Archive for June, 2012

CHURCH BELLS PEAL, NAZIS SALUTE AND A LADY PONDERS A MANSION… I Really Must Switch to Decaf !

| June 28, 2012 | Comments (0)

 

Reaching the peak of a noontime sugar/caffeine high – I had just had an excellent lunch topped off with mousse au chocolat and a double espresso – I bask in the warm sunshine that bakes Katherine Hepburn Park, that delightful sliver of green extending from lst to 2d Avenue at 47th Street.

Some years ago, the park had been a noisy thoroughfare, a grid-locked two-way street choked with angry, honking cars snarling at each other, seemingly going no where. Somehow City Fathers had the wisdom to transform the street into a much-used park, a rare occurrence, indeed. An oasis amid the  concrete canyons in postal code 10017.

Now as I sit in the park on a bench next to a snoozing Chihuahua, Miss Hepburn’s sanctuary is quiet except for tree leaves rustling in the breeze and the tolling of midday church bells chiming their joyful invitation to lunchtime mass. Da…da,da,da…da…da,da-uh…da ! The words of the old Beethoven hymn ring in my ears, a distant echo from childhood Sundays in church: “Glorious things of thee are spoken…Zion, City of our God !…”

Or wait a minute ! Wasn’t  it also …”Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles !”, the Nazi national anthem and still, today, a German patriotic song ! The night before, I had watched a documentary on television about the collusion of the Catholic Church with the Nazis. Although I had been aware of this hateful liaison from reading history, I had never actually SEEN visual proof of it till I saw the film which showed smiling, plump priests standing next to Nazi party stalwarts. Everybody, including the holy men,  had extended their arms upward giving the hated, out-stretched  Hitler salute. Suddenly the sweet sounds of the church bells were ugly and sinister.

Shaken from my happy reverie, reminded by the chimes of what a confused world we live in, my gaze swept the passing parade of lunchtime pedestrians.

Probably few spots in New York City provide such a contrast in life styles and human profiles as one sees in the midtown neighborhood of  Turtle Bay. The park is a demographic playing field and the teams assembled represent all manner of stripes and persuasions – wealth, poverty, honesty, chicanery, arrogance, humility, not to mention that trait shared by all of us, human confusion.

There is the lunchtime expense account crowd, the Madison Avenue PR types, those creators of jingles and sound-bytes that make us buy things we don’t need and consume products that actually harm us; then we have the financial crowd, their flushed purple-ish faces, already jowly before they are even thirty – true-blue Republicans to a person – huddled in conspiratorial groups buzzing to each other knowingly with arcane code words; and who could forget the cream of the crop – the United Nations functionaries and diplomats, expensively tailored with seriously pursed lips, striding by at a rapid clip,  pashmina scarves  flying over their shoulders, glancing purposefully at their Rolexes…We are in a hurry ! We are important ! We have a mission !

Apart from the Chihuahua beside me whose snores alternate with little poopy jets of  tiny Chihuahua farts, I share the bench with a homeless person, a lady of indeterminate age – sometimes being on the street makes you look fifty when you are actually twenty.  I have seen Madame Homeless before. I know she lives in the shelter on East 45th Street; outside the building looks like any posh East Side condo. I wonder what it’s like inside her abode. Sometimes I pause in front of the entrance and jaw with the ladies and guys who congregate by the door. They are a jolly, laid-back group, bantering non-stop in a cloud of smoke, much of it carrying the sweet smell of weed. To me,  they are far more simpatico than the “my shit don’t stink” UN naabobs or the Madison Avenue huckster-fops or the hedge fund gangsters.  When I tripped and fell on Second Avenue a few days ago, who bothered to stop and see if I needed help ? Only those down-and-out homeless folks. They may be poor, but they’ve got soul.

Madame Homeless, my bench mate, is obviously down and out, but her presentation, as threadbare as it is, is respectable. Her dress is worn and old, but clean and neatly pressed. Only her shoes seem to give her away as not well put together. She is wearing sneakers that don’t quite seem to match. But who can blame her for that ? How many mornings have I dressed in a hurry and absent-mindedly buttoned my jacket the wrong way or managed to slip into one brown sock and one blue one ? Who cares ! Madame Homeless is a black woman and the image she projects is one of gentility. Make that shabby gentility.

