Breakfast at Tiffany's Re-Visited

Carl Winderl

© Copyright 2022 by Carl Winderl

Photo courtesy of Pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay 

I couldn’t remember, -- no, I can’t remember when was the last time I’d read Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I do know it’s since I saw the film version with Audrey Hepburn in her most unforgettable and legendary star-turn as Holly Golightly, along with George Peppard, in a sort of ‘thinly’ disguised role as her most suitable innamorato out of her innumerable wannabe suitors. Not to mention Capote’s attempt at reincarnating his writerly self in the alter ego of Peppard’s firmer flesh.

And also, as if Holly’s a descendant of Amanda Wingfield and her front porch-full of gentleman callers.

So, I’m reasonably certain then I’d read it sometime after I’d watched the movie version of it, probably a couple/three times or so after I watched it, now that I think about it. Clearly not like slogging through War & Peace for crying out loud. Capote possibly knocked out that 100-page novella over the weekend, kind of like Voltaire did with Candide.

But it’s Hepburn/Golightly who still holds such a fixtured place in my remembrances and in the fractured locales of my memory land.

I introduced readers elsewhere in another prize-winning creative non-fiction memoir to my long-standing fixation on Audrey Hepburn cum Catherine Jean Dix.

More on that later. Even in this piece.

But what set my on-board rolodex to whirling and spinning wildly was catching sight of Capote’s “gorgeously romantic fiction” on one of the two English-only shelves in Empik, a Polish bookstore here in Przemsyl, Poland. Where I currently live, have been living for the past four months and three weeks now, and plan to still be here for another four months or so, at least until October, or possibly later, depending on how long Putin keeps up his military “invasion” to de-Nazify Ukraine.

All right. True Confession Time.

As if everything so far hasn’t been dead-on, spot-on, on the dart-board affixed to my sandwich-board with Veritas all in white on the black dead-center bullseye.

Yeah, I’m one of those transplanted, ex-pat writers haunting cafes on dark, mostly empty, rain-slick cobblestone streets in Eastern Europe. All in countries formerly under the thumb of the U.S.S.R.

What I’ve been known to refer to as the U.S.S.Nyet.

Thus I shall shamelessly add myself to the Pantheon of such displaced U.S. authors & artists from the past. Like Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, cummings, and all their brethren and sistren of the Lost Generation. Not to mention all those latterday followers in their footsteps, even Jim Morrison, Woody Allen, Owen Wilson, et al.

As for me though, I’ve spent the last half-dozen or so years only in former satellite states of Communist Russia: a couple or so years each in Zagreb, Croatia; Kyiv, Ukraine; back briefly in Zagreb; but now in Przemsyl at the Polish border with Ukraine.

The train station here’s the first jumping-off point after the border crossing from the in-bound train from Lviv, Ukraine. The hopping-off point for mothers, grandmothers, and lots of their children.

Two very recent pieces of mine capturing that evacuation scenario and refugee experience are also available on-line. Just Google: either -- carl winderl an ode to przemysl – or – carl winderl at the Polish/Ukrainian border

Secondarily, just Google: carl winderl poetry or carl winderl non-fiction for more places to read for free plenty enough stuff I’ve written.

No need to incantate “Shazam!” or “Open -- Sesame!” to throw open wide those doors. The universal Eastern European Slavic door-opener & its cognates would be “Besplatno!”

Or in English, “Free!”

But I digress.

My first visit to the Empik didn’t yield a copy of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, bound between covers along with 3 of Capote’s classic short stories.

But I made a mental note of exactly where it was and could return to find it on the shelf.

So, on a subsequent re-visit to Empik in the Galeria Sanowa Mall I did stop in and scoop up the lone copy still on the very bottom shelf.

It cost a cool 39.99 zloty, about 9+ bucks, depending on the day’s exchange rate.

I’d strolled through the mostly deserted mall on a fairly average shopping day in the pretty cool very up-to-date apparently flourishing shopping space, replete with all the requisite trendy and fashionable shoppes to be found in nearly all similar malls in Eastern and Western Europe, from my experience.

