This is one of the places where the Marshaks lived: a small stone cottage, probably whitewashed walls, outside some virgin sand and water the color of tinted sunglasses, maybe a clump or two of bougainvillaea, and as far as you might want to see, several endless fields of blinding red anemones.
Theodore H. Marshak, America’s enigmatic wanderer-poet-playwright, interviewed for the BBC’s prestigious Third Programme, was asked if there was anything about the U.S. which he missed. Confounding both interviewer and audience, Marshak replied, “Yes. Eggrolls and spare-ribs.” Abroad at the time was celebrated NY restaurateur, Sy Krinsky, and hearing of Marshak’s response, the sympathetic Krinsky immediately arranged for special Care packages from his Jade and Lotus Garden to be flown to Marshak at his isolated Mediterranean retreat.
Topics and Treasures alight on . . . exciting young Ted (Knives) Marshak and his radiant-as-her-name wife, Sunny. No believers in private Illyrias they, but as Ted told us, thoughtfully choosing his words with the quiet, dramatic intensity for which he is treasured, “This is a good place. It lets you know that life is where you are.”
Where I was at the time was in high school, and one of the things that preoccupied me in those days was the way people looked. Going to school in the morning, walking up the difficult blocks which were all hills, I used to imagine that just up above us was an overworked pilot in a low-flying plane. Any time he needed a jolt out of his boredom, he just glanced down from the cockpit and took a good look at us: long hair, dangling earrings, Mexican serapes, and chunky leather sandals that kept winding up our legs as if they were the hills. Those were the girls.
The boys, already sensitive to charges of “fruitiness,” were careful to look as if they might have been going anywhere, and could only be spotted by the instrument cases or sketchbooks they carried between their looseleafs. Here and there, in advertisement of something particular, some had longer hair and wore capes.
As we came closer to the tops of the hills, the sounds of instruments tuning up surrounded us. Finally, at the very top, was the school itself, famous all over the city for its distinctiveness and nonconformity. An occasional flute or bassoon blew itself over the first warning bell, and certain above all of our distinctiveness, we pulled at our serapes and streamed in through the opened doors.
I say “we”: in fact, I did not have long hair or Greek sandals, and took very little part in the life of the school, which I called to myself decadent, affected, and sometimes bourgeois, though this word “bourgeois” was known to be out of date, a carry-over from other times. Still, these were my favorite words, and were in my eyes constantly as I climbed up the hill or walked through the halls. Because I did not share in the look of the school and seemed over-quiet in the recklessness which was its spirit, there were people who began to wonder.
“Are your parents divorced?” the guidance counselor asked me. “Is there something you’d like to tell me?”
“No,” I said, and was easily truthful.
“Just tell them you’re a mental case, it’s the one thing they’re always waiting for,” said a girl I knew whose father was a well-known sculptor, and who was herself to become briefly famous in her senior year when she refused to take cover in a shelter drill outside Altman’s.
“I can’t,” I said. It was one of the many things I considered decadent.
Partly out of concession, and partly because I liked them, I did get long pierced earrings, and sometimes wore peasant blouses. About these heavily embroidered peasant blouses, my mother said, “Every Polish peasant had a blouse like that. Wanda the goose-girl!” And for the earrings, she fell back on Yiddish, calling out as I left the house, “the little gypsy with her jangles.”
In my jangles, and with my schoolbooks, I sat opposite the guidance counselor.
“Your teachers say that you don’t contribute in classes. Would you say that you were always shy?”
“With some people,” I said, and looked out for life beyond the shades where a whole city was speeding about its morning business.
She leaned back against her filing cabinets and smiled at me as if I were a convalescent. “There’s a wonderful church downtown, and they’ve asked us if we could find them an organist.”
“I don’t play the organ,” I said, and ran out with the bell to report on this latest bit of decadence to my friend, Simone.
