ALL GORE IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS
There is a review in this week’s New Yorker, to which I have after so long away started to subscribe as it is so cheap, and I can feel their desperation—so literate in a world where so few people anymore turn to the actual page—of a Gore Vidal biography. And I feel how lucky I am to have had in one lifetime a man who loved me like Don, and a friend—as much as he could be one—like Gore Vidal.
We were living in London as a young couple, going for our first visit to Rome, and it was early enough in our lives so we were still friends with Sue Mengers, who told us to call Gore. Invited for tea, or more probably it was a drink, to Gore’s rooftop apartment in Rome, apparently we passed the audition, as he said we should go on with him to dinner, and we did. His companion, and as he was to seem from time to time, clever and funny friend Howard Austen was along, as was one of the Andy Warhol girls, Ultra Violet, I think.
The dinner was obviously Italian, and the words, though I can’t remember what all of them actually were, dazzling. I do remember precisely Gore’s looking at me intensely at one point and asking if I was wearing contacts. I told him no.
“It’s just that your eyes are so beautiful I thought you must have something in them.”
Well, let me tell you, reader, if you are there: there is nothing more dizzying than being hit on by one of the world’s most notorious homosexuals. As I remember, I was stunned into silence.
Don, who’d been captivated but less than comfortable for most of the evening, was furious. “It just shows what a pervert you are,” he said in the taxi back to the hotel,” that you enjoy the company of a pervert like Gore Vidal.”
And I did, and continued to, whenever I was in the same city he was. When he came to Los Angeles I would meet him at the Beverly Hills Hotel where he stayed with appropriate panache, squeakily saying “Really?” when I relayed something flattering that had been said about him, and going to visit him at his home in Ravello, when Don had died too early, and I was questing for the upside of being alone.
“This…” Gore said, arms outspread, standing on the side of the mountain his villa was perched on, overlooking the ocean, “is our view.”
I was still so overcome at having an actual relationship, such as it was, with Gore Vidal himself, that I didn’t really log how pretentious it sounded. Even now, all these years later, I prize having had the contact, and sorrow over the deterioration that was to come, the inevitability of decay if you are lucky enough to have a long run. At the time, though, he was still superior, contemptuous even while appearing the sort-of gracious host. Howard, though, was patently pissed, not enjoying Gore’s being interested in a woman, though it was
Nothing really Personal.
I told tales of having gone to the nude encounter marathon, that wet adventure that was to be the center of most of my career difficulties. Both Gore and Howard were unenchanted, and understanding now how foolish the whole thing was, I am sorry to have wasted both their attentions, as much of it as I had, on that. Gore became contemptuous, and when I gave him a novel of mine that I had brought as a gift, dismissive. I doubt that he ever even bothered to read a work of mine.
But after Howard died, and he was lonely, I was with him on a number of occasions. He waited for me at the gate to the path that led down to his villa, and I realized he was actually anxious for my company. But he became more arch, and less appealing with every visit. Sort of happily, I had had one phone conversation with Howard before he died that was amicable and even borderline hearty, and that made me happy. I do like to make friends, especially when they don’t like me.
Reading now about him in The New Yorker, once my—and everybody’s as I remember—favorite magazine, it is easy to see how far or maybe near we have actually come. The cartoons are no longer so funny or so well drawn, but the prose is still read over the nose as if it were a transom, and everybody should be standing on tiptoe.
And Gore, from a distance, seems actually closer than he could get, because I realize how glad he was for my company, even though he less than prized it, how desperately he longed for literary acknowledgement. “The very rich are different from you and me,” Fitzgerald said to Hemingway, and Ernest replied, “Yes, they have more money.”
“The very literate are different from you and me,” I say. “Yes,” I answer back, being fork-tongued, “they pretend to read The New York Review of Books.”