- The Telephone Call
- Jeff and the Science Books
- I Want to Buy a Bus
- The Law and Us
- Steaks Galore
- Makings of a Monster
- My Sister Joanie
- Signs of My White Times
Each of the above follows below ↓
THE TELEPHONE CALL
A call placed to an international company, a toll free number.
“Thank you for calling. Your call may be monitored and/or recorded for quality assurance. If you do not wish to be recorded inform the operator before you begin your call. All of our operators are currently busy with other customers; your call will be answered in the order received. Your wait time is nine minutes. Please hold.”
“Please stay on hold, you call will be answered in the order received.”
“Our company offers many alternatives for your listening pleasure. Be sure to ask your operator for these new offerings”
“We now have a new listing for your satellite radio. Your connecting operator can acquaint you with these listing.”
“Thank you for calling. Listen carefully to our menu items; they have changed so that we can better direct your call to the correct department and provide expedient service. Please say your five number zip code, the zip code is the number that follows your address after the city and state.
“I’m sorry I didn’t hear that. Please speak clearly. If you wish and you have a touch tone pad enter your zip code by pressing the matching numbers as they appear in your address.
“You entered 93066. Say yes if this is correct or say no if it is not.
“I’m sorry we are unable to verify that number, please re-enter the five numbers of your zip code.
“I’m sorry I didn’t understand that entry, you said representative?
“For assistance with placing a new order say ‘new order’ or press one. For an already existing order say ‘existing order’ or press two, if you are having problems with your radio press three or say ‘technical support’, if you wish to …
“You have not made a selection, press one to repeat the options.”
An explosion of music, then no music, no operator, the disconnect click, the dial tone.
“Thank you for calling, please enter your zip code, if you are a new customer say or press one, if you are a returning customer and wish to access your account, press or say two, if you…
“Thank you for calling, this is Susan, how can I help you?
“What is your name please and your telephone number? Area Code first.
“Please spell your name and the telephone number area code first for account verification.
“I do not find you in our account list. Repeat the telephone number. I have 808-529-0593
“I am sorry for the error. I have copied 805-529-0539. Is this correct?
“Thank you, I’m sorry, please repeat. I do not find that a valid number. What is your ID number? No ID number?
“I’ll have to transfer you to another operator.
“Thank you for calling, my name is Hope, how may I help you?
“I’m sorry; I have no way of knowing of your previous conversation.
“What is your name and telephone number?
“How may I assist you?
“Please repeat your name and telephone number?
“Sorry this is taking so long, your patience is appreciated. Yes, I find that you have an account and have four radios on your account.
“I sorry, your account indicates four radios.”
“I’m sorry; your account indicates four radios not one as you have claimed.
“Please hold while I check this further.
“Thank you for your patience. You have four radios listed. I will have to transfer you to another operator for further assistance.
To the WEB site: On the screen came “Log on with users ID name and password.” Up flashes,” either your user name or password is incorrect. Reenter the correct identification. Remember that the user name is case sensitive. Forgot your password, click here. Enter your user E-mail address and we will send you your password. The screen shows “you will be re-setting your password. E-mail will be sent immediately.
“Hello, my name is Clarissa, what is your name.
“May I call you Adrienne? No? Alright then, Ms. Nater.
“Please explain the problem … I can transfer you to an agent who can assist you. What is your user ID? No user ID?
“What is your telephone number area code first?
“I have the name of Beverly Waltey listed for this number, are you she? No. Oh! I see that you are both listed on the account.
“I see that you have four radios. No?
“I see that you have a Rav 4, 2009. Is this correct?
“Let me check on this account, please hold. There may be a long periods of silence during your wait. Please stay on the line.
“I will have to give you another number to call; do you, mumble, mumble, mumble, have garbled, garbled, to anunintelligible, something, something, something?
“I’ll repeat. At times our lines from the Caribbean are poor. Thank you for being patient. Are you prepared to take down this number? Do you have pen and paper to copy down this number?
” You will have to reach the Shopping line at this number to resolve this suspicious looking information. You will have to call this number tomorrow. The Shopping line is closed for the evening. Thank you for calling. I’m sorry for this inconvenience, thank you for calling and for being such a loyal customer.” Click.
“Good Morning, my name is Frances Earl. How may I help you?
Yes, I see that you account indicates that you have four radios in your Rav 2009 Rav. You say that you have only one? That makes sense. I will credit your account for the additional charges. That will be an $85.30 credit on your Visa. Is there anything else? I see, yes, about the return of an unauthorized order; when it arrives, open the package. There is a label for the return. Place on this return label the following RA number 42667, take it to your UPS office. We will credit your account accordingly when it arrives. Anything else? No? I am pleased to have been able to assist you.
“Yes, you asked where I am located. I am in Norfolk, Virginia. Is there anything else? I am pleased to have been of assistance. Thank you for being our customer.”
He was named Stuart. No one knew why. Relatives were appalled. There was not another Stuart in the maternal family tree of male ancestry: The Lederers: Franks, Henrys, Hugos, Ralphs, Julians, Edwards, Maxs, Ottos, Victors, Pauls, Ludwigs, Geralds, Leonards, Ulrichs, but not a Stuart, not in the two hundred years since this family that emanated from Germany and Czechoslovakia to America. Children would be named after an ancestor only after death in the Jewish tradition, the name Stuart became a maternal family anomaly.
The family; always successful, always educated, always secure, always in commerce, always city people never doubting, always in their dreams and hopes a life of prosperity. However, in the years after the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, Crimean Wars, the Bismarchian/Wilheiminian Kaiser’s rule, the industrializing of most European countries, all engendered the escalating conflicts throughout Europe; then came the drafting of all young men, the Pogroms in the east. These frantic times brought instability to business and frightening personal threats; they left: ten family units, carrying themselves to America in the waning years of the 19th century, group by group by group, to settle in New York City. Their wealth conveyed in the jewels they cleverly concealed in their clothing, their education and business acumen intact.
That is all but one son, Max; he and his family remained in Europe, functioning as the overseas liaison for the transplanted family business. They prospered through half of the Holocaust years. Even being a Catholic convert and a member of the Nazi Party did not spare them death at Dachau.
Stuart’s father Albert Edward Fischer, mother Elsie Charlotte Lederer; Albert an only child; Elsie from a family of eleven. Albert’s father, Julius S. Fischer, was the foremost real estate broker in New York City, Attis Realty. Affluent, handsome, tall slender, blond hair, blue eyes, a gentleman much admired; devoted to his wife, Sitta, a gorgeous red head, barely tolerant of his son’s flamboyant way with young women, caring for his widowed sister-in-law her entire life. He lived seventy-eight years, a long and prosperous life; forty-five of those years in New York City.
Six year old Albert and his family emigrated from Germany in 1885; their capital converted into jewels. Since they were all well educated they quickly learned English settling in Manhattan on Madison Avenue in a well appointed apartment.
The eight Lederer men, save for Henry, were big men in height and breadth; not handsome but expensively dressed, imposing. The eldest, Hugo, was so well known in the city that if he left his gold handled cane in any establishment it would be returned to him post haste. The two surviving girls in the family were certainly full-sized, but plain and uninteresting, somewhat peculiar with quirky habits and ideas. But still, well off financially.
By 1900 when he was twenty-one Albert was employed as a traveling salesman for the leading importer of women’s silk garments. His company was located in New York City. Although he could have gone into the Real Estate business with his father, he was well versed in the business; he could not bring himself to work under his father’s personal radiance. He met the Lederer family who were also in the import business and sales, they imported toys, dolls, candies assorted trinkets for use in the advertising business.
Now, Albert was bored but ambitious. He decided to sacrifice his freedom to romantically engage a woman of his selection. He had many; money making its accumulation, power paramount in his plans.
He was introduced to the eldest two Lederer brothers, Hugo and Ralph at a gathering at the Astoria Hotel, hosted by the New York Jewish Business Association. He was invited to their large home where he was introduced to the sisters Elsie and Olga. Of the two, Elsie seemed to be the less objectionable. He really couldn’t fall in love with her; but he was a respectable suitor, she had had none before, he could anticipate financial gain from this marriage, begin a family of his own, become a father.
Elsie was not a beauty: a finicky dresser, in the latest fashions, colors dreary, fabric bulky, designed to be unrevealing from neck to ankles; expensive, voguish hats worn continually, in or outside. Always a matching purse and gloves, the purse which seldom left her arm, never out of her sight. Her hair was thin in texture, dark in color, coiffure precisely. Her coloring pale, eyes a watery characterless faded blue. She met people politely seldom focusing her gaze.
It was as though she was looking past them; suspicious of the most casual comment made by her family or friends; “How well you look today,” “How lovely a dress.” She thought, “What do they mean by that?” Or…
“Why are you bringing that up?” Other than her parents, one or two of her brothers, her only affirmative relationship was with her later to be born son, Stuart.
She really did not want to marry. She did not want to endure all the nasty habits that she knew about men, living with seven brothers, expected by a husband. Her family of brothers knew she was going to be difficult to marry off. Suitors for her hand in marriage noticeably absent. But in the Jewish tradition they did their duty she would do hers.
Her father opposed the marriage. He finally acquiesced to his wife and sons. The couple married March 22nd, 1903 moved into a pleasant apartment at 259 W. 114th Street.
After a year of marriage, devoid of passion, a fair haired son was born. Stuart Paul. Elsie kept this boy all for herself. Albert compelled to keep his distance from his wife and therefore his son, felt isolated when home so he decided to spend even more time on the road, enjoying all the charmings he encountered in every city, in every hotel and home he visited. The profits from his sales were astounding. His contact with the Lederer family their fame in the business world would increase his income to astounding levels.
Stuart’s relationship with his mother’s family was close and enduring although he went east only once following high school. Stuart would only see his father’s father once after leaving New York; he kept up correspondence with him until his death in 1940. A picture of this man always present wherever he settled.
Business as Usual
It was not Albert’s lack of business success that led to his move from New York City and his well established Eastern coast business connections. Word came to the Lederer family of his distaff social contacts. They in turn, through their business associates notified his employer; the Lederer’s vast influence in the business world powerful. Whatever they did, whomever they associated with, whether it was in their business or social activities it was conducted with skillful discretion; Albert’s was not discrete. Elsie, not pleased when they were moved to another state did what the family demanded. She was to go with her husband. She had her son; she would have him there without distractions. There was no thought in her plans of having any more children, one was fine, especially this one, her Stuuddee.
Albert was shipped to Kansas City, MO in 1910. His selling successes continued as did his other accomplishments. He had broadened his skills, his discretion. He disliked his location in this primitive territory, but made the best of it. After several years, the home office was in the mood to expand further west. Always impressed with Albert’s successes; decided he was their choice. The company transferred him to Los Angeles 1918, ending his quasi exile; there to establish new routes, new customers, and yes, and…more.
The little Albert knew about Los Angeles, was from the newspapers, clients who were telling tales, raving about opportunities on the west coast. He was excited, writing to his parents: “It’s the land of opportunity. And the location; couldn’t be better, 3000 miles from the prying Lederer’s.
You must know that their large family is so clannish that I feel like a stranger in their company. It is not a question of dislike just a matter of my independence.
“This move will take me to a pristine field of prospective clients and new contacts. The demand for silk goods is so great that the Orientals have set up an area near the harbor to manufacture items made of silk. What a place! I’ll be liberated! I’ll achieve greater heights, get into real estate investments.0 Father, you have always encouraged me to get into real properties, and I shall. The town has endless possibilities.”
He went on to describe what he knew of Los Angeles. The city of his hopes; there was much he didn’t know: Los Angeles would become a significant influence in both his life and the life of his son. Stuart would make Los Angeles his personal and professional home. He would never leave.
Early Los Angeles
In 1918 Albert and his family arrived in Los Angeles. This city by Eastern standards was considered a frontier municipality, spreading out not up. More bars than churches, more burlesques houses than synagogues. The movie industry was in its infancy; movie houses opening throughout the city center. In the outlying residential developments only the major streets were paved. Drainage and sewer systems existed only in neighborhoods inhabited by the more affluent.
Garbage and cans picked up by truck, once a week; trash was burned in backyard incinerators. The heart of the city boasted three Eastern Department Stores, Germaine’s Garden and Feed Store, one luxurious hotel, the Biltmore opening in 1923. There were buildings housing professionals, businesses, public services. A sizable park, Pershing Square, became the gathering place for soap-box orators and old men who played checkers and chess.
In 1919 the newly formed Philharmonic Orchestra was housed in the Subway Terminal Building at 5th and Grand Avenue in the space rented to them by the Baptist Church. Stuart set up his law practice in this building in 1928 and remained there for twenty years. It wasn’t until 1967 that cultural events moved to the current location at the Dorothy Chandler Center for the Performing Arts. The city’s Chamber of Commerce boasted nationwide about clean air, attracting vast numbers of ailing people from across the country.
Sanatoriums abounded in the dry, warm climate. Los Angeles County Hospital, opened in 1878, Kaspare Cohn Hospital, 1902, which became Cedars of Lebanon all built just outside the city center. Private religious schools and public schools were hurriedly constructed to meet the demands of the emerging young population. The earthquake of 1933 led to a revision of building standards, the Fisher Act. Vast agricultural communities surrounded the sprawling city, supplying fresh fruits and vegetables to stores and street venders. Just east of the city were slaughter houses meat packing plants, Japanese and Chinese commercial districts, and great rail yards.
There were two major train stations, the Santa Fe and Union Stations. Horse drawn conveyance was still prevalent. The Red Car trolley line stretched for thousands of miles connecting workers to their jobs.
Water for this increasing population, a major problem, would be solved by the city taking water from the nearby Mono Lake in the Owens Valley, politically engineered by the controversial James Mulholland.
This city was an entrepreneurial magnet for success and full employment; a city where people such as Albert could begin to reinvent themselves where Stuart would begin his career in law, marry, have three children and at fifty-six die.
The Beat goes On
How Albert sold fancy women’s hosiery, attracting sales to celebrated businesses, bought and sold real estate, earned a substantial income is not in question. How he managed to sell himself attract women is: a bit taller then most, with no more than average good looks, but his striking head of blond hair and flashing blue eyes, his well dressed being and charm was good enough to attract some very delightful ladies, but attraction that did not extend to his wife at home; she to him and he to her. It hadn’t been and never would be.
Stuart’s mother agreed with the purchase of a modest spacious Craftsman styled house in what was then referred to as the West side at 936 W 51st Street. It was between Vermont and Slauson. There had to be remodeling, especially in the kitchen, to bring it into Elsie’s standard of living. She handled all the family business, banking, paying bills, buying clothes, furniture, selection of workmen, the hiring/firing of domestics.
Stuart was 14 years old, slight in structure, plain in appearance, large Lederer ears, glasses perched upon a prominent nose, framing his slender face; his attention to his clothing nonchalant; interested in neat and clean only, not in audacious or faddish fashions. Enrolled at Manual Arts High School, he excelled in his studies, entered the world of tennis, joined societies both social and professional, established lifelong friends. It was said of this young man: “no matter the situation, the problem, he listens only when asked will he offer his thoughts; his humor clever, never at the expense of anyone else.”
