Some people, including maybe even my kids, probably consider me a flop. I lasted less than a year in college, at Drake in Iowa, and went into the family business, the only member of the third generation in our family to do so. My older brother Arnie is a successful dentist, specialising in root canals. Carol, my younger sister, is a partner in the family-law firm of Levin, Feldman, and Engel. After working 14 years at Rappaport’s, our family’s delicatessen, some say the last authentic one in Chicago, on Broadway two blocks north of Belmont, I took over the business after my dad died, and have been running it ever since, a total of 32 years in all.
Started by our grandfather and featuring my grandmother’s soup and fish recipes, Rappaport’s was originally on Kedzie, just off Lawrence. Following the migration of the Jews northward across Chicago, the deli moved under my dad’s management to West Rogers Park, at the corner of California and Devon. When the Jews in West Rogers Park moved again, this time mostly to the northern suburbs, and Indians and Pakistanis moved in along with a community of ultra-Orthodox, who consider most of the food I serve treyf, I moved the restaurant to its present location. We’re not setting the world on fire, but we do a steady business. Steady enough to have sent my two girls to college — Naomi to Miami of Ohio, Sheryl to Dennison, also in Ohio — and to keep a condo in Boca Raton, where Bobby, my late wife, who died of cervical cancer three years ago, used to stay through most of the winter. I’ve been thinking about unloading the Boca place, since I myself can’t get away for more than a week or so at a time. You run a restaurant, you need to be on the premises: greeting people, kicking ass, worrying. Believe me, I know.
I’ve never regretted going into the family business. My brother stands there all day, jabbing away at dead nerves in people’s mouths, my sister further inflames angry women to get the most out of men they once loved. In running a good deli I’m providing a service. People come into my place with clear and specific wants, and I’m able to satisfy them. We won’t include here those occasional mumzers who dedicate themselves to giving my waitresses and me a hard time.
To accommodate diet-conscious women customers, I’ve had to add “The Liter Side” to my menu, which is mostly salads and egg-white omelettes. My dad used to say that the only green thing allowed in a Jewish deli should be a dill pickle. Cholesterol is another big worry. The other day a woman asks me if there is any cholesterol in our pastrami. It was all I could do not to tell her she shouldn’t worry, we’ve managed to trap all the cholesterol between the fat and the grease. She ordered a Caesar salad. Chiefly, though, people come in for the old Jewish staples: the soups (mushroom-barley, chicken matzoball and kreplach, cold borscht, lentil, split pea), the brisket and corned-beef and salami, the white fish and flounder, the cheese cake and strudels and rugelach.
The people left who enjoy these things, who grew up on them, are no longer kids. Some days I look around at my customers and feel I’m not running a restaurant but a nursing home. I’ve had to keep the aisles wide to allow for customers on walkers. I’ve got a number of elderly men and women, regulars, coming in with Filipina caregivers. Also men who eat wearing caps that show they fought in World War Two. Occasionally they’ll bring in their grandchildren, or, more accurately, their grandchildren will bring them in.
I got a customer, Mrs Rose Kleiderman, she comes in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at noon, she must be 95. Her skin looks like parchment. She lives somewhere in the neighborhood. She comes alone. She can’t weigh more than 80 pounds; maybe she’s four foot six, eight tops. She orders the same things every time: a bowl of chicken matzoball soup, a salami omelette with hashbrown potatoes, drinks maybe four cups of coffee, finishes it off with a piece of rugelach, leaves a ten per cent tip, reminds me that she knew my parents, and shuffles out onto Broadway.
I got a customer, Morton Grolnik, he comes in every day except Sunday for a breakfast of coffee, orange juice, oatmeal, and whole-wheat toast. He tells me that he likes to start his day among Jews. He lives in a nearby assisted-living joint on Sheridan Road called The Wrenwood. He brings a Sun-Times in with him and every morning makes a number of hypothetical bets on baseball, football, and basketball games. “Can you believe it, Jerry,” he’ll say to me, “the Bears are six-point dogs,” or “I’m taking the Eagles and the points.” Every morning, on leaving, he tells me how much he is ahead or behind for the year.
