Unconditional Recommendation…

Joseph Lelyveld’s HIS FINAL BATTLE: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt is absolutely marvelous. And deeply relevant to today’s political confusion, especially the effort by various powers-that-be  to undo the New Deal, that FDR had brought into being largely by force of will. Lelyveld’s depictions are telling; his analyses feel spot-on; the reader marvels at his ability to break down extraordinarily complex situations in both domestic and foreign affairs, highlighted by FDR’s mistaken confidence that he would charm Stalin  into staying out of Poland. I rate this book Unmissable.


A Writer’s Lament……

There are few times that I don’t regret having turned eighty, but twenty years ago, the publication and reception of my novel FIXERS would have had me reaching for the hemlock. One could make the case that the book was published with a mixture of bad faith and incompetence. Certainly to release it right after Christmas, with no real prior buildup of galleys or reading copies, no arrangement for bookstore appearances, looks like singularly bad timing, and that the physical book, when it appeared in January, contained an unacceptable number of typos, about which Amazon readers have groused, some in pretty strong language, didn’t help. I have a few other complaints, but what’s the point? The publisher and I have had words and we are no longer communicating. He has advised that he has no intention of publishing FIXERS  in paperback and has graciously ceded the reprint rights to me – provided I do any paperback edition myself. Right now, I’m reviewing that option.

What disturbs me more is that the book is about an important subject: the virtual disappearance from American civic life of compassion and idealism. Michael Dirda, reviewing FIXERS in The Washington Post, one of only two major reviews, both raves, that the novel got (the other was by Bartle Bull in The Wall Street Journal), “got ” this about the book. The narrative, after all, is about a well-born New Yorker, marinated in traditional WASP values from birth, who undertakes a political assignment that goes against his embedded principles because he can’t resist (a) the technical challenge it poses, and (b) he relishes being, even briefly, inside the higher circles of what some have called “the Deep State.” These principles won’t stay submerged, however; they continue to haunt the narrator as the story progresses.

The urge to write FIXERS sprang from my own consuming moral distaste for Wall Street and its works and days. After all, I had worked on the Street at a very high level in the 1960s and 70s, and in corporate finance until the mid-1980s, a period in which moral nihilism was nowhere near as all-pervasively contemptible as today. The inner turmoil my protagonist experiences, pressed on him by forces both innate and external, very much anticipated the passions that today convulse the electorate. The novel is really about what kind of a country we want to be; for that reason I really had high hopes for it in what promised to be a politically convulsive point in our history. No such luck, alas. But as Adlai Stevenson remarked after his 1956 loss to Eisenhower, “I’m too old to cry.”



Unfinished Business…

What follows is a long passage from a book I never wrote. It dates from 2008, and apparently I revisited it in 2012. By then I had turned my attention to FIXERS The question before the house: should I take this up. I should add that people have been urging me to write a memoir, and I’ve had this interesting idea of doing same as a half-novel, with the narrator attending my funeral, which leaves him/her curious about my life. He/she then goes off to talk to family members, former colleagues etc. about why I ended up as I did.

Anyway: here goes:

