Absolute Convergence: Housekeeping
Chapter Eighty-seven
By John Yager
This is the second chapter of a new story about Robert Ballinger and William Amsted and their life together.

While this story is being added to the existing Absolute Convergence file, it constitutes an independent, self contained narrative about one weekend. I've used the subtitle, Housekeeping, to distinguish it from the original series and from the first of these following stories, which was subtitled Transformations. While it will be helpful for readers to know the earlier stories, this story should stand on its own merits.

Absolute Convergence made its first appearance in January, 2001, as a series which eventually ran to a total of eighty chapters, the last of which was posted in January, 2004. I never anticipated the series continuing for so long and I am still amazed by the incredible loyalty of readers who stayed with me from the beginning.

I am also sincerely appreciative for those newer readers who have contacted me from time to time to say that they've discovered the series and ventured through the collected chapters.

I'm always glad to receive comments, questions, criticism and encouragement and hope to continue hearing from you. I try to answer all messages promptly. If I'm slow at times it's only because of the pressures of work.

Andrew has agreed to continue giving me much needed proofing and editorial help for which I am sincerely grateful.

I also want to express special thanks to Budd, who gave me invaluable assistance with the Hollywood scene and the changes which were occurring during the periods described in Transformations and Housekeeping. Without his help this story would not have the degree of authenticity I was able to convey.

Copyright (© 2004) by the author.  This work may not be reproduced in any form without the specific written permission of the author. It is assigned to the Nifty Archives under the terms of their submission agreement but it may not be copied or archived on any other site without the written permission of the author.

All the stories I've posted on NIFTY can be found by looking under my name in the NIFTY Prolific Authors lists. If you'd like to receive e-mail notification of subsequent postings, previews of upcoming stories, and other bits and pieces, please let me know by sending your request to the e-mail address below.


The chief task which faced both William and me during those hectic weeks in August, 1977, was the structure of our own new teams. I had a few ideas about people I'd love to have working with me, but no idea if they'd be receptive to the idea of working under the direction of a man my age.

The first person I approached was Peg Solanski. I knew she and Martin Basingstoke were having one of their periodic spats, but she was so senior and so well established that I didn't have the nerve to approach her with a direct suggestion that she join the new shop I'd be running.

I instead asked her to have lunch with me, on the pretext of asking her for advice. 'Doing lunch,' was, after all, a well established Hollywood ritual.

"I want the group to be innovative," I began. "I almost think that is more important than proven writing skills."

"So you're probably looking for a bunch of kids your age or younger," she responded as she sipped from a glass of white wine.

"Maybe, but not necessarily," I said. "I know I want a group who will work with me, not necessarily just following my direction. I want people who aren't afraid to express themselves and throw out new ideas, even if they sound a little crazy."

"It sounds like an ideal job, Rob," she said. "That's the kind of team I've always wanted to be a part of."

"Any chance you'd want to join us?" I dared to ask.

"As your token crone?"

"A pretty foxy crone."

"I'd jump at it."

"Then consider it an offer."

"Offer accepted," she beamed.

I was amazed! It had been so easy.

As our meal continued we tossed about ideas about others who might be interested in a project development group led by a guy like me whom most people would consider very wet behind the ears.

"Wet behind the ears is good," Peg teased when I said it. "Wet behind the ears suggests openness to new ideas and not afraid to take risks."

From our discussion of other potential team members our conversation moved on to ideas for projects.

I wanted out first script to be something novel, a little out of the mainstream, maybe even a little crazy.

"You were a literature major, Rob," Peg reminded me. "Don't take time to think about your answer, just tell me the titles of a couple of books that you were really turned on by."

"Well," I began, stalling a moment despite her injunction.

"No 'wells,' Mr. Ballinger, just spit it out."

"The Good Companions," I said. It was the first title that popped into my head and it took me a minute to remember what it was and when I'd read it.

"Priestley," Peg said. "Good choice; he had brains and wit. What else?"

"Wasteland?" I said, more as a question than a statement.

"Oh, god," Peg groaned. "Thomas Stearns Eliot. We're looking for plot, not ruminations. I say T.S. is more typical college material."

"I read them both in high school, actually."

"Well, aren't we precocious?" Peg snapped.

I couldn't help laughing. Peg might be a part of my team. I might be her boss. But there was no way she'd ever let me get away with anything and I had to love her for it.

