Welcome reader back on the cyclone of my life and the Coney Island of my mind. The entries are organized in chronological order. The earliest entry will be found at the end of the list. My latest writing will always appear a the start. I think I have grown as a writer so please excuse some of the earlier jejune writing. I am in the process of re-writing them. Your comments are most welcome. Please Subscribe (right button) to receive my future postings – aa
In the Christian religion, Easter Sunday is the most important holiday of the liturgical year since the literal physical bodily, resurrection of Christ is the foundation of all its beliefs. Since my mother was a devout Polish Roman Catholic, Lent and Easter maintained its importance in our household while our Italian side of the family was more into celebrating Christmas.
The prelude to Easter is the season of Lent which starts on Ash Wednesday, the day after the indulgent holiday of Carnevale or Mardi Gras. My mother took us to church that day to receive ashes. Since my father was sick with Parkinson’s disease and couldn’t make it into the church, the priest gave my mom some ashes in a #6 size white envelope. When she got home, she put the ashes on him and said with some sangfroid, “Dust you are and dust you shall return!” Lent lasted forty days in preparation for Easter – a symbolic time referencing the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Jews wandering in the desert and the parallel New Testament story of Jesus fasting in the desert on honey and locust, preparing himself for his ministry.
At Sacred Heart School, the nuns urged us seventh graders to “give up something” for Lent like candy, movies or TV. They handed us small cardboard Lenten Boxes that you had to assemble (Tab A into Slot B) to put coins in to save the pagan babies of China. We were allowed only one full meal per day with meat, which meant a lot of cheese, tuna and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch. During Lent, there was no meat at all on Fridays. So going to Howard Johnsons on Friday night for the unlimited fried clams was a special treat and didn’t seem like a penance at all.
On Easter Sunday, we were always outfitted in a new suit and hat symbolizing our rebirth and fresh start in Christ. So, weeks before, my mother took us to Robert Hall to buy a new suit, which came with two pairs of pants. She would then go to S.S. Kresges to get a new frock and an Easter Bonnet (“does anyone still wear a hat?”). You did not go to Church on Easter Sunday morning with anything old on!
Sacred Heart Parish in Newburgh New York was mainly comprised of Italian Americans so our Polish celebration at home was in contrast with the over the top Mediterranean liturgical celebration. For instance, during Lent, all the many statues in church were covered in purple cloth like ladies wearing veils to cover their heads for vanity. For forty days, the organ was silenced, no bells rung and no weddings held. As an altar boy, I loved clacking a large wooden clapper only used at mass during this season.
For Forty Days and Forty Nights all the parish repented, gave alms, fasted, and attended the “Stations of the Cross.” We cleansed ourselves of evil and the pleasures of the material world to enter the Promised Land. We had fattened up the weeks before Lent to get us ready for the fast and we all looked forward to Easter and the great celebration and feasting that began with Holy Week that started with Palm Sunday.
After Mass, everyone received palms in memory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on a donkey when the throngs waved their fronds to greet the Messiah. I would take my palms home and make little crosses of them. We would wear these on our suit lapels and put them around the house usually stuck onto the corners of mirror frames or over our beds. The old, Italian ladies of the parish made and sold elaborate palm crosses to put on the graves of loved ones.
Monday, Tuesday and Spy Wednesday
These days were spent shopping for fish for Good Friday and Polish meats and groceries for the big meal on Sunday. We went to Commodore’s on Broadway to buy homemade chocolate Easter Bunnies, jellybeans and the A&P to buy yellow Peeps and Paas egg coloring. Spy Wednesday was named for Jesus hiding from the magistrates and the priests of Jerusalem.
Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday
The evening service commemorated Jesus washing of the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. Our pastor washed the feet of the big parish donors. At the end of the service came the stripping of the altars of all cloths, flowers, candles and adornment even the holy water fonts were drained. The door of the tabernacle was left open and the Blessed Sacrament was transported downstairs to the basement of our church to a special repository. Since no mass could be celebrated for the next two days, this is where the concentrated hosts were “reposed” in case the sick and dying needed to take their last communion. Since ours was an Italian parish our repository was quite gaudy. Lots of candles, aluminum foil backdrop, palms, lilies, kneeling angels in adoration framed the altar where Jesus was in wait till Sunday. One very old, Italian lady, my mother called, Penny Annie, stayed all night in the basement to keep Jesus company.
After the Thursday night mass, my mother and I would visit Newburgh’s other two parish’s repositories to gain a special indulgence: St. Francis Church for the Polish immigrants and St. Patrick’s for the Irish of course. This was called Visita Iglesia.
This is the most somber day of the calendar, the day the Lord was crucified. There was no school and my parents came home from work at noon. No music or TV or Radio could be played at home. I think it is called “Good” Friday, because without the death of the Son of God there would be no salvation so it was good. This is a sort of ironic Christian logic not un-similar to “if it rains on your wedding day, it is good luck”.
From noon to 3 p.m. in the afternoon, the duration Jesus spent on the cross, we would attend the service of readings on the Passion. Some called it the “Seven Last Words.” During the service, all the congregation would come to the altar rail for the Adoration of the Cross, kneel and kiss the wounds of the crucified Jesus on a big wooden cross. The priest would rub the rood clean with a handkerchief after each dramatic buss. That night we attended “Stations of the Cross”, services which we went to every Friday evening during Lent. These centered around thirteen depictions of the passion of Christ hung around the church in chorological order from Pontius Pilate to the Crucifixion to the Sepulcher.
At each station the priest would stop in front of each picture and read and pray. At the 11th Station – “Jesus is nailed to the cross” – I always remembered the line:
These barbarians fastened him with nails, and then, raising the Cross, leave Him to die with anguish on this infamous gibbet.
For a long time, I thought gibbets had something to do with turkeys. We all sang that famous Bach hymn, “O Sacred Head Surrounded by Crown and Piecing Thorne”
This was a busy day of house cleaning and cooking that started at 7 a.m. Our home was scrubbed top to bottom and my once a year job was to wash all the windows – our Goyim version of the ritual cleaning and ridding of the Passover chametz
Mom baked a ham, boiled the eggs and kielbasa and made potato salad. In the afternoon, we dyed our Easter Eggs with the Paas brand coloring kit. You had to dilute tiny colored tablets in white wine vinegar. Like Proust, whenever I smell white vinegar, I think of Holy Saturday, my mom and times past. We inscribed our names on the brightly pastel colored eggs with a wax crayon; Mom, Dad, Anthony, Michael and Karen. Even one for our dog, Daisy. In late afternoon, we all went to confession except for my father.
In the evening was the great Easter Virgil Service at our Italian parish of Sacred Heart Church that had to begin after sundown and lasted for three hours. We forget how much Catholic liturgical days, calendar and rites derived from the Jewish tradition. The holiday or “Holy Day” celebrations always start on the eve before and continue for eight days – Octaves.
The great Easter Vigil service was in four parts, the first being The Service of Light. At 10 p.m., dressed in my altar boy special red cassock and white lace surplice, I followed the high priest, deacon and sub-deacon outside to the rickety wooden front steps of our church. While inside the darkened church, the congregation waited in silent anticipation, holding unlit candles which poked through an upside white and green trimmed Dixie Cup to prevent drips. I used to love it when the hot wax dripped on my hand and I would eat it off.
