Innocent Spouse
by Carol Joynt

Table of Contents

Nathans of Georgetown,
Washington D.C.

Chapter 21

When I got to our office at CNN the next day, Wendy was in Los Angeles with Larry. I sent her a computer message. “I heard last night that you instructed Donna to tell the staff not to talk to me or work with me. Is this true? Can we talk about this?”  For the longest time there was no response, and then I got a reply.  “What you heard was hearsay. You should know your sources. This is not my problem to work out. You should go to Donna and settle it with her.”

I wrote back:  “Donna’s a troublemaker, and Becky’s behaving irresponsibly.”

Later, on a conference call, Wendy said, “We all love Carol. She is part of the team. We work with her and she works with us.”

That was a relief and bought me some time, but I knew the clock was ticking on my professional future.

Dorsey was Wendy’s assistant and also the office receptionist. She was usually a pretty cool character who handled stress better than most. In her time at the show she’d become accustomed to the crash and burn tension that comes with the deadlines of a nightly live television broadcast. But like everyone else who had been working nonstop since Saturday night on the Diana story, she was drained.

The phones were ringing without rest. Every button on Dorsey’s console was lit up with a new call or flashing with an old one on hold.  Right beside her desk, Donna and Hattie were having an audible tug of war over territorial rights to a potential guest whose publicist was returning a call to either one of them. Dorsey had the woman on hold. Every time Dorsey tried to answer another call, Hattie and Donna told her what to do.

“Dorsey, please give the call to me,” Hattie said.

“I called her long before anyone else did,” Donna screamed. “She’s mine.”

“No you didn’t!” Hattie shouted back.  “That’s all in your nutty head! I had her practically booked before you ever started working here!”

“I know Wendy wants me to book her,” Donna yelled louder.

Dorsey, with the phone in her hand, stood up at her desk and screamed:

“You are all so fucking unprofessional! I have never seen anything like it!  You should all be ashamed of yourselves! You butt in on phone calls, you interrupt conversations, you demand and bark orders and you’re all so rude.  I have never worked anyplace so unprofessional, and I worked in the restaurant business, for God’s sake!”

She sat down, put her head in her hands and burst into tears.

I hugged her.  I thought her outburst was perfect, like opera. All that blond hair piled on her head, the phones, her face red and furious. Everyone had worked so hard, under so much pressure, for so many hours without sleep, that all nervous systems were coming apart.

Sitting at my desk, I overhead Donna speak on the phone with Julie, one of the two producers who had been shipped to London.

“Sugar, we all love you. You are the best. Now, sugar, calm down. It’s going to be okay. You are the bravest, strongest person here. Larry loves you. Wendy loves you. Becky loves you. We all love you. You are my idol. No one works as hard as you do. Now, come on, honey, get a hold of yourself. It’s going to be okay. It’s a big story. You’ll get the right people. Aw, come on, it’s going to be okay. This is just a job. There is a whole world out there. A life out there. Love out there.”

I asked Dean, “What’s this all about?”

“Julie had Diana’s personal trainer booked for tonight and he just backed out.”

Even with all the office drama, we got a show on the air.  It was not our best effort, but we had been up against many obstacles, not the least of which was the fact we weren’t on the air until a day and a half after Diana’s death. Other shows had a head start on us. There had been blanket coverage on the cable channels and the networks. There wasn’t a lot that was fresh.  Many celebrity guests who had been available in the first hours pulled back later.

The car crash was so grisly, so awful, and now so controversial because of the involvement of the papparazzi who chased Diana and Dodi’s car that most celebrities did not want to talk on television.  This changed over the next couple of weeks, but on that Monday night we had very little cooperation from “A” list stars who had experience with the paparazzi.  Larry anchored the show from Los Angeles and began with a phone interview with the former first lady, Nancy Reagan. She recalled the royal wedding and the small White House dinner she and the president hosted for Diana and Prince Charles. That was followed by a three-way interview with Michael Cole in London, Steven Seagal in, I think, Los Angeles, and Scott McLeod of Time, who was in Paris. The show wrapped up with Elizabeth Dole, who, as head of the Red Cross, had worked with Diana.

The next night we did an encore with Michael Cole, plus an odd lot of other guests, including Tony Frost, editor of the The Globe, a supermarket tabloid, and actress Fran Drescher.  Toward the end of the broadcast Larry said, “We have a special caller phoning in.”  It was Patsy Ramsey, mother of the little murdered beauty queen.

“You should be ashamed for putting Tony Frost on your show,” she said to Larry, on the air.

 

The next night we had a similar line-up. I wrote about it in my journal:

“So, we’re bringing Fran Drescher back tonight and Cindy Crawford wants to come on and we have the man organizing Diana’s funeral and again, Michael Cole, and a little leukemia girl who got a letter from Diana and some paparazzi and a lawyer and on and on. It’s another train wreck. Everything is a mess, jammed together, nothing connected, all over the place, and yet you can’t turn away – you just keeping watching and watching.  And Larry sits there having a ball.”

Also, we got enormous ratings.

I worked very hard those first days after the crash, in part because I wanted to show Wendy I could.

The most entertaining moments of that week involved Rosie O’Donnell and Larry Flynt, the wheel-chair bound publisher of Hustler Magazine.

On the night of Fran Drescher’s appearance on the show Rosie called CNN and asked to be patched through to Larry on the air. She wanted to join the conversation with Drescher.  There were technical problems and the call was routed instead to Wendy.

“It was really Rosie,” Dorsey exclaimed. “My God, we were in a panic trying to get her hooked up with Larry in L.A.

After the hook-up failed, Wendy asked Rosie if she would do an interview the next night and Rosie agreed, but only as a “phoner.”  She gave Wendy her home phone number and asked her to pass it along to Fran Drescher.  Sure, Wendy said, no big deal. Consider it done.     

Wendy called me. “Will you call Lois Smith tomorrow?” she asked.  “Rosie said Lois cancels everything she wants to do. Will you try to make it happen?”

I had a good relationship with Lois Smith. Like almost all the publicists at PMK, she was tough but reasonable. She’d delivered Rosie to us once before.

“Rosie will do the call-in,” Lois said, “but she is upset that Larry phoned her at home last night after the show. When she gave your producer her home phone number it was for Fran, not Larry. She doesn’t like surprises like that.”

Not knowing anything about Larry’s call, all I could say was “Oh, okay. It won’t happen again.”

What I wanted to say was that Rosie should know she should never give her home phone number to a television producer, because the producer will use it.  That’s the way the game is played.  Larry can call anyone he wants.

At midday Lois called. Rosie was angry because we were running promos that implied she would be an in-studio guest rather than on the phone.

“Carol, she turned down all kinds of other shows, including her own Time-Warner brethren, and they jumped on her about this. If you want to keep her, you’ve got to play it low key.”

I told Wendy, who quickly got the promos yanked off the air.

“Tell Lois that we’re changing the line-up,” Wendy said. “I hope Rosie won’t mind. I know we said we would put her at the top alone, and we will, but three quarters of the way through her time we want to bring on Whoopi Goldberg and Alec Baldwin and a photographer.”

I called Lois. She called me back.

“Rosie is okay with that,” she said.

Wendy had all the producers on a one-hour conference call in the afternoon.

“We can get Larry Flynt,” one of them said.  “He gave a good pre-interview.”

“Book him,” Becky and Wendy both said.

“I’ve got to run this by Lois Smith,” I said. 

“Do it,” they said.

I put the conference call on hold and called Lois.

“Oh, my,” she said. “I don’t know. Let me call Rosie. I’ll call you right back.”

I got back on the conference call and then jumped off again when Lois called me back.

“You’ve lost her,” she said. “This was just too much. Tell Larry I owe you one.”

I got back on the conference call.

“We lost her,” I said. “She won’t do it. Larry Flynt was the reason.”

 “You’ve got to call her back!” Wendy said. “We can’t lose Rosie.  Tell her we’ll drop Larry Flynt.”

For an hour I went back and forth with Lois, and Lois with Rosie. We offered her everything, including the original arrangement that she would go on alone.

“It’s too late,” Lois said. “It’s not going to happen.”

I think Rosie may have been looking for an excuse to back out and with the Flynt booking we gave her one.

 

As amazing as it now seems, Larry and Shawn got married that week. The wedding ceremony took place at dawn in a Los Angeles hospital, where Larry was scheduled to undergo emergency coronary bypass surgery. They wanted to be married before he went under the knife.  At the last minute, the doctors decided he didn’t need the surgery, that an angioplasty would do, but the wedding happened at the hospital anyway.  Wendy was there and gave us a full report during a conference call.  After the ceremony, Larry and Shawn flew to New York for the angioplasty. The rest of us tried to recover from the week’s madness.

The problems I was having at Larry King Live may seem laughable to anyone outside network television.  A lot of what goes on in that pressure cooker has to be viewed with a certain appreciation for the absurd.  Television producers get inordinately wound up over the kind of petty office nonsense that was roiling Donna, Hattie, Wendy, Becky, Dean, me and others at Larry King Live: who said what to whom, why, when, and “the nerve.” Had I betrayed Wendy and my colleagues or were they betraying me? Though at the time I was miffed by the insensitive way I perceived I was being treated, in retrospect I wonder why I was so surprised.  In more than thirty years of working in network television news, I had witnessed this kind of slow career death many times. Before, however, it was always happening to someone else.

It may not be kind or polite or fair, but it’s the way it is.  When you’re over, you’re over. Just like last night’s show. It’s all about ratings and my ratings were in decline. I knew it, I saw it, intellectually I understood it, but I chose to resist.  My path of resistance was to try to work harder. But I simply couldn’t work hard enough anymore. I was no longer free and freewheeling. I couldn’t keep up: work the phones, stay late, show up at odd hours, sit around the office and shoot the breeze, go out with the gang for drinks, take the odd unplanned trip. To Wendy and the others my excuses were tedious: the restaurant business, meetings with lawyers, the needs of my child. I could no longer devote my entire existence to Larry King Live as they did.

