gestapo officers in movies. She said yes.

He picked her up after dinner on an evening when he had no class and took her, with apologies, to a prizefight. It was the only live thing on that night, he said, and he hated movies; they got made, went into a can and then you sat in a dark room, long after the actors had gone on to something else, watching dead film stored in a reel and projected on a screen. She herself loved movies, but when he explained that the fight tickets had been free, she allowed herself to be led to a seat, sliding past noisy blue-collar fight fans sloshing beer all over themselves. Unattractive and sweaty small men were slamming each other around in the ring. To her relief, they left before it was over. He parked a block from her house, turned smiling towards her and kissed her over the stick shift.

Oh, he was a wonderful kisser. And it had been so long. She felt herself slipping into bonelessness. His hand moved to her nipple, burning through her sweater. Moisture seeped into the crotch of her panty girdle. He whispered softly in her ear, “Do you mind the back seat?” She pushed him away and sat up straight, flushed and startled. Should she be insulted? “Um, yes, I do.” Did that need explanation? “I’m not as experienced as you think,” she added.

He seemed not to understand this. “Are you a lesbian?” he asked.

Why should he think that?  “I just haven’t had a lot of sexual experience.”

He looked at her in disbelief.  “Experience with intercourse,” she added.

“You’re not a virgin, are you?”

Ah, did she have to answer?   “It’ s complicated,” she offered. “I no longer have my –”  What should she call it? All the words seemed so Victorian. “But my college boyfriend and I, we never …. So I don’t know. How do you define virginity?”

He digested this attempted explanation in silence.

“He was being kind,” she went on. “After he, um, got in, he asked if it hurt when he moved and when I nodded, he said we could wait until next time. Then he, uh, withdrew without, you know….”

I shouldn’t need to tell him this, she thought. But she had already begun and couldn’t leave it there. “Afterwards we were together only one other time, in a hotel. He lost it there because I was nervous and laughed. That’s when we broke up. He said something was wrong with me. I think he was wrong about that, though.”  This was not entirely true. She was certain he would have had less trouble with another more spontaneous girl. “It was his first time, too. So he probably just didn’t know how.”

“All this was when?” asked Richard thoughtfully.

“About two years ago.”

“And after that?”

“Vassar’s just for girls.” She didn’t mention the Shakespeare professor.

“I’m sure there’s nothing wrong with you,” he said, patting her hand. “We’d better forget about the back seat, though.”

She felt soiled by her disclosure. But the following week in class, he winked at her while she was sprinkling Ivory Snow in front of a photograph of an Alpine village being filmed by another student. And afterwards, he drove her home again to the same place a block from where she lived, where he again kissed her enthusiastically. She was so relieved they seemed to be back on track that she giggled and said flirtatiously, “Oh, Richard, here we are kissing madly away and I don’t know the first thing about you. Why, you could be married with three children!”

To which he responded gravely: “Actually, I am married. And I have four.

And all Millie could think when she heard that – she who had been described by the Shakespeare professor in his final report as having “a mind like a steel trap” — all she could think was, “Well, he’s done it at least four times. He will know how.”

He did know how. He demonstrated his knowledge in a studio apartment opposite Paramount Studios that rented for $50 a month. Millie dipped into her small savings account to give him the first month’s rent — but only because he explained that Winifred was going back to Texas for a divorce in a few weeks, as soon as the baby was old enough to travel. Then he could stop paying rent on the house they were all living in and take over the rent of the studio. Besides, she thought of the $50 as an investment in her own sexual education.

She brought new sheets and pillowcases to their assignation in the apartment. He brought a couple of bottles of Schlitz, a package of Trojans and a tube of K-Y jelly. He asked if she wanted a drink before they went to bed. To loosen up. She said, truthfully, she didn’t like beer. (It gave her gas. This information she kept to herself.) So they pulled the Murphy bed down from the wall, made it up with her new sheets and cases, took off their clothes and climbed in without the beer. Not exactly the “first time” she had dreamed of. But this was real life and she had to stop dreaming. Besides, once she had learned everything he had to teach, she was going to leave him for someone more suitable.

Afterwards, she had very little memory of what transpired their first evening in the studio other than that he accomplished what they both had wanted, it had hurt some but not too much, and there had been no blinding explosion of joy. But she did like the kissing, touching and finger work. And he assured her that in a week or so, it wouldn’t feel tight or sore.

He was good as his word about the soreness, and also the rent. After the Murphy bed had come down from the wall a few more times, it didn’t hurt at all. And Winifred soon packed up their children and belongings and drove away to San Antonio, whereupon he moved into the studio with his clothes, papers and typewriter, and took over the monthly $50.

