Peering through the lace curtains at the elegant hallway inside, I knock timidly at the glass door. I hope only that my brother will be the only person awake in the house and that all of the dogs are safely locked away in some distant catacomb. On both points I am to be disappointed. After a few taps I hear a single distant barker, soon joined by another and then another. Suddenly I see that the whole hallway is a swelling mess of howling, leaping, nadly salivating dogs. All of them seem to be at least three feet tall at the shoulder and as fat as toads. a bored and sleepy youg man, who appears to be the night watchman, materializes at the door, regards me abstractly for a moment and opens the door a crack. Immediately, two or three dogs squeeze by me and careen off into the night. The watchman slams the door shut as soon as I edge in, assuring me that I will not be dovoured if I show proper respect. There are dogs on top of me, dogs below me, dogs in front of and behind me, dogs between met dogs, dogs on both my wrists. All are barking, licking and jumping happily about, very friendly incredibly raucous. The watchman slinks off to leave me to my friends. Mirrors and glass on either side of the hall multiply us infinitely. Even though the room itself is rather dark, I can see in front of me a large spiral staircase lit by the ethereal glow of some unseen fixture on the second floor.
My first impression of my host is auditory. "What the hell are you doing here?" asks a disembodied voice somewhere over my head. This is something of a stumper, and having no response ready, I introduce myself to the stairway. For a moment the steps sit undisturbed but soon a small dark blob detaches itself from the effulgence above and comes waddling down the stairs towards me. The blob quickly congeals into a very interesting looking human being. He is a fairly small man, no more than a few inches over 5 feet tall, with an enormous belly which billows out in front of him like a racing spinnaker pulling him off-balance onto his toes. He moves toward me. He is quite solidly built, despite being over 80 years old, but he has skinny legs dangling below this massive torso, and his arms tend to hang limply on either side of his gut. His head is enormous, completely hairless, speckled, and flattened on top. He has a spectacular hooked nose, beady little eyes, and odd set of small, fleshy lips and a knobby little chin which, despite his obesity, would occasionally detach itself from his neck. I am trying desparately to avoid thinking what I am thinking, but he looks more like Charles Addams' Uncle Fester than anything else in the world. What is he wearing? He is wearing a red warm-up jacket with white piping and, or course, baggy gray sweat pants hiked up above his claves to reveal long black socks that tuck into shiny black house slippers. Apparently, this is all he ever wears.
My host's foremost concern is the massive lack of intelligence which must, he feels, have motivated a guest to arrive at such a respectable household at such an hour. The problem intrigues him so much, in fact, that he seems to lose all concern for me per se. He stumps down the stairs and walks right by me into the dining room ruminating with great enthusiasm on the evidence that it is possible to be born human without any brains at all. Having nothing better to do, I start up the stairs.
At the top of the stairs I am grabbed by a night-shirted woman and tossed into a dark room just off of the landing. The door is slammed in the face of the friendly mob of dogs, who have followed me faithfully up the stairs. The room, once lit, turns out to be extremely large, about 35 feet long, and painted a strange shade of pinkish orange. There are two enormous desk-size color TV sets as well as a couple of legitimate desks, a spherical environmental chair with an unexploded artillery shell inside, a long couch covered with flower prints and wall shelves filled with gun manuals and almanacs. However, there is no bed. There is a set of double doors at the far end, though, and behind this I finally find the bedroom and my brother. The dogs are still carrying on in the distance. I collapse on the unoccupied bed and pour out my troubles to my brother, who sleep, is unsympathetic at first. But as he regains consciousness he warms to the subject too, and soon we are having a fine time working out our traumas. My brother arrived with his friend at around 9:30 that night (which is also too late for visitors) and he spent the rest of the evening adjusting himself to life with a petty despot. The old man entertained his guests with instructions on how to peel oranges and tune television sets--not that he would allow anyone to perform either of these operations on his grounds. These were discorses on the theory of peeling and tuning-expanded at length into the logical basis of racial inequalities. He had forced food upon them, then demanded to know why they were eating him out of house and home. We were spending Thanksgiving with this? All we wanted to do was watch the Bear's game. We had no desire to spend the weekend in an Agatha Christie novel.
