Sunday, July. Nan Page follows the Kentucky horse buyers and the other passengers out of the plane into the yellow mist that clings to Newark Airport. The blue scarf capping her hair and the dangling gold-coin earrings give her face the mask of a Creole Gypsy. She is toting all the original film footage and audio tapes from her first twenty-minute feature, divided between three valises plus a shoulder bag. A few steps past the electric-blue Eastern waiting room, the film cans in her left hand become so heavy, she must lean to that side as she walks, swinging the roped cans, left foot forward, left hand forward, step. A friendly baggageman passing with a flat truck. Charm. He is persuaded to go beyond regulations and ferry her luggage to the Manhattan-bound bus. He detours. Repeat the destination. Yes, but he wants to weigh those cases she was carrying. Weigh them, what for? But he does, and the needle climbs to fifty pounds. “Yawww SUPERRR—woman!” he says.
She gives her home address to the taximan parked in front of the Forty-second Street bus terminal. Called everybody I didn’t use in the film. Yes. Reached them all. Sister will bring my clothes Thursday on her way. Maid comes Monday. No underwear till then . . . What did Jenny say yesterday on location that was so amusing? Oh, yes. I want to take a Ph.D. so I can be a campus radical as long as I can. Putting me down for telling Wade to defend her in the caucus scene. “See, Nan, you’re stuck on the inferior-woman thing. I can defend myself.” S***! I’m not nearly as far out as Jenny is.
The taxi doors rattle all the way to her Greenwich Village block, an oasis of well-kept brownstones bundled away between Sixth and Seventh Avenue and MacDougal Street. Nan opens the iron gate and manages her luggage up the high Victorian stoop. Which key unlocks the front door? Only three weeks? It seems longer.
Suitcases stowed in the middle room on the zebra rug, she inspects everywhere, running her hands over the elegant Bloomingdale blue-red couch that lends the formalness of a Kentucky homestead to the living room. The plants on the windowsill are alive! Retracking past the front door to her large bedroom, touching the Indian paisley fabric behind the bed, drumming her nails on furniture in every room, proving she is home again, in her own floor-through.
The answering service tells her, since the morning only one call. Paul Elliot is away on location shooting. “No other messages, Miss Page.”
Mail. From a living-room wing chair, she drops the magazines onto the rug, searching through the ads, and bills, for her second installment on the grant from the American Film Institute. Her backers for the featurette. The check. It is less than I asked for.
She slumps back into the chair, remembering the bills outstanding from her last film, what she owes the government in taxes, the loan from her father. I’m really extravagant; I have to be careful. Clothes, pulling back there a lot. Hair, once in three months, only to have it cut, rarely styled. Do I need $70 weekly out-of-pocket expenses? What to leave out? Maid? Taxis? Reduce food? Laundry? Plus $80 for the shrink and $100 toward rent, telephone, answering service. I need $250 clear, after taxes, a week. She bolts upright. I’m locked into debt; I have to go deeper into debt to finish the Kentucky film. I could really blow my life. What am I getting myself into? What for? For whose approval?
She rises from the wing chair and walks haltingly toward the bathroom to freshen her makeup, powder over self-doubts to get that shot of identity from her own reflection. She brushes on some taupe eye shadow to widen her eyes, which taper off in a Kennedy downward slope. Checks her eye liner. No need for repair. Between her large, pointed nose— the proud family trademark for over a hundred years—and a tiny cucumber of a mouth, she applies only a little blush-on rouge and then some powder, secure enough in her looks at thirty-one not to use more makeup and aware enough to know that other women who spend more time in front of the mirror get no further than she.
The foyer mailbox produces nothing more. Jesus! Why are they holding up the money? The light bulbs of the Maritime Union’s clock on Seventh Avenue sputter 11:06 as a green truck labeled “New York Times” speeds past. The old sights of shop after shop welcome her back. A new one? No, Saturday’s Child moved. Before a corner café, a homosexual slides toward another leaning against a car and kisses him. She stares at the fish tank in the window of a seafood restaurant. Where will my pleasures come from? Who will ask me to the Hampton’s? Nobody. Oh, yeh, the guy on West Seventy-second Street has a built-in tank of exotic fish. I could get stoned in front of that living-light show.
