The Case of the Missing Cemetery Tulip

Two days before Valentine’s Day, Vera Swensen visited her son’s grave at St. Raymond Cemetery in the Bronx, as she had most days since he died in 2007 at age 28.

As she often does on special occasions, she left him some gifts: balloons that said “I Love You,” a box of chocolates and a tulip-shaped solar-powered light that glows at night.

“I consider Mark my shining star, and in return I always want him to have a light where he is now in St. Raymond’s,” Ms. Swensen explained in an e-mail. The light was still there on Feb. 16, she said.

On Feb 17, a Sunday, a security guard at the cemetery saw a man he thought was acting suspiciously. He asked to take the man’s picture.

The man, Louis Peduto, posed for the guard’s camera. In his hand he held a tulip-shaped light.

On Feb. 18, the police say, Mr. Peduto tried to steal a sackful of brass fixtures from the cemetery. The same guard saw him, the guard’s employers said, and confronted him and went to summon the police. When he returned, the guard said, the bag was there, but Mr. Peduto was gone.

Mr. Peduto, who is 56 and homeless, was found and arrested the next day. When Ms. Swensen returned to her son’s grave the day Mr. Peduto was arrested, she said, the tulip-shaped light she had left was gone.

Last Saturday at Rikers Island, where he is being held on felony charges of grand larceny and cemetery desecration, Mr. Peduto said he did not take the tulip light from the grave of Ms. Swensen’s son Mark Santiago.

Nor, for that matter, he said, did he try to take the metal goods he is accused of stealing – 11 brass grates, two brass door handles, and copper and brass wire, all found in the sack, according to a criminal complaint. He said he was not even at the cemetery the day the guard saw the man with the sack.

“I’m not the monster they’re making me out to be, robbing graves like a ghoul,” Mr. Peduto said in the Rikers visiting room, his six-foot, 200-pound frame perched on a small plastic chair.

He noted that in some accounts he was accused of taking four doors from the cemetery. “Those doors weigh 300 to 400 to 500 pounds,” he said. “How am I even going to carry that? On my back? I’m not Superman.” (According to the complaint, Mr. Peduto confessed that he had been taking brass goods from the cemetery for about two weeks and had made $200 selling them.)

Mr. Peduto grew vague and indirect in his responses when asked about the tulip light, but he said he had bought it and left it at the grave of a family member at St. Raymond. A cemetery representative said that there were many people buried there with the last name Peduto.

Ms. Swensen, 62, said last week that she was convinced Mr. Peduto took the light.

“Believe me it’s not about the lite, it wasn’t expensive,” she wrote in a comment on City Room. “It’s about I left it for my son, a light to shine at nite. Shame shame on that man.”

This Friday would have been the 34th birthday of Mr. Santiago, who died of a pancreatic infection. Ms. Swensen and her family will celebrate the way they always do: a meal of his favorite foods – this year, sausage and peppers with mozzarella and a napoleon cake – followed by a visit to his grave, where she plans to leave flowers and balloons and some other present.

Ms. Swensen said her older son tells her to stop leaving things at Mark’s grave. “I don’t think I’ll change,” she said. “We’re going to leave things for him.”

She said she hoped the birthday tokens would not be removed.

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Before a Fare Increase, Squeezing Every Cent Out of Your MetroCard

Beginning on Sunday, base fares for subways and buses will rise by a quarter, to $2.50. The cost of a 30-day unlimited MetroCard will increase by $8, to $112.

In this dark hour, there is perhaps only one force that can provide a refuge for riders: math!

The central calculation for many MetroCard users — whether to purchase a pay-per-ride card or a 30-day unlimited card — is fairly simple. Under the new fare structure, the “break-even point,” when buying an unlimited card becomes the better deal, is 48 rides, given the pay-per-ride bonuses afforded to riders. The old number was 50. (For a full accounting, see this post.)

The more cumbersome task is deciphering how riders can squeeze out maximum value during the final days of the old fares.

For time-based cards, like the 30-day pass, the clock does not begin ticking until a card is first used — regardless of when it is purchased. But to quell the threat of bulk-buying before the change, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has decreed that for cards purchased before the increase kicks in, the 30-day clock starts ticking March 11 or on first use, whichever is earlier.