Simone and I were not exactly friends. We belonged to rival Socialist-Zionist youth groups, and in city-wide gatherings of Zionist youth, stood glaring at each other in blouses of varying shades of blue, each washed-out difference in color marking our separate commitments.
“What about the Arab workers who were paid money wages and never included communally?” Simone would say. She wore her hair pulled back by a thin, knotted rubber band that nobody would dare call Beat or bohemian, and would not have her ears pierced or even wear olive-wood barrettes. Also, she had a policy of never taking a seat in a bus or subway, because if there was an empty seat near a Negro and you didn’t sit in that one, it could be judged as offensive, and if you did, when there were other seats around, it could easily be thought of as patronizing.
On the train, which lurched past pillars and gum machines, I would stand on my tiptoes, trying to get hold of a subway strap.
“What if it happens that money was what they wanted in the first place?”
But Simone was much better at arguing than I; she enjoyed it for its own sake, and not even the end of a long day, a crowded train, or an upcoming midterm could stop her. What might do it, I knew, was to say, “What about the Prague Trials?,” but since I did not actually know what they were, I decided not to try it. Besides, she was the only one in her family not born in France, she lived on the twelfth floor of a doorman building on Central Park West, she spelled her last name, Frydman, with a “y,” had an uncle who was a Communist representative in the French Chamber of Deputies, and her father, who was always taking business trips to Switzerland, could be found listed in the Yellow Pages this way: Frydman Lucien. . . . . . Imprt-Exprt. What he imported or exported I had no idea; altogether, it was a family of mystery. Once she told me that her father would have to stay in Milan for a few days because they had relatives there who were beginning to feel insulted.
“Milan, Italy?” I said. “How come you have relatives in Italy?”
“Oh, you know. Typical Yid story. They were hiding in a convent and now they’re very rich.”
It was not typical of anyone I knew, so that this sense of their glamor and mystery only deepened. In a way, what I found most mysterious and glamorous of all was that Simone lived in Manhattan, on a street whose name alone, I believed, existed solely for the purpose of certain Hollywood movies, when it was necessary to show, through the flash of an awning and a lobby, or a doorman with a whistle at a cab, the backdrop of lives carried on in the ridiculous luxury of obvious make-believe.
This possible movie aspect of Simone occurred to me constantly when I talked to her or listened to her arguing, and made me feel that in some way I did not understand, she was leading a secret life. If it was true about Simone, who was at least partially my friend, what about all the other girls in school whom I hardly even knew? I began to look for clues of secret lives in the way people braided their long hair or knotted their sandals, and gaining nothing from this but more confusion, turned to other sources.
“Why do you always wear black?” says the schoolmaster in The Seagull to Masha, a girl whose father is not rich, but manages anyway for her to be living in the middle of a big estate, where there are plays at night.
“I am in mourning for my life,” Masha says, and continues to complain in this way, without ever really offering any decent explanation.
In my French class, a girl named Lucy Sperling told everyone that she had gone through her closet and thrown out all of her clothes except the ones that were black.
“My mother may kill me,” she said, “but I’m only going to wear black from now on.”
So Lucy Sperling was in mourning for her life. Why? You could never have known it from looking at her. It was another case of secret lives.
The guidance counselor, who was still intent on finding out mine, though it was obvious I didn’t have one, said, “How do you spend your time after school? Do you ever do any babysitting, for example?”
“Sometimes,” I said. From time to time, in my own building, I would babysit for people going out for Chinese food and the movies. After hysterical, last-minute preparations, they would leave their bathed, whiny children, Marjorie Morning-star with a bookmark in it, and a blaring television. Out of boredom and disapproval, I had, for the most part, stopped doing it.
“The Marshaks always want one of our girls as their babysitter. Last year we gave them Erica Jaffe, but she graduated, and after that, they went to Greece. Do you know who Ted Marshak is? Shall I give them your phone number?”
