by Brian Phillips · May 4, 2010
Beauclair owned the team, but everyone knew he was helpless without Odyssey. Odyssey was Beauclair’s secretary—Odyssey said secretary; Beauclair said “attaché”—and had been since Beauclair retired from vaudeville twelve years earlier. Beauclair was a dancer who was known as the “Galloping Gaul.” Odyssey was a Greek whose named had been changed, Beauclair said by Ellis Island, Odyssey said by Beauclair.
In fact Beauclair had changed it. Soon after Odyssey’s arrival, when he materialized on Beauclair’s doorstep with one suitcase, an improbably neat suit of clothes, and a letter of introduction from a Swiss theatrical impresario, Beauclair had recognized Odyssey’s significance. “Paraskevas,” he said warmly, “I recognize your significance. How you managed to pass through the aegis of immigration with your ridiculous name intact, I shall never understand. We must correct their mistake, Paraskevas. You require a sobriquet, Paraskevas. Your significance, my friend, requires a nom de guerre.” Odyssey was content to be called Odyssey and accepted Beauclair’s appellation. Sometimes, instead of “attaché,” Beauclair deployed the title “valet-solicitor.”
Odyssey was young, hard, and unapologetic, like a rocking-horse in gabardine. Beauclair, since his retirement, increasingly resembled a balloon dressed in a tuxedo. When Odyssey stood still he resembled the point of the Flatiron Building. When Beauclair walked he led with his stomach, like a toddler or a mobile piece of paisley. They attended the same parties. Odyssey stood by the wall. Beauclair mingled.
Odyssey’s duties, which had been discovered and classified almost entirely by Odyssey, included: (1) Not to speak, unless Beauclair had run himself aground in a sentence, in which case, to suggest a helpful word or phrase for Beauclair to reject; (2) To open, arrange, and answer Beauclair’s correspondence, giving no hint that the answerer was not Beauclair himself; (3) To see to Beauclair’s wardobe, taking special care with his shoes, of which Beauclair was vain and for which he had fantastically specific requirements; (4) To keep charge of Beauclair’s financial affairs, which had previously flourished in dishabille, like the careers of certain actresses Beauclair could mention; (5) To supervise Beauclair’s employees, including the staff at the Esther Theater (formerly co-owned with Ziegfeld, now owned solely by Beauclair) and the manager, players, and physician of the football club; (6) Never, in dealings with members of the football club for which Beauclair was present, to allow to pass unmodified any suggestion that the vocation of stage-dancer was not the athletic and manful equal of the profession of soccer-player, for during his heyday Beauclair had lorded his physical superiority over crooner and comedian alike, and his pride was warlike, and he was easily upset.
Most importantly, it was Odyssey’s task to prevent Beauclair, at all costs, from dancing in public. Beauclair was forever on the point of announcing a return to the stage. He had danced into his 50s and believed in his heart that his skills were (he used the word) unerodable. Twice a year or so, he would throw a gala, or attend some Manhattan soiree, and spend the two weeks before it discussing his “routine,” or gazing moistly at his tap-shoes, and generally torturing Odyssey with fantasies about the scene he longed to create.
“What a splash!” he would say. “What a tableau! The spectators staring; me on one knee in the final pose of ‘Aunt Marguerite’s Delight.’ Their mouths agape; my hand flung forth in a posture of triumph by my ear. With complete insouciance, Odyssey. I’ve done it a thousand times, Odyssey. I do it again, not for money, no, nor for fame, but—to lay bare my soul—for the true lovers of the dance. They are not many, Odyssey, but they await my return. They eagerly await it. And these, Odyssey, these”—he patted his feet—“are diamonds, and diamonds are eternal, diamonds never lose their—ah—their—”
“Nerve?” forwarded Odyssey.
“Nerve? No! What? Their edge, Odyssey. Diamonds never lose their sharpness. I am as sharp as a scimitar, Odyssey. Some people have forgotten, but all true lovers—no, not the plain oxfords, Odyssey, the wing-tips, pay attention, would you, please—all true lovers of the dance still remember the Kid from Calais.” (Beauclair was from Spitalfields.) “I shall show them again what it means to be ‘royalty of the stage,’ as Mr. Paulson of the Times proclaims me to be. The gray checks, I think, Odyssey, I am not carrying any caskets today, and a very large glass of whiskey, if you please.”
However, a few nights before the event, Beauclair, who had not so much as put on his tap shoes in the meantime, would appear in the doorway to Odyssey’s room wearing his long white night-shirt and an ashen expression and declare himself to be terrified. “I can’t sleep, Odyssey,” he would say. “It’s the expectations, you see. The standards to which I am held, as a titan of the stage. One wrong step, one small mistake from these, and I will be ostracized. These will do me in, Odyssey. I can’t think of it. The pressure is too—ah—too—”
“Imaginary?” forwarded Odyssey.
“No! Incredible. The pressure is too incredible. Pour me a gin and bitters. I shall keep watch this night.”
The next morning, after waking in the large leather chair in his drawing-room with a small volume of Tennyson resting on his night-shirt like a postage stamp, Beauclair would steel himself, declare that if he must fall, he would fall like the predatory eagle, and then prove his point on a breakfast of marmalade and toast. Odyssey would wait until the last moment, while Beauclair, taking long, clammy breaths, was having his top hat affixed or his gloves stretched on, to make some vague remark about the prejudices of the hostess or the deplorable taste of the times. Beauclair would seize on it, and off to the Rolls he would go, adjusting his high collar with an air of sublime reprieve.
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