Life had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “No more goofing around in your high paid, influential, powerful TV job; it’s your turn to be a grown-up and to grapple with grown-up problems.” I’d been forced to face reality. I became increasingly cynical about the showbiz bubble of what we considered to be important to the world: the O.J. Simpson saga, Jon Benet Ramsey, Tammy Faye Bakker, any celebrity scandal, an actor with a terminal illness, and now the deaths of Princess Diana and Dodi al-Fayed.

The perceived power of my work was, as it often is in talk-show journalism, way out of proportion to its actual value. At one end are the daily arrivals of free books from publishers, free magazine subscriptions, free movie and theater tickets, invitations to opening nights, premiers, book parties, and any number of other social gatherings.  On a more useful and logical level, there are the breakfasts with the Speaker of the House, or lunch with a visiting movie director, or an office meeting with Ralph Lauren or Cardinal O’Connor or dinner with Leona Helmsley. And then there’s the constant suck-up from all the public relations people calling and writing and calling again and again and again, offering this client or that idea, and hoping and praying and begging for just one response: “Yes.

But I knew none of the power was really mine.  It wasn’t about me.

After an evening of reconciling a bank account or meeting with a recalcitrant general manager at the business I owned or reading the latest restrictions put on me by the IRS, it became more and more difficult to show up at the office and take seriously whether I did or didn’t have a home phone number for Tom Cruise.

 

 

“Miriam, they are really beginning to marginalize me at the show,” I said to my tax lawyer. “I don’t want to make it sound like I work in a children’s playgroup, but in many ways I do. My question is this: do I have to keep at it? I know I need the job for the money, but if I could figure out how to get the same money from Nathans, could I quit?”

The lawyers looked at my professional circumstances from one point of view.

“Carol, it is still so much better for your case if you are working there.  It emphasizes how you have always had your career and how hard you are trying to hold on to it,” Miriam said.  “Also, we cannot discount the government’s awareness of the power of CNN, especially with the hearings on the Hill. I don’t think it’s a big issue, but it’s there.”

 

 

“Mom, is grandpa dying, too?” Spencer asked when we arrived for a visit at the nursing home soon after the Labor Day weekend turmoil. My father was increasingly frail.

“Everyone isn’t dead,” I said.

“My daddy is dead. Both my grandmas are dead. Daddy’s daddy is dead and I think your daddy is going to be dead,” he said.

He wasn’t dead, but he couldn’t give advice or help anymore. All I could do was visit him at the nursing home, kiss him on the cheek, sit in the bleak room beside his bed and watch him stare blankly at daytime television. My brothers had hung a few black and white photographs from his days as a bomber pilot in World War II. My parents wedding photo was there, too, with my mother in a conservative wartime knee-length white suit and my father in uniform.  In moments of clarity he asked me about the IRS, Nathans and Larry King.  Neither of us mentioned Sis, who was still on the lam.

Spencer hugged him and did his best to behave like he was comfortable in the nursing home with old people, some of them calling out for help or crying alone in their rooms.

“You are a very good boy to go there to see grandpa,” I said.  “I’m very proud of you.  It’s not a pleasant place.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking out the window of the back seat, lost in his thoughts.

 

In the middle of that insane first week of September, Spencer started kindergarten at a new elementary school. The school, in the northwest section of the city, attracted the children of well-paid lobbyists, lawyers and other professionals. I wasn’t sure whether I fit in (anymore) with those other glossy, mannered parents, but it didn’t matter. Spencer was happy to be there.  On that first day, we walked around, met with his teachers, toured his classroom and the playground.

Parents stood around outside, chatting.  Some of the dads were dressed in pin-striped suits, the moms in their Chanel and Prada. Everybody looked good and spoke politely and was on his or her best behavior.

“Hey, Mom, look at this,” Spencer said, gesturing at a big green plastic tube slide. “This is so cool.”

He jumped in and disappeared.

From down at the bottom I could hear a small voice yell, “Come on, Mom, you do it, too.” 

I looked around, climbed in and before I knew what happened Whoosh! I was flying down at top speed.  It curved to the left and then to the right and then shot me out at the end. Wham! I landed on the ground on my bottom, my feet up in the air, stunned. Spencer thought this was hilarious and jumped with delight. Other parents stood beside the slide, looking down at me. I got up, dusted off my rear, smiled and stuck out my hand.

“Hi, Carol Joynt,” I said.

“Nice to meet you.”

“I’m Spencer’s Mom. Hi.”

Everyone shook hands.

Spencer beamed with pride.

#

 

My Journal

 

 

I called Jake Stein about the new lease.  “How’s it going?” I asked.

“I just sent a letter over to Dimitri,” he said.  “Just finished it 20 minutes ago.”  (Dimitri Mallios, the landlords’ lawyer.)

“I hope this means we’re close,” I said. “I’ll feel so much better going forward with the IRS when I know I can get a new lease. At least I know there will be a way to pay them.”

“Getting there,” he said. And then he paused. “You know, I think I ought to tell you something Dimitri told me. The word on the street is that your manager, Douglas, is negotiating behind your back with your landlords to get the lease for himself.”

I was surprised but not shocked. Dismayed and furious, for sure. Genuinely upset, unquestionably. Not only that, I was on the phone with Jake from the office.  Sitting not more than 15 feet away from me was Doug, going over some papers with Caroline. I’m talking to Jake and looking at Doug.

“If anybody would know it’s him,” I said, referring to Dimitri but trying to sound enigmatic. “What does this mean to me? Is this an impediment?”

“Nah,” he said, “I think it will be okay. If it’s true, it tells you something about your manager.”

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Do nothing right now,” he said. “Wait until you get your lease.”

“Am I going to get my lease?”

“Yes,” Jake said. “I believe so.”

I hung up the phone. Doug was sitting at his desk, yakking to Caroline. I wanted to pick up the nearest computer terminal and throw it at him. Tears started to fill my eyes. How could he? He blithely tells me I’m $160 thousand behind in accounts and now this? I let this creep into my life each day, into my business, and now this? He blackmails me for thousands of dollars and now this? Disloyalty is worse than theft. It is theft. Theft of my trust.

I know I can’t say anything to him. I have to get my lease. But who is he working with? He can’t be doing this alone. Are his partners people inside Nathans? Is there disloyalty all around me? Oh, how I want to fire him and stop this cancer. How could Howard have co-existed with such a snake? Leaving me with him is almost as bad as leaving me with the IRS.

I sat there at the desk, weeping, with my face in my hands.

Doug asked, “Is there anything we can do?”

“No,” I said, decisively.

The phone rang. It was Spencer.

“Mommy, when are you coming home?”

“Soon,” I said.

“But how soon?”

“I will be leaving here shortly,” I said.

“Mommy, are you crying?” he asked.

“Yes, a little.”

“Why?”

“I can’t tell you right now. I’ll tell you when I get home,” I said.

“Why don’t you go the phone upstairs at the bar?” he asked.

“Okay,” I said. I ran upstairs and picked up the bar phone. I knew Doug could be listening on the line, but so what?

“Honey, I got some bad news but I will be okay and I will be home soon,” I said.

“Mommy, is the bad news that we’re not going to get Teddy’s house?”

“No, angel, we’re going to get the new house.”

“Is it that I’m not going to get to go to my new school anymore?” he asked.

“No honey. You will go to your school as long as you want.”

“Then what is it, Mommy?”

“I will tell you when I get home. Now, you finish your dinner and I will see you shortly. I love you.”

I used the buzzer to call Caroline downstairs.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Come up here, please,” I said. “I want to tell you something.”

We met in the empty dining room.

“I’m mortified,” she said, when I told her about Jake’s call. I wondered if she was. She’d been around a long time. This couldn’t be that unorthodox in the saloon business.

“I’m going home,” I said. “If I go back downstairs I will lose my composure.”

When I got home I called Jake at his home and asked him to try to find out more information for me. “Will do,” he said.

I need to know as much as possible about what is going on. This is so scary. If it’s a mutiny I have to be able to handle it with smarts and quick recovery.

Someone asked me today how things are going in my life. It was a friend who sails, so I put it in terms he would appreciate: “I’m going to weather in a Force 9 gale.” 

 

 

 Chapter 22

 

In the evenings, in the back dining room at Nathans, booth 26 was my comfort zone, my private retreat. The table and seats were dark and cozy, just off the center of the room. It’s where Howard and I always sat when we ate dinner at the restaurant.

After his death, it’s where Martha, Howard’s sister, and I sat, night after night, to have drinks and dinner and talk about Howard.  Having him in common brought us closer together. What started as a kind of family therapy for sisters-in-law became a friendship of sisters.

“I’ll have a diet coke and Merlot,” Martha told the waiter. Her choice of beverages never wavered.

I reminded him, “Separate, not mixed.”

The only time I saw her change the order was the night we went to a Tex-Mex place to celebrate the Mexican holiday of Cinco de Mayo. That night she ordered a Margarita, a diet coke and a Merlot.

My choices were predictable, too: a Cosmopolitan martini or a glass of champagne. Either way, cold as a glacier.

Every night we dined at Nathans we said we were going to try something new. But we usually had the same things. Martha liked the trio of bruschetta. I liked the fried, breaded mozzarella with spicy tomato sauce. For an entrée, we both liked the soft shelled crabs with a piquant sauce.

As we talked, no subject was off limits.  The only area where we weren’t in harmony was that she was mad at Howard and I wasn’t.

Martha was my closest confidant when it came to running Nathans. There wasn’t a detail I didn’t discuss with her, especially my ongoing trials with the manager, Douglas Sullivan. She was compassionate and supportive. Even when I screwed up, she came back with something that would bolster me up.

“You’ll sort it out. You’ll look at the problem, sift through it, ask questions, and figure out a solution. You’ll get through this,” she said.

