Authors: Susan Isaacs
So he muted his flash, except when it became a political weapon. Fund-raising for Paterno, he’d slowly lower his black lashes and give a long, easy grin to a short, tense, rich widow. Inevitably, she’d cough up a few hundred more for Paterno. Talking to a woman reporter or a gay banquet manager, he’d lean back in his chair with his legs spread slightly, so the healthy swelling between his thighs was just barely evident.
The taxi stopped for a light. Jerry turned from Sixth Avenue to me. “You okay, sweetheart?”
“It’s not so bad. Just think of it as three hours of continual smiling. You can handle it.”
“Don’t you hate it, glad-handing and buttering up all sorts of awful people?”
“No. It’s fun.”
Jerry would never concede that he despised political dinners. How could any decent person possibly enjoy a roomful of pols and building contractors and hungry lawyers all drinking whiskey of unknown origin and nervously gobbling egg salad canapés? I would demand.
“So I don’t discuss the meaning of life,” he would say. “So what? I walk around, say hello to a few of the boys I haven’t seen for a while, pick up some interesting gossip. I enjoy it.”
I would explain, patiently, that the room was very hot and it was hard to talk standing up. And some criminal court judge from Queens who looked like an Easter Island statue would sidle up and mumble a few damp sentences that I could not understand because of the noise but sensed were disgusting. And Jerry would say, “Marcia, you have two feet. Put one in front of the other and take a walk.” And then I would remind him that even after cocktail hour, when we were seated at Table 137, with a brash band playing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” he would carry on a yelling conversation with some clubhouse Neanderthal at Table 135 rather than talk to me. “Marcia, we don’t go to these things to be together. We’re supposed to be out there smiling, making friends for Bill, patting asses. But the minute we get there, you grab my arm and start to discuss your childhood or tell me your College Board scores.”
Then I’d sniff and tell him that if this kind of party was the sort of thing that he, Gerald Morrissey, a graduate of Fordham University who had been on full scholarship, found appealing, well, he had my pity. He would sigh and I would pout and together we’d enter Spanelli for Congress or the Cardiac Infarction Fund Honors Esther and Selwyn Litwak dinner and part. I would seek a potential wallflower, an electorally doomed assemblyman or another speech writer, and ask how they were and then listen.
Jerry would work the room, laughing, drinking, standing with his arm around a crucial state senator and whispering bright ideas, breaking into smiles of gladness as the women came up: wives and secretaries and officeholders who would pass him and then say “Jerry!” as though they had only accidentally noticed him. And he would beam at them, a special smile as though—just between him and her—she had made his evening by noticing him.
With his intelligence and courtesy added to his fine looks, he was nearly irresistible in a world of the glib and the cruel. There seemed no reason why he couldn’t have any woman at all. There was simply no reason to deny him.
Women bolted from their escorts to greet him. They phoned him at the office and at home. He’d empty his jacket pockets at night and discover odd pieces of paper with phone numbers written on them that women had slipped in, women he could barely remember meeting. Twice he found a key.
Except among women who had specific requirements of men—wealth, knowledge of nineteenth-century American literature—Jerry’s appeal was nearly universal. I think he realized it and was secretly a little sad about it. Since he could charm just about any woman he met, since he knew the inevitability of his attractiveness, he lost some of his interest in women. Their value decreased because the supply so grossly exceeded the demand.
The taxi pulled up to the Hilton and I paid the driver. “Now, Marcia,” he said, as we shared a quadrant within the revolving door, “this isn’t a date.”
“I know.” Still, I liked to think of him as my escort. People could say, “There’s Marcia Green,” and automatically look for Jerry Morrissey.
Ever since I began working in politics, right after I was graduated from Queens College, I had an even chance of meeting him. We could have said hi at the annual fund raiser for the Queens Symphony Orchestra, shaking hands over a silver bowl of chopped liver while our employers dashed about, kissing cheeks and pounding backs and proclaiming their passion for the orchestral form, or at least mumbling that they thought music was a wonderful idea.
We could have been introduced at the Rathskeller, a bar not far from City Hall. We could even have crossed paths when I was living in Washington. Bernard Merkin had testified before a House subcommittee that my boss, the Honorable Dave Flaherty, chaired.