Monday. The reception desk at Leacock-Pennebaker is unmanned, but the wall-size bulletin board facing the elevator bombards her with the stares from famous/beautiful people photographed in company films—Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Norman Mailer, Jack Kennedy, Bob Kennedy, Godard. The pictures are part of cinema-verité film-making’s Hall of Fame.
Rickie Leacock’s office door is closed. Rather than interrupt, Nan wanders down the hall, looking into the tight-airless editing rooms she knows so well, where the line between artist and technician is so slim, egos get chewed up like film caught in the projector’s teeth. But in the insulation of such rooms, Nan developed far beyond the possibilities offered women meshed in 9-to-5 office patterns.
Jean-Louis in Paris stimulated her interest in film. Rickie gave her the opportunities—prodded her to leave the editing rooms and take sound on location, hired her for her first stint as associate producer on a major hour-length network documentary, shot for free her first film on which she risked borrowed money and nights and weekends to be rewarded with applause at the Museum of Modern Art screening, a place in the Lincoln Center Film Festival. In effect, an East Coast Oscar, the chance to produce a film for a major industry, a real coup in a ruthlessly competitive field where the lack of talent results in the drying up of funds, then the AFI grant. The door still shut, but when it opens, Rickie and Nan grab each other and hug like two old friends who have no secrets.
Conferring in Rickie’s office, Nan leans forward, her elbows propped on his desk. He tells her how the company who commissioned her first industrial wants to work through their ad agency for television commercials and how the advertising agency mistakenly phoned him about the project. He goes on in a dark mood, dubbing cinema-verité shooting a bloody “fishing expedition” with no guarantee on results. Rickie promises to set up a meeting with the agency. Nan muses. If I get the commercials, I’ll get out of debt. Groovy! In fact, I’ll be rich.
Nan pushes away her empty plates in La Crêpe, on West Forty-fourth Street. She drops her hand into her black handbag, and after foraging a few seconds, draws out the tiny daily calendar she did not use in Kentucky. She writes, “Monday, July 14, Call Cynthia again.” Amazing. Sometimes you have to call friends three times to get through to them, and close friends at that. New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town . . . “Call Harry for advice about budget.” Must do that this afternoon. Agency meeting tomorrow. Have I got everything? She draws a pack of blue 3” x 5” cards from her bag and checks her calendar against hastily made phone notations. The last card. “Interview with Marilyn Bender, NEW YORK TIMES, 7/14, 2:30.” I forgot. I almost forgot. 2:20. A mirror. Lipstick. Change for a tip. Blue scraps of torn paper cards beside her napkin. Never mind. And she leaves, rushing in the direction of West Forty-third Street and Seventh Avenue, shredding through the crowds instinctively. The great Times bulb lights—the suspended lampposts jutting over the sidewalk. Almost there. Oh, I’m running. I’m back in New York, and I’m running. Damn it!
Tuesday. The cab lets her off in front of a Sixth Avenue skyscraper still under construction. Is it the right address? Windows wear taped X’s that in other parts of the city mean a building is condemned to be razed. Workmen in hard hats plod in and out of the glass doors. Over the makeshift bridges inches above Manhattan mud float pantyhosed legs and men in self-effacing suits. I guess so. In the elevator, nervously, she pulls down the belt of her black Pucci, smoothing the skirt which, until last night, had been curled like lettuce leaves inside her handbag. Why did they call Rickie? Who else is bidding?
