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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Backstory, The More Interesting Bits Of An Extraordinary Life

Farley Palmer had led, according to all accounts, a simple, honorable, and respectful life.  Born of good parents and parentage – his ancestors went back to the Earls of Northampton  (Farley had been a good descendent,  Episcopalian with a sound sense of Christian rectitude if not faith; a preeminent respect for history,tradition, and genealogy, and a very American spirit of entrepreneurialism, individualism, and optimism). His historical trajectory had been begun ten generations ago with the first Earl of Northampton, knighted on the battlefield and anointed by royal fiat, appointment to the Court of Henry V; and continued successive generations of English gentlemen and ladies. A member of New Brighton haute société, legatees of English and Prussian aristocracy, and exponent of the best, 20th century noblesse oblige, Farley was sought after – the first to be picked by West Hartford’s most eligible young ladies, the most apt and appropriate mate for Central Connecticut’s best families, and  a catch for any of the Carpenters, Bennetts,Franklins, and other families living on the social and geographic fringes of the West End.  In most ways he was a child of privilege – of good family and heritage, wealthy, good looking and with intellectual stamina and promise – so his attractiveness  and desirability was no surprise. 

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He had Dianne Cuthbert before they were fourteen, a long relationship consummated every Saturday in the rough of the 14th hole of Sunken Meadow. He was admitted to St. Grottlesex and later after a smooth elision to Yale, if he was so inclined, a future place at Marbury, Wicks, & Potter, Ltd., with seats on Wall Street and on the Hong Kong exchanges. 

He was attractive – medium height, medium build, blue eyes, angular brows, and blonde hair – intelligent (on the editorial board of The Loom), talented (Edmund in King Lear and Tamora, in a transgender role in Titus Andronicus), and athletic. He had everything going for him, a brilliant future, and certain credits for himself and his family; and if it hadn’t been for Marilyn Venezia, a New Brighton girl from across the tracks who had won him with her Neapolitan good looks – Circe, the Sirens of Scylla and Charybdis , the caves of Heraclitus, and the virgin delights of Persepolis, all in one dark, alluring package,he would have moved on, out of New Brighton, and into New York society. 

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What was an innocent, uninitiated, sweet boy to do?  What in his manored and privileged upbringing had ever prepared him for such temptations? Who, in a society based on fairness, sportsmanship, and good manners, could have been prepared him for the likes of Marilyn Venezia?  Who could have taught him her wiles?

So Farley fell fast and hard, in the seductive embraces of a dark girl from the wrong side of the tracks, unfamiliar to anyone who might give him advice.  The West End knew nothing of the East End let alone the North End and the accumulation of Poles and Italians who manned the factories and tool-and-dye shops that had built the city.  No one could advise  Farley about class divisions, acquisitiveness, and upper mobility, so he fell hook, line, and sinker for Marilyn's charms, paraded her on the Old Campus in black dress and  white topi, very noticeable and very out of place among the Shetland sweaters and car coats of Vassar and Smith, but simply adorable to him.

It was diversity what done him in, said his nephew, no stranger to sexual adventure but unremitting in his protection of the family sacristy and patrimony which preceded him.  It was all well and good to have a flurry of browns, blacks and yellows in America, but not in his corner which he intended to keep as a preserve of culture, manners, and tradition.  Uncle Farley had fallen for ‘the other’, perhaps because his generation had kept the lid on sexual mobility very tight indeed, no pressure valve released from time to time - no Italian, Pole, or even Puerto Rican to let off steam; and, most importantly, to realize that women were all the same – accessible, pliable, and passionate – and it didn’t take straying into another’s grazing field to taste their delights.  One was meant for one’s own kind; and, life being what it was – antagonistic, questionable, and friable, caution and circumspection always paid long-term dividends.

The relationship between Farley Palmer and Marilyn Venezia lasted one school year – from the Fall fraternity fest on the Thames to the Spring cotillion after which Palmer threw his Italian darkling to the curb, helped up by the campus police and some polo players from Davenport on their way to New London.  He had no real cause for her dismissal except for the swarm of girls from Bennington, Bennett, Smith, and Connecticut College who had taken him and his Trumbull mates far up Whalley Avenue to a house party; and the one in particular who had worked her very blonde, blue-eyed charms on him, brought him back into a comfortable fold, and naked, sweet, and perfectly white, showed him the errors of his ways.

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Yet the girl from Bridgehampton did not completely tamp his anti-clerical desires.  Not long after Yale, and well into his Wall Street job with Brandon, Phelps, & Peters, he dated one of the first floor HR secretaries, another Italian, Annie Castorini from Bay Ridge who lived in the projects with her father and daughter, made it across the river every day and then back again for a second shift at Walgreen’s, and who found a liaison with Farley weird but tempting.   She had never known anyone but Italians, worked for others on Wall Street, but had no idea what anyone other than a cross-bearing, ceremonial family member like her own was like. 

Once again – and time and time again – Farley left these cultural outliers on the beach after dipping his toes in the water.  He couldn’t seem to help himself.  His sister, a model of rectitude and Old World gentility, thought it was because their parents had asked too much of their firstborn son.  Had they loosened the yoke a bit, given him some running room, he would have realized soon enough that things are always better chez soi, regardless of the nip of new grass. 
The old harness, however, had been fitted tight and right as a child, so that stray as he might, he never strayed too long or too far from his allotted path.  He married a girl with a proper pedigree – not so storied and legendary as his, but notable, in the record books with more than just the odd footnote.   His parents, aunts and uncles, and one living grandmother on his father’ side were, despite some diffidence concerning her very American roots,  delighted with the match.  She would bring him back to order.

Despite the traces put on by his parents to guide him along the right path; despite his marriage at India House to the right girl, and despite his very social wedding at Piping Rock and honeymoon in Rimini, Farley began to have ideas.  His sister, always one to interpret his otherwise unexplained behavior, suggested that waywardness was because of Italy.  Her brother had never gotten over Marilyn Venezia, and when he had seen the real thing – lithe, sophisticated, elegant Italian women in contrast to Marilyn’s pipe-fitter ordinariness – there was little he could do to resist.

His wife for whom their marriage was at least somewhat of a convenience at first never complained about her husband’s dalliances.  They went with the territory.  Of course an attractive, wealthy, intelligent man from a best family would be a person of interest on the Riviera or in Connecticut; and why tinker with an otherwise very good product? 

Farley’s early dalliances soon became commonplace, and his Marias and Angelas became Rachels, Gamzes, Doinas, and Sashas.  His tastes, his wife found, were not restricted to Mediterranean women – they had only been the piers from which he had dived into broader waters – but included all women.

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Marriages of convenience being what they are, Farley’s wife was unwilling to give up the Fifth Avenue town house, the summer place on Nantucket, the winter home in St. Bart’s; and realizing this convenient sexual compromise, Farley continued to enjoy his paramours, his times out, and his adventures.

All in all, it was a most accomplished life – one born of wealth and status, matured easily and voluntarily, and enjoyed from start to finish.  It was a life of accommodation, compromise, and will, the best of all possible worlds, one benefiting from historic tradition but never confined by ordinary, reflexive morality. It was indeed, and in the fullest sense of the word, a privileged life.

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