The Grand Surprise

leadI am currently reading a book called The Grand Surprise.  It is the journals and letters of a man named Leo Lerman with biographical information interwoven, edited by Stephen Pascal. Lerman was a writer, critic and editor, but he was also known for the regular salons he held at his home on the Upper East Side which included the likes of Truman Capote, Carson McCullers, Christopher Isherwood, Peggy Guggenheim, Diana Vreeland, etc.  He died in 1994 at 80 and even though I’m only on page 77, 1949, I can tell he lived a rich, full, life.  

I just finished reading George Plimpton’s Truman Capote biography and Leo Lerman is one of the hundreds of people interviewed for that book.  As much as I love reading Capote’s work, the more I read about him, the more I think I probably would not have liked him if I’d known him.  Well, maybe I would have liked him, but he would have been one of those friends I would have to keep at a distance.  He could never be a confidante or a person to depend on in a crisis.

Lerman, on the other hand, seems to me, a kindred spirit.  What I’ve read so far, journals and letters from his 20s and 30s, are about loneliness, vocational directionlessness, romantic complications, frustration and judgment about being overweight, all things that resonate with the 20s and 30s incarnation of myself and are likely to be themes, to some extent, for the rest of my days. And, like me at 28 or 32 or 38, the one thing he knows he has are good friends to share his life with. There is something about Lerman that I recognize, something also, that I love.  Would we be friends in real life?  Perhaps, perhaps not.

I need an escape from my real life at the moment.  Between Capote and The Grand Surprise, I’ve enjoyed spending time in mid 20th century New York City.  My job of 15 years is ending next week.  I’ve worked in the same restaurant, a high end lunch spot in Beverly Hills that caters to Los Angeles’ wealthy, since 1999.  I started when I was 30, it’s been 1/3 of my entire life.  The restaurant will reopen in a few months with a new identity, a new name, a new menu.  I could very well be back and also, in the intervening months, something else might come up.  Still, it’s an end to a time of my life and it’s bittersweet.

I suspect that in the future I will write more about this ending of one and beginning of another chapter in my life, but right now, when I start to write, I find I have no perspective.  I have no idea what the weeks ahead hold for me.  Which is kind of exciting, but also a little scary.

So, perhaps, one can understand, why I’ve buried myself in these thick books about charismatic gay men from another time. I close my eyes and imagine throwing intimate gatherings in my living room where all that is served is a jug of cheap wine and a big block of cheddar and everyone sits and gabs and laughs and drinks and eats. We all drink too much and talk too loudly and passionately and later, when I’m cleaning up the remains, I think to myself, my, aren’t we the smart ones!?

The accompanying picture is a painting by John Koch. Leo Lerman is in the foreground, conversing with pianist Ania Dorfmann. The artist is the lean, bespectacled fellow mixing drinks at the bar. He is somewhat famous for another painting called the The Sculptor which I wrote about many months ago, back when this blog was new.

Undiscovered New York

35mm_10292_061cLast night I dreamed I was walking around on the Upper East Side and I remembered that I wanted to find Sutton Place. It’s a neighborhood where William Inge lived and I’ve added it to my list of places I want to visit when I go to New York in a couple of weeks. Anyway, as I was looking around, trying to get my bearings, I noticed an escalator leading up to something. I didn’t know where I was headed, but thought to myself, hey, I’m on vacation, let’s see where this goes. It carried me up several stories where I found myself in a waiting room of sorts. I talked to the other people there for a while. I texted my friend Eboni seeing what her schedule was so we could get together. I found in my pocket the deposit I needed to deposit to a Chase Bank from the new job on the Upper West Side that I’d just started earlier in the dream. As I sat wondering where I was going to find a Chase, one of the people in the room with me told me that we were actually on a tram car and at that moment, I realized we had departed Manhattan and we were traveling to an island, in a thunderstorm, I might add. “Are we going to Roosevelt Island?” I queried. “Not Roosevelt Island, but similar,” someone answered. The tram deposited us in a desolate area that consisted of 2 Holiday Inn Expresses and 2 gas stations and nothing more than wide open parking lots. This doesn’t look like Roosevelt Island to me, I thought. I asked the cashier at one of the gas stations where the nearest Chase was, he told me it was 10 minutes away. If he meant by car or by foot, I never learned. The next thing I knew I was walking the halls of an apartment complex or perhaps one of the Holiday Inn Expresses and I came across Eboni. She lived there. We laughed and hugged and that’s all of the dream I remember.

I dream about New York frequently. And though different things happen, there is usually a recurring theme: the dream begins with something familiar, like the Upper East Side and then I turn a corner (or get on an escalator) and discover something new, some place that had been there all along and I didn’t know about it. In my dreams I’ve uncovered New York watering holes and mansions and swimming pools and hotels and other secrets. Just last week, I discovered an entire enclave of beautiful, palatial homes, also on the Upper East Side, the most notable being one shaped like a giant skull. (What does that mean?)

In my conscious moments, I love reading about New York history or watching Naked City, filmed on location in NY neighborhoods in the 50’s and 60’s or traveling about on Google Earth, so it only makes sense that I should investigate the same territory in my dreams.

Why New York? I don’t know. Would I dream about LA in the same way if I lived in New York? I doubt it. And I do love LA. Perhaps it’s just that New York will always be my first love. The escape I dreamed of when I was growing up in Kansas. Who knows really, though.

I do know that while there is something vexing about these recurring dreams, I’m comforted too. It’s a shame we don’t accrue frequent flier miles for all the distance we travel in our dreams. We could take a trip around the world.