I told her about the trauma at CNN and the rumor from the lawyer, Jake Stein, that Doug was trying to get the landlords to give him my lease.

“I generally pay attention to the lawyers, and they’ve told me to hold off firing him,” I said over dinner.  “But on this one I may have to go off the reservation.” I stabbed my fork into a plate of steaming, small crabs, the last of the season.

“Maybe I can’t run the place without him,” I said.  “Maybe it will go down in flames. I doubt it, but who knows. What I can do is fire him and stop being a sucker.”

“Would you run it yourself?” she asked.

“Can you imagine that?” I laughed at the thought. “No. I will look for another manager.  But obviously I’ll have to be more involved.”

“What about Larry King?”

 “You know,” I said. “The longer I own a business the more I understand where Wendy is coming from. I see myself treating employees here at Nathans in ways that I consider reasonable in terms of the restaurant’s needs but are probably perceived as heartless by the employees. I know the managers are pissed about having to work more shifts.”

“You should just tell them you are doing what you are doing to save the business, to save their jobs,” she said. “Lay out your priorities.”

“That show is a great white shark and this restaurant is a great white shark.  Both are hungry all the time. Neither can be fully satisfied. The difference is I own this one. No, actually, it owns me.”

“First, you’ve got to take care of Doug,” she said.

 

I sent a letter to Sheldon Cohen and Miriam Fisher outlining the conversation with Jake. I listed all the examples I could come up with of what I considered to be Doug’s disloyalty. At the end of the letter, I wrote:

“I am keeping my cool. I have said nothing to him. Of course, I would like to fire him but I have to approach that decision with a clear head and a firm hand on what I do the day after.

“I guess what I’m asking is: Is there some way we can scare him? Doug scares easily.  He thinks he is free of any IRS scrutiny, especially where Nathans is concerned.  I wonder.”

When she responded to the letter, Miriam said, “We will remind Doug’s lawyer that Doug is not an innocent party in Nathans mess with the IRS and it would be wise for him to not rock the boat.”

 

Jake Stein called to say the landlords’ had agreed to a new ten year lease identical to my existing lease and that they would let me go month to month until I settled with the IRS.

This was the kind of encouraging information I had been looking for. It meant that either way I had options. If the IRS took the business or I decided to walk away from the business, I wasn’t liable.  If the IRS let me keep the business, I had a long lease and could sell the place for a nice chunk of change and possibly climb out of my hole.

 

“You said you knew of a guy who might be a good manager candidate for me,” I said to Caroline the bookkeeper.

“Yeah, Vito Zappala.”

It was a colorful name.  I had an image of a guy who knew his way around every saloon in town, not to mention the track and police headquarters.

“Vito Zappala? The name sounds like a character out of The Godfather,” I said.

“Oh, he’s a sweetheart,” she said. “A good guy. The kind of guy you need. A hard worker. He used to own his own place until it went bust. Then he got into the golf business. Now he wants to get back into the restaurant business, but only as a manager. He says he doesn’t want to be an owner again.”

“Should I care that the business he owned went bust?” I asked.

“Nah,” she said. “It wasn’t his fault.  Bad location, demanding investors.”

Still, I wondered. If I was looking for a miracle worker, wouldn’t I want someone who could first work miracles in his own place.

“You want to know why you need him, Carol?” she said. “He’s a grown-up.  He’s mature. He will work with you.”

I got his number and called him.  He seemed to be expecting to hear from me.

“Vito, would you come in and have dinner with me at Nathans?” I asked.  “I have to go to New York, but would love to see you before I go.  Would it be too quick for you to come in tonight?”

He agreed and we met for dinner in the back room, sitting at booth #26. 

He looked like a cuddly bear.  About 6 feet tall and round in the middle.  Hefty.  Not fat. He lumbered like he had a bad leg.  His hair was dark, salt and pepper really, and he had a full beard that matched. His eyes were twinkly and happy, though, like a Santa Claus.

He didn’t mind that I got right down to business.  He answered my questions thoughtfully. I was impressed.

“Listen, this is what I’d like to do,” I said.  “I would like you to come in here as my consultant and evaluate the place. I want you to poke around from top to bottom, inside and out; talk to everyone on the staff; read through all the daily sheets and financial information, the sales reports and so forth; follow the managers around, including Doug. Talk to everyone, including the customers. Cover the place like a fly.  It will be a way for you to get to know how it works.  And then I want you to write me a report with your analysis and suggestions.”

He seemed to understand my plan.  “But what about Doug?  What will he think?” he asked.

“I’ll tell him I’ve hired you as a consultant to give me a systems analysis.  There’s nothing he can say about that. It’s my place. If I want to bring in outside help, I can.  I hire my own spotters as it is.”

“Have they had anything?”

“Not really. Nothing I didn’t know. They didn’t see any obvious theft. Funny, though, they did notice how Doug barely talks to customers, unless they are people he knows, and then he buys them drinks.”

“I don’t really know him,” Vito said.  “We’ve sat across from each other at some wine tastings. That’s about it. He seems okay to me.”

“All I can say is this: he’s not to me what he was to my husband.”

“When do you want me to come in?”

“As soon as possible,” I said. “I’m leaving for New York. You can start while I’m away.”

We both cut into steaks.  I nodded toward his plate. “How’s that?  Good?”

“Very good,” he said. He chewed his steak and drank some red wine. He had good table manners, holding his knife and fork like a European, not switching back and forth with his utensils in the style of Americans.  “Do you think you have a problem with the food?” he asked.

“No, but I am trying to hire a new chef … as soon as I find him, or her.”

He nodded. 

I told him about the IRS case, its impact on the business and my life and how I was also trying to hold on to my job in television. We talked about our families, too. He and his wife had a daughter Spencer’s age.

“Anyway,” I said, “With your report I will get an evaluation of Nathans and I will be able to get a take on how you would fix things. Also, under this guise you can get in here and learn some of what Doug knows, how he does what he does, without a lot of alarms. He’ll be suspicious anyway, but it’s the only way I know how to do this.  I think it would be risky to fire him cold and bring someone new in cold.”

“Are you sure you are going to fire him?” he asked.

I nodded. “He’s given me no choice.”

We talked through some particular areas of concern, such as ordering, inventory, accounts payable, schedules, the orderly flow of information from the managers to the wait staff.  Vito seemed to be already engaged in the project.

“Do you think you can work with me?” I asked. “That seems to be the biggest issue around here.  I’m always hearing from Doug about how I intimidate people, how I scare the staff. Obviously, I can’t see myself the way the staff sees me. I think they misinterpret what is really my own self-doubts and fear. A strong manager will bolster me. That’s what I need.”

He assured me we would get along.

“I’ve been an owner. I know what it’s like.  I would try to be your advocate,” he said.

That’s what I wanted to hear. Maybe he was pulling my chain, but I didn’t think so. The next morning I told Doug about Vito and the project and he said he welcomed having someone else there to advise me and “to help you figure this out.”

I wanted to believe his enthusiasm. Even though I was set on firing him, I had this optimist’s hope I would walk in one day and he would come to me and say, “I’ve made a terrible mistake. Forgive me. I’m all for you now.”

 

On Capitol Hill Congress was launching an investigation into IRS practices.  Many people with sad and frightening stories were being invited into Congressional hearing rooms to tell their tales of IRS abuse.  Some of the stories were shocking.  Many instances were cited of blatant inappropriate actions on the part of IRS agents.  Politicans cried for reform. Newspaper editorials screamed that the Internal Revenue Service needed to clean up its act.

“Carol, you have to go up there and testify,” my friends would tell me.

“The Congress needs to hear your story. They won’t believe it.”

My friends meant well, but my lawyers and I knew that I didn’t qualify.  If I went up to Capitol Hill to testify, the story I had to tell would be one of the government actually doing what we hire them to do. So far, they had not been mean to me.  In fact, the IRS had been humane toward me. They had not abused their power.  If anything, since Miriam and Sheldon got involved the government had shown remarkable restraint. 

The IRS agent handling my case, Deborah Martin, and Miriam were meeting regularly.  None of this involved me in a day to day fashion. It was a lot of numbers crunching.  It was a lot of moving items from Column “A” into Column “B.”  But I was always aware that the case was moving along. It was always there in the air around me. Whatever I was doing it wouldn’t be too far removed from my consciousness. And all too often I would wake in the wee hours of the morning to think about what it all meant and where it was going to lead.

I could go dancing with my girlfriends, have long chats with Martha, and indulge my secret fantasies about Paolo and New York, but a lot of that was performance. Day to day, morning to night, as I went through my daily routine, the actual fact of the IRS case was with me like a ball and chain on my ankle. 

“Deborah Martin wants to go to her bosses with a big dollar amount,” Miriam said. “That’s all she cares about. She’s hit the jackpot and she’s not going to do anything to spoil her own success.”  This was her way of explaining to me how Deborah Martin may be sympathetic to my plight, but only up to a point.

“She wants the money. All the money,” she said.

That was the bad news.  We hoped that because she was focused on the money – all the money – she might be more benevolent when it got to the issue of Innocent Spouse.

“Oh, Miriam. I hope she decides in my favor,” I said.

“Carol, this is not an issue of whether she likes you or not, or whether she feels like giving it to you or not. You deserve it. You have earned it.  You qualify for Innocent Spouse status.  By law, you should have it.  If she doesn’t grant it we will take it to the next level and get it there,” she said.

Her pep talks enthused me.

My only hope was Innocent Spouse.

 

Spencer’s first weeks of school went well. He loved kindergarten.  He proudly wore his backpack with the multiple keychains hanging from it as he marched out of the apartment building to wait on the street for the school bus, with me and Teddy the dog in tow.  He would come home with stories to tell about teachers and friends and antics on the playground. He brought home some artwork. It included a family portrait.  There were stick drawings with names below them. “Mommy,” “Daddy” (with a halo and wings), “Teddy,” and “Cecilia.”

