EPHEMERALITY… So Bittersweet and Fleeting, FLESH…So Meaningless and Deceiving !

| April 19, 2012 | Comments (0)

I first met Moira nearly twenty years ago in the early 90s during what I  call my singing period. Never having uttered a musical sound in my life – indeed, my voice was of such questionable tonal quality that I had been instructed by our grade school choirmaster, who needed bodies to fill the pews, that I should join his group but ONLY  move my lips  and, whatever I did, NOT  utter a sound – I suddenly discovered in late middle-age that I wanted, indeed, desperately NEEDED  to do just that…sing.

 Legions of oldsters like yours truly must be seized by this musical ephiphany, for I found myself  enrolled in a cabaret class consisting of folks of a certain age whose musical potential had, shall we say, yet to be realized. Among the aging stockbrokers and lawyers who, like me, had received the inexplicable call to warble, there was one exception to this geriatric line-up:  a beautiful, talented young woman with a luminous voice and incredible charm named Moira. In her early 30s, Moira was at the peak of her female pulcritude and spoke with a slight, melodious brogue, lighting up the studio when she walked gracefully into our rehearsals.

After a series of classes and coaching sessions, our group neared its objective which was – what else ! – to put on a show; supportive relatives and loyal friends would be gang-pressed into filling a tiny space in Manhattan’s theatre district where they were duty-bound to clap loudly and murmur appreciately that we had “nailed it”.  I had the good fortune to be paired with Moira for one of the show’s duets which featured us in a series of tight embraces as we sang ourselves through  that Rogers and Hammerstein chestnut, “People Will Say We’re in Love !”

As choreographed by our director, Moira and I would enter from opposite sides – she stage left, me stage right –  Moira beginning the duet,  with eye-brows arched and a come-hither smile on her inviting lips, opening with, ” Why do they think up stories that link my name with yours !” At that moment, the air crackling with a frisson of romantic excitement sparked by Moira’s musical interrogative, I was supposed to appear on stage, take her hands in mine, gaze deeply into her eyes and begin the duet.

This did not happen. For some reason to which I will never know the answer, I continued to stand off stage WATCHING Moira sing, enjoying her performance as though I were part of the audience NOT her masterful partner in this charming, romantic duet !  This highly unusual image of Moira singing to thin area rather than to the beau who was supposed to be  lustily courting her, continued for what must have been a longish time until titters from the audience jolted  Moira into an emergency mode forcing her to cross the planks and actually drag me on stage to great roars of laughter.

Our performance ended up being a big hit but not in the way we expected: the audience thought we were performing a comical satire of a very romantic scene, something on the order of the send-up of that famous Burt Lancaster-Deborah Kerr love clinch on the beach in “From Here to Eternity”  where Tom Ewell and Marilyn Monroe grapple ineptly in the waves with Ewell choking and flailing away as Marilyn tries to seduce him.

I was told in the post-performance coaching critique that my hanging back in the wings instead of lunging on-stage to sing was actually a form of stage fright called “over-relaxation.” Whatever it was, I was enjoying myself immensely watching Moira sing and would probably, had it not been for Moira’s surprisingly strong tug dragging me front and center, have sat there till the cows came home or at least until the joint closed for the night.

Shortly after our triumphant performance, I realized sadly that I belonged to  a not-so-select group of would-be singers who populate countless clubs and bistros in Gotham: the talent-free; this was confirmed by a  kindly friend who advised me not to quit my regular job. I got the message and, forthwith, stopped singing in public. I still display my musical reperatoire, but only to my cats in the kitchen of a morning or occasionally under those acoustically voluptuous  bridges in Central Park when no one else is around.

In any event, all was well that ended well  with Moira and I becoming great pals and me giving her the highest compliment a gay man can bestow on a woman: I told her that if I were straight, I would propose marriage to her. And that even though I was queer, she brought out the 5% hetero that was lurking somewhere deep down inside of me. At which point I pecked  her on the cheek and ran out the door.

