The Model is Not Your Friend

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Used with permission of koiladecallisto

 

The Model is Not Your Friend

 

By Andrew B. Hurvitz

Two sober living men intoxicated by young beauties get drunk on self-deception.


 

There are some talented people here in Van Nuys.

One, Hector Suarez, an artist, lives here, downwind from the smoky outdoor grill run by Dos Hermanos Hernández on Victory Boulevard, west of Kester. He stays in one of those one-story garden apartments where people once slept with open doors and open windows behind the jasmine vines. That slow, hand-churned world of clothes hung on clotheslines was killed off, about the time girls stopped wearing gloves.

Today it is a never quiet place of constant lawlessness where fireworks are set off at night by derelicts and delinquents to arouse deep sleepers from sleep. And ever so often an unlucky man or woman is given up to gunfire.

Hector rents a little place with two rooms, in the corner unit. A steel door with bulletproof screens guards his front entrance. Behind the doors he paints.


Hector is an affable, baby faced, balding man in his late 40s who wears white t-shirts, paint splattered chinos, and a driving cap. He smokes hand-rolled cigarettes and frugally subsists on carrot sticks and jars of salsa.

I’ve been visiting his apartment for the last year, encouraging him to keep painting beautiful young men, young men who come to his studio and end up immortalized on six foot long canvases in colored oils.

We met at Alcoholics Anonymous, at a church on Kittridge, near the high school. The first time I met him, he was so kind and friendly (patting my shoulder, smelling of deodorant soap) that I wanted to stay close and buy him a beer. He is also my sponsor.

But as you will learn later I mostly take care of him.

At my first AA meeting we packed into the community room at St. Elisabeth’s with its yellow walls and orange wood floor. We sat, awkwardly, on steel chairs under scholastic style florescent lights in a space too honest and too ugly for lies.

I watched 20 strangers stand up and announce their addiction. Then I had to do it.

“My name is Mark Chiou and I am an alcoholic.”


 Revival Meeting

That night, after secular confession, the priests and nuns served us little cups of fresh squeezed orange juice, just like old mission settled Californians. Father Ernesto told me they still had a small grove of trees behind the rectory.

It was January, the nights were cold, and the ripened oranges just picked.

In winter, the air in the valley is cleaner, and you can see the mountains clearer, and the fog of confusion is blown out of the bowl. In that atmospheric respite, the wise often seize sanity before the summer smog returns to muddle the mind.

Hector came by with two more cups of juice and handed me one. “Here. Get drunk on this,” he said. We sipped and stared at a large wooden cross hanging on the wall.

“Did you ever think that a cross gives you only four choices? You can go up or down, backwards or forwards?” Hector asked.

Absent God, I examined the cross, just on its own merits, and extracted some answers in its form: finite, precise, and definite.

Hector spoke that first night about his faith and his squandered virtue. But he transmitted his ideas seductively, gently, without fire and brimstone. He was attractive in his acceptance of all failings, his, mine and others.

I was on the precipice of ruin: unemployed, broke, living in a trailer. Addicted to Japanese whisky, a bottle a week of $150 Yamazaki, 12-Year-Old.

Hector worked and supported himself painting public schools around Los Angeles with a large firm that sprayed cinderblock walls in watered down paint.


 

Judge Judy

Sometimes, I think of my failings and imagine I have to appear before Judge Judy (2017 Salary: $47 million per year) as she interrogates and castigates me for not having a full time job, or family, or for my addiction. She is cruel, but her meanness, like all highly paid scolds, is for my own good. I have no answers for her, because she talks over me. But, in the end, she is always right. And well paid. Which makes her right.

I remember work. I used to work. I had a paycheck and responsibilities.  I sold houses. I had a couple of roles in Geico commercials. I conversed with an elephant and got thrown off a building. I made some money.

I bought a house in Van Nuys near the 405. It was loud but they built a concrete wall to shut out the noise and then homeless people moved behind the wall between my backyard and the freeway.

When I stopped being cute I was no longer cast in commercials. Then the real estate market crashed. I couldn’t sell houses. I couldn’t pay my mortgage. And I ended up drinking because all the losing shattered me.  I told this all to Hector, confessing it for the first time.

“So you didn’t really do anything so terrible,” Hector said. “I’ve heard far worse. I think you’re going to be OK.”


 

Projection

After one AA meeting, on one of those nights in late August, we were on his front stoop. It was warm. There was a brush fire in Santa Clarita and the air smelled like smoke and grilled chicken. Police cars sped past spraying red splatters of urgent light.

A helicopter bladed overhead and shone a spotlight over the yard, and again we were in the midst of another nightly menace around us, somewhere, nearby.  Hector sighed.

“So much barbarism in our midst. So much hatred.  Where is love? Every night I sleep here, alone, and I think why can’t I have just one friend? These models come to my apartment, so young, so beautiful, so tender. Why can’t one of them be mine?” he asked.

“Can’t you just find someone to love?” I asked him.

“Even if I did I couldn’t go back to my parents in El Monte. I’m not coming out at 47,” he said.

“How about finding a secret love? Here in your apartment? Nobody has to know,” I said.

We spoke as two platonic friends in the protected intimacies of AA. I knew then, that the feeling of relief I once had from drink might be replaced by expunging secrecy. I felt calm with him, tranquilized, by talk.

We stood up and walked back into his apartment. The windows were open. A dusty floor fan blew sooty air. Hector pulled off some sheets protecting his artworks. He lit three important candles: Jesus, the Virgin of Guadalupe and Pope John II.

In dimness we moved among the paintings, silently. An introverted young man looked down from one.

