Authors: Joe Keenan
A playwright and lyricist, Joe Keenan received his M.F.A. in Musical Theater from New
University. His musical
received a Richard Rodgers Development Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Putting on the Ritz
-which continues the escapades of Philip Cavanaugh, Gilbert Selwyn, and Claire Simmons-is also published by Penguin. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Mr. Keean lives in New York City and Los Angeles, where he is executive story consultant for the hit television show
PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England
First published in Penguin Books 1988
Published simultaneously in Canada
12 14 16 18 20 19 17 15 13 11
Copyright © Joseph Keenan, 1988 All rights reserved
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to reprint excerpts from the following copyrighted works:
"I Got Rhythm" by George and Ira Gershwin.
1930 New World Music Corp. (renewed). All rights reserved. Used by permission,
"Well Did You Evah" by Cole Porter. Copyright © 1956 by Chtip-pell
Copyright renewed. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
I. Title. II. Series.
PS3561.E365B56 1988 813'.54 87-29235 ISBN 0 14 01.0764 9
Printed in the United States of America Set in Bodoni Book
Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The author gratefully acknowledges
the support and assistance of Kevin Kynock,
Eric Dehais, Michael Pietsch, D. Fletcher,
Geri Thoma and Bruce Shostak.
ooking back on the whole ghastly affair, what surprises me most is that when news of Gilbert's plan first reached me I felt no sense of foreboding whatsoever. I didn't blanch, I didn't tremble, nor did I rush to a pay phone to call an airline and inquire about low fares to the Canary Islands. My early warning system, usually so reliable where Gilbert is concerned, had completely shut down. I was at a gallery opening, you see, and cheap wine will do that to you.
The gallery that evening was Concepteria on West Broadway in SoHo. It's one of those boldly experimental galleries, dedicated to the proposition that nothing is wholly devoid of aesthetic and, it follows, monetary value. The exhibit, entitled "Bags #3," was the work of a not unjustifiably obscure artist named Aldo Cupper. It consisted entirely of humanoid shapes sculpted from dark green Hefty bags stuffed with what the program described as "found objects" and what the world describes as several other things. Mr. Cupper could be seen bounding from one group of observers to the next, describing in copious detail the process by which he had "transfigured the disposable," and I was managing, through a vigilant eye and a willingness to end conversations abruptly, to stay one group ahead of him. It was while effecting a particularly narrow escape that I turned sharply and found myself face to face with Holland ("Holly") Batterman.
"Philip!" he shrieked, "I've been calling you and
you! Where have you been?"
"Well, I went downstairs for cigarettes around four."
"That's when I called and called! Listen, I am so mad at you!"
"Mad?" I inquired, perplexed.
"Furious! In fact," he added, gesturing toward the sculpture, "if I were any madder I'd
you one of these!"
Holly, if you haven't met him, is five fool eight, totally bald, and weighs close to three hundred pounds. As sueh, he's not
New York's most romantically successful homosexual. He derives what solace he can from being its most ostensible.
"Keep your voice down. What are you mad at me for?"
"Oh, I'm not really mad. I just hate to be the last one you call when you have such marvelous dirt! So,tell, tell! Who's the lucky girl? Is she pregnant-and if she is, how on earth did
I stared, baffled. Extraordinary as it seemed, he could only be driving at one thing.
"Holly, did somebody tell you I was getting
He screamed with laughter causing heads In swivel all through the gallery. Holly's laugh sounds like a getaway car rounding a corner on two wheels.
Oh, pleeeez! I'm gullible, honey, but not
I stared coolly. Happy though one may be with one's sexual preference, one hates to be thought incapable of versatility.
"So, who are you talking about?"
"Gilbert, of course!"
As I said, no alarm bells, no cold sweat. No sudden urge to see faraway places.
"Gilbert is getting
"No! Who is she?"
"I haven't heard a thing."
"Why that little trollop!" said Molly, heaving a sigh of indignation on my behalf. "Imagine him not telling you when you two go back so far! I would've thought he'd call you first thing and ask you to be best man!"
No quickening of the pulse. No swift lunge lor the travel brochures.