I’ve lots of other regulars, but maybe the strangest are two guys, Harold Kizerman and Morrie Feigenbaum. They meet here every Tuesday and Thursday for lunch. They both sport beards, white and not very well trimmed, and they eat with their caps on. Feigenbaum, a large man, must weigh somewhere around 300, maybe more, rides in on an electronic chair. Kizerman is slender, tall, with a permanently somewhat pissed-off look. They take one of the centre tables — in his chair, Feigenbaum can’t fit in a booth — and usually stay at least two hours.
One day a year or so ago, Kizerman left a large black spiral notebook behind. I couldn’t resist looking inside. In a scrawling handwriting he had written what I guess are a number of poems. One, with the title “Climate Change,” ended with these words:
Tsunami and fire, earthquake, tornado, and storm,
Disaster’s man’s lot, misery henceforth the norm.
Not very cheery stuff, if you ask me, but then no one’s asking, certainly not Kizerman, and what he does is his business.
One day, heading back to the kitchen, passing their table, I noted they were reading aloud to each other, each holding a bunch of typewritten pages in his hand. I couldn’t make out what it was, and later, after they had gone, I asked Gladys, their waitress, who has been at Rappaport’s since my father’s day, if she knew what the reading aloud was about.
“They’re writing a play,” she said, “leastwise that’s what they told me.”
Gladys, who has waited on them for years, had earlier filled me in on what she knew about Feigenbaum and Kizerman. They’re both in their mid-eighties. Feigenbaum was formerly an accountant, Kizerman in mail order. Both are long-time-widowers. During their married days, they lived in Skokie, and met through their wives, who played mah-jong together. They bowled on the same B’nai Br’ith bowling team.
Feigenbaum is confined to his electronic chair because of his weight and varicose veins; he also suffers from gout, which hasn’t slowed down his appetite. He lives in an apartment at The Wrenwood. Not long after his wife died, Kizerman moved in with his plastic-surgeon son Gary and his family, who have a four-bedroom condo at The Barry Apartments on Sheridan Road.
Gladys’s story is she married an Irishman, who worked at Bethlehem Steel and who deserted her maybe thirty years ago, leaving her with two young kids. She brought up the kids by herself, waitressing full time. Her son Tony is now a cop, her daughter Beverly teaches kids with disabilities in Lawndale. I wish I had ten Gladyses working at Rappaport’s. She’s always on time, completely reliable, no crap about her. She’s Polish — maiden name Rostenkowski — but she’s been around Jews so long by now she’s practically Jewish herself. She probably knows as many Yiddish words as I do. She smokes, but only in the alley behind the restaurant. If she ever needed me for anything, I’d be there to help without hesitation. I think she knows it.
I don’t hire college kids or people in their twenties as waiters. Their minds aren’t really on the job. Where their minds are I don’t pretend to know, but a customer the other day told that me in L.A. if some young person tells you he or she’s an actress, you reply, “Oh, yeah, at what restaurant?” I hire older women, the occasional gay man, to wait tables. They stick around, are pleased to have the job, aren’t dreamy. My busboys, mostly Puerto Ricans and some Mexican Americans, come and go. I’ve had good luck with my two short-order cooks, Juan Diaz and José Esposa, who have been with me for a two-and-a-half and four years respectively. Impossible to run a deli these days without knowing a little Spanish. I’ve learned just enough myself to get by.
Five weeks ago, a rainy Tuesday, Feigenbaum and Kizerman fail to show for lunch. They’re not there again on Thursday. The next week they don’t show either. I asked Gladys what’s the story? She doesn’t know. Maybe one or the other is in the hospital. Guys in their mid-eighties, they could crap out at any time. I started checking the obits in the Trib. Nothing. One day I called The Wrenwood to see if Mr Morris Feigenbaum was still a resident. He was. I hung up before they asked if I wanted to be connected to his apartment. Maybe it was Kizerman who was ill. I wasn’t about to call his son’s apartment. I mean, what’s it my business?
Then the third week, a Wednesday, Kizerman walks into the restaurant alone. He takes a booth. The booth isn’t in Gladys’s station, but I arrange for her to wait on him anyway. He orders a corned-beef on an onion roll, coffee, nothing more. Half an hour and he walks out. I’m at the register, and when I ask him how’re things going, he mumbles, “They’ve been better.”
I call Gladys over. “Where’s Feigenbaum? What’s with these guys?”
“I’m going on my smoke break,” Gladys says. “Meet me outside and I’ll fill you in.” Gladys takes a ten-minute break for a cigarette every hour. Anyone else, I wouldn’t allow it.
