Cat Food the Mouse

07804109-4FE6-4BD6-B108-B21A19435A21When you buy an old house it comes with lots of charm – which you wanted – and other things, surprising things, that you either didn’t know you wanted or you don’t want at all. Jamie’s and my lovely Dutch Colonial came with hand-leaded windows, chestnut floors, 2 acres of land, a stray cat, and a family of mice. We kept the cat intentionally and named him Taffy after his beautiful coloring, but wanted the family of rodent squatters to leave.

For starters, it wasn’t a Beatrix Potter, nuclear family – widowed Mrs. Mouse and her adorable, fatherless children; it was as if every relative Mrs. and Mr. Mouse had left back home sailed from Mouse Island to the New World searching for a better life in my basement. Taffy viewed it as a challenge to which he rose like a Hemingway character but he soon grew bored and slithered through the cat door in search of bigger game.

“Get snap mouse traps,” my mother advised matter-of-factly when I told her about all of the extra mouths to feed. “It’s quick.”

“Ohhhhhhh, I don’t think so. I don’t want to kill them. I just want them to leave.”

“Well, they won’t leave on their own. Get traps and don’t be so squeamish. They are vermin. I’ll come over and bait them for you.”

“Bait? You mean lure them in under false pretenses and then kill them? That sounds like something the Mafia would do.”

She sighed and hung up the phone.

“Get glue traps,” the man in the hardware store suggested. “No little decapitated corpses with them.”

“Glue traps?” I asked.

“Yeah, they walk across and get stuck and starve to death.”

I fled from the store in horror. I refused to behave like the Commandant of the prisoner-of-war camp in Bridge Over the River Kwai, rodents or not. I called PETA who sold me tiny, plastic Havahart traps which I baited with peanut butter crackers. At first it worked and I caught two or three, but like a Merry Melodies cartoon, the mice soon figured out that if one held the door open, the second could grab the cracker which they could then share.

Jamie came home one day with the advice that we put Mason jars of Karo syrup around. The mouse would smell it, fall in, and then drown.

“Drown them?” I gasped.

“Well, yeah, but they drown in sweet stuff which they love.”

“That sounds like something Mengele would do. Who suggested that?”

“My sister, Margot. She said it works great.”

“She would,” I muttered not quite under my breath.

As I couldn’t bring myself to do anything proactive I ignored the problem for weeks, hoping it would resolve itself. Then one day, opening book boxes, I found a cozy mouse nest created by shredding my autographed copy of Karl Lagerfeld’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. Furious I ran upstairs where Jamie was watching the news.

“The little bastards ate my book!” I shrieked to him. “Now they are going to die!” Jamie muted the tv and tilted his head to face me. He was pursing his lips and looking unconvinced. “You won’t kill them,” he said.

“Yes, I will!” I assured him. “When they start chewing books they have come to the end of the line.”

In my fury, I poured Karo pale corn syrup into a Mason jar. It came about halfway up, enough for a mouse to swim in and then get stuck. I put it in the basement pantry cupboard and closed the door.

By the next morning, however, I regretted my rash actions. Before I left for work I checked the Karo but no one had fallen in. “Good, Margot is wrong. It probably doesn’t work,” I said to Taffy. “I will wash out this jar after work just in case.”

But that night I forgot to check; I didn’t remember at all until a few days had passed and I opened the pantry to get paper towels. Immediately I knew something was wrong. Pushing aside the peanut butter I saw a tiny face with panic-stricken dark eyes staring at me. A mouse was caught in the syrup.

“Oh, no!” I howled, dropping the roll. I pulled out the jar and the tiny grey animal struggled to no avail in the sticky mess. “Oh, I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” I exclaimed to the mouse. “I will get you out of there right away.”

I dashed up the steps to the kitchen and grabbed a spatula from a drawer then opened the back door. I thought I would release the mouse outside in the driveway.

I sat on the curb and ran the spatula around the edges of the jar in an attempt to free the mouse’s tiny pink feet, but the syrup had begun to dry and he was stuck fast. I couldn’t slide the spatula between the paw and the glass and I feared cutting off his little foot. Imagining him with a Lilliputian wooden cane like Tiny Tim, I immediately stopped scraping to think of something else. Watching the terrified animal stare at me punched holes in my heart and I knew I had to save it. Putting down the jar, I returned to the kitchen and filled a pitcher with hot, soapy water. Returning outside with the pitcher and rubber gloves, I poured water a tablespoon or so at a time into the jar hoping it would melt the rigid syrupy rime.