“Marcia Plotnick, Jerry Morrissey,” someone could have said.
“Hi.” He would have offered me a hand and a flash of blue eye-light.
“Hi.” I would have lowered my head and addressed his loafers, trying at the same time to conjure up a picture of my husband, white-coated Barry Plotnick, his stethoscope twinkling in silver, his wedding band gleaming in gold.
I had heard of Jerry, of course. Rumors, ruminations, remarks about him had drifted through my life for years. Even when he was in his mid-thirties, he was considered one of the grand old men of New York City politics, the pro’s pro.
A health-care lobbyist, cooling her heels waiting for Flaherty, her behind spread over a third of my Washington desk, had demanded, “Y’ever see Jerry Morrissey?”
“Oh. Well, he’s gorgeous. A living dream.”
“I think you may be sitting on my pencil.”
“Not that he’s not smart too,” she added.
We finally met by appointment. “Hi, Marcia.”
“Hi.” I was looking for a job.
“Well, let’s see. You were with Dave Flaherty….” His voice faded but his finger continued the probe, moving slowly down the page of my résumé. “What made you leave Washington?” he asked.
“Oh, I got a divorce….”
Six months later we began having dinner together, at first every couple of weeks, eventually most nights. I assumed we were friends; we always split the check and he never tried to kiss me. We probed each other’s histories and discovered we both correlated our private lives with public events: my Grandma Yetta died on the same day as Jack Benny and Jerry first had intercourse the night before Eisenhower was inaugurated. We discovered mutually a passion for nasty Mayor Lindsay stories, a near mastery of the city’s bus and subway routes, and a strong disinclination to see foreign movies.
I fell in love with him but forced myself to act casual, afraid of having him think me just another eager lady. But after a month of intense camaraderie, I wanted more. I spent my mornings plotting ways to make him seduce me in the evenings. By the afternoons, I was overwrought from the excitement of my fantasies, from planning traps, and from guilt at neglecting my work. I began to fear that Jerry would not only not desire me but might fire me as well. So I’d bang the typewriter passionately, until he would knock at my office door. Ready? he’d ask. I’d begin each dinner with him feeling frazzled, exhausted, and decidedly unseductive. But our conversations were fun, and by dessert, I felt so happy, so at ease, that my morning plot—to drop my coffee spoon and let my hand brush his thigh while reaching for it—was forgotten.
We slipped into bed casually one evening when we stopped at his apartment to check the movie listings and found only Clint Eastwood in the neighborhood. We were sitting on the bed, and Jerry leaned across the
and gave me a cautious kiss. I responded, far less cautiously. An hour later he said softly, “I can’t believe I wasted all that time thinking you just wanted to be friends.” The next night I moved in.
I never totally understood why he chose me. It was clear he enjoyed me in bed, but it was also clear that I wasn’t some hotsy-totsy lover, a dynamite dolly who could make a man crazed with lust. I had no secret tricks and my muscle tone was such that I could assume only the most conventional positions.
I never cooked for him except once, to make him a grilled cheese sandwich when he had bronchitis; he admired the sandwich, but not so much that it would bind him to me forever. Even if I had prepared the sort of nightly feasts that I had spread before Barry—home-baked rolls, succulent stews, piquant salads: meals that I’d dash from my office on Capitol Hill during lunch hour to prepare—Jerry would not have been influenced. His interest in food was minimal. He could be satisfied by any cuisine, from Hunan to Hungarian, as long as he was allowed to sprinkle a dram or two of salt over his entrée.
His taste in women was equally broad and accepting. From what I could ascertain—and I tried to ascertain a lot—he had a preference for blonds, but blonds come in many packages. Kathye Baron, who preceded me, was half Jewish, half Irish, the latter being dominant after four years at Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart. Before her were a couple of
ladies—out-of-towners who had been drawn by stories about the Algonquin Round Table—a few pure-bred Irish ladies, and I think one Pole. They lived both in and out, but they were all on the light side, although there had been a hot affair with Felicity Weiner, a dark, not-too-handsome assistant to the deputy mayor for intergovernmental affairs, and an earlier college romance with Laura Aldarissio, which ended during their senior year when she tossed her black locks at Phil Savelli, the son of the city’s most prominent cement contractor. I noticed when they saw each other at political affairs, Jerry would redden and Laura, now Mrs. Savelli, would lower her now-gray head and breathe, “Hello, Gerald”—though Jerry swore he had never slept with her and had, at most, gotten a meager handful of bare tit the night after finals in their junior year.
