Friday, August 20, 2010

South Pacific

August 20:

The other night Lorraine and I watched on PBS a performance of South Pacific, televised from the stage at Lincoln Center. It was nearly three hours long, but we sat in our kitchen and watched it on our smallest TV set, more or less transfixed. And what moved us the most was listening to the song "Some Enchanted Evening." We have a history with that song. During the first summer we lived together we got a bit drunk with some friends--well, more than a bit, maybe--and walked down to the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, where we live, which for those who don't know it is a small hotel with a gourmet restaurant and one of the ten best wine lists in the country. It is owned by a friend named Ted Conklin and has been for about forty years or so. Every Friday night that summer we gathered at the Hotel and sat at a round table under the moose with a bunch of other journalists, trading gossip, telling stories, boasting shamelessly about where we had been, whom we knew, what we had done. A great crew, we were, the Hotel our private club. But we rarely ate there. Too expensive. We only drank there.

But this was a Saturday night, when the elite with money came. There were, if I remember, five or six of us: a friend of Lorraine's named Peter Dee, a playwright; Chris Norwood, a writer; Peter McCabe, formerly the managing editor of Harper's, who was English; Lorraine and I; maybe one other. Memory fails. We had a guitar with us, one of us strummed it, and we stood there in the lobby and sang "Some Enchanted Evening," as loud as we could.

Ted desperately wanted us to leave. These were his paying customers. But he took it in good spirit, threw pennies at us, and couldn't help but smile. We did leave when the song was over, and life at the Hotel returned to normal.

So we sat there and the star who was playing Emile burst into this wonderful song and we both started to cry. Lorraine and I had literally seen each other across a crowded room, had gotten together soon thereafter. And of that group of five, Peter Dee was dead of lung cancer, and Peter McCabe had killed himself in Los Angeles. McCabe was not the best of men; he was known to be abusive to women, and his loss was not mourned by a lot of people. But he was what people used to call a boon companion, and very charming; for a while I loved him. As for Peter Dee, he never had the Broadway production he so much wanted; he never made it, as we say. The last time we saw him alive was in the Adirondacks, where a play of his was being produced, starring Julie Harris, who was a friend of his. Peter Dee was for a long time Lorraine's best friend.

So that song evoked all those mixed but very powerful emotions as only music can: Love, loss, and nearly thirty years of marriage. And now Ted Conklin has remarried himself for the third time, and we keep hearing rumors that he's sold the Hotel. He's seldom there any more. No wonder we cried. Time flies; and even when you're home, you can't go home again.