Blind Dateby Jerzy Kosinski
“Kosinski’s vitality and inventiveness . . . are as irresistible as ever.” –Time
Jerzy Kosinski, author of Being There and The Painted Bird, is one of the most enthralling and acclaimed authors of our time. Blind Date is a spectacular and erotically charged psychological novel that shows Kosinski’s writing at the height of its power.
George Levanter is an idea man, a small investor, an international playboy, and a ruthless deal-maker whose life is delivered in a series of scorching encounters, each more incredible than the last. From
“Kosinski’s vitality and inventiveness . . . are as irresistible as ever.” –Time
“Blind Date is so perfectly written, so dynamically conceived, so daring in its story and apt as a metaphor for the paradox of existential survival in today’s world that it is destined to become Kosinski’s biggest critical and commercial success in his career as a novelist.” –Los Angeles Times
“It reads like a streak and set my pulse racing.” –The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Elegant and riveting.” –The Miami Herald
When he was a schoolboy, George Levanter had learned a convenient routine: a four-hour sleep in the afternoon enabled him to remain mentally and physically active until the early dawn, when he would again go to sleep for four hours and wake ready for the day.
Now, years later, this pattern helped him maintain the energy he needed for his business activities in the city; in the mountains, it allowed him to pursue his strenuous skiing without giving up the equally strenuous resort night life.
The restaurant owner came out onto the terrace, asking in French for someone who could understand English. Behind him, dressed in the latest ski gear, trotted a chubby young Arab who was clearly ill at ease.
Levanter considered volunteering his services, but he realized that in ValPina, as in most Swiss resorts, there were undoubtedly numerous bilingual guests who could do better.
One of a group of Americans got up and offered to assist. The owner gestured toward the Arab, saying in French, “Please tell him I can’t cash his check.”
The American spoke to the Arab, who handed him the check.
The American gasped.
“It’s for twenty-seven thousand,” he mumbled to his companions. He looked at the Arab, then at the owner, then once more at the check. “Twenty-seven thousand dollars!” he said again.
“I just received it this morning from Barclays Bank in London. It is my weekly allowance from my uncle, Sheik Zaid. It is good, I vouch for it!” the Arab insisted in his high-pitched, British-accented voice.
“That’s a lot of money for a weekly allowance,” remarked the American, handling the check with obvious reverence.
The young Arab glanced at him defensively. “That’s after taxes,” he said. ‘my allowance changes every week, depending on the price of oil.”
The American looked puzzled. “What do you have to do for it?” he asked.
‘do?” said the Arab. “There is nothing to do. Oil keeps gushing up from under the sand, whether or not my family wants it to.” He giggled nervously. “You are from the U.S.?” he asked.
The American nodded.
The Arab reflected for a moment. ‘my country has a population of seven million,” he said. “Yours has two hundred and twenty million. Yet my country has more money in U.S. banks alone than all of America’s own monetary deposits! That’s oil! Think what we could do to any bank in America that refused to cash our checks!” He smiled. “Now, what about my check here?”
“You really want him to cash it?” the American asked.
“How else can I pay for my lunch?” asked the Arab, who still seemed not to comprehend the astonishment of the others. “I left all my cash at the hotel. This check is the only money I have with me.”
The American relayed the message to the owner.
“This is a mountain restaurant, not a bank!” the owner exclaimed. “All he had was a regular skier’s lunch. Tell him I can’t accept his check. And we don’t give credit here!”
It was afternoon and Levanter was getting drowsy as he sat on the terrace: it was nearly time for him to ski down to the hotel for his afternoon sleep. He dozed off for a moment and when he awoke he saw a little girl, about four or five years old, playing with a doll next to his chair. A woman reclined on a deck chair, basking in the sun with her eyes closed.
“What’s your name?” Levanter asked the girl.
“Olivia,” she answered guardedly.
“Olivia? But that’s a girl’s name, and you’re a boy. Your name must be Oliver,” Levanter said.
“I’m a girl, not a boy.” She giggled and moved closer to him.
Levanter leaned forward and drew the child gently toward him. “You’re a boy. Don’t be ashamed – you’re Oliver, a handsome boy.”
