Pet noir

Recently, Turner showed one of my favorite films noir, Johnny Angel. I was seven when it came out. I didn’t see it then, but I poured over the large ads for it. It played at the RKO Grand, on Clark Street. In those days, studios still had chains of theater for their product, and RKO owned the Grand and the Palace, which is still in existence.

The Grand tended to show double features, usually horror, but now and then, RKO would turn out an A film, like It’s a Wonderful Life, and the Grand would temporarily rejoin the respectable ranks of the other Loop theaters.

I believe I was only at the Grand once. I was eleven, and talked my mother into taking me downtown to see Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Outside, by the ticket booth, was a big barrel, emitting howls of laughter under a sign saying “More fun than a barrel of monkeys.” Fun yes, but it scared me.

The ad for Johnny Angel featured a large, bejeweled image of Claire Trevor looking sultry and dangerous.

I already knew she’d be someone worth seeing from similar smoldering ads for Murder My Sweet. She’s one of the main pleasures in this one, given half a dozen changes of slinky outfits, dangling pearls, and outrageous hats. But she’s no mere mannequin. Just watch her at the end, in a small hat that gives her a satanic widow’s peak. Her changing expressions as she and George Raft wait outside a door behind which Raft fears a murderer is lurking are sheer perfection.. He can’t act his way out of a Kleenex, but it doesn’t matter. Trevor has it covered and saves the scene with her silent reactions to his wooden emoting. You grasp every thought that crosses her mind.

Raft could dance, as witness Bolero and Rumba, and he surely knew his way around a mattress. His favors were sought by the likes of Mae West, Norma Shearer, and Betty Grable. But act? Just watch him walk. This side of Monty Python, has there ever been a sillier walk than his brisk, mincing, toy soldier strut? Still, if he adds nothing here, he doesn’t subtract enough to damage the film. In fact, it led to something of a career revival for him.

The other players are a treat, particularly the always compelling Margaret Wycherly as a creepy nurse/watchdog. If you can’t place her, think of her unforgettable mothers in White Heat and Sergeant York. Hoagy Charmichael, who brightened every picture he ever made, is along singing his tune “Memphis in June.” It’s a pip.

There’s also Signe Hasso. Thanks to Eddie Muller, I finally know how to pronounce her name: “seen ya,” a Swedish cousin of Sonya. I saw her on stage in the 60’s at the Goodman as Hedda Gabler. As far as I knew then, it was “sig nee.” She’s fine here, though she got a far better role two years later in A Double Life. Her scenes with Ronald Colman really crackle.

The twisty plot and dark brooding atmosphere have always made Johnny Angel enormous fun for me. It had been a while, and it was good to renew acquaintance with one of my favorite Johnnys. If you’ve never met this one, I recommend him.

Just so you know

I’m still here. To some extent. I’m not as here as people would like me to be, but I’m recovering on my body’s timetable, not theirs. I’m told my voice is stronger than it was the last time they heard it (at which point, they told me it was stronger than before). I should record some booming bass arias.

I don’t mean to mock the kindly attentions of my friends. I’d be lost without them. It’s just that when I’m asked something like, “So are you getting out and doing some shopping?” I just sigh and stare at the phone. No, I’ve yet to leave the house.

People want you to be better. I’m the same way, when talking to a sick friend. You don’t really know what to say. In the future,though, I may curb that instinct and just listen.

Lois will take me for a dry run before Tuesday, when I see a cardiologist. Thursday, I see a pulmonologist. Both of these appointments were moved up a month, thanks to the advocacy of my gp. She also arranged for some weekly home visits. By week’s end, I may know what’s going on, and what’s in store. At the moment, I don’t.

The azaleas, the daffodils, the forsythia, and the plum tree are all blooming, so the scene outside is worth contemplation.

The azaleas.

I’ve a couple of new books, one about north side restaurants in the 50’s, and the other about the wild and wooly life of George Platt Lynes. I’ve started a dark detective series set in Venice. The hero is the amiable but careworn Guido Brunetti. It’s in German, so my smattering of Italian is of no use. Still, as John would say, “Venice!” I’m also enjoying the new series about Julia Child. The lead actress is letter perfect and very charismatic.