Eventually the mouse’s struggling, combined with the softening syrup, yielded results. He was free. I spilled him onto the grass just as Jamie pulled into the driveway. I didn’t look up as I watched the mouse attempt to flee; he wasn’t going anywhere because the dirt was sticking to his syrupy feet and making Mafia-like cement shoes. I picked him up by the tail and dipped his feet into the hot soapy water.

Jamie sauntered across the tarmac and peered over my shoulder. “What are you doing?” he asked then seeing the pitcher and the rodent he exclaimed in shock, “Are you washing a mouse?”

“Yes, I have to,” I snapped. “Your stupid sister’s stupid idea nearly killed him.”

Mercifully Jamie refrained from stating that killing him had been the point and sat down on the curb next to me and petted Taffy who had sat down next to him and watched me intently. “Look, Taf, your mother is washing cat food.”

“Don’t tell him that! I am trying to save this mouse not prepare an appetizer for Taffy.”

“Why are you washing it?”

“When I released him from the jar the syrup was still clinging to him and it picked up so much dirt it’s like he’s wearing snowshoes. He can’t get away. Take Taffy inside. I don’t want him catching this mouse.”

Jamie picked up the cat and disappeared into the house. In about ten minutes I heard the screen door slam, then  footsteps and felt Jamie’s shadow over me.

“How is Cat Food?” he asked, gesturing to the mouse, still frozen in fear or, more likely, still stuck to the ground.

“He won’t go away. He’s frightened and stressed. I am afraid something will kill him out here.”

“Hold on.” Jamie turned toward the back door and entered the house. He returned in about ten minutes carrying a plastic shoebox. “Here,” he said handing it to me.

I looked inside; it was filled with shredded newspaper and a crumbled Chips Ahoy. “Put him in there and stick it in the garage. He can rest until he feels better then he will leave when he is ready.”

It was the best idea I could imagine. “Come on, Cat Food,” I said lifting the mouse by his tail and placing him gently into the pile of newspaper. His whiskers twitched as he smelled the cookie.

I handed the box to Jamie who walked down the sloped driveway into the garage. He placed the box gently on the work bench, turned, and closed the door.

“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go get burgers. Cat Food will leave when he’s ready.”

“What if he doesn’t?” I asked slamming the BMW’s door.

“Then he’ll live out there with all of the other critters,” he replied starting the ignition.

I never saw Cat Food again. Looking in the box a few days later I saw that both cookie and mouse were gone. I haven’t trapped a mouse since. We had the house’s foundation dug away and restoccoed and the mouse problem disappeared.

 

Mrs. Cella Builds Her Dream House or Okay, So I’m Not Mr. Green Jeans

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Jamie and I bought our 1929 Dutch colonial farmhouse in 1994, just before I graduated from NYU with a Masters degree in British Literature. We had to buy a house; there were so many chairs in our apartment it looked like the back room of Christie’s the week before a nineteenth century English furniture auction.

We approached the home-buying endeavor the way you would expect two city kids who had watched This Old House would do . . . with no sense of reality. No problem was too large to overcome, no repair too great to be considered. As our friend, Joseph Verlezza commented wryly, “You two are going to end up with a half-million dollar Handyman’s Special.” I chewed my thumbnail and considered his remark; I hoped not since Jamie wasn’t handy. In fact, when it came to domestic chores, he was damned near useless.

While Joseph wasn’t exactly right, neither was he completely wrong. Elements of the house we chose were beautiful – hand-leaded window panes inside and out, including in the garage windows; hand-laid chestnut floors; two acres with a pond, fruit trees, and a two hundred year old oak tree shading the roof – and it was these that prompted Jamie to bid before we had ever seen the interior.

I poked him as he leaned over the trunk of the real estate man’s Rolls to sign the paperwork. “What if the inside is horrible?” I hissed. He shrugged. “We’ll gut it,” he replied as though I should have known that without asking.

After our January closing, we grasped the keys in our sweaty palms and, pushing open the solid oak door, we finally noticed that his flippant remark might prove prescient and Joseph may have been more correct than he knew. There were lots of awful things inside our outwardly charming house. Parts of it looked as if the original owners had lost interest in maintenance around 1968. The living room walls were covered in green flocked wallpaper. At least it had been green flocked at some point; now it was mostly fleur-di-lis shaped dust bunnies that matched the ones created by the rapidly decomposing sage-colored carpet. The dining room contained three doorways, leaving what little wall-space there was papered in Wedgewood blue dotted with gold metallic birds in trees. Sadly, the woodwork was painted to match.