So how can a 30-day cardholder beat the system in the days to come? It depends on how expertly the last card purchase was timed. Here’s the breakdown:

1) If your card will expire before March 11, the choice is easy. Buy a new 30-day card before Sunday, at the old rate of $104, and then begin using it once the old card is up.

2) If your card expires just after the March 11 deadline, the equation becomes trickier. Divide the cost of any existing card ($104) by the number of days it can be used (30), and you’ll find that a rider pays nearly $3.47 per day for an unlimited card.

If a rider stops using the old card with, say, two days left, then, he is not collecting on double that value, or $6.93. But at $112, the new 30-day card costs $8 more than one purchased before this Sunday.

As a result, even riders holding a 30-day card that expires on March 12 or March 13 can, in effect, save money by buying a new card before the price goes up. (For that giddy day or two after March 11, you will have two valid unlimited-ride cards. Perhaps you could lend one to a friend or use one to get around the 18-minute subway-swipe limit and swipe in a stranger as you enter.)

3) The implication, unfortunately, is that anyone whose 30-day card expires later in March is out of luck. Perhaps a gentle soul with a preferable expiration date will buy fellow riders lunch.

(Note that all calculations assume that riders reuse existing cards to avoid a $1 surcharge for purchasing a new card, and use the system with the same frequency each day. If a rider knew, for instance, that he was going to be out of the city until late March, the analysis would be moot.)

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2 Views of Buildings Around Grand Central: Special or Just Old

It is possible to look at the 80- and 90-year-old towers around Grand Central Terminal as buildings that give east Midtown the desirable luster of civic history. It is equally possible to look at them as the buildings that give east Midtown the deathly shroud of commercial obsolescence. (As the photos above are meant to show, it is also possible to see the buildings in either light.)

Building Blocks

How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.

The Bloomberg administration is advancing an ambitious rezoning proposal for east Midtown (PDF) that would increase allowable building density and encourage developers over the years to assemble some large sites for enormous new office towers. To earn greater density, developers would pay for improvements to the subway and pedestrian network. In some cases, with public review, they could build even denser buildings if their designs made what the City Planning Department called “a significant contribution to the skyline” and to the pedestrian realm.

But not if there are landmarks in the middle of the development sites.

So the question of whether any more buildings in east Midtown merit official landmark status — besides those that are already designated —  is more than a preservation issue. It could affect the city’s economy.

Two position papers released Wednesday answered the question quite differently.

In “Icons, Placeholders and Leftovers: Midtown East Report” (PDF), the Real Estate Board of New York and its allies in the Midtown21C coalition concluded, “The critical landmarks have been designated.” They rejected every building identified by preservation groups as being worthy of landmark consideration.

“Landmarking runs the risk of slowing or stopping the fission process of continuous transformation that has created Midtown East,” said the report, which was prepared by the consultants George E. Thomas and Susan Nigra Snyder of Philadelphia and Joel S. Weinstein, an engineer in New York.

“Any disruption in the process runs the risk of stalling or stopping development — and curtailing one of the great sources of real estate and wage taxes that pay the city’s regional bills,” the report said.

Besides that, the report said, a landmark designation can threaten the very building it is intended to protect, since masonry towers built before World War II suffer from the “inherent vice” of materials that have reached the end of their life spans or were assembled with insufficient safeguards against moisture, weathering and wear.

“Inherent vice threatens the integrity of a building,” the report said, “and has the potential to destroy the economic basis of its use.”

At the same time, in the other position paper, “East Midtown: A Bold Vision for the Future” (PDF), the Municipal Art Society of New York said that in the area to be rezoned, only 32 of 587 buildings were now landmarks, and that 17 other buildings were prime candidates for landmark status.

“Today’s businesses want talent,” the art society said in its report, “and increasingly, talent gravitates toward neighborhoods that are real places — with walkable streets, unique architecture, great restaurants and other opportunities for socializing and amusement.”

“Older office buildings provide affordable, flexible space and close proximity to other businesses,” the report continued, later adding: “The number and mix of business types are important for the economic health of the neighborhood. Yet the city’s plan — with its emphasis on the need for large, column-free Class A floor-plates — contradicts these facts.”

