Archive for the 2. Into the unknown Category

The end of the beginning

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 16, 2008 by kateonyates


I breezed through the H’s door after a walk about to the Lincoln Centre via Central Park picking up a latte on the way from my ‘local’ Starbucks on the corner of 95th street. Apart from fresh air (well, freezing NY air is fresh in a way), my purpose was to go and sort out a donor Guild Membership to the Metropolitan Opera for V and C as a thank you to them both. Sadly, perhaps because it was a Saturday, I couldn’t do it and had a long chat with J (husband) who is going to attempt the transaction by phone or email on Monday. I had a brief chat with F (smallest son) too which was a delight – just hearing his voice was magical and there is something so incongruous and absurd about walking down the side of Central Park, all ambulances and police and trucks honking, while connected to the kitchen in East Anglia.


It was bitterly cold so it was then back to 96th and Gourmet Garage to get some things for the evening, including a Key Lime Pie for the H’s supper party and some soup for by then I was starving.


The three H ‘kids’ were fully engaged in A’s attempt to make a film for some competition: they had 48 hours and some very specific rules to obey. Hilariously and weirdly they were using the theme of the Jewish custom to circumcise. Would I help them out by being the mother who has forgotten to circumcise her now fifteen yr-old son, played by O? We had a hilarious time improvising and attempting to make sense of what was frankly an absurd idea; I surprised them by being able to throw myself into the role of a ridiculous mother who, overhearing her son peeing, remembers to ask him whether or not he is circumcised. We were all hysterical with laughter including C who was working in the next door room. (Rumour has it that this film has been short-listed….OMG) More filming was done around the table.



The boys slept in until midday and then I took E shopping in central Manhattan. We found a very smart black coat and he was so thrilled. We also got some new jeans. There wasn’t then time for us to get to the MoMa (where there was a Van Gogh exhibition which I’d like to have seen and I also wanted to see the Hoppers) before I had to be back at the H’s to pick up a cab and get to the airport, so E and I had a Croque Monsieur by the Bryant Park Ice Rink. It was fantastic – a lovely last chat all smiles and warmth. We had a such a big hug and then parted. My final image of him was his big grin…..

Back to the horror of airports and the slow check in and then, a few hours later, the joy of being home.


My Revolutionary Road

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 11, 2008 by kateonyates


I have started to behave like a New Yorker; sitting in a cafe now near Grand Central station having just come off the Hartsdale train and here I am with my coffee to go (except I’m staying) and my computer screen up and running. It’s strange how you adapt and what would have been near unthinkable for me in London has become acceptable. Ricardo (my cousin)  keeps telling me I apologise too much and I definitely do carry this sense of creeping deference, for want of a better term; I’ll exist so long as it doesn’t trouble you if I do. This is clearly ridiculous but is a hangover from my childhood sense that we were always bothering the adults and had to apologise our way in to existence. E (my brother) doesn’t have this problem; quite the reverse. He is just there and ‘deal with it’ everyone else. My children don’t have it thank goodness; they are fortunate to have such a strong father.

My boots are being mended in Grand Central so that is why I am killing time. I think I will go to Times Square after I’ve collected my boots and check out tonight’s venue. I finally heard from Monica this morning telling me what the timetable is for tonight. Drinks before the film start at 6.30 at this place in Times Square (I think, from looking at the map it’s the Paramount Building), then the film itself starts at 7 followed by a dinner at nine o’clock but I have no idea where that is – maybe it’s all there. It amuses me that Monica said in her email not to dress up and that she will be in jeans; she points out, clearly thinking I’m from Hicksville, that celebs don’t dress up anymore. So I think I will don my black velvet jacket (thank goodness I brought it) and my black jeans – that way I should fit either the ‘up’ or the ‘down’ code.

I went back to the H’s and was a bit startled to find Cheryl there, only because I hadn’t expected it. We had a brief chat and then she went out to keep her Friday date with her daughter, S – they always go and do something on a Friday afternoon which I thought was lovely. Meanwhile I was feeling decidedly sick about my forthcoming evening. I did some work, typing up notes and then had a shower and got ready. V returned just before I left and we had a glass of wine together which was a good nerve-calmer.

