Many years ago, when I was first really questing, after the huge if somewhat sensational success of THE PRETENDERS, as I was trying for my Real Book, and wanted to write (Why Not?) Madame Bovary, the plight(as it was) of the Bright Woman in the Leisure Society, re-set in Southern California, for part of my research one night a week I went to Synanon, set at the time in what is now a semi-chic hotel on the shore in Santa Monica, and played The Game. The Game was an assaultive if incredibly entertaining (and occasionally very helpful) form of attack therapy, where all these sharp ex-addicts (and the occasional visitor, which I was,) sat in a circle and came down hard on each other. The Game had been started by Chuck Diedrich, once a fabled name in the cruel art of getting addicts and alcoholics over it, if you could. Chuck later gave up smoking and made all his people do the same, so a lot of them, who had miraculously been able to give up heroin could not give up smoking, and left Synanon, and went back to being dopers and drunks and mostly dead.
But when I went there and played The Game, I became close to and very much entranced by a great couple, Bill and Jeanie Cohen, both of them ex-heroin addicts, very real, and very smart. I lost them over the years, as you sadly do seem to lose people, unless they went to Bryn Mawr and you get the Alumnae News, or they're Cary Grant so you keep close tabs if you are lucky enough to know him. I remember talking to Jeannie once a couple of years afterward. She was living in Brooklyn, and still with Billy. But apparently not for much longer after that. Then I got caught up in what you get caught up in like raising your children while they still listen and your husband dying and trying to make a life for yourself and so on and so on as my once and always friend Vonnegut would say and I wish still could.
But strangely through this Internet stuff which I try not to dislike and am occasionally happily startled by, I received an e-mail from the sister of Billy, who found me accidentally online and has written a book with him, though his part of the collaboration has come from the Afterlife. Sadly he came to a terrible end, apparently going back to drugs big time, selling cocaine, and getting hit by a car in a crosswalk, while he was loaded. According to the chapter she sent me that seemingly horrific finish spirited him instantly into pure Bliss, giving them a bestseller called The Afterlife of Billy Fingers, which he co-authored from the glorious Beyond. I am sad, nonetheless, that he came to a bad end, even though it was, according to his sister, the threshold to an illuminating and vibrant Hereafter, which I of course hope is the Reality, or, more aptly, the non-Reality. As my three faithful readers may know, one of my novels, KINGDOM COME, dealt with that possibility in a very open and heartfelt way, and brought to me one of the best friends I ever had, a beautiful woman named Diane, who believed my novel, and its concept of the Afterlife, and where we all went-- as I remember it was on a bus-- to be the Truth, and said I had been given the Truth because I had the language to make it available.
Well to my surprise I have gotten older, and don't know if I'm wiser, but I no longer have the audacity to believe that might be true. Not about my vision of an Afterlife, as I do, of course, like everyone with an open heart, which I do have, hope for the Better Possibilities. I'm talking about the gift of the Truth being given to me because I had the language to make it available. As much as I believe in and long for great things, at this point in my re-settling, I am just hoping someone will make a good movie, or a move towards Peace, or a non-fattening hot fudge sundae. Or that there comes a day on which nothing horrible happens, or a Republican who cares about the Rights of Women.
Still sad, though, about Billy. Jeannie, too, had a painful exit. That novel became TOUCHING, which Kurt said was "very well written," which seemed to me the highest compliment I ever received, considering the source, and the fact that he came to my defense when the book became the landmark libel case in Fiction and my publisher who defended me all the way to the Supreme Court on the basis of the First Amendment turned and sued me when the court declined to hear the case except for Justices Brennan, Stewart and Marshall. Could it have been because that was just the moment when Woodward and Bernstein published THE BRETHREN, exposing the secret lives of those on the court?
Well, that's okay because not too long after that I wrote THE MOTHERLAND, of which the great Michael Korda of Simon & Shuster said "This will show people the great writer you really are, As far as I am concerned, it's the only book we're publishing this Spring." He must have forgotten ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, which came out at exactly the same time, so nobody cared about Fiction.
Except Cary Grant, who really liked it, and told me his mother didn't like him either. Can you believe it? She wanted him to dye his hair, because his letting it go gray, made her look older. And of course there was also my big fan at that moment, Elizabeth Taylor, who wanted to play the part. To which Sue Mengers said "Tell her to get the napkin off her lap."
Oh, well. I look at it all this way, with my good eye. At least I didn't get hit in the crosswalk.