Fall, 1970. At the beginning of her career in 1961, Barbra Streisand lived upstairs in the building on Third Avenue that housed Oscar’s, a popular seafood restaurant. In spite of all the times I’d visited her apartment I’d never gone to the restaurant.
I often read that Barbra’s first apartment didn’t even have a window. Not only did it have a window, it had a balcony i.e., fire escape on which I’m looking out at Third Avenue.
Incidentally, on the wall of Barbra’s apartment was a photograph I took of her backstage with Phyllis Diller in the tiny dressing room of The Bon Soir night club on West Eighth Street in Greenwich Village.
Nine years later in 1970, I finally had dinner at Oscar’s. It was certainly not fancy but was just another neighborhood restaurant. The difference was it was comparatively large — I assumed taking up the whole ground floor.
Inside the restaurant was the familiar smell of the fish being cooked, the smell that, like Proust’s madeleine, brought back many past memories!
Fried fish — not as romantic as a madeleine … but more potent!
On Friday on the way to the farm I had gone to Cranford, New Jersey to visit Gordon Williams, the man who’d shared a room with me during my hepatitis stay at Lenox Hill Hospital.
Before going to his house I stopped for lunch at The Coach and Four Restaurant where at the next table I watched a kind of sad drama: three women having a friendly spirited conversation while a lone late middle aged man accompanying them sat vacantly staring into space.
The joy of a suburban retired life.
Gordon Williams’ life may not have been much different. I remembered how his wife, visiting at Lenox Hill, had told me how bothered she was by a mail order art appreciation class she’d seen advertised in the Sunday New York Times. She couldn’t understand why a Jackson Pollack painting was better than a 19th-century painting by Bouguereau.
At the time I thought of asking her why she really needed to know, but decided that it wasn’t an important question and for whatever reason she might have thought was none of my business. I tried to say something about the mass selling of taste, but it got too complicated.
I have actually thought about this in the intervening years — the marketing of Taste!
So now, here was Gordon Williams with terminal pancreatic cancer.
He seemed to have a diffident attitude about life — and leaving it. I remembered his time at Lenox Hill and the unending and continuous telling about some ordinary event and the repetitious variations of the same event. I can’t call it a conversation as there was no pause nor was there anything I could relate to. It didn’t seem to matter — it was a monologue!
Taking a taxi from the Easton, Pennsylvania bus terminal, the cab had some amusing information posted.
This was during the first appearance of the longer maxi skirt and the hullabaloo that followed. The press was calling it A Mini/Maxi War!
Anyway, I arrived at the farm. Tybalt had come with me (of course) and such a patient, uncomplaining cat and seasoned traveler, I left him on the bed where he had a good view of the land and any occasional bird visitor.
The farm was in fact on Creek Road and although the creek was not very sizable, during an occasional storm it could flood to at least four times its size! Once, it had come so close to Connie Bartel’s front door in the big stone house that she was worried she might have to flee upstairs as she telephoned for help! It didn’t happen —but it was close!
That day it was pleasant and calm — just the relief from a busy Manhattan week! Later, to my dismay, I heard one of the locals telling how there weren’t as many water moccasins as usual!
Water moccasins? In the creek we used to wade in during hot weather?
Water moccasins? Snakes?
That did it for wading in the creek!
Annie Rieger and Jessica Robinson came out from the city and Connie invited us to dinner at the big house. Another guest was the architectural photographer, Feliciano.
Connie was thrilled to meet Feliciano as she had a soft but secret hot spot in her heart for Latin men! She’d had a short marriage to a Cuban in Havana that although it didn’t last did give her the gift of a much loved daughter, Bonnie.
We had a full house with Johanna Roosevelt also to liven things. Johanna had the best stories that she would on occasion act out interspersed with dated songs from the 19th and early 20th centuries — songs that had taken on unintended meanings when transplanted to the ’60s!
With candlelight, much wine, Queen Anne’s Lace flower arrangements, conversation and entertainment it was a stimulating contrast to everyone’s Manhattan week!
Walking back up the moonlit hill to the little house through clouds of glowing fireflies just added magic to the whole evening.
The following week, my friend Claire Burns invited me to come to Princeton for an important black tie evening at the McCarter Theatre.
I was to stay at the beautiful home of Stuart and “Petie” Duncan that had just been totally decorated by Mario Buatta. The house had been transformed into a chinoiserie dream with an upstairs corridor lined with historic Duncan ancestors! Stu was the heir to Lea & Perrins and, with Edgar Lansbury, brother of Angela, had just gotten into theater production with the launch of Godspell. He was hooked and had plans for more theater and even movies.
Before going to the McCarter Theatre there was a lavish cocktail party and Claire asked me to keep a watch on a young man who she said was not a good drinker!
Sometime during that act there was a light moment in this most intense Arthur Miller drama. The audience laughed gently …
But it woke up our new friend. He looked around and chuckled. But the play had moved on from its light moment to more intense emotions.
Our friend laughed again but more loudly! People around us began whispering SHH!! But he evidently found that to be hilarious! The woman seated behind him threw her mink coat over his head which only made him roar with laughter as the actors very discreetly, but obviously worried, scanned the playing area and players for an unzipped fly? A bra strap? Something? while bravely continuing.
I couldn’t take it nor could Lisa and as unobtrusively as we could we swiftly exited with him following us and laughing as if we’d just come from a hilarious comedy.
We poured him into a cab and waited for an intermission to resume our seats. “Not a good drinker” indeed!
The next day I was taken to lunch in Flemington, New Jersey where the Lindbergh family had lived when their young son had been abducted.
After, Claire Burns drove me to Alpha, New Jersey, Creek Road and the farm.
We played Dictionary.