I made my way to Times Square and thanked god I had checked out the venue earlier in the afternoon. The streets were so crowded you could barely see anything and had to keep moving with the herd. I found 1515 Broadway and 44th but it was a bit early so I hung around and had an inevitable cigarette before braving the escalators. I felt horribly alone and needed someone to giggle with/share it with. At the top I was checked off a list and then directed to some lifts and told to go to the third floor. Once the doors opened we were in a corridor with enormous black and white photos of some big name stars all over the walls – Tom Cruise, Marilyn, Bogart etc. It immediately felt like another, very separate, world. There were a few people hanging about and I tried to guess who might be Monica but soon realised people were arriving and going straight in so I followed suit. Monica and Sharon then came in and, having walked down to the front, gave a short Address about their father. Monica seemed especially emotional. I had no idea who was in the auditorium but I correctly assumed, or at least I think I did, that they were all journalists with their partners.

Then the film started. What an exciting moment. What did I think? This is hard to answer but is all, understandably, anyone wants to know. I liked the fact that Haythe had incorporated so much of what RY gave his characters to say. I was very unnerved that the film didn’t begin with the Laurel Players’ play but the reasoning was good as they used the time to fill in back story about the couple. The Kate/Leo dynamic was extraordinarily strong. Their arguments were visceral, unnerving, uncomfortable, just as they should be in fact. (A friend of mine who has since seen the film in London felt Leo wasn’t right and felt strongly that their accents weren’t right either. While I didn’t think Leo was as ‘convincing’ as Kate I thought they were so good together that I didn’t mind. I didn’t even notice the accents. I need to see it again now.) Michael Shannon, who plays John Givings, was extraordinarily good but it did trouble me, as it doesn’t in the book, that the mad man who speaks the truth is a bit of a cliché. Why doesn’t that seem such a problem in the novel? My main criticism was the very last shot – the camera should have pulled away from his face and showed her silent mouth going up and down – well, that’s what I though. Costumes were amazing and the sets just right. It is too hard to be objective about this film. I need to consider it more and maybe see it again.

After the film, and I still hadn’t uttered a word to anyone but at least I now knew who Monica was and who Sharon was, we were taken in blacked-out SUVs to a club called the 21 Club. It was freezing cold and very exciting: both things made me shiver. Once in the club, we climbed stairs to be greeted by friendly young women with our names on a clip-board. At first it looked as if I might not make it through the door as she couldn’t find my name but when I said I was there because of Monica she broke into a smile and said, to my amazement, ‘Oh, you are with Monica. In that case you are on table eight, Monica’s table.’ ‘Are you sure?’ I stammered. Yes, she was sure. Wow! I grabbed a white wine and moved into the room which was slowly filling up. Deciding to be brave, and telling myself to ‘get on with it – this is what you are here for girl’,  I introduced myself to a very large, important looking man. He couldn’t have looked less thrilled and was, luckily for him, rescued by a fawning woman. It transpired he was rather important. He is the main film journalist at the New York Times. Anyway I had ‘picked-up’ a youngish man who was very entertaining. He spent a great deal of time watching English rubbish – Coronation Street, X Factor, Strictly Come Dancing, I’m A Celebrity…; the list went on and on. We laughed – he at my snobbery and me at his low-brow taste. He was there with his boyfriend, also a journo at the NY Times, I think.

I became aware of a buzz in the room and suddenly, right next to me, was Kate Winslet looking incredible in a fifties style jacket (cream) with big black patent belt, tight black pencil skirt and high black open-toed shoes. With her hair up and her bright red lips she looked every inch a film star and the whole room seemed to part around her. Behind her was a very grey-haired looking Sam Mendes and behind him the enormously tall Michael Shannon. I was a bit taken-aback but recovered enough to continue chatting to my gay ‘friend’. He then moved off and I started another conversation with a very nice guy called Scott Feinstein who is the chief publicist for the film. He immediately put me into his Blackberry and sent me an email. So that’s how it works in NY, or is it in America? Our chat was interrupted by the call to sit to eat. I was nervously awaiting my supper with Monica.

