Some Day, Some Day

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The Carnegie Deli is gone.

Jamie and I ate there all the time when we were first dating; we alternated going there with the Chinese place next door. It was quick, relatively cheap, and close to my apartment on West Fifty-eighth Street (my first apartment; the one with the nudist neighbors across the courtyard).

New York was different then. It didn’t seem to try as hard, or maybe its inhabitants didn’t feel the need to try as hard. It was the New York of the old Playboy Club where I met Rod Stewart by laughing at him posing in an electric blue satin suit before a tinted mirror, surveying his reflection critically, and fluffing his pineapple haircut to greater spiky heights.

It was the New York of Lamston’s and Strawberry and Woolworth and Chock Full o’ Nuts; no Starbucks or Baby Gaps sprouted on every corner. Mama Leone’s was the tourist dinnertime haunt because Guy Fieri was still learning how to bleach his hair in CA. Pickled egg Irish pubs like McSorley’s lined Ninth and Tenth Avenues since the Westies drank there and they sure weren’t wearing Hell’s Kitchen, NY t shirts; the tacky tourist shops that I passed walking home from my ballet class at Carnegie Hall wouldn’t have even sold such things then.

Hilly Kristal still owned CBGBOMFUG: It was dark inside and the floors were sticky with God alone knew what; nobody asked. NYU night classes at 15 West Fourth Street rarely ran past nine pm because the building’s walls reverberated with the music from The Bottom Line where everyone from Lou Reed to Eric Clapton to Hall and Oates played after signing albums at the newly-opened Tower Records.

Pre-Disney Times Square was still a peepshow play land of ramshackle buildings owned by some of New York’s wealthiest families. Getting felt up (now referred to as “sexual assault”) on the subway home from Macy’s after Thursday late-night shopping was so common that women barely mentioned it to one another.

I think I am becoming one of those cranky old ladies who cannot accept change.   It isn’t as though Needle Park on the Upper West Side was a destination, but it was there and real and part of life and you grew up knowing it, just as you knew that you took the bus to the floral district for Christmas and Easter plants and to the fabric district for buttons for the clothes your mom sewed for you and to the Garden for concerts. Things just were; they had always been and seemed as though they would remain to be.

While New York has always been a Mecca for wannabes from the Midwest and Long Island, it has also been home to generations of ordinary people like my family, not just the very rich and shiny and the extremely poor and disenfranchised who populate it now. Maybe I just miss being young and fearless and unencumbered by a career and a mortgage and a 401(k), but New York City isn’t mine anymore.

Jamie and I returned to the Carnegie Deli before it closed.   We ordered pastrami and corned beef and potato pancakes and extra rye bread; we had to order everything that we remembered because it was our last time there. Walking through the door to the street was painful, like saying goodbye to an old friend. The Chinese restaurant next door is long gone. Tourists still clog the streets but they carry shopping bags from Nike Town instead of Bonwit Teller and Forever 21 instead of Lerner Shops. The Westies are gone, dead or in prison or hidden in witness protection. The garment district is gone, too, packed up and shipped to China and Sri Lanka, its destruction commemorated by a giant needle and thread. The only constant is the streets remaining in a state of being dug up, with steel plates and steam pipes jutting out at odd angles.

My grandfather used to say that New York was a great city, one that would be greater if they ever finished building it. I kind of wish they would stop. I liked it the way it was.

I Think There is a Bench Warrant Open for Me in Massachusetts

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A few summers ago my mother and I drove to Brimfield, Massachusetts for the antiques fair and on the way back to New York we left the highway for a mosey along Memory Lane, ending at Three Rivers Grammar School where I had been enrolled during the very brief time my dad’s job transferred us to New England. It was easy enough to find Three Rivers, but what we saw as we stopped at red lights depressed me; the entire town was shabby. Reaching the large, redbrick, Victorian structure where I had attended fourth grade drove a sharpened Eberhard Faber Blackwing through my heart. The school was surrounded by chain link fence with looping barbed wire curling through the top. To say that it had fallen into disrepair didn’t come close. The playground tarmac, formerly painted with hopscotch and foursquare diagrams, was cracked into chasms from weeds the size of small trees bursting through. Oddly shaped islands of grey asphalt were scattered about in the shade created by them. No paint remained on the wooden sashes and frames of the enormous windows. Pigeons and their remains covered the sagging roof.

I pulled close to a curb. “Aw, man,” I exclaimed. “That makes me sad.”

My mother nodded. “I figured that there would be a big, regional school now, but I am surprised that no one kept up this gorgeous old building.”

I pointed at the dirt-streaked, second-floor window. “That was Miss Kolbusz’s office” I reminded my mother. My fourth grade teacher was also the principal and every week in those pre-answering machine days a different student was chosen to trot into her office and answer the phone when it rang during the school day. We transferred calls or wrote messages for distribution at a later time. I was often chosen because I spoke loudly and clearly.

A lump swelled in my throat for my lost childhood and I opened the car door. “I want to look in there,” I called to my mom over my shoulder. “Wait here so you can bail me out of jail if the cops come.” I didn’t expect them to; despite forty years having passed, Three Rivers still appeared to be a one-sheriff town.

I ran across the street and was pushing myself through the narrow opening in the fence when I felt someone brush against me. Jumping, I realized that it was my mother. From the far side of the fence I faced her.

“What are you doing?” I exclaimed as I saw her begin to compress herself and wedge through after me.

