Is It Summer, Yet?

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Winter makes me long for summer and summer makes me yearn to travel to one of my favorite countries, Italy. Of all of the places we have ever gone and all of the hotels in which we have stayed, I have to say that La Posta Vecchia, near Commune Bracciano, northwest of Rome, is among my favorites.

The hotel is a seventeenth century villa built as part of what was first an Etruscan settlement, then a Roman port city, ultimately all but covered by construction like the Castello Odescalchi, a fifteenth century structure now famous for being the location of Tom Cruise’s and Katie Holmes’ nuptials. The villa was purchased by J. Paul Getty in the 1960s and transformed into a luxe seaside home filled with fifteenth and seventeenth century art and artifacts from all around the ancient world. In fact, during Getty’s restoration of the fire-ravaged building, two Roman villas from the second century B.C. E. were discovered on the grounds; priceless remains from the excavations of those sites are on display in the hotel.

When we visited in September 2001, we stayed in one of the three Senior Suites; ours faced the water and the massive windows were hung with exquisite handmade fabrics that folded closed at night only after the three-inch thick, solid wood shutters had been latched securely. (Evidently Mr. Getty feared pirates and kidnappers approaching by boat, not unfoundedly so, since his grandson, John Paul III was snatched from Piazza Farnese in Rome in the summer of 1973 when I was twelve years old.)

The hotel is about thirty minutes from Rome but that wasn’t why we chose it, as we usually patronized The Hotel de Russie when in Rome. We decided to stay there after leaving Il Romazzino on the Costa Smeralda, near Porto Cervo, Sardinia because we were looking to extend our vacation spent doing absolutely nothing. Oh, we walked on the Sardinian beach, we read books, we visited the hotel spa and occasionally I rode the stationary bike in the gym, but mostly we flomped on sun lounges, ate, and talked with the other couple who had joined us on the trip. In fact, I never once rose for breakfast the entire fortnight we were there and on our last day, was shocked to discover something creamy and chocolaty called Nutella was served every morning. (A similar jar of it now resides in my pantry every day of the year. You cannot tell me that travel is not broadening.)

While cooler at La Posta Vecchia, the weather was still lovely as the hotel sits directly on the black-sand shore of Lago di Bracciano, a volcanic lake. Jamie continued his bronzing by sprawling across a lounge placed on one of the terraces and baking all day while I borrowed a bicycle to ride into the nearby small town and through the pomegranate groves on the way back. We were only there for a few days, as we moved to de Russie for some serious  Roman shopping as we waited out the travel ban. (Osama bin Laden’s associates had tried to demolish much of the city of my birth in our absence.)

Since it’s winter in New York, I can only dream of warm and sunny Italy as Detective Montalbano plays on the AppleTV, but once the weather breaks, I am going to convince Jamie to count his bonus miles and see where we can fly next.

I Loved You when I Was a Little Girl.

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“Peu d’hommes ont esté admirés par leurs domestiques.” (No man is a hero to his own valet.)                                                               Michel de Montaigne

 

When I stayed home sick as a little girl, I used to love to snuggle under the covers of my mother’s bed and watch daytime TV. While my favorites were the talk shows like Art Linkletter and Mike Douglas, my second favorites were the game shows; of these, I most liked To Tell the Truth on which a panel of four seemingly-sophisticated celebrities vied to guess which of three contestants was the one described by the announcer as having lived a particularly interesting life or undergone a singularly peculiar experience.

My favorite panelist was Kitty Carlisle, although I knew nothing about her life as an actress and wife of playwright Moss Hart. I just liked her manner of speaking, her graciousness, and her beautiful clothes accessorized with stunning, yet tasteful, jewelry.

After Jamie built an Off-Broadway house we became patrons of the shows that played there. While most were typical experimental theatre, some were huge hits and moved to Broadway. Because it was a non-profit, the theatre held fundraising galas periodically and we always attended. It was at one such event that I met Kitty Carlisle Hart.