“We want to do a film about various company jobs, selling them to potential employees. The theme is ‘You do your thing.’ We were impressed by your last film and want to do the commercials in your style.”So relieved. Nan slides down several inches in her seat, her face wreathed in a smile. As they move to the budget discussion, she digs out her 3" x 5" cards. The persistent hammering makes his questions hard to hear. Nan sits way back in her chair; it is a covertly offensive gesture. Who would do the camera work? Rickie, if he were free. A detour about her accent. Kentucky. His wife’s family from Kentucky. Nan drives an advertisement for herself, with a lunge soft as hush puppies, for she couldn’t be brazen if she tried.
He’s interested in funny stories, taped some interviews for research in New Jersey. Nan does not eliminate his idea. Rather she says, “We’ll go out looking for the spontaneous and extraordinary, but if we can’t get that, we will cover ourselves with interviews and footage that can work with voiceover material.” Her soft approach; it works. And then she waits. The feminine posture bred into her too deeply to give up. In the silence, the fact she wants slips out; “We have asked other people to bid, but we’re considering you the prime contender.”
The elevator doors shut, and Nan slumps against a wall. Just in time. I came back to New York just in time. The commercials could pay my bills. But they could do me in. How many friends have been put out of business because they’ve had to waste four weeks shooting the foam of beer spewing from a glass to the satisfaction of some finicky executive. Jesus, how I hate debt!
Friday, May. Kentucky. The Lexington airport. There’s Michael. She waves. And he waves back, his turquoise bracelet snapping up the sunlight. And the blue-suited man beside him looks up and his stare follows the wave. The crowd makes its way through the fence entrance with Southern slowness. Nan keeps sight of Michael’s brown suede jacket. They hug. He missed me. Oh, I’m glad he’s here. Michael leans back, still holding her, “I should be filming this.” Another hug and kiss, and he says, “Now if we can take this energy and bend it, we can work twenty-four hours a day.”
As he disappears toward the parking lot, gingerly making his way through the parade of visitors being met by native Kentuckians (who sport their guns, quite casually, on hand-tooled gunbelts) , Nan senses the filming this weekend will be a total disaster. I don’t want to work. Oh, those fees even at Michael’s lowest price. All the equipment alone— camera, magazines, tape recorder—costing me $100 a day. I don’t want to think about it. No, I must go through the motions.
Ahead a Georgian house with pillar porch. Nothing my parents could do would embarrass me. Will they bore Michael?
They enter, like family, through the back door. Inside, Nan falls into a deep Southern accent. Her mother greets them, legs and arms brown and firm from gardening, features like her daughter’s, more salt than pepper in her hair. Mr. Page shakes Michael’s hand. A lawyer’s handshake, tempered, for the low-paying and high-fee clients alike. Average height, gray-blond circling his crown. Why Nan’s accent? Never get their approval without coming home sweet home, forever. And the grandmother, a clear-eyed ninety-three, proves a crack storyteller as Nan retreats to the pantry to fix drinks.
A few minutes. Her father comes in. “Your friend is sitting in my chair, and he’s only been here five minutes.” Placate him. He might embarrass you. He’s jealous.
Michael finds dinner Faulkneresque. Double staircase, wysteria, lilacs netting the air with perfume. Silver water glasses with scrolled initials. Homemade corn bread. Country smoked ham. Mrs. Page narrating how Mr. Page shot the quail last fall and who was there. She invites Michael to too many helpings.
Mama’s really knocked herself out for dinner. I love what she’s chosen. Built-in jokes, horse jokes, home-farmed gossip. Why didn’t father give me my phone messages? The people who call his office expect him to tell me. He just can’t treat me as a professional. Too bad. He’s got a groovy daughter, and he’s suffering because she’s not a virgin.
Michael fidgets in his chair. Mrs. Page is making me nervous. Ask another horse question. Don’t let her know. She has that pained look in her eyes that “It’s bad enough Nan isn’t married, but does she have to work in films.” Bet she’d be delighted if her daughter would come home and be her little girl again. They haven’t asked about the film all night. They don’t care.