Stapleton’s internal alarm clock goes off at 6:45 AM precisely, just as it has done each and every morning for fifty-seven years – since it first synchronized itself to the bells of Phillips Exeter Academy in the autumn of 1950.
He levitates quickly through varying depths of sleep like a diver thrashing toward the light, opens his eyes and looks about him, left, right, up, down and around. Where am I, he asks the room as he takes in an unfamiliar ceiling, unfamiliar pictures and furniture, unfamiliar view out the window: sun on dirty-green treetops. The unfamiliarity proves only momentary. An instant later, his perceptual systems kick in and he sorts out that he’s in a bedroom on the third floor of the Knickerbocker Club, overlooking Fifth Avenue and Central Park in New York City, where he’s come to attend a memorial service later this morning for his old friend Alec Long.
He lies under the covers for a few minutes, flexing and wiggling, restoring strength and sensation to his limbs and digits, marshaling his mental and physical resources, reviewing the bidding. Getting old really is a bitch of a business, he reflects, and no matter what they tell you, seventy-one may no longer be old by today’s standards, but it certainly feels old. Of course, Stapleton’s is perhaps the last American generation that will measure mortality in terms of “threescore and ten.” These things change, and like changes in price levels – young women now pay for a handbag what Stapleton recalls buying his first car for – one never quite gets used to them.
Finally he heaves himself more or less upright and swings his skinny pajama-clad legs over the side of the bed. He sits on the mattress’s edge, shaking his head like a woozy, grizzled hound; twenty years ago, even ten, he’d have managed the transition from confusion to orientation in a millisecond. Now there’s no denying – or reversing the decay, although truth to tell, Stapleton is really very fit for a man his age, thanks to moderate habits and twice-weekly workouts with the trainer at the Somerset Club, brisk constitutionals around his Brookline neighborhood and eighteen holes of walking golf at The Country Club on Wednesdays and Fridays. People who’ve known him a long time will tell you that he still moves with much the same point-to-point ease he did as a young man, although the stride may now be a bit shorter. Well, some losses can’t be helped: as his Uncle Hobart – the Cambridge wit and legendary Hasty Pudding star turn – used to say, of all God’s bad jokes, old age is the one in the worst taste. From the day he turned seventy, Stapleton has thought he knows exactly what his uncle meant.
His mind turns to the reason he’s come to New York, a city he’s never much liked: admirably rich in things to look at and listen to, but with a loud, chest-thumping push and pace that Stapleton’s Boston taste finds unnerving. The way Alec could be. Alec was pure New York, pure patrician Upper East Side of Manhattan “New York,” that is – at least on his mother’s side, which went back almost to the Mayflower. But New York blue blood beats faster and more tumultuously than its Boston equivalent. More forward, more aggressive, more outspoken by upbringing than its Beacon Hill opposite number, perfectly, proudly incarnated in the man now thinking long thoughts while absently studying his fingers.
He and Alec had roomed together their first year at Exeter, had grown reasonably close and in all the time since, had never quite managed to lose their awareness of each other even though their lives had followed such divergent orbits they might has well have lived in separate solar systems. Would it be accurate to call them “friends?” Yes and no. Perhaps not as the term is usually defined, with overtones of constancy and familiarity and sureness of connection, of bonds that ripen over years and years, that never fade, of a conscious effort made to stay in touch. After Exeter their path had forked – Stapleton to Harvard, Alec to Yale – and from that point their lives naturally crossed less and less. And yet Exeter had bestowed on Tilford Horace Pulham Stapleton III and Alexander Mackitterick Long enough in the way of early-days shared experience that they seemed able to pick up a conversation even after a decade of dsiconnection, to talk to each other as if 1950 were yesterday and they were two boys shuffling along the path back to the dorm after dinner, flipping a lacrosse ball back and forth in the gloaming, talking the way boys do. It’s turned out for Stapleton the way it seems to have done for divorced people he knows: once you’ve lived with someone, really lived with that person, especially at a formative time of your life, you never ever quite get completely clear of them, no matter how many degrees of separation life goes on to interpose.
So it seems odd to the point of unthinkable for Stapleton to have to realize that this is it, that today he will bid goodbye for good and for all and forever to Alec. Back in September, when he learned that Alec had died – been found dead in his Brooklyn loft the Thursday after Labor Day- the finality didn’t seem to sink in. Perhaps because it was so peculiar, even weird, to think of Alec – consummate New Yorker, embodiment of all that Stapleton has always thought of, not always kindly, as “New York,” – in Brooklyn. Almost as odd as to have to think of Alec dead. It was likely reading about the death of a friend in exile. Remote, somehow. Makes no sense.
Ironically, the last time the two men had run into each other had also been at a funeral – Marvyn Gillick’s. Almost a year ago, that was: December, 2006. Before that, the last previous time Stapleton had seen Alec had been almost ten years earlier, when they’d bumped into each other at the Links, where Stapleton was lunching as the guest of a fellow opera trustee and Alec was giving lunch to quite a pretty woman of a certain age. That had been a brief encounter, two ships passing – but a year ago they’d lunched together after Gillick’s send-off, and had a real chance to catch up.
The Gillick memorial service had been staged – no other word for it – at the Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium of the Metropolitan, a venue suited to the spirations, even in death, of P. Marvyn Gillick, managing executive director of Drydale Partners, where Alec had worked unhappily in the 1960s before finally leaving (or, according to which house myth you believed, being driven out by Gillick) in 1973. In another irony, it was at Drydale, a decade and some later, that Stapleton had made his fortune, after the Wall Street giant in the making had bought the venerable Boston wealth-management firm where Stapleton was a ranking senior manager. If Stapleton had become rich and Alec less so, it was largely thanks to Gillick, as Alec hadn’t hesitated to point out when the two men bumped into each other outside on the sidewalk: “Pinky was my undoing and your doing, Stapes.” “Pinky” as in “Pincus” – the unadmitted given name that Gillick acknowledged with an initial. Apparently, during their time together at Drydale, Alec made a point of calling Gillick “Pinky” to his face and in front of others. Having himself known Gillick, and Gillick’s bottomless capacity for retribution, Stapleton could well imagine how intensely Gillick would have grown to hate Alec.
Stapleton had disliked Gillick, had held him in a certain social disregard, the way one felt about one or two clubs at Harvard, but he didn’t hate him. How could he? Alec had been right on that score. The Drydale shares Stapleton had received for his percentage of Back Bay Trust & Deposit had been worth $6 million when they did the deal in 1983; in 2005, when Stapleton formally retired, those same shares would have been worth $25 million, to which Stapleton had added another $23 million in stock awards. In 1999, however, Stapleton had sold half his stock; why, he still isn’t sure. Maybe it was a millennial gesture, a way of showing himself that while he might have taken Gillick’s shilling, he wasn’t Gillick’s man. He should have kept every last one of the shares. In the years after he sold them, Drydale, ridden hard by Gillick right up to the moment of the latter’s fatal heart attack on the 10th tee at the Deepdale course, would grow to the point where it is now spoken of in the same breath as Blackstone and Morgan Stanley. If Stapleton had kept his all Drydale shares, and hadn’t diversified, his “mite” – as he describes his net worth to his regular four-ball at The Country Club – would today be some $30 million larger. Not that he’s done badly, not at all. When he checks his personal footings – as he’s about to do, as he does every morning first thing – he expects his net worth to approximate $75 million. An amount he was raised to consider obscene, both relatively and in the absolute, although now that he has it, he’s hard put to understand why. It’s turned out to be just what Stapleton’s father told him long years ago: money’s no different from anything else: it’s all about what you do with it. It’s a function of character and taste. And luck. Wordsworth, typically for a poet, even a great one, had gotten that side of life all wrong: getting and spending need involve laying waste a man’s substance. On the other hand, Stapleton had to admit when he looked around himself, what might not apply to an individual might apply to a society – a political economy – taken as a whole. The trick was, to paraphrase an old Irving Berlin song he’d first heard on Alec’s victrola, to have the one without the other.
Poor Alec, Stapleton thinks again, instantly regretting the double-edge of “poor,” he wasn’t so lucky. At least when it came to money. Bad luck, possibly, or restlessness or just plain carelessness, but never in the right place or in the right mood at the right time, the secret to fame and fortune on Wall Street. To make money you had to care about the stuff, at least a little bit. For Fortune to find you, you had to stand still and let it come to you – it was like waiting for a wave in the surf at Madaket, Stapleton’s favorite Nantucket beach. Paddle, paddle, paddle – and then, suddenly, there it is. Standing still wasn’t Alec’s style. Never had been. For an instant, Stapleton’s mind floats back to September 9,1950, the two boys’ first day at Exeter, a fall day much like this, and his first sight of Alec: thin, vociferous, bristling with nervous energy. Couldn’t sit still, could hardly keep his mouth shut. Fifty-seven years and thirty-two days ago. And now, after all that time, Alec had finally stood still long enough for Death to come quietly for him, in his sleep. Probably thought it was just a bad dream coming on, a twinge in the night – and then all was over.
May it be the same for me, Stapleton thinks as he takes his glasses from the nightstand and gets to his feet. He pauses momentarily to secure his balance before crossing the room to fetch his bathrobe – light wool dyed Exeter maroon with grey piping at the shawl collar, the same Brooks Brothers model, albeit three sizes larger, that he took with him to boarding school as a fourteen-year-old. Brooks Brothers no longer carries them; this one and its mates in Stapleton’s wardrobe back home was run up by a tailor in Hong Kong.
