Green Hills Literary Lantern

 

 

 

 

The Sexy New Boyfriend

 

 

 

I wasn’t invited to pledge a sorority at NYU School of Commerce.

I was desperate to be part of something, so without much enthusiasm, I joined a House Plan, a loosely constructed group of girls—losers—who had neither a house nor a plan.

When the occasion presented itself and we needed a place to hold an event, we rented out a sorority or fraternity house. Our parties were not well attended. We tried to up the ante with hot hors d’oeuvres and drink umbrellas, but we were outsiders. This, coupled with the fact that only second-rate venues would even consider renting to us, made it a real challenge.

That’s why I am here today, knocking on the front door of Zeta Tau Fraternity. I have reluctantly volunteered to find an appropriate site—cheap and available—for the annual Halloween gala.

I bang on the front door. It opens, and I walk into a small brick entry and head up a narrow staircase with an arrow pointing up.

“Hey, anyone here? Anyone around?” I call as I reach the top of the stairs.

It’s a dreary space, decorated with a pair of cut velvet sofas (most likely from someone’s now-deceased grandmother), scattered tables and chairs, dripping multicolored candles in Chianti bottles, and pilfered Miss Subways posters. I am working hard to find some potential in this seedy clubhouse, since it’s probably all we can afford. It’s dark and scary—not the worst setting for Halloween.

“Anyone home? Hey, anyone here?” An orange cat scurries across the dark wood floor. I jump back.

I’m thinking a serial killer could be lurking behind the buzzing avocado Frigidaire and I should leave. This place is not worth risking my life for.

I start down the staircase and come face-to-face with a sexy guy in a Zeta Tau sweatshirt, balancing a full cup of coffee. “Go back up,” he says. I do as he suggests.

He is dark, with full lips, a greaser pompadour, a black leather biker jacket, and a hint of danger.

Move over, Elvis.

“Sorry, I just ran out for a minute. Can I help you?” he asks.

“Maybe,” I answer, his tight cuffed jeans attracting my attention. “I’m Eleanor Mandler, a member of the Sunshine House Plan.” I nearly choke getting that ridiculous name out.

“We are looking to rent a space for a Halloween party. Is this available?” I ask, crossing my fingers.

“Not sure. I can check it out with the social director and give you a call back.” The room is looking better.

We exchange numbers, he escorts me to the front door, and I race back to the student lounge to share the good news with the girls.

They turn it down without pause. “That shit hole? I’ve been there. No way,” says Jane Cooper, the snob from Long Island. They are all in agreement. I’m crestfallen but resourceful.

The story of my life.

I’m thinking he doesn’t have to know it’s not gonna happen. I’ll proceed as if it will and cancel later. I don’t want this guy to evaporate.

He calls me with the okay. We speak daily about the—never happening—event.

I’m supposedly working on the flyer when he finally asks me out, and it’s for the only day I can’t make it that week. Running out of time, I make a countersuggestion, and we settle on the following Friday, just enough time to cancel the nonexistent party.

The next afternoon I see him lurking behind a wall in the student lounge. He’s spying on me. It happens again in Macy’s, where I work part-time straightening out messes created by customers digging for gloves.

He drives from Brooklyn to Queens to pick me up. I see my mother peering out the window as I leave. She wants to know what kind of car he is driving.

We meet his friends at the Amato Opera House, where you “pass the hat.” Then to Chinatown for dim sum. I don’t order the chicken feet, which I love, thinking he might find them disgusting. But he orders them and offers me one. I sample it, tentatively, like it’s the first time I’ve ever had it. I nod and take another.

On the trip home, I fight hard to fend off the “octopus” in the car but manage to enjoy myself, going just beyond my usual limit.

My mother is waiting up for me. She will be disappointed with this date.

She wants a wealthy son-in-law who actually pays for tickets to the Met and takes me to restaurants that require reservations.

To make matters worse, the sexy new boyfriend lives in Brooklyn—déclassé in the 1950’s. His parents are immigrants, and he is planning to go to law school for the next three years.

“Don’t bring me no struggling lawyers from Brooklyn,” she screams. My mother does not like lawyers, although she is dating one in his sixties who still lives with his mother in Brooklyn.