The celebrant after a few frustrating attempts, struck a flint to start the blessed fire to light the big Pascal (lamb) Candle made from beeswax that would burn till Pentecost (50 days later). He handed it over to the deacon for the grand procession from the main doors of the church and down the center aisle of the black, dark silent building. From the great Paschal Candle, a flame was passed from one congregant’s small candle to the next slowly illuminating the nave. As the deacon made his way down the center aisle, he stopped three times lifting the candle higher and higher intoning Lumen Christi - Light of Christ, each time singing in a higher key as the congregation responded Deo Gratias – Thanks be to God. When he reached the main altar, the Paschal Candle was set in a large ornate golden candelabra where it would flicker fifty days and nights to Pentecost.
The second part, The Liturgy of the Word began as the deacon chanted the beautiful Exsultet or Easter Proclamation. This was followed by seven readings from the bible, five from the Old Testament including the Exodus narrative and two from the New.
When we got to the “Gloria” part of the mass, the church lights were dramatically turned on and all the church bells were rung for the first time in forty days. I went wild with my communion hand brass bells as the choir, accompanied with organ which had been silent since Good Friday, joyously sang out: Gloria in Excelsis Deo. Another altar boy swung his thurible in great arcs as clouds of incense wafted over all of us. Ushers, stationed by all the Lenten covered statues, holding a stick with a nail on top of it, whipped off the purple cloths. Boo! Then the sacristan crouching off to the side, drew back a huge white sheet hanging in front of the main altar. It was dramatically torn down Kabuki style like the rending of the veil in the Great Temple of Jerusalem when Jesus died. Voila! It revealed the resplendent altar filled with hundreds of lit candles and Easter Lilies surrounding a four-foot statue of the triumphant resurrected Christ. I almost swooned from such an overwhelming dramatic and emotional experience of the bells, the music, the incense, the flowers, the heat of the candles and the almost naked muscular statue of Jesus. It was like the rock was rolled away on Easter morning and all of creation shone out enveloping us all in a Bellini St.Teresa-like ecstasy. I believe this is where my love of theatre and special events was born.
The reading of the Epistle to the Romans was followed by the three great Alleluias, sung for the first time since Lent. Our pastor. Msgr. Celauro, read the resurrection account from the Gospel, followed by a homily and a plea for money (it being an Italian parish of course!)
After The Liturgy of the Word came The Renewal of Baptismal Vows. The water for the baptismal font which had been drained on Good Friday was solemnly blessed and basins filled. Then our Monsignor walked down the center aisle dipping the aspergillum from a brass bucket filled with the new water and sprinkled all the parishioners as we renewed our baptismal vows.
The sub-deacon chanted the long Litany of the Saints with invocations to the Virgin Mary, Apostles, Martyrs, Bishops and Doctors of the Church, Priests and Religious and us Laity. Many of the names I never heard of – Matthias, Cyprian, Perpetua, Cyril and Fabian?
It was now time for the final section called The Eucharist. The main celebrant changed from violet vestments to a white chasuble embroidered with gold thread to celebrate the first mass in two days. If you had gone to confession this Saturday afternoon, you could now receive communion and fulfill your Easter Obligation. It took all three celebrants to give out communion since nobody dared not receive the Body of Christ on this most holy day. There was more passing of the basket for the final collection as we all exited singing “Christ the Lord is Risen Today – All-all all lea-lu-lu ia” It was 1 a.m. in the morning. And the stone was ready to be rolled away at dawn.
We got up at sunrise and opened our Easter Baskets. We got dressed put on our new Sunday clothes and went back to church for the Children’s Mass at 9 a.m. For most parishioners, it was difficult to understand our Italian accented pastor but I had no problem since my Aunt Mary spoke the same way! After mass, we stopped at Luna Bakery, the neighborhood Italian Pastry shop, for cannoli as dessert after our splendid Easter afternoon meal.
Easter lunch was at 1 p.m. – baked glazed Krakus Polish Ham, kielbasa and red horseradish, potato salad and overdone string beans that looked brown – cannoli and Easter candy for dessert. We stayed in new garments even as we cleaned up all the dishes and pots. At 3 p.m. we drove back into Newburgh for a walk around beautiful Downing Park to see the spring flowers plantings. My father’s favorite pastime was feeding the corn to the ducks in the pond from a brown paper bag he bought at the park concession stand for 25 cents.
At 7 p.m. we put on our flannel pajamas as we ate left overs, cracking open our Easter eggs and eating our jellybeans and caramel filled chocolate eggs. We gathered together around the television and watched The Ten Commandments on ABC. At 10 p.m. (a late night for all of us), we all went to bed, sated and exhausted from all the events of Holy Week. With our new clothes neatly hanging in the closet, and the taste of candy still redolent on our breaths, Christ was in Heaven and all was right with the world. Postludium – Easter Week
The next morning, I would get up extra early around 6 a.m. It was Dyngus Day! It was a Polish tradition for the boys to get up early so they could douse the girls with water as symbol of baptism of a new life in Christ (christening). I am sure it was based on some sexual pagan rite too.
First I would sneak to my mother’s room and throw a spritz of water on her. She pretended to be asleep and would scream and feign anger. I then slowly crept up the stairs and doused my sister Karen who was sound asleep with a small cup of cold water and she screamed too but with not unreal anger.
The rest of the week was filled with the debris of eggshells, foil wrappers from the chocolates, squashed jellybeans that had fallen to the floor and trampled by our shoes. We all enjoyed variations on the leftovers. I particularly liked scrambled eggs with chopped up ham and kielbasa. We continued to water our Easter plants till they died usually around Pentecost. The following Saturday I vacuumed up the green cellophane grass which had fallen out from our Easter Baskets and somehow always found their way into the corners of our living room. We put all the holiday decorations back down in the basement. The Sunday after Easter is called “Low Sunday” after the high celebrations of Eastertide. At home and at church, what an apt name that was.
Alexander Hamilton Napoli
This is the speech I gave at Valbella Restaurant at the conclusion of our fantastic 41st Carnevale after we had seen the Broadway musical, “Hamilton.’
Tonight reminded me of the phrase – “On such a night as this”
From Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice – Act V scene 1.
I was always struck by the 1973 production, directed by my mentor, Ellis Rabb at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center. He placed the two lovers on the Lido in Venice, 1960’s Jet-set Italy – very Felliniesque. Lounging on their hotel beach chairs the two lovers look up at the night sky and try to verbally outdo each other with classical allusions:
The moon shines bright.
On such a night like this,
when the wind blew the trees
so gently that they didn’t make a sound,
me thinks Troilus climbed
up onto the walls of Troy
and sighed for Cressida in the Greek camp.
On such night like this,
Thisbe saw the lion’s shadow
and ran away in fear.
On such night like this,
Dido stood holding a willow branch
on the seashore, begging her lover
to come back to her in Carthage.
On such a night like this, Medea gathered magic herbs to rejuvenate old Jason.
On such a night like this, did Loretta steal away from Appalachia
Driving her way from Romney town to the City of Churches
all the way to Garfield Place.
On such a night like this, young Anthony swore he loved her very much, stealing her heart with vows of love, but not one vow was true.
On such a night like this, handsome Gary, in a bad mood, said outrageously wrong things about his husband lover, and he forgave him.
On such a night like this, family and old friends have gathered round
On a cold winter’s night, for two score years in masks of revelry and
I would out-night you more,
With my perhaps clever verse and bastard Bard iambic pentameter but time has come to bid a sad adieu.