He settles into the desk chair, turns on his laptop and watches as the machine runs through its boot-up sequence. He logs on to the website of Back Bay Associates – still more or less the same name after several changes of ownership (the firm is now a subsidiary of a Dutch bank headquartered in Macau) – since he went to work there back in 1964 – into which, while Stapleton has slept his uneasy sleep, information has poured from six different time zones and been neatly sorted and arranged for his analysis. For the next forty minutes, mind and focus absolutely fixed and clear, he runs through his accounts. These number exactly twenty-three in fifteen different financial markets and seven asset categories; the combined footings, he notes with satisfaction, total a little over $78 million. Stapleton goes from one account to the next, from Hong Kong to London to Zurich to Los Angeles to Cambridge to Atlanta, reviewing each one’s activity and holdings, typing in his own thoughts and suggestions, where – were it his call – he’d reef a sail, or let out more canvas. He doesn’t place orders or tell his money managers what to do; just as he expected from his own clients back in the day, they have absolute discretion, although he expects them pretend to listen. When Stapleton finally withdrew from active management at Back Bay three years ago, he was the principal on $87 billion nominal value of accounts, over $120 billion if you included Harvard, but it was getting hard to keep up with all the new developments and techniques and common sense was out of style as an investment concept. Of course nowadays Harvard pays its in-house money managers annual sums that approach what it has taken Stapleton a lifetime to accumulate – and Stapleton considers himself a very rich man even though he’s well aware that by the standards of the day, the benchmarks celebrated in magazines like Forbes, the billions men like Gillick at Drydale and that dreadful publicity-seeking fellow Schwarzman at Blackstone have piled up, he’s a relative pauper.
When he’s finished at the computer, it’s time to propitiate the household gods. On the bedside table are small drugstore bottles of Lipitor and baby aspirin. He takes one of each, grateful that what his physician calls “those blue-ribbon Mayflower genes” have limited his pharmaceutical regimen to just this (he has friends ten years younger who start off their days with as many as a dozen pills!) Next to the pill bottles is a small leather-framed photograph of himself and his wife. He picks it up and kisses it. It was taken four years ago in Nantucket – the last good summer, as he thinks of it – before the Alzheimer’s got serious about its dreadful business.
He kisses the photo again and puts it down, takes his wristwatch from the nightstand and sees that it’s getting on for 8 AM. Plenty of time for a leisurely shower, dress and pack his bag and go downstairs for breakfast and the newspapers in the club dining-room, which by then should be pretty well clear of people. No need to hurry. Alec’s service isn’t scheduled to begin util 11 at St.James’s, a half-mile north on 71st and Madison. Plenty of time for a leisurely stroll on this pleasant morning, time even for a look-in at one or two of the galleries en route. Although nothing was said in the Times announcement of the service, Stapleton supposes there’ll be a reception afterward somewhere; there usually is. He’s not certain he’ll attend that; he’d like to catch the 1:30PM Acela back to Boston and besides he’s not sure he understands, much less approves of, this business of turning funerals into cocktail parties. Either way, it won’t really matter: even if he decides to stay and catches the 3PM, he’ll still be back in Brookline in time to get a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow will be a crowded day. Up early to get to Milton for the weekly visit with Margaret – a pointless exercise, really; the Alzheimer’s has advanced so far that his wife doesn’t know who he is, but what would people say if he didn’t show up? He need only stay for half an hour – it’s about all he can take – before hastening back to Cambridge in time for lunch at the Porcellian Club before the Dartmouth game, and afterward an early dinner at the Chestnut Hill home of a top curator at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, which still pursues Stapleton even though they know perfectly well that his heart and philanthropic allegiance belongs to the Fogg.
He’s curious to see who’ll turn up this morning at St. James’s. Alec’s been off most people’s radar for quite a while now. It’s seldom occurred to Stapleton to ask about his old prep-school roommate’s whereabouts – how he is, what he’s up to – and when he has, no one’s had much to report, no one seemed to know very much: “I heard he’s in Brooklyn;” “I hear he’s not writing any more;” “Someone saw him at the member-guest at Maidstone;” “They say he has a very nice girl friend.” That sort of non-news.
First Gillick, now poor Alec. A pair, you might say. Yin and yang. Well, at least he’s attending Alec’s by intention. Gillick’s had been an accident, not one he would have gone out of his way to get to. His attendance had been purely serendipitous – if one can use that word in connection with the funeral of someone never that much liked. Stapleton had come down to New York for a Boston Symphony concert at Carnegie Hall – Levine absolutely first-rate in the Brahms, just fair in the Debussy, and as for the Penderecki…- and had stayed over at the “Knick” to have breakfast with the Director of the Frick Collection, an old friend from her MFA days. After breakfast, they’d walked up Fifth Avenue to her museum to see a new Houdon acquisition she was very proud of. On the way, she’d let slip that she’d have to duck out early for a memorial service over on the West Side, at the Museum of Natural History, for one of her newer trustees, Marvyn Gillick. Gillick a trustee of the Frick! This had surprised Stapleton; he wouldn’t have thought Gillick to know a Courbet from a canoe, nor was Gillick the sort of person one identified with the sort of refinement the Frick represented. But the news tweaked Stapleton’s Boston instinct for the right and proper: given Gillick’s causal relationship to the treasure piled up in Stapleton’s investment accounts, he felt he had no choice, now that he knew. Even in Boston, that sort of thing counted for something. So he’d switched to a later train, attended Gillick’s service and in the end was twice-over glad he’d done so: it swept clean a small corner of his conscience and – as an unexpected bonus – had enabled him to see Alec one last time.
He dresses, packs and goes downstairs to the dining-room, helping himself to a New York Times and Wall Street Journal from a table next to the entrance. As he’d expected, bu this hour few tables are taken; mercifully, none by anyone Stapleton recognizes. The headwaiter leads him to a table nicely tucked away in a corner. He orders, then, as he has by now done for so long it’s shaming to admit, checks the front page of the Times to locate the obituary section and goes directly there. He skims the list of small-print “Death Notices” and finds only one name he vaguely recognizes: that of a former partner of Bear Stearns with whom Back Bay had done some high-yield bond business. He reads through the notices quickly, as he always does, trying to imagine the lives behind them, the connections and relations, what made these people tick. Stapleton has a great, consuming curiosity about people, although he tries not to show it. Gossip doesn’t interest him especially; he simply finds fascinating the matter of how other men and women shape and get on with their lives, about why things turn out the way they do for people, about the existential interleaving of plan and contingency, about how much of the way things turn out is “us” or “me” and how much “them.”
Tributes to his Bear, Stearns acquaintance from charitable organizations and professional connections take up almost two and a half columns. Quite impressive, Stapleton thinks, recalling that such encomia for Gillick had amounted to at least three times this yield, which brings to mind something Alec said after Gillick’s service: “Well, you have to say this for old Marv,” Alec had opined, “the SOB got what he wanted. He ended up a five-column Jew.”
“Five column?” Stapleton hadn’t been sure what Alec meant.
“You know. Those little ads in the Times obits. From charities and law firms and other blood-suckers. Old Marv got a full five columns – which puts him right up there with Joe Gruss and the Tisches. Definitely major-league.”
Typical Alec. Irreverent, sharp – but way too close to the marrow. The sort of thing one thinks but doesn’t say, exactly the sort of talk that had gotten Alec in trouble his entire life. At school, at work, with people who might have been helpful. When he saw the joke in something, or conceived a clever new way of encapsulating a fact of quotidian life, Alec simply couldn’t leave it alone. Even more striking, Alec had sounded, at the age of seventy-one, exactly as he had as a boy of fifteen or sixteen, back at Exeter, when, while strolling with Stapleton along the asphalt paths of the Exeter campus, pronouncing on the great mysteries of sports and sex, Alec would suddenly home in on some individual coming their way whose deficiencies he deemed worthy of comment and spear it with an aphorism. It was a malign yet breathtaking gift, this talent Alec had for knowing just where the most fragile nodes of an ego were to be found, and how deep and hard to stick the verbal bandilleras. As far as Stapleton could see, the only difference between the Alec of a year ago and the Alec of 1950 – that sharp-tongued teenage boy he’d first encountered on a bright fall day a half-century earlier – was a certain loss of exuberance, of bounce. Not surprising: there comes a point in the life of every man when the realization sets in that no matter how sunny or confident one is, the world is no longer entirely one’s oyster. Still, Alec haadn’t lost his love of the bon mot. Over lunch, he’d pinpointed the late Gillick’s “opportunistic philanthropy,” and pointed out to Stapleton what the latter might not have known offhand: that six of the nine eulogists were among New York’s sharpest operators, men and women whose main if not only skill was an ingratiating ability to hop like well-trained frogs from “one gilded eleemosynary lily-pad to another.”
Shortly before 11, after looking in at a nice little Inness exhibition at Hirschl & Adler, although none of the paintings is up to his own, Stapleton arrives at St. James’s. The first person he sees is a former curator from the Fogg, now at the Philadelphia Museum. The two men ascend the steps of the church together.
“I didn’t know you knew Alec Long,” Stapleton remarks as they draw up at the end of the shorter of two queues drawn up to sign a condolence book.
