Elaine Kaufman, 1929-2010
Elaine and the women.
4:40 PM, Dec 6, 2010 • By SAM SCHULMAN
I had been used to keep parts of my life separate from one another. I have friends who don’t know one another, high school girlfriends whom my parents never suspected, immiscible but simultaneous careers. Elaine provided a place where all this could mix. I could make out with a beautiful soccer mom at our table under the coat hooks for three nights (after a long first kiss, one soccer mom said, “Now I remember – [the owner of a famous department store] used to bring me here before I was married!”). And for the next six weeks I could show up alone and miserable, but still be seated in lonely majesty in the front with a $26 bottle of wine and a pack of cigarettes that I would successively light and let burn in the ashtray, hoping no one would notice I didn’t know how to smoke. No questions, no pity, no comments. There was only one rule: then-Mayor Giuliani was never to be mentioned.
One such night – long after my Cotes de Beaune had made me incapable of being charming – a woman with the most beautiful skin I had ever seen sat alone, and then with girlfriends, at the next table, occasionally glancing at me (she looked vaguely recognizable, but then so did everyone at Elaine’s – whether or not they were). The next time I came in, Elaine growled, “why didn’t you go for Maureen the other night? I thought she would have been your type,” and then wandered off. “Dowd,” I thought. Think what literature may owe to that Cotes de Beaune! Such nights ended with me writing my usual check and wandering off alone to my little studio in Yorktown, with the warm feeling that I could go back again in without shame, and that, in the unprecedented event that there was something wrong with my bank account, my check would be silently resubmitted, as many times as necessary. But one never saw an attractive woman there twice.
Of course all this ended when, on the first night we met, I brought Elizabeth to Elaine’s. For one thing, besottedness, combined with a better-than-I-could-normally-afford Beaune – not the Cotes – has rendered me unable to recall what I told Elizabeth that night, and what I may have concealed from her. This is a source of continuing agony to me. The one thing I do remember is that Elaine deviated from her usual gestural understatement to raise both thick arms over her head – a prizefighter’s congratulation.
We married, though Elaine gracefully declined our invitation: “11 a.m.? Have a good wedding.” And for as long as we lived in New York, Elaine paid tribute to my heart’s desire by unfailingly introducing to Elizabeth much more attractive and celebrated men than I. Reader, we moved to Virginia.
Elaine, like all who loved you, I am self-centered and wordy – and you will forgive me remembering you like this.
Sam Schulman, a writer in Virginia, was publishing director of the American and publisher of Wigwag.