"Forget Eliot," she smiled, "the only script that could possibly come out of Wastelands would be a horror flick, and I'd say leave that cheerful genre to Ed Wood."

"Ed Wood? Is he still around?" I asked, remembering the delicious thrills of youthful Saturday afternoon matinees.

"Barely, sweetheart. The pour schmuck is hanging on, but I think he's just about down to the last drop in the bottle." That was in 1977, of course, and the pour schmuck was dead a year later.

We sat silently for a moment as the waiter cleared the table.

"Dessert?" I asked.

"Coffee," Peg said.

I held up two fingers and nodded to the waiter. He smiled and nodded back.

"Seriously, Rob," she continued, "Priestley is worth a look. I bet his stuff is in the public domain by now, which always pleases the beeves out of the front office."

"Do you think the public is really interested in a 1920s English period piece?"

"Oh, hell no. But we don't have to tell them. We'd do a re-write updating it to present day Hollywood. Stage door sagas are stage door sagas, whether you place them in the English Midlands or Beverly Hills. We'd give J.B. a line in the final credits and the critics will applaud our erudition."

I didn't fully realize it then, of course, but I'd just taken a giant step, if not for mankind, at least for the Ballinger Band, also known as Rob's Rovers.

It was Peg Solanski, however, who came up with the idea of giving our writing shop an official name. So far as we knew, no previous group of writers had been identified by a single name, but when we ran the idea by Peter he loved it and we became officially known as Wordsmiths.

By day I met with potential members of my team, talked with NSB administrative people about office space and equipment, took endless calls from agents who'd already heard that I was heading up a new script development and writing team and had "just the idea we were looking for."

Over the following weeks, as our team came together, others I'd met early in my Hollywood years came back into my life.  Nita Ball joined us on a temporary basis to help with logistic and staff organization, and while she didn't become a part of our regular staff, she continued to come into my life again and again over the following years.  We remained good friends, meeting occasionally for lunch or a drink.

Once Nita decided William and I really were a couple, she began to treat me as a buddy, "one of my best girlfriends," as she put it.  Over the years I heard about her seemingly endless succession of romances and shed a few tears with her over the inevitable heartbreaks.  Inevitable, that is until she finally met the one man who became the love of her life, but all that will have to wait until a later chapter of this adventure.

My weekdays taken up with meetings but on weekends William and I worked on the new house, or met with the contractor or subcontractors and landscape designer. The list went on and on.

During all that hectic time Peter came and went. When he was in LA we had frequent lunches, meetings, dinners, with him and his cohorts. When he left for New York or London our lives were a bit less crazy.

But the evenings and the nights were ours.

Friday night, August 26. 1977, was the last night we spent in our old house in Pasadena. We celebrated with a late night supper, just William and me; deli food and a well chilled bottle of Champagne.

We made love slowly, caringly, in our big bed and slept in each other's arms. There was a certain sadness, telling the little house good-bye.

On Saturday morning, as arranged, the moving van appeared at nine o'clock and four men began taking the place apart.

When the van pulled out at noon, I stayed behind to do a little straightening up while William headed off to the new house on Corona del Mar in Pacific Palisades. He beat the van by half an hour and was there to give the crew directions as they unloaded our furniture.

By the time I'd locked up and driven out to the new house, the furniture in our new bedroom had been arranged and most of the rest stored on the garage. It would be there until the remodeling was completed.

The garage, I might add, was designed to hold four cars, and with my Porsche and William's Jag, there was still room for all the furniture to be stored, awaiting its new home.

The interior of the vast house was a clutter of stacked lumber and electrical wiring, but that night we happily made love for the first time in our new home.

The new house was far larger than our old one and one of our biggest tasks was choosing new furniture for more and larger rooms.

With William's encouragement, I called Hank Shear, who came to our rescue, not that he didn't make a very nice profit from our business.

William had met Hank when he first arrived in LA in 1972, but we'd not seen much of him over the intervening years and had more or less lost touch. We were happy to find he'd settled into a comfortable relationship with another antiques dealer, a man about his own age, and they'd become partners in both the business and personal sense of the word.

Neither William or I spoke Spanish but Hank, who was fluent in the language, translated the name of our new street, Corona del Mar as  "Crown of the Sea."  We thought it was very fitting. The view from our rear deck, as well as from our bedroom windows, was dominated by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean.

