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“Oh, Hello Mrs. Edelman. I’ve got a UPS package down here from your son in California. Yes, Ma’am I’ll keep it right next to my desk.”
McEvoy, the doorman at 1099 Fifth Avenue, hung up the phone. A ruddy, middle- aged and perpetually officious Irishman, he had worked in this luxury building for 24 years.
The house telephone rang again. ”Hello. Mrs. Edelman? Yes, its still here. The weather? Let me look outside.”
He put down the receiver and walked out onto Fifth Avenue and looked across the gray, windy expanse of Central Park.
“It don’t look too good ma’am. I’d say you’d better take an umbrella. Well, even if you’re only going to Lincoln Center. When you get out of the cab, if it’s raining, you’ll get drenched. Yes, ma’am.”
Madison Parke, the red haired, affected and pretentious nighttime doorman, arrived for the evening shift.
Mr. Fagan picked up the UPS package.
“Great son, this Ron Edelman. He lives out in LA, makes a bundle producing shit TV and he sends his mother used books.”
“She likes books. She always tells me that Ron— the great Ron— knows just what his mom wants to read. She loves mysteries. Last year she went on that sleuth weekend where you had to find the body up at Lake Mohonk. Couldn’t stop talking about it.”
“Yeah. I remember. She was all excited because the “corpse” was at the bottom of the lake.”
“Charlie, I saw her come down the other day. She was wearing the tightest spandex exercise pants youse ever seen. I mean, if I didn’t know she was 70 years old, I would go after her myself.”
“Oh, she takes great care of herself. She told me she’s on the stair master 45 minutes a day. She also lifts weights, rides horses, swims in the pool, does yoga.”
“Then she’s always running out the door to plays, concerts, restaurants. She told even told me she ended up in a dyke bar down in Tribeca last week!”
“Mrs. Edelman! At a dyke bar!”
“She said she knew women like that at Vassar, but she was always afraid to socialize with them. Now that’s its cool….well she wanted to see a lesbo bar up close.”
The elevator door opened. Out of the mahogany paneled cab stepped a petite, blond, thin lady dressed in a tan trench coat. A Burberry scarf was gallantly wrapped around her neck. Her posture was erect, her tone direct and confident.
“Good evening gentlemen!”
“Hello Mrs. Edelman”
“Can you call a cab for me Charles?”
He ran out the front door, stepped off the curb and stuck a piercing whistle in his mouth. As if on command to a deity, a line of yellow cabs came to a halt.
Mrs. Edelman stepped out . McEvoy held open the apartment door and Doorman Fagan got the cab. She smiled at these two servants who greased the wheels of elitism, on a cool October night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
“I want two pounds of nova. Don’t slice it too thickly. Last time I came in you gave me thick slices. I almost choked.”
Mrs. Edelman was pushing her way through the competitively edible chaos of the Fairway. Even at midnight, the store was bustling. Shoppers aimed their carts like assassins with automatic weapons. A ridiculously opulent place, she thought. Stuffed with non-essentials like English creams, organic Greek olives, hand cut oatmeal, German black bread, Swiss preserves, French mustards, Japanese fish eggs and butter from Manitoba.
It was a ritual for her, the Saturday night trip to the Upper West Side for Sunday brunch. The dying and reborn rituals of Jewish cooking, family togetherness and religious symbolism joined hands with the secular machine of supermarket retailing.
She had done this when Harry was alive. He insisted on the best of everything. He simply could not eat a piece of Lox unless it had been purchased at Fairway. He was as biased in favor of the culture and food of this neighborhood. But as a successful shoe manufacturer and designer, he insisted on the stylish elegance of the Upper East Side. His January 1969 quote in Esquire: “The West side is for eating, the East side for living.”
He was a self-made and often arrogant man. But he inspired her love. There was not a day when some street, some store- front didn’t remind her of Harry Edelman. A walk past the Plaza brought back the moment he had proposed to her in the Oak Bar, a young man of 27, already selling shoes to Bergdorf under the Edelman label. His shoes were the pinnacle of stylishness, and when a woman wore $50 Edelman crocodile pumps, she had attained an important and inarguably affluent state of being.
