A young woman named Gia escorted Raymond up narrow, carpeted steps to the second floor. George Plimpton was barefoot, in a loose fitting t-shirt and pale bluejeans, dictating to a young man who tapped on a laptop.
Gia told Plimpton: "You should put on a shirt." It was more a command than a suggestion.
Plimpton ran his hand through his shock of silver hair. "I suppose you're right," he said, and headed for the bedroom.
Raymond unpacked his gear, put the flash heads and their umbrellas on stands, did a quick light meter check. When Plimpton returned, buttoning a crisp white shirt, Raymond suggested that he sit at his computer and get into some typing. The umbrella flash made a series of soft pops.
“Would you mind sitting at your desk?” Raymond asked.
The office was a massive clutter of books, framed photos and artificats. An eclectic collection of African masks, certificates, awards. On the wall above the desk Ernest Hemingway, white-haired and gloomy, kicked a can high into the air.
"How many rolls of film do you intend to take?" Plimpton asked.
"Three or four," Raymond said.
“May I use your bathroom?” Raymond said.
“Of course,” Plimpton said.
The bathroom was just like the office. Dozens of photos of football and baseball players, boxers, runners, writers, politicians, big game hunters, certificates, front pages of college newspapers. Near a small window was a yellowed letter in a thin black frame, with a “Dear George” salutation, from Carl Sandburg. Also a large pen and ink drawing of a restaurant interior, full of people. Hemingway, John Kennedy, Plimpton himself. On the sink a dozen medication bottles, most of them uncapped. Raymond bent down, squinted. Lasix, Lotensin, Xanax, Theophyline, Percodan.
"Maybe you'd like to move to the other room," Raymond said.
"Whatever you wish," Plimpton said.
They passed a pool table, and a credenza, on which was a modest collection of liquor bottles. Plimpton sat on a couch near a window and Raymond took several frames. Then Raymond asked Plimpton to move to the other side of the room.
"Shall I play the piano?" Plimpton asked.
"Yes, that would be interesting."
Plimpton struck a forte diminshed seventh.
"Can you play the Diabelli Variations?" Raymond asked.
"Yes," Plimpton said, looking down at the keyboard of the ebony baby grand piano. "I can play all of them."
Plimpton began a piece that Raymond did not recognize. It was modern, perhaps his own improvisation, in a melancholic minor key. Behind him a massive lithographed cat grinned.
Ten minutes later Plimpton inspected the Kurt Vonnegut photograph that he’d ordered from the United News Service file, one Raymond had shot a couple years earlier.
"It's too dark," Plimpton said.
Raymond was about to say: Yes, it's dark and intentionally so. It's a metaphor of Vonnegut's account of the Dresden firestorm.
But instead he told Plimpton, "I can get you a more conventional, well-lighted portrait.”
“That's awfully kind of you.”
“I'll put it in the mail when I get back to the office.”