She was well into her nineties by then but had retained the porcelain skin and jet black hair I remembered from my childhood sick days. And despite being well into my forties – and a veteran of many celebrity sightings – I fell right back into my rut of childhood adulation.

“Look!” I poked Jamie as he accepted two stems of sparkling water from a white-jacketed waiter. “It’s Kitty Carlisle! I loved her when I was a little girl.”

Jamie turned his head. “Who is she?”

“She is that older lady clinging to Bob’s arm.” I nodded slightly toward Robert Rubin, former Secretary of the Treasury in the Clinton Administration; his wife Judy was the chairwoman of the theatre’s ruling body and they were big contributors. I told him the story of watching her on television as a child.

“So go meet her. Bob will introduce you.”

“Really? Do you think so?”

“Sure.”

I negotiated my way across the crowded marble lobby until I was standing in front of Bob. He was inclining his head graciously to hear something Miss Carlisle was saying. I planted myself directly in his line of vision.

Bob leaned and kissed me on the cheek in greeting. “Do you know Kitty Carlisle?” he asked politely.

“No, but I would love to meet her.” I turned to face my favorite panelist.

Bob introduced us and Miss Carlisle placed her cool hand in mine, not shaking it as I – a far younger woman used to the business world – would have done, but clasping it delicately as theatre people and courtesans tend to do. All that was missing was the air kiss.

“Oh, Miss Carlisle,” I gushed unabashedly. “I am so excited to meet you.”

She smiled benignly and a bit condescendingly. I guess you can do that when you are the widow of one of Broadway’s and Hollywood’s most respected writers.

“I loved you when I was a little girl,” I continued.

Her eyes narrowed somewhat as they swept up and down my body. Obviously I had been a little girl quite a while ago.

I told her the story of watching To Tell the Truth when I was home sick and how happy I was when the syndicated shows were aired after school so that I could watch it every day “before I did my homework.”

At that she yanked her hand away and clutched Bob’s arm. She tilted her pale face upward and coquettishly asked “dear Bob” to escort her to her seat. Although surprised, Bob recovered quickly and turned toward the elevator to lead her into the auditorium. On the way, he turned and shot me a sympathetic glance over his shoulder. I was shocked and my face showed it.

Jamie sidled up to me. “What did you say to her?”

“What? Why do you think I said something?”

“Just look at her. She is giving you a look that if it came in 3D would have killed you by now. I wouldn’t even need to bother calling 911, just have you carted away to Van Emburgh’s Funeral Home.”

I glanced to my left. Kitty Carlisle Hart was indeed staring at me with an expression that should have made Jamie a widower on the spot. I turned back to face Jamie as he swallowed a mouthful of water.

“I said that I loved her when I was a little girl.”

He choked and spewed his Perrier. “You didn’t!” he exclaimed when he had finished coughing.

“Why? It’s true; I did. Although having finally met her I don’t know what I was so enchanted with.”

Jamie put his arm around my slightly damp shoulder and kissed my cheek. “Honey, you are a beautiful woman in her prime and if you loved her as a child, then she must be 102. She doesn’t like the comparison.”

I sniffed. “Well, she is 102,” I replied snarkily.

“Yeah, that may be, but we are sitting with the Rubins and so is she so try not to say anything else to her, okay?”

“Okay.” The lights dimmed and the bell tinged causing us to turn our faces toward the crowd surging the main staircase to reach their seats. “But she is 102.”

Jamie laughed and steered me into the throng.

 

Thomas Wolfe Was Right

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I went out for pizza with my parents one night last summer and I bumped into my high school boyfriend in the restaurant. Literally bumped into him as the hall leading to the restrooms was dimly lit. I was heading inward and, seeing a shape leaving the mens’ room, squeezed as close to the right as I could get, sweeping my shoulder against the wallpaper but the size of his shoulders plus the narrowness of the passage caused our arms to brush against each other.

“Sorry,” we both muttered impersonally then just as we passed, recognition caused each of us to spin and stare at the other.