An east Midtown task force created by Community Boards 4, 5 and 6 is to meet Thursday to receive an update from the planning agency on the status of the rezoning proposal.

Six buildings on the Municipal Art Society’s list have also been identified as landmark candidates by both the New York Landmarks Conservancy and the Historic Districts Council.

The Real Estate Board report dismissed each of them. For its analysis of the Yale Club, 50 Vanderbilt Avenue, the report borrowed the words of Christopher Gray, in The New York Times, who likened the building to a filing cabinet.

The design of the Pershing Square Building, 125 Park Avenue, “was old-fashioned even before it was finished,” the report said. About 250 Park Avenue, also known as the Postum Building, it said, “This is the last of the uninspired group of World War I vintage buildings that missed the coming poetry of height.”

Three towers on “Hotel Alley” were also disparaged in the report. It said the New York Marriott East Side, 525 Lexington Avenue, had experienced “a cascade of facade repairs affecting the unity and integrity of the exterior”; that the Lexington, 511 Lexington Avenue, suffered from extensive weather damage and inflexible floor layouts; and that the InterContinental New York Barclay, 111 East 48th Street, was “the most conservative of the hotels” along Lexington Avenue.

Official landmarks in the area already include the train terminal itself; the former New York Central Building to the north; St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, the Racquet Club, Lever House and the Seagram Building on Park Avenue; and the Chrysler Building, the Chanin Building and the former Socony-Mobil Building, at East 42nd Street and Lexington Avenue.

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Old Acquaintances Remember Cliburn

Van Cliburn during a ticker-tape parade in New York after returning from Moscow after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times Van Cliburn during a ticker-tape parade in New York after returning from Moscow after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958.

To the world, he was the famous concert pianist who gave an uncertain nation a shot of confidence in those tense months after Sputnik. “The Texan who conquered Russia,” Time magazine called him. But to the people who saw him carrying furniture on West 57th Street, he was just another 20-something, moving to a new apartment. And mostly doing it himself.

“I would bump into Van carrying a chair or a small table,” said the pianist Gary Graffman, who later took an apartment in the building Mr. Cliburn had vacated. “That’s how he moved.” Mr. Graffman’s wife, Naomi, added, “I suspect things like his piano, he didn’t move himself.”

Mr. Cliburn, who died on Wednesday, had triumphed at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. That was after he had won another important contest, the Leventritt Competition, in 1954 — and after countless wake-up calls from Mrs. Graffman, who worked for his manager at Columbia Artists Management in those days.

Every morning, starting about 10 a.m., Mrs. Graffman would call the switchboard in the Osborne, the apartment house at 205 West 57th Street where Mr. Cliburn lived in the mid-1950s and where the Graffmans have lived since 1962.

“He liked to sleep late,” Mr. Graffman said. “Mrs. Hughes, who was down at the desk, would ring and keep ringing. It somehow didn’t register until 11 o’clock.”

Around 12:45, she said, “I’d be sitting at my typewriter and the door would open, and his head would pop in — his head, which seemed to be about 12 feet off the ground. He’d say, ‘Honey, I’m hungry.’ We’d go downstairs to Beefburger Hall, which is now a pizzeria, and we’d have a beef burger for 35 cents. I always paid, and if I was feeling rich, I’d have a cheeseburger for 45 cents.”

Mr. Cliburn soon made enough money from concerts and recordings to afford more than a burger. But by the 1970s, he was not making recordings very often. Thomas Z. Shepard, who took over as the vice president of Mr. Cliburn’s label, RCA Red Seal, said there was a reason.

“He had once taken a low-interest loan, I think it was 3 percent, and he used it to buy real estate and he did very well,” he said. “He was in no hurry to repay the loan and RCA didn’t care that much, either. They wanted to keep him happy. But whenever he came in to record, instead of getting any money for the recording, they would deduct his fee from what he owed them. And even though that was perfectly sensible and civilized, that deincentivized Van. He didn’t see why he should break his chops when he wasn’t going to make any money.”