Truman Capote had once written an unpublished short story for her called “Little Mister Shoe”. It was a wickedly cruel satire of a Brooklyn born titan who rose to the top of his profession by preying on the insecurities of rich Manhattan matrons. He would walk up Madison Avenue, find wealthy ladies and ask, “Are those Weinsteins you’re wearing?” The women, startled and surprised by this shoe interrogator, would usually say, “No they’re not.” And this questioner, would remark, “Well, they are so beautiful, I just assumed they were Weinsteins!”
That’s what Harry had done. He got Slim Hayward, Babe Paley and even Doris Day to wear his shoes. He walked up to them at parties or in restaurants and pretended to not understand why they were not wearing Edelmans.
On the day Harry Edelman died, his wife was walking home in blinding rainstorm, unable to hail a cab. Her shoes were soaking, the leather ruined. All she could think of was how he would kill her when she got home. When she reached 1099, an ambulance was outside, lights flashing crimson in the dark pounding rain. Two men were carrying him out on a gurney. As the doorman grabbed her beneath the arms, she fainted away.
Ron had been the apple of their eye. The only son. With his blue eyes, light brown hair, tall and athletic frame, he turned heads everywhere. He seemed destined for acting, or perhaps news casting. He had a deep and abiding loyalty to his parents, and especially was concerned about their health and safety.
At Yale, he surprised his parents when he switched his major from acting to business management. It was practical, he explained, the eighties were about making money, and he didn’t know any rich actors, only struggling ones.
He came home, to Manhattan, during vacations and long weekends. Always to see shows. He was passionate about dramas: Pinter, Albee, Shakespeare. Once they saw “Othello” out of doors in the park, when it was playing at the Delacorte. At the moment that the great martyred queen Desdemona dies, at the hand of her distrusting husband, Ron let out a mournful cry. It startled his mother, to see her son so moved by something so ethereal and artful.
Ron had one weakness that seemed to bother her immensely. He was picked up, bossed around and controlled by domineering women. There was Annette Hoffman, the chubby thespian who had dated him at Dalton in junior and senior years. She openly smoked, wore heavy make up and dressed like a shlep. She lived on Riverside Drive, and seemed openly contemptuous of Ron’s parents and their tony, aspiring life on Fifth.
To his mother’s gratification, Ron broke off with Annette. But again he was cornered at college by the needy, self- pitying and obnoxious Rosanne Harmon, a Connecticut WASP. Ron was taken with Rosanne’s blond hair and soccer toned thighs, but seemed to ignore her more destructive tendencies. When he brought her home for Thanksgiving, and Rosanne sarcastically remarked about the good taste of his parents, Harry took her comment to sound almost anti-Semitic, as if Jews just wouldn’t know good taste, and simply had to purchase the outward manifestation of it.
Harry’s dislike for Rosanne brought a chill to the relationship between father and son. Rosanne started to push for Ron to break away from his parents. Talk started about moving West, where the sun shined always, and the limestone structured rules and regulations melted in the heat of a perpetual Dionysian youth.
Ron and Rosanne drew closer to graduation. Los Angeles, with its insipid and empty promises of sunshine, fame and fortune posed a poisonously seductive charm to the graduates. Rosanne nagged him. ”Let’s get out of the East Coast. The weather sucks. We will always have your parents to deal with, and I just want to see whether we can make it in LA”
“I don’t know, Ro.” Ron would answer, “ I just think it’s awful out there. You need a car. The people are so dumb. Besides, I might want to work with my father. He needs a business mind. “
“That is just gross! You want to spend your twenties stuck on 7th Avenue? The humidity…. pushing carts and boxes on the sidewalk…… and working in the shoe business! You always wanted to act. Why don’t you live your dreams?”
