Mailer / TOUGH GUYS DON'T DANCE
At dawn, if it was low tide on the flats, I would awaken to the chatter of gulls. On a bad morning, I used to feel as if I had died and the birds were feeding on my heart. Later, after I had dozed for a while, the tide would come up over the sand as swiftly as a shadow descends on the hills when the sun lowers behind the ridge, and before long the first swells would pound on the bulkhead of the deck below my bedroom window, the shock rising in one fine fragment of time from the sea wall to the innermost passages of my flesh. Boom! the waves would go against the wall, and I could have been alone on a freighter on a dark sea.
In fact, I was awakening alone in bed, on the twenty-fourth drear morning after my wife had decamped. That evening, still alone, I would celebrate the twenty-fourth night. It must have proved quite an occasion. Over days to come, when I would be searching for a clue to my several horrors, I would attempt to peer through the fogbanks of memory to recall just what acts I might or might not have committed on all of that twenty-fourth night.
Little came back to me, however, of what I did after I got out of bed. It may have been a day like all the others. There is a joke about a man who is asked on his first visit to a new doctor to describe his daily routine. He promptly offers: “I get up, I brush my teeth, I vomit, I wash my face . . .” at which point the doctor inquires, “You vomit every day?”
“Oh, yes, Doctor,” replies the patient. “Doesn’t everyone?”
I was that man. Each morning, after breakfast, I could not light a cigarette. I had no more than to put one in my mouth and was ready to retch. The foul plenitude of losing a wife was embracing me.
For twelve years I had been trying to give up smoking. As Mark Twain said—and who does not know the remark?—“It’s nothing to stop. I’ve quit a hundred times.” I used to feel I had said it myself, for certainly I had tried on ten times ten occasions, once for a year, once for nine months, once for four months. Over and over again I gave them up, a hundred times over the years, but always I went back. For in my dreams, sooner or later, I struck a match, brought flame to the tip, then took in all my hunger for existence with the first puff. I felt impaled on desire itself—those fiends trapped in my chest and screaming for one drag. Change the given!
So I learned what addiction is. A beast had me by the throat and its vitals were in my lungs. I wrestled that devil for twelve years and sometimes I beat him back. Usually it was at great loss to myself, and great loss to others. For when I did not smoke, I grew violent. My reflexes lived in the place where the match used to strike, and my mind would lose those bits of knowledge that keep us serene (at least if we are American). In the throes of not smoking, I might rent a car and never notice whether it was a Ford or a Chrysler. That can be seen as the beginning of the end. On one occasion, when I did not smoke, I went on a long trip with a girl I loved named Madeleine to meet up with a married couple who wanted to have a weekend of wife-swapping. We indulged them. Driving back, Madeleine and I had a quarrel, and I wrecked the car. Madeleine’s insides were badly hurt. I went back to smoking.
I used to say: “It’s easier to give up the love of your life than to kick cigarettes,” and suspect I was right in such a remark. But then last month, twenty-four days ago, my wife took off. Twenty-four days ago. I learned a little more about addiction. It may be simpler to give up love than dispense with your smokes, but when it comes to saying goodbye to love-and-hate—ah, that reliable standby of the head shrinkers, the love-hate relationship!—why, ending your marriage is easily as difficult as relinquishing your nicotine, and much the same, for I can tell you that after twelve years, I had gotten to hate the filthy stuff just so much as a bitter wife. Even the first inhale of the morning (whose sure bliss once seemed the ineradicable reason I could never give up tobacco) had now become a convulsion of coughing. No more might remain than the addiction itself, but addiction is still a signature on the bottom line of your psyche.