“Everybody knew Alec,” the curator says. “What a character! He was on the board of the Institute when I was finishing up there. We’re going to miss him.” He notes the curiosity in Stapleton’s face. “He helped us a lot with the Drydale Foundation, you know. He was a trustee there.”
Now that’s an interesting bit of information. NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts on 78th St is the premier U.S. training ground for art-historians. Odd to think of iconoclastic Alec being on the board of such an establishmentarian institution, to imagine him among the kind of people who now made up “the Establishment.” Of course, now is now and then was then, and how long ago matters. Even the board of the Fogg, which Stapleton considers the brightest gem in his own institutional diadem, isn’t what it had been. A few years ago, the NYU Institute board had paid a visit to the Fogg, rather in the spirit of Venice and the Turks exchanging embassies. He had thought them a pretty sorry lot, a bunch of real-estate developers mostly, who’d presumably bought their way on to the Institute board. As for the Drydale Foundation, Stapleton – now that he thinks about it – did know that Alec was on the Board. Alec had gone on the board when Herman Drydale died in 1969. Much to Gillick’s irritation, Stapleton recalls Alec telling him a year ago. Gillick had done his damnedest to stamp out Drydale’s history and traditions, to efface its institutional memory – that was Alec’s view – but the Foundation was one Drydale resonance he couldn’t stifle. It’s a nice little foundation, less than $100 million in assets, whose fine-arts philanthropy is more valued for its standards than the size of its benefactions, no doubt in great part due to Alec’s keen eye. Among curators and museum directors, a subvention from the Drydale Foundation was regarded as a stamp of approval, a concession of merit. Oddly, Stapleton has never fit to importune the Drydale on behalf of the Fogg. Well, not so oddly: to do so would have put him into a juxtaposition vis-a-via Alec that might have left both men uncomfortable. On the other hand, he thinks now, as he and the curator join the line waiting to sign the condolence book, had he done so, it would would have put him in closer, earlier, possibly more regular touch with his old friend.
“He had a wonderful eye, you know,” the other man says.
Stapleton nods. “That he did,” he replies. “Did you know that Alec’s fondest dream when he was at Yale was to be an art dealer?”
As he does, he wonders to himself whether this was a question Alec had often asked himself as his life went on. Alec had always been a great one for speculative re-evaluation, for drawing up maps of roads not taken.
“I didn’t. Is that really true? Why didn’t he? He would have been a marvelous dealer. Old Masters, of course. I’m not saying he would have given Gene Thaw a run for his money, but he would certainly would have been one of the best, what with his eye and memory and, oh my goodness, could he talk!”
Stapleton shrugs. “I don’t know he never did. He went to the Metropolitan Museum instead, and that didn’t work out, so he ended up on Wall Street.”
“That must have been a change. And then he became a writer?”
“He did. Alec was never one to sit still.”
And now he’s dead, Stapleton thinks as he moves forward to take his turn at the book. Perhaps that restless spirit will at last find repose – or it will go on as it has in this life, wandering through eternity, fretting and joking .
Entering St. James’s is like passing through a portal to another world, into a novel by Louis Auchincloss out of Star Wars. that once ran things. St. The towering church embodies ancient truths and values set in the amber of a long time ago in another galaxy. For someone from Boston, where the old traditions are fighting hard to avoid dislodgement, there’s something poignant about this building and what it stood for once upon a time: it is one of the great temples of the old Episcopal patriciate, along with St. Thomas’s a mile south on Fifth Avenue; St. George’s off what used to be Stuyvesant Square, the Morgan house of worship; Heavenly Rest uptown, spiritual centerpiece of Carnegie Hill; Holy Trinity way over east: all churches Stapleton knows, temples of the WASP order of being in which Stapleton in his time must have attended a good score of weddings as guest or groomsman and now finds himself attending funerals.
The church is full. Stapleton counts himself in luck to find a seat far back but on the center aisle where he can at least see what’s going on. Seated, he studies the program, a simple cream-colored foldover bearing on its verso a smiling photo of Alec with his hands laced behind his head and, underneath, a line identified as from from his novel, Serious Money: “….looking, like everyone, for love and explanation.”
Stapleton studies the photograph. Alec looks better than he had a year ago. Not quite as portly. Less tense. Had this been taken before then or after? Hard to tell, but Stapleton finds himself hoping the latter. If Alec had to die, let it have been in a good frame of mind. .
The service will be simple: passages from the Book of Common Prayer – the old version, of course – interspersed with selections from T.S. Eliot, Housman, Gibbon, James Merrill, Bunyan, and Alec’s own writing – to be read by Alec’s sons and daughters, alternating with musical interludes performed by Julliard students. Nothing surprising: Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s “To Be Sung on the Water,” and “The Miller at the Brook;” Strauss’s lovely little song “Morgen”; the slow movement from Beethoven’s “Spring Sonata. Two hymns, neither – mercifully – Jerusalem At Gillick’s service a hired baritone from Julliard had blasted out the Parry setting of Blake’s famous verses, causing Alec to say afterward, that Jerusalem appeared to have become a mandatory feature of the funerals of people whose most valiant and courageous life-decision had been to short Apple – or to order a third martini at the Racquet Club. It seems that there will be no eulogies, which also provokes a reflexive comparison with Gillick’s memorial a year earlier, at which half of Manhattan and Wall Street’s great and good had praised the deceased as a combination of George Washington, Pierpont Morgan, Maimonides and St. Paul. If Alec had died, say, a dozen years ago, Stapleton wonders, when he was still in the public eye, would there have been eulogies then?
To judge from its elements and choices, the service is obviously Alec’s own design. It’s very Alec all the way through, a kind of a salute to Alec’s fond regard for tradition, a salute to his education, his sense of the importance of the presentness of the past, his love of poetry and music great and “cheap.” Stapleton bets the Bunyan selection will be the famous bit about Mr. Valiant-for-Truth passing over and the trumpets sounding on the other side; he remembers Alec getting it by heart after first reading it in Rev. Beilby’s Religion III course. Housman, of course, was Alec’s great favorite. Stapleton well remembers Alec’s discovery of A Shropshire Lad in D’Arcy Curwen’s English class, just before school broke for Christmas vacation their Lower Middle year. Alec committed a great amount to memory which he would use, he assured Stapleton as they parted company at North Station, to great effect on certain girls he intended to pursue at “the Mets, the Gets, the Hols and the Cols,” slang for the rota of the holiday dances attended by what Stapleton’s father insisted on calling “the New York jeunesse doree.” When they’d run into each other at Gillick’s service, over half-a-century later, when the last of the pursuable girls was long gone over the horizon and the testosterone had crested and ebbed away, and all that lovely past life, like those dances, like their very youth, were reduced to vaporous phantoms flitting around in dimming memory, Alec could still summon up his Housman; at lunch, to make some point or other (he’d made quite a few,) he’d quoted “Yonder see the morning blink…” from beginning to end. The passage from Eliot is identified as from Little Gidding. Stapleton bets he knows what it will be: the bit about “Old men should be explorers…” Words Stapleton’s considered for his own tombstone. He and Alec had encountered Eliot for the first time in Leonard Stevens’ Upper Middle English section. Stevens was a mind-stretcher who’d taught in Yale’s then-famous English Department before coming to Exeter.As he reads through the program a second time, Stapleton finds himself wondering at the absence of Gilbert & Sullivan. That would have been a nice touch. A few months after they’d arrived at Exeter, chatting idly in their room during a break from Latin conjugations and weekly themes, they’d discovered they’d both played Little Buttercup in fifth-grade productions of Pinafore. It was then that Alec first demonstrated his mastery of the patter songs, evidence of his astonishing memory for certain kinds of information. It was a point of great pride with him that at thirteen, in seventh grade, he’d memorized – and recited before class – the entirety of Keats’ “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
“The toughest thing I ever had to memorize,” Alec had gone on to say, “was the part of Scrooge. At Buckley, we always did A Christmas Carol – and because the part was so long and demanding, they always had two Scrooges. One who did the three o’clock performance to the school, the other who did it at five for the parents and so on. The five o’clock was the big deal, and Robbie Grover got that, as he should have: he was the best actor in our class. I was picked for the three o-clock performance.” At this point Alec had paused, as a stab of memory briefly tightened his smile. Then his customary expression of high amusement returned, and he asked Stapleton, “See if you can guess which one my old man showed up for?” He didn’t let his roommate answer. “The five o’clock! Can you believe it?” The bad part was: Stapleton could.
Stapleton had said nothing then, but just a couple of weeks later, the Long family equation presented itself more clearly, when Alec let drop that he would be staying at school for the Thanksgiving holiday, never at Exeter the big, extended deal it was at other boarding schools. It seemed that the Longs would be away – in Palm Beach, as Stapleton now tries to recall, or maybe it had been in Georgia for shooting. The point was, Bob Long’s still-new (just over a year) European wife didn’t believe in Thanksgiving, which she regarded as a pointless “American” holiday. To which Stapleton might have added, based on what little he had to go on, that it seemed that “Rosti,” as Alec’s stepmother was called, slang for “little potato,” definitely did not consider turkey and gravy with the family to constitute a working definition of a good time. In the end, it had worked out. Stapleton had phoned his parents and Alec had spent the Thanksgiving weekend in Brookline, in the house where Stapleton now lived.