This school was then an educational center of highest esteem in a respectable neighborhood. University of Southern California just blocks away, the University of California Los Angeles in a remote region called Westwood. He would attend both schools, his graduate studies in Law at USC. He was convinced that Civil law was his forte.
Often saying, “In Criminal Law you can’t trust your clients to be truthful, your enemies would include all elements of the prosecutorial world, lawyers, law enforcement.”
He defended just two criminal cases in his lifetime, one his mechanic who in a drunken state kidnapped and beat-up one of his employees, the other a business client on retainer who after his building burned down was accused of arson. He defended them well enough that they were found not guilty.
So, what happened to this family of three that makes a story worth relating?
Mildred Josephine Gutierrez Leyva happened.
Born into a very poor Mexican workers family in Santa Barbara, California, one of eight children orphaned in 1910 and sent to St. Vincent’s, the orphanage on De La Vina Street in Santa Barbara operated by the Daughters of Charity; Born in 1904, confirmed in 1911 and sent out to work in 1916. She was hired by Elsie as their housekeeper in 1922. This was her third family. She began making plans when she entered the household. She did not want to be poor. She wanted a home of her own, a family of her own. Somehow she knew that this obviously unstable situation was her opportunity.
Stuart came home one day to the sound of adult voices shouting: He had heard it before and like before shuttered and began his retreat.
Mother’s voice, “If you do that again out, out she goes and you with her. No, it won’t be a next time for her; I want that slut gone now.”
Father’s voice, “She has no one and no place to go.” The pleading sound of “Elsie, let her stay. I didn’t …”
“Your looks say differently!”
“Looks are not …”
“There’re enough, looks are enough to be leading to … if you haven’t already, you dirty, lecherous old man.”
“I know that you have women in every state, in every city you visit. I should have never consented to marrying you; my father was right, my mother, brothers wrong. She’s a child Albert, your son’s age.”
“But, Elsie, you have a good life, comfortable…I don’t bother you…”
“Living in this horrid town, no family, no friends, just a bunch of hawkers lining the downtown streets, no decent shopping close by, no convenient transportation. Get me a car, teach me to drive ….”
Stuart escaped into his room; shut the door, turning on the radio, raising the volume to drown-out the voices, thinking, “They hardly ever even speak to one another, less than when in New York; when they do it’s with the terrible profanities, screaming. They have their own separate rooms, and now this repeated … this yelling … about ‘she’ … The only ‘she’ I know in the house, Mildred. What are the looks that are so, so … what?”
He spun his desk chair around, took off his glasses, pulled off his sweater, threw it on the bed, took his shoes off left where he had been standing. Mother would put everything away. He put his glasses back on, his vision was so poor. His focus, his comfort was sitting at his desk, how he loathed looking any further, so he didn’t.
His room had been furnished by his mother. They went to a furniture store. Why she had him accompany her always puzzled him. Within five minutes, she pointed out a complete bedroom set that was on display, bought, paid and arranged delivery.
The flowered upholstery, the clumsy looking heavy dark wood of his dresser and desk, the overstuffed chairs, the ugly figurine lamps atop the bedside night stands the matching bedspread and drapes, even to the lamp on his desk, not to his taste but he would never confront his mother with objections. She overwhelmed him with so many good things seemed so dependent on his love … “I’ll take care of her, I have since father is out of town most of the time on his route. Almost like a stranger in the house when he is home. He is good to me, makes sure that I have my needs satisfied, but we scarcely know one another. Mother tells me that he is a philanderer, I had to ask my school buddies, they explained, philanthropic, ‘Loving or helping mankind’ that seems ok with me; she probably means that he is spending too much money. Mother keeps a close watch on where the money goes.”
Out of the mother-selected briefcase came his books, he had to study, his future was to be at the university; his mother wanted him to be a doctor. He would give it a try. He hated the sight of blood, ghastly. When he later attended his first dissection class at UCLA he vomited all the way to the lavatory changed his major to law that very afternoon. His mother saying, “What do I need with a lawyer son, a doctor, yes.” She was wrong.
The sound of the voices persisted throughout the house, more muffled now but ….
At the back, in the maid’s room was Mildred. “I may have to leave but not to more poverty. And if I leave I won’t be alone for long; I’ll make sure of this, damn sure, I know what he wants, what he doesn’t get, something that crazy bitch of a wife denies him. Not me! He is so kind and loving, so financially secure and generous.”
Her physical person barely reflected her heritage: taller than average, quite slim, light in complexion, with silky, long, rich, flowing black hair, deep expressive brown eyes, so dark that the pupil blended into the iris. Her body of the most desirable proportions, full breasts, narrow waist, not too wide in the hips, beautiful legs that she enjoyed showing off under her maid’s costume. She was learning to cook in a more Jewish style, without the kosher element. Keeping a clean house for the family was no problem. The Sisters at the Orphanage prepared her well for this kind of work. She put away any hope of being with her brothers and sisters.
“I’ll have my own family, I won’t be poor, I won’t be cleaning and keeping house for others, my own home, my own children, cook for my own, clean for my own…all for us. Family must have family; I’m young, attractive, me, my own.”
The battle of words had ceased. Elsie, storming off to her own room, Albert thundering out the door, into his car, a 1920 Chevrolet Touring car, driving away, heading down Vermont Boulevard, then west on Slauson. He knew. It was time.
He had to put the last touches on his plans.
“She won’t relent this time, circumvent, can’t stand sight of her, fawning over Stuart; prissy ways, false modesties; Lederer madness’s. Over twenty years, work my salvation, not this marriage. Shame on me so money hungry, so impressed with position, family ties; women, should have known better. Turn here on Vermont. Not too hot today, rather overcast. And Mildred my love, thrown out, pregnant, but not abandoned, not to be shamed, not by a long shot. I’ve got money, property, lucrative business arrangements.
“I’ve found her a place to live, not like that damn house; having to wait until Elsie goes shopping, Stuart’s at school. My Mildred, real woman, no ties, mine to love, devoted to her, only her. No more extra women, she’s the one.”
This is what he thought, but old established behaviors don’t change and they wouldn’t. What would change dramatically were his financial circumstances: the divorce was approaching at high-speed with a ferocity he could not begin to imagine. He thought he knew Elsie, he didn’t, nor did he know his son.
“Damn that whole family of Elsie’s, so clannish and crazy, no; I’ll be kinder, call them eccentric, some more than others; and Stuart. Nice youngster, our son, no, her son. He’ll understand when he is a man and has men’s needs.”
He pulled up in front of a small bungalow at 1482 E. 64th Street. The For Rent sign was gone. He would manage the juggling act of here and home. Only a little under four miles from hate to happiness, it would do for now.
It wasn’t the slamming door, or his leaving that froze Elsie’s feet to the floor, “what if Stuart heard?” She listens. The thought produced a faint cry in her throat. She had put up with Albert’s cheating their entire married life, better than the alternative, but in her own home, never. She hears her heart’s pounding, feels her legs collapsing beneath her, breathing rapidly, she begins to faint; her mouth is parched, the perspiration stands on her forehead, her ears ring, the sounds are hollow. Her clammy hands move up, she cups them over her mouth. She licks her lips, her upper jaw bringing her teeth hard over her lower lip. Inhales, “Can’t faint.” Grabbing the edge of the table she steadies herself, lowers her body into the kitchen chair; more deep breathing. “My room, my room, go there. Stuart can’t see me like this. I’m not even dressed for the day.”
The trembling of her entire body persists. She stands up slowly, carefully so not to fall, reaches for, grasps the purse strap, puts out her one foot then the other, checking, struggling to maintain her balance, momentarily, one hand resting on the edge of the table, taking minute shuffling steps toward the door way. Her entire body is still quivering so much so that when she gets to the doorway, she has to lean against the door jamb, inhaling, exhaling.
Then with her purse hanging from her wrist, head down, watching her feet move, at first holding her hands together, rubbing them, she forces herself to walk, staggers down the hallway right foot, left foot, right, left, she extends her arms, reaching out with each step to find balance with the support of the walls. The doorway to her room is the light at the end of a long, dark, narrow tunnel.
Her efforts get her to the safety, seclusion of her room. Although her hands are still shaking, she manages to close the latch quietly, leans on the door, covers her face with her hands, shielding her eyes from the abrupt change in lighting. Opening her eyes to only a squint, she lurches to the closed window, levers it open, breathes in the cool air. “I did it, and Stuart, he’s safe, he doesn’t know a thing.” Bit by bit she turns around to face the lavishly furnished room, taking an inventory, her eyes darting from place to place, she’s not.
She vaguely notes the imported Persian rug, expensive matching oak pieces: bedstead, dresser, elaborately framed mirror, side tables, the silk bed coverings in a hand embroidered flower design with matching draperies. A soft, cool breeze moves the fabric at the window; “My things; my good things.” She has to compose herself, think, carefully craft her next action.
Her outstretched hands grope in the air, finds the back of a chair at her dressing table facing the large rectangular mirror, she sits down, taking a piece of chocolate candy from a crystal dish doesn’t notice that she is without lipstick, makeup, her hair disheveled. She sets her eyes on Stuart’s graduation picture.
“I can call the orphanage to complain, tell them about her dishonesty, no . . . I’ll request a replacement, yes, no, I‘ll tell them about her behavior with my husband. She may go after my son. Better still; ‘get out’, I’ll tell that woman to ‘get out’. Have to change my clothes.” She turns away from her dressing table, vacantly stares out the open window hears lawn mowing sounds. “Stuart will never do low manual labor. He has to study. Must remember to tell that boy again, to clean up thoroughly; he’s so careless, says he isn’t. Better still I’ll tell his mother.”
She turns back to her mirror, she misses New York City, her family, familiar surroundings, but here the sun shines, no snow, no freezing cold, no unbearable humidity, the air clean, labor cheap, the real estate easy to get at great prices. Stuart is with her. The telephone rings. It interrupts her thoughts. She steps into her slippers, grabs her purse, stuffs it under her arm, rushes down the hallway. The ringing stops. She stops. “Yes, I’ll have it out with … right now.”
She’s standing in front of a door, the maid’s room. Curling her fingers into a fist she raises her arm; then in her haste inexplicably releases her purse. She makes a lunge towards it, hits it with her outstretched grasping hand. It flies across and down the hallway, springs open as it collides with the wall ‘thwack’; the impact substantial enough to cause an explosive reaction.
The contents fly in all directions, scattering from wall to wall, corner to corner down the polished floor. There are her keys, cosmetics, bottles of nail polish, lipsticks, dirty hankies, Kleenex, gloves, combs, hair pins, tooth picks, scraps of paper, old shopping lists, loose change, driver’s license, folding money and checks; bits and pieces of old candy and empty wrappers, carefully wrapped secreted unmentionable items, and crumbs that had fallen to the deep recesses and folds on the silk lined bottom. “Damn, it’s all her fault. It’s his fault.” Her body is trembling. The empty purse is resting against the opposite wall. She leans close enough to retrieve her purse, for a moment shelters it close to her body, rocking to and fro before she once again crouches down to begin the gathering process, grabbing at whatever is there, dropping some, having to pick them up again; jamming the lot into the barren cavity; an old piece of hard candy finds its way into her mouth; she licks her fingers, wiping the saliva on her sleeve then wrapping her housecoat more securely over the front of her body and between her legs she continues crawling along the floor. A shiver run through her body, it is only then that she realizes that the house is cold, she is cold. Even her anger has not served to warm her. She has difficulty locating all the items in the gloom. She stands and steps over to the light switch, turns it on, pushes her glasses up higher on her nose, there are fingerprints on the light plate “Damn, careless, girl.” She can now see that there are more of her things scattered along the length of the hallway, several in front Stuart’s closed door.
She inches along, creeping silently, collecting items, stuffing her purse, thinking almost saying audibly, “I’ll go in to see Stuart, no, I can’t he’ll be working on his studies. Yes, I need to talk to him, see him, no, I won’t! He can’t be disturbed. But, he could help me, just seeing him would help me. Thank God he looks like the Lederer side of the family.
“No, I’ll disturb him, he might get annoyed. I won’t take the chance to irritate him.” She gathers herself, checking, assuring herself that each button on the front of her housecoat is in its proper place, tries to snap the purse clasp closed, it makes a brassy tick, doesn’t close “Oh, did he hear that?” embraces it against her chest then shelters it under her arm. “I’ll do what I intended to do in the first place.” She repositions herself, stands straight, flips off the light. Her arm extended, hand outreached, she sees that she has chipped several nails, “I’ll see the manicurist tomorrow.”
She shuffles down the hall, steps, muffled by her slippers. She reaches the targeted door. She will besiege it as planned. “Won’t bother changing, what do I care about her, I must get this done right now. Confrontation, my liberation, Mildred’s initiation to future hardships in the world begins, but not in my world.”
The angry pounding on the door; the door thrust open, slamming back against the wall, ricocheting, slapping Elsie’s posterior as she enters, she lurches forward her dignity momentarily wounded. “The Bitch!” Mildred was startled, more than startled, astonished at what appeared before her, not the well put together person of her employer, but a worn out middle-aged woman. “Jesus, I’ve never seen her like this, her hair hanging around her neck and face wet with perspiration, face contorted and lined, mouth shaped in a manner that was like it contained a bitter herb, lips drawn back, spittle on her chin, nails split and cracked, wearing a soiled housecoat over her scantly clad body, she looks as though she is breathing her last breath. She smells, God, she smells: old people stench, she usually is heavily doused in some sickening fragrance, if I were to strike a match in this room right now, the air would ignite.
The only familiar, identifying part of her is that damned purse and even this; it’s weird, hanging on her wrist, open and with bit and pieces of stuff bulging out at the top. I had better keep my mouth shut.”
Mildred recognized that Elsie still presented the familiar dreadful overseer image. Elsie was not a small woman but at this moment even in this state of disarray, she seemed to tower larger then ever as she leaned over her adversary. Mildred leaned back, stared innocently into Elsie’s glaring eyes. She didn’t flinch. “Damn her who does she think she is? Vieja loca!? Quien se cree que es? Puta!
Elsie raised her left hand, index finger pointing, stabbing into the space between them; the purse swinging wildly, her voice shrill; the screaming sound of The Furies. Or it may have been more like the shriek of the Peacock, a sound that resonances throughout the surrounding areas, the sound of a woman in severe distress.