The impressive curved staircase had a huge Palladian window on the landing but we hadn’t noticed it because it was smothered by graying sheers, heavy green and white brocade thermal drapes, and a massive wooden valance. And the bathrooms . . . oh, the bathrooms. The one on the first floor was completely mint green, tile, fixtures, floor, ceiling – and none of them the same mint green – but that one could have been a contender for an award from House Beautiful when compared to the one upstairs. The second had the same styling (all one color with no identical shades) only it was pink from floor to ceiling. Enclosing the tub was a shower door with a swan etched into the glass. I called Jamie and pointed to the door. “This has to go.”

He stifled a grin. “I thought you liked swans.”

“I do like them in the pond. This is ugly.”

Eventually we did as Jamie had predicted and gutted most of the house. A series of dumpsters entered and left our driveway over the next year as the wallpaper and carpet exited in strips and the painters and floor refinishers trundled in laden with supplies. We ordered Raymond Enkeboll crown molding in the oak leaf and acorn design for the living room and in egg and dart for the dining room and entry hall. We closed some walls and broke through other ones. A specialty company covered the dining room walls in buttery yellow Italian cotton.

While the interior was undergoing its transformation by experts, I began digging in the garden. Some daffodils peered out at the chilly spring weather and fat, glossy leaves unfurled on ancient peonies. Every day a few other things poked their stems hopefully through the soil.

Attached to the back of the house was a cold frame so I bought some seeds and, after planting them in peat pots, placed them inside. Spears of something red were coming up in the bed around it, so I mixed some Miracle-Gro with water and fed them along with everything else reaching for the sun.

One afternoon Joseph, a florist, visited to help me with the garden. Catching sight of the now robust and green spears by the cold frame, he mumbled, “Dear God!” under his breath.

“What?” I asked swiveling my head.

“That!” he pointed. “It’s huge.”

“I know.” I beamed.

“I have never seen it so big before.”

“I have been feeding it,” I answered proudly.

It was Joseph’s turn to snap his head back to stare at me. “Why?” he cried.

“So it’s big,” I replied lamely. “What is it, anyway? It looks like some kind of bamboo. Will it get flowers?”

“It’s a weed!” Joseph shouted. “It’s a noxious weed! It broke through the poured concrete floor of the garage in my weekend house in Hastings-on-Hudson.”

“What?” It was my turn to shriek. “It’s a weed? Why would a weed be growing so close to the house?”

“I don’t think it knew that was where it was coming up but we need to dig it out before it breaks through your foundation!”

Grabbing spades we began digging in the soft soil. After four hours had passed and we had dug down about three feet for the entire length of the house I collapsed next to the trench and wailed. We were still nowhere near the bottom of the plant.

“Joseph!” I howled. “Where is the root cap on this thing?”

Joseph wiped his hand across his forehead and peered into the trench. “Melbourne?” he suggested.

“I cannot do any more,” I whined pitifully. “Let’s just pour bleach on it and bury it. Maybe it’ll die.”

“I doubt it. It’ll probably get bigger. It’s relentless.”

After breaking off all that we could and sprinkling the remains with Clorox, we buried it. I would’ve given it the Last Rites but I suspected it wasn’t really dead.

I was right; it has been twenty-two years and descendants of my bumper crop of Relentless Weed continue to snoop stealthily through the soil every year. And every year I try to dig it out but I dig less and give up sooner. It’s gonna outlive me.

I Don’t Know My Ass from My Aardvark

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By the time I graduated from NYU with my Masters degree in English and had sat for the Praxis we were elbow-deep in renovating our 1920’s era farmhouse. Overseeing various workmen left me no time to teach so I subbed on days when no construction was ongoing at the house.

One morning the phone rang before dawn; a local district needed a kindergarten teacher for a day.

“Hmmmmmm,” I mumbled into the phone as Jamie shoved his head under his pillow. “I am not really qualified to teach that. I am an English major and I intended to teach high school.”

“Oh, please,” begged the disembodied voice of the recruiter through the phone. “The flu has decimated the district. Teachers and subs are both out with it.”

I considered; we could use the money. “Okay,” I agreed. “I will be there.” I rolled out of bed regretting my decision. I have no gift for friendship with small children. I really begin to like kids when they are high school age and understand my sense of humor. I am a lot like Jamie’s late grandmother who only warmed to her grandchildren when they were old enough to have a pre-dinner Scotch with her.

When I arrived at the school and saw the classroom I knew I had been correct in my original assessment. The walls were painted primary colors. The rug in the reading nook had large numbers dancing with mathematical signs. The chairs were the size of doll house furniture and the people sitting in them barely reached my knees. What had I been thinking?

