I was coming off a tempestuous affair with the writer Patricia
Dowling when I met Barbara Hastings. Barbara was also a writer, but of a
completely different kind. Patricia wrote long, dramatic novels while Barbara
had just published her first book, entitled, If You Believe It, You
Can. It was at one of those publishing parties in New York. The crowd was
noisy, drinking as much of the publishers liquor as they could while
exchanging the usual literary gossip. I spotted a young girl at the far end of
the room, pretty, blonde, nice figure, being chatted up by an aging novelist
known for long-winded historical sagas and also for his attempts to seduce
anyone he came across.
I pushed my way through and introduced myself. The latest in my
detective series had recently appeared and the blonde recognized my name. She
told me her name and I recognized it. Someone hailed the aging novelist. He
said self-importantly, I have to see my publisher, and disappeared
into the crowd. Good, I had Barbara to myself. You know your
friends reputation? I said. You should be careful around
Oh, hes harmless. His last book didnt do well
so he needed a little cheering up.
I see. Do you really believe that if you believe it, you
She smiled; I was to find out that Barbara smiled almost all the
time. Yes, I do.
I wish I did. I was in a dry period, I dont
know the cause, maybe because of my recent break-up. I had a contract for the
next book in my detective series and had no idea what I was going to write.
Maybe thats why I was attracted to an optimist like Barbara.
I can see you could also do with a bit of cheering
up, she said.
I do. Maybe youre the one who can do it. Shall we
get out of here and go to my apartment?
I didnt mean that kind of cheering up."
"Meet me tomorrow. I have an idea.
* * *
I met Barbara at Columbus Circle, at the southern tip of Central
Park. All right, I said. Whats your idea?
Follow me. She took my arm and I allowed her to lead
me. In a few minutes, we entered the Central Park zoo. The zoo; I hadnt
been there since I was a kid. It was one of those nice New York summer days,
not hot or humid, the sky a mild blue, the trees a peaceful green background.
The nice weather had brought out a lot of families, people milled about, kids
shouted, everyone seemed to be having a good time.
Barbara took us to the seals pond first. We watched the
seals antics as they contested for fish thrown to them, barking and
flapping away. Then we went to the big cats building, tigers pacing back and
forth, lions mostly sleeping. After that, to see the elephants, majestic and
tranquil. I have to admit I was feeling more cheerful. We had hot dogs from a
stand and they tasted wonderful. Well, are you feeling better?
I am. This was a good idea.
I looked through one of your books, said Barbara.
Your detective is pretty cynical. I suspect he reflects the way you feel
about life. You have to start expecting things to get better, not worse. You
have to believe in yourself. Let yourself be happy.
Her enthusiasm was somehow touching. Ill try, as
long as you keep teaching me. I leaned down and kissed her. She
responded. This time she did come to my apartment. I can truthfully say that
after her visit I was feeling, if not happy, a lot better about life.
* * *
The next few weeks with Barbara sped by. We went to all of those
places in New York where a couple could have a good time: museums, outdoor
cafes, the theater, picnics in the park. One day we even went to Coney Island,
ignored the tackiness, went on the rides, played the silly games (I won Barbara
a stuffed bear), had cotton candy. Barbara was at her bubbliest.
Isnt this a hoot? she said.
It was. It was also bound to end. Id begun to write again
and it was hard to get back into the shoes of my cynical detective while
feeling so upbeat all the time. Also, Barbaras relentless cheerfulness
began to get on my nerves. Look, the sun is out, shed say.
Its going to be another lovely day.
The forecast says itll be almost 100 degrees.
Then we can go to the beach.
Well fry there. If were sensible, well
stay right here with the air-conditioner on high.
All right. I can write another chapter of my book.
That was also irksome. Shed already gotten a nice advance
for her second book and she was able to churn out words effortlessly. Of
course, what she wrote was sheer nonsense, but the publisher, and the public,
thought it was the wisdom of the ages, leading to success and happiness. In
fact, her title was, How to Be Happy and Successful in a Recession.
I was a slow writer, no matter how I was feeling, and it was irritating to look
over and see her merrily typing away.
What led to my breaking off with her was something else. I
happened to be in midtown on some errand or other. I passed the outdoor
café Barbara and I liked to go to and there she was, with the aging
novelist Id first seen her with. They were holding hands across the table
and she was smiling at him. Maybe she was still cheering him up. Whatever it
was I decided that Id had enough of the just believe and everything
will be fine life; I was going back to normal. When I told Barbara I
thought we should stop seeing each other she wasnt fazed at all.
All right, she said. If thats what you want. But if you
ever get down again let me know. And with that she bubbled her way out.
Shortly after that my former girl friend Patricia Dowling called
me and suggested we go out for drinks. We did and agreed to give it another
try, this time taking it slow and easy. I didnt know if this is possible
with Pat but so far weve managed and she hasnt thrown any lamps at
me. We recently attended still another one of those Manhattan publishers
parties and there was Barbara Hastings. But she wasnt with the washed-up
novelist, she was with a young guy who, I was told, had just written a
best-selling book called Times are Tough but Never Give Up. They
were smiling and laughing, both bubbling over with good cheer.
Pat nudged me. Yes, I see them, I said. I
think Barbara has found her match.
Yes, said Pat. But imagine what their children
will be like.