Did I know who Ted Marshak was? Was there any way I couldn’t? Aside from Kahlil Gibran and Jean Cocteau, he was one of the few writers anyone in school considered worth bothering about. What he was most famous for was a single very long poem called Knives. It was about a random knife murderer who takes joy from his work, but is then caught and imprisoned. He escapes from prison by making a knife out of something in his cell, and ends up by being in a traveling circus or carnival where he is known as “The Human Knife.” The book, in paperback, was carried around as a badge, and its beginning lines were memorized and quoted by everyone:
Flashing highglint into soft
flesh And blood
sluice through yr rivernights (my gore store)
“Ted Marshak, the poet?” I said.
“He’s much more than a poet—they’re extremely interesting people, the Marshaks. Erica Jaffe loved them. They live in Manhattan, though. Will the traveling bother you?”
“Oh, no,” I said. “I take the subway all the time,” and being very careful to avoid Simone, I ran all the way down the hill. I was preparing for a brand new decadence and the beginning of a secret life.
This is one of the places where the Marshaks lived: a gracious penthouse apartment splashed with all the moonlike winks rising off the New York skyline, vast, pale, painting-filled walls, rosy, expectant twilights echoing with the tinkle of laughter—muted laughter—due naturally to brilliant and witty jokes that were just being tossed off, and in the bathroom, a glass-enclosed shower.
“I don’t think they will,” said Mrs. Marshak, “but just in case the kids get hungry, there’s some celery in the fridge.”
Except for the difference in coloring, Mrs. Marshak looked like a stalk of celery herself. Nothing moved in her face or her body as she talked, and even doing that, her mouth seemed to barely open. With her straight, blonde hair and loose, boyish boniness, she looked like a girl getting married in the Sunday Times. But most particularly what she looked like, was a woman I had once seen in the elevator in Bonwit Teller’s. This woman, just as straight-limbed and angular-featured, was, it occurred to me when I saw her, what was called “horsey.” Whether this meant someone who rode horses or someone who looked like a horse, or even a person who because of too much horse-riding in’ the family had developed into this strange and specific but recognized mutation, I did not know. As it happened, the woman in the store was English. She was holding the hand of a handsome little boy of about four or five whom she had dressed in short pants and a blazer, and as they entered the elevator, she said to him in a clear, brisk English voice, “Caps off in lifts.”
“The babysitter’s here, Ted,” Mrs. Marshak called out, still slouching calmly in exactly the same spot. She had obviously just put on eye makeup and sprayed herself with some perfume, but I was sure that this made very little difference in her appearance. Prettier than the English woman in the elevator, she had the kind of good looks that would in no way be changed by standing in front of a mirror with bottles and brushes, and would probably look the same—expensive and clear-skinned—even if she wore dungarees. “Ted,” she said again, and her voice was not nagging, not even impatient. “Sascha, Pietro.”
From somewhere in the back, children’s voices screamed, and soon, with a naked child on either side of him, out came a short, round-faced man with a head of wild, outstanding black curls. He was practically naked himself: no shirt on at all, and there as he came walking along, was just beginning to put on his pants. Staring at his fly, which he was zipping, he said, “What happened to Erica Jaffe?”
“I don’t know her,” I said, “but I think she graduated.”
He looked up from his fly and said, “You don’t look like her.”
“I’m not her sister. Why should I?”
“All the girls from your school look alike,” and turning around, he walked away, leaving his expressionless, long-limbed wife and two tiny shrieking children.
“Their pajamas,” I said to Mrs. Marshak. “Don’t you want me to help them put on their pajamas?”
“Pajamas?” She was moving a thin, horsey finger just enough to flick at a cockroach. “They might be in the basement. I don’t know if Ted brought up the wash.”
Wash? Cockroaches? Fly-zipping? By this time I realized there would not be any glass-enclosed shower; as far as I could see there was hardly even any furniture. I followed the children into their bedroom, and opening the top drawer of an outsized bureau that looked as if it too, might have done time in the basement, I fished out an undershirt.
