ALL GORE IS DIVIDED INTO THREE PARTS
There is a review in this week’s New Yorker, to which I have after a long time away started to subscribe as magazines have so fallen in favor, they are cheap, and you can feel their desperation—so literate in a world where so few people now 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 as much as Don did, and a friend—as much as he could be one—like Gore Vidal.
Don and I were living in London as a young couple with little kids, going for our first visit to Rome. It was early enough in our lives so we were still friends with the powerful and witty agent 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, we apparently passed the audition, and he said we should go on with him to dinner. Impressed and excited,--or at least I was, --- we did.
His companion, and, as he was to seem from time to time, clever and funny friend Howard Austen was along. So was one of the Andy Warhol girls: Ultra Violet, I think it was.
The dinner was obviously Italian, and the words, though I can’t remember what all of them actually were, were dazzling. There was little he seemed to be able to say without its being framed and mounted like a celebrity photo on a mantel. And I do remember vividly 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, dear reader, if one you are and you are there: there is nothing more dizzying than being hit on by one of the world’s most notorious and dazzlingly articulate homosexuals. As I remember, I was stunned into silence.
Don, viably straight man that he was, who’d been captivated but less than comfortable for most of the evening, was furious. “It just shows what a pervert you really are,” he said in the taxi back to the hotel,” that you enjoy the company of 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. And I recall vividly, his squeakily saying “Really?” when I relayed something flattering that had been said about him. Then there was going to visit him at his home in Ravello, when Don had died shatteringly young, and much too early, and I was questing for the upside of being alone, and he had invited me.
“This…” Gore said, arms outspread, as he gazed down from 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 register 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, literally and geographically above it all, 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, the wet adventure that was to be the center of most of my career difficulties, when the novel that resulted started an egregious landmark lawsuit. Both Gore and Howard were visibly un-enchanted. Gore became contemptuous, and when I gave him a novel of mine that I had brought as a gift, MARRIAGE, not a smart choice of subject on my part, was dismissive. I don’t imagine he ever even bothered to read a work of mine.
But after Howard died, and he was lonely, I was invited to be with him on a number of occasions. He waited for me at the gate to the path that led down to his villa. I could almost hear him holding his breath as I approached, 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, amicable and even borderline hearty, and that made me happy. I do like to make friends, especially when they don’t like me.
Reading about Gore 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.
Gore, from a distance, seems actually closer than one could really get, and I realize how glad he was for my company though he less than prized it, and 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, trying to be fork-tongued. “They pretend to read The New York Review of Books.”