Today I watched a movie entited Mrs. Parker and the Viscious Circle, all about the Algonquin Round Table. Aside from the fact I could hardly understand half of what Jennifer Jason Leigh mumbled through her performance of Dorothy Parker, it was a pretty decent movie. Like most dramatizations, it managed to make being a starving, booze addicted artist look so glamorous. Seconds after Dottie slits her wrists, she is joined by all of her fellow writers in the hospital. She even manages a quip about an actress who has come to visit. The Algonquin set is elegant, just as I’ve always imagined the hotels of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s to be. And it’s amazing how none of the wait staff seem to at all mind this uproarious group who keep piling chairs around smaller tables and upsetting their other guests.
It’s not the sets or costumes or even the witty reparte of the script that made the movie for me though. It was the idea of it. The actual history. A group of writers, actors, and idealists, all my age coming together every day for lunch, conversation and a catty remark or two. The sheer indulgence of setting your own schedule, being with friends all day and writing, really writing for a living, that is my dream.
I’ve tried to live out this dream in small ways. Throughout the years I’ve been a part of various artistic endeavors, some more promising than others. My friends and I even have our own Round Table of sorts. There is no designated meeting place or time, but when we do gather, it is usually over food, although table shapes vary. Our conversations drift over music, writing, politics, movies and while my tongue may not be quite as acidic as Mrs. Parker’s, we never fail to get our snide comments, catty remarks and shinning witicisms in. I’ve written stories I love, poems I hate, newspaper articles and a variety of things in between with these people. I’ve shared some of my best work and had it ripped apart, but always with the reminder it’s done out of love and for my own artistic growth.
Unfortunately our little Round Table is plagued by that modern idea of paying bills. It’s amazing how a desire to have a roof over my head has made me compromise my dreams. That’s not entirely true. It’s not just a desire for a roof, but the specific roof I have over my head. Not to mention the car I drive, clothes I wear, knick knacks and gadgets that adorn my walls and the steady stream of Godiva in my fridge. I know I should be willing to sacrifice and suffer for my art, but I am the world is not the same as when Dorothy was writing. I seriously doubt the Adams’ Mark downtown would let me move into a suite without paying rent for months at a time, all the while charging meals to my room and letting my cats piss all over the floor just to avoid the publicity of throwing me out. Mrs. Parker was lucky there. Then again, she was known. I am still a school teacher whose name has appeared in print few times since my college literary magazine days.
Still, I can’t help but fantasize a little bit about our Indy Round Table. Each of us has our historical counterpart. I want to be Jane Grant.** Since it’s my fantasy, I could make myself Dorothy Parker I supposed, but I don’t drink or sleep around nearly enough, and as I’ve already mentioned, my tongue is not quite as sharp I fear. Plus, no one will ever call me a poet. No, I’m good with Jane Grant. And hopefully someday there will be a movie, or at least a very clever story written about our viscious little circle. Only I hope the actress portraying me doesn’t mumble so much.
**Jane Grant was the first female reporter in the city room of the New York Times. She also co-founded the New Yorker with her husband Harold Ross.