In the alley behind the restaurant, Gladys lights up a Marlboro, exhales, through her nose and mouth, a terrific cloud of smoke.
“I asked Mr Kizerman how Mr Feigenbaum was,” she said, “and he replied that he wouldn’t know. He was reading the paper with his lunch, and didn’t even bother to look up.
“‘Nothing wrong, I hope,’ I said. ‘Hope to see you and Mr F back here soon.’
“‘Not likely,’ he said, still not looking up from his paper. He then told me that Feigenbaum insulted him. I didn’t think it was my place to ask him how.
“‘Sorry to hear it,’ I said. ‘You two go back a ways.'”
“‘Nearly 60 years,’ he said. ‘Can I get some more coffee?'”
The following Friday Feigenbaum shows up, alone. His electronic chair is so large he needs help with the door. Usually Kizerman holds it open for him. Today I do. He motors in and drives to his usual table. I follow him.
“Expecting Mr Kizerman to join you?” I say.
“Not for a long while,” he says.
“Nothing wrong with his health?” I ask, pretending not to know there’s been a serious falling out.
“No. Just with his brain,” Feigenbaum answers.
“It’s a long story. Got a minute? Sit down.”
Before Kizerman begins, Gladys comes up to take his order: a large bowl of kreplach soup, a brisket sandwich on rye with a side of fries, a Dr Brown’s Cream Soda, coffee and cheesecake for dessert. Not one for “The Liter Side” of our menu, Morrie Feigenbaum.
“Anyhow,” he begins, “my old friend Hal Kizerman comes to me six, maybe seven weeks ago, to announce he’s thinking about remarrying. He’d not mentioned any woman before, you understand, and Hal and I are pretty close. I held back. Offered no opinion. Where’d he meet this lucky lady? I ask him. At a benefit dinner for Rush Memorial Hospital, he tells me, where his boy Gary is on staff. What does she do? I ask. Some hospital volunteer work, he says. How old? I ask. 62, he says, which would make her 23 years younger than Kizerman. Married before? Three times actually, he tells me, no children. Is currently living at Imperial Towers, on Marine Drive. Will I get to meet her? Soon, he says.
“So maybe a week or so later, I get an invitation to dinner at Kizerman’s son’s apartment, where I’m to meet this broad who’s caused my old pal to lose his normal good sense.”
Gladys arrives, sets a bowl of kreplach soup before Kizerman and brings a cup of coffee for me. Kizerman plunges into his soup. He’s one of those guys who can talk and eat without losing the rhythm of either. He’d already done a pretty good job on the bread basket. But I guess that’s how you get to be 300 pounds or whatever he is.
“Anyhow,” says Feigenbaum, “at Kizerman’s son’s place I get to meet my old friend’s new heartthrob. Her name is Deborah Shapiro. She’s good-looking, expensively dressed, goes a little heavy on the warpaint, is obviously a woman still on the attack. The only other people there are Dr Gary Kastel (Kizerman’s plastic-surgeon son, who did a bit of rhinoplasty on his own name), his wife Robin, and me. Kizerman is wearing a suit I haven’t seen before, very Italian. He and Ms Shapiro stick close together. I get the strong impression that, jacked up on Viagra or something more powerful, he’s canoodling her, if you take my meaning.
“At dinner she tells me that Harold has told her about our collaborating on a play together. I tell her we have been working on it for more than a year now and hope to have it performed at the retirement home where I live, and that it’s a play about growing up in the Depression and its effects on two young boys with artistic instincts, sending them into the business world.
“‘I’m a big fan of Hal’s poems,’ she says.
“I ask her about her own life. She says that her father was a liquor distributor. Her maiden name was Weiss. The family lived in West Rogers Park. She went to Mather High School. Shapiro, her third husband, did something with fire insurance that wasn’t clear to me, but didn’t sound quite strictly on the up and up. Her second husband died of congestive heart failure, four years ago, at 78. Which suggests that maybe she has a thing for older men, a father complex maybe, who knows? About her first husband she didn’t speak.”
Feigenbaum has by now finished off his soup with their two large kreplach. (“They’re Brobdignagian, Daddy,” Sheryl, my youngest daughter, the English major, used to call our kreplach.) Gladys arrives, and sets before him his brisket sandwich and fries and Dr. Brown’s.
