Authors: Paula Marantz Cohen
What, she wondered to herself as she hurried off to meet May, had she once seen in this man?
And that was the last, quite literally, that she had seen of him. She hoped it would remain the last. It pleased her to note that she did not miss him. She was now determined to rely on her own resources—to spend her time playing tennis with the club pro, taking meals at the clubhouse with May, and sitting by the pool reading Mary Gordon’s latest novel. Flo realized
that Gordon’s Catholic guilt relaxed her because it made her Jewish guilt seem light-hearted by comparison. It was always nice to think that someone’s else’s family was crazier than yours.
Flo also found diversion in her ever-lively correspondence with Amy She had to admit that the computer, on which this correspondence was transacted, had become a necessary adjunct to her life. Blaming computers for killing off books was an accusation that she had long made to her son, the dot-com millionaire. But a computer had arrived, despite her protestations, a year ago as his birthday present to her—a gift, she thought at the time as she extracted the thing from its miles of bubble wrap, that clearly reflected his unconscious hostility. As part of the gift, Jonathan had also sent a personal Internet “trainer,” who showed up at the door in a black turtleneck and dark glasses, announcing that he had been instructed to get her up to speed, no matter how long it took. It did not take long. In no time, she was surfing the Web, participating in a nineteenth-century literature chat group, and e-mailing Amy about the latest Eric Rohmer movie and the moral issues surrounding Woody Allen’s marriage to his quasi-stepdaughter. Sometimes, when she couldn’t sleep, she would sign on to Instant Messenger and find that her great-niece (screen name: womanwarrior) was on-line, too, and it was like wandering into a coffee shop at two A.M. and finding your best friend there. In the end, she humbled herself and admitted to Jonathan that she’d been wrong: The computer was a delightful diversion and a vast, if unsifted, resource for information.
In this way, Flo’s days passed pleasantly enough.
For May, however, it was another story. It bothered Flo to see that her friend was depressed, try as she might to hide it. Not being a reader and having no interest in tennis or golf, May had little to occupy her time. This had never been a problem for her before. She had busied herself cooking and cleaning the apartment, taking walks, and going shopping for gifts for her grandchildren. But lately these pastimes had seemed insufficient.
She was by turns restless and lethargic, eager to do something but not interested in doing anything in particular. She was, concluded Flo, unhappy, and when May reported that Carol had invited her to come up for a few days and celebrate Adam’s eighth birthday, she urged her friend to go.
“Normally, I would be against your traveling a thousand miles to watch thirty eight-year-old boys squirt water guns at each other. But given your mopey state, I think this might be just the medicine you need.”
Carol, who had a preternatural ability to sense indecision and take advantage of it—in the way a predatory animal can sense the vulnerability of its potential prey—continued to call every night with added reasons why May must come to North Jersey.
“I need you to help me with the goody bags for Adam’s party,” she insisted at one point. “They’ve become a big thing. No more lollipops and jump ropes. You can turn your child into a social outcast giving things like that. The kids are educated consumers nowadays. Which means it takes work. And, by the way, I had a thought. Since we give
to the children, why not to the mothers? It’s a nice gesture, and no one’s done it yet. You could make your truffles; they’d make a nice gift.”
Carol had already checked the flights for the next two days, and when May failed to refute her suggestion for a Thursday evening departure forcefully enough, the tickets appeared the next morning by FedEx. What could she do? May packed her bags, put her truffle recipe into her purse, kissed Flo good-bye, and went.
LOTKIN WAS THE TWENTY-ONE-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER
of Flo’s brother’s son, Philip, and his wife, Meredith. Amy was a free spirit and the bane of her parents’ existence. She had always acted contrary to expectations, choosing to play the drums instead of the piano, to pierce her nose rather than her ears, and, subsequently, to go to NYU Film School instead of Yale. Flo had tried to point out to Amy’s parents that their daughter’s rebellion was fairly benign, there being no evidence of drug addiction, pregnancy, or serious eating disorders, and that Amy seemed a happy young woman with a great deal of enthusiasm for the things that interested her. But her parents, who had decided when Amy was in preschool that she would become a lawyer like themselves (though a career in medicine was not to be ruled out), were endlessly complaining about her perverse interests and underachievement.
