Thursday, January 13, 2011


Before Harold Robbins decided to become a very rich hack, he wrote what was a
pretty good novel, called A Stone for Danny Fisher. I don't know why I
remembered that during last night's fairly wonderful production of The
Importance of Being Earnest, Brian Bedford's hailed directorial stint, not to
mention his performance as LAdy Bracknell, but I did. I suppose it was because
I really love Oscar Wilde, and feel a great sense of personal connection, so the
laughs, though real and stemming from a truly clever and original brainpan, felt
a little forced and painful, because I imagine I know how deep he went, how much
more he had to say and see and later did, and how exhausting it must have been
to be so witty.
My closest connection with that estimable Irishman was at the great
marble memorial to him in Paris at La Cimitiere Pere LaChaise, that was paid for
by an admirer, as he could not himself manage a simple burial fee. "I could not
afford my life," he wrote, "and now I cannot afford my death." The words
inscribed on the coffre were, in part, 'Outcasts Always Mourn,' and they
became a line of the poem I wrote for Happy's Eulogy, after that little Yorkie
and I had spent the brilliant summer day having lunch with Oscar, on what was to
be Happy's last afternoon. A terrible sadness crept out of the marble I sat on
the edge of with my sandwich, and invaded me even before anything went wrong.
It was as though I could physically feel the agonies Wilde had been through in
his life, not the least of which were having to be so witty, effortless though
it seemed. Comedy writing is so very Pagliacci.
So it was that as much as I enjoyed the production and performances last
night, the shrill of the young women's lines cut through me as he well defined
their empty attractiveness, the best of the wit being saved for Lady Bracknell,
deftly portrayed in drag, which is how, I guess, most old ladies must have
seemed. In memory I searched for Dame Edith Evans who looked not unlike Bedford
at this point in his life and make-up. Anyway, it was all veddy veddy clever
and well-designed and I was glad I went, though sorry he and Happy were dead,
though I suspect Happy had an easier life.
After that Parisian afternoon where my Yorkie and I spent a glorious day
among the glorious literary, musical and artistic dead, the only interesting
place you could go to that day because every museum was closed, it being one of
their arbitrary holidays that if you tried to take it away from them they would
go on strike, which is the French's favorite thing to do, we went to dinner back
near my hotel at a restaurant called Bouchon, where we sat at a table on the
sidewalk and a little boy ran through the street chasing after his fireman
father, and after a while chased after Happy. A pretty, dark-haired woman came
and gave me a glass of champagne, and said "That is for being so kind to my son,
Dorian." DOrian? "After Dorian Gray," she said. Pas posible. Lunch with
Oscar WIlde and dinner with Dorian? So of course we became friends and I
invited them to come visit me the next day at the Plaza Athenee, where once
again Dorian and Happy resumed their chase, this time around the room.
After they left, I took Happy for a walk, and he collapsed. That final
exertion, showing he could stand up to a younger dog had done him in. I called
the vet who said, from the symptoms, it had been a heart attack, and we would
have to put Happy to sleep the next day. I held him in my lap at a cafe so I
could quiet his quivering, and Happy had one strand of pate Alain Delon. Then I
carried him back to the hotel, asked him to help me, and stroked him in the
darkness. And at four in the morning, I turned on the light and he was dead.
There was a black velvet bag I hid him in to attend forbidden occasions,
the Literary Guild dinner when there was still a Literary Guild, and it was in
that bag that he was cremated. Then I took his ashes and sprinkled him among
the greats at Pere LaChaise.
I have no idea why I am telling this sad but somehow strangely uplifting
story except that I am trying to re-define for myself the obligation of an
artist, what it is they (we?) are supposed to do to satisfy our own needs as
well as the world's. But I felt so much pain for Oscar Wilde even as I watched
his comedy, that I knew something more was going on than simply seeing a play.
Tell of the storm-tossed man, o muse.
But what of the storm-tossed woman?
Anyway, I'm attaching the eulogy, as generously recorded for me by one of
the great voices of my lifetime. And certainly Happy's. Maybe you can help to
tell me what it all means.
With love from slush-tossed New York.