— Chapter Twenty-Two: Growth and Commitment —
As Stewart had predicted, the preparation of the panels for the January launch of the Kafka series occupied most of what little free time he had. Carol’s segue from her job into Stewart’s job was seamless, but hiring a person capable of Carol’s skills took longer than Doug Seiler had expected. Stewart, therefore, was asked to remain at his job until early November, and then had to work most evenings and weekends to fulfill his obligation to launch the Kafka series in January.
Stewart continued to spend time with Carol, but with his schedule filled to the max, they had little time to share the intimacies of their short stay at the General Warren Inn.
Not wanting to borrow for travel and other expenses accrued until he received payments for his work, Stewart was burdened by the short-term financial challenge, since he wouldn’t begin receiving payments for his published panels until late January.
Adding to his challenges, Stewart had become increasingly aware of the responsibilities he was taking on with his commentary on racial and social issues, which motivated him to retool the Cargyls series by placing more emphasis on the interactions with people outside its family group.
Until recently, he had focused on his own narrow vision of the world as seen through the eyes of a child growing up in a dysfunctional family, but now understood that his message delivered by his characters would require him to step out from his vision of himself and embrace the issues of society at large.
Although he was well aware of the existential struggles of humankind from the novels he read, he hadn’t yet grown to the point where he could translate that into the cartoons he was producing, never realizing that the Kafka series communicated a message that transcended his own limitations.
In his latest package of sketches sent to Whitney for review, Stewart had included three revised and expanded strips of The Cargyls.
In a conversation with Stewart, Whitney voiced concerns about the language used by Jake, the father in the series, when speaking of Asians, Latinos and Blacks, and other minorities to his liberal daughter and her husband.
“I fear that you’re treading on dangerous ground,” said Whitney in his phone conversation with Stewart. “I’m concerned that your message will be misconstrued by readers as an affirmation of the prejudices espoused by Jake rather than the absurdity of his views. Why did you feel compelled to make the change now, after the syndicate had approved your concept as proposed?”
“I don’t believe my focus has changed too much from the original concept,” answered Stewart, “except that instead of the family interacting with only each other, they’re now speaking freely about the fears, doubts and opinions of the people who live around them. My belief is that I’m exposing Jake, rather than giving him a safe place to hide.”
Whitney wisely chose to back off from his criticisms of The Cargyls, since Stewart had consistently proven his ability to remain objective in his battle and understandings between roaches and humans. Stewart, however, gave credence to Whitney’s concerns as he augmented his output of the Kafka panels, and took time to further evaluate his motivations for revising The Cargyls. He personally believed that in the not-so-distant future, The Cargyls would deliver a more potent universally understood message than that possible in the relationship between cockroaches and humans.
He had no proof to support this theory, and depended on Whitney’s understanding of the world to guide him through the maze of things he knew that he did not yet understand.
The Friday before Christmas, Stewart said farewell to Rodney, Seiler, Fenimore and his colleagues at the gum factory, told them he would keep in touch, and thanked them for their help and kindness. Carol gave him a peck on the cheek, knowing that she would meet him later for dinner at The Shack, a neighborhood favorite located not far from where they both lived.
After being seated in a cozy booth near the bar and ordering a bottle of wine, Stewart confided in Carol, telling her of his discussion with Whitney about the changes he’d made to The Cargyls and Whitney’s judicious warning about pushing the strip beyond acceptable boundaries.
Carol knew that she wasn’t suited to address the issue. She had little knowledge of the motivation of people outside of the office, school and her own family. Instead of commenting on Whitney, she told Stewart the story of her parents’ reaction after hearing about her pregnancy.
“I was scared to death to tell them about what had happened, and I knew they’d be angry with both me and Andy for our stupidity. We were Catholic and, as such, weren’t even supposed to use birth control and we were supposed to refrain from sex until marriage.
“I was in tears when I finally said the word ‘pregnant,’ but my father came forward first and hugged me, and then my mother came forward and took my face in her hands and steadied me before looking into my eyes and saying, ‘Carol. You’re our daughter, and you made a mistake. Our priority is you. We’ll deal with your problem first, and then trust that God is more forgiving then the church.’
“That wasn’t the reaction I expected, and it took time for me to realize that although they were members of the church, their vision of God didn’t always align with the rules imposed by the Catholic faith.
“When you started cartooning, you focused only on what you knew, but since then you’ve changed and grown...probably for the better. And with that your cartoons are changing and you feel it necessary to incorporate what you’ve learned into your story.
