The first two days


An uneventful flight from Heathrow seated in a threesome of seats with the middle one empty which was a bonus. The man in the aisle seat was a little unsettling though. He had a hatchet face, not even the flicker of a smile passed over it in eight hours of flying. To be fair he was asleep most of the time; he is obviously a frequent flyer as he went through a curious number of rituals, and you could see that they were rituals, some of them being practical and to do with flying itself and some were religious. Taking his shoes off and letting them hit the ground with a harsh thump before we’d even left the terminal seemed a little energetic but then he was quiet after that. He had a curious yellow cloth in which he had wrapped a long wooden carved box. The cloth was spread very, very carefully over his knees, worry beads were positioned and then the box, full of prayers I think, was opened; he sat silently intoning the prayers, with his eyes closed. It was as if the pieces of much-thumbed paper, were a safety net, a prop lest he should forget what he already knew. To my great shame, I had no idea whether I was witnessing a devout Jew (without any of the usual costume clues) or a Muslim. It does make me feel very ignorant and deeply ashamed. My children would know after years of education in World Religions whereas I was only ever taught about catholic views of Christianity.

Fell into the seedy-looking, and ironically named, ‘Comfort Inn’, in Queens, for what I assumed would be a night of discomfort – but appearances are deceiving, thank goodness. Very comfortable double bed, hot bath and four and a bit hours of deep sleep. Breakfast was filthy looking  – slimy-looking boiled eggs in a pot – and, apart from a carton of coffee, I avoided it.



Outside JFK at 7.15 am with all my baggage checked in. I decided to hit the cold air and enticing blue sky and have an early cigarette. Why not? Don’t even start on ‘why not’…..As usual I had no lighter. I asked a short, dark-haired rather round woman who was puffing away by a truck. We got talking. She was moaning about how ridiculous, even criminal, it was that at 51 she couldn’t make up her own mind about whether she wanted to smoke or not and about the whole smoking ban. I disagreed and said it had helped me to give up: it took her a few seconds to see the twinkle in my eye. But I did point out that if there had been no smoking ban we’d both be inside at separate tables having our coffee, all warm and so on but utterly isolated. “I like yer attitood,” she said. It transpired she was a political scientist and assisted at elections. Guess where the conversation went then? Obama and Obama and Obama and of yes, Shakespeare. I was talking about the wonder of Obama’s oratory and while we agreed that he was borrowing from Martin Luther King and Lincoln she suddenly said, “And Shakespeare, of course.” I hadn’t even thought about it: ‘In this world…at this time…in this place.” Interesting.

This woman was good company as she chain-smoked her way through three fags (that’s a cigarette in English!) while I had one and felt bad about it because I gave up smoking, really I did, a few months ago – but I felt like a teenager let out of school so there was no place for guilt. She was born in Uruguay to Italian/Uruguayan parents (I think) though I thought Argentina came in somewhere. She speaks so many languages – Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, English, French – she made my language skills look pitiful. I took her card.

By the end of a long day, I had eavesdropped on a few conversations. While it is obvious that America is winding down towards their Thanksgiving holiday with enthusiasm (lots of ‘Are you going back to your folks? Are they coming to you this year? comments – a shared excitement at seeing family and stopping work and love of ritual), but it struck me as wonderfully ironic that wherever I go – airport lounges, cafes, restaurants and shops – people are discussing in pairs their fears about Thanksgiving. ‘Oh god, I can’t go through that with her again! It was totally awful…..’ or ‘You don’t mean they’re still together? But I thought you’d said…’ or ‘No, I’ve refused. If his Mom can’t be bothered to see us all year, then why should I get myself to Denver, Denver?’ or ‘Well, it’s going to be grim….my parents have split. That leaves me in the nightmare position of…..’ Hilarious. I suppose it’s exactly the same here when Christmas looms.


What a beautiful place. I love the architecture. Much to the amusement of my daughter back home, I went straight to the archives in the Muger Library at BU (Boston University). It was a wonderful feeling to see boxes of his work being wheeled in on a trolley, for me and even more wonderful to open each box carefully and see his handwriting. It sounds ridiculous but when I came across a page with the stain of his coffee mug on it, it took my breath away. Stupid woman: I know. The human traces were somehow very moving – phone numbers scrawled on the edge of a page, crossings out and odd scribbled words. Somehow the coffee stain was the most powerful.

Yates used to drink at an Irish pub called Crossroads way down the other end of Beacon Street, near Kenmore Square, so I had to go there – it felt like a pilgrimage but without the religion. I sat in His pub. Sadly Michael Brodigan, RY’s great buddy, is no longer there. I talked to the friendly Irish barmaid. She showed me a framed ‘picture’, an article about Yates at the pub in the Boston Globe by someone called Mac Daniel. There were pictures of Yates sitting at the bar looking both pissed off and surly and nicer pictures of him too. The barmaid took my picture at his table. I sat and had a glass of wine and tried to imagine him there. Then I went over the notes I’d taken about from various drafts of Revolutionary Road that are in the archive. At one moment I looked up and realised what I was doing and where I was doing it; I nearly wept. What a terrible struggle his life was and yet here we all are (and a growing number) so fired up and ready to go because of him.

Totally exhausted after walking miles around the Commonwealth Avenue/Beacon Street area.


2 Responses to “The first two days”

  1. Back in the early 90’s, I used to talk to Michael Brodigan about Yates all the time. He had a couple of good stories. Fast-forward, and by late 1990’s or early 2000 or so, the pub was redone and I believe his booth is no longer there. The place changed. During the 90’s, I don’t remember any sort of clippings or anything like that about Yates, though I could be wrong. I lost touch with Brodigan, but I think he sold it years back.

  2. kateonyates Says:

    Good to hear from you Dex. The framed artifact I was shown was apparently kept in the basement. The nice barmaid went to get it for me. I warned her that there would be plenty more people like me dropping by and that they should have it on display. I doubt she took the presence of one stray English woman as evidence of an almighty rush so I presume it’s back downstairs now…..

    What was Brodigan like? Can you remember any of his stories?

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