Hector smiled. “Kyle Grovers from Fayetteville, NC. Only 22. He is 6’1, lean, with piercing eyes and a sharp jawline. He doesn’t have a drop of fat on him. I took him out to dinner. He ate one vegetarian taco and threw up afterwards. He told me he was sick. I let him sleep over here that night. But we didn’t do anything.”

“I do love Southerners. Even when they’re sad they’re full of joy,” I said.

Hector pointed to another half done canvas: a tall white woman.

“Megan. A Wilhemina girl. Smoked constantly. Hated her body too. You think they smell fresh, but I’ve been up close and they stink,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he was referring to Megan, or women, or all models.

“I used to try and cheer her up. She was so stunning. She lit up this dismal apartment just by sitting on a stool.”

“The model is not your friend,” he said. “The more you befriend them the worse they treat you.”


One Day They’ll Save Me

He went into the bathroom. I heard him pee.

I was in a moment that moment, a morose trance, in a room, surrounded by bodies and faces from heaven, half-dressed; a room of silent sensuality, a gathering of magnificent creatures, who spoke me no words, who shared me nothing but their own exquisite gazes.

Hector came out and went into the dark kitchen. He put two cigarettes in his mouth, bent down to the stovetop and turned on a burner with a hot blue flame. He walked back in, pulled one out of his mouth and handed it to me.

“I can’t deal with these models any more,” he said. He sat down on the floor, flickering ashes into a coffee can with wet brushes. He smoked and talked, soft and low, as if he were afraid of waking the sleeping crickets.

“I invest so much in them. I think one day they’ll save me. Their looks will attract me a patron of the arts who’ll buy seven paintings. And then one of the models will fall in love with me. And we will have such physical, emotional, wonderful sex,” he said.

“You have some fantastic aspirations. Almost too fantastic,” I said.

“Kyle came over one Sunday morning. He surprised me and took off all his clothes without me asking. He is straight he says. I don’t touch him. I just position him on the stool in the living room, near the window. He lifts up his long arms, showing me those dark patches of underarm hair. He puts his hand over his dick. Then out of the blue he starts to cry and break down and the tears are pouring out of him,“ Hector says.

“I ask him what is wrong. But my hands are off him. I stand 10 feet away. Then he stops. I give him a paper towel to wipe his eyes, blow his nose. And he doesn’t say another word. I resume my painting. He looks away from me. And we work for another two hours in silence.”

“These gods and goddesses that you think are so sparkling. They are really pathetic, needy, weak people.”


 

The Killer Held a Can of Spray Paint

A few nights after that talk, I was half-asleep in my trailer, parked in the lot at LA Fitness on Sepulveda.

Hector called me at midnight. He had been crying.

“A couple of hours ago they killed my friend Arturo Montez on Saticoy. He yelled at a tagger to stop defacing the fence in front of his rental house. And he got shot. 40 years old. Married, three daughters. Oh my God. He is dead. Please come over.”

I rode down Erwin, up Noble, through the back alley and pushed open the unlocked wooden gate. He was sitting on the grass, near a tree, smoking a cigarette, surrounded by dozens of discarded, red, aluminum cans of Coca-Cola.

I laid my bike down, unloading my burden of transport to care for my friend.

I sat down on the ground and held him as he cried.

“Our families came from the same village. El Sabinito in Tamaulipas. Our fathers were friends. We were all friends. I know his wife Tara, his daughters, Ava, Olivia, Sammy. What kind of monster kills a father because he asks you not to tag his fence?”

“This is L.A.,” I said.

Two initials: a shortcut answer for a sensationalized act of desecration.

“Fuck Los Angeles! Fuck America! I used to envy this country when I lived in Mexico! I thought this was a paradise. The fucking land of liberty!”

“In Tamaulipas we are rural. There are rivers, and rain forests, and caves to explore. We grew maize. We had public squares, we were poor, but we were civilized. We lived in peace. We belonged to the Earth. Now we are lost,” he said.

We stayed under the tree, slept, awoke at dawn, in the same place, lost.


 El Velatorio

A few days later we went up to see Arturo’s family in North Hills to pay our respects to the dead wood worker.

A six-foot high redwood fence bordered a house blocking it from street view. Flowers, candles and cards sat on the sidewalk near the tags, at the death spot where Arturo died. This family once supposed, wrongly, that nailed redwood planks might keep evil out as screens on windows shut out flies.

We walked through the gate, into a yard littered with toys, into a ranch house normal in every sense except for the occasion. There were tables in the living room set up with silver foil trays of yellow rice, grilled chicken, fried plantains, pinto beans, and roasted green chilies.

Arturo’s brother, Cesar, a black mustached electrician, hugged Hector. “Where are the girls? Tara?”

“They are staying at our church. They have a rectory house. Two much noise and people here,” he said.

“But come see my brother,” Cesar said motioning to the coffin.

In the dining room, an open casket sat under a chandelier of antlers, two dead mammals repurposed for other acts.

Arturo was gone, yet all the life, all the people he knew, all the foods he loved, all of it swirled around.

A white haired woman, his mother Valentina, sat in a chair, in a black lace dress, holding a string of rosary beads, a few feet from her murdered son. People walked up to her, with kindness and touch, held her hand or kissed her, attempting to soothe her inconsolable grief.

Hector kissed her.

“Desearía poder ayudar. Nuestra pena es insoportable, ” he said.

I wish I could help. Our grief is unbearable.

The mourning mother, wounded and despondent, looked at me.

“Do you know my son made art? He was so talented. He was a hard worker too. He spent his life building beautiful fences and someone killed him at the fence! It’s like Leonardo dying in front of the Mona Lisa.”

