Mary Reinholz’ “Exit From Eden” Returns After Too Long A Lull

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August 1, 2014 · Posted in Exit From Eden -Mary Reinholz 

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CHAPTER 14

 

Doria Nune was somebody I wanted to know better even before my interview with her began for the New York Daily Bugle. The girl intrigued me–and not just because she was about to publish an avant garde women’s magazine called Pink that would debut as an erotic art book with male centerfolds looking like Renaissance nudes. She seemed to embody the eternal gamine, an elfin and androgynous presence.

Decked out in form fitting suede pants and a cream colored silk blouse that showed only a hint of cleavage, she greeted me at the door of her Chelsea Hotel suite with an enigmatic smile. “So we’re neighbors and also in a similar racket,” she said. “It’s nice to know there’s another feminist I can talk to in this dump.”

Doria couldn’t have been more than five  feet two inches tall. She had cut her dark brown hair short since we last spoke at a meeting of Media Women Ink, the feminist writers group on the Upper East Side, and the new style became her. It was a pixie cut which brought out her delicate cheek bones and hazel eyes.

Her space also impressed me. She had so much more of it than my cramped Chelsea quarters  that waning year of 1970. She had painted most of it a dusky rose, presumably the same color that would seep into the pages of Pink when it appeared on newsstands in February.

“This is really nice,” I said. “Elegant. How did you get so much room?

“I had a wall knocked out and liberated the room next door,” Doria said briskly. “The hotel manager didn’t seem to mind—I paid him enough. But I had a ceiling collapse recently. The transsexual musician above me keeps letting his bathwater flood over and down to my place. It’s a pain in the tush.”

We went into her tiny kitchen, which she had painted white. From there, I could see her shelves for books and mementos in the sitting room and for her stereo. It was playing Dylan’s “Lay, Lady, Lay” when I walked in.  Doria had draped filmy lace curtains over cathedral windows  that looked out on the YMCA building on 23rd Street. Yes, I thought, this strange waif knew how make a home out of a legendary pitstop on Manhattan’s west side.

Doria waved me to a Windsor chair and busied herself fixing us coffee. On either side of me, two potted palms sprouted towards the ceiling.  Beyond was a mahogany day bed stationed in front of an enormous mirror at the far end of her suite.  I was curious about the riding crop on her round coffee table, an exotic black number with mother-of- pearl inlays.

“Are you planning a trip to Central Park to ride horsies today?” I inquired, wishing I didn’t feel so suddenly grubby in my khakis and turtle neck sweater.

“Nothing like that,” Doria replied with a chuckle. “I don’t want this in your paper, but I’m entertaining a man this afternoon—somebody from the demimonde.”

The demimonde. Nobody talked that way on the West Coast where I grew up. And no one used those words at The Bugle, the  tabloid that had recently retained me to write a column about the women’s liberation movement.

But I knew what the demimonde meant: a subculture of pleasure seekers who sometimes veered into the underworld of prostitution, gambling and the like, people who lived on the edge of the law not unlike me. I also knew  a little about my hostess and interview subject.

Richard, the Chelsea Hotel desk clerk, had told me of his suspicions that Doria, a graphic designer among other occupations, had begun to dabble in genteel whoring after she lost her job at Harper’s Bazaar a couple of years ago. He believed she was behind a death threat against porn king Harvey Jewell, the pudgy publisher of F.U. I had only recently written up for The Bugle. Jewell had accused “crazy Nazi feminists” of trying to destroy him and his notorious sex review.

Just then there was a clattering noise and a man’s nearly bald head popped out of a room which I assumed was Doria’s bathroom. Maybe she called it Le Toilette. He was a little guy about 35 in white dungarees and sneakers, addressing her with a time honored name.

“Mistress, I’m sorry, but some of your hairbrushes fell from a cabinet while I was cleaning,” he said in a respectful baritone. “Can you please spank me now?””

