Archive for August, 2012

SPRING CLEANING IN AUGUST…Away With You, Dusty Motes !

| August 29, 2012 | Comments (0)


(My notebook is filling up with bits and pieces, “motes” of thought, not significant enough in themselves for a single article, but still – to me – interesting and  sufficiently thought-provoking  to warrant an appearance on these pages. So let’s sweep away these items and bring them to light before they become forgotten cobwebs, too hoary and remote to be of interest to anybody!)

I start with a topic that is both repulsive and frightening; also perhaps “normal” and all in the nature of things, as Dr. Freud might say. I refer to inappropriate touching between parents and children, specifically fathers touching daughters in what I feel is a decidedly WRONG manner.

We read and we are told that humans, like other animals, are sexual beings with attractions and repulsions that start at birth or even before then. And it all begins in the family, it seems; children are attracted to their parents in innocent, but decidedly sexual ways. Daughters – and sometime sons – to fathers; sons and daughters to their mothers. And vice versa. From the perspective of the parent, these urges or attractions are controlled or suppressed in the name of decency and morality. Call it what you will, the “no fly zones” of human inter-action, the taboo territory where one should never tread.

And yet. People will be people, won’t they. I hope it will not be considered disrespectful or mean-spirited if I tell that you my mother hit on me when I was a teenager and she was a middle-aged, neglected spouse. This sad behavior is a rather recognized and not uncommon phenomenon and is reported on by no less than the composer Stephen Sondheim in his biography where he details such behavior towards himself by his mother, “Foxy” Sondheim also a neglected wife. In my case it all started under the guise of dancing lessons. My mother was quite a dancer in her day and, learning that I was somewhat of a wall flower at high school proms (the fact that I wasn’t really interested in dancing with girls, but wanted desperately to dance with the captain of the baseball team had not, at that time, crossed her radar screen, or mine either for that matter!), she suggested that I needed some lessons in Fox-trot, Jitter Bug and the Charleston. Mother was a flapper till the day she died having been born in 1908, reaching her young prime at the peak of the Jazz Age in the late 20’s. Nothing pleased her more than to get out on the dance floor and shake a leg, to be young again.

Not having yet reached that fatal, nihilistic stage of adolescence where I was interested in NOTHING – that happened soon enough, around fifteen as I recall – I eagerly accepted mother’s offer to dance – or prance as she liked to call it. We cleared the floor of carpets and cranked up the Victrola. I took to  the Jitter Bug and the Charleston like a duck to water. The Fox-trot was another matter. It involved “close dancing” which I found off-putting in the extreme, probably one of the manifestations of that shyness syndrome that grips some homely adolescents who wouldn’t be caught nude in the high school locker room and who wait till everybody has gone home before entering the communal showers after a sports event. In any case, I found sudden, forced physical intimacy with a person of the opposite sex more than I could cope with.

Strangely, this reticence on my part seemed to spur my mother to more aggressive behavior. She insisted that we dance with our bodies pressed tightly against each other. “You can’t dance well with your partner, you can’t glide across the floor and look good unless your two bodies are one!”, she told me, breathing rapidly, dragging me close to her. “Yuck !” I replied and pulled away. Thus ended the dance lessons  with my mother in tears  telling me I didn’t love her and my running out of the house, hot-boxing a Camel cigarette as I nervously tried to forget what had just happened. No mention was ever made again of our dance lessons by either of us.

As an introvert who was never accepted into the group as I was growing up – think of that sociology  textbook diagram illustrating the concept of “ostracization” that shows a cluster of little circles in one corner  and a single, lone little square all by itself in an opposing corner; that was me, the little square – I spent my time observing, not interacting; thus, by life-long habit of watching rather than participating, I tend to see more than most people see and certainly notice what others are doing in a way that is undetectable to them. I have developed a technique for watching people without their knowing they are being observed. People with my skill see a lot.

For example, on a crowded subway recently I watched as a youngish, stockbroker father – he must have been such a person with his three-piece suit, his power briefcase and his Wall Street Journal – cradled his three-year old daughter in his arms as they entered the subway at Grand Central Station. As the train pulled away from the station, the father began kissing his daughter. Nice and normal enough, you’d say. But wait, this man was kissing this infant on the lips with full open-mouth kisses. As I watched this untoward display of affection, I noticed that nobody else on the train seemed to be giving the slightest attention to this strange parent-child “bonding.” The repulsive smooching continued and increased in intensity. Being no stranger to “sucking face” myself (but not with my daughter; I don’t have one), it was obvious to me that what was going was very sexual and that the father was reaching an advanced a state of arousal, his tongue busy with eager thrusts into the tiny, young mouth.

I wondered if this man was actually aware of what he was doing and I struggled with myself, having a hard time not tapping him on the shoulder and asking WHAT was going on. “It takes a village” and all that, we are responsible for the behavior of our fellow humans, but I was not about to challenge somebody bigger, stronger and younger than myself. And what if he were a lawyer !! This twisted display of affection continued without surcease until the train pulled into 86th Street with father and daughter exiting the train. Ten minutes non-stop smooching. Was what I saw “normal” ? Was it “sick” ? Am I sick for watching them and drawing the conclusions I drew? Who is to say. But I think what I think…so THERE! I just KNOW in my bones that what I was witnessing was WRONG ! But what can one do? Nothing !

Not long after that strange subway ride I happened to be on the cross-town bus when I witnessed an even more shocking example of father-daughter lust, at least lust on the part of the parent. Again, a youngish father and a two to three year-old daughter. This time comforting pats on the bottom became insistent kneading of the child’s genital area by the father’s hand. It continued and continued. The father was obviously aroused. Who was to know ? Who was watching besides me ? Nobody, I would venture to say. It could well be that these fathers are unware of what they are doing, are unconscious, if you will, of the actions they are engaging in. But I doubt it. I think this is a dirty little secret that will forever remain a secret since three-year-olds cannot articulate verbally or mentally what is being done to them by a person they love very much who “protects” them. I think this problem is bigger than we realize. Abuse that will forever remain silent and perhaps even unrecognized by the perpetrator, the father.

But who knows ? With America’s culture of tiny tiara tot beauty queens, those pathetic five year-old Jon Benet Ramsey sex objects, who is to say that father-daughter petting is not the new normal ?

Heavy stuff what I have just written. We need a break so I will entertain you with a funny story told me by my late friend Sal; Salvatore to be more formal to the dearly departed gentleman. First, a word or two about Sal, who was a beautiful human being and a brilliant song writer. At my request, Sal wrote a duet for me and my songbird friend, Laura for a recording we were undertaking. The song was about an old retired couple rocking and grumbling on the porch of their retirement home.  The title of the song is: “Has It Been Good For You?” The words go something like this:

He –  Decades ago when we first met,

She – I scarcely remember HOW!