“You’re still the same person you were, Stewart, but I think that Mr. Whitney is concerned that the changes you’re making might not yet be aligned with those of your readers.”
Changing the subject, Carol took another sip of wine, cocked her head to the right and asked, “So what’s next on your agenda, Stewart?”
“Right now? I’m just trying to stay focused and keep ahead of my deadlines.”
“Any thoughts or plans beyond work?” inquired Carol.
“I’d like to find a better place for my parents to live, and I know I need to separate from them and be on my own. I’m not yet sure what my decision will be, but I think I might want to live in the city.”
“Philly?” questioned Carol.
“No. New York. It’s where I think I’ll be able to gain a larger perspective of the world, and be in closer touch with the broader market.”
“You’ve never lived on your own?”asked Carol.
“Just for a few months when I was eight and my parents separated. Despite the issues with them, I believe we’re a bit co-dependent. And, unfortunately, I’m also growing a bit dependent on you.”
“That’s what attachments are about, Stewart. We can rarely totally escape them.”
“I don’t want to lose contact with you, Carol.”
“Nor I with you, Stewart, but this may be your only chance to break free from this area and the limitation imposed on you.
“Besides, I’m not going anywhere. As we now know, I’m not really ready to change course and build a new life... with anyone.”
“Are you free on Christmas Eve?” asked Stewart.
“At the moment I am.”
“I’ll be spending Christmas with my parents,” said Stewart. “But if I can find a room for us to stay in Philly, just for Christmas Eve, can we celebrate?”
“If you can find a room that’s available, I’m on board,” said Carol.
After dinner, Stewart drove Carol home, and they kissed in the car. Then, as if awakened from a trance, Carol pulled away, grabbed Stewart by the shoulders and stared into his eyes.
“Stewart. I care a bit too much for you, and it won’t be good for either us to languish here. You should definitely head to New York and meet new people, and discover new worlds. And I have to find my own life, and move on from Andy and my parents.
“If I don’t, you’ll grow beyond me, and that won’t be good for either of us.”
Carol gave Stewart one last kiss, opened the door and jumped out of the car.
“See what you can find for Tuesday night, Stewart. There’s no looking back.”
On Monday, Stewart caught the 11:00 train to New York City and delivered 25 completed and approved Kafka panels to Whitney by 2:00 p.m. Other than Whitney and his secretary, the offices were empty of employees, since they’d all been given the week off for the holiday. Whitney hadn’t met with Stewart since his visit in July, and he’d looked forward to this moment, as did Stewart, and on arrival at Whitney’s office door Stewart saw Whitney uncorking a bottle of champagne, after which he began to pour half its contents into two long flutes.
He handed one to Stewart as he approached the desk, and shouted, “Congratulations, my boy!” and clicked Stewart’s glass with his own. “Here’s to the start of your new life.”
Whitney then settled himself in his Herman Miller chair and asked Stewart to take the seat across from him. Stewart placed his portfolio on the desk, opened it and rotated it towards Whitney, who slowly went through each of the Kafka panels, every now and then pausing and chuckling.
“They’re great... but they’re changing, Stewart!”
“They’ll probably have to keep changing,” answered Stewart. “There’s only so much that one can do with roaches until they finally replace humans.”
“We’ll get these out to the syndicate for a final review and into publication between Christmas and New Years,” said Whitney. “Any plans for the holiday?”
“I made an reservation for dinner and an overnight stay with my girlfriend in Philly tomorrow night, then Christmas dinner with my parents at home. That’s about it, except to get ahead of my deadlines for February.”
“Will you be doing more work on The Cargyls series?”
“After our talk, I decided to take a break from the series, although it’s still on my mind.”
“Well, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about. As you remember, I had my reservations about the direction you were taking with the strip, but I shared it with a colleague of mine who told me that it reminded him of a sitcom he’d seen on TV while in England, called Till Death Us Do Part. Did you ever hear of it?”
Stewart shook his head, and Whitney continued, “Apparently, it’s about a working-class man who’s an anti-socialist racist who’s constantly airing his conservative views to his long-suffering wife and his liberal daughter and her husband.
“He told me that he wasn’t sure if a comedy of that kind would be right for an American audience at this time, but he thought it was hilarious.”
“Well, that makes me feel a little better,” said Stewart, finishing his champagne.
Whitney refilled his flute and continued, “The man’s no slouch, and he’s written and produced movies and even did work on the Broadway stage. He was also nominated for an Oscar just last year... for a movie called Divorce American Style.”
Stewart thought he’d heard of it, but knew nothing about it.
“He said he’d be interested in meeting you.”