“Not now, Harold,” Doria said firmly, talking to him as if he was a small child. “Just finish cleaning the bathroom while I talk with my friend here, Cassandra Ryder. I’ll spank you later.”

“Maybe Miss Ryder would like to spank me?” Harold said hopefully, giving me a shy once over—perhaps noticing I was considerably taller than the diminutive Doria and might give him the kind of paddling he’d remember warmly back at his desk job.

Doria shot him a reproachful frown. “You’re being very naughty today, Harold. Cassie here, also known as C.S. Ryder, is a new columnist for The Daily Bugle. It has a very big Sunday circulation. I don’t think you want her to tell the world what you do when you’re not working on Wall Street as an investment banker.”

Harold seemed to blush practically up to his receding hairline. “No mistress. You’re so right. I wouldn’t want publicity like that.” Abruptly, he shut the bathroom door.

Now her smile was decidedly wry. “Don’t mind Harold and please don’t put this in your women’s liberation column.”

I assured her I had no such intention. “I just want to write something informed. You once dated Harvey Jewell, the porn king. Most feminists consider him an arch enemy of the women’s movement, a male chauvinist pig whose snout you wouldn’t want near you. Some even want to shut down F.U., his weekly sex tabloid. Members of Media Women Ink were talking about that a couple of weeks ago. You were part of the conversation.”

“Yes, I remember. I mentioned dating Harvey Jewell to those uptight sisters,” Doria said. “We met through a personal ad in New York Magazine. It’s not a big deal. I date a lot of people and try not to make snap judgments. But I thought we were going to talk about my magazine project. That’s what you said when we spoke at that last meeting of Media Women Ink.”

“Of course I want to write about your new magazine, but Jewell is part of your story, isn’t he?” I shot back, hoping my guess was right. “His publication is also about sex. A few feminists actually write for F.U. I’m thinking of Jan Goode, the erotic artist who teaches women how to masturbate. She’s published her art work in F.U.”

“So she did,” Doria said. “I want Jan’s work in Pink. But I don’t want anything about my relationship with Jewell in your column. I want my magazine to appeal to educated sophisticated women, not lonely horny guys who get off over stroke pictures in F.U. That’s Jewell’s main readership.”

She brought me a coffee mug on a tray with a small pitcher of skim milk, a cocktail napkin and tea spoon.  She also set down a bowl of sugar cubes and packets of Sweet ‘N Low. Then she took a seat on an overstuffed chair. I noticed a bottle of Remy Martin on an end table next to her chair.  She poured a slug into her coffee mug. I declined her invitation to do the same with mine.  Two Persian cats suddenly materialized and snuggled up on the faded Oriental rug besides her. They must have been hiding under her day bed.

“I hardly know anything about you, Cassie,” Doria said, sounding more relaxed in the company of her cats and her cognac. “But I remember your telling Media Women Ink that you used to live in the Hollywood Hills—Laurel Canyon, wasn’t that your last stop? Why on earth would you leave such an idyllic spot to come to New York? We’re nasty here. We’re crime-ridden, practically bankrupt and have terrible winters. Did you have a boyfriend giving you grief back in California?”

“Not exactly,” I said. “But I definitely had guy trouble.  I’ll spare you the grisly details, but let’s just say the Hollywood Hills are not without crime. Aside from the Charlie  Manson murders, which were one  canyon over, there were some drug busts in my neighborhood and crazy people tripping on acid thinking they were they were either Jesus Christ or the biggest rock stars since The Beatles.”

“So you got scared and thought it was safer in New York?” Doria’s smile was now sardonic.

“Something like that,” I said, grateful she had given me an excuse. “Safety in numbers.”

Doria didn’t  need to know about my draft-dodging boyfriend who had left me to live with other  anti-war hippies on Venice Beach. She didn’t need to know about Jed Scott, the handsome redneck I met on the road enroute to New York who raped and tried to strangle me in an Arkansas motel room until my mother’s gift of a pocket knife put an end to him.  Everybody has their secrets and I suppose it was hypocritical for me to try and reveal Doria’s.