When the remodeling was more or less finished we invited my mother to visit us. She and my father had come out to LA for a short visit a year or so before dad's death but they'd not stayed long and hadn't seen more than the major tourist attractions.

At our insistence my mother came for the entire month of November. She quickly fell in love with our new house, with William, and with California. She insisted on cooking for us, which we limited to two or three suppers each week, not always planning our arrivals at home too well.

We took her out a lot, to restaurants and even a few nightclubs. She was amazed by the range of national cuisines represented by restaurants in LA and discovered to our amusement and surprise that she loved, of all things, Ethiopian food.

"It's so convenient," she told us one evening as we sat on cushions around a low table, "you can just scoop it up with that funny bread."

She insisted on us fixing Thanksgiving dinner at home and inviting as many of our friends as we could. We ended up with ten for dinner, including Peg Solanski, Hank Shear and his partner, Jerry Finch.

"Can I come again in the spring?" she asked repeatedly as the time she'd planned with us drew to an end.

"Any time, mom," William assured her.

On Sunday afternoon, December 24, 1977, we had a combination house warming and Christmas Eve party. The remodeling was completed and the house was dramatically decorated for the holidays. Over a hundred guests were there for a catered buffet, followed by Christmas carols and much good cheer.

True to form, Peter, despite advance notice and a hand carried invitation, and several promises to attend, was in London, perpetuating his custom of not visiting any home that William and I had ever shared.

Our traditional Christmas parties have continued, getting bigger each year.
The years have also continued and William and I have seen our love for one another grow stronger and our relationship become richer and deeper with the passage of time.

In 1978 the first of a succession of films scripts developed by Wordsmiths was produced. From that point onward we were able to produce at least one successful film a year.

That first film, entitled Companions, was produced by Starmark, the NSB subsidiary which William headed, and it was a critical and financial success. It was a "small" film by Hollywood standards and we suspected it would never see a real theater release. By then "Made for TV" films were becoming common and we had assumed it would be sold to one of the networks. But we got very lucky.

We'd had the very good fortune to find two excellent but older stars, Harry Long and Ann Shepherd. They were both officially "retired," which in Hollywood lingo meant they were no longer being offered work. They were grateful for the opportunities Companions gave them and they, in turn, gave us what many said were the best performances of their careers.

To our amazement, Shepherd won the Oscar for best supporting actress and my guys and I won for best script adapted from another medium.

The alliance between Starmark and Wordsmiths continued and became identified with interesting, rather off-beat films.

In 1979 came the Wordsmiths' adaptation of George Meredith's novel The Egoist. It was a first for us in several ways, one of which was that it was a joint production of Starmark and Albion, the British production company originally formed to produce Call the Dark Waters.

As NSB's representative on the Albion board, I was much more a part of the production process than I had been on previous films. It was a real learning experience for me.

The film was also a first for us in that it was filmed on location in England and in period style.
The Egoist garnered critical attention but it was an expensive film to produce and it barely broke even financially. I have since wondered, seeing the later success of Merchant-Ivory films, if we were perhaps a few years ahead of our time.

From that point on, Wordsmiths turned out at least one, and often two scripts per year. We developed a serious reputation. To a large degree my own responsibilities became primarily managerial. In some ways I regretted my decreased involvement with the development of projects, even though I did continue to have final say on the selection of projects and final approval over the end product. The greatest advantage was having more time to work on my own original projects.

In 1981 I published my second novel, Yazoo City, which was well reviewed and a reasonable financial success. It was later optioned by NSB for possible development as a film, but to date it has not been produced.

Yazoo City was actually three interwoven short stories about the lives of three women, each representing a different age and class.  After its publication I got a rather teasing letter from Roger Bardwell, saying he liked the book and wanted to review it for the Ole Miss alumni magazine, but did want to let me know he thought it was time for me to stop writing about women and write something about men.

On a personal level, those were wonderful years for William. We were both enjoying our work, and working very hard. I don't see how straight married people could ever manage the volume and quality of work we handled, with the added responsibilities of a family and children. I suspect either their career or their family suffers.

We were supportive of each other in ways no one can understand unless they have experienced a solid, committed relationship. All our friends were for ever saying what a perfect couple we were.

To be continued.