Hector walked over to sleeping, insensate Arturo and kissed him on the forehead.

Nothing could nullify the obscenity of loss.

But that day, those palliative rites of death somehow seemed right and corrective and soothing.


The Mercurial Model

I encouraged Hector to paint, to soothe. He soon booked a female model gladdening me. And asked me to sit in the room while he painted her.

Lauren Zoberi, 21, a precociously sensual, blue-eyed model from Cincinnati was curled up on a brown sofa, a denim shirt she wore, unbuttoned, opened, revealed her smooth breasts.

“Lauren is going back to New York next week,” Hector said, attempting polite conversation. He lit up two cigarettes and handed one to me.

“You addicts smoke a lot of cigarettes,” Lauren said.

“A cigarette can be a life saving thing young lady,” Hector replied.  Lauren didn’t care. She was eager to bring the conversation back to her.

“I gave LA a chance for acting and modeling and nothing happened yet,” she said.

“How long have you been here?” I asked as she stared at her smart phone.

“Three weeks,” she said. “Right now I need to take a toilet break gentlemen.”

She abruptly got up and walked into the bathroom. Hector looked at me and shook his head making the crazy sign with his finger.

“I need her for a few more days. But honestly I’d like her out as soon as possible,” he said.

Lauren peered out of the bedroom. “I have to just take a few minutes and check my phone. I’ll be right out,” she said closing the door.

Hector looked at his watch. He got up and went into the kitchen. “Want a Coke?” he asked me.

“Sure. Thank you,” I said.

There was a sudden crashing in the bedroom and a loud “Fuck!”  We rushed into the room. Lauren was on her knees. She had tripped on a lamp cord. The floor was slippery too.

“Why is the floor wet?” Hector asked.

Lauren laughed demonically. “Whisky from my flask you asshole!”

“Whoa. You know I’m sober. I don’t want that shit in my house,” he said.

“Oh, so you care about the whisky more than me? How do you know I am not hurt?” she asked.

“Are you hurt?” Hector asked offering her his hand to pull her up.

“Fuck you!” she answered. “You don’t care about me!”

“Do you care about me honey? You brought alcohol into my house! You know I’m an alcoholic! I’m sober and you disrespected me!” he said.

“Oh fuck off Hector! You are really selfish! You have no consideration for others! You are into exploiting models! Who the hell are you? You are nothing! You don’t even have 700 followers on Instagram!” she railed.

“Just get out now,” he said.

She stormed into the living room, knocked her canvas off the easel and kicked the painting. Hector grabbed her from behind, locking her with two arms.

“Get the fuck off me! Get the hell away! You fucking Mexican faggot,” she screamed.  He pushed her away.

She threw her t-shirt on, shoved her feet into flip-flops, grabbed her cheap, fringed purse and ran out the front door.

Her portrait, left behind, lay on the floor, torn through with a foot hole in its stomach.

Hector picked up the painting. “Kicked in the gut. Exactly,” he said as he placed the damaged art back on the easel.

“Mexican faggot. I used to think being a recovering addict was the lowest position on the social register,” he said.

I took a towel and wiped the bedroom floor.

“In LA a recovered addict is actually the highest status you can attain. Even better than a Master’s Degree,” I said.


Angus Muir Ale

A few months after the Lauren implosion, I left my trailer behind, set up a cot in Hector’s living room and spent my nights there.  I found some part-time work at Angus Muir Ale on Bessemer St.

The brewery and taproom was in an industrial building in Van Nuys, on a street of auto repair shops and towing yards. I diligently cleaned floors, tables, counters, bathrooms, and brewing tanks and never took a sip of alcohol. I got paid $7.50 an hour and worked 25 hours a week.

Angus Muir had a large, black walled room filled with dartboards. Every few months they would take down the darts, hang paintings and turn it into a gallery.

Hector got in through my connection. He started promoting his upcoming show on Instagram. And Jesse Somera, a model and blogger with over 10,000 followers, liked one of Hector’s posts. Hector became ecstatic.

“This is cool,” he said as he showed me Somera’s like. “I checked him out. He is friends with Ingrid Fonssagrives. She is a very big art collector in Bel Air. She used to be in Andy Warhol’s Factory in the 60s,” he said. “He already said he is coming to Van Nuys for the show and bringing six friends!”

“Hector. Aren’t you forgetting the first rule? The model is not your friend. They are indifferent to your betterment. They don’t care,” I said.

“Jesse is different. He is Eurasian!” he said using the common liberal argument that race always matters when assigning virtue to a person.


Basil Floor Cleaner

In my life I was consumed, not with models or art, but of how to properly mop the floors at Angus Muir.

Keeping a close eye on me was the manager, Kathy Chin, a stocky, gray haired, middle-aged Asian woman, in flowered shirts, pegged pants and flip-flops. She had an MBA from USC (1991) and was given to speaking in every matter related to Angus Muir Ale in terms of numbers and units.

“You poured maybe half a cup of Mrs. Meyers in there. It only should be about a quarter cup. It’s expensive. We buy about one bottle every seven days. We should look into using less. Save money Mark,” she admonished.

She was already disliked by the staff for her frugal, persnickety spread sheets measuring how much beer was poured into every mug, how many bags of hops were used in a day, and how many hours of air conditioning were needed (only after customers arrived, the employees could sweat). She took notice of employee bathroom breaks, and removed toilet paper from the bathrooms that she only installed after the taproom opened.

Kathy was the one who decided to pull in more revenue by hosting some high priced art shows. She liked Hector’s work because the canvases were big. “The larger they are the more we can charge!” she said.

