Esquire Magazine's Best of 40 Years
Talese and Thomas Wolfe
The Talese Gate
The Shirt Boards
Five minutes early so I walk past the gate to his four story townhouse and stand on a corner. A cab pulls up for a fare but I shake my head. I pull out my phone and pretend to read an email. I feel like I'm staring at my navel. Put the phone away and walk past the house again. Two more minutes to go. I've never met Gay Talese but have seen him in the neighborhood more than once. First you see the hat and then the swagger. He's hard to miss.
Talese asks if I want something to drink. "Water? Maybe a Scotch?" "I'll have whatever you're having." I say. "I don't drink in the afternoon." he smiles and his eyes crinkle. It's 5PM on a Saturday that feels more like late November than late March. "Water is fine." I tell him. Talese leaves and I stand by two leather tufted sofas that could stand some saddle soap. A formal dining room is to my left and the fireplace surrounded by books reminds me of the other writer who lives here.
Talese returns with a cold bottle of Pellegrino and two white wine glasses. We sit down at opposing sofas and he crosses his legs. He's in amazing shape and I later learn, at 79, he still works out. More for me to feel bad about.
Highly polished black loafers are, I'm guessing, Bally. Dark gray trousers with a cuff not quite two inches but almost. A waistcoat and jacket of the same wool plaid in dark blood red. Purple and blue stripes on a white shirt frame his face and an Hermes-green tie of some early vintage and narrow width blossoms from his neck. A small, almost feminine, gold watch on his left wrist reminds me that Italians are almost always too studied. But it suits him to the ground. I think of the camera in my jacket pocket but don't have the guts to ask for a picture.
Gay Talese talks in a voice that is fast-slow metered and dry like dead Summer pine needles. We're 20 minutes into the interview before I realize the tape recorder isn't on. He's like a skilled salesman who overcomes objections before you ask them - For every one question I ask - Talese answers nine more on my list. His right profile suggests John Slattery, the silver haired Roger Sterling from Mad Men.
Near the end of the interview, I ask him about the shirt boards he cuts up for note taking. Gay pulls a couple from inside his jacket and hands them to me. "Here. Keep a couple." Talese smiles when I see the one with my name on it.
The Gay Talese interview will appear in a magazine due for release this Fall.