NEW FICTION : The Easterners

A long time ago, in the distant, postwar late Forties, my then-husband and I, an uneasily matched, generally strained and anxious couple, moved west, from Cambridge to California, specifically from Harvard to Stanford, in hopes both of California happiness and of a doctorate in philosophy for Kevin. I wanted to be an actress, but I planned in the meantime to get a job, any job, that would supplement Kevin's stipend from the GI Bill (this was a standard arrangement between young husbands and wives at that time, not entailing any unusual self-sacrifice on my part). I had mild hopes of something developing in the Department of Speech and Drama, maybe a small part in some play.

Kevin, though young, about twenty-five, had thick gray hair and rough reddish Irish skin; I, Darcy, was really young, about twenty, and had very long, straight black hair--an unfashionable look then, but striking, I thought. We were neither of us tall and were both quite thin; we shared an air of great intensity. To most of the Californians we met, we must have seemed perfectly suited to each other: Easterners who talked all the time and who liked to argue over politics, literature, ideas. Harvard versus Stanford. Almost anything.

In an ironic metaphor of which we then and later made a great deal, we ended up renting a converted chicken coop, at the start of our California quest, up in the smooth blond hills south of Stanford. A man known only to us as Mr. Wilson had created a small apartment complex on his acre of hillside land out of what had been the chickens' quarters (more than a hint of their smell remained). Mr. Wilson lived in the largest apartment, to the rear, and the smallest, down below, he rented to us; by that time we had been looking for a couple of weeks and were grateful for the fifty-dollar rent. (Housing was desperate at that place, at that time; greedy locals "fixed up" a couple of rooms by putting in a shower and buying a hot plate and asked exorbitant rents. Mr. Wilson was no worse and a little less greedy than most.) The middle apartment, off to one side and facing a garden, was occupied by another graduate-student couple, the Joneses. Nancy and Cory Jones.

Without remarking on it explicitly, Kevin and I both saw the Joneses as diametric opposites of ourselves. For starters, they were so very Californian: tall blond people, with blue eyes and year-round tans, long legs, even white teeth and ready smiles. Slow soft voices. Only after seeing them several times did we realize that the smiles were both vague and a little wary, shy; they were somewhat preoccupied and not all that eager for instant new friends. Whereas Kevin and I, as a couple, had a curious combination of what probably came across as great friendliness--and an edgy malice; unlike the Joneses we specialized in new and total best friends. (One of my reasons for being glad that I have never used my name from that marriage is my very wish to erase the mean-spirited, small-minded person that within the marriage I thought I was; I wish there to be no more Darcy Driscoll, in anyone's mind or memory. As Darcy Finn, my maiden name, I write for TV, not quite what I set out to do, but it has been mostly fun, and rewarding.)

Introduced to the Joneses by Mr. Wilson in the thinly graveled parking area, we could hardly wait to go inside and snicker about them. "The Bobbsey Twins at Stanford," we chortled, not very funnily. "Do you think it could be called incest? Did you ever see such totally blank blue eyes? Ah, California!"

Actually Nancy and Cory did not look all that much alike. They could have been distant cousins, possibly, but their body types were quite dissimilar, Cory being tall and scrawny, whereas tall Nancy was heavy, voluptuous. And Nancy's face was stronger and bolder than Cory's was; her nose was long, his small. And Nancy looked open, with wide clear eyes; there was always a concealed, almost furtive look about Cory. Kevin and I, despite differences in hair, probably looked more alike than they did, small pinched Irish Easterners, both of us, from South Boston.

I should probably at this point say that once shed of me, or rather of our marriage, Kevin took on a new persona; shortly after our divorce he married an adoring, athletic, intellectually non-competitive California woman ("ironically enough," he wrote, during our brief post-divorce period of spurious friendliness). He is now a professor of education (he was switching fields at the time of our divorce) at some midwestern university. We seem to have lost touch. And I too have married happily. Twice.