“Whose is this?” I said, as the two of them rolled giggling on the splintery floor. I looked at Pietro, the older one, and then at Sascha, a round-faced little girl with wild blonde curls; when she leaned back in her crib, flushed and overtired, she looked like a confused, unkempt grandmother. “Whose is it?” I said, and as I held up the little shirt, a huge roach came crawling out of it.
“Roachie, roachie, richie roachie,” Pietro sang out. “Wanna see my dump truck?”
I saw the dump truck, found some more underwear, and just as I was getting ready to read them a story or sing them a song, my usual babysitting routine, Ted Marshak, dressed snappily now in a suit and tie—there was even a flower stuck in his lapel—came in saying, “Sunny? You found their underwear?”
“No,” she said, “the babysitter.”
“The babysitter}” He looked me straight up and down in a way I was unused to, and kept squinting and frowning at me as if I were a person too stupid to realize that they had been waiting for hours on what would turn out to be the wrong line. “Where the hell is Erica Jaffe? I don’t know how they could even have sent you here.”
“I don’t know how you could have named your daughter Sascha. It’s a boy’s name, and it’s Russian, and it’s not even a real name. It’s just the nickname they use for Alexander.”
“So Little Miss Underwear Finder speaks Russian, too!”
“No,” I said, “I just know it from Russian novels.”
“Russian novels!” He made it sound as if I had said Crackerjacks boxtops. “I suppose your idea of plays is Chekhov. Or Ibsen. And poetry—God knows what! Wallace Stevens!”
“I never heard of him,” I said.
From the door, Mrs. Marshak called out, “Good-night, Niblets.” She did not go in to kiss her children or even look at them; she did not tell me, “We’ll be back around twelve, but if anything goes wrong, here’s the number where you can reach us”; she did not say, “Pietro likes the little light on at night,” or, “If Sascha gets up, you can give her some orange juice.” Just “Good-night, Niblets”—a name for goldfish or maybe hamsters. Why didn’t she come right out with it: let -them eat roaches.
I said, “Good-by, Mrs. Marshak. Have a good time.”
“Oh, please—call me Sunny. It makes me feel so old.”
“A good time!” Ted Marshak said. “Russian novels! I don’t believe it.”
I couldn’t believe it either: here I was, two minutes in the home of America’s famous, exciting, enigmatic, wandering poet-playwright, and already I had managed to make such a terrible impression that my secret life—just barely begun—was practically over. I began to walk slowly through the long halls and dim rooms of the apartment: broken light switches, crayoned walls, torn beach chairs, overflowing garbage bags, dirty plates and glasses on the floor, and no books anywhere. I continued walking numbly in this way when the phone rang.
“Hi, baby, let’s have the knife.”
“You have the wrong number,” I said.
“Sunny? You hiding that bastard? He tell you how much he owes me from that crap game last week? Come on, now, put him on! Gimme the knife.”
“This isn’t Sunny, it’s the babysitter. The Marshaks aren’t home. Can I take a message?”
“Message? Yeah, tell him Al Carpentier called.”
Al Carpentier! So “the knife” was Ted (Knives) Marshak, and Al Carpentier would have to be Alvin Carpentier, the playwright, as treasured, enigmatic, and wandering as Ted Marshak himself. I looked around for some paper to write down the message, though I knew there was no chance I would forget it, and right near the phone, in a raffia basket that had one rotting apple in it, I saw some.
Dear Mother, Daddy and Grandma B.
Well, we’re all settled now finally, and it’s good to be back in New York. Sorry I haven’t written for a while, but I’ve been busy with the house etc. I hope we’ll be able to see you sometime soon but it depends on Ted’s plans etc. He says thanks for everything. I was truly sad to hear that you had to have Prince put to sleep. What did you tell Aunt Elinor? A white lie, I hope.
Last week we went to a party and guess who was there? The King of Morocco and Ed Sullivan! Also there were some-
Here the letter stopped; she had not finished it, probably having gotten sidetracked by an etc. Underneath it were two things: a snapshot and what was apparently the last page of a long letter:
. . . though I doubt it would be similar. After all, it’s so long ago that Kate was in Greece.