“She crazy, stay calm; she’s trembling all over, her face contorted, so what. I don’t care, I’ll be rid of her no matter what she does or says, I’m leaving one day anyway but when I am good and ready to leave. Albert says so. He’s making plans for us. And her son is so nice, how does that happen. I’ll have a son soon, I know it’s a boy, I can feel it; I hope he will be as smart as Stuart, strong, determined, loving, like their father.” Mildred stood up took one step forward turned to reach for her sweater, “Don’t you turn your back to me.” Mildred sat back down on the bed; moved several library books that were in her way. Elsie bent down to face level, nose to nose, shouted venomously:
“One week to get out you ungrateful little whore; consider yourself lucky, you have a moment of grace. Come near to my husband again…and, and,” she was waving her arms around wildly, “I’ll throw you and your paltry possessions out into the street that very instant; call the damn orphanage and let them know that you are going to be homeless in seven days. I’ll deduct the cost of the call from your pay. And don’t pretend to get sick again there’s work here you are paid to do. I know all about Mexicans, stupid and lazy! But you’re at least clean. Now you get yourself into the kitchen scrub the floors, scour the stove, and I’ll have plenty of tasks for you when that’s done. And the switch plate in the hallway is festooned with fingerprints, scrub them off.
You will work and toil during the next week, like never before. Then you’re gone! And good riddance!” As she turned away to leave she hurled a final, “There’s plenty more where you came from.” Out she stormed; triumphant. Her hand missed grabbing the doorknob; leaving the door open in her haste; the sound of her slippers slapping the floor. There was a welcome silence. The air seemed to have been sucked out of the windowless room.
Mildred, still seated on her narrow steel-framed bed, folded her slender, well proportioned legs beneath her. Even as she looked around at the sparsely furnished space with its small dresser, cracked mirror, worn throw-rug, and the floor lamp, the base rusted, the pole bent, with the torn faded shade, she couldn’t help herself, smiling like the Cheshire Cat. This was her current world ― there was to be another. The air was still, Elsie’s stink was fading, the silence soothing, relaxing.
“Clean not lazy, not stupid”, mused Mildred, “not dim-witted you crazy bitch. But you’ll pay! The cost is going to be Albert, his support, his love, his kindness, his desires, his own children to adore who will adore him, his own life with me. I give him something you don’t know anything about; the pleasures of loving. Well, you must have known something, you have your Stuart, a pleasure or not.”
She stood up, stepped into her scuffed leather work shoes, pulled the laces firmly, tied them into a neat bow. She straightened herself with all the dignity she could muster, shaking her shoulders, commanding her body to gain its full height, smoothed down the stiff gray broadcloth of her uniform, ran her fingers through her hair patting it down as she pushed it back away from her face, glanced into the good half of the cracked mirror.
In her own home there would be no mirrors that only reflected half a face, nodded in approval. This place, this dependency was not to be in her future. She was ready for the challenge from these earlier unfulfilled worlds to that of a world complete and inclusive of her desires, her needs, her wants. She was to have a family.
The last act before she headed out of her room was to erase the smile from her face, replacing it with a subservient vacant expression; then head held high, imitating the posture of the Sisters, she stepped across the threshold, reached back to grasp the handle of the door, calmly, quietly, until she heard the familiar click as it closed, and then strolled to the kitchen.
Stuart liked Mildred: “Smart, articulate, one good looking broad. Great breasts under that drab uniform, and wow the legs, smells so good. Wouldn’t mind dating her, but that’s not what Mother could tolerate. Wouldn’t she be shocked if I dated the maid? She already has misgivings when I date anyone.”
He knew that she was an orphan. He could identify with part of the equation. “Loneliness” was what she had once told him, “I am so lonely for family.” Remembering how desolate he had felt in Kansas City away from all of the cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, lifetime friends. “At least I have my mother, she is my family.” At that time he didn’t know that nothing good ever came from Kansas except the Hallmark greeting cards and Dorothy.
He always tried to erase the Kansas memory, never ever spoke about those forlorn years. He refused to delve into the memory even now, grateful that he no longer had to endure the dust, grim, searing heat, and the ugly sound of the voices that spoke to him of poverty, poor education and the slangy, slovenly usage of good English words: the wanta, shoulda, coulda, gonna, yea, tu, fur, ona, da, paws, maws, ya knows, never would he speak in this manner nor hear it from his children. “Don’t preface your comments with you know, if I know why do you tell me, ask me? And there is no such word as you are using it ‘cause’ it is ‘because’.”
When he first arrived in Los Angeles his initial loneliness was supplanted by his studies, his new friends, his gin rummy games, chess competitions, his love of tennis, acclimating to the temperate climate, blue skies, relative quiet that surrounded him as he went about his day at school. “And my mother always here to care for my needs. This poor girl, she has no one, how will she ever have family?” Little did he know.
He remembered when he and his mother went to New York in 1917 for Uncle Otto and Aunt Essie’s 15thWedding Anniversary, it was to the familiar world he remembered loving so thoroughly: the expansive family, and then there were the tall buildings, the wide streets, Central Park, the activity, intensity, sounds, the clamor of vehicles,: taxies, busses, the newsboys on the corners, the fantastic subways that could take you everywhere, it was the every one and every part of all he knew. But, remember, he had the resources to adjust to enjoy his life and living in this new city.
Yes, he understood Mildred when she said lonely for a family.
Stuart ate his breakfast and lunch in the kitchen. The dark uninviting dining room was for dinner, his father away most of the time so it was as often as not with only his mother. He enjoyed the kitchen’s personality; it’s charm, bright, friendly. A room that made him smile; a smile always awaited him.
This was the only room in the house that had undergone a complete remodeling: It had been dark, dreary, dirty, intimidating: up came the greasy flooring, out went the cast iron sink, the ice-box, the stove. Painted white. Down went linoleum flooring of innovative geometric designs.
In came a new model porcelain sink, modern faucets, all placed under the newly installed and curtained windows, the General Electric refrigerator, a most recent invention, the latest model O’Keefe and Merritt gas stove, white, long black legs, a shelf for the coffee maker, with four burners, an oven and broiler. No more were there the clanking noises of the stove, the smoke filling the air, the delivery of ice, the rattle and banging of the pipes as the water flowed into the sink, now the room smelled unsoiled, it was quiet. This transformation, this new room glowed, sparkled with a welcoming tranquility, radiance.
Mildred was always there. They seldom spoke more than a word or two; he studying; head down, eyes focused on his books, or the Los Angeles Examiner that was propped up against the always present flower vase. At his other residences he had been oblivious to his meal taking surroundings, considering a kitchen just that, a kitchen, a place to prepare meals, yes, a place in which to eat, yes; except the other kitchens did not have this sparkle of light nor did they have the delightful Mildred, she making lunch for him, placing the meal on the table to his right so he would not be disturbed; then either cleaning the stove, washing dishes, wiping down the countertop or ironing.
Stuart couldn’t help himself, he often sneaked a quick look up at Mildred, placed his hand surreptitiously in his lap, looked down, adjusting his trousers, repositioning his body on the chair, pushing his glasses back on up his nose, his face and ears flushed. Mildred paid no attention to his youthful performances.
But, this day in addition to the usual smiles and polite greetings, she astounded him, sharing a little more of herself: she wiped her hands on the towel she was holding, then brushed the strands of her long black hair back, pulled out a chair and started talking before she was seated; absent mindedly wiping the table top with her towel.
Stuart was so astonished that the hand holding his rare roast beef sandwich paused mid-way to his open mouth. “This is a first. What an event, Mildred and I and Mother’s not home, wow, I mean, it would scare her off. She keeps her distance from Mother. Mother reserves her comments to orders of work to be done. “
The kitchen was the brightest room in the house, even on this overcast day. From the open windows over the sink there was a partial view of the tree lined street. Except for a few cars driven by the neighbors, or children out playing in the street, it was quiet.
“Stuart, you are so fortunate, no, no, no, but please, don’t misunderstand me; what I want to say; more fortunate than many. Like me.” She broke off.
“Mildred, don’t stop, go on, I’m listening. I want hear what you have to say, to know about you, more than I know now. Come on. Spill it!”
“Stuart, I don’t even know why I’m telling you this now. I’ll be gone in a few more days.”
“Mildred, I am so sorry that you’re leaving, I will miss you, you’ve been good to
me. And it’s been nice to have you here. I wish I could help you. I don’t have any money.” He wanted to reach into his pocket, pull out some bills, hand them over; they were empty except for a few coins.
As an adult they would always contain folding money; this would be his long-established lifetime custom. Ready cash for a friend, to give with no strings attached.
She raised her hand, “I’ll be OK.” She smiled reached across the table, patted his hand, “So will you.” But then: she withdrew her hand to clasp it to the other, weaving her fingers together, placing them in front of her.
Stuart started to put his partly eaten sandwich down, the food sitting there in his mouth, when he looked up again, their eyes met. He swallowed his half chewed food, pushed his books and plate to one side. He had a great desire to reach out, to touch her folded hands as she had reached out to him.
The ceiling light cast shadows across the table, possibility of rain; Mother’s rule, “keep the electricity off in a sunlit room or if the room is vacant.” She continued:
“I think that you know that I come from a Catholic orphanage. I am a Catholic.”
She paused, listening, “it’s beginning to rain”― got up, walked to the windows, reached under the curtains closed them; glancing out she saw a woman walking with her two children and pushing a carriage― she smiled, looked back, he had said nothing; leaning forward, watching her graceful moves, depositing the half-eaten sandwich back on his plate, then without looking down, picked up the napkin, wiped his hands, his mouth, took a drink of milk, straightened his glasses ― she resumed her place in the chair, thinking: “He is interested, if I could only tell him the entire truth. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. Not ever! He will find out on his own soon enough.”
Returning to the table; sits;
“The Sisters at St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum were good to us, my Mother and Father dying within a year of one another. Before they died living was especially horrible. We were so many, so poor, always hungry, cold, so few clothes, living in a primitive one room mud shed called home. Work for my father, in the fields, whipped by the American overseers, slavery with a pittance of pay from the rich land-owners. We the Mexicans, the Indios, used up and discarded like trash.”
Stuart was listening intently, thinking, “How can this be true, happening to people just like me? This is cruel, the violence, my God, how I hate violence.” He became conscious that his mouth was hanging open, closed it. He smiled in a reassuring manner, nodded his head, she went on:
“That was in 1910-11. I’ve told you how all of us were taken in by the Sister at St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum in Santa Barbara. There were eight of us to begin with. Only me, and two of my sisters remained there, the rest, sent away, I don’t know where or what happened to them. One of my sisters, Magdalena, was sent to work with a Mrs. Cumana in Santa Inez. I don’t know where she is anymore. Eloisa, I lost track of too.
We were sheltered, fed and clothed, taught to read and write, to speak good English without sounding Mexican; that was pounded into us every day, every moment, but trained to be employed as servants, which was all they could do for us.
All that…and …” She paused, bit her lip, took a deep breath, “you don’t know this, no one knows, my name is not Mildred, I was baptized Josepha Maria Gutierrez Leyva. But, I don’t want a Mexican identity; I don’t look Mexican, I don’t sound Mexican, so best to be more American in name.”
Stuart noticed not for the first time that Mildred wore no make-up she didn’t need make-up, her skin soft and smooth, eyes large and reflective, absolutely stunning, and that she spoke so well, using English as though it were her native language. He liked what he heard what he saw. Sometimes in the evening when he walked to his room he caught a glimpse of her reading.
And she went on tell him about the other homes she had been sent to, the ongoing poverty, the bleak future she had to face, the shame, the dependency she felt with her status as a maid for the rest of her life.
“Someday you will have your own family, love, family is the best that there is in life. I want my own family so badly. No more poverty no more subservience. I want to be my own person, in my own home.”
Stuart understood her needs: assimilation, acceptance, family. Being a Jew, although not a religious Jew, only observing the high holidays, when his mother prepared for the Passover or Hanukah. Now they lived in a city founded by the Catholic Church. He was a Jew but not. So, he empathized.
“Mildred, I know you’re a Catholic. So, I’m a Jew. I’m an outsider, you’re Mexican, you’re an outsider; we both have to find our own way in the world. And you are so right, family is everything. Love means a lot.” He had always had his Mother’s love.
As young as he was he knew that someday he would have someone else to love who would love him in return, and a family; yes, he could have that too, and be educated in the law, secure financially. What had she to look forward to?
Mildred continued to speak to him about her life after the orphanage years. The other homes she had been sent to. Stuart watched intently, listened intently. He was a born mediator.”If there was something that I could do, help her, but no.” He knew that he was too young to arbitrate this particular situation; throughout his lifetime, always reminding himself, “There always has to be a way to intercede in conflicts no matter how insignificant they may be to me. Discretion, always be discreet. Find the best modus operandi. I hope I can do this, all the time.”
The familiar sound; Elsie’s car pulling into the driveway.
Mildred stopped talking, got up quickly, pushed in the chair, it slipped silently back under the table, turned her back, rushed to the pantry to get out the vacuum; he pushed his plate aside that still contained his half eaten sandwich, quickly got up, dashed out the door; a momentary blush of guilt on his face.
Back to Elsie
The predicted rain was beginning to fall. Elsie waved for him to come help with the groceries, “Stuuddee” she screech in her high pitched wheedling voice, “Stuuddee hurry”, holding a newspaper above her head, standing by the car, dropping her keys into her purse, posture stiff, she wore a tight fitting corset, her slight smile suggesting a hint of self-satisfaction. She had her car, she could drive, and she was ridding herself of “that damn woman.” She’d have her son all to herself. Stuart gave her a brief brush of a kiss on her upraised face, careful not to bump into her hat, didn’t take in his mother’s fluttering eyelids but he did observe that there were a few strands of grey hairs overlooked by the beautician; Stuuddee dutifully picked up the several bags from the front seat and followed her into the now vacant kitchen. Elsie dropped the wet newspaper at the door, marched in regally. She placed her purse on the counter where she could see it and where it was well within her reach; Stuart left the bags on the floor.
“Stuuddee, you didn’t finish your sandwich. Are you feeling well? I bought the best roast beef. I don’t want it wasted. The lights are on in here, turn them off, don’t waste electricity.”
“Mother, I am not too hungry. I’ll finish it later.”
Elsie began to wrap the sandwich in wax paper. A fly landed on the rim of the glass of milk, wiped its mouth with its front legs; Elsie snapped a dish towel the fly buzzed off.
The vacuum could be heard working in the front of the house.
Elsie was good to her word. A week later Mildred packed her few possessions in one tattered suitcase, walked out the back door, down the street, and around the corner. Albert was there as planned in his 1923 Chevrolet Touring car. “Oh, she is so beautiful!” She hurriedly opened the car door, threw the suitcase in the back; leaned over to give him a quick kiss. “Take care of me, Alberto, Yo te quiero.”
They were down the street, around the corner in moments. Fading into their own future. Elsie did not watch her leave, or which way she went, just happy to be alone with her son.
So the Mildred was gone. Stuart’s mother and father escalated their animosity; his father more of a phantom than before, his mother, absent time and again. Where to she would not specify, probably shopping. Stuart would never inquire. She had her car, a 1923 Cleveland Sedan.
Stuart came home from school. It was early March, spring break. As he entered the front room, he could smell the tension like the stink of his fellow classmates during finals. Before he could put down his briefcase, take off his jacket, his mother thrust into his hands what he recognized, blue wrapped legal papers: “you can read this yourself; I’ve had enough from your father.”