His mind returns to the present, and his study of the order of service. Among the selections listed is the second movement, marked “adagio molto espressivo,” from Beethoven’s “Spring” sonata for piano and violin. This chimes faintly in Stapleton’s memory; it takes him several seconds to home in, to recall that in Alec’s second (or was it his third?) book, Sad Money, the one about the art world, there had been a funeral scene set in Florence, in the Carmine church amid the great Masaccio frescoes, at which this very same movement was played. Stapleton wonders how long ago Alec might have planned this. At lunch, he had mentioned, almost expectantly, the prospect of sudden death. “But, please, God, not on the F train!” Stapleton hadn’t thought much of it. Alec was a great one for looking ahead; that was his problem: he anticipated before others were ready to do so. In which a culture in which time is above everything money, to be too early is no better than being too late, probably worse. Either way money is left on the table, which is a primal sin in a capitalist economy and certainly the first lesson drummed into Stapleton at the B-School.
Maybe that was life’s hardest lesson where Alec was concerned. At lunch the year before, he’d alluded – in a voice he hadn’t managed to keep all trace of bitterness out of – to “to often being ahead of one’s time,” to “being too much ahead of the curve.” He had spoken in a tone Stapleton recognized from other fallen stars he had known: that of the man who feels himself to have been justly over-appreciated in his youth and unfairly under-appreciated in adulthood. The difference was, as Stapleton saw it, that Alec had less cause for complaint than he’d admit. Life hadn’t been all that ungenerous. He’d been born rich by the standards of the ’50s. Men liked him, on the whole, and certainly women surrendered to him. He’d known stardom: that is, in his time he’d had his star turns, as a demi-prodigy at school, as a young banker at Drydale, a Wall Street “whiz,” and again as a writer. Even now, on the rare occasions when Stapleton runs into someone who knows or had known Alec, and Alec’s name comes up, invariably the first that will be said is, “Alec Long was the most brilliant man I ever knew.”
Clearly, by the time they ran into each other at Gillick’s funeral, Alec had concluded that his star had burned out or fallen, or whatever stars do at the end of their alloted term. He made no bones about having experienced both of the proverbial two acts of an American life. But American life taken as a whole is fickle and the spotlight never stops moving and a man’s time is generally “over” sooner than he’d like. Third acts are hard to come by, fourth acts possible only in Hollywood. Obviously for Alec it hadn’t been enough. Clearly this was a burr under Alec’s saddle. “If I was so smart, how come I’m not rich?” he’d asked Stapleton as the two men shook hands and parted. He sounded sour, in the way that people get after an extra glass of white wine at midday, and Stapleton hadn’t thought much of it. The funny thing was, Stapleton now reflects, thinking this is pergaps the answer he might have given, that as wise and accurate as was Alec the seer and prophet, Alec in life was a total procrastinator to whom the ultimate challenge was a deadline. He liked to wing it, as they say. Had that tendency shown up in his work, finally? Become too obvious and expensive to ignore? A term-paper is one thing, a billion-dollar merger quite another. Well, clearly, his own funeral wasn’t something Alec had left for the last.
At the very bottom of the program is a note that the family looks forward to receiving friends after the service at the Colony Club. This makes Stapleton’s mind up for him. He can just look in on the Colony, pay his respects to the family, pick up his bag at the Knick, a bare two blocks away, and be gone. Do his duty and get on with his life, what’s left of it.
He looks around. His vantage point doesn’t permit him to see much, prevents him from checking out the congregation for familiar faces. Perhaps at the reception… Even there, he doubts there’ll be many he’ll recognize. Gillick’s funeral had been chockablock with people from Drydale who’d overlapped with Stapleton. Other faces he knew from boards and annual reports and the financial press, or had risen in companies in which Back Bay or Harvard held stock. This is unlikely to be the case today. Alec was gone from Drydale almost a dozen years before Stapleton came on board. Quit, some said; given the boot, said others. By the time Stapleton’s firm was merged with Drydale, Gillick had consolidated his control and Alec and his ilk were the merest figments of the firm’s institutional memory, ectoplasms floating vaguely over Beaver St., reminisced about by those few survivors of the “ancien regime” who gathered nightly across the street at Oscar’s to toast the old days and curse Gillick. These old-timers were people Stapleton had practically nothing to with on his random visits to Drydale’s head office, which not long after he joined the firm removed from the ancestral home two blocks north of Wall Street to sleek new premises in midtown.
Nor – unlike at Gillick’s rites – is it likely that there be many of the “High Polloi” in St. James’ august Episcopal precincts this morning. “High Polloi.” Stapleton can hear Alec hear the relish in Alec’s voice as he pronounces it, stretching the vowels, grinning as he’d look around. “High Polloi”: Alec’s coinage for the self-promoting new money “Establishment” that had come to dominate the boards of the big cultural and civic institutions of Manhattan. Representatives of what the class Alec was born into and bred for had degenerated into. The people from whom he had become alienated, thanks – as he’d admitted to Stapleton over lunch – to his pen and his tongue. The people at the top, who were supposed to watch over things, to set an example – provided they could be persuaded to raise their dripping faces from the trough. In another day, a man with Alec’s talents would have been valued, a role would have been found for him, but now everything seems to be about money. A pity, Stapleton had thought afterward. One would have thought a person like Alec, with his gifts, brains and experience, might have had something to contribute, although nowadays – even in Stapleton’s part of the world, even along Newbury Street, even at Harvard – the only contributions that seemed to matter were those that came garlanded with dollar signs.
It seems irreligious to think of money just now, and he directs his mind elsewhere. He wonders whether Belle, Alec’s first wife, is here somewhere. Probably not sitting with the family, but perhaps yes. When they’d met last year, Alec had dropped the remark that one thing he’d finally mastered in old age was the ability to forgive and forget. Belle Hardworth had been a tricky one, as far as Stapleton can remember. She was very beautiful, very outspoken, an Ivy League and Seven Sisters legend by her sophomore year at Vassar, the daughter of a famous playwright and his ballerina wife. Stapleton had met her only once, in his first year in the Business School. He and a bunch of friends had driven down to New Haven for “the Game” – they were still in that phase of adulthood where such things mattered – and gone into town afterward to a party at Fence, Alec’s Yale fraternity. There they’d run into Alec, who was in his first year of graduate art-history studies and teaching a freshman section as a Carnegie Teaching Fellow. Alec and Belle had married too young – claimed to have eloped that past summer in France, the summer before Alec’s junior year, although obviously she had been pregnant, even if Alec had never admitted as much as far as Stapleton knew – and divorced, inevitably, after barely three years. They had two sons – Jesse and…Stapleton can’t remember the name of the second – boys who by now must be men of fifty who were born just months apart, what back then were called “Irish twins.”
Sons who are fifty, my God! Stapleton’s own eldest son just turned forty-two. He can still hear Alec, leaning against the bar at Fence Club, with his half-amused smile: “When I graduated last spring, I had one in a carriage and one in a stroller!” He’d seemed a bit tipsy. Alec liked his toddy, always had. One too many, and he started to unspool the jokes – and that night he had. His wife had proved just as beautiful as her reputation, but surly, as Stapleton recalls, in the way of people shoved out of the limelight. She hadn’t been amused and had stalked off a few minutes later. Alec had stayed until things broke up around 1AM and the Harvard contingent headed for Branford College, where they were bunking with friends and Alec, by then fairly drunk, had shambled off up Chapel Street toward the apartment he and Belle were settled in.
Fifty – the very number resonates. Stapleton is deeply involved in planing his Harvard class’s fiftieth reunion next year. When he heard that Alec had died, his first thought had been, in an inner voice plaintively protesting to the deity, “My God, he’ll miss his fiftieth.” Then, of course, he’d reflected how unlikely it would be for the fiftieth of Yale ’58 to figure in Alec’s plans. The Alec of a year ago was definitely not a reunion type. Especially a fiftieth college reunion, when men tend to strut their good fortune and large fortunes. Anyway, “the old boy with the sickle” had put paid to that, the question was moot.
After Belle had come two more wives and four more children, a son and two daughters with #2, a son with #3. Stapleton wouldn’t recognize these wives if they fell on him, although he seems to recall meeting one, perhaps both, along the way, at a wedding or funeral, perhaps a dinner party in Southampton – a place he identifies Alec with. If so, it was years past; Stapleton hard;y ever visits the Hamptons, other than to play in the annual U.S.Seniors Golf Association tournament in the spring at National, Shinnecock and Maidstone, and he knows Alec’s never been a member of that body. Or perhaps in Florida. A Palm Beach association chimes faintly. Not Alec, though. Alec hated Palm Beach, made a point of honor of refusing what few invitations came his way from those parts. Who knows? It doesn’t matter. Just then, the organ that has been playing in the background falls silent and there’s a bustle at the front of the church – evidently the family is coming in from the sacristy and filling up the first few pews – and a tremor of expectancy ripples backward through the congregation. Moments later, a deep and nasal voice a few yards behind Stapleton intones the familiar words, “I am the Resurrection and the Life…” and all shuffle to their feet.
The first reader is Alec’s oldest son Jesse. Youthful for his age, with his Alec’s stocky frame, he’s an obviously merry spirit who possesses Alec’s easy confidence at the rostrum, a person who, like his father, is used to being in possession of himself and the moment. “Dad would be very pleased to see everyone here,” he begins, “although knowing dad, he’d probably react – he is probably reacting – by telling that anecdote about whoever it was who surveyed the packed house at the funeral of a famous Hollywood mogul and remarked, ‘Well, it just goes to prove that if you give the people what they want, they’ll turn out for it.'” This elicits an uncertain ripple of laughter from the congregation: when Americans don’t know exactly how to react, it was once observed to Stapleton during his year at Oxford, they giggle.
