I take the Trailways bus from New York's refurbished Port Authority terminal to Baltimore, where I visit my younger, only brother Bill for the first time in five years (he says eight). Over crabcake sandwiches and coffee, we talk about family, future, money, marriage, manners (was it Norman Mailer who said the last three are the novel's true subjects?) and try to adjust a misunderstanding that occurred when our mother died and he couldn't reach me.
The evening of her death I had attended a poetry reading at the Library of Congress. When Christine d'Haendt, a visiting Belgian poet, read the poem entitled "Mother" in Dutch, I started to weep inconsolably. Later, I discovered that my mother had died a few hours earlier.
On the way back to the terminal, a black man accosts me: "Mr. White Man, are you a senator?" Thus I fall into a fascinating conversation with Brooklyn-born William Nathaniel Dickson, a window rigger known as Billy Clyde, who will be 57 tomorrow, has five daughters and lost his wife 13 years ago. We discuss Toynbee, James Baldwin, the state of the country and religion; one phrase sticks in my mind -- "the Jesus risk."
My interview with Charles Mixon, director of personnel at the National Endowment for the Arts, is slated for 1:30 p.m. Mixon is at the dentist, I am informed. His associate, Barbara Benson, interviews me and examines my papers: vita, publications, experience with special relevance to the vacancy of deputy chairman of programs. At 3, Mixon appears and continues the interview. He acknowledges that he has had no contact at all with either David Rubin or Hugh Southern, the two leading candidates for this noncareer position.
Later I visit acquaintances in the various programs of the Endowment: George Clack, editor of The Cultural Post; Robin Huggins in the Literature Program (which has turned down my own application for a creative writing award three times). Frank Conroy, the new director of the Literature Program, author of a distinguished novel, "Stop-Time," pops his head in. Then I traverse the maze of offices to find Knox Turner of the Theater Program. He is a playwright, and our creative juices always bubble when we get together.
The directorships of theater, music and dance, in addition to the deputy chairmanship, have remained unfilled about six months and the administrators are restive and anxious to get on with the show.
I hear Frank Hodsoll, the director of the Endowment, is meeting with the director of the Central City Opera troupe from Colorado. Before I leave, I phone to ask if he would like to see me. Negative.
Sen. Moynihan's staff believes his support of my nomination would be anathema to the administration, and suggests I contact Sen. d'Amato. D'Amato's office is filled with irate New York Housing Authority tenants who got their appointment fouled up.
Chastened, I walk over to the Folger Shakespeare Library and break in on the director, my old Chapel Hill college friend O. B. Hardison Jr. He gives me coffee, and the sympathetic advice not to protest the irregularities or inequities of the appointment. I show him my poem sequence "On Eagles' Wings," dedicated to the late Archibald MacLeish, which he reads through, chuckling at spots. He has always been a staunch admirer of my poetry, and when he says to me, "Morty, you have it now and you've always had it," my day is made.
Across the street to the Library of Congress. I pay a call at the Center for the Book, stop by to see assistant librarian John Broderick, a University of North Carolina PhD who is in charge of the Office of Research Services, and Fred Mohr of the Publishing Office, who is planning a special number of the Quarterly of the Library of Congress with tributes to MacLeish from Robert Penn Warren and others.
On the way out of the James Madison Building, probably the most imposing library structure built since Alexandria, I pick up a job announcement for the vacancy of educational liaison officer.
Many messages and curious strangers at my Foggy Bottom hotel. Irvin Molotsky of The New York Times' Washington bureau has called, probably to relay information that was "leaked" to me last night:
Hodsoll jumped the gun and informed key Endowment staff of his choice of Hugh Southern yesterday afternoon. He will announce his decision to the press today, instead of initially presenting the nomination to the National Council on the Arts Friday, as customary in the past.
I dive into the Metro, emerging at Capitol South to wander over the little park where I used to play soccer with my foster daughter Mona. I take off my shirt, lean back in the sunlight and weep tears of sadness and exultation. I wish she were here now.
Later I dine at the Cold Duck with my friend Joe Bratling, a former TWA pilot who is now married to a French designer and lives in Paris. Good ambiance, better food (salmon cakes), the best company.
I prepare the application for the Library of Congress job in the George Washington University typing room, which now charges 60 cents per hour (but the equipment and functioning are vastly improved). GW should blow its horn a little louder in the academic arena, with renowned professors like Marcus Cunliffe and Amitai Etzioni having joined the faculty.
After making Xeroxes, I grab the Metro at Foggy Bottom to Capitol South again and get my application logged in at the Library.
A quick supper at Roy Rogers, then a hike to Kramer's bookstore-cafe off Dupont Circle. I buy a paperback of Odysseus Elytis' poems and stroll around the nocturnal city, passing the statue of Longfellow where Connecticut and Rhode Island avenues intersect. Coming up K Street, I remark what a marvelous brightness and elegance Washington enjoys, relatively free of the fears and tensions of nighttime New York.
A slight change of mind and heart: I decide to meander over to the second day of the National Council on the Arts meeting on the rooftop terrace of the Kennedy Center. I take the shortcut across the Rock Creek Parkway (they really should build an overpass). The 26 members and top Endowment staffers are in closed session. Coffee is available for 75 cents, but a young woman forbids me to take some flyers about the Endowment's budget arrayed on a table in the lobby. In the atrium I meet two council members: Bernard Blas Lopez, since 1975 the executive director of the New Mexico Arts Division, and Theodore Bikel, president of the American Jewish Congress, whose Congress Weekly (now biweekly) I wrote articles and reviews for in the 1950s.
The appointment of Southern, a British national, as deputy chairman, has been greeted with ruffled equanimity at best. I wonder if the British council still adheres to its policy of not hiring foreigners.
By chance I have a scintillating conversation with Don Druker, a program specialist in media arts. I tell him about my project for a TV network superspecial four times a year, with alternating shows reflecting the achievements of both the Arts and the Humanities Endowments grantees. He is receptive to the idea, and tells me with whom to follow it up.
To the cafeteria for a late lunch: cream of cucumber soup, turkey tetrazzini and a magnificent vista of the capital, all for less than $5.
The meeting is running late. I enter to hear council member Jacob Lawrence asserting the importance of creativity in American life, when John Clark, who is attached to some bureaucratic unit whose title I forget, spots me and in an amiable fashion ushers me out. Am I a masochist, a glutton for punishment or a fighter for truth and beauty?
I run into Harold Prince, the Broadway producer and another council member, in the elevator, running from the center to Watergate, and on the fly we talk aobut a play based on the life of Modigliani done off- Broadway several years ago. I think it ws Madisould be a great film vehicle for Anthony Quinn.
Sheets of rain start falling and I am stranded in a Peoples Drug in the lower level of Watergate. Whom should I encounter there at the close of this packed, eventful week but Jacob Lawrence, whose message of the joy of life in his painting can never be interrrupted for me. We shake hands (there is a sort of instant intimacy I have experienced a few times) and part.
An hour has passed. The rain pours down. Tomorrow is Mother's Day. I have not had time to send Mona money to buy a gift for her mother. It occurs to me that, typically, the powers that be have not offered to reimburse my travel expenses for the NEA interview. Through the rain, I walk back to my hotel. They say kids understand. I hope so.