And what she is doing sitting beside me reinforces her well-born mien. She is reading a glossy brochure, an expensive  real estate prospectus advertising townhouses and high-rise condos that cost millions of dollars. Sitting in the shadow of the elegant, almost forbidding Trump Tower, that 80-story ebony edifice whose top floors are lost in the clouds, I feel that Madame Homeless lives in a palace in the sky in Mr. Trump’s extravaganza and that she is shopping for another  residence. Perhaps a pied-a-terre in Battery Park City in that new building created by the edgy French architect who designed an eccentric structure with wavey walls that make you almost dizzy when you contemplate it. Or maybe Madame Homeless seeks a country retreat, a green haven on Long Island or in the horse country around Bedford ? Dressage anyone ?

I discreetly study Madame Homeless with a side-long glance, a technique  I learned on the Island of Java where everything is done indirectly and with stealth, and her detached but involved scrutiny of  these fabulous properties confirms my initial impression that she is a class-act. The faint smile on her lips tells me that she likes what she sees, but that she is not about to get overworked and pushy about any particular property. You will never hear Madame Homeless say, “I would kill for that classic six apartment !” or “That beach house has got my name on it !” No, Madame will take her time and if it is supposed to happen – if the  mansion REALLY is for her – she will buy it. Or in her case “acquire” it. Madame Homeless is not crass. She “purchases” or “acquires.”

I sit next to Madame for the better part of half an hour. For a few seconds, she looks up from her search for just the right property and heaves a sigh. Then she begins her quest anew, starting from page one, leafing with interest but detachment through the glossy pages.

I look at my watch and realize it is late. As I rise from the bench to leave, Madame Homeless lifts her face from the pages of her fabulous perspectus and locks eyes with me. We smile for a second as I move off  to my next destination. Walking away, I hear a plaintive voice. It is Madame speaking to me. As diplomats rush by us and  trophy wives parade past with nannies, babies and poodles, I hear her plaintive squeak, barely a whisper,  “Mister, I knows you is a nice man and I’s really hurtin’ ! Can you spare a dollar for a hungry lady?”

I reach into my pocket, peal off a five-dollar bill and place it on the open page of Madame’s  real estate brochure.  The page is turned to HAMPTON PROPERTIES FIT FOR A QUEEN.

 

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A WHEELCHAIR, MEXICANS AND MOSQUITOES…Memories of My Last Trip to the Eastern Shore

| June 27, 2012 | Comments (0)

Drawn by an invitation to visit an old high school friend at his summer place in Onancock, Virginia, I plunged down  I-95 dodging  recklessly speeding twelve-wheeler cargo trucks – you just KNOW those wild-eyed drivers are popping amphetamines to stay awake day and night –  and found myself before long in the flat marshy country of my childhood, variously known as the DELMARVA (Delaware-Maryland-Virginia) peninsula or the Eastern Shore.

Stopping to gas up at a filling station, childhood memories came rushing back as I swatted swarms of bird-sized mosquitoes. I recalled July  evenings on my grandmother’s farm in Girdletree, Maryland more than half a century earlier where we would sit in the dark on the front porch of her clapboard house rocking and sipping iced tea. Grandmother said she kept the house dark to prevent the hoards of mosquitoes from invading and bothering us. When we adjourned to the kitchen for dinner, the only light in the room was a single kerosene lamp and the occasional lick of flame that could be seen dancing through the cracks in the enormous iron cook stove that dominated the space.

Later when we climbed the  creaky stairs to our bedrooms, lamp in hand, with our shadows dancing wildly on the wall, we would snuff out the lamp light and creep into bed hoping the mosquitoes would not find us, flying through one of the many holes in the ancient, rusted window screens that looked out on the tomato fields beyond the little red, rose-covered out-house.  Inevitably one or two – or more – mosquitoes would locate the apertures in the screen, buzzing and whining for hours as they circled our heads. This was the worst part of a mosquito onslaught, that horrible high-pitched whine and the teasing brush of your cheek before they settled in to bite and suck blood from another part of your body while you were frantically flailing and slapping at the wrong places, your ears or elbows.

