Thursday, December 29, 2011

REMEMBERING

      So this kid walks down the stairs.  It's around 3 in the morning.  She was thirsty. Around step number 8, her orange, fuzzy amoebic-shaped slippers freeze.  Rubbing imaginary 'sleep' out of the corners of her eyes, (In later years, well after reality had established residency in her head, she would refer to the location of this discharge as the inner canthus but this is now, it's my story and reality hasn't even knocked.  Hunger, thirst, fantasy - knocked AND moved in.  Reality who?) she allows them to morph into protruding globes as she stares.
      Whaddya know.  It's Mommy. And SANTA. She's no expert, but that sure looks like a very long kiss all wrapped up in a red velvet hug.  She snickers - a hushed snicker.  A self-satisfied snicker.  Santa's "beard and stache", gleamy white, combed and ELASTIC-BANDED to his brown-haired head, is doing a stashe stand, straight and stiff, on his now flattened red velvet hat, actually up-staging the famous white, fuzzy pom-pom. This is good stuff.  Enormous potential. "So, uh, Mom. The kids are goin' skatin' at Wollman's in Central Park Friday ni. ." "Absolutely NOT!" ""Was this year the FIRST uh, ya know, for you and 'Santa?" "You have a mean streak, child. Your father's side. . . You'll have to promise to stay with the group and come RIGHT home after a hamburger and shake at Prexy's." (Prexy's - The Hamburger with a College Education." The logo's a picture of a burger on feet wearing a mortar board with its tassel dangling into the oozing red ketchup on the side. Mom's fave for after ice skate appetites)
      (Wrapping presents this year, I was bathing in the oldies.  The songs we knew when I was coming up. (Up where? Why do people say that? We were singing these songs in a six story walk-UP - although we only had to climb to four.) "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" always made me laugh. Back then, I mean. Because Mom favored Mussolini  when it came to management style.  And Dad had this little thing for "Four Roses" - or ANY rye, for that matter. Bottles hidden everywhere. Mom rarely drank.
      So I knew it would be a 'Bachus Debauch' for Dad if I ever caught Mom in THAT kind of hanky-panky. I'd picture her yanking a half-drained "Four Roses" soldier out of the umbrella stand by the front door. There I'd be, miming "The Kiss" -back to her, the way we used to do. Lots of hand work. Outcome? "At ease, Soldier."  Then business as usual. Mom cooking, cleaning, going to work during the day. Me, going to school (on the shoe leather express) homework and, after we got a TV, watching "Ozzie and Harriet", wondering what it was like to have stairs leading to bedrooms on a second level IN YOUR OWN HOUSE, and, - always - playing out a lively imaginary life in my head.)
      Somehow -  and we'll skirt the details (wouldn't want to run into the Devil. They say that's where he is. In the details.) - she made it from under the stable roof to Camelot.  Deedee-doo, at the tender age of eighteen, she was being driven - reluctantly, tearfully, with trunks filled with trepidation - to Washington, D.C. and 'Destination Georgetown University'. It was 1962, the campus was teeming with co-eds draped in Pendleton, penny loafers, Ladybug blouses, cashmere cardigan belting or 'shawling', soon-to-be-stored madras and espadrilles from Charlettesville (the ONLY thing a Hoya would deem worthy from THAT city) and the ubiquitous sparkling white 'Chiclet'-teeth smile, strolling the Mile Path (best walkway on which to be seen) to the bookstore, Coach-leather breezes softly swaying their silky, blunt-cut bobs. 
      During that four years, she forced herself out of her own head and heart so as to meld with her beautiful Colleagues-in-Camelot-Community. By her senior year, she'd streaked her hair - where Jackie used to have hers done on Wisconsin Avenue, lost thirty-five pounds by keeping up academically, socially, theatrically (devoted member of the university drama club, The Masque and Bauble), clinically - the school of nursing demanded more clinical hours than any collegiate program in the U.S. - as well as babysitting for VERY well-paying clients who entertained the notion, to appease their guilt over having NO intention of raising their own children, that GU nursing students were the creme-De-la-creme re: safety, prestige and capability. Kids seemed to like them, too.