At a meeting with Hector she even made him pay for a can of sparkling water.

After Hector left, Kathy approached me.

“What do you think Mark? Is his work good?” she asked.

“He went to art school so I think so,” I answered.

“Only 650 follow him on Instagram. How good could he be? Oh well. If he sells we make money!” she said.


Bowls of Chips

Hector’s exclusive art show at Angus Muir was catered with bowls of potato chips, M&Ms, bottles of orange soda, and those little, dehydrated carrot sticks that come in the plastic bags from Trader Joe’s.

His works hung on the wall between the open garage door and the last dartboard. Fumes from the auto painting shop next door mixed with the hoppy air of the brewery; a taco truck from Dos Hermanos Hernández provided dinner and outdoor dining on asphalt.

The Montez Family arrived at 6pm: the wife, daughters, mother and brother of Arturo. These survivors, only months out of the shadows of death, came dutifully to an event they might have skipped.

“My man! What a nice show!” Cesar said with forced cheer.  Hector kissed Tara, and the daughters: Ava, Olivia, and Sammy. The family walked over to survey the paintings, many of them with nude or half clothed men. Respectfully, by coincidence, only one subject was clothed: Arturo, standing next to a fence, an oddly, morbidly, prescient painting, a portrait that both anticipated and chronicled his short life and death.

“This is your papa, my husband,” Tara said to the little children who shook their heads in agreement, in love, no doubt, in pain.

Cesar smiled. “$4,500 for Arturo? I hope he is laughing in heaven.”

Karin came up to the group and said hello. “Why don’t you all come to the table and chairs I set up in the back of the brewery? It’s much cooler and less crowded back there!”  She ushered the un-fashionables back behind the large silver tanks.

Hector looked at his phone. “Oh cool. Jesse just said they are leaving downtown and he DM’d with Ingrid and they are all coming here on their way to Ventura! Who is Taylor Zakhar?” Karin overheard his remark.

“I know those people. I keep up with Hollywood. These are the VIPs,” Karin said as she carried glasses away to the sink.

Hector leaned over to me. “Yeah. She is really in the Hollywood elite running this brewery in Van Nuys.”


9 O’Clock High

The art show attendees, those social media people invited by Hector, confirmed only hours earlier, none of them showed up. Jesse and his bunch did not send any messages. And of Ingrid Fonssagrives, rumored as expected, there was not a sighting.

Karin walked over to me. “Looks like a failure. Not something I want to put on my resume. I think if nothing sells I take it all off the walls. What good is hanging art just to hang?”

“I thought they could stay up for a few weeks?” Hector asked.

“Would you stock shelves with products not selling?” Karin asked. Hector, deflated, walked outside.

“Is this my fault?” I asked her hoping to deflect her callousness away from the un-selling artist.

“Of course not. I’m not blaming you or your friend. Successful people want to be around other successful people. It was stupid of me to think Hector could pull in buyers. I blame myself. I was hoping it would work out because I know you and he had tough breaks. And for you, being Chinese, like me, we never want to disappoint. Our parents drilled that into us. So let’s learn our lessons and move on!”

I went out into the never dark urban night and stood under the LED light where Hector was smoking. “Is your boss smacking you around?” he asked.

“I don’t care,” I said.

Hector slumped down to the ground, his back resting against the building.  “You think people would keep their promise. Why don’t I ever learn? They hate us because we are old alcoholics and we live in Van Nuys,” he said.

 


Silver Shadow

We hung outside, smoking, on the driveway, avoiding the inevitable dismantling of the show. “I can’t go back in there. I don’t want to cry in front of Arturo’s family,” he said.

Improbably, a long, graceful Rolls Royce Silver Shadow drove up, steered by a white haired woman with an aristocratic face and a sprayed and powdered mane of perfectly coiffed hair which she stuck out the window. “Shall I give you my keys to park the car?” she asked Hector.

He shook his head and muttered. “I ain’t the valet. Just park your car here lady,” he said.

She smiled with closed lips and opened the door releasing a heady scent of gardenia that pervaded the night. “Thank you so much dear,” she said. And we watched the strange, surrealism of an older sweep of elegance dressed in paisley silk pants, high heels and a baby-blue fur jacket walk into the brewery.

“I should just be a valet. That’s how people see me,” Hector said.

Karin ran outside. “Get in here! That woman in a Rolls-Royce. I think she’s here to buy!”

We went in and the gallery was still empty. “Maybe she use the restroom,” Karin said. “Fill up the M&Ms! Some bags in back!” she ordered me.

I walked in back to look for the candy and found, instead, a laughing group of people. The rich lady was sitting at the table with Arturo’s family.

“Do you know this lady is a world famous fashion model? Come meet Ingrid. She used to model for Andy Warhol! She lives up on Benedict Canyon. Arturo worked for her!” Tara said. Just then Hector walked over.

“You’re Ingrid Fonssagrives! You’re Jesse’s friend!” Hector said.

“Who’s Jesse?” Ingrid asked.

“Jesse Somera. Mad Thirsty Dot Com. You are real friends on Instagram!” Hector said.

“Never heard of him! But I have heard of you my dear Hector. Arturo when he came to my house to build my fences, my cabinets, all his wonderful work, he would always talk about my friend Hector who is a wonderful painter. He would say Ingrid you have to buy his artwork! So now, on this bittersweet occasion, I have driven from Belair, down the canyon, up to Van Nuys and I can now meet Arturo’s family, his beautiful children, his wife, his mama, his brother, and especially you, Hector, whom Arturo idolized. Now I can see why!”