So, I’m not without distractions. The larder is full, and the phone jingles frequently. For exercise, I slip off the oxygen and take out the trash. Yep, I’m still here.

The fifty foot world – part 2: company

For five days straight after getting home with the oxygen, I was blessed with company, at a time when I deeply needed not to be alone. I acknowledge my gratitude in what follows.

That first night home from the ER, I slept quite soundly – almost straight through. I was tired, of course, but I’ve since discovered the extra oxygen is a boon to slumber. Al was up long before I came down. He’d had breakfast and a mid morning snack. Trying to be disciplined on a new diet, he’d brought enough of the assigned portions for several days.

I found him in the family room, watching what appeared to be the “Let’s scare the pants off you with goofy things unlikely ever to happen” channel. Left to my own devices, and barring a national calamity, I never turn the set on before evening. To me, that’s just a preview of life in a nursing home. But I wanted Al to have every comfort he could find here, and as they say, “Chacun a son gout.”

I had calmed down a bit, and we talked. It’s easy to feel safe in Al’s presence. He’s so mechanically resourceful that, on a desert island, he’d have a snug hut whipped up in no time, with game sizzling on a spit. He whiled away the afternoon fixing a loose handrail, and replacing a faulty back doorknob.

Both of us enjoy old Perry Mason reruns, so that evening we contented ourselves predicting the murder victim (always the most obnoxious character in the first five minutes), the suspect (always found with gun in hand by the corpse, but never guilty) and the murderer. Poor Hamilton Berger, his chances of winning a case were slimmer than Charlie Brown had with Lucy holding the football. No, suave Raymond Burr would ever prevail.

I asked Al if he’d care to see a shadier and heftier side of Burr. I’d recorded Pitfall, in which he plays one of the most loathsome villains ever to disgrace the screen. I hadn’t seen it since it came out in 1948. I was eleven, but it stayed with me, especially the very un-Hollywood ending. It didn’t disappoint, and we had much to discuss after Eddie Muller‘s final comments.

Al stayed another night, and I couldn’t have asked more of him. He had greatly eased my orientation to my new constraints. I shuffled about after he left, carrying my loops of hose and trying not to step on them or ponder the possibility of their permanence.

That evening, Darlene came by bringing supper from a Greek place she likes. There were rich egg lemon soup, chicken kabobs, rice, potatoes, and dolmades. They needed heating, but Dar wouldn’t let me stir from my seat. The dishwasher was full. She emptied it and left me nothing to clean.

We moved to the Garden of Allah to watch something. She’d never seen Pitfall, and I didn’t mind seeing it again so soon at all. It’s really a pillar of 40’s noir with trenchant dialogue and smart, strong performances from Dick Powell, Jane Wyatt, Burr, and even Lizabeth Scott. Andre De Toth was able to coax some actual acting out of that lovely head. All in all, a film for grownups, or twisted eleven year olds.

Thursday, Ant Boy was on the premises. Young Spencer Monroe arrived to spray. I’m never thrilled to watch tiny ants troop in after a heavy rain, but I’m always glad to see Spencer. He’s a cutie pie, and a paragon of politeness. Picture Archie Andrews, with all the youthful enthusiasm but none of the hare brained schemes. He likes the house and said, “I’m going to tell my mom we really need a laundry chute like you have. Oh, and a sun room too.” His work ethic is impressive. With that, and a name like Spencer Monroe, he’ll run the company one day – unless that moniker drags him into politics.

Friday, Jack Rocha paid a visit. Years ago, when I tutored Jack, I worried that his serious commitment to community activism was leaving too little time for a social life. I needn’t have. He’s now engaged to an absolutely beautiful and utterly likeable young woman.

His current project is a study of changes in the southeast side community as reflected in neighborhood movie houses in the first half of the twentieth century. He knew I’d be interested, and I was flattered that he sought my advice.