His mother turned on the floor lamp, placed herself in the big brown and green flowered wing back chair. She crossed her legs and then her arms, leaned back, peering at him from under half closed eyes; the light from the lamp bright enough to read by.
Stuart put his briefcase and jacket down, sat down in the matching chair opposite his mother:
He reads: “In the Superior Court of the State of California in and for the County of Los Angeles **** Elsie Charlotte Fischer, Plaintiff, vs Albert E. Fischer, Defendant. Complaint: Divorce (Cruelty). 14thFebruary 1925.”
He thinks, “Well, She’s finally divesting herself of that cheat.” But, the details: he scans the document turning one page after another quickly:
Paragraphs 1 ,2 & 3 the usual legal terms, “The plaintiff is a resident; the plaintiff alleges for statistical purposes . . .That from and since their said marriage without any reason or provocation therefore on the part of the plaintiff, the defendant has treated plaintiff in a cruel and inhuman manner… during the last two years… staying away from home… the defendant was associating with women other that the plaintiff…spending his money freely upon women other than the defendant…has refused to give plaintiff any money with which to support herself… withdrawn his money from banks, …without any provocation … cursed and swore at her, calling her vile and indecent names such as ” God damn fool” and upon such occasions swore and cursed her in such a loud voice that it attracted the attention of neighbors… That during…the defendant began nagging, cursing and swearing… endeavored to pull the rings from plaintiff fingers; that he dragged plaintiff from the house into the backyard … compelled to call for help…that at that time grabbed her around the wrists in such a manner that it left black and blue marks thereon… All this caused … great humiliation and embarrassment…
” Stuart reaches for his briefcase, snaps it open, pulls out the yellow legal pad and his fountain pen, uncrosses his legs to make a lap and begins to take notes from the papers, “Bastard! Mother assaulted. Damn him. I’ll get him by the balls, he won’t have much to take from this marriage. All the years I couldn’t intercede, I will intercede now!” From this moment on he took charge of his mother affairs and would from there after.
“Mother, you have to have your lawyer re-file listing all your joint ownerships, assets.” He wasn’t a lawyer yet but… His voice was firm and demanding. “Mother, get me all the papers in Dad’s desk that relate to your real properties, bank accounts, cash, life insurance, personal properties, jewelry, anything that is of value.”
Elsie rushed out of the room returning with a stack of papers; carefully handed them to her son, although she wanted to sit next to him on the arm of the chair, she restrained herself. But before she went back to her chair she patted Stuart on the shoulder. Pretending to not notice his mother Stuart focused on the collection of papers; he quickly arranged them in various stacks on the floor and began to list an inventory on his legal pad:
The house and lot they lived in $19,000, with the mortgage of $4,000 plus $7,500 in furniture, a four flat building located at 1124-1130 West 42nd Street, value $15,000, subject to a mortgage of $5500, Two double bungalows located at 5911-5917 South Van Ness Avenue, the Cleveland Sedan, 1923, $350.00, Chevrolet Touring car, $500.00, the moneys in the checking account, the savings account, the life insurance policy, the money in the possession of defendant, the exact amount unknown.
He was absorbed, scanning papers, organizing. Elsie rose, walked across the room, walked back to stand before him. Body straight and stiff, hands on hips, feet apart, teeth clenched, eyes narrowed to a glare. Stuart, without raising his head spied up over his glasses, waved his hand in her direction, “Mother, don’t bother me right now, just go sit down and be quiet. I need to concentrate. If you want me to be of assistance …” His voice, the words, sounded foreign to him.
Elsie’s face dropped, her body went limp; she went back to the chair. “Stuart, I need to ―”
“Shh, later mother. You can tell me later, I’m sure it can wait.”
“Stuart, please, I must ―”
“OK, just go ahead, I’ll listen while I am sorting out the community property.”
Mumbling to himself, “this pile mother’s this pile father’s; add up the values so they’re close to equal.”
His mother had always handled the family affairs. “Your father came home from one of his trips. He was removing his clothes from the traveling bag. I saw a number of checks. After he went in to clean up, I looked. They were issued and endorsed by Mrs. A.E. Fischer, but it wasn’t me.”
“What? What did you say? Not you? Then who?”
“Stuuddee, I’ve been trying to tell you. Checks made payable to a Mr. Hinton for rent at an address other then here and other checks for furniture, clothing, items for an infant.”
“What infant and who is Mrs. A.E. Fischer if it’s not you?”
“That last maid, Mildred, the one I threw out. Your father has had a child with her.”
Stuart couldn’t help it; he flashed a smile in his mother’s direction. “And now how do you know that?” His mother was a harmless exaggerator, he loved that in her.
“Stuuddee, this is not funny.” The trembling in her voice was noticeable. Her body leaned forward in the chair. Her chin was quivering. Her hands gripped the front edge of the cushion as she struggled to continue.
“Mildred, umm, boy do I remember that piece of …”
“Ok, Ok, now, tell me the rest of the story.
“I drove myself over to the address listed on the back of the check.”
“Mother, that’s not __”
“Out in front of the property was a man, I asked him if he was Mr. Hinton. He said yes. I asked him if a Mr. and Mrs. Albert Fischer lived here. Yes― with their son. “I’ll tell them you’re here.”
Elsie’s breathing irregular, voice trembling, tears began to flood her eyes; she stopped long enough to reach into her purse for a hanky and dabbed her eyes dramatically, then held the hanky in her hand that remained tucked under her chin.
“Mother, go ahead…talk.”
“I could hear your father shouting ‘don’t let these two women meet, and I’m divorced from that crazy woman, Mildred is my wife.’ I couldn’t bear it, I left. I drove home.
“What can I do now? I can’t be married to this man any longer. Think of the shame, the financial burden, you need to finish school; I need to rid myself of this man who is spending our money on a full time mistress and their bastard son. “Stuuddee our checking account shows that he is spending large sums of money on Mildred, paying for doctor bills, rentals, furniture, and clothing for that woman and that bastard child. Our account is being drained so much that I have little left to support myself and you.”
She paused in her recitation, got to her feet, watching her son’s reaction. Stuart was on his feet as well, his left hand hanging onto the legal pad; his mother pacing up and down the room, pounding her right fist into her left; wringing her hands. Her mouth was moving still, lips taut, momentarily not uttering an additional sound. Tears flowed streaking her make-up, she retreated to her chair; the only sound was from the cushion exhaling.
“Stuuddee, please help me, get me a good lawyer, take me to the lawyer; take care of me. Don’t let him ruin our lives any more.”
Stuart wanted to do something, say something, anything … This was a mother he did not recognize. He reached for his cigarettes, thought better of lighting up in his Mother’s presence, he thought of having a stiff drink, but liquor was not his thing, never would be. He wanted to go to his mother, hold her hands, dry her tears, but he couldn’t.
And there were no words. He collapsed into his chair, his feet scattering the stacks of papers. He looked at this poor woman all crumpled up, so shockingly old so suddenly helpless.
“She needs me, I have always needed her; this is so scary. Well, I have to do something.” Stuart looked down on the scattered paper, glanced at the note on his pad, smiled to himself. He could do something! He’ll show them both.
Suddenly it was clear, “I can take care of my mother. I can do this.”
A thought flashed, “A man’s needs.” That’s what his father had said. The thought vanished.
“Aahhh.” He began to rearrange the papers into only one stack, his mother’s. He put all of the papers, the legal pad and his pen back into his briefcase, snapped it shut, and walked to the phone.
“Information, operator, give me the number of the attorney Milton M. Cohen, on South Broadway, or it may be listed under Frank Rouse, yes, Los Angeles. . . . Not to worry mother, that man will get nothing. If I remember correctly, the grounds for your divorce, adultery, all community property will not be divided. You’ll get it all. I’ll see to that.”
The drive to the lawyer’s offices was a silent affair. Stuart had all of the papers in his briefcase. His mother stared ahead; hands in her lap, they exchanged not one comment about the upcoming interview, he in a reassuring voice just a few polite words of good morning, don’t worry, I’ll take care of you. She, Stuart, drive carefully, slow down, the signal says stop, park here, get the door. Stuart did the driving, this was a first, unusual but his mother had insisted that she would be the passenger.
He liked the in command position at the driver’s wheel. He didn’t like the orders but complied in his silent dutiful manner.
They met with the lawyers, offices located near the under construction Subway Terminal building on Hill Street and 5th; he in his only suit and tie, briefcase in hand, she in a somber gray suit, with hat that included a veil, matching gloves and a purse which was held in her lap; that purse and all others thereafter never left her person; they arranged: separate maintenance, the final divorce decree: support of $250.00 a month, the awarding of all the community property, control of the checking account, savings account, jewelry, furniture, to mother, payment of attorneys’ fees, court fees, by his father.
He was a competent advocate before he was a lawyer, completing his degree and passing the bar in 1928. The next thirty-two years he was a successfully practicing civil law attorney.
Albert never responded to the lawfully served papers. Then he and his young family vanished, disappearing from their lives, almost forever. In 1945 a young man in uniform came to Stuart’s office, introduced himself as Norman Fischer, his half-brother. Stuart rejected the offer to become friends and family, almost throwing him out of the office. Now it was forever.
The interlocutory judgment signed in the Superior Court of the State of California November 6th 1926; the divorce was final. Elsie had it all except for the $250.00 a month in support, payment of court costs and Attorney fees. Adultery was cited. Papers were issued for the enforcement of payment but the elusive Albert stayed one step ahead of the process servers, finally moving out of California in 1929, thus evading the long arm of the law. Stuart would be able to continue his studies; she could afford to send him to law school at USC. No more work at the law library in the late evenings; he could live at home with her when he came home from Berkley.
Stuart’s first cousin, Lillian Lederer, had journeyed out from the East coast, after receiving a scholarship at UC Berkley; Stuart was there for his freshman year. They became reacquainted, dated, became very close. He was far away from his mother’s domination. The family privately gossiped about this relationship; they would talk, laugh about Elsie insisting that his laundry be sent home for her to wash and sent back, to save money, of course. His mother, not aware of the romantic liaison, couldn’t object to the friendship and didn’t, convinced that there was no threat to her relationship with her son. Lillian was family. He and Lillian eventually married but were divorced April 16, 1940 the final decree granted April 18th the following year. They remained close friends until death.
There was no issue from this marriage, which was legal only in the State of California. Adoption was considered during the years of their union. This event took place after their divorce, Stuart then a lawyer, had remarried on April 27, 1941, but still he brokered an adoption for Lillian and her new husband. His new wife was not threatened by this past family relationship. But to his mother, his new wife her daughter Adrienne were.
Albert and Mildred
You’ll probably want to know: What happened to Mildred and Albert?
Elsie drove off into the setting sun, and . . .
Albert was left standing in the center of the living room; Mildred had collapsed onto the sofa. Mr. Hinton was standing rigid as a stone statue in the open doorway, the rake he had been using still in his hand, poised, handle down, tines up pointing to the heavens.
The 64th Street bungalow was no longer reverberating with shouting. The only discernible sound was the flapping of clean laundry, stirred by a gentle breeze hung in the little side yard.
After the initial explosive confrontation, Albert was finally standing still, breathing rapidly, sweating profusely; his at home shirt and trousers sticking to his body, his shoes off. He had wanted to get to Elsie to smack her down and shut her mouth. He reached for his cigarettes, managed to take one out, then he couldn’t find his matches so he gave up, threw the cigarette to the floor. Took a deep breath, reached down, tightened his belt with his shaking hands. He scratched his head, ran fingers through his thinning hair. He took the few steps needed to reach Mildred’s prone figure. Then kneeling by her side, touching her shoulder, putting his head next to hers, whispering softly into her ear, “Now, Mildred don’t be frightened, she’s gone. You’re safe. Get up and make sure the baby is not in need of changing, that he’s sleeping.”
She gave him a reassuring kiss on his cheek; wiped the tears away. Stretched out her arms, wrapped them around him, patted him on the back. “Yo te quiero.” Albert didn’t move for a moment, then gradually stood up, held out his hand, helped her up and with his arms around her, turned her toward the doorway and patted her on the fanny, “I love you, too. Now, go.” She smoothed out her dress, felt the swelling of her body, brushed back her hair, took a deep breath, and step by measured step left the room.
In the back of the bungalow Mildred picked up her still sleeping baby and held him tightly against her breast. Oh, how she had wanted to go after Elsie, her fists had been clenched, ready to do damage. She wanted to show off her prize, Albert’s son, to thrust him right into that Bitch’s face. But she had just stood there listening to that familiar shrieking voice. It all had happened too quickly.
Albert still stood in the living room arms hanging. The air seemed to have been sucked out of his body, leaving him smaller. He peered out the front window to see Elsie’s car move away, faster than he had ever seen her drive. He turned around to face the open front door, saw that he was not alone. Elevating his shoulders, shaking his head, “I certainly do apologize for this commotion, Mr. Hinton, but that woman is — “
Mr. Hinton from his position in the doorway, the rake leaned against the wall shouted, “Is it true that Mildred is your kept women and the child is your bastard?”
He advanced across the room situating himself so that he was face to face, nose to nose, glaring at Albert, “I’m a good Christian man ― Plan on moving within the next thirty days or sooner.”
He turned, stomped to the still open door, turned around, shaking his fists wildly, backed out wiping his hands across his shirt: grabbed his rake and left leaving the piles of leaves to the fierce Santa Ana winds that were starting to blow.
Albert picked up the morning newspaper, sat down at the table, checked his rolled up sleeves, adjusted his glasses, unfolded the newspaper, thumbed through to the classified. Mildred had made her way back to the front room; “get me a cup of coffee,” he picked up the cigarette that he had thrown onto the floor, found his matches, lit it, inhaled deeply, pulled over the ash tray, took out his pen and began to circle For Rent ads in the newspaper. “My God, my hands are still shaking.”
Mildred, wrapped her arms around his shoulders, rested her chin on his head, a gleam of satisfaction crossing her face. He would be forced into a legal union now, no more excuses, no more his mistress. Now they would live together all of the time without those trips to his old house. The jugada was over.
But, the jugada, the game, wasn’t over; it was just beginning, never to end. Albert and Mildred both children of minorities, immigrant families, believed that the great American dream was authentic, that one could start over, make ones self over and better; They would find that we carry ourselves with us no matter where we are and who we are, becoming something else was against the current of culture’s demands. What has been is what is and will be. Runaway, yes. Escape, no. There is no bottom line.
After the confrontation with Elsie the couple began a seven year odyssey. They moved, not once but three times, Manhattan Beach, Long Beach, Santa Ana, before their cross country getaway to New Orleans, away from the wrath of Elsie, Stuart, the hounding of process servers, the lawyers.
There were three more children, a series of birth record surname falsifications: Alfred Friedman, Norman Fisher, Irene Freeman. And the grinding financial distress; finally fleeing from the State to settle briefly in Biloxi, Mississippi and then to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1930.
A second daughter was born in August of 1930 after their marriage in San Antonio, Texas, 1929 Dolores Fischer. Although the first children were raised in the Jewish faith, the boys duly Bar Mitzvah, this final child was baptized Catholic and steadfastly denied any connection to Jewishness.