The day progressed much as I had feared. Sing an alphabet song. Take a little person to the potty. Distribute healthy snacks. Take another little person to the potty. Clean up after healthy snacks. Call for the nurse when one small person threatened to throw up. Take several little people to the potty. Play a cd of Raffi songs so all of the little people could sing. By noon I was exhausted.

Finally it was story time and the kinder scrambled over one another to get a good seat on the dancing mathematics rug.

“So what book do you want?” I asked staring at the overflowing wooden book shelves.

“Arthur!” all of the Lilliputians shrieked at once.

“Arthur?” I wrinkled my brow. “Where is it?”

A cute little girl in rhinestoned jeans and a floral peasant top pointed.

I lifted the book. The cover read Arthur’s Pet Business. Okay, why not? I sat in the big wing chair and began reading aloud. The protagonist was a weird little brown animal with an oval head, round ears, and huge, round, black glasses: It looked like a rodent Lew Wasserman. I stopped reading and stared at the full-color illustration on the cover and asked, “What is this Arthur thing, anyway? Is he a mouse?”

A collective gasp arose from the entire rug of little people in response to my heretical question.

“What?” I asked.

Soprano voices quivering with threatened tears howled in unison, “He’s an aardvark!”

I stared at the drawing. “He can’t be an aardvark. Aardvarks have little ears and long snouts. He looks like a mouse. Are you sure he’s not a mouse?”

“No! He’s an aardvark!”

I peered down at the rug. Many of them were sniffling, some had actually begun to cry, and the rest were just . . . staring at me open-mouthed . . . as though they couldn’t believe any adult was so stupid as to think Arthur was a mouse. “All right, all right,” I mumbled, digging in my pocket for tissues to give to the weepers. “He’s an aardvark.”

Years later I told the story to the high school librarian who stared at me. “You’re an English major?” she asked in disbelief.

“Yup,” I nodded. “Victorian Lit.”

“It’s a good thing you are at the high school, Cella,” she snorted “because clearly you don’t know your ass from your aardvark.”

And I have remained in high schools for over twenty years because indeed, I still don’t know my ass from my aardvark.

Young Love in NYC

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Today is the thirty fourth anniversary of Jamie’s and my first date. All things considered about the evening, it is a wonder there was ever a second date.

We met in a crowded elevator at Saks Fifth Avenue when, in front of everyone, he asked me out to dinner. Mortified I snapped, “I don’t even know you!” and exited at whatever floor it was when the doors opened.

After scurrying to the escalator and sighing in relief at leaving the crazy man in the lift, I heard a voice behind me.

“If you won’t go to dinner with me, how about the beach?”

I whirled around, overbalanced, and nearly tumbled down the moving stairs. “What are you doing? You scared me!”

He shrugged. “Sorry. But do you want to go to the beach with me? It is supposed to be beautiful tomorrow.”

“I can’t go to the beach with you. I work. I work here.” I pointed to my tiny SFA lapel pin.

“Well, you get days off, don’t you?” he asked reasonably.

“Sure, but mine was yesterday.”

We reached the eighth floor and I stepped from the escalator to the marble floor. I pointed myself toward a door that read Employees Only and stalked away purposefully. Growing up in New York teaches you to leave the psychos in your wake so I didn’t look over my shoulder as I ascended the stairs to the ninth floor Executive Offices even when I heard the door swing behind me. I was nearly at the top when a voice called “So if it’s no to the beach, how about dinner?”

Startled I turned and flared downward. The man from the elevator and escalator was standing on the bottommost step looking up with a wide-eyed , hopeful expression.

I surrendered. “Okay, sure. I will go to dinner with you. I get off at six so meet me at the employees’ entrance at six-fifteen tomorrow night.”

“I’ll be there,” he grinned.

“I doubt it.” I muttered. “Asshole.”

The next morning I awoke glazed in sweat and feeling nauseous. Whatever was going around the store had landed on me. I considered calling in sick but then I remembered that I had made a date for that night with a good-looking, well-dressed lunatic whose name was a mystery so I had no way to contact him. What if he actually showed up? He didn’t know my name either so he wouldn’t know who to ask about. I sighed, ruing my idiocy, and heaved myself from the mattress. I felt a bit better after standing under the shower stream and drinking ginger ale, so I decided I would definitely go to work: I could always leave if I felt worse.

