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The Peripatetic Papers: Chapter 4: Music in Purple Time

Monday February 2

Having finally recovered from annual exertions as turkey mother to the universe, compose seditious ditty:

I’m dreaming of a quiet Christmas

When all our relatives go home,

And our brows stop glistening

As we sit listening

To the reassuring jet’s departing drone.

Reflect that window from which decorations taken down provides plainer and more soothing light than baroque splendor Christmas festoons afforded. January dispersal of family and return of dear H. to work in downtown Detroit leaving me all alone in the house amid immense post-holiday calm, have written whole month long with no more excitement than arrival of juncos at bird feeder. Matching winter dazzle of light over snow with sparks of intellectual acumen, begin to get bored with self and ideas: have kept at it for a month, have made a good start, haven’t I? Chair and Dean expect me to employ sabbatical at home making “reasonable progress” in what they now entrepreneurially term “productivity” but surely, a whole chapter draft in one month is progress?

Telephone rings: leap willingly to grab it. Daughter’s lilt at other end in middle of working day leads to customary split second vision of blond hair filled with blood hanging upside down in car wreck, but come to senses when she asks in perfectly normal voice whether there is any chance I could join her in New York for a couple of days to choose wedding dress?  Informal wedding, she reminds me, just city hall followed by dancing on the lawn of log cabin to follow. Thought we might try Macy’s for a spring dress, ankle length? But can I afford hotel room?  Assent to all points with alacrity, agreeing to check hotel situation and call back this evening.

Heart leaps up at thought of New York City, not for usual reasons (shining metropolis beckons Midwestern bumpkin) but because I was born and grew up there in grimmer times prior to “Big Apple” Era.  Have never figured out what apple, unless Garden of Eden one. If so, find moniker suitable,  having learnt everything I know about good and evil in one short block between East End and York Avenues.

In mood of unusual determination (fostered both by restlessness and isolative nature of solitary composition) go resolutely to phone, book direct flight Detroit to La Guardia and, without an instant’s hesitation, dial up Barbizon Plaza, hotel for women where I always stayed in the fifties. Rude receptionist admits hotel is still on 63 and Lexington but is now “The Golden Tulip,” coed, and very expensive. Known quantity overruling economy, I book twin bed room for three nights.

Saturday February 7

Gazing out study window at damp fug which has descended over  Detroit suburb, indulge in memory of red satin hearts full of chocolate candy displayed in shop windows along Lexington Avenue during grey Februaries of childhood.   Was New York City really so much darker in forties and fifties, as if blankets of slate laid down over rooftops?  Recall clusters of fans spewing soot from every building, grit pittering against bedroom window and peppering inside and outside of kitchen sill. Feel need to share miracles of color punctuating New York February with daughter I (very wisely) brought up in Wisconsin.

Monday March 9

Standing at sink washing dishes, realize unusual brightness in back yard due to reappearance of sunshine.  Open top of Dutch door to lean into scent of thawing earth. Startled by catkins swelling upon pussy willow, stand helplessly underneath as branches too high to reach, neighbor having obligingly pruned tree last summer to provide more sun on my tomato patch.  Imbolc, February turn of year in England, sometimes comes even to Michigan, I reflect.  Return to sink well aware that blizzard may ensue tomorrow or, as is more likely, on Friday when I fly to New York.

As always when about to leave it, gaze fondly around kitchen: china blue counter tops a great success, as is open space with small desk upon which used to conduct chemistry experiments at 529 E. 85th street, and kitchen table creating forties ambience my neighbor never ceases from reminding me that “they are not showing these days.”  Chop carrots, onions, and celery for a stew for dear H., who will be left to own devices for a week.  While it cooks,  conduct administrative business of feminist legal organization run from home office more assiduously than usual. (Query: incipience of travel useful as spur to both composition and conscience? Answer: definitely).

Wednesday March 11

How can they call and ask me to attend city commission meeting when I am flying to New York day after tomorrow? Irrationality of sentiment fails to sooth as rush around gathering notes and composing self to utter on subject of public transportation to supercilious commissioners and (at best) indifferent but (probably) hostile crowd.

