Authors: Paula Marantz Cohen
“What’s this?” shouted Norman. “Has the refined Stan Jacobs stooped to a Yiddishism?”
“You forget I was the son of a cantor,” said Stan, “and weathered ten years of Orthodox Hebrew school.”
“Yes, but then you washed your hands of it,” protested Norman, “what with ‘Mary romping through the heath’ or whatever that English literature stuff is about. I know you only love me for my food”—Norman motioned to the remains of the meal before them—”but I don’t care. I’ll take you on whatever terms you want.”
“Meshuggener,” laughed Stan, tapping his head and addressing May, who seemed to find the exchange delightful, “and if
he weren’t so damn sweet, I’d have nothing to do with him.” They all laughed. May seemed as though she might float away The expression on her face, the way she sat, leaning in a little to listen to Norman’s jokes, the ease and liveliness with which she responded to his quips, made Flo, who had the protective affection toward her friend of an older sister, feel at once charmed and concerned. She did not want May to get hurt.
Stan had stood up and, speaking directly to Flo for once, asked if she was ready for a game of tennis. “I can’t sit still in these clubhouses for too long. What with the food and the atmosphere, I’m afraid they’re going to mount me on the wall like a piece of moderately big game.”
And you’d be more appealing up there, Flo thought to herself, but she got up, too. They’d been sitting for almost an hour after finishing the meal, and she was ready for some vigorous exercise. She was also looking forward to the opportunity of beating the arrogant Stan Jacobs at tennis.
“Let me know if you get tired,” he cautioned as they made their way to the French doors at the back of the dining room. Although the courts were only about a hundred yards away, the club had gone all out in the landscaping, and they crossed a small stream and a little bridge that Flo thought for the life of her was a dead ringer for the bridge in Monet’s garden in Giverny. “Feel free to call it quits whenever you want,” he continued. “It can get hot out here if you’re not used to it.”
“I’ll be sure to let you know,” said Flo with a mock-earnest smile. She felt a little (but not too) guilty about her bad faith, and was glad that May, who liked to boast about her, had not mentioned that she was the Boca Festa tennis champion, that she played regularly with the club pro, and had even been asked to play in senior tournaments, though the prospect of going into training at her age had not appealed to her.
She beat Stan without much effort in the first set, 6-3, and, as she saw his surprise and the mere grunt that he gave her
afterward, she exerted herself and whipped him more completely in the second, 6-1. She would have gone on for a third but saw that he was seriously out of breath and his white hair was matted with sweat. As much as the man annoyed her, she wasn’t about to have his heart attack on her conscience. Instead, she walked forward and stretched out her hand.
“Good game,” she said. He shook but said nothing.
“I’ve said ‘Good game,’ and now you should say ‘Good game,’ “ she instructed. “Clearly it hasn’t pleased you one bit to lose to me, especially since you expected to win easily, but seeing as you did lose and I played exceptionally well, natural courtesy requires that you say so.”
“I’m sorry,” said Stan, “you’re right. I’m just a bit winded, that’s all. And it was a good game. You’re an amazingly intelligent player.”
“So I’ve been told,” said Flo. “Playing tennis is one of the few things I can say that I do well.”
“I doubt that.”
“Doubt all you please. It’s true.”
“Then we’ll have to play again, so I can get the benefit of one of your few talents,” said Stan.
“Perhaps,” said Flo archly. She was relieved to see Norman and May strolling toward them, and she raised her hand to urge them forward. Flo considered her match with Stan Jacobs effort expended in a good cause if it would assist the happiness of her friend. But having done her part in allowing May personal time with Norman, she now felt perfectly within her rights to head back to Boca Festa.
“So how did the sparring partners do on the tennis courts?” called out Norman as he approached with May on his arm. “Looked to me like she was beating the pants off you.”
“She did,” said Stan. “She’s a damn good player. You should have told me.” He directed this to May.
“I’m afraid I don’t keep up with tennis,” May apologized.
“But I could have told you that Flo does everything well.”
“That’s not what she said,” said Stan. “She claims to have very few talents.”