When she spoke it made sense. Los Angeles would be their city. They could always come home. They could even become bi-coastal, with a home in both cities! Los Angeles didn’t have lots of things—Central Park, Broadway, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, Sardis, the Guggenheim. But so what! Angelinos had swimming pools, nice cars, and beautiful weather. That was enough! If they didn’t like it out West, they would come back to New York.
At Fairway, she grabbed the Nova Scotia. Then it was two pumpernickel bagels, two raisins, two sesame. A red onion, Jersey tomatoes, capers, and a half pound of Sumatra.
Tomorrow she was having an eclectic group over: Ingrid, a retired book editor at Knopf and her husband Arnie, who was a violinist with the Philharmonic. The guest list included portrait painter Edward Reese Hubbard, and his companion Maynard Forbes, an investment banker.
At the checkout line, the clerk remarked. “Look at that lightening. It’s gonna pour. Do you need any help with your packages ma’am?.”
“No! Not at all. I’ve got it all under control.”
The seventy- year old lady with the 26- inch waist, bountiful brain and the beating heart, carried two heavy paper bags full of provisions for a Sunday party full of witty, intelligent and urbane sophisticates. Independent, opinionated and free of encumbering alliances with husbands, lovers and even her own son, she stepped out unaware of the precipice ahead.
The cab crossed under the flooded park roads. When they got to Fifth Avenue, the rain was pounding heavily. It sounded like the steel roof of the cab was being hit by a thousand speeding nails maliciously tossed by the hands of an angry God.
At 1099, the doorman opened her door. Instead of helping Mrs. Edelman out of the cab, he instead grabbed the two bags of groceries and hustled them inside to dryness. She fumbled for her wallet, and took out $10 and paid the cabbie. She put her hand on the door of the cab and lifted herself onto the curb. But her right foot hit the gutter and suddenly twisted. A cracking bone and the instant signal of injury rushed through her entire body. She screamed loudly, and fell forward onto the sidewalk. The cab driver, recognizing her injury but fearing a lawsuit, pulled away suddenly with the door ajar. She lay helpless on the sidewalk, awaiting rescue.
“You’ve broken your ankle, Mrs. Edelman.”
The doctor at Lenox Hill spoke clearly and without empathy. “Look at the X-Ray”.
He continued, “‘The white solid area is your ankle bone, dislocated by about 5cm or so from the end of the broken tibia. The jagged ends of broken bones can be clearly seen.”
She was in a wheelchair. At her side was Edward Reese and Maynard.
Edward said, “Doctor, Mrs. Edelman lives alone. She is in an apartment and can’t get around without help. How is she going to take care of herself?”
“Do you have any children Mrs. Edelman?”
“My son lives in Agoura. That’s in California.”
“He’s been telling me for years that I have to move there. But I hate it out there. I’m not going to leave New York. That’s final.”
“Mother, it’s Ron. How are you feeling?”
“Well. I have pain and tenderness. My leg is swelling. I can’t move around and when I try to move it hurts even more. How is Rosanne?” ”Never mind Rosanne. She’s fine. Let’s just talk about you. That’s my concern.”
“Well I’m just asking, because I haven’t heard from her. I just wondered if she’s all right.”
“What else did the doctor say?”
“He took a Doppler study.”
“To see about my pulse. Sometimes they get concerned because the injury can cut off your pulse and then you might have an amputation.”
“An amputation! Mother that does it. I’m coming home.” ”What about your show? How can you leave Rosanne?”
“She’s going to be all right. I’m coming into LaGuardia on Friday.”
On Sunday afternoon, Ingrid and Arnie were sitting in the yellow walled living room. The park windows were open. It was a sunny Autumn day, when the warm winds carry faint scents of burning wood and fallen leaves. The dimming sun perpetuated a lie: that this fair weather would never end.
“I don’t see how she’s going to be able to stay here.” remarked Ingrid.
“A nurse? Don’t they have nurses who can stay with her?” asked Arnie.
“Around the clock! She can’t afford that.”
“She’s not exactly poor.”
“This is what kills old people. When the medical bills start piling up, they have to get people to take care of them all day. Emptying bed- pans, going to the grocery store, paying the bills. Who do you think is going to do all that?”