      She had spent breaks at a variety of manses  - Chevy Chase , CT, Potomac Park,  Manhattan, McLean - where she learned basic equestrian maneuvers, 'proper' serving/entertaining rudiments, THE ONLY labels one wore, sports one watched vs played, men one dated and where one requested they go. Summers were all Manhattan. A group of eight secured jobs at New York Hospital where dorm-living was provided, salaries outrageously high, off-time spent owning the city. She'd 'done' The Russian Tea Room, Bogie's, parties on Sutton Place, Bergdorf's, Bendel, and the Plaza for lunch and drinks many times over.  The Village, already a second home, was very 'coming' in the sixties, as was fountain bathing Au naturale.  It was all passion, urgency, causes and all carried off with bona fide ELEGANCE.
      (Perhaps the wrapping paper had sparked that parade of royal glitterati - and the Magi didn't even wrap. they just followed their star. As did I. And I noticed the music had changed. I was listening to The Commitments, "Destination Anywhere" in particular, Niamh Kavanagh, lead vocalist. (Recently, I befriended a lovely, talented Irish author named Niamh.  I'd never heard the name before - or so
      Never saw the 'charm'/'quaintness' in the mafia, the gangs, tattoos, black leather-ware, the pointed shoes ("Puerto Rican Fence Climbers"), garish make-up, teased hair, motorcycles, playful rituals (It seemed we hung and burned Casey Stengel in effigy every year to every one's delight) - the 'Brooklyn Schtick'.  And I married a Hoya whose dream - if he didn't make the cut as the shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates, was to be a part of the Mafia. (Unfortunately, that was behind door 3 in my family) He still delights in my telling the story of getting a ride home from school with my Mom's older brother, Paul, who adored me.  He drove a black Cadillac and I was fascinated with the shiny, wood and chrome dash.  OOPS! The glove compartment opened, a small, heavy, black revolver rocketed right into my lap. I froze. (Never saw a real gun before or since) Uncle Paul waited for a red light., gently leaned over and replaced the gun in its cache and said, "Why don't ya do some readin' or somethin'." I did.
      Back to my wrapping, I noticed I'd bought wonderful book gifts this year. Coming out of my bleak reverie, I realized I was wrapping a baby's-first-alphabet book in which the letters are characters.  Opening it in a desultory fashion, I read (sans context), "Y says, 'Why isn't E even crying?' And O answers, 'Sometimes, she's a silent E.'" I thought, "How sweet." Then I thought - that ole 'looseness of association' - of how when my Dad was helping me with my reading and we came across an 'e' that was not to be expressed, he'd say, after I'd muffed it, "No, Elgee, the 'e' is silent, like the pee in toilet" and have a good laugh at his pun. Where's Uncle Paul's gun when I need it? Huh? I ask you. You pick - pun or gun? See what I mean? Quaint is as quaint does. Pee-in-toilet ain't.)
      Memory Lane strolls CAN be therapeutic.  You evaluate how you've approached this 'human experience'. Have I just let it happen or did I run to embrace it.  Did I ride it in subway-stance - eyes straight ahead or reading; if standing, hold strap, feign reading placard ads; no co-passenger exchanges beyond, "scuse", "yeah" or, if your trench coat is suddenly wet at groin level, hatpin-thrust forward at same level - even if priest or nun-in-drag. Or did I reach out, listen, hold in silence, befriend on the journey like some opulent millionaire, squandering precious coins of personality. I can only hope I made a good run at being laughter's gentle soul, not sulks' hit man. 
      I'll keep following my star - relentless, unafraid, taking the "road less traveled", not because I'm dauntless.  Rather because I know I'm NOT working without a net. This because, as the carving over C.G. Jung's entrance says (in Latin - showoff), "Bidden or not bidden, God is present."  We'll do this again next year. We'll keep track together: Rx: 'remembering' per anum.  Later, Lorane. . . .
     
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