“But we’ve sent out a news release, like you said we should,” exclaims fellow member of grass roots organization, “you just have to stand up so the cameras can show a nice middle class lady is for connecting the city to the suburbs. And besides, none of the rest of us can drive at night.”

Argument fails me, since cannot possibly employ excuse of slight night blindness with legally blind friend, and am perfectly available to perform customary role of ordinary citizen anxious to pay taxes to improve infrastructure. Hang up phone and hasten to closet to assess condition of middle class lady outfit consisting of cobalt blue suit, pink sweater, and Barbara Bush style pearl choker.

Trying to avert eyes from oncoming headlights, which keep me from seeing street I am driving on, achieve parking lot safely and proceed through starry night to commission meeting, held in basement of library. Find windowless room packed and roiling.  Cheer evaporates, however, when overhear crowd talking not about buses but elm disease, and discover millage question third not first item on agenda.  TV cameras poised in every corner very gratifying, however. Take seat mentally composing self for whenever moment to utter may eventuate.

Moment fails to arrive for more than an hour as one tree owner after another rises to plead with commissioners, some of whom twiddle pencils and one of whom bends head to knitting throughout procedure, to finance extremely expensive process of tying large tanks of healing fluids to every elm tree in city.  Important subject fails to entrance as citizen after citizen describes his or her special tree and its condition in intimate detail. Sinking into apathetic fug when Mayor suddenly moves to millage item on agenda.

After subject introduced sit up straight, take coat off, adjust pearls, look intelligent, and wave hand about, all to no avail as Mayor calls on everyone but me while television cameras wheel this way and that.  When Joe, libertarian curmudgeon who uses every commission meeting to foment against any government spending whatsoever (including for sewage and public libraries) rises, tv cameras go into full alert. Mayor, having ignored my waving for fifteen minutes,  finally calls on me.

Rise to express desire to be taxed so that our town can be linked in web of commerce and comity with rest of Detroit Metropolitan area. Notice, however, that cameras remain focused on perennial curmudgeon.  Take deep breath and summon courage:

“I notice that our tv channels, channel two and channel four,” I point out sternly, “are more interested in negative than positive statements.  This has happened to me before,” I continue in my best admonitory tones: “isn’t it just as important that an ordinary middle class woman who is a citizen of this suburb wants to pay taxes for public transportation as that someone who does not live here at all (I guess wildly) doesn’t even want to pay for his own sewer?”

Applause and laughter erupt, followed by raucous chant from all sides to “focus on her, turn the camera on her, turn it on her,” until the beleaguered cameramen do so, and I am urged to “say it all again, on tv,” which I do with great satisfaction, for once in my life getting my facts straight and my arguments marshaled into cogent statement.

Upon returning home, turn on the ten o’clock news to see myself pictured but speaking with no words coming out, only over voice pronouncing “and this citizen had nothing good to say about the media coverage of the meeting.”

If, as dear H. is always asserting in re our addiction to the news, “a democratic public is an informed public,” it is clear that media behaving in extremely undemocratic manner. Cannot spend time following up on outrage right now, however, with New York City trip making scientific packing imperative.

Thursday March 12

Scientific packing, favored by younger daughter after she gave presentation in junior high speech class on subject, proceeds. It is only five days, but we are talking New York City here, including luncheon with old school friends who have lived there ever since graduation. Need reasonably tailored outfit in case evening invitations ensue, comfortable daytime outfit, something for lunch at elegant lady’s club frequented by favorite old friend, plus absolute necessities like things to read on airplane to take mind off flight as well as pajamas, underwear, and toiletries. Scientific method consists in tightly rolling everything up to fit in one small wheeled suitcase plus tote.  Absolute failure in this endeavor results in dusty quest for old carry on, which, when stuffed, so heavy as to risk dislocation of shoulder.

Friday March 13

“Would you bring in the newspaper,” requests dear H.

“But my flight as at 9.30,” I wail.

“It’s precisely 6.30 a.m., we have plenty of time!” he answers, his time and my time re airport arrivals not in any way the same thing. Make way out onto cold driveway, orange sun etching hawthorn tree black against the dawn.