Think of a favorite local Very Up-Scale Westfield Mall in Anywhere, U.S.A., but picture it on the slowest shopping day of the year.

The thought that many of those stores are simply fronts for some elaborate money laundering scheme does cross my mind with each re-visit. No real substance for these ponderings, just a curious observation and wonderment.

Still, the book, from so so very long ago has made me wish I had my own personal boy Sherman to fetch me the keys for my own WABAC machine.

Even so this pen & paper suits me just fine. My preferential tools of the trade.

My connecting Hepburn & Dix has much more to do with the aura generated by Hepburn in the oh-so many lingering pop- and high-culture iconic images of her: stylized almost Twiggy-thin, all decked-out in sleek & chic black; black-black hair up in a bun; poised with the omni-present cigarette in its elegant quellazaire. Also, especially the unforgettable large black & round sunglasses.

Later adopted and memorialized by Jackie-O.

Yeah, that aura.

That’s what connects her to Cathy. For me.

But that was a few years before Cathy not so much entered as floated – no, glided into my life junior year at Pompano Beach Senior High School and into our Advanced Junior-English Class on that October day in the fall of 1965.

That was a few years before her ‘star-turn,’ but I’m speeding up too too quickly the storyline.

Actually I could quote myself from my award-winning creative non-fiction piece, “The Girl on the Cover of Seventeen.” It too can be googled, and to paraphrase Holden Caufield, “you could look it up.”

But to save time and energy, here’s the quote about Cathy walking into class back then:

On that fall October day she appeared in our class as if freshly sprung fully formed from the very head of Zeus. Not as Athena so much, perhaps more like Venus. With a strong aura of Aphrodite also about her, maybe like a corolla. Obviously, I’d been taking Latin II at the time, translating Horace and his roll call of the gods and goddesses.

And what was I then but a scrawny five-ten 145-pound scrub on the varsity basketball team. Pimple-faced and teeth-braced for the worst, I was also a scrub in that Advanced English class, trying to disguise my manifold insecurities and self-imposed misgivings stemming from my poor white trailer-trash legacy, artfully concealed behind a carefully veneered Gwendolyn Brooks’ inspired “scholarly nonchalance.”

Into my carefully manicured and cultivated façade, Cathy not so much entered as floated – no, glided into my adolescent daymare world. No. It was more like she had washed ashore on opalescent sea foam, to barefoot press her toes on the beach sand of my heart.

At five-ten-and-a-half with luxuriant dark chocolate waist-length hair she slipped into the room, a goddess pure and simple, innocent and complete. I knew it then, and recognized it so. She trod upon the earth in Gina Lolabrigida’s body and smiled from Audrey Hepburn’s face gracefully photo-shopped in place.

Anyway, it’s not like I was a new kid on the block reading Truman Capote. I’d first read his In Cold Blood, in 9th grade, when I was in Mrs. Ulschafer’s Advanced Freshman English Class at Deerfield Beach Junior High School.

If any reader’s noticed a trend in my English classes of choice: good observation. This trend’ll expand greatly, almost exponentially. Not always at first, but eventually.

Yeah, I admit it. I was about as precocious and pretentious as a newbie & certified book-nerd as they came back then. To validate that lowly status, I was the 4th-string fullback on the Deerfield Beach Junior High School frosh football team, topping the charts at 5’6” and weighing in at 105 pounds, soaking wet, which I was a lot of the time on those swampy desultory dog-day afternoons in South Florida.

Nobody mistook my bookish-ness for athletic prowess back in those days.

I’d get better,” to paraphrase the not-dead-yet olde guy in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. For I’d eventually top out at 6’3½” and 195 pounds freshman year in college, on a hoop scholarship at Olivet Nazarene College, up in Illinois for the 67-68 school year.

More on that can be found in my piece, “Play the Ball, Don’t Let It Play You.” Also too it can be Googled.