He – Who would have guessed we’d be here, sitting together now!

How life flies by when you’re having fun.

She -Though it always hasn’t been the case !

He –  We’ve had more of our share of the good years,

The rest I know time will erase !

Together – Sitting and watching  a fire that’s dwindlng,

And, Oh! what a lovely glow !

We’re fresh out of kindling, wouldn’t ya know !

The fire won’t last much longer, but it’s still warm enough for two.

A good fire, a great life, my darling !

Has it been good for you?

Laura and I sang this song with feeling and to great effect and it brought tears to the eyes of everybody who heard it. Or at least tears welled up in MY eyes.

Sal was also a great raconteur. He could regale you about his Sicilian family back in the old country, there were stories about growing up during Prohibition. You name it, he told it. One of the best tales involved his kid brother Joey. Joey, like Sal, was a burly, barrel-chested working-class Wop who worked in construction. Laid bricks, drank beer, went bowling with the guys every Friday night. But unlike his siblings and every other red-blooded Italian male over thirty, Joey was not married. Joey’s mother, Ma to her six sons, began showing signs of concern that her bambino was still single. Joey shrugged off his mother’s niggling, re-assuring her, “Ma, it’ll happen when it happens, don’t worry !”

But something else was  happening with  Joey. Beneath his bullish brick-layer, tattooed hide, Joey was beginning to realize that deep down inside he was really a WOMAN. In  1940’s working-class Italian-American Connecticut Joey’s epiphany was unusual to say the least. At 5 foot ten inches and weighing nearly 200 pounds, with weight-lifter biceps and a neck thick as a buffalo, it was hard even with the  most concerted stretch of the imagination to visualize Joey as a girl.

Undaunted, Joey began to cross-dress on select occasions for a  chosen few friends. Everybody was surprised at the result. Who would have thought this Italian stallion could morph into a lady-like apparition, his ham-handed fists curling into graceful gestures as he swayed across the room in a purple velvet floor-length skirt and billowing white silk blouse ! Joey had wisely chosen a floor-length garment to cover his massive hairy calves and football player’s thighs. The result was pleasing to everybody especially Joey.  Even those who did not share Joey’s enthusiasm for his “transition” bit their tongues and remained silent because Joey was the toughest guy in the neighborhood. Numerous broken noses and black eyes over the years had shown that it did not pay to cross Joey.

Joey was pleased with his new persona, but something was still missing. He needed to share the joy of being a woman with the person closest to him in his life, his mother. His plan to bring the news to his mother was well-thought out and simple. Over dinner when they were alone Joey would tell her that he was no longer a man. To ease the shock to his uneducated, Sicilian peasant mother, he would NOT dress in velvet and silk this first time; he would just tell her. Let it sink in, then see what happened. He would even speak in Sicilian so she would feel more comfortable. But he would tell her his new name that night.  For Joey had become Michelle.

Dinner went well and after he had cleared the dishes for her they sat at the kitchen table with the radio playing and the clock ticking. At what he judged to be the right moment, Joey cleared his throat and announced, “Ma, I wanna tella ya somethin’ important ! Ya lissen good, Ma, CAPISCE !” “OK, Bambino mio, Ima lissen !” “Ma, Ima transvestite !” “I canna hear ya good, my boy! You say you WHAT?!?” “Ima TRANSVESTITE !” ” WHAT ! You gotta da problem widda you  clothes-a ? You vest is too tight ? OK ! No problem, I take it to Giuseppe da tailor domani, va bene ? He have it ready for mass on Sunday for sure. I give-a him dollah extra quick work!”

“No Ma, you don’t understand ! Non capisce niente ! Ima girl and my name is MICHELLE ! Ima Michelle now. Ima not you Joey anymore Ima Michelle !”

“Oh, OK ! I understand. You change-a you name ? OK, va bene ! No problem. I like-a dat new name, MITCHELL.  Isa betta dan Joey. Okay ! Mitchell ! Isa real Americano name dat one !”

“But Ma…isa not Mitchell, isa Michelle.”

“OK, benissimo. Mitchell. I like-a!”

“But Ma…..”



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| August 18, 2012 | Comments (0)

Luis Maria Gomez was, as Cole Porter might have described him, an Argentine with means. While I’m not sure just how wealthy  he was, Senor Gomez was a man of means in the broadest sense of the word. He was larger than life – tall, loud, macho and full of street smarts – and I don’t know of an encounter where Luis Maria did not have the last word.

Most of all, Gomez was a straight-talker, that rarest of species seldom found in the halls of the United Nations where we both worked. Surrounded by multinational functionaries mouthing pious platitudes, Louis Maria  stood out and was something of a hero to me when I joined the UN ‘s army of development  warriors back in the early 1970s.

My fondest and most indelible memory of Luis Maria took place on the eve of my departure for what promised to be a challenging field  assignment to a least-developed, landlocked country in Asia. As was the custom in those days, a suitably solemn send-off party had been  organized and a select group of colleagues summoned to the lounge next to Gomez’s spacious office to wish me luck and bid me farewell.

The air thick with bonhomie, some of it sincere, some of it two-faced, the party wound to a climax with “remarks” by colleagues, fond reminiscences and cautiously optimistic advice about going off to a “hardship” posting; as I recall through the mist of successive decades, what was said was mostly well-meaning, hortatory hot air offered by associates relieved that they were remaining in their cushy New York Headquarters sinecures, not venturing into the heat, dust, malaria and other perils that lurked in the Third World, waiting to embrace me in their deadly grip. Least eager to return to the developing world for an assignment were the elite citizens of the Third World who were glad to get out of their own worn-torn, improverished lands even though they bravely and sometimes chauvinistically displayed their country’s national flags prominently  on the walls of their offices.

Ceremoniously glancing at his wrist watch, Gomez’s personal assistant cleared his throat presaging the arrival in the room of the Great Man himself. When an appropriate silence had settled on the lounge, Gomez strode into the space, eyed us individually, smiled and then focused his gaze on me. Eschewing the microphone that had been senselessly installed in an intimate room where such amplification was superfluous, Gomez broke into a broad grin saying, “I guess everything’s already been said that needs to be said, so I won’t waste your time when you could be drinking and having fun. All I want to say to Oglesby, who is about to leave us, is three words: DON’T FUCK UP !”