Jack stayed for several hours. I’m always refreshed, stimulated, and encouraged by his visits. Nothing dampens his idealism. He successfully raised the funds for a vibrant modern sculpture to be erected near the skyway. Now, he’s negotiating a land grant for a small public park at the site. Before he left, he had me sign a copy of my book to be placed with a local historical society.

All of this company helped distract me from my current fears – and I have them. I fear that my oxygen disability may prove permanent. At the same time, I fear, since my numbers are promising, that I’ll be given too hasty a bill of health, and slide back to the state of exhaustion which brought me here. Over the weekend, I started to feel worse. After almost twenty-four hours, I found that my hose was disconnected. Well, I didn’t die, but the rapid rise in my energy once I was back on oxygen, convinces me that, for now, I need it.

Just a little while ago, my dentist called to say that he and his wife would be bringing me whatever i wanted for supper from Cafe Borgia, where they’d be dining. It occurs to me that my fifty foot world, peopled as it is with such saints and angels, is still a good place to reside.

The fifty foot world: part 1

I’ve been too ill to have the energy to write. Now that I’m at least better enough that I can, I’d like to do so. The caveat is that all I have on my plate right now is related, in one way or another, to being ill – even the good things. My world has shrunk, specifically to the length of a fifty foot oxygen cord. There’s nothing else on offer, but if you’ll bear with me, I’ll try to keep this a one off, and not wallow. Otherwise, skip this and wait for better times.

How did I get here? Hard to say, even for the doctors. They’re going with a bronchial virus, but they don’t know. Things began when I was up at Steve and Johnnie’s two Sundays ago for a pre-Easter feast. I began to feel cold, but thought it was because I’d dressed lightly, trying to spruce up for Spring. By evening, I had wrapped myself in an afghan and was shivering. Starting the next day, I was coughing, raspily. I did a covid test – negative. Day by day, I grew weaker, but thinking it simply a bad chest cold, I self medicated with zinc, vitamin C, and chicken broth.

By that Sunday, I had lost twelve pounds, and could barely dress myself. One sock on, and sit and pant. I needed to get to urgent care, but driving was beyond me. Enter the first of several saintly friends, Lois.

I was seen quickly, and, after another negative covid test, was told, “You don’t look perky.” Then, a chest x-ray (no pneumonia). The doctor kept staring at me and said, “You have absolutely no color, and I don’t like your oxygen intake. I can send you home, but you’ll be right back here.” She persuaded me to go to an ER.

There, after more negative covid testing, I was given a narrow bed, drained of enough blood to sate a vampire convention, and given a series of diag-guesses: “Could be blood clots.” It wasn’t. “This looks like a-fib.” It wasn’t. Why do they lead with the worst before they actually know?

Lois stayed through hours of this until she was spelled by my second saint, Tim, who came bearing something more potent than plasma, a large, chocolate shake from White Castle. I glugged it down and felt it coursing through my depleted body. My appetite was back.

Tim stayed till I grew sleepy. When he left, I learned an unpleasant lesson in the do’s and don’ts of using plastic urine receptacles. Doctors and hospitalists (what a title) would pop in with more dire guesses. The only reassurance came from the nurses, who really should be running the place. Thanks to one of them, I was finally able to fall asleep. She saw that the plastic pillow was making me sweat. “You need a pillow case!” There weren’t any, so she improvised one, to my eternal gratitude.

The next day, they decided to send me home, but first there had to be a walk around off oxygen. 88 or lower, and they couldn’t legally discharge me without my being connected to an oxygen tank. I was 88.

All my life, I’ve been lucky with my health. This was new. All my life, I’ve been an optimist. Now, trying to take this in, my thoughts splintered off in ugly fragments, spattering me with a world of worst case scenarios. I’d entered the ER as one person, but would leave as quite another. For how long? Forever? I started to cry.

