THE MAN ON THE MUSHROOM
The arrival in Hollywood was something less than auspicious. It was February, 1962, and I had broken free of the human monster for whom I'd been editing in Chicago. It was one of the worst times in my life. The one time I'd ever felt the need to go to a psychiatrist, that time in Chicago. I had remarried in haste after the four-year anguish of Charlotte and the Army and the hand-to-mouth days in Greenwich Village; now I was living to repent in agonizing leisure.
I had been crazed for two years and hadn't realized it. Now I was responsible for one of the nicest women in the world, and her son, a winner by any standards, and I found I had messed their lives by entwining them with mine. There was need for me to run, but I could not. Nice Jewish boys from Ohio don't cut and abandon. So I began doing berserk things. I committed personal acts of a demeaning and reprehensible nature, involved myself in liaisons that were doomed and purposeless, went steadily more insane as the days wound tighter than a mainspring.
Part of it was money. Not really, but I thought it was the major part of the solution to the situation. And I'd banked on selling a book of stories to the very man for whom I was working. He took considerable pleasure in waiting till we were at a business lunch, with several other people, to announce he was not buying the book. (The depth of his sadism is obvious when one learns he subsequently did buy and publish the book.)
But at that moment, it was as though someone had split the earth under me and left me hanging by the ragged edge, by my fingertips. I went back to the tiny, empty office he had set up in a downtown Evanston office building, and I sat at my desk staring at the wall. There was a clock on the wall in front of me. When I sat down after that terrible lunch, it was 1:00...
When I looked at the clock a moment later, it was 3:15...?
The next time I looked, a moment later, it was 4:45...?
7:00 ... 8:30...?
Somehow, I don't know how, even today, I laid my head on the desk, and when I opened my eyes again I had taken the phone off the hook. It was lying beside my mouth. A long time later, and again I don't remember doing it, I dialed a friend, Frank M. Robinson, a dear writer friend of many years.
I heard Frank's voice saying, "Hello ... hello ... is someone there...?"
"Frank ... help me..."
And when my head was lifted off the desk, it was an hour later, the phone was whistling with a disconnect tone, and Frank had made it all the way across from Chicago to Evanston to find me. He held me like a child, and I cried.
Soon after, I left Evanston and Chicago and the human monster, and with my wife and her son began the long trek to the West Coast. We had agreed to divorce, but she had said to me, with a very special wisdom that I never perceived till much later, when I was whole again, "As long as you're going to leave me, at least take me to where it's warm."
But we had no money. So we had to go to Los Angeles by way of New York from Chicago. If I could sell a book, I would have the means to go West, young man, go West. (And that was the core of the problem, not money: I was a young man. I was twenty-eight, but I had never become an adult.)
In a broken-down 1957 Ford we limped across to New York during the worst snowstorms in thirty years. My wife and her son stayed with a friend I'd known in the Village, and I slept on the sofa at the home of Leo & Diane Dillon, the two finest artists I know. Leo & Diane slept on the floor. They are more than merely friends.
It was December of 1961, and amid the tensions and horrors of that eight-week stay in New York, two things happened that brought momentary light, and helped me keep hold:
The first was a review by Dorothy Parker in Esquire of a small-printing paperback collection of my stories. How she had obtained it I do not know. (When I met her, later, in Hollywood, she was unable to remember where the book had come from.) But she raved about it, and said I had talent, and it was the first really substantial affirmative notice from a major critic. It altered the course of my writing career, and provided my ego--which had been nourishing itself cannibalistically on itself--with reason for feeling I could write.