Friday, November 12, 2010


On a clear November day Danielle and I go up to the Cloisters, sit on a bench high above the river watching little old New Yorkers promenading in their Sunday best, and then on to a funny movie with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner. We are splitting the house sitting duties of this quite fancy co-op a mutual friend from the Middle East, a guy with the London Observer, had purchased in an elaborately renovated loft building in a no-man’s land just west of Union Square that is now, for real estate promotion purposes, called the Flat Iron district. We have known each other for years. Danielle was married for a time to an old friend of mine from Athens days,. and we once helped sea turtles lay their eggs on an endless deserted sand beach on the little known east coast of the Malay Peninsula. Another time we were in the same building in Beirut. She is fun and she is gorgeous – French Vietnamese.

Sadly she is just a friend. People we have known from various exotic places, some of them my friends, more of them hers, keep coming through the co-op. Danielle is sometimes with a distinguished guy who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work for the L.A. Times on China and sometimes she is with an intense guy who won his Pulitzer for New York Times things in Central America. These and other war loving journalists, whom I had never expected to see again. But for the moment I’ll take who I can get. I am just out of a marriage and really living nowhere yet.

After the movie Danielle and I head down to West 79th Street to a casual dinner gathering of New Yorkers I have known for years, at the Upper West Side apartment of Walter Karp, who has become a somewhat celebrated political writer in books and magazines and is never at a loss for verbal versions of what he is about to write. His current wife is blond, quick and wonderfully Brooklyn human. Alex Bespaloff is there too, a well known wine writer now. I used to never drive far out of town with getting a case of wine selected by Michael Aaron, who was in line to inherit the big wine merchant place Sherry Lehman. Michael had been in a wine tasting group where I had met Alex when I was first living in New York and I had this amazing artist girlfriend whom I though I might never leave, though it fell apart. Everything seems long ago now in this time I am not living anywhere.

At this dinner with old New York friends, Walter’s best friend since long ago Columbia Days, Marvin, is present. Marvin is a brilliant manic-depressive literary guy who now leads historical walking tours in the city even though he recently turned blind. With him is his long-time Japanese wife Rose.

One day at the place near Union Square Danielle strides in in early evening a tall young woman with waist-length hair who knows how to look erotic in high boots – and she says my almost ex-wife Claudia had just appeared at Magnum, where Danielle holds court with famous photographers. Claudia had been in a fury. She had said that Rose, her fellow Asian, had seen us at Walters’ and had told her “everything.” So Claudia burst into Magnum demanding loudly that Danielle release me.

My first thought was that I deeply wished that everything my almost ex-wife had ever suspected were true – even though just before we separated she said that in her culture violence would be acceptable if she caught me doing what she thought I was doing.

Saturday, November 6, 2010


I am convinced for a moment that all this puts my life on track. I present the good news about the new girlfriend to this young therapist David Yammer, but he does not share the enthusiasm I am trying to project. Still, I do not feel foolish.

She connects me with her friends, a cinematically good looking French couple who mysteriously are in an apartment, a very ordinary looking apartment, in an office building adjoining Rockefeller Center. She invites over one night Wayne Sorce, a intense, friendly photographer she represents who like me had been with the opposition in the Philippines. And now that things were worse than ever there she thinks maybe Wayne and I can work together and go back. Also, she seems to be ready to read anything I write.

She shows me an old American cookbook that has the most disgusting things in it from the19th century. Bloody ways of killing animals, the steaming of the flesh of those just killed, gooey things made from their bleeding inner organs. She asks if these things ring a bell with me since this is apparently what prominent Americans used to have done in their kitchens, and I am apparently from an old line, non-ethnic American family.

She tells me everything she tells her therapist, who she says is a delightful man. She says she has her sessions with him not in his office but while on the move around various parts of New York.

She says she will help in every way she can my plan to quit using sleeping pills.

She backs me up when one day I bring out a tie to wear to a funeral of someone who has died of something he should not have died of but everyone knew he would – my first experience with what AIDs was doing.

She goes to the Carlyle for power breakfasts while I stay in bed in the big room where we spend our time – these high curtains that are always rustling, the teletype and telex machines always clicking away, the phone ringing, never answered right away but the volume of the answering machines always turned up. How life has changed since you and I met, she keeps saying.

One night before we get to bed she says she wants to read to me from Lao-tzu, who she says is her favorite.
Once again I can make no sense of what is going on around me and so cannot think of anything to say. She reads about how the fool is always talking, the wise man stays silent. "When I read this I know it is about you," she says.

