Eye Openers

posted in: Memoir | 0
Nancy Kelton portrait
photo: Nathaniel Welch

Excerpt of a memoir by New York writer Nancy Davidoff Kelton, from her book Finding Mr. Rightstein, published by Passager Books in 2016.
4 minutes


Nancy Davidoff Kelton grew up in Buffalo but spent the past half century in New York City. A widely published essayist, she’s written several books.

One of them is her memoir Finding Mr. Rightstein, about some of the men she dated in her middle-age. The book begins like this: “My father in his coffin looked better than most of the men I dated.”

In this excerpt, she describes a party she went to in a neighbor’s apartment.

My neighbor, Diana, and I chatted in the evenings when we left our apartments at the same time for work. I would be carrying a folder with my students’ manuscripts. Diana would be dressed in something flashy, often gold lame.’

Diana was a hooker. A high-class one with bleached blonde hair and a terrific body, who worked at home during the day and out of a hotel at night. The first time we spoke, Diana told me she was cocktail waitress. The doormen told me differently.

She invited me to a party at her apartment Saturday at eight. It was between going and not sleeping. Diana frequently threw parties. I had not been invited to the previous ones, but the music and voices kept me awake.

At 8:40 on Saturday, I rang her bell, wearing black slacks, a pink scooped-neck top, and a little more eye makeup than I wore to class. Her décor was plain. The only furnishing that hinted at her line of work was a blue velvet canopy draping her bed.

The guests’ outfits, did, too. It was a toss-up which made me feel more out of place, not wearing a skin-tight jumpsuit or not being buddies with the pimps. The men had slicked-back hair, pinky rings, and huge cigars. They looked like friends of Nathan Detroit’s. The women, in boas, sequins, and metallic outfits, left little to the imagination. It was The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Guys and Dolls without singing, talent, or a score.

After pointing me towards the bar, Diana left me to my own devices. I approached a man who looked different from the others, not exactly an Exeter graduate, but not like a pimp. After responding to my comments about the stuffed mushrooms and the Latin music, he excused himself and moved on.

I know how to converse with new people at most social functions, from the golf awards dinners at my erstwhile in-laws’ Long Island Country club to gatherings the Quakers held. At Diana’s party, I could not connect with the dip. The only icebreaker I thought of was, “How’s tricks?”

No one noticed when I left.

. . .

To buy Kelton’s book Finding Mr. Rightstein or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.

You can also download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, and various other podcast apps.