“What’s his name?” asked Stewart.
“Norman Lear. You heard of him?”
“I may have. How old a man is he?”
“So what do you think, Mr. Whitney...about The Cargyls now?”
“First of all, stop calling me Mr. Whitney. I’m Jock. Just Jock.”
“Okay, Jock... The Cargyls?”
“I’m still not sure, Stewart. American humor is different from British humor. We take things more literally, where they’re sarcastic. They mock and we get angry. Basically, we don’t get most of the jokes the Brits tell, and they don’t care if we do or not.”
“Is this Lear fellow thinking about doing something for American TV that’s similar?”
“Could be, but he’s a little afraid it won’t play well here. I think he’d probably like to see if it works for The Cargyls, before investing a bundle on TV. I can set you two up for a meeting. You may have a lot in common.”
“Might be fun!” said Stewart.
“On another subject, Stewart, Betsey and I are having a party at our home on the North Shore of Long Island on New Year’s Eve. Would you and your girlfriend like to join us? You could come up early and stay through as long as you’d like. We have plenty of room.
“Lear won’t be there for the party, but we can catch up with him later.”
“Thanks for the invitation, Jock. I’ll see if Carol’s free, and get back to you.”
Stewart was able to reserve a room at the Bellevue on Broad Street for Christmas Eve and get a reservation at Arthur’s Steakhouse for dinner. Since neither worked that day, they drove to the city early, had a light lunch at the hotel and checked in at 3:00 p.m. Although the dress code for Arthur’s was casual, Stewart wore a jacket and tie, and Carol wore the black dress she’d worn to the General Warren. Prior to dinner the couple strolled Walnut Street up to Rittenhouse Square and back again, stopping at the Newman Galleries, which was featuring an exhibition of artworks by a group of female painters and sculptors who’d exhibited together for more than 30 years.
Due to the holiday, the city was quiet, and a light snow had fallen that had settled on the limbs of lighted trees along their path. They crossed Broad Street and entered Wanamaker’s Department Store and followed anthems of the season played on the world famous Wanamaker organ situated high above holiday shoppers in the Grand Court.
They then exited and walked south on Broad Street past the Union League and the Academy of Music to the Philadelphia College of Art and west on Pine.
At dinner, Stewart told Carol about Whitney’s invitation, and asked her if she’d join him for the New Year’s celebration. She unfortunately had to decline since she already had family commitments that she had to honor. Stewart told her that he wasn’t at all sure that he wanted to attend without her, but she assured him that his appearance at Whitney’s was crucial to his career.
“I’m so proud of you, Stewart,” she said as she took hold of his hand under the table and bent over sideways to give him a kiss.
After leaving Arthur’s, Stewart and Carol stopped at the Bellevue lobby bar for an after dinner drink where a pianist was playing a medley of holiday favorites that included “The Secret of Christmas,” a Bing Crosby standard with lyrics that speak of the importance of friendship and sustaining the ability to give to others every day, and not just during the holidays.
They stayed until 9:30 when the pianist left and they took an elevator to their room on the 12th floor. When Stewart opened the door, Carol gasped as she saw a dozen white roses arranged in a vase on the bench at the foot of the bed, with a small box, wrapped in green paper and a gold bow, next to it.
Stewart nodded for Carol to open it and after removing a sheet of tissue from inside the white box she uncovered a gold infinity pendant attached at one end to a gold chain. Carol smiled as she lifted it from the box, while Stewart provided the explanation.
“There isn’t any hidden message in this gift, Carol. I chose the symbol because it represents continued love and friendship forever. You may wear it on its chain, place it on a bracelet, or store it away as you might a photo of someone you once knew.
“Early on, you asked if we could be friends, and I want you to know how much your friendship means to me. It’s more valuable than any commitment we could make or break, and will exist for me no matter what happens between us. I want to assure you that you can always count on me to be there for you, and that you owe me nothing for my privilege to do so.”
Carol looked up at Stewart and gave him a kiss, and then went to her purse and took out her gift to him, which was also contained in a small wrapped box. Once opened, Stewart wasn’t sure what the silver object was, since it looked somewhat like a paper clip or a clothes pin. Turning it over, he found that it had a tiny object attached to the hump in the metal. He pried the end up with the tip of his finger, and watched as it snapped back, and then looked over towards Carol, still questioning the gift.
“It’s a money clip, dummy,” she said with a short laugh. You’ll need one of these as you build your fortune.”
Stewart rotated the clip once more and focused on the sculpture on the top of the device, only then recognizing its shape as that of a small oriental cockroach, and he burst out laughing.