I was working for UPI at night over in Newark that first summer that I had my first place in the city. I was living on 13th Street between First and Second, then 11th between Second and Third, which was really the Bowery. This so long ago it was not called the East Village yet. I was living among people who seemed very much like me, and also actual Puerto Ricans, on what could pass for the Lower East Side.
So I wasn’t merely a wire service reporter. I was really the author of one and a half still unpublished novels, and I was leading this little group who had decided we would start a magazine that picked up from where The New Yorker had once been, which had been on top of its era to the same extent that it was mostly irrelevant now with its stories that usually avoided big themes and that went nowhere.
Then Vannie. I met Vannie at a party near Gramercy Park after my shift, just back to Manhattan via the Hudson tubes, where I had been reading The Myth of Sisyphus. Vannie. It would last, sometimes close, here and also abroad, for a number of years. She fit what I hoped would be the picture. She was an action painter who knew how to be in leotards. She had what seemed to me a face of movie loveliness, framed by soft black hair and with bangs. I thought I had never seen anyone who looked quite so perfect – and so different from the people in the family I came from.
When walking alone in that first year, noticing girls, I was getting competitive about it – for no pretty girl I saw strucke me as being as pretty as this pretty girl who was my girlfriend.
Vannie and my real life, what I really wanted, whereas wire service journalism was something I had to fake. My serious unpublished work, and my plan to unseat The New Yorker. Though overall I felt contempt for it, I still read The New Yorker, and each new Salinger story was like a major event in my life. We were into the Glass family now. But to my horror I saw in a new issue a full page cartoon that showed a couple, a guy who did not have to deal with neckties and a girl dressed like Vannie dressed, sitting on the floor at a smoky bohemian party not unlike some parities we went to – and he was saying “ I have a confession to make. I am a feature writer for Scripps Howard.”
I was given silly assignments, like one to stand all night outside an apartment house on the chance that Charles Van Doren, at the center of the rigged quiz show scandal, would show up. His building was not far from Vannie's. I abandoned my post, and I woke her up. And we were a couple, though we had our problems actually coupling, and I saw no need for loyalty because I had seen in my family how women bully men. Which seemed to me then not so much an excuse for my going after other women as it was an attempt at accuracy. At getting life right.
And it did often feel like I was in real life now. Vannie and I went to museums and galleries and constant parties, which were more my scene than hers. She was constantly in my mind. As was death. Working for a wire service I was always hearing and writing about death, as in plane crashes or murders. And each time I heard about it, just as each time I passed a graveyard, I had this sudden picture of Vannie accompanied with a sexual surge. One of many things I knew I could never completely understand.
One day we were on our way to Washington to see paintings. I had barely made it to Penn station in time to meet her, for I had been held up at UPI. Boris Pasternak was dying and, though he was not dead yet, I was at work on his obituary.
Vannie has brought a picnic lunch for us. The train was not crowded, so we took over two facing seats. As happened sometimes, I was not thinking of anything or anyone beyond this moment. While we were laughing at something, the conductor handed us a folded note. It was unsigned. It said, "It makes me happy to see two young people who are so happy together."