“But I sensed,” Feigenbaum says, “something out of kilter. I looked at her and thought, this is a woman whose life hasn’t worked out. This is not a happy woman. Something has gone profoundly wrong for her. She’s in choppy waters, adrift, and looking for something to cling onto to get to shore. My friend Hal maybe.”
“What made you think that?” I asked.
Kizerman reached for another slice of pickle.
“Instincts,” he says. “Disappointment is written in her eyes. Of course I said nothing about it. I kept my own counsel. The dinner went on. Pretty dull talk, I thought, but not for my old friend Kizerman. You could tell he was delighted to have been taken up by a still good-looking woman more than 20 years younger than himself. You reach a certain age, you no longer think of yourself as in the hunt, if you know what I mean.
“My first suspicion is that she is a gold-digger and has taken Kizerman for loaded. As someone who has done his taxes for the last forty or so years I can tell you he isn’t. He gets by, not much more. You know the line about older men seeking out rich widows, how’s it go, they’re looking for ‘a nurse with a purse’, that’s it. We need something similar for women going after older men, ‘An old babe who forgot to save,’ maybe. In any case, if Ms Shapiro is a gold-digger, in Harold Kizerman she’s working the wrong claim.”
Kizerman’s cheesecake arrives. Gladys sets it down along with a cup of coffee, which he drinks black with three heaped spoons of sugar.
“My problem was what to do about it. Should I warn my old friend that he is making a big mistake? Or should I let it go, let things play out, as they figured inevitably to do? I decided on the latter.
“Then less than a week later, Kizerman calls to inform me that he is going to propose marriage to this broad, Ms Shapiro. Does a good friend stand by, despite his own forebodings, say congratulations and wait for the disaster that is sure to follow? Or does he say what he thinks?
“‘Hal,’ I say, ‘I think you may be making a grievous error here.’
“‘Grievous?’ he asks. ‘How so, grievous?’
“‘I think it’s a dumb idea to marry at our age, and even if it wasn’t I don’t think this is the woman to do it with. This is an unhappy woman, Hal. See her, screw her, do anything you like, but don’t marry her is my advice. This is a woman likely to ruin your last years. Don’t do it. Big mistake,’ I say.
“‘Who’re you, Ann Landers?’ he says. ‘Deborah is a beautiful and dear woman, and she needs my protection.’
“‘Protection from what?’ I ask.
“‘From the world,’ he says. ‘It’s a damn cold and cruel place, especially for a woman alone. If you’d get your fat ass out of that chair every so often, maybe you’d notice.’
“‘So,’ Feigenbaum says to me, ‘there it was. We got to the insult stage that fast. I stopped it before it got to the shouting stage.’
“‘Look, Hal,’ I say to him, ‘You’ll do what you want. I wish you nothing but the best.’
“‘Like hell you do,’ he says. ‘You obviously take me for an idiot.’
“‘Look,’ I say, ‘if I’ve done anything to hurt your feelings, if I’ve gone too far, I apologise.’
“‘I know envy when I see it,’ he says. ‘You’re envious of my having a good life with an attractive woman. I’m not a goddamn moron.’
“‘Envious?’ Feigenbaum says to me. ‘I swear it hadn’t occurred to me to be envious. I saw a dear friend in danger of going down the tubes with the wrong woman, nothing more.'”
I notice his cheesecake’s gone.
“Anyhow, I say to Hal. ‘See you on Tuesday, at Rappaport’s.’
“‘I don’t think so,’ he says. ‘Nor Thursday or any other day. I wish you well, Morrie, but, as the Jews used to say about the Tsar, not too close to me.’ And he hangs up. And that’s where things stand. A nearly 60-year friendship, down the crapper.”
I hadn’t said a word while Feigenbaum recounted all this, but the fact was that I knew Deborah Shapiro, or at least I knew her when she was Deborah — called in those days by everyone Dinky — Weiss. She was one of the most popular girls at Mather, went out with the star of the basketball team, a guy named Teddy Levinson, who went on to play for the University of Wisconsin, though he spent most of his career there warming the bench. A looker, too, Dinky Weiss, at least in those days, tall, slender, dark, well-built. The Weiss family lived in a sprawling ranchhouse on Francisco and Coyle. Liquor distributor, which Feigenbaum mentioned her father was, was one of those occupations that had its origins decades before in bootlegging and you didn’t have to search too far to find those who practised it usually loosely connected with the Mob. A clutch of successful bookies and other men in the juke-box, slot-machine and other illicit businesses lived on those blocks off Francisco between Morse and Touhy. In those days Dinky Weiss, rich, popular, good-looking, was out of my league, certainly not someone I would ever have had the nerve to call for a date. I couldn’t help thinking, though, that as the ladyfriend of Hal Kizerman she had come down in the world — way down, with a thump.