Riding home, crickets regular as a humming air conditioner, Michael mentions this to Nan. She is silent. Then she lets him know she’s not surprised. Last fall in New York, Paul Elliot dining out with the family said, “Isn’t it terrific Nan’s film will be shown next week at the New York Film Festival?” Nothing. They said nothing.
The kidney pool by the motel’s front office is dimly lit when they arrive. She and Michael say good night and go inside their rooms. All very discreet. Just like in Paris. Her parents had never known about her little protest, her private sexual revolution — the offering up of her virginity as a safeguard against marrying the kind of man who believed in purity until the wedding night, the kind of man who would stash her away, like an ornament, as a housewife in a rich suburb, the fate of so many of her St. Catherine classmates. No fifties Southern flower thinker for her. But this is Kentucky, and her parents live less than a half hour away, and she has school friends dating back to first grade here and relatives and townspeople she knows. And this is the first time she has come to Kentucky and not stayed with her parents. And when she opens the door adjoining Michael’s room to hers, she knows exactly what she is doing. Her protest against her small-town Southern upbringing is now public knowledge.
Friday. July. New York. Her living-room windows, pushed up, mini-hems against the night. Blast of The Who cascading out of the stereo. Top decibels, the privilege of Village living. The French diplomat who knows Jean-Louis pelts her with compliments. Each visit stateside, he expects her to be transformed into the tough career woman. Why not? Will she wear a long calico dress if he buys it, show him how they looked in Kentucky a century ago? The compliments: what does he expect? That I’m a loose woman and he’s a weekend bachelor in the Village? Oh, he’s just being French. Don’t get uptight.
News of mutual friends in Paris. And JeanLouis? He’s married a rich girl. He doesn’t love his wife, it’s very clear. To a rich girl? We were to be married at city hall. And he thought wedding invitations were bourgeois.
When she had met Jean-Louis her junior year abroad, he had been a revolutionary. An intellectual, demanding any woman he married have as many academic degrees as he. So she had returned to Paris to obtain a master’s degree. Then to New York the year he was drafted into the Algerian bush. A beginning in films. By fluke, becoming Harry’s apprentice, and then living with him, on and off. A year. Harry let her take a film job returning her to Paris, without protest. Jean-Louis on a two-week furlough. Harry calling at 3 A.M. No privacy to take the calls anywhere except under the bed. She and Jean-Louis deciding to marry. His needing government permission as a soldier to marry an alien. A five-month wait. She lost her nerve. All her baggage marked for Harry’s apartment. She stayed only a week.
Nan resists the diplomat’s querying eyes and goes to the kitchen to refill his glass. What to say?
He smiles. Subtle probes. Without contriving, he nurtures trust, works as she did directing a scene to be filmed — question and comments peripheral to the primary emotion and then the heavy question. “Why didn’t you marry Jean-Louis?”
She confides, “I never had a certain stick-to-ittiveness a lot of girls do. They think they can change a person. Compromise. I never could. I would accept ... a relationship till a certain point, then . . . I’m terrified of being dependent.”
“Jean-Louis is my friend, but he is very bourgeois,” the word bourgeois resounding with contempt.
“But when Jean-Louis and I met, I was the one who was bourgeois.”
Later, she hammers shut the window locks with tiny knocks, thinking, burying once more a longdead alternative.
Saturday. A menacing figure coming toward her. She screams. Darkness. Faint light in her bedroom. The memory of the scream wraps tightly as a winding sheet around her. Did I scream out loud? No, there it is again. And sobs, and the scream again. She shuffles out of bed and to the window. Four people, no, there’s a couple at their window. Six. Where is it coming from? Woman in the patio across the yard points two stories up. “Don’t worry. It happens every Saturday morning.” I’ve never heard it. Nan gets the address. Dials the police. They take down the information and promise to investigate.
She covers herself with the sheet. Chilly. Turns over. Changes her position. Still awake. Pushes the pillow to the other side of the king-size bed. Vulnerable time of day. Monday-Friday pressures usually push her out of bed and out of the house. Today no appointment, no important phone call. This is incredible. I’m not living with anyone.
So the recriminations, the remorse, the jetsam from former selves. Why aren’t I living with someone? Why don’t people call me? I’m always the one calling them. Do I have to initiate things all the time? No man there to make love to her properly, to tell her she is the prettiest Southern belle, for him a woman first, film-maker second, and with his body joined with hers, like two half shells, shut out the shark-toothed question baited by loneliness in a large bed at dawn, what is my life about? WHAT IS MY LIFE ABOUT?
Harry and I talked of getting married. What did that little actress say the other night? The theater director invited his wife to the opening, but sat with his girlfriend in the balcony. Sounds like him.
What I loved about you most when I met you was you were doing your thing and I feel I’ve destroyed that.
Every guy since then, cut me to the core . . . feeling of not being feminine when I work, feel rejected and that I will be rejected . . .
I’m twenty-seven and not married. If I want to be a film editor, I’ve got to pull myself together and become a professional, a producer—I’m making the choice in life which could deny my whole sexual identity. So lonely. Sleep with anyone who will have me. Two times with that Boston lawyer and I can’t work. I keep imagining I’ll marry him, make films and be the belle of Boston. I’m reacting to my fantasies, but what can I do, I’m so alone.
The Shrink—“You’re wasting your time. Spend your time looking for SOMEONE.”
No, I’ve got to hustle for my happiness. Drop her.
“How old are you?”
“He’s that young, my god!”
Shooting my own movie. Editing nights and weekends. When I’m working hard, I don’t feel attractive. This society makes you believe for a woman to work to be successful is very unfeminine. Women who do are monsters.
“How else would you show your love?”
They’re applauding . . . they’re applauding my film at the Museum of Modern Art. People really like it. Well, I must have talent . , . I’ve just got a grant . . . I’ve just got a grant from the American Film Institute. I feel ... my life is justified. Sleep.
What time. Ten to ten. Her spindly model legs reach for the floor. Steps into a pair of underpants, hooks a black no-bra. From the tall closet beside her bed takes the hanger out with her gray hiphuggers. A blue shirt. The gypsy earrings from the bureau top. Did I lose my Diorissimo? Must remember to buy another bottle next time uptown. Tries a long, thin strand of hippie beads. One loop won’t do. Doubles the strand, one loop close to her neck and one low, twenties’ style. She steps carefully over the bills and checks, laid out like a game of solitaire, to get to the door. Mostly business bills, personal ones still wait.
Half-empty glasses on the white table by the living-room couch. Ashtrays littered. She gathers an armload. Into the kitchen, the size of a butler’s pantry. Glasses covering the top of the ranch brown kitchen stove. Someone playing WQXR on his radio. Usual baroque serenade. Into the bedroom again for Yoga. Turns on radio and rolls out a blanket on the floor before she stands on her head. . . . filed suit against Hayakawa . . . Nigerians . . . . . . weather story . .. rain likely . . . humidity, 82 percent . . . Again the top story. Governor Rockefeller says no to Mayor Lindsay’s request for State Aid to keep bus and subway fare 20 cents. Monitor 69. Live it up and let’s go. Playing Friends of Distinction.
Do I want breakfast? Yes. Opens Frigidaire. I hate dishes. Ties on an old-fashioned yellow apron with high bib and starts sponging the Williamsburg cocktail glasses in the soapsuds.
All waked up. In the bathroom, takes a birth-control pill and then scans her forehead to see if the brown rash from the pills has grown or receded slightly. Yawns.
Bacon, toast, tea, liquidy scrambled eggs into the living room, she sets the plates down by her phone table stationed by the white director’s chair and front windows. Puts tiebacks on curtains, sun rushes in. Apron still on, towel over shoulder, takes off the turntable the new Beatles record and pushes “reject" on the player. Clearwater Revival. Funk rock on the disc, a white boy with a tan voice. Green tree leaves flood her window. Deep breaths, long deep breaths.