"Well, I wouldn't worry, hon," said Holly maternally. "If you ask me, he was pulling poor Jimmy's leg about the whole thing."
"You're losing me, Holly. Could you give this to me from the beginning? Everything you know?"
"Just try and
me!" he said, and plunged into his story, which, from the sparsely punctuated sound of it, had already been recited in full to at least three people.
"Jimmy Loftus who's looking just fabulous these days though you can tell he's spending a fortune on it was at Dunhill the other day getting something to wear to his kid sister's debutante ball can you believe their money when who should he see but Gilbert who's asking about get this morning coats!
Jimmy who can't
Gilbert at all since that really embarrassing business with him and that night club act of his and Gilbert and Phil Cavanaugh oh that's you sorry to bring it up honey walks up to Gilley and says, 'Well, hello!'- sweet as anything-'Going to a wedding, Gilbert?' 'Yes,' says Gilbert,
-which confuses Jimmy no end 'cause he doesn't know if Gilbert's bi or what and how do you ask in front of a Dunhill salesclerk, right? So, he says, 'Nice girl?' and Gilbert says, 'Only the most wonderful girl in the world!' and Jimmy says, 'Oh really-as wonderful as that hunk I saw you dancing with last week at Rampage?' and Gilbert-giddy little Gilbert!-gives him this blank ever-so-serious look and says, 'You know, James, it amazes me that a man of your family background should possess no sense of decorum whatsoever. I suppose there are some things money can't buy.' 'Yes, but you're not one of them,' says Jimmy and walks away very pleased with himself until he realizes he forgot to ask who the girl was so he calls me- if anyone's gonna know, right?-only I'm as much in the dark as he is. So I say, 'Hang on, I'll find out,' and that's when I called and called! You really don't know
"No. I haven't talked to him in a month. Why don't you just call him yourself?"
"I have! I've called and
"You'll know when I know," I said and turned swiftly toward the bar. A bit rude of me to be sure, but I'd just spotted Aldo Cupper swimming toward us through the crowd. He was beaming as only an unknown artist can beam when he's just spent two hours in a room containing his work, much wine and a hundred people who can't be
sure they won't someday need a favor from him. Flight was imperative.
Flight, however, was rendered impossible by the sudden attachment to my left wrist of three hundred pounds of implacable Batterman.
"Wait! Hold on! You must have a
"I told you, I-My God, look! Mary Tyler Moore!"
This ploy distracted him sufficiently for me to free my wrist, but it was too late. Aldo was upon us.
"Holland!" he cried ebulliently, "I'm so pleased you could make it. I've been wanting to tell you how much I enjoyed your set designs for Papp's all-Hispanic
Importance of Being Earnest."
"Aren't you sweet," said Holly, craning his neck madly.
"They really were marvelous," said Aldo.
"They were fun," agreed Holly, giving up the search and regarding me with a disgruntled look. "But
-he gestured toward the bags-"these are just stunning.
here hasn't shut up about them for a minute."
"Really!" said Aldo, fixing me with a hungry, expectant look, like a vampire watching a hemophiliac shave.
"I've never seen anything like them.
"You missed 'Bags #1' and '2,' then?"
"A lot of people have been asking me how I make them."
"Really?" asked Holly, suddenly concerned. "Have you been telling them?"
"Certainly. It may look complicated but it's a very simple twelve-step procedure. I'll explain if you like."
"Sure," I said. "We'd both love to-Oh, my God! Is that clock right?" Muttering the old standby about kidney dialysis, I hotfooted it out of the gallery and into the cool night air.
So buoyant was I over the timeliness of my escape that when I spied Gilbert half a block away on the opposite side of the Hired I did not duck into a dimly lit doorway; I instead called out his name. I might even have waved. Remembering ihis, I'm reminded ol Claire Simmons's comment to me about my continued friendship with Gilbert.
"Philip," she said, "if there's anything at all to reincarnation, you're coming back as a lemming."
Perhaps you're wondering at this point why my wariness toward Gilbert is of the sort usually reserved for Jehovah's Witnesses and mushrooms in the wild. I'll try to explain.
You're perhaps familiar with the song "I Got Rhythm," the lyric to which, as sung by the late Ethel Merman, contains the lines: