Thursday, August 27, 2009

The clouds brought the dark sooner

La Goulue, the watering hole of the rich, the chic and the shameless, of the glitterati and the Eurotrash, of the neighborhood denizens and highly curious tourists, has officially closed is doors after 36 years of serving its appraised French cuisine, Wednesday August 26th, 2009, 11:05. The East Side destination will re-open very soon and very nearby ...
August 27, 2009. Yesterday in New York was sunny and warm, clouding over in the late afternoon. At sunset, out with the dogs for their walks down along the riverside, there was the slightest whiff of autumn in a passing zephyr.

By 7:30 the clouds brought the dark sooner. I mentioned this to the doorman as I was returning with the canines. “Summer’s over,” he said as if I should have known that by now. Summer’s over, I was thinking in the elevator. School is about to begin.
The city, as I’ve written here in recent days, is very quiet, quieter than I remember at this time of the year but then I’ve now lived long enough that I sometimes don’t remember what I remember.

Nevertheless the roadways are quiet. The cab ride to Michael’s – down the Drive, down York Avenue, across 57th Street to Fifth Avenue, was quick, slowed only by the lights.
Looking down Fifth Avenue from 35th Street.
The sprint from Fifty-seventh to Fifty-fifth was impeded only by sidewalk refurbishment in front of Bulgari. They’ll have new pavement in the next day or two. Abercrombie & Fitch had a (roped in) line of tourists waiting to get in through its open doors with cheap cologne wafting out with the billowing air-conditioned air. I’ve never been inside Abercrombie’s but I always imagine it to be a teen haven where sex is the implicit message, in all its mid-adolescent glory.

I could be wrong. But I bet I’m not.

Michael’s was busy but not its usual pandemonium. Summer’s not quite over. The beautiful and (not adolescent) sexy Patricia Duff was lunching with Joel Silverman. At the table next to them, Paula Zahn, looking like Jane Fonda’s younger sister, was lunching with a group ladies and gentleman. Around the room: Francine LeFrak, Nick Simunek, David Adler, Herb Siegel, Dan Wassong; Pamela Fiori with Carolina Herrera; Jerry Inzerillo, Henry Schlieff, Peter Price, Rob Weisbach, Ted Forstmann, Jon Dolgen, Fredi Friedman, Stuart Sundlin. And dozens more just like ‘em.

Dominick Dunne died yesterday morning at his East 49th Street penthouse apartment. It has been said that, for reasons unknown to this writer, his family had tentatively planned to keep his passing a secret briefly, at least until the Senator Ted Kennedy's demise came down a font or two in the media.

All of this is ironic, considering the subject. I learned this when I first heard the news. I did give it a thought before we decided to publish knowing that many hours had already passed and there wasn’t an inkling anywhere in the media. Then I asked myself: what would Dominick do?

Can you guess? So I did.

I was also briefly misinformed that he had died the night before, and had written that in my earliest dispatch on Facebook and Twitter. Within the hour I was getting calls from media, firstly from Irina Alexander at the Observer. Then Jesse Kornbluth, an old close friend and fan of Dominick’s who posted his memories and review of the man’s life on his www.headbutler.com. Then an announcement came from Vanity Fair publishing his obituary on-line.

Dominick loved the attention. He worked hard all his life to deserve it, and by the end of his life he reveled in it. For him it was more opportunity to bask in his curiosity. It was his reward and it was a long long time coming.

We got a lot of mail from readers responding to our piece on Dominick, published yesterday and Tuesday, “Second Act.”

I brought up that famous Scott Fitzgerald line about how “There are no Second Acts in American lives,” and how Dominick disproved that notion triumphantly.

Later I was thinking about that and about his First Act which by midlife had run ashambles and fate casting it asunder. I began to see his beginnings differently. All that came before had also provided him with the tools and mental stamina to make not only a good life for himself, but to learn. So the first part was merely the prep. Hard knocks prep, yes; but great for your endurance and self-confidence. He had earned it all.

When you look at pictures of the young Nick Dunne, in his early 40s, or even earlier, and then at the pictures we’ve run of him in the past few days, you see a man who had made his peace with himself. He loved his life. Even with all the hard parts. These past few months demonstrated that over and over. No matter how he was feeling, he got himself up and out there, keeping up his social life which fed his curiosity and his muses. He didn’t look so great; he’d lost a lot of weight. But his m.v. was still robust mentally, and he had every intention of staying on for as long as His Maker would allow. He didn’t talk about it, he just did it.

We got a lot of mail about Dominick from all over the country. He connected with his reader on an extra level. He had a little bit of the hero, the people’s hero, in the eyes of many of his readers/fans. Dominick was astounded by all this but he loved it too.

Here are a few of the messages we got about the man. They articulate what it was about him that resonated. And when they say they are sad or that they will miss him, you know they mean it.

The following are responses to yesterday and Tuesday’s Diary about Dominick’s life ...

From Steven Stolman in Palm Beach:


Bravo! What an inspiration. He lectured down here at the Society of the Four Arts- and while wandering down Worth Ave walked into my shop.

I immediately reminded him that I too was from West Hartford - and wished that I had his latest book with me for him to sign - as I was in the middle of it. Alas, it was at my apartment.

He said "How far away?" "Two blocks ..." It was near closing time, so he sat on the sofa in the shop and said "Let me use your phone and you run home and get the book. I'll watch the store."