Mrs. Graffman remembered Mr. Cliburn’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, soon after he won the Leventritt Competition — and the party after the concert, at the Park Avenue apartment of Rosalie Leventritt, the widow of Edgar Leventritt, a lawyer and amateur pianist who had started the competition.

“There were two planeloads of Texans who came for the concert,” Mrs. Graffman said. “In the old days, before they renovated Carnegie Hall, there was a long staircase backstage to go up to the green room, and hundreds of people pushing ahead like an ocean. We were with Mrs. Leventritt, and Van was standing at the top. He called down to her, ‘Honey, you see all these people? They’re all coming to your party.’ It was an absolute madhouse. She wasn’t expecting 500 extra people.”

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Old Acquaintances Remember Van Cliburn

Van Cliburn during a ticket-tape parade in New York after returning from Moscow after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958. Neal Boenzi/The New York Times Van Cliburn during a ticket-tape parade in New York after returning from Moscow after winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in Moscow in 1958.

To the world, he was the famous concert pianist who gave an uncertain nation a shot of confidence in those tense months after Sputnik. “The Texan who conquered Russia,” Time magazine called him. But to the people who saw him carrying furniture on West 57th Street, he was just another 20-something, moving to a new apartment. And mostly doing it himself.

“I would bump into Van carrying a chair or a small table,” said the pianist Gary Graffman, who later took an apartment in the building Mr. Cliburn had vacated. “That’s how he moved.” Mr. Graffman’s wife, Naomi, added, “I suspect things like his piano, he didn’t move himself.”

Mr. Cliburn, who died on Wednesday, had triumphed at the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958. That was after he had won another important contest, the Leventritt Competition, in 1954 — and after countless wake-up calls from Mrs. Graffman, who worked for his manager at Columbia Artists Management in those days.

Every morning, starting about 10 a.m., Mrs. Graffman would call the switchboard in the Osborne, the apartment house at 205 West 57th Street where Mr. Cliburn lived in the mid-1950s and where the Graffmans have lived since 1962.

“He liked to sleep late,” Mr. Graffman said. “Mrs. Hughes, who was down at the desk, would ring and keep ringing. It somehow didn’t register until 11 o’clock.”

Around 12:45, she said, “I’d be sitting at my typewriter and the door would open, and his head would pop in — his head, which seemed to be about 12 feet off the ground. He’d say, ‘Honey, I’m hungry.’ We’d go downstairs to Beefburger Hall, which is now a pizzeria, and we’d have a beef burger for 35 cents. I always paid, and if I was feeling rich, I’d have a cheeseburger for 45 cents.”

Mr. Cliburn soon made enough money from concerts and recordings to afford more than a burger. But by the 1970s, he was not making recordings very often. Thomas Z. Shepard, who took over as the vice president of Mr. Cliburn’s label, RCA Red Seal, said there was a reason.

“He had once taken a low-interest loan, I think it was 3 percent, and he used it to buy real estate and he did very well,” he said. “He was in no hurry to repay the loan and RCA didn’t care that much, either. They wanted to keep him happy. But whenever he came in to record, instead of getting any money for the recording, they would deduct his fee from what he owed them. And even though that was perfectly sensible and civilized, that deincentivized Van. He didn’t see why he should break his chops when he wasn’t going to make any money.”

Mrs. Graffman remembered Mr. Cliburn’s debut with the New York Philharmonic, soon after he won the Leventritt Competition — and the party after the concert, at the Park Avenue apartment of Rosalie Leventritt, the widow of Edgar Leventritt, a lawyer and amateur pianist who had started the competition.

“There were two planeloads of Texans who came for the concert,” Mrs. Graffman said. “In the old days, before they renovated Carnegie Hall, there was a long staircase backstage to go up to the green room, and hundreds of people pushing ahead like an ocean. We were with Mrs. Leventritt, and Van was standing at the top. He called down to her, ‘Honey, you see all these people? They’re all coming to your party.’ It was an absolute madhouse. She wasn’t expecting 500 extra people.”

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Charges Tie Son and 2nd Man to Mother’s Dismembered Body

The son of a woman whose body was found dismembered and deposited in bags around a Bronx neighborhood was charged on Wednesday with two felonies related to the improper disposal of her body, as detectives continued questioning him and a friend about the killing itself.