Airport achieved with an hour to spare, pull wheeled suitcase and lug heavy shoulder bag to gate for New York City flight.  Purchase horrid Styrofoam cup of watery coffee and, having reassured self that visibility for flight quite adequate, sit down to seriously peruse Women’s Review of Books. Find long, analytic article about access (reform) vs community (revolutionary) feminism totally engrossing, given recent discomfort of women’s studies colleagues with me and all my ways. I had though “accessing” meant women infiltrating academe, covertly inserting sisterhood into (alien) university culture. Article makes me realize that access no longer understood as guerrilla action but, quite the opposite, consists of women assimilating tweedy status quo to become every bit as mean spirited and competitive as men.

Glancing up at airplane sliding into gate, return article to carry-on bag and entertain self speculating about personal lives of fellow passengers.

While 727 (not my favorite aircraft) rises abruptly to 30,000 feet, realize have reached period in life when last urge to assimilate has departed. As menopause approaches am perhaps old enough, as the poem puts it, to “wear purple”  and do what I want to. Consider post-menopausal women in India’s favorite activity, traveling around together, freed at last of reproductive responsibilities, joking and gossiping and not giving damn any more.

Scrabble in carry on stuffed beneath seat to extricate New Yorker. Entranced by cover.  Little girl stands in middle of vast loft playing violin, tilting chin and lifting bow with shy defiance of huge skyscrapers leaning at her outside window, making her music despite purple shadows they cast all around her. Small determined child recalls enormous efforts to extricate self from family chaos, though loft contrasts sharply to claustrophobic rooms of 529 E. 85th street.

Flipping through cartoons and poems come upon item by Derek Walcott, Caribbean poet have always enjoyed:

Your soul traveled the one horizon, like a quiet snail,   infinity behind it, infinity ahead of it…”

Have sometimes wondered about my soul–is it still there? where?–since abandoned childhood concept of Jiminy Cricket resident in stomach, uncomfortable with pouring food down on him three times a day.  While musing about folk belief that souls fly around sky looking for parents to be born from, realize that tilting sensation means destination approaching, astonished that plane covered distance between Detroit present and long ago New York past with such alacrity.  Lean over seat mate to gaze as plane straightens itself to disclose panorama of childhood streets unrolling directly beneath us. There is 69th street where family friend (chose to disclose tidbit night before my wedding) got my mother blind drunk on gin one hot August night in order that I might be conceived.

Efficiently hurl self through La Guardia to find platform outside, where await Port Authority bus with crowd reassuringly bound in the same direction.  Board bus, note striking contrast between silent panorama seen from above and traffic roaring through highway canyons and emerge into New York through swarms of honking vehicles.  Miracle of miracles, daughter appears to hug me very lovingly as manoeuver self and luggage off bus at thirty-fourth street.

“I thought we could go shopping right away,” she says, “but I forgot about all your suitcases.”  Notice she is dressed in jeans and jacket with limp knapsack comprising her entire luggage.

“Let’s go to the hotel and make sure everything is o.k. there, and then try Bloomingdales?” I suggest.

“Macy’s,” she says firmly, “there’s a sale on.”

Having compromised on the taxi to hotel and then back across town to shop plan we advance to taxi rank and pile selves and luggage into narrow back seat with filthy torn cushions. Smell of upholstery and mien of taxi driver twisting neck over shoulder to demand destination pushes button far back in memory and I utter, in firm, stern New Yorkese:

“Golden Tulip Hotel: Lexington and 63rd!”

“No such place, lady,” replies driver with a sneer, “you from outta town?”

“Lexington and 63rd,” I reiterate, packing as much venom into my tone as I can, “I was born and grew up here.”

Taxi driver ignores me to twist dirty neck around, leering at daughter: “whaddya thinka her? She ya muddah? Don’t know New York, duz she: there’s no Tulip hotel at Lex and 63rd! Wanna dump her and go somewheah nice with me, good lookin?”

“Shuddup, you!” I reply, to my and to my daughter’s astonishment: “Take us to Lexington and 63rd, it’s called the Barbizon Golden Tulip.”