But for the kindness of an off shift staff member, I’d have spent another night in the ER. Stanley, a rough looking, empathetic bear of a man, entered my room and said, “You want to go home tonight?” His day had ended, and he should have been gone, leaving no one to deal with the necessary set up. Instead, he said, “Get dressed. I’ll follow you (and Lois) home and get you installed.”

Thanks to my bad back, the large tank was heavier than I could lift. Stanley carried it and got me into a wheel chair. The longest cord safely available is fifty feet. I began beating myself up with math. My house is a tri-level. Would the cord even reach from the compositor to my bedroom? Everything I yearned for was upstairs, a shower, a tooth brush, a change of clothes, a decent bed. Would the cord reach into my study, and the checkbook? There’d be bills to pay. Would the cord even reach to the family room? Would I ever watch Netflix again? Wellll, fifty feet of reality is far longer than it was stretching in my imagination. Save for the basement, it reaches everything in the house.

My unwanted additions.

Once inside, Stanley looked at the kitchen stove. “Gas or electric?” “Gas.” You won’t dare cook on that,” he cautioned. Oh goody. He set up the compressor and explained how everything worked. Lois took notes and listened attentively. I couldn’t. I was tired, distracted, and shaking with a chill. I put a heavy robe on over the coat I’d yet to take off. My body’s thermostat was so whacked out that, with so many layers, my temperature rose to 103.

A rational person might have said, “Take me back.” I was no longer such a person, and had they tried, I’d have fought them. Instead, I downed an enormous glass of cold orange juice and lowered my temperature.By this time, another saint had arrived, Al Barski, who had driven in from Beverly so I wouldn’t have to spend the night alone.

I thanked them all and crawled upstairs to bed, trying not to trip over my leash. No shower at this point, not even tooth brushing, just bed and trying to tune out my fears. You would think that I’d be grounded and take reassurance from the fact that my cousin, Donna, has dealt with oxygen dependence successfully for many years, even accompanying me to the opera. You would think that. But me, though in bed, I was racing off to Freaky Town.

To be continued . . .

Cars

I was always crazy about them, just not in the way my family may have hoped. Dad, Grandpa Kingsmill, and all my uncles could take a car apart, diagnose the problem (just from the sound!), fix it, and put it back together again. I’d watch them, comatose with incomprehension. It all looked like magic to me, a stupefyingly technical magic that made my eyes glaze over.

How things worked was not only beyond my ken, but of zippo interest. Such matters were best left to others, like the Bush boys, Danny and Donny, who, through no fault of their own, were the bane of my teenage existence. Their mother, a frequent visitor to my grandparents, took endless pleasure in relating the siblings’ latest accomplishments. I remember trying to shrink into invisibility as we learned how Donny had repaired a fan belt. What the hell was a fan belt? Grandma couldn’t look at me.

But I loved those cars. What I loved was the look of them, those curvaceous 30’s and 40’s beauties. I loved the sensuously rounded fenders, the egg headlights, the running boards, the exterior spare tires, fitted into a fender, or attached to the trunk door in their own matching metal cases. Most of all, I loved the grilles. When I was five, Dad would sit me on the front steps and win bets from his friends, bets that I could identify every car driving past, just from their grilles.

My best toys were cars, little, hard rubber cars about four inches long, tiny but exact replicas of the real thing. Mercifully, you couldn’t pop the hood to see all those internal organs – gaaahh! I’d line them up in a parade across the living room floor, and gaze contentedly at my miniature gridlock. They were in everyone’s path, of course, and eventually, I’d have to snatch them up and put them away. Where are they now? I wish I knew. I wish it heartily.

Except for Dad’s Buick, we were a Studebaker family. There was a Studebaker dealership and repair place on South Chicago Avenue called Angelo’s.

Angelo’s

Anytime a relative was headed there, I’d leap into the back seat, excited for the chance to loiter in the showroom, ogling the latest models.

Sooo, I didn’t need coaxing when my friend, Alan, suggested a trip to the Volo Auto Museum this week. It meant getting up at 7:00, but I can still do that if there’s a good reason, like a stable of gleaming Duesenbergs.

