Thursday, March 05, 2009

In Lieu of Diamonds

There is a great story I read long ago in Helen Hayes’ autobiography, when Charles MacArthur was courting her, and they were eating peanuts, and he said “I wish they were emeralds.” Then they both became very successful, and he gave her a lot of emeralds, and finally said “I wish they were peanuts.”
My husband, usually borderline impoverished, was a great romantic, so no matter how little money he had, whenever I finished a novel, or had a new work, (including my musical comedy, begun so long ago he was still alive to believe in me and cheer me on and think it was wonderful) he would give me a diamond. There was an engagement ring(the stone was a big Marquis, but flawed, not that it showed, but at least it made it only a little unaffordable,) earrings for which I had to have my ears pierced(it hurt—I could only take one and then went to lunch with Tungson Park, of Koreagate, at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, and encouraged by the truth that I had the admiration of an international scoundrel, as I had argued in his defense, fictionally, in Ladies in Waiting, went back for the second lobe. Then there were bracelets and pendants(a diamond 13 when I published my thirteenth novel, and all manner of little antique pieces to celebrate every accomplishment, almost all of them lost or stolen in the years he’s been gone, save, as Tommy Thompson would have writ, the lovely, dainty little ring that looks like a lyre, which I never take off so it won’t be stolen or lost.) Don called me dainty once, and delicate, and the words killed me, as they were something I never considered I would be considered. So it was that after his unbelievably untimely parting, whenever I finished something I would buy myself a little jewel, because I needed and felt entitled to that affirmation. But as the years went by, there was less and less to affirm myself for: the joy in the work and the output never diminished, but a loving reception for the work itself did.
Still, if you live long enough, things can turn around. So it is that not only my musical appears to be surfacing, gulping for air in this economically strangling time, but an ancient(comparatively) movie of mine for which I kept the stage rights, is to become a musical by someone very au courant and esteemed on the Great White(not exactly,) Way. But in the absence of Don, or a flush economy, I have had to downsize my reward. Thus it is that yesterday Mimi and I slogged through the frozen slush to Gracious Homes and bought a very smart and shiny black toilet seat. It seems exactly the right note. My cartoon by Herblock, in which the Chief Justice ponders the decision that writers of Fiction can be held liable for libel, and considers whether he should think the same for those who had just published a book on the Supreme Court justices themselves, commemorating what was essentially the death knell for my happy career as a novelist—the lawsuit over my novel ‘Touching’—is on the bathroom wall, framed in black, as is the poster from the play that opened on Broadway when Madeleine did, so the Times reviewer wished long life to my baby and instant death to my comedy. Above that, on a shelf, is my beauteous grown daughter on her first wedding day, escorted by my handsome and confident Robert in his tux, in a pailleted black shiny frame. As Shakespeare might have noted if he paid attention to the Seven Ages of Woman: sans diamonds, sans d├ęcor, sans hairdresser, sans smooth skin slightly tanned, sans romance, sans everything but optimism, a possible new beginning, and a little white dog who cannot walk three blocks without turning gray.
So bit by bit it feels as if there may be Life after Life. The Bel-Air is reprinting HAPPY AT THE BEL-AIR, the wonderful little book starring my late dog, a Yokie. (Robert Browning, “That’s my last Doggie on the Shelf, looking as if he knew he was on Oprah” which he was but she didn’t show the book. I was thinking of making the re-done dedication, ‘To Oprah, you bitch, you could have made him immortal.’ But what’s the point. The past is the past, and I have Mimi, and one day she might have a book.) We’re going for our walk now. She sort of looks forward to it, having the gift, as I apparently do, too, of not remembering that for every joy there will probably be a painful comeuppance. In her case, a bath.