Cory was in law school then, and Nancy worked at the Purchasing Department at Stanford. I was job hunting for much of that fall, in the course of which I worked for a time in a leather factory in Redwood City, in a gift shop in Palo Alto and then in a drive-in in Belmont, settling finally in a tiresome, exploitative but more conventional job in the Stanford Athletic Department--a job that in fact I more or less got through Cory.

"How's the job search?" Cory asked me, one hot October afternoon. Cory had just parked his new red jeep, so practical for these hills, for this place--and I was getting out of our old Buick, an oil-guzzler from a fast-talking salesman in Arlington, Mass., impractical for anywhere and soon to die. The trip across the country, which was in fact our honeymoon, had been a nightmare of car anxieties--a truly bad start.

"Not so great," I told Cory. At that point just getting to and from the Belmont drive-in in that car presented insuperable problems.

"Nancy says they're hiring over at the Athletic Department," Cory told me. "If you can stand all those jocks." And he gave me a sort of see-you-later smile, not exactly sexy, just suggesting some unfinished business between us.

But that is how I got the job, which turned out to have less to do with jocks than with fund-raising letters to old sports-minded alumni.

Our apartment, which like my job had been taken in desperation, was both narrow and small, very little room for anything but our bed and the tiny makeshift kitchen. The smell of chicken, as I have said, was very present. Our view, such as it was, was of a bare fenced yard, where the chickens must once have roamed. Kevin's description of our California home as "a Pullman smoker, formerly inhabited by a purveyor of chicken shit" amused at least some of our old and new best friends. Actually, it was simply and purely awful, and we saw no way to improve it; very likely there was no way. Cleaning and polishing, even had we been more sincere, more energetic in those efforts, had almost no effect.

How surprised we were, then, when we were invited over to their place by the Joneses, to find so much space. A single room, but it was very large: You could walk around and sit down on chairs. Their back wall was entirely lined with bookshelves, all filled with bright book jackets ("All new books, did you notice?" we snobbishly said to each other later on; all our old books were still in boxes back in Cambridge). They had some impressive-looking hi-fi equipment, and shelves of records. Their view was of a garden--their own garden, and important to their livelihood, as things turned out. Instead of chicken smells their house always had some good strong food aroma; Nancy was a perpetual cook, given to pots of soups, and stews.

That first night, before we got to the records (and music, jazz, was to be our surest common ground during the brief flaring of our friendship), Kevin and I felt it necessary to establish political bases. This was the fall of the Truman-Dewey race, with Henry Wallace running on the Progressive Party ticket. We were hotly for Wallace, and anyone who was not was some kind of crypto-fascist, according to us.

"Oh, I guess we're not very political," Cory told us, with his quick wary blue-eyed smile.

"We'd be more apt to vote for Henry Miller than Henry Wallace, wouldn't we, honey?" (That remark of Nancy's was one that Kevin and I often quoted, scathingly, when we wanted to prove the general mindlessness of Californians).

Cory must have felt some of the weight of our negative judgment, for he rather quickly asked us, "Would you like to hear some music? I've got some nice early Louis."

Kevin, in a pre-political, pre-philosophical avatar had been the jazz critic on the Harvard Crimson; his tastes of course were purist. "I only like very early Louis," he told Cory.

"The Hot Five OK? But if you like earlier stuff I've got the Library of Congress Jelly Roll."

We were much impressed. No one else we knew, not even at Harvard, had those records. For one thing, by the standards of the time they were extremely expensive; had we thought of it, this might have been an early clue that the Joneses had sources of income above and beyond the GI Bill and Nancy's salary. But we didn't think of it, we were much more impressed by the taste involved in the purchase than by the monetary outlay.

At this point, in a way, Kevin and I fell slightly in love with the Joneses. For all our relationships of that time, mine and Kevin's, took on the neurotic intensity of hasty love affairs; we lacked the easy confidence for real friendship. And that night, as we listened to all that marvelous music, hours of Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory, Bessie, Ma Rainey, early Louis, we were in love. Together we swam from island to island of sound, experiencing a curious mix of peace and excitement.