They had asked Flo, whom they knew had leverage in being eccentric, to speak to Amy before the fateful Yale decision. Flo had told her great-niece that, personally, she thought being a filmmaker, even an unsuccessful one, was more potentially gratifying than being a lawyer. This advice had put something of a pall on Flo’s relationship with her nephew and his wife. But it had earned her Amy’s eternal friendship.
Lately, the issue of a documentary film project had been Amy’s overriding preoccupation. She had been e-mailing Flo almost daily, trying out ideas and picking her great-aunt’s always
fertile brain. Topics relating to the homeless, Korean markets, rock bands, and in vitro fertilization had all been raised as possibilities and then quickly dismissed as being trite or done to death. Flo had suggested a piece on New York delicatessens (the subject of her bonding experience with Saul Bellow), but after a bit of research, Amy discovered that the subject had been used last year, and had even won third place at the senior awards festival. Apartment hunting in New York City was also given a bit of consideration, especially since Flo knew a successful East Side real-estate agent, a part-time Boca Festa resident, who would jump at the prospect of being followed around by a camera. But Amy reported that last year’s winning film had been about house-hunting in Westchester, and the idea seemed to her too close for comfort.
In the course of their correspondence, Flo had supplied her niece with running commentary on the minutiae of Boca life. It was not an unfamiliar subject to Amy. She had visited what she liked to call “shopper’s paradise” over the years with her parents, long before Flo had moved down, and had enjoyed herself-immensely
“I admit it, I love to shop,” she confessed when Flo had shown surprise at Amy’s desire to spend hours going through racks of leather pants at Mizner Center or poring over about ten thousand pairs of earrings at the Festival flea market. “It’s one of the few things my mother and I have in common, though since she’s a shiksa and I’m only half of one, I’m better at it than she is.”
The day after May left, Flo got an e-mail message from Amy in her characteristically brief and cryptic style: “By George, I’ve got it! Inspired subject for my film! Will be down tomorrow, arriving West Palm Airport at 5:30. Love and kisses, Amy.”
Flo liked to say that Amy used e-mail the way people used telegrams in the old days. “You’re not being charged by the word,” she often wrote back. But Amy’s existence seemed too
hectic to allow for elaboration in any medium, even e-mail, where everyone else had a hard time staunching the tide of verbiage. Flo used to try to phone to fill in some of the gaps in their correspondence, but had learned that Amy was never in her apartment. Among her set, going out did not necessarily mean coming back—at least not at any hour when a reasonable person could be expected to be awake. Without thinking too deeply on what her niece planned to do—a docudrama on the endangered Florida alligator or on shopping in the Boca malls?—Flo made sure to be at the airport waiting when Amy’s plane came in. Her great-niece was one of her favorite people, and the prospect of spending some time with her, especially with May and Lila gone, was a source of pleasurable expectation.
Amy was nearly the last off the plane—she and two companions, each carrying a large and unwieldy collection of cameras, tripods, lights, microphones, and assorted equipment. With their appearance and their baggage, they made for a distinctive presentation among the passengers in pastel jogging suits.
Amy was wearing very short cutoffs, a black leather halter top, a nose stud, and (this was a new addition) a swatch of pink hair over her left ear. She had Flo’s large-boned, lean body and angular features, and she walked with the purposeful air of a woman who, even if she didn’t know where she was going, was determined to make where she was going into a destination. With her was a very tall, young black man whose hair was half in cornrows (as though he had lost interest in the idea halfway through) and another young man in a tight half T-shirt and an earring. Amy ran forward to greet her great-aunt with the same delight and abandon that she had displayed at age ten. “Auntie!” she screamed, hugging Flo. “Isn’t this the neatest idea? Aren’t I a genius?”
“I know you’re a genius,” said Flo, “but I don’t think I’ve fathomed the idea.”
“What do you mean?” asked Amy. “I e-mailed you. We’re going to film at your place—what’s it called, Boca Festa?—a documentary on senior life in the mecca of Jewish retirement, Boca Raton: the intricacies and vagaries of life in a gated community under the Florida sunshine. ‘From
to clubhouse’—right, George?”