So let us dance a merry last dance -
On such a night as this!
The saline mist of the “wine dark” Tyrrhenian Sea splatters over my face mixing with the scent of diesel as I struggle to stand at the back of the rapidly moving vaporetto. The mythic Isle of Capri fades into the distance, the wake of the boat leaving a watery spuming trail of threads and fragments of time and remembrance of things past that bubble, froth and tumble together, up again and again rushing up against the roar of the hydrofoil motors. The spray blurs my vision darkly, refracts the Southern Italian sun to a soft focus dimly illuminating my memory. Two shadowy figures laugh on the starboard side of the ferry as I stand staring back out, trying to keep my balance as my three travel companions slumber inside, weary wedding guests steaming across the choppy Bay of Naples from Capri back to its sister island of Ischia. The sirens, tempting me once again to dash myself on the nearby rocks, are slowly coming into focus, luring me lulling me back to my wanderings – chance encounters, wayward paths, shoals and shipwrecks, secrets and serpents, dalliances and delights, wonderful and terrible creatures – that brought me here to this place, this moment, and this time far, far from home…
The Lotus Eaters
The barbarians had reached the gate at home and the war on terrorism had begun. It was only a few months after the horrible events of 9/11 when my partner, Gary and I decided to journey to Rome – our favorite city in the world after New York. We were again drawn back to the Eternal City for solace, escaping the terrifying trauma of the collapse of the World Trade Towers.
Intrepid travelers, we were coming back in style, our pockets now lined with the new Euro, equal to the dollar in value. No Pensione Suisse (which always smelled of Pine-Sol and Clorox) this time around. We were going to slum it at the new five-star stylish Hotel de Russie, unofficial home to celebrities, dignitaries and government officials. Our room was stark black and white like the cathedral of Siena, chic elegance in an Italian “W Hotel” kind of style. The smartly attired hotel staff looked liked they had stepped off the magazine cover of Italian Vogue. Off the lobby was a “secret garden” (everything in Italy is a secret!) for the post La Dolce Vita crowd to have lunch with a mistress before an afternoon tryst in the suites above. After checking in we went to their very “in” bar where we lethargically sipped on the then ,trendy addictive, Cosmo. Gary had to instruct the bartender on how to concoct the new American cocktail made famous by the gals in “Sex in the City.” After a couple of Cosmos we took an afternoon siesta drifting off into blissful apathy and narcotic like sleep leaving all the cares of home behind.
I woke up first and decided to explore the hotel and descended the stairs to the basement still drugged and feeling invisible to the world. I stumbled down upon a modern Roman grotto like gymnasium and spa. It was cool and quiet except for bad Italian pop rock music playing in the background. All of a sudden there was a grunt and a groan. I peered around a corner to spy a hairy giant of a creature hidden among the steel and wires of the exercise machines. As he got up, he wiped his face with a luxuriant white cotton towel so I could only see half his face, and one red eye strained from his lift. Bang! The metal weight bars clanged down sounding like Vulcan working his smithy and accompanied by an even louder bellow of expended energy as a droplet of his sweat catapulted across the room and landed on my nose. I quickly stepped back into the shadows wiping off the smelly bead as he staggered out of the grotto to plunge into the hot and cold baths in the next area.
Thinking there was no one but me in the gym, I gingerly made my way into the tiny workout area to do a few sets. Designer cologne hung in the humid air as I crept my way around. I stopped. Crouched in the corner, replacing some wayward weights in a rack was a Pan-like fawn of a man looking up into my eyes. I froze like Perseus shielding himself not from Medusa’s horrible visage but from the bright sun of Apollo. The wonderful creature looked up at me and smiled. I held my breath as I stuttered, “Buona sera, my name is T-T-Tony.” It’s eyes caught mine. “Piacere Tony, my name is Danilo; I’m the trainer here at the hotel.” As he stooped over tidying up the machines he reminded me of the famous Greek statue of the discus thrower, lithe, tight and graceful, sprung to toss the disc across the sky. Everything in its place, the dazzling creature jumped up, dressed in silky blue workout pants, tight, white muscle T and bicycle cap. He noticed I was wearing a NYFD cap and quickly expressed his empathy at the recent events in my home town.
The conversation flowed slowly at first but then cascaded into delightful spurts of broken Italian and English. I was intrigued and allured realizing he was not a god but a mortal like me. He was impressed with my knowledge of the local political scene, art and history and I was impressed by his sincerity, sensitivity, Mediterranean hospitality and of course his physique. Danilo was a quintessential Roman, stylish, savvy, cultured and opinionated. It wasn’t long before I engaged him for a session early the following morning.
I woke up in nervous anticipation and went downstairs early to warm up as instructed by Danilo. He arrived very un-Italian like, promptly at 7am for our session. After a quick assessment of me on the treadmill, he remarked in what great shape I was in – for my age! – Ah the charm of the Italians. We quickly bonded as he put me through my paces advising me how to improve even further when I returned to my NYC trainer. Once again we talked about the horrors of 9/11 and shared our mutual love for both our homes, Rome and New York. Like all Italians and unlike the ungrateful French, he was thankful of all the help the U.S. gave them during the WW II. The hour was up before we knew it and we planned to see each other again the next day. He was an excellent trainer who knew how to motivate his clients, and he was a world class athlete, winning many bicycle races and international triathlons – a true athlete and sports ambassador for Italy. He was also an Iron Man and I soon discovered inveterate Ladies Man!
The next day Gary and I hit Armani’s and helped keep the economy of Italy afloat for that year. We made quick friends with a particular handsome salesman with a “culo” that was the glory of Rome. Sipping espresso brought over by a cute, young waiter from the café next door, he enticed us into trying on elegant shirts, slacks and suits that were just too reasonably priced to pass up; especially since the post-Christmas sales were on and the VAT would be returned at the airport on our way home. Like Marco Polo returning from the Orient we carried our treasures from Armani parading in triumph down the Via Condotti with our newly bought spoils, back to the Hotel de Russie for Cosmos Encore!
The sun was setting as we strolled down the “secret” Via Margutta on our evening passagiatta. Shutters clanged down on little antique and art shops. Well dressed couples, young Romans dressed like stylish American counterparts, promenaded like peacocks in a bishop’s garden. It was near dusk as we entered the great expanse of the Piazza del Popolo. Bambini were running with dripping gelato cones topped with puffs of crema and ignoring a lonesome mime. Lovers walked hand in hand or casual arm around a waist passing an old lady in black, carrying a sack of blood red oranges. Sitting in the shadow of the towering Egyptian obelisk that jutted up into the night sky, a guitarist played for money singing a traditional folk song of unrequited love.
We circled the fountain in the center of the square like a small craft rounding a buoy. Off in the dim distance on the steps of the Church of Santa Maria del Popolo, sat a fellow who had once temporarily dashed me on the rocks of swinish instability. I tried to change direction but the circle of curiosity and surprise tightened as I hazardously hovered close enough to exchange a few words. “What a coincidence! What are you doing here? What am I doing here?” But I knew my Homer and had already stopped my ears with wax from the previously perilous shipwreck after hearing the siren’s song and cut short our exchange. Listing a bit too close, I quickly steered us away from the piazza down the Corso, past the Pantheon to the Piazza Navona with its great Bernini Fountain. We dined on Spaghetti Carbonara and drank our fill of Frascati at a hidden osteria behind the Farnese Palace. Afterwards, Gary and I stumbled our way home through the night town of Campo di Fiore where drunken half human/half animal revelers danced around the statue of Giordano Bruno who was burnt alive at the stake for heresy.