But Doria seemed to know I had dark episodes in my past. She seemed sympathetic. I took out my notebook and ballpoint pen from the tote I had carried upstairs. Slowly, she began to answer my questions on how she had obtained enough money to start up an expensive monthly that would compete with Helen Gurley Brown’s Cosmopolitan magazine as a bible for mostly single women.

“I didn’t get investor money working with men like Harold if that’s what you’re thinking,” Doria said. “At least not much. But mom was an investor, believe or not. She died of a brain tumor a year ago and she left me enough insurance money to make sure her only daughter wouldn’t wind up on the streets after Harper’s Bazaar dumped me. Before she died, mom gave me some of the furnishing you see here from the old homestead in northern New Jersey. And I got to know other people who said they’d be interested in working with me as partners.”

Doria wouldn’t tell me who those “other people” were. So I didn’t press her. “Are you an only child?” I asked abruptly.

“No,” she said, looking sullen. “I have a younger brother, a prick. He’s a lawyer. We haven’t talked since mom died. He contested her will. He wanted everything. He claimed I didn’t care anything about mom or our dad, who died five years ago.”

There was a long silence. I broke it by asking Doria about Jewell again and the death threat against him made on cheap copy paper slipped under the door at F.U.’s Chelsea offices only a few blocks away. It displayed a photo of the pornographer’s face in the middle of a crudely drawn telescopic rifle lens and the words, “The Fire next time for a pig exploiter of women.” A group calling itself F.I.R.E.—Feminist International Revolutionaries in Exile—had claimed responsibility.

Doria suddenly yawned and said she had read my story about F.I.R.E. in The Bugle. “And I don’t know anyone who uses such crappy copy paper and graphics,” she said, her voice languid. “But I do know that Harvey is not universally loved. I’d say he has enough enemies to sink a garbage barge on the East River.”

She  coughed a little as we talked—not as  much as she did during the last meeting of Media Women Ink—and explained she had a sinus condition, due in part to a deviated septum.

“That’s why I lost my job at Harper’s Bazaar. I took too many sick days off. Harvey Jewell was nice enough to hire me as an assistant art director. This was before mom died and I really needed the money.”

This latest revelation from Doria surprised me. “You worked at F.U.? You never said that at Media Women Ink. ” I smiled, remembering her comments. “You said Jewell took you to dinner at Lutece. You also said he preferred food to sex.”

She nodded. “Yes, and he made me realize that getting good sex was like learning how to order from a waiter at a great restaurant. You have to tell guys exactly what you want.  Harvey doesn’t need to be told much.  He knows more about what women want in sex than most men, maybe because he was married at least  three times. He loves going down on women. That’s very unusual for men. But I wouldn’t want to have sex with him even if he lost 75 pounds. Why? Well, for starters, he got married again not long after we met and I don’t date married men except under very unusual circumstances.”

She dismissed my mention of  “rumors” that Valerie Solanes, the actress and author of the man hating SCUM Manifesto still in prison for shooting Andy Warhol in 1968,  might be behind a plot to assassinate Jewell.

“Valerie is crazy,” she said, her voice now strained as she grabbed a cigarette from a small enameled case on the end table. “She used to be a panhandler and she’d hustle people at The Chelsea for money. Not long before she shot Warhol, Valerie caught up with me in the lobby and asked for a few bucks. I told her I was broke, but in a nice way. I don’t think Valerie ever met Harvey. But yeah, if she knew him, she’d probably demand money from him.”

She sipped some Remy Martin straight from the bottle. She became more expansive, even showing me a mockup of her magazine. A spread of an angelic looking male centerfold, naked amid rubber plants, conveyed a religious rapture that could fit in with artwork at the Sistine Chapel. I asked Doria if she had met the soulful model through Jewell. She didn’t confirm or deny, as we say in the news business.

