But of course I didn't wait for Eliot to organize his party. I called every friend I'd ever known with the euphoric vindication of my wretchedly selfish life so far, and accepted every invitation to be wined and dined and lionized as the new scarlet hope of pornographic art, painted the town a garish champagne pink, and using other people's whisky for a change ended my days drunk and deliriously self-satisfied every night for a week. My signature on their standard three-book contract was a little shaky though flamboyant, but Lois took half a dozen of my stories --- including two with no sex in them whatever that she thought would enhance my credibility as an artist --- and I got a chance to look over layouts and art-work for magazine illustrations and the paperback cover, and a minute's look-in on a NIGHTWING centerfold shoot in progress. It was, without a doubt, a week of fantasy-fulfillment the like of which I had never dared to believe would ever come true.
And so, when Eliot finally did call asking if I could come to a little gathering of some friends I might like to meet, it was with obnoxiously egotistical hauteur that I decided that yes, I'd put in an appearance if he didn't mind my dropping by after dining with my editor to discuss the new front-end I had dashed off. That sounded fine to him.
Of course, nothing with Eliot ever turned out exactly as I expected. He lived in a small, overheated, cozy apartment in what had been an elegant old hotel, with high ceilings and intricate ceiling-moldings, with a fine stereo and a vcr stocked with whole walls-full of records and tapes, and comfortable furniture arranged for conversations, which were buzzing in several animated little knots as I arrived. I admired the knickknacks and little framed snapshots that covered the walls, trying to place all the familiar yet fuzzily named faces, while Eliot made me a drink. My arrival hardly rippled the in-group surface of the festivities, which became logical as it slowly dawned on me that I was the only straight person in the entire room.
"Ah, Stephen," Eliot called, steering me across the room, "this is the young novelist I've been telling you so much about."
"Oh, right. Congratulations!" the brown-bearded, smiling man began warmly. "Eliot insists we have things to learn from one another."
But before he could continue the wan, round-faced, obviously drunken young man in a dinner-jacket Stephen had been talking to blurted, glaring at the pair of us, "Aha! So this is your next lover, is it! I didn't know you needed Eliot pimping for you these days!" Stephen, paled, rounded on his friend and whispered, every word an unstruck karate blow, "Robert, you're drunk. Go home."
"Sure!" Robert persisted. "I'm out of style! Now that you've found your sure-thing moneymaker I never get a look in! Throw me over, now you think you don't need me any more!"
"I've had enough of this, Robert. Go home. Because if you don't I'm going to knock you down and kick you down the stairs."
"Oh sure! You don't need me for anything anymore, right? You're your own producer, right? I'm out of style. Well I don't need you anymore either! You'll see! You'll see!"
A couple of bystanders took the quito, and Robert, red-faced, staggered toward the door shaking off their help. Stephen, embarrassed, turned back toward me and tried to smile.
"Well! Nothing like a little dirty linen flapped into your face to make a new acquaintance feel at home, is there?"
"What did I do to make him so angry?"
"Nothing! It's his problem, not yours. You see, early on, Robert displayed a rather extraordinary talent for producing hits. He had three huge successes in a row and thought he was on his way to his first million."
"And then his talent failed him?"
"Not...exactly. What Robert didn't realize was that instead of having a talent for picking winners, he had a talent for listening to the right advice. He had been so successful he then thought he could ignore that advice --- and in the theater, it's much easier to lose your shirt on one show than to make a million on three. Robert guessed wrong, against better advice, twice in a row. Unfortunately, he still doesn't understand where he went wrong."
"I see. And failure's made him arrogant."
"Oh, no no no no! Robert was just as arrogant a success --- Well, obviously! --- or else he would have had some idea of what it was he had done that made him successful! Still, success is much more forgiving of arrogance than failure --- and I'm truly sorry you had to witness his bitchy-queen act! Um, you are straight, right?"
"Ah well," he sighed, indifferently. "I hope you won't tar the general with your well-deserved judgments of the particular!"
"Eliot thinks you're very talented. And I've never subscribed to the base canard that talent remains solely the prerogative of sensitive sissies!"
"Talented perhaps," I smiled, "but not terribly observant. It'd never occurred to me that Eliot might be..."