“Well,” said Flo, who felt the discussion had gone on long enough, “if you must know, I’ll give it to you succinctly: I play tennis, I read, I do the
crossword in ink, I write a good letter, and I know the Dewey decimal system inside out. But that about covers it. Now, May here has a far more useful and extensive array of skills. She cooks and sews, she’s a sympathetic and tolerant mother, and an even better mother-in-law—quite an accomplishment under the circumstances; she’s an excellent and supportive friend, a superb bargain shopper, and she grows the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten in a planter on the balcony of her condo, in direct violation of club rules—which I take to be a sign of healthy rebelliousness within the proper limits.”
“Really?” said Norman to May. “I hope you’ll save some for me.”
May blushed. “They’re just plum tomatoes. Nothing special. I like to garden, that’s all, and that’s about all I can do here, short of the flowers in the window boxes.”
“I know what you mean,” said Norman. “We had friends who used to complain about it all the time. They used to say how much they envied Stan and Elsa. Stan’s an excellent gardener—his wife taught him, of course, like everything else he can do. He has a wonderful garden in his backyard, though it’s not what it was since Elsa died. She made the best rhubarb pie to boot.”
“Strawberry-rhubarb,” said Stan softly.
“Well, I hate to garden,” said Flo, “and I hate to cook.”
“I never met a woman who hated to garden,” murmured Stan.
“How exciting—now you have,” announced Flo, then turned abruptly. “May, we’ve got to get going. I can feel myself fading as we speak. All I need is to get behind a Lincoln Town
Car going twenty miles an hour, and what with the lunch, the sun, and the tennis, I’ll be asleep behind the wheel and Norman will be saying kaddish for us.”
“I wouldn’t like that,” said Norman.
“Then let us go.” She turned for a moment to Stan and, extending her arm in a mock-dramatic gesture, declaimed, “Parting is such sweet sorrow.” Startled, he took her hand and seemed to be considering what to do with it when she removed it from his grasp, grabbed May, and strode off toward the Broken Arrow parking lot. The liveried attendants quickly brought their car. It was the Escort—Flo’s Volvo had overheated after the South Beach trip and was in the shop—and it looked like a poor relation among the imposing Lincolns, Lexuses, and Mercedes. An attendant helped them in and waved them through the iron-and-bronze-filigreed gate onto the highway.
Norman and Stan stood where they had been left, looking after the two women. “Delightful!” Norman declared happily. Stan said nothing. It was unusual for Stan Jacobs not to make a summary comment, but Norman was too content to probe, and the two men sauntered back to the clubhouse in search of a
New York Times
and a cold beer.
EWMAN COULD HEAR HIS WIFE ON THE TELEPHONE WITH
his mother in the other room. When Carol spoke on the phone, she always yelled, so it was no problem picking up the conversation. He had once asked her, while she was in the throes of a high-volume conversation with one of her friends, to “please speak in a normal voice,” and she had replied tersely, her hand spread over the mouthpiece, “This
my normal voice.” He had not seen fit to raise the subject again.
He could hear her now, excitedly pumping his mother for details: “How many dates? Three?” Carol’s voice grew even louder. Norman Grafstein had been her idea. She had done all the legwork. To see the thing coming to fruition this way, and to have it happen at a distance, was a stupendous feat—better even than getting Wendy Wasserstein as the keynote speaker for the Hadassah luncheon last year. Alan sensed that Carol’s pleasure would only have been increased had the whole thing been more arduous and taken place in some even more remote locale—had she set up, say, a trappist monk with a nice Jewish girl in the outer reaches of Mongolia.
“Have you had him to dinner yet?” Carol had entered into phase two: planning the capture. “You must have him to dinner, May. You cook so well, you’re a natural in the kitchen. The way you bustle around—wear the pink apron with the macrame—it’ll make him realize what he’s been missing.”
There was a silence for a moment. May was obviously
explaining her disinterest in catching Norman Grafstein in the way Carol had in mind.
“Don’t be silly!” Carol’s voice grew irritable—and louder, if that was possible. “Of course you want him to pop the question. You want to live alone in that little condo for the good years you have left when you could be gallivanting around the best Boca club, jetting to Europe twice a year, and taking weekends in New York? I know Norman Grafstein’s type. Men like that know how to live. Don’t give me that you don’t want a commitment. What woman doesn’t want a commitment? And don’t give me friends. Your friends are there for you because they don’t have a man of their own. You let Norman slip through your fingers and, believe me, one of them will snatch him up before you can blink an eye.”