She exhaled. “I am not going to let you go to jail alone,” she answered.

“Then who is going to call Daddy and Jamie?” I asked, only half kidding.

“We will each get one phone call,” she replied knowingly in the voice of one who had watched Hill Street Blues religiously.

We crossed the broken tarmac and climbed the cracked and chipped steps until we were even with the large window of the office I remembered so fondly. Even leaning over the rickety banister, I was too short to see in. Frustrated, I chewed on my left thumb nail until a plan formulated.

“I know,” I said. “I will balance on the banister and climb to the window ledge. I should be able to see in that way.”

My mother raised one eyebrow. “I don’t think that is a good idea,” she said.

“No, I will be okay. Here give me a boost and then hold my leg until I have my other leg on the ledge. It’s marble, see? It isn’t broken.”

“Laura, be careful,” my mother clutched my thighs. “I don’t think it’s sturdy enough. I don’t want you to end up in the hospital.

“No, Mom, I am fine.” And I was. This was back in the days of my attending aerobics and weight training classes three times per week and I boosted myself easily to the ledge.

“Laura, listen to your mother,” came a deep voice. Startled, I nearly fell off the ledge. Digging my nails into the rotting wood sills I snapped my head around like an owl. Yes, it was a police office. Actually, there were two, one standing about ten feet away, and one about ten feet beyond him; they were both watching quietly. Their shiny blue and white car with flashing red lights blocked the old schoolyard gate.

“What are you doing?” the closer one asked.

I sighed. “I went to fourth grade here then we moved away. I wanted to see what my old classroom looked like.”

“Didn’t you see the No Trespassing signs?”

I nodded.

“Could you read them?”

I frowned. “Well, sure. I just said I went to fourth grade here.”

He pursed his lips and pushed his hat back on his head. “Did you just think they don’t pertain to you?”

I said nothing for a minute. “Do you want the truth?” I asked sheepishly.

His eyes widened. “I’d love the truth,” he agreed glancing over his shoulder at his partner.

“I didn’t care. I loved my teacher. I loved this school. I loved answering the phone in that office. I miss it all. I felt horrible when I saw the shambles the building has become and I just wanted to remember my childhood.”

The older officer hadn’t said anything until this point, apparently content to allow his younger partner take the collar. Now he called, “You say you answered the phone in that office?”

I looked over the closer officer’s head toward the farther one and raised my voice slightly. “Yes, my teacher was also the principal so everyone in her class took turns answering the phone when it rang.”

“I know,” he agreed.   “’Three Rivers Grammar School. How may I help you?’”

I was startled; that was what we had been trained to say when we answered. “No, wait,” I recalled.   “You are supposed to say your name in between the school name and the how may I help you part.”

The older officer chucked. “You’re right. I forgot. What did you used to say?”

“I used to say ‘Laura speaking’.” I cocked my head. “What did you used to say?”

He grinned. “I used to say ‘Duane speaking.’”

“Duane Corbett?” I nearly fell off the ledge.

He started. “Yes. How did you know?”

“You were in my class. We were the last fourth grade before Miss Kolbusz retired. I had a crush on you. Actually you and Michael Smith.”

He stared. “Laura Basquette?”

I shook my head. “No! Laura Basquette had dark hair!”

He peered from under his visor. “I don’t remember you.”

“Yes, you do! I am the other Laura. We moved here from New York at the beginning of the school year? Remember Mr. Ricci the math teacher who used to point at the board with his really big nose? Remember we read Rudyard Kipling’s “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men”? Remember we had to memorize our multiplication tables? How could I know all this stuff if I hadn’t actually been here?” I tried one last memory jog. “I won the fourth grade spelling bee, for God’s sake! The word was tomato and some girl named Tammy spelled it with an e at the end!”

The officer stared at me for a long while. “I know who you are. You were only here for one year then you moved away.”

Finally! “Yup, that was me.”

“So where do you live now?”

“New Jersey. My husband and I bought an old farm house with the last couple of acres.”

“So what are you doing here?”

Well, for one thing I was getting ready to fall as my fingers grew stiff and sweaty in the hot July sun. “My mom and I went to Brimfield then drove here to see what’s changed.”

Duane grinned. “Not much, but we do have a new air-conditioned police station with new cells.”

I gasped. “You aren’t going to arrest me, are you?” I nearly tumbled from the ledge at that.

He cocked his head. “I haven’t decided yet but even if I were we’d have to get you down first.” He turned to his partner. “Come on, Randy. Help the lady down before she falls.”

When I was back on the tarmac and it was obvious that my old schoolmate did not intend to haul me off to the hoosegow, I asked, “Say, Duane, you don’t have the keys so we could see inside, do you?”

He shook his head. “No, the town doesn’t own the old girl, anymore. Someone just bought her to turn her into condos.”

I sighed. “Isn’t that always the way?”

Duane did have a key to the padlock, however; he and his partner hadn’t attempted to squeezle through the narrow opening. He ushered us out then closed the gates and snapped the lock shut and walked me to my car. His partner opened the passenger door for my mom. After I was seated behind the wheel with the key in the ignition, he leaned in and kissed me on my left cheek. “Goodbye, Other Laura,” he said. “In the future, after the Brimfield Fair, go to the County Historical Records Office if you want to see old buildings. I will have to arrest you if you become a repeat offender.”

And with that, he turned, walked to his car, and drove away.  I haven’t returned to Massachusetts since.  No point in pushing my luck.

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.