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The Last Gentleman

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Brown notoriously replied, “I am distraught at your defection, but since you never actually write anything, I should say I am notionally distraught.”

Trow moved up to his weekend house in Germantown full time, and eventually sold it and had a rather strange new place built to his specifications. Whereas the first house sits up on a hill looking out at pastures spread at the base of the Catskills, the second house Trow built is tucked into a hillside, its view obscured by trees, half-underground. Essentially, it is a bunker.

During this period, Trow began severing contacts with many of his old friends without explanation. “George stopped speaking to me eighteen years ago,” says Ian Frazier. “I don’t know why. I assumed I would find out.”

This was very common. “I think he left a bitter taste in a lot of people’s mouths when he ended relationships,” says Kathryn Walker. “I haven’t talked to George for years. But one does wish George had been sane and could have talked for another twenty years. His issues had become chronic and dangerous.”

These were his Insane Anonymous years. In 1992, Trow got some money from a producer to write a script about a fire in a chicken-processing plant in North Carolina, and he took Alison Rose along on a road trip through the South. “I can’t think of when I had more fun with any living person than I did with George driving around,” she writes. But it was on that trip that Trow made the following complaint about life: “The ongoingness of it is, frankly, a real problem.” By the time they got to Memphis, Trow was finished with Rose. “After the trip there were changes. He began referring to himself as Coldy Woldy. When he’d call and say, ‘Darling, it’s Coldy Woldy—get it?,’ the irony was so high it was almost unreachable … He said Coldy Woldy had replaced George, and he wasn’t kidding.”

Quite near to Trow’s houses and the one Tim Mayer used to occupy and the great rambling one where Jacob Brackman still resides is the home of Bim Chanler, someone who Trow thought “had it all figured out,” as Brackman puts it. Before Trow left on his wanderings, he had been coming over regularly for many years to visit Chanler and his wife, Evie, in their house with its glorious views of the Hudson and the Catskills and the many paintings of Venice Chanler’s mother collected. “George naturally felt comfortable being around; he was very sort of cozy with my Wasp background, because he sort of grew up with it himself,” says Chanler. “Sort of.”

Chanler has a speech pattern you don’t often hear outside of a movie theater. “Jawdge was a college roommate of my cousin Winty Aldrich, and so natchrahlly he brawt him round to Rokeby,” the Aldrich family estate just a few miles up the road. In the front foyer of Chanler’s house there are two maps of the way the Hudson Valley used to be organized: estate after estate, Chanler, Astor, Delano, Chanler … “George was part of a social scene out here, which is nowadays pretty thin. It used to be much livelier when all of these houses were full of interesting people,” says Chanler, sitting on a white sofa in front of a black-and-white photograph of his grandmother and her family with a Scottish nobleman, the Earl of Moray. “These houses have been sold off, in some cases turned into institutions, and in other cases sold off to rich financiers, people like that who didn’t have anything to do with the old social Wasp community. But it used to be very important out here in the time of the Livingstons and the Astors and all those people; it was a very swell place. Anyway, as I say, the society around here got pretty thin and we all sort of clung to each other.”

Like the Chanlers, Trow went to the church of St. John the Evangelist in Barrytown, and he became close to the rector there; he used to tape-record every sermon. For a time, Trow sought in church what he would later seek on the road. “I have a son who when he was about 18 or 19 became mentally ill, and we had a terrible time before we could get him squared away with medication, and there were hospital stays and all that,” says Chanler. “George, more than anybody, took an interest, you know, in trying to help him. He may have always had some suspicion he was on a slippery slope himself, so he had great sympathy with really badly troubled people.”


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