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Authors: Laurie Gwen Shapiro

The Anglophile

BOOK: The Anglophile
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Praise for Laurie Gwen Shapiro's previous novel,
The Matzo Ball Heiress

“A lighthearted and fun read from the author of
The Unexpected Salami.

—
Booklist


The Matzo Ball Heiress
is funny and sassy, and because it focuses on a Jewish family‘s traditions (or lack thereof) and issues, it is also unique. Heather Greenblotz is more than a typical Manhattan socialite; she has depth and intelligence. Thus, Shapiro's novel moves beyond the simple classification of chick lit, although it retains the romance, sex and attitude. The writing here is light and natural, a pleasure to read.”

—
Bookreporter.com

“A fun page turner!”

—
San Jose Mercury News

“Hyperkinetic…frothy…mordantly witty.”

—
Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

“A fast read with crackling dialogue and likeable characters, which gives new meaning to the word family.”

—
Detroit Jewish News

“Through Heather's identity crisis and awakening to religious tradition, readers experience a fun romp through Jewish New York—with some very unusual guests. The character writing is flamboyantly creative, yet always remains just this side of credible, making for a fantastic voyage into one woman's hilarious personal hell.”

—
Jerusalem Post

Native New Yorker
Laurie Gwen Shapiro
is the author of two previous novels,
The Matzo Ball Heiress
and
The Unexpected Salami,
an ALA notable book. She codirected the film
Keep the River on Your Right: A Modern Cannibal Tale,
which received an Independent Spirit Award. She is at work on both a new novel and documentary. Visit her Web site at www.lauriegwenshapiro.com.

The Anglophile
Laurie Gwen Shapiro

For the Englishmen in my life, past and present.

Acknowledgments

Thanks to: My husband, Paul O'Leary, Mark Newgarden, Megan Cash, Pete Bonastia, David Lawson, Nick Wheeler, and my brother, David Shapiro—travel companions on various stateside and British adventures.

Also: my smart friends, Corey S. Powell and Joanna Dalin; Farrin Jacobs; Richard Porter, the Beatle Brain of Britain; Hartsdale Pet Cemetery; Uncle Sam Morrison; Marla Egbert Nitke; Nancy Yost and Michael Cendejas; and Jeanette and Julius Shapiro for their incredible emotional support.

He was a veray parfit gentil knight.

—Geoffrey Chaucer,
The Canterbury Tales

Looking through the bent-backed tulips

To see how the other half live

Looking through a glass onion

—John Lennon, “Glass Onion”

If you are real, sit down on that big footstool and talk,

I want to hear about you.

—Frances Hodgson Burnett,
The Secret Garden

PART 1
America the Beautiful
PREFACE

An Englishman in the Loop

T
here's a certain type of Englishman who has a way of standing out in an American crowd, even though he would be appalled to know it. Case in point: the soft-spoken one on my two o'clock Chicago skyscraper tour writing notes about the celebrated Rookery Building in an innocuous spiral memo book. One clue to his breeding is the screamingly expensive silver pen. But it's his looks that plain give him away. With his broad shoulders, thin glasses, wispy strawberry blond hair, exposed pasty-white neck and stretched Anglo-Saxon nostrils, he is my quintessential type: Christopher Robin, all grown up into a strapping gent. Back in the graduate studies offices of New York University, I'm the renowned sucker for the
Brideshead Revisited
extras. So now, while he's busy writing, it's a safe opportunity for me to ogle
that brown leather trench coat with the argyle scarf loose around the collar.

Gary Marino, an old friend from my freshman dormitory floor at SUNY/Binghamton, is my sole contact in the city until tomorrow's linguistics conference kicks in. He has his own eye candy on this tour, a blond woman who, if his tastes hold true to seventeen years ago, is
his
quintessential type.

A woman on the tour raises an arm. “Just a few more minutes to defrost?” she tunefully drawls to our volunteer docent from the Chicago Architectural Foundation. “It's so toasty warm in here.”

My linguist's ear pins this middle-aged unrooted accent on a Southern childhood and a Los Angeles career.

