Group portrait taken at Andy Warhol's Factory (Warhol is fourth left, in the bottom row) New York, New York, March 6, 1968. Pictured are, left to right, bottom row: Johnathan Lieberson, Andreas Brown, Penelope Tree, Andy Warhol, Catherine Milinaire, and Jason Fishbein; second row: Lil Picard, Frances Steloff, Lita Hornick, Al Hansen, Viva, Charles Henri Ford, Kenneth King, and Ruth Ford; third row: Bruce Miller, Buddy Wurthshafter, Ultra Violet, Taylor Mead, Jack Smith, Sally Chamberlain, Wynn Chamberlain, Ron Zimardi, Ken Jacobs, Florence Jacobs, and Maurice Hogenbaum; back row: Bob Cowan, Fred Hughes, Paul Morrissey, Donna Kerness, John Wilcock, and Willoughby Sharp. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images)
I treasure my solitude but choose a table for ten on my holidays. It encourages me to interact. Even on vacations, I am quite content with my own company. My dining arrangement is always, therefore, full of surprises—for me and certainly for my tablemates.
Getting away from Rufus Stone the movie for a few weeks provided a good percolator for what is next for the film. I also wanted to think about my future, where I would like to be a year from now and what I might be doing then.
Three books helped with this process.
I began with Patti Smith’s Just Kids, a book recommended to me by Mary Gergen. I was soon turned off, however, by Smith’s approach to her own story and her conviction that she was the only child to ever grow up feeling slightly different or alienated. I thought that was what childhood was about. When she referenced Proust in the midst of her tales of preteen angst in New Jersey, I put the book aside and turned to Michael Kimball’s slim volume, Us.
I am a great fan of Kimball’s writing (I refer to his and the work of some of the other writers whom he has interviewed as ‘the new writing’). I often recommend his books to fellow academics as a kind of intellectual colonic irrigation for the scholar’s literary outpourings.
This will not be a review of Kimball’s book, but just to say that it is the first book I have read in a long, long time that, when it ended, I wished it hadn’t. His ability to describe minutia precisely in a conversational tone is astonishing. Kimball is someone at whom Proust would have smiled. He constructs, through simple sentences, complex situations and ideas. He is particularly skilful at describing innermost thoughts and feelings and the meniscus that both separates and joins those two intertwining elements in our lives. I love his writing.
I then turned to a quite silly book about Truman Capote entitled, Party of the Century (that would be the last Century) by Deborah Davis. Perhaps I should explain why I was reading this book before I loose all credibility here. There are definite reasons for my reading it, which can only be explained in my usual tangential style and detail. Please indulge me.
Firstly, I am giving a party next month for the cast and crew of Rufus Stone the movie. I was so impressed by how hard they all worked for little or no money the week of the film shoot that I wanted to thank them personally. As Mildred Pierce said, ‘Let’s get stinko’ and I thought that we should gather again to celebrate.
In 1966 Capote, when not comparing his own talents to Proust’s, was spending months and months planning and plotting his black and white masquerade ball at the Plaza Hotel in New York. The event was to be a celebration for nearly 400 of his ‘closest’ friends to mark the huge success of his book, In Cold Blood, supposedly. It turns out that creating the guest list was just as much of a production of preparation as the party itself. One detail that particularly fascinated me is that he would not permit anyone invited to bring a husband, wife or partner if both parties were not on his guest list. Instead, Capote invited a ‘hundred extra men’ to ‘partner’ lone women guests.
This is where Jason Fishbein comes in.
My story here relates to our story of Rufus Stone in that this simple country boy (me) went to the big city (Philadelphia) way back when (then) and enrolled in art studies (Philadelphia College of Art). Philadelphia has more art students per capita than any other place on the planet.
I met Jason who had graduated from another of the city’s art schools that year, having just completed a year’s sojourn in Europe on a fellowship. He was a star of the student art world and the son of the owners of Philadelphia’s very exclusive (and oldest) jewellery store. He was living at the time in a townhouse with the owner of the city’s trendiest and most popular gay bar where he conveniently had a studio in the atelier. In fact, the first time I ever nervously entered a gay establishment was in the daytime when the bars were closed to help Jason remove some paintings from his studio above the building’s three uninterrupted étages of gaiety.
He was handsome, talented, so sophisticated, slightly older than me and about to embark on a career move to a New York City West Side loft. Oh, and he listened to show music. I was overcome with glee! At that time I was not so sure of my own sexuality, but certain that Jason was attractive. He made overtures to me, but I shyly fended them off, nonetheless continuing to fawn over him at every chance I got. I was dazed and confused, but certainly smitten.
I offered to help him make the move to his New York loft. We packed up a rental van and left for NYC and a real West Side loft situated in an old industrial building with worn wooden floors, lots of windows and little else. The grimness and decay of this particular West Side neighbourhood was never reflected in West Side Story that was for sure. Jason had crammed the van with paintings, a chandelier, bags of clothes, a small refrigerator full of booze (from the bar I assumed) and some mattresses. After the unpacking, drinking and merriment, we (Jason, a young woman who always seemed to be hanging around him, and a male friend of Jason’s from New York who met us at the loft to help) settled down to sleep on mattresses on the loft floor that night. Jason bedded me with this other guy and put himself on the mattress next to the girl because she was feigning fright at her first night in the “big city”. I knew little of the subtleties of social manipulation back then but quickly learned that night.
Without going into detail, I spent the long night on the floor of that loft pushing this stranger off of me. I was very upset that Jason had put me to bed with this unfamiliar person as some sort of loft house-warming gift for his friend instead choosing me for himself. As a reluctant, shy country boy, I reminisce that I would have finally been ready to ‘give in’ to Jason that night, if he had shared his bed with me instead.
With little sleep and cast off in such a cavalier way, I left New York for Philadelphia on an early morning train and never heard from Jason again. I returned to my girlfriend in Philadelphia, turning my back on the complexities of a world that I was yet to understand. My relationship with a woman seemed a simpler solution, except for the ever-increasing awareness of the painful dishonesty of our situation, of which I was becoming more and more conscious. (Who’s invoking Proust now?)
A few months later I opened the newspaper to see a photo of Jason on the front page with the inscription, “Jason Fishbein, artist, whose mask was a sensation at the Capote ball at the Plaza last night”. Jason had “arrived” in New York.
Recently by chance, I came across another photo from 1968 of Andy Warhol and his entourage, taken by top photographer of the 60’s counter-culture, Fred McDarrah. Jason Fishbein is dead centre in this shot. I guess he did okay after his success at the ball as well.
I was really curious about what had happened to him since then and that is why I wanted to read Party of the Century. Jason isn’t mentioned in the book by name, unfortunately, but his having been one of Capote’s “single escorts” now seems conceivable. I assume that in Capote’s Upper East Side world of New York high society, inviting gay males to such an upscale party needed some sort of plausible ‘social justification’ and Capote had come up with this rather bizarre solution.
What is the purpose of this story? Well, I suppose it is to say once more that being gay and stories about being gay are never straight forward (no pun intended) or simple. Our life stories are played out in an entrenched heterosexual culture and society, which often produces not only our angst, insecurities and complexes, but also the variety and richness of alternative lives and lifestyles as solutions for many of us.
No Patti, being a Tomboy is not life’s only young struggle.