It took about an hour and a half to reach the museum. We drove through fog, a light rain, and considerable construction. Al knew where he was going, so he set the GPS voice to inform us only of potholes, speed cameras, and obstacles. There were many of all three.

Volo museum is comprised of a number of buildings, including a Jurassic affair for the kiddies. We headed straight for what I anticipated would be a collection of vintage automobiles. It was and it wasn’t, depending on your definition of vintage. The younger you are, the more it would seem so. The emphasis is on the 50’s through the 70’s, though, if you looked hard enough, you could find a few lovely Fords and Chevys from earlier days.

The cars are packed in like sardines, but with some artful acrobatics, I was able get decent photographs of those that spoke to me. In the main, however, there was an elongated, boxy sameness to what was on display. I must say, though, that all had been buffed to glistening perfection, giving the colors an almost liquid shimmer.

I hadn’t expected a museum where everything was for sale, but price tags abounded. Sadly, three of the Duesenbergs had been bought and removed by the same man. Why did he need three? Still, the one that remained was a scarlet beauty.

The scarlet beauty.

There were handsome boats, bikes, scooters, motorcycles, and a number of cars with provenance from movies, television, and, in one case, a novel. The Plymouth featured in Stephen King‘s Christine was rigged up with angry, red flashing headlights, as befits a murderous car.

Christine

Elvis’s block long Cadillac was present, as were a brace of Batmobiles, and survivors from each of The Fast and the Furious films.

Thank you, thank you very much!

Al and I explored for a couple of hours and then sank into chairs at the restaurant to consume hotdogs and root beer. I felt like a happy kid. Peering into the oldest of the cars, admiring the dashboards, and sniffing the cloth upholstery had transported me to places I needed to go.

Fiery Floria

Of all of opera’s heroines, tragic or comic. my absolute favorite is Tosca. Mimi and Butterfly may weep prettily and sing divinely, but Floria Tosca is as strong, passionate, and independent as Carmen, and a helluva lot nicer.

She and Mario Cavaradossi have the most refreshingly adult relationship in all operaland. It is carnal. ardent, and mutual, a meeting of equals, and a pleasure to watch and listen to – a match for the ages, except for the uber villain, Scarpia. But then, for plot’s sake, we must always have a Scarpia.

It’s easy to see why Sarah Bernhardt was drawn to playing Tosca in Sardou’s melodrama. Tosca is an actress, and, like Bernhardt herself, strong, resourceful, and she gets all the best lines. Her jealousy, flashes out amusingly to us and to Mario, who finds it endearing as she keeps urging him to blacken the blue eyes of the blond Madonna in his painting. About to stab the lecherous Scarpia, she informs him, “This is Tosca’s kiss.” And regarding the corpse of the treacherous beast, she muses, “And before him, all Rome trembled.”

This is no shrinking violet, but a woman of flesh and blood. Yet, to illustrate her goodness and vulnerability, Puccini gives her perhaps the most moving and tender of all his arias, “Vissi d’arte.” Even a middling soprano can make an effect with it, but on Saturday night, Michelle Bradley brought down the house.

The evening began emotionally with a huge chorus singing the Ukrainian national anthem which left no one in his seat. Perhaps because of this, something happened in act II that I’d never seen, nor expected to. As the knife plunged into Scarpia, a vigorous round of applause broke out. Was he standing in for Putin?

Musically, the production was a soaring success, with potent chemistry between the lovers, Bradley, and Russell Thomas. Fabian Veloz was the latest commanding Scarpia at Lyric in a long line that includes Tito Gobbi and Samuel Ramey. Korean conductor, Eun Sun Kim, did justice to the beauty of the score in her lyric debut.

I was glad to see a return to the evocative sets of Jean Pierre Ponnelle; change is not always improvement. Most of all, I was happy to sit there in my best blue suit and tie, watching once more the haps and mishaps of my favorite spunky heroine.

Surprise! Surprise!

