Two days before his show opened, Jack arrived at his hotel in New York to find a telegram from his grandmother. He was not alarmed. His grandmother believed telegrams were the most civilized form of communication. This telegram, like all of hers, was succinct. It read: “Welcome New York. Awaiting your call.” It was signed Mrs. Enid Winns Carter.
In his hotel room Jack was overcome with the paralysis he always felt upon arriving in New York, Lately he had made his home in Mexico, and occasionally, Los Angeles, He hadn’t lived in New York City for about four years. He never knew where to begin in New York. He always felt like he was coming in at the middle of everything.
He decided to begin by calling his grandmother. The phone barely rang once before she answered it. “Hello Grandma,”Jack said.
“Hello,” she said. “How are you?”
“I’m fine,” he said. “A little jet-lagged.”
“Who is this?” she asked. Mrs, Carter liked to act confused on the telephone. It was her least favorite form of communication.
“This is Jack,” Jack said. Since he was her only grandchild, there could be little doubt as to his identity.
“John,” he said. “Your grandson.”
“Oh, John!” she exclaimed. “It doesn’t sound like you. Did you get my telegram?”
“Yes,” he said. “How did you know where I’m staying?”
“Because you always stay at the same hotel. That horrible place downtown.” He was staying at the Chelsea. A couple years ago his grandmother had come into town to have lunch with him and had taken a taxi to the Chelsea. She refused to get out because she claimed 23rd Street looked like a circus. She took the taxi back up to the Sherry Netherland, where she summoned him for a “civilized” lunch. Now Mrs. Carter avoided the city entirely.
“Can I expect you for dinner?” she continued.
“I should really check in at the gallery,” he said.
“Couldn’t you do that tomorrow?”
“I suppose,” Jack said, who was none too eager to confront his paintings. They always looked inexplicably different and invariably worse in New York. “What time are the trains?” he asked. His grandmother lived in Bedford.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I haven’t taken a train in ages.
Why don’t you call the train people? That’s what they are for.”
“I see you insist on looking like a field hand,” Mrs. Enid Winns Carter said in way of a greeting. She was standing in the front hall, supported by a cane.
“You can’t help getting at least a little tan when you live in Mexico,” Jack said.
“Yes, but you could help living in Mexico.” Mrs. Carter disapproved of North Americans living in foreign parts. She believed everyone should live where they were born. She had lived in the same house in Bedford since the 1920s. It was a large brick house with many rooms and much furniture. She led Jack, rather slowly, into the living room.