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Their son Richard — never Rich, or Richie, or Rick or Dick, always Richard — was twenty when I first met him. He was in his sophomore year at Yale. He looked like neither of his parents, was tallish, handsome, with dark wavy hair. I recall his grousing about the co-ed dorm he had been put into. He thought the idea of such dorms gravely mistaken, an insult even. The increased sexual possibilities of such an arrangement either never occurred to him, or held no interest for him. Richard wasn’t gay, at least I don’t think he was, but merely unnaturally stuffy, especially for a kid. He was wearing a suit and tie that night, and on the four or five subsequent occasions on which we were together he was never tieless.

One night the four of us, Elliott, Gerianne, Richard and I, were dining at a then fashionable Washington restaurant called Jean-Louis. At the serving of our first course, Gerianne noted that there was no salt at the table. I asked our waiter to bring us salt, and when I did so, he replied, in a highly suspicious accent, “Jean-Louis does not permit salt at table.” Gerianne replied, “Then I guess this good ole’ Jean-Louis fella wouldn’t mind if I called and had a small pizza delivered, since these scallops he prepared haven’t a prayer without some help from salt.”

What I remember above all from that evening was Richard’s extravagant ordering. He had oysters, a Caesar salad, a full lobster, crêpes suzette — it must have been more than $200 worth of food — and he ate scarcely any of it. Neither his mother nor his father said a word about the waste of it all. Two other times that I had dinner with Elliott and Richard, something similar occurred. What, I wondered, was going on?

Elliott’s term on the NEA Council ended a year before mine. I remember at this last meeting a number of especially dopey grants were up for approval. One involved a woman performance artist whose specialty was covering her naked body in chocolate syrup, another a sculptor who set a bronze crucifix in a bottle containing urine, yet another for an exhibition of a deceased gay photographer many of whose pictures entailed plumping parts placed up the rectums of muscular young men. Elliott spoke out strongly against all three, claiming that to award such artists and their work grants was not only to degrade the National Endowment for the Arts but art itself.

One of the arts patrons on the Council, a man in the oil business in Houston, said that he couldn’t agree with Elliott Lazar’s judgment of the actual art more, but added that we needed to be careful that, in not supporting such work, we weren’t headed down “a slippery slope.”

“Allow me,” Elliott said, “to take up Arthur Mendelson’s alpine metaphor. I speak of ‘the famous slippery slope,’ by which Arthur of course means ‘censorship,’ if not actual McCarthyism. Beware, Arthur, the blackmail of the avant-garde, for that is the gambit behind all three of these grants proposals. Reject them, the implication is, and you will one day be judged akin to those people who scratched at Matisse’s paintings, or rioted at the premiere in Paris of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Sorry, Arthur, but we mustn’t let being thought reactionary deter us from doing what is right. Not all reaction is bad, especially not well-informed and aesthetically and morally sound reaction. Don’t, I implore you, let crappy art, which specialises in blasphemy and obscenity cow us. Let’s not worry about slippery slopes. Not to be willing to slide down a few of them, and this one in particular, is to show ourselves blind to the importance of true art and cowardly into the bargain.”
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