I admit, back then I was reading way above and over my head in those days. For Mrs. Ul’s class I read all the usual high-brow over-the-top literary offerings (like The Pearl, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, The Old Man and the Sea, The Red Pony, et al. – basically all the great stuff in the literary canon now rarely taught because the authors were usually just a bunch of olde dead white guys).

And I memorized the requisite Oral Interp blue-ribbon poems and passages, especially that show-stopper by the melancholy Jacques from As You Like It and Shylock’s real crowd-pleaser & bringin’-down-the-house soliloquy by Shylock from The Merchant of Venice: “doth not a Jew bleed.”

No wonder I was the 4th-string scrub.

But I was especially all-over crazy about reading anything Mrs. Ul even casually mentioned, in her disarming off-the-cuff sort of way, like Robert Fitzgerald’s translation of Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey.

Yeah, I read “all” of both books.

I was so ahead of my time. And was amply rewarded for it.

In those days to check a book out of the school library all that I needed to do was sign the check-out card inserted in the pocket for it on the inside of the book’s back cover. Made it easy for anyone – the librarian, other students, or even any teacher – to look at the signatures for who’d checked out the book in the recent past.

In her usual casual style, at the close of class one day, Mrs. Ul mentioned I’d read both of Homer’s classic war epics.

Then the kicker.

Mrs. Ul stated, no, proclaimed, ‘some day Mr. Winderl would make a real name for himself because of his reading at this stage of his nascent academic career.’

Her SAT/GRE word choices, obviously, from back then.

Oh, if only “she knew now what she didn’t know then,” the truth of the prognostication.

And where would writers like me be without allusions to sage and sanguine rock ‘n’ roll philosophy. Thanks much, Dr. Seger.

As it turned out, I’d assign selected passages of both of those works to generations of university students in sophomore level required-lit classes. But first I’d earn a Ph.D. in Creative Writing from New York University.

But that’s accelerating way too far ahead of the story, and its backstory.

So, I only read In Cold Blood because I’d been enticed to become a member of The Book-of-the-Month Club. Easily I fell prey to the 3 books-for-a-buck sign-up hook with the promise to buy only 3 more books over the next 3 years.

Of course I had to next read Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

And then I saw the movie on TV. And was captivated by the allure of Holly Golightly, portrayed to perfection by Audrey Hepburn.

And when, what to my wondering eyes should soon after appear but Catherine Jean Dix strolling into Mrs. Creech’s Advanced Junior English Class. And the rest is history. Or, more likely – now literature.

To find out how exactly those not-quite-yet star-crossed lovers ended up, again Google “The Girl on the Cover of Seventeen.”

Truly it’s not that Hepburn & Dix were inextricably linked as some mystical dopplegangers, or joined at the hip, Siamese-twins like.

It’s just that points of intersection in the book, in the events, and in their looks screamed out for attention: but not right away. Years later as I recollected and re-visited Breakfast at Tiffany’s and as I started to see some specific significance in certain events of my life I became aware of patterns and juxtapositions.

From such randomness, I began to gather some meaning.

Mostly, I think, because I wrote from afar. As if the x & y coordinates in my personal axes of time & space exceeded any super-sized graph chart.

Didn’t matter. As Meat Loaf used to croon, “I’m not in it for the money, and I’m not in it for my health . . . ”

Okay, back to my Ph.D. from NYU in Creative Writing.

Briefly my dissertation in 25 words or less: “it is not so much about the product as it is about the process.”

Well. Said so in 14 in words actually.

Anyway, I think the key to what Capote’s actually all about in Breakfast at Tiffany’s appears on pages 40 and 41 in the Penguin Modern Classics Edition; Holly says, “What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to / you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give [my] cat a name.”

So, “Tiffany’s” is not so much a place as it is a feeling to have in time, however short-lived but preferably long-term, at least a feeling that can be re-visited. At will.

I probably should inject something from Freud here, or for sure Carl Rogers, but maybe later on. If the notion strikes me.

If you want to know the truth,” again, thanks Holden, the real interest, the intrigue, or the problem here for me has to do with the narrator of this particular piece. Is he reliable.