From the bedroom, the weary voice of the patient called out.
“Ingrid. Can you come in here please?”
Her leg was elevated on pillows. Wrapped in a cast, it stood on top of a goose down comforter like some misplaced sculpture from the Museum of Modern Art. It covered a right leg that had been one half of a vigorous and seldom still pair of legs. The legs that had once danced at the Waldorf and skated around the ice at Wohlman Rink. Those legs had climbed the Statue of Liberty and ran around the Reservoir in Central Park.
“I’m sorry to bother you. Could you get me a Tylenol? These compound fractures. I think I ‘d rather just have them cut off!”
Ingrid handed her a glass of water and a pill.
“Don’t talk that way! In a couple of months, you’ll be out of this mess and back to your old self.”
“Old self. That’s what I am. Old. Look at how I ruined everyone’s brunch today.”
“You didn’t ruin anything! You had an accident. Ron will be coming home, and then you’ll have something to look forward to. Maybe with the winter coming you’ll want to spend time in California. Listen, it’s not bad sitting around the pool in the sunshine.”
The phone rang. It was Maynard.
“Hello, dear. How are you?”
“As well as can be expected. Where are you calling from?” ”Oh, we just left the ballet. It was marvelous. I usually hate modern dance, but this one was choreographed magnificently. The way they move on stage. Lucinda Capelli bounces like a kitten and she is so beautiful.”
“Oh, Lucinda. Remember when she performed Balanchine’s piece? I forget the name. See, I’m losing my mind.”
“Don’t say that. You’re going to be up and about in a matter of days. Edward was saying that he should paint you in bed. That would cheer you up.! He could hide your cast under some pillows and immortalize you for the ages! What do you think of that?”
“I think I’m tired. I have to go. Good-bye”
She hung up the phone and stared at the ceiling. Ingrid took her hand and tried to tell her she was not alone.
Ingrid and Arnie. Maynard and Edward. The doorman and the maid. The nurse from Blue Cross. All made appearances. They fed and bathed and emptied the bedpan. They listened as she cried and got angry. They fed her pills to relax her, pills to kill the pain.
Friday: The day that Ron came home. Only six days elapsed between her injury and his impending arrival. Every 24 hours felt monumentally long and physically and psychologically taxing. She wondered if he was really coming. She feared his plane would crash. Eating, bathing, thinking, all were actions of immense athletic exertion.
At last, 11.30pm on Friday, November 1st, Ron Edelman walked into his mother’s room and hugged her tightly. She was so relieved to see him. The anointed son and savior had come home at last.
He was sleeping soundly along side her, when she awoke at 7am. Once he had been an infant boy, and here he was today– a man, a tall, graying still handsome man in a fetal position sleeping next to Mom.
She couldn’t get up and make him breakfast, or even coffee. She reminisced about those years when Saturday morning meant Harry and Ron watching cartoons, laughing on the living room, eating the bagels and getting the crumbs on the floor. It had made her angry, the mess they caused on her good carpets. How stupid she had been! If she only knew then how briefly that interval of togetherness and laughter would last.
Now, she had to lay in her bed, helpless, as her infant child had once been. She was dependent and reliant on others. Once, she had figured out that most of the human race was selfish and self-serving, and she had acted accordingly, grabbing the richest man for herself, and taking advantage of all that Manhattan and the glittering crowd had to offer. Now she had to eat what was cooked, listen to the trivial patter of servants, and ask her son if he would leave his life, his wife, his job and home and spend time with his mother. How could she ask [and receive] all of that?
“There’s just so much to do here in the city, mom! God, I can’t believe that they’re doing another revival of “The Producers”. And look at the jazz festival on the pier at South Street.”
“Well you go. You only have a few days here. I don’t want you to sit in the apartment and watch TV. You need to take it in before you go back to that……..place.”
“Mom. Why do you hate LA so much? Isn’t it silly to waste so much time hating a city? It can’t be so bad if people keep moving there.”
“Well, I guess I should stop hating it. They say you don’t need to walk much out there, and that fits right in with my new disability.”
