“Then Jean called. He asked me if I wanted a job.”
I hope you can hear the trumpet fanfare—not your simple-hearted “Bahn Frei” hokum—we’re talking serious classical bombast. The main event crashing in on all of us. Fellow diggers after gold, I believe we’ve struck the mother lode. Read on:
I said, I have already got a job but I would certainly dig getting a better one. He said, okay I will call you tomorrow night and tell you about it. He hung up.
I will tell you one thing—if he is serious about this job business, I will take it.
I must assume that everybody has read the essential fragment of Leigh-letter above. Yet she continues the letter by saying she doesn’t think she’ll ever get married because “the guy I’m hung up on is already married and intends to remain so,” and she is too lazy to start making the domestic scene again. “I dig tapdancing. You can’t tapdance if you are married. Who would marry a chick who has a sign in her bedroom: Help Stamp Out Reality. Mainly—I don’t feel like it.”
Oh, little Leigh, Leigh, Leigh! You are about to start working with the guy you are hung up on. Leigh, forchrissake, you shoulda admitted to yourself right then and there that you’ve gone off the deep end!
The next letter I have is dated February 1, (1962). I assume that the serious “tapdancing” started at some time during the last week in January, and that Leigh and Barbara are concerned that Barbara’s husband might see the letters, so:
There’s almost two pages of this and I’m no Navaho code-breaker and I don’t sprecken Deutsche but I believe I’ve mastered the pidgin German sufficiently to understand that: the German writing is a wonderful idea for confusing Mr. stupid-ass house-sharer (Barbara’s husband) when discussing life. And the next paragraph’s “bullenshitter on der peepencrackler” is the extemporizing spieler on the radio. I translate some more as saying that the bullenshitter had been ringlejingle plenty on the telefunken, promising to take the subway (tunnel geroarer) up to make the scene with her but had made excuses and maybe he is just playing it cool—“After all, der frau [Lois] is pretty smartisch und vas not born yesterday!” Breathless readers, I’ll bet my bottom pfennig that Jean and Leigh have begun their affair.
Leigh comments that “Ich wish der bullenshitter from der hausen der frau ist gekicken, but nicht will happen.” My understanding though, is that her wish that the bullenshitter from the house the wife would kick would be about two-to-three years down the road.
Lois said in her interview of 2000 that by 1965, two years before the divorce, she and Jean had separated in good part because she was offended by his secrets—the secret life he had been leading. She preferred not to divulge personal matters, so she never said what that was but we think we know some of it now and we’d love to have all the details, wouldn’t we, my dears?
In another pidgin German letter of late February, Leigh says she listens to Jean’s shows at night and then awaits his phone calls. Jean has been in a touring musical show in Toronto and Leigh is having fun getting info about him from a slow-witted friend of his who confides to her that Jean is “in der baddisch mooden, because of der frau [Lois], und because of der swinging chick in der Village [Leigh] ist behinden leften and Johann [Jean] is alles der time sulking und complainin.” She continues that with Jean she is worried all the time and sad and wondering:
which end ist uppen, for outgecrying loudisch! But mitout der Johann der world is stinkisch holen fur sure, und ich mit der Johann ist deciden to stay,…
[Without having studied any pidgin German, I translate the essential part: “But without Jean the world is a stinking hole for sure, and with Jean I’ve decided to stay.”]
In a P. S. she writes (again, pardon my translation):
“I’ve been deciding something important—I’m not fooling around with any more men—only with Jean. I love him plenty and don’t want anyone else.”
By March, the last letter I have (though we can always hope for more), Leigh is back to English, writing, “OH GOD HOW I PITY ME!” Jean is flying to Frankfurt and then on to Nigeria and she is worried:
Of course telling him to be careful is about as constructive as pissing up a rope or shoveling you-know-what in the teeth of a high wind. The crazy sonofabitch DIGS insane danger! Why not! I’M the one who has to do the worrying!
In this letter she writes an elaborate play script for bamboozling Shel Silverstein, saying that he is “rather simpleminded at times, and easily distracted—like a horse—and will believe ANYTHING.”
She intends to manipulate him so that he will unknowingly help her in what he would tell Jean when he returns. She’d say she is in love with a married man, etc., etc. but make sure Shel doesn’t realize she is talking about Jean. She knows Shel would fall for her whole scam because “In spite of the beard, and the swearing, and the Playboy routine, deep down underneath (about 1/4 inch) Shel is a big, fat, lovable, Sentimental Slob—in fact I suspect that he still believes in the Easter Bunny.” When Jean gets back he’d hear all about her from Shel, who would be on her side, and that indirectly Jean would find out:
1. I love him (which he probably already knows. He’s no stupe)
2. All I want is for him to be happy.
3. I realize that, at best, Our Love is doomed (which just MIGHT start him thinking “How come?”)
4. I don’t want to make any demands on him…I will not ask him to be Serious…I love him enough to Suffer Silently for him (This #4 serves a multiple purpose: (a) gets him off the hook, (b) keeps him from getting nervous about any possible Big Scene with me, (c) shows him how Sincere I am, (d) and how much I Really Care, (e) MAY (I hope) make him feel a little bit guilty about being such a sneak, (f) is a general con-job on his ego.
When I see him, I will be (REALLY!) happy that he is back, and ready to resume, should he wish, the Tapdance, if he wants, on HIS terms, should he still want me. (It is very important here to let HIM call ALL the shots, since he hasn’t called a shot on her in years).
So, gang, I see “tapdance” as code for their heel-clicking, now sexual, undercover love affair, and Leigh believed that Lois had been “calling the shots” since she met Jean way back in 1956. Leigh decided that at least at that point, he should not feel that she also was going to try to control their situation. What we can see now with these letters is that Lois—innocent, intelligent, beautiful, thoughtful, appreciative-of-Jean’s-genius-Lois, unbeknownst to herself, was threatened by a complex and unstoppable force.