From somewhere in the room a warm spicy aroma began to waft out, increasing in intensity, until Nancy jumped up (she would have waited, though, until the end of a record, I am sure of that): "Oh, the beans!" she cried out. "I almost forgot. Well, you guys will have to have some with us. I'll just throw a salad together."

And so, from paper plates on our knees, Kevin and I, the Bostonians, ate the most extraordinary baked beans of our lives (the truth is that the working-class Irish from which we both sprang are not generally great cooks, unlike our neighboring Italians and Chinese). We were vastly appreciative--although later Nancy's cooking skills seemed yet another reason to put her down; we managed to work it out that her cooking was a compensation for intellectual deficiencies, mean-spirited Phi Betes and summas that we were.

Our parting late that night was extremely warm, though. I can still hear Nancy saying, "I'm really glad we have some new friends--" a remark that we New Englanders found embarrassing, but by which we could not be untouched.

Once, several years ago, I ran into a man whom Kevin and I had known at Stanford, one more instant best friend from those years. He and I exchanged brief versions of our life stories (as Cory Jones and I were to do, much later on). With this old friend I summed things up by saying how vastly happier, how truly improved I felt since then, and it was clear that his luck too had got better. "I think we were all pretty nervous back then, though," he said. "But I thought you and Kevin were a really impressive couple."

Quite a startling remark, and one that I thought about, examining my own image of our old selves. I did not exactly succeed in finding us impressive; on the other hand had we really been as charmless, as blatantly, unmitigatedly mean as I tended to recall, no one would have liked us at all, even briefly.

The other thing that he said, about our all being somewhat nervous, edgy, at that time was certainly true: We were, all of us graduate students, in a most precarious situation. Most fields were already overcrowded; we had been told that there would soon be far more Ph.D's than jobs.

And for Kevin, for me, there was the additional anxiety having to do with the strangeness of California. We were surrounded by tall blond friendly people who had not read the same books that we had. And we found the weather incomprehensible.

That First Night of music and marvelous baked beans with the Joneses must have taken place inlate October, or early November, maybe, for what I remember next is Nancy's inviting us for Thanksgiving dinner. Curiously, our intervening social connection with the Joneses, and there must have been one, of sorts, is blank. I can bring nothing, really, to mind between those two occasions, the one so full of promise, the second a disaster.

What I do see is small glimpses of Nancy and Cory at that time, like snapshots. And as in a family album they are always smiling, happy. I felt (and did not discuss this with Kevin, for obvious reasons) that Nancy was much in love with Cory--and I tried to tell myself that this was rather fatuous on her part; being so visibly gaga about your husband was slightly simple-minded, like cooking. (I did not choose to examine my own feelings about Cory, which could probably best be described as a mild crush--nor did I dare, at that point, turn my attention to Kevin, to the quite alarming nest of resentments there).

I thought that Cory loved Nancy too, but his affection was more subtle, less nakedly evident, and he was quite capable of certain smiles in other directions. Occasionally, I felt, in mine.

How could Kevin and I not have envied the Joneses, and how not have hated them, eventually? They loved each other, they were happy in their California bower, high up in those blond hills, and they had more money than we did. Also, as a lawyer, Cory would not face an uncertain future; his would be assured. We thus so envied the Joneses that we could never have admitted to each other that we did. Instead, later on, having found out their secret, we took a rather hypocritical moral stand against them; we even did what we could to ruin their reputations. (Fortunately, I think, we only knew part of their truth, not all of what they were really up to. I did not get the whole story until many years later, when I went out to dinner with Cory).

The weather in California was indeed an aspect of its strangeness that had bothered me and Kevin. That fall of our arrival, one pale blue sunny day followed another. "California weather is as bland and mild as most of the state's inhabitants," Kevin more than once pronounced. "And as finally uninteresting." (I knew that he mostly meant Cory; he tended to be easier on Nancy than I was--of course. Kevin undoubtedly had his mild crushes too).

