Excerpt from Close Relations
My family hated my job. Aunt Estelle had said, “Darling, politics is so unlike you. All those loudmouths and lower-class lawyers. They’re beneath you. I know deep down you realize it.” Roosevelt was a politician. So was Kennedy—Harriman.
“Marcia, sweetheart, they were statesmen. We’re talking New York City now, and you know as well as I do that no one you come in contact with is interested in real elegance.” As usual, my mother had let a refined sigh escape through the delicate hole in her pursed lips and then had noted that I seemed to spend a lot of time catering to people in slums. Uncle Julius had muttered that politicians wouldn’t know a nice girl if they fell over her. Cousin Barbara was thrilled that I was fulfilled but hinted I might combine my career with marriage and children for even deeper fulfillment.
It was a situation from which half-hour television comedies are made. ‘Marcia! In tonight’s episode, Marcia Green’s warm and winning and wise and wonderful Jewish family reminds her that she is thirty-five, divorced, and childless."
It would have been a veritable laff riot except that it was my life they were criticizing. They belittled every choice I had made by myself.
That job. Who does she think she is, Miss Last Hurrah, chasing around with all those Democrats, getting older and older and her uterus shriveling to the size of a walnut so she can be guaranteed not to have a family and live a normal life? And her apartment, up four flights of stairs like she was an immigrant, in the middle of Greenwich Village, with weirdos and women who don’t shave under their arms for neighbors.
And him. Can you believe what she’s involved with? There would be howls of laughter on the sound track as they schemed to drag still another eligible man across my life, trying to pry me away from him. Can you believe her, divorcing a very fine third-year medical student, running around Manhattan like she was a wild Indian, and then winding up living with an Irishman from the Bronx old enough to be a lot older than she is? We’ll find her a real boyfriend. The camera would pan to a smiling Aunt Estelle. Before the commercial, there would be an ethnic joke about beer cans and perhaps a line or two about bloodshot eyes. Ha! Such a life our girl Marcia is living.
Jerry Morrissey’s eyes were not bloodshot. They were clear, framed with a heavy fringe of dark lashes. And while he sipped an occasional beer, he was quite elegant. Late on that morning when everything began happening, a lock of his thick black hair fell over his forehead and it looked tasteful and quite wonderful, as if styled by a Hollywood hairdresser for a fast take of vulnerable dishevelment. He brushed it away gracefully .
He spoke nicely too. Listen, if you’re hungry, you can grab a hot dog at the stand over there. The governor probably won’t be here for another fifteen minutes."
“I’ll wait till after the rally.” I remained close to Jerry. ‘Anyway, I saw those hot dogs and they’re really an unhealthy-looking pink. They look like they’d bite back."
‘Well, it’s a tough city, sweetheart."
Across from us, a handbill stuck under the windshield wiper of a parked car flapped in an unusually gentle winter wind. I couldn’t read it, but I could guess what it said: THE BOROUGH OF QUEENS SAlLUTES GOVERNOR GRESHAM! There would be fifteen sentences about the rally, fourteen followed by exclamation points.
“Morrissey! Marcia!” William Paterno, President of the Council of the City of New York, climbed from the leather softness of his official car and hurried toward us. His legs were short and his feet small, but he moved fast, doing two steps for a longer-limbed man’s one. “Gresham’s motorcade just went through Long Island City. He should be here in ten-fifteen minutes.” Paterno’s expression was sour. ‘Crazy," he went on, “the governor calling a rally outdoors in the middle of February, just to say hello to people. You’ll see, five thousand people will come, a third catch cold and blame it on him and vote Republican next November. Gresham’s nuts.”
Jerry offered him a diplomatic shrug. I offered the truth: ‘They love him. Did you see the crowd? It’s huge." Jerry glanced away while Paterno glanced at me, dyspeptic. Then I added, “He’s unbeatable.”
Well, he was.
If James d’Avonne Gresham had only listened to his nanny’s lectures on table manners, he would still be governor of New York. Small bites, James. Chew thoroughly. Slow-ly. We’re in no hurry. But he was, after all, a politician, so someplace between his first meeting of the New York County Independent Democrats—where he quickly made his mark as the only person in the room not shrieking—and his first race for State Assembly, James dA. Gresham began tear-assing around. His nanny would have deemed it highly unseemly. Members of the leisure class do not dash from a Fifth Avenue penthouse to inappropriate parts of Brooklyn to lunch with Negroes. Nor do they seek the counsel of Jews who have not yet learned to lower their voices. Rather, they sit in law firms and banks and nod to each other. They remain calm. And despite the occasional deviant, the aberrant Roosevelt, they do not become Democrats . I could be nothing but a Democrat, although my mother attempted to instill good breeding in me post partum. “Marcia, a lady dips her soup spoon away from her.” While Governor Gresham’s grandfather began crewing at Princeton, mine spent twenty dollars to change his name from Isadore Greenbaum to I.S. Green. Alas, by the time Grandpa Gresham entered Harvard Law School, Grandpa Green had been rolling hems on ladies’ better coats for three years; two years later, he moved up to finishing collars, and that was as high as he got. Close Relations.
Copyright © by Susan Isaacs. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.