“If you’ve had a chance to look at the program,” Jesse Long continues, “you can pretty well guess who laid it out. The last thing Dad wanted was for anyone other than himself to have the last word on who Alec Long was and who he thought he was – which, for Dad, were not exactly synonymous. He chose what you’re going to hear today, and I think he did so in the hope and expectation that you’ll listen and come to your own conclusions as to how these selections, words and music, apply to the life of Alexander Mackitterick Long – as we knew him and, maybe just a bit, as he knew himself. What they tell us about him, and about ourselves in relation to him. He didn’t want eulogies, he didn’t want people talking about how he had the gift of friendship, quote unquote, and all the other eulogistic cliches. And he was pretty outspoken about not wanting people to do what they usually do when invited to speak at funerals and memorial services: talk about themselves. Dad wanted to be certain that if anyone was going to be talked about at his funeral, it would be him! You all know how Dad liked to have the last word. Come to think of it, he also liked to have the first word, too – and about three-quarters of the words in between.”
The congreation’s laughter this time is more sure of itself. When it subsides, Alec’s son continues: “Actually, as you can imagine, I and my siblings have been talking a lot about Dad these past few months, comparing notes, trying to figure this or that out about him, seeing if we can come to a consensus view – answer: so far, we can’t! – but one thing some of us feel pretty strongly, which is that he essentially laid out the metes and bounds at the very end of his third book, which was a novel called Tough Money, that was published in 1985. That’s a long time ago, over twenty years, and I’m sure the few of you here today who actually read it won’t remember, and the rest of you won’t know, to begin with, that it was based on the character of William S. Paley, the legendary broadcasting mogul who built CBS. People used to accuse Dad of writing books that were essentially romans-a-clef, and in this case he used to respond that to understand Tough Money’s central character you had to imagine Bill Paley with a conscience, which clearly made it fiction.”
He pauses. The audience’s response is edgy – as if spirits deputed by the late tycoon are wafting through the church, taking names.
“Anyway” Jesse goes on, “at the very end of Tough Money, the protagonist, who’s a writer who’s gone through a lot with a bunch of ambitious and important – and self-important – people, is in an airport in Scotland, and about to go home – he’s already passed through Security – this was way back before 9/11, don’t forget – when he changes his mind and decides to stay and write a certain kind of book. Here’s how Dad ended it – and I quote: ‘ I closed my mind to these noises, needed to refocus on what I would say to the Immigration people, how I’d explain my turnabout, how I’d get my bag back. For an instant it all seemed a terrible bother. But then I thought: these people see all sorts, and they’ll have seen plenty like me before: orphans of the storm, driftwood washed ashore by the complex tides of life, looking – like everyone – for love and explanation.'”
The church is absolutely silent. Score one for Alec, Stapleton thinks. At the lectern, Jesse lets the thought hang there for an instant, then picks it up.
“Love and explanation. And the search therefor. That was Dad, that was Dad’s life, that’s what it and what he was about. I’d like to tell you that at the end he got there. I can’t – not for certain – although I think he came pretty close. I hope he did. We all do.”
For the first time, the son’s voice falters. He looks out on the congregation with a huge sadness, then leaves the lectern. A young woman comes forward and seats herself at the piano and begins to play Liszt’s transcription of Schubert’s song Auf Dem Wasser zu Singen – “To Be sung on the Water.”
Over the next forty minutes, appropriate feelings of mourning and sorrow are stirred by the miraculous powers of words and music. The feelings unleashed in the soaring church seem palpable and genuine. Stapleton himself is moved and impressed. There’s none of the showoffiness of Gillick’s service, no demonstration of the importance of the deceased, the resonance of his connections and the prominence of his acquaintances. Words and music – the hymns singable – carefully arranged to set a mood. That would be just like Alec. Even as a boy, he’d been a great one for mood-setting. Especially after Christmas vacation their Lower Middle year, when he’d returned to Exeter lugging a fancy Webcor portable record changer. After that, one scarcely ever passed Alec’s door without hearing music on the other side. He spent all of his allowance – and then some – down at George & Phillips, the emporium hard by the Swampscott River, which sold everything that adolescent materialism found irresistible, from letter sweaters to LPs to the latest and fanciest in tennis racquets, lacrosse sticks and hockey skates. Alec had been a fervid shopper then; at the end of his life was he still, Stapleton wonders? Addicted to records: moving greedily from Kostelanetz – playing Kern, Porter, Romberg and Victor Herbert – to Beethoven and Mozart – and to books. Books upon books, great stacks of them. It was the time that Doubleday had started Anchor Books, and it seemed Alec was hell-bent to buy every last title. It seems to Stapleton, now that he thinks about it, that all those books, all those LPs, were like the dry stones in a high wall that Alec was building around himself to keep him harmless from…from what? For that, Stapleton has no answer. By the time it would have occurred to him to ask, he and Alec had pretty much parted ways.
The service is moving and thought-provoking, just as Alec obviously wanted it to be. Not the posthumous exaltation of an ego. More, Stapleton thinks, like an invitation to the mourners to ask themselves some of the same questions, to ponder some of the same ponderings, that Alec had asked himself and pondered in the course of his life; to be encouraged, perhaps for the last time in connection with Alec, to find beauty and emotion where Alec had found it. The read-out passages work; the Book of Common Prayer exerts its piercing poetic magic; the musical interludes intensify the reflectiveness, just as Alec would have calculated they would. Reflections about Alec, about life in general, even a few about death and the hereafter. The Beethoven, in particular, churns Stapleton’s heart and for just an instant his eyes moisten. When the music ends, however, after a final moment of silence, Stapleton can’t help a faint smile. How very Alec, he thinks. Sentimental, even saccharine. If cheap music can be effective – Alec often quoted the Noel Coward line, especially in the throes of his Noel Coward period, their Upper Middle year, when he had a record titled “Noel and Gertie” that he played over and over and over – great music is even more extraordinarily so. Alec was always a sucker for sentimentality, one who wept at movies in spite of himself even in the midst of his classmates’ snickers and jeers, sitting there in the darkened gym with wet checks while the rest of Exeter hooted and yowled, – but then, afterwards, on the way back to the dorm, dissecting what had just been seen with a surgical savagery that few at “the Academy” could match.
The readings engage Stapleton’s sympathy and sorrow, especially the passage from Gibbon, in which the historian described the emotions that took possession of him during a moonlight stroll following complewtion of The Decline and Fall… and the excerpt from Eliot, just the one Stapleton has anticipated, that he himself still vividly recalls first reading over a half-century ago, the famous last stanza of East Coker: “In my end is my beginning…” read through tears by Alec’s youngest boy. The final reading is from Pilgrim’s Progress: the famous bit about the death of Mr. Valiant-for-Truth, the passage that concludes with the trumpets sounding on the other side. It’s read by Alec’s older daughter Lena, a foursquare, pretty redhead in her mid-40s, her voice rising as, approaching the final line about the trumpets sounding on the other side, she fights down her emotions and tries not to crack. Stapleton harely notices; his attention has been caught by words read out a few seconds earlier, when Mr. Valiant-for-Truth declares, “I am going to my Father’s, and though with great difficulty have I got hither, yet I do not repent me of all the trouble I have been at to arrive where I am.” Is that how it was, old friend? Stapleton finds himself thinking. All that trouble – a good deal of which you made for yourself – and no regrets? He’s certain that it’s this part of the passage, not the exultant, brassy ending, that first engaged Alec, that hooked him. And then he asks himself: But where actually is the “where” that Alec finally arrived at?
At the end of the service, Alec’s family precedes the congregation back up the aisle. It’s quite a crowd, three generations’ worth: sons and daughters and grandsons and granddaughters, two older women whom Stapleton recognizes as Alec’s half-sister Jean and his French sister-in-law, widow of Alec’s brother, whom Stapleton knows from his summer visits to Santa Fe for the opera; two other women, also of a certain age, who might well be Alec’s last two wives, and then a host of others, nieces and nephews presumably, a face Stapleton recognizes from Exeter and then from later encounters on Antigua as Laddie Storm, famously Alec’s all-time, absolute best friend, the two men practically each other’s shadow, and his wife; others, presumably from the reserved pews up front whom Stapleton can’t begin to identify, possibly old girl friends, Alec’s physician, colleagues from the Drydale Foundation – who can say, the man had such a wide embrace. Then the rest of the congregation falls in behind, trudging up the aisle, some sad-faced, others smiling grimly, nodding acquaintance right or left, the organ playing what Stapleton thinks is Handel, and the church gradually empties.
The curator from Philadelphia has business elsewhere and won’t be going on to the reception at the Colony Club, so he and Stapleton shake hands and head in opposite directions. Stapleton walks alone. He’s seen no one he really feels like talking to – oh, during the aftermath on the church steps, when the crowd seemed to be getting its a collective bearings before setting course downtown, there were a couple of faces, Exeter and Wall Street, with whom he exchanged tentative, are-you-really-who-I-think-you-are? little waves of recognition, mere flicks of the fingers, people he’ll doubtless catch up to, or vice-versa, at the reception – and he welcomes the solitude.