That is how it was with my marriage, now that Patty Lareine was gone. If I had loved her once while knowing her frightful faults—even as we smoke like happy fiends and shrug away the thought of a lung cancer still decades away, so did I always perceive that Patty Lareine could be my doom around the bend of some treacherous evening—yet, so be it, I adored her. Who knew? Love might inspire us to transcend our dire fevers. That was years ago. Now, for the last year and more, we had been trying to kick the habit of each other. Intimate detestations had grown each season until they rooted out all the old pockets of good humor. I had come to dislike her as much as my morning cigarette. Which, indeed, I had at last given up. After twelve years, I felt finally free of the largest addiction of my life. That is, until the night she left. That was the night I discovered that losing my wife was a heavier trip.
Before her departure, I had not had a cigarette for all of a year. Patty Lareine and I might, on the consequence, fight ferociously, but I was quits at last with my Camels. Small hope. Two hours after she drove off, I took up one coffin nail from a half-empty pack Patty left behind, and was, in two days of battling myself, hooked once again. Now that she was gone, I began each day with the most horrendous convulsion of my spirit. God, I choked in cataracts of misery. For with the return of this bummer habit came back every bit of the old longing for Patty Lareine. Each cigarette smelled in my mouth like an ashtray, but it was not tar I sniffed, rather my own charring flesh. Such is the odor of funk and loss.
Well, as I indicated, I do not remember how I spent my Twenty-fourth Day. My clearest recollection is yawping over that first cigarette, strangling the smoke down. Later, after four or five, I was sometimes able to inhale in peace, thereby cauterizing what I had come to decide (with no great respect for myself) must be the wound of my life. How much more I longed for Patty Lareine than I wished to. In those twenty-four days I did my best to see no one, I stayed at home, I did not always wash, I drank as if the great river of our blood is carried by bourbon, not water, I was—to put a four-letter word on it—a mess.
In summer it might have been more obvious to others what a sorry hour I was in, but this was late in the fall, the days were gray, the town deserted, and on many a shortening November afternoon you could have taken a bowling ball and rolled it down the long one-way lane of our narrow main street (a true New England alley) without striking a pedestrian or a car. The town withdrew into itself, and the cold, which was nothing remarkable when measured with a thermometer (since the seacoast off Massachusetts is, by Fahrenheit, less frigid than the stony hills west of Boston) was nonetheless a cold sea air filled with the bottomless chill that lies at the cloistered heart of ghost stories. Or, indeed, at many a séance. In truth, there had been a séance Patty and I attended at the end of September with disconcerting results: short and dreadful, it ended with a shriek. I suspect that part of the reason I was now bereft of Patty Lareine was that something intangible but indisputably repulsive had attached itself to our marriage in that moment.
After she left, there was a week when the weather never shifted. One chill morose November sky went into another. The place turned gray before one’s eyes. Back in summer, the population had been thirty thousand and doubled on weekends. It seemed as if every vehicle on Cape Cod chose to drive down the four-lane state highway that ended at our beach. Provincetown was as colorful then as St. Tropez, and as dirty by Sunday evening as Coney Island. In the fall, however, with everyone gone, the town revealed its other presence. Now the population did not boil up daily from thirty thousand to sixty, but settled down to its honest sediment, three thousand souls, and on empty weekday afternoons you might have said the true number of inhabitants must be thirty men and women, all hiding.
There could be no other town like it. If you were sensitive to crowds, you might expire in summer from human propinquity. On the other hand, if you were unable to endure loneliness, the vessel of your person could fill with dread during the long winter. Martha’s Vineyard, not fifty miles to the south and west, had lived through the upsurge of mountains and their erosion, through the rise and fall of oceans, the life and death of great forests and swamps. Dinosaurs had passed over Martha’s Vineyard, and their bones were compacted into the bedrock. Glaciers had come and gone, sucking the island to the north, pushing it like a ferry to the south again. Martha’s Vineyard had fossil deposits one million centuries old. The northern reach of Cape Cod, however, on which my house sat, the land I inhabited—that long curving spit of shrub and dune that curves in upon itself in a spiral at the tip of the Cape—had only been formed by wind and sea over the last ten thousand years. That cannot amount to more than a night of geological time.