In 1932 Albert returned to New York to settle his father’s estate and moved his family there in 1937 after his mother’s death. Until WWII Albert operated his father’s real estate business. The war effort required that he work in the shipyards; he is listed as a welder. In 1944, he contracted meningitis, lingered fifteen days in a Harlem Hospital and died; he is interred at Freshpond Crematorium.
Mildred remarried in 1946 after the birth of a daughter, Barbara, in 1945, had the marriage annulled as this man, Maletti, lied about a previous marriage and confinement in a psychiatric hospital. Then she disappeared. Her children never saw her again.
The complications for the children, now grown began. It was not easy to correct the trail of paper that followed them.
For the military draft board, Alfred Raymond Friedman did not exist. But they researched his birth records willingly, placed him in the U.S. Army as Fischer. Norman Fisher had to establish his authenticity as Norman Paul Fischer for his social security application; Irene Anita Freeman also had to establish her identity as Fischer with her brother Norman verifying and assisting in the corroboration of her identity. Without this she could not find work or establish the lawful Social Security number.
The revelations were to haunt the family forever.
Stuart’s New Family
Back to the 1940’s and our other story:
The first time Adrienne thought she was presented to Stuart was at a wedding, her mother’s wedding. “This is your new father,” her mother said after a ceremony. “But, I already have a father, I don’t need another one.” “Well, that may be the case but your own father does not care enough about you to matter. This is your Daddy!” Mother spoke in her firm, controlled anger voice, the voice Adriana knew so well. She stood motionless petrified with fear. Mouth dry, breathing rapid, eyes lowered, clenched hands hidden.
Stuart, bent down awkwardly, reached out and tried to take her hand. She moved back a step, her clenched hands firmly down by her side still concealed behind the folds of her dress; she first sensed, then glanced up to see her mother’s recognizable glare, she obediently reached out, allowed him to shake her hand but in a most formal manner.
She thought; “he does has a nice smile, a gentle voice” when he spoke a simple, “happy to meet you” and “we’re going to get along just fine.” That was all he said. She watched as he and her mother walked back to the wedding guests, Stuart was smiling broadly taking his lovely bride in his arms. She, unable to move. Didn’t want to watch, unable to move forward, she turned away, not looking back again, thinking…
“You keep thinking that. And my own father does too care about me, you just won’t let him see me” she reasoned in her nine year old combative mind finally able to move away, keeping her distance from the happy couple, the strange gray haired lady and the crowds of people.
She loved the dress that she was wearing it was beautiful. The most beautiful dress she could remember wearing. The body of the outfit a gentle beige silk covered with lace. There were tiny hand embroidered flowers around the neckline, the hem, the waist band, the short sleeves; new shoes to match with a lovely shiny finish, straps across the top of the matching socks. She hadn’t had such a fine outfit since before she had been placed in that hateful boarding school, Select Academy, over two years ago. That was a horrible time to forget, she wouldn’t, couldn’t: unwilling, but still remembering that first day, “words going on in the space above my head. You’re going to live here; only a few months. You’ll be happy here,” and I cried, “Don’t leave me, I’ll be good” and — then the hammering of the withdrawing high heels. “You promise only a few months?” “Only a month or two, sixty days, that’s all, promise.” The door pounded shut.
What she couldn’t remember, she was not there: her mother’s crying as she ran to the car, smoothing down her skirt, slamming the door. Her best friend, Jean, is waiting. She looks into the rear view mirror, gets out her lipstick, her comb, runs her fingers through her hair, looks down, her stocking seams, shakes her head, sighs; takes a deep drag from the offered cigarette. “What other choice? What have I done?” “She’ll survive. Are you hearing me? Jerry! Listen to me, my own son is there, Shelley’s fine.” “Get us out of here!” The car started, left the curb and disappeared into traffic.
“I have to keep clean”, she restrained herself from fingering the tiny flowers or stroking the silk fabric, keeping her arms folded or hanging loosely by her sides. There wasn’t any place to sit down, unless she went to the patio, and there were too many grown-up people there, no other children.
They made her uncomfortable. So she resigned herself with wandering around the garden, thinking her own thoughts, shade trees offering coolness as the bright April sun radiated welcomed warmth. And flowers, she loved the flowers, she didn’t know their names, someday she would grow flowers of her own, they had so many colors, fragrances good enough to eat. She was hungry; the food was on the patio; the beautiful tall cake, “I won’t go there.” But, no matter where she strolled, people, complete strangers, kept interrupting her solitude, walking over to her, greeting her, “so you’re Stuart’s daughter.” Or “What a pretty child” or “You’re a lucky kid.” Even the comment, “You’re going to just love him.” She didn’t shake her head but … “Uh, uh, no, I’m not!”
She played her polite part, smiling sweetly anger blazing out from her diverted eyes. There was fear and sadness there too, but she didn’t know about this yet.
These unfamiliar persons commented on her long dark curls, stroked her hair and as far as she was concerned, bad-mannered; how dare they touch her; these people. She allowed the touching, escaping as soon as she could. She was overwhelmed by the unfamiliar. She didn’t know what to do. Even the serious looking man wearing a drab black suit and the odd black beanie meant nothing to her; he was what she considered a funny looking stranger. She retreated into her own thoughts her own world of comfort. There was always Snow White and The Wizard.
“And this other man; not my father and that’s that!” He was no one she knew well enough to even be a new friend. “Happy to meet you and we will get along just fine won’t make you a friend or a Daddy.” She embraced her own body holding on as tight as she could.
“Now Uncle Barney, was a friend, he came over all of the time and took us out, took us to all sorts of places, I loved him; if I needed an additional father then he should have been the one, not this nameless guy. And there was an Uncle Saul, when he came over to pick up mother he brought me great toys, one was a Pinocchio puppet. Not the Daddy sort.” Years later, she found out the Uncle Saul was taking mother over to rendezvous with Stuart.
She kept up her wanderings all the rest of the afternoon. She felt like an extra thing, belonging nowhere, to no one. It had been this way since as long as she wanted to remember. The belonging days were gone.
After the party was over she was driven back to her mother’s old apartment building. Not to go up to the eighth floor but to be left with an older woman who lived in a two story building across the street. She was introduced as Oma, “this is your new grandmother” said her new Daddy, her new, rather peculiar grandmother she thought, remembering her as the gray haired lady at the wedding. “She didn’t look very thrilled to be there. In fact, she walked around with a weird smile on her face, phony. I saw her narrowing her eyes when she looked at my mother, not nice, not nice at all. And always hanging onto this man who thought he was to be my daddy. Fat chance!”
And Stuart would never forget his very first direct encounter with his soon-to-be step-daughter; she did not recognize him at the wedding because all she ever had seen of him was his upraised bare behind, in bed with her mother. “My God, how Jerry was able to leap out of bed, throw on her robe, grab her daughter, rush her into the kitchen. And there I am, passion quelled, dressing fast, stealing out while they were having something to eat. I could barely walk! We had very carefully, for four years, kept me hidden. I was still married. We did not want any complications with the pending divorce.
“I rented this apartment across the street from my mother’s so that my parked car would be associated with my daily visit to her and not to Jerry. My mother did not know a thing, no one did for a long while, that is until after the divorce from Lillian was final.
“How well I remember the first time that I met Jerry. A dark haired, slender, glamorous woman who looked at me with intense suspicion, after all I was the attorney for her husband’s firm. He had convinced her that money could be saved by using the same attorney. We would both feel a great draw of attraction, nothing spoken, but it was there. I need to get to know this sexy woman but how?” What he did was to send her a bouquet of flower with an attached note, ‘how’s about us?’ The us happened.
They began a torrid love affair, placing her daughter in a boarding school for safe keeping, renting an apartment for their rendezvous, he was married, although unhappily, but hadn’t realized that he was ready to break free, ready for change, for passion, for a new life of his own choice and no one else’s.
“Our apartment was small, brightly lit, no drawn blinds on the windows, not at the eighth floor with no one to peek in. The kid had a key to the apartment; she wasn’t supposed to come for a visit so early in the afternoon. She walked quite a distance from her boarding school at Third and Normandy to the apartment on Eighth and Oxford Street. I wondered if she will remember the scene at all as she grows up.”
“Our wedding was a lovely affair at the home of best friend Max Strasburg, owner of a very exclusive jewelry store off of Highland on Hollywood Blvd. It was a catered affair; the Rabbi Dubin, from the Wilshire Temple officiated. I introduced myself to my new daughter.
“I can’t say that she was too thrilled. I knew that it was not going to be a happy transition. I understood her attitude her mother did not. But I had a lot to learn, being thirty-eight and never had I been around children, an only child myself.”
“After the wedding the step-daughter was dropped off at my mother’s and we left for our honeymoon at Marietta Hot Springs.
“While we were gone, the real daddy picked up his daughter; ‘To show her his new daughter.’ I found out later how crushed she was, telling his new wife that ‘I hate you; you took my daddy away from me.’ What a way to begin a new life with me and her mother.
“I had a client who owned a Military School. He organized a summer camp at Yosemite; he would take my step-daughter with the boys for the next three month, for free.
“We went house hunting so that we would be settled when she came home. The one we bought at 6440 West 5th Street was in a perfect location near Fairfax and Wilshire. The price was within my financial means to pay cash. My drive to my office on 5th and Hill would be direct. It was a charming two bedroom, one bath, with fireplace; comfortable kitchen and den. Front room and dining room, with a big yard, patio, large garage; the entire front area was enclosed by a white picket fence. I took my lovely bride to a large furniture store, client owned, and I furnished the entire house by the end of that afternoon. Jerry wanted a dog, but we would wait until all three of us could go to the pound to pick one out.”
“So my son marries this x-showgirl, a low life type, uneducated, a foreigner, a manicurist, a Goya, a divorcee, not even a naturalized citizen, with this child who is so disgustingly head strong. He’ll be mine again, someday, somehow all mine again. This shameful bleached blond will find out just how miserable she will be. I’ll find ways as the opportunities present themselves.”
And Elsie would bide her time over the next 18 years, interjecting herself, creating disharmony when ever she could. The task would be more difficult then she could have anticipated. Jerry was a formidable foe. She did win the final battle, she got, took her son back.
But, this is yet another story for later:
Stuart was a very precise person. This precision served him well in his professional life; it was a bit difficult in his domestic life. He was orderly in his habits, pleasantly demanding in the maintenance of his needs. Modification was not his middle name; his routine was his routine and therefore the routine for all. This is not a bad note but it was a note to be observed: as an example, dinner was at 5:00PM. Not a minute before or a minute after. It mattered not that hunger was an issue; he had his life to keep in order. So, about six month into his marriage the following took place:
Stuart came home at 4:30 exactly, changed into his robe and took his routine twenty-five minute nap. He was a man who could close his eyes, sleep soundly, and get up refreshed for the rest of the evening. Dinner was at 5:00. No one minute before or after. Hungry or not, you ate your meal, all of it.
Stuart entered the dining room, cleaning his glasses with his handkerchief, his body clothed in his bathrobe, he sat down at the table, put his glasses back on, placed his napkin in his lap. Looks up!
“Where’s my mother and Adrienne? Jerry, did you hear me?” He shoved his chair back, got up and marched into the kitchen, brushed by his wife to the window. No sign of Mother’s car. Jerry was leaning over basting the roast. “I don’t know, they were supposed to be here before 5:00.”
“Well damn” was all he could utter. He marched to the phone dialed his mother’s number. No answer. The distance in travel from his mother’s was thirty minutes; surely he reasoned they are on their way. And they were; arriving past 5:30PM. Stuart was out the door and shouting into his mother’s face, his arms waving around wildly, quite unusual for the calm, Mr. District Attorney. “Why are you so damn late?” Elsie, without a moment’s hesitation responded, “Adrienne, she’s the reason.” Stuart’s eyes flashed with an incredulous look, “How’s that?”
And the tall tale of a convincing story unfolds: Elsie standing on the lower back step, her eyes steady, looking up into her son’s eyes, her arms partially extended, hands turned upward, her purse hanging there as always, she pitifully whined these words:
“Stuuddee, I was ready to leave before 4:30. I told Jerry’s daughter to be back from playing at 4:15 so she could clean up and we could leave on time.” She didn’t show up until after 5:00. I called and called for her, she didn’t answer. I was frantic knowing that you insist on dinner being punctual. It was all her fault. I wouldn’t be late except for her disobedience.”
Stuart glared at his step-daughter. She was ashen; standing there her face displaying an expression of disbelief, eyes wide, face pale. Her mother went to grab her; she knew what was coming next. She began to scream, to cry, her body withering into a pool of fear, her voice spitting out words. Her fear was so great that she bypassed the adult to child expectations of silence, blurted out:
“That not true. She’s lying. I was so back on time.”
“Don’t you call my mother a liar, how dare you, why would she say what she did? You, you’re the one who’s lying, again.”
Now the scene was becoming hot. Jerry stopped all the action screaming and grabbing her daughter by the arm, drawing her nose to nose. “What happened? I want to know my daughter’s story. If she is lying, I’ll take care of her! I’m going to hear her story. And I had better hear it right now; my roast is going to be ruined. Adriana?”
Adrienne was close to hysterical, her body shaking, face pale, her lips quivering; she was so faint with fear she had to lean against the bird aviary to maintain her balance. Her fingers intertwined with the wire mesh; “Right now! Her mother screamed, “Tell me right now.”
She sobbed out: “I got back to Oma’s apartment; she was standing there in her bathrobe. She said that she had taken a nap. She had to change into her clothes, get her hair straight and make-up on. I sat down and waited for so long. Then she hurried us to her car. Mommy, honest, I’m not lying.”
Stuart was silently gasping, incredulous. First he looked at his mother then, his step-daughter, at his wife. A grave conflict. Dare he reach out to defend his mother or support his wife? He stood there on the back porch steps frozen to the spot. He couldn’t say a thing so he said nothing. He just stood there hanging useless as a man cut off from his…manhood.
Jerry turned to her husband; then turned stared angrily into her daughter’s eyes, she turned, moved into Elsie’s space, her eyes were flashing, her body positioned in such a manner of a boxer, ready to fight.
“I know when my daughter is lying, this is no lie. You son of a bitch, how dare you! I know you and I know your intentions, so beware. Stuart, I don’t trust your mother, never have, but we love one another don’t ever forget that. But, I will take care of my daughter, she is my daughter and don’t forget that either.
Stuart moved down the steps, reached out, grasped his mother by her purse less arm led her into the front room, sat her down, placed himself in the chair facing her. He leaned back, relaxed his face.
Elsie’s lips were clenched shut. Her body positioned in a regal manner, hands folded in her lap, shoulders straight, body held tall. She placed her purse by her side, got out a handkerchief, dabbed her lips.
“Stuuddee, please believe me, have I ever lied to you? It’s that child she’s the liar. Her mother can defend her all she wants, but she’s a troublemaker. I was waiting for her; she did not wait for me.”