  Cecilia?

“Who’s Cecilia?” I asked. “Does she live in your room with you?”

He did not answer.

Later, at a parent teacher conference with his two kindergarten teachers, they said to me, “You didn’t tell us about your daughter. That was a surprise.”

“My daughter?  I don’t have a daughter.”

“Cecilia,” one of them said.

In an instant I understood the picture.

“Spencer told us about his sister and that she’s away at boarding school,” the other teacher said.

“Well, there is no sister,” I said.  “That’s the product of an active imagination.”

When I mentioned it to Ellen Sanford, his grief therapist, she said I shouldn’t worry. “He’s just trying to have what everyone else has,” she said. “Don’t be surprised by that. He wants to fit in. He wants to be like all the other children.”

Ellen asked about his awareness of the death of Princess Diana and the coverage on television of her funeral.

“Yes, we talked about it. I asked him what he would say to William and Harry.  He said, ‘I would tell them I miss my Daddy a lot and that it’s okay to cry.’”

We had one bad event in the first days of school and it was my fault.  I was late for the afternoon school bus, but just by a hair.  I was coming down the street just as it started to move away.

“Stop, Don’t let that bus go!” I shouted to people on the street. “Stop! Stop!” I yelled, and ran as fast as I could in a tight black skirt and heels.

I knew my kid was on that bus and probably wondering what had happened to his mother. People looked at me like I was crazy as I continued to run and shout for someone to stop the bus. I ran so hard. At one point, I cut through some office buildings, right through a city block, and came out the other side as the bus pulled away from a stop sign. It picked up speed and I could not keep up.  I yelled and yelled but the driver, Fred, had the windows closed and could not hear me.

My heart broke.

I ran back to the apartment, grabbed the car keys, bolted for the garage and jumped into the car.  I drove carefully, but deliberately and efficiently. I called the school on the car phone and told them I was on my way.  My heart pounded.  I thought, “My poor boy. What must he be thinking? How sad must he be?”

I beat the bus to the school by about a minute. When it pulled up Fred opened the doors and Spencer stepped down, head hanging, eyes moist, wearing the saddest expression, dragging his backpack and holding some new art work in his hand.

“It’s going to be okay,” Fred said with his lilting Jamaican accent. “Here’s your mum.”

I took Spencer in my arms and he pressed his face into my side, next to my elbow, and stayed like that. I caressed the back of his head and kissed him and patted him and said, “Mommy’s here. How awful to come home and have no one there to meet you. I’m so sorry, angel. I love you so much and I would never want that to happen to you.  I ran after the bus as fast as I could but I couldn’t catch up. You guys were too fast for me.”

I stepped back so I could see his face. He didn’t smile. He looked at me.  “Is it going to be okay?” I asked. He nodded his head.

“Why don’t you take me into the school and show me around? I bet there are all kinds of new things to see since the first day of school.”

“Okay,” he said, taking my hand. “I’ll show you the science department.”

“Can I tell you something for the future?” I said. “If this ever happens again. If you get home and I’m not there to meet you – and I hope this won’t happen again – but if it does, please remember to do this:  Look out the back window to see whether I’m running after the bus.”

“Okay, Mom, but you better stay in shape so you can catch it next time.”

 

 

#

 

My Journal

 

          I called up the yacht yard to get an estimate on the dinghy and the yard manager asked me, “Mrs. Joynt, when would you like to clean out Mr. Joynt’s land locker.”

          This gave me pause. Why would Howard have a land locker?  We had all the storage space in the world at home and he used every square inch.  So I asked what the land locker was for.

          “Mostly Penguin,” he said.

          More pause.

          “Oh, yes, Penguin.”

          “And the land locker is for that boat?” I asked.

          “Yes. There are a couple of varnished pieces in there, but there are also a couple of boxes. One of the boxes has documents on all the boats he has owned.  The other box, and I hope you don’t think I’m prying into personal business, but the other box seems to have restaurant papers and receipts and letters from the IRS. I don’t want to get involved in anything, but you may want to come get them.”

 I called Miriam right away. We’re at the point where we almost laugh at this stuff.  I said to her, “At least it’s not a box of love letters from a girlfriend.”   But I wonder, what would I rather be left with: IRS debt or old love letters? 

         

I took one of the bartenders, Mike Nolan, out for a quick drink during his break. I leveled with him about Doug. He said, “Well, I had heard he was doing something with the landlords.”  The details of our talk don’t matter, but he corroborated that Doug functions behind me and against me. And I know this. I said, “What you need to know, Mike, is that I may not show my hand but I know what is going on and I am working toward a resolution. But I can’t act emotionally. I have to protect the business. I have to try to be wise rather than impetuous. I see a lot. I am aware of a lot. Don’t think that because I don’t react I am in the woods.”

He said, “It’s good to know this. Because I wasn’t sure. But if it comes down to taking sides, you have the staff on your side. They bitch sometimes, but that’s work. Basically they like you and they want to work with you. A lot of them don’t like Doug. He doesn’t mix with them. And he’s a weasel and a lot of us know it.”

We were at the bar at Clyde’s. I had a Cosmopolitan and he had a Southern Comfort somethingorother. It was different to be out having a drink with a man half my age. Mike’s young and beautiful and knows it.

 

                                           

 

Chapter 23

 

 

I welcomed a trip to New York, my first since Labor Day. It would be a two day trip and fully packed with meetings, events and diversion. I had to alter my original plan, which was to go up for the Sotheby’s party to celebrate Mohammed al-Fayed’s auction of the possessions of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Al-Fayed was in mourning. The auction had been postponed. Now on my agenda was the splashy memorial service planned for Gianni Versace at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Dean Sicoli, my booking colleague who had contacts within the Versace camp, would take me with him and together we planned to schmooze Versace friends to try to bag an interview with Donatella, Gianni’s sister.

Dean had a friend who worked for the Versace company and was close to the family. He had an invitation that admitted only two. There was some concern whether the three of us could get in on that one invite.

          “I understand your concern,” I said to the friend, who we met on Fifth Avenue near the museum.  “I won’t do anything to embarrass you or get you in a mess. Chances are they will just let me walk in with you. They won’t question me. You’ll see.”

Crashing events was occasionally part of a booker’s job. How else to get those hard to get interviews? In my case age helped. Dressing a certain way helped. Walking with an attitude of belonging helped, too.  In the case of the Versace event, walking in with a family friend would be the biggest help.

I was deep in mournful conversation with Dean as we climbed the steps of the Metropolitan Museum.  Slight of build and slightly balding, he was in his best gray suit and looked important.  I wore a black hat with a brim, tinted glasses and a black suit. Dean’s friend was in a conservative and well-tailored black suit.  Photographers snapped pictures of the three of us as we approached the security thugs. The photographers didn’t want to take any chances; we might be somebody. Dean’s friend held up the invitation and the two men at the door waved us in without giving a closer look. Then Dean and I were on our own.  The friend, who had done his part, did not want to mingle with us, and we were fine with that.

The soaring main lobby, or Great Hall, of the Met was a sight to behold. A congregation of beauty. Young, tall, thin, and striking.  Some of the men were more beautiful than the women, and the women were astonishing. It looked like a casting call for a movie about supermodels. They were all there: Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Stephanie Seymour, Amber Valletta. And those were the ones whose names I knew. Men and women in black streamed through the lobby toward the Temple of Dendur.  The people who were not tall, thin and beautiful were rich, famous and powerful. Donald Trump over here.  Anna Wintour over there.  Madonna. Elton John. Jon Bon Jovi.

Dean and I compared notes.  We each took turns pointing out different celebrities.

“We could book a month of shows here,” he said.

“Wouldn’t that be great? Wendy would love us forever. Maybe we should set up a table at the exit,” I said.

We joined the line of people filing into the Temple of Dendur. The first thing that hit me was the music. The voice of Andrea Bocelli soared to the ceiling, careened off the two-story windows and filled the air with sorrow. I sensed that Gianni Versace had been loved. There wasn’t the gabbing I was used to at memorial services. The sadness was tangible. But then, Gianni Versace’s death was a shock. He was murdered.

The huge room was set up with rows of chairs facing a small stage. It was cool and bright and painted in a wash of blue light. The service was staged the same way I imagined a Versace fashion show was staged, but it was not garish. If anything it was almost too tame, too cool, too tasteful.  In fact, it didn’t feel Italian.  It lacked cathartic passion.

People sat quietly in their chairs and looked straight ahead toward the huge windows. When everyone was seated, the Versace family walked to the front row. Donatella, her husband Paul, the brother Sento, followed by Antonio, the boyfriend of Gianni. After that, Elton John, unmistakable with his glasses and fringy bangs, walked down the center aisle and took a seat at the piano.

He started with humor.

“Gianni said to me once that when he died he wanted to come back supergay.  I said, ‘what do you think you are already?’” 

The mourners, sophisticated and knowing, laughed. And then Elton sang – just as he had in London at the funeral of Princess Diana.

He was followed by Jon Bon Jovi, who sang, and Maddonna, who didn’t.  Vogue Magazine editor Anna Wintour, the fashion photographer Richard Avedon, and Donatella also spoke. The most charming speaker was the artist Julian Schnabel. At the end Whitney Houston took the stage. She seemed ill at ease. “I’m not sure why I’m here,” she said, “I didn’t know him very well, but I’m told he liked my music.” But when she sang she took control – of her voice, the room and every person in it. 

I didn’t expect the service to affect me, but it did. Somewhere in the middle, I stopped being a professional television booker and became, again, a woman who had lost her husband. The remembrances, the music, the sadness returned me to being human. Tears formed in my eyes. Dean patted me on the arm.  “Too much death,” I said under my breath.

Champagne was served after in the great hall. We mingled with Madonna, Whitney and Courtney Love, and just about every handsome gay man in New York. 