My father was anything but idle in his retirement. Dad was gregarious, and a problem solver, a good fit for city clerk. That’s what he became, in Panama City Beach, a few years after he moved to Florida. Eventually, the powers that were decided a surprise testimonial dinner was in order. Steve and I were invited. It was a night of pride and pleasure to hear so many people say so many good things about this man that we loved. On the ride home, I said, “So, were you surprised?” “What do you think?” he responded. “Well, you seemed so.” He then proceeded to tell me about an r.s.v.p. left by some dimwit not on the number specified on the invitation, but on Dad’s answering machine. “Sorry, I won’t be able to make it to your party.”

If you live long enough, the odds are that you’ll be on the receiving end of a surprise party. Some people hate them. It’s a good thing I don’t because it’s happened on three different occasions.

The first time was for my 50th birthday, in 1987. What a grand bash that was. Ann and John invited everyone I’ve ever known, and then some, to my favorite restaurant, Cafe Azteca, in Old Town.

Since this was a milestone, yes, it did occur to me that my friends might be up to something, but I was not prepared for the crowd that filled the main dining room. Even a transatlantic phone call had been arranged so that friends in England could participate. There was live music on the marimba, the harp, and several guitars. There was mouth watering Mexican food, washed down with margaritas and King Alphonses, (kahlua and cream). It was a lovely evening, and a most gratifying way to mark my first half century on the planet.

The second time involved both John and me, when we retired from teaching. I’ve forgotten the name of the restaurant, but Darlene and Jeff had filled it to overflowing with friends, relatives, and colleagues from Thornton Fractional North, Chicago Vocational, and George Washington High. At intervals, a hand bell rang out, signalling time for John and me to move on to another table (a helpful idea that made sure we spent time with everyone good enough to show up). There were pictures and pranks and enough praise from all sides to turn our heads. Quite a stirring send off, and now a bittersweet memory. Far too many of the celebrants are no longer here.

The third time was last week, as I turned 85. In terms of surprise, it was a complete success. Clues abounded, but I was so addled that they meant nothing. Tim and Lois took me out to La Cecina, a good local Mexican place. Lois spent an inordinate amount of time texting, and lied her head off as to why, but I was having too good a time to be suspicious. Nor did I question why Tim insisted on accompanying me into a drugstore before we headed back. Lois was party central, her feverish little fingers worn to a nub, and I was to be kept at bay until the other perps arrived.

I expected simply to be dropped off, but was pleased when my companions decided to come in with me. Taped to the back door was a large picture of a vintage Cadillac, and the slogan, “Golden Oldies.”

Anyone in their right mind would have figured out what was up, but clearly, I was in my wrong one. I just laughed and said, “These neighbors of mine.” I tried to turn the key, but the door swung open and I saw the lights were out. “Someone’s been here. Have I been robbed?” Pointlessly, I stood there punching off the alarm. “It’s not on, ” said Tim. Had I forgotten to set it? Was that how they got in? My confusion was taking quantum, and idiotic, leaps. I edged slowly into the darkened kitchen. “Could they still be here?” I whispered. I debated grabbing a sharp knife. I wished that I had, when I peered around the corner into the stairs on the landing. There, huddled like naughty children, were Ann, Steve and Johnnie.

At Steve and Ann’s insistence, no one yelled “Surprise!” They feared I’d have a heart attack (hence the warning picture on the door). Johnnie, on the other hand, a woman who knows how to throw a good party,was quite prepared to risk a trip to the ER.

They stayed overnight, in fact, the festivities carried on until the next evening, giving me one of the best birthdays ever. The moral is clear: for a truly successful surprise party, give it for a boob.

Shorty at 85

Today, I turned eighty-five. Dad used to tease me about being born just in time for supper (shades of things to come). I never expected to live this long. As a child, I knew no one as old as I am now. No, I don’t feel the weight of all those years. Diet, drugs, and exercise have raised the median life expectancy, and somehow or other, like Sondheim’s Carlotta Campion, I’m still here.