“What can I do?” He starts to get up from his chair, sits back down, takes a deep breath, looks at his mother; “My mother vs my wife and her child me in the middle. I must find a balance.”
His wife’s irritable voice sounded from the kitchen. “Stuart, enough, dinner is ready, past ready, we can finish this later.” It wasn’t a big house.
The conflicted Stuart his satisfied Mother moved to the dining room. They sat in their assigned chairs, Adrienne closest to the kitchen door to get whatever was needed on the table, her mother facing Stuart at the head of the table, Elsie facing Adrienne on the inside length. Adrienne kept her eyes down, Elsie looked at her son, smiling; Stuart’s eyes attending to the plate in front of him; Jerry’s eyes down cast but stealthily flickering from one individual then to another; she knew she had to gain the upper hand, now and forever. The expected baby would be a deciding factor, she hoped.
The silence, the indirect glances, the tension, the tasteless meal choked down.
This was the first of many Elsie contrived conflicts that would agitate the marriage; Never able to mar the deep passion, love, devotion, husband to wife, wife to husband.
Dear reader I ask you to bound over the next twenty years of repetitive events as children grow older and their parents struggle with everyday life, there was a world war, rationing, the shortages, the hate of the Japanese, the scrap iron drives, the War bonds, the stamps, going to school, dating, movies, adventures into the fine art theaters, the all that goes on in the time we spend living through events and maintaining our balance in life’s trials. So I venture to move ahead.
Throughout the next years Adrienne never would ask for anything, better that than the no’s she didn’t want to risk hearing: “may I go with you, or Daddy, will you help me with my homework, will you teach me to play tennis? But if he asked for example, “Do you want to go with me to … your mother says your chores are done, it’s OK.” It was yes, yes, yes.
So on one yes, a visit to the San Fernando Valley her Daddy, after his client interview, she waited in the car, ventured to the Dupars for lunch, and then a walk down the Boulevard. They often walked together, even just around the neighborhood block, they could talk. This day they stopped in front of a clothing store, Leeds. There was an outfit on a mannequin. White long sleeved button up blouse, red vest, pencil line navy skirt. It was so right. “Do you want that outfit?” It was perfect to her taste. It was tried on and bought; then the homecoming.
Mother furious: “If there are clothes that my daughter needs I will do the buying.” He understood her style needs, not the sexy woman’s styles that her mother preferred. No more shopping for them ever.
They were together in so many activities but with great risk to the equilibrium that had to be maintained in very sensitive relationships: Daddy to daughter, daughter to mother, mother to husband, mother to son, mother to wife.
So the common events kept happening, the lives kept getting older; the actions happened. The child now grown moves into her own sphere, the younger children matured, until life took a strange, unexpected turn. This is that turn:
Dying to Live
He’s at home. Bedridden.
“Jerry, can’t breathe! Help me.”
“Adrienne call an ambulance” Jerry grabbed the phone, shoved it into her daughter’s
hands. “Be useful once in a while.”
“Jerry, no hospital.”
“I can’t help you, they can.”
“Oh please not there, hospitals are for the dying.”
“You have to go to the hospital.”
“Call Saul! I’m so …”
“He’ll meet us there.”
The ambulance. Stuart lifted onto the stretcher.
Down the Spanish style spiral staircase shoved into the vehicle. Jerry rode with him. Adrienne followed in her car.
He was wheeled up to the fourth floor, lifted into bed; Jerry and Adrienne back against the cold wall. His doctor arrived, ordered IV nutrients a transfusion, instructions to the nurses, left.
He was in the Cedar’s of Lebanon Hospital. His wife and three of his good friends business associates were in the waiting room down the hallway, discussing Stuart’s will. He wasn’t even dead yet. A lone person in his room, standing at the foot of his bed, Adrienne. The late afternoon sun was the only ingredient to brighten the room. It was December 18, 1960. He was fifty-six.
At the Cedars
We are here together, Daddy #2 and I:
Daddy: He’s calm, lucid no long in pain, stabilized:
“I never thought that being a first time father was going to be so damn difficult. I could feel the antagonism, the cold shoulder, when we met formally at the Wedding. Oh, it’s so cold in this bed; I knew that as an only child and an indulged one at that, and being thirty-eight, would present me with a trial by a jury of one.” He was shivering, his entire body was trembling he didn’t know how to get warm. “What did I know of children; the only experience with children was with my friends who had family and my observations of their interactions. I can’t see; must find my glasses, where did I put my glasses? Living with a nine year old who considered me the stranger, who pined for her own father, and who was so smart but distant, so stubborn, so independent, resentful, was some task.
“I did all I could to love and protect her. Jerry will keep me warm. At every opportunity I took her with me, advised, she didn’t listen, but I still advised. I told her once that she only seemed to learn by making her own mistakes, which she did on a regular basis; all except her educational endeavors.
Her mother was a formidable disciplinarian with her.”
He could hear a P.A. announcement, so loud, so interrupting; “Dr. Silverman report to room … “he tried to muffle the shouts by pushing his head deeper into the pillow, up closer to his ears. “Jerry yelled at her, slapped her, more than I ever experienced in my life.
I wanted to intercede but dared not unless asked. And when I did it could be so wrong.” He was so thirsty, his mouth dry and sore, never had an alcoholic drink in his entire life, thinking about his two cups of coffee in the morning with his juices, a little water would be helpful, but he couldn’t find his way to the glass on the table next to his bed. His joints were so stiff that he couldn’t straighten them out. He felt so alone but every so often he caught a glimpse of an indistinct figure moving around his bed.
“You there, who are you, Come here, I need some help. Why am I so weak, so helpless? Why am I here, where am I exactly?” His mouth was moving, he was speaking, he thought, but he uttered not a sound. He never acknowledged that he was dying. For the past year he had bared it from his thoughts. His will as it turned out was a legal mess not what an attorney of his stature would ever design for his clients. He was far too intelligent for that. “If I don’t up-date my will then I won’t die.” His thinking continued despite the interruptions of sounds and place. He knew the room was white and cold and stark. He reached back into his thoughts, why he was so focused on the step-daughter theme was something akin to telepathy. “What I could do well and was allowed to do was to direct her education.
“It would be nine years: ups and downs, of distance and efforts and reaching out, before we became good friends. I know I made prodigious blunders; I was tolerated so there was a level of partial appreciation but nothing more. My own first daughter was so different, fun, loving, a bouncy open kid; she was born in April of 1942, seven days short of our first year of marriage. Jerry felt that having my own children and right away, was very important for us. I wasn’t a kid myself.
Making love for a baby was so wonderful. I haven’t been able to demonstrate my passion for over a year. We had so much, so continuous. I told Adrienne on one of our walks that I could never cheat since I was too busy at home. “I know. I know…I know. My son was born three years later and then a second daughter nine years later; unplanned but so welcome.
By that time I had learned so much and although brief the time with her was so joyous; but I am somehow compelled to get on with my step-daughter. Adriana. I must think; I have to get my thoughts in order. I am so frightened.” He let his head sink into the pillow.
He stared up attempting to focus, to vaguely understand what the bottles hanging above him were, better not to know, the sight of blood was his fear, it would make him panic. He could not identify the sound of wheels along the corridor outside of his room or detect the delightful fragrances that accompanied this sound; most of the time the smells that he couldn’t detect were abominable, making the lining of his nostrils burn. The lining of his nose was as dry and rock-hard as the rest of his body.
He knew he was in the Cedar’s of Lebanon Hospital. His wife and three of his good friends and business associates were in the waiting room down the hallway. They were discussing Stuart’s will. He wasn’t even dead yet. A lone person was in his room, standing at the foot of his bed, Adrienne. The late afternoon sun the only ingredient to brighten the room. It was December 18, 1960. He was fifty-six. The bottles are hanging alongside his bed, one dripping in blood and the other nutrients. When the blood bottles were brought in he screamed and fainted.
As the day passed into late afternoon his breathing became rapid, shallow and irregular, Cheyenne-Stokes. His awareness of this difficult breathing pattern was not part of his consciousness. He was doing all that his weakened body would allow. He moved by bits and pieces as though he were trying to escape pain or the discomfort of the mattress. His thrashing around made it difficult to keep his modesty covered. His strong athletic body had wasted away in the fourteen months he had been sick. He hadn’t been well since his mother’s death October 23 of the previous year. Her death at seventy-eight in a nursing home for those suffering from dementia left him in a state of guilt and lingering grief.
For over two years she did not recognize him and when he visited she would be sitting in a chair, looking into her lap; her fingers busy tearing apart pieces of cloth. It tore him apart.
A month later after he and his wife vacationed in Mexico, he began his decline from being a robust man to feeling unwell, sores developed on his legs. Never trusting doctors he refused to go until months later. His dermatologist sent him for treatment at the Medical Center at UCLA. It wouldn’t have mattered.
His thinking was fading.
“I know, and I’ll understand even more later; I know even now what a salvation you were in my life. No matter how I tried to reject you, it was you who set my life into one of continuity, courage and love. When I think, how you took me into the protective elements of your life, a shadow hovering around me, that I didn’t realize until now.
You were so subtle matching my mother’s harshness with your indirect ways of evasive actions.”
She stood there, walked back and forth along the foot of the bed, stopping, turning looking “you’re suffering”; she is bent with grief and confusion. Her natural and guarded response was to be stoic, no tears; she knew her second prince was doomed. She remembered that for the last year her mother had had to insist quite forcibly for him to visit the leading physicians at UCLA, and later on even as the disease was taking over, she had pushed him out the door every morning to get to his office.
After months and months of evaluations and tests, he was diagnosed with the incurable Scleroderma; he was turning into stone. His immune system had crashed.
“Daddy, try to be still, don’t fight so.” As Adriana watched she felt she had to speak to him of all the memories that she could conjure up. Maybe he would hear her, but she could at least hear herself.
“Our first battle was a test of the strength of wills. It was a draw. I didn’t move the cardboard box of grass cuttings off of the lawn before I turned on the sprinklers you were furious; you had to help with the manual job of transferring the mess into the trash can. I pleaded that it had been too heavy, then that I forgot, I hadn’t; you didn’t believe either story but you had to get in there and work.
“Then the next calamity was when you sold my best friend, baby bike, and although you got me a new and wonderful Schwinn. I remember being hysterical, I don’t remember why but what I do remember saying ‘you didn’t let me say good-by and you didn’t ask me.’ That second bike became my companion for so many years until it was stolen from the Wilshire May Company bike rack.
I was there having lunch with Aunt Willa. I never locked my bike. Months later, I saw my stripped down bike in a bike shop on La Brea. I could identify it by the scored bolts under the seat, my clumsy attempt at mechanics; I ran home and told you.
“In a flash we were in the car, to the shop where you confronted the owner, got the name and address of the man who had brought it in. God, you went there, demanded the return or the cops. I rode my bike home. You bought me a lock.”
And the late afternoon faded to early evening. The light becoming dim.
Her tone of voice was soft it continued to relate one story after the other. He was calmer. She moved to the side of the bed and covered him, still talking. His breathing seemed more regular, his coloring not as pale as it had been several hours before; her hands resting on the bed very close to his left shoulder. She told him about the time when he asked during dinner one evening, “What did you do in school today?” She hated that question but related her good times with the building of miniature railroad cars. He countered with what about reading and writing and arithmetic?
She had no answer for this inquiry, best tell him something:
“We are building a train station in our room. Last month we built an American Indian village.” He said no more. The next day he visited the school, Hancock Park, was shocked to learn that it was a hands-on progressive school. The very next day he went to the Los Angeles School District Offices, secured an intra-district transfer to the fundamental Carthy Center School. “You know Daddy; you never drove me there no matter the weather.
It was a long and lonely walk.” And on an on recalling: going with him to the Subway Terminal Building, given fifty-cents to spend turned loose until lunch time, being paid five cents each for addressing his business Christmas Card envelopes in his office, shopping together in the San Fernando Valley, Mother was really angry when I came home with a new outfit: navy blue pencil line skirt, white tailored blouse, red vest “I’ll buy my daughter her clothes.”
“Or going to Dupars coffee shop, the Beverly Hills Tennis Club on Wednesday afternoons, there meeting Hollywood stars like Larry Adler, John Garfield, Joan Crawford, tennis at the Doheny Estates on Sunday mornings, Friday nights at the Hollywood Legion to watch boxing, the trips to the theater that had only the news reel of the week, the trip to Sacramento when he was making a legislative presentation, the allowance, their private walks away from the house, the one and only spanking with the brush and how he apologized, it did hurt him more than it hurt her; mother had insisted that he do the dirty deed.”
“Did you know that not adopting me when I asked, I think I was sixteen, was so hurtful; I wanted to be one in your family; you patiently explained that you never wanted my own father to be relieved of his responsibility. I understand now but… I wanted it so.”
“I need to apologize for not learning all the street names as fast as you wanted, remembering how to say, La Jolla with the H sound, and blocking out the answer to the every evening question at the dinner table, “What do you call the houses that the Swiss live in? It’s funny now but it paralyzed me then.
“You directed me in my studies, paid me a dollar for every ‘A’. You wisely disallowed my attending Bennington College even on a complete scholarship; you knew I wouldn’t fit into that rarified crowd. You sent me to UCLA that’s another story to tell you later”
She talked of his being a man of great predictable habits. The morning weigh in, his frugal nature: re-sharpening his razor blades in a small hand held device, dinner at exactly five o’clock, his fifteen minute naps when he returned from the office, daily morning calls to his stock broker, the grocery shopping only buying items on sale, and then his great sense of humor.
“I wanted to smoke a cigar like you did. I must have been ten years old. We made a deal, yes, I could smoke one of your cigars but I had to smoke it all, finish it to the very end. I began by biting off the end, and with you holding the match I took a big drag. Puff, puff, puff. I was sitting at the breakfast nook bench. The more I puffed the prouder I became and then the sicker. Pretty soon I was lying down on the bench determined to win the contest. You sat with me, cheering me on and then I had to get to the bathroom. When I returned you were smiling, I couldn’t help myself, I laughed too, especially when you told me that inhaling was not part of the art, ‘you didn’t tell me, you didn’t ask.’
“And remember when Richard was taken back to the hospital for his circumcision? The procedure was not done at birth since Richard had broken out in a terrible full body rash as a reaction to the drops put into his eyes.
That evening you cut off a piece of chicken skin and with a great flourish presented it to Grandma, ‘This is you’re your grandson.’ And always winning the competition with Grandma as to who got the best price on butter.”
She remembered the horrendous disharmony that her mother and his mother had and all the hateful, possessiveness that his mother demonstrated, her lies and cunning. She remembered but did not, could not talk about any of those events.
She needed to walk; down the hallway and around the corner. Red Skelton was a patient just two doors down. But the walk was brief and she retuned to her Daddy’s side. Before she could collect herself to resume her talking to him his body rose in a frightful arc, began terrible thrashing around, there were gasps and cries, and he stretched out the full length of the bed. He was quiet again. His eyes closed; there was a slight fluttering beneath his eyelids.