My New Orleans mother, always contemptuous of what she considered the un-cultured Eastern Shore, sniffed that in the French Quarter THEY always dealt with mosquitoes by lighting citronella candles and fanning themselves with lavender-scented fans. Mother had other issues with the Eastern Shore aside from not seeing eye-to-eye with her mother-in-law,  my down-to-earth grandmother.  Mother considered the Eastern Shore fare which I quite enjoyed, the heaps of steamed clams fresh from the Chesapeake Bay and the mountains of buttermilk fried chicken that confronted us at almost every meal, as unsophisticated, unhealthy and oh so bland. “For heaven’s sake ! Where is the Tabasco sauce? ” , she would ask grandmother, who would feign not hearing her or from the pantry engage in loud stage  whispers, ” I don’t know WHAT your mother is talkin’ about, goin’ on about hot sauce ! Why that stuff’d kill a mule !” One evening their war of words escalated to the point where they never spoke directly to each other again after my mother characterized Eastern Shore cooking as death in a dish.

Actually keeping the house dark and using only one kerosene lamp for evening light because of the mosquitoes was just a pretext for not using the electricity my father  had installed in the 1930s when he had also  added indoor plumbing to the house. Neither were ever used. Grandmother simply could not fathom the utility of such “mod cons”, similar, I suppose  to my being unable to relate to Twitter and other frilly “apps”  we are confronted with these days…plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose !

Having filled my tank, I tarried at the gas pump chatting with the young pump attendant who still retained the now hard to find accent characteristic of the Eastern Shore, a mixture of Old English, flavored with a dash of African guttural and more than a dollop of salty air. Arriving at my highschool friend’s place on the water as sunset sparkled on the bay in a spectacular psychodelic  early evening performance, I was relieved to find that we could talk to each other easily after not having met in over forty years. Perhaps the yapping intrusion of several giant hounds slobbering by our side in the living room aided us in getting to know each other anew.  Their constant barking and howling filled what might otherwise have been awkward cracks of silence that inevitably creep into reminiscent conversations that try to re-capture the teenage rapture of senior class skip day and pranks that were played on our latin teacher.

The weekend passed pleasantly enough and on the second night of my stay new blood was added to the social mix in the form of Scotty’s gay neighbors, two friendly men in their late 30’s who joined us for dinner. They had “adopted” an elderly lady who was one  guy’s grandmother and it was decided that we would all go down to the water for sun-downers and sip our gin and tonics on the beach, wheelchair-bound granny included.

We must have been a happy sight, the eight us of – Scotty, his wife, the two boys with their granny and me plus the two Rotweilers – lined up on the sand at the water’s edge, numbed enough by the gin not to notice the buzzing raid of moquitoes that bombarded us. At one point, at granny’s request, one of the guys pushed granny’s wheelchair out into the water so the wavelets lapped at her ankles. As she shrieked and cackled with delight and the dogs bayed at the rising moon, I felt light-headed and happy, my urban cares swept away in the rustic gloaming. Suddenly a rise in the surf of the normally placid Chesapeake Bay slapped granny’s wheelchair with a furious whack and she tumbled over into the water. The boys were quick to the rescue, setting her wheelchair upright. Scotty and his wife rushed to the house for towels and blankets and in minutes granny was dry and chipper, laughing at her adventure with a fresh cocktail in her gnarled hand. Weeks later, in an email the boys shared with us how granny was still dining out on what had become  her evening’s brush with death and near drowning on a storm-tossed Chesapeake Bay !