“Why didnya says so,” jeers driver, “Bahbizahn,” must be from outta town to call it a Tulip. Wanna change yer mind an go out with me, gorgeas?”

“You just make sure you go straight across 34th then up Lexington,” I conclude, in New York Lady tones I recognize as my long dead mother’s.

As tear up ramp and honk way through side street onto Lexington, daughter sinks as far back in seat as she can go, though whether out of astonishment at my behavior or distaste for driver hard to tell.  When we are finally rid of him with a minimum tip indeed she turns to stare at me in hotel lobby but doesn’t pursue the subject as we open door to entrancingly clean hotel room with rose coverlets on twin beds, rose cushioned window seat, light green wallpaper, and bathroom equipped with brass fixings, coffee pot and little basket of (rose colored) shampoo and lotion bottles.

Quilted coverlets extremely tempting for nice afternoon nap, but daughter has not taken jacket off in eagerness to return across town to sale on for just today at Macy’s.  Quell query if she is going to get dressed for shopping, shopping strategy with my mother having involved dressing well for maximum intimidation of saleswomen we both found daunting. Realize 1) that daughter undoubtedly has nothing but pajamas in the knapsack and that 2) the light green turtleneck emerging from neat, clean jacket perfectly matches socks and ribbon holding hair back. Don blue cloth coat rescued from mother’s closet after her death but before goodwill emptied house out, and emerge into blazing sunlight and hoards of shoppers on Lexington Avenue.

Daughter has thought to purchase bus tokens, novelty to me as relic of nickel and dime era, and we easily find seats on crosstown and transfer.  Macy’s as big and noisy as I remember it, but daughter has cased it this morning and proceeds to second floor where sale of spring dresses in full uproarious progress. Before I can catch my breath she produces cream colored frock with pink and green floral print all hover it, and holds it up to herself.

“Might as well try it on,” I remark, figuring this will be only the first of long series before choice made. Daughter emerges from dressing room, lovely frock clinging becomingly to very nice curves indeed.  As she stands before long mirror we catch each other’s eye in satisfaction.

“Wrap it up!” she pronounces to saleslady, “what shall we do now, Mother?”

“Let’s walk up Fifth Avenue!” I proclaim.

“What do you want to see there?”  She asks.

Facing up to fact that I brought her up in Wisconsin where glories of Fifth Avenue not part of received culture, regale daughter from 34th street to 59th with list of wonders, including Rockefeller Center as site of first job as letters from the Editor writer at Time magazine, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and The Plaza where “came out” in horrid New York Society subsequently fled.

Skating at Rockefeller rink entrancing as ever, we proceed window shopping up Fifth Avenue until daughter asks, “What’s the Plaza?”

Having achieved fifty-ninth street, sit down on fountain wondering how to explain debutante career to Wisconsin daughter protected all her life from cruel society I anxiously managed my escape from.

“Well, you see that revolving door,” I point out, “one evening when I was all dressed up in an evening dress and bunny coat…”

“What’s a bunny coat”

“A coat made of white rabbit fur young girls used to wear.”

“Uggh!”

“It belonged to my best friend, who had died of polio. I was very proud of it.”

Look on daughter’s face combining astonishment with horror, proceed apace:

“That night, I had on my best angel shouldered powder blue tulle gown and Maria’s bunny coat, along with nylons and a pair of silver dancing shoes, open at the toe.  One of my escorts..”

“Your what?”

“One of the two boys that always accompanied us to dances, he pushed at the door behind me too hard so the long pin fell out of my gardenia down to the floor, and when the door revolved again it stuck right into my toe!”

Realize daughter has probably considered debutante saga complete fabrication for years but is now struck with idea this might explain radical feminist mother’s estrangement from (now dead) grandmother. As everyone has died (still, alas, repudiating me and all my ways) and both of us are free as birds to choose our own courses, would like her to know family history, but realize free spirit I have produced will hardly be able to get her mind around extreme restrictions imposed upon East Side young ladies in 1950s. Change subject by pointing across street at F.A.O.Schwartz.

“It’s a toy museum,” I tell her gaily, using perennial white lie New York mothers use on their children, “let’s go see.”

