Tuesday, March 3, 2009
1952; 1962; 1972
Here are two passages that I read recently that seem to have something to do with each other. Both are written by women in love. The first is by Carolyn Cassady, who was married in 1952 to Neal Cassady, but having an affair with his best friend Jack Kerouac, who lived with them in a bohemian menage a trois. Neal knew about the affair but didn't seem to mind. Both Neal and Jack became "accustomed to the idea" of sharing one woman.
"When both men became accustomed to the idea, they dropped their defenses and joined me downstairs in the kitchen. While I performed my chores, they'd read each other excerpts from their works-in-progress or bring out Spengler, Proust, Celine or Shakespeare to read aloud, interrupted by energetic discussions and analyses. Frequently they would digress and discuss a musician, or a riff or an interesting arrangement emanating from the radio. I was happy listening to them and filling their cups. Yet, I never felt left out any more. They'd address remarks to me and include me with smiles and pats, or request my view."
So, in 1952, Carolyn Cassady was "happy" just listening to men's talk while she did her chores, grateful for the occasional "smiles and pats," as if she were a dog. A dog who does dishes. I guess, with the children and two men to take care of, she didn't have time to read or write herself. O tempora! O mores!
The other passage is also about a girl watching a man at a table. It was written by Amy Bloom, who, as a girl in 1962, had the great good fortune of having lunch with Marcella Mastroianni, then at the peak of his acting career. He had already made La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2.
"1962. I have been swimming for hours, wearing my new navy blue one-piece with the red vinyl anchor on one shoulder. I swim to the side of the pool and fall in love with Marcello Mastroianni. He's the guest of my parents' dear friends, who are in the movie business. Clouds blow past. Shafts of light fall upon il Signor Mastroianni, who is not quite 40 years old and so darkly handsome and loose-limbed and charmingly weary, but not too weary to splash me while he has a drink poolside. I suddenly understand why people like to kiss, why sitting in the company of another person is as thrilling as the Steeplechase at Coney Island, how watching a man pop a cracked green olive into his mouth and then lick his fingers could cause a person to be both breathless and uncomfortable. Il Signor Mastroianni brought out a plate of antipasti and we ate lunch under the patio umbrella, and in addition to discovering desire, I discovered roasted red peppers, soppressata, and marinated eggplant."
Flash forward another ten years, to 1972. It is my freshman year in college, and I am having breakfast in the cavernous, noisy freshman/sophomore dining hall. Across from me is a young man who is not eating his grits. They are getting cold. So I help myself to some of his grits, reaching across the table with my spoon.
"What are you doing? You're eating my breakfast!" He looks really indignant.
Oops. I made a mistake, I guess. Yankees may eat grits, but they don't eat off each other's plates like that.
However, in twenty years, one can see a lot of progress: women go from silently waiting on men at tables, grateful for the occasional pat, to ogling film stars poolside, to finally taking men's food away from them and eating it themselves! What next?