21A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Norman and the Swan

November 10, 2007

It was a loft party of the size and spectacle I had not seen before.  Jammed with black clad colorful characters drinking, smoking, declaring and keeping a watchful eye on others doing the same.  It was set in a downtown loft.  Somewhere on West Broadway.  In the mid-seventies that was the most exciting place to live in New York City.  Old paper box factories, plumbing supply stores and printers’ lofts had begun the conversion to artist’s spaces.  To live and work in a renovated loft on West Broadway was the height of Bohemian success - except we didn’t call it Bohemian then.  Bohemia was the previous twenty years in New York.  The beats were Bohemian.  They were cool, removed, anti-establishment rhythms syncopated to the time of Coltrane and Miles.  This was the seventies post-Watergate and Altamont, the Pepper band had ceased to play and now the beat was Exile on Main Street, John, Zappa and an edge of Pharaoh Saunders.   Peace had been dishonored and its followers sought ways to enter the establishment they had so long rejected. 

It was a good party.  The wine had corks in it and their were trays of hors d’oeuvres that someone had made and not scraped from a can.  A short bushy haired man stood off center of the room surrounded by a half dozen guests paying discreet attention.  He wore a tweed jacket and radiated avuncular authority.  His finger jabbed at the air while he focused on the woman directly in front of him, aware of but undistracted by the others who listened to each word with the sincerity of party goers enthralled but who kept their radar alert for the possibility of an even more illuminating presence.  Ellen nudged me and said, “It’s Mailer.”  I stared.  He claimed to have been a good boxer and his broad shoulders and jabbing right hand attested to the claim.  He had recently published The Fight ,  his documentary style blow by blow account of the riveting George Foreman, Muhammad Ali fight in Zaire.  Although the room was unaware, he was at work on his second Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Executioner’s Song  which would notch up his literary legacy even further.

Emboldened by the Cabernet I moved to join the phalanx around the legend.  I thought it possible at that point in life to wander into the forest of giants, kick at their trunks and have an acorn of wisdom  fall.  If not that then to listen in on the pronouncements of a literate man who drank and fought, screwed and made art the way our entire generation wished it could.  I was not disappointed.  Mailer was holding forth about “My new book” which he managed to describe without so much as a word of its content or subject or characters.  But it felt good to stand amidst the enraptured soaking up the Pulitzer tinged atmosphere, watching a literary deity punch at the air like it was his own mortality.  It was a comfortable place with a tribe I already knew.  And then at the far side of the room, the swan arrived.  Exquisite, long, her cheek bones parting the beings before her, she moved across the room without once taking a step.  Had there been alarms attached to the personal radars, they would have deafened our ears.  The swan wore a feathered headdress, colorful and wild and somehow drawing her winged beauty to the locus of her ember eyes. 

Mailer’s jab hesitated.  He finished a sentence and reached inside his tweed pocket.  From within he drew a Sterling silver flask.  Unscrewing its top he looked at his audience and said, “Rum.  I bring my own.”  He took a short sharp swig, glanced around and said, “Anyone?”  My sub-cortex leapt from its crouching position and shouted, “Hell yeah!  We want to drink with Norman Mailer!”  But the words from my mouth were more like, “Sure, rum’s great,” or some equally studied response.  He offered the flask.   I took it.  Swigged, handed it back to Mailer believing somewhere in the heavenly stirrings a pre-ordained ritual was complete. 

But his attention had rotated to the swan who had paused at a discreet distance fully within range but hovering, radiating winged desire.  The author imperceptibly reciprocated, without a word or a break in the verbal footwork that was filling the space of conversation.   It was over.  The literary dialog ended and Zeus had set his eyes upon his Leda.  Sensing an exit I hung around long enough to watch the swan descend into his midst, eyes flashing, focused on her god.  As I withdrew I caught a bit of the introduction that at once grounded the swan and the mythological man.  “I knew when I saw you,” he said to her.   “And then I thought…”  I didn’t hear the rest.  It didn’t matter.  The gods never act as you would expect and I had not expected to meet one.  But I am happy to this day to have had the moment.  An indelible image to connect with the brilliant words that Mailer set before us in the course of his eighty four good years on earth.  He was a giant.  He will be missed.  Farewell, and thanks for the rum.

Norman Mailer, 1923 - 2007