“I was talking to Rosanne……”
“I was talking to Rosanne and she thinks, she agrees, that it would be fine if you stayed with us in Agoura.”
“And what do I do with this place?”
“Sell it. What do you need it for anyway? You can make a killing. Didn’t you and Dad buy this for like eighty five grand or something?”
“It was a hundred and twenty six thousand. A lot of money in 1967. “
“If you come to Agoura, you can have your own room on the ground floor. Remember when you visited two years ago? Rosanne painted the bedroom Martha Stewart brown and it has new French doors that open right out onto the pool. Isn’t that nice?”
As cold and gracious December roared in, the streets were full of white lights and snow flakes. The city was aglow with the yuletide spirit, and the windows of the stores carried their eternal wares of sweaters, candles, mittens, ribbons, lights, Santa Claus and reindeer. At the intersection of 57th and 5th, an electric white star hung spider-like above the traffic.
Tiffanys. Trump Tower. The St. Regis. Edward and Maynard pushed Mrs. Edelman down Fifth Avenue in the wheelchair. Then they passed the stone steps of St. Patricks and stopped.
“Please guys. Can we go in for a minute? I want to see St. Pats.”
“Shall we try and lift her up the steps ?” Maynard asked.
Edward frowned at Maynard. The lady in the chair caught the angry gleam of his eye.
Edward spoke: “ We cannot lift this chair up those steps! How about we take you across the street and watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center?”
“OK. That would be fine.”
At the edge of the skating rink, under the statue of Prometheus, a trio of singers sang “Silent Night.” The jagged rock of the Art Deco skyscraper, perhaps the same age as Mrs. Edelman, was lit up like a Christmas candle in the Manhattan night. Laughing children skated around the rink. Young lovers kissed, their lips warmed by the tender breath of passion.
She sat amidst the laughing crowds and a season of festive lights.
“Oh, fellas! How can I leave all this behind!”
The blinding sun lit up the concrete backyard of 29991 Avenida del Morte in Agoura Hills, CA. She stared at the blue pool water, its contents warmed by radiant doses of the ominpotent sun, germs hygienically annihilated in chlorine. Two lone backyard palm trees, bereft of shade or fragrance, stood against the backdrop of deserted mountains and endless clone like homes.
Ron had gone to work, and Rosanne went to the gym. There wasn’t a sound in the air, as the entire neighborhood had their windows shut and the air conditioning on. Only the hum of the cooling machines could be heard.
Under the awning, she wheeled her chair into place to escape the burning rays. She began to write a letter to Ingrid:
Dear Ingrid: I have now lived here for two months. Ron is very good to me. We go to physical therapy every other day. The doctors tell me that I have to practice a range of motion exercises including flexion (bending of the joint) extensions, rotations, abductions, etc. I am gradually feeling better.
I read the NY Times everyday. Ron subscribes to it (of course)! Rosanne busies herself with exercise. She is very fit, and tries to eat well, and talks about how she intends to never be helpless, even in her old age. (Let’s just wait and see about that one.) She still has no interest in children, or culture, or work. She seems to only want to work out and get manicures and tans. But I think she has developed other qualities that Ron admires. When I find out what they are, I will certainly tell you.
Maynard told me that he went to a new Picasso exhibit and that he bumped into the still preserved Contessa Di Mario. She was always so elegant. Harry said that when the Contessa wore his shoes to an opening, the next day, every society woman on Park Avenue went into Bergdorfs asking for the same shoes! Oh, how I miss New York!
Anyway, I think………..
The writer stopped there. She put her pen down, left the letter open, and wheeled herself away from the table. On or about 12.30pm, on Monday, January 15th at the height of the mid day sun, while much of LA was swimming, tanning, driving, talking on the cell phone, eating, making deals………..a little lady of aristocratic bearing who had once been celebrated , loved and envied by much of Gotham….. wheeled herself to the edge of the deep end of the pool and threw herself to the bottom where she drowned.