I stared at the clothes squashed together in my overstuffed closet and tried to figure out what to wear. It was an Indian summer September Friday so I needed something that would suit the air conditioned store, the sweltering day, an iffy restaurant, and a cool evening. I chose a fuschia cotton Calvin Klein shirtwaist and ironed it.

I made it through work without any problems, most likely because I was too busy to notice how awful I felt but as the afternoon wound down I grew hot and nauseated again. Convinced that my admirer wouldn’t show, I decided to just go home and go to bed. Punching out and exiting on Fiftieth Street I headed west when someone grabbed my arm. It was the man from the elevator.

“Hi.”

“Hi. I thought you wouldn’t come.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I thought you were kidding.”

“I wasn’t. Come on; let’s go to The Top of the Sixes for drinks then to the Village for dinner.”

We entered the express elevator at 666 Fifth Avenue and floated silently upward. Just as the doors opened, I turned to my escort. “What is your name, anyway?”

Brown eyes met brown eyes. “Jamie. Jamie Cella. What is yours?” I told him as we were ushered to a tiny table for two. We both ordered sodas, he a Diet Coke and me a ginger ale.

The view from the forty first floor was spectacular. As we admired it and sipped our drinks we began to know each other. He was neither a stalker nor a lunatic. He was in grad school at NYU and worked part-time in his mother’s family’s construction business. I began to like him even as I fought my nausea. I didn’t want to go to dinner but neither did I want to go home.

He whistled to hail a taxi headed downtown. We were going for dinner to Marylou’s, an Italian restaurant on West Ninth Street. The night was warm and I was beginning to run a fever so I lowered my window and practically shoved my head into opposing traffic all the way there.

We trotted down the steps into a lovely old townhouse and had just been seated when I knew I was going to be ill. I excused myself, walked as quickly as I could to the ladies’ room, and practically threw myself into the first stall where I vomited. After rinsing my mouth and wiping my face, I returned to our table, certain that everything would be fine now.

It wasn’t. I began sweating and feeling worse. I ran to the ladies’ room every ten minutes or so purging ginger ale, salad, and shrimp scampi. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten, hell, I shouldn’t have even come, but I had and I liked him now and didn’t want to go home, so I sucked it up and stayed. Reflecting on my decision in a silent taxi ride uptown as he escorted me home, I realized that I had been foolish and troublesome and he would probably never want to see me again.

Paying the taxi, he walked me to the elevator in my building. “I am sorry I cannot ask you up,” I mumbled, bleary-eyed “but I am not feeling too well.”

He gazed at me understandingly and kissed me good night. The elevator door opened and I entered, holding it open until he had exited the glass and wrought iron front door. Immediately after I lifted my finger from the Hold Door button I vomited again. The smell was making me swoon. When it reached the ninth floor, I jammed a chair from the hallway into the door so it couldn’t close and ran to my apartment. I was barely able to open the three locks on my front door before I vomited again.

Afterward, I brushed my teeth and stared at my reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. I looked like hell in a pink dress. My hair was clumped from sweating, my mascara had run, and my eyes were dull. I just wanted to get into bed. Spitting into the sink I realized that the worst of the evening’s entertainment still awaited me: I had to clean the elevator. Grabbing a roll of paper towels, I crept into the hall. I spread the Bounty sheets all over the mess to absorb as much as possible and returned to my apartment for a pail of hot water and antiseptic cleaner. While kneeling in my designer dress and scrubbing the tile floor, fat, hot, tears mixed with Lysol as self-pity washed over me much as the nausea had earlier. I had actually liked that guy and now he would probably never want to see me again. I couldn’t blame him; after all, I had seemed like a crazy person tonight.

That was over three decades ago and, to quote Charlotte Bronte, Reader, I married him. Nevertheless it was nearly a decade before I learned the rest of the story of my first date with the man who became my husband. Jamie’s parents were also dining at Marylou’s that evening and, not wanting to embarrass their son on a date, did not call attention to their presence, however, after watching me rush to the rest room every quarter hour my future father-in-law couldn’t resist. Tiptoeing behind Jamie on their way out, Carlo tapped him on the shoulder, leant close and whispered in his ear, “What are you doing to that girl, son? You are making her sick!”

Laura Meets the Lakers

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I was sitting on the front steps petting Spencer and chatting with Debbie when my cell rang.

“Hey.” Jamie’s voice crackled in my ear. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing much. Why?”

“Do you want to go to a Lakers game tonight?”

“Really? Yes! I have never seen a pro basketball game!”

Jamie was silent for a beat. “You do? You do want to go?”

“Sure. Didn’t you think I would?”

“Truthfully, no.”

“Why?”

