pinned

i’m in newport again. the stepbrother isn’t feeling well.

he’s been working on his tan, sunning at the beach every afternoon. he tells me this when i walk in the door. his blue eyes shine bright in the golden brown of his face.

the pauses are long but i’m getting better at this. i’ve learned to wait, to be patient. so we sit in the thick silence as he searches for the words.

i find myself watching him- jackie’s 84-year-old stepbrother on whom i have a teeny crush. observing his facial features as they arrange themselves in preparation for the communication of a thought.

but sometimes my mind wanders and, during one of these pauses, it darts back to something someone said. that i am confusing, contradictory. that my projects are incoherent.

i sit there, on that low-to-the-ground couch in the stepbrother’s sunroom wondering if i am doomed by my own whimsicality. if i will fail because my personality, my interests, my self are inconsistent.

we’ve been deep into an analysis of jfk’s foreign policy in the middle east when the stepbrother coughs and, apropos of nothing, he says: you know, oline, i’m presbyterian but i go to the episcopal church… i teach islam at the school and i’m a christian but most days i think the muslims have got it all right… i’m a conservative and i love obama… my friends tell me i make no sense… but i make sense enough for me so i don’t listen to them. 

having said this, he levels a steady gaze in my direction. it’s as though he has read my mind.

he holds the gaze a few seconds and then shoots me a flirtatious wink.

i’m struck upon leaving that i may never see him again. this hits me as absolutely the saddest thing.

people you may know

a funny thing has happened to my facebook “people you may know.”

it began with jennifer egan.

because i know two people who apparently know jennifer egan, facebook thought i might know her too. i do not know her, outside of the fact that she won the pulitzer three days before facebook thought we might be friends.

next there was erica jong.

i do not know erica jong. facebook thinks i maybe do. so i laughed and found this both flattering and an unwelcome reminder of how under-read i am in the area of feminist thought.

but then there was nick hornby.

NICK HORNBY.

NICK freaking HORNBY.

whom i have read. who facebook thinks i may know. who i would like to know and to whom, if i had any less dignity, i would write a gushing fan letter on how about a boy totally changed my eighteen-year-old life.

yes. it’s true. i am facebook friends with people who are facebook friends with NICK freaking HORNBY.

i’m well aware this should mean absolutely nothing. that, in reality, it does mean nothing. and yet it feels momentous.

and while i’m horrified to think what it says about my biographical career that i am, at present, charting its development through the increasing famousness of the people facebook thinks i may know, this does represent tangible progress.

because, when i look at them over there in the right margin and read that statement with a slightly different inflection, it rings entirely true. these are people i may know. someday.

and then there was paris

there are things you know you need to do.

by which i don’t mean the honorable, upstanding things, but the thoroughly stupid, senseless, impractical ones. the things people will warn you away from doing precisely because they seem to make no sense.

but these people, they do not see the story of which these stupid, senseless, impractical things may later one day be a part. i am blessed/cursed. i see the story.

it hadn’t occurred to me that i needed to go paris until i was alone in new york.

this was in march, early in my first doomed attempt to locate the top shop at the corner of broome and broadway that, despite two subsequent trips and copious billboards attesting to its existence, i have still never found. when i walked out of washington square park at the intersection of 4th and mcdougal, the light hit the pavement in such a way that can only be described as a very poor imitation of cimetière du montparnasse on 27 september 2009.

seeing that, there was no way i could not go to paris.

that sounds beyond ridiculous when you try to explain it: i’m a biographer writing this book about jackie in paris that i’m really not writing because there’s no there there, but i know in my soul that i’m meant to go to paris because the light in new york just wasn’t pretty enough.

dude! crazypants! and yet…

going to paris is part of the story. if not jackie’s then mine. i clung to that belief for months. practicality be damned, i was going to paris! and i did.

while in london last month, i hopped over to paris for thirteen hours. systematically, i hit the high points of that city i love, all the while eyes peeled for whatever it was that was going to make sense of the fact that i was there.

and i got nothing.

jackie’s houses were uninspiring and my travels uneventful. the little cafe outside notre dame where, two years before i’d had The French Fries of My Life, had since removed them from the menu.

at one point, desperate, i picked up a rock from a walkway by the eiffel tower because then, if i returned without a tale, without words, i’d at least have something tangible from this trip to hold in my hand.

with two hours left- annoyed, tired and with terribly sore feet- i collapsed on a bench in the back garden of notre dame. half an hour later, my story sat down on the opposite bench.

this is a useful metaphor. or at least i choose to see it as such because it is evidence that i am not crazy. paris was part of the story. and the story is always there, whether it looks as we imagine it will or not.

[need more paris? go HERE.]

explosions!

read THIS and then let’s talk.

i will now answer a series of questions you have not asked:

(1) did lyndon johnson kill JFK and have a love affair with a movie star as the sentence structure of this headline would lead us to believe? no.

