Among those Last Things was this: O'Hara lived his last fifteen years or so in Princeton, NJ, where he died in 1970 in his house ("Linebrook") on Pretty Brook Road out in Princeton Twp., a house I visited and photographed last fall (it's now occupied by a Princeton philosophy professor, who was very accommodating). Anyway, when I got home from my Princeton visit last fall, I read some of the biographical materials about O'Hara that I'd never read before. And one of them set my teeth a-gnashing and my lips a-cursing (PG-13, of course).
It seems that in the Princeton YMCA (59 Paul Robeson Place) is a bust of O'Hara that sits in the John O'Hara Reading Room. So ... guess what that meant? Another trip to Princeton. (I also wanted to see the Princeton U Chapel, where they held the memorial service for him in 1970.)
So ... after helping my mom spend her 93rd birthday yesterday, we headed home via Princeton, found Paul Robeson Place, found the YMCA, which shares buildings with the YWCA (sounds cool to me!), and walked inside looking for the O'Hara Reading Room.
I asked one of the secretaries. A shrug. A weird look. What the ...?
Meanwhile, Joyce had found a young woman named Nicole who'd worked there awhile, and she remembered the bust but told us the Reading Room long ago surrendered its identity so that they could expand the teaching facilities. She had an idea where the bust might be. And--yes!--there it was ...
We got her to take it down from the shelf and were surprised to discover it's made of plaster, not bronze. Very, very light. I posed with it (see below).
Then Nicole showed us the room that used to be the Reading Room. She said we couldn't take pictures, though, because children were there, and we didn't want to creep them out. I understood ... believe me.
Driving away later, we marveled at the wonder of the metaphor: John O'Hara, a writer who once won the National Book Award for Fiction, a writer who still has published more stories in the New Yorker than anyone else, a writer whose stories formed the core of the Broadway hit Pal Joey, a writer whose novel Butterfield 8 became a film starring Elizabeth Taylor, who won an Oscar for her performance, a writer whose books soared straight from the printing press to the best-seller lists--for decades, a writer who, in recent decades, has pretty much vanished from popular awareness, a writer whose once-prominent bust turns out to be plaster and now resides on a high shelf in the copy room of the Princeton YMCA, where no one knows who he was. Or where he is.
What a metaphor! And what a gift for yet another writer who will soon try to figure out what's happened to O'Hara--and why.
|D & J|