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Petulant Silence

Six or seven years before my mother died she told me about her honeymoon with my father in New York City in July, 1939.

“We stayed at the Hotel Park Chambers, on Sixth Avenue at 58th Street,” she said. “It cost us $5 a night. The first thing we did was go to the top of the Empire State Building, that was number one on his list. Then that night we went to the Starlight Roof at the Waldorf Astoria. We saw Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. It was wonderful. The sound of that saxophone-rich band reminded me of the thick, sweet maple syrup I used to pour on my pancakes. I drank Haig & Haig on the rocks and Chet knocked back Hennessey cognac. We danced, and drank, and danced. I was trying to go light on the drinking because I was pregnant with YOU, but what the hell. It was pretty romantic.

“The next day we took a train out to the World's Fair. I hated it. The heat, the crowds, the lines. Everything was too expensive. Then on the third or fourth day we had a big fight. Chet wanted to see a Broadway musical called "The Streets of Paris." He showed me the poster on the hotel lobby's bulletin board which said the show starred Abbott & Costello. Also a ‘limbsome, lightly robed chorus and Carmen Miranda, enveloped in beads, swaying and wiggling.’ Right up his alley.

“But I wanted to go to a chamber concert at Carnegie Hall. I wasn't in any mood for his petulance and I sure as hell didn't want to see a bunch of half naked women shimmying and shaking. So I told him, ‘You go to the show. I'll go to the concert. We'll meet here in the lobby afterward, have a couple of drinks.’ He looked at me like I'd committed murder.

“‘That ain’t right,’ he said. ‘We're married. We should do things together.’

“I wasn't feeling that great, and I just didn't want to spend any more time arguing. I wanted to sit at a concert--quietly and alone--and listen to some good music, to try to forget my troubles. So I said to him, ‘Keep it up, Chet. And so help me God I'll catch the next train home.’

“Your father showed up in the hotel lobby, half tanked, as usual. ‘So how was the show?’ I asked. He didn't say anything. He went into one of his punishing, petulant silences. We went to the bar, and I ordered another Haig & Haig. I told him, ‘Come on. Don't be such a sorehead.’ He looked at me like I was a nut case, escaped from the asylum. Some honeymoon.

“Later he almost went crazy when I quoted a thing I saw in the Youngstown Vindicator. Hugo Black, a former supreme court justice. ‘There’s a lot of low brow in a high brow,’ Black said, ‘but no high brow in a low brow.’


“I threw that insult at him because toward the end I was fed up with his drinking, his hair-trigger anger, his thin skin, his ever present momma’s boy self-pity. Which swept away the significance of a present he gave me on our third or fourth date…a small bound journal with his series of love poems to ‘Betty the love of my life.’ Would you believe it was in Shakespearean sonnet form? Yep, abab, cdcd, efef, gg.”

I listened to her story, then I told her it was verrrry spooky.

“How so?”

“Because when I was nine or ten he took ME to New York for a week. First thing we did was go to the top of the Empire State Building.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No, that’s where he took me. And then—believe it or not—we got into exactly the same argument you two did. I wanted to go to a classical music concert at the Central Park bandshell, whereas he wanted to see a show at Radio City Music Hall. Just like you, I suggested that we just separate, go our own ways, meet back at the hotel.”

“Oh, my god!”

Poor guy just couldn’t catch a break.

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Great story. Somebody, YOU, should read it on "Selected Shorts" at Symphony Space.

Nice of you to say, thanks! Maybe someday I will.

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