On our last day, Danilo invited us for lunch at his friend Daniele’s hotel which was only a few steps from de Russie. The Hotel Valadier was once a convent turned brothel and now a hip boutique hotel that Daniele had lovingly restored. Daniele was the consummate hotelier and extended an invitation to stay there the next time we came to Rome. The hotel’s casual restaurant was in the basement of the convent/brothel/hotel and had a great pizza oven – good pizza, good wine and good conversation at the aptly named Il Brillo Parlante.
Danilo and I were simpatico from the very first hesitant hello at the gym to the last teary eyed ciao salting my Pizza Margarita. We exchanged emails and both swore to keep in touch. At the airport Gary and I collected our VAT refunds and it wasn’t long before we were in the arms of Morpheus as we flew over the Middle Sea across the Atlantic to the New World. Arriving home, we navigated through the Scylla and Charybdis of immigration and customs escaping with impunity with our undeclared booty.
The wake of another ferry going from Ischia to Capri jolts me out of my reverie. I can now see the couple across the beam of the deck, a handsome young Italian, his hand lightly cupping his young, sexy girlfriend’s breast as she tosses back her head as her Lolita sunglasses slides down from her hair. Between us, two Japanese take pictures of a seagull perched on the rail snapping it before it dives in for its supper. The ragazzo secretly stares back and smiles a sly smirk, knowing that I am watching him as he presses tightly against her, both hands now and kisses her deep up against the ropes to keep them both steady. The sirens wander far from the Fragolini Rocks. My ears glow red from the day’s sun, melting wax…
2003 – 2008
The milky way of the tangled internet held us together via email and instant messages. Gary and I returned to Rome the following year taking our entire office on an incentive trip. Danilo, our Virgi, arranged accommodations at Daniele’s hotel. Our first tour was a very Angels and Demons private visit to the subterranean tomb of St. Peter’s buried deep under the main altar of the basilica on the site of Nero’s Circus where Peter was crucified upside down. In one of the dark catacombs, our British red-headed satyr of a guide gave me a pat on my butt and tried to steal a kiss. Fortunately unattractive sirens are easy to fend off – no wax needed. I trained a few times with Danilo at the nearby Hotel de Russie before our early mornings excursions. We quickly caught up, discussing Mussolini and Bush and Danilo telling me of his Casanovian escapades. On final night, he showed up on his Vespa with his latest amante sitting behind him, terribly close. Dolce far niente
In 2004 Danilo met Saulia, an exotic beauty from Near East, Kazakhstan. They had met as his club and it took a year to go from buon giorno to baciame. Looking like a Mongolian princess or consort of Genghis Khan, she threw her spider’s net over the Roman gladiator and ensnared him with a kiss on Valentine’s Day; the vanquished conquering the conqueror.
At last Danilo came to New York City in 2006 with Saulia and their new born son, Alexandro (Danilo is a champion in every department!). We trained together at Reebok Sports Club and toured the town. One evening, I introduced him at a Mexican Restaurant to our NYC trainers to talk shop and compare notes. The margaritas went down very easy and so did Danilo when he had too many drinks. Italians do not have a cocktail culture! Saulia sat silently, not knowing much English, her thoughts weaving in and out, observing and taking care of baby Alexander the Great.
Our office in February, 2007 went back to Italy, this time to Florence. But our final night dinner was in Rome. Danilo, Saulia, and Alexandro joined us. There was an unknown guest in attendance that night, for nine months later Leonardo, their second son was born. After a splendid meal in Trastevere, I wandered back to the hotel alone via Campo di Fiore veering perilously close to the nighttime demons. The following July, Danilo trekked to New York City again to jump into the Hudson, bike to the Bronx and sprint to the finishing line in Central Park. Hail the conquering hero!
In the winter of 2008 Gary and I celebrated our 25th anniversary as happy as any couple in Ithaca. The big bash was celebrated up in the Bronx at Roberto’s, our good friend who owns our favorite restaurant in NYC. The guest of honor was Danilo who flew in from Rome for the weekend festivities. A few months
later, Danilo jumped into the Hudson River after a good night’s sleep at our house sans margaritas and placed fifth in the triathlon!
The sun begins to slant across the sky, I’m squinting now clouded by sea spume staring still silently spying the starboard siren sinews his wet hair slicked slacks clinging to his thighs. Still tracing the path that wound its way here, my three companions inside the cabin, swaying to the to and fro of the roll of the sea . Japanese metamorphosed to Germans in shorts loudly munching on a large bag of chips. Detritus floats by in the sea, maybe the effluence from Atlantis, my past sins surfacing from Father Poseidon’s lair. Gino that is his name I overheard. We are alone; his cumare has gone to the bagno. He smiles. I smile. Strange music plays from speakers. Closer, tension, coiled – wax holds…
Good stories always end in weddings. Danilo and Saulia after years of bureaucratic, byzantine religious, political entanglement were able to be married. Finally the stars aligned up and the nuptials were to be held in April at the magnificent Roman Basilica of Mary of the Angels and Martyrs built inside the frigidarium the Bathes of Diocletian. At the beginning of the 18th century, Pope Clement XI commissioned the astronomer, Francesco Bianchinii to build a meridian line, a sort of sundial, within the basilica to check the accuracy of the Gregorian reformatin of the calendar, to produce a tool to exactly predict Easter, and, to give Rome a meridian line. It was a perfect place for East to be joined to the West.
On a bright sunlit morning, a small group of Danilo’s extended family gathered around the main altar of the church. The sound of the great organ swirled around the baroque putti as a tenor sang Schubert’s Ave Maria. Little Alexander, the ring bearer, led the procession followed by the ever faithful, Saulia dressed in a beautiful gown that Danilo had personally picked out for his bride. The priest gave a lengthy, impassioned sermon in Italian on love and family. Meanwhile little Leonardo cried as his paternal grandfather tried to distract him by lighting matches and a distinguished guest completed a big art deal on her Blackberry; the thick marble walls not being able to withstand the onslaught of the 21th century. Rays of sunlight radiated down from the dome blessing the couple exiting the church as clouds of rice rained down upon them, gaily tossed by the guests, seeds of love.
The wedding feast was held at Di Rienzo, a restaurant owned by Gabriele, a close friend of the couple. It is beautifully sited on the Piazza della Rotonda in the shadow of Emperor Hadrian’s Pantheon. Flocks of birds hovered over the square, searching, swooping down on a tourist’s’ ort. circled It was our turn to be the guests of honor from America as we drank prosecco, grazed on elaborate antipasti and met many of his Danilo’s dear friends at the reception in the ristorante’s private room. Luncheon was held outside under huge umbrellas on the square. Danilo designed a light, health conscious, delicious menu of Roman springtime vegetables, pasta and frutti di mare. It seemed I had returned home for the wedding of my brother, a prodigal returning to Italy after the emigrant exodus of the 1900’s. Danilo had taken special care to seat us with his most interesting and illustrious English-speaking friends: antiquarians, intelligentsia and entertainment personalities. A small sparrow tried to peck at Antonio’s bread, a lawyer sitting next to us, who practiced in the crazy legal system of Italy. I shooed it away as he was revealing horror stories of the Roman courts. We had a great conversation sometimes turning deep and philosophical, the good life. It wasn’t until Gary asked him to write down his mobile number that we realized he was totally blind.