She turned to her friend with the cornrows who was carrying the camera and tripod.
again?” asked George.
“Well, it’s something to do with Jews taking vacations, though I’m not sure what,” said Amy. “It sounds good. Flo can fill us in. She’ll have loads of ideas. She always does. And she’s a librarian, so she can help us with research.”
Flo must have looked confused, because Amy hugged her and took a breath.
“Let me start again; maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’ll introduce you. This is George.” She motioned to the half-braided giant with the cameras. “He’s my boyfriend, and he’ll do most of the shooting. He has a way of getting in anywhere he wants.”
George shook Flo’s hand and smirked at Amy.
“This is Jordan.” She motioned to the earringed young man in the skimpy T-shirt. “He’ll handle the mike—he’s also a crackerjack editor. Oh, and he’s gay. He always likes people to know that up front so they’re not surprised later.”
“Thank you, Amy,” said Jordan sarcastically, “for being so considerate.”
“They’re really nice guys,” continued Amy cheerfully, “and we’re doing this advanced DV project together, and we’re all really talented, and now, since we have an absolutely awesome idea, we intend to win first prize at the student festival. I promise we won’t bother you at all. We’ll sleep in the kitchen or the bathroom or something—you won’t even know we’re around. There’s one thing, though. We need to get permission to shoot
in the complex. I told George and Jordan that you would handle it, since you’re my brilliant, eccentric great-aunt and can handle anything.” She gave Flo the look, half stubborn defiance and half little-girl pleading, that Flo remembered her using on everyone since she was five to get whatever she wanted.
The prospect of having Amy and her friends camping out in her living room did not pose a particular problem for Flo, who had never been one to care about the condition of her rugs or to put too much stock on personal space. But she was a bit concerned about how her neighbors would react, and she was uncertain about her ability to finagle permission for the group to film on the grounds of the complex. Normally, such a thing would be impossible. The people at Boca Festa paid for privacy and predictability, and the appearance on the scene of the road show from
was likely to fluster and intimidate all but the hippest of residents. Fortunately, Flo realized she had a resource that might help in obtaining the permission her niece needed: Rudy would be on her side.
She knew this implicitly for two reasons. One, since she was a club benefactor, he would want, above all, to be of service to her. She was glad that she had let drop the other day her disappointment in the conventional nature of Boca Festa’s landscaping. Rudy had explained that the budget did not allow for anything too elaborate, given that the unpredictable climate had a way of killing off more interesting, less hearty plants. “Of course,” he had noted, “this is precisely the kind of thing that would be ideal for a bequest,” and had leaned over to kiss her hand by way of punctuation. She had said nothing, a response she had learned worked well to fuel expectation without in any way establishing a commitment.
The second reason she counted on Rudy’s support was that he was by nature and inclination a performer. The idea of being part of a documentary film, even a student one—and Flo had
no doubt that Amy would effectively sell herself as a future Steven Spielberg—would be irresistible to him.
“Don’t you see, Aunt Flo, what a good idea this is?” Amy insisted as they walked across the airport parking lot toward the car. “Here we have an enclosed, homogeneous community in which very intricate and elaborate relationships are generated. It’s the ideal narrative material with visual appeal for a postmodern age.”
“Stop with the metababble,” said George. “Cut to the chase: It’s cheap; it’s doable, and it’ll be funny as hell.”
In point of fact, the more Flo thought about the idea, the more she saw its possibilities. Boca Festa as the subject of a documentary? Why not?
“I see what you mean,” she said, nodding as her niece and her friends trundled toward the car. “It’s Jane Austen’s ‘two or three families in a country setting,’ updated and up-aged. And, yes, it could be damned funny.”
AY WOULD NOT HAVE DREAMED A MONTH AGO THAT SHE
would welcome being taken in hand by her daughter-in-law. Generally, she fled from Carol’s desire to direct her life with the twitchy alacrity of a frightened rabbit. Yet given her depressed and lethargic state, there was something comforting about turning herself over to Carol’s direction and being placed into the jigsaw puzzle of her daughter-in-law’s mind-numbingly complicated but highly organized existence.