Love to you from Daddy, Grandma B and all the Bradburys.
dear pietro and sascha,
here is a picture of aunt betty in uncle bob’s new boat. you can’t see uncle bob because he is in the cabin. when you come up to visit he will be glad to give you a ride.
What kind of world did these pajama-less children come out of?
B my name is Betty and my husband’s name is Bob
We come from Boston and we sell boats
I tried to imagine what it would be like when some kindergarten teacher in the nearby public school would look down the list in her rollbook and find between, say, Leventhal, Wendy and Negron, Miguel, this: Marshak, Sascha. The teacher was young—maybe it was even her first year: she had matching accessories and a bow in her hair. “Sash-a?” she would say to herself stupidly wondering. “Sas-ka?” and was entirely puzzled.
I looked out the living-room window, from which, if you strained very hard, you could see Central Park, and there, past the trees and the snow, was a certain Sascha Marshak, riding in a troika, racing through the avenues of a large estate. Her cheeks were burning, the strains of waltz music made it impossible for her to sit still, but if you looked closely, you could see that everything she was wearing was all black: unknown to all those around her, she was in mourning for her life. Then there was another Sascha Marshak—this one a middle-aged man with rimless glasses and a stern, square, steely face; he had just been thrown off a Central Committee and was sitting grimly in a Prague Trial. On purpose, he had taken special care to wear absolutely nothing that was black.
I was still shoveling this unfortunate Comrade Marshak into an icy grave somewhere between Prague and Siberia, when I heard a child’s uneven footsteps and a sleepy baby’s voice crying, “Daddy, Daddy.” It was Sascha. Her feet had gotten caught in the strap of what looked like fieldglasses, and dragging them behind her, stumbling, she opened the door of what I had thought was a closet. “Daddy,” she called into the empty darkened room. “Daddy working?” I put on the light: it was Ted Marshak’s study and I couldn’t get back to it fast enough.
by Theodore Marshak
The chill fall air gnawed like a knife. This knife which was air and was wind, which was weather and was darkness, which was all the elements, was all his life. He trudged through the darkling Milwaukee streets, his schoolbooks weighing down his arms and knew with a strained heaviness in all his body what awaited him. Past Perlmutter’s grocery lined with uncrated produce that were the unopened suitcases of his sorrows, past Tony Di Suvero leaning razor-sharp against his barber pole, there it was. Tabak’s. tabak’s hardware. Wrenches. Screwdrivers. Pliers. Hammers. Tabak’s Hardware! What was Tabak if not hard?
“Murray? You home?”
Murray Tabak. Him. Home?
Home? It occurred to me that home was just where the Marshaks might be any minute. I rushed into the living room and picked up the book I had brought with me: Dick Diver was in the middle of effecting a miraculous cure on a woman who couldn’t even see him. I thought about her rash, but couldn’t concentrate.
When the Marshaks did get home, both looking puffy-faced, and neither of them snappy, I immediately said, “You got a phone call from Al Carpentier.”
“Stupid bastard. What did he want?”
“He said that you should call him back.”
“Ted plays pool with him sometimes,” Sunny said, but the expression on her face was so rapt and far away, that I began to wonder if she had just met Ed Sullivan or possibly the King of Morocco.
“Call him back! Call him back! Him and that wife of his—bitch walks around with a scissors between her legs. Do you know what they want of me? Do you know what they want?”
“He just said that you should call him back,” I said, thinking that he was embarrassed about the money.
“Do you have any idea of what people want of me? Do you have any idea of what they expect? Do you know what this is?” He pulled the flower now obviously fake, out of his lapel, and pointed it at me.
“Ted,” Mrs. Marshak said. “It’s late. Pay her, she’s only the babysitter.”
“This squirts water. This is what they want. Ted Marshak, enfant terrible, prove it! Show us your tricks!”