On that Thanksgiving, though, dark rains set in. Our windows leaked, and not only water but a stronger chicken smell seeped in. The sprinkling of gravel that had at best barely covered the parking area washed right off, leaving yellow gullies. "We may never make it down to Stanford again," Kevin and I said to each other, in a sort of frightened triumph. This must have been our first step toward acknowledging that where we were living was truly uninhabitable. A scary realization, since we could not afford anything much better. It was deeply depressing.

And on Thanksgiving, which was to end so strangely, the contrast between our quarters and the Joneses' was never more marked. Theirs were warm and dry, smelling richly of roasting turkey and of something sweet, and their garden view was romantically misted, pale gray. Music played, of course: deep dark intricate New Orleans riffs and soarings of sound--brass, reeds and tinkly piano. And there were attractive, blond Nancy and Cory, smiling and happy, proffering drinks. Milk punch was what we drank that day, I have reason to remember. Sweet strong drinks, very easy to drink too much of.

A friend of theirs was coming too, the Joneses told us. From San Francisco. Herb, a policeman. We all laughed at the oddity of anyone's being a cop, and we speculated on the weather, the probable difficulty of Herb's drive down from the city, and then up our steep winding potholed road.

Within minutes, though, Herb arrived. Somewhat to our disappointment (Kevin's and mine) he was not in uniform, just a perfectly ordinary man (so ordinary that I now have no memory whatsoever of his face) in a plain tan overcoat. Complaining jokily of our hill. "You guys have really isolated yourselves," he told the Joneses, teasing. "What're you up to down here?"

How, then, from no beginning at all, did the conversation arrive at marijuana, and thence to the LaGuardia report? (This report, commissioned in the early '40s by the then-mayor of New York, sets forth the results of an investigation into the effects of marijuana; much to the dismay of everyone involved, it came out almost having the sound of an advertisement for the stuff.) The Joneses had a copy, and I leafed through, fairly quickly catching the drift. "This stuff sounds great, where can we get some?" I can still hear Herb the policeman saying, with a laugh, "In my overcoat pocket."

And so, twisted cigarettes were produced, with instructions--"Hold it in as long as you can"--and we all turned on.

Contrary to any later experiences of my own with dope, for me everything speeded up, that day: the lively music, conversation, jokes, more and more drinks, and food, an enormous amount of Nancy's super-succulent Thanksgiving feast. Or perhaps it is my newsreel memory that rushes past those hours, hurtling me toward the predictable conclusion: In the next reel I am in the bathroom of our apartment, mine and Kevin's, being sick, very very sick, repeatedly.

I had a hangover that lasted for at least two days. Kevin was not sympathetic; he had a stern theory about troubles that were essentially self-induced.

And that was Thanksgiving vacation.

Hearing (I guess from Kevin) of my malaise, the Joneses were apologetic, and very concerned--but they were also a little defiant. No one ever got sick from smoking grass, they said, and I admitted that I had certainly had too much to drink.

"I think in their way they were really pushing it on us," Kevin told me. "Proselytizing. Smoking dope together was supposed to have been an important rite, like a blood pact, and instead you got sick. They must feel rejected." He laughed rather meanly, I thought. But I also thought he was probably right, though as usual a little harsh, and more than a little academic.

BY AN ODD coincidence of timing, when I got down to my job on Monday, well at last, one of the other secretaries told me about a house that was almost ready to rent; maybe if we offered to do some of the final work, some painting, whatever, we might work out a deal.

And we did. We got a deal that involved hours of painting, sanding floors, putting up shelves and curtain rods (neither of us was handy; all this took forever)--in exchange for which we got a tiny house on College Terrace, a very middle-class, lower-faculty area (then), adjacent to Stanford. Not much larger, in fact, than our chicken coop but down on level ground (we would save on gas and oil), closer to school and my job, and possible new friends. And away from the chicken smell.