Blinding joy, however, remained elusive. He propped her on pillows. He stroked, slavered, and pumped away — dripping perspiration all over her. She would have faked it, if only to bring his moist exertions to an end (she did not enjoy the drops of sweat), except she didn’t know what to fake. Then he said getting rid of the rubbers might help, and got her the name of a gynecologist who reputedly had no objection to supplying unmarried girls with diaphragms. It was an embarrassing visit; when actually face to face with the doctor she had colored the truth by claiming to be engaged. But she came away equipped with a rimmed rubber barrier to conception nestled in a pretty blue plastic case, instructions for insertion and removal while sitting on the toilet, and the doctor’s congratulations on her engagement. She kept the diaphragm, spermicidal jelly, and a container of baby powder to dust it off with afterwards in Richard’s bathroom medicine cabinet, lest her mother discover any of these objects at home.

Still nothing doing in the joy department.

He found her another job, writing advertising copy for misses’ fashions at The Broadway Department Store, which paid more than typing stencils and came with a 20% employee discount. Then he found another 1937 Plymouth in which she could drive to work. Priced at $125 it was a steal, he said.

“Who is this man?” asked her mother the first time she parked noisily at the curb. Millie tried to explain, leaving out the sex part, but Harvard did not help and Richard not being Jewish was the least of it. “How many children?” asked her father. She began driving to meet Richard instead of having him pick her up. Whenever she left the house in the evening, her mother looked stricken and sighed mournfully.

Millie sent a jolly birthday card to her old college boyfriend in New York, whom she had not seen since their hotel debacle — including an upbeat report on her new job, car and man. He wrote back with gratifying promptitude that it was great to hear from her and she should get her ass back to New York right away because he was sure Richard, age thirty, was not the man for her. He was jealous! But what was he proposing? On closer scrutiny of his letter, not much. So what would she do in New York? Where would she stay? With what would she buy a ticket (perhaps, to be safe, a round-trip ticket), now that her spare cash had gone towards her own sexual education and the Plymouth? While she was reflecting on these problematic matters, the old college boyfriend wrote again to announce he was marrying a certain Celia, also from Vassar but several years older than Millie (meaning more sexually with it, thought Millie) and — a final humiliation! — they would love to see Millie at the wedding.

She was defective. She was sure if her sexual organs had worked the way they were supposed to, so she and the college boyfriend could have climaxed together, as in her thumb-eared copy of Van de Velde’s Ideal Marriage, he wouldn’t now be marrying this smirking older woman and leaving her to seek crumbs of comfort in a squeaky Murphy bed where she might never dissolve in ecstasy.

God helps those who help themselves, Millie told herself sternly. A few nights later, she bought a pint of cheap wine at Thrifty Drug on the way home from work, stuffed it into her capacious handbag and hid it under her pillow until it was time for bed.

It took forty-five minutes of rubbing herself with spit (she checked her bedside clock when she had finished) — growing so hot that whatever she was feeling could hardly be called pleasure — until she finally managed with the underside of her stiffened left index finger to trigger a small deep centered thrill beneath the heat, a delicious little thrill that mounted and mounted in intensity until she couldn’t hold it back, it came on in spite of her, like a huge wave rising, rising and o-h-h-h-h-h-h….o-h-h-h-h-h-h….o-h-h-h-h-h-h…. So that was how it was! What else could it be? She had done it! She had brought herself off! She was so elated she wanted to send a telegram: Stop the wedding!

She wasn’t that crazy, though. And once she knew what was supposed to happen, she did feel more confident when she visited Richard, even if she could never describe for him exactly the location of the spot where the small deep thrill lay waiting because it seemed to keep moving around. However, she eagerly stretched her legs apart, this way and that, to reach for it, that tiny marvelously quivering core of unbelievable pleasure, and began to enjoy herself in bed.

But did she love him? She asked her sometime journal that very question. She also tried calling him “my darling” within the privacy of its pages. It looked wrong when she read it back. He wasn’t her darling. Celia had her darling — well, her former darling. Richard was just her experienced married lover, who had hardly any money because he was sending almost all of it to Texas, and a rotten wardrobe except for the worn tweed jacket, and — as she was beginning to discover — a somewhat elastic conception of truth.

For instance: When he’d said he was from New York, he meant Syracuse, New York. When he’d said he was at Harvard, he meant after his marriage and only for one year, as a graduate student. Then he’d transferred out; his degree was from somewhere in the midwest. (And his undergraduate degree was from Clark, wherever that was.) He hadn’t written a play since graduate school. What he seemed to be working on now was a novel about his boyhood love of baseball that she, the literature major, thought so sloppy in its writing as to be hopeless. She offered to edit it for him, but after she had laboriously marked up the first chapter, he snapped at her that if she was going to take a schoolmarm approach to a work of genius he didn’t need her help thank you very much.

As for his looks, well, yes, he was considered handsome. (Her supervisor at The Broadway, a snippy unmarried woman who had to be at least thirty-five, actually cooed over his photograph.) However, stripped of his clothing…. Ah, that was another matter. His shoulders were narrow.  He had a large mole in the center of his back that she disliked. (She tried to keep her fingers away from it when she had to clasp his damp body to her.) Worst of all was the uncircumcised penis, which she hadn’t noticed as different in any way when it was ready for business but featured an excess of unpleasant foreskin when not, so that going down on him was like mouthing a quantity of crumpled rag.