“Is it you?” I asked.

He grinned. “Yeah, it’s me. And it’s you.”

I nodded. “Yeah, it’s me, too.”

Silence as we stared at each other; then I asked, “So how have you been for the past. . . I don’t know . . . forty years?”

He frowned. “Has it been that long?”

“Since you went to get a haircut and called me at college to tell me that you were marrying the stylist? Um, yeah, I think it has been nearly that long.”

He rolled his eyes. “Are you still pissed about that? Anyway, it isn’t forty years. Hell, that would make me . . . “

“Sixty,” I supplied.

“Yeah, sixty. Well, I am sixty, actually.”

“I know and I am fifty-seven so that means that we haven’t spoken since 1979 when I was nineteen. But even with my limited math skills that does make it thirty-eight years.”

We stood uncomfortably, shifting our weight and watching each other warily, neither with anything to say but both unwilling to let the moment die ignominiously.

He reached and lifted my left hand, then whistled at my engagement ring. “Your sister told me that you got married. I guess he has a good job.” He stretched my arm out and smiled. “You certainly look great.”

I pulled my hand away and dropped my arm. “That was twenty-eight years ago. And yes, thank you, he has had a few good jobs.”

“Is he here? I’d like to meet him.”

“No, he isn’t. I am here with my parents.”

“How are they?”

“Oh, fine for people in their mid-eighties.”

“Give your mom my regards. I always liked her.”

“I will.” I glanced at the ladies’ room door. “It was nice seeing you,” I lied, “but I have to get going.”

He nodded and I turned away. I had taken a step forward when I felt a hand on my left shoulder. He spun me around and kissed me on my left cheek then he backed away a step.

As I pushed on the ladies’ room door I heard him call my name softly. I peered over my shoulder.

“I meant it,” he said. “You do look great. And I’m glad that you became the writer you always wanted to be.”

At my look of surprise he smiled slightly. “Your friend Bev told me and I’ve read a few of your stories. And . . . I’m sorry I hurt you all those years ago.”

I nodded and entered the ladies’ room. Crossing to the sinks I stared at my reflection in the mirror.   I didn’t look great; I looked good for a woman of my age, but it took a lot more time and work to look like this now than it had done when I was in high school.

I leaned against the cool porcelain and sighed. It was pretty nice that he recognized that he had broken my heart years ago but it hardly mattered now; we had both moved on with our lives. I blew my suddenly dripping nose in a wad of Kleenex and wished I hadn’t seen him. In my imagination he remained that slender young man with black hair flowing halfway down his back and a rapier wit, so like Frank Troy in Thomas Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd, not a pudgy post-middle-aged man in dad jeans out for a quick, casual meal with the wife, kids, and grandkids.

Thomas Wolfe was right. You make your mistakes, you take your chances, and you may well look silly, but you have to keep going forward. You can’t go home again.

I tossed my Kleenex into the trash and returned to the dining room.

Don’t Come On-A My House, Little Girl

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Jamie and I returned to Lanai for Christmas 1995. When we go somewhere far we don’t like to think about coming back, so we planned to spend three weeks at the Lodge at Koele on the island and, since it was Christmas, shipped all of our clothes and gifts via Federal Express so they would arrive before we did. At the time, David Murdock and his wife Maria Ferrer owned the hotel. He was the CEO of The Dole Food Company (which had been established in 1851 when Hawaii was still a kingdom) and she was a real estate investor and the daughter of actor Jose Ferrer and singer/actress Rosemary Clooney.

We had been to the Lodge so many times and for such long visits that we grew friendly with the Murdocks and Maria invited Jamie and me to join them for many events from holiday parties to day trips spent horseback riding or diving. On the evening of Christmas Day, Maria held a party. It was filled with the usual Hollywood crowd, investment bankers, business tycoons, and me, of course, the only graduate student in the room.

Many members of Maria’s family were there and she was escorting her mother, then elderly and in poor health, to meet various people in the room. Her brother Miguel was tagging along holding his mother’s elbow.