Favorite record. She listens to the funk . . . funk ... funk .. . beat and leans back, balancing her plate on a knee, watches the fountain play of sunlight streaming through the white, billowing curtains. Index finger to mouth. Feel so relaxed. Finger combing her shoulder-length hair, pushing it back, out of her eyes. I have all day to do my errands. Hands hanging limply on the armrests of the director’s chair. If that tree outside my window dies, I’d spend $100 to plant another one. It’d be worth it. Phone rings.
“Hi, Tom. No, I haven’t got the Times. I’m not really awake yet. Oh, God, there’re just tons of things I’d like to see. Have you seen it?” She giggles. “What? I’d like to see that. ! hate Pasolini, too. OK. That and then Dionysus ‘69.”
And hangs up. She glances at the drawing over her couch: a screaming woman. At this hour, the portrait does not upset her.
In the sunlit room, she stumbles upon an answer, a rationale. I have totally changed myself in ten years. If I hadn’t had affairs, I wouldn’t have learned as much ... I kept meeting men whose lifestyle I liked. Then once I absorbed their thing, I wanted to go further. And, she realizes ruefully, they weren’t ready.
Monday. Twenty minutes past the time of her doctor’s appointment. The pain is low. Not abdominal. Can’t be appendicitis. Why do I think everything is that? On the wall, a blowup of a home snapshot of Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward cupping a new baby between them. Autographed thanks from Judy Garland, more from Nelson Rockefeller. I’ll bet Happy Rockefeller wasn’t kept waiting. The buzzer. The door to the doctor’s offices tentatively opens. The nurse.
Nan asks how long. Half an hour. She’ll be in Central Park for a while. Outside. Glimpses her reflection in the office window. Sibley—Coffee custom-made dark brown pants suit, belted jacket over high-collared Gypsy blouse. No more East-sider elegance. I want to look hippie. She turns and takes one more look. Elegance puts me off. And with the green light, heads across the street, unbuttoning her jacket in the noon warmth. I want money, but not money that signifies I’ve got money.
Nanny parades past with a baby carriage covered with white lace, thin as gauze. That poor girl with infected tubes. She couldn’t have children. Ask the doctor to check you over thoroughly. A child wouldn’t hurt my career, not in my field. She sits down on a park bench. How desperate do you have to be to go into a delivery room alone? It would be more fun to have a child with the man I love. How much longer can I wait? I’d refuse to go through menopause without having children. It’s the ultimate thing to prove I’m a woman. How much longer till I find someone to live with?
Blue shirt open at the neck under his examining gown, the doctor assures Nan she’s fine, her fallopian tubes are not in any way infected, she could conceive today if she wanted to. The pills he’s prescribed will relieve the burning from the cystitis in a day or two.
Her apartment phone. It is Harry returning her call to talk about the producing fees she plans to ask at Tuesday’s meeting. How did he bill for his commercials? He offers figures for equipment, time, contingency. Figures becoming more familiar to her each day. Nearly talked dry. He’s split with his present girlfriend. She nearly blurts out a thought submerged by weeks and weeks of grueling work in another state, will you give me a baby, do you want to have a child with me?
The thought sticks in her throat like a chicken bone.
Monday evening. Michael’s answering service informs her. “No, he’s in town; I’ve talked to him a lot today.” She replaces the receiver. Where is he? Those people are waiting for us at the steak house and I can’t even reach him. She feels humiliated and helpless. She sits on the couch, slouching into its back cushions. He couldn’t do this to me. Why can’t I reach him? Business conference? But a twominute call? Unexpected filming? Errands. Why can’t he take a dime and tell me where he is and how late he’ll be?
She dials. Waits. Dials again. At last, he answers. “What? Call . . . oh, yeh.” Voice groggy, as if he’s rising from a deep sleep. He is, and tries to apologize. Very busy day. Three people who said “urgent” in their messages and he hasn’t phoned them because . . .
