Monday, October 13, 2008


There were no colored people living on their own in Weston, Connecticut, no more than there were colored people over in Ridgefield in the Silver Spring Country Club, which did not have Jews either. Colored people lived in the nearby bigger and more plebian town of Norwalk. They did come to Weston, however, as maids.

Grandmother Clark, whose room was across the hall from mine, warned me not to leave out where it could be seen the silver dollar she had given me. Mother, who was down at the far end of the hall, said the reason was that Negroes could not resist shiny objects. And sure enough, I left the silver dollar on my bedside table and in the evening I saw that it has disappeared. But for some reason I drew no conclusions from this.

I objected to Dad insisting when once he and Peter and drove into Westport with the colored maid that she sit in the back seat. They like it better that way, he said. Dad was furious at me. Just as when at our hotel in Paris when we came down to dinner we saw that the cut flowers at our table that night were black-eyed Susan’s. “Nigger eyes,” Grandmother Clark., who traveled with us, said loudly in her Southern accent. Then, apparently noting the expression on my face she sat up straight and said, just as loudly, I have always called them nigger eyes and I always will. Dad took me aside and said I should stop causing trouble.

I had noticed in myself that I had not drawn any conclusions from the disappearance of the silver dollar. This was perhaps because what they said about outsiders made no sense even when there was seeming evidence.

When mother was in one of her mournful rants – as in the war will go on forever and nothing will ever be any good – her rant could turn a corner and land on the Irish. The Irish are dirty, she would say. I did not see any sign of any Irish around, except for Jim O’Malley, who we called Uncle Jim. But he and had been at Princeton with Dad and also sometimes summered in the White Mountains, so he was did not count. The biggest threat was from the Italians. Many lived in Saugatuck, about four miles away but distant in spirit. Saugatuck’s main purpose was that it was the place where commuters, like Dad, caught the New York, Hartford & New Haven Railroad trains into the city every day. The only time we were there not to catch or meet a train was at the St. Anthony’s festival – succulent food and fireworks that were better than anything the non-Italians could set off on the Fourth of July in the nearby but very different town of Westport. And further away in the big, rough city of Bridgeport (which was where we the bad kids would go when we played hooky) there were Italians everywhere. The problem, for the people in our town was that the Italians were not really white people. They were swarthy and uneducated. Once a carload of Italians boys had stopped on our road near the place were we sent swimming and they themselves actually went swimming. From the way my parents talked they lived in terror of further invasions by what the called those boys from Bridgeport.

Once we had a vibrant white maid, Emmy Defoe, who had been to Vassar long ago and had once been married briefly to a famous alcoholic Broadway playwright and was now married to Joe the garbage man. This had to do with radical things going on at Vassar in the thirties, Mother said. Joe certainly did not live with us, but he visited Emmy in her damp room behind the kitchen, from which came loud laugher. My brother Peter and I concluded Old Joe and Emmy were fucking – which made our house a much interesting place. Joe had a daughter with the sexy name Yvonne who was as smooth, and already curvy, as those terrific villainess Mexican bar girls who sometimes turned up in Westerns. Smooth and olive skinned with black hair that fell around her shiny smooth shoulders. She was put in our eighth grade class but she was absent a lot and had no friends in our school. The other girls had names like Emily and Mary Ellen. We boys when we were at Compo Beach would take up positions from which we could stare at Yvonne, who wore a black bathing suit so tight on her body that she looked like a Varga girl out of Esquire – and was always surrounded by dark older boys who must have been from Bridgeport.

I though that when I grew up I would spend a lot of time Italy. So it did not seem out of the way that in my teens I lost my virginity at a Roman brothel to a not-so-young girl who appeared in the reception room in a skin-tight swim suit.

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