Away from the Joneses, of whom we now spoke badly, as was our wont at that time. "No wonder all their ideas are so vague and silly, if they have any ideas. Jazz is all very well, and fun, but it leaves a lot to be desired as a way of life." These pronouncements were Kevin's; he was far more intellectually rigorous than I, and more judgmental. But I mostly agreed with him, and certainly I did not want to admit to a lingering suspicion that still, for whatever reasons, the Joneses were having more fun. And that I thought Cory was, well, cute.

In stern whispers we began to confide to later intimates that the Joneses smoked pot, an announcement that was always greeted with appropriate expressions of shocked surprise. No one else had read the LaGuardia report, it seemed. And among serious, impecunious graduate students at that time, drugs were not being done, not at all.

Sometimes we would see Nancy and Cory, at one of those awful large student parties, those impoverished bring-your-own events at which people got very drunk in very disparate, uneven ways; and at which ugly scenes took place over the real or alleged theft of some Scotch by whoever had brought the dago red. But there would be Nancy and Cory Jones, smiling secretly and holding hands, usually leaving parties very early.

As I look back on those Stanford years (only three, but they weigh on my memory like a far longer bulk of time), I see that for both Kevin and me the sheer unpleasantness of what we were doing, the incompatibility between ourselves and our work, played a major part in our generally poor spirits, our collective anxiety. Kevin, burdened by various outmoded (he felt) graduate-student requirements (learning German, something called Bib. and Methods) was in the process of deciding that teaching philosophy was not for him; the whole system needed reform, he thought. And I purely and simply loathed my job. I hated the fact that I was always worn out and nowhere near theater work of any description (the Department of Speech and Drama could not have been less interested in my talents).

No one else in the Athletic Department seemed to mind it as much as I did, and thus guilt was added to my discontent. But in fact we were grossly, egregiously overworked; advantage was cruelly taken of the endless needy-wife market. And the other women (I still do not understand this) would come in and do unpaid overtime--in order, they said, to make sure it all got done. I argued that this would only mean more work piled up on us, but I got nothing with my logic. Just unpopularity.

At the start of our third year, by which time we had moved four times and gone through several sets of friends, some of whom even lasted, we heard that the Joneses had moved up to Sausalito, where, it was said, they had bought an apartment building. Amazing! The rest of us could hardly contemplate the large sums involved in buying a building. There was speculation about possible rich parents, though that did not seem plausible; Nancy and Cory lacked that look, that easeful, mildly arrogant, comfortable look that spelled money-from-home, or trust funds. We did not understand about the Joneses.

And then Kevin decided to switch from philosophy to education. This would involve two more years of graduate school, which he had coming on the G.I. Bill. While I was not entirely unsympathetic to his quandary, I absolutely rebelled at the idea of more Stanford for myself. I could not stand any more of my job, nor the bland Peninsula landscape. Nor, in truth, of Kevin. (I had begun to develop mild-to-serious crushes on certain male friends; nothing happened beyond a little car necking while ostensibly out for fresh party supplies, some excuse like that--and I recognized bad, restless signs within myself). I was moving to L.A., I boldly said, to look for better work. (A very aberrant move for those years: Divorce, then, was regarded as signifying moral failure, and maybe it did). Kevin, forced by his intellectual perception of our situation to be fair, conceded--and then did everything small and annoying to make my departure next to impossible. What later came to be called passive-aggressive ploys.

However my move worked out extremely well. It seemed--and was--a reprieve. Through a college friend I got a job with a team of writers--doing soaps and TV pilots, very successfully. I know, fairly low-class stuff, but after all those Stanford years, not to mention my somewhat pinched South Boston background, I loved all that money. I had a little house in Venice, near the ocean, smelling of salt (such an improvement over chicken shit). Romantic, and all my own. I felt very young, much younger than I had as a working graduate-student wife--and I was free. I had all new friends and occasional lovers, and after a while I married just the right man for me, it seemed. Martin, a screenwriter with whom I was mostly very happy for almost 12 years, until he died quite suddenly at 45. He was out running on the beach. After that, for quite a while I lost heart for everything, though I kept on working, more or less. I had to, for every reason. I visited friends, took trips, kept busy--following all the anti-loneliness prescriptions.