On my final afternoon with Scotty I was shaken out of my siesta on the deck by his bounding up the steps followed by the panting hounds. “Something’s up and I gotta go check it out !”, he said to me, a note of urgency in his voice. “Somebody’s started a fire down at the end of the property !” Joining Scotty and the canines in hot pursuit, we headed down the beach at a half-trot towards a wisp of smoke curling skyward. Soon the point of our search came into view – five Mexican laborers circled around a campfire singing to the accompaniment of a guitar. As 6’4″ Scotty and the Rotweilers approached the fire, the smiles on the Mexicans’ happy faces faded into tight-lipped expressions of fear; the guitar fell silent and Scotty announced, “This is private property and you are trespassing !”  His pronouncement was met with blank, uncomprehending stares. Soon it became apparent that nobody had a language in common. The Mexicans spoke no English and Scotty no Spanish. In an aside to me, Scotty whispered, “They must be workers from the tomato canning factory across the railroad tracks. I get this kind of tresspassing problem a lot !”

Lacking words to speak, Scotty pointed to the road, gesturing that the Mexicans were to leave. In silence the young workers picked up their back packs, doused the fire and walked away, their shoulders sagging and faces sad. My heart ached at what had just transpired. As Scotty’s guest, I felt reluctant to speak out, but what I wanted to say to  him was: let them enjoy their hard-earned day off, be a generous host, show some kindness to the less fortunate, tell them they are welcome but to please clean up before you leave and put out the fire. As often happens though, I  remained inexplicably tongue-tied when I  should have spoken out.

Next morning just after light broke, I headed back to New York City crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the “mainland”.  Although I talk about going back to the Eastern Shore again for another visit, I doubt if I ever will. There are times when you realize that a chapter of your life is finished and it’s time to move on. Besides, I recently heard that Scotty sold the place by the bay and that the boys had split up and their granny had passed away. But we did have fun together that evening of the “great Chesapeake Bay storm and near-drowning !”

As for the Mexicans, with the canning factory now closed, no telling what happened to them.

 

 

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LET’S HEAR IT FOR MOTHERS….That Misunderstood, Maligned Species

| June 15, 2012 | Comments (0)

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A level-headed, no nonsense friend of mine, breadwinner for a showcase family – three model children and a gorgeous trophy wife whom he describes as “hot, intelligent, a great mom and a major fag hag” indicating that she is no fuddy-duddy stick in-the-mud ! – recently revealed to me the shockingly dysfunctional side of his seemingly perfect family.

For thirty years I had only been aware of the tip of the iceberg that displayed a Norman Rockwell portrait of happy parents and smiling siblings, gathered together for festive events,  harmonious at the  table as Dad carved the Thanksgiving turkey, radiant around the Christmas tree opening gifts. In fact, his family is a nightmare of recriminations and scapegoating where the favorite sport is the blame game, the onus for everything perceived wrong being blamed on his parents.

In the time-honored American way, when problems began to develop, my friend’s parents sent him and his siblings to a shrink for help.  And this is where his sisters – he being sensible enough to resist and see through the psycho-babble, claptrap blah-blah – learned to hate  their parents. As the “analysis” unfolded over months of probing consultation couch interviews, blame for the problems experienced by the children was laid at the foot of the parents. In a  world where no human is perfect, how easy it is for a “professional”, a psychoanalyst, to point the finger at a “bad” mother or an “insensitive” father, thereby  relieving the (juvenile) patient in question of any responsibility for his or her own actions.

American culture unwittingly reinforces this image of bad parents. Even in light-hearted sitcoms  the time-honored “put-down” by offspring of parents is standard fare with Junior  often  saying, “Jeez, Dad, you got it all wrong again ! When are you gonna learn (how to fix a widget !)” Snarky teenage attitudes toward parents have come to be regarded as “cute”, funny and “with it”; how could it be otherwise when many, if not most, screen-writers are under 30 ?

I fell into the “hate your parents” trap early in my childhood. Since my father was an absentee parent, working long hours, almost never involved in family affairs, closeted in his study even when he was at home, the brunt of raising the children fell on my mother. More than half a century later, I see my mother as a well-meaning person who tried too hard and loved too much and never got in return what she considered her due. When problems arose in their marriage my mother committed the cardinal sin of confiding in her children, seeking their commiseration for what she considered  to be a fast-collapsing relationship with my father. She tried her best to make us hate him. She succeeded in her mission and in the bargain we ended up hating her too. The messenger who carries bad news is never loved. My mother desperately wanted us to like her; she wanted to be our “pal.”