“You hate sports.”

“I hate sports on tv.”

“We went to Giants games and you spent an hour in the ladies’ room.”

“That was because it was December and the ladies’ room had heat. I won’t be cold at a basketball game; they’re inside.”

“Okay, I will tell Nick that I want his tickets.”

I turned to Debbie. “Guess what. We are going to a Lakers game.”

“Have you ever been?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Oh, you’ll have fun. They are playing really well this year and the crowds are a hoot.”

“Okay, good. Usually I don’t attend sporting events.”

Debbie rose and descended the steps. “No, you really will enjoy this,” she said over her shoulder as she headed toward her house.

I showered and fed Spencer then waited for Jamie to call from the driveway. I was really excited about this. I know nothing about basketball but Debbie said I would enjoy it and besides, the Lakers were my friend Midge’s son’s favorite team so they must be good. And anyway if the game sucked, there were always the other spectators to observe.

After Jamie arrived and I hopped into his car we drove across Fourth Street to Pico and got on the 10 heading East. Jamie glanced over at me as he merged into the traffic.

“I can’t believe you really want to do this.”

“Why?”

“Because when it is up to you to choose the evening’s entertainment we end up at the ballet or Shakespeare.”

I laughed. “And if there is no Shakespeare?”

“A movie with subtitles.”

“Hey, I was talking to my dad and he reminded me that he took me to see the Harlem Globetrotters at Madison Square Garden when I was twelve.”

“I think this will be different.”

“Where do they play?”

“The Staples Center.”

“Staples? Isn’t that where the Democratic National Convention was? Remember we were walking in to hear Al Gore’s acceptance speech and the police had the picketers fenced into one area like a dog pound? Remember one said to me ‘Don’t vote for Gore!” and I said “I won’t” and he was so shocked he dropped his picket sign?”

We both laughed at the memory, then Jamie’s phone rang and he started a long conversation with a client, so long that we were pulling into a lot on South Figueroa before he said, “Okay, I am at Staples so I have to go. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

After the valet took the car, we joined the throng waiting to enter the venue. The crowd was raucous and the atmosphere was so festive it felt like New Year’s Eve only everyone (uh, except Jamie and me) was wearing purple.

When we entered the arena I realized that it looked completely different from the convention. I poked Jamie as he stood in line to buy popcorn. “Has this place been remodeled ?”

“From when?”

“The Democratic convention.”

“No, just at the convention most of it was blocked off. Remember we were herded like rodeo animals to the arena?”

We wandered around a bit, window-shopping through the merchandise and observing the fans. When we finally found our seats I was amazed: They were in the second row, just behind the floor seats. Emilio Estevez and Andy Garcia were already seated in the row behind ours.

“Hey, this is really cool!” I exclaimed digging my right hand into the popcorn bag.

“Watch the Jumbotron,” Jamie said as he folded his blazer. “They find all the celebrities.”

I looked up. The two people pictured weren’t celebrated for any achievement that I knew of but there were their faces and electronic hearts burst around them with the words “Kiss Cam.” Realizing they were being projected in hi def on a fourteen by twenty-two foot screen they leaned toward each other and kissed.

“Look, how cool!” I poked Jamie again. He grunted in response. “That reminds me of once I went to a Mets game with my dad. He was friends with someone in the broadcast booth and they spelled out ‘Welcome to Shea Stadium Larry Koster’ on the scoreboard.” Jamie nodded then looked away as the Lakers and the Knicks ran into the court.

The game was great – loud, colorful, and incredibly fast-paced. I was really enjoying it. Halftime came and a Cirque du Soleil troupe appeared before I noticed time had passed. As Jamie rose to get sodas the Laker Girls came onto the floor with a little boy whose ticket stub had been chosen to allow him to win a prize if he made a free throw. As if the kid weren’t nervous enough just standing on a pro ball court in front of 20,000 people, the Jumbotron showed every twitch in great detail to the folks at home. He missed – hardly a surprise since he was only about four feet tall – but the crowd cheered anyway.

Jamie had just settled back into his seat before cheering began again. I looked at the court; no one was doing anything. I felt a tap on my shoulder: I turned. Andy Garcia was poking me. “It’s you!” he exclaimed pointing at the Jumbotron. “You are on the Kiss Cam!”

“Oh? Oh!” My head snapped around and I saw our images on the screen. Blushing, Jamie and I kissed.

I turned around again. “Thanks. I hadn’t noticed it was us.”

Andy Garcia laughed. “I know. You nearly missed your chance at immortality!”

