"You're not thinking of coming with—" I began.
"I thought I'd just drop in and look," he said.
"Oh," I said.
"Well, it is a big society party and I never really have been to one of them before," Robert J. Allen said.
Now I heard the first sound of the clock attached to the time bomb which sits forever inside Robert J. Allen.
"Well, I mean," I said, "are you going to stay for the whole party?"
"I was thinking of it," Robert J. Allen said.
The party was being thrown by Jerry Finkelstein's son, Andrew Stein, a state assemblyman in Manhattan. The house is an immense oceanfront place, with sweeping front lawns and gravel driveways and a pool and lawns and hedges in the back, and on the other side of the hedges is the beach and the ocean. You can hear the waves breaking while you drink in the glass-enclosed bar or on the slate patio. When we drove up to the house, I said to Robert J. Allen,
"Now you're not going to drink, of course."
And he said, "Oh, no, gee, I'd never dare take a drink at a place like this."
And then we got out and lost each other in the party, which was crowded with girls with long hair and familiar names and daring clothes. After a half-hour, I was standing in a big crowd at the bar and through the wall of people I heard this voice saying, "Ah, I'll have another vodka and tonic, please."
"Allen!" I yelled out.
"It's all right, Jim, don't worry," the voice called back.
I pushed through people and just caught a glimpse of Robert J. Allen heading out towards the crowd of celebrities on the back lawn. Heading out towards them with the vodka in his hand.
Tick tock tick tock tick tock.
The next thing I knew, the sound was bursting in my eardrums, and there was Robert J. Allen. He was lobster-red. From whiskey, not from the sun. His eyelids were down. In the world of Robert J. Allen, when the muscles which control his eyelids get hit by whiskey, the muscles kind of give up and leave the eyelids suspended like hammocks from a tree. Simultaneously, his mouth muscles roll over and go to sleep. This leaves his tongue flopping around, licking whiskey or forming some of the silliest words ever heard in American conversation. The words spring from Robert J. Allen's brain, which, when soaked with whiskey, alternately slumbers or awakens into enraged storms. Anyway, here he was, with the ticking so loud the bomb was ready to go off right in front of me. And it is from these moments, when the bomb inside him goes off, that all of Robert J. Allen's fame derives.
This time, while I was standing there, eyelids half-shut, insides ticking away like Big Ben, Mr. Robert J. Allen happened to be off to one side with only one other person. He was talking to this person, a woman in a pink dress whose name is Ethel Kennedy.
With the finest prolonged lunge of my lifetime, I got a hand on Robert J. Allen’s shoulder.
“Don’t be afraid, he’s with me!” I half-shouted at Ethel Kennedy.
“Oh, no one had to tell me who brought him here," she said coolly.
“I’m going to tell all of you people one thing,” Robert J. Allen said proudly. He said it with his chin up, which was good because I could get my arm under the chin against his throat so I could choke him while I got him out of the party before he created an incident people would speak of in horror for years. On the way home Robert J. Allen stopped at the Barge, one of the big places for the young crowd on Dune Road, in the Hamptons. Robert J. Allen vaguely remembers all the young guys at the Barge throwing him over the rail and into the bay.
I intended to concentrate throughout the summer on matters of extreme urgency: ocean waves breaking in the sunlight and swirls inside oyster shells and the mystery of the sound of ice hitting the sides of a glass. In the afternoon, the ice makes only this gentle, clicking, almost tinkling sound. Yet at night it sounds like gravel being poured into a barrel. Why is ice louder at night than it is in the daytime? Let me put on my shoes and we'll go out and investigate. Of course, there was no chance that things would go on like this. I gave it the best try I could, but it was impossible. For an extraordinarily harmful thing always happens when you corrupt your mind with serious matters for any period of time. You retain an involuntary but continuing interest in these serious matters. And the pieces of where you have been and what you have done always are around you someplace. At the bar one night a couple of weeks after the primary, I looked up from a drink and saw my face and Norman's face floating across the screen on the NBC First Tuesday show. It is a network thing, and they did a 20-minute look at our campaign. The show reinforced my opinion that Norman and I had some of the most terrific lows in the history of anything that ever took place in this city. And, perhaps, a couple of highs that could be recognized as time passes a bit. Like maybe colleges for years will be using the things Norman Mailer was saying out in the streets.