When Maria got to Jamie and me, she introduced us, then, excusing herself, disappeared to check the champagne. Immediately I began gushing over Ms. Clooney about her performance in the movie White Christmas and her recording with Bing Crosby of the song “Hindustan.” I wasn’t kidding or bsing her; I truly love them both. I told her that I watched the film every year on DVD and had been singing along to my mom’s copy of the LP Fancy Meeting You Here since I was a little girl.   As a matter of fact, I continued, my husband and I were on a cruise one time with my parents where everyone at our dinner table was my parents’ age so they had a lot to talk about. One night at dinner, John, a man from Ohio, mentioned that the ship’s band was playing Big Band and swing music that night after dinner and he was really looking forward to it; he hoped they would play a lot of Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney because they were his favorites. He had had a crush on her since he was a teenager, he confided to me.

When I got to this part, Ms. Clooney grimaced as though she had heard this a million times before. “How nice,” she responded.

“As a matter of fact,” I continued, “he had such a crush on you that he named his pet after you. It was a raccoon that he named Rosemary Cooney.”

Her face froze and she stared at me as if she wanted nothing more than to plunge an icicle into my heart, if  only she could have found one in Hawaii and could have moved fast enough. Her son, Miguel, still at her side burst into laughter, and spewed his drink all over the front of his sport coat.

“Come on,” she tugged at his arm to pull him away from us.

I was stricken. I hadn’t expected it to upset her or I’d never have told her. The man on the cruise had told it to me with great pride and that was how I meant to relay it to her. Obviously I had made a mistake.

I turned to Jamie, standing quietly at my side. “What did I do wrong?”

He shrugged. “I thought it was that you started in with that whole ‘I loved you when I was a little girl’ shtick again like with Kitty Carlisle Hart.”

I blushed. Once I had greatly irritated Kitty Carlisle Hart at an Off Broadway premiere by saying that exact thing. I had meant it as a compliment but she took it as editorial commentary on her age. She had glared at me (not unlike Rosemary Clooney), and taken Bob Rubin’s arm and purred at him that she needed an escort to her seat.

“I did love her when I was a little girl,” I defended myself.

“Maybe, but nobody wants to hear that,” Jamie answered.

“Shit. I guess I had better apologize.”

Jamie laughed. “Write her a note. The way she is glaring at you from the bar, I think she is planning to whack you with her cane the next time you go for a drink.” He was right. She was leaning on the bar and listening with half an ear while some other fan gushed at her, however, rather than look at her companion, she was staring straight at me with eyes that shot death rays.

Other than Rosemary Clooney, the party was full of cheerful, laughing people, one of whom was Maria Murdock; another was Miguel Ferrer. As I wondered what to do he wandered over and gently grabbed my elbow. “That story about the man from Ohio was hysterical. I told my sister Maria and now she is telling everyone in the room. Is that true, by the way?”

I looked up at him, distraught. “Oh, dear God, don’t tell anyone else. Your mother is glaring at me like she wishes I were dead. And, yes, it is true.”

Miguel glanced over his shoulder. “Oh, don’t worry about her. She’ll get over it. I loved it, though.”

A few years later, Ms. Clooney played The Rainbow Room. Jamie asked me if I wanted to go see her and, maybe after the show, go backstage and greet her.

“Are you nuts?” I exclaimed. “It’s on the sixty-fifth floor. She’ll have me tossed down the elevator shaft.”

We never did see Ms. Clooney sing and we kept in only sporadic touch with Maria and Miguel. I have always wondered whether anyone told that story at her funeral. By then it would have been too late for her to retaliate by whacking him with her cane.

Never Mess with a Woman with a Migraine

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A new movie star moved into the walkstreet one summer, a baby movie star with an undergraduate degree from Harvard, two or three roles under his belt (one of which earned him a rave review from a popular newsmagazine), an East Coast banker father who invested in films, a “Hollywood royalty” girlfriend, and an ego the size of Lake Superior.

