In early April, Peter Matthiessen, the beloved cofounder of The Paris Review, died at eighty-six. Last week, I received an e-mail from my mother, containing a link to the following announcement:
THE ESTATE OF THE LATE
RENOWNED AUTHOR &
A treasure trove of artifacts and mementos. Both indigenous and from the 4 corners of the Earth.
Artisanal pottery, vintage typewriters, vast assortment of books, many annotated paintings, prints, photography and posters. Vintage LP collections in original portfolios, Early 20th century American piano table, 19th century French country dining table, additional chairs, tables, chests, beds, headboards, bedding, cookware, tableware, table linens, vintage luggage, toys and games, Vermont casting grill, teak picnic table, and much more!
Children under 10 must be closely attended by an adult. Please be respectful of neighbors when parking.
The subject line of the e-mail read, “Of course, we’ll be there!” (My parents live just down the road.)
The evening after the sale, my mother called. “How was it?” I asked.
“Dramatic,” she said. It seems the advertisement had commanded a large crowd. Even before the sale opened, there was a long line of fans, collectors, and bargain hunters in front of the house. Due to space constraints, the organizers allowed only twenty-five people to enter at once—“This company always does that with their sales,” my mother explained.
My parents were near the front. It seems tensions were running high. Everyone had been waiting for some time for the doors to open when a woman strolled up and joined her friend in line; the friend had been saving her a place. This started a general grumbling that quickly escalated. One man, said my mom, started screaming. He was abusive, extremely profane:
“Bitch! Fucking bitch! This is bullshit! What do you think you’re fucking doing?!”
The rant went on; the line was taken aback. “We all agree in principle,” said one peacemaker, “but your way of expressing it is inappropriate.”
“Assholes!” the man screamed.
“You’re upsetting everyone very much,” said another would-be patron—described by my mother as kind of an old hippie type—“and you’re leaving us no alternative but to call the police.”
“Dicks!” he cried.
“This is not in the spirit of Peter Matthiessen,” said a woman, sternly.
“Fuck Peter Matthiessen!” he screamed.
There was a shocked gasp.
At this point, an organizer emerged. “Please keep your voices down,” she requested, and indicated the serene-looking hut located a few hundred yards away. “There’s a Zendo in progress.”
My dad bought a bathrobe.
In the melee, my mother spotted three colleagues of mine from The Paris Review—Matthiessen having been an object of admiration in the office. “I wanted to tell your friends to join us at the head of the line,” said my mother, “but it’s probably better they didn’t.”
*To my knowledge, Matthiessen was a keen nature lover, not a nudist. He always showed up to Paris Review meetings in a tie.