Americans make a grave mistake in trying to be “buddies” with their children. Children don’t want a “friend”; they want a mother and a father; they need and desire GUIDANCE, they want to respect the two people who are responsible for putting them on this earth. Children don’t  want to “hang out” with their parents; they want to love, admire and emulate them; to be told what to do and what NOT to do. As a stern but kind teacher friend of  mine pointed out: where on your birth certificate does it say “friend”? It says “mother”, “father” and “child” !

Having spent most of my life in Asia and being partnered with an Asian who is part of a large family from West Java, perhaps I am unduly influenced by the “Eastern” way of life in so far as the culture of family is concerned. It is a culture where parents are REVERED. My view is that RESPECT is the keystone in human relations and these relations begin and are learned in the family. America has gone adrift in the past fifty or so years having lost, on its dizzying journey to greater affluence and  instant self-gratification, the meaning of respect, both self-respect and respect for others, especially parents. The “permissive” camp would say that respect is somehow authoritarian, that it has  an anti-democratic reek about it. I beg to differ.

I especially differ after an incident in the subway yesterday. As I ascended the stairs to the street, I was aware of a pair of giggling, F-word-spouting teenage girls behind me. They were waving Puerto Rican flags, it being Puerto Rican Pride Day in New York City. Suddenly I felt a sharp object penetrating my anus. The pain was intense. I turned around and realized that one of these girls – probably 14 or 15 years-old at the most – had shoved the sharp flag pole into my behind. Perhaps to an on-looker it was a funny sight: an old white dude getting messed over by two chicks with big hair, big earrings and lots of tattoes. But to me it was humiliating and painful. As I stumbled up the stairs in agony, thinking this incident might be a good teaching moment, I said to them, “Keep up this kind of behavior and you’ll end up in jail !” My remonstrance only produced added abuse in the form of a violent verbal assault telling me to “go F-ck yourself, old man ! ”

Limping home, bruised physically and emotionally, I took refuge in that maligned phenomenon known as Facebook, hoping to find some instant friendship and consolation on its pages containing my 300-odd “friends” (I hardly know most of these Facebook people and I’m not really sure how we ended up “friending” each other !) Within minutes I found myself messaging an old pal from high school days. Millicent is a successful writer of “cozy” mysteries; she has written a dozen who-dunnit best-sellers with titles like “Death, Lies and Apple Pies.”

Somehow we got on the topic of driving with Millicent reminding me how I taught her to drive in 1953 when I was thirteen and she fifteen. I had commandeered my family’s 1950 Ford and we had made a beeline to a deserted old Japanese airstrip (we were living in Okinawa, Japan)  where I instructed Millicent in the basics of shifting gears and operating a clutch. After a few minutes of reminiscing and laughing, Millicent suddenly said to me, “I never told you how nice your mother was and how much I loved her !” Totally surprised by this unexpected revelation, I asked her why she loved a woman I thought everybody hated.

What Millicent said touched me deeply. Years after we left Okinawa and had gone our  separate ways, ending up in places that adulthood pulls us to, Millicent had a baby. Not long after the birth of the child, she received a gift in the mail from my mother with a note saying: “Here’s a little something for you, Millicent. When babies are born, everybody seems to forget the mother. This is for YOU.”

With tears in my eyes, I remembered what a forgotten person my mother had been and how I had scorned and avoided her when I was a mixed-up adolescent. Now I realized sixty years later that maybe she wasn’t so bad after all.

