“A Town Called Disdain”, Episode Fifteen: Daphne remembers Automat days and 57th Street nights
Bit by bit, the grand mosaic that is Larry Winchester’s great American epic begins to assume some semblance of coherence. Here Larry, that literary chameleon and jack-of-all trades, slips into the voice of the enigmatic and beautiful Daphne, recently and mysteriously arrived in the town of Disdain, NM, with her husband, the equally handsome and perhaps even more enigmatic Dick Ridpath...
(Click here to go to our previous episode, or go here to return to the beginning of what Edmund Wilson has called "that most appalling example of what we literary types laughingly call 'the sprawling epic'.")
This strange man Dick Ridpath. I had so wanted to have this wild long bachelorettehood when I got that place in Minetta Street with Minerva but all the men were so tedious and I couldn’t seem to keep a job and I didn’t really want any of those jobs anyway.
I rather wished I could be some sort of writer or photographer but I didn’t really like to write except for letters and postcards and I kept losing cameras before I really learned how to use them.
I got a job as a hostess in this private homosexual night club called Cock Robin’s and there I met Andy Warhol who wanted me to star in one of his movies. The movie was calledOh Fuck You Tooand it was just me on a couch smoking cigarettes totally ripped on amphetamines delivering an endless impromptu monologue to these two naked queer boys. As far as I know the film was only shown a couple of times, which was fine by me.
I quickly grew tired of the Warhol gang and declined his offers to “star” in any more films. It wasn’t as if he was paying anything. Some time after I did make a cameo appearance in his Chelsea Girlsmovie because Nico talked me into it, but my part got cut out because the sound man forgot to turn the microphone on.
I’ve just never really wanted to be part of a gang.
So I kept on at Cock Robin’s because I was too lazy to look for anything else. I made friends with some of the queer men. For some reason queer men love me. And no matter how much I abuse them they keep coming back for more. This was a good thing because I didn’t make a whole lot of money and the queer men were always glad to take me out to lunch or dinner. My mother sent me a hundred dollars now and then. She claimed to be nearly broke, and there was probably some truth in that. She’s like me, spends money as soon as she gets it.
One night this queer writer who liked to be seen with pretty women so that no one would know he was queer took me to a party at Norman Mailer’s apartment. All I knew about Norman Mailer was he was supposed to be a great writer, which meant nothing to me, I find great literature the absolute height of boredom every time. And whenever I’ve met one of these writer people I’ve found them to be a bit on the boring side too. Norman was just this stocky little fellow, not handling his drink very well and dominating every conversation he was in. He tried to pull that on me, and I said, “Mr. Mailer, don’t you ever get tired of hearing yourself talk?” And he said, “Y’know, if you were a man I’d probably take a poke at you for saying that.” And I said, “And that would prove that you’re just an insecure little boy.” He asked me for my phone number. I told him no, because I was dating Mr. X, the fellow who’d brought me there. Norman said, “Really? I thought he was queer.” “Oh, no, I said, far from it. In fact he’s quite the stallion.”
I wandered off into the party and then I found myself talking to this other man who kept telling me I looked just like Sophia Loren in some Italian movie. He talked all about this scene where she does this strip tease in black stockings and garters and I said well I’ll have to see that movie, and then he told me he would give me five hundred dollars right then and there if I would go in the bathroom with him and give him a handjob. And I said what sort of girl do you think I am. And he said I know I’m revolting I’m disgusting I need to be punished. Will you punish me. I’ll give you that five hundred dollars if you will punish me right now. So we went into the bathroom and he took off his belt and gave it to me and dropped his pants and drawers and leaned over the toilet and I hit him ten times with the belt on his hairy ass and he begged for more but I said no, we said ten and that’s all you’re getting. So he gave me five hundred dollars right there and then and now I had found a new source of income.
Every week or so this pervert man gave me a call and although he wouldn’t give me five hundred he did give me a hundred bucks for ten whacks and five extra for cab fare. He was quite important in the advertising field and married so usually I would just go to his office wearing the Sophia Loren underwear he had bought me and punish him right there with his secretary typing away in the next room. He gave me some phone numbers of some other men and soon enough I was whipping four or five clients a week and saving money.
Dick kept showing up in his charming way. He had left the navy and he was also at loose ends. He took me to galleries and foreign films and to all these funny hotel lounges where we would sit and make fun of the people. He got along fine with my queer friends and they of course were just mad for him.
He took me to the jazz clubs on 57th Street and down in the Village. He’d introduce me to the musicians and quite a few times Bud Powell or Thelonius Monk or someone would say, “This next composition goes out to the lovely Miss Daphne.”
Dick got a place in the Village too with one of his old Andover friends named Chaz Peters who was an artist now, but every once in a while Dick went away somewhere for a month or so to do some sort of “consulting” work, apparently some sort of work he had learned how to do in the navy. I thought it was electronics or engineering or something but I never actually asked him what this work was because I was afraid it would be boring. I was actually pretty sure it was engineering or something mechanical because when I asked him what had happened with the fingernails on his left hand he laughed and said he’d slammed them in a car door, but I figured he’d caught them in some sort of machinery.
I don’t know why, but we had still never had sex, never even made out. I had had a succession of tedious affairs and liaisons since coming to New York, and although Dick was discreet on the subject I knew he had his share as well. I was almost certain he had slept with Minerva, the conniving little bitch.
And then suddenly, it was such a nice depressing rainy November afternoon, Dick had taken me to lunch at the Automat and we were sitting in my place, he was on the rug with his back against the ratty old sofa reading one of Minerva’s Eastern Religion books (Minerva was upstate taking the cure for her diet pill addiction) and I was trying to knit some booties for Betty’s new baby and I kept having to throw Minerva’s horrible cat off the sofa and we were listening to Fats Waller and the radiator was hissing in the background and I thought, What the hell, I’m going to have sex with him, I’ll bet he’s really good, and if he is I’m going to marry him.
I was right about him being good in bed but wrong about the money but by the time I found that out I didn’t care because in my own mad way I had fallen in love with him.