I found table 8. It seemed to be filled with women who had quite obviously had ‘work’ done; by work I mean Botox. Their top lips were stiff to the point that you hoped no one made them laugh or the damn lips would crack into pieces. I sat rather forlornly and feeling very out of place when Monica came and sat down next to me. Tall, thin, bespectacled, full-lipped (like her Pa), she was also smiley and a bit distracted. I introduced myself and she instantly relaxed. It was great. I couldn’t quite believe I was next to her. She then introduced me to the woman on her left (obviously an old friend) and this woman, Kathleen, turned out to be an old pupil of ‘Dick’s’. The three of us had such fun just chatting as if we’d always known each other – they obviously had met through Dick and I rather muscled in on their familiarity. They talked about his teaching style, his kindness, his squalor – nothing I didn’t know but it was all good to hear directly. We discussed the film. Monica is so positive about it which is great. Obviously for his daughters, in upping the profile of RY, money looks likely to roll in for them. It did strike me as ironic that this is what he had worked for all his life – to earn money for his daughters; he’s managed it now, in death.

We ate steak and drank delicious wine. The party slowly started to disperse so I said goodbye to my two new friends and was about to leave when I spotted Sharon. I went over and introduced myself and she invited me to sit with her. She was lovely. Tall, grey bobbed hair and with a charming, warm smile, she was definitely very different to Monica (Gina, the youngest who lives in New Mexico, wasn’t there). Sharon is a librarian in Brooklyn. I met her middle-school teacher husband and then her daughter Sonia who came to join us. They asked about my work and were excited about it. Sonia then said she had a plan to make a documentary about her grandfather and would I like to be involved. No surprises as to how I answered. Another moment when I had to pinch myself. Who knows if anything will happen and whether I will be invited to be involved if it does, but it was a great feeling, a feeling as if I was inching, no, rushing, closer and closer to the heart of the matter. I left them to go, got my coat and had walked out into the freezing night air when I spotted a group of smokers in a little terrace place, fenced off from the street and below street level; it occurred to me that a cigarette was a good idea. As I walked down the steps to join the five or six smokers I realised that one of them was the guy who played Shep Campbell and another was Kate W.

Again, I had to be brave. I introduced myself to the young man talking to ‘Shep’, and Shep was desperate to go inside, so the two of us got talking. He was none other than the screenplay writer, Justin Haythe and he was delightful. He did a good impression of being interested in my work so we had a good chat. I, of course, congratulated him on his work and on retaining so much original dialogue. Then, as we moved off to leave, I found myself next to Kate. I didn’t introduce myself but started by telling her (yes, a bit cheesy) how brilliant she was (and she was) in the film. She took my arm and looked thrilled and, as she continued to hold my arm I said, ‘I need to tell you, Kate, we have three things in common: We are both called Kate, we are both English and my husband is in love with us both.’ She roared with laughter and gripped my arm rather tightly in doing so. At that moment Sam came to claim her. I introduced myself to him and he beamed at me. I told him I had been very nervous about the film. ‘You wouldn’t believe how many people have told me not to ‘fuck it up’!’ he said. ‘It was as if I was directing everyone’s private diary or something.’ I then got my brave face on and asked him whether he wanted to hear my one criticism. He visibly braced himself but, grinning, said, ‘Go on then.’ So I told him they should have pulled back from Richard Easton’s face at the end and shown Kathy Bates’s jaw going up and down, her hand still repeatedly stroking her dog and no audible sound heard. They had left the last shot on Easton’s eyes. ‘Damn it!’ he said. That either meant I’d caused huge offence or he thought that maybe it was a reasonable idea. He shook my hand, grinned again and, calling to his wife, they left in a waiting limo. (I squirm at my audacity and arrogance now; aagh!)

I then walked up the street to find a yellow taxi, lesser mortal that I am, completely thrilled with my extraordinary day.