“I am not a boy. I never was a boy. I’m a girl.” She was upset and was almost shouting. “You can ask my mother.”
The woman in the deck chair opened one eye, smiled at Levanter, then spoke to the child. “You must convince this gentleman yourself,” she said. “If I tell him you’re a girl, the gentleman might not believe me either.” She shut her eyes once more.
“You see, Oliver,” Levanter lectured, “even though you think you’re a girl, you’re really a boy. Ask anyone.”
The girl looked over at a nearby table, where a group of young men and women sat drinking wine and beer. Some of them had turned to watch Levanter and the child. They smiled but no one said anything. For a moment the girl looked uncertain, then she became playful.
“All right, I’m Oliver. So what?” Now she was challenging Levanter, letting him know she was ready to pursue their game.
At that moment a couple came out onto the terrace from the restaurant. The man, heavy and balding, appeared to be in his late fifties. Clinging to his arm was a platinum blonde, half his age, wearing a blouse which revealed her plump breasts. One of the young men rose respectfully.
“How are you, Professor?” he said, extending his hand to the man.
Levanter’s attention was distracted from Olivia as he watched the professor and the young people.
The little girl was obviously annoyed that her game had been interrupted. She accosted the professor, saying in a loud voice, “How are you, Madame?”
He looked down at her. “I am Professor or Mister,” he said, “not Madame.”
The girl smiled precociously. “You’re not Mister. You’re Madame,” she said. “Even if you think you’re a man, you’re really a woman. Ask anyone, ask this gentleman,” she urged, pointing to Levanter.
Levanter closed his eyes, to appear to be napping.
“You’re wrong, my child,” the man insisted, his lips tightening. “You’ve made a mistake. Now be a good girl and run along.”
Undeterred, the girl patted his hand. “You know you’re Madame, even if you don’t want to admit it. There is nothing to be ashamed of, Madame!”
The girl sat down primly next to Levanter. Everyone at the neighboring tables laughed.
Levanter woke from his afternoon nap. He bathed, dressed, and went down to the hotel dining room. After dinner, he wandered into the hotel bar for a drink. Sitting alone in the bustling cocktail lounge, he watched as a woman entered with two small girls; all three had thick blond hair and pale green eyes. The woman scanned the room for an empty table, and quickly navigated a path through the crowd to the vacant table on Levanter’s left. Once she was seated, she began to inspect the room. She glanced briefly at Levanter, but when she saw that he was looking at her, her gaze quickly shifted.
In a few minutes, the girls left the cocktail lounge, and their mother was alone at the table.
Levanter felt awed by the woman, but his feelings seemed to be triggered by something he could not define. He and the woman did not look at each other, yet he knew she was aware of his attention to her. They both kept their eyes fixed on the pianist, a man with the resigned air of a musician who has been playing popular songs for forty years. When he took a break, the woman got up and walked through the crowded room to the piano. She sat down and began to play an intricate Chopin nocturne.
Within seconds, her professional style had captured the attention of everyone in the lounge. As her fingers moved over the keyboard, she looked around at her audience, occasionally meeting Levanter’s gaze. Levanter studied the shadows her lashes cast on her cheeks and stared at her lips, parted slightly as she concentrated on her music. He tried to imagine her face contorted in a spasm of pleasure or of pain, but he could not. As unobtrusively as possible, he made his way out of the lounge.
In the lobby, Levanter saw the woman’s daughters playing. He went over to them and asked their ages.
“I’m eight,” the older girl said, “and my sister is six.”
“What are you going to be when you grow up?” Levanter asked her.
She looked closely at him and, without hesitation, said she wanted to be an actress.
“An actress? I know many actresses,” said Levanter. ‘do you want me to audition you for a role?”
The girl nodded, a serious look on her face.
“Let’s pretend I am your husband,” said Levanter, “and this hotel is our home. I have just returned from a trip abroad. While I was away, our dog died. His name was Frecky, and we loved him very much. You didn’t write me that Frecky had died because you didn’t want to upset me. Now you have to break the news to me. Ready?”
As her sister watched with envy, the girl assumed the pose of an anxious wife. Levanter stepped away, then came back, his arms outstretched in greeting.
