It has been too long since I visited Mr Logan. Last night, in a shabby old bookstore, I found myself looking at postcards from the years when Mr Logan was a boy. Or nearly a boy: for to him, over eighty now, a man of twenty or thirty can be little more than a boy. When Mr Logan was thirty, the swirls and spirals of the Guggenheim museum began rising on a spot just yards away from the window of his father’s townhouse; across the street, in Central Park, the old Victorian dairy, with its shabby loggia, was falling finally to the ground. Mr Logan goes to church on 86th street; he sits at the back on Saturday evenings and takes up the baskets with the parish collection. He counts the money for the priest. He gives half of it to Father Camuso, keeps half of it for himself; stuffs ten dollar bills into the pocket of his worn wool blazer. He tells me this. He doesn’t care. The folks in this neighbourhood give plenty, he says. The priests in this neighbourhood have more than they need. After church, Mr Logan takes his girlfriend to the diner on the corner, and they eat steak, well-done, with beans and vegetables, and they drink strong tea.
Last time I saw him, it was a warm evening in June: I found Mr Logan sitting outside his apartment, wearing a battered straw hat, reading the Daily News and watching the Park Avenue ladies walk by. Mr Logan lives in the only building on that whole polished stretch of Park Avenue without a canopied entrance, without a liveried doorman; beside those of his neighbours, his front door is narrow and unembellished, its four glass panes yellowed with time and dust and dirt. For over eighty years he has lived here, watching the Park Avenue ladies walk by.
When he was a little boy, his mother was one of those ladies, hat and gloves and fur and scent of Elizabeth Arden; his father was the Upper East Side chemist, with shops on Park and Madison and Lexington and a home looking over the lawns and lakes of the park. But business failed; first depression, then war, and when Mr Logan inherited his father’s fortune, it had crumbled away into part-ownership of one of the shops and a building only as wide as the townhouse porch. The shop’s other owner said he would not change the name above the door. It was a neighbourhood place, there were customers loyal to the Logans; but the sign needed redoing, it was falling apart. And when the name went up, it was spelt LOGHEN, and Mr Logan’s father was so grateful for the gesture, and so relieved at the sale, that he didn’t have the nerve to correct it. Today, the shop still does business under a misunderstanding, writ large in the neon capitals of the 1940s.
Mr Logan has several girlfriends, all of them very clearly after whatever money he has. But Mr Logan doesn’t mind. He spends his money on his girlfriends; he buys them steak in the diner and face creams from the beauty shop next door. ‘For all of that, I don’t even get a little kiss,’ he complains, but he shrugs then, and laughs.
One of his girlfriends thinks he should get the renovators into his building. ‘She says it’s filthy,’ he says. ‘Maybe it is. Maybe I should get a little decorator in. See this lady?’ He rummages in his breast pocket, produces a business card. ‘This lady, she’s another of my girlfriends. Says she’ll fix the place for me. Says she won’t rob me. Maybe I’ll give her a call.’
That day in June, Mr Logan took me to the diner. I guess that makes me one of his girlfriends. Before we set off, he stepped back into his building to get something. As he went, I caught a glimpse of the staircase leading up to his rooms. He doesn’t use all the rooms in the building, only a couple; the rest are probably, as his girlfriend says, gloomy and dirty and inhabited by only half a century of junk. Or by whatever it is you call the trappings of a lifetime. The staircase, what I saw of it, was cracked. Part of its lower steps had fallen away. He stepped over the jagged hole and disappeared into the darkness. When he emerged again, he had two envelopes in his hand; one sealed, one torn open. The sealed one he pushed into a mailbox; a cheque for the National Rifle Association. ‘They keep writing to me, and asking me for money,’ he grumbled. ‘I don’t even know them, but I give it to them anyway. They write to me. What can I do?’
In the diner—we didn’t have steak, we had tea and fruit pie—he read to me from what was written on the other envelope. Even though the writing was his own, he couldn’t read it too easily; he squinted and frowned and stumbled through the words. Maybe he took the words down in the dark. He said something about sex. Something about schools. Something about Charlie Haughey. Something about taxes and farms. These were the headlines from the Irish programme on the radio station he listens to, the programme that spits out the dregs from the week in Ireland every Sunday evening at eight. Every Sunday evening, Mr Logan writes them down. His wife was Irish. She died almost twenty years ago. He used to visit Ireland, but he doesn’t like to fly any more. He has friends back there still, though, and sometimes he phones to ask them about the things he has heard on the news programme. But when he can’t read his own handwriting, he leaves the phone alone. There’ll be other weeks, he says. There’ll be other news.
In one of the postcards I found last night, a couple stand in front of a pool hall in Manhattan. They are young. She wears a coat, too big for her, and a high-necked blouse; she carries a brown paper bag. He wears a double-breasted suit, a long coat, a wide-brimmed hat, which is caught and elongated further in the shadows. It looks, in fact, as though a figure is standing, unknown to him, at his shoulder. The photograph is dated 1940; there is both weariness and possibility in his frank, dark eyes.