“The relationship so acri… acri… acri… um… monious my mother, my wife; loved them both. Jerry was ah…ah…patient. Then enough, I can’t remember, what was it…what triggered this final sch…sch…sch,..ism, we had a row over it, out of our home bodily couldn’t come back. No return. Breathing so difficult. Stock market must call. call. What is the number, where is the phone? The kids, her apartment to visit with them. Mother, fell, broke her arm. Stupid doctors. Mother in the den allowed visits later. Stealing from me, supported her, gave her money, maintained. Care home, her purse; uncashed checks, rolls of cash, trash jammed in… unbelieving devastated… call from landlord… neglecting my mother, was wandering, picking up men, to the apartment… drinking.
Couldn’t believe. Apartment… bottles, cans, trash, bed, her clothes everywhere. Lights. Mother a sight; a mess. Dirty. Hardly knew me. My God! It’s so dim in here, turn on the lights. Called her doctor, had to confine her. I couldn’t go alone that place; Adriana, mother didn’t know me, she waited in the car; needed company.
Her grandchildren disliked her; hid out, avoided, Richard raided her purse for candy. Joanie, Grandson, I must …tennis tomorrow, gin rummy on …dinner at five. Richard, Cynthia.”
“My mother difficult times; she needed me. Marriage, my father a hideous…mis…mis ta… ah dreadful man; fucking … maid abandon…ing us. He was old. Told … me … good part… me. Daily visiting my way home married to Lillian. Wel…wel…um…co.., liked Lillian, family. Not Jerry. A threat… Mother love romantic love, smoke, mirrors of the psych…psycho…psycho…uh, logical crap.
Mother po…po…ssess..sss..ive not sick. Oh! miss her; need. Mother, Mother, come. Know me. Jerry love, oh, oh. For….for…ive…leaving so soon.”
His swollen hands were not moving; he was taking deep irregular breaths, more exhales than inhales. Is this how it is to die? Then he raised his arms, despite the restraining tubes and needles; saw his hand, “Where … my ring?” rolled over on one side, leaned on the bed rails, struggled, pushed himself to a sitting position, struggled with his covers, dropped his arms to the side of his body, became rigid, uttered a discordant heartbreaking cry, fell back, his head dropped onto the pillow, then he seemed to take a deep soft breath of relief, exhaled loudly, licked his upper lip. His eyes opened, he looked surprised then delighted, smiled, his face relaxed. His body relaxed. He was motionless.
Adrienne covered his body. She reached out one last time to stroke his forehead, moved to the foot of the bed; grasp the metal rail, one last look. He had departed.
She ran to the waiting room, they rushed to his room. There was no need for haste.
Mother struggled on, Adrienne went on with living. The other children, then grandchildren who would never have the joy of his company, grew up lived on. We all continued living with our memories.
JEFF AND THE SCIENCE BOOKS
Jeff and the Science Books
“Teacher, just how can we learn science without books or anything?”
It was the beginning of the school year and after the first class meeting, Jeff stood at my desk with a worried look.
“Certainly Jeff there are science books, they must be in storage.”
How did he know? There were no science books in the book storage area. No anything science.
“But Sister Theresa, how can I teach science without textbook, charts, workbooks?”
“Do your best is all I can say, our parish has no money.”
“What if I could find the funds?”
“God be with you. You find the funds then we can talk more about a textbook, and let me remind you it must be one that is on the approved Catholic list.”
Here I am, a lay teacher, expected to instruct eight grade students science without resources. So there’ll have to be some way to find the money.
This modest Catholic school was located in the poorest part of the city. The parents mostly farm workers, paying $8.00 a month for their children to learn more than they could in the public schools. Discipline supreme, expectations high, children uniformed, Spanish speaking at home, all doing the hard work of learning. No cafeteria, lunch brought in all sorts of containers, inspected by the sisters as completely eaten before they left the outside lunch area for recess.
“Jeff, you were right, there are no science books or anything else about science for eighth grade. If we had the money Sister says we can buy some. No money, no books, any ideas?
“I’ve got plenty of ideas.
And Jeff did have that great entrepreneurial spirit.
“What is it that you are proposing?”
“What about selling candy at lunch time? We could buy it at the Smart & Final wholesale store, sell it just a little bit over retail, put our money in the bank for interest.”
“Yeh, The Bank down Colonia Road. We’ll go there and open an account together.”
“OH, would your mother think this is OK?
“I’ll ask her but I know my Mother it’ll be OK.
“And just where have you planned for this sale to go on?
“Oh, that’s so simple; we set up our business at your window during lunch time. You won’t mind having your lunch in the room will you?”
What could I say? I wanted the science materials.
“I’ll get my mom to give me an advance on my allowance, I get the kids to donate change for our start-up money and you won’t mind driving me to the store. I’ll do the shopping. I know what the kids really like and I’ll even ask them what they want just to make sure.”
We went to the store, stocked up on the specific items that Jeff had on his shopping list. The next day a noon the store had its grand opening. Business was brisk. Sold out. Jeff had his change tray, coin wrappers and deposit slip.
We had gone to the bank on the way to the store, opened an account, “Guadalupe School Fund for Science Books”.
To the store again with enough funds to double their purchase, double their sales with enough to add to the original deposit that opened the account with $5.00.
The Sisters must have known of the activities but did nothing to interfere. Sister JB even sent in her candy order with one of her students. Father Madera could see the store from the rectory window across the yard but that was all for then, just seeing. He was the most beloved priest at the church and in the entire community.
The money added up quickly, all in nickels, dimes and quarters. Jeff would get the deposit ready, slip out to his bike, pedal at top speed to the bank, get back to the classroom and never be seen coming or going by Sister Principal.
I was researching the list of science books on the Catholic school approved list. Sample copies were sent, scanned, presented to Sister Theresa. The one that was selected after a long discussion that included a committee of students was the one that included a unit on the reproductive system. Sister was in fact, distressed by our selection but I pointed out that after all it was on the approved list. An order was placed, the deposit money withdrawn from the account. The books came the kids were delighted. The books were taken home and lovingly, carefully covered to preserve them. Now the teaching of science could begin in earnest.
The store began to prosper even more. Charts were ordered, workbooks came next. Payment made. All in just two months. The store remained open for business with the funds going to other school needs. Jeff was the hero.
He trained another salesperson to relieve him. It was the football season and he was the school star. Lunch time could be his own. He remained the banker until his graduation in June.
We studied the various systems of the human body which especially intrigued the students. When the unit on the circulatory system was taught, one of the fathers who was a butcher brought in a cow’s heart for dissection. The kids, after their initial gasps and groans were fascinated and got to really see, touch, be a part of the lessons. Do you know how big a cow’s heart is? Really big! What to do with the organ after the unit was over? It couldn’t occupy the refrigerator at the rectory forever. How to dispose of it?
Father Madera to the rescue.
I was sitting in my classroom during lunch. The store was closed. The view from the window gave a panoramic view of the open field that bordered the church property. There appeared a gathering of children, all the children at lunch recess were lining up across the driveway at the rectory.
No kidding around, all very solemn. Father Madera appeared in his funeral vestments, a violet dalmatic, then altar boys, Jeff among them, in their regalia, just as in church, holding candles, waving the incense censor, plumes of white smoke drifting up into the still air. Two boys followed carrying a box between them, wrapped in gold paper tied with a wide black ribbon. The entire assembly of children fell behind into a reverential walk. They marched out into the empty grounds. Now I could see six boys standing on either side of a dark mound of earth. Father Madera led the children to the mound. There he conducted a most solemn funeral. Science and religion blended seamlessly.
I WANT TO BUY A BUS
She walked over to the desk, his desk, the President of the Bank of A. Levy.
“May I have a moment of your time, Mr. Mulligan?”
“Certainly. That’s what I’m here for. What do you need?”
“I need a loan to buy a bus.”
“A bus? How much?”
“Yes a bus, it’s only $2,300”
“Why do you need a bus?”
“It’s for transportation of The Colonnades Drill team to competitions statewide and …”
“This is the group of girls that we are seeing marching up and down the streets in our La Colonia? How many in the group?”
“Yes, we have seventy-five now and it keeps growing. A junior group has been formed with kids as young as five. And eight boys are now forming an honor guard to march with us. One of our fathers, a retired military, is doing the instruction and raising funds to provide uniforms. The Rotary Club is offering flags, it’s all so fantastic.”
Had it been two years? Two years in the wilderness after a disastrous stent as Vice Principal at the public high school. As soon as the girls from the high school heard she was back they sent emissaries to ask her to help them have something they were denied ― a drill team of their own. Blacks and browns were not even permitted to try-out for the school’s team. And now there’re a reality ― the Colonnades, a competitive team; a visible story of success. And I needed a bus to get them out there.
“Customers are so excited about this; the local families love the efforts that these kids are exerting; so proud. Back to our business. What’s your collateral? I have to have something.”
“My 1946 Cessna airplane. It’s all I have. Here are the ownership title papers.”
“And the payments?”
“Funds we will collect with paper drives, dances, menudo drives, raffles, contributions, any way we can find. The girls, their parents, the community has been actively supporting the team for the last six months. They put together enough funds for their uniforms, boots, instruments. Even the local businesses have contribution jars in their shops, and the owner of the shoe and boot business got us a special deal on our boots.”
“OK, now tell me more about this bus you want to buy?”
“It’s In Los Angeles, there’s the name of the company and address on the contract. It’s been retired from a Catholic school district bus fleet. One of our fathers is a bus driver and mechanic; he verifies that the bus is sound and mechanically in good condition. He’ll take care of it, drive it and whatever else. He has room to park it next to his house. And the best of all, it’s been painted blue, our school color. Mr. Arriaga plans on painting Colonnades on the sides in giant letters.”
“Sounds good to me. You’ve done your research. Here take these papers, fill them out, I’ll be right back. Oh and just how soon do you need these funds?”
“Now. I left a small deposit check with the company owner so he’ll hold it for us. He gave us only three days…”
“Done. I’ll have the check for $2,300 in your hand in a few minutes.”
I watch him get up; take the title papers to my airplane. I couldn’t believe it, so quick, so simple. For the past year it was getting to parades in as many cars as needed. One of the mothers coordinated the efforts.
I looked up from my writing. Mr. Mulligan had disappeared into another office. This building was certainly unlike the grand edifice of the main office with its vaulted ceiling, marble floor, polished walnut walls. This was a small square structure located in a tiny strip mall, concrete walls, one large window; it was just as modest, plain as its customers. And Mr. Mulligan, this President of the Oxnard Bank of A. Levy devoted part of his time to the little La Colonia Branch.
I didn’t know all of this was possible, and to such an extent. It restored faith in myself, in these kids, their faith in themselves, the community pride, I had doubts, but now by
just doing the right thing I have a sense of triumph.
THE LAV AND US
“Miss Nater our bathroom is a nasty pit.”
“Our bathroom … meaning?”
“The one for us, us Blacks only and now the Mexicans have destroyed it. It’s our territory.”
“Yes, it’s ours.”
‘And? Where are the Mexicans supposed to go?”
“They used to go to the white girls lav but they were thrown out.”
“I’m new here Margaret, I don’t understand. Separate bathrooms are not part of what we do here.”
“It is at this school.”
Good grief, what have I let myself in for?
“Take me to this pit that’s yours.”
I went with Margaret, a beautiful girl, standing at 6’2″ and all business. We went to this pit. One look, one breath was enough.
It was: a four stall bathroom, one toilet partly ripped off of the floor, the others filled to over flowing, the doors hanging off of their hinges, toilet paper holders ripped away, empty the paper towel container hanging off the wall. Badly spelled profanities lipsticked on mirrors, messages carved or penned on every surface, cigarette butts ground out on the filthy tile floor.
“What the hell.”
“It’s them not us, they won’t leave us alone. I’ll admit it wasn’t so great before either, some of our girls are slovenly. But the custodian doesn’t even clean it.”
Two weeks into this job as vice-principal and I had to deal with a bathroom problem; A Master’s Degree for this shit. I placed a call to the custodian.
“But Miss Nater I just gave up on keeping the bathroom clean. These girls are worse than pigs. I won’t clean it anymore. They just piss on my efforts. My union steward told me it’s not part of the job description”
“Alfred, clean and get it into decent condition now! I can’t allow this to exist on my school grounds. Call in a team, get it done. If’s it overtime you need, ok, I’ll approve the paper work.”
Two days and$1,500 later the bathroom was ready for occupancy.
A week later and Margaret was back in my office.
“Miss Nater, come look. The Mexicans have done it again.”
The room was in shambles.
“Margaret, we need to talk.”
“You’re going to have it fixed up again?”
Did I hear a sneer in her voice?
We sat across from one another, locked our gazes on one another.
“Well, Miss new vice-principal, what are you going to do?”
“No, not until you girls have met with me and come to terms. The bathroom is yours as it is until further notice; you think that I am going to spend school money again? Ask the custodian to spend his time cleaning after you girls, Blacks or Mexicans? So, only toilet paper will be provided. No paper towels, no repairing, no soap, no cleaning at all. Think again girl. No way. When you find a solution see me. Until then go to another lav.”
“But Miss Nater, those are white girl’s bathrooms they won’t let us in. This is our corner of the campus.”
“You heard what I said, no bathroom to smoke in, to shit in, to tear apart, to vandalize. This is worse than animal behavior; go do your thing, Margaret. You told me that you’re the leader here, so lead. Is there a leader of the Mexican girls?”
“Probably Linda Chapparo.”
“Get with her, find a solution. I won’t have it repaired again until there is complete agreement as to the sharing and the care of the bathroom.”
“But, what will we do for a bathroom?”
“Your problem; the girls brought on themselves.”
That afternoon after school there was a large group of girls gathered on the quad, sitting in a circle. I watched from my office window. Margaret was in the middle along with a stately Mexican girl that I guessed was Linda Chapparo. I stayed in my office, calmed down the staff that there was no pending fight, no riot. After about thirty minutes, I saw papers being circulated and then the group dispersed.
Early the next morning, long before school started, I was greeted by my upset secretary.
“Two girls insisted that they wait for you in your office. I couldn’t keep them out here on the benches. They just pushed their way in.”
“I’ll handle it Dorothy.”
I went to my door knowing who was in my office. I stood at the entrance.
“Girls leave my office and wait out here as my secretary asked. And you will apologize to her first before we have a meeting in my office.”
They didn’t move. I didn’t move. I just stood there looking at them while they looked at me. Then they looked at one another, got up and went to Dorothy’s desk and then they sat on the bench. I went in and sat behind my desk, called Dorothy on the intercom.
“Send in the girls.”
“Please sit down.”
Margaret spoke first; Linda opened a folder that she had on her lap.
“We believe we have a proposal that will work, Linda, hand the papers over to her.”
Linda placed a pile of papers on my desk. Smoothing them down as she did.
“Please, read these.”
