Although no longer a regular habit, extended benders now turn me into a sort of magnetic field that picks up pearls as though they were iron filings. They are jewels of insight not the kind tarts hang around their necks to alert the viewer of their availability. Take, for example, a description of a couple I know by a man I have never met but had read about. It was five a.m. last week, heavy snow was blanketing the place, and I had lost my balance and fallen in the bathroom breaking the glass of a picture of my then 18-year-old first wife Cristina. A memoir by Dan Menaker had also crashed down with my lifeless body and while I was recovering my senses and co-ordination I began to leaf through it: ‘For some time now Tina and Harry put me ever so slightly in mind of the duke and the king in Huckleberry Finn, floating down the Mississippi, affecting noble lineage, and fleecing townspeople right and left with their cons and impostures.’
Now there’s no use lying. Yes, I was dead drunk after a party I had given in my house, but after the third reading of the above paragraph aposiopesis set in. How the hell did this Menaker man get it so spot-on? Not in 100 years could I equal his devastating perception of those two, Tina Brown and Harry Evans. So I clipped the page, and after a brief sleep and before coffee I had copied the passage down and here it is for you, dear readers. See what I mean about feeling magnetic when under the influence and picking up pearls?
It got better with the King of Greece three nights later. He was sober and I was not, and I was giving him a tour of my place, showing him old Greek photographs of my grandfather, who was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and also Prime Minister. They are old and yellowed but the King recognised most of the players. When one particular name came up, I used the F-word, and apologised immediately. ‘Do you know the etymology of the word fuck?’ asked the King. I did not. ‘It is an acronym for fornication under consent of the King,’ said my King. Another pearl, but he could have been pulling my leg, unfortunately not a hollow one.
Some 35 years ago, when I was an Esquire magazine columnist, I used to come back to the office after lunch tipsy and giggling with Jon Bradshaw, an American writer who was such an Anglophile he remained in love with Anna Wintour although she openly had gone off with another buddy of mine, a squash player. Bradshaw affected cynical mannerisms, a curmudgeonly scribe complaining about crude American habits as opposed to refined British ones. It used to drive me nuts and I got my own back while trying out a brand-new invention called the Xerox machine. Bending over it was an extremely attractive posterior of the female persuasion, and a rather plump one, to boot. ‘Stand aside for an important writer,’ I said drunkenly but jokingly. The plump posterior turned and she was beautiful. In fact, she was a young intern from Yale whom I recognised as the actress Jodie Foster. (She had put on weight on purpose to keep horny Yalies off her case.)
We laughed and exchanged pleasantries. I then went back to my desk and told Bradshaw that the young intern thought him dishy and he should do something about it. (Bradshaw was as desperate to fornicate with consent from the king as I was, but could also be very foolish in his Anglophilia.) ‘She’s very American,’ I said. ‘Not interested,’ said the curmudgeon. ‘Only if she lost some weight and if she were English.’ Well, by the time Jodie came out, Bradshaw had dropped dead playing tennis, in Los Angeles of all places, trying to write a screenplay of his book about the torch singer Libby Holman. Jodie Foster would have been perfect in the role.
I’ve been thinking of the drunken old good times while watching young people socialising online, constantly messaging at a dizzying pace, never looking around, certainly not bending over a Xerox machine. One hears junk talk about things they like or dislike, mostly about fashion, cars and jewels, never about how we lived and what we were like, only about the glittering dystopian world of the present. It is a click-happy hell on earth, with books now objects that fall down when one passes out. Once upon a time, books gave us access to history, and we were allowed to become those we never dreamed of being. Clicking and texting back and forth are only good for giving masturbation a bad name. But there’s still a way to get away from it all, cross-country skiing.
I go late in the afternoon, after karate training or downhill skiing if the weather’s nice. I swish through Pushkin-like forests, watching dogs gambolling in deep powder. I like it when the dark falls ever so suddenly: from all white, to cobalt to black. There’s a sudden chill and lights begin to twinkle far away. Snow-dripped trees are the only guide, so I plough along until I reach the inn. There’s no one around, no mobiles, no iPads, nothing but silence. When future archaeologists dig through the digital detritus of our long-gone so-called civilisation, they’ll be delighted to find my remains, a homo erectus without a single digital contraption on his skeleton. At last I will be famous.
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