“Brilliant idea,” the Brit seconds, a quiet statement followed by like-minded pleas from the rest of my fellow chilled excursionists.

Our guide, a likeable man whose chiseled face is spoiled by a wiggly pink growth on his chin, checks with the guard assigned to the magnificent skylit lobby remodeled at the turn of the century by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Yes, we can linger,” he reports back to us in his pleasingly thick voice. “Those in need can even pee into a historical toilet.”

“I have to piss like a racehorse,” Gary says to me at the start of the sanctioned break.

“Thanks for sharing.”

When Gary grins, he time-travels before my eyes to our freshman year.

“I'm dying for chocolate. See you after your piss.”

As I head for the newsstand I notice the Englishman look up and briefly follow me with his eyes. Did he catch me giving him an admiring gaze? Is he wondering whether Gary is my boyfriend, or am I just spinning tales to entertain myself?

I look back and he doesn't turn away. Instead he smiles at me from across the lobby. When Gary returns I can barely focus on his rant about his transplanted Easterner specialty pickup: the Midwestern woman who suddenly realizes that there might be more out there beyond the wheat. Gary rolls his eyes when he's figured out my distraction. “You couldn't possibly be interested in the
brilliant
guy from England.”

I've gobbled up my York Peppermint Pattie. “Noticing him, that's all.”

CHAPTER 1
The Anglophile

I
distinctly remember kissing the cover of
Oliver Twist
when I finished reading it during one of my school recesses. Although the little protagonist was hip-deep in a welter of stink and his only meal came from a cauldron of gruel as he dreamed of jacket potatoes or a parade of lusty puddings, I often thought that if Oliver Twist was an English boy, even a dirty one, he must still be pretty darn cute.

It was a big read for a nine-year-old, I don't think I got half the words. But my teacher brought it in for me one day from her personal collection. She told me it was about the British kids I was always asking about. If she thought I could read it, I was determined to try. Only one other time did she bring a book specifically for a kid in the class, a book about the Civil War she handed to the one rich kid, Owen Zuckerman, from Jamaica Es
tates, one of the few truly fancy neighborhoods of my borough. No one felt left out as far as I know, as Owen and I were the class bookworms.

During recess, two of my classmates, Paul Schwartz with his flat face and pinprick eyes and his best buddy Cameron Hernandez, often pretended to be boxers. Paul feinted with his left hand, and Cameron parried with his right. The girls clustered on the far side of the yard played all the jump rope and chanting games that were popular in our neighborhood. The clique of pretty black girls was always in the right corner with their double Dutch game, two ropes rotating inward with inconceivable speed, and the pretty white girls busied themselves in the left corner with quick-action hand games like Miss Mary Mack—in my lofty opinion only a slightly more sophisticated take on patty-cake. I had a friend in each chanting-girl camp and despite some of the other girls' audible moans, Janie and Heidi each asked repeatedly if I was sad and wanted to join in. But I excused myself and finished all of Lewis Carroll on a tree stump inside the schoolyard. In light dappled by the iron bars protecting us from that noisy Long Island Expressway, I ignored the car horns and the racing motorcycles and the showdowns of “Listen, fuck you, mister,
YOUUU
GET OUTTA THE CAR.”

I was an even bigger reader at home. Before Dad got back from his electrician's day, I sat happily on the living room couch reading while my two noisy brothers wandered our hallway with metal salad bowls on their heads and two cans of condensed milk for their field phones—this military march always occurred after the
Channel Eleven afternoon rerun of
Hogan's Heroes.
Here were two Colonel Klinks with a pecking order: Colonel Gene and Major Alan, who only pretended to be macho so he didn't get the shit beaten out of him by his big brother. Now and then, my brothers acknowledged my presence on the couch by gunning me down.

 

When Dad started getting ill Mom insisted my wild brothers play in the somewhat ramshackle kitchen, the farthest room from the master bedroom, now the Diamond sick bay. A white sheet stained beyond help with grape Hi-C made a nice picnic tent on the cracked-tile kitchen floor.