“He was my friend. He also said he worked for a well-bred, dignified woman who once knew Andy Warhol. But he never told me your name. I think he protected your privacy. Did you really know Andy? He was my hero,” Hector said.

“Andy was a dear friend. That car outside? He bought it for me in 1977. He said he was going to give me a $30,000 present and I could choose either an apartment in New York on 17th Street or a Rolls-Royce, so of course, like a fool, I chose the Rolls-Royce!” she said as everyone laughed.

Ingrid stood up, queenly, her long silk scarf blowing back, bracelets jangling, as the family followed her, like an entourage, right into the gallery. She went up to Arturo’s painting. Dabbing two of her right fingers against her coral lips, she blew a kiss to the portrait.

Karin walked over, humbly, as if she were a factory worker in the presence of her visiting boss. “Which one please you most?” she asked.

“All of them. I’m going to take them all,” she said.

Karin covered her mouth and clasped her hands in reverence. “Oh madam. This is an honor. Really. You are making a very good investment. Hector is soon going to be world famous. He will have many followers on Instagram. Maybe you can take a photo with him and I post in on Angus Muir Instagram!”

Ingrid and Hector stood in front of Arturo’s portrait as Karin’s snapped content.

Ingrid took Hector’s arm and pulled him into a corner, her voice lowered. “I’m going to write two checks. One to the brewery… And I guess they’ll give you a cut. But then I’m going to give you one, in secret, in private, only for you. That is just between us. Do you understand?”

“Yes. Ma’am. I mean Ingrid. How can I thank you? How did you ride out of the night and find me? This isn’t how I predicted things. You turned this event upside down. You made me feel like you care about me. How come I didn’t ever know people like you existed?”

Karin came over with a glass of beer and handed it to Ingrid. “Please. Have this complimentary glass of beer on us. You deserve it. This is truly gratitude from us to you Miss. Truly.”

 

THE END

 

The Neutrogena Man

Cory Brusseau by Andy Hurvitz

The Neutrogena Man

/Aging and agelessness in Bergen County, NJ and Rockland County, NY

and the balm of hope.

“The Follow Along”

 

Ava and Lou/ 11-25-09
Ava and Lou/ 11-25-09

“Oh, Hello Mrs. Edelman. I’ve got a UPS package down here from your son in California. Yes, Ma’am I’ll keep it right next to my desk.”

McEvoy, the doorman at 1099 Fifth Avenue, hung up the phone. A ruddy, middle- aged and perpetually officious Irishman, he had worked in this luxury building for 24 years.

The house telephone rang again.

”Hello. Mrs. Edelman? Yes, its still here. The weather? Let me look outside.”

He put down the receiver and walked out onto Fifth Avenue and looked across the gray, windy expanse of Central Park.

“It don’t look too good ma’am. I’d say you’d better take an umbrella. Well, even if you’re only going to Lincoln Center. When you get out of the cab, if it’s raining, you’ll get drenched. Yes, ma’am.”

Madison Parke, the red haired, affected and pretentious nighttime doorman, arrived for the evening shift.

Mr. Fagan picked up the UPS package.

“Great son, this Ron Edelman. He lives out in LA, makes a bundle producing shit TV and he sends his mother used books.”

“She likes books. She always tells me that Ron— the great Ron— knows just what his mom wants to read. She loves mysteries. Last year she went on that sleuth weekend where you had to find the body up at Lake Mohonk. Couldn’t stop talking about it.”

“Yeah. I remember. She was all excited because the “corpse” was at the bottom of the lake.”

“Charlie, I saw her come down the other day. She was wearing the tightest spandex exercise pants youse ever seen. I mean, if I didn’t know she was 70 years old, I would go after her myself.”

“Oh, she takes great care of herself. She told me she’s on the stair master 45 minutes a day. She also lifts weights, rides horses, swims in the pool, does yoga.”

“Then she’s always running out the door to plays, concerts, restaurants. She told even told me she ended up in a dyke bar down in Tribeca last week!”

“Mrs. Edelman! At a dyke bar!”

“She said she knew women like that at Vassar, but she was always afraid to socialize with them. Now that’s its cool….well she wanted to see a lesbo bar up close.”

The elevator door opened. Out of the mahogany paneled cab stepped a petite, blond, thin lady dressed in a tan trench coat. A Burberry scarf was gallantly wrapped around her neck. Her posture was erect, her tone direct and confident.

“Good evening gentlemen!”

“Hello Mrs. Edelman”

“Can you call a cab for me Charles?”

“Yes ma’am.”

He ran out the front door, stepped off the curb and stuck a piercing whistle in his mouth. As if on command to a deity, a line of yellow cabs came to a halt.

Mrs. Edelman stepped out . McEvoy held open the apartment door and Doorman Fagan got the cab. She smiled at these two servants who greased the wheels of elitism, on a cool October night on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

“I want two pounds of nova. Don’t slice it too thickly. Last time I came in you gave me thick slices. I almost choked.”

Mrs. Edelman was pushing her way through the competitively edible chaos of the Fairway. Even at midnight, the store was bustling. Shoppers aimed their carts like assassins with automatic weapons. A ridiculously opulent place, she thought. Stuffed with non-essentials like English creams, organic Greek olives, hand cut oatmeal, German black bread, Swiss preserves, French mustards, Japanese fish eggs and butter from Manitoba.

It was a ritual for her, the Saturday night trip to the Upper West Side for Sunday brunch. The dying and reborn rituals of Jewish cooking, family togetherness and religious symbolism joined hands with the secular machine of supermarket retailing.

