Buffie told me that once upon a time she went to a birthday party for Greta Garbo in the apartment on Sutton Place where Garbo lived. She said Garbo looked at her and said in her slow Swedish accent, “Well, well, what have we here?” Buffie found it insulting so she ignored her. She said she always regretted doing that, looking back on it. “I might have been Garbo’s lover,” she said. And she pronounced the word “lov-ah” in the same manner that she pronounced the word “again” so it rhymed with “rain.” I could always make Buffie laugh with a little rhyme that my father liked, which went: “There once was a lady from Spain who liked to make love on the train. Not once in a while, but mile after mile, and again and again and again.”
It made Buffie laugh every time because nothing in this world appealed to her more than talking about lovers. She loved to tell stories about people she’d had affairs with, or didn’t have affairs with. She told me about an affair with a football player named Johnny Blood who took her up in an airplane and buzzed Honolulu and then filled her full of coconut wine in a big pink hotel on Waikiki Beach when it was still almost pristine. She told me about how she once gave Pablo Picasso two kittens and that he would paint with them hanging off his trousers. She said that Henry Miller couldn’t stand her and that she couldn’t stand him either.
She told me about Princess Aspasia of Greece (Queen of Greece until her husband died of a monkey bite) who she met in a bar one night near Saint Mark’s Square in Venice. Princess Aspasia hypnotized Buffie by telling her that she was the granddaughter of a mermaid. She said her grandfather found her grandmother washed up like a fish on the beach and carried her home. Buffie was spending her long summer holiday in Venice where she had rented a marvelous palazzo with the most beautiful bottleglass windows “on the Grand Canal, if you please,” and she had it all to herself for $75 a month. Princess Aspasia became completely smitten with Buffie and wanted to have a love affair with her.
“Did Princess Aspasia visit you at the palazzo?” I asked her.
“No!” said Buffie. She had an island!”
Princess Aspasia offered Buffie a splendid tour of Austria but Buffie had other plans and so it didn’t happen--but it could have.
She had an affair with Lawrence Durrell who she said was the best one of them all, but when she went with him to London to visit TS Eliot, Larry made her wait outside while he went in and she was furious. She had a one-night stand with Jane Bowles in Paris, who she first saw on the terrace of the Café Flor. All of her gestures had great charm, Buffie said, “But once you got to know her she was a pain in the neck. And I got to know her very well the first time I met her.” She said that Jane was overly dependent upon Paul Bowles and very insecure. She said she was an awful drunk and that she always embroidered the truth. She said that Paul was always stoned on half-cut kif when she had the apartment right beneath his in Tangier, and that Tangier was just crawling with beautiful hustlers.
She showed me a picture of herself standing beside her friend Carl Jung, and told me how once he and Sigmund Freud sat in Freud’s study talking for thirteen hours until a glass sitting on a bookcase shattered by psychic force.
One day Buffie and I sat outside at the little café behind the statue of Fiorello LaGuardia with tea and I told her another little rhyme my father liked that went: “My favorite pastime after dark is goosing statues in the park. If Joan of Arc could take it, so can you.” Buffie reached over and squeezed my hand and said: “I love you.” A lady with a very big behind passed by just then, and Buffie followed her with her eyes. Then she turned to me and said, “Either she cultivates it or she’s unaware.”
As I passed the statue, I realized that every time I pass it I think of Buffie. I couldn’t have known I would back then when we were sitting there together, it just was what it was: walking over from Greene Street and bringing tea to one of the tables outside and sitting for a while. One day Buffie looked at the statue and said, “What do you suppose they called Fiorello at home for short?” I think it was autumn, the day she said that, and after she did, she sat chewing her finger. And I said, “What are you doing, trying to pull off a hangnail?” And Buffie said, “No, I’m depositing spittle on it.”