“I could go up to Madonna and try to book her,” I said to Dean, “but she would say ‘no’ and Liz Rosenberg would never speak to me or anybody else with the show again.”

“I think you’re right,” he said. “Do you think I should go up to Courtney?”

“To tell her you love her, maybe, but we would face the wrath of Pat Kingsley if we tried to book her at a memorial service.”

In the end all I did was talk to Paul Beck, Donatella’s husband, who I had met before.  I gave him my condolences and said, “At a future more appropriate time, I would like to talk to you about Donatella appearing on Larry King Live.”  His nod seemed to say, “That would be good.” Sometimes a moment of polite conversation can make the difference for a future booking.

 

I stepped out of the cab into fading twilight. Still wearing my black hat and dressy suit I looked out of place for Tribeca. The restaurant was warm. I walked into an almost empty dining room. Men in pale blue work jackets were busily trimming and watering the many plants and flowers that filled the room. They paid no attention to me. In the back in a corner at a large round table I spotted Michael, the manager, having a meeting with a group of waiters. The table was covered with bottles of Perrier and Evian. The waiters were in street clothes – t-shirts, sport shirts and jeans rather than the burgundy linen shirts and gray wool trousers they wore as uniforms. Michael was in his customary well-cut blue blazer, but with his tie off.

The feeling in the room was relaxed, laid back.

When Michael saw me he hopped up say hello.  At the same time Paolo walked out from the kitchen.  He was smiling. He was wearing his chef’s jacket, but it was dirty – smudged with food and sauces.  This is what the public never saw.  He always changed into a crisp, clean white jacket before coming into the dining room to greet customers. But I liked him even better when he looked like what he was: a chef, a man who cooked meat and fish and put his hands in butter and cream and wine and flour and salt and pepper.

“I hope you like surprises,” I said.  “Because I know I took a chance.”

“It depends on the surprise,” he said, wiping his hands with a cloth that he then tucked into the sash of his apron. He came very close and we kissed each other on both cheeks. He smelled like cinnamon.

He gestured for me to follow him into the kitchen. I said, “You smell good. What are you working on?” 

“I am working on a new sauce for pork loin. It has cinnamon and cardamom and cranberry, but I had an accident with the cinnamon. Now I am like a Christmas cookie.”

“Emmmm,” I said, “I could say something very bad but you would get embarrassed.”

“Oh, you are right. Not here in my kitchen. What would the staff think if you started kissing me here?”

“That’s not what I said I would do.”

He led me round to the prep area, a sort of center stage where he could “conduct” the food before the plates were picked up by the waiters and taken to the customers. Everything was made of bright polished stainless steel. It gleamed. Behind the prep area were the stoves, the meat, fish and salad areas.  All the food passed before him here at this one area.  If he wanted to turn around and help to cook something, or more often to finish something, he could do it easily and still keep an eye on what was moving out to the dining room. This was where he thrived. This was where he was his happiest and it showed on his face.  In his kitchen, Paolo always looked proud.

It was break time and only a few cooks, dressed liked Paolo, were busy at work. They paid scant attention to us.

He stopped and turned and gestured toward the view from the prep area. “See,” he said, holding out his hand, “My studio.”

“I’ll trade with you,” I said. “I would love to work all day in this kitchen.”

“But you have a kitchen at Nathans,” he said.

“Paolo, the kitchen at Nathans would fit inside your walk-in.  My newest piece of equipment is five years older than anything you have in here. This is state of the art.”

I told him about the Versace memorial service and my plans to go to Payard for dinner. 

“You have been with the beautiful people,” he said.

Before I could even ask him whether we could get together, he leaned in close and said, “I will be working very late tonight. I may just go home.  If I am alone with you I will get into trouble. If I see you I end up kissing you.”

“Then don’t kiss me,” I said, quietly, so no one could hear. “You don’t have to kiss me. I am happy to see you anyway.”

I reached into my handbag and took out a little box tied with a bow. I’d stopped by the Porthault linen shop where Paolo and I had exchanged our last kisses. I bought a tiny handkerchief that was designed in a pattern of blue hearts. In the handkerchief I wrapped a spare key to my hotel room.

“I have something for you.  It’s a little gift.  From me to you.”

“Oh, my,” he said, blushing.  I blushed, too, because such a forward gesture was entirely out of character for me.  He slipped it into his jacket pocket.

“I have to dash. I have phone calls to make and what not back at the hotel before dinner. I’m here another day.”

“I will call,” he said.

Again, we kissed on both cheeks.

 

Dean, his friend and I had a pleasant dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes and red wine.  The poor fellow got pummeled with our questions about the inner workings of the Versace empire.  He was careful not to give away secrets, but the stories he told were fascinating, especially the challenges they faced in preventing knock-offs of the label.

Though I sat and lingered over espresso and cookies, my mind was on Paolo.

          I didn’t know what I wanted from Paolo.  My actions were not necessarily in synch with my ability to follow through. Maybe I was able to give Paolo a provocative gift like my room key, and maybe I was able to flirt with him easily, but it had more to do with testing the waters than anything else. I was finding my way back to being a woman. Kissing and hugging and touching were wonderful, but having sex was not the objective.

Late that night, in bed, I heard a rustling at my door. I stirred from my sleep. “What’s that,” I wondered. Someone pushed on the door and it caught on the chain.  I woke, knew it was Paolo, and dashed from the bed to the door. I unhooked the chain and while he was opening the door I pulled on a terry cloth bathrobe over my brown silk night slip.

 We smiled at each other.

“I’m returning your key,” he said.

“I gave up on you,” I said.

“I’m not staying long,” he said.

“Well, stay for a minute,” I said.

“A minute,” he said.

He looked irresistibly handsome. He was in his professor mode in a dark suit, dark polo shirt and wire rimmed glasses. His hair was floppy on his head, wet at the ends, like he’d taken a shower. He looked the sexiest ever.

“I will order some tea from room service,” I said. 

“Cammomile,” he said, “with lemon.”

The room was dark. I did not turn on lights. It was 2 a.m. I pulled out some of the small votive candles the hotel provided for emergencies and lit them.

“Really, I am not staying,” he said. “I am so tired. I have a medical check-up first thing tomorrow, and we were so busy tonight and I just couldn’t get out of there.”

“Just sit down,” I said.

I got back in bed and under the covers. It was king-sized and I was in the middle of it. Often the hotel gave me this same room and I liked it because it was on a high floor and had two huge windows that looked out on the city. I would sleep with them open because I liked the street sounds of Manhattan. Sirens, trucks grinding their gears, taxis and honking, to me they were familiar and comforting, and more soothing than silence. 

Room service arrived quickly.  Paolo took the tray from the waiter.  There was a white ceramic pot, two cups with saucers, lemon slices and a strainer. Paolo placed the tray on the desk, poured two cups of tea and brought them both to the bed, where he sat on the edge.  He set the filled tea cups on the bedside table and looked across the bed at me.

“Come over here,” he said. He grabbed a couple of pillows and fluffed them up beside him and patted the bed there. “Come here and get comfortable.”

I slid across the bed and curled up beside him.  He handed me a cup. We sipped our tea.

“It’s nice of you to come see me,” I said, “and tuck me in.”

“Well, how could I resist an invitation like that, wrapped in Porthault? I wondered what you would do next.  Send a motorcade?” 

We both smiled, remembering the motorcade that pulled up beside us while we kissed outside the Westbury Hotel. He asked about Spencer, as he always did. We talked about his day, my day.  I told him that the next day I had a breakfast meeting and a late afternoon awards ceremony where I hoped to lay hands on Ralph Lauren.

I sighed.  He sighed.

He took my tea cup and set both his and mine on the bedside table. He turned back, leaned over and kissed me very passionately. I sat there propped against the pillows while he kissed me.  Slowly he eased the terry cloth bathrobe off of my shoulders. He kissed my neck and then my shoulder and then down my arm to my fingers. I closed my eyes and enjoyed sensations of warmth.

I put my hand on his leg and then slowly moved it up his thigh to his chest, his neck and his cheek.

“This is so pleasant,” I said.

I reached for his chin and brought his face up to mine and kissed him deeply.  I moved my hands through his hair and down his back and across his chest.  I kissed his face and his neck. I danced my tongue in his ear and nibbled on his earlobe. We kissed again and embraced tightly.

We kissed and I held his head against my chest. I held him and rocked him and fiddled with his hair.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.  “What are you afraid of? Are you afraid of falling in love with me?”

He looked at me with such a poignant gaze, there in the candlelit darkness of the hotel room, with my window looking out on all of Manhattan down below.

“I think perhaps I have done that already,” he said, sadly.

“Don’t be afraid of that,” I said. “Don’t be afraid of me. I don’t want anything from you but these times together like this. They sustain me. You make me float when everything else weighs me down.”

He leaned over and kissed my belly through my brown silk slip.

“You like that part a lot,” I said.

 “I like all your parts,” he said. “Even the ones I haven’t seen.”

          “I like your parts, too,” I said.  “Particularly your neck right here.”  I touched him just under his ear.

We kissed again.  He held me close, so close I could take only short breaths.

“When I come to New York again we will do something,” I said.  “We will have dinner in my room. We will make it special.  We will find a way.”

He reached for the fruit bowl on the desk nearby.  He chose a pear.  He picked up the fruit knife.  He proudly showed me how with only one hand he could slice the pear in half, including the stem. He made a perfect cut down the middle. He peeled slices for me and fed them to me. He said nothing; only smiled at me.

I moved my hand up his leg again.

“You are a savage,” he said.

“Only with you,” I said.

“I must go,” he said.  It was close to 3 a.m.

I walked him to the door. He stopped and held me again. Earlier I had pulled his shirt out of his pants and now I tried to tuck it back in. He leaned back against the door and pulled me to him. I thought he was going to absorb me.

          “You can trust me,” I said, not knowing why.

“I trust you more than anyone,” he said.