I think of that night every time I hear anyone talk about basketball or the Lakers; heck, I think of it every time I see the color purple. It remains a perfect moment captured in . . . well, not amber, exactly . . . but in my memory.

Fairy Tales Can Come True, It Can Happen to You

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When I was little my mother told me about the time she and her friends climbed up to a beer billboard and threw snowballs at people passing by. Not long after I heard the story a huge billboard of Tom Selleck went up in Times Square. He was dressed in a cowboy hat and a tuxedo and grinned out at me from a red sports car with a Chaz license plate. I wanted to climb up there, not to throw snowballs but just to sit. Alas, neither my mother nor I could find a way to climb up and I figured the police were a lot more observant now than they had been when my mom was a kid. Reluctantly I surrendered my fantasy of sitting next to Tom Selleck.

Fast forward to Labor Day forty years later. I was seated in the American First Class Lounge awaiting my flight from LAX to JFK. Flipping idly through the LA Times I looked up when I heard a familiar voice. Tom Selleck had entered the lounge and taken a seat not ten feet from me. My heart banged; maybe I would get a chance to talk to him and this time, really do it.

See, I had had chances to talk to him before; his television series about Las Vegas shot on Jamie’s lot and whenever I was there I would ask casually whether they were on set that day. Jamie answered every query with a scowl that would have melted the abominable snowman, so I never visited the set.

One afternoon I asked Jamie’s close friend Robert Santoro, a Teamster captain who worked on the show, what Mr. Selleck was like. He assured me that he was very nice and wouldn’t mind signing an autograph for my mother and me. At that Jamie raised one eyebrow. “She won’t get the opportunity to find out,” he stated firmly, facing Robert but really talking to me. “He is on this lot to work not to entertain fans.” As he returned to the papers stacked on his desk, I resisted the urge to stick out my tongue like Lucy Ricardo and instead looked sadly at Robert. He shrugged helplessly.

Well, today was the day to test Robert’s hypothesis. Since Mr. Selleck was not here to work and he wasn’t with his family, I would see just how nice he was. I dug in my purse for a pen and a scrap of paper and approached him. Planting myself directly in front of him, I “ahem”med loudly. He raised his eyes over his reading glasses.

“Mr. Selleck,” I began. “My mom and I have had a crush on you since you were the Chaz man. May I please have your autograph for her?”

He smiled slightly and reached up. “What is your mother’s name?” he asked kindly. I told him. He wrote then handed me the paper.

I accepted it then said, “You know, when I was a little girl there was a billboard of you in Times Square. It was the last shot in the commercial where you roped cows . . .”

“Steer.”

“What?”

“Steer. They’re not cows, they’re steer.”

“Oh. Okay, steer. Then you showered and dressed in a tux and climbed into that red Corvette. . . ”

“It was a Ferrari.”

I squinted at him. “Really?”

He nodded.

“Well, I guess you can tell I grew up in New York and know nothing about either cows or cars.”

He smiled then turned as his name was called. His escort had arrived to take him to his flight.

“Well, ‘bye,” I said. “Thank you.”

He nodded, hoisted his brown leather bag, and turned away.

I looked at my watch and realized that I should get ready to walk to the boarding gate, too. I slipped the autograph into my tote bag and headed for the ladies’ room.

Within about ten minutes I was boarding my plane. Flashing my boarding pass for seat 1A at the flight attendant I turned right and saw Tom Selleck sitting in 1 B.

“Hi Mr. Selleck!” I exclaimed.

He looked up from his script and peered over his reading glasses. “Hey, it’s Corvette Girl,” he smiled.

I tossed my carry on in the overhead bin and couldn’t stop myself from giggling as I plopped into the window seat.

“What is so funny?” my seat mate asked.

I told him about my childhood dream about climbing the Chaz billboard and sitting next to him high above Times Square.

He laughed. “Well, today you will be higher in the air than the billboard was,” he observed.

I looked at his script. “Is that the new cop show you are going to star in?” I asked nodding at the script.

He nodded. “It looks like a really good show. I hope it does well.”

“My mom and I will watch it, although she will miss Jesse Stone. She loves those.”

“Oh, tell her that they aren’t going away. We have three more scheduled.”

“My husband will watch, too, even thought you are no longer shooting on his lot.”

At his raised eyebrow I added, “My husband Jamie runs Culver where your last show shot and I always wanted to meet you and get your autograph but he said he’d kill me if I bothered you. Robert said you wouldn’t mind but I never did, anyway. I remember one day when someone’s daughter hung around the set all day mooning after Josh Duhamel, his agent chewed Jamie’s ear off. I learned from her mistake.”

