At 6 AM Carmina Burana, our serf, tiptoes in with my tray. She is small, mute, and as usual radiant with contentment, which we love. I nod warmly but say nothing, and sit up to read the telex from my wife, Jane, saying that I should go ahead and breakfast without her, as she has a 9:00 lunch in town. Dipping an unsweetened madeleine into my coffee, I begin dictating my column, due later that hour, on the recent encyclical reaffirming the doctrine of isostasy (I approve). I eat only a small piece, since I have more to do this afternoon.
When I have said finis, I slip into the clothes Jane has laid out for me, palpating the snack she always places in my right-hand pocket, and without which the day is practically graham-crackerless. I saunter on out to the orangerie and, after pulling off some of the ruching she has attached to trees, pinch one of the fruits with a calipers given to us by our old friend Luther Burbank.
Staring out across the lawn that Jane has so marvelously had mown, I am reminded of something Whittaker Chambers said to me once in this room: “Sometimes I just want to scream.” And yet normally he was the least given to postprandial pronunciamentos of anyone I have ever known.
I tug now on the bell sash and Junipera Serra, our Spanish-American duster, appears to carry me out to the car. I peek to see if Pete is driving. He is; he’s always driving. I wave to him through the soundproof divider, but am careful to give no instructions. He throws the knucklebones on the upholstery, and soon (exactly right) we are tearing off to New York. Pete is a real sine qua non. His discernment is Olympian in everything but ornithology: he and I share an inability to distinguish between a prothonotary warbler and a right-wing blackbird, or whatever.
I open my briefcase now and spread out as much as I like. After my old limo was gathered to its maker, I discovered that the only way to duplicate its perfections was to design one myself. I reflect wryly on a letter I once wrote John De Lorean, saying that if he was looking for the maneuverability of a rickshaw with the capaciousness of St. Peter’s, he could do worse than to conjoin the hulls of a trimaran with an old B-52, as I have done. (I never heard from him and, well—nolle prosequi.)
Purring along the Bruckner Expressway—was Bach less deserving?—I ponder a surprise note from Frank Marigold. Since the scandal in May of ’79 when, while jogging, he was caught making overtures to a young woman not his wife, I have been out of touch. Although repelled at the time, I was impressed by Frank’s subsequent public shrivening, when he announced that since laying off exercise he was no longer interested in women. That someone of my acquaintance could be capable of human frailty is a bit of pseudodoxia better left to another thesis; suffice it to say it is impossible. I tell him so, and wish him well.
By now we have pulled up to the offices of Opus Rectum, the magazine I founded in 1955. I release Pete until later, when I am to return home for a reunion with my son, Constantine, who has recently landed a job in the Oval Office as a messenger. How he did it is, simply, beyond me, since out of misplaced integrity about not trading on his background, he has consistently affected various humble disguises—most recently, pretending to have graduated cum laude from Tufts, instead of Yale, summa. He has come for counsel, complaining that while he is given little to do as a courier, he is often left in charge of the country while the president is out oiling his lariat. This has given him no time to correct galleys on his new book, Scheming for Moola, due out in the spring.
But I cannot think of this now, and must confer instead with my aide-de-camp and éminence brune, Caprice Laudanum. Caprice has been with the magazine since its beginning, and there is no one on the staff who is more phenomenally adequate. She has a technique on her IBM that Fats Waller would have envied. “Fats” now brings me my messages, the first being that Jane cannot meet me for her birthday lunch in town, since she is too busy preparing for my birthday tomorrow. I dash off a telegram saying I understand, and start to think how great it is that women are like this, and how the men who are their beneficiaries are scarcely aware they exist, except maybe as objective correlatives of their own stature. This undoes me, and I quick make some notes for my next column about the further desecration of the Mass, as evidenced by the Church’s recently calling the Eucharistic wafer “hostess” when the female takes communion.
It is now 12:00, time for the editorial board to start gestating the next issue. First to arrive is our publisher, Julian Cufflinks, one of the most punctual men in the universe and, so to speak, a veritable Night Blooming Serious. He is followed by the irrepressible Felicia, my spinster sibling, whom we call “Grits.” Last comes my old friend Morris Hyball, our rhetorical magister ludi, and twice as witty as he is old.
We pray first for those who trespass against us, and Grits reads the agenda. She is concerned about an item that has just run in the newly reconstituted Harper’s, to the effect that I am a political gadfly, dashing everywhere like Io, addressing the faithful on subjects they and I have long since closed our minds to; that I am not so much droll as I am a febrile, utriculate caricature of an old Tory gasbag, playing polemical games and relying chiefly on patrician airs to conceal my total absence of intellectual rigor or stamina. I dictate the following, to run below the excerpt in question in our next issue:
I am flattered that you find me so Promethean as to be both gadfly and Io. As you are no doubt aware, Io’s descendant was Hercules, nearly as great as the gods themselves. I should like our subscribers to be reminded of this. That I should sting myself is, I think, disproof of the elitism you charge me with. All in all, I was deliciously amused by your jeremiad, and do hope you will come for Christmas dinner this year with my wife and family.
As this is all I turn out to be needed for, I slip out, and everyone seems in a good humor about my leaving.
I whistle up Pete and head home at last, plunging once again into the briefcase. First a letter to the president of Gillette, with whom I once shared a periodontist (and so a friend), saying I do not wish to be part of an ad campaign wherein famous orators are photographed for Trac II (but thanks). Another note to Sheldon Wolin, editor of “a journal of political renewal and radical change”—can you stand it?—gently chiding him for taking the actions of the present administration so seriously. I ask him how would it be if I meant what I said enough to have it discomfit me? Wolin should know goddam well, after all, that sub cuticula we are all gentlemen. Wolin will say that even so, the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer, but I will counter that in the eyes of God, we all have the same income, do we not?
By now the car is coming up the drive, and the rapaciously loved, wholly owned manse looms into view. It is not Spanish Harlem, of course, and I do not pretend it is. I say “good night” to Pete—accurate, since it is—and in three strides am hearthside. Hearing my footfall, my son appears in a great cyclone of enthusiasm and devotion. Jane insists that this is simply a projection of my love for him, but I say there is a great cyclone all the same.
We catch up, and Jane soon calls us to one of her inimitable convocations (dinner). I say grace:
Lord of our far-flung battle line
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,
Lest we forget—lest we forget!
In the moment of silence that follows I consider whether my frantic life has any point to it, but before I can complete the interrogation, lift my fork. Better to run around like pullus decapitatis than brood, no?
As Constantine must make a shuttle in two hours, we rather hurry dinner and send him along. Jane and I stagger off to bed, there to chat, read, sleep. As Jane snuggles into my shoulder, I am suddenly seized with a fierce desire to sail. She groans, but soon I have her bundled into a life jacket. Carmina, for once not clear what is going on, begins preparing a hamper full of sandwiches and video games, until Jane tells her to go back to bed.
Ninety seconds pass from our leaving the house to unfurling the spinnaker, “to the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife.” As we are heeling terrifically, I place Jane in the trapeze for balance, and in no time we are hiking and tearing along to beat the band. When we can no longer spy the house, I ask Jane if she is ready to come about. Unfortunately she is asleep, and when the boom swings over she is soundly clobbered. I must navigate the way back alone.
We are back in our beds by 11:15. Though Jane is out cold, I can’t sleep, and so try applying tax incentives to the problem of how a rich man can get into heaven more easily. God and I chat, and I am chastened by how He manages to be so essential and still omnipresent. I make some notes for my column, and thank him for being such a divine creature. He says, “Please—try to sleep.”
And so, reluctantly, I do.
April 14, 1983