We decide to stay in on New Year’s eve. We are in her bed again and still. The sex really justifies all this, I think. And then both of us stay there still naked if not quite ready for the next round, I am lying on my back, and she is sitting up on a pillow, her upper thigh and rump against my ear. New Years Eve. A milestone time in our lives. Or so I think it seems to her. I wish I could rise to it. I am speechless again.

Thursday, November 4, 2010


So here we were now in Chez Napoléon eating bifteck and pomme frits, right near the Etoile, the bar restaurant where 25 years back I had gone with a boozed up crew after we saw my girlfriend off on the France. We had stayed for hours drinking cheap wine and listening to the sad songs of Edith Piaf. These old places. The Etoile, and also the Brittany and the Brittany du Soir. And now years later, Chez Napoléon. And only now do I learn it is more cool to order bifteck and pommes frits than escargot.

Here in this French part of town where once I was hiding out with another man’s wife. I had chosen as our trysting place the last place I thought anyone would look for me or Marnie, the big Henry Hudson Hotel, way over on 57th almost by the river, a place used mainly by non-New Yorkers who were about to sail to Europe.

I think of that timeless time of sex in the Henry Hudson Hotel. I am picturing Marnie slipping out of her with-it no-bra and rolling about the hotel bed. The mere sight of her bare arm could get me aroused and now here she was, slippery and sliding and smelling like I had thought a woman could.

Here in Chez Napoléon, 1985, not 1963, Jacqueline talks of her old boyfriend, a somewhat known director, who had made a somewhat known small film from a big Henry Miller book. She says this guy would look at other women constantly while they were together, even when she was talking. Had she noticed I was looking at a dark girl two tables over?

While I try to give the impression I am listening, I am conjuring up an old scene. That night when Marnie was late coming to the hotel and I drank alone into oblivion. When I came to, my head was in her bare lap and she was bent down looking at me, amused, her hair tickling my chest. You were a sight last night, she said, using one of those southern expressions she often used. A sight, she repeated. I had to do my work, she said. I lapped you like a cat.

Jacqueline is asking me if I have ever had sex with a man, and when I say no, I don’t think I ever did though I cannot be sure about times in blackouts, she is telling me how she had sex with a woman just once to see what it was like. And she is telling me about how when she was vacationing alone on St. Bart’s last year there was this very young and very beautiful half-French island boy who worked at the hotel. A virgin. She had taken him to a deserted beach, undressed him, inducted him into manhood. Something of which she is intensely proud, she says.

We start to talk about this sudden life that she says we have together. She says we have this life together. She calls it a romance. Actually I have phoned a couple of people to tell them I have a new girlfriend but it didn’t come out sounding anything like the way it sounds when Jacqueline talks.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


That first night at Jacqueline’s I slept without a pill for the first time in more than 20 years. The first time back in the time when almost any doctor would prescribe almost any quantity of barbiturates or, as a change of pace, chloral hydrate – and anyway I had been living in places where you could buy anything over the counter. In 1971 I had never heard of Quaaludes and did not know there was a fad, complete with dire warnings, for them in America. I got a hefty stash simply by asking for something new at a pharmacy across the street in Beirut.
I knew these pills were good ones, if a little worrisome, because if I took a couple of them and stood up I would fall down. A new law was passed in Lebanon while I was there requiring prescriptions for such things. This meant only that for a modest fee my neighborhood pharmacy would throw in a prescription, supposedly written by a doctor upstairs in the pharmacy's shop building, though no ever saw such a doctor in the neighborhood.

Jacqueline’s place just off Fifth was also her office – this grand-scale high ceiling room where teletypes and telexes were always running – the nerve center from which she would deploy photographers when there was a sudden sighting – such as of King Don Carlos skiing in Gstaad. At the head of her bed, which was not really separated from the office aspects of the big room, there was a TV set hooked up to a VCR, which was still something new. This bed where I found I could sleep without the pills that, my wife had been saying, before we separated, had something to do with slowed down sexual activity. But maybe my wife had gotten this the wrong way around, maybe I was sleeping now because suddenly now sex was back. So everything is all right, I thought.

It was an early December of cold nights now, and at Jacqueline’s the long curtains rustled even though the high vertical windows that reached almost to the high ceiling were closed. A place haunted with secrets, a formal building, like a consular building in Venice or Paris but right here in New York. I
lay there on my back. She, naked, was sitting up on pillows, my ear against her thigh.

Her wonderful chubby gray tiger cat, who had a French name and was her greeter, was everywhere but never intrusive. And always the click clack of the teletype and telex machines, and the muffled ringing of the phones. All there in that same room – just down from the Carlyle, where she had power breakfasts with the editors of the famous photographers she represented.