In the way a lobster’s shell hardens as it grows older. Stapleton’s Beacon Hill diffidence when it comes to people he doesn’t know, or at least know of, has hardened, Now that client relations is no longer a central part of his professional life, he shakes fewer and fewer new hands, and this seems to him a neat and perfectly reasonable precaution. New friends generally come with difficulties.

visits Alec’s loft. rings a bell. doodles. this is the logical, adult extension. the redoubt. weapons, provisions, outside world absolutely can’t get in, get at.

It was a very nice service, Stapleton says.
It was, wasn’t it? I think Dad would have been pleased. And well he should have been – since he planned it himself, right down to the last chord and syllable.
Never thought of your father as a churchgoer.
He wasn’t. But he went to Sunday school here. St. recalls A having mentioned that.

So much of A’s life had been spent dealing with trouble of his own making.
With rue my heart is laden
for golden friends
Dora tells him about Dylan. only thing I censored. just too long. ST will look up back home.
Dad’s cri de coeur
A hadnt seemed depondent, not to the extent his daughter implied. A bit of the old sparkle gone, perhaps, dulled with time and age, but of whom couldn’t you say that? Sta[leton merely had to look in his mirror for the answer.

At one point after another, ST thinks how different this is from Gillick’s memorial service. Introduce.
Alec had written those words in 1982. another 25 years to go. An epitaph for the rest of his life. His Rosebud. Grail. E Very like Al to palm his own memorial service – St was in no doubttaht he had; e
Passages from Dante, Housman’s “On Wenlock Edge” – a sense that did him no good
Gibbon’s – favorite passages that agree with the mood of the moment Oldest son, a man over fifty (born when not yet 21″ Dad’s favorite things. Common Prayer service punctuated. On the cover of the program, a picture of Alec, arms behind his head, smiling. We that young.