Once, on a trip to San Francisco, I was startled to read in the local paper, the Chronicle, that--"Cory Jones, of Sausalito, an attorney with ----------------------, in San Francisco, was arrested for the sale of a small amount of marijuana yesterday in the Tides Bookstore." And there was a picture, undeniably Cory, though unfamiliarly in a business suit. Frowning. Handcuffed, being led off.

By that time, the '60s, like everyone else, I knew a little about small dope deals and the perils thereof; there had been so many movies and TV specials exploiting that whole issue. Also, by then I had smoked a little myself from time to time and had fun with it (and not got sick). Small-time dope dealing seemed, back then, romantically anti-Establishment. "Liberal." My strongest reaction was a feeling of sympathy for Cory; he could easily have been set up, I thought. Framed by cops.

Another reaction was an odd hope that Kevin would not come across this bit of information--though how could he, lost as I believed him to be in the great Midwest? Messing up your mind with dope was silly enough, Kevin would have thought, and said (I could almost hear him); but selling it was worse than silly--it was greedy, asking for trouble. Really stupid.

But it did not occur to me to try to get in touch with either or both of the Joneses.

A FEW YEARS after that two important changes redirected my life, not unconnectedly: one, I married Barney Robbins, the director. Barney is quite a bit older than I am; he had pretty much retired before we met. He had done very well, and he urged me to take it a little easy myself, in terms of work. Or, easier. And that is how I happened to have the time and money (and, I must admit, the connections) to try an original screenplay. I called it "Best Friends," and it was about couple friendships, essentially, including a little illicit sex. Needless to say I drew heavily on some of my experiences during those Stanford days with Kevin.

It took forever, the writing and then the production, and finally it was not at all a success, box-office-wise. Only Ms. Kael seemed to like it, but her generous review of course went far to soothe my wounded feelings, and also undoubtedly helped to gain me what seemed a large cult following. I was mentioned in obscure magazines of film criticism, I was invited to strange small seminars, to speak. I rarely went anywhere; by this time Barney had quite a few health problems, and although we had moved from Malibu to an incredibly practical condo in Westwood, easy access to everything, I didn't like to leave him. Barney is an exceptionally nice man, one of the nicest in the industry (everyone says so).

But sometimes I did accept such an invitation, from some need of ego-stroking, probably--and that is how I happened to be at a conference of screenwriters, up on Skyline Boulevard, not far from Stanford. And how I happened to spend an evening with Cory Jones, after all that time. And, at last, to find out more of his secrets.

He had written me a note before the conference began, in care of its sponsors, asking if we could see each other. Saying that "in his old age," as he put it, he was more and more interested in films, and that he planned to come to the conference. He and Nancy were now living in Lodi, over in the San Joaquin Valley. "Yes, I'm still with Nancy, after quite a few excursions," he wrote. I did not like that tone; it sounded hostile (to Nancy) and boastful. But I wrote back and said OK, why not? I even found that I was looking forward to our dinner. I still had a lingering sense of unfinished business with Cory, I guess, though I could not have defined its nature.

The first surprise was that Cory looked so much the same--from a distance, just the same. Tall and fair, lean. Californian. Closer up I saw lines, of course, and certain expressions that I thought were new played across his bony face. He looked more inward--more secretive than ever, would be one way to describe the change.