The police charged the son, identified as Bashid McLean, 23, and the friend, William Harris, 26, with unlawful dissection of a human body and hindering prosecution, accusing them of having worked together to cut up the dead body of Mr. McLean’s 45-year-old mother, Tanya Byrd.

In addition, the police charged Mr. Harris with possession of stolen property and marijuana possession.

The circumstances of Ms. Byrd’s death remains under investigation. The police said Mr. McLean and Mr. Harris accused each other of having killed her.

The medical examiner has yet to determine a cause of death.

The police said that the two men made the task of determining the cause much more difficult because of the grisly method by which they disposed of her body, cutting it into pieces with a saw and distributing the remains in four bags around Melrose in the Bronx.

Detectives found evidence in Ms. Byrd’s apartment – a few blocks from the area where her body was found by a dog-walker early Tuesday morning – that she had been dismembered there, including a box for a saw, the police said.

Friends remembered Ms. Byrd as a friendly mother of a young son with Down syndrome and an older son, Mr. McLean, who was withdrawn.

At least one neighbor recalled regularly hearing a woman yelling in Ms. Byrd’s apartment.

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Gun-Control Advocate’s Win in Illinois Is Also a Win for Bloomberg

After a career that has spanned high finance, philanthropy and public office, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg may have found his next act: defeating candidates who oppose gun control.

The victory on Tuesday night of a Bloomberg-backed candidate for Congress in Illinois suggests that his fledgling attempt to become a one-man political counterweight to the powerful National Rifle Association is gaining traction.

Mr. Bloomberg, a billionaire independent, had injected $2.2 million of his own money into the special Democratic primary for the House seat vacated by Jesse Jackson Jr., all but turning the campaign into a referendum on gun regulation in the wake of the massacre last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

But as much as anything else, it was a test of Mr. Bloomberg’s potency in races well outside of New York – a test watched closely by lawmakers in Washington who are still on the fence about President Obama’s gun-control plans and who could become the next target of the mayor’s campaign spending.

With Mr. Bloomberg and his cash at her back, Robin Kelly, once well behind in the polls, easily defeated her Democratic opponents for the Chicago-area seat. Much of that money was devoted to attacking Ms. Kelly’s leading opponent, Debbie Halvorson for opposing various gun-control measures. “Debbie Halvorson’s record,” blared a commercial paid for by Mr. Bloomberg. “More guns in the hands of criminals.”

Mr. Bloomberg’s super PAC, Independence USA, has become involved in eight state and Congressional races since its creation last year: five of the candidates he has backed, all of them supporters of gun regulation, have prevailed; three have lost.

Howard Wolfson, a deputy in the Bloomberg administration who briefly led the mayor’s new super PAC, called the Illinois race a bellwether in the national gun debate.

“Anybody watching this race saw a decisive victory for the candidate who had a long record of support for common sense gun law and a repudiation of the candidate who had run with N.R.A. support,” he said. “That will resonate with members of Congress who are considering this issue as we speak.”

“For a long time the N.R.A. was the only player on the field,” Mr. Wolfson added. “And members had to take that into account. Now the mayor is helping to even that out.”

Ms. Halvorson, a former Congresswoman, complained bitterly about Mr. Bloomberg’s intervention in the race, accusing him of trying to “buy a Congressional seat.”

“This is what’s wrong with super PACS,” she told a local television station in the days before the election. “Somebody can come in, spend all the money they want. In this case, it’s one person, one billionaire from New York.”

Despite charges of meddling and whispers about carpetbagging, Mr. Bloomberg’s advertising blitz helped achieve its aim. Mr. Bloomberg learned of Ms. Kelly’s victory on Tuesday night via a text message from Mr. Wolfson. “Good job,” he replied.

Given the district’s heavy Democratic makeup, Ms. Kelly is widely expected to win the general election in April.

In Chicago, the gun debate loomed large as both a national and local issue: a surging murder rate has riveted the city and amplified Mr. Bloomberg’s message.

Mr. Bloomberg is just warming up, electorally. He and his aides are already scouting out future races, making little secret of their plans to open his wallet in support of Democrats or Republicans who share his views on guns.