‘darling, how I’ve missed you,” he said, embracing the girl. “I’m so glad to be back with you and Frecky.” He paused, looking around. “But where is Frecky? Frecky, Frecky!” Levanter managed to give the impression of shouting without raising his voice. “Where is my sweet little dog, Frecky? Come here, your master is home!”
The girl was flushed and perspiring. She took Levanter’s hand and patted it. ‘sit down, my love,” she said quite firmly. ‘sit down. I have something to tell you.”
Levanter pushed her aside. “In a minute, darling. Let me find Frecky. Frecky!” he shouted.
‘sit down,” the girl insisted. “It’s about Frecky. You see” – tears welled up in her eyes – “Frecky is not here.”
“Not here? Where is he?”
“You must sit down,” pleaded the girl. Levanter sat down, and she moved closer and embraced him tenderly. “But if I tell you the truth about Frecky, will you love me just the same?” she whispered. She could no longer hold back the tears.
“Of course I will. You and Frecky are all I have!” exclaimed Levanter.
“Now you have only me,” she sobbed, “because Frecky – Frecky is dead.” She covered her face.
He was about to pretend to faint when the younger girl ran over to him and pulled at his sleeve. “I can play it better than she did,” she said. “I’m a better actress!”
Levanter smiled. “We’ll see. I’ll give you a tryout. Are you ready?”
The girl jumped up and down excitedly.
Levanter repeated his routine. “Frecky, Frecky, where are you? Where is Frecky, my dear little dog?” he exclaimed.
Under the critical gaze of her older sister, the little girl began to panic. She searched for words.
“Frecky, Frecky!” continued Levanter. “I’m home. Come here right away!”
She hesitated, then came closer, focusing her gaze on Levanter. “Frecky won’t come,” she said tensely. “He’s in our bedroom. Upstairs.” She stressed each word.
Levanter frowned. “You were supposed to tell me that Frecky was dead. Instead, you said he was upstairs. You forgot your lines.”
“I didn’t forget my lines,” said the girl firmly. “If I’m your wife, I love you too much to tell you just like this that Frecky is dead. So I’m telling you he’s upstairs. You’ll go upstairs and find Frecky there – dead! Now can I be an actress?” she asked, tears forming in her eyes.
Levanter attempted to distract her. “If you are going to be an actress, you must learn not to cry when you are not acting. People won’t believe that an actress really cries. They’ll think you’re just acting.”
The girl stopped her tears and smiled.
“All right, you two,” said Levanter, embracing them both, “let’s see whether you are good storytellers. Tell me about your mother. Maybe someday she will play with us. Start with her name.”
‘my mother’s name is Pauline,” said the younger girl. ‘she is a famous pianist. Ever since she was a little girl, my mother wanted to play the piano.”
When Levanter went down to the hotel lounge the next afternoon, Pauline was there. Her daughters were playing near the table. As soon as they saw him, they asked him to make up another game. Levanter promised to play with them after he talked with their mother.
He introduced himself to her, and she responded courteously, inviting him to sit down. After a short exchange about children, skiing, and resorts, he complimented her on her performance the previous evening. She thanked him.
“You’re very talented,” said Levanter. “I admire that.”
‘my piano teacher warned me that insufficient talent is nature’s most cruel gift.” She laughed.
‘my mother was also a pianist – and she used to say the same thing! Who taught you to play the piano?”
The children came over and begged him to play another game, but Pauline gently sent them away. He asked about her musical training and she began to talk about the teachers she had studied with. Levanter was only half listening, until he heard her mention a Russian name.
“That’s the name of a professor my mother had at the Moscow conservatory,” he said. “In fact, she even told me she was his mistress.”
Pauline reflected, a mischievous smile on her face. ‘my professor was the only pianist in his family,” she said. “It must be the same man. He was probably about thirty when he taught your mother in Russia, and he was in his sixties when I studied with him in England. If he were my lover too, would I be linked to your mother?”
“Yes, and if I had been my mother’s lover,” said Levanter, “I then would be linked to you.”
Her eyes met his, but she said nothing. Then she lowered her glance.
“It’s too bad you don’t play the piano,” she said. “You have beautiful hands – the hands of a pianist.”