It’s at 100 that your picture graces (or terrifies) the newspapers, and you are asked to reveal the secret of your longevity. I’d better tell you mine now, just in case I (or newspapers) don’t make it that far. Here it is in two words: lowered expectations.

At first, the sky seemed the limit. For six years, I was an only child, and for two years more, the family remained intact. We stayed in one safe, cozy place. I was encouraged and coddled, and the possibilities were endless.

Then change came down on our family like a hammer. Our parents divorced, the sweet bungalow and well played piano were lost to us, and my brother and I were taken to live with our grandparents. They were as affectionate as a middle aged couple, suddenly saddled with two more children to raise, were likely to be. In this new environment, however, Steve and I were no longer deemed coddle worthy.

My horizons shrank to fit the assessment of our new guardians. No longer seen as gifted and amusingly precocious, I was now regarded as spoiled, peculiar, badly wired in some way, and unlikely to amount to much. A child often takes his measure from that of those around him. I certainly did. In a short time, my hopes and ambitions curdled. Quite seriously, I envisioned myself ending up either in a poorhouse or a madhouse.

By the time I was nine, I no longer expected ever to keep a job, have a home of my own, good friends, or someone to love and be loved by. These were things that only happened to others, all the people who could navigate the challenges of a life I was most unlikely to master. Yet, somehow, master them I did, and the fact that I never took having those things for granted makes them all the sweeter to look back upon at eighty-five.

I’m comfortably fixed in retirement, thanks to a job, a career really, that I thoroughly enjoyed. I was good at it. At times, former students have written me in thanks for making a difference in their lives. I wouldn’t trade my home and garden for a mansion with palatial grounds (though sometimes I think a pool might have been nice).

I was slow to learn the knack of making friends, but I made up for lost time and now have a close circle of long standing chums who sustain and delight me. I was also slow to come to terms with being gay, but survived three years of army duty without being discovered and shamefully discharged.

I set foot in eighteen other countries, (not nearly as many as I’d have liked). I wrote a book, Safe Inside, saw it published, and even realized some modest royalties. Best of all, the decades I spent with John were pure golden romantic fun. Turns out, I was good at that too.

Whatever remains, I’ve had a good life. The kid I was didn’t know what was coming.

How relieved and happy he’d have been to learn what was in store for him – or would that have taken the edge off what would eventually transpire?

Here’s to lowered expectations.

Best foot forward

Have you ever found yourself in the presence of an interesting stranger, in a situation where the two of you are unlikely to meet again? Of course you have. Perhaps you were traveling and struck up a conversation simply to pass the time. But the conversation, far from awkward or strained, flowed easily, with multiple points of mutual interest and agreement. The stranger became someone you could wish for a neighbor, or, in some cases, a friend, except that your paths would soon diverge and never cross again.

I’ve had such encounters. I had one this week, not on a train or plane but in a doctor’s office. My quarterly pedicure had come around. Before Doctor Rachoy comes in, I’m treated by a trainee. Like may flies, they’re never seen again. They’ve always been young men, but this time, it was Elise.

She was young and slim, and above her mask, seemed to be Asian. I’d been waiting a long time, so when she entered and asked how I was, I said, “Older.” She laughed, and that was it. For the next twenty minutes or so, we launched on a non-stop and most agreeable discourse.

As she clipped and filed, I learned that she had started out as a gymnast, but gave it up. “I was good, but not that good. You need to begin really young, younger than I did.” “What drew you to podiatry?” That was a long but entertaining story, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

My passing parade of pedal pruners have all been capable, but Elise seemed born to the task, gentle, adept, thorough, and asking the questions I probably should have been asked before but hadn’t been. She drew me out about the neuropathy I experience. She even asked how I felt about the length to which she’d trimmed my nails. The men had just chopped away, and it hadn’t occurred to me that this was something I was entitled to an opinion about.

We spoke of other things,and our responses were swift and effortless, a verbal tennis set, made more exhilarating, perhaps, by the knowledge that there’d be no rematch.