Perhaps this is why Provincetown is so beautiful. Conceived at night (for one would swear it was created in the course of one dark storm) its sand flats still glistened in the dawn with the moist primeval innocence of land exposing itself to the sun for the first time. Decade after decade, artists came to paint the light of Provincetown, and comparisons were made to the lagoons of Venice and the marshes of Holland, but then the summer ended and most of the painters left, and the long dingy undergarment of the gray New England winter, gray as the spirit of my mood, came down to visit. One remembered then that the land was only ten thousand years old, and one’s ghosts had no roots. We did not have old Martha’s Vineyard’s fossil remains to subdue each spirit, no, there was nothing to domicile our specters who careened with the wind down the two long streets of our town which curved together around the bay like two spinsters on their promenade to church.
If this is a fair sample of how my mind worked on the Twenty-fourth Day, it is obvious I was feeling introspective, long-moldering, mournful and haunted. Twenty-four days of being without a wife you love and hate and certainly fear is guaranteed to leave you cleaving to her like the butt end of addiction itself. How I hated the taste of cigarettes now that I was smoking again.
It seems to me that I walked the length of the town that day and back again to my house—her house—it was Patty Lareine’s money that had bought our home. Three miles along Commercial Street I walked, and back through all the shank of that gray afternoon, but I do not remember whom I spoke to, nor how many or few might have passed in a car and invited me to ride. No, I remember I walked to the very end of town, out to where the last house meets the place on the beach where the Pilgrims first landed in America. Yes, it was not at Plymouth but here that they landed.
I contemplate the event on many a day. Those Pilgrims, having crossed the Atlantic, encountered the cliffs of Cape Cod as their first sight of land. On that back shore the surf, at its worst, can break in waves ten feet high. On windless days the peril is worse; a sailing vessel can be driven in by the relentless tides to founder on the shoals. It is not the rocks but the shifting sands that sink you off Cape Cod. What fear those Pilgrims must have known on hearing the dull eternal boom of the surf. Who would dare come near that shore with boats such as theirs? They turned south, and the white deserted coast remained unrelenting—no hint of a cove. Just the long straight beach. So they tried going to the north and in a day saw the shore bend west, then continue to curve until it even turned to the south. What trick of the land was this? Now they were sailing to the east, three quarters of the way around from the north. Were they circumnavigating an ear of the sea? They came around the point, and dropped anchor in the lee. It was a natural harbor, as protected, indeed, as the inside of one’s ear. From there, they put down small boats and rowed to shore. A plaque commemorates the landing. It is by the beginning of the breakwater that now protects our marshes at the end of town from the final ravages of the sea. There is where you come to the end of the road, to the farthest place a tourist can ride out toward the tip of Cape Cod and encounter the landing place of the Pilgrims. It was only weeks later, after much bad weather and the recognition that there was little game to hunt and few fields to till in these sandy lands, that the Pilgrims sailed west across the bay to Plymouth.
Here, however, was where they first landed with all the terror and exaltation of encountering the new land. New land it was, not ten thousand years old. A strew of sand. How many Indian ghosts must have howled through the first nights of their encampment.
I think of the Pilgrims whenever I walk to these emerald-green marshes at the end of town. Beyond, the coastal dunes are so low that one can see ships along the horizon even when the water is not visible. The flying bridges of sport-fishing boats seem to travel in caravans along the sand. If I have a drink in me, I begin to laugh, because across from the plaque to the Pilgrims, not fifty yards away, there where the United States began, stands the entrance to a huge motel. If it is no uglier than any other vast motel, it is certainly no prettier, and the only homage the Pilgrims get is that it is called an Inn. Its asphalt parking lot is as large as a football field. Pay homage to the Pilgrims.
No more than this, no matter how I press and force my mind, is what I remember of how I spent my Twenty-fourth afternoon. I went out, I walked across the town, I brooded on the geology of our shores, loaned my imagination to the Pilgrims, and laughed at the Provincetown Inn. Then I suppose I must have walked on home. The gloom in which I lay in the grasp of my sofa was timeless. I had spent many hours in these twenty-four days staring at the wall, but what I do recollect, what I cannot ignore, is that in the evening I got into my Porsche and drove up Commercial Street very slowly, as if afraid that this night I might run into a child—the evening was foggy—and I did not stop until I came to The Widow’s Walk. There, not far from the Provincetown Inn, is a dark stained pine-paneled room whose foundations are gently slapped in the rising of the tide, for one of the charms of Provincetown I have neglected to pass along is that not only my house—her house!—but most of the buildings on the bay side of Commercial Street are kin to ships at high tide when the bulkheads on which they rest are half submerged by the sea.
It was such a tide tonight. The waters rose as languorously as if we were in the tropics, but I knew the sea was cold. Behind the good windows of this dark room, the fire on its wide hearth was worthy of a postcard, and my wooden chair was full of approaching winter, inasmuch as it had a shelf of the kind they used in study halls a hundred years ago: a large round platter of oak lifted on its hinges to enable you to sit down, after which it ensconced itself under your right elbow to serve as a table for your drink.
The Widow’s Walk might as well have been created for me. On lonely fall evenings I liked to entertain the conceit that I was some modern tycoon-pirate of prodigious wealth who kept the place for his amusement. The large restaurant at the other end might be rarely entered by me, but the small bar of this paneled lounge equipped with its barmaid was all for myself. Secretly I must have believed that no one else had a right to enter. By November, the illusion was not difficult to protect. On quiet weekday nights most of the diners, good senior Wasps from Brewster and Dennis and Orleans, out for a smack of excitement, found their thrills in the sheer audacity of daring to drive all of thirty or forty miles to Provincetown itself. The echo of summer kept our evil reputation intact. Those fine Scotch studies in silver—which is to say, each Wasp professor emeritus and retired corporate executive—did not look to tarry in a bar. They headed for the Dining Room. Besides, one look at me in my dungaree jacket was enough to steer them to the food. “No, dear,” their wives would say, “let’s have our drinks at the table. We’re starved!”
“Yeah, baby,” I would murmur to myself, “starved.”
Over these twenty-four days, the Lounge at The Widow’s Walk had become my castle keep. I would sit by the window, study the fire, and watch the changes in the tide, feeling after four bourbons, ten cigarettes, and a dozen crackers with cheese (my dinner!) that I was, at least, a wounded lord living by the sea.
The compensation for misery, self-pity, and despair is that fed enough drinks, the powers of imagination return with force. No matter that they are lopsided under such auspices; they return. In this room my drinks were well stoked by a submissive bar girl doubtless terrified of me although I never said anything more provocative than “Another bourbon, please.” Yet, since she worked in a bar, I understood her fear. I had worked in a bar myself for many years. I could respect her conviction that I was dangerous. That was apparent in the concentration of my good manners. In the days when I used to be a bartender, I had watched over a few customers like myself. They never bothered you until they did. Then the room could get smashed.
I did not see myself as belonging to such a category. But how could I say that the waitress’s dire expectation did not serve me well? I received no more attention than I wanted and every bit I might need. The manager, a young and pleasant fellow, much set on maintaining the tone of the establishment, had now known me for more than a few years, and as long as I had been accompanied by my rich wife, considered me a rare example of local gentry no matter how obstreperous Patty Lareine might get on drink: Wealth is worth that much! Now that I was by myself, he greeted me when I came in, said goodbye when I went out, and had obviously made the proprietorial decision to leave me strictly alone. As a corollary, few visitors were steered into the Lounge. Night after night, I could get drunk in the manner I chose.
Not until now have I been ready to confess that I am a writer. From Day One, however, no new writing had been done, not in more than three weeks. To see one’s situation as ironic is, we may agree, no joy, but irony becomes a dungeon when the circle is closed. The cigarettes I gave up at such cost to my ability to write had, on this last return to the domain of nicotine—it is no less than a domain—cut off all ability to come forth with even one new paragraph. In order not to smoke, I had had to learn to write all over again. Now that I could manage such a feat, the return to cigarettes seemed to have tamped out every literary spark. Or was it the departure of Patty Lareine?