As the  room broke up into giggles and titters, some of the more austere, humorless Third-World types wondering what their reaction should be in face of their boss uttering such vulgar advice, I found myself grateful for what Luis Maria had said, knowing that such a “speech” required no rejoinder and that I would be spared giving a boring response to the remarks that had been made. With its candor and brevity and what I later came to regard as a rare touch of wisdom, Gomez’s trio of farewell words shocked me into realizing that I was not going on some kind of sacred mission. That I was only flesh and blood and that I would be  dealing with situations and people who, despite their strange languages and unusual customs, were, at their core, just like me.

The assignment that faced me proved to be an enjoyable posting, but not without its nettlesome aspects. What bothered me was not the dirt, the dust, the lack of  “mod cons” or the loneliness – I had been a solitary person most of my life and felt little need for constant human companionship; rather it was the abrasive, idiosyncratic, egotistical  quality of some of my expatriate colleagues who were unsuited for life in a foreign land.  I found that many of this  motley collection of foreigners took their frustrations out on the submissive host country locals who were entrapped by a culture of compliance and  the grip of debilitating poverty disempowering them in face of the “we know what’s good for you” expatriates.

One of my pet peeves came to be the wives of the UN specialists who were assigned to work on a variety of projects as experts – agriculture, public health, education and other sectors of national advancement. Cast in the role of housewives with no housework to do since they all had servants, and  with no professional office jobs available to them  since  host country unemployment was rife and, in any case,  work permits were  non-existent for foreigners,  some of the UN wives were a constant bother. While most of them were lovely people and noble helpmates to their families, a good number were mal-contented gossips who engaged in nefarious activities; but how could you blame them? Idleness breeds the Devil’s work. The boredom of bridge parties and three-hour lunches took its toll. Extra-marital trysts were common as were bouts of depression, cocktail hours were often advanced and began during lunch; dissension was rife among these idle camp-followers.  And the mood of these memsahibs had direct impact on the morale and hence the  professional effectiveness of their husbands, the experts.  An unhappy wife often meant a project manager who was not working at his peak. How could he when he came home to a carping nag or an inebriated pile on the sofa ?

Stepping in where I had no business meddling, I attempted at first to help these hapless women and tried to place several of the foreign spouses in jobs in the UN system. It never worked out. The jobs I could find for them were always volunteer and without pay. Eager at first to put on a nice dress and come to an office, the glow soon wore off when the reality of being “slave labor” sunk in. They told me they didn’t want to work for “nothing”, ignoring their own initial pleas to me that they would do anything just to get out of the house and be back in the real world doing something meaningful. I soon found myself getting grief from the wives whom I had tried to help. Somehow they interpreted my trying to help them as a guarantee that they would be getting paying jobs. Pure fantasy on their part, but tell them that ! From the host country side, I found myself being accused of neo-colonialism, trying to foist foreigners into jobs that locals should be filling. The fact that these wives were working for free and that they were highly skilled made no difference. Nobody ended up happy and I bore the brunt of criticism and discontent from all sides.

And then there were the do-gooders. One morning a group of irate wives invaded my office accusing me of promoting cruelty to animals ! I had been active in helping the local staff association organize a programe to raise scholarship money for needy students. One of the group’s activities involved a talent show that featured dancing monkeys. The monkeys were owned and had been trained by a local gentleman who was a professional dancer himself. He had ingeniously taught these little primates to dance the intricate steps that humans performed and had clothed them in tiny brocade costumes and  little tiaras.  Accompanied by a band of local musicians, the show was a roaring success and earned lots of money for the scholarship fund. But the foreign wives were NOT pleased. To execute their dance steps the monkeys had been leashed and were guided by their human master with the tug of ropes tied to their arms and necks. While I could detect no cruelty on the part of their owner and no visible discomfort on the part of the monkeys, the wives insisted that the monkeys performing and being tied up was exploitation and was unacceptable. They told me that I MUST do something or they would go to the Chief of Mission and complain. When I told them “Be my guest !” they stormed out of my office and made a formal complaint to the boss. Later that day I was reprimanded and given a lecture on cruelty to animals. The talent show ended and the scholarship fund did not achieve it goals.

Equally grating was the pettiness of some of my colleagues, the international staff, who because of their hopes of ingratiating themselves to the boss or driven by small-mindedness, sometimes engaged in acts that made my life miserable. Once I was designated Officer-in-Charge during the  absence of the boss and the deputy chief of mission.  Stepping into this temporary position meant that I was often placed in a representational role visa-a-vis the host government. This meant trips to the government Secretariat building, a ponderous colonial pile not unlike a medieval fortress. Getting into the Secretariat was a whole process in itself. Papers had to be presented at the gate, security guards had to inspect the entering vehicle and its passengers, and on and on. Very time-consuming

One morning I was running late for an appointment with a Director-General in the Secretariat. Being punctual for appointment with high government officials was de rigueur; being late would not do. Knowing that the entrance formalities and inspections were waived when a diplomatic car flying a flag entered the grounds of the building, I instructed the driver to unfurl the flag and we sailed through the massive gates and I ended up being nicely on time for my meeting.

Several weeks later when the boss had returned from abroad, I was called into his office for a stern chatisement. Didn’t I know that I was NOT the Chief of Mission and that I had NO right to fly the flag of the United Nations when I traveled in a UN car ! My attempts at explaining my action only got me in deeper hot water and I ended up apologizing for something that I thought had been perfectly justifiable. It turned out that a colleague with whom I had had a disagreement some days earlier – a simple matter of not seeing eye-to-eye on a detail of work – had held a grudge against me and thought that ratting on me about the flag flying on the car would be a good way to settle his score. I have many faults, for sure, but pettiness is not one of them. I laughed to myself after that stupid incident and wondered, thinking of Luis Maria Gomez’s final words to me,  if I had “fucked-up”. I guess there are fuck-ups and then there are fuck-ups. But it seemed sad to me, working as we were in a poor country trying to lift the population out of misery, that we were often  too consumed by picayune-ish  personal pre-occupations that added nothing to what we were trying to accomplish and detracted greatly from our being on the personal level, decent human beings.

Another pet peeve of mine was foreign “experts” who had what I termed “fear of the bush,” those brave, highly-paid souls who, despite their job descriptions which called for them to go to the field to perform their work, preferred to remain in the more comfortable climes of the capital. I recall one case in particular that involved a blustery, Colonel Blimp kind of Englishman who was Team Leader of an agricultural research project. The project was based in an arid, up-country location, a real nowhere’s-ville, its objective being to build up a research station that experimented with new crops appropriate for farmers in the area. It was obvious to me that the Team Leader needed to be based AT the research station.