“Why did you ask me to live with you?” I once asked him.
“I was desperate.”
“Jerry, I’m serious.”
“So am I. They just raised the rent and it was either move or find a roommate.”
“Is that the truth?” I asked, feigning lightness but feeling heavy with the dread certainty that Catholics never really lie.
“Why do you have to analyze everything to death? I like you. You’re a great girl. I wanted to live with you.”
Like me, he may have been very lonely. So out of all the women, he chose me. I was nice. I was interesting. I was there at the moment he decided he wanted company.
A voice boomed down to us as we rode the escalator to the Hilton’s banquet floor. “Hey, Morrissey, you old bastard. I should’ve known you’d be here,” John McConachie bellowed. Jerry, ahead of me, stepped off the escalator and was immediately swept up in a handshake and a backslap. McConachie was second in command of the Electricians’ Union. He was in his early sixties and despite his nearly perpetual grin, he had the quick, darting, pale eyes of the easily annoyed; he had waited nearly seventeen years for Herbert Stutzermann, the union’s president, to die so he could take over, but Herbert had just celebrated his happy, healthy, eightieth birthday. However, everyone still treated grinning John with great seriousness.
“John,” Jerry said, as the escalator delivered me up to them, “have you met Marcia Green, Bill’s speech writer?”
“I haven’t had the pleasure,” he replied. McConachie prided himself on never forgetting a face. “I never forget a face,” he told me.
“Oh,” I said, smiling. “Well, very nice meeting you.”
“My pleasure, young lady,” he said. Then, turning back to Jerry, he asked, “Can you still call them ‘ladies’ or does it have to be ‘women’ nowadays?” Jerry began to chuckle at McConachie’s wit and I flashed a final smile, waved, and walked toward the room where cocktails were being served.
“Marcia!” someone called, giving it the not-unusual New York pronunciation
“Over here, babe.” I peered at the crowd backed two deep at the bar and saw Wendy Friedman, the Deputy Commissioner for Cultural Affairs. “How’s everything?”
“Jerry? The two of you still together? Huh? Doing okay?” The nostrils of her large, splayed nose flared with interest.
“Yes. We’re fine. And you?”
“What can I tell you? Who has time for anything anymore? I can’t remember the last time I got laid. I should have it bronzed and keep it as a memento. Anyhow, that’s neither here nor there, is it? I hear Bill’s announcing tomorrow. You write him a good, socko speech, hon?” I nodded. “He coming tonight?” I shook my head. “I didn’t think he would,” she went on, “because if he’s declaring tomorrow he has to go into the high-class business, and being seen here with scutzy Dick Krasnoff and all his vermin friends wouldn’t be smart, would it? So, by the next time I see you, you might be packing your bags, heading up for Albany with a fancy title, Special Assistant to the Governor for Rhetorical Affairs or something. What kind of opposition do you expect in the primary?” Wendy moved into this question casually. At twenty-four, she was already on her way to becoming one of the keenest politicians in New York. Although loud and coarse, she attacked and killed with grace.
“You mean, who do we think will enter besides Parker?”
“Yeah, sure, besides Parker. Once everybody decides Parker’s vulnerable—and let me tell you something, my mother’s poodle has the brains to figure that out—do you think they’re going to let Paterno have it gratis, for the asking, you know, without putting up some kind of major stink? Huh?”
“Well, so far the only opposition that’s surfaced isn’t really very threatening. I mean it, Wendy. They’re people with small constituencies—”
“Sweets, you’re jerking my chain. Don’t tell me Bill Paterno thinks he can just walk into the governor’s mansion without having some kind of positively lethal hand-to-hand combat.”
“Of course not. We’re prepared for a rough primary.”
“Well, we’ll see,” she said offhandedly. She was smiling now, grinning over my head. When I turned around, I saw Charles Basile, the mayor’s press secretary, pressing through the crowd, waving at Wendy. He waved a little less energetically when he saw me, although he managed to whip up enough enthusiasm to give her a large, chirpy cheek kiss and an exuberant “Hi, Wendy!”