These days I would take my notebook with me to The Widow’s Walk, and when drunk enough, would succeed in adding a line or two to words I had set down in less desperate hours. On those random occasions, therefore, when visitors were actually sharing a predinner drink in the same public room with me, my small sounds of appreciation at some felicity of syntax or my bored grunts before a phrase that now seemed as dead as an old drinking friend’s repetitions must have sounded strange and animal, as unsettling (given the paneled gentility of this Lounge) as cries made by a hound absolutely indifferent to any nearby human presence.
Can I claim I was not playing to the house when I would frown over a drunken note I could hardly read, and then chuckle in pleasure as soon as these alcoholic squiggles metamorphosed into a legible text? “There,” I would mutter to myself, “studies!”
I had just made out part of a title, a bona-fide title, sufficiently resonant for a book: In Our Wild—Studies among the Sane by Timothy Madden.
Now, an exegesis commenced on my name. In Our Wild—Studies among the Sane by Mac Madden? By Tim Mac Madden? By Two-Mac Madden? I began to giggle. My waitress, poor overalerted mouse, was able to flick a look at me only by setting herself resolutely in profile.
Yet I was giggling truly. Old jokes about my name were returning. I felt one rush of love for my father. Ah, the sweet sorrow of loving a parent. It is as pure as the taste of a sourball when you are five. Douglas “Dougy” Madden—Big Mac to his friends and to his only child, myself, once called Little Mac, or Mac-Mac, then Two-Mac and Toomey and back to Tim. Following the morphology of my name through the coils of booze, I giggled. Each change of name had been an event in my life—if I could only recover the events.
In my heart I was now trying to launch a first set of phrases for the initial essay. (What a title! In Our Wild—Studies among the Sane by Tim Madden.) I might speak of the Irish and the reason they drink so much. Could it be the testosterone? The Irish presumably had more than other men, my father did for certain, and it made them unmanageable. Maybe the hormone asked to be dissolved in some liquor.
I sat with pencil poised, my sip of bourbon near to scorching my tongue. I was not ready to swallow. This title was about all that had come to me since Day One. I could merely ponder the waves. The waves outside the lounge-room window on this chill November night had become equal in some manner to the waves in my mind. My thoughts came to a halt and I felt the disappointment of profound drunken vision. Just as you waddle up to the true relations of the cosmos, your vocabulary blurs.
It was then I grew aware that I was no longer alone in my realm of The Widow’s Walk. A blonde remarkably like Patty Lareine was sitting with her escort not ten feet away. If I had no other clue to the profound submersions of my conscious state, it was enough that she had entered with her bucko, a nicely tailored country-tweed-and-flannels, silver-winged-pompadour, suntanned-lawyer–type fellow, yes, the lady had sat down with her sheik, and since they now had drinks in front of them, must have been talking (and in unabashed voices, hers at least) for a considerable period. Five minutes? Ten minutes? I realized that they had sized me up, and for whatever reason, had the confidence, call it the gall, to ignore me. Whether this insularity derived from some not easily visible proficiency the man might call upon in the martial arts—Tweed-and-Flannels looked more like a tennis player than a Black Belt—or whether they were so wealthy a couple that nothing unpleasant ever walked up to them in the way of strangers (unless it was burglary of the mansion) or whether they were exhibiting simple insensitivity to the charged torso, head and limbs sitting so near them, I do not know, but the woman, at least, was talking loudly, and as if I did not exist. What an insult at this beleaguered hour!
Then I understood. From their conversation I could soon divine that they were Californians, just as loose and unselfconscious in deportment as tourists from New Jersey visiting a bar in Munich. What could they know of how they were degrading me?