She had done this when Harry was alive. He insisted on the best of everything. He simply could not eat a piece of Lox unless it had been purchased at Fairway. He was as biased in favor of the culture and food of this neighborhood. But as a successful shoe manufacturer and designer, he insisted on the stylish elegance of the Upper East Side. His January 1969 quote in Esquire: “The West side is for eating, the East side for living.”

He was a self-made and often arrogant man. But he inspired her love. There was not a day when some street, some store- front didn’t remind her of Harry Edelman. A walk past the Plaza brought back the moment he had proposed to her in the Oak Bar, a young man of 27, already selling shoes to Bergdorf under the Edelman label. His shoes were the pinnacle of stylishness, and when a woman wore $50 Edelman crocodile pumps, she had attained an important and inarguably affluent state of being.

Truman Capote had once written an unpublished short story for her called “Little Mister Shoe”. It was a wickedly cruel satire of a Brooklyn born titan who rose to the top of his profession by preying on the insecurities of rich Manhattan matrons. He would walk up Madison Avenue, find wealthy ladies and ask, “Are those Weinsteins you’re wearing?” The women, startled and surprised by this shoe interrogator, would usually say, “No they’re not.” And this questioner, would remark, “Well, they are so beautiful, I just assumed they were Weinsteins!”

That’s what Harry had done. He got Slim Hayward, Babe Paley and even Doris Day to wear his shoes. He walked up to them at parties or in restaurants and pretended to not understand why they were not wearing Edelmans.

On the day Harry Edelman died, his wife was walking home in blinding rainstorm, unable to hail a cab. Her shoes were soaking, the leather ruined. All she could think of was how he would kill her when she got home. When she reached 1099, an ambulance was outside, lights flashing crimson in the dark pounding rain. Two men were carrying him out on a gurney. As the doorman grabbed her beneath the arms, she fainted away.

Ron had been the apple of their eye. The only son. With his blue eyes, light brown hair, tall and athletic frame, he turned heads everywhere. He seemed destined for acting, or perhaps news casting. He had a deep and abiding loyalty to his parents, and especially was concerned about their health and safety.

At Yale, he surprised his parents when he switched his major from acting to business management. It was practical, he explained, the eighties were about making money, and he didn’t know any rich actors, only struggling ones.

He came home, to Manhattan, during vacations and long weekends. Always to see shows. He was passionate about dramas: Pinter, Albee, Shakespeare. Once they saw “Othello” out of doors in the park, when it was playing at the Delacorte. At the moment that the great martyred queen Desdemona dies, at the hand of her distrusting husband, Ron let out a mournful cry. It startled his mother, to see her son so moved by something so ethereal and artful.

Ron had one weakness that seemed to bother her immensely. He was picked up, bossed around and controlled by domineering women. There was Annette Hoffman, the chubby thespian who had dated him at Dalton in junior and senior years. She openly smoked, wore heavy make up and dressed like a shlep. She lived on Riverside Drive, and seemed openly contemptuous of Ron’s parents and their tony, aspiring life on Fifth.

To his mother’s gratification, Ron broke off with Annette. But again he was cornered at college by the needy, self- pitying and obnoxious Rosanne Harmon, a Connecticut WASP. Ron was taken with Rosanne’s blond hair and soccer toned thighs, but seemed to ignore her more destructive tendencies. When he brought her home for Thanksgiving, and Rosanne sarcastically remarked about the good taste of his parents, Harry took her comment to sound almost anti-Semitic, as if Jews just wouldn’t know good taste, and simply had to purchase the outward manifestation of it.

Harry’s dislike for Rosanne brought a chill to the relationship between father and son. Rosanne started to push for Ron to break away from his parents. Talk started about moving West, where the sun shined always, and the limestone structured rules and regulations melted in the heat of a perpetual Dionysian youth.

Ron and Rosanne drew closer to graduation. Los Angeles, with its insipid and empty promises of sunshine, fame and fortune posed a poisonously seductive charm to the graduates. 

Rosanne nagged him. ”Let’s get out of the East Coast. The weather sucks. We will always have your parents to deal with, and I just want to see whether we can make it in LA”

“I don’t know, Ro.” Ron would answer, “ I just think it’s awful out there. You need a car. The people are so dumb. Besides, I might want to work with my father. He needs a business mind. “

“That is just gross! You want to spend your twenties stuck on 7th Avenue? The humidity…. pushing carts and boxes on the sidewalk…… and working in the shoe business! You always wanted to act. Why don’t you live your dreams?”

When she spoke it made sense. Los Angeles would be their city. They could always come home. They could even become bi-coastal, with a home in both cities! Los Angeles didn’t have lots of things—Central Park, Broadway, Wall Street, the Brooklyn Bridge, Sardis, the Guggenheim. But so what! Angelinos had swimming pools, nice cars, and beautiful weather. That was enough! If they didn’t like it out West, they would come back to New York.

At Fairway, she grabbed the Nova Scotia. Then it was two pumpernickel bagels, two raisins, two sesame. A red onion, Jersey tomatoes, capers, and a half pound of Sumatra.

Tomorrow she was having an eclectic group over: Ingrid, a retired book editor at Knopf and her husband Arnie, who was a violinist with the Philharmonic. The guest list included portrait painter Edward Reese Hubbard, and his companion Maynard Forbes, an investment banker.

At the checkout line, the clerk remarked. “Look at that lightening. It’s gonna pour. Do you need any help with your packages ma’am?.”

“No! Not at all. I’ve got it all under control.”