He never spoke to anyone, odd in such a small neighborhood where the lack of air conditioning and close proximity of the houses put everyone on intimate terms with each other almost before the moving vans had driven away. Besides that, people were just laidback and friendly; we found it a much easier way to live.

Children shrieked as they raced up and down the rise of the sidewalk. Cats and dogs wandered into neighbor’s homes to visit. The drummer from a rock band practiced his craft in the house nearest Third Street, as did the guitarist next door. Debbie and I sat in the sun in the middle of the sidewalk, chatting, and everyone plucked Meyer lemons from the single lush tree.  It was the friendliest neighborhood I had ever known. New neighbors adapted quickly. Why not? Who wouldn’t want instant friendship?

The baby movie star didn’t. Although he was uninterested in cultivating friendship with his neighbors – including the Oscar winner who lived next door to him – he invited his fraternity brothers to his rented house constantly, howling at shared Hasty Pudding memories and blasting music late into the night. (He obviously had no early calls while Jamie, the Art Director next door, and the Production Designer two houses down certainly did; they all drove away before 7 am.)

One afternoon I had a terrible migraine and went to bed before Jamie had even come home. When he climbed up the curved staircase after seven p.m. he found me lying in the golden-grey dusk on the bathroom floor, shivering under the comforter.

I could hear swiffing noises as his hand sought the wall light switch.

“Don’t!” I pleaded. “I can’t bear the light.”

“Are you hungry?” he asked, crouching near me.

“Yes, but I have been dry-heaving all afternoon so I am afraid to eat anything.”

“Well, I am going to go get a couple of tacos. Do you want anything?”

“Ginger ale,” I mumbled from under the comforter.

Eventually, the nausea wore off, probably because I fell asleep. At some point, I awoke and moved my head gently to check the migraine’s progress. My head was banging slightly less than it had been before, so I thought perhaps I could move without vertigo. I raised myself gently and, hands running along the wall for balance made my way into the bedroom and crawled under the covers. I had no idea how much time had passed but the house was in deep shadow and Jamie and Spencer were both sprawled on their backs asleep. The walkstreet was silent, save for Jamie’s and Spencer’s snoring.

I sipped from the glass of ginger ale Jamie had left at my side of the bed. Squinting in the dim moonlight at the Imitrex blister pack I tried to remember when I had taken the last migraine relief pill and wondered how soon I could take another one. “Fuck it,” I thought, poking a tiny white tablet through the plastic bubble. I only wanted to fall asleep again and wake up tomorrow feeling better.

I had just dozed off when I was awakened by loud voices talking and laughing. I squinted at my watch on the wicker nightstand. Three-fifteen. I sighed and closed my eyes, willing myself to sleep. The minutes ticked away. The laughter grew into hysterical shouts. The wrought iron gate banged. Whoever was outside was standing in the walkstreet bidding goodbye to guests. Good; it should be quiet now. I waited. The noise grew louder; apparently the guests had decided not to leave, after all. Moving as gently as I could I slid my head under the pillow. I couldn’t hear under there but neither could I breathe; realizing that I had to choose one or the other. I slid the pillow back onto the mattress and gasped for air.

The laughter was reaching a crescendo. I peered at my watch again. Three forty-five. This had been going on for a half hour. I wanted to bellow out the window, as people often did in New York City, telling my inconsiderate neighbors to shut the hell up but I wasn’t sure my migraine had gone. Gently I bent my neck from side to side; a little nausea but no banging. That was good enough.

I threw back the covers and as my bare feet touched the sea grass carpet, I reconsidered. Yelling out the window might be satisfying but it would also disturb everyone who wasn’t already awakened by the commotion taking place by the gate.

Gingerly I felt my way down the carpeted stairs. I crept to the heavy oak door and opened it. Stepping on the cold hardwood of the porch, I reached for the banister. My headache had only just subsided; no point in falling down the front steps and reactivating it.