On Wednesday, he will take his message to Washington. He has meetings scheduled with Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and leaders of the Senate, including John McCain and Harry Reid. The topic: guns.

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Sweeping Before the Storm

Dear Diary:

Another storm was approaching when he beckoned for me. Toting a wimpy broom, he stood on the top step of his brownstone – the 10 other steps covered by light coats of snow. His weight shifted onto a cane. He reminded me of the man in East Harlem I’d seen earlier that day. That man sat in his electric wheelchair, one of its motorized wheels caked in mud and spinning like mad, unable to gain traction.

I was up there for a meeting when I saw the man in his wheelchair in the middle of a path that cut through a housing development near 106th Street. Snow had mostly melted, leaving mud along paths and untended gardens – public space turned to wastelands. When he veered off the path, the right wheel sank into the mud. He tried backing out without effect. He tried again and pulled himself onto the path. But the wheel spun and spun and spun around.

I walked past him, noting he’d be getting nowhere soon, the meeting and approaching storm still on my mind.

Now, as I stood below the man atop his stoop, I wondered if, like the man in his wheelchair, he’d ever get loose, ever get going down the stairs – if he’d move forward. In passing, I looked up and he called to me.

“Sweep my stairs,” he said blankly. I figured I’d help with that.

At the bottom I looked up, only a few feet from where I’d stood minutes before. The steps were cleared of snow now. The street was still quiet except for a passing car. He said thank you and I felt as though I needed to help him, perhaps because I didn’t want the second one to get stuck in the coming storm.


Read all recent entries and our updated submissions guidelines. Reach us via e-mail diary@nytimes.com and follow @NYTMetro on Twitter using the hashtag #MetDiary.

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A Live Conversation About ‘The Group’ by Mary McCarthy

Welcome to our live discussion of “The Group,” by Mary McCarthy!

Big City Book Club

A regular discussion with Ginia Bellafante.

Earlier today, I kicked off the conversation with James Collins, tonight’s co-host and the author of the novel “Beginner’s Greek.” (Here are my opening thoughts and his response.)

Now, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. EST, we’ll be talking about the book in real time.

Please post your thoughts about the novel and questions for either of us in the comments section below. We’ll respond in the same place.

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Women and Sex in ‘The Group’

6:36 p.m. | Updated Our live discussion of “The Group,” by Mary McCarthy is now taking place here. Read Ginia Bellafante’s first post on the book here. A response from James Collins, author of the novel “Beginner’s Greek,” is below.

It’s quite amazing to me that in the early 1960s, Mary McCarthy wanted “The Group” to show a loss of faith in the “idea of progress in the feminine sphere,” when she was speaking right on the cusp of the greatest revolution in the position of women since the (supposed) matriarchies of the late Paleolithic. How could someone who was so incredibly astute seemingly have no sense of what was about to happen?

Big City Book Club

A regular discussion with Ginia Bellafante.

To give a sense of what McCarthy’s own life was like when “The Group” was published, it’s interesting to read a letter that Robert Lowell wrote to Elizabeth Bishop in August 1963. Lowell recounted a recent visit with McCarthy and her husband in Paris: “A lovely apartment, William Morris wallpaper, every item clean as a ship, meals planned and worked on for days … everything performed and executed to the last inch. … We had an incredible picnic on the grass of Saint Cloud, with the Spenders, Sonia Orwell, the Life photographer, minor expatriates, minor embassy officials, a 16-foot Polish tablecloth, magna of champagne, Flemish dining room groups of fruit.”

That sounds a bit like McCarthy herself describing one of her heroines, with those long lists. It also makes me think that, whatever her accomplishments, whatever her literary and sexual (and literary-sexual) daring, it was still of great concern for her to be seen as … a lady, and a good hostess, and a person who can choose wallpaper. Not that there is anything wrong with that! But an essential aspect of being a Vassar woman, I think, was being a lady (even during your first sexual experience). And that’s a value that still seemed important to McCarthy in 1963, which might point to a limitation in her concept of the “feminine sphere.” There are ladylike attainments to which women still aspire, but in the ’60s, McCarthy seemed to have no idea that that sphere would come to include law-partnerships, combat and alimony for men.