(2) was lyndon johnson ever governor of the state of texas? no.

(3) did jackie gave arthur schlessinger a deeply revealing interview that was not to be released until 50 years after her death? yes.

(4) was this interview in any way ever “secret”? no.

(5) are the tapes “explosive”? YES!!!! or no.

(6) did jackie have a love affair with william holden? she cut her hair like audrey hepburn’s in sabrina, so the answer is obviously yes.

(7) did jackie find the panties of jfk’s teenaged lover in her white house bedroom? this has been a set-piece scene in every single kennedy made-for-tv movie of all time, so it’s clearly totally true.

the theory on which i’ve based nearly everything i’ve ever written about jackie is that we are all of us reading tabloids all the time. yes, you may not subscribe to u.s. weekly and you may not know jessica simpson’s age and the name of her hairdresser, and you can pretend you’re above this, but if you do, you’re sorely underestimating the american celebrity-industrial complex.

we’re all in this together. if you read a snippet of gossip anywhere online this morning, you are reading u.s. weekly just as good as if you subscribed.

the tabloids are everywhere. they are on fox news and cnn. they are usually cited, but their information is presented within a news report so it’s hard not to take it as truth.

case in point- on sunday, a british tabloid recycled a story that, in america, has fronted the national enquirer time and again. by monday, it had traveled across the pond into the american mainstream press and we were all wondering if jackie was sleeping around and promoting conspiracy theories better peddled by oliver stone. never mind that every article sourced the daily mail and abc promptly denied the reports- the story had wings and it took off.

and, as much as i love tabloids, this is what i hate about them: i hate that this is the narrative people will remember. people who have never read a book about jackie and will not listen to the “secret” “explosive” jackie tapes in the fall, people who won’t listen then and hear her say whatever it is she’s going to say in that crazy strange voice of hers, they will remember this.

they’ll remember her as that woman who slept around to get even, who thought a man that was never governor of texas did her husband in.

that’s what they’ll remember though it’s not who she was.

yusha, part 3

(part 1 and part 2)

as the stepbrother emerges from the elevator, the sunlight streams through the glass door and beams golden off his white hair.

we do not hug or shake hands. instead, we embark upon a somewhat frantic tour of the house. i feel less like a biographer and more like a buyer, come to bid not only on the home but all the contents within.

the stepbrother’s name yields the shallowest of googles. i know very little about him and didn’t realize he had a wife and children until i’m standing in the castle’s breakfast nook staring at their portraits adorning the walls.

as with most everything i do these days, i’m not entirely certain why i’m here. we’ve two hours to talk and i come bearing a mere question and a half.

and yet, within ten minutes of small talk over framed photographs and family memorabilia, an amazingly random, potentially awesome story begins to emerge. i don’t know what to do with it but, before the stepbrother has even uttered a word about jackie, i assume i’ll be coming back.

but we’re here to talk about jackie for now.

the stepbrother sits in a high-backed chair. he gestures at the various available seating options and declares the couch “difficult.” ever one to choose the path of most resistance, i sit there.

the word “difficult” is generous. the couch is a full foot shorter than a sofa made for modern man and whatever cotton once comprised it has now decayed to the consistency of a gel.

sitting down is like free-falling onto a water-bed. my feet leave the floor and for a glimmer of a moment there’s a very real fear i’ll go bobbing over the sofa’s back. this is not good.

quickly, i gather my wits. using the momentum remaining from my initial fall into the sofa and the force of the subsequent gelatinous waves, i lurch forward so that i’m teetering on the edge of the beastly thing, my feet en pointe.

despite the awkward posture (and a belated awareness of the visibility of my bra), throughout the interview, i’ve a very great sense of how incredibly cool i am being.

for instance, when the stepbrother says, well, of course, you know jackie’s mother died in this room, i nod and smile as though that were, in fact, something i had known.

when he mentions that patrick kennedy’s wedding is scheduled for the middle of the month, i nod and smile, as my last hope of ever marrying into the kennedy family vanishes in the room where jackie’s mother breathed her last.

if the process of writing biography has taught me anything, it has taught me the very great importance of appearing cool. because the biographer has to confront his or her own inadequacies and ridiculousness on a near-daily basis and yet keep fumbling forward, moving against a very keen sense of his or her own ineptitude.

i am doing this. i am trying to be cool. usually i’m just inept and the uncoolest uncool one could ever be, but i’m trying.

i’ve not listened to the tape of this interview beyond checking to ensure that it did record, so when people have asked for details, all i’ve been able to give are the very few soundbites that were able to break through the mental curtain of OHMYGODOHMYGODOHMYGOD.

and, as i sat in the castle that day, not much made it beyond that curtain. just a few little bits…

i have sat in the room where janet auchincloss died.

i’ll likely never marry a kennedy.

during WWII, with flirty sailors at the nearby naval base, jackie traded chickens for steaks.

http://www.flickr.com/apps/slideshow/show.swf?v=104087