“Just between you and me, I feel grateful to Harvey Jewell,” she confided, sounding a little tipsy. “I learned things from him and from F.U.’s art director who has since written about a half a dozen books on photography. But if some of the feminists at Media Women Ink knew that I like Jewell, even from a distance, they’d drum me out of the sisterhood and blackball Pink, my magazine. They wouldn’t want anybody to buy it or to contribute to it. So don’t quote me on any of this. I’m telling you this for background.”

Just then, Harold reappeared and announced that he had finished cleaning Doria’s bathroom. “Do you want me to wash your windows, mistress?” he asked her.

“That would be lovely, Harold.”

Doria lowered her voice. “Harold is a regular client of the baroness who advertises in F.U. and also in New York Magazine.”

“The baroness?” I assumed Doria meant a dominatrix who dwelled in the demimonde.

“Yeah, she uses that name—it suits her,” Doria said. She said that the baroness, a madam otherwise known as Hildy Bernard, was a Dutch born babe who assumed the role of European royalty to accommodate the proclivities of her well-heeled clientele.

“This is also off the record,” Doria went on. “The baroness runs a brothel on the Upper West Side.  I connected with her because I wanted to explore the demimonde and also supplement my income. Harold loves to clean my suite here and he also loves to be spanked. It’s extra when I whack his backside with my riding crop.”

It seemed odd that Doria was willing to entrust a reporter she barely knew with all this kinky information. I also wondered why a girl in fragile health would risk her life with men she didn’t know.

“The baroness checks out all her clients very carefully,” Doria said, now assuming the tone of a corporate advertising executive. “Harold is not violent at all. I don’t own a gun. I think guns are bad karma.”

Doria didn’t need to know that I had a little gun, a .22 caliber pistol, stashed in an underwear drawer in my room, the same dainty rod given to me by an old friend for protection just before I blew out of L.A.  It gave me a sense of security in my outlaw existence. I wondered what kind of security Doria had living alone like me in the Chelsea Hotel. I felt a certain kinship with her.

The conversation turned back to Doria’s magazine and she sounded corporate again, calling it a “business venture” that would answer the needs of multitudes of erotically deprived American women. “I want to tell them that it’s a beggar’s banquet out there because men are ruled by their dicks. Most will do anything to get laid. But women? So many are completely passive when it comes to sex. I’ve learned to be aggressive with guys. And I want to pass some of my knowledge on to Pink’s readership. Like how to get oral sex.”

I arched an eyebrow. “How aggressive can you be about oral sex? It’s a no no for so many men. They think it’s really dirty.”

“Sometimes you have to knee them in the balls,” she said. “Can you even say that in your paper? It’s so naughty. But let me you tell this: one time I straddled this dude on the floor—luckily he had plush carpeting—and shoved my vagina right in his mouth. He got the picture.”

She stroked her cats. “Of course, women don’t really need men to get off. Me, I have my vibrator and the hotel pays for the electricity bills. ”

This was tough talk from a frail girl. She seemed to think of men as household appliances, interchangeable with her vibrator.  Doria admitted she was bisexual, acknowledging she had sex with most of her women friends, including the baroness. “But I prefer men,” she said. “They have more equipment. Men are more fun.”

It seemed time to finish up my interview with Doria. I had one more question: Why did she end her relationship with Jewell?

She sighed heavily.  “I don’t like guns and Jewell is a gun nut. Again, I don’t want this in your column. But I had sex with him a couple of times at his place in Greenwich Village and saw a shot gun. Also a couple of .38 revolvers. You must know he has Mafia distributors.””

“Yes, I know,” I said. “Did they scare you off?”

She shook her head. “They were boring businessmen with gray faces. Very ordinary.  I just didn’t want to have sex with Harvey anymore at work,”  Doria said.  “I hurt my back once on his desk.  He got angry when I left because he’s very possessive and he put me in his dick list at F.U. with my head in a picture of a toilet. That was two or three years ago. I know it sounds odd, but I miss the bastard sometimes. He thinks he’s King Henry the VIII..\But he can be very sweet. And generous.  I’ll say that for him.”