More than 30 years ago, in a town halfway between Los Encinos, CA and Riverside, Mr. and Mrs. Hill bought a modest ranch house in the sleepy Santa Tara Valley.
The newly named Hill House was a white clapboard ranch set back about 200 feet from Highway 14, along a beautiful apple orchard nestled beneath the Santa Tara Mountains. In its rustic and gentle unpretentiousness, the ranch looked like it might have once been a set piece for a 1940’s cowboy movie.
Santa Tara had only about 1,300 residents back then, most of whom were farmers, small business owners, retirees and migrant workers.
When Larry and Annie Hill moved into Santa Tara, they were a different type. Larry was a rugged, long-haired sculptor who looked something like the 60’s radical Abby Hoffman. Annie was the Joan Baez wife, who wore her long black hair with a headband, and drove a Ford pick-up around town with her three black Dalmatians. She hid her wealthy origins well. Her father had been a publisher of a San Francisco newspaper, it was alleged.
They had moved from somewhere else, perhaps San Francisco, possibly Berkeley, maybe Portland, nobody knew for sure.
They might have had anti-war connections, experimented with drugs, conducted all night orgies, or maybe they weren’t even married. They just looked strange.
I was 12 year old Edgar Evens, a boy who rode my bike past their house and wondered why such artsy folk would move to such a dusty dry town far removed from urban sophisticates.
I looked at those people and I wished my parents looked that cool. But my mom and dad were fat and Baptist, listened to Lawrence Welk and said grace before every single meal.
One blistering July afternoon, I came into my parent’s bedroom to find them lying lifeless on top of their king- sized bed. They had been shot up, and my mother was full of blood and holes. My father lay there with his eyes wide open and a red-river of liquid pouring out of his stunned mouth and onto the soaking crimson pillows.
The Sheriff came. Then the ambulance, and then the coroner. My seventh grade teacher, Mona McKinsey came, and she brought Pastor Clark, and pretty soon the good Pastor took me back to his place and I never went back to my parent’s house again.
The funeral was a week later. My Uncle Russ, Aunt Betty, and tons of cousins from Kentucky, Oklahoma and Oregon showed up. They said that my father had shot my mother and then turned the gun on himself.
KTLA-TV sent a reporter to interview me, but Pastor Clark wouldn’t let me talk. The Los Angeles Times called once, but then they didn’t call again. The Santa Tara Gazette reported the killing on its front page. That was something.
I went back to school, and finished the seventh grade. Then Pastor Clark asked me if I wanted to move into Hill House. The Hills wanted to become my guardian. I said yes, and moved into the white ranch house in the apple orchards.
Larry played The Doors, Joni Mitchell, Emerson, Lake and Palmer. He had a studio where he kept sheets of metal, tools, paints and poisons and fashioned bizarre beings out of steel.
Annie worked as a guidance counselor at the high school, but at night, she drove 20 miles to study architecture at the local college. Her drafting tools, papers, and architecture books took up one corner of Larry’s studio.
A few days after I had moved in, Annie knocked on my bedroom door and sat on the edge of my bed. Outside, crows were circling the fields and causing a ruckus. In late afternoon, the gentle orange tints of the setting sun washed against the bedspread.
“Do you think of your parents, son?” she asked.
“No, not really.”
She fastened her deep brown eyes into mine. Her breath smelled of red wine and rosemary. The scent of chicken in the pot perfumed her hair.
“I’m cooking downstairs, and we’ll have some dinner. Just know that no matter what, I’m here for you to talk. Understand?”
“Yes ma’am! You don’t have to call me that. How about Annie?”
“Yes ma’am. I mean Annie……”
The eighth grade started again, and I went back to school. The Mexican workers came into town to pick the ripened apples. I would pass straw hatted kids my age in the fields while sitting on the bus dreaming of running away from Santa Tara.
Mona McKinsey was again my teacher and this year she began class by saying that everyone was so sorry about the death of my parents and how much I was loved by everyone in town.
I had once liked school, but the eighth grade was horrible. We had to study trigonometry and algebra. We had to memorize English and American history, and we were drilled in grammar and sentence structure. Every night, I spent two or three hours struggling with math, and I never seemed to catch up to the other kids. I was falling behind, and then I began to feel shy.
I started eating alone at lunchtime. In gym class, I was picked last for sports teams. My skin began to break out and every morning I would wake up and find that my cheeks were sore and ruptured with pimples and blackheads.
Girls were now growing breasts and getting bitchier. They ganged up in large groups and walked around the playground picking out targets like game hunters on an African safari.
I remember one bitch, Lisa Gettleman, who had freckles and brown teeth, but acted as if she were Cheryl Tiegs.
“Well, if it isn’t the town weirdo. When are you going to act normal again? You’re not the only kid whose parents are dead!”
Six of these girls were glued together, laughing and chewing gum and taunting me.
“I think he’s gay. That’s what he is. Do you know what a HOMO is?”
“Fuck you! Fuck off bitches!”
“Fuck you loser!”
They fled the scene of the crime and I ran to the other side of the playground and hid my head behind the thorny bushes under the cafeteria windows.
Larry took me for a walk with the three Dalmatians: Missy, Matador and Marvin. We walked up behind the barn, and into the hills behind the house. A couple of hundred feet along the trail, you could stop and see the whole town below. The air was cooler and the settlement down there seemed small and unimportant.
“It’s a toy town. Toy town with toy folks.” He said.
“What do you mean?”
“Little minds like dolls. They go about their lives and their small matters. You have to come up here and breathe some fresh air sometimes. Don’t swim in the town without coming up for air.”
“I hate this town.” I said.
“I know. I hate it too.”
“Then why did you move here?”
“I wanted to get out of the city. I had my art, and my wife. We just thought it would be better to concentrate on creating something. So Santa Tara seemed to beckon.”
“But its so dinky here.”
“But that’s the point. Annie wants to be a big fish in a small pond.”
“Why did you take me in?”
“That’s not a good answer. You don’t just take a strange kid into your home just because he has no parents.”
“You were an outcast. That’s why. We took you in because we don’t like it when people are outcasted.”
“Great. You think I’m a freak!”
“An outcast. Not a freak! You can be different and come from difficulty and it don’t make you a freak!”
Annie got her degree and now she was an architect. She threw a party and invited some of the townsfolk. Her diploma stood proudly atop the fireplace mantle.
She didn’t design houses though. There weren’t any people who would hire her. Larry did, however, know of a man in Santa Monica, a radical architect who did weird projects like building homes out of sheet metal, plywood, fencing, and old tires. This future design celebrity came out to Santa Tara one day and sat out on the front porch drinking red wine in his faded jeans and dirty ostrich boots.
“This is our boy. Sort of. Edgar come and meet Frank T. Geary.”
“How do you do Mr. Geary?”
“Just fine. Larry tells me that you hate this house.”
“Tell me why you hate it?”
“Look at it. It’s just plain and doesn’t say anything. It looks like boring people live here. These people aren’t boring—but their house looks like hell.”
Everyone laughed. Annie poured herself a glass of wine, and then Larry brought out some avocado dip. The architect dipped his potato chip into the bowl and sat down on the wooden steps of the porch, petting Missy.
Annie spoke. “We don’t want you to improve this house. We want you to transform it. I want people to drive out to Santa Tara and look at my house and say, “What were they thinking!”
“Now you don’t want all that publicity do you Annie?”
“I want whatever is going to make a name for all of us. I have a husband who needs to sell his sculptures. I need to find work at least as a draftsman and you need to get your name on TV.”
“Something for everyone, huh?” sneered the architect.
“We ought to be famous for something good here. The last time our town was in the news…….”
They had spoken the unspeakable. Crossed the line. The air turned sticky and silent. Larry took Annie aside and she went into the house.
Larry came out and exclaimed with renewed confidence:”If Santa Tara becomes famous it’s going to be from the new Hill House.”
There was talk of money in the house. Larry had an inheritance and a little cash to play around with. The architect was going to take on the project, and charge very little commission in the hope that Hill House would put his name on the map.