"What, Old Uncle Eliot the celibate halibut? No, you're wrong there. Why, I've known Eliot since I was nine --- and I was straight then! Well, --- " he paused then, smiling, theatrically " --- perhaps bi! At any rate that was Years before I finally made an arbitrary decision! But, in all the time I've known him, I think Eliot's been so busy watching the game he hasn't yet made up his mind which team it would be most fun to play on. And, on that note, here's the devil we speak of now!"
Eliot smiled, handing me a fresh drink. "Ah! I'm so glad that you two hit it off. You should invite him to one of your readings, Stephen."
"I was just about to, when our naughty friend began misbehaving."
"Stephen's put together a one-man show out of snippets from the plays of Tennessee Williams. I think you'd find it instructive."
"Well, I'd love to come. Where's it playing?"
"Nowhere yet! I've got to learn to act it, first. I'm inviting trusted friends for informal readings at my apartment, before I look for a quiet bar where we can do it week-ends. I want to keep the atmosphere congenial, personal. I do hope you'll come."
"Of course. I'm flattered to be a trusted friend, even though I'm not gay."
"It's perhaps because you're not gay that I trust you," Stephen smiled. "Williams wrote for everyone, after all."
"It'll be an honor. I don't know much about Williams."
"Tom was such a talent!" Eliot added. "With such openness, such curiosity, such an appetite for experience --- even for experiences that proved bad for him. But, no matter where his curiosity and his appetites took him, he wrote for two hours every day of his life --- and beautifully! And you've captured him, Stephen."
"In the words, perhaps, but that was easy. In his interviews and autobiographies, Williams lied! He told people what they wanted to hear --- but the truth about himself is in the works, in the words. It'll be a bitch making the man shine through those words. And I do hope you'll come, tell me what you see, what you think."
He wrote out his address. Any Sunday at four, he said, and then the swirling vagaries of the group wafted him away into some argument or other about Sondheim, whose music played softly throughout the evening.
"You may learn a good deal from the reading," Eliot continued.
"Oh?" I said, bristling. "And what is it you think I have yet to learn?"
"Well, Tom had a talent for finding, and accepting, the essence of love, in whatever many forms it takes."
"And you find my acceptance of the essence of love too narrow?"
He nodded. "Although you feel your novel dealt with all the permutations, your protagonist did refuse to learn very much about the oral forms, did he not?"
"He reacted exactly as I would have myself. I thought I was pretty straight-forward about that."
"Oh yes, of course, so far as that goes. But didn't Ernest Hemingway say that, if you smooth your fingers over the prose, you can feel a hole wherever someone's left something out because they didn't know what went there, but when you know a subject well, then you know what to leave out without leaving a hollow."
"Is that why you asked me here! You think a little gay fling will educate me enough to... !"
"Not at all! But I think a little tolerance, a little compassion, might broaden...
"As I recall Hemingway said some pretty harsh things about maricones back in his day."
"Ah, but you might get some harsh interpretations about that, if you were to poll the room! And Ernest and Pauline did get up some pretty odd stuff there in the south of France. You must have read whatever survived from the manuscript of THE GARDEN OF EDEN? I'm only saying, for a book looking at all permutations, the short shrift given that aspect of things could seem, to some, as, well, insulting. But no matter. The whole thing is moot anyway, now that you've sold it. But you'll write more. I'm sure you haven't emptied the subject --- as quickly as you have your glass! Here, let me get you another drink."
I only remember one more thing about that party. The news had just been announced that a window with Oscar Wilde's name was going up in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey, though Eliot insisted that was the last place that roguish Irish satirist would want to spend eternity! People remarked how unfair it was to send poor Wilde to jail for homosexuality.
"Well perhaps so," Eliot conceded, "though poor Oscar went to jail more for arrogance than anything else. He sent himself to jail, in a sense. George Bernard Shaw had chartered a boat that was waiting in the harbor to whisk Oscar abroad, and he wouldn't take it! It was willful Irish self-importance did him in, pure and simple."
"THE READINESS IS ALL"
II The Literary Circle
III The Man Himself
IV Habitat Group
V Reach Versus Grasp
VII More of The Same
IX The thing Itself
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