From the day Ron and his family left to the day I’d first enter an American classroom, I never had time to think or be lonely. He’d left behind two guardian angels called Judy Freidman and Joanne Dillon.
Judy materialised, flushed and preppy in shorts, and wielding a badminton bat. She invited me to a party in Manhattan where we stood and listened to someone reputedly funny. He was leaning against a piece of furniture, drawling a monologue of loosely linked one-liners. But the real highlight of that day was sitting in a bar on 5th Avenue, looking out from behind a smoked glass window. New York traffic is slow but, as I watched, it crawled to a virtual halt behind a black guy in yellow T shirt and shorts. He was skate-boarding down the Avenue, blithely aware and supremely indifferent. Sometimes an image creates magic, ingrains itself with talismanic power; or perhaps it was just reminding me that Newport was three thousand miles away.
The day had its downside. The taxi home cost me twelve dollars. It was driven by a Turk who seemed to know even less of New York than I did – to the extent that I had to find 59 St. Bridge for him and direct him from there.
Joanne gave me a guided tour of Greenwich Village. I remember drinking in Jimmy Days, the Whitehorse, where for some obscure reason they served ‘Whitbread Bitter’, Reggios, Kenny’s Castaway – where a five piece band played, walked through Christopher Street, Washington Park, and ended the evening in a Chinese restaurant. Occasionally I thought of Ron in Newport, wondering what he thought of ‘The Three Horseshoes’.
It was hard to imagine I’d soon be working, easier to imagine what the next day might hold.
Never, for example did I expect to win 55 dollars at Belmont Park Racecourse. Had I my stakes been bigger I’d have won much, much more; suffice it to say, every horse did me proud that day. Bob, Tom, Marge, and Joanne Dillon were surprised and pleased for me. Two characters standing in front, who’d lost heavily throughout the afternoon, asked me my system. They didn’t look over impressed when I said it was done by ‘names’: Angel Cordero – loved the name, no idea who he was – and horses with equally interesting names; all dead now, do doubt, but as systems go it worked for me.
What didn’t work for me was eating fresh lobster on Long Island. Not until I saw others done up in oversized bibs was paranoia assuaged; they assumed everyone, not just me, was a messy eater. All I can remember is cracking shells with instruments that could have come out of the Tower of London, the rich taste of lobster flesh and butter, and a warm salty breeze playing around my neck and feet. The lobster was great; the surgery involved in extracting it less so.
Lobster was followed by a tour of Teddy Roosevelt’s house where a lot of dead animals stared at me from walls.
These days were coming to an end. St. Agnes beckoned.
T. Roosevelt's place