One afternoon during this uneasy stretch of time I served Gene and Alan my version of cream tea under the tent. They were quite appreciative as they were exhausted from hours of bravely softening the D-Day beach so that the other marines could land. Instead of scones served with full cream and strawberry preserves, I substituted reconstituted orange juice and a Mallomar cookie for the men at war. When they'd refueled they raced back out to the hallway with the popgun, a late fifties Davy Crockett hand-me-down rifle from an older cousin, already in college, a gun that was repaired near its butt with string held down by superglue. My brothers never minded that they had a preloved weapon. They lived for its bang that scared the hell out of our elderly neighbor, Mrs. Weiss.

Alone again under my tent, I replaced Christopher Robin as the God Figure ruling over the Hundred Acre Woods. I didn't need my brothers for company. The very
hungry hedgehogs, blackbirds and field mice gathered around me as I fed Pooh Bear lime Jell-O.

“Dad will get better,” I promised him. I knew his animal friends were listening as I kissed him on his patchy forehead. “No more crying! We need a setting too for Owl, and Rabbit and Rabbit's friend Small, if we can talk that beetle out of the Heffalump trap, we'll be all here, because I've given up on Eeyore.”

“Mom, she's talking weird again!” Alan screeched down the hall. “She's frightening me.”

“Idiot!” I was humiliated at being listened to on the sly. How dare he after I'd served him high tea!

“Freak!”

I threatened to tell Mom that he was stashing her
Red-book
s, and that wherever there was a woman in the ad, he'd draw pubic hair all over her crotch.

When Alan started bawling I had to admit I was never going to turn him in.

I'm a year younger than him, but most people who meet our clan today assume he has to be the baby of the family. Even back then, I never let Alan boss me. He was a crybaby. I only feared Gene's occasional smack when I smart-mouthed Mom.

Mom rushed in the kitchen, her face covered in white wrinkle cream. “Quiet, all of you. Dad is resting.”

After stupid Alan was out of sight, I'd shifted imaginary texts, and invited sickly Colin from Frances Hodgson Burnett's
The Secret Garden
into my picnic tent. I was sure that like his cousin Mary Lennax, I could convince him to smile.

The Secret Garden
was hands down my favorite book
back then. It was damn sexy—
The Thorn Birds
for the under-twelve set. There was unrequited lust going on there amidst the daffodils and bluebells, even if the young protagonists were cousins. The nine-year-old me wanted to be Mary, holding Colin's hand. I didn't know the term “sexual undercurrent” yet, but I sure sensed it.

I wanted my own family to possess whatnots and spend crowns and pence, or climb creaky staircases and stroll around regatta meets with straw-brimmed hats. I wanted a safe English haven outside my doorstep—a bright green meadow or better yet a tucked-away garden with zinnia creeping up trellises. To see colorful flowers planted at every corner, a table set with dainty teacups, silverware and sugarcubes, wouldn't that be heaven? A sanctuary you could well imagine housed happy elves and fairies with magical faces staring up at little innocents, or talking caterpillar friends with sticky wings because they had just crawled out of a chrysalid.

But I was a lower middle-class Jewish American living in a charmless Queens apartment with a storage closet filled with Bar Mitzvah and wedding souvenir yarmulkes embroidered with names of cousins and children of my parents' friends.

My living room showcased a tacky painting of a rabbi doing a squat dance—the official Guinness Most Prolific Painter, Morris Katz, banged it out on canvas. According to my mother who had won the painting as a door prize in the Elechester Apartments' community room weekly bingo game, it was painted in less than three minutes with Katz's trademark toilet paper methodology.

 

My father died when I was nine and three quarters.

With three kids it was all Donna Diamond could do to get through daily bills. We were already in trouble because Dad had been ill for over a year, and hadn't worked much when he was sick.

The day of my dad's funeral, Alan searched his bureau drawers for appropriate pants to wear. Although he was only eleven, he didn't bother my mother, a spiritual wreck scouring the listings pages for a better job than her secretarial spot at the Book of the Month Club. Gene was the one who begged her to stop her weepy job search. “But we need food on the table,” I heard her say. “Tomorrow,” my brother replied. “Tomorrow, you'll look.” Alan anxiously asked Gene—now a de facto father figure at the age of twelve—if he should go wearing the holey slacks, or the one with the reek. The pants smelled moldy because when Dad's checks stopped coming, Mom still insisted on using our faulty washing machine instead of the communal ones in our apartment building's laundry room. It was her machine, and ownership gave her pride.