As the officer assigned to back-stop this project, I came to realize that its Team Leader, Geoffrey Hadden-Dinkworth, had comfortably established himself with a comely Eurasian mistress in a flat in my building and  had no intention of moving to Yezin, the remote station to which he was assigned. During a briefing  with the boss when Hadden-Dinkworth outlined the marvelous things he planned to do for the research station,  innocently and rather facetiously, I asked when he planned to RELOCATE  to the research station. Caught off-guard and totally unprepared for my unexpected question, Hadden-Dinkworth’s liverish face turned an even deeper shade of purple. Taking in a deep breath and drawing his potbelly in as far as it would allow him, Hadden-Dinkworth  sputtered that he could not see the sense of my question and how would where he slept have any bearing on what he accomplished in his job ? The boss, also British, but more  a quiet-spoken study in English understatement than his blimpish countryman, murmured, “But ofcourse Dr. Hadden-Dinkworth will be going to Yezin. Why only yesterday I spoke with his colleagues at the research station and they are eagerly awating his arrival!” Crushed, Hadden-Dinkworth slunk from the briefing like nothing so much as a  deflated party balloon. Predictably, he lasted at Yezin a few months and was soon replaced by an Indian scientist who made a great success of the job.

My work was not all that unpleasant; in fact working in the so-called Third-World was a delight to me and I am only sorry that I am not there now, although my home in the South Bronx is Third-World in many ways, thank God ! Howling, drunken memsahibs  and grousing Colonel Blimps aside, my life as a “development warrior” was an adventure of the first order. I never forgot what Luis Maria told me and I think I avoided fucking up…except once !

I had been assigned as coordinator for a meeting of project managers to be held in Haad Yai, South Thailand, that part of the country bordering Malaysia that is more Muslim than Buddhist, in rubber plantaton country.  Haad Yai is also infamous for its gambling tables and  bawdy houses of ill-repute that cater to the pleasure-seeking trade from across the border in puritanical Malaysia.

We had worked hard on preparations for the confab and the evening before the meeting,  feeling I needed to blow off some steam, I went into Haad Yai looking for a good time. I ended up in a “maison de tolerance”, the most famous red light establishment in town. The night passed in a wild blur. There were shrieks as clients  went streaking down corridors, people hanging over the balcony dared each other to jump. By five o’clock in the morning, I was ready to leave, but alas ! somebody had stolen my clothes ! How could I go back to the project in a towel without a shred of clothing on my back ?

Somehow I managed to borrow some money, buy a tee-shirt and a pair of pants. My shoes had disappeared and I ended up wearing rubber flip-flops back to the office. Quite a  sight.  The meeting was about to open as I walked bleary-eyed into the conference, clad in a fresh change of clothes hastily pulled out of my back pack. Luis Maria might say that I had fucked-up, but I would add: just barely and nobody was the wiser, except my boss who had to pay back the loan I had gotten from the whore house.

When people tell me that working in development is boring, I beg to differ. Just don’t get caught with your clothes off !




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| August 15, 2012 | Comments (0)


It’s been happening to me for many years; for as long as I can remember, as a matter of fact. I’m referring to “BLINK MOMENTS.” I have them at the most unexpected times and in the least anticipated places.

For example, a few months ago during an afternoon out-and-about in Manhattan I passed a TASTI KREME  shop, one of those unspeakable places I refer to as Diabetes Central, a joint I would not be caught dead in. Only wouldn’t you know, it was that “once-in-a-blue moon”, one time a year moment when I was seized with the urgent need to partake of a TASTI KREME, to bury my face in that non-descript overly sweet confection until my face was covered with goo, my nostrils clogged with sugary mush, my visage as unrecognizable as Fred Astaire in black-face at a minstrel show.

I hasten to add, to repeat, that I don’t do this kind of thing very often, to emphasize that I rarely eat sweets. Even as a child I prefered aspirin and broccoli to eating ice cream cones and donuts. Yes, I WAS a strange child, a boy who read Nancy Drew instead of the Hardy Boys, an only son who played with dolls instead of baseballs.

Be that as it may and back to the TASTI KREME shop, seconds after entering the establishment and ordering one of their vile products, I was seized by an aura. I realized I was having a “blink” moment. As though I were in the grips of speaking in “tongues” and without any pre-meditated intention  of doing so, I blurted out to the employee on the other side of the counter, a young latino man of perhaps twenty-one years, “You’re a doctor!”

The young man’s jaw dropped as did the lump of cake he held in his hand, my order landing on the steel counter with a soft thud. “But how did you know that?”, he gasped. “I’m an intern at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and I’m here filling in for my kid brother who’s sick and couldn’t come to work today !” I shook my head in disbeliefe at what I had said and what the young doctor told me. As we stood staring at each other over the counter, not knowing whether to laugh or scream, I heard myself mumbling, “This kind of thing seems to happen to me all the time !”

Young Doctor Tasti Kreme was so impressed that he refused to charge me for the “death in a cup” dessert I had ordered. My blink talents seemed to be paying off with tangible rewards.

I hasten to add I am not the only person who experiences “blink ” moments. In fact, a best-seller has been penned carrying that very title, BLINK. The book cites various  examples of “blink”, those moments  when the “blinker” realizes the truth, the hidden reality that has evaded detection by others. Often these blink moments have great practical value, carrying with them millions of dollars that weigh in the balance until the treasure in question is swept away by blink.

Perhaps the most famous example of blink detection involves a Greek statue that was to be purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Valued at tens of millions of dollars when it was about to be added to the museum’s collection in the 1980s, the authenticity of the statue was vetted and approved by every expert and every technique known to the art world. Except for one person, Thomas Hoving, formerly the Museum’s Director who as  an independent art consultant  examined the statue and stated, contrary to existing expert opinion, that the statue just did not “seem”  to him to be a real antique. Luckily, the Museum demurred in its purchase. Shortly thereafter a obscure technique, new to the science of antiquity aging, revealed that the statue was in fact only a few years old.  Just as my TASTI KREME encounter revealed totally unexpected information, Hoving’s blink moment served the museum well !

In  my case, I hasten to add that my TASTI KREME blink was not an isolated occurrence. I “blink” with alarming regularity and my revelations are not always met with approval. Some months ago I was invited to a  dinner party in Washington, DC. The crowd was feminist and “do-gooder.” In a gathering of six, I was the only male. All of the other guests had recently returned from assignments in the Third-World and as the evening unfolded one tale after another was recounted, telling of noble efforts overcoming  incredible odds and daunting challenges in the war on poverty, ignorance and corruption. My ears were filled with the sound of “strong women doing the right thing.” I chose the wiser path to valor and kept quiet for most of the evening.