Fabrication overlooked, spend delightful half hour touring store full of toys where I veer to primary colored wooden blocks I never got to play with for long with before brother, sharing tiny room on 85th street, would destroy every construction. Daughter veers toward electronic objects suitable to computer scientist I provided with room of her own from the age of seven.

By the time we get back to 63rd street, walking all the way and including excursions up and down escalators in interesting looking buildings we pass, both exhausted, so order in Chinese and gorge selves watching television before early bedtime, each equipped with entrancing mystery novels.

Saturday March 14

After breakfasting on eggs benedict in hotel mezzanine proceed uptown by Madison Avenue bus to Metropolitan Museum, expecting school friends to throw themselves through bus door every time bus stops despite passage of thirty-five years. Wait on steps in sunshine for museum to open among crowd ever so much more gaily and variously dressed than museum goers in my day. Daughter tells me how much she has been looking forward to “Festival of India” exhibit, though why she (as I am too) is so fascinated by India is never entirely clear, unless preoccupation is genetic, as paternal grandmother, entranced with Hinduism, used to send me sandlewood incense, mahogany elephants, and exotic Indian fabrics as Christmas presents.

Daughter purchases tape machine guide to wear on shoulder but I, as always my wont, proceed at my own pace and to my own (undoubtedly uniformed) ruminations.  Realize that have not grasped full variety of Hinduism which learn combines aboriginal Dravidian nature religion with concepts from Aryan intruders. Though Rajput and Mogul history nicely explained on placards, it is my eye, not mind, that feasts upon gardens and flowers and elephants and monkeys embellishing miniatures, while daughter is entranced by statue of Shiva dancing.

We come together, mutually transfixed, before Rasamandala painting of the cosmic dance of Krishna.  This portrays Krishna with a golden woman in the middle, dancing, encircled by women in orange saris, dancing, encircled by women in green saris, dancing, surrounded by women in black saris which glimmer like wet ink against deep purple background.  From top golden boats full of shining people pour gold blobs through funnels down on dancers.  I think it is dancers all going to heaven but daughter (tape to ear) informs me that the golden yods poured down from heaven to inspire earthly dancing.  Music of Rasamandala not celestial, I realize, but earthly, contained in dancing out their dance in black grace notes against purple shadows.

Daughter has moved on, tape to ear, to next gallery which

contains large Mogul tent. Spacious and perfectly proportioned, I am tempted to sit down cross-legged in it and attempt meditation. Suddenly catch glimpse of daughter moving gracefully along wall admiring ornate Mogul rugs. Haven’t seen her for six months, and when did I actually look at her recently? How did I produce tall, blond, lovely woman moving so gracefully through museum rooms where, every Saturday, her short, awkward, dark-haired mother came to escape the miseries of East 85th street? Though my mother died estranged, crucial items of own life still considerably muddled, and daughter has already experienced plenty of complicated pain, cannot help but feel as if a golden yod or two had descended into our lives this visit.

Returning for one last long look at Rasamandala, realize how eagerly I am looking forward to dancing at daughter’s wedding.

Daughter announces must part to catch train home to New Jersey, so I provide taxi money and we hug on museum steps where I remain, trying to absorb fact that things have come round right between us while enjoying long ago smell of chestnuts roasting.  Since not due at mother’s old club to meet school friend for an hour yet, decide on stroll down Madison avenue.  Morning sun has vanished, replaced by lowering grey clouds, but windows of small shops as walk down familiar hill toward 79th street replete with color.  On corner of 80th street eyes delighted by old familiar sight of red satin heart shaped chocolate boxes piled in pyramids in candy shop window.  Walk along, but come to sudden stop at sight of two old ladies having a wonderful talk, leaning toward each other, gesticulating and grinning at each other’s tidings, inside boutique. Enter to discover that little old ladies, clothed in varnished coats but wearing real slippers, are papier mache and cost four thousand dollars for the pair. Gaze at them enraptured until saddened by realization that it is what they represent – cosmosis of sisterhood sustained by friendly gossip – is precisely what is missing from assimilatively accessed Women’s Studies program back in Wisconsin.

