She and I were living in New York at the same time, in the early 1960’s and 70’s, when she was dealing with the impossible alcoholic poet Robert Lowell (she describes his remembering his parents always dressing for dinner in a Boston world he loathed but could never escape), and I was dealing with a failing marriage and three small boys.
I doubt if either one of us heard the faint far off tune of “The Lullaby of Broadway” although I had moved to New York a few years after college in order to catch that siren sound, or whatever I thought it might be: recognition as a writer, a role in a literary world…
That did happen; I was extremely fortunate to have an early start with my first novel and collection of short stories published at the very start of my long career.
But the lullaby—the hip hooray and ballyhoo as the song describes it—well, that I never really did hear until years later, in a decrepit auditorium in Louisville, Kentucky, when a lively road show performance of “Pippin” suddenly aroused me to all I might have missed in those hard early years on east 95th Street, then the border of Spanish Harlem, in an old brownstone so dark it was impossible to imagine, or create, a bright life there.
Now I’m about to go back to the City of Dreams—as I called it in an essay—on a brief visit to talk to my editor about the writing I’m doing and see a few old friends and prepare the ground for my next book’s appearance in August, 2014.
This is necessary work, the work of the writer, and I’m fortunate to be able to take off my expenses as a legitimate part of my business and to stay in the fusty amiable old Harvard Club on West 44th Street and to go to two plays with dear friends I only get to see a few times a year.
But I also know as I embark on the mid-town streets, still wrapped in fierce winter weather, that I will feel very close to the college girl who came here first on a weekend spree—of sorts—with three friends, another girl and two boys.
We drove down from Cambridge in dismal winter weather and put up at a shady hotel on the upper West Side where we seem to have spent the weekend darting from the boys’ room to the girls’ room along shabby corridors. My friend was struggling with the problems of getting off her girdle. I don’t think she ever did.
I’ll also remember another weekend, a little later, when I was invited by my current boy friend, or friend boy—the categories were never very clear—to visit his comfortable and respectable parents in their apartment, probably on the East Side—his father was a judge.
The parents disappeared for an evening. We were now beyond darting up and down corridors, but our brief time together was spent, to my dismay, in the boy’s long and enthusiastic reading, out loud, of Auntie Mame, then just published.
This account of elderly (as it seemed to me then) female eccentricity produced few laughs from me but instead a sense of dislocation so profound I don’t think I’ve ever completely overcome it.
New York is no longer my city of dreams, and has not been for many years, but it will be fascinating as the plane descends through dense layers of fog to remember that girl who thought that New York, alone, could supply her with the satisfaction of her desires.