I turned right and padded up the walkstreet past Debbie’s house and under Jean Pierre’s Washingtonian palms. Stopping about ten feet from the cluster of chattering men and women, I roared, “Hey!”

Six heads – including the photogenic one attached to the baby movie star’s slender neck – snapped in unison to stare at the crazy lady in purple paisley Liberty of London pajamas. I have no idea what I looked like at that moment, but neither did I care. I was loaded with Sumatriptan in an attempt to recover from a migraine and I needed my sleep. Besides, these people were inconsiderate, and I was sick of it.

“Do you know it’s nearly four in the morning?” I bellowed. “Everybody on this street needs to go to work in the morning, except you, apparently. Besides that, I have a fucking migraine and I do not need this tonight!” I turned to face the guests. “Either go back in his house” – I pointed at the baby star – “or go home, but for Christ’s sake, stop banging that goddamned gate. I have a migraine!” As soon as I was finished, I realized that my head had begun pounding again and I burst into tears. Wiping my streaming eyes on my right sleeve, I spun around and stalked home, each heel strike feeling as though my spine were bursting through the top of my skull. The walkstreet was silent, though.

I practically crawled back into bed – where neither Jamie nor Spencer had awakened in my absence – and popped still another Imitrex from the blister pack and shoved my head under the covers.

I spent the entire next day in bed, finally getting out at about four that afternoon to shower. Jamie came home early with a pizza. I heard him moving around in the kitchen and walked to the top of the stairs.

“I’ll be right down,” I called.

“Don’t bother. Stay in bed. I’ll bring it up.”

In a few minutes he entered the bedroom carrying a wicker bed tray holding two plates and a couple of bottles of ice cold Coca Cola. Tucked into a corner of the tray was a box of Godiva chocolates.

I smiled. “Oh, you didn’t have to do that for me,” I said, gesturing toward the gold box.

“I didn’t,” he answered, placing the tray on the bed. They were on the mat. There’s a note. See who they’re from.”

I tore open the envelope. “They are from the baby movie star.”

Jamie popped open the soda bottles. “I wonder why.”

I told Jamie the story of my temper tantrum the night before, the one he had slept through.

He opened his mouth to take a bite of pizza. “Never mess with a woman with a migraine,” he said.

I learned later from Debbie that the little movie star had left chocolates and handwritten notes of apology at every neighbor’s door that day. Apparently three other neighbors, including Debbie, had telephoned his landlord and reported the incident. The landlord threatened to evict him immediately unless he solved the problem.

Eventually I ate the chocolate but instead of throwing away the smarmy, rather insincere “apology” I saved it; maybe if he ever becomes really famous I can sell it on eBay.

You and Me – Memories of My Grandfather

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When I was little I stood on your feet, my shiny patent Maryjanes atop your black loafers (you hated wingtips) so I could pretend that I was really dancing at Gayle Sulpizi’s wedding.

You said you never danced anymore because Grandma could no longer but you danced with me.

When I was little I sat on your lap in the apartment on Grand Avenue to watch Perry Mason or on the tractor seat upstate to drive to Sprague’s Sinclair station in Eagle Bridge for gas.

You said it was dangerous for two people to sit on that small tractor and drive at once but you did it with me.

When I was little I followed you around the house and garden on summer weekends upstate, watching you tinker with the tractor or build shelves for storage or repair the toaster or the radio.

Although you said I could help you, you didn’t really need it – which was convenient because I was generally no help at all – and you always smiled at me and occasionally tugged on one of my pigtails while I sat next to you to be sure that I knew you loved me.

When I was little I begged to tag along on your evening service calls to repair televisions in apartments on Sedgwick Avenue or University Avenue or Father Zeiser Place.

You said I could come if I was quiet and sometimes I was so quiet that I fell asleep on your customer’s sofas as you slid in chassis and popped out and replaced blown tubes.

Then after dropping your tool kit at the store on Fordham Road you’d hold my hand as we walked home under the darkness of the city sky and the circular pools of the street lamps, just you and me.