“Ted, please, I’ll find the money. Just walk her to the subway.”
“Show us your tricks! Do something shocking! Say something scandalous! That’s what we came for.”
“If you really do squirt water at anyone, that’s ridiculous,” I said. “If you don’t respect them, what’s the point of doing what you think they want?”
“There’s nothing she doesn’t know, is there? Underwear, Russian novels, anything else? Jesus Christ! Smartass Jewish girls!”
“I know I’m not like Erica Jaffe and I know you don’t like me, but if it gets you so angry to be with people like that, I don’t see why you do it.”
Mrs. Marshak began dumping everything in her purse onto the table, and frantically counting out change, she said, “Are you ever free in the afternoons? After school? Because sometimes I like to go bird-watching.”
“You don’t have to walk me to the subway, Mr. Marshak,” I said. He was standing at the side window, the one that almost looked out onto Central Park, and without turning around, he said, “Octagonal.”
“Octagonal. The paving stones along Central Park West are octagonal. You didn’t know that, did you?”
The next week, I did get a call from Mrs. Marshak. Just as she had said, she was asking me to come after school; she wanted to go bird-watching. “Ted’s out on the Coast,” she said. “Big Sur, he’s not sure when he’ll be back.”
Since this meant I would be going in the same direction as Simone, I decided I might as well tell her. She was standing outside her locker, finishing up an argument with her lockermate about socialized medicine.
“My father does not rob anyone,” the lockermate was saying. “He sometimes works in a clinic and he even makes house-calls after dinner.”
“You can never justify what your father does. He dares to take money for what are simply the givens of human existence.”
“Simone,” I said, “I’m going to be in your neighborhood this afternoon. I’m babysitting for Ted Marshak, and they live right around the corner from you.”
“Oh, I know that building,” Simone said. “It’s a slum. I babysit for someone there, too. Anita Selden—she’s divorced and she’s very boring. She keeps all her old love letters in one corner of her drawer and all her divorce stuff in the other, and all she ever has in her diary is what she says to her analyst.”
“In her diary? What does she say?”
“She has these fat twin boys, and she keeps worrying that they’ll have buck teeth. And now she has a new one. She’s afraid that they’re stupid and they won’t get into any private school.”
“Are they stupid?”
“Oh, you know. Bourgeois. Trivial. Like her.”
In the Marshak’s apartment, a confusing variety of cartoon animals were quacking and meowing their way across the TV set. They fell down cliffs and pounced on each other, while Sascha slept on the floor and Pietro played with his dump truck. Only Mrs. Marshak, field-glasses around her neck, stared at the screen and laughed as if she would not be able to tear herself away.
“I just love him,” she said, finally walking off toward the door. She put on an old trench-coat and still managed to look as if she were about to go fox-hunting.
Who—I wondered. Who did she love? I knew I would not be able to figure it out, but as for the rest of it, there was a certain logic: while she was out spying on birds, inside her house I would do some watching of my own. Most of all, I wanted to know what was happening to Murray Tabak, and in what way his Chemistry was Set, but with the children around, I did not dare. I walked over to the raffia basket by the phone; there was the same rotting apple, but beside it was a foreign airform I had not seen before.
You can’t imagine how excited I am that you’re coming to England! It’ll be a great place for Ted to finish his book, he’ll have no trouble getting Dex. Rafe is at the studio all the time and I hardly get to see him. I sit in the park with the kids and am practically the only actual mother here. All they have here are Nannies, or worse, au pair girls—gorgeous and foreign who make me feel like an ancient hag. When you come, we’ll be able to sit in the park together, we’ll help you find a place. How much $$ did Ted get, it’s not cheap here, not like Greece. Let me know details and plans.
P.S. BBC people are awful, they keep saying I have a southern accent which is ridiculous since I haven’t lived there since I was a baby practically.