When he was well, Nate Diamond was a character in our neighborhood, notably funny for a man who had a way with lightbulbs and cabling. I absolutely adored him. He never skimped on kisses for his wife or kids, even for his two war-obsessed little men. We didn't have elaborate toys like the ones kids in Forest Hills paraded on Austin Street, but Dad always brought us something fun from the dollar-store on Kissena Boulevard, like Silly Putty or Mad Lib pads. He told us fabulous tales
about his great-uncle Mickey Diamond who took a running jump west in 1929 to escape the Depression, and who then married and begot the long line of fabulous Diamond cowboys of Lubbock, Texas. Alan in particular would beg Dad for more tales of the family cowboys lassoing their matched Jewish bulls, Moishe and Schlomo.

Before his death Dad joked with my painfully shy mom that his gravestone better not read, Here Lies Silly Daddy. That's apparently what I called him as a toddler when he tickled me until I called out “rhinoceros,” our family's version of crying “uncle.” In almost every photo in our house that had Silly Daddy in it, he was laughing his head off, his round brown eyes closed in delight. He needn't have worried about what would be destiny's decree: after he finally passed on a golden afternoon, Mom wrote down what she wanted my aunt Dot, her sister-in-law, to order: Nate Diamond, 1935–1979,
Devoted Father, Devoted Husband, Loving Brother. Forever Missed.
Without asking my mother Dot added the symbol for the Ten Commandments and the two Lions of Judah on either side. But when my mother saw them at the unveiling, she nodded her approval. Yes, my father wasn't religious, but his mother was, and she knew what Dot knew, that Dad would want to respect his immigrant momma who preceded her son in death by a mere five years.

Donna Diamond was (and still is) withdrawn and thin. Back in the postfuneral days, she was forever unpeeling the shiny silver wrappers of Wrigley's spearmint gum so she could pop another stick to clean her ciga
rette breath. Mom's smoking got worse after Dad's fall to lung cancer. She once stopped for a year, but picked it up again when she became convinced that she would never remarry. Dad knew he would die and wanted her to be happy when he was gone. But there were few takers for a middle-aged mother of three with big debt hanging over her.

I never talked about our situation with my friends. Even my closest pals were never invited back home. Who would want to admit that we were too broke for a new toaster and had to remove burned bread with tongs, or that Mom spent an hour a day clipping coupons, or that our food was stored in cloudy orange Tupperware containers that she scooped up at a rummage sale for a quarter each?

Luckily when it was time for college I won that undergraduate scholarship to Binghamton, including housing. My mother wanted me to go to New York University who had offered me a partial scholarship, tuition only.

“It's the same cost as Binghamton if you live here, and take the F Train into the City.”

“I'll visit all the time. I'll take the bus home. It's not expensive from Binghamton.”

Mom squeezed a bony fist by her thigh. “I want my little girl here.”

I went to Binghamton anyway, after Gene talked to her. I could hear Mom sobbing in the kitchen as she admitted to him that she wasn't giving me room to grow. Gene knew I needed to get away back then. My guilt was swallowing me up. I even secretly applied to the English program at Yale. For the pricey Ivy League appli
cation fee, I used my Hanukkah money from Mom's much-older half brother. My uncle Sam, a World War II veteran, had half-decent money from his partnership in a Bronx catering hall, but I didn't tell Sam, or my mother, or even Gene that I got in. I knew that with the paltry scholarship Yale offered I'd kill Mom with humiliation when she was forced to say that it was impossible.

We could never afford that junior year abroad in London, so dating New Yorkers and New Jerseyans of Anglo-Saxon heritage was the closest I got to my beloved Brits back in college.

Besides, it didn't cost anything to travel to England with a library book.

BOOK: The Anglophile
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