We kissed one more time and he was out the door.

The next morning I was up early for a vigorous run in Central Park. It was sunny and cool. I ran around the reservoir and felt revived by where I was. I felt at home here, at peace with the trees, the buildings, the sky, the water and New Yorkers running behind me, beside me or passing me on the well-pounded path. I part of the world and among the living. I was relieved the night before with Paolo had been essentially harmless.  He made me a temptress, and when I was with him I became bewitched, casting spells of passion and allure.  It wasn't real, but it was satisfying.

Fueling my behavior, I think, was an attempt to escape the madness of my life in Washington and live fully, passionately in New York. I adored Paolo. I was probably in love with him.  He was like an addiction. I would arrive from Washington beaten by forces I could not control – the government, Nathans, the show – and with my self esteem and confidence at their lowest.   Then, after a dose of Paolo, I felt good about myself again, stood taller, and welcomed the challenges ahead.  Maybe our liaisons did the same for him. We both got something positive out of them.  I couldn’t cast spells over the government or my work, but I could make Paolo respond to me; I could make him smile.

As I ran, the thoughts spun in and out of knots. I missed him. I wanted to see him.  I wanted to tell him that before everything else our friendship meant the most to me. If we never kissed again he would leave me with something important that would last my lifetime.

Back at the hotel I showered and dressed quickly. I was late for a meeting with a man from Christies auction house, John Hays, a friend of Howard’s parents. This meeting did not have to do with Larry King Live. It was to discuss the sale of family antiques Howard and I inherited. To make ends meet, I needed to sell things and accumulate cash. It was a sad occasion, because I thought these pieces would always be ours and would eventually pass to Spencer.  The breakfast went well, John was thoughtful, and we set a date for the packers to pack up and carry away the furniture.  Scarlett O'Hara put the antiques in the fireplace for heat, I shipped them off to Christie's to pay the heating bill.

The phone was ringing when I returned to my hotel room. It was Paolo.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I just finished breakfast. I’m glad to hear from you. How was the doctor?”

“Routine. Now don’t ask any questions. Put on your jeans and meet me in front of your hotel in 15 minutes. Okay?  Can you do that? Wear something warm.”

“Okay.  I will do that.”  I was curious and excited. I put on a black turtleneck, jeans and my loafers.

When I walked out the front door of the hotel Paolo was parked in front on his motorcycle, the engine idling.  He wore a white t-shirt, leather jacket and jeans. The bike was a Harley and black as midnight. He held out a helmet.

“I can’t do this,” I said. There were people waiting for taxis. They looked at the two of us. The air was beginning to warm up, but was still only high 60s, a glorious early autumn day.

“Yes, you can.  Put on the helmet and get on.  You trust me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do,” I said, “But I’m an only parent. I can’t take chances.”

“You’re wasting time,” he said, sweetly. “Get on.”

I put on the helmet, straddled the back and wrapped my arms tightly around his middle.  Just like that, we were off.

We headed up Park Avenue, turned right on 96th Street and then merged onto the FDR Drive. There was some lingering rush hour traffic, but Paolo moved smoothly around the trucks, taxis and slowpokes.

We crossed the Madison Bridge, joined the Major Deegan Expressway, took that to the Cross County until we were eventually on the Hutchinson River Parkway and well on our way to getting lost in the New York and Connecticut countryside. We rode for hours – fast – through woods, by lakes, near open fields, until we returned to Manhattan.  My fear was overtaken by the sheer joy of freedom. And I loved holding on to him for dear life. He was strong and competent and made all the right choices as we zoomed along the highways.  Once, when we stopped at a toll booth, he turned back to me and said: “How are you doing back there?”

“Good,” I said, “I’m doing good.”

“You need this,” he said, “You need this more than anything.”

I gave him a squeeze.

He was right.  He paid the toll, released the brake and we were off.

Over several months Paolo and I shared many tender moments, but on this day we were soulmates.  It was our best moment.

 

#

 

 

 Chapter 24

 

 

The two well-dressed men who walked in the front door of Balthazar were obviously accustomed to making the scene in New York City. I spotted them from the maitre’d’s stand where I was standing with my friend Susan Magrino. The men were the types who didn’t need reservations to get the best tables in of-the-moment restaurants. In the fall of 1997, Balthazar was the epicenter of the moment.  One of the men was balding and slightly stocky, the other was tall and swarthy. They looked stylish in a secure, off-hand American way. Their sports jackets, shirts and trousers were comfortable, masculine.  Their eyes scanned the room. When they saw Susan, their faces lit up.

“Hey, Magrino!” the stocky one said cheerfully.

“Susan, good to see you,” the other man said. He was handsome and dashing like a pirate: thick, dark hair and a moustache.

When they arrived, Susan and I were waiting for the hostess to take us to our table.  If it hadn’t been for Susan, I wouldn’t have been there at all. To get a table at Balthazar, you had to be someone or know someone. Susan qualified in both categories. She was one of New York’s most successful PR executives - her client list began with Martha Stewart and went on to include Dominick Dunne, Harper’s Bazaar Magazine and a long list of corporations, publishers and private individuals. She was smart and attractive and had a good sense of humor. Her blond hair, bright eyes and broad, generous smile set her apart from the stereotyped high-strung, edgy New York PR woman. She also had an appealingly deep voice. I’d met her in 1992 when she was doing publicity for Charlie Rose and I was producing the Washington segment of his nightly PBS talk show. When it came to Charlie, Susan and I shared mutual affection and exasperation.  We adored Charlie, but  we also knew him really well. We bonded on that.  Now, with my job at Larry King Live, we talked practically every week. But this night at Balthazar was not a work night. We were girlfriends out for dinner.

We made the most of our wait for a table, taking in the action. The room was large and loud and crowded with customers. It had high ceilings, banquettes lining the walls, tables packed into every square inch -- the look and feel of a Parisian bistro. Even the hum of voices sounded imported. The lighting cast a golden glow. There were mirrors and posters on the walls. The glasses and decanters were authentic.

I felt good. I had on new clothes -- a short, stretchy skirt and matching T-shirt -- funky and sexy. Thanks to the buzz of New York City and my romance with Paolo, I was in an upbeat mood. All it had taken was that splendid motorcycle ride to make me feel light and youthful.

Susan introduced me, gesturing to the affable bald fellow, saying, “Carol, this is Bobby.”  Then, gesturing to the swarthy pirate, she said, “And this is Keith.”  If she said last names I didn’t catch them. “Carol is up here from Washington. She’s a producer for Larry King.”  We shook hands.

“We’ve done business before,” Bobby said. “You’ve booked some people through me. Tell Larry I said ‘Hi.’”

I figured he was Bobby Zarem, one of New York’s public relations legends. Older, I didn’t recognize him, but I remembered that after a Rolling Stones concert I covered for Time Magazine in the 1970s, he pitched me out of the after party at the St. Regis Hotel because the band was angry about a recent cover story.  He literally grabbed me by the arms and shoved me through the revolving doors and into the street.

But I didn’t hold grudges.

Nor did I bring up the incident. I smiled.

Keith moved closer to me.  “So, Larry King, eh?”

“Yeah,” I said, “Larry King.”

He was beguilingly good looking, and he knew it.

“I watch that show all the time,” he said, “I love Larry.”

“He’s very lovable,” I said.

“Have you been there long?” he asked.

“Oh, about three years,” I said.

“Why are you in New York? Got a hot date?” he asked.

“No, no. No hot dates. I went to the memorial service for Gianni Versace, trying to get to Donatella. We want her on the show.”

“Oh, you do, do you? You want Donnatella Versace?”

Mocking me, he was full of himself, flirting. I liked it. I didn’t immediately recognize what it was, but I liked it.

Susan and Bobby stood aside talking.

“What’s this outfit you’ve got on?” Keith asked, moving even closer.

“You like it?” I asked.

“Yeah. I can see right through it,” he said.

“Oh, you cannot,” I said.  “But go ahead and dream.”

The hostess interrupted.

“Ladies, your table is ready,” she said.

Susan and I excused ourselves.  Keith was so near I had to ease myself away from him. Susan and I followed the hostess to a good table in the middle of the room. It was a corner banquette. We slid into our red leather seats. We were elbow to elbow with the people at the next tables. It felt like being in the middle of a Lautrec painting.

“That was fun,” I said.

“You two sure hit it off,” she said. “Another second and he would have been all over you.  Do you know who that was?”

“I’m assuming he’s in PR, like Bobby,” I said.

“Carol, you don’t know who he is, do you?”

“No,” I said, “I guess I don’t.”

“He’s a baseball player. Keith Hernandez. He’s a retired Met. Two World Series. He’s a star, a hero in this town and a notorious ladykiller.”

“Gads,” was all I said.

My jaw dropped.  How could I not know who he was?  I hoisted myself up in my seat and craned my neck to look back at the front door. He was still standing there with Bobby and he was looking at me. He gave a small wave. I smiled back, slightly embarrassed that he saw me gawking.  The  confident expression on his face hinted that maybe he knew what we were talking about and caught the recognition in my eyes.

I slid back down into my seat. “Wow,” I said. 

“Could you go for that?” she asked.

“Well,” I said, followed by an exasperated sigh. “He might be too exciting for me. But he’s handsome.  There’s no denying that.”

We both looked back toward the two men. They had been joined by some young women and were being led to a table up front. 

“I’ve never really been into jocks, though.  But who knows. It’s a new world for me now.”

We ordered a carafe of red wine, steaks and fries. When the waitress brought the fries there were so many of them they spilled out of the bowl and onto the white paper covering the table.  It was a delicious sight. A bounty of French fries. They were long and skinny and dark brown and crispy.  I ate as many of them as I could.