So the Marshaks were going to England and this was my last chance. I was just deciding to go into Ted Marshak’s study when I heard the front door open. What had happened to all the birds? Was this the only time they could think of to fly South and brush up on their accents?
But it was not Sunny. Instead, holding onto an old duffle bag, and wearing a bright yellow slicker, was Ted Marshak. He stood in the dim entrance, the shininess of his slicker the only light in the whole hallway.
“She went bird-watching. How was Big Sur?”
“Big Sur,” he said as if he were simply repeating nonsense syllables. “Big Sur.”
“Daddy! Daddy!” the children began yelling, running over and jumping up on him.
“Daddy was in Milwaukee,” he said. “Daddy saw Grandma, and Daddy saw Aunt Marilyn, and Daddy brought you presents.” He unzipped the duffle bag, and took out two matching sailor-style playsuits with the price tags still attached, and several large wrapped packages.
“Guess which is from Grandma and which is from Aunt Marilyn.” His voice had become very cocky; he was not talking to his children, but to me.
“And look what Grandma sent for Mommy! Another present!” Out of the duffle bag came a two-pound box of chocolate mint creams and a small bottle of dietetic French dressing. “My mother,” he said. “Jesus Christ. My mother.”
“I guess I’ll go,” I said. “As long as you’re home, they don’t need a babysitter.”
“Wait a minute, I’ll walk you to the subway. I have to get cigarettes.”
“Are you going to leave them alone?”
“For five minutes? To get cigarettes? Are you my mother?”
“No,” I said. “I’m Aunt Marilyn.”
All the way down in the elevator, neither Ted Marshak nor I spoke. Finally, not looking at me, he said, “We’re going to England.” I could not tell him that I already knew, so I settled on saying, “That’s very nice.”
“Nice? Nice? Do you have any idea of what this means? Do you have any idea of what it could be like for me? Do you know what my father is? Do you know what he does for a living?”
Of course I knew: he owned a hardware store in a bad neighborhood in Milwaukee.
“He’s a glazier,” he said. “You know that old vaudeville joke—when someone’s standing in the way, they say: did you think I could see through you? Is your father a glazier? That’s what it’ll be like for me in England. My father is a glazier.”
We were already at the subway entrance; I took out my train pass, and was trying to juggle it with my books, sneakers, and oboe case.
“Good-by, Mr. Marshak,” I said.
“The glare,” he said. “The glare is blinding.”
All the way down Central Park West, the sun, getting in its last licks of the day, was eating its way from one tall window to another, and flashing down off the high metal of cars and buses as they drove off—home and away.
Anita Selden, the diary-keeping mother of the fat twin boys, remarried: an eye doctor, so that if her sons have turned out to have astigmatism instead of buck teeth, they’re set for life.
Simone Frydman, on a summer visit with her Milanese cousins, met a friend of theirs, an architect from Turin named Claudio Levi. She did not marry him, but decided to live in Italy; I still hear from her occasionally when she comes to New York.
And Ted Marshak? For years afterward, I looked in book stores for Chemistry/Set. I never saw it or heard of it, but if it was a good bookstore, I would find a copy of Knives in the poetry section just the way it always had been.
That whole period in my life is not one I like to think about very often, but recently, going to the Shakespeare Festival in the park, I had to walk along Central Park West. The paving stones were still octagonal, and in the draining, late afternoon heat, what I saw all around me were girls with long hair and dangling earrings slipping out from the side streets and the heavy, canopied buildings. They wore peasant blouses, serapes, Mexican belts, and chunky sandals: that uniform, once the peculiar distinctiveness of our adolescence, had passed into “fashion.”
Bicycle-riding was in fashion, too, and looking out into the street, among the swerving riders, it seemed to me that I saw Ted Marshak. His hair, once so extreme and outstanding, would no longer set him apart, and the man on the bike, despite long, dark curls, was bald on the top of his head. I stared for as long as I could, trying to make up my mind, but the glare was blinding. In what place the Marshaks live now, I could not begin to guess.