Meeting Richard Yates’s Biographer

Posted in 2. Into the unknown on December 5, 2008 by kateonyates


Steve (my host) very kindly drove me out to Logan Airport at 7ish in the morning, with the air crisp and cold and clean. I checked in and had a Starbucks (and that alone made me feel American but why, oh why, is there no coffee in an American Starbucks? I miss proper coffee…), and then made my way to the gate for boarding. It was an unadventurous flight except that there was a sweet young couple, six months pregnant with their second child, who were travelling with their two year-old son to Texas as an early Thanksgiving departure. He, the dad who was a pilot, wasn’t going the whole way but was there to assist as far as our first stop in Philadelphia. It was lovely to watch their intoxication in everything their son did or said or intimated. This does of course sound so patronizing but how can I express my genuine delight at their parental love and shared joy at this small child’s antics? It reminded me so much of travelling with E. back and forth from Japan, thinking everyone wanted to hear his little jokes repeated, his witticisms relayed back and forth to the strangers kind enough to listen on the plane – their joy was so infectious and I too ended up genuinely delighted in the fact that he was looking for whales in the water outside Philadelphia (where we saw quite a lot of water) and his duck noise was sublime!

I landed in Virginia, Norfolk, to be exact just about 12.30 and got a cab to Tabb’s restaurant, as directed by Blake Bailey who was to meet me there. Tabb’s is a southern ‘shack’ in that it is a one story, one roomed, low-ceilinged café type place – very homely. There was some poor cultural exchange when I said to the cab driver to take a tip from a twenty dollar bill (explaining first that I had no idea how to tip) and he kept the whole bill – all twenty dollars of it, from a fare of thirteen dollars twenty. I could hardly say, actually I didn’t mean keep the lot. I rang Blake and five or ten minutes later he came running (yes, running, like someone late for their stage cue) into the restaurant with all the energy of a young boy. He was immediately likeable, very tactile, a little flirtatious (but no more than I am) and thoroughly engaged with my ‘project’. We gossiped to begin with as we ate, about all sorts of things and all sorts of people. It was idle and fun and bonding as most gossip tends to be. He explained that he and his wife and child are Hurricane Katrina victims and moved north after that disaster. While I was sad to hear about that, I was devastated when the full implications of this sank in; lots of Yates’s letters and other valuable papers were lost in Katrina’s wrecking power. Awful. I heard a little bit about Blake’s Cheever biography – due to be published in March (he later showed some real astonishment when I started to discuss The Wapshot Chronicle with him – ‘D’you mean you’ve read some Cheever too? Now I am impressed’ – or words to that effect). (Now that Blake has since told me his present project I have come to the very safe conclusion that he specializes in the f***** up lives of alcoholic men of the mid-twentieth century. He agrees. This is his domain, his speciality. Kate)

After we had eaten – and the fare was very southern with lots of fried fish of various kinds – and I had a side salad and then ‘rockfish in lime butter with French fries’ which was a special – we got down to business. I used my voice recorder and started asking my questions. Blake was very accommodating, kind and interested: his big point was that I shouldn’t get distracted by biography (and questioned even why I was seeing him – good question. Answer: for the gossip!) and I agreed that it was a temptation I was realizing every day anew that I would have to avoid – especially now that I’ve left the archive and moved into the realm of ‘connections’. We talked about Yates’s ability to fuse different perspectives and about the film and about the Twayne book which Blake agreed was very fine. I should add that Blake seemed genuinely delighted, and a little surprised, when I produced my copy of A Tragic Honesty for him to sign. ‘Oh my god! Look at the state of that! That’s what all writers want to see,’ he laughed as he took my tattered copy from my hand. Bits of paper were sticking out from its pages, the front cover is none too tidy and post-stick notes fell out.

I had two hours to kill at the very quiet airport of Norfolk Virginia and it was annoying that I couldn’t get internet access there. Flew from there to La Guardia and then fell through my friends’ door in Manhattan at about 7.45pm. We had a lovely supper during which I heard from O about his desire to act and the performing arts school he goes to, from S about soccer and from V and C about life in general and how their older boy is enjoying Brown. I slept in A’s (college-student) room and was asleep pretty fast.