People leaned over the banquette to say hello to Susan. We ate, shook hands, talked and ate some more. Half the people I met plugged right into my job with Larry King. They handed me business cards and wanted to pitch ideas. One of them, a man named Christopher Mason, said, “I’m doing a book about Gianni Versace. I’m going to tell the real story. You know, he knew that boy!”  He was referring to Andrew Cunannan, Versace’s killer. “I’m going to tell it all, but I’m getting a lot of resistance from the family.  You’ll want to have me on when it comes out.”  He gave me his card.

The energy there would have powered a small town. There was nothing in Washington that compared.

After dinner Susan and I stopped by the table near the front door where Bobby and Keith were seated. Their group had expanded to about a dozen people, many of them young and attractive women. We said good-bye. 

“Everybody here is staring at you,” Keith said. “I think it’s that skirt.”

I blushed, and put out my hand to shake his.

“We should keep in touch,” he said to me. “I’d like to hear more about Larry King.”

“You never know,” I said.

Susan and I shared a cab uptown.

“I have no idea how to deal with men,” I said. “I mean, he WAS flirting with me and I had no idea what to do. I was reduced to gibberish.”

“How long were you with Howard?” she asked.

“Almost 20 years.”

“You really are sheltered,” she said.

The windows of the cab were open. We were flying and air was whooshing through the backseat. I couldn’t hear very well, but the air felt good.  I liked the speed, too.  We were racing up Park Avenue and all the lights were in our favor.

When I returned to my hotel room, I hoped there would be a message from Paolo, but there was nothing.  Too charged up to have good judgment, I called him.

“Thanks for today,” I said.  “I’ll never forget that ride.

“And you got back alive,” he said.

“Yeah. You’re great on a motorcycle.”

There was silence.

“I need my space tonight,” he said.

We talked. I told him a baseball player flirted with me at Balthazar. He told me Gourmet magazine might name him one of the top chefs of the year. I told him I was an inch away from booking the Duchess of York for her first interview since Diana’s death. He told me they served a record number of dinners that night.

“When are you going to put me on Larry King?” he asked.

“So that’s it,” I said. “That’s what this is all about. You want to get on the show. Oh, man. You are ruthless. That’s all you want from me?”

“No, no, no,” he said.

“Paolo, you should be ashamed of yourself, using me like that.”

My dismay was a put-on, but I wondered.

“I guess it’s goodnight,” I said. “I wish I could kiss you goodnight.”

“Kiss kiss,” he said.

The next morning I found a note slipped under my door. It said, “There is a package for you at the front desk. Have a good trip home. Kisses. Paolo.”

When I checked out, the reception desk handed me a pretty shopping bag. Inside were cookies, candies, fresh bread, olives, some cheese and wine.

 

Home again in Washington I told everyone about meeting Keith Hernandez.  At Nathans, the boys at the bar were finally impressed with something I’d done. My sister-in-law, Martha, a baseball fiend, quickly faxed me all his stats and then in a phone conversation explained what they meant. At CNN, when I told Larry King, he said, “I love Keith. He’s one of my favorite people in the world.”

I reminded Larry that in the next week, when we were in New York to do an interview with Martha Stewart, I would be taking him and Shawn to dinner as a wedding present. “We’re going to Daniel’s, remember, where we went with Al Pacino?”

“Oh yeah,” he said.  A haute French restaurant was not exactly Larry’s top choice, especially after angioplasty, but Shawn had heard about the Daniel’s dinner and wanted to go there. I was delighted to make Shawn happy.

“What if I invite Keith to come as my guest?” I asked.

Larry loved the idea.  It occurred to me that maybe I needed to have my head examined.  What possessed me to think of inviting out a man who I barely knew and who was clearly accustomed to having women fawn and fall  all over him?

“Okay, Lare, I’ll do it.”

I called Bobby Zarem and asked, “Is Keith married?” He said, “No, why?”  I said, “I want to ask him to dinner next week with me and Larry and Larry’s new wife.”  Bobby said, “I’ll call him.”

About an hour later the phone rang. It was Keith. I was at my desk in Nathans basement. Caroline the bookkeeper and I were paying bills.

His voice was soft, intimate.

“It’s something different to have a girl ask me out,” he said, not necessarily easing my embarrassment. “But I’d love to come to dinner with you and Larry King.”

Just like that.  It took no more than a few sentences, not even two minutes on the phone, and I had a date.

I hung up and smiled and then, blushing, put my head down on the desk. Heat flushed my cheeks. My grin touched both earlobes.  Caroline screamed.

“Oh, my God!” I said, looking up at her. “I have a date!”

“What do you mean you have a date? You have a date with Keith Hernandez!”  The two of us jumped up and down, holding on to each other, screaming.

In my journal that night, I wrote:

“I’m already nervous. My first date in more than twenty years! Maybe it doesn’t count cause I asked him out, but maybe it does. To me it does. This isn’t Mark and Trish’s friend, who was a half date; this isn’t Roger Cossack, who was a therapeutic date; and this certainly isn’t Paolo, who is an illicit and secret date. No, this is a DATE! I’ve already tried on three outfits and they’re all wrong. What will I look like at 10 p.m., when we get together? I want to look great. I want to be serene and beautiful and charming, but it’s more likely I will be frazzled, faded and foolish.  This is scarier than any date I’ve ever had. I’ll never make it to next week.”

 

This particular New York trip was jammed with work, but the date was my singular focus. I had a meeting with someone who was trying to help us book Lisa Marie Presley, I had a meeting with Hamilton South, who worked for Ralph Lauren, I had a meeting with Ed Filipowski, who was the U.S. publicist for Donnatella Versace. We had live shows with Martha Stewart and Kitty Kelley and a daytime taping of Karl Lagergeld with Anna Wintour.

On the day of the dinner, though, I made time to get my hair done, and, through a friend of a friend of a friend, I found a make-up artist who agreed to come to the hotel to paint my face and make me look beautiful. He was young and amusing and totally caught up in the fact that at 47 I was going on a “first” date. I told him, “This make-up has to last for hours. It can’t fade.”

“Don’t worry,” he said, concentrating on an eyebrow, “You’re going to look sensational.”

“But not too much make-up, okay?” I said, “I usually don’t wear very much.”

“That’s my specialty,” he said, “Using a lot and making it look like a little.”

I tried to figure out the value in that, but it didn’t matter. I was having too much fun letting him do his magic. In the closet hung three different outfits I’d brought from Washington. I showed them to the make-up artist. “No contest,” he said, “Go with the little black dress. You can’t go wrong.” After he left, I anxiously zipped up the dress and put on the pearls Howard gave me for our 10th wedding anniversary. I was careful not to muss the hair or the make-up.

My reflection in the mirror made me grin. I hadn’t fussed over myself that much in years and I felt a little foolish caring so much about how I looked. It felt odd, too, to be going out the door alone, to not have a man beside me or waiting for me. The last time I’d gone on a date I was 26 years old. It was the first time Howard took me to dinner after we met . He picked me up after work in his blue Jaguar sedan, and it was a magic carpet. 

Howard was still a presence in my life, even though it had been eight months since he died. I still marked monthly anniversaries. He was in my dreams and fantasies. I’d made progress, but I didn’t think of myself as a “single” woman. In secret and in shadows I’d been kissed and hugged by Paolo. Out in the world I’d looked at men and talked to men and thought about men, but I’d kept them at a distance. Was I ready for this? A date? There was only one way to find out.

Shawn was good company. We stopped briefly at a perfume launch party at the Copacabana nightclub, where the only interesting moment was me trying to convince the model Iman that she and David Bowie, her husband, should be interviewed on Larry King Live. She laughed the entire time I talked to her.

“Let’s go back to my hotel and wait,” I said to Shawn. “It’s near the restaurant. We can watch the show and relax.”

Shawn is regal. She’s tall and angular. She’s a Quaker from Utah, but she looks like the kind of all-American beauty we associate with Texas. In fact, when we met I thought she was a Texan.  She met Larry on, I think, Madison Avenue.  Madison or Fifth, when they were both out walking and shopping. They were going in opposite directions and they met, and just like that his life changed. Only a few months before they met, in the back seat of a limousine on the way to a premier, he said to me, “I’ve never had what you and Howard have. I don’t know what that’s like.”   I told him that no matter how much I enjoyed the perks of being in New York with the show, “I always want to be home with my family.”  I told him Howard and I were rarely apart and that all I wanted was to be with him and Spencer, “all the time.”  He told me he was lonely and that he had no one.

Fate had turned the tables. Now Larry and Shawn had each other and I had no one.  They were newlyweds and the satisfaction they felt was tangible. For one thing, she was calm and I was frantic.

“Should I change what I’m wearing?” I asked her as I paced the room.

“Carol, you’re fine. Don’t change a thing. Just try to relax.”  She was concentrating on the television, on CNN and Larry. It was 9:45.  Fifteen minutes to go.

“Let’s not arrive right on time,” she said. “We should be 5 or 10 minutes late, so you’re sure he’s waiting there for you. He can watch you walk in.”

“Okay,” I said, “That sounds like a plan.”

We waited. I checked my watch and waited some more. At 10:10 I said, “Can we go now?  Shouldn’t we go?” She agreed and we pulled ourselves together. I gave one last check in the mirror. Little black dress, pearls, subtle but excellent make-up; beautiful, shiny hair; sexy, strappy shoes. Who could resist me?  I hadn’t looked this good in ages.

Shawn and I walked in the door at Restaurant Daniel.  The maitre’d, Bruno, met us. I gave him a big smile and he regarded me with approval.  I looked around. No Keith.

“Are we the first ones here?” I asked, only slightly disappointed. “Is our table ready?”

“Yes,” Bruno said.  He showed us to a table near the middle of the room. It was set for three. That was odd. Somebody had backed out and I knew it wasn’t Larry. Imagine my shock. It had to show on my face. My jaw landed down on the front of my smart black dress. Shawn had the same look.

“We were supposed to be four,” I said.

“Ah,” Bruno said, using his French accent in the most consoling tones. “Mr. Hernandez called and said he cannot make it. He left a number.  He would like you to call him.”