The seventy- year old lady with the 26- inch waist, bountiful brain and the beating heart, carried two heavy paper bags full of provisions for a Sunday party full of witty, intelligent and urbane sophisticates. Independent, opinionated and free of encumbering alliances with husbands, lovers and even her own son, she stepped out unaware of the precipice ahead.

The cab crossed under the flooded park roads. When they got to Fifth Avenue, the rain was pounding heavily. It sounded like the steel roof of the cab was being hit by a thousand speeding nails maliciously tossed by the hands of an angry God.

At 1099, the doorman opened her door. Instead of helping Mrs. Edelman out of the cab, he instead grabbed the two bags of groceries and hustled them inside to dryness. She fumbled for her wallet, and took out $10 and paid the cabbie. She put her hand on the door of the cab and lifted herself onto the curb. But her right foot hit the gutter and suddenly twisted. A cracking bone and the instant signal of injury rushed through her entire body. She screamed loudly, and fell forward onto the sidewalk. The cab driver, recognizing her injury but fearing a lawsuit, pulled away suddenly with the door ajar. She lay helpless on the sidewalk, awaiting rescue.

“You’ve broken your ankle, Mrs. Edelman.”

The doctor at Lenox Hill spoke clearly and without empathy. “Look at the X-Ray”.

He continued, “‘The white solid area is your ankle bone, dislocated by about 5cm or so from the end of the broken tibia. The jagged ends of broken bones can be clearly seen.”

She was in a wheelchair. At her side was Edward Reese and Maynard.

Edward said, “Doctor, Mrs. Edelman lives alone. She is in an apartment and can’t get around without help. How is she going to take care of herself?”

“Do you have any children Mrs. Edelman?”

“My son lives in Agoura. That’s in California.”

“Oh.”

“He’s been telling me for years that I have to move there. But I hate it out there. I’m not going to leave New York. That’s final.”

“Mother, it’s Ron. How are you feeling?”

“Well. I have pain and tenderness. My leg is swelling. I can’t move around and when I try to move it hurts even more. How is Rosanne?”

”Never mind Rosanne. She’s fine. Let’s just talk about you. That’s my concern.”

“Well I’m just asking, because I haven’t heard from her. I just wondered if she’s all right.”

“What else did the doctor say?”

“He took a Doppler study.”

“What’s that?”

“To see about my pulse. Sometimes they get concerned because the injury can cut off your pulse and then you might have an amputation.”

“An amputation! Mother that does it. I’m coming home.”

”What about your show? How can you leave Rosanne?”

“She’s going to be all right. I’m coming into LaGuardia on Friday.”
“OK.”
————————————————————————————————————–
On Sunday afternoon, Ingrid and Arnie were sitting in the yellow walled living room. The park windows were open. It was a sunny Autumn day, when the warm winds carry faint scents of burning wood and fallen leaves. The dimming sun perpetuated a lie: that this fair weather would never end.

“I don’t see how she’s going to be able to stay here.” remarked Ingrid.

“A nurse? Don’t they have nurses who can stay with her?” asked Arnie.

“Around the clock! She can’t afford that.”

“She’s not exactly poor.”

“This is what kills old people. When the medical bills start piling up, they have to get people to take care of them all day. Emptying bed- pans, going to the grocery store, paying the bills. Who do you think is going to do all that?”

From the bedroom, the weary voice of the patient called out.

“Ingrid. Can you come in here please?”

“I’m coming.”

Her leg was elevated on pillows. Wrapped in a cast, it stood on top of a goose down comforter like some misplaced sculpture from the Museum of Modern Art. It covered a right leg that had been one half of a vigorous and seldom still pair of legs. The legs that had once danced at the Waldorf and skated around the ice at Wohlman Rink. Those legs had climbed the Statue of Liberty and ran around the Reservoir in Central Park.

“I’m sorry to bother you. Could you get me a Tylenol? These compound fractures. I think I ‘d rather just have them cut off!”

Ingrid handed her a glass of water and a pill.

“Don’t talk that way! In a couple of months, you’ll be out of this mess and back to your old self.”

“Old self. That’s what I am. Old. Look at how I ruined everyone’s brunch today.”

“You didn’t ruin anything! You had an accident. Ron will be coming home, and then you’ll have something to look forward to. Maybe with the winter coming you’ll want to spend time in California. Listen, it’s not bad sitting around the pool in the sunshine.”

The phone rang. It was Maynard.

“Hello, dear. How are you?”

“As well as can be expected. Where are you calling from?”

”Oh, we just left the ballet. It was marvelous. I usually hate modern dance, but this one was choreographed magnificently. The way they move on stage. Lucinda Capelli bounces like a kitten and she is so beautiful.”

“Oh, Lucinda. Remember when she performed Balanchine’s piece? I forget the name. See, I’m losing my mind.”

“Don’t say that. You’re going to be up and about in a matter of days. Edward was saying that he should paint you in bed. That would cheer you up.! He could hide your cast under some pillows and immortalize you for the ages! What do you think of that?”

“I think I’m tired. I have to go. Good-bye”

She hung up the phone and stared at the ceiling. Ingrid took her hand and tried to tell her she was not alone.

Ingrid and Arnie. Maynard and Edward. The doorman and the maid. The nurse from Blue Cross. All made appearances. They fed and bathed and emptied the bedpan. They listened as she cried and got angry. They fed her pills to relax her, pills to kill the pain.

Friday: The day that Ron came home. Only six days elapsed between her injury and his impending arrival. Every 24 hours felt monumentally long and physically and psychologically taxing. She wondered if he was really coming. She feared his plane would crash. Eating, bathing, thinking, all were actions of immense athletic exertion.