As onlookers on the piazza gathered around, the same tenor from the church serenaded the wedding party to operatic arias and we all cried when he sang: “Con te partirò -Time to Say Goodbye” made famous by the singer, Andrea Bocelli. Danilo dedicated the last song to me, “O Sole Mio” in honor of my Neapolitan heritage. The happy couple cut the wedding cake and Saulia passed out the traditional almond wedding bomboniere as guests began to leave with kisses on both cheeks, and intimate hugs. Tears welled up as I said goodbye to our new friend Antonio as I helped him into a taxi.
Alone now - the siren and the sea – a match struck – Gauloise – flame limning a Roman nose – nostrils flared – haughty expression of contempt or provocation – inhale deep – exhale –- smoke wisps - cerulean sky – ferry lists – Cumae stirs – staggering closer – cerumen melting – closer – Vesuvius – smolders - il sole- closer still – too close – portal opens – the pubescent Sybil in sunglasses returns – ssssss – sea spray – ssssss – mist –ssssss – sea - men – cooling – harding- secrets – soft – safe …
But the festivities were not over since Gary and I were to continue with Danilo and Saulia on their “honeymoon” to island of Ischia. At party’s end, we hopped into the wedding van and off we went to change at their house before rushing off to Stazione Termini to catch the express train to Naples. We arrived in the madness of a Neapolitan holiday rush hour, and kidnapped a wild taxi ride to the dock. We boarded the hydrofoil; pushed and jostled by the crazy Italians who acted like it was the ark before the great flood.
Danilo had arranged our stay on Ischia at Albergo Il Monastero, a hotel that was once a monastery and fortress. It was perched high atop a volcanic rock, a castle in the sky overlooking the sea. We arrived late at night so the gate keeper has to escort us up to the summit on one of those tiny European elevators. We had a drink before going to our monk’s room that had a balcony overlooking the island sea. It was a long day of festival, fun and family. A late night gull swooped down onto its cliff side nest. Sleep.
Friday was May Day, a major holiday in Italy. I guess Danilo was hanging around me too much, the event planner, he reserved an excursion to Capri for the four of us. When we got to the dock to catch the pre-booked ferry, Danilo realized he left our boat tickets back at the castle not a few kilometers away. In a mad dash he flagged down a cab, raced across the fortress causeway, jostled himself to the head of the elevator line to the summit of the rock, retrieved our tickets, and sprinted back to the taxi and coolly arrived almost as the ferry was lifting its planks to depart for Capri – a mini triathlon.
It was a glorious sunny day with teeming crowds of Neapolitans on a Ponte weekend, sipping espresso in the little piazzas, lining up for gelato and shopping at all the “ucci” stores. We explored the island of Emperor Tiberius and today’s rich and famous from bottom to top – “Funiculi Fanicula”. Our long day concluded on the veranda of the Grand Hotel Quisisana , home to the Capri’s jet set. Like F. Scott and Zelda we toasted each other on Cosmos. I think it was Saulia’s first Cosmo, well actually she had two as we did we all except for the health conscious athlete. She had been holding out on us and could hold her liquor unlike her husband! We chit chatted with our fellow upstarts and parvenus and discussed what was the correct temperature to serve a chocolate martini. We talked about how lucky we all were to be here together, sipping cocktails, laughing as the passing onlookers thought were celebrities. Danilo taught me when to use the Italian phrase, Ti Vgolio Bene, “I wish you well” meaning deep affection between friends and family.
We were exhausted by the heat, the crowds, the shopping and the Cosmos as we slowly plopped down on the hydrofoil back home to Ischia. We were aglow with the warmth of the sun and deep affection for each other – Ti Voglio Bene. I never could stand the heat so I got up from our stall and left them inside the boat in their seats. As I looked back I smiled seeing Saulia’s head resting on her beloved Danilo while Gary’s head bobbed up and down trying unsuccessfully to fight off sleep. I went to the back deck for some cool air and a final look at magical, mythical Capri. The droning of the motors and the rocking of the boat lulled me into a state of sweet reverie. A young Italian couple wrangled close by.
That evening, our last at the hotel, we shared a bottle of local wine on the veranda before our final intimate dinner together in the refectory in our aerie in the sky. Saulia wore a white cotton chemise and a lovely turquoise necklace that Danilo had purchased that afternoon. She seemed lit from within, a happy bride, laughing and joking in her new found English attended by her Italian husband and her two dear amusing friends from America. We had a leisurely, lovely dinner and drank another bottle of wine listening to Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles playing in the background. A round of limoncello’s made the perfect aphrodisiac; citrus elixir that lifted you up and gently laid you down to a tranquil sleep.
It was time to retire and end this fantastic journey. Gary and I had to catch an early flight to Rome the next morning so we said our good nights and goodbyes since we would not see the honeymoon couple in the morning. Saulia gave us hugs and kisses. We weren’t sad; we knew there would be more tomorrows. We turned off the lights as we went down the long austere hallway to our rooms; Danilo took Saulia to his bed and Gary and I went to ours.
The linen curtains billowed blithely in from the balcony on a lemon breeze, a gull cooed softly resting on a nest below us, mothering her brood, some ragazzi revved their scooters below on the causeway to impress their girls; two lovers laughed from an open window, a dog barked. Soon we would all be home in Rome and New York City. Time is not measured in distance or distance in time. Ti volgio bene
Yes this is where I belong on a boat sailing back to Ischia Yes there is another siren standing on the other side of the deck Yes a young god Yes I have learned that sirens are everywhere and to be admired from afar Yes you can’t pick your family but you can choose your loved ones Yes my loved ones are back there maybe dreaming of me Yes Gary eyes hidden behind his sunglasses reflecting me as I look back through the portal window Yes Danilo the happy bridegroom, proud father, athlete and soul companion Yes Saulia looking like Cleopatra on her barge regal queen, bride and mother Yes all of us travelling in time and space together as friends and lovers and family Yes wise men, blind men, fools yes sun lowering in the west, Capri behind our Ischia castle fortress rising from the sea church spire circled by a seagull Yes ferry lurches and groans noisily into the dock waking all the sleeping wanderers Yes I am a fortunate pilgrim Yes This is how one gets here from there Yes paths taken over rocks and smooth ways, hidden paths, straight lines, craggy hills, secret gardens with serpents Yes moving Yes loving Yes lucky Yes love is what you find Yes friends are what you make Yes roads not taken take you somewhere Yes maybe here Yes maybe there Yes wandering off the path sometime lost sometimes not Yes always circling home Yes home Yes sirens hidden among the rocks Yes beware Yes Yes home is where you are
Yes Yes Yes
(click to see video)
E mancan le parole
Si lo so che non c’e luce
In una stanza
Quando manca il sole
Se non ci sei tu con me, con me.
Su le finestre
Mostra a tutti il mio cuore
Che hai acceso
Chiudi dentro me
La luce che
Hai incontrato per strada
Time to say goodbye
Paesi che non ho mai
Veduto e vissuto con te
Adesso si li vivro.
Con te partiro
Su navi per mari
Che io lo so
No no non esistono piu
Its time to say goodbye.
