I go uptown for dinner at Jenny’s place. She is in the low nineties near Lexington in a studio apartment that is in the name of her twin brother. The brother, she has told me, is a rich youngish writer on Hill Street Blues. He gave the place to his sister when he was called to the West Cast. She has an actual twin brother! A successful twin!
I go up there in the sharp light of an early winter evening. I take the subway to 86th Street and come up near Loews’s Orpheum, a place I loved long before it was a cineplex, back when I was 11 years old and we moved to the city for the year, to East 84th Street. We were on the sixth floor of a solid old apartment house – Mother and Dad and Peter and me and Mother’s Southern mother, Grandmother Clark. Then, mysteriously, Gaga and Nana arrived to take a similar apartment for the winter two flights below us. Soon they were joined from London by Aunt Betsy and her five-year-old son Robin, the one whose father had been killed while in the RAF before he was born. All these people together for the winter as we often were in the summer. And Peter and I were placed in a cramped, musty and cruel faux Anglo school, Allen-Stevenson, where my father had once suffered and that was everything my open and free public school in Connecticut was not.
Though Peter was no outcast, like me, at Allen-Stevenson, he did join me in fantasizing about what we would do when we got back to Connecticut, which was to act like the farm people our family had, it seemed to us, almost become when for two years during the war, to get around rationing, Mother and Dad had added first goats, and then ducks, and then two huge black pigs to the chickens we were already raising. In our room in the city, Peter and I hand lettered a sign to advertise the roadside egg business we fantasized we would start when we had escaped back to Conneticut.
But meantime, hard as things got at that vicious school, there was the big, exciting Orpheum. I could see it up on 86th before I turned down from 84th towards Allen-Stevenon on 78th. On the way I would go by a pet store where I acquired white mice. Gaga, in his tweed hat, was the one who took us to the movies. We saw The Harvey Girls at the Orpheum. I could not work up enthusiasm for the goody goody played by Judy Garland. I was in love with the young Angela Lansbury's bawdy and lovely barroom prostitute, though at that point my ideas about the sex act were so uninformed that if I had somehow gotten the clothes off a bawdy prostitute I would not have known where and why to make the insertion with my still tiny but very interested penis.Gaga also took us to look down at the city from the elevated railroad that ran along Third Avenue, but what we saw from that distance did not seem as immediate as the Orpheum.
There is big Jewish deli now in 1986 across from the Orpheum on the south side of 86th Street, the sort of place I started patronizing the moment I was in New York on my own. Across the street there is no sign now of The Corso, a Latin dance place where I met Irma in 1960 when Vannie was out of town, the night of a memorable blow job. But some of the old German umpa band places are still around, and on Lexington I see there is still a restaurant Dad had told us was a hangout for politicians. Near the big deli there is a Marlboro bookstore now, featuring cheap remaindered books, which had not been a category of bookstore when I was in the 6th grade, at which time a neighborhood bookstore would likely be a Womrath’s which was also a private lending library. Gaga had been unhappy when the news came that Womrath’s was buying his latest book in bulk for that meant people could read it without purchasing it.
Near the deli there is small flower shop which I do not remember but looks like it has always been there. I get a Jolly bunch of what I guess are lilies, even though this is mid-winter, to take up to Jenny’s.
A bright faced older woman is coming out of Jenny’s building as I am going in and she gives me a nice conspiratorial look that makes it clear that she is especially happy to be witnessing this particular part of a traditional love story, the guy on his way with flowers to woo a lady. And again I am in many different time periods at once – picking up Kitty in Greenwich, Bonnie in Bangkok, Vannie in Athens, Sheila in Singapore, Mary Anne in Manila and all those New York girls, and even those summer girls way, way back in New Hampshire. All time is the same time.