 

 

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CELESTE HOLM DESERVES A TONY – 95 Year-old Is Broadway’s Living Treasure

| June 14, 2012 | Comments (2)
(This past Sunday, June 10, 2012, I watched the Tony Awards on television and was underwhelmed by the deteriorating quality of what I feel is  happening on the Broadway stage. For those of you not familiar with the Tonys, they are the stage equivalent of the Academy Awards – the Oscars – and are supposed to recognize excellence in the theatre. Tony Awards are given for many categories of theatrical effort both musical and non-musical. Aside from specific awards for best actor, best director and so on, there are always  honorary Tonys given not for specific feats, but in recognition of generally outstanding effort on the part of an artist, presumably somebody with a great track record of stellar performances  under their belt. This year two honorary Tonys were given, one to Hugh Jackman, the other to Bernadette Peters, both favorites of mine. My only reservation in seeing them receive these awards was: these outstanding performers are still in their prime and have lots of mileage left in their stage careers. I wondered: shouldn’t older, more venerable artists be given recognition, veteran thespians like Celeste Holm, for example ? These thoughts prompted me to write the piece that appears below.)
Growing up in a rural backwater on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the 1940s, I had none of the cultural opportunities available to city kids. There were no theatres featuring dramas and musicals; opera was unheard of; there wasn’t even a cinema within reasonable distance and television’s debut was still a few years away.
My only connection to the distant world of music and the arts was an ancient gramophone that  played scratchy 78 rpm records.
Among the stacks of disks was a recording from the 1943 Broadway show “Oklahoma !” featuring Celeste Holm as Adoo Annie singing the flirty song, “I Can’t Say No!” I played Celeste’s song over and over, and even though I was a boy, I sang along with her, oblivious to the gender difference in the lyrics. It is hard to express what a cultural life line Celeste and her song provided me as a precocious, culturally inquisitive youngster starved for the fantasy and bright lights of a world far from our quiet farm.
Celeste Holm has been an actress for more than 75 years, most of that time spent playing on  Broadway. To many, she is most remembered for her performance in the film “All About Eve”, but although she achieved fame in Hollywood and received an Oscar for her role in “Gentleman’s Agreement”, her first love was the stage where she excelled in productions, a number written expressly for her. By the 1940s Holm was a constant presence on Broadway achieving renown in “Oklahoma !” in  a role she said she got “after proving I could sing bad.” “Oklahoma !” was a smash hit that went on to set a record as Broadway’s longest running musical. In 1945 Holm mounted her own USO tour  to entertain troops fighting in Europe.
Celeste has worked tirelessly for the theatre. She turned over the first shovel of dirt at the ground-breaking for the Lincoln Center Theatre complex. In 1982 she was arrested along with a group of artists and actors protesting the destruction of five historic Broadway theatres. Although the theatres  were destroyed, the rallying cry they raised was successful in giving landmark status and protection  to the remaining historic Broadway houses.
Several months ago I had the good luck to be seated across from Celeste and her husband at a dinner celebrating the Theatre Guild which she was instrumental in founding. At 95 she is as lovely and engaging as ever and still sings with gusto as she proved that evening  when she performed from her Broadway repertoire.
As I watched the Tony Awards this past Sunday, I was hoping Celeste would receive recognition for a life devoted to Broadway. She deserves an honorary Tony not just because she has been a star from the 1930s to the new millennium,  but also for her tireless work benefiting  those in the performing arts.
Let’s hope the Tony Awards will do the right thing this coming year with an award for Celeste Holm in 2013.
(Celeste Holm passed away shortly after I wrote this piece. RIP Great Lady!)

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IS LIFE A CRAP SHOOT ? Should We Play the Cards We’re Dealt ?

| June 8, 2012 | Comments (0)

A friend of a friend, a beautiful young woman, well-educated, successfully employed, socially an A-lister, recently married in a storybook wedding that took place in New Delhi, India. The groom, also in his early 30s, is a Harvard Medical School graduate and has movie-star good looks. The ceremony unfolded over four days with one party and fete following another. In grand South Asian style. The groom’s father is a general in the Indian Army where pomp and circumstance are a daily routine. His uniform changes and head dresses were the stuff of a Merchant and Ivory film.

