Authors: Paula Marantz Cohen
“You misinterpret. I do what you say because I respect your opinion.”
May nodded. “It’s part of friendship, like marriage, to give in.”
“A woman should try to please a man as much as possible,” offered Gloria, staring fixedly at Norman.
“Nonsense,” interceded Flo, unable to restrain herself any longer. “A good friendship, like a good marriage, is based on speaking your mind and maintaining independence. I can’t see how anything good could come out of one member giving in to the other.”
“It depends on how you’re brought up,” said Gloria with a supercilious look.
“Giving in isn’t always bad,” said May gently. “Some things aren’t worth fighting about.”
“But some are,” said Flo. “I say”—she addressed herself to Norman—”you should tell your friend to take care of number one and trust your own judgment.”
“But I couldn’t do that,” said Norman. “Stan is always right, so I ignore him at my own peril. You see, we do have a court reserved at five, and we did tell Stephanie we’d call. What’s
more, little Ben expects it, and one thing a grandparent can’t do is disappoint a grandchild.”
“Now, there’s a point I won’t argue with,” acknowledged Flo.
“Norman …” Stan looked at his watch again.
“Well, it’s been a pleasure,” said Norman, smiling at them all, but turning quickly from Gloria’s penetrating gaze to May’s sweet, more timid one. “I know we’ll be seeing each other again soon—that is, if I can escape my keeper long enough.” He looked at Stan, then tapped his head in a sudden illumination. “Wait a minute—I have an idea! We’ll all take Stan’s course in the spring. He can’t object, since he’ll have us under his thumb. He’ll even have the satisfaction of getting me to open a book. We’ll read—who is it? Jane Austen—together, and Flo here can quarrel with him in front of a group of undergraduates.”
May’s face lit up. “I’d like that!” she responded happily. Flo caught Stan’s eye and smiled, too, but for a different reason: It amused her to imagine how little the idea appealed to him.
AROL DECLARED THE PARTY A GREAT SUCCESS.
everything, including the tuna sandwiches, which, she said, were soggy, a fact she intended to relay to the deli owner (“If you don’t tell them, how can they know to improve?”). The poolside widowers had even posed a problem in not wanting to leave. They had burrowed into comfortable positions on the sofa, and it had taken a pointed “excuse me” from Carol, as she squeezed by to get her valises, to flush them out.
“I think,” said Carol to her mother-in-law, “that you have some wonderful raw material here. It’s a matter of working it up.” She ran over to straighten May’s sofa pillows. “You need a throw to liven up this corner.” She gestured toward one of the armchairs near the TV unit. “I’ll pick one up and UPS it down.”
“Please,” said May, “don’t bother.”
“As for follow-up, let’s see: Arrange a little card game for Friday night; have them all over again, or at least those with real possibilities. I saw you talking to Norman Grafstein—well preserved, rich—pursue him; let him know you’re interested. If only I were around here to push you. But you’re on your own. I’ve done what I could.”
“And you’ve been wonderful,” said May, kissing her daughter-in-law and gently steering her toward the door. “You need to go lead your own life now.”
But Carol seemed to feel that she hadn’t covered everything. She stood in the doorway, holding the Vuitton overnight case in one hand and Alison’s trainer potty in the other, resisting departure.
“Did I leave you Sylvia Cantor’s number? She absolutely wants to see you about recovering the sofa. She says she knows just the fabric to pick up the pink in the painting.”
“Yes,” said May “I have all the numbers. You’ve done a wonderful job getting me in the swing.”
“Carol—the limo’s here. We’ll miss the plane.” To May’s relief, Alan was calling up from the parking lot.
“I want you to use the momentum we’ve got going,” Carol added rapidly. “Call Norman Grafstein tonight. Ask him to lunch. It’s not threatening to go to lunch. People go to lunch here like they get a glass of water.” Alan had come up from the parking lot and was steering Carol out the door like a guard with an unwilling prisoner. “I’ll call you tomorrow to check up …” Carol’s voice grew faint as she was led down the stairs into the waiting car.
And then, thank God, thought May, she was gone.
ILA STOPPED BY THAT EVENING FOR WHAT
referred to as a “debriefing.”
“Has your daughter-in-law left?” asked Flo, peering in the door. “I sense a power outage.”
