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An Evening in the Nude With Gay Talese

Gay said, "Remember the minor tycoon from the garment district who would come in and give you girls panties as a tip? He brought them in a paper bag."

Amy said, "He always wore see-through red underwear. At the end of a session, he would show me pictures of his wife and children."

Gay said, "One guy we had at The Secret Life would have fit right into the Nixon Administration. Gray suit, gray tie, white shirt, tall. He walked the way I have seen men walk at the U.N. He came into The Secret Life, took me and aside and told me, 'I want your most lovely girl.' It so happened that that same day I had had a high fashion model come in with her portfolio. She had done television commercials. I hired her. When this man asked for my best girl, I nodded with great pride at her. The man said, 'I want a massage but I need time to set up my equipment.' He opened a beautiful attaché case. He had a camera. He also had lovely, lovely handcuffs, like from Tiffany's. There were jewels. He had a small whip made by a fine saddle-maker. Also a dildo, but not a mail order dildo, a lovely dildo, beautifully done. He wanted the fashion model and he offered a $75 tip. She said sure but she wanted the money first. He was her first customer. I put them in the room nearest the desk. But what would I have done if there had been trouble, big macho massage parlor manager? After half an hour, the man came out just as natty as ever. He came back many times."

Gay suggested that we adjourn to the steam room. Inside, the vapor in the air gave everything an unearthly quality like a movie vision of the afterlife: we might have been on a Hollywood set for Don Juan in Hell. Amy, who was given to excesses, turned the steam up higher and higher until it was so hot that we could not stand it any more. We retired to the showers.

Gay shared a spigot with Sally and washed her back. He seemed to have practiced hands. He had been to Esalen and had studied their massage book. (Once a woman had come into one of the massage parlors where he worked and asked for a session. Gay had taken her into one of the massage rooms and given her a rubdown.) I wondered what I would do if Gay's hands moved beyond Sally's back. They didn't.

We left the showers and returned to poolside, where were met by a girl named Carol. She wore a gold cross which swung to and fro between the Gothic arches of her bare breasts. Carol sat down beside Gay. He playfully pulled her over on top of him, her crucifix bouncing against his chest.

As a boy growing up in Ocean City, New Jersey, Gay had watched the gold crosses hung on the chests of nuns. Their breasts, like their ideas of right and wrong, never moved. Ocean City was a small town on a small island in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a Methodist town. The catholic minority, most of whom were Irish, composed a small island within the larger island. The Italian Catholics formed an even smaller island within the Catholic community itself. Born in 1932, Gaetano (Gay) Talese grew up an Italian Catholic in an Irish Catholic school in a Methodist town, an island within an island within an island. From the very beginning, Gay was an outsider with a vengeance.

Since Gay was the son of Joseph Talese, a flamboyant tailor, he was even more of an outsider than he need necessarily have been. Gay says: "My father dressed elegantly in a town that did not appreciate elegance. He wore white suits. He had a mustache in a town where there were no mustaches. For a long time, I was embarrassed by him. He was different and he demanded that I be different at a time when I didn't want to be different."


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