It’s written in the Declaration of Independence, so it must be true: the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. There are those, of course, who try to deny us the pursuit of happiness — we used to call them ball-busters — and they were more often than not wives or girlfriends, ladies who had replaced stern nannies, or even sterner mothers, as we grew older. I’ve had women trying to thwart my pursuit of happiness throughout my life, mostly using the excuse that they’re worried about my health. They don’t seem to get that happiness is more important than health, and that I was never healthier than when I was doing three months in Pentonville without booze or drugs of any kind. Happy I was not. (That was 35 years ago.)
Never mind. The wife no longer gives me hell after a night-long bender, but now my children play nanny and soon it will be the grandchildren. What fresh hell is this? Can’t a man have a little tinkle once in a while? We did overdo it for my birthday, mind you. But I’ve got news for the new Gestapo: it only comes once a year, thank God. What these Nazis didn’t realise is that my name day, the saint’s day that counts even more back home, is 15 August, four days after the dreaded birthday and yet another excuse to get rip-roaring drunk and disorderly. And oh boy, the Karamazovian hangovers now last three days. Remember the grand old days when the hangover would disappear after 20 minutes of running? After two hours of exercise one was ready for another big one, and then another, and another. Yep, those were the nights — days rather — preparing for the nights to come.
No longer. The sainted editor, writing in the Telegraph, referred to the television series Absolutely Fabulous, which featured decadent and degenerate parents — or was it grandparents? Yippee! Today’s youth is shell-shocked from being bombarded with messages concerning their DNA. Unless they’re members of the LGBTQ community — what the hell does the Q stand for? — young men are seen as rapists and Neanderthals. Admiring a woman these days is tantamount to leering, and opening a door for a lady is sexist. So late into the night Michael Mailer, my son and some other friends and I talked about past ‘creative gatherings’, mainly at my New York house, a block down from the recently departed paedophile Epstein’s mega-mansion shithole.
The evenings were informal and relaxed. Most of the time dinner was in the kitchen, a converted library with dark-brown panelling on the walls. Norman Mailer was at the head, Jay McInerney, of Bright Lights, Big City fame, and Bret Easton Ellis, of Less Than Zero renown, were regulars. The literary talks were interrupted by Anthony Haden-Guest crashing, forcing us to plead in unison in the style of Hilaire Belloc: ‘Grant oh Lord eternal rest,/ To thy servant Haden-Guest/ Never mind the where and how,/ Only grant it to him now.’ We never managed to shame him into leaving. Free booze was our downfall. Little John Taki would hear the noise and come down, an eight-year-old conversing with bestselling novelists about life and sport. He now recalls those evenings with almost teary-eyed nostalgia.
Tom Wolfe would come to dinner in his all-white trademark suit, and listen like a gentleman to Henry Kwiatowski, or Baron Munchausen as we called him in view of his stupendous lies, as he recounted how his ancestor had led the Somosierra Polish dragoon charge that broke the Spanish resistance in the gateway to Madrid. (Henry is no longer with us, but he once convinced Jimmy Goldsmith, in my house, that he was on the board of the top ten Fortune 500 companies.) The Poles won a great victory for Napoleon, but they were no more led by a Kwiatowski than a Tchaikovsky. Wolfe, always the gent, said nothing. It was left up to me.
Another Pole, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, caused more merriment. My editor at Esquire, Clay Felker, rang me at the gym and asked if he could bring the Pole to dinner. I said of course, looking forward to learning a thing or two from Zbig. Sure enough, I told the mother of my children and she said that she had read his book and was eager to meet him. But when he arrived Alexandra remonstrated with him about all the bodyguards. ‘Writers don’t need them,’ she said, or something to that effect. ‘I am such a lousy writer I do need them,’ answered Brzezinski smiling enigmatically. The Pole was a very intelligent man and he also had a sense of humour. He realised that the wife had mistaken him for someone else — Jerzy Kosinski, as it happened, author of Being There. What I clearly remember is what a perfect evening I had and how much I learned from Zbig, a very nice person and very down-to-earth, once we had established that he was one of the biggest shots in Washington.
And so it went down memory lane. Norman Mailer is gone, Bret Easton Ellis lives in El Lay, and Michael and I recently went to visit Jay McInerney in Southampton. He’s married to Anne Hearst, one of the richest women in America. When he took us around their gigantic house, we asked Jay which of his books had earned enough to build such a mansion. He didn’t find it at all funny.
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