One of the famous photographers gave us a video, not yet released to the public, of the Truffaut film Small Change, which we watched from bed, as we also watched the constant runnings of Michael Jackson’s Thriller video and the new ABC late night news program devoted to an anchor's patriotic efforts at getting the goods on the Ayatollah Khomeini.

We watched Small Change from bed, and in the scene where the compassionate Lyon schoolmaster is explaining to the children about how a child who had just been taken away had been badly abused at home, while that scene was playing tears came. I was not sure yet why this should make me cry, me who hardly ever showed tears. "Were you an abused child?" she asked. "I was," she said. She said when she was still living in Algeria, where her French Jewish family had been since the 19th century, her grandmother would corner her in a shower stall and beat her black and blue.

Were you an abused child, she asked again.

Monday, November 1, 2010


I met her through Suzanne, still in that time I was living nowhere. My 50th birthday had passed and I was living nowhere.

Nowhere in this time was a slick co-op in a former no man’s land of loft storage and manufacturing places just off Union Square, an area that for real estate promotion purposes, had recently been given the name the Flat Iron District. This co-op, in this formerly dingy loft building, smelled new. It had new hard wood floors, a raised dining area, a raised work area, and a raised kitchen area, bright with sunlight. It had a long living room and two bedrooms, on with a big bed, one with a mattress on the floor. It was owned by one of my maybe friends from times abroad, Jonathan Camus, who still traveled for the London Observer and now wrote thrillers, fiction and near non-fiction, and spent part of each year on Majorca, where he had just gone for the winter with his new wife, who had stylish minority status, and his new preppy stepson. I had gotten a call from Suzanne Cartright , with whom I had once helped sea turtles lay eggs on the obscure east coast of the Malay Peninsula. She had said Camus, with whom I had once gone to the ancient Nabatean rock city of Petra, wanted to sublet the place and would I share it with her. Suzanne had been married to an old friend of mine from Athens and Bangkok days, and Suzanne herself was an old friend from Singapore and Beirut days. For a time in Beirut Camus and I had shared a place in an old Arab building on the water.

Now in this sublet it was as if I were living in a movie about past people and past places. They kept on coming through. Combat photographers, whom Suzanne knew since she had been married for a time to one of them and also because she now worked at the high toned photo agency Magnum. Journalists she had known, and sometimes I had too, in the Far East and Middle East. Suzanne was Vietnamese from the old days, for when she was a child her father, a Vietnamese NCO in the French army, had had to flee with to Paris. She had head-turning good looks. These people from her travels, and sometimes from mine too, kept coming through this stage set place in this fake Flat Iron District. War loving journalists. Famous photographers.

She had the room with the real bed. And she had suiters. I, just months out of my seven-year marriage, had no lovers, but Suzanne said she had just the right woman for me. Jacqueline, whose name came out Jackque-leen (note Jack-eh-lin). A pied noir, Suzanne said, the old term for colonial French people. A pied noir from Algeria who was so plugged into worlds I wanted that she was also Jewish. And moreover she had just started a photo agency that was right up there with the best.

The time in the Flat Iron building seemed to me to fit with descriptions I had heard about how just when people are about to die their whole lives flash before them. Like I was in a movie of my life – these people from the Middle East and Far East passing through. The two foreign correspondents who kept spending time with Suzanne had both won Pulitzer prizes.

Suzanne and I went over for dinner at pied noir Jacqueline’s, a wildly evocative place of pillars and high windows beneath a Mansard roof over near the Carlyle. She was 40ish, soft and curvy and gracious. And her French accent made me want her. She quickly cooked up a mysterious little meat and cheese dish that seemed like the real French food, and she was quick, like me, on many subjects. I was having almost as much fun as I might have had if I had met someone when I was still drinking, or still had hope, or both.

Jacqueline moved in a haunting combination of keyed up anxiety and slowed down languidness. When I got together with her again a month later, just after I moved from the Flat Iron building to a cold room in a brick building in Chelsea, a room that seemed the right stage set for my seemingly never ending depression, when I called her from the cold room she said to come right up to 78th Street and she said that after Suzanne and I left that night we came to dinner she had almost called asking me to come right back then.

I started out calling her Jack-eh-lin, but changed to Jackque-leen, for that was the way her name came out as I was coming inside her. The French pronunciation, which seemed to make all the difference. Jacqueline decided that I knew more French than I said I knew.

When I was with her I had a first time and last time feeling, filled with nostalgia and sweet despair. We went out most nights to restaurants way over west in the 50s, an area that I knew, but not many people seemed to know, was a French quarter, with all French names by the buzzers for tenement and brownstone buildings. Like so much else, wherever I went in these days, I had been there before.