Listening to Carol’s authoritative pronouncements made Alan feel vaguely uneasy. Clearly he had been snapped up and must therefore have appeared to his wife to be hot property. This came as news to him. It made him wonder if he had assessed his own worth properly and possibly sold himself short. The thought, however—a momentary twitch of vanity—passed quickly Carol’s notion of value was so rarefied that no one, short of one of her equally yenta-ish friends, would have been privy to his qualities. Since he saw no advantage in having one of them over her (indeed, within her circle, Carol was acknowledged to be the best), the notion that he was worth more than he thought quickly dissipated. If anything, Carol had produced the value-added effect. By choosing him, she had greatly enhanced his resale worth. Were she ever to leave him, she would be able to say in good conscience that he would thereafter be advantageously viewed as Carol’s ex.
It was strange for Alan to hear Carol speak to his mother about catching a husband. May, married at nineteen to the most dour of men, was unlikely to have an interest in the commodity
aspects of marriage. And yet the conversation did not appear to be flagging.
“Lila Katz?” he heard his wife scream. “She’s dating that
Hy Marcus? Well, she could do worse. Give her my congratulations. You take Norman with you to the wedding. And make him dinner tomorrow night. Something substantial. Use lots of butter—worry about his cholesterol after you’re married. I’m going to be expecting both of you up here for Passover. You want to say a few words to your son? He’s dying to talk to you. Alan! Alan!”
Alan lumbered to the phone. He always felt that his own conversation with his mother, which circulated through a number of standard questions and answers, was particularly leaden and superfluous after Carol’s spirited exchanges.
“Hi, Mom. How’re things going?”
His mother’s voice was surprisingly animated, more surprisingly in having weathered conversation with Carol. “I’m fine, Alan. I’m feeling well, knock wood. How are the children?”
“The children are fine. Adam has his school play next week.” There was an awkward pause. “We’re having a cold snap here, so you’re lucky to be where you are. Business is the same. Carol’s been redecorating the den.” He could think of nothing more to say and, impetuously, decided to break from the expected pattern of signing off. “I hear you’ve been seeing quite a bit of Norman Grafstein,” he offered shyly.
“Yes …” His mother’s voice sounded pleased. “He’s a very nice man. We talk a lot about you and Mark. Mark’s living in Scotch Plains, you know, not far from you. And Norman’s niece lives in Morristown—the name is Schecter, I think; she belongs to B’nai Or … I told Carol.” She paused. “He’s a nice man,” she repeated.
Alan, who had initially resisted his wife’s plan of introducing his mother to Norman Grafstein, heard the animation in her
voice and realized, once again, that Carol had been right. The thought of his mother’s happiness cheered him, and his own voice became, if not exactly animated, warmer in tone.
“I like him, too,” he said. “I’m glad for you.”
LO’S IN LOVE!” ANNOUNCED
ILA AS SHE AND
at the clubhouse one day.
The idea of Flo in love struck May as unlikely, and, given Lila’s penchant for the dramatic, she merely looked over at Flo to have the statement refuted. Flo rolled her eyes but, to May’s surprise, also seemed to color slightly.
“She’ll deny it,” continued Lila, “but I saw it myself She was actually flirting.”
“Lila, calm down,” said Flo with irritation. “Just because I respond politely to a man who speaks to me with civility and intelligence doesn’t mean that I’m flirting.”
“There, what did I tell you!” said Lila triumphantly. “She’s saying something nice about a man instead of tearing him to pieces. She must be in love.”
May, not altogether in disagreement with Lila on this, turned to Flo expectantly. “Please,” she said, “fill me in.”
Flo waved her hand as though the idea of describing such things was beneath her, but Lila eagerly took up the challenge. There was nothing she liked more than telling a juicy story.
“Well,” she began now, buttering a roll as she started in, “I had stopped to pick Flo up on the way here, and just as we were getting into the car, she realized she’d left her watch at the pod pool this morning. I said she could always get it later, but she said no, she’d rather now, since some
might swipe it and send it as a present to his grandchild. Typical Flo, thinking that way—though I’ll admit that if we hadn’t gone to get the
watch, she might never have met him.
”—Lila’s voice took on an emphatic tone—”is what they call fate.” She paused at this point to take a bite from the roll and order a diet Pepsi from the waiter behind her.