There are two stories Henry Kane told me that have no bearing on his work, and are in no way instructive to young writers. But they’re the reason I chose him as the subject for this column—along with the fact that he was far too entertaining a writer and far too engaging a gentleman to be entirely forgotten.
Kane was in his early 50s when I got to know him, and some years previously his father had died. And ever since then, Kane had heard footsteps.
Not all the time, to be sure. But every now and then he would hear someone pacing the floor overhead, walking back and forth, back and forth. At first he’d thought there was in fact someone up there, but it even happened when he was on the top floor, or sitting home in an otherwise empty house. It became clear that he was hearing these footsteps, and there were no feet responsible.
He also discovered that other people didn’t hear them. He most often heard them when he was alone, but sometimes there would be other people present, and they couldn’t hear the footsteps, not even after he’d called them to their attention.
He spoke about this to a woman who asked him a few questions, established that Kane was a Jew and the son of a Jewish father, and that he’d never heard the footsteps until after his father’s death. “Well, the footsteps are your father,” she told him. “His soul can’t rest until someone says Kaddish for him. You haven’t done that, have you?”
No, Kane said. He hadn’t. He didn’t believe in any of that mumbo-jumbo.
“Fine,” she said, “You don’t have to believe in it. Just get your ass to a synagogue and say the prayer when the time comes. It’s in Hebrew—well, Aramaic, actually—but it’s transliterated, so you just read it.”
“And if I do that?”
“Then the footsteps will stop.”
“So try it. What have you got to lose?”
But he wouldn’t.
His was a curious sort of obstinacy. It’s not that he didn’t believe her suggestion would work. He was the one telling the story, and it was evident to me that he figured she was right, that he could get the footsteps to stop by spending a few minutes muttering something incomprehensible in a dead language. And he did indeed want those footsteps to stop.
But not enough to part with his own principles, whatever exactly they may have been. If he did it, and if it worked, well, then where would he be? So the elder Kane went on pacing, and Henry went on hearing him.
Did I mention that he was a Taurus?
Henry knew a lot of people, and traveled in sophisticated circles. While he was hardly a matchmaker, he sometimes introduced one friend to another, thinking they might enjoy each other’s company. And, of course, sometimes it worked out and sometimes it didn’t.
He told me about a woman friend of his he’d been in touch with some years earlier. He knew she’d had a few dates with a friend of his we’ll call Gordon, and asked her how things were going between them.
“Let me just say this,” she said. “You know how they say you can’t have too much of a good thing? Well, it just so happens they’re wrong.”
He asked her what she meant.
“Gordon,” she said, “is a real Frenchman, if you get my drift. But that’s the only language he speaks, and he doesn’t shut up.”
“Oh,” said Henry.
“Left to his own devices,” she said, “he would not stop until his partner was dead, and maybe not even then.”
“Now this is a real sweet guy,” she said, “and good-looking, and fun to be with. A nice dresser, and good manners. And for the first 20 minutes or so in the feathers, it was clear we were sexually compatible. And then it became clear that we were not.”
“A real sweet guy,” she said. “But not for me.”
Henry thought that was pretty interesting, and added it to his file of sexual lore.