Happy Fourth of July! & Reading Elaine Dundy’s “The Dud Avocado”

Today many Americans will arrive at parks at dawn, having reserved a shelter if they’re smart or snagged a picnic table if they’re lucky. They will spend the day barbecuing chicken and eating potato salad, driving people crazy with their bad music, maybe taking a dip in the lake if they’re brave enough to face the pesticide run-off, or walking in the woods with their bird lists until the fireworks begin at 9:30 or 10.

No, I’m sorry, but I’m too tired to go. Wilted, rustling around in a tattered “Bookish” t-shirt nightgown and slippers, I plan to spend this very hot day alternately napping and reading Elaine Dundy’s witty novel, The Dud Avocado. I adore this smart little book! Published in 1958, it has been reissued by Virago and NYRB Classics, both heavy hitters in the reprint game. Dundy (1921-2008), an actress and writer, wrote brilliant comic dialogue, and her voice is slightly reminiscent of that of the witty Eve Babitz. Elaine Dundy, however, is more “relatable,” not quite as outlandish and “arty.”

I keep giggling at the antics of the quirky narrator, Sally Jay Gorce, an aspiring American actress in Paris who has thrown herself into the bohemian life. She even has a middle-aged lover, Teddy, Alfredo Ourselli Visconti, so she feels triumphantly that she has left behind the stuffy mores of women’s colleges. And she doesn’t consider herself a tourist until she runs into Larry, a handsome American actor she worked with in a stock company. This time around, Sally falls in love with him at first sight, but he is less impressed with her. She has dyed her hair pink and and happens to be wearing an evening gown in the morning (everything else is at the laundry). Larry lectures her on the perils of “going native” and then tells her about the the different types of tourists. Sally won’t admit she is one.

“….the last type is the Wild Cat. The I-am-a-fugitive-from-the-Convent-of-the-Sacred-Heart. Not that it’s ever really the case. Just seems so from the violence of the reaction. Anyhow it’s her first time free and her first time across and, by golly, she goes native in a way the natives never had the stamina to go. Some people think it’s those stand-up toilets they have here – you know, the ones with the iron footprints you’re supposed to straddle. After the shock of that kind of plumbing something snaps in the American girl and she’s off. The hell with all that, she figures. The desire to bathe somehow gets lost. The hell with all that, she figures. Then comes weird haircuts, weird hair-colors, weird clothes. Then comes drink and down, down, down. Dancing in the streets all night, braying at the moon, and waking up in a different bed every morning.”

Sally calls him a bastard and furiously goes on, “It’s a pretty safe bet I bathe about sixty times as often as you…” But then she remembers: “To accuse the American male of not bathing in Paris is merely to flatter him.”

Such a charming book. I hope you, too, have an entertaining book for the holiday. And don’t forget the bug spray if you go to the fireworks!

Happy Fourth of July!