At last, 11.30pm on Friday, November 1st, Ron Edelman walked into his mother’s room and hugged her tightly. She was so relieved to see him. The anointed son and savior had come home at last.

He was sleeping soundly along side her, when she awoke at 7am. Once he had been an infant boy, and here he was today– a man, a tall, graying still handsome man in a fetal position sleeping next to Mom.

She couldn’t get up and make him breakfast, or even coffee. She reminisced about those years when Saturday morning meant Harry and Ron watching cartoons, laughing on the living room, eating the bagels and getting the crumbs on the floor. It had made her angry, the mess they caused on her good carpets. How stupid she had been! If she only knew then how briefly that interval of togetherness and laughter would last.

Now, she had to lay in her bed, helpless, as her infant child had once been. She was dependent and reliant on others. Once, she had figured out that most of the human race was selfish and self-serving, and she had acted accordingly, grabbing the richest man for herself, and taking advantage of all that Manhattan and the glittering crowd had to offer. Now she had to eat what was cooked, listen to the trivial patter of servants, and ask her son if he would leave his life, his wife, his job and home and spend time with his mother. How could she ask [and receive] all of that?

“There’s just so much to do here in the city, mom! God, I can’t believe that they’re doing another revival of “The Producers”. And look at the jazz festival on the pier at South Street.”

“Well you go. You only have a few days here. I don’t want you to sit in the apartment and watch TV. You need to take it in before you go back to that……..place.”

“Mom. Why do you hate LA so much? Isn’t it silly to waste so much time hating a city? It can’t be so bad if people keep moving there.”

“Well, I guess I should stop hating it. They say you don’t need to walk much out there, and that fits right in with my new disability.”

“I was talking to Rosanne……”

“Uh huh….”

“I was talking to Rosanne and she thinks, she agrees, that it would be fine if you stayed with us in Agoura.”

“And what do I do with this place?”

“Sell it. What do you need it for anyway? You can make a killing. Didn’t you and Dad buy this for like eighty five grand or something?”

“It was a hundred and twenty six thousand. A lot of money in 1967. “

“If you come to Agoura, you can have your own room on the ground floor. Remember when you visited two years ago? Rosanne painted the bedroom Martha Stewart brown and it has new French doors that open right out onto the pool. Isn’t that nice?”

As cold and gracious December roared in, the streets were full of white lights and snow flakes. The city was aglow with the yuletide spirit, and the windows of the stores carried their eternal wares of sweaters, candles, mittens, ribbons, lights, Santa Claus and reindeer. At the intersection of 57th and 5th, an electric white star hung spider-like above the traffic.

Tiffanys. Trump Tower. The St. Regis. Edward and Maynard pushed Mrs. Edelman down Fifth Avenue in the wheelchair. Then they passed the stone steps of St. Patricks and stopped.

“Please guys. Can we go in for a minute? I want to see St. Pats.”

“Shall we try and lift her up the steps ?” Maynard asked.

Edward frowned at Maynard. The lady in the chair caught the angry gleam of his eye.

Edward spoke: “ We cannot lift this chair up those steps! How about we take you across the street and watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center?”

“OK. That would be fine.”

At the edge of the skating rink, under the statue of Prometheus, a trio of singers sang “Silent Night.” The jagged rock of the Art Deco skyscraper, perhaps the same age as Mrs. Edelman, was lit up like a Christmas candle in the Manhattan night. Laughing children skated around the rink. Young lovers kissed, their lips warmed by the tender breath of passion.

She sat amidst the laughing crowds and a season of festive lights.

“Oh, fellas! How can I leave all this behind!”
———————————————————————————————-

The blinding sun lit up the concrete backyard of 29991 Avenida del Morte in Agoura Hills, CA. She stared at the blue pool water, its contents warmed by radiant doses of the ominpotent sun, germs hygienically annihilated in chlorine. Two lone backyard palm trees, bereft of shade or fragrance, stood against the backdrop of deserted mountains and endless clone like homes.

Ron had gone to work, and Rosanne went to the gym. There wasn’t a sound in the air, as the entire neighborhood had their windows shut and the air conditioning on. Only the hum of the cooling machines could be heard.

Under the awning, she wheeled her chair into place to escape the burning rays. She began to write a letter to Ingrid:

Dear Ingrid:

I have now lived here for two months. Ron is very good to me. We go to physical therapy every other day. The doctors tell me that I have to practice a range of motion exercises including flexion (bending of the joint) extensions, rotations, abductions, etc. I am gradually feeling better.

I read the NY Times everyday. Ron subscribes to it (of course)! Rosanne busies herself with exercise. She is very fit, and tries to eat well, and talks about how she intends to never be helpless, even in her old age. (Let’s just wait and see about that one.) She still has no interest in children, or culture, or work. She seems to only want to work out and get manicures and tans. But I think she has developed other qualities that Ron admires. When I find out what they are, I will certainly tell you.

Maynard told me that he went to a new Picasso exhibit and that he bumped into the still preserved Contessa Di Mario. She was always so elegant. Harry said that when the Contessa wore his shoes to an opening, the next day, every society woman on Park Avenue went into Bergdorfs asking for the same shoes! Oh, how I miss New York!

Anyway, I think………..

The writer stopped there. She put her pen down, left the letter open, and wheeled herself away from the table. On or about 12.30pm, on Monday, January 15th at the height of the mid day sun, while much of LA was swimming, tanning, driving, talking on the cell phone, eating, making deals………..a little lady of aristocratic bearing who had once been celebrated , loved and envied by much of Gotham….. wheeled herself to the edge of the deep end of the pool and threw herself to the bottom where she drowned.