Most prominent in this “save the world” show-and-tell was Shirley who had just returned from one of the “Stans” where she had worked for two years trying to make things right. Small business schemes for women; water-sharing cooperatives in dry zones; village-level health care; good stuff.  Which “Stan” Shirley was in slips my mind; it could have been Afghanistan or  Uzbekistan or  Krgystan, no matter. The work she did and the difficulties encountered made Shirley emerge a heroine. Appreciative murmurs from her fellow diners punctuated the tales Shirely told us as we sampled our Thai curry and Indonesian satay.

After the meal, I walked through the agreeable twilight of Dupont Circle with several of the guests. As we savored the evening, the food, the company and the accounts of noble works performed for the down-trodden, one of my fellow-strollers opined that she found Shirley to be one of the most dedicated, selfless people she had ever met.

As I was about to mumble my agreement I felt a blink moment upon me. Seized by the power of blink, incredible to my own ears, I heard myself say, “I think it’s all bullshit ! Shirley is a spook ! She works for the fucking  CIA !” My feminist, development-set friends turned on me ferociously. I think I even received a blow to the head from one of their purses. Scurrying off into the night before I was pulverized by  the gals – one of them was a black belt martial arts expert ! – I cursed my blink powers and wondered why I was endowed with this strange “gift.”

Needless to say, my name was mud with the girls. After that evening  I received a blizzard of angry emails telling me my head should be examined. What to do ? I asked myself. As with so many things that seem to occur in my life these days, the only thought I could muster was that useful, all-purpose three-word, Chance the Gardener-like aphorism, “So Be It!”

Six months later, I received a cryptic email message from Rose, one of Shirley’s bosom buddies. They had served together saving souls in that benighted, war-torn “Stan.” “I must see you immediately !” read the message.

Meeting the next day, I could hardly contain my curiousity as I sat across from Rose in a crowded Manhattan Starbucks. “What ! What !”, I implored. Smiling ruefully, Rose whispered something. Competing with the blare of Starbuck’s  jazz soundtrack and my own diminished hearing,  Rose’s words came across as so much unintelligible  mush, the underwater mumbling of dolphins mating in an aquarium.

I moved within inches of Rose’s painted lips, yelling once again “What !” This time Rose yelled back, almost blowing my head off with, “You were right ! Shirley WAS a spy for the CIA !  She IS a  fucking, low-life  spook! It all came out in an audit the NGO carried out a couple of months ago….We always thought something was fishy about her…!”

At this point with my TASTI KREME credentials already in my BLINK dossier, I shrugged, giving Rose a matter-of-fact smirk.  All I could think of  saying was,  “I told you so ! Maybe you’ll listen to me next time !”

After so many “revelations” BLINK has become old-hat with me. But there is a new kind of BLINK that has just surfaced and it freaks me out. What I will call COLLECTIVE BLINK.

Here’s what happened: last week I was tired; dog-bone, dead tired as I got on the 6 train back to the Bronx. I entered a crowded car at 125th Street. There was only one stop till I got off at 138th and Third Avenue. The train was packed with latino women all talking at once the  way latinas can do, non-stop shouting, like opera singers who can continue to emote without seeming to stop to take a breath. Fatigue seized me to the point of near-collapse. Then deep within, I felt an intestinal rumble, a signal that major flatulence was about to occur. What to do ? I could compress my rear cheeks and suppress the wind that was begging to emerge. Or… I could relax and let slip the softest, quietest of farts. Who would know ? The train was crowded; there were perhaps a hundred people in the car. With  dozens of riders around me, surely there was safety in numbers and nobody would be the wiser if I let fly with a quiet jet of backside air. Beside the train was about to pull into my stop, the PA system had just announced, “138th Street and Third Avenue.” Home free !

As the train pulled into my station I relaxed my cheeks in blissful release. The rattle of the noisy car and the squeal of squeaky brakes erased all other sounds around us. Done ! I had let fly with a modest, sedate bit of wind. Before I knew it a raging chorus of latinas closed in, attacking me, “YOU FLEW A FART!”

But….HOW did they know ? It was all so quick, so silent, so…small !  As I dodged the shouts and raised fists of the  irate female crowd, I wondered, does gringo flatulence smell different from that of other races ? Research needs to be done on this matter !

As the train doors opened, I fled to the safety of my rat-infested, urine redolent subway stop. Never had freedom smelled so good !

BLINK is alive and well and waiting to strike where you LEAST expect !

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EAST 140th STREET SOUTH BRONX …There’s No Place Like Home !

| August 8, 2012 | Comments (0)

I live on East 140th Street in the South Bronx. The tonier name for the neighborhood is Mott Haven. When I moved here  fourteen years ago, I had some posh stationery printed up that included “Mott Haven” in the letterhead  logo.  Now, that stationery has been used up and I see no need to put on airs about living in a Camelot called Mott Haven when the reality is: I live in the South Bronx, plain and simple.   I guess in the past fourteen years I have become a tad defiant about my address and where I live ! Love me, love my Bronx !

I live on a leafy block bound by Willis Avenue to the West and Brook Avenue on the East.  If the trains are running without a hitch, by taking the  6 line I can be at Grand Central in just over 15 minutes. So even though we are not in Manhattan, I tell my friends I am an honorary Broadway Baby !

This morning I was awakened  from a wine-induced slumber in my third-floor bedroom by the snarl of pitt bulls. No, we don’t have such creatures roaming about our house; those canine sounds rose  to my window from the neighbor’s back yard, two houses to the east. Still blinking, I look through the window blinds and see three dogs tethered  on short chains, trying to move about. It seems  my neighbor’s grandson is breeding dogs. But why must they be kept on short leashes ? Is he training them to be cruel fighters ?

The  pitt bull house is inhabited by a black family and includes at least four generations. The Big Mama of the house, who is said to have been a seamstress for the late society doyenne, Brooke Astor, moved there from the projects down the block before we arrived in the neighborhood. Presumably she owns the house which is the same size as our brownstone, the big difference being: whereas we are TWO people rattling around in our four storeys, there seem to be dozens of people living in Big Mama’s house, family members, friends. visitors. A steady stream of human traffic comes and goes, up and down Big Mama’s front steps. It reminds me of my adopted country, Indonesia where there are always people about and one is never lonely.

In front of Big Mama’s house, as is the case with most other dwellings on the block, there is a lot of “stoop action”, people hanging out on the front steps, lounging in folding chairs on the sidewalk, chatting, playing music, drinks in brownpaper bags being consumed. Particular attention is given by the “stoopsters” to the act of car parking which is a much indulged-in activity on our block given the city’s alternate-side parking rules that dictate the moving of cars every two days to accommodate  those useless monsters called street cleaners.