Proceed apace down Madison Avenue, looking forward eagerly to luncheon and gossip. Recall how slim and trim mother always was from hours of what would now be called race walking down these very streets. Stop frequently in front of shop windows ablaze with jewelry, elegant outfits and sophisticated perfumes, everything etched brightly against February grey.  Among lunchtime crowd pressing toward me notice weirdly garbed young woman in tights to the waist, carrying leather object in front of private parts which looks exactly like an Elizabethan codpiece. Realize is fancy leather fanny pack worn back to front, as it were, but have never seen tights without skirt before and find outfit more suggestive than total nakedness.  Leave these fascinations to cross over to much grimmer reaches of Park Avenue where mother’s old club located. Give name to maid who looks precisely (black uniform, white lace) like the one who guarded door in mother’s day, and am joyously greeted by old friend rushing up to hug me.

“I do hope this isn’t too painful for you,” she queries, “some of your mother’s old friends are in the dining room.”

“Of course not, and I’m so glad to see you!” I reply, returning delightedly to accentuations of long ago girlhood: “I’d love to say hello to them.”

Mother’s old friends turn out to include mother of best friend Maria who died of polio when we were 14.  Having greeted them warmly, though in passing (their astonishment at the sight of me after forty years renders them speechless) friend and I proceed to buffet where discover that people still eat soft carrots and mushy peas with fillet of sole braised in real butter with new potatoes followed by dessert of sweetest and most succulent caramel eclairs I have ever tasted.  Friend and I pass heartwarming two hours catching up on each other.

As we are collecting coats Maria’s mother approaches me to beg me to come over later for tea tomorrow, as she needs to talk to me.  Curiosity whetted, I tell her flight leaves around five from La Guardia, but could I make it coffee at 11? Having concurred, part from old friend, who must rush by subway to publisher in Soho with overdue manuscript, and make way reflectively back to Barbizon where collapse on rose colored coverlet until time to dress for dinner at French restaurant uptown with college roommate.

Much too early, so decide to visit Guggenheim, lit up like the Titanic, however briefly.  Pay steep entry fee to find atrium hopping with jazz concert and spend entirely entrancing half hour making way to strains of Duke Ellington and Count Basie up spiral galleries hung with huge, bright, abstract constructions by Ellsworth Kelly.  Find Kelly’s emerald lozenge, deep purple triangle, and midnight blue hexagon enormously attractive against plain white walls, accompanied by spirited jazz rendition from small orchestra down in atrium. Try to figure out if could construct huge purple triangle for white walls of own living room, music in purple time, as it were, to take home from New York visit.

Emerge into pitch black 88th street and cross town hurriedly to Lexington where, as I advance up hill to 90th, street lamps seem entirely absent.  By 92nd frightened that can hardly see hand in front of face, so duck into familiar YMHA where evening concert just getting going. Stand by ticket booth remembering T.S. Eliot performing Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in ten gallon hat to a kind of Texas two step here; and Sylvia Plath leaning modestly against that lintel over there, handing out copies of Ted Hughes’ first poetry collection after his reading.

Literary memories embolden me to dart out again, cross street, and find very dark little restaurant indeed with room mate not yet manifest. Room mate finally materializes, ever so much more glamorously coiffed and attired than freshman year. We order, and set to catching up with each other.  At college she was brilliant at Astronomy, graduating not only with Summa Cum Laude but, having discovered an entirely new asteroid, with invitation to Moscow to reveal its whereabouts to astonished fellow scientists.

“How come you didn’t go on in astronomy?” I query.

“Well I did want to,” she replies, “and I got as far as Mount Palomar, where they told me I couldn’t use the telescopes because they didn’t have any rest rooms for women.”

Horrified, I listen as she recounts subsequent jobs in 1) publishing 2) real estate 3) office management, and present enterprise building office buildings with team of engineers and architects in Prague.

“But when I got started, Annis,” she remarks, “all our friends held it against me that I would want to have a job at all. They used to ask me why I bothered, in tones of purest horror. And now do you know what they say: isn’t it mahvellous that your children turned out so well!”

