Beginnings & Endings

Chapter 1

 The Reluctant Ganymede

I have had infatuations whose extremes scare off the recipient. It has saved me time and time again.  There is nothing better than to hold someone in one’s mind in  a mantra of longing while remaining alone with a painting in progress- a total luxury!  The one that is even better is to be discarded by a lover. Then an elixir of  passionate despair releases the most uninhibited acts of painting. Rip the scab; indulge in the descent, and cross  the river where all great painting happens. Is that  too much for you? Then you can’t follow where I go. All great adventurers understand the myth before they become it. It is not romantic. It’s about process. Once you allow yourself to be mad, you can enter the mystery.

But I’m  going a little too far from my story. Nothing of that sort  happened between Pam and me. We were simply friends, or so I  thought.

There is much  that brings me sorrow when I review in my mind Pam as she shrunk from me. For I use that word literally as well as figuratively, just so you are  clear about how I viewed her disappearing act. And it would be a while before I understood the degree to which Pam hated me.I didn’t understand that I was to blame.

If anybody in  her family was as determined as her grandfather, it was Pam.  However successful she was in presenting a gentle face to  the world, it was a  masquerade. She was skillful in  disguising her domineering side while lulling her target into emotional dependence. I certainly was fooled, yet even  when I  understood her game it was not easy for me to break  from the yoke of my sympathy towards her.

Obviously I  was intrigued by her situation, and she used that as bait when it pleased her and incrimination when it didn’t. That this played out between us off  and on for two decades had to  do with our affinity for the other on the one hand and  chance on the other. But the bottom line was that I would not be dominated,  nor intimidated by guilt into submission,  nor bought. She would do that to others but not with me.

Worse, my  belief in myself as an artist would cast a shadow of  incrimination upon her incapacity to find a worthy goal. Pam  foreclosed the process of becoming one  with her birthright  and transforming it into her own destiny. Her willfulness precluded her entering a receptive understanding of the  potential available to her.  She was stubborn and would not bend. She only knew force and consequently spited herself.

For most of  us our most attractive moments are due to being happy deep  inside. So it was with Pam when we first met. At seventeen she was just entering the  world at large as her own person,  and all that was good was before her.

She had  already a grand future in mind to become an actress in the  theatre. Being born a princess along with the natural enthusiasm of youth, there had never been  any episode in her life to make her believe she wouldn’t fulfill that destiny.  Everything was going as planned as she methodically  approached her goal: the  summer before she had apprenticed  with Jack and Richard, and the following spring she stared  in the senior class play at the Chapin School to everyone’s applause.

Obviously the  special reserved seating for her grandparents and family  attending that performance to which I was invited indicated  that everybody at that exclusive  school knew who buttered their bread. I suspect that a lump sum was duly tendered so  that this nice Jewish girl could enjoy the benefits of this old money,  waspish enclave. Pam was not blind to the  understanding of her special status and how these things really worked.

She also understood the social aspirations of her grandmother Mitzie, who was not thrilled when years before Si chose Pam’s very middleclass, earth-bound  mother as his bride. Possibly she  was more pleased with Si’s second marriage to the tall,  sophisticated, waspish Victoria, an architectural historian in her own right.

I suppose  Pam’s grandfather bought Conde Nast for the glamour  it bestowed upon Mitzie as much as it was a wise diversification from investments in his  newspaper chain that brought in the bulk of their revenues. Si’s brother Donald would eventually run that part of the business, leaving Si to attend to the more glamorous properties.

And, of  course, Si had his own ambitions for Pam’s future. One  evening in the grand painting salon he mused out loud the wish that maybe the then unmarried  Prince Charles might be  interested, to which Pam dismissed: “Oh, I’m sure that’s  just who Prince Charles is looking for- a nice Jewish girl!”

That was the same year that Patti Hearst became a kidnapped fugitive, while Pam danced at some dive in New Jersey. At her mother’s on Park Avenue she previewed for us her costume. Her mother humored her willful child and looked  over to me in dismay, possibly afraid of more alarming demonstrations. Trying reason, she suggested it a silly idea. Pam, pleased with herself was amused by our chagrin.

At diner on  East Seventieth Street, Si announced that Newhouse  Newspapers had just surpassed the Hearsts. Si was beaming. I  said to myself what was I doing  here caught in the silent  charade of two generations’ incomprehension of the other.

Fortunately  Si was oblivious to his daughter’s rebelliousness though he was concerned over his youngest son’s languishing in indecision and disillusionment.  Pam, like her saturnine, ill-stared brother Winnie, who would spend his whole life  resisting entreaties to take his place in the family fold, was dismissive of their  father’s obedience in living the life his father S.I. had decided. (The family referred to Pam’s grandfather by his initials.) Si had become a clone in their ungrateful eyes , while his art collecting was seen as the dubious enterprise of self-aggrandizement.