Levanter’s mother was twenty years younger than her husband and twenty years older than her only son. She and her husband had emigrated from Russia and settled in Eastern Europe shortly before Levanter was born. A tall, slender woman with delicate features, she had a fair complexion that contrasted with the lustrous black hair that billowed around her long neck.
When Levanter was in high school, it was his mother, not his friends, who arranged most of his dates. Any time she met a pretty girl – whether it was someone who came backstage after a recital to ask for her autograph or someone who was simply sitting beside her on a city bus – she would ask her to tea to meet her son. In each case, the young woman would report to Levanter later, his mother had been so charming that probably no one – not even a married woman – could resist her invitation.
If Levanter happened to meet a girl on his own and bring her home, his mother would praise the girl politely at first and then begin to point out her faults. One girl was undoubtedly beautiful and graceful, she conceded, but not quite clean. Another, she admitted, was elegant and pleasant to talk to, but not in any way physically attractive.
As Levanter’s father aged, a heart disease forced him to retire early. He withdrew almost entirely from social life into the seclusion of his room and his study of ancient languages. Levanter’s mother, still young and attractive, continued to be active socially and often came to the parties her son or his friends gave.
Eventually, Levanter’s father suffered a severe stroke and had to be hospitalized. Every morning, the nurse on duty telephoned Levanter’s mother to report on her husband’s condition. From his room, Levanter could hear the phone ring in his mother’s bedroom and then, almost immediately, the sound of her anxious voice. One day, the ringing went on and on. Levanter jumped out of bed and, without even putting his bathrobe over his naked body, ran to answer it. He was picking up the receiver when his mother rushed into the room, her skin wet from the shower, and took the phone from him. She made no attempt to cover herself with the towel in her hand or to reach for the robe hanging over the foot of her bed. As she listened, she stood erect, facing Levanter, who had sat down on her bed.
She hung up the receiver and told Levanter his father’s condition remained unchanged. Then she dried herself and lay down on the bed, just inches away from him.
Levanter was aroused, and he was afraid to stand up because he would be embarrassed if she noticed. He did not move. Attempting to appear at ease, he reclined a bit, only to feel her thighs against his back. Without a word his mother reached for him, and without a word he responded.
She pulled his face to her neck, her shoulders, then her breasts. She held him at her nipples, then slid partially under him. As he began caressing her body with his tongue, she pushed herself farther under him and gripped his shoulders, pulling his body upward. He ceased to be aware of anything but his need for her and entered her, eager and abandoned.
Levanter and his mother remained lovers for years, although she continued to find women for him. They were together only in the morning. By sleeping in the nude and making love with him only when she had just awakened, his mother never undressed especially for him. She never allowed him to kiss her on the mouth and, despite her animated discussions of the sexual proclivities of other women, always insisted that he caress nothing but her breasts.
He never talked with his mother about their lovemaking. Her bed was like a silent, physical confessional: what happened between them there was never talked about.
Once Levanter left Eastern Europe, he could not return, and the authorities would not permit his mother to travel abroad. But when she had had several unsuccessful operations for cancer and all the doctors agreed that her end was imminent, she was allowed to meet her son in Switzerland. They had been separated for twenty years.
Levanter waited in the arrivals building and watched as the passengers came through immigration. He noticed a nurse and an airport steward pushing a wheelchair with a small, shriveled woman wearing an ill-fitting wig. This was not what he was expecting and he started to turn away when the woman raised a frail hand and waved at him.
He ran toward her. She embraced him and looked hard at his face. He kissed the hollow cheeks and loosely fleshed hands, trying not to cry. Her wig slid sideways. Levanter, pained to see that she was bald, held her closer. He commented on her perfume, and she was pleased that he recognized it after so many years. She whispered that she had met a beautiful young woman on the plane and had arranged for the three of them to meet for tea one day.
The day never came. The excitement of preparing for the journey, the stress of the trip itself, and the meeting with her son took all her remaining energy. On the second day in Switzerland, she collapsed. Her awareness waned and she began to fear that she would not regain it; she asked the doctor and nurse to let her spend her last moments alone with her son.