Dr. R. arrived, wearing a tunic with a tiny bat signal. “Batman today?” I inquired. “Yes,” he said. “Superpowers are needed every day here.” I told him what a gem he had in Elise, and encouraged him to take on more women as interns. When he left, she thanked me and said I should be her official cheerleader.

She helped me on with my shoes and socks. I said, “Goodbye forever, Elise” and wished her a happy life. She wished me the same, as though she meant it. Then she was gone.

For a short space of time, we’d made life more pleasant for each other. Not a heavy lift.

Voices in the ether

I was a child of radio for a good ten years before television elbowed the use of imagination aside. They were good years indeed, and I was glad to have them. I’d sit, rapt, beside a large, floor model radio, (they were elaborate pieces of furniture then), staring at cloth covered speakers, listening intently to the most splendid voices, and picturing them with all my might.

Some of these voices were so distinctive that I could pick them out no matter the program. I got to know their names. Ralph Bell had a smirk in his voice. His specialty was being the smartest crook in the room, calm and contemptuous of the rest of his gang. Anne Seymour‘s voice throbbed with suppressed tears. If you needed a long suffering mother or an ill used wife, call Anne Seymour. A great voice, no question, but given what it signaled, sometimes I wished she’d just go away.

The first voices I can remember focusing on were Miriam Wolfe and Brace Beemer. Beemer was the Lone Ranger. His deep baritone dripped testosterone and safety. Nothing could go wrong when that stirring, coal black voice spoke up, even in a whisper to Tonto.

Miriam Wolfe was part of the repertory cast on the Saturday morning children’s show, Let’s Pretend. Her rich, throaty contralto made her the ideal cackling witch or cruel stepmother. Versatile as all get out, she could, of course, play warm and kindly roles, but nobody could cast as chilling a spell as Miriam Wolfe. Years later, I caught her on rebroadcasts of a spine tingling series out of Oklahoma City, Scott Bishop’s Dark Fantasy. There she was again, freezing everyone’s blood with her deadly curses.

The audio palette of my childhood was limited to the basics – sweet, sinister, trustworthy, cowardly, corrupt, scheming and a few others. Adolescence expanded the rainbow to include sex. For me, the sexiest voices on the air were Tom Collins and Cathy Lewis.

Tom Collins was Chandu the Magician. His low, commanding voice gave me shivers of pleasure. How I wanted to be his nephew, sharing his exotic, hair raising adventures. What a Batman Collins would have made.

My favorite of all radio voices was Cathy Lewis. Nothing was beyond the range of her expressive pipes. Early on, she wanted to be a singer. I’d love to have heard that, but there’s nothing on record. She could purr, but there was always a no-nonsense, street smart subtext. She was equally convincing as adoring wives and femmes fatale. Lewis acquits herself brilliantly with Robert Taylor in the best ever episode of Suspense, the horrific “House on Cypress Canyon.”

Cathy Lewis was my reason for listening to My Friend Irma. I was as allergic to Irma Peterson’s moronic schemes as I was to those of Chester Riley, but friend Jane, as voiced by Lewis, is a refreshing blend of cultured, sardonic indulgence. I remember an episode where Jane is dying to get tickets for A Streetcar Named Desire, but Irma keeps screwing things up. During the show’s popular run, Lewis fell ill. For a time, Joan Banks filled in, and Jane faded to bland.

Lewis was married for fifteen years to the brilliant and busy Elliott Lewis. These days, I’m listening to a show they did in 1953 and ’54, On Stage.

Elliott produced the show. He had a hand in everything then. He was unforgettable as the hilariously depraved and dissolute Frankie Remley on The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show. He’s a shrewd and flexible actor, and it’s a treat to hear him and Cathy together. In the first episode, a bit part is played by Mary Jane Croft who would eventually become his second wife. Hard to fathom parting from a woman with as delicious a voice as Cathy Lewis. But as I listen to these programs, none of that has happened yet. That is years away. Here are two people happy in the pleasure of each other’s company and talent. On Stage is a sonic photograph of a couple still in love.