Mention street light situation while putting coat on, though don’t like to dwell on it as room mate lives even further up hill, but she concurs and suggests I take taxi.

“Oh I can take a bus,” I assure her, but she points out that

“A thief cut a woman’s her finger cut off last week near here,  when she wouldn’t take her ring off,” after which rather conclusive argument we hail a taxi for me and part. Total exhaustion hits me before I even get off elevator, and am dead to world under rose coverlet within half an hour.

Find self bolt upright at 2 am to sound of honking, hammering on metal, and screams penetrating thick glass fifth floor window. Rush to see what could possibly be happening to discover total mayhem has overtaken Lexington avenue.  Doesn’t seem to be a race riot, as black and white together with turbans attacking taxi cabs as one, helping each other up onto hoods to bang with fists on windows.  Yells and shouts permeate the night, joined by sirens and a phalanx of shouting police who only make everyone yell louder, albeit standing back from taxis and shaking fists. Honking and hammering gradually diminish as crowd disperses. Return to bed entirely puzzled at odd but vigorous civil disturbance to which have just had front row seat.

Sunday March 15

Waiter at breakfast hasn’t a clue, so query concierge at desk as check self out but bags in while I visit Mrs. A.

“It was the subway,”  replies concierge: “the subway to Queens broke down and all those passengers came pouring out and wanted the taxi drivers to take them home. The taxi drivers refused to drive out to Queens, so everybody got upset, like.”

Wondering what they would have done if they had gotten any angrier, repair in best suit and pearls, down two long and across three short blocks from Barbizon to Mrs. A’s apartment at 66th and Fifth Avenue. Realize walking up 66th that Mrs. A lives in extremely fashionable apartment right above Central Park Zoo. Try to reconstruct source of fortune, subject having been of no interest when Maria and I were busy with our Cobra Detective Agency following necking couples out of the park on our roller skates to write down the addresses they went home to.  South America is all I can remember, husband from Ecuador, could not possibly be bananas? query self as confront uniformed door man and uniformed elevator man, both of whom, fortunately have my name but look supercilious at my perfectly decent (if posthumous) cloth coat.

Ushered by maid into vast apartment full of chinoiserie, take seat on sofa only to have Mrs. A inquire disconcertingly if I know why Maria got so rebellious just before she died.  Cast mind back forty years and remark that the way I see it now, the wonderful thing was that Maria could rebel because she felt so secure, was so loved. Also, I suddenly remember, she didn’t like being bossed around by younger children’s nanny.

“I wish she had grown up and gone to Smith with me,” I sigh, Mrs. A having encouraged us to attend her own Alma Mater.

“I just don’t know about Smith now, I don’t send contributions any more,” replies Mrs. A, elegiac mood replaced by exasperated hauteur, “it’s been taken over by Lesbians, you know.”

Painful twenty minutes ensues in which I totally fail to persuade Mrs. A that lesbianism is not contagious, and after exchanging news of family members we part.  Cannot help but be saddened, remembering Mrs. A’s great kindness to me throughout childhood, especially her warm sense of humor at Maria and my many and mischievous antics.

Return to Barbizon, pick up bags, and secure taxi to La Guardia, where take seat in waiting area from which I can see long, flat meadows reaching far into the distance.  Used to be covered with water, I remember, where Clipper Ships, huge airplanes with pontoons for landing,  glided in to dock during their brief era before and after the war. Board plane without incident, but as rise with abrupt motion I dislike in 727s suddenly remember incident when on father’s boat docked at Flushing meadows in 1946.  I was playing on the bow when friend of father’s, standing down on dock, suddenly yelled at me to jump to him. Just as I landed in his arms, huge PT boat came barreling in, out of control, to ram into the pilings not more than five yards from us.

As plane emerges from February fug into blazing sunshine realize that P.T. boat was not only near miss experienced growing up with father who often courted danger. “Let’s go out and see if we can find any wires under the water!” he used to (homicidally) suggest during the hurricanes that deluged the spit of land where we summered.

As bright clouds where little soul hovered to make its choice of family (for heaven knows what reasons) roll away behind us, feel immense gratitude for having been endowed with sufficient wits to make my own music out of their purple time.