She gestured for him to lie down beside her, and he obeyed. The arm that reached toward him was covered with bluish patches around veins which had been pierced by repeated injections. Yet as she touched him, her face took on the indulgent transfixed expression that had been so familiar to him. She guided his hand through the opening in her robe and when he stroked her breasts, her eyes glazed over, as if her thoughts were miles away.
Just before Pauline left ValPina, Levanter invited her to visit the underground lake of St. Leonard. The lake had been discovered when a huge boulder was displaced by a rockslide in an earth tremor that shook the valley just after the war.
When they arrived at the narrow opening to the rectangular cavern, the custodian, a young man in a sheepskin coat, seemed surprised to see them. Although the fifty-foot-deep lake was a popular tourist attraction, visitors seldom came to St. Leonard in the winter because the cavern was too cold. He sold them tickets, and they followed him into the grotto, leaving the daylight behind.
The narrow walkway was lit by dim electric bulbs. They reached the edge of the lake, but could not see the far end, a thousand feet away. The custodian untied one of the three boats moored to a rock and steadied it as first Levanter and then Pauline stepped in and sat down.
Levanter started the boat moving with one powerful pull of the oars. They glided noiselessly into the shadowy space, breaking the still water and upsetting the reflection cast upon it by the bulbs attached to the rock roof. In seconds, the lights of the mooring site disappeared as Levanter rowed around a curving wall of rock. The cave opened before them, revealing massive walls of limestone, iron, and marble. Elsewhere, nature surrendered these raw materials to man, but here they seemed appropriated solely for nature’s own use. Levanter had the sense of intruding in the domain of an artist who worked hidden from the world.
A school of albino fish flashed in the translucent waters around the boat. The custodian had told them that salmon were brought in; after weeks of being deprived of natural light, the fish lost their orange coloring and turned chalk-white.
Levanter folded the oars, and the boat floated slowly. They were in the center of the cave, hardly moving. The light that reflected in the water seemed to be shining up from below the surface. Pauline’s shadowed face looked unfamiliar in the strange half-light.
“If the mountain above us collapsed and cut us off here –” she began. She waited for him to finish her thought.
Levanter said, “We would just wait here together until they came to blast away the rocks.”
“For how long?” she murmured.
“A few days, I guess. Maybe more. It would depend on how much rock fell over the entrance.”
“What would we do while we waited to be rescued?”
“Talk about what?”
“About ourselves,” he told her. “Possibly for the last time.”
“Then this could be our last talk,” she said, huddling down in the boat, drawing her long fox coat tightly around her.
“It could,” he agreed. ‘still, this cave has brought us close to each other.”
The fish darted from under the boat, their white bodies glittering in the faint light.
“A baseball player I once knew,” said Levanter, “fell in love with a teen-age waitress in a small town where his team sometimes played. Soon the girl was in love with him too. Each time he came to town, they would lock themselves in his hotel room after the game and make love until they were exhausted. Some months later, he was bought by a major-league team and became a big star, playing only in large cities.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Pauline asked.
Levanter smiled. “This is how we get close to one another. Besides, you’re a performer, like him. In any case, the baseball player didn’t get back to that town for a year. When he looked for the waitress, he learned that she’d become a hooker. He went to the club she hung out at and asked her to come to his hotel room. She said she didn’t like him anymore and refused to go with him. He thought she was teasing, so he assured her that he wanted her then as much as he had always wanted her – it was simply the circumstances of his life that had changed. Again she said she wouldn’t go, and when he offered to pay her, she said no money would make her sleep with him again. This time he believed she meant it.”
The boat bumped against a rocky ledge. Levanter set it gliding again. Pauline’s attention was on him, but she said nothing.
“Later in the evening,” he went on, “the baseball player called the owner of the club. Using a made-up name, he claimed to be an old customer of hers and promised to pay double the regular price if she could be sent to his suite. He left the door unlocked and waited in the bathroom. When she knocked, he shouted for her to take the money from the dresser and make herself comfortable. Seconds later he ran out and locked the door. Once again he told her that he’d always loved her. She threw the money at him and started to dress. He put his arms around her. As she tried to struggle free, he reached into a drawer for his gun. She laughed at him. She died of two bullet wounds. After a short trial, he was acquitted.
Copyright ” 1977 by Jerzy Kosinski. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved.