MEETING TRUMAN CAPOTE & BECOMING FRIENDS! BY LESLIE SIEGEL AKA ELIZA!
TRUMAN CAPOTE AUTHOR OF "IN COLD BLOOD" BEFRIENDS AN UNLIKELY COHORT IN LESLIE SIEGEL AKA ELIZA!
HERE IS LESLIE SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF HER FAMILY WITH THEIR NANNY!
THE UN PLAZA THAT LESLIE SIEGEL CALLED "THE UN PLAYGROUND!"
LESLIE SIEGEL aka ELIZA SITS ATOP PIPING NEAR HER APARTMENT THE UN PLAZA, 1971!
LOOKING DOWN 1ST AVENUE FROM LESLIE'S BEDROOM WINDOW, AND LIVING ROOM OF UN PLAZA APARTMENT 23E!
LESLIE SIEGEL AT THE UN PLAZA IN MANY DIFFERENT ADVENTURE!
TRUMAN CAPOTE AUTHOR GIVES ADVICE TO 10 YEAR OLD, NYC 1970!
He noticed Eliza. She smiled up at him, reminding him of Pippy Longstocking! Capote wore his signature straw hat, dressed down jeans and shirt with an antique silver flask filled with the best Russian Vodka money could buy hidden in his shirt pocket. He was walking his bulldog Maggie, who was an unruly and unfriendly jealous animal that you only petted if you liked the sound of snapping teeth and a low grunting growl.
“Your nose is red,” said Eliza. She just would kneel down and pet his dog as she and her siblings usually did.
“What’s the dog’s name?”
“Maggie, but she might bite you!”
“You smell funny,” said Glenda, looking up at the author.
Both girls broke out in innocent laughter. Capote was not fazed, in fact, he found it quite amusing. It’s a good idea to get down to a kid’s level and try that on…
Maggie got nervous with all the talking and clamor of children in the elevator’s small space. She barked a hoarse whisper of a yelp and bared her crooked missing teeth and backed up against the wall.
Juan was on duty and joked with the kids. They were not like the usual indifferent children that lived at the UN Plaza. Those kids were snotty and aloof, but the brood was like the piñata swinging at a fiesta. It was fun to tease them and pretend the elevator was stuck, then shut the lights out and say, “We’re going to go sideways!” Juan would do a funny ’23-Skado’ dance step when he said it! The kids loved it, but Eliza was scared most of all because of her earlier ordeal at the amusement park when she a mere baby.
Everyone who worked in the building joked around with the kids, some tenants not liking it. Having hired help fraternizing with the most nosiest and unruly neighbor’s children was like fingernails against a blackboard for some.
“Why is your nose so red?” Asked Eliza looking up at Capote, trying to suppress a grin.
“I’m Santa Claus,” he quipped back at her. Capote needed a comeback and observed Eliza up and down with his piercing blue eyes squinting merrily. He was looking for something. He found it and pointed to her sandaled large feet and said loudly and clearly “And you my dear have ‘dirty toenails’!’” He emphasized “dirty toenails”.
Everyone in the elevator, even Eliza, cracked up, including the operator who was supposed to be akin to the London silent guardsmen you tried to make laugh.
“Dirty toenails, dirty toenails, dirty toenails,” laughed Richard, Eliza's older brother.
“That’s right,” said Capote. “Dirty toenails! Not mine, Not yours, but hers! Mine are clean he said removing his expensive Italian shoes with no socks and showing the children his 'lily white tootsies'.
Even Eliza started to laugh because her toenails were uncut and dirty. It wasn’t a very pretty site, and her feet were also oversized for her age, so the 10 year old tomboy stuck out like a sore thumb with a size 8 shoe!
From that time until they moved, when Truman and Eliza met he’d utter the 2 words that would have them cracking up and roaring with laughter. It became infectious, because most in the vicinity knew Truman Capote and what he wrote and stood for. After a few months it was almost like Capote and Eliza shared a strange friendship.
It was as ludicrous as when Johnny Carson invited him to go skydiving in the coming months since they’d moved in the building. Victor had declined the offer and it was at a building party so Johnny had a few in him and Eliza's father brushed it off as they sat together talking about the latest issues. Carson thought the had a good head on his shoulders and was interested in what made his lace mill tick and how he managed to balance his time and shuttle between New York and Rhode Island!
“Well, it’s the ‘Dirty Toenails Tomboy!”
“Hi Red Nosed one,” teased Eliza back at him, not batting an eye. Suddenly she felt like Tatum O’Neal in the new movie that was becoming the rage “Paper Moon” with Ryan O’Neal! Eliza felt like that character Tatum played. She sidled up to his car, the steering wheel on the opposite side than American cars! She boldly petted Maggie. “I want to have a ride,” she half demanded just as Maggie snapped at her fingers.
“I don’t know, Maggie doesn’t like you very much. She’s jealous…”
“Please, it looks like fun!”
Truman was debating with himself. He felt a bit drawn to this offbeat little girl. She sort of made him feel like a child again. Blurting out whatever came to mind, running wild through the elegant lobby, unknowing of the right manners or decorum or at least pretended not to. In a strange way his main character from “In Cold Blood” had a slanted innocence under the surface.
“Okay, hop in. I’ll tool you around the block….”
“Great, thanks!” Eliza climbed in and seat belted herself in.
Sammy the Doorman helped Eliza and shut the snazzy door of the vehicle. He knew very well how Mr. Capote drove and maybe that he might be a bit tipsy. “Does your mother know about this, Eliza?” He asked in earnest, only trying to protect the little girl.
