Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Nancy Friday's Saturday Sale

The house on Southard Street where Bill Manville and Nancy Friday lived, before fame rewrote their love story. 

Nancy Friday's obit appeared in the New York Times yesterday. I was surprised at how sad it made me feel to know she was gone. Of course she will never really be gone. Her books will live on and on. And those stories in Cosmopolitan Magazine, when Nancy Friday nurtured my emerging sexuality, will forever live in my memories.
     Nancy is a real icon in American pop culture and I was in great awe of her work. I didn't know her in person, but I knew others who did. I saw her once and was impressed with her power. She swept through a room and didn't hesitate for one instant. She knew where she was going and what she was going there for.
     I once heard a story of Nancy being taken out of her house by ambulance when she was stricken with appendicitis.  She was very, very sick and had been for a few days before her illness was finally diagnosed and the decision made for her rushed trip to the hospital for surgery.  Sick as she was, she managed to walk down the curving staircase from her bedroom.  This she insisted upon as she feared that the EMT people and their stretcher would mess up the new paint job.  She was a practical gal. Then Alzheimer's.
    As I reminisce about the day of Nancy Friday's yard sale in 2011, which I wrote about in the piece that follows, I recall a certain solemnity in the spirit of the place, a sort of sadness that permeated Nancy's no-longer-necessary things. Lamps. Chairs. Hats. CDs. Paintings. Now I maybe understand a bit better why those who managed the sale seemed to be guarding Nancy Friday's things like sentries. It was the beginning of the end. They were paying homage to her giant personality.  The best part of Nancy died before her body did. That happened Sunday. The obit follows. RIP Nancy Friday. We won't forget you!

Nancy Friday's Saturday Sale

The woman-on-top writer Nancy Friday had a yard sale Saturday. It was announced in the Key West Citizen, along with all the other yard sales in the Saturday morning edition. I am a Nancy Friday fan and have been since I began reading her fabulous features in Cosmopolitan Magazine when I was a kid growing up outside of New York City. Heaven to me in those days was the train ride from Katonah depot to Grand Central Station, armed with a Cosmopolitan and a pack of Marlboros. In Cosmo I studied the art of seducing interesting men as told in articles penned by sexy New York writers like Nancy Friday and Bill Manville. Imagine my intense joy when years later fate led me to Key West where my orbit intertwined with Bill Manville’s and we became friends. Bill was married to Nancy Friday, but by that time, Nancy was living in New York, her star rising fast, and their marriage heading for the rocks.
Hello . . . is this Nancy's yard sale?
    The object of my affection in those days was a classical guitarist who played the dinner hour at a Key West club. Bill was working on a novel at his house on Southard Street. He was very kind and encouraging to me, a wannabe writer without a clue about what to write. Bill was also well versed in romance, and I needed help in that department, too, because things were definitely not going my way with the guitarist. Sometimes Bill took me for drinks to the club where my boyfriend worked (although neither one of us drank alcohol). He said it wasn’t fair that he got the job of entertaining me until my boyfriend, “the banjo player", got off work. Bill told me great stories of his salad days, his life in New York City, where he wrote a column in the Village Voice called Saloon Society. He told me about working for Helen Gurley Brown and the big book of subjects that was kept at the Cosmo office. Writers leafed through the book and chose topics to write about, he explained. He told me about living in Italy and drinking at Harry’s Bar. He described the night he met Nancy Friday and was instantly smitten with her.  