| May 7, 2012 | Comments (0)






Mondays are errand-filled, beginning of the week, bill-paying, letter-writing days. Yes, I did say letter-writing. There are actually folks who  still do slow mail, who do not live in the electronic world. They are not retards or dotty old eccentrics; they simply choose to live without email, Facebook, APPs and TWEETs, those kind of things. I, myself, draw the line at Facebook. Use it but don’t love it; great to reconnect with people whose paths parted from mine half a century ago – and Facebook has indeed facilitated some wonderful reunions – but it mostly ends up being too much information and pictures I would rather do without. Like my friend’s 19 year-old daughter and  her picture on Facebook, showing an 8-month, naked  pregnancy ” bump”; she’s un-married, un-educated and un-employed, hasn’t a clue what she is going to do with her life, let alone that of the child who will arrive in one month, but she’s advertising her impending Motherhood for all the world to see. Well, there I go! … giving YOU too much information !

But back to letter-writing and slow mail. Last week I received a letter, a REAL letter from a friend in Arizona whom I had known 50 years ago. We were re-united via the technology I just maligned in the opening paragraph of this piece. Facebook having paved the way, I wrote to my old pal in Arizona, sending her a short note hoping to reconnect. I didn’t waste pages writing  an epic catch-up  on what I had been up to over the last five decades; you never know, at this point in our not-so young lives, she could have passed on by now, for all I knew and my scribbles would have been for naught. Yes, that’s the way it is with us over- 70 crowd. When somebody is late for an appointment, I no longer find myself exercised by their delay. I simply shrug my shoulders, roll my eyes  heavenward and conclude they are dead. Then they show up 30 minutes late with the usual New York City excuse, ” Oh those trains!”

But back to Portia’s  letter which arrived as mail would in days of yore: a plump, cream-colored envelope stamped with  brightly-illustrated commerative postage containing pages and pages of crisp vellum stationery with an exhaustive account, written in impeccable cursive long hand, of what my pal and our mutual friends had been doing over the last half century – marriages, babies, more babies, divorces, grandchildren, more grandchildren, grandchildren marrying, grandchildren divorcing. Rather predictable “plus ca change” events, but rather re-assuring to know that we humans are up to the same old fun and games we have been playing since time immemorial.

I, ofcourse, felt obliged to reply in a similar, newsy vein which is always a challenge for a childless, gay person especially when corresponding with somebody one knew before one “came out” (of the closet, that is, not “came out”, as in being presented at Court.) Living in Arizona, anything was possible. My old friend could be a homo-hating Mormon, a Mexican-bashing nativist, an Obama-detesting ” birther.” I took the safe way out and talked about my house and the squirrel problem in my garden. I threw in a bit about the cultural joys of living in New York.  I was careful not to say OUR house or OUR garden. That would have raised questions. Then there was the United Nations. Thank God for the United Nations. As much as I bad-mouth my old employer, perfidiously biting the hand that feeds me my generous monthly pension, I do acknowledge with gratitude the use to which my UN connection can be put in a pinch, keeping my news safely neutral but passably interesting. In the case of my letter to Friend Portia, I was able to rattle on for several paragraphs about my career with the UN – probably despised in Arizona for its black helicopters  and plan to take over the world – naming the countries I had worked in and the exotic places I had traveled to, not to mention such events as earthquakes  I had experienced and tropical diseases  I contracted. Nothing like chatting about a disease to tighten rapport with an old friend; one of the few things we all have in common. Bless you, death and taxes, for giving us all something to bond about !

Heaving a sigh of relief at having written what I hoped was  a pleasant, safely chatty  missive avoiding any hint of being the queer, Socialist-leaning, opinionated eccentric that I am, I proceeded to the post office to send my letter on its way. Blessed by a late morning lull and  the absence of a queue, I sailed up to the counter to find myself facing a clerk who was jamming with himself, tapping his fingers, singing soto voce in an animated manner.

Not wanting to interrupt his pleasant musical interval with himself, I simply stood without speaking hoping to gain his attention for a smooth transition from song to customer service. Ofcourse, being New York City where things are different from the rest of the world, it was not to be. In Gotham, I have learned, you can stand in front of a public service employee till Hell freezes over and not be recognized until YOU speak to THEM. After what seemed to be quite a long time, I summoned my resolve to be recognized and said to him, ” What is that you’re singing ?”

Without skipping a beat, he raised voice and  the decibel level of  the song, presenting me with what he termed Cole Porter’s “other” lyrics to that famous number,” You’re the Top !”  

                                                    ” You’re the top !…You’re a bridal suite in use…..

                                                     You’re the breath of Venus,

                                                     You’re King Kong’s penis,

                                                     You’re self-abuse !”

Multi-tasking beautifully, my musical clerk  continued his racey renditon of Cole Porter, stamped my letter, swiped my credit card and sent me on my way.

Back  on my block in the  South Bronx, I pause at the corner bodega to indulge in my favorite vice, the purchase of a tiny, lethal Hostess chocolate cake and to joust with Achmed, the beady-eyed cashier who is the most accomplished short-change artist in the five boroughs of New York City. Little does Achmed know  as he tries to give me change for a fiver when I give him a ten spot, that he is rendering a service far more valuable than the small change he hopes to bamboozle from me. They say that dementia is retarded by mind games that challenge the brain to be active and calculating. If I have any marbles left, it’s thanks to Achmed. Without his knowing it, I have silently dubbed him with the honorific “Doctor Achmed, street corner shrink and short change artist ” !

With King Kong Towering above  Grand Central Post Office and Achmed playing mind games with Hostess cakes, how can I possibly ever leave you, New York !



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