Yes, just you and me.

When You Hear Hoof Beats, It Must Be Zebras

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There is a lot to be said for being a city child. You mature quicker, are more sophisticated, and are not at all afraid to do things from a young age that upset many suburbanites – like eat in a restaurant or ride public transportation alone. All New York City kids of a certain generation know what “coffee regular” means and expect to let the people exit the bus before they attempt to enter; they stand on the right of the escalator and walk on the left and are well aware that there is no point in running for anything (bus, train, taxi, boyfriend) because if you miss one, another will be along any minute. All of those lessons have served me well as an adult.

Of course, city kids also become cynical quite young and they often have completely unrealistic notions about how life really works. I don’t mean Park Avenue children – since God knows I was not raised in that rarified atmosphere – but even little girls born in the Bronx develop skewed perceptions about exactly what is normal in American life.

One of my grandfather’s favorite stories about me as a child concerns my love for and identification with animals. Since we lived in an apartment we didn’t have pets (at least not since my sister slid her turtle down the slide in De Voe Park and we never saw him again) but I knew all about animals because we lived only a few blocks from the Bronx Zoo and went there with my mother quite often; all things considered, my grandfather may well have been among those people who said we went there too often.

Right after I learned to talk, I did so with a vengeance, expressing my opinion early and often. I awoke early from a nap one hot summer afternoon and began jumping up and down in my crib. I clutched the wooden slats in my sweaty, little, fists and began shouting, “Gampa! Gampa!” hoping that my urgency would communicate to my grandfather who was spending his sole day off work babysitting twenty-two-month-old me. My grandfather was – and remains – among the great loves of my life and I wanted to be with him, snug in his lap watching the Yankees on TV or clutching his hand and toddling after him to the sweet shop for chocolate ice cream.

“Hey,” his head peered around the corner into my tiny room. “What’s all the hollering about?”

“Gampa!” My voice grew joyful.

“Yes?” He inched closer but didn’t reach for me.

“Gampa?” I was puzzled; why was he standing directly in front of me? Why didn’t he pick me up? Why wasn’t I free?

“Yes?” he asked again, obviously hoping to encourage me to articulate my thoughts.

“Gampa!” I shrieked, banging on the crib slats. “Get me out of this monkey cage!”

He doubled over in laughter forcing me to stay caged even longer. Finally, gasping, he lifted me from the crib. After putting on my socks and tying my Keds, he suggested walking around the block to get some ice cream.

On the way home from the candy store, my grandfather heard hoof beats and turned to glance over his shoulder at the battalion of mounted NYPD officers on their way to Yankee Stadium for crowd control after the game. Thinking how much I would enjoy seeing the horses, he tugged gently on my hand and crouched beside me. I tilted my smeared and sticky face upward and looked into his gentle blue eyes.

“Laura, listen,” he whispered. I held my head still and strained to hear.

“Do you know what that sound is?” he asked.

I bobbed my head up and down.

“What?” he asked.

“Hoofs,” I answered, wide-eyed.

“And what animal has hoofs and makes that sound?”

“Zebras.”

He stared at me. “Zebras,” he repeated.

I bobbed my head up and down again. ‘We saw them at the zoo. One was chasing the other ones and they made that noise when they ran.” I strained to look toward Fordham Road. “Are there zebras out there, Gampa?”

He sighed slightly. “No, I think we missed them.”

“Oh.” I returned to my dripping chocolate cone. It didn’t really matter; I could see the zebras any day I wanted, nearly.

Later that night, my grandfather came into my room as my mom was getting me ready for bed. After switching on my Tinkerbelle nightlight, I heard my grandfather say to my mother as they exited the room, “You have to start taking that kid somewhere else and not to the zoo so much. She hears hoof beats and immediately thinks zebras.”

It has been fifty-five years since that night. I continue to love my grandfather – now long gone – and I when I hear hoof beats I still think zebras.