The very next day he told his girlfriend (a feminist writer whose first big success was a novel I had actually read) it was over between them.  She replied: “I know. It's Nancy.” Bill said, “Yes. It's Nancy.” And he walked out the door and never saw her again. Eventually he and Nancy married. But, as I said, Nancy was no longer around when I knew Bill.
Starving artists in Nancy's secret garden on Southard Street. Ann Lorraine is the mastermind behind the fabulous windows at Fast Buck Freddie's. Her husband is a songwriter, too. That's why we're all starving.
    One night, in his house on Southard Street, after I talked about my boyfriend’s latest offense and Bill agonized over a rough spot in his novel, he told me a secret. He was seeing someone, yet another feminist writer (feminism was almost as big as sex in those days), who (oh, joy!) was a friend to me. I’ll call her Jane Doe. Back then she wintered in Key West.
    “When Jane tells you this—and she will tell you this,” Bill said, “you must act surprised, as if it’s news to you.”
     I promised. A day or two later Jane Doe told me about Bill, and said that I must never tell. Shortly after that, the news of Bill's and Nancy’s divorce was tearing over the Coconut Telegraph. I told Bill that being in on the secret of his romance with Jane Doe, the tragedy of his megastar wife dumping him and getting his Key West house in the bargain, trumped every tale of sex and the city of Key West I’d ever heard. I felt powerful indeed, as a witness to the scandal du jour. The lives of the real writers! Left homeless, and wifeless, the romance with Jane Doe done, Bill moved to California.
    “My God, what intrigue!” I, the fledgling writer, gushed the last time I saw him. “I want to write it. But can I? I mean who owns this story?”
    “Whoever gets it into print first,” Bill said, flashing me his sexy sideways glance and dazzling smile. Then, he was gone, and the house on Southard Street became Nancy’s.
Nancy in 1986
    Saturday, we arrived at Nancy Friday’s yard sale around 9:30 a.m.. People were pouring not in, but out of the house, most of them empty-handed. We learned that a mob had gathered in front of the house well before 9 a.m. and the yard sale organizers had given in to them, opening the doors way earlier than the published start time. The main surge was over and done by the time we got there.
    The event was very well planned and executed, with solemn-looking attendants in every room watching shoppers like hawks. There were rules, too, like you couldn’t leave one house (there is a guest house and a main house) carrying merchandise that you hadn’t yet paid for to visit the other house.  When you did pay, you received a receipt, which you were to display to prove you were honest.        
    Clearly, the diva had left the premises. She’d left behind, appropriately enough—considering the nature of her work— a Kama Sutra-ish bed, with an intricately carved platform and dramatic headboard, for sale at $1,000. The bed was in a glass-walled room, overlooking the pool and gardens. Just about everything else, except a display of Nancy Friday’s books in various languages and editions, was gone. I picked up a fresh copy of “My Secret Garden” as my first one is well worn. We bought a brass lamp—had it once lit the way for some steamy prose by our lusty lady of the hour? Also, as described by the sticker price tag: “Nancy’s sun visor, $1.”
    The property is sold. Nancy has left Key West. The closing is this week, we heard someone say.
Wearing Nancy's sun visor. I'm afraid my head is bigger than Nancy's.

