Category: Archive

The night quiet Mailer turned into Stormin’ Norman

February 17, 2011

By Staff Reporter

Consequently, though I had read of Norman Mailer’s pugnacious persona, I figured it was hokum – until the party.
I can’t remember the reason for the occasion but the theme, oddly enough, was punk rock.
Norman had been introduced to the trappings, if not the music, by Legs McNeill of Punk Magazine. The affair was held in the Mailer apartment overlooking the Brooklyn Heights waterfront.
To say the none-too-spacious living room was jammed with celebrities would be an understatement; it was also full of the McNeill managed band, Shrapnel, their stacks of drums and amplifiers!
Now Shrapnel were not considered true punks by the Bowery orthodox, but in the decibel department they could go mano-a-mano with The Ramones; to top it all, they sported full military fatigues.
I was escorting Judith McNally, Norman’s assistant, and the party went swimmingly at first. I remember standing next to Woody Allen on the buffet line, longing to impress him with the sharpness of my wit; alas, all I could muster was “how’s it goin’, man?” To which he mumbled after much soul-searching, “it’s going… okay… yes… okay.”
Unnerved, I turned to another gentleman who turned out to be Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the very soul of affability. However, just then there was let forth a roar akin to that of a castrated calf and Norman came stalking down the line, fists clenched, eyes blazing.
He seemed to be heading for me and I wondered if he’d just discovered that I’d been borrowing his Porsche to impress a young lady in the Bronx. Mr. Vonnegut, noticing my pallor, shrugged, “don’t worry, it’s just Norman being Norman.”
Thus was I introduced to the public persona of my erstwhile shy and considerate benefactor.
Perhaps it had all been choreographed for thereupon Shrapnel let forth with a racket that set dentures rattling and glasses hopping off the table.
This spurred Norman to a new crescendo for his roars now soared above the boys from Jersey. Not to be outdone, old Mrs. Mailer shrieked, “it’s too loud” and demanded that I turn them down. With that, the party descended into riotous chaos from which I eventually slipped away mere steps behind Woody but without, alas, bidding good night to my date.
Likewise, my employment by Norman just slid away, albeit in a sequence of tragic events.
Mailer had helped publish “In the Belly of the Beast,” an account of Jack Abbott’s life behind bars; he was also aiding Abbott gain parole, though this literary sensation had a record that included stabbing to death a fellow inmate. Norman asked if I’d be willing to spend some quality time with Abbott upon his release, introducing him to CBGB’s and other downtown temples of culture.
He suggested that I correspond with the prisoner and get to know him. After a couple of letters, Abbott’s replies petered out. To this day, I have no idea what upset him except that Abbott advised Norman that I should desist from my correspondence as I was paranoid, schizophrenic and other big words that I had to look up in a dictionary.
I was dumbstruck, but what a break! Soon after his release Abbott stabbed to death Richard Adan, a young man of my acquaintance. Mailer duly engendered much opprobrium for sponsoring Abbott’s parole.
I was shocked for a while but life was full: Turner & Kirwan of Wexford had morphed into the new wave Major Thinkers and gained a record deal. Soon after, Judith McNally severed her relationship with us and I never heard from Norman again.
Reading his obituary, I barely recognized the man I knew except for the night at the party.
Like many shy people, I suppose, Norman cultivated a public persona. He’s left us a treasure trove of great books and an outsized legend to reflect on. But I’ll never forget his kindly eyes, his generosity and his innocent belief in my fix-it capabilities.

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