They were  quietly cynical and in truth contemptuous. It all was too much of an embarrassment- that and Mitzie giving Joe Papp a million dollars: “Do you know how much a million dollars is!”

Pam just refused to condone what was being presented to her. For she  was already on guard against being pegged a Newhouse. She  would become quietly  outraged that any expectations be  expected of her or that a responsible concept of purpose  come with her privilege. Her eventual anger towards me was  due to my  never letting go of who she was. Pam only saw her  family’s status an imposition to her individuality, when it was the very tool to assert her creative side. The unusual  maturity that I had thought she had possessed was only a superficial gloss- a composure that hid an unappreciative child.

Once at a  happy moment Pam showed me a luminous set of black and white  photos of her with her father. Si was sitting in a pivotal spot as Pam twirled around  him in orbit. The shots came from  a view just above their heads. It was a delightful series of  father and daughter charmingly teamed together. Never probably has  either been captured with more glowing pleasure  on their faces as in these photos taken in Richard Avedon’s  studio. If I could have a memento, it would be one of  these  photos taken at a pristine moment the year before we met. It  showed them simply as the happy father and daughter with whom I was made welcome. How  long did that celebration last-  not much longer than my brief ride past them.

Something  happened that changed the glow of certainty on Pam’s face.  She failed her audition for acceptance into the drama department at Carnegie Tech. Until  then nothing had stood in  her way. It soured her, and hardness came to the fore. The  Pisces negative side swam against herself. Happiness that before had  softened her expression became haughtiness and acerbity. She would not disguise that from me; she did not  care to. From then on her actions would demonstrate  self-defeat. She could not sustain her enthusiasm for her  projects if her first attempts did not succeed. Perhaps her  self-appraisals were accurate. But then  again, maybe she just didn’t understand reading between the lines where all acts of creativity get triggered. It could not be forced, only received.

 

When I had first met Pam in the autumn of 1973, I had been sporting a mustache that for over six years had become part of my  visual persona.

I think it softened me. Over the years it got fuller and fuller. I  shaved it off right after I broke off with her the first time. I had become progressively demoralized  and  disenchanted. We were at the entrance hall of her mother’s  apartment when I broached the subject. Pam must have seen that I was unhappy, but I think she was  unprepared when I  suggested that maybe we should see less of the other.

“Then very well! If that’s what you’ve decided.” She started closing  down and became cold as ice. Then it became my turn as I  left rather shaken.

 

When she came  down to East Seventh Street, Jack and Richard’s portrait was  tacked to the wall of an apartment that she had never been in before. I had moved  from the dark, dingy one across the  street. It had been that long since we had seen each other,  and a far different Pam came before me. She was much broader  and  coarser than the gentle Pam that I knew. She had gone  into athletics and stood solid and square, self-assured as  she prepared to get her way. Then she quickly  curbed her arrogance. She wanted something from me. She knew well enough not to push me into a corner.

When I stated  my price she was startled, and drawing a deep breath was  determined to have the painting. But her annoyance was clearly obvious. I would  take the painting rolled up on the subway to her mother’s and stretch it there. We would not  see each other again for another two years.

When we had  renewed our friendship, I would be shocked by the pervading unhappiness that guided her. She had become truly jaded in cynicism. I could only  feel sadness. She would be like  someone sleepwalking who did not wish to be woken, so one  was careful not to wake her.

There had  been an instance after Pam returned from Ithica upon  graduating from Cornell that brought us together. She was  very needy of my company after one of  those harsh lessons in life and very much shaken as she sat beside me in the back seat of the car as her mother and stepfather drove us to their country house in the  Hamptons. It was one of those  sprawling Tudor mansions with a huge front lawn behind a tall hedge where Pam’s mother had dreamt of hosting a  summertime wedding. But that wish would be denied her.

Everyone was subdued as we drove there in the car, and periodically in  conversation her mother turned to look at the two of us side by side. Pam was  unusually docile and appreciative of my  presence. I imagined her mother wished something more would happen between us. But as much as I enjoyed the renewed   closeness, I was in the throws of a romance that precluded anything other than my being a compassionate friend.

At that point  that’s all we could ever be- all that I would ever want it  to be. Pam for her part was working out her own unfinished  private life. So it was not the time  to be anything other than emotionally supportive. We would remain sympathetic friends for the next few years while she had her babies. Then the current changed, and Pam began her swim away from me.

SELF MERCURY 1986 small

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