How did this fabulous young couple – she of the blue eyes and blondest of blonde tresses and he a Ramon Navarro knock-off – meet ? On Facebook. How else! These days electronic introductions are no longer “back alley” as they were once considered. There was a time when “advertising”  yourself was the domain of smarmy losers, resorted to by desperate loners who had no alternative but the lonely hearts want ads : SWF seeks SWM w/B (Single White Female seeks Single White Male with Benefits).

Today it’s cool and more than acceptable to join social networks, to “friend” (and sometime be “de-friended”!) in a global social flow that brings together folks like our dashing sub-continental medico and his peaches and cream all-american bride. Well done !

Electronic hook-ups do not always have happy endings, however.  Another friend, a pretty, shy librarian slightly over forty who had rarely been kissed in her life, let alone seriously messed with, saving her “love” for Mr. Right who had not yet come along, struck up an acquaintanceship on the internet with a sensitive violinist from Amsterdam. For months, messages flew from New York City to Tulip Town. As their rapport crescendo-ed, photographs were exhanged, love poems  written. It came to pass that Heather could not sleep at night until her Dutch soul mate had “tucked her in” with a bedtime phone call. With air fares cheap and both of them gainfully employed in jobs paying generous salaries, the long-distance lovers  agreed it was only a matter of time until they met.

On the night of their first “anniversary”, the date they had discovered each other on  www.justfriends.com, Gerd called Heather. By prior agreement they both had flutes of champagne in hand and raised their glasses in a toast to a year of loving friendship. Midway through the call  Gerd placed the phone on his music rack, picked up  his violin and played Rachmanioff’s Moonlight Sonata for Heather. Tears of joy welled up in her eyes as the love song’s strains reached out to her over the phone. She vowed to fly to him the following weekend.

As planned, Heather flew to Holland, arriving in Amsterdam shortly after dawn broke. Pressed against the barrier in the airport arrival hall, Gerd waved to her,  clutching a bouquet of lillies of the valley, Heather’s favorite flower. As she approached her long-distance lover Heather  registered a jolt of surprise – indeed a shock – perceiving that Gerd was short, very short. Standing in her three-inch heels, Heather at 5′ 10″ in her stocking feet, rose to over 6′ soaring over her miniscule violinst who must have been no taller than 5’4″. As they embraced her chin cleared the top of his head and she found herself bending down as though  she were greeting a child.

In over more than a year of fervent, intimate and what they  both thought were all-encompassing communications – they had confided in each other about everything under the sun from Heather’s hate for her father to Gerd’s fear of infinity – the question of their specific physical dimensions had never been discussed or revealed.  In scores of photographs they had ample chance to perceive each other as  attractive and engaging. Heather had assured herself after her closest friend cautioned her against falling in love with a picture, that photographs don’t lie. In addition to a handsome face, Gerd was a well-built man. She was especially fond of his image posing with the Matterhorn in the background, wearing leiderhosen. Another shot of him on the beach at Majorca was down right sexy. On reflection though, Heather realized as she bent down to receive Gerd’s welcome kiss, that NONE of his pictures had been taken with other people in view, affording her no way of comparing his stature to others. An educated, worldly, compassionate, big-hearted woman, Heather had nothing against physical irregularities, abnormalities. After all, what counted in a relationship was the love generated by non-physical considerations. She had learned that only too well growing up in an unhappy household with parents who constantly fought, having nothing whatsoever in common, nothing to share. And they had both been Hollywood handsome and beautiful. Physical beauty, she had concluded early in her childhood, was even less than skin-deep. Being beautiful was down right deceiving. Still, walking with Gerd by her side, Heather had the feeling of having fetched a child from play school. Although they were nearly the same age – well, she WAS a couple years older – she felt absolutely ancient next  to her mini-paramour.

As a practical person – Heather always described herself to others as a “solution-oriented woman” – she concluded the first step she must take was to lose the shoes, the high-heel shoes and stick to flats. Luckily, anticipating lots of strolls and romantic walks along Amsterdam’s atmospheric canals, Heather had packed a pair of sensible walking sneakers. Then there was her hair. Her tresses were Heather’s crowning  glory; she took pride in arranging her raven locks in various coiffures. Today her hair had been creatively combed into a pompadour that added at least two inches to her height. That would have to go forthwith !