“Gone,” said May. “They took the five-twenty plane to Newark.”
“That woman has a mind like an overstuffed freezer,” noted Flo. “I’ve never seen so many ideas packed so closely together.”
“You know, she collared me and asked me why I never had children,” commented Lila. “She wanted to know why I didn’t plan better for my old age.”
“I’m sorry,” said May, “how rude.”
“No, no, coming from her, it wasn’t rude. I had the feeling that she was genuinely concerned. More than concerned. Ready to solve the problem. I thought maybe she could find me a few spare children for my old age.”
“I wouldn’t put it past her,” sighed May.
“Well, she dug up that Norman Grafstein for you,” noted Lila with approval. “I’d call that a nice gesture. And the other one didn’t look so bad, either.”
“Awful,” pronounced Flo. “Norman was fine, but the other one, Stan Jacobs, was a pill.”
“Flo was upset because he didn’t laugh at her jokes,” observed Lila.
“You were a bit direct,” agreed May. “You might have hurt his feelings.”
“Feelings—at his age? It’s an affectation to have feelings at our age.”
“Men don’t like to be made fun of,” cautioned Lila, “at any age. Or to think that you might be smarter than they are.”
“Well, I thought Stan Jacobs was nice,” said May.
“You think everyone’s nice.”
“Norman said that Stan lost his wife only a year ago.”
“So we all lost a spouse recently, give or take a year. I don’t see anyone walking on eggshells with us.”
“But Flo dear, you come at them with a sledgehammer,” said Lila. “A little gentleness is seductive.”
“Gentleness does not come as easily to me as it does to May. She’s gentle by nature. And I could see that she captivated Norman Grafstein—to his credit.”
“Oh, please,” said May. “He was only being polite.”
“From what I could see, he was very attentive to May,” agreed Lila.
“Yes,” laughed Flo, reverting to her usual tone, “when a man of that age actually registers your existence and doesn’t simply expound to the furniture, you know you’ve made a strong impression.”
“Oh, Flo, you’re terrible!” protested May, but it was clear that she was pleased. Norman Grafstein
noticed her, and she had to admit that she liked being noticed.
HERE WAS NO CALL FROM
RAFSTEIN THAT WEEK, BUT
on the way out of the movies at City Place on Friday night, Flo and May (Lila had gone to dinner with Hy) bumped into him with a woman on his arm. May caught sight of him first and tried to maneuver to avoid a direct encounter, but Norman, apparently unembarrassed, hailed them down.
“Ladies, I was going to call,” he said jovially, looking at May in particular, “and I will, I promise. Excuse me, this is a friend: Dory Feldman.”
“Feldstein,” corrected the woman.
“My mistake, Feldstein. She lives at Broken Arrow. We’re neighbors.” He continued to smile at May with apparent unself-consciousness, as if to say that it was only natural that he would be at the movies with a woman, there being so many of them around.
“Well, we better hurry or we’ll miss the movie,” announced May, dragging Flo by the arm. Norman had seemed eager to chat, but she hardly felt up to it. She was more pleased to see him than she expected, and more disappointed to see him with someone else.
Once inside, Flo looked at the flustered face of her friend and shook her head. “You’re too upset, you know.”
“I’m not upset,” said May, trying to regain her composure.
“It’s not his fault,” said Flo. “I’m sure
He’s been widowed two years. The attention must be overwhelming.”
“I’m sure it is,” said May sadly. “I don’t see why he’d want to go out with me.”
“Because you’re sweet and modest and delightful to be with,” Flo explained. “Because you don’t wear bugle beads and your fingernails aren’t going to send him to the hospital for stitches.”
“I’m not flashy,” agreed May, “if that’s what you mean. But maybe he likes flashy.” She thought of the woman Feldman or Feldstein whom Norman had been with. She was wearing a cape and leather pants.
“I’m just saying that you’re naturally attractive, and if I’m any judge, he likes that.”
May blushed. “Do you think so?”
“I do. I’m guessing he’ll call you tomorrow—unless, of course, he’s too busy fielding calls from his admirers. But if he does call, you have to promise to be casual and not take it too seriously. I’m sure he’ll want to see more of you, but a man like Norman Grafstein isn’t ready to settle down again soon. He’s enjoying his popularity.”