I————- [name inserted] promise to care for the lav just like I would at home.” I leafed through the pile. Each one was signed. Margaret then handed me another paper. It read: Miss Nater accepts the promises of the student contracts. In return she will have placed in the girl’s bathroom a large, standing receptacle for cigarette butts and have installed a floor to ceiling, wall to wall backboard, with chalk, erasers for messages that we wish to leave.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, to ignore smoking on campus, which was an offense that meant automatic suspension, and more. How will I explain it to the entire staff? I’d handle that later.
I signed, they signed, I called the custodian, and gave him the orders. Cleaning was done, requested supplies provided; student contract kept.
The bathroom saga was over. All was good between custodian, vice-principal and girls.
Margaret is forever in my life and is a practicing social worker; Linda, a practicing physician.
End of the school year. The time for Award assemblies, banquets. I was assisting at the Boys Athletic Association Awards Banquet. The cafeteria manager came to me, flustered. Clutching papers in one shaking hand, pale, tears forming, teeth clenched, lips pursed.
“Miss Nater, we’re about to run out of steaks. I don’t know what happened. I never have ordered short. But this year I didn’t do the ordering, Coach T insisted on doing the ordering, he could get a better deal, the Boy’s V.P approved the transaction. Before the banquet Coach brought the steaks himself.”
“Where’s the purchase order?”
“Right here. Look, it indicates the amount of steaks, way, way more than enough but it doesn’t match the number we’ve cooked and served. I don’t know what to do.”
I did not like or trust Coach T. His past purchase orders were suspicious. His inventories routinely didn’t add up. But he only answered to the Boy’s Vice-Principal. Other stories had floated up to me about his inappropriate behavior, but nothing actionable. He was the coach of a winning football team, one of the untouchables; protected by a system that was beyond my reach.
“You say that he brought in the boxes of steaks?”
“He and the V.P.”
“What kind of car does he drive?”
“It’s the blue Chevy sedan parked behind the cafeteria.”
“Come with me. Bring along a flashlight.”
Out to coach’s car. One moment of light was all it took. Stacked in the back seat were boxes. It was unlocked. In the darkness, we carried box after box back into the cafeteria. None of the women doing the cooking batted an eye. They smiled, unloaded the steaks, cooked and served.
The party was a grand success. But the best was yet to come.
There was a substantial surplus of steaks. I instructed the cafeteria women to divide up the steaks among themselves, put them in their cars, then finish up their work, and plan their own family barbeques.
The banquet ended, guests departed, Coach T, walked through the cafeteria kitchen stopping long enough to thank the crew and disappeared out the back into the parking lot. We continue to work, waiting. Moments later.
The back door slammed open, Coach T. raced through the kitchen, gasping, pale, shaking, lips quivering, mumbling incoherent words; we heard:
“Buck, Buck (that’s the V.P.) they’re gone, they’re gone!”
Then both men came charging through the kitchen. No one even looked up. They came dashing back, looking around.
“Great banquet Coach, is there a problem?”
“No, no, no.”
I could make out a few of the words being exchanged between the two of them, like, “robbed… damn …… how’d they know…? Jesus…” They left.
MAKINGS OF MONSTER
Her Ob/Gyn warned her, no more pregnancies. A third C-Section was too dangerous. She had to risk it, she must present a son into the family; she had failed to do so with his first child, he didn’t look at their daughter for months. It was over two years; she assured herself that she was completely healed. The horizontal scar across her abdomen could be cut out would heal again.
So it was that she carried another child, had a third C-Section. God seemed to be good, it was a boy.
And it all started badly. The drops were placed in the newborn’s eyes. His reaction was negative, a rash spread over his entire body, into every crevice from the top down. He was bathed in lotions from the get-go.
The surgery she was kept in the hospital for ten days, sent home with her fussing red glowing baby boy.
Every day she carried him out into the sun on the patio laid him on chaise lounge, stripped off his coverings, rubbed him down with baby oil. A month passed he was healed. Now he had to be circumcised, the swelling was gone.
He came home from this procedure in discomfort. Crying, crying, night and day for the next five days. The salves rubbed into his genitals soothed. With the slightest sound from him, he would be picked-up, held in a warm lap, fed, rocked. He healed.
The personal attention subsided. No warm massages, no out of schedule bottles, no rocking on demand, no warm lap.
He had an answer. Develop food allergies, asthma; turn blue from gagging; day and night. His world would be of his own making.
He had a mop of gorgeous curly hair that covered his head like a crown; a beautiful child; this outer beauty not to extend within.
Being potty trained, for him an objectionable exercise in the lessons of life. He taught himself to sit smile for extended lengths of time; the longer the better. He was the king on his throne, giving his gifts when and as he pleased. But this was not enough. There was more, lots more. Being seated on his throne was step one. Being in his crib presented an even bigger throne. This was his perfect place for truth and consequence; leave me alone you suffer. He would wait. Company would come over, he was cut off from attention; it was then that he became an artist in drawing in shades of brown. He painted on walls, on sheets, on railings of his crib, on his body, on his face, in his ears, up his nose, in his hair. He could not smell the painting matter, the clean-up crew of one could; his oldest sister.
But this was not enough. He wet his bed. This act demanded that father leave his bed; take him to the john, two times a night. It made no difference, the flood came. Withholding liquids, forget it. He could saturate a mattress in no time at all. Divide and conquer. Divide he did. What a coup.
Maturity accelerated his demands. Everything, anything wanted demanded he got. The emotional blackmail was well in place. The God given David was a Goliath albeit of small physical stature, but a Goliath nevertheless.
His lies were believed, his thefts, his cruelties excused. There was nothing that he did that wasn’t excused. It may have been encouraged. Kindness was not part of his sensitivities.
He blamed his mother for his father’s death. He blamed his father for dying. He was a get even guy. So were the self punishments. His three marriages failed. His son was now the Goliath, The payback is complete. He is alone, no mother, no father, rejected by his children, his siblings, a failure professionally, isolated.
MY SISTER JOANIE
The Power of Wishes Letter Dated May 2010
Make it a girl, please make it a girl. I want a sister. Please God, I want a sister.
I said this every day, every hour, every moment since mom told me there would be a baby coming to our family.
I wanted a sister. When mother was taken to the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to go along, left at home like an outcast, I ran down the street.
Please God, make it a girl. Then the rush of guilt. They wanted a boy. I ran even faster, it was April warm, God and the trees may be listening but no one else; past Mrs. Rose’s house, the Bruckner’s, the Feinstein’s. The ugly dog that followed me was an adoptee, a white English Bull Dog, Bonnie.
God, are you there? I’ll change my mind. Let them have the boy. But I don’t… I want a sister. “Please God, I’ve changed my mind, give them a boy. Forget my pleading, make it a boy.”
Too late. I got my sister. They would have to wait for their cherished David, or whatever he would be named.
You were my nine year old birthday present, born April 20th three days before my birthday. I would really be a big sister. Well, I wasn’t that big in statue, but I could be somebody to someone.
You were placed into my arms. You were bald. As you got older you became a beautiful blond with fair eyes, and creamy completion. We were a contrast right from the get-go.
At first, little sister I was taught to change your diapers, feed you your bottle, breast feeding wasn’t in the cards for mother, either by something nature prevented or by vanity, who knows?
You slept in my room; a crib. If you awakened in the night, I lifted you out, feed you a bottle and we snuggled together. You were my every one. There was a downside. You wet all night. Even with momma’s double diapering you leaked. I would just make my bed, covering up the wet. Laundry day, I stripped my bed, displaying uncommon responsibility after you came along, loaded the washer without being ordered.
You stood in your crib, bouncing, calling me by what you heard or thought you heard; Adrienne was Abian. You learned my name as your first word, maybe because mother yelled it frequently, Adrienne; get the trash out, Adrienne, get the dog fed. Adrienne, clean the birds, Adrienne, water, weed, mow the lawn, Adrienne, do this, do that all of which I did ― eventually. But when you called Abian from you crib, I was there. We went on stroller walks, we played in the sprinklers, we took your first steps together; we ate at the dining room table, you in the high chair close to me. You had your first solid food from the spoon in my hand; we bounced together in the bunk beds. You rode in my bike basket. You were a feminine sort. Not like me. But we were inseparable.
Do you remember the time we went to the Doheny estate where Daddy had arranged to play tennis on Sundays? I got to go if mother wanted to sleep late. You wanted to come along, I wasn’t too sure. This was my private place.
The Doheny property stretched for miles and miles. The grand house was at the top of a mountain. It was like a castle. I could go swimming or spend my time hiking into this wilderness while Daddy was playing tennis down below.
So you came along. OK little two and a half year old sister, you want to come along share my time, my activities. Let’s go on a hike.
The trail up was just a long walk, but then we went into the forest. You got scared. I held your hand, but the downside was too steep for you. You were ash white with fear, there were your tears that scared me but you wouldn’t leave my side. I knew what to do…loop our belts together to make a lifeline. We sat with our butts on the ground, scooted; worked our way to the bottom of this mountain. I was scared that you would tell that I had taken you into this perilous situation. Not you. You never ever told on me.
Our nine year difference took its natural toll. By the time you were nine I had left home, trying to be an adult.
We were of such different natures. We had had such different beginnings. You were the social one, I was the loner.
I never asked for anything, just hoped to be asked; never wanting to hear the dreaded NO. You were the great charmer, I envied your technique when I visited home, I would listen from the next room:
Daddy, I need a new dress. Here’s $20.00. Then you come home with no dress. Where’s your new dress? I didn’t buy the one I wanted Daddy. Why not? Well, you gave me $20.00 and the dress I wanted was $25.00 and I knew not to want a dress that was more than the amount you gave me. Joanie, you’re so sweet to your Daddy. Here’s the extra $5.00 go get the dress.
Or, the dining decisions: You would call from your boy friend’s house, inquiring what was for dinner. “Would you mind if I ate dinner here at Jerry’s?” Since dinner was not a pleasant situation after our brother reached the dinner table age you managed to escape the situation. I didn’t know how to do that kind of sweet avoidance.
You married not too long after Daddy died, had a little boy, moved to San Francisco so your husband could attend Medical School. Remember my visit? You lived in an apartment building that was designed like a bowling alley, with rooms on either side; the kitchen was at the back. You had not had time to straighten up. You sent me out on a tour of your design; you had a baby to watch and cleaning to finish. This was a switch. You had been Daddy’s princess; I had been mother’s slave. You rejected her stern routine and I had succumbed to it.
But then the years tumbled by. You divorced, remarried and moved to McMinnville Oregon; had two more children; your husband a successful attorney.
I finally got my life settled, living with my love out in the country.
Mother was using all of her resources to get on, but poorly. I couldn’t keep up the trips to Los Angeles. She wasn’t safe.
The greatest part of you came forth. You had mother with you in her last years. I can’t begin to tell you what that meant to her and to me.
She was safe with you.
Our lives have taken different courses. Our love hasn’t. We’re sisters of the best kind.
SIGNS OF MY WHITE TIMES
Tapping the keyboard; he mutters “White.” “White?” How dare he? She is astounded; who did this officious skinny little man in an ill fitting suit, glasses low on his thin nose think he is? In this day and age? So politically incorrect? When had she become “white”? She had been identified as black, brown, silvery gray but never white. “I don’t feel white. I’d better look again.” Her reflection on the Plexiglas partition at the DMV truth telling ― By God. She was white!
Several weeks later at the Pet Store: she slowly but surely lifts ten sacks of wild bird seed into the cart. Only twenty pounds per. She shoves the weighed cart to the front. Her Visa card scanned, ID requested. The young-looking clerk studies her Driver’s License, glances up, hands her the receipt. Then…”Wait a moment …I’ll call for an associate to assist you. You’ll need help unloading these heavy bags.” Well, no one had been needed for the loading. “No thanks I can do it.” “No, no” she insisted; “You shouldn’t be doing this, way too strenuous for you. After all, that’s what we’re here for; helping our senior customers.” Must be the white hair.
It was a Tuesday early that same spring: her day at the nursery. It was like being in an unending park of absolute beauty. Every plant could be a child in her garden. She had enough children. Pulling her little red wagon directly to the section that stocked a vast selection of seedling vegetable plants: tomatoes, lettuce, peppers; she loads up, the cucumbers, onions, basil she would grow from seed. Only grow what you can eat. Hauling the wagon to the line of gardeners she waits to check out.
The clerk adds up her purchases hands her the receipt; the total far less than expected. “This can’t be correct,” “Oh yes, I gave you your senior discount.” The white hair!
And just a few weeks later. The parking lot at her favorite Home Depot store: takes hold of a flat bed cart, wheels it into the nursery soil amendment section. Checks prices for the best deal: the 2 ½ cubic size sacks: The stack is high; her cart is low, easy, slides off 12. The cart heavy. Nevertheless, she stubbornly pushes it forward, managing to move it toward the cash register. She hears, “Do you need some help?” “Nah, I can manage!” Just barely. “Let me call for the lot associate.” She stays put. No lot associate puts in an appearance. “I can do this myself.” She pushed at her cart. It moves but hardly. Idea. Drive the pick-up to the cart. Done. She backs the truck rear to cart nose. With the tail-gate lowered she reaches down to begin the laborious loading. First lifts the front end of bag one, shoves it onto the tail gate. Heaves the end of the bag into the truck bed, crawls in and shoves; climbs out to repeat the operation with bag # 2. Several shoppers rushed by. Then a hefty man wheeling his cart zips by. He stares at her as he passes looks back, stops, walks back, parks his cart, comes over, shakes his head, smiles but sadly says, “Wait lady. Let me do that. A woman of your age shouldn’t be doing this heavy loading.” A woman of my age? It must be showing but how: five feet 2 ½”, 108 pounds, physically fit. Umm, damn white hair.
And summer comes: pulling her surfboard from the rental rack, balancing it on her head walks to the sand. Waxes the board, attaches the leash heads out to the waves. She knows where the pockets are on the inside and outside. Surfing since she was forty she could handle herself. Thirty-five years of surfing at Waikiki. The skill, the etiquette well taught to her by her favorite beach boy, the legendary, Rabbit Kekai.
The inside waves are crowded with tourists taking lessons, splashing youngsters, easy to spot California boys. They paddle kneeling on their boards, having learned to keep their legs out of the cold mainland Pacific as long as possible. She’ll take a few warm-up rides on the far right inside away from the crowds. A great set is rolling in. Take the second, the crowds will be on the first. Paddle, paddle, dig deep, feel the rush, up, shoulders square, knees bent. “Get the Fuck out of here you damn old woman.” California punk cuts her off deliberately. What the hell it is her wave. First up and on the rule. She struggles to the surface in the crash zone pounded by the churning water: gets back on her board, regains composure, heads back out. The bastard sees her, follows her, glaring, snarling something, gives her the finger.
So big deal, she paddles away to the outside. “I’m here to have fun.” He follows. “Jerk!” She positions her board near one of her Hawaiian surfing buddies. “Hey Auntie, dat fella need lesson. Auntie, you take da good wave coming, I take care you safe. He no bother you no mo, I bother him.” And off he went.
What a joy to be “Auntie.” Respected, hooray white hair.