I made a mad dash to my little place and upon returning- he was still on the sofa- phone in his hand - and said "Your mother called ... and I sold a skirt."

God bless him.


Nan Quick wrote:

Death yesterday was very much on heart and mind. I was in Princeton for a business meeting, on what happened to be the day of my father's birth, and in the town where he began.

As I was meditating in my Nassau Inn room (don't stay there: it's dingy and overrated) upon my much-loved dad's passing and the things he left behind, I learned of Dominick Dunne's death and felt doubly bereft.

How can one miss a person one has never met? If he's been an author, one who stripped bare his own frailties along with everyone else's, one who wrote about good deeds unrewarded and evil deeds unpunished, missing the man who wrote like an avenging angel DOES make emotional sense.

Strangers who stopped Dunne with their exclamations of "WE LOVE YOU" were responding to the thread that ran through both his fiction and his crime reporting: the certainty that somehow, TRUTH would rise and RIGHTNESS would prevail, even if social and judicial systems weren't timely in their solutions. This deeply ethical man conquered his own weaknesses, mid-stream, and used every ounce of energy thereafter to look, unblinking and compassionate, at what makes us human. Just making A SEASON IN PURGATORY justified Dunne's time on Earth.


A reader wrote:

Full Circle. Isn't it curious that Nick and Lennie's wedding announcement was printed alongside Peter and Pat Lawford’s announcement. And again, all this time later, his obituary should appear side by side with Ted Kennedy. He has to be smiling down at that ...

Michael Devine wrote:


David, I was touched by your article on Dominick Dunne today. I met Mr. Dunne on the corner of 49th Street and 3rd Avenue about 6 months ago. I said hello to him and shook his hand. He almost seemed surprised that a stranger would recognize him and say hello. Ten minutes later I am in Smith & Wollensky's to meet some friends for dinner and there is Mr. Dunne sitting by himself at a table ordering what I assumed would be a cheeseburger and a nice glass of red. It was a real New York moment for me. Just thought I would share it. He is in my prayers. Thanks.

From a reader in Philadelphia:


The month after 9/11, my husband and I went to the Carlyle Hotel to see Bobby Short, We wanted to do something to cheer ourselves up and knew that it would be a terrific evening like so many others we had enjoyed there in the past.

But that did not happen, because for some reason Mr. Short, who had just returned from his annual summer in France, talked only about what he had done on vacation and not a word about the tragedy that had just befallen New York.

Perhaps he did not want to spoil the festive mood of the evening. but as much as I admired his talent and wit, this lack of any comment whatsoever, did not sit well with me.

I was looking around the room, when I realized that two tables away, sat Dominick Dunne and Barbara Walters.

Just seeing him smiling and talking and listening, with great care to whatever was being shared with him, made me happy, and made the evening special again for me.

Now we must all be happy he no longer suffers and is once again reunited with Lenny and his beautiful daughter.


From a reader in Cleveland: 

I only met him once, while we were both buying newspapers on a New York City street corner. I had read all his books and magazine articles, and it was all I could do to introduce myself and thank him for his work without gushing. Perhaps I should have been more effusive.
 
I was very inspired by the story of Mr. Dunne’s retreat from Los Angeles when at one point his life there crashed around him. He described being holed-up in a motel cabin in the middle of nowhere, writing all day, and then, on his limited means, treating himself to a can of roast beef hash for dinner. Since then, I have always had a can or two of Mary Kitchen Roast Beef Hash stashed away in the pantry. And tonight, in Mr. Dunne’s honor, I will open one to eat while leafing through my well-read copy of The Way We Lived Then.
 
My deepest sympathy to you and your friends who knew him well. And many thanks for remembering him so beautifully in words and pictures.

 
From a reader in Southern California:

I’m very sad to learn of his death. My husband and I had a pleasant encounter with him once at the Beverly Hills Hotel. We were standing in line to get a seat at the counter of the soda fountain (as I call it) downstairs. It was a Sunday morning and the soda fountain is a hugely popular spot for Sunday breakfast. Anyway we were next in line to get seats and Mr. Dunne walked in to chat with a friend of his who was already seated and eating his breakfast. He went out of his way to let us know he wasn’t cutting in line ahead of us but merely wanted a word with his friend. He was charming and funny and friendly. As he left we were still waiting for a seat and as he spoke with us again, he reached over to my husband, took his arm and said smilingly, “You’re a tall one, aren’t you?” (My husband is 6’4”). We all laughed and Mr. Dunne went on his way. It was a fun experience as we were both fans of his writing and of him personally, and recognized him immediately when we saw him. We stay at the hotel several times a year and I always thought that if I saw him again (and for some reason I was sure I would) I’d tell him how much I enjoyed his work. Sadly that never happened. Every once in a while I’ll grab my husband’s arm and repeat what Dominick said, and we both laugh at that happy memory.

From a reader in Australia:

A great piece on Dominick Dunne as I would have expected. I was genuinely sad to hear of his passing and shed several tears thinking of the joy his writing has brought me over the years. I have missed his column in VF since he stopped writing it - it helped define the modern version of the magazine and it will be hard to replace his clarity, insight and inside knowledge. He was an inspiration in so many ways, especially to those facing a cross roads at middle age. If one ever gets a chance to make a 'comeback' you owe it to yourself to make the best of it, and DD certainly did that.

Best wishes
Nicholas B.

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