Flo was right. Norman Grafstein did call May the next day.
“I’d been meaning to ring you up ever since the brunch,” he said, “only things got hectic. You know how it is. Obligations and so forth.”
May said that she did—though she didn’t. Her days, outside of the outings with her friends, were generally empty of commitments, and most of her time was spent, as she said, “puttering around.” She had a vision of Norman’s life as cluttered with elaborate social commitments of the kind featured on
“I just thought maybe you’d like to come over to the club for a bite on Thursday,” he continued in his easy tone. “You can bring your friend, since I know you don’t like to drive.”
He’d recalled the conversation they’d had at the party in
which May admitted to being one of those dangerous Boca drivers who went under thirty on major thoroughfares. It was the sole area where Irving, her late husband, a man who rarely raised his voice, had lost patience with her. “Put your foot on the gas, for chrissakes!” he used to scream whenever there was a lane merge and she and another car engaged in a tortoise race as to who would get behind whom.
Driving up to speed was a source of stress that May carried with her whenever she took her Ford Escort to the Publix supermarket or the Glades Multiplex, her two principal destinations. The Escort was another project that Carol was working on.
“It’s unsafe,” her daughter-in-law had declared. “If you have to go American, why not a Cadillac or a Lincoln? Personally, I’d have you in a nice, solid German car—the war’s been over for more than fifty years and everyone in Boca has one, even the professional Jews, so don’t give me any excuses.”
It was on Carol’s list that she and Alan would buy May a BMW for Mother’s Day. May was against it. She hated to drive, so why spend money on a new car? And with Flo, a confident if reckless driver (they had actually done seventy last week on a trip the three friends had taken to South Beach), she hardly drove at all anymore.
“Bring Flo,” Norman repeated, “and I’ll try to drum Stan up for another tongue-lashing. Boy, did I get a kick out of hearing her give him what-for.”
Flo was more than ready to drive her friend, and May knew enough not to tell her about Stan’s possible attendance at the luncheon.
“I’m taking my role as chaperone very seriously,” Flo said. “And I admit I’ll take enormous pleasure watching the two of you together. From the little I’ve seen of Norman Grafstein, I’d say that he has a disposition almost equal to yours, which is an amazing accomplishment, if you ask me, for a seventy-five-year-old
Jewish man who’s been successful in business. Usually, the combination produces someone with the looks of Zero Mostel, the ego of Alan Dershowitz, and the temper of a small, poisonous snake. Norman Grafstein is an exception on all counts.”
Driving through the manicured grounds of Broken Arrow, having been properly vetted at an ivy-covered guard-house, May was dazzled.
“It’s like one of those old English estates!” she breathed admiringly.
“Please, spare me,” groaned Flo in a rare display of irritation with her friend. She credited May for her sweet nature and general good sense, but it was hard not to lose patience when confronted with this kind of esthetic judgment. Granted, Broken Arrow was a top-of-the-line club in Boca Raton, but it was no Blenheim Palace. In fact, it was merely Boca Festa on a grander and lusher scale, with every building material, every decorative object, every amenity ratcheted up to its most expensive version: Where Boca Festa had veneer on the staircases, Broken Arrow had mahogany; where Boca Festa had Corian in the bathrooms, Broken Arrow had marble; and where Boca Festa had a manicured yenta seating guests in the club dining room, Broken Arrow had a tuxedoed maître d’.
Flo was aware of the incongruities of life in the surreal nirvana that was West Boca, but she was of two minds on the subject. Sometimes, as at this moment when confronted with May’s schoolgirl effusions, she felt herself rebel against the mock-esthetic grandeur, the weird hierarchical distinctions, and the often provincial mentality of the residents. At others, and particularly when she heard Boca attacked by some of her “intellectual” friends up north, she rose stridently to its defense, arguing that its inhabitants were decent, often fascinating people, passionately devoted to their families, who had worked very
hard all their lives and in some cases survived the worst atrocities in world history. They had earned the right to live comfortably together in retirement and enjoy whatever luxuries they could afford. Turning up one’s nose at club life in Boca Raton always struck her as a disturbing brand of snobbism that harbored its share of anti-Semitism (or self-hatred, if coming from Jews). That is, except when she indulged in it herself.