Over the years we stayed in touch telephonically and electronically, but never actually managed to get together until last week when we met for lunch. As I waited for Moira at an alfresco table in a cafe we had selected for our rendezvous, I engaged in one of my favorite hobbies, eye-balling the passing parade of pedestrians flowing up Broadway. Gazing out on the human swarm, in the distance I spotted a plump, middle-aged woman walking slowly up the street.  As she grew nearer I noticed   her walk  was punctuated by a slight limp. Poor soul, I thought, soon she’ll be needing a walker. Paying her no more attention, I turned away from my people-watching,  focusing on the menu before me until I felt the presence of someone standing over my table. It was that same dumpy, older woman I had seen in the distance a moment ago. I looked up squinting at this unfamiliar person and was about to ask, “May I help you, Ma’am?”, but before I could speak, this strange, older lady lady bent over and hugged me and I realized it was Moira.

Our lunch turned into an  epic marathon of laughter and reminiscing and I realized how much I loved Moira, still loved her after all these years. And how much more comfortable I was with her in her dowdy mother-hen state than I had been  twenty years ago when she was drop-dead gorgeous and young. Something about being gay and feeling threatened had disappeared, I suppose.

After more than three hours, we dawdled over our desserts until  the waitor’s frowns chased us away.We bid each other goodbye with many hugs and kisses and I watched her as she limped into the distance. I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a store window and noticed a  stooped, shuffling old man; surely that couldn’t be me, I thought. But indeed, it was ! I realized Moira was still beautiful and dear to me and wondered if we would see each other again. If we did meet once more, it would have to be sooner than twenty years !

As bittersweet as our encounter had been, I was left with a happy, warm feeling when Moira and I took leave of each other. Not so with my late mother on whom ephemerality and  the callow cruelty of  adolescent insecurity  had left its bitter mark and from which I will never recover.

My mother was a great beauty who was cursed by the ravages of a harsh, early middle-age that left her unrecognizable from the person she had been when she was thirty-nine. By forty-two she had gone from full-figured and voluptuous to obese. Adding insult to injury she sprouted a moustache on her upper lip which grew back with a vengeance each time she used my father’s razor.

The burden of beauty is that when you lose it, you are ignored. My mother had always been a  social creature who needed attention; suddenly she found herself a non-person, nobody talked to her anymore. She suffered bouts of depression and unexpected crying jags. We became ashamed of her.

One afternoon when I came home from school, I heard moans coming from her bedroom. I approached the door and cracking it a few inches to peer in, I saw her prostrate on the bed, her mouth a bloody, swollen mass. She had been to the dentist for treatment of a serious gum problem called phyria and the dentist had decided to pull ALL of her lower teeth that day.

Instead of offering her sympathy, I stared at her  as though she were a stranger, wishing that my mother was still the physically beautiful person I had remembered from  what seemed like just a few months ago. Until she got her  dentures some weeks later, the concave collapse of her lower lip gave her the appearance of a withered crone. At the dinner table when she spoke to me, I averted my glance refusing to look at her.

Some months later my school issued invitations for our high school graduation. Since I was a senior I was among those who would don cap and gown and move on to another chapter in my life. There was an air of levity and happy expectation among my classmates  as they contemplated our graduation. I did not share their joy. Weighing on my mind and tearing at my emotions was a thought I could not resolve or dismiss: I was deeply ashamed of my mother and her appearance and did not want her to attend my graduation. 

Two nights before the event, I picked a fight with mother at the dinner table and yelling at her across my plate, I screamed, ” I don’t want you at my graduation ! I am ASHAMED of you!” She cried for two days and did not attend the graduation.

Ofcourse, she forgave me, but I never forgave myself. Years later when I was living in Thailand, I visited a Buddhist museum in Bangkok. The main display occupied a long room and consisted of  many pictures starting with  photos of babies; fat, jolly infants. The exhibit continued with images of young people, beautiful girls and handsome men. Suddenly the viewer was facing older people, then VERY old people and finally corpses and, last of all, likenesses of  skeletons.  The teaching of Lord Buddha was there for all to see: the human body is but a temporary vessel, flesh is nothing.

I thought of Moira and my own shuffling image glimpsed in the window’s reflection, headed in the not-too-distant future, as I was,  for extinction; surely not for Nirvana ! But most of all, I thought of my mother.  Better late than never, she taught me about compassion and what is really important.





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