Q uando sei lontana
E mancan le parole
E io si lo so
Che sei con me con me
Tu mia luna tu sei qui con me
Mio sole tu sei qui con me
Con me con me con me
When I’m alone
I dream on the horizon
And words fail;
Yes, I know there is no light
In a room
Where the sun is not there
If you are not with me.
At the windows
Show everyone my heart
Which you set alight;
Enclose within me
The light you
Encountered on the street.
Time to say goodbye,
To countries I never
Saw ad shared with you,
Now, yes, I shall experience them,
I’ll go with you
On ships across seas
Which, I know,
No, no, exist no longer;It’s time to say goobye.
When you are far away
I dream on the horizon
And words fail,
And yes, I know
That you are with me;
You, my moon, are here with me,
My sun, you are here with me.
With me, with me, with me
“The Best of Times” occurred at a fantastic party on Sunday February 17, 2008 as Gary and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. Sixty of our dearest friends and family trekked to the Bronx for a gala afternoon.
The guests gathered at Trattoria Zero Otto Nove on Arthur Avenue for home made Pizza Margarita baked in an authentic brick pizza oven by a pizzaiolo direct from Naples. All this was washed down by a very special red sparkling wine called Gragnano from Salenero. Forty-five minutes into cocktails, a eight-piece band from the Feast of the Giglio in Brooklyn marched into the restaurant and invited the group to parade down Arthur Avenue to Roberto’s Restaurant for dinner.
What a sight this was! An Italian street band leading our family and friends laded down with gifts laughing and clapping in a festive mood all the way around the corner. Pedestrians gawked, patrons stuck their heads out of various ristorante, and cars honked their horns as we strolled down the mean streets of Belmont. My cousin, an avid movie buff, commented that it reminded him of the Sicilian wedding scene from “The Godfather.” He guessed one of my inspirations; the other was the final scene from Fellini’s “8 ½.”
Roberto’s, one of the best restaurants in New York City, was the scene for nine-course Sunday supper and very special presentation. My second inspiration for this part of the evening was the Broadway Revues of the 1950’s that commented on the social scene of the day. Gary and I welcomed our intimate gathering explaining that the evening program of music of Broadway Show Tunes would reflect aspects of our relationship and comment on our lives together for the past twenty-five years. The surprise hit of the evening was our opening rendition wish custom lyrics of I Remember It Well from the movie, “Gigi.” There was not a dry eye in the house.
Four song segments punctuated the many course Italian dinner of hot/cold appetizers, two pastas, risotto, veal and lamb, and desserts. Three Broadway performers sang music by the great composers of Broadway: e.g. Rodger’s Some Enchanted Evening; Styne’s Just in Time; Porter’s Always True to You Darlin’ in My Fashion; Gershwin’s They All Laughed and Kern’s Don’t Ever Leave Me..
The finale ended in a toast to us with a sing-along to the Jerry Herman tune, The Best of Times from “La Cage aux Folles”. This erupted into dancing to the Disco Classics from the 1970’s. Prosecco and Limoncello and “La Comedia e finita”. All of our guests received a CD of the Show Tunes perfomed along with traditional Italian Wedding “Confetti.”
The warmth and love from our family and friends still fills our hearts.
Gary: We met at nine
Tony: We met at eight
Gary: I was on time
Tony: No, you were late
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
You cruised me dear
Tony: No you cruised me
Gary: I sat alone
Tony: You sat next to me
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
That dazzling April moon!
Tony: There was none that night
And the month was June
Gary: That’s right. That’s right.
Tony: It warms my heart to know that you
Remember still the way you do
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
How often I’ve thought of that Friday-
Gary: Night when we had our first rendezvous
And somehow I foolishly wondered if you might
By some chance be thinking of it too?
That taxi ride
Tony: I walked you home
Gary: We went upstairs
Tony: No, you sent me home
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well
We had some rain
Tony: No, it was fair
Gary: Those Donna Summer songs!
Tony: Sung by Cher?
Gary: Ah, yes I remember it well.
You wore Jeans of Levi blue
Tony: Chino’s LL Bean
Gary: Am I getting old?
Tony: Oh, no, not you
How cute you were
How young and gay
A disco queen
In every way
Gary: Ah, yes, I remember it well.
Both: Ah, yes, we remember it well
John Lahr has written an insightful portrait of Sir Ian McKellen in the August 27, 2007 edition of the New Yorker magazine. One aspect of this wonderful actor that goes unnoticed is his daring coming out and his great contribution to gay rights in the UK.
However I cannot think of a single American in the entertainment industry who has been as courageous as a spokesman. We have had no one to lead or stand up for us with the authority that being a celebrity incurs.
We can only revere the dead icon of the crucified Rock Hudson who by his death made Elizabeth Taylor, the Virgin Mother of Aids. Or laugh at the closeted minstrels of Paul Lynde and Charles Nelson Reilly. If only we could have looked up to the example of the of the “marriage” between Cary Grant and Randolph Scott. Or if Garbo really would have talked, Dietrich sang and Tallulah laughed at the “love that dare not speak its name”.
Would that John Travolta and Tom Cruise would blast out of Scientology and fess up. Where is our Martin Luther King? It is time for Kevin Spacey to step from behind the Paramount bar and lead us into the Promised Land of equality. “I have a dream” girls.
The grand city parks of New York City are filled with families, tourist and friends in May. Central Park sometimes has two parades around its perimeters while sunbathers bask in the sun on Sheep Meadows. This picture is of little Anthony in that other great park, Prospect Park circa 1956.
I suspect my little sister Karen is sleeping on the Long Meadow in that grand baby carriage!
I remember that my mother and I would go the big Brooklyn department store, Germain’s and leave Karen outside while we shopped. Imagine that today!! The front of the store was lined up with carriages while mothers were inside the store. Oh there were the watchful eyes of a brother or sister who would come out once in awhile to check. There was always someone around and it was the thing to do. How could a mother shop? That huge perambulator would never fit down aisles!
(one of the last pictures taken with my mom)
I guess a boy’s first Valentine is his mother. In second grade our teacher announced we were going to make Valentine Day cards. Mrs. Morris was one of the few lay teachers at our Catholic grammar school of St. Thomas Aquinas in Brooklyn. She handed out multi-color sheets of construction paper, white paste glue, pipe cleaners, glitter and those funny stubby scissors that couldn’t really cut anything.
I constructed a glittery Valentine for my mom. I was proud of this crude hand-made arts & crafts token of my love for her. I carefully brought it home; pressed flat in one of my schoolbooks. When she wasn’t looking, I placed it on the kitchen table; the 1950′s kind of table with chrome legs, flamingo colored Formica top and matching vinyl covered chairs. I sat down at the table and pretended to do my homework.
My mother came back in with a frilly apron on, getting ready to cook our supper, which we promptly ate every night at 5:30 pm. It seemed hours before she noticed the big read heart I had laid out before her. She picked it up and held it at a distance. “What is this? Why, thank you.” She gave me a demure Mona Lisa like smile of disappointment. It took me a few years to figure out that hand made gifts were not as appreciated as store bought ones.
As I grew older, Valentine’s Day found me at the local drugstore. I would go to the card section and pick the biggest flowery card I could find. At that time in the card section, you picked up a sample card sort of sealed on cardboard with a code number on it. You then handed the druggist the sample and he would open the drawer below and hand you the card out of a file with the same number on it. When I got bolder I would go to the drawer myself and select the Valentine. They got more lacey as the years went on, one of them even had a little silk tuft of sachet. Next stop was the candy aisle for a large red, satin heart-shaped box of Russell Stover or Whitman’s candy. Over at the next aisle was the toiletry section for a bottle of Jean Nate Bath Oil or a round canister of “Evening in Paris” talcum powder. Like the gifts of the Magi, I made these three offerings to my mother from her adoring son. She smiled.