“Don’t explain on the telephone,” anger swirling like a dust storm. “I want you here!”
The big scene to cut her director’s teeth on. Twenty kids to control in a classroom, a teacher, too. Screams from the hall. The blast of firecrackers. The teacher, “School is in session till 3 o’clock. Don’t sign your yearbooks till you get into the hallway.” Good, repression. Michael wants a conference. Stop. Redo the scene for close-ups. No, Godard hardly does any retakes. Jump cuts, no transitions. I won’t be sorry later. Manual of how I want to work. Authority stated.
Michael backs down. Wanted to help. Accustomed to agency executives who learned film-making in $3.50 seats at East Side movies. Nan, superior editing room background. Shooting style OK with him.
He watches her the rest of the day. She’s low-key, even philosophical when a supermarket manager gets a bad case of stepped-on ego, reneges on his superior’s permission. They can’t shoot at his market. An hour later, they are filming, cast of eighteen, at another branch. Nan didn’t fall apart, no indecisiveness, cool. Not the passive female. Assertive, for Michael, more magnetic, his American Julie Christie with a style all her own.
Fifteen minutes later. The bell. A newborn smile on her face. Ten minutes go by. Michael gulps, “Let’s get your anger all out, OK.”
“Yeh, I’m mad,” beaming. So delighted to see him. Unwilling to stir up the storm of anger. Ready to call two millimicroseconds of dust lash enough!
Michael, relieved that Nan the producer is Nan the woman, and that Nan the woman is Nan the producer.
Instead of thumbing a taxi, she heads first for the bank. A hippie whistles. A truck driver stops and gawks at the girl in sheer navy polka dot dress. A guy in a frayed World War I Army jacket stops and offers an obscene invitation. She smiles and moves on, feeling quite satisfied this morning, and untempted.
She stands in front of one desk along a carpeted corridor. Neither the secretary nor her boss is there to receive the films. Waiting, she crosses to the boss’s office and stands before the window framing a view encompassing all of Central Park, as breathtaking as a Veuillard painting. A view like this every day could change your life. A sputtering behind her. The secretary. Hair teased out toward the Empire State. Nan reviews the call for the films for the screening, she’ll pick them up . . . “Good,” says the secretary. “I’ll tell him the film will be picked up by Mr. Page’s secretary.”
Nan says, “I’m sorry to tell you, I am MISS PAGE!” Leaves without another word. Outside, the blare of midmorning traffic on Sixth Avenue. It’s a shame those girls are so brainwashed they think all women are secretaries or tough thirty-five-year-old bitches. This is a man’s world is all they ever see, and that girl will never try to be anything but a secretary. And that’s why they interview me for the Women’s Page, not the Entertainment section of the New York Times.
Rubber-ribbed carpets over the lobby floor of the agency’s building. Construction men mingling with all levels of company hierarchies. Will they take it? Will they think the commercials overpriced?
The writer’s office, this time. Writer, sideburns and neck scarf updating his college khakis. Is he a fifties or a sixties thinker? Through his window, across the street, on the roof, two boys with a balloon peering at the traffic below. A word-man, theater-oriented, wants dramatizations. Don’t cross him. Nan doesn’t argue, deflates his ideas, slowly, with questions. Writer relaxes and puts Chelsea boots on the desk as other executive watches performance from rear seat. He’s a fifties thinker, precinema-verité. She suggests both methods—spontaneous and staged material. Finally, the request for the total dollars the commercials will cost.
When she gives the figures, they blink with astonishment and try a shredding technique—“No idea how many commercials the client finally wants . . . May not have that many weeks of editing time realistically.” Nan is taking notes on blue cards. “We might take the footage out of the producer’s hands and edit it ourselves.”
Her Achilles’ heel. “That would bother me because I’m a really good editor.”
The boys let go of the balloon and the pretty colored dot climbs into the sky, going nowhere.