As my attention went through those ponderous maneuvers of which only a human in deep depression can speak—the brain lurches like an elephant backed into its stall—I climbed at last out of the dungeon of my massive self-absorption to take a look at them, and thereby came to realize that their indifference to me was neither arrogance, confidence, nor innocence but, to the contrary, theatrical to the hilt. A set of poses. The man was highly keyed to the likelihood that a glowering presence such as mine was hardly to be ignored as a source of real trouble, and the woman, true to my premise that blondes believe it obscene not to comport themselves as angels or bitches—each option must be equally available—was stampeding along. She wished to provoke me. She wanted to test her beau’s courage. No mean surrogate was this lady for my own Patty Lareine.
But let me describe the woman. It’s worth the look. She must have been fifteen years older than my wife, and thereby, not far from fifty, but what a splendid approach! There used to be a porny star named Jennifer Welles who had the same appearance. She had large, well-turned promiscuous breasts—one nipple tilted to the east, one stared out to the west—a deep navel, a woman’s round belly, a sweet buoyant spread of buttocks, and dark pubic hair. That was what encouraged the prurience to stir in those who bought a ticket to watch Jennifer Welles. Any lady who chooses to become a blonde is truly blonde.
Now, the face of my new neighbor was, like the porny star, Jennifer Welles, undeniably appealing. She had a charming upturned nose and a full pout on the mouth, as spoiled and imperious as the breath of sex. Her nostrils flared, her fingernails—the Liberation could go screw itself!—were scandalously well-manicured with a silver varnish to catch the silver-blue toning above her eyes. What a piece! An anachronism. The most complacent kind of West Coast money. Santa Barbara? La Jolla? Pasadena? Wherever it was, she must certainly come from an enclave of bridge players. Perfectly groomed blondes remain as quintessential to such places as mustard on pastrami. Corporate California had moved right into my psyche.
I can hardly describe what an outrage this seemed. As well paste a swastika outside the office of the United Jewish Appeal. This blonde reminded me so directly of Patty Lareine that I felt obliged to strike. Do what? I could hardly say. At the very least, gore their mood.
So I listened. She was one immaculately dressed full-bodied lady who liked to drink. She could take them back to back. Scotch, of course. Chivas Regal. “Chivvies,” she called them. “Miss,” she told the waitress, “give me another Chivvies. Lots of diamonds.” That was her word for ice, ha, ha.
“Of course you’re bored with me,” she said to her man in a loud and most self-certain voice, as if she could measure to the drop just how much sex she might be sitting upon. A powerhouse. There are voices that resonate into one’s secret strings like tuning forks. Hers was one. It is crude to say, but one would do much for such a voice. There was always the hope that its moist little relative below would offer something of the same for your preserves.
Patty Lareine had such a voice. She could be diabolical with her lip around a Very Dry Martini (which, of course, count on it, she would insist on calling a Marty Seco). “It was gin,” she’d say in all the husky enthusiasm of her hot-to-trot larynx, “it was gin as done the old lady in. Yes, asshole,” oh, and she would include you most tenderly in this jeer, as if, by God, even you, asshole, could feel all right if you were being kept around her. But then, Patty Lareine belonged to another kind of wealth, strictly derivative. Her second husband, Meeks Wardley Hilby III (whom once she most certainly tried to persuade me to murder) was old Tampa money and she drilled him good but not between the eyes, rather up his financial fundament thanks to her divorce lawyer, a whiz bomb (who, I used to assume to my pain, was probably massaging the back wall of her belly every night for a time, but then, one cannot expect less of a dedicated divorce lawyer—it pays off in presenting the witness). Although Patty Lareine was trim to bursting in her build, and in those days, peppy as a spice jar, he modulated the moxie of her personality down to more delicate herbs. With the aid of intense coaching (he was one of the first to use a video camera for rehearsal) he showed her how to be tremulous on the stand and thereby turn the judgmental eye into—forgive me!—one fat old judge melting away. Before they were done, her marital peccadilloes (and her husband had witnesses) came out as the maidenly mistakes of a desperately beleaguered and much abused fine lady. Each ex-lover appearing as witness against her was depicted as one more unhappy attempt to cure the heart that her husband had shattered. Patty may have begun life as one good high school cheerleader, just a little old redneck from a down-home North Carolina town, but by the time she was ready to divorce Wardley (and marry me) she had developed a few social graces. Hell, her lawyer and she grew equal to Lunt and Fontanne in the manner they could pass a bowl of soup back and forth on the witness stand. One scion of old Gulf Coast Florida money was certainly divested of a share of his principal. That was how Patty came to belong to wealth.