Every other day, one side of the street is to be emptied of cars so these behemoths with gigantic brushes can whisk the street clean. The only problem is: they don’t do the job they were designed for. Debris that finds its way to the road seems to be merely re-arranged and re-distributed by the street cleaning trucks to a different location a foot or two from its original resting place. The other morning I tested the efficacy of those giant brushes by putting a piece of newspaper on the street. After the cleaning monster had come and gone, that piece of paper was still on the blacktop; the only difference being it was wet. I think the planted scrap of paper contained the obituary of Gore Vidal. Gore would have been proud that even a two-ton street-cleaner could not remove his likeness from the road !  (Note to the Mayor of New York City: sell all these trucks and import a thousand Indian street sweepers from the lanes and alleys of Calcutta; they’ll do a much better job and we won’t have to move our cars.)

In any event, the parking of cars is a much-watched activity and keeps the stoopsters busy,  kibbitzing during late morning hours for most of the week. Their running commentary as cars park and re-park is not unlike a sports-caster following an Olympic event. The stoopsters are mainly male, predominantly black and don’t appear to be gainfully employed since they populate the stoops during what are normally considered weekday working hours, 9-5. The main reason we got rid of our car, a cute little silver Honda that we dearly loved, is I could not stand the stress and pressure that came with parking under the watchful eyes and wagging tongues of the stoopsters. Tight city parking is no easy task and I do pride myself on being an expert in navigating my vehicle into the tiniest of spaces. The only thing is, bumper-kissing is inevitable; you cannot park on a crowded city street without sometimes touching the cars in front and behind you.

The stoopsters who station themselves by Big Mama’s house are particularly exigent observers of how cars are parked. Needless to say, a number of Big Mama House inhabitants are car-owners. One of her grand-daughters – or is she a great grand-daughter ? She must be around 20 years-old – owns a shiny, new Lexus. Another female off-spring has an imposing SUV. At least ten pairs of eyes are glued on me and my pitiable Honda when I extricate my vehicle and re-park it. Even when the tenderest bumper kiss occurs – when my car touches the fender of the Lexus, a Hallelujah chorus erupts from the stoop and, like as not, Big Mama’s  grand-daughter emerges from the house,  a frown on her face, hands on hips, her  three-inch painted  fingernails digging into her skin tight jeans (how DOES she get into those pants ?), glowering at me while I  execute  my vehicle removal. And ofcourse,  when my little Honda does kiss her Big Lexus, all hell breaks loose.  Even the softest tap threatens legal action.  “You damage ma car and I’m gonna sue your ass !” You would have thought I had engaged in date rape ! She wishes….

I like some of Big Mama’s  “family” and I’m not too crazy about other members of her household.  Her son, Jeff-Jeff is likeable and always dresses in red. He must be in his mid-30s and, on a good day, stands around 6 feet tall. His  imposing pot belly is testament to his being a regular customer of McDonald’s and White Castle and to his sedentary life style. Jeff-Jeff usually appears on the stoop around 10 AM and hangs out till dinner time. We have amiable chats and he tells me how when he was a teenager, he was almost tapped for basket ball stardom. As he waddles back to the stoop after giving me a good-morning hug, I think, “You’ve come a long way since your basket ball days, Jeff-Jeff.”

Another member of  Big Mama’s coterie is Wally. He is tall, athletic, handsome and courtly and I must admit I have a crush on him. He is my favorite person on the block. Probably in his late forties by now, last year Wally’s hair suddenly started going white. Is that what happens to black men in their late 40s ? It seems to be happening to our President !

Jeff-Jeff’s sister is a piece of work. Seesy, by name, she likes to hit the bottle. One evening our paths crossed as she staggered up the street and snarled at me, “Get outta my way, you white homo mother-fucker.” Racism and homophobia are alive and well on our block !

Most of the other neighbors on the block are latinos of one provenance or another. There are Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, a black guy from Honduras. Friendly and eager to chat as latinos are wont to be, I was glad for a certain period to have the opportunity to practice my spanish with them. Far better than the Spanish classes I took at the United Nations, these street encounters were the real thing where I learned useful phrases and interesting slang.

Alas ! My chats with the latino neighbors have ceased. It seems that word has gotten out that I am queer and they no longer speak to me. As we say in Spanish, “Me dan la espalda.” They give me their back. When I walk down the block, they turn away from me and no longer give me the time of day. No “Que Paso’s ?” or “Buen Dias!” Just silent stares.  Probably when I was younger this would have bothered me. Today it doesn’t. There’s something about being 73 years old that is comforting. I’ve been there, done that, seen it all and experienced almost everything. Smoked heroin and danced with Henry Ford II’s daughter at a Wilmington, Delaware  debutante ball for a DuPont ingenue ; flown on the Concorde twice and shook  hands with the King of Bhutan ! Attained Nirvana and came back to this flophouse world for a little more nasty action ! There ain’t nuthin’ I haven’t done, Baby. Probably half of those latino stoopsters are closet queers anyway, I tell myself ! The joke’s on them. If you haven’t tried it, don’t knock it! Christopher Hitchens famously said picnics, champagne, anal sex and Proust were over-rated. At least he was 75% right !

But back to the pitt bulls. As I watch them from my third-floor bedroom window looking down as they strain on their tight, short chains, howling and barking, I am tempted to knock on Big Mama’s door and ask her if she knows how those dogs are suffering.  But I guess I am a coward. I might run into Seesy or the long-nailed Lexus owner.

I suppose Voltaire was right when he said, “Il faut cultiver son propre jardin”, or words to that effect. “Cultivate your OWN garden”, mind your own business and don’t mess with the neighbors.

It may sound strange , having written these words above, but I still love my street. At least it’s not boring and  the antics of the stoopsters give me something to write about ! Remind me to tell you about the “cane people.” that army of able-bodied young men who walk my street wielding canes, hanging out when they should be working. The Bronx is the “poorest” county in the United States.

Could the reason be: why work when you can get welfare? I’m just tellin’ it like it is. If you don’t believe me, come and live in my ‘hood.

The influx of Mexicans to the neighborhood is refreshing. They are hard-working, happy people. Even with  almost no knowledge of English, they are not deterred. They open streetside taco stands and hawk cheerfully from vegetable carts, they sell giant hunks of watermelon and helados, shaved  ice flavored with mango syrup.  Old-fashioned immigrants who aren’t afraid of work. I just hope they don’t get hooked on the welfare drug and become navel-gazing, self-pitying stoopsters.

South Bronx, warts and all, I love ya !