After I graduated from the eighth grade, Larry asked me to work with him in construction. He was going to help build the home, with guidance from his wife and the architect, and I could be the intern on the project.
The drawings for the house arrived in the mail. Annie laid the giant manila envelope on the dining room table, sliced open the cover and pulled out the blueprints.
“What is that?” I asked. I was looking at a window that was not round or square, but a trapezoid with cartoonish angles set against a façade of corrugated steel, plywood, plastic and aluminum.
“That’s our new house, Edgar. Isn’t it fantastic?”
“That’s the house? That’s the ugliest thing I have ever seen! How could you even build that!”
She laughed. She picked up the drawings and went outside to show her husband.
“Edgar thinks it’s ugly. That’s the point. We want them to hate Hill House. Then we’ll be famous.”
“You want to be so obvious! I don’t want to live in something that people make fun of.”
Larry put his hand on my shoulder. “All great art is despised when it’s first shown. I’m going to tell you about the French impressionists. Why, do you know the first time Renoir painted, people spit at his paintings? Van Gogh died broke. Picasso was despised. So were the Beatles, Frank Lloyd Wright, Marlon Brando. People– I mean average people– don’t understand great artists!”
I was getting angry. My teenage temper burst.
“You’re not building art! You’re building a house and it’s ugly and you’re pretending that you have something artful and it’s just so you can fool people so you can make money. It’s dishonest and you want to trick people!”
“Now don’t be a jerk! You don’t have the knowledge to talk about art. You will learn, but right now you have to accept that we are telling you the truth.”
Just as I entered freshman year, Annie quit her job at the high school. She had gotten some work from the architect, and had managed to build up a clientele based upon her association with the radical builder. The projects were money, they weren’t fun and they bored her. One of the assignments was to design a chicken coop for a neighbor.
But Annie and Larry’s house was now nearing completion. Just as the town had once driven by another house to see where the dead victims were, they now pulled up to gawk, to take pictures, to comment on our house. We were conspicuous and I was ashamed. Annie and Larry were town celebrities though, and they knew they had hit a nerve.
Larry came home one night, ran into the den and turned on the TV.
“Look, everyone get in here! KTLA has something about Frank’s new house in Venice. Robert Redford might move into it.”
“It looks like a retarded person’s playhouse.” I said.
Annie came in holding her glass of wine. “Yes, yes, yes! If that house can be on TV, so can ours!”
Workmen arrived every morning at 6am. It was impossible to sleep through the hammering, drilling, screaming, cussing, dust, trucks and sawing.
Mr. Geary hardly came out to the house. Great architects worked like that, Annie explained. They created, and then others did the building.
Finally, the house was complete. Standing alone in the apple orchards, with the blue-mountains as a backdrop, stood the architectural sensation of the year.
Folks could not believe the “genius” of the building. Some thought it was ridiculous, but most believers convinced the skeptical and very soon almost everyone knew that something amazing had come to Santa Tara.
“Looks like a tornado hit it.”
“Ugly as sin.”
“You don’t know beauty when you see it.”
“Where are the loonies?”
“Does that weird kid still live there?”
Mr. Geary, Larry, Annie and dozens of friends came over for the housewarming. Vegetarian chili, white wine, reefer, scented candles and the barking dogs, it was California hospitality at its most sincere. I was a part of a new wave, like Surrealism or Expressionism or Method acting, and where I slept and shit now was a hallowed ground for the aesthetes of Los Angeles, Palm Springs and Soho.
They had taken me once after my parents died, into a home which was a sanctuary from violent America. I had been ripped open, left alone, orphaned, and these two rescuers had brought me into their lives. They would protect me, and nourish me, and teach me those great values that might insure my success in life.
I had seen greatness in the new art, the house that looked like an insane asylum, but who was I to judge? As unanimous opinion spread like a virus, I realized that I was destined to live in a home that was now on the map of celebrity residences. I could not object to what I hated, I had to learn to love what everyone else desired, and eventually I would desire it myself.