The more I listened to the lady in The Widow’s Walk, however, the more I could discern that she was of other ilk. Patty’s wits were true wit—that was all she had to stand between her and the crass and crude. This new blonde lady now transforming my evening might be short on wit, but then, she had small need for it. Her manner came with her money. If all else was right, she would probably meet you at her hotel-room door attired in no more than white elbow-length gloves. (And high heels.)
“Go ahead, say you’re bored,” I now heard clearly. “It’s to be expected when an attractive man and woman decide to go on a trip. To be thrown together for all these days creates the fear of disenchantment. Tell me if I’m wrong.”
It was obvious that her interest in his reply was less than her pleasure in letting me know that they not only were not married, but were, by anyone’s estimate, on a quick and limited fling. It could wrap itself up on any turn. Taken as a beast on the hoof, Tweed-and-Flannels shouldn’t be too hard to replace for a one-night stand. This lady had a body language to suggest that you would be given one thoroughgoing welcome on first night—only later would difficulties arise. But the first night would be on the house.
No, I’m not bored, Tweed-and-Flannels was telling her now in the lowest voice, not bored at all, his voice droning into her ear like white noise put on the audio system to dull your synapses to sleep. Yes, I decided, he must be a lawyer. There was something in the confidential moderation of his manner. He was addressing the Bench on a point of law, helping the judge not to blow the case. Soothing!
Her text, however, was obstreperous! “No, no, no,” she said, giving a light shake to her ice cubes, “it was my idea we come here. Your negotiations take you to Boston, well then, I said, my whim also takes me. Do you mind? Of course you don’t. Daddy is mad about brand-new mama. Et cetera,” she said, pausing for a sip of the Chivvies. “But, darling, I have this vice. I can’t bear contentment. The moment I feel it, everything says ‘Goodbye, my dear!’ Moreover, I’m an avid map reader, as you have learned, Lonnie. They say women can’t read directions. I can. At Kansas City, way back in—wait, it comes to me—in 1976, I was the only Jerry Ford woman in our delegation who could read a map well enough to drive from the hotel to his headquarters.
“So, there was your mistake. Showing me a map of Boston and its environs. When you hear that tone in my voice, when I say, ‘Darling, I’d like to see a map of this region,’ beware. It means my toes are itching. Lonnie, ever since I was in the fifth grade and started geography studies”—she squinted critically at the melting diamonds in her glass—“I used to stare at Cape Cod on the map of New England. It sticks out like a pinkie. You know how children are about pinkies? That’s their little finger, the one close to them. So I wanted to see the tip of Cape Cod.”
I must say I still didn’t like her friend. He had that much-massaged look of a man whose money makes money while he sleeps. Not at all, not at all, he was telling her, laying his salad oil on her stirred-up little sorrows, we both wanted to come here, it’s truly all right, and more of such, and more of such.
“No, Lonnie, I gave you no choice. I was a tyrant about it. I said, ‘I want to go to this place, Provincetown.’ I wouldn’t allow you to demur. So here we are. It’s a whim on top of a whim, and you’re bored stiff. You want to drive back to Boston tonight. This place is deserted, right?”
At this point—make no mistake about it—she looked at me full out: full of welcome if I took it up, full of scorn in the event I did not reply.
I spoke. I said to her, “That’s what you get for trusting a map.”
Excerpted from Tough Guys Don't Dance by Norman Mailer. Copyright © 2013 by Norman Mailer. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.