"Actually, I'm not even going to the conference," he told me right off; we had arranged to meet in Woodside, just below Skyline Boulevard, at a place called The Pub. "That was just a ploy," he said. "I knew I had some business in Woodside and it seemed a good way to get to see you." And he smiled, disingenuously, I thought. I was in fact a little put off by that story, I saw no reason for the slight dishonesty. We were both a little far on for sexual games (I thought), and I wondered what this was all about. Sheer sentimentality over old times in the chicken coop seemed unlikely, and we had at no point been genuinely close friends.

But as though we had indeed been the oldest of friends, over drinks--my wine and his Scotch--we began to exchange the stories of our lives. I went first, giving as brief a version as I could and noting as I went along how I was playing everything down, flattening out my life--I was not sure why.

And Cory caught me at it. "I can't believe it's been all that low-key," he said, adding, "Don't you trust me?" And then he asked, "Are you at all in touch with Kevin these days?"

"No, actually not. And it does seem amazing that you and Nancy are still together. Sort of wonderful."

"You're a sentimentalist, Darcy. I always knew it. You were even sentimental about us in your movie," Cory told me. "Although I thought for once old Kael was right, a helluva movie. Really thoughtful, you know? For a change? But you had us all wrong."

"You mean you were just pretending to be happy? A California trick?"

"Well, two things. One, we were stoned all the time . I mean all the time. We toked on our way down to school in the mornings, all the way down Page Mill Road. Super dope, if I do say so. I was growing it in our garden. You remember the garden?"

"Sure. It was one of the things I envied."

"If you'd only known. But I bet you remember meeting a friend of ours. Herb the cop?"

"Sure. He was there that Thanksgiving. When I smoked dope for the first time and got so sick."

Cory frowned. "I guess I'd forgotten that part. Anyway, Herb the cop used to take the grass up to the city and sell it for me there."

"But I thought it came out of his overcoat, that he brought it."

"Maybe we were just being a little cagey. We were pretty cagey kids back then. Jesus, we had to be." And then he said, "But you look really good, Darcy. Even if I do miss all that long black hair. That really turned me on." A practiced smile.

"Well, thanks. I guess." I was trying not to frown.

"You know, Nancy and I weren't really married back then," Cory said. "I was actually still married to a woman up in San Francisco, who had our baby. We partly looked so happy because we felt like kids getting away with something. And we were! Finally we did get married; Nancy wanted to."

Orders for our dinner were taken, and then I told Cory that I had read about his getting arrested, that I happened to be in San Francisco just then.

The arrest was a setup, Cory said. Another guy was balling the D.A.'s wife, as Cory put it, and setting up Cory was a sop to the D.A., who was mad. But it worked out that Cory only had to spend days in prison, driving there in his new dark blue Ferrari--Cory smiled with remembered pleasure telling me that.

"You were in a law firm, though?" I asked.

The truth was, he was mostly just dealing dope, Cory said. He and Nancy had made enough money from their Page Mill Road marijuana garden to buy a house in Sausalito and then a bigger house, and then, in the Sixties, a much bigger house and a boat, in Belvedere.

I had begun to grasp the fact that this was dope dealing on a fairly large scale--I was interested to note my reaction of extreme distaste and discomfort. I wanted to get away, not to talk any more. Dope dealing seemed hardly a romantic occupation any more--if in fact it ever had.

But I hesitated to make the scene that leaving just now would require, jumping up and out before dinner--and so I was in for more.

Somewhere along the way, Cory and Nancy produced three children, he said. Wonderful kids. He and Nancy were always very open with them, they all smoked dope together and talked about sex very openly.

But then somehow things began to go very bad between Nancy and Cory themselves. They went to encounter groups and down to Esalen and even to a shrink, a Reichian, but nothing worked. "It seemed like our big house just couldn't hold us any more," Cory said. "There was so much anger. We were so furious at each other."

"Were you just tired of each other, do you think? You'd worn it out?"

"Well, sort of." Then Cory grinned, the old secretive grin that I remembered--that once I had thought attractive. "It was probably mostly my fault. I was chasing girls a lot, really having a second childhood. Or a midlife crisis."

"Oh." Oh well, of course, I thought.

And then Nancy got involved with a couple of people, partly out of anger, Cory said, and then they all got together, they got to be friends, Nancy and Cory and their lovers. Nancy and Cory talked about divorce, but they never went through with it, they never really wanted to.

Cory paused, glancing around the room with his quick appraising eyes, allowing me a little too much time to consider his story. Which he summed up: "That's called staying together through hot and cold running hell, I guess," he said. Sententiously. Somewhat sentimentally.

But it didn't quite wash. Wouldn't play.

The other people in the restaurant were remarkably homogeneous as a group: rich WASP suburbanites, California-style. Lots of year-round tans. Eternal blondes in pastel knits and heavy pearls, hearty men in blazers. Not an intellectual frown in the crowd, nor (God forbid) any ethnic admixture. It was very oppressive, I found, and just in the way that Stanford had been oppressive, I realized. These were exactly the people that Kevin and I used to complain of, the tall blond boys in their jeans and T-shirts, the girls in their cashmeres and pearls--this was the same group, now grown-up and even richer.

"You don't like it here." Cory said this not regretfully but sounding rather pleased, I suppose at my transparent face, or maybe my predictability.

"Well, it seems awfully nice, but very Stanford-looking. Old grads all over. I feel I should hit them up for the Athletic Department."

Cory laughed at that, but then he told me, "I guess I liked Stanford better than you did. You know I grew up in L.A., and I really hated it there. All the Jews."

"Cory!"

He laughed again, happily. "Gotcha! You liberals, you never change. Anyway, just kidding you, of course." He was very pleased with himself, and next he said, "Well, now you know the story of my life. I don't think anyone's ever heard all that before." I wondered then, why me? But I could have guessed.

"It may not be too romantic, and it's sure as hell not overly filled with virtue," Cory pronounced, "but it's very real, you know? Us growing the stuff and Herb the cop selling it up on the streets, and then more and more dope deals and some really great trips to Mexico. And Panama! I was crazy about Panama. But that's a real life, Darcy. So, how do you think it would play?"

Although by now I perfectly understood the thrust and purpose of this whole long evening, despite its old-friend disguise, I pretended not to. Or, not entirely. "It may be a little old," I told him, a little cruelly. "Dope's been done a lot in fiction. But you're really interested in writing?"

"Well, no. I have so little time. Business interests. But I thought, maybe you. A film. Sort of work together. I could fill you in."

"It's not exactly my kind of material," I told him. And, "I haven't worked on assignment for quite a while."

He grinned across at me, still handsome, wary, and almost as confident as ever. "Touche," he said. "Well, it was worth a try."

Over coffee, which came soon after our food, I asked what Nancy was doing these days.

"Walnuts. She's really into growing walnuts. After we sold the Belvedere house she bought this orchard--walnuts--"

Back in my room in the lodge, up on Skyline Boulevard (which I now realized was much too close to Stanford), even after calling Barney and talking comfortably, companionably with him for a while (he got a brief version of the Cory Jones story), I was visited by a curious and unfamiliar sense of loneliness. I felt a strange lack--and after a time I realized that what I really missed, the person I lacked, was Kevin. Kevin, to tell all this to. Kevin, the only person who would understand the story's implications.

I could start by saying that he was right, he had always been right about the Joneses; to use an old phrase of his, they had no moral center.

And Kevin would like hearing about the Page Mill Road marijuana garden, and then the dreadful tacky Sixties marriage with children and parents and lovers all turning on together and talking things over.

He would appreciate the detail of Cory's lie about his plan to come to the conference. The "joke" about Jews and liberals. His actual plan for me, as his amanuensis, his personal scriptwriter. And Nancy's involvement with walnuts: Kevin would like that a lot.

It was enough to make me take a very long look (too late, of course) at what had been our marriage and to think that to some extent, and at least for a while, the general, California-outsider view of us had been correct: We were perfect together.

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