Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tom Wolfe on Despicable No Hands Art

By Richard Grant

'Fourteenth floor,’ says the liveried doorman, walking me across the lobby of a grand old Art Deco building on one of Manhattan’s most expensive streets.

What’s the apartment number? I ask.

'Just push 14, you’ll be fine,’ he says, showing me into the wood-panelled lift.

Ah, but of course. Tom Wolfe has been picking up six- and seven-million-dollar advances for his last few novels, so why not buy an apartment that takes up the entire 14th floor at this fantastic address? He has been called a glib caricaturist, a conservative reactionary and a pseudo-intellectual, but no one has ever accused him of modesty.

The lift door opens at 14. There stands a maid in uniform, a starchy, inscrutable woman from somewhere in Latin America. She leads me through a hallway into the living-room. 'Mr Wolfe will join you in a few moments,’ she says.

I admire his view of the Manhattan skyline and take in the room, which has an old-fashioned elegance with expensive-looking antiques, white orchids, a grand piano and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves dominated by art history, architecture, American culture and history. On the walls are artworks depicting the dandified, white-suited figure of Mr Wolfe at various stages of his long and illustrious career. The moment feels unreal. I can’t quite believe I’m actually here: jetlagged, over-caffeinated and snooping around in Tom Wolfe’s apartment.
His journalism from the 1960s and 1970s was a big influence on me when I was starting out. It was so funny, hip, loose and irreverent, or so it seemed in drab old London in the 1980s.

I’ve read everything he’s ever written, all the way back to 1965’s The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and now, through partially open double doors, I can see his writing desk, an ornate bureau topped with two lamps in the shape of panama hats.

The maid reappears with two glasses of iced water, and here comes the old boy himself, looking a little shrunken and humped over in the upper back, but walking without a cane and moving pretty well for a man of 81. He’s wearing one of his 40 hand-tailored white suits, and presumably he hasn’t noticed the yellowish stains under the cuff of the right sleeve. The white trousers come up high on his scrawny waist, and he has put on a sky-blue shirt with a white silk tie, and black-and-white spat-like shoes. A white handkerchief with a blue border flows out of his top pocket. His white hair is swept back in wings, and his blue eyes are clear and wise.

Depositing himself with a gasp on the sofa (revealing blue-and-white Argyle socks held up by calf-suspenders), he makes amusing small-talk about the ghastliness of modern plane travel, talking in a quiet, sardonic, cultured Southern accent.

'Then you have to take your shoes off and walk across this black, nubbly, rubber rug. Ah God, when you feel that under your feet, you really feel like you’re at the mercy of somebody.’ He emits a breathy chuckle, and then, in a more strident voice, he impersonates the disembodied commands: 'IF ANY PERSON ATTEMPTS TO GIVE YOU ANY PARCEL, REPORT THAT PERSON IMMEDIATELY TO THE AIRPORT AUTHORITIES.’

Read the rest here.

1 comment:

  1. I've always admired Wolfe. My first exposure was "Bonfire of the Vanities" and I've loved him since.