    “It’s the end of an era,” someone else said. (People say that a lot in Key West.)
    I put on my visor but it hurt my head. I took it off and checked the label, expecting something fancy like Saks or Henri Bendel. The label said “NO Headaches.” It really did. But it gave me a headache.
    We went home and researched Nancy Friday on the Internet. She is divorced from the fabulously successful journalist/editor Norman Pearlstine, ten years her junior, the man she married after Bill. She is 78 years old now, but surely not alone—not with her professed skill at looking, talking and behaving the way a woman should, to attract and seduce interesting men.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Sea Change

Sea Change:  A marked change; transformation. 

A rough night in Sebring, Florida. That's us -- at the bottom edge of Irma's red rage. 

My journal entry dated July 22, 2017: "We moved to Sebring for good, July 21, 2017.  We live here now." This entry is followed by many blank pages. I think I was in shock. If you have moved a tree, dug it out of one location in the earth and buried its roots in another different place, you know transplanting is a perilous business. Roots don't always find new ground hospitable. They sometimes falter. 
     Moving our lives from Key West into a very different sort of town, Sebring, feels something like that. Difficult, delicate, awkward. Of course we are not trees. We are relatively sturdy people, with medications to keep our hearts from breaking and oatmeal to keep us from becoming too full of ourselves. You can buy that stuff anywhere. And in central Florida we are closer to the miracles modern medicine has to offer to those who can afford them. Now that we are seniors, we qualify.
     Still, there are adjustments to be made. Moving to Sebring, away from the dangerous coasts, gave us what sadly proved to be a false sense of hurricane security. Hurricanes don't come to the center of the state. Right?  Wrong. In September we watched TV weather reports of Irma's stealthy progress as it barreled toward the Keys and then - well, anyone's guess. East Coast? West Coast? Right up the middle? I had tense conversations with my son, Miguel, wherein I begged him to move himself to higher ground and out of the path of Irma. Her reputation was growing more sinister by the hour. Like the true Conch he is he refused to budge from his island home, come what might. 
     "Stop doing this," he implored.  "You're scaring Mia." (His sensible -- or so I thought -- girlfriend.)
Rob Eggers (escaped from Key West with his family) and Michael Keith, in Sebring, the day before Irma.
     Irma hit Key West on a Sunday morning and and blew into Sebring some 12 hours later.  And just like in "The Wizard of Oz" we watched as carport roofs and road signs flew past our windows. Some welcome wagon!  We lost power. Everybody did. On the morning after Irma there was not a hot coffee to be had in all of Sebring. So we made instant coffee at home, on an ancient portable BBQ grill. Yummy. Fun! Like camping out!
Live TV tells no lies!
     As usually happens after a hurricane, there were sketchy news reports full of terrible and dire reports of damage to Key West. The bridges are all washed out! All 42 of them! Ninety percent of Keys homes are destroyed! We could not get a phone call through to Key West for nearly 24 hours. Meanwhile we received calls from long lost friends and relatives in faraway places, anxious to know we were OK. We were. And no property damage, we guiltily reported. On Monday afternoon Miguel was able to get a 20-second phone call through to say he was safe. In fact, Key West was in pretty good shape, too. Not so the other Keys. 
     In a conversation with Miguel a few days after the drama had dropped a few notches, I spoke of some breaking political news. Miguel advised me to think twice about believing television news. As a quasi-journalist, this really blew my mind.
     "News is real, Son!" I cried.  "News can't lie!" 
     "Mom," he said. "There were news reports after the hurricane that said 90% of Keys homes were destroyed. That was in no way true. Do you have any idea what those kind of rumors do to people?" 
     He is right! Much as I dread the growing distrust of the media that has lately seriously permeated our society, I have to recognize how this kind of fake news -- and it really was fake -- poisons the pot and gives clear-headed thinkers like my son reason to dismiss any and all news as maybe true, maybe not. Who reported that in the first place? I think rumor mongers on Facebook. And in defense of journalism, that's not news!
Saturday night in our Key West neighborhood.  How did they do that?  Nobody knows. The driver didn't speak English.
     Here’s some good news about Sebring. We buy good tomatoes here. Ripe mangoes, too. I think it's because we are closer to places where those things grow. There are farm stands. There are golf carts which people drive around and around the neighborhood just for the pleasure of it. Someone is always mowing a lawn or trimming a hedge. Weekends there are dozens of yard sales. We rarely hear a siren or the sickening sound of screeching brakes. We can see, from the comfort of our living room, a vast and spacious sky, clouds and lots and lots of leafy greenery. There is a screened porch, about the size of half our Key West house. It faces East. At sunrise the birds go nuts, singing and chirping each to each. The other day, just before sunset, I was walking and saw a flock of honking geese cruise by.  On some nights the temperature drops to 50 degrees! That’s quilt weather!
     Last night I asked Siri, my i-Phone pal: "How cold will it be in Sebring tonight?"
     "It's 62 degrees," she replied. "I don’t think that’s particularly cold."
Can we really live here? Testing the waters; visiting Sebring. Christmas, 2016 with Tina Kaupe. 
     In a matter of weeks our pastoral peace will be shattered with the arrival of our neighbors who live up north but for the 3 or 4 worst months of winter, when they live here. The roads and the restaurants and Publix will be crowded -- but only for a few months -- totally tolerable when you see the light at the end of the tunnel, by which I mean the spring at the end of the winter, and the departure of the snowbirds back to their northern nests. 
     Sebring is ready for the snowbirds and the happy influx of their snowbird dollars. The last piles of branches and debris have been removed from the sides of the street. Two days ago they came though our neighborhood and scooped them up with little Caterpillar tractors. My neighbor came out of her house to survey the ruts left in her yard after the trash was gone.
     "Just look what they've done to my lawn," she said.
     "Oh dear," I said, commiserating. 
     “What a mess,” she said. 
     “Yeah,” I said. 
     "If they're going to hire someone to clean this mess up why not hire someone who will do the job right?" she asked, rhetorically.
     "Yeah, really," I said, again trying to be agreeable as I am the new neighbor and want to make a good impression 
     "Well," my neighbor said, "they aren't going to fix it. That's gonna be my problem." 
     I decided to change tactics. 
     "BASTARDS" I yelled in outrage.
     The neighbor lady picked up her head and peered over at me, as I sat on my screened porch, sipping coffee. I think she was making sure she'd heard me correctly.
     "They did come and clean it up," she said defensively. "At least they came." 
     So there you have it. People are people wherever you go. And wherever you go, there you are.