The next serious Valentine is usually your husband or wife. Mine was for my boy friend, Gary. Having learned my lessons, I bought him a Hallmark Peanuts card with Snoopy on the front cover, Teuscher chocolates flown daily from Switzerland and a bottle of Lagerfeld eau de cologne. I had them displayed on my dresser in my bedroom alcove in my West 83rd Street walk up in Manhattan. He would be sure to see them as we arrived back after dinner at Forest & Sea Restaurant. We tipsily climbed up the creaky stairs to my fourth floor studio. I unlocked the Police Lock bar of the #4A apartment door and Gary went straight to the bathroom to brush his teeth. I lay coyly on my pink chenille bedspread like a Burt Reynolds Playgirl centerfold. Gary came over kissed me lightly and saw his gifts. He opened them gingerly making sure he folded up the ribbons for future re-wrapping. I was given that same La Giaconda smile that I remembered from long ago. Hmmm? So I went back to the drawing board. I am a quick learner.
The following year, I wrote Gary a hand written poem that I took a long time to compose. I dropped it in the post and it arrived as planned on February 14th. I handed him the daily mail and as he went through it, he noticed one was addressed to him. I tried to disguise my scrawl so he wouldn’t know it came from me. He opened it and read the missive. He gave me a big Dustin Hoffman – “The Graduate” like grin from ear to ear – this time more Cheshire Cat than Mona Lisa.
I got nothing back that day but his generous smile. That smile funnily enough would stay with me for 25 years … each day being Valentines Day.
My funny valentine
Sweet comic valentine
You make me smile with my heart
Your looks are laughable
Yet youre my favourite work of art
Is your figure less than greek
Is your mouth a little weak
When you open it to speak
Are you smart?
But dont change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little valentine stay
Each day is valentines day
Rodgers & Hart
It was a cold, late afternoon on January 7, 1976 as I headed out in my heavy dark blue Navy Pea Coat to the D Train from Park Slope, Brooklyn to get standing room only tickets for that evening’s performance of “Fidelio” at the Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center.
As I walked onto the Lincoln Center Plaza, the fountain sprayed a frosty glow and the Chagall’s looked like Marc had just finished them with his box of Crayolas. The usual bunch was already on queue for the standing room tickets: opera queens, Juilliard boys (and girls), Saul Bellow Upper West Side characters, senior citizens, and me. This night was my lucky night since they still had student seats left. I got to sit in a real seat in the orchestra; House Left at the extreme end the row -
After I got my ticket I strolled next door to the Library of the Performing Arts to hang out till the 8pm curtain. I had come here many times since 1967 when I was a student at Cathedral College on West 87th Street and West End Avenue. If I sat at a certain LP listening station, I could watch who went in and out of the Men’s Room while I listened to the latest original cast recordings – how perfect!
At 7:45pm I went to my seat so I could read my program. The great Boris Aronson had designed the sets and the young John Mauceri of later Hollywood Bowl fame was conducting. Of course, I knew the plot of Beethoven’s “Fidelio” – about Leonore, loving wife disguised as a prison guard named “Fidelio””(the Faithful One), who rescues her husband Florestan from death in a political prison.
I settled in with my coat folded neatly over my lap. I could never understand people who put their coats on the back of their seats and then sit on them! – so uncomfortable and lumpy and wrinkling. Then the magic moment came that never failed to excite me. The Swarovski Crystal Chandeliers, a gift from Austria, rose slowly up, up and up to the golden ceiling of the Met. The house darkened.
It was then I noticed I was seated next to an attractive older gentlemen dressed in suit and ascot with his coat folded on his lap too. I tried to glance discreetly sideways but he caught me looking.
The overtures began. Leonore, disguised as a gentleman, began to sing in the beautiful quartet – Mir ist so wunderbar (“A wondrous feeling fills me”). It was then I felt the pants leg of the ascoted gentleman brush up against mine. I stared straight ahead and concentrated on the music. As he shifted in his seat, his shoe slid up along mine and then withdrew. I stirred in my seat. Since the electrical gap was now broken I decided to close it and move my leg close to his. Contact was made as a surge of electricity pulsed, almost in complicity with the surging quartet. The current ebbed and flowed to the end of Act One.
I swiftly flew up the aisle at intermission for a breath of fresh air on the Grand Tier Balcony. Mein herz was pounding. I didn’t know what to do, but knew I had to do something. As I walked back downstairs I saw my gentleman standing up against the Enzo Pinza Water Fountain holding one of those silly white cone cups people pretentiously use to drink from the fountain to prevent their lips from touching the spigot. I jauntily walked up and bent over and took a mouthful direct from the bubbler. He was standing next to me now. As I wiped a bit of water dripping down my mouth, I stammered out “Tony” to his slightly British cadenced response of “Alfred.” He surreptitiously gave me torn piece of his program with a phone number that I guess he had hastily written.
Suddenly a woman approached. He said to me “This is my wife Lynn” and to her “This is my friend Tony.” Like a grand dame she said “Good Evening Antony” and stared right through my mask of embarrassment. I was saved by the bell so to speak, as the usher struck the end of intermission chimes. I quickly excused myself as I waited for them to go back to their seats first. I took my seat at the last moment as house lights were almost dark. I looked furtively over – funny I didn’t notice whom he was sitting next to during Act One.
The young John Mauceri climbed onto the podium and started Act Two. Florestan is alone in his cell, deep inside the dungeons. He sings first of his trust in God, then has a vision of Leonore coming to save him:
Gott! Welch Dunkel hier!
God! What darkness here!
In our darkness the switch was pulled once again and the current flowed. Our ritual continued till the famous off-stage trumpet call announced the arrival of the minister. The horn stirringly rang out as a hand moved under his cashmere coat and across my overlapping dark blue one. His palm ever so slowly and gently moved over my thigh to its desired end.
O Gott, o welch ein Augenblick!
O unaussprechlich süßes Glück!
Oh God what joy at last!
Oh what a moment unsurpassed!
Mauceri was impassioned leading the orchestra in the interpolated Leonore Overture #3. My gentlemen caller was stirring as well. Then came the great chorale finale ultimo. The gates opened and the prisoners came up into the light in joyous exhalation of freedom and love.
There was a standing ovation, torn program confetti streaming from the “heavens” and four curtain calls. Since I was on the aisle, I left before the last applause died out and the house lights came up. I grabbed a quick drink of water at the Pinza Fountain before I floated onto the plaza like Cher in “Moonstruck” but without Nicholas Cage on my arm.
The D Train came right away. Seated in my orange plastic subway seat, I felt like Cinderella as my coach arched up over the city and across the Manhattan Bridge – A Lovely Night. The walk from the subway station to my apartment on Garfield Place was exhilarating. I got into bed and read the entire “Fidelio” program from cover to cover. The night was long and cold.
The next day I woke up feeling like Scarlet O’Hara the morning after Rhett carried her up the dark blood red staircase. Having waited anxiously till 11 am, I finally got up the nerve to dial the number on the scrap of paper that I had looked at so many times during the night. It rang a few times till it connected. “Hi, this is T-t-t-t.”… I was stuck – T-t-t-ony.