The second floor room at the Colony, stretching almost the entire width of the building looking across Park Avenue, pictures of past presidents, ladies of imeccable pedigree and impossible gentrification in every visual aspect from clothes to parure A voice behind him. A young woman he recognized from the church. Dad had receiving lines. May I sit down.
I’m Dora. You’re Mr Stapleton aren’t n’y uu. Dad had a picture of the two of you. At some golf tournament. Taken maybe thirty years ago.
Dad’s novel. Truly omniscient. The second chapter, for instance, starts out at Exeter, your prep year, but it’s from the point of view of you and your family driving up from Boston and meeting him. Throughout the book he’s trying to see himself as others see him, inventing conversations, putting thoughts into other people’s heads.

Dad didn’t want ny eulogists. he had very distinct ideas about what this person or that thought about him, and I don’t think he could stand the idea of being contradicted. The fact is, he was determined taht if anyone was going to have the last word on Alec Long, it was going to be Alec Long. You, for example. He always said you loved him but never really got him. It was like there was a fine scrim of disapproval between you.
Dad talked about you a lot. I think he kept up with you, through the Exeter alumni mag etc. Your were sort of a fixation with him. I think he saw you as his opposite: someone who’d made all the right moves in his life, whereas Dad reckoned he’d made mostly wrong ones.
How do you know that.
He was writing a novel about his life. We were always after him.
Too bad he din’t get to finish it.
yes, she said – and looked sad. The brightened: I’ll send it to you just don’t show it to abnyone.
I wuldnt think of doing such a thing.
two boards on easels. pictures. Alec’s life. people pausing. some grinning at a secret pleasurable recollection stimulated by this or that photo.
I did a bit of editing. Bob Dylan’s Dream. Too long and a bit of a downer.
He was a huge Dylan. Well, of this song. Play it over and over. One night I was at his place and we had bit much wine and he played it ten times. ST smiles to himself. He recalls A doing that. Their Lower Middle – second – year. Had a girl up from NY for winter dance very posh Manhattan girls school but you could tell from looking at her she was a bit of a tramp. let him go further than he hoped and certainly expercted and so he promptly fell in love. Easy to Love. Webcor. Kostelanetz. tback hoime ST curious. listening over and over. Googles song title. then iTunes. listens. plangent. pictured A in his Bklyn loft, the place pictured in one of the later photos. imagined a big book-lined space, high, beamed walls and ceilings. glass of whisky.

St thinks abo
Stapleton will take A’s book home. A lonely old man. He and A might have kept each other company.
My wife got a kick out of him. Your wife dead? I’m sorry.
Alz. .
I’m sorry.
Actually, it wasn’t long after your old man and I ran into each other.
His wife – Alzheimers. A home.

DarcyCurwen and Bull Clark stories, butt-room anecdotes, fifty-plus years old, fifty thousands times by now recounted and re-recounted.

ST reads last CH – encounter at Gillick’s funeral. Very little is even remotely in tune with his own recollection. using the occasion to editorialize

Dry thoughts in a dry season…

I can think of no great writer to whom postmodern modes of thought and expression are less attuned than Alexander Pope. In someone like myself, educated in a milieu in which the great Augustan writers from Dryden through Addison were still revered, Pope’s verse lives on. His translations of Iliad and Odyssey remain as good as it gets. And the other day, pondering how I, entering on my ninth decade, can come to terms with modern life, I was reminded of these lines from Pope’s version of the Second Epistle of Horace:

“Walk sober off; before a sprightlier age/Comes twittering on, and shoves you from the stage:/Leave such to trifle with more grace and ease,/Whom folly pleases, and whose follies please.”

Of course, Pope didn’t write “twittering,” he wrote “tittering.” But such are the existential claims on memory that I injected that fatal “w.” Of course, were Pope alive today, I believe he’d’ve spelled it my way – and capitalized it in the bargain.

Mystic Chords department

We are all familiar with Lincoln’s great peroration: “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Here’s another “chords” observation, made by British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, speaking in 1924 to the Society of St. George:

“These things strike down into the very depths of our nature, and touch chords that go back to the very beginning of time and the human race, but they are chords that with every year of our life sound a deeper note in our innermost being.”