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| August 4, 2012 | Comments (0)

Hazel was not an ugly child, but she was homely, deadpan homely. Too thin to be called cute, which was sometimes  the saving grace of  children bereft of any shred of infantile pulcritude, Hazel was loose-limbed and uncoordinated, resembling nothing so much as a rag doll. Even her mousey brown hair was limp and lacking in character, plain as dirt; there was just nothing to be done with Hazel.

An only child, Hazel was born to aging  parents and was the apple of their eye and wanted for nothing. Even when she was still in grade school, Hazel’s mother, Flo, would plan her daughter’s future with meticulous detail as she unwound after work, having a highball – a tall vodka and iced tea – in the family’s living room. As one highball stretched into two drinks and then a third – “What the Hell !” Flo would say,  her drink spilling and her speech  thickening, “Things happen in three’s, don’t they !” – Hazel’s adolescence and then her adulthood would unfold in living color.

First, Hazel would make Dean’s list with her straight-A report cards, then she would be selected as a cheerleader and root for the Dragons, the high school basketball team. Well-fueled with Long Island Iced Tea, Flo at this point would jump to a standing position and weave through several imagined cheer leadering routines on the carpetted living room floor  – Chugga Lugga, Chugga Lugga, Sis Boom Ba ! Dragons, Dragons, Raa, Raa Raa ! Depending on the number of drinks under her belt, Flo would either transition to a Black Foot Indian War dance or simply collapse on the carpet to be scooped up by the two Japanese maid servants who always seemed to be hovering in the wings.

Flo was proud of her heritage and what she had done with her life. She wanted Hazel to follow suit and be a success too.  Being the first white child born in Black Foot Indian territory on the tribe’s largest reservation in Montana, Flo was proud she could speak Siksika, the Black Foot language . In the 1930’s she was also one of the few women of her generation from the West to get a college degree. Her first marriage had ended in disaster and death. Riding in a pick-up truck on a dusty country road outside of Billings, there had been an accident, a collision with a tractor pulling a load of hay and Flo’s husband and infant daughter were killed instantly. On-lookers at the scene of the accident remembered the image of Flo, dis-oriented, sitting in a ditch by the side of the road silently trying to re-attach the severed head of her baby daughter to its decapitated, bloody body.

Ending up in Seattle, Washington in the late 1930s, Flo threw herself into a job trying her best to forget what had happened back in  Montana. In her office she became known as a first-class worker and, after hours, gained a reputation as a good-time party girl who could left a glass and tell a joke alongside any man. Pearl Harbor had just been attacked , Seattle was flooded with uniforms and Flo met a handsome Navy ensign. After a whirlwind courtship they parted company and weeks later she received a telegram from a Navy base in  San Diego containing five words, “Is it yes or no?” Flo fired off a one-word answer, “Yes!” and left for California two days later where she married Herman in a dockside ceremony before he shipped out for the Pacific. Nine months later a child was born. Flo named the baby Hazel in honor of her first daughter who had died five years earlier on a Montana roadside.

Four years later the war ended and Herman was demobilized, landing a cushy civilian job in Japan advising the Japanese on economic recovery. Flo and Hazel joined Herman setting up their household in that golden era when Japan loved the United States, when submissive, hard-working Japanese servants were available for a song and when US government subsidies were so generous that one could practically pocket the totality of one’s salary for that Florida retirement dream  home that lay over the horizon.

Herman was never wild about the name Flo had insisted on giving their daughter. It was not a pretty name like Vanessa or Dolores or Sylvia and there was nothing you could do with it; it couldn’t be modified or tweaked. Unlike Milldred, which was a plain name that could be  shortened  to  the cuter-sounding “Mill”, Hazel was hopelessly Hazel. “Haze” or “Zel” were ridiculous and risible. Imagine, Herman thought to himself, responding to such a handle! “Zel”  sounded more like the nickname for a milking cow than a girl. But faced with his wife’s non-negotiable stance about the name Hazel, “I just want it, Herman, and that’s that !”, Herman acquiesced, being a soft-spoken man who never went against the current. His motto, “Don’t sweat the small stuff”, had paid off so far in his life and he had no intention of changing horses in mid-stream.

Flo’s drunken Long Island Iced-Tea plans for Hazel continued apace. One late afternoon alone in the living room except for the household’s  two Japanese retainers, Kazuko and Chioko, who stood silently and dutifully awaiting the rattle of ice cubes in the empty highball glass, a signal that “Mama-san” needed a re-fill, Flo launched into what she foresaw as Hazel’s adulthood. Addressing the two uncomprehending servants, Flo said that first, Hazel would attend college – where she would go and what she would study was not specified at this point. Then she would meet the right young man and they would marry and Flo would PERSONALLY  oversee the  furnishing and decoration of the newlyweds’ household. There would be this and that and so on and so forth, but most particularly Flo insisted that Hazel’s new home be curtained with apple-green drapes. This she repeated and repeated. And even though Kazuko and Chioko hadn’t the slightest idea what Mama-san was talking about, they wisely nodded their heads, bowed slightly, assenting with “Hai SO desu ! (Yes that’s right)!” So it had been decided then and there that Hazel would live happily ever afterwards and that there would, above all, be  apple-green curtains.

Time passed, Hazel did marry, but there were no apple green curtains. Hazel and her new husband, George, Geordie to Hazel, honey-mooned in the Virgin Islands and liked the place so much that they decided to remain. In the tropics there were no curtains, only rattan window blinds to block the sun. If she were still alive Flo would have been disappointed, but what Flo didn’ t know wouldn’t hurt her, Hazel thought.

The years had been kind to Hazel. And it all began with a name change. From the day she arrived at college in Miami, Florida, Hazel’s name had been the butt of jokes. A kindly big-sister sorority friend suggested that Hazel might want to change her name, not modify it but change it 100 per cent. They thought and thought what the change might be and came up with the name Velle. The idea for the new name came from an unusual source. A popular detergent in use at the time was called VEL. While it was a well-known product, it was not so famous that borrowing the name and tweaking it with a modification would be recognized as name theft and open to ridicule. Admittedly it WAS a gamble. Imagine if it had occurred to anybody, what an uproar would have followed ! Ha  ha! That girl’s named after a laundry detergent !  But no one was the wiser,  the gamble paid off brilliantly and Velle it became.

As  Hazel/Velle matured, the advantages of being very plain became apparent. She was an open book, a clean slate,  a tabula rasa.  While at nineteen she had still not developed anything that could recognizably be called breasts, that was not a problem since there was always padding; “falsies” could even be insinuated into a bathing suit. Hazel’s mousey brown locks had disappeared, replaced by a platinum blonde crown.The  bangs created by Jose, her Cuban stylist gave Velle a foxy look. She was definitely Velle now, no longer Hazel. Jose  was also a wizard with make-up. Hands fluttering, he turned her non-descript mouth into a  red, bee-stung pout, naughty and inviting. The final touch was a cigarette. French-inhaling a long, slim Winston, Velle was Bette Davis circa 1940. Men followed her, asked her for dates.