My first thought: Forget that.

We sat down. Like a pretty birthday party balloon that had been popped, I quickly deflated. Waiters attended to us.  Champagne was poured. There was a buzz and hum in the room from the other people. I attempted to smile and be charming to the servers, but the sand shifted under my seat. My mood was dark and becoming darker. My vulnerability showed. It hadn’t occurred to me that every man wasn’t like Howard: reliable, dependable, always there.

My very first date as a widow. Phfffft.

Larry charged through the door and presented himself in the dining room. He was still pumped with the adrenaline from an hour of live television. He had on a blazer. No tie. The coiffed hair, the glasses – he was unmistakably who he was.  Other customers took notice. They turned or looked up. Larry had to walk only a short distance to our table. The chef, Daniel Boulud, arrived at the same time, eager to greet the star.  But that was of no matter to Larry.  The room was still hushed by Larry’s arrival.

“Where’s Keith?” he asked, loudly.

“Oh, he couldn’t make it,” Shawn said, quietly.

“What, he stood you up?,” he asked, looking directly at me.  “You mean, Keith Hernandez stood you up, Carol?” he practically shouted to the whole room. I wanted to kick him in the shins. Bruno looked at me with sympathy. Daniel Boulud did the same.  They had to be thinking, what kind of loser is this woman.

“Why would Keith stand you up?” Larry repeated.  “Did you have any idea?”

Well, no.

I died inside. The embarrassment and humiliation saturated me. There was nothing more that could be done than to endure dinner and to try to make it good for Larry and Shawn. Larry could not be appeased. Food was no consolation.

The chef leaned over to ask what I would like. “You make me whatever you think I should have,” I said, “I don’t care.”  My appetite had gone. He went to Larry, eager to suggest a variety of delicacies from his expert kitchen.  But since his angioplasty, Larry was eating a bland diet. “Can I just have some grilled chicken with the skin off and some steamed carrots. Larry could have been having a quick piece of grilled chicken at Joe Allen’s – what he preferred after a show -  but instead he was at this fancy French restaurant with artery-clogging food AND NO KEITH!

“What’s this about?” he asked me.

“I have no idea,” I said.  “Believe me, it’s not the way I wanted it to go.”

I could tell he was disappointed. We were both in the same dark mood. We were both stood up. But I put my chin up and moved us on to other topics.

Bruno walked over. “You have a phone call,” he said.

I excused myself to the phone near the coat check.  Bruno stood aside.

It was Keith. “I’m so sorry,” he said. “I was just too tired.”  He gave me a list of all the tough things he’d done that day and how he was whipped and ready for bed.

“Can I call you tomorrow and maybe we’ll have a drink or dinner?”

“Sure, you do that, but I’m pretty busy,” I said.  I made it brief, said goodbye and returned to the table. 

We had a speed dinner.  The typical dinner at a 4-star New York restaurant lasts at least two hours. We were out of there in under an hour. The chef came from the kitchen, stunned we were leaving so early. “Larry moves fast,” I said. He gave us an enigmatic look, part confused and part resigned. He thought he had failed us.

I walked Shawn and Larry to their town car, kissed them goodnight, accepted their condolences and said goodbye.   I walked along Madison to my hotel. It was a gorgeous night. Breezy. Cool. Dry. Full moon. Soft, soft air. The city was alive and vibrant. It was the kind of night I usually adored. But there I was, in the middle of it, alone and rejected. I struggled to hold the tears back as I walked through the lobby of the hotel, rode the elevator up to my floor, walked down the hall and jammed the key into the door. I rushed in and closed it behind me and then let the tears flow.

“Goddammit,” I muttered. “I want my husband back. I want my marriage back.  I don’t want to be single. I don’t want this to be happening to me.”  I slumped to the floor and sobbed.

I didn’t cry for long, though. I resolved to not be a victim. It was his loss. Keith missed  what could have been a great evening.

I took off the slinky black dress, the sexy heels, the stockings, the pearls, washed the elaborate make-up off my face, put on a white cotton t-shirt and underpants and crawled into my crisp white hotel sheets and opened up Kitty Kelley’s book about the royal family and settled in for a good read.

“I’m not going to let any man get me down,” I thought. “If they want me they will have to come after me. I’m not going to be pathetic.”

The windows were open to the New York night. Traffic, horns, voices, breezes came into the room. I wasn’t miserable. A little sad, but not miserable.

Martha called.  “Tell me all about your date,” she said.

“He stood me up!” 

She was shocked.  But my laughter made her laugh and together we laughed for a while.

“Can you imagine?  A widow goes out on her first date and gets stood up?” I said.

I turned out the lights and drifted off to dreamland.

 

The next day Keith paged me 4 times.  After six hours and one more page I returned his call. He invited me for drinks and dinner and I accepted. “We’ll see how the drinks go before I commit to dinner,” I said.

That evening Larry, Shawn and I went to a party at the Waldorf Astoria for former Senator and Republican presidential nominee Bob Dole, where we nailed down a promise from him to do an hour live interview on the anniversary of the election he lost. Getting there wasn’t easy. Larry’s limo didn’t show and we had to hijack an off-duty cab at the height of rush hour.  I stood in traffic, gesturing toward the curb and Larry, mouthing the words “Larry King!  Larry King!  Larry King!” The second cab to come along stopped.

“I’ve agreed to meet Keith for a drink,” I told Shawn and Larry in the cab.

“Carol, arrive late and play it cool,” Shawn said. “Play it real cool.”

I arrived late but I don’t know whether I successfully played it cool. We met at the opulent bar of Le Cirque 2000 restaurant. “Carol,” he called my name and got my attention. I walked over, stood there and made a show of taking off my coat. I sat down slowly. The table between us was wide. He was as handsome as I remembered. Dark. Serious. I think he was nervous, shy, uncertain.

“Do you think there is enough distance between us?” I asked

He looked for another place to sit.  We moved to a banquette, where we could sit side by side. We both ordered martinis, mine vodka, his gin.

We made small talk and big talk. In the short time it took us to sip our drinks we covered that he was a ball player, that he’s divorced, that I am a widow, that he has three daughters, that I am a single mother, that he lives in midtown, that I live in Georgetown, that he has a girlfriend but they were splitting up, that I have a restaurant and TV job and that he is in retirement, that I had an IRS problem and that he had an IRS problem, that he owned a second home in Florida and I owned a home on the Chesapeake Bay, and that it was a big “no no” to stand me up.

Then we went to look for a place to have dinner. He chose the Park Bistro on lower Park Avenue where we had a good time. He insisted I wear his World Series ring, which engulfed my finger. We ate roasted chicken, French fries and drank a lot of wine. He was affectionate. He put his arm around me.  He tried to kiss me.

“We don’t even know each other,” I said, more shy than I expected.

“Then let’s get to,” he said.

“I’m not ready for some of this,” I said, pulling away.

“How many guys are after you?” he asked.

“None,” I said.

“Can I spend the night with you?”

“Oh, no,” I said. This was everything I feared a date with a single man would be like. Fast, hot and heavy.

“What if I just sleep with you? No sex?”

“That wouldn’t happen,” I said.

“Can I see you again? Will you call me to let me know when you’re coming to town again?” he asked, nuzzling my neck with his nose.

“Yes, I will.”

In the cab outside my hotel I gave him a quick kiss goodnight. Not even twenty minutes later the phone rang in my room. It was Keith.

“Are you in bed yet?” 

“Just about,” I said.

“What are you wearing?” he asked.

“I can’t believe you only just met me and you are asking me this,” I said.  “You are something else.”

“I had a good time tonight,” he said. “I like you. I can’t wait to see you again.”

We talked a little more before saying goodnight. I was too tired to make it interesting, and his head was dancing to the tune of too many drinks.

I didn’t know what to make of the evening. One night the man stands me up and the next he crawls all over me. I wondered, is it a baseball thing?

 

#

 

My Journal

 

 

It has been restful to spend the weekend in the city. I’ve had time to get some projects done here at the apartment. And Spencer and I have had time together walking and talking and lolling about.

As we walked along the canal yesterday he saw a man and woman walking together in front of us.

“They are in love,” he said. “I can tell from the way they are walking.”

“You can tell that?” I asked.

“Yes, I can tell they are in love.”

“We’re walking together, are you in love with me?”

“Mom, I can’t be in love with you, but I love you,” he said.

“I know, angel. Kids and parents don’t fall in love with each other. But I’ll tell you this: I love you more than any other living thing.”

“Good,” he said, and we continued on, side by side, holding hands.

He was in a very rebellious mood in church this morning. Loud, restless, ornery. Wouldn’t take communion. Crawled under the pew and stayed there until services were over. I got him into his Sunday school class but I had to bribe him with the chance of a trip to FAO Schwartz. Oddly, when I was trying to leave him there he was clinging to me and tears were in his eyes. He hadn’t done that in a while.

He doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow. I’m not sure what that’s about. He could be coming down with a cold. The teachers want to talk to me and maybe I’ll learn more. I asked him what he thought they might want to talk to me about and he said one word: “Cecilia.”  Ah ha, more Cecilia, his imaginary sister.  Who knows? He’s had a lot of changes thrown at him this past month: new school, new babysitter, new friends, new teachers, new house on the horizon, everything for sale, me going to New York too much.

Walking to the toy store we had a go round about what size toy he could buy.  He was saying “medium” and I was saying “small.” This got under his skin and he started to kvetch. “You can’t always have what you want,” I said.  “We all have things we can’t have, no matter how strongly we might want them. Even I have things I can’t have.”

“ You can’t have Daddy!” he shouted.

Before bed we watched “The Beggar’s Opera” with Sir Laurence Olivier.  He loved it. He told me he likes opera after we had listened to some Pavarotti in the car. “It’s real good except for when they screech,” he said.

 

Chapters 25-28