I’ll leave it to the reader to sort out this ambiguity: is the narrator referred to in the previous paragraph Capote – or me.

Used to be, back in the day, before Henry James muddied the narrative waters forever, every narrator could be trusted. Then in The Turn of the Screw, James’ governess, to coin a phrase, screwed up the narrator’s or narratrix’s reliability for all time.

Which is where I should rest my case – now. But, I’ll not.

Whatever connection I might have implied between Breakfast at Tiffany’s and “The Girl on the Cover of Seventeen” has nothing to do with the actual stories themselves but the aura of the two stories and especially the ‘cross-over’ aura emanating from and around the ‘stories’ of Holly and Cathy.

Obviously there’s the “look” of both Holly and Cathy, but since so few readers know a whit about Cathy I’ll not follow that up.

Rather I’ll connect the dots on the time-space coordinates, as if on a pair of x-y axes, sort of like my version of C.P.C.T.E., from back in plane geometry class sophomore year in high school.

I was a just-turned 16-year-old when I first met Cathy in Mrs. Creech’s Advanced Junior English class. “Met” would be hyperbolic; as I quoted myself above, she walked into the classroom I sat in, and we sat in that classroom all year long, but I don’t remember ever having a conversation with her.

But I’d read Capote’s classic novella, at least twice, once before I’d seen the film on TV and once after it. So I knew. And I was mesmerized by Hepburn’s classy portrayal of Holly.

I suppose my imprinting Cathy as a Holly of grace, beauty, and mystery in my life was only quite natural for an over-active super-imaginative adolescent with a hyperbolic desire to, as Lou Reed used to croon, ”star in his own Hollywood movie” – but entirely in his head. Well, mine.

I didn’t film it right away. I had not the tools nor the access to the equipment necessary for a storyline and a full-fledged narrative.

I have it though at my fingertips now.

Over the years, the links between “her” and ‘her’ became obvious and telling. Well, the telling was up to me. It’s almost as if I played some kind of weird Ganymede between Holly and Cathy, when I noticed the parallels between their film life and their lived life. And especially the crossing points of those where I would come to stand and remark on the juxtaposing.

Of course those adjacencies had to result and be manifested from my consciousness – and my newly raised sub-consciousness.

Enough blather. Some specifics are necessary.

Physical attributes, look-alikenesses, and aura aside, both had ‘things’ in common, for me to note, puzzle through, and especially wonder “what if.”

Of course, that’s where the little similarities and the big differences begin.

As a beginning point, in addition to their shared “auras,” some parallel events are too obvious to ignore.

Holly, for example, lives with the promise and the hope she’s to be given a role in a “travelling movie,” if and when she ever moves to the West Coast.

I, though, home in Florida for Christmas Break from my fall away playing hoop on a basketball scholarship at a college in Illinois, summoned enough courage to call Cathy on the telephone.

Her father picked up, and to my polite query, “Could I please speak to Cathy?”

His equally polite paternal reply informed me, “Sorry, Carl – she’s not home now. She’s on the west coast.”

Taken aback, but pleased her father remembered me and sort of encouraged by his friendliness, I assumed she was just maybe in Tampa or St. Petersburg on a modelling assignment, like she’d been before in high school, so I cleverly counter-replied with, “Oh, sorry, Mr. Dix – maybe, sir, you could tell me when she’ll be back home.”

He chuckled, maybe more like he laughed, “Well, -- I really don’t know, Carl – she’s in California. Out there to be in a couple movies.”

And she was, and she would be. And I’d see those movies sometime later.

Unlike Holly then, Cathy did go west and did make a couple of movies.

Such an interesting intersection. For me to think about.

Back in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly does go horseback riding, with somewhat mixed results.

And Cathy has her turn upon a horse in a TV commercial of the then still somewhat new-on-the-market Swinger® Camera by Polaroid.

I saw that, too, several times on TV, and to be sure she rode comfortably & confidently in the saddle, so much so that her equestrian friends could capture her image in brilliant black-and-white freeze-frames of her oh-so photogenic face.