She is also convinced that the lawyer in her divorce procedure had not fought hard enough for her because she was a woman.

I continue to see him in spite of his low net worth and my mother’s disdain.

“They’re all rotten. At least if he has money, you will have something to show for it when he leaves you for a shiksa.” She being an expert on this subject is hard to contradict.

He is all over me. He will use an arm or an elbow to cop a feel. But this is the 1950’s, and I am terrified of the consequences of pregnancy and abortion or winding up in an unwed mother’s home somewhere in Arkansas.

My mother is not feeling well. I know that because she doesn’t have the energy to torture me. She sits with a hot-water bottle on her stomach and has no appetite.

She begrudgingly makes an appointment with Dr. Posner, a gynecologist recommended by her closest friend, Nina. “He has no bedside manner, but he is a fine diagnostician,” Nina exhorts.

The sexy boyfriend, with a pack of Camels rolled up in his sleeve, is driving us to the doctor appointment. We are quiet on the way there. My mother isn’t encouraging conversation. She doesn’t want to like him but is thankful for the ride.

While she is in the dressing room, Dr. Posner informs me that she needs a complete hysterectomy.

Why is he telling me? I don’t want to know.

Tell her; don’t tell me. What can I do about it? I’m frightened.

Two weeks later, at 5:30 a.m. on a bitter morning, the new guy in my life is waiting outside my building in a heated green Dodge Dart, on permanent loan from his dad.

He guides us to the hospital registration desk and helps me fill out the medical forms. My mother is too weak to control her own life. She is wheeled away, wearing her trademark hat and veil, all dressed up for the occasion.

He sits with me in the hospital lobby. I’m a nervous wreck, and it is taking forever. Hours later, on the way to the bathroom, I see Dr. Posner in the patient elevator. His scrubs are covered with blood, and my mother is lying on a gurney.

“Thank you, thank you,” I call out to him. He looks me straight in the eye.

“Don’t thank me. She will be dead in a few months.” The elevator door closes before I can respond.

Whimpering, I head back to the waiting room. The new boyfriend sees me and rushes over to comfort me. He holds me in his arms and cups my head in his hands.

“I am going to be an orphan,” I moan.

“Don’t worry, I am going to marry you,” he says.

I was in no position to turn down the offer.

“You’ll do anything to get laid,” I tease. The matter is resolved. Instead of a Halloween party, we are planning a wedding.

Joel Alexander Windman phones his parents, Rose and Nate, and tells them we will be there for dinner on Shabbos. They give us chicken soup and chopped liver, and we give them the news that their 21-year-old son—their baby—will be a married man in a month.

They don’t blink. “He only eats rare hamburger and canned peaches,” Rose says. Everyone hugs and kisses, and just like that, I’m covered.

A few weeks later we are married in a rabbi’s study. I wear a strapless, heavy, white lace dress, with a matching jacket and a luxurious white fox collar, purchased wholesale, of course. We are married on Valentine’s Day. My mother is held up by Susan, my maid of honor. I look at my future husband during the ceremony and realize I don’t even know who he is.

We spend that night at the Waldorf Astoria in a suite with a fireplace, chosen and paid for by my in-laws. As we enter the room, the chambermaids grin and I blush, as they turn down the bed and place chocolates on our pillows.

Rose spends a sleepless night with my mother.

As planned, we pick her up the next morning. We pick her up and drive to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. My mother is looking out of the car window. I follow her innocent gaze. Take a good look. You will never see another tree.

We haven’t told her about the cancer. And she never asked. In those days this was not an uncommon approach.

Settled in the hospital, drugged for pain, she says to me “I think I know what’s wrong with me, just can’t put my finger on it.” She swallows a big orange pill. “I hate this particular bozo,” she says, and we laugh.

A few days later my mother succumbs.

For a brief period of time, I am free.

My husband/my savior is now in charge, and he wants me in his line of sight at all times.

Fifty-seven years later I’m free again.

 

 

 

Eleanor Windman has work forthcoming in The Congolomerate. She is a retired designer who at eighty-two years old started writing to keep old age from blindsiding her. It worked.