Mr. Selleck nodded. “Robert who?” he asked curiously.

“Santoro.”

“My driver?”

“Yes, he is friends with my husband.”

“You should have asked him to get it for you. I would have signed. Robert is a great guy.”

So I sat next to Tom Selleck all the way to New York and he was charming. When he fell asleep I thought of laying my head on his shoulder and snapping a selfie but just my luck he’d be a light sleeper and I would turn into Lucy Ricardo yet again when she chats with the sleeping Van Johnson and he wakes, embarrassing her.

When we landed at JFK, Mr. Selleck’s next escort arrived to walk him from the plane to collect his luggage. Just before exiting, he turned and hugged me. He smiled that Magnum smile, turned again, and was gone.

RIP, Sir Roger Moore

IMG_5153Jamie is friends with Christian Moore, the younger son of James Bond actor Sir Roger Moore. Every time he spoke about meeting them for lunch or dinner I became as jealous as Lucy Ricardo when she learns Ricky is lunching with Richard Widmark at Chasen’s. I had had a crush on him since he played The Saint but it turboed into overdrive when the action-adventure series The Persuaders hit the Saturday night airwaves in 1971. The show starred Sir Roger as Brett Sinclair, an Oxford-educated playboy who destroys a hotel bar on the French Riviera in a brawl with American self-made millionaire Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis). Rather than serve jail time, both agree to use their considerable intellectual and financial resources to assist Judge Fulton in solving crimes or righting wrongs. It was filmed all throughout Europe and the cars, the clothes, the hotels, and the beaches combined to spark my incipient wanderlust. Unfortunately I appeared to be the only person in the US watching the show (as I was eleven years old I probably had few other evening options) and ABC dropped it before its entire series was aired.

Sir Roger went on to play Bond and I went to high school and college and rarely thought about him again outside of a movie theater until the day that I was meeting Jamie at the studio and he told me that Christian was dropping by and, since his dad was visiting from Monaco, there was a good chance he would come along, as well.

I had read Sir Roger’s autobiography, My Word is My Bond, and I knew from it that he considered playing Bond, or anything else, for that matter, less important than his United Nations work, especially ensuring a reliable supply of clean water for every child in the developing world. He wrote at length of purification processes and how cost-effective they were.

When Christian and his father arrived, Jamie introduced me; both were charming but were not overly interested in me. It was obvious that they preferred talking to Jamie about the James Bond stage at Pinewood and prices for stages at Culver. I sat quietly in Jamie’s office and listened to the conversation, trying to remember as much as I could in case I needed it for a story one day.

Finally, they decided to go to The Polo Lounge for lunch. As they rose I didn’t move.

“You coming?” Jamie called over his shoulder as he exited his office door. I knew that was what passed for an invitation from him – he had proposed in much the same fashion – so I grabbed my Birkin and trotted after him.

We took Jamie’s car so he could talk on the phone for the entire drive while Christian ferried Sir Roger in his own car.

“Am I going to get to talk to Roger Moore?” I queried as a valet opened my door when we reached The Beverly Hills Hotel and Jamie disconnected.

“Yeah, sure, just don’t say anything stupid.”

I scowled at him; I had been giving him that same advice for years but he rarely accepted it.

After we were seated in a banquette Sir Roger turned his body to face me, laid his hand over mine, and said kindly, “You have been so quiet. Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.”

I seized my opportunity. “Actually, Sir Roger, I would like to talk about UNICEF. I used to raise money for it as a child with the Trick or Treat for UNICEF program and I am very interested in the work you do with it, especially the fight for a steady supply of clean water in villages in developing nations.”

It was as though I had changed his batteries and flipped the switch to begin the flow of conversation from Sir Roger’s mouth. He talked through the Arnold Palmers, through the burgers, and through the fresh fruit for dessert. He was still talking as he held my left arm and walked me under the awning to the valet ninety minutes later when I went to get Jamie’s car. (He was returning to the studio with the Moores and I had a nail appointment.)

Sir Roger kissed me lightly on both cheeks as he held my hand. “This has been a lovely afternoon,” he said just before I drove away.

Two hours later I received a text from Jamie. “Roger Moore said to give his love to my charming wife. He found it so refreshing that you didn’t ask about James Bond but only wanted to know about third world water purification programs. You are such a suck up.”

I snickered as my fingers tapped on the keyboard “I don’t read books for nothing, you know.”

Good night, Sir Roger. Rest in Peace. The children of the developing world aren’t the only ones who will miss you.