Then a female voice said sharply and knowingly “Antony, don’t ever call this number again, ever.”
I recoiled and dropped the phone, the scrap of program still in my hand. The winter sky darkened a bit and I felt like the other Christine pulling off the mask off the Phantom revealing the horror underneath – a hideous laughing grin. I sat down on my coat on the sofa which I had jauntily thrown there the night before. Reaching under into my coat breast pocket, I took out my ticket stub – Row R35 – and tore it up as the glittering Swarovski Chandeliers came crashing down around my head. I went to my window and stood there motionless like Garbo in Queen Christina, silently staring into the horizon.
In between my Off -Off Broadway directing jobs, I paid my rent as a teller at Bank Leumi, an Israeli establishment on Fifth Avenue and 47th Street in Manhattan. I would work there from 9 to 5 and then direct showcase rehearsals from 6pm to 11pm. It was a long day and a long subway ride home to my place in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Ars gratia artis
As a stood at my teller window in front of a wall of the skyline of Jerusalem made out of cut-up pieces of carpet, customers would que up on one long line and then wait for the “Next Available Teller.” There was one particularly good-looking Israeli boy who somehow always got to my window. I caught him a couple of times letting other people go ahead of him while he pretended to be fumbling, filling out a last minute deposit slip.
We would demurely exchange pleasantries as I slowly counted out his large deposits, delaying our transaction as long as possible. Soon enough, our hands would ever so lightly touch as I handed him back his receipt. He would finger the diamond ring on his pinky finger as he sweetly whispered thank you then look deep into my eyes and coyly say Shalom. It was like a prison visit of some white trash girl visiting her man at Sing-Sing as they stole a forbidden kiss as the warden watched on. Or a scene from “Midnight Express” where I was the young American captive and he was the handsome swarthy Turkish guard.
My prisoner of love was named Sol, short for Solomon and he worked in his family business in the Diamond District on W. 47th Street across 5th Avenue. He hated his job but was compelled by his strict Jewish Orthodox father to assist him at the Exchange. He longed to open up a floral shop. He always smelled of lavender scent. Our exchanges went on for a half a year with the visits becoming more brazen and our conversations longer. I gave good customer service.
One frustrating morning visit, Sol asked if I would meet him for a drink on Saturday night after Sabbath was over. I hesitantly agreed. He suggested we meet at a bar called Camp David. That seemed like an ironic place for our rendezvous since Israel and Palestine were negotiating peace terms at The White’s House’s Camp David. I wondered excitingly what negotiations he had in mind to bring us to détente.
Camp David was located on the fashionable Upper East Side on Lexington Avenue. I soon discovered it was a gay bar. I was 26 and surprisingly I had never been to one and was very scared about going to one now. I was sexually precocious in many ways but not “out.” I was socially inept at meeting guys in public outside of illicit places. That Saturday afternoon I almost backed out in going if it were not for my roommate, Loretta’s insistence that I grow up and go. Should she have said, “grow out!”
Showered and coiffed, I hopped into my metallic chocolate brown, Toyota Corolla and drove into Manhattan taking the Brooklyn Bridge and up the East River Drive. There was no anticipated traffic; I got there so early I had to walk around for an hour before our meeting time of 8:30pm. I circled the block may times to see who was going in and out. I didn’t know then that NYC gay bars didn’t start hopping till much later so I saw no one go in or out.
I finally got up the nerve to enter the bar. It was a small place, dark, clean and contemporary in style. I took a barstool at the far end of the bar by the TV as All in the Family” was just about over – “Those Were the Days.”
An older mustachioed bartender in white shirt and black tie brought my requested cocktail. There were a couple of guys at the back of the place sharing a table and quietly chatting, all very civilized. I was not set upon and stolen by a homosexual white slavery den. I downed the first gin and tonic quickly and was on to my third in no time.
It was 9:15pm and I was playing with the lime and stirrer in my fourth gin and tonic when the door opened. A sexy woman decorously dressed in a gray skirt and blouse with black pumps walked in. She was clutching a leather handbag as she peered into the darkness; I didn’t think lesbians came to this bar. I only knew the Park Slope flannel and denim variety lesbian. Guess this is what they called a “Lipstick Dyke.”
She slowly sidled down the bar as she moved closer to me. Of all the empty seats, she took the stool next to mine. I hurriedly pretended to look discreetly away as to not to have to interact with her. The final moments and theme song of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was playing on the TV.
“Who Can Turn the World on with Her Smile?” I froze as I got a whiff of lavender.
“Hi Tony, sorry I am late.” I quickly turned in disbelief to see… Sol.
“Hey Sailor, see anything you like?” I dropped the lime on my lap.
I held tightly onto my empty lime-less glass and stirred as I looked down at his pinky ring. It’s a wonder the glass didn’t explode in my hands.
“H-h-hello Sol,” I finally stammered.
“You can call me Sheba, tonight” she laughed lightly.
But her laughter, amplified by my surprise, fear and nervousness, seem to fill the bar. Were the bartender and that couple at the back laughing too – Laughing wildly, wild strawberry lipstick mouth agape, handle bar waxed mustache bouncing up and down like some Ingmar Bergman surrealistic sequence I might have seen at the Thalia.
I did not know what to do. The G&T and the lavender were going to my head as if to swoon-
So I escaped….
Without a word, slapping down a few dollars on the bar, I ran out onto Lexington Avenue, jostling an East Side doyenne and her poodle. I had my keys out before I got to my car. I almost flooded the carburetor as I pounded the gas pedal. I sped down the F.D.R Drive and through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, having to pay a toll to get home faster, safe and sound. Thank God, Loretta was out on a date. I jumped into bed, turned off the lights and pretended to sleep till I finally did.
Sunday morning, Loretta sat on my bed and asked me how my date was. I said it went ok but it didn’t work out. She made breakfast for me and a Latino guy named Ronnie she met the night before a at a disco. The three of us making an odd sight. I am sure the guy thought I was her lover and was ready to pounce on him for a threesome. I was so frustated that maybe I did give off that scent. Loretta had good taste in men.
Later that afternoon the thought of Monday sprang up! What was I to do tomorrow when he showed up at my teller window? So of course, I called in sick.I went to work on Tuesday and waited all day for the siren’s call. Sol did not come in that day or the rest of the week. He never came to my window again; fumbling on line if he had to, so he could avoid me. Eventually, he stopped coming to the bank and another runner for his company made deposits.
Looking back at Solomon and Sheba that night, of course I knew I acted silly and not wise.. I had behaved like a silly little girl in the big bad city. Of course, it was a shocker seeing Sol as a She but I could have at least stayed a bit and got out gracefully.
It was not till fall that year that I dared to go to another gay bar. I was tired of tricking on the streets. So I picked a safe haven to return to the scene of the crime. Julius, a bar in the Village was not so threatening since it seemed like a place where the old queens went to die. I could be a chicken and not chicken out.
Eventfully I graduated to other bars for the living and the quick: Uncle Charley’s, Wildwood, Tys and Boots and Saddles. I wised up pretty fast as the Bicentennial year started in 1976. I reveled in a newfound freedom of liberation. I was ready for any drag queen that came my way. It was a time to throw my hat in the air, spin around and start living…
“Love is all around, no need to waste it
You can have a town, why don’t you take it
You’re gonna make it after all
You’re gonna make it after all”