Hullo, readers. Many thanks for the kind notes and well-wishes. I’ve fully recovered from my bout with the plague and am only a little worse for wear. I’m desperate for a bit more time on the water, but I’m convinced my palate hasn’t yet recovered. I’ve been reduced to taking brandy in the evenings.
Still, though far from splendid, isolation hasn’t been all bad. I’ve spent a great deal of time on the phone with my brother Richard. We’re not naturally expressive people, and I’m more than a bit embarrassed about the state of my marriage. But our respective sheltering-in-place, his in Boston and mine in New York, has turned us into talkers.
Like the rest of the family, I’ve always called him Dickie. His friends from school called him Bear thanks to his being rather large and lumbering. I never saw Dickie as especially imposing, let alone ursine. He’s the oldest of the Dent brood, quite a bit my senior, and as a boy I took him to be a genial oaf. I, by contrast, take after Mother.
Connecticut, where we were raised, is a place between destinations. Nutmegger Yankees often drift towards one of two geographic poles, neither of them Camelot. I went south to the city. Dickie went north and spent the lion’s share of his career at a small, respectable investment house in Boston helmed by the scion of a lesser Saltonstall branch. Since the death of my sister-in-law three years ago, he’s been on his own, save for his work and a bloated tabby cat named Pound Sterling.
I say this with fraternal affection, but Dickie is a bit of a boor. He belongs to every club and society under the sun and lives for bland evenings in overly decorated, underlit establishments of old vintages (real or imagined). The last time we were together, he had come to the city for a French heritage event at a rococo pile in the mid-70s — yes, that one. Hell is Town & Country, and its seventh circle was appointed by the editors of Architectural Digest.
I’ve made mention in an earlier missive that I’m a Francophile. Dickie is something far, far worse. The man’s a Francomaniac. He’s decided we have French heritage — we do not — and dragged me along to their annual banquet. I don’t object to tails and a night out, but I found myself cornered by a woman bearing an alarming resemblance to Jocelyn Wildenstein. Somebody whispered ‘She’s huge in real estate’ to me, but I have no idea who, because Dickie was the only person in attendance I knew. The whole scene was inscrutable.
I felt obliged to save Dickie from his own conversational enthusiasm. When a couple dances, the man leads. When a couple converses, the woman leads. Bless Dickie, he has two left feet in either scenario. I could see being there made him happy, and a rather self-absorbed crowd is a good fit for him. He nods when they talk about themselves. As they don’t listen, they miss his non sequiturs and tedious digressions.
The peculiarity of it all is that Dickie has led a rather interesting life. When I was still at school, he was doing some staff work for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve, running around behind the Iron Curtain looking to buy grain as the right hand of an eccentric Southern economist named Daane. There was no grain to buy, but Dickie fell in love with a Polish mathematician. I’m told the two spent a torrid winter and spring driving around Switzerland, staying in mountain retreats and warming the Cold War through romance and industrial statistics until summer came and sent them their separate ways.
It all sounds rather romantic, really. I’m quite fond of Switzerland, though it attracts a seedy set. Last I was in Gstaad, I wound up cornered at a soirée by a garrulous Greek with a Savile Row suit and a signet ring, who kept telling me different jokes with the same sexually indecent punchline. In between complimenting the waitresses on their physiques, he inquired insistently whether or not I wanted to go ‘night skiing’ with him in the bathroom.
My incomprehension resolved into a firm conviction that the man embodied the breadth of the infamous Achaean appetite on all matters erotic, but it turned out he was simply suggesting a snort. Regardless, I was worn out from a day on the actual slopes and declined. I am no saint, but I’m not a sybarite either.
In the pre-pandemic era, it was at these sorts of moments I missed Dickie and his earnestness the most. He’s kind and unassuming, and as older brothers separated by half a generation go, he has been a good one. Come to think of it, he lined up my summer in Paris in ’85 working for the Voice of America. So for all the miserable loss of the last year, and if the reader will forgive this fleeting fit of sentimentality, I am at least grateful for some time talking to Dickie. Though I’m sure he only calls when Pound Sterling gets sick of listening to him.
This article is in The Spectator’s October 2020 US edition.