I woke up in my hotel room in Torino a little later than usual, and I went through the standard away-from-home one-second-panic of wondering where I was. I was pretty tired from hopping around Europe chasing after my hairdresser trying to consummate the business art deals he set up. I was at the Grand Excelsior Principi di Savoia Hotel. The Grand Excelsior Principi di Savoia Hotel was the only first-class hotel in town, probably because there were no first-class names left over for any others.
I had come to Torino on art business, but I wished I were there to do some business art—Torino is where Fiats are made. I half-recalled eating a lot of Italian nougats once that were made in Torino, so I started wishing I were there to be photographed for a big billboard advertisement for Fiat or Perugia candy. For some reason, billboard ads are more striking in Italy than anywhere else. The Italians really know how to put out good billboards.
Italian television is something else, however, and as soon as it sunk in that I wouldn't be watching Barbara Walters, Pat Collins, or "Make Room For Daddy," I reached for the phone to ring B's room to wake him up so he could call room service for breakfast, because I'm too insecure to make the call myself.
I really torture the people I travel with. When I'm traveling I'm as demanding as Liz Taylor or Madame Helena Rubinstein (was). The people—the Bs—I travel with have to act as interpreterI buffers between me and the entire culture I'm in, and they also have to entertain me constantly in some way, because I go nuts without American television. The people I travel with have to be very good-natured and easy-going in order to take what I put them through without cracking themselves, because they have to somehow get us home.
"Wake up, B, it's nine-thirty."
This B groaned, but it sounded like a fairly good-natured groan. I told him to order breakfast and we could have a party in my room. Then I took the fall from the bed to the floor—it really was a high bed—and I strolled to the bathroom.
In a few minutes there was a knock at the door and B stumbled in, followed, more steadily, by room service—a dark-eyed blonde with a bowl of cherries floating in ice-cold water, dry toast, tea, and coffee. I handed B a tip to hand to her.
"Ciao, bella." B was leching.
"Grazie, signor." She was blushing. "Ciao."
"The Torinese are so beautiful," said B, sitting down to breakfast after she left. "The best of North and South."
I was already on my tenth cherry. They were big and firm and deep red and ice-cold.
"So B," I asked, "are we having a good time so far, do you think? Is it exciting at all?"
"The question is," corrected B, "is your wife having a good time."
My wife. The tape recorder.
"Oh right. My wife ... Not really, no. Queen Soraya made me shut her off."
"I heard her tell you to and then somebody said you looked so sad sitting next to Soraya, and I said, 'Oh it's just because she made him turn off his tape. A likes everybody except people who make him turn off his tape. It's like saying come to dinner but don't bring your wife.'"
I was on my twentieth consecutive cherry. I asked B if It didn't feel nice for him to be back in the old country, the land of his Italian extraction.
"Yeah, it feels good, I sleep better. I'm more at peace with myself. Pass the burro, please."
"Here. What do you mean you're at war and peace with yourself?"
B hesitated for a moment. "That's a good phrase." I thought it over and realized what I'd actually said. I had made up a good phrase.
B burroed his toast. "It's more like home in Italy. Monte Carlo was like Disneyland."
We'd been in Monte Carlo for a little while before. We'd seen all the same people there that we'd seen in the winter in St. Moritz and that we'd seen in the fall in Venice. I told B that they weren't just the "international crowd"—they were like a whole new nationality. A nationality without a nation.
"Well, Europe is very mixed up now," B said, "since the War. There's a lot of intermarriage."
"Fags with dykes?" I said that because it's one of B's favorite jokes. He was supposed to laugh, but he just let it pass.
"I mean French with Italian, Swiss with Greek. You know . . ."
"But B, why were there so many wars in Europe if the kings and queens all intermarried, because that means everybody was related, and why should people want to fight their relatives?" I ask that question a lot, because I always think about it—when I'm in Europe especially.
"Because nobody can fight more than relatives once they get started. Especially over some little prince. Like Princess Grace wants Princess Caroline to marry Prince Charles."