Luckily, life took a turn for the better the next morning. We poke our heads out of the door, and, finding a clear coast, clump downstairs. We make it as far as the pantry behind the dining hall before encountering our first dog of the day. It goes bananas, as do the half-dozen or so of its colleagues who follow hard on its heels. We fight our way into the kitchen, aided by the housekeeper, who turns out to be the lady who rescued us earlier in the morning. The grandfather is sitting at a table at one end of the room watching Thanksgiving parades on one of a dozen color TVs in the house. He invites us to join him. The dogs, meanwhile, are about to be fed. On an enormous expanse of counter the housekeeper has arranged an awesome array of king-size doggie dishes each of which she proceeds to load with at least two cans of Alpo. The dogs all stand around the kitchen, watching contentedly. As she places the dishes on the floor, each dog pairs up with its own dish and the room fills with the sound of happy mastication. Everytime a dog finishes, it is rewarded with an extra packet of Gainesburger. the grandfather sighs happily and offers us each an orange. We sit and watch the dogs eat. The grandfather switches to Chico and the Man, then to William Conrad singing holiday songs.
I leave for a walk around the grounds.
The man lives on an estate in the middle of suburbia, and on all sides, far in the distance, one can see his neighbors. Their houses are undoubtedly fine and big, but they seem rather small-time from this inflated perspective. The estate encompasses some two or three city blocks. In front of the house is a huge lawn, bissected by the long, tree-lined driveway. On one side is a 5-car garage with a house on top, and on the other is a tennis court. Behind the house is another lawn, a garden, a sunken green house, a platform tennis court, an empty white swimming pool, a huge sandbox and playground and an old apple orchard. I return to the house. He is still in a good mood. My brother and I go on a walk with him to the end of the driveway and back, the dogs surging around us as we move. Dogs are good, he tells us; they are the most loyal creatures in the world. He has had 9 children by two marriages; the oldest ones are around 50 and the youngest, whose room my brother and I share, is 18. None, except the two grandchildren, have come home for Thanksgiving, although they phone often and return on weekends regularly. Each time one child left the house, he replaced it with a dog or two. He doesn't mind his granddaughter coming home for the holiday, he tells us, but he doesn't understand why she insists on bringing home bums who he cares nothing about. We blush.
The rest of the day goes nicely. dinner is fine. Each of us sits in the mirrored and chandeliered dining ball eating turkey with a fat labrador retriever on each knee. Afterward, we search the house where we located among other things, a monkey in the laundry room, a warehouse of toys in the basement, an imitation jade statue of the grandfather as Buddha, and the pictures of generals and presidents on the walls. Each of his last 5 sons is named after a different 5-star general who also serves as a godfather. In one of the photographs Eisenhower sits bemusedly with one of the grandfather's fat baby sons ir his lap.
That night our host seems to tire.
"When are you two going to shoot no out of here?," he asks my brother, who does not know, but replies that we might be able to get out in an hour or two. Unfortunately, this is impossible, as the next train through to Cambridge isn't scheduled to leave until the next morning. The sooner the better for him; he does not want us "hanging on and hanging on." He orders us out of the house, then goes to bed. We take him seriously and make plans to depart. Nonsense, we are told by his granddaughter, he doesn't really mean it, Tomorrow he will be fine, he won't even remember what he said. Still, we are uncertain. It seems ungrateful to stay in someone's house after he tells you to leave. Besides, we are afraid of him. So help me, we decide to spend the night in the suite above his garage. We tell ourselves that we wish to avoid awakening him in the morning by stumbling into the pack of dogs, but all we really want is to get out without seeing him again. We sneak back up the stairs to collect our belongings for transfer out to the garage. We pick our way past the dogs sleeping on the floors, under the tables around the chairs and up and down the stairs. None awaken. We stuff our clothes into our bags. One of my sneakers is missing. It was there in the morning. One of the dogs must have gotten to it. "Wait here," my brother tells me, and he sidles out the door. I wait. Within moments a dog begins to bark. Then another, then another. The house erupts. My pale-faced brother tears back into the room, and slams the door. "He's up." We spend the rest of the night huddled in our room. My sneaker is returned to me, with a chewed-off back.
We wake up the next morning at six, make our way downstairs and are ambushed one last time in the pantry by the dogs. We push our way into the kitchen. The grandfather is sitting in his chair by the TV in his sweats.
"Good Morning" he says. "Eat breakfast."
His housekeeper gives us a fat bundle of bills for the trip back which I cannot return. I am told that for him cash is like dog food. He is trying to be nice to us. We finish breakfast and leave, apologizing profusely for all the trouble we have caused.
"Not at all," he says, "That's what Thanksgiving is all about."
The housekeeper drives us to the train station and we are gone. Twenty-six hours in Scarsdale.
If you don't believe me, come take a look at my right sneaker.