As it turned out Polaroid had cast her as one of the heiresses apparent to their previous year’s “It” girls Katharine Ross and Cybill Shepherd.

Their cinematic fame and fortune Cathy could have followed in, as truly Holly’s might have if she too had gone west, young woman.

And then there’s Holly’s cat, nameless but not necessarily placeless. And Cathy’s cat, too.

As I noted in “The Girl on the Cover of Seventeen,” at the end of our end of the summer date, Cathy stood on her front porch, one step above me cradling her own nameless – to me, then and still now – ball of fur, when she quite so coquettishly asked of me, “Do you like to write letters, Carl?”

Which as fate would have it, at that precise moment furball chose to leap out of Cathy’s arms straight at my face, but I escaped facial cat-claw scratches only because of my equally cat-like agility to dodge to my right and to furball’s left.

I did however stumble backwards down the steps, and in my loss of equanimity but not of my face I did manage to stammer a quick but totally brilliant response, “Well, uh – I, oh – I guess . . . that depends on who I want to, uh, write back to.”

Too coy back. Too too uncool.

Cathy did smile down at me, sort of pitying me, I suppose, now that I think about it, for what turned out to be a Massive Missed Opportunity.

I was just not quick enough to recover.

And so we never did correspond.

Too bad too, because my wife attributes us to becoming a couple on the strength, she said, of what a good letter-writer I was, back in the day. And later as editor of my college newspaper, which confirmed in her mind I was a keeper, and not just some run-of-the-mill dumb jock.

Another almost intersection point between then and now.

But, if I really wanted to tell the truth, à la Holden, again, and I’ll try to: like with Truman and his “Holly” and with me and Cathy, the whole scenario fizzled no doubt because of the age-old dilemma popularized by Shakespeare: someone’s dating up/someone’s dating down.

That should be so much clearer now, I think, because true as true can be is that scene: when Cathy stood on her porch above me and I stumbled off the lower steps all the way down to planet earth. Like Icarus, I was not the first to tumble from the heights to the depths below.

But I’ve tried to make this piece so much more than just another memoir about missed opportunities.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, especially in a note about my dissertation, about Direct Experience Literature – like what I’m writing here – is not so much about “living in the past but living with it.”

So just as Capote was, I think, searching for and finding his “Tiffany’s” – his place to be in and stay in – was not a seat in a restaurant but still a seat at a table where his pen and paper lay before him.

There he could feel the peace and equanimity Holly so sought, and I concur, so too for me is where I re-visit daily my “Tiffany’s.”

Where I too have tried to bring my readers.

My writer-readers probably have already figured that out, and my non-writer-readers still along with me on this long slow slog down my personal Memory Lane, “trust me, all writing is so much more about the process than the product.”

And to quote Polonius, “‘tis true ‘tis true,” on this point.

For Capote himself, I believe, put the lid on the jar while on national TV.

When I was in college, on that hard-earned basketball scholarship, one of my two hoop-mates/room-mates insisted he had to watch Johnny Carson on the “Tonight Show,” until he and we all fell asleep, usually I did before either of my mates did.

One night, before I fell fast asleep in the arms of the sweet swan of Avon’s ‘Morpheus,’ Capote was Carson’s special guest.

In response to a question by Carson, “What do you think about [Jack] Kerouac’s books?”

Capote blithely lisped, his comment dripping with jealousy no doubt for Kerouac’s merchant marine machismo, so adroitly he replied, “That’s not writing. That’s typing.”

Even then I “got it,” as I now know I do definitely “get it.”

Capote knew then so full well, as I came to know too once I’d traded my pair of Chuck’s for a keypad tapping out my dissertation, poems, and – yes – prose creative non-fiction pieces: a writer’s subject matter is always the same.

The writer’s true subject matter? Always . . . the writer.

Elsewise what is Breakfast at Tiffany’s good for – to Capote or to me? Naught but as a vehicle for the expression of our lived-life transformed thus into a story-life.

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