Sunday, March 09, 2008

An Evening With Bill and Pat Buckley

It is very possible that had William F. Buckley, Jr. not come into my life in an Army hospital back in 1969, I might have no eyesight today. (see )

That column would later be reprinted in, The Governor Liseth, with the following postscript: *William Fullerton, Jr., was operated on by the famous New York surgeon Ramon Castroviejo in February, 1970. Seven weeks after the operation he was able to distinguish colors.”

What Bill did not add, would have considered extremly bad form to mention, was his being the one who arranged for me to meet his friend, Dr. Castroviejo, the world’s most renowned corneal transplant pioneer, in New York. In addition, Bill paid all expenses, and allowed my mother and me to stay in his NYC townhouse for several weeks immediately before and after my surgery while he and his family were overseas.

What follows is an 1100 word excerpt from my first novel, A Brief Affair. While based on an actual event in 1971, it is not a memoir but a work of fiction with the names of everyone but William and Patricia Buckley changed to protect the innocent, not to mention my scalp.

Bayou Bill


An Evening With Bill and Pat Buckley
(an excerpt from: A BRIEF AFFAIR)
by Bill Fullerton

"By the way, do you know what great event is coming up?"

Gwen looked at Mark in bewilderment. "Washington's Birthday?"

"Close, but no cigar. Actually, the great event in question is the birthday of two other outstanding citizens of the world. Namely, St. Patrick and me."

"That's right. Your birthday is St. Patrick's Day."

"Tis true, lassie. And a fine day for the Irish 'twill be," he said, with the first Irish brogue she’d ever heard tinged with a southern accent.

"William Buckley will be celebrating the glorious day with a party at his place. My innate honesty requires me to confess that he and his wife do this every year. It's just a coincidence that it's also my birthday.

"Anyway, remember how I left town early last November and couldn't take you to the get together for his magazine at the Tavern on the Green? Let me make up for that by taking you to dinner there and then going to the party at Bill's place."

"Are you serious? Go to a party at William Buckley's home?"

"Sure, anybody who's recently been groped by a congressman shouldn't have any problem with a bunch of card-carrying conservatives. Besides, I've been assured that everybody on the guest list has had their shots and with the possible exception of one or two writers, they're all supposed to be house broken."

With her heart saying go while her head screamed, run, Gwen tried to stall. "Who's going to be there?"

"Other than a few hangers-on like me, most of them will be people from his magazine. There are two I really want you to meet. When mother and I first came up here, they were super nice to us."

I'm not believing all this, thought Gwen. What would Mark come up with next—dinner with the Mayor at Gracie Mansion? Thanks to Mark taking her to the Mardi Gras ball in Washington, at least she had a decent party dress and wouldn't have to go back to the sales racks at Alexander's.

Two weeks later, a totally intimidated Gwen Kaplan, from Jewel Avenue in Flushing, Queens, walked into a Park Avenue townhouse for the first time in her life. She was a nervous wreck. As promised, before the party she and Mark went to Tavern on the Green for dinner. When they got up to leave, she suffered a total anxiety attack and slumped back into her chair. Shaking her head, she said there was no way she could go.

"Come on, chicken. No guts, no glory," said Mark as he took her trembling hand and pulled her back to her feet.

He cocked his head to one side and gazed with approval at the silver lame' pants suit she had settled upon after days of anguished indecision. "You look even better than usual, babe. We can't waste all that on dinner and a quick trip back to your dorm."

William Buckley was tall, attractive, and charming. Gwen decided he looked and sounded exactly like the cultured, intellectual she had seen on television. After introductions, he asked Mark about both his mother and his eyesight. Just then a tall, elegant, dark-haired woman with the looks and figure of a fashion model joined them. Patricia Buckley wore a pale green outfit which most definitely hadn't come from Alexander's. In comparison to her, Gwen felt like her mother’s old Dodge Polara parked next to a new Rolls Royce.

While talking with the Buckley’s, a smartly dressed, hyper-kinetic brunette came over and kissed Mark on the cheek. "There you are, love. Angie and I have been worried you might not be coming.” The voice sounded like a BBC broadcast, only with more class.

"How could I not show up with all these beautiful women around here," said Mark. He nodded toward Patricia, placed one arm around Gwen's waist and draped the other over the new arrival’s shoulders.

"And this must be Gwen," said the woman, extending her hand. "How are you, I'm Felicia Brice. I've been dying to meet you."

The Buckley’s excused themselves to greet some new guests. Taking Gwen and Mark in tow, Felicia led them across the crowded room. "You two made it in the nick of time," she whispered conspiratorially. "Poor Angie has been cornered by Bruce Atkins, an agonizing death much worse than any fate."

While Gwen had never heard of Bruce Atkins, she automatically sympathized with the unseen Angie. They were approaching a beautiful, blue-eyed, blonde wearing a dark green cocktail dress. She was listening politely to a short, intense looking, man in a plaid sports coat. If that's poor Angie, thought Gwen, the last thing she needs is my sympathy.

The Grace Kelly look-alike proved to be Angie Douglas. She gratefully accepted the rescue offered by the arrival of Felicia, Mark, and Gwen. Before the party was over, Gwen learned that Felicia was Buckley's administrative assistant while Angie served as his chief researcher. They had known Mark ever since his mother first brought him to New York for surgery. Back in those days, when he was still totally blind, Felicia and Angie served as an unofficial support group, especially for the distraught Leigh Cahill.

After his mother returned to Louisiana, Felicia and Angie took Mark under their protective wings. At first, they'd come visit him at the VA after work. Later, when his sight began to improve, they would meet him outside the hospital for dinner.

To Gwen's relief, it quickly became obvious that while both cared for Mark, neither was a rival for his affection. That was a good thing, she decided. Competing with Felicia's witty urbanity or Angie's charm and good looks would have been tough.

When the party started breaking up, Mark suggested they all go for coffee. Out on Fifth Avenue, they piled into a cab and, at Felicia's suggestion, went down to the Fireside Coffee Shop on 35th Street near where both she and Angie lived. By the end of the evening, Gwen felt she’d found two new friends and learned a lot more about Mark Cahill.

After dropping him off at the VA, she headed back to her dorm. As she walked up First Avenue, Gwen remembered feeling sorry for Mark when they first met. To her, he’d seemed like a poor, lonely guy a long way from home. Tonight, she'd learned that poor, lonesome Mark had been going out regularly with Felicia and Angie. There had also been some brief, veiled references to a Pam-Am stewardess.

Gwen wondered if she would have ever gotten involved with Mark had she known about his active social life. Probably not, she decided, grateful for her ignorance.

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