As I left Doria with promises to call again, Harold was kissing the tips of her suede ankle boots. They looked like they came from Gucci.  Only the best for this renegade Jewish princess from the New Jersey suburbs.

***

That night I woke up in a cold sweat shortly before midnight. . I had been dreaming of Charlotte Klein, my actress neighbor in Laurel Canyon who worked as a part-time call girl and traveled the upper crust Hollywood party circuit looking for new clients. She was the California friend I had called after my deadly clash with Jed Scott in the Arkansas motel room.

In my dream, Charlotte was seated before her vanity table, peering into a lighted makeup mirror like a star on old Broadway,  her long graceful fingers reaching out to touch brushes, face paints, lipsticks, eye creams. Then the reflection in the mirror became the face of Doria Nune and she was in tears over the death of her mother.

Pacing my room at the Chelsea Hotel, I knew that the 3,000 miles I had traveled from Los Angeles to New York had brought me, perhaps inevitably, to this 19th century building that fostered fantasies not unlike those in California’s dream machines. I was repeating myself but the journey was darker in New York.

Charlotte Klein was tougher than Doria Nune, but she had built her life on illusions.  I remembered how Charlotte’s color TV was on in her bedroom when the evening news came on after the Manson slaughter, announcing how unidentified intruders had created bloody havoc in Benedict Canyon,  killing pregnant Sharon Tate and her friends.

“We’ve had a murder,” Charlotte said in a blasé voice, looking utterly detached. “Didn’t you know?” Then her violet eyes registered panic. “Oh Jesus, I can’t find my second pair of eyelashes from Ball’s Beauty Supply!”

Just then her phone rang. “Hello mother,” Charlotte said. “No, mother, I don’t need an electric broom!”

Half past midnight, Eastern Standard Time, I decided to place a long distance call to California to see how my own mother was doing in San Marino.  It was risky, given that the Feds were looking for a girl who was me:  a suspect in the fatal stabbing of Jed Scott.

No one answered the phone at my mother’s house. I asked the hotel night operator to put in a call to my married sister’s home in La Jolla. Her two kids were probably asleep and her husband worked late at his accounting firm. But Val, who taught science at a public high school on the Tijuana border, picked up her phone on the second ring.

“Oh hello, Joanna,” she said, using my former name. “How are you doing in New York, my swinging little sister?” There was genuine warmth in her voice.

“I’m okay Val,” I said in a low voice. “But I miss you. How’s married life?” The usual clichés seemed necessary.

“It could be better,” Val said her voice matter of fact. “I think Eric is cheating on me. I think he’s fallen in love with this bimbo who works at his office. This too will pass. Like a gallstone.”

There was a long silence and then I asked how mom was doing.  “Nobody answered when I called her just now. Is she okay? Is her blood pressure acting up again?”

“Probably. She wants to impress this rich old guy in his 80s who has become her boyfriend,” Val said. “They’re probably eating out tonight. His wife died recently in Port Hueneme, the little beach city in Ventura County near the naval base where Dad used to take us when we’re little. Mom’s new boyfriend has a big spread out there overlooking the water. He’s one of these men who works all the time and doesn’t know what to do with himself without a woman cooking and cleaning for him. I think they’ll get married.”

“Dad will be heartbroken,” I said. “They’ve been divorced for awhile but Dad still says mom is still number one with him.”

“I know. But Dad has several nice ladies chasing him. I think he’ll be all right. He rented an apartment near us in La Jolla.”

I recalled the serene beauty of La Jolla, overlooking the endless blue of the Pacific. “Val,” I said, “I hope to visit you some day at your house. It’s so peaceful.”

“You can visit any time you want,” Val said. “We have space in the rec room.”

We said our goodbyes and I got a few more hours of sleep, lulled by memories of my sister’s house overlooking the ocean and by Port Hueneme, which could become our mother’s safe haven by the sea. I had heard somewhere that Hueneme was taken from a Spanish name for resting place.

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