At the end of the semester, Richard gave her an A plus in the television production course even though she’d stopped coming to class after leaving the television station job. Then he went away to attend the divorce hearing in San Antonio and help Winifred find a permanent place to live. (She and the children had been staying “here and there,” he said.) He’d be gone a month, until the spring term began. Millie was glad. When her mother noticed she wasn’t going out evenings, she announced she had given him up. Her mother told her father. With the advice and assistance of his mechanic, her father bought her a nice blue 1946 Chevrolet sedan previously owned by a little old lady in Pasadena who only drove it to church on Sundays. Then he helped sell her noisy Plymouth “as is” for $75. The Plymouth barely made it up a hill into the buyer’s driveway. She and her father made their getaway in his 1952 Pontiac before the buyer returned from work.

It’s not as if Millie didn’t know right from wrong, smart from stupid. But the month without Richard was so boring. She would come home from work in the Chevrolet for dinner with her parents and have to hear her father tell, between mouthfuls, what had been in the headlines that day. His jaws moved vigorously as he chewed; she could see the bones of his skull roll beneath the sides of his forehead. After he had finished his one scoop of coffee ice milk (her mother was trying to keep him on a diet), Millie would help put away the leftover pot roast or broiled chicken and dry the dishes. “Thank you, Ludmilochka,” her mother would say. “Now maybe I can relax a little with the paper myself.” Then Millie would go to her room to lie down on her bed and turn pages of public library books the contents of which she had trouble remembering even while she was still reading them. Saturdays she spent with April, the other junior copywriter, with whom she shared a small office. April was Millie’s age, a recent UCLA graduate who also lived at home, although with her mother and grandmother. You couldn’t discuss books with April — she spent her evenings ironing blouses — but she was someone to go to movies with. Once Millie made the mistake of staying at April’s house for dinner after driving her home; they had to watch The Arthur Godfrey Show with April’s mother and grandmother afterwards.

April didn’t see why Millie should give up seeing Richard before someone better came along. “Believe me, it’s no fun having no one in your life,” she said.

“Even though I told my mother it’s over?” Millie asked.

April shrugged. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her, will it?”

[To be concluded in next post.]

DEAREST OF MEMORIES

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Bill and I have finally completed our major intellectual undertaking of the year.  To be entirely accurate, I have. Bill fell away after six lengthy chapters. (There were eighteen all told.) I speak, of course, of getting through Ulysses, that 644 page behemoth of a book in which James Joyce commemorated forever June 16, 1904 in the lives of three Dubliners — Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly.  We did not undertake this effort alone. There was an eight-week class, and a wonderful professor, and lots of support from extracurricular sources enumerated in some detail in a previous post about Bloom defecating in his outhouse.

But did I really read all clotted 644 pages carefully, scout’s honor?  Um, no.  However, where I skimmed, I skimmed judiciously, certainly putting in even more time than I had anticipated.  And as it has now clogged up two whole months of my life, if I ever pick up that book again, which I very well may, it won’t be to read it from cover to cover.  Once you know the lay of the land, so to speak (as I do by now), you can dip in and out where it pleases you.

So what will I remember after all this labor?  The same passage I remembered after I read it at twenty:  Molly Bloom’s memory of the day sixteen years earlier when Leopold proposed to her on Howth’s head above Dublin and they made love for the first time. She was eighteen, he was twenty-two. (It’s the final passage in the forty pages of stream of consciousness which constitutes the last chapter of the book.)

Does this mean I haven’t matured at all in sixty-three years?  Perhaps. But I like to think I will remember that last part of Molly’s soliloquy now, together with Bloom’s memory of the same event, not because it’s sexy (my reason at twenty) — but because that day on Howth’s head remains the dearest of memories for both husband and wife at the close of the book, although it is now far in the past and their marriage is fraught with current and unresolved difficulties.

It may be that as a lady getting on in life I am more optimistic than a younger person might be about the power of dear memories to hold people together.  But there it is.  I am that lady.  Also — point for my side — Molly ends with a single word:  Yes.  Which has to count for something.

******

Leopold’s memory comes while he’s having lunch: a gorgonzola cheese sandwich with mustard, cut in strips, and a glass of burgundy wine:

(p. 144)

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s heat it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth below us bay sleeping: sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines fain brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet-sour of her spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft warm sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nanny goat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her: eyes, her lips, her stretched neck beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright.  Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed my hair. Kissed, she kissed me.

Many pages later, Molly’s memory comes in bed, in the wee hours of morning, as she reviews her day, her life, her youth [she feels old at 34]:

(pp. 643-44)

….the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leap year like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a woman’s body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldn’t answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didn’t know of…[here Molly considers her boyfriends and kisses and experiences in Gibraltar, where she grew up] ….and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

*****

I wish us all such memories, when our hearts were going like mad.