THIRTYSOMETHING ANGST: A FORCE OF NATURE
What is thirtysomething angst? I didn’t know it at the time but a number of years ago I found myself in the midst of it. Recently, I was going through some trunked writing and I came across this piece. It’s from an auto biographical book dealing with my high school years in which I was trying to blend fiction and memory writing concerning the events and people that had inspired the fiction into a single book. (The book’s Introduction was posted as “It’s A Mystery.”) Therefore, it told two parallel stories which, after a while, the reader would blend into one—fact and fiction becoming indistinguishable. Although the book contains some of my best writing, no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t get this experiment to work. So, after a year I finally gave up and trunked it.
Nancy Winters, whom one of the book’s fiction characters is based, was, and probably still is, a force of nature. I have never met anyone like her—before or since. Continue reading and you will find out why. At the time of this piece she pretty much defined thirtysomething angst.
THE MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
The only way that I can possibly give an accurate picture of the girl on whom Nancy Winters is modeled is to describe two days that we spent together ten or so years after High School. I was back in New York having separated from my first wife and Nancy was in the process of divorcing her first husband. Thus, commiseration was in order.
DAY 1: December 28. Von Stroheim’s GREED was being shown at the Museum Of Modern Art. To see a silent movie, MOMA’s the place; best prints, best piano accompanist, best environment and a quiet reverential audience. Make no mistake, this is not a theatre but a temple dedicated to the worship of film. I thought Nancy Winters would appreciate this. Wrong! Ten minutes into the movie she turned to me.
“Is this going to get any better?”
“Nancy, this is the movie.”
“Then this movie is a piece of shit.”
The kind hearted describe Greed as demanding. Everyone else calls it grim and depressing. Nancy was obviously of the latter school and, so, her editorial comment brought forth a chorus of disapproving “shaaaas!” which Nancy proceeded to ignore.
“This fucking thing is torture. I want to leave.”
“Nancy, you need to give yourself to it. Just be patient.”
“Ten minutes and that’s it. If it doesn’t get better, we’re out of here.”
We were sitting in the middle of the orchestra which meant that leaving would entail getting up and forcing a score of irate film worshippers onto their feet so that we could pass in front of them on our way to the aisle. Then there would be the long trek up the aisle and the untold number of disapproving expressions which, even in the dark, would be announcing, “This is GREED! What did you expect, Animal House.” As I myself was a worshiper, I dreaded this disapproval for it would mean that I had become the most despised of all attendees who come to the temple. I had distracted other worshipers from devoting their full attention to the sacred screen before us.
Nancy had no such qualms. She was there to have a good time and therefore, probably would have preferred Animal House. Annoyingly, she did not wait the agreed upon ten minutes and almost immediately began mumbling comments loud enough to bring on even more “shaaas.”
“Christ!.. Oh my God! People really want to see this shit!….I can’t believe that you actually dragged me here…this is torture.”
Because she wouldn’t shut up, I had to make a decision and make it fast. Was it to be the humiliation of the aisle or the continued shame of the shaaa’s?
“My God”, I thought to myself; “I think I saw Richard Schickel sitting along that aisle.”
Humiliation beat out shame and turning to her I said in an extremely contained voice, “Get the fuck up.” Worse, as we did get up there was actually a little muffled applause and a relieved voice or two exclaiming, “Finally!” As we made our way to the aisle, where each person who got up to let us pass made it a point to glare. One even said “Good!” to which Nancy replied, “Suffer!” I won’t mention anything about the walk up that aisle except to say that it was perhaps one of the most embarrassing moments of my life.
With anyone else except Nancy Winters, following a thorough tongue lashing I would have left them outside that museum and never spoken to them again. But as I started in on her, Nancy gave back what she got.
“Come on, be honest with yourself. That film was a horror.”
“You’re not meant to have a good time. You’re meant to study it. It’s one of the greatest films ever made. It’s ART!”
“Are you hearing yourself? Are you actually hearing what you just said? What a load of bullshit.”
She started laughing so hard that that her peals of laugher could be heard all the way down West 54th street. She was right, I was being a pompous ass. Pretty soon I was laughing right along with her as the two of us headed for Broadway to enjoy probably the best time that I had since returning to New York.
JOHN KESSLER’S HOUSE
DAY 2: A few weeks later. Nancy and I were invited to a small dinner being given by John Kessler’s parents for John’s cousin and his wife. The wife was a real piece of business. The stereo-typical, self-absorbed, domineering Jewish American Princess who doesn’t let her husband talk unless he is agreeing with her. It was a scene right out of Good-bye Columbus. The woman had just earned her master’s and she used this—in her case at least—rather dubious achievement to support every piece of pseudo-intellectual hogwash she could come up with. “Well, when I was studying for my masters…” was a mantra she used on us like Simon Lagree used his whip. I kid you not, it was really that awful.
The couple, John, John’s parents and I were already at the table when Nancy arrived 30 minutes late. Nancy was always late. It should also be noted that Nancy was also always beautiful. So beautiful, in fact, that even at 30 she could still turn heads. More importantly she knew exactly what to wear to turn those heads and that night she was wearing it. Tastefully fitted tight black slacks with a low-cut silver colored wavy silk blouse reveling sufficient cleavage to give the impression that if one were lucky enough to be watching, a breast might came out for some air.
Nancy kissed me and John hello, sat at the table and within a minute or two I concluded that Miss. Nancy Winters was seriously drunk. Even in high school this girl could put away a fifth as if she was drinking a glass of milk. Thus, the real barometer of how much Nancy had drunk was always how outgoing she became. Tonight she was outgoing to the extreme.
From the moment that she sat down until dinner was over Nancy dominated that table and as a result a boring little dinner party came to life. Talking to John’s mother about raising children—Nancy had a six-year-old daughter—she got John’s mother talking. Talking politics she got the men talking. Talking about this and talking about that she got us all talking.
While Nancy was holding stage center, out of the corner of my eye, I could see our Jewish American Princess growing impatient and quite annoyed as it was becoming obvious to one and all that tonight she wasn’t running the show. She didn’t like this, didn’t like it all. So, when the woman did speak, it was usually dismissive of something that Nancy had just said. But, Nancy, knowing what the woman was up to, would rebuttal with an amusing comment that had us all laughing and, then, moving onto another subject left the woman behind eating her dust. Masters or no masters this woman was outclassed and didn’t have the smarts or humility to figure it out.
But what really ate at this particular Jewish American princess was her husband’s sudden transformation. Eyes darting to Nancy’s breasts when he knew no one was looking; he lighted up every time Nancy asked him a question or listened to what he had to say. Caught up in Nancy’s exuberance, physical allure and magnetic personality the man was coming to life while at the same time completely ignoring his wife. By dinner’s end wifey was quietly seething.
Following dinner while hubby and wifey stayed at the table so that he could quietly un-ruffle her feathers, John and his father went upstairs to talk business. As Nancy was helping John’s mother carry the dishes into the kitchen, I walked into the study and sat in one of the big chairs. Not long after, Nancy suddenly plopped on my lap, wrapped her arms around me and gave me a big fat kiss on the lips.
“I’m bombed as hell, and don’t know what the fuck is happening. How am I doing?”
“Great, babe, just great.”
“Isn’t that woman a real bitch? Like who gives a shit about her fucking masters.”
NANCY WINTER’S HOUSE
Later that night when Nancy drove home John and I followed. Although by then she had considerably sobered, even sober Nancy drove like a mad person and John wanted to make sure that she got home in one piece. We should have saved ourselves the trouble. Since Miss. Winters believed that yellow meant green she immediately shot ahead of us and by the time the two us reached her house, Nancy was standing in the middle of the street shouting at a surprised and somewhat intimidated police officer. Having seen how Nancy swung into her driveway—as I mentioned, she drove like a mad person—foolish him had decided that a lecture was in order. Wrong person! Wrong night!
Nancy knew the law. She was no longer driving, and therefore whether she was inebriated or not, it was no longer an issue for this “cop”. Apparently, the cop had said the wrong thing and, now, Nancy was letting him have it with both barrels. Ouch! Then, in the middle of this exchange Nancy’s X walked out of the house—he was there babysitting—and tried to calm down his soon-to-be former wife. Wrong person! Wrong night! Nancy turned on him and gave him a tongue lashing that had me cringing because every word of it was the brutal truth. It should be noted that her X had been one of the toughest kids in our high school. Although he was capable of putting almost anyone in the hospital, up against his x-wife he was milk toast. Earlier, after hearing about all their domestic problems, I had asked Nancy why she had married the man in the first place. You couldn’t have found a more unlikely couple.
“Because my mother told me not to. She said it would be the biggest mistake of my life. She was absolutely right, but she should have kept her mouth shut about it. She knew how I would react.”
And that was Nancy.