Excusing herself, Heather ducked into the ladies restroom removing her flats from her valise. Addressing herself in the toilet’s mirror, she applied a dampened comb to her hair hoping to flatten it a couple of inches. Perversely, the wetness seemed to encourage her curls to spring to an even higher wave. Angry at herself and her hair, Heather transmitted her dark mood to Gerd who lapsed into silence as they boarded the bus for town.

In an attempt to add levity to what had become a grouchy first encounter, Gerd nervously essayed a joke, a Dutch version “Why did the chicken cross the road ?” When Heather looked down at him in uncomprehending silence, he emitted a high-pitched laugh bordering on a shriek. Turning her head away from him to mask her disappointment, Heather realized that not only did she have a very short boyfriend, she had a counter-tenor giggler on her hands. During their endless phone chats, Heather thought she knew her violinist from head to toe. He had hummed melodies to her, spoken sweet words, but never had he laughed a full-bodied laugh which in his case amounted to a girlish titter. Turning her gaze back to him as the bus reached  the center of the city, Heather resolved that she could love Gerd in spite of these special “characteristics.” In fact, she told herself, his giggle and his stumpy shortness could, with time, grow to be loveable traits, things that she could make fun of silently, quietly to herself as new ways to love him.

But then there was the reeking halitosis. Not until they sat next to each other in the bus and began conversing at close range was Heather struck by the rancid smell that  emerged from Gerd’s mouth with each syllable he spoke. She laughed to herself while recoiling with disgust, thinking of her father’s statement when confronted with a stupid person: “Everytime he opens his mouth, he subtracts from the sum total of human knowledge.” In Gerd’s case she decided that: “Everytime he opens his mouth he adds to the pollution of the environment.” Ashamed of her nasty black humor, she knew there must be products one could buy, perscription remedies that could be obtained that would address his horrid lizard’s breath.

Finally, there was what developed to be Gerd’s near psychopathic shyness. Whether it was her height that  intimidated him or her scarcely concealed grimace when he uttered foul-smelling words that were meant to be sweet nothings, Gerd virtually ceased speaking. Luckily, Amsterdam was a city of many sights. With map and guidebook in hand Heather attacked the canals, the museums and the royal palace returning to the flat as late as she could. Sensing her mood, Gerd said that, unfortunately, pressing work had emerged at the office. He begged her permission to leave her on her own during the day to which she readily assented.

On her final morning in Amsterdam Heather breathed a sigh of relief as she packed for the flight back to New York. Luckily Gerd inhabited a commodious flat with two bedrooms and she had moved to the guestroom after the first night, saying that he snored. Actually Gerd did not snore, but how was he to know that. Insisting that he not bother to see her to the airport, Heather boarded the bus alone for her flight back to the Big Apple. Their parting gesture was a rather clumsy buddy-hug followed by one of those bone-crushing hand shakes that Americans of a certain are wont to give.

On her return, Heather threw herself into her New York City routine. She enrolled in several fitness classes at her gym and spent long hours at the office. Finally, after a week, realizing she must email Gerd, she messaged him thanking him for his hospitality. He replied with a one-liner saying he hoped that she had enjoyed Amsterdam.  They never communicated again.

Three months later Heather married a colleague she had been working with for fifteen years, but had scarcely ever noticed. They worked two cubicles from each other, but had never exchanged more than cursory good morning greetings. Marvin was quiet and plain and very tall. He had a low voice and those few times when he was moved by something amusing, he had a deep, resonating laugh that spoke to Heather after all those years of ignoring him. Marvin was not particularly clever or creative. When he proposed to Heather, they were standing at the office copy machine. Not bothering to cease his copying tasks as he stammered out, “Will you marry me?”, his face flashed green as the copy machine light scanned each page that was printing.

But Marvin was a bass-baritone and stood 6’3 in his stocking feet. Perhaps the clincher was his Listerine-fresh breath.

We play the cards we’re dealt, even if it’s a stacked deck.

 

 

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