The two agency men judge that they have the upper hand.
But Nan, well prepared by her business manager, dodges their suggestions for an immediate budget reduction then and there: “I’m sorry; these figures were arrived at with a consultant and I’ll have to relay your ideas to him and let him revise the figures before I can give you another definite total.”
She has won the round. The writer reclines back in his chair and says, “Nan is no dummy.”
Wednesday. She begins planning a dinner party, but not before she inspects her new editing rooms which she plans to decorate with film posters. Late last night, when she relayed the new figure for the budget to the agency executive at his home, a figure barely lower than the first, the agency man said, “I think we can work with it.”
Friday. Haven’t had a dinner party for two or three months. Hope Michael’s out-of-town shooting is canceled. Groovy if he can come. Oh, last time. She remembers people running up and down the apartment, quite stoned, as if they were on a basketball court. This time, no smoking before dinner.
Begins picking up underpants strewn around her bedroom. Picks up a pair of pink lace thirties ladies undershorts. Net no-bra. Bendel’s should get a line of obscene underwear. Just the Bendel’s label would make it socially acceptable. Clothes put away in the closets. Into the living room, straightening up. By the phone, a silver teaspoon etched with shell and leaf. From mother. Grandmother won’t give me anything till I marry. Told her I have a house; I’ve set up housekeeping. And Nan muses about silver teaspoons and a tarnishing dowry. Jane Fonda told the camera, “I have a whole lot of baggage left over from my backyard that I have to bury, or remove.” I do, too.
She props the iron up for a rest. Pauses to stare at her delicately slender fingers. When I was growing up, Mother would say, “You are inherently feminine. I can tell by your hands.” Flattens the iron against the large sheet again, which is serving as tomorrow’s tablecloth and the next day will puzzle the Chinese laundryman trying to decipher its spaghetti stains. Buy a tablecloth. No, I’m antielegance.
People coming from the supermarket. Lady wheeling a full cart. Girl entering with a full laundry bag on her shoulder. In the Village, I’m always comfortable. Turns the corner. Oh, I need chairs. And she scans the trash as she walks. Last time she found a chair, took it home, sprayed it, and used it the next night.
The pottery barn. Wineglasses upright on the shelf. She takes down the hollow stem champagne glasses. Who would want crystal today? Negro salesman. She writes a check and snaps shut her checkbook. An impish smile. “Phone number on the back, please.” She doesn’t move. “The bookkeeper wants them. I don’t know what for.” Salesman cooler returning her I.D.
Lugging chair in one hand, groceries and pocketbook in other, through the crowds, at last opening the gate, and home. Any messages?
“Yes, Miss Page, Michael says he regrets very much he can’t come to your party because he has to go out of town on business.”
Damn it. She slides into the director’s chair by the phone, packages falling to the floor. She recalls the days she wasn’t going with anyone, when she felt socially unpresentable, would not give a party or go to a movie alone. Not anymore. It would have been much more fun with Michael here, but . . . and if she ever heard a Kentucky society lady criticize her, say, “Women don’t give dinner parties when their men are away.” “Women don’t live alone, they get married and have babies and have security for their old age. Women don’t have careers, and pay insurance for themselves,” Nan would tell that lady to her face, “F*** you!” For through experience and introspection, Nan had become a lady who would warn her critics, very quietly, “F*** off!”
Sunday. My birthday. The sunlight. Beautiful. Wish I were in East Hampton. No, can’t go. Too much work. What a drag. The phone. Her mother calling as she does every year, to recount Nan’s birth.
“Your grandmother took your older sister to the meadow across from the hospital and your sister rode her pony while I was laboring to bring you into the world.” A new fact, I didn’t know. “I had been given an anesthetic, but as soon as you were born, I came out of it. I heard you cry. You were all bloody, your eyes rolling. I was so excited. Whereas your father on hearing you were a girl got deathly ill and went into the hospital with appendicitis.”