Life was sweet in the Virgin Islands. Both Velle and Geordie had jobs at the premier hotel on the island; before long Geordie rose to be General Manager. Time passed and a son was born.The child was no trouble and scarcely changed the comfortable routine Velle and Geordie had carved out for themselves. They half-joked that the little boy’s real mother was the kindly Caribbean lady who was with him day and night.

Geordie began spending long hours with clients and Velle found herself with time on her hands. As she whiled away the hours having a drink by the hotel pool or sitting alone over coffee in the cafe, she was often joined by the hotel’s strapping young French chef, Phillipe who had recently joined the hotel staff, having fled the frantic cruise ship scene for what he described as the sane world.

Philippe was a sailor from Brittany and a sympathetic listener. Without realizing it, Velle began talking a lot to Philippe. She told him about her unhappy, homely childhood, her eccentric mother prone to drunken Indian dances; the marriage she felt was dissolving as she spoke. Philippe confided that he was a lonely person still looking, at 35 for the right mate who could understand him.

The day before Christmas 1980 Velle told Geordie she was leaving. He could have custody of their child, she said. She and Philippe had planned to buy a yacht and sail the world, navigating the boat to exotic destinations for rich tourists with a yen for the unusual. There was no place for a child in such a life. Geordie said he understood. They had a drink on the hotel terrace and said goodbye as friends. Once plain  and homely, always plain and homely, Geordie said to himself. Velle still had to prove that she was fetching; you could take the Plain out of the Jane,  but somehow the girl would always remain a plain malcontent.

Velle’s adventure with her frenchman was indeed an adventure. She confided to her friends who had clucked disapprovingly of her mad move, when she up and left Geordie, abandoning her three-year old son, that she had absolutely NO regrets at all… none whatsoever… it had all been fabulous.

In 2000 Velle and Philippe undertook the voyage of a lifetime with a six -month trip to Tahiti. They agreed, as they relaxed over sun-downers in Papeete after the sail, that this had been a second honeymoon. Velle had never been happier as she reflected on where her life had taken her, from a mousey little frump to a sea-sailing adventuress with an Errol Flynn-handsome husband. The following day Phillipe complained of a sharp stomach pain as they worked on the yacht’s rigging. Six months later, Philippe was dead having succumbed to cancer. Velle was left with the yacht and nothing in the bank except a note for the unpaid loan  on the boat.

Somehow Velle was unphased by it all, the death, the sudden poverty. In her heart  of hearts she knew the reason: being born and raised plain gave you strength. You had to fight, to struggle, to make yourself noticed, to matter. And she had done that and would continue to do so as long as there was breath in her body.

Six months later Velle found herself on Fifth Avenue in New York City working as an executive house-keeper for the super-rich Hirschorns. Super-rich as in having donated a wing to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, super-rich as in having an entry foyer in the their apartment the size of a Wimbleton tennis court.  Dolly Hirschorn’s daughter, Mitzi, had been on a  South Pacific cruise with Velle and Philippe, a customized adventure with gourmet meals prepared  by the chef, “roughing it” in the way the super-rich are entitled to do. Through the super-rich grape vine, the most reliable way to find the best servants and retainers, Velle came to her job at 1030 Fifth Avenue. Velle’s duties were surprisingly light. With so many homes around the world, the Hirschorns were seldom in residence at “1030” as they called the Fifth Avenue place. She was more of a houseguest than a servant, Velle told herself. Mrs Hirschorm had only one iron-clad rule. NO white wine in the house. Spilled white wine, Mrs. H. said, was the enemy of antique carpets and one thing she could not tolerate was damage to her priceless rugs.

Velle laughingly assured Mrs. H. that she had nothing to worry about. For openers, she told her employer, she almost never drank; more important, she couldn’t STAND white wine. They both chuckled and agreed that things would go swimmingly.

The summer passed quickly and pleasantly enough for Velle. With her generous salary, free live-in accomodations including meals prepared by the live-in chef – even though the Hirschorns were not there, they felt the kitchen staff had to “stay in practice” and prepare meals – Velle was well on her way to accumulating a nest-egg. The loan on the yacht had been paid off and Mrs. H’s son had recommended a bundle of mutual funds to Velle that were paying sweet dividends.

Velle was pleasantly tired, having spent the day in Central Park. Returning to  “1030” around 8 PM she greeted her favorite doorman, Irish Johnny, and took the private penthouse elevator to the 30th floor. Tip-toeing barefoot across the priceless antique carpet in the foyer, she headed straight for Mrs. Hirschorn’s master bathroom adjoining the bedroom suite. Giggling, Velle decided she was going to be “naughty” and give herself  a spa treatment. She would run a piping hot bubble bath for herself in Mrs. H’s huge, deep, private tub , the kind of bath Chioko used to prepare for Flo back in Japan; she would get something nice and rare from the Hirschorns’  well-stocked liquor cabinet, have a drink and slide into the soothing, scented water.

Turning on the full-sound stereo and selecting some early Sinatra, Velle savored a rare brandy, the kind of spirit only known to the super-rich. Ambrosia. Yes, the super-rich really knew how to live. Maybe money couldn’t buy total happiness, but it sure came close to it.  Tipping the decanter again, Velle lifted her glass and toasted the golden sounds of the “Chairman.” Sinatra was the coolest, she giggled to herself, realizing that she had become tipsy.

Looking down at her feet she saw a stream of water coming from the master bath. Yikes ! Velle thought. I didn’t turn off the bath water and it’s run over and the bathroom’s flooding. Rushing to the tub she turned off the water then laughed at it all. What the hell, she thought. I’m not spilling white wine on her precious carpet ! Finding herself in a devil-may-care state of intoxication Velle decided to take her bath with her clothes ON ! Like when Philippe would throw her into the pool with her  dress on. What mad fun that was !

Mounting the granite steps to the tub, her brandy glass in hand, Velle  uttered a lusty “Bottoms Up !” As she twirled merrily on the slippery marble, giggling, she fell  with a deadly thud, hitting her temple on the sharp corner of the tub. Sinking into the warm water, a lovely pattern of scarlet encircled Velle’s smiling face. Sinatra was in high form; the superlative sound system made it seem that the Chairman was right there singing to Velle.  He was. He was crooning her favorite song, “For All We Know, We May Never Meet  Again.”








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