This brings us to the inevitable comparison to “Girls,” a show I have, unfortunately, watched too infrequently to count myself an expert on. But what I find so interesting is that the Vassar women of 1933, just because they have gotten an education, something relatively rare for women at that time, all leave school with a sense of purpose. They all want to do something, to make some contribution, even if it is just volunteer work. On “Girls,” in contrast, the characters are drifting, sometimes flailing, in the post-collegiate swamp. As far as I know, none of them arrived in Brooklyn with a job lined up and a plan (wanting “to be a writer” is not a plan). Having gone to college is not a big deal for these characters, and provides no motivation. So, oddly, the Vassar ’33 “women” are more advanced professionally than the Brooklyn ’13 “girls.”

If we go by “Girls,” one aspect of the feminine sphere where there does not seem to have been much progress from 1933 to 2013 is the sexual and romantic one. The “boys” of “Girls” are far different from the “men” of “The Group” (most of whom are absolutely horrible and horribly contrived — you often hear of male writers who can’t create female characters; McCarthy illustrates the converse). The modern men get emotional about their “relationships” but, ultimately, just as in “The Group,” heartbreak is a girl thing.

Ginia asks if I think that the 10 years McCarthy spent working on “The Group” were worth it. Well, she actually wrote much of the book in a rush over a few months. To put pressure on her, the publisher started setting the manuscript in type before she had even finished it. I think it reads that way: more like a series a vignettes than a carefully structured novel. It’s striking how little interaction there is among the female characters. For a book with its title, you’d think that female friendship would be central. But the vignettes focus on individual members and, generally, on their relations with men, not to each other.

The book lacks “incredible scenes” — I mean the kind of scenes that a novel builds and builds to until finally X confronts Y and reveals Z. There are no set pieces: no battle, no ball. So, to me, it isn’t really an accomplished literary work. (Dawn Powell covers some of the same territory as a real artist would, I think.) The essential question the story raises, to my mind, is the one Priss asks Norine toward the end: “You really feel our education was a mistake?” (“Oh, completely,” Norine replies.) But I don’t think that McCarthy’s tales illuminate that problem particularly well. Nor does she make clear, or richly ambiguous, the reason for and meaning of Kay’s destruction. It just happens — because she married an awful horrible guy who spells Harald with two A’s?

Be that as it may, the vignettes are often brilliant. McCarthy can be incredibly astute psychologically, the long lists are astounding in their precision, there is hardly a bad phrase and many of the images are wonderful. McCarthy is a terrific, clever writer, and “The Group” is a great read.

At the time, though, McCarthy’s friends were harsh. “No one in the know likes the book,” Lowell wrote Bishop. He found things to like himself, but called it “a very labored somehow silly Vassar affair.” Bishop, for her part, found the book dull but made an astute point: “I’m sure those set-fire-works-sex-pieces will insure huge sales.”

Undoubtedly, it was those sex pieces that made the book a phenomenon and at least got people to buy it, if not read it, so that it stayed on The Times’s best-seller list for a year and a half. But I wonder what people think of them today. Are they just shocking? Would the book be as good without them? Or do they serve a crucial purpose? “The Group” is much more specific (“There’s a little ridge there”) than “Ulysses” or “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.” It’s dirtier than those famously scandalous books, but also more grown-up about sex. In that way, those scenes — grown-up writing about sex — might actually be McCarthy’s greatest literary contribution.

While always changing, New York never changes. As a native, I feel cheated of the experience of moving there after college to make my way, but all stories of that experience, whenever they are written, feel like the same story (in a good way) — whether by Mary McCarthy or Mary Cantwell or Patti Smith or Lena Dunham. The names of the drinks (or drugs) may change; the Village may appear in the form of Greenpoint; Scandinavian furniture may have given way to Italian. But the city’s size, the drunken cab rides home, the thwarted ambition, the sense that New York is the only place in the world that matters, the discovery of new neighborhoods, the sex, the espresso and the foreign films — these are permanent.

Finally, I have researched the matter and the Daisy Chain was a kind of May Court: one day each spring the members would process holding daisies. Membership was based entirely on looks and popularity.

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