I didn't get the point. B was just repeating an international fantasy rumor. Prince Charles would go backstage for Barbra Streisand as likely as he'd marry Princess Caroline. But you never know. "Anyway," B said, "I'm not losing any sleep over it. Not in Italy."
"But listen, B, about last night, if you're Italian yourself, why were you putting down the Prince—what's the cheese we had? The name of it?"
"Prince Mozzarella. Why did you put him down if he's Italian just like you. You should stick up for him."
"I put him down because they said he was a hustler."
"He is a hustler. So what. We're hustlers, too."
"And because he was fat."
"All good hustlers are fat," I reminded him.
"No, he shouldn't be fat. I would have liked him if he were a good-looking hustler."
"Since when do you have to be good-looking to hustle? He made out a lot."
B made a face. "Right. He made a lot and spent it all on pasta."
B was determined not to like Prince Mozzarella. I thought he was really funny, myself. But there was something else about dinner the night before that I wanted B to clear up for me:
"Who was that lady at my table?"
"Which lady? The one you were talking to all night? How can you be asking me who she was if you talked to her all through dinner? What did you talk about? She's the lady-in-waiting to Empress Soraya."
"She's not Soraya's mother???" I couldn't believe it. That must have been why everyone was laughing. "Are you sure, B?"
"Yes. She's Soraya's lady-in-waiting."
"Then I made nothing but faux pas all through dinner ..." I was trying to recall exactly what I'd said to her. I'd started off by complimenting her on having such a lovely daughter as Empress Soraya. She had so many jewels on I would never have thought she was a "lady-in-waiting." I didn't really have any concrete ideas about what a lady-in-waiting should look like, but I always thought they were more like a maid. This lady had looked so rich.
"Ladies-in-waiting are all very high-class," B explained. "Some of them are even actual princesses. They have to be somebody important before they can 'wait.' Ladies have ladies-in-waiting so they—the ladies—don't have to go around alone." This was starting to sound like Guys And Dolls.
"Is she a maid or not?" I asked B. That's what I wanted to know.
"No she's not a maid. She's someone who goes around with a person and does things for them, and waits for them while they do their things."
"Well in that case," I said, "I'm a lady-in-waiting to my hairdresser." My schedule depends on what he wants to do, I have to go with him and wait around all day while he does business, and I can't leave until he leaves because I never know where I am or how to get back to where I've been, and if I did leave he'd yell at me when he found me.
B insisted that I was the "Pope of Pop" and that a pope can't be a lady-in-waiting to a hairdresser. Theoretically, of course, that was true, but actually, I know when I'm a lady-in-waiting, no matter what they call it. It's one of my problems.
Everybody has problems, but the thing is to not make a problem about your Problem. For example, if you have no money and you worry about it all the time, you'll get an ulcer and have a real problem and you stil! won't have any money because people sense when you're desperate and nobody wants anything to do with a desperate person. But if you don't care about having no money, then people will give you money because you don't care and they'll think it's nothing and give it away—make you take it. But if you have a problem about having no money and taking money and think you can't take it and get guilty and want to be "independent," then it's a problem. Whereas if you just take the money and act spoiled and spend it like it's nothing, then it's not a problem and people keep wanting to give you more.
The telephone rang.
B answered it. "Pronto."
It was my art dealer in Torino, calling to invite us to lunch. I tried to motion to B that I wanted to go someplace where they'd have cherries.
When B got off the phone he said that we were meeting our dealer for lunch, and then he asked me, "How do you get disciplined?"
"How does a person get disciplined?"
"Right. I want to know how you're supposed to pick up good habits. It's very easy to pick up bad ones. You always want to go after the bad habits. Say you eat ravioli one day and you like it so you eat it the next day and the next day and before you know it you have a ravioli habit or a pasta habit or a drug habit or a sex habit or a smoking habit or a cocaine habit . . ."
Was he trying to make me feel guilty about the cherries? "You're asking me how you get out of the bad habits?" I asked him. No, he said he didn't want to know how you get out of the bad ones—just how you get into the good ones.
"Everybody has their good habits," he said, "that they do automatically that maybe they learned when they were little—brushing your teeth, not talking with your mouth full, saying excuse me—but other good habits—like writing a chapter a day or jogging every morning—are harder to get into. That's what I mean by 'discipline'—how do you get new, good habits? I'm asking you because you're so disciplined."
"No, I'm not disciplined, really," I said. "It just looks that way because I do what people tell me to do and I don't complain about it while it's happening." That's a three-part rule of mine: (1) never complain about a situation while the situation is still going on; (2) if you can't believe it's happening, pretend it's a movie; and (3) after it's over, find somebody to pin the blame on and never let them forget it. If the person you pin the blame on is smart they'll turn it into a running joke so whenever you bring it up you can both laugh about it, and that way the horrible situation can turn out to be fun in retrospect. (But it all depends on how mercilessly you hound the person you're blaming, because they'll only make a joke out of it when they're desperate, and the more desperate you make them by hounding them, the better the joke they'll make out of it.)
"It's not discipline, B," I repeated. "It's knowing what you really want." Anything a person really wants is okay with me.
"All right. But let's take champagne. All my life I wanted as much champagne as I could drink, but now that I'm getting all the champagne I ever wanted and more, look what I'm getting—a double chin!"
"You're also finding out that champagne isn't what you really want, since you don't want a double chin. You're finding out that champagne isn't what you want, it's beer you want."
"Then I'd get a beer belly." B laughed at the idea of a champagne chin and a beer belly.
"Then beer isn't what you want, either."
"But that's not hard to figure out—nobody wants beer."
"Yes they do," I told him. "You're the one who told the joke about an Irish seven-course dinner being a boiled potato and a six-pack."
"Yes, I suppose . . . But it's not the thing I want so much as the idea of the thing."
"Then that's just advertising," I reminded him.
"Right, but it works because the reason I want champagne, the reason most people want champagne, is they're impressed with the idea—Champagne!—like they're impressed with the idea of caviar. Champagne and caviar is status."
That was not completely true. In some society shit is status. "Look," I told him, "you realized when you ended up with a double chin that your values were misplaced. Right? It takes time to find out, but you're finding out. Even today you put your nose up in the air if you don't have dinner with the Afghanellis, the Cuchinellis, the Pickinellis, the Mount-bottoms, the Van Tissens—"
B cut me off, screaming, "I do not! I'd rather have dinner every night with the kids at the office!"
"Oh sure," I said. Who was he trying to kid? "Listen, I know you. You can't wait to get back to town and tell everybody a million times that you had dinner with the Dukarnos."
"So will you! So will you! You'll act bored about it when you tell it and I'll act excited about it when I tell it and that's the only difference! I'm telling you, I'd rather have dinner with cute kids my own age!"
"When are you going to start entertaining at home, B? You haven't had one party at your house. You live in the right neighborhood, the Upper East Side, so what are you waiting for?"
"It's too small. Its just a studio."
"You live in a studio?? You didn't tell me. How great." I want to live in a studio. In one room. That's what I've always wanted, not have anything—to be able to get rid of all my junk—maybe put everything on microfilm or holographic wafers—and just move into one room. I was really jealous of B's lifestyle.
"Are you air-conditioned?" I asked, jealously.
"Yes. You're always so impressed with air conditioning. Maybe I should give a party. I'll wait for a heat wave and the air conditioning can be the theme of the party. But my studio is too small to stay in more than an hour and a half, because after an hour people start to get claustrophobic. The best kind of party I could give would be champagne and nuts and then take everybody dancing."
It was time to start getting ready for lunch. B went back to his room to dress. I put my napkin over the bowl of cherry pits so I wouldn't have to look at how many I'd eaten. That's the hard part of overdosing on cherries—you have all the pits to tell you exactly how many you ate. Not more or less. Exactly. One-seed fruits really bother me for that reason. That's why I'd always rather eat raisins than prunes. Prune pits are even more imposing than cherry pits.