“Yes Sammy,” she lied while sitting in the front seat of the Truman Capote’s blue Mecedes. He took off with a screech and picked up speed fast, leaving the doorman stunned and worried. Even Tom at the front desk stood up when he saw Capote driving off with little Eliza in the front seat!
Eliza’s curly, frizzy hair blew in all directions. Maggie began barking in a whsiper toned yelp, but by now Eliza was not afraid. Truman maneuvered the car expertly, but with more speed and gusto than more drivers out that day! He wasn’t a pro, but more of a speed demon. It was in his blood as well as expensive Vodka!
They raced up Beekman Place, and onto 1st Avenue, then took a fast turn onto Riverside Drive. Eliza watched the picturesque towers from all angles and since it was the first time she’d driven in a convertible she was very excited and it showed on her exuberant flushed face, her curls whipping in the warm New York City wind.
“So,” yelled Truman, above the din of the engine and wind. “You lied so easily to the doorman!”
For some reason, Eliza trusted Capote. He had a very dry sense of humor but he right away seemed to relate when he started with the ‘dirty toenails’ banter with the girl.
“Yeah, I lied to Sammy, but I wanted to go!” Said Eliza trying to emulate the Tatum O’Neal character Addie Prayer from Paper Moon!
“Look, even Maggie likes me now,” said Eliza. She was gently stroking Maggie's fur back and the dog was responding well. Truman was impressed.
“Hmmm, you must be ok then…If Maggie lets you pet her like that!”
They sailed along Riverside Drive at an even pace, then Capote suddenly gunned the engine and they sprinted easily by the UN Building in the flashy car, drawing lots of attention which was Truman’s intentions in the first place. They drove onward toward Tudor City where a virtually unknown Robert Redford lived. In that moment Truman Capote and Eliza were so much alike!
Capote liked Eliza, more than he would have other children. Even the Kennedy kids were a bit droll after Capote met Eliza. They had a reputation, and could not be children, but more like mannequins. How sad.
Eliza had spunk and chutzpah and it’s the little kid enthusiasm she showed, more than most of the other snot-nosed kids at the UN Plaza had, and Truman liked that about Eliza. But it was time to get back to reality as he reached into his front pocket and retrieved a small silver flask and took a sip. He stared at Eliza and held out the flask.
Eliza really felt like Tatum O’Neal now! She related to that character and was the same age as Tatum in that movie! She pretended in her head that she was in that movie and it fueled her imagination to the hilt.
“What’s that?” Asked Eliza, already knowing, but playing cat and mouse.
Truman ate that up. “Magic juice!”
“Can I have a taste?”
“Well that all depends. It’s pretty strong juice for adults!”
Eliza seemed confident. “I can take it. My dad let me try his Vodka once! And I also tried it at his dry bar and mixed my own Vodka drink once. I added Ginger Ale!”
“What? How could you! Ugh…”
“That’s what is in the flask,” Eliza said and winked, trying to emanate the
confidence of Tatum!
“I know that.” She smiled brightly at the famous author as he smiled wryly at the girl
“If I give you a swig do you promise not to tell anyone?”
“I promise,” said Eliza earnestly.
“Now don’t lie to me like you did the doorman!”
“Oh, I won’t!”
His glassy blue eyes pierced Eliza’s brownish green ones. Slowly he passed his precious flask of grade-A Russian Vodka to the 10-year old girl. She took it and mimicked Tatum O’Neal’s character in Paper Moon deftly. She put the flask to her lips and took two huge big sips and swallowed with no problem, which surprised Truman Capote. Eliza felt the warm liquid go down her gullet and into her stomach. She immediately felt light headed and warm and uplifted, slightly drunk already.
“Okay Dirty Toenails, that’s enough for you,” joked Capote as he yanked the flask out of her strange looking fingers.
They both started laughing and carrying on as Capote drove back toward the Towers again and took another swig.
“Feeling tipsy, Eliza?”
“Oh yes I am Mr. Capote!”
“Know any good jokes?”
“Yes… Truman Capote,” she quipped.
“Very funny young lady!” He joked with her amiably.
“Ladies and Germs, can I have your attention!” Screamed Eliza at the top of her lungs as they passed a group of Japanese tourist about to enter the famed UN Building.
“Eliza, you are drunk,” he spat out. He gunned the engine to the hilt until Eliza thought it would burst into flames, but the liquor made her suppress the fears of her childhood.
“Yes, I am drunk,” she said tipsy-like.
“I better get you back,” he said, sort of not wanting to go back. He reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a breath spray. “Here, open your mouth little girl,” he said to the kid.
Eliza closed her eyes and opened her mouth wide. She enjoyed his attention. “Ha, ha, now I smell like you!”
“I don’t want your dirty toenails! And I’ll bet you can sing like your mother!”
“Wow, Mom can sing so well,” said Eliza absentmindedly. She was watching some small commotion with a taxi and a bus by the time the sun began to set behind the Twin Towers in the foreground.
The car sped back onto the UN Plaza driveway and just one last stretch along Mitchell Place. By this time Eliza felt just a bit woozy but also elated. She had made a new friend and would not betray him.
She didn’t ring Morralt's buzzer, but walked the patterns of the rug and slowly pushed the elevator button. Thank God the quiet elevator man Hugh was on duty and she did not have to talk. But the man was still sort of eerie and dark when all he would do was hum some useless ditty as if the tune was German or Dutch, or whatever Hugh was.