Finally “de-scruffified” to the satisfaction of my dear host, I am ready to present myself at her dinner party.
There’s Jon Rabinovitz, owner of Turtle Point Press, who wears interesting spectacles low on his nose. They’re small black-rimmed circles, with an arch in between. He looks over them and projects to me and the others the brightest smile and the most engaging manner I’ve ever seen—especially in a guy who works in book publishing. His wife, Denise, is a tall pleasant woman in a brown wool skirt and a yellow and red-patterned Gucci scarf over a dark blouse. She’s a lawyer for a Wall Street stock brokerage or investment firm.
Then there’s Lance Morrow, of Time Magazine, also professor of Journalism at Boston University. Finally, after nearly three decades of pouring over cover stories with his by-line in Time, I see for the first time what he looks like. At one point some years back, after being annoyed by a rather cutting and bitchy book review, I imagined him as a tall, slender gay man. But instead he is relatively short, and kindly looking. An open, inviting demeanor. Very approachable, down to earth, and easy to talk to.
Jon asks Lance what he’s been doing with himself lately. Lance replies that his new book is coming out soon, “The Best Years of Their Lives,” which is about three young men who began their political careers together in the year 1948—Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Jack Kennedy.
Lance say that in 1948 Nixon got involved with Whittaker Chambers, the witness in the Alger Hiss trial, who later would make Nixon a national figure and lead to his selection as Eisenhower's running mate four years later. Kennedy was still recovering from the near-fatal attack of Addison's disease he had suffered the previous year. Johnson, meanwhile, got corrupt political bosses to engineer some illegal ballot-stuffing and put "Landslide Lyndon" into the Senate by 87 votes.
“In the course of your research on the book did you encounter anything about these men that surprised you?” I ask.
Lance falls silent, and stares at the floor. I wonder if he’d heard what I’d said.
“That’s an extremely interesting question,” he finally says. “And I think what surprised me was that Richard Nixon had a lot in common with the movie actress Lana Turner.”
Jon laughed. “You mean to say that he was discovered in a drug store?”
“No,” Lance smiled. “And by the way, that’s just a myth about her. She wasn’t discovered, she went on casting calls and auditions like every other actress who goes to Hollywood to get into movies.”
“So then it must be that like her Tricky-Dick had a fondness for sweaters?” Jon said.
“No, not that either. But there were some remarkable similarities in their characters. For instance…”
But he doesn’t get a chance to finish his story. We are interrupted by my dear hostess, at the side of the grand piano on the other side of the room, ringing a bell. “Welcome everybody,” she says. “We’re ready to hear Rick Moody do his reading from ‘The Black Veil.’ But first here’s a little background about this most engaging and talented writer…