Please don’t ask why, but I decided to call Deborah Shapiro. I’m not sure myself exactly why. Curiosity mostly. Was she still good-looking? What had time done to her to put her in the position of needing Hal Kizerman’s protection, if she really did need it? She was in the phone book under D. Shapiro on Marine Drive, and when she answered the phone I mentioned my name, but — no big shock here — she didn’t remember it, or know who I was. I lied and said that I was chairman of a planning committee for our class’s 45th Mather High School reunion, and was calling to ask if she would be willing to serve on the committee. She said that she wasn’t in the least interested. I told her I understood, and suggested if she had an hour or so free to talk about the old days at Mather someday I would love to meet her for coffee. I was surprised when she said “Sure, why not?” We agreed to meet two days later, at three in the afternoon at a coffee and pastry joint called Jules Minhl, on Southport, off Addison.
I arrived ten minutes early. The scattering of customers in the place were mostly women. The lunch menu was all salads and quiches and female sandwiches. The pastry on display was also for less than hardy eaters: croissants, muffins, small cookies. In this joint any of my regular customers would have seemed like they came from another planet.
I recognised Dinky the moment she hit the door. She was still tall, lean, her hair dark, probably now with the help of a beautician. She was wearing designer jeans, moderately high heels, a long red sweater. She had one of those deep poolside tans that Bobby, my wife, used to call “extra crispy.” The look was high maintenance, a touch on the hard side.
I thought about ducking out, but she must have noticed me staring at her, because she came over to my table.
“You must be Jerry Rappaport,” she said. “Hi, I’m Deborah Shapiro, formerly Weiss.”
“You’re still recognisably the girl I knew in high school,” I said, “and that’s a compliment.”
“I’ll take it as such,” she said. “And please forgive me for not recognising you, on the phone or here, though you do look vaguely familiar.”
“I spent a lot of my free time at Mather working in our family restaurant,” I said.
“Then you’re a Rappaport from Rappaport’s on Devon and California. My Dad used to take me and my brother Donny there for Sunday morning breakfast.”
“Are you still in touch any of the kids we went to school with?” I asked.
“I was when I lived in Glencoe with my first husband. But during my second and third marriages, living in the city, I fell out of touch. You married?”
“A widower,” I said.
“If it doesn’t sound too cruel, I wish I were a widow, at least where my third husband is concerned, but I guess you can’t have everything.”
We ordered coffee, and she walked over to the pastry display and brought back a croissant, which she nibbled at.
“Are you seeing anyone at present?” she asked.
“Not at the moment. The restaurant — we’re now on Broadway near Addison — keeps me busy. How about you?”
“I was. A much older man,” she said. I didn’t say I knew that older man.
“Funny but I happened last to be seeing a much younger woman. She was in her early thirties, but it didn’t work out. We didn’t know the same songs, if you get my drift. I also felt uncomfortable going with her to her clubs with people younger than my two daughters.”
“You have two daughters,” she said. “I have no kids myself, but if I had I would have wanted girls. I think I would have understood them better than boys.”
“Ever hear from Ted Levinson?”
“He died in his forties, I heard, from cancer. He was living in Milwaukee. But tell me about this 45th reunion.”
“It’s all very tentative,” I lied. “I don’t know why I even offered to serve on the planning committee. I don’t see why we can’t wait until the 50th year reunion.”
“This reminds me,” she said, “of a friend of my last husband. He was nuts about a little college he went to in upstate New York. Hamilton or Madison maybe was its name. I don’t remember exactly. He was a wealthy man, and he gave the school lots of money. He showed me a letter announcing his 60th year class reunion. As I began to read it, he said look at the bottom. ‘Walkers and wheelchairs will be provided.’ ‘Screw it,’ he said. ‘I’m not going.'” She laughed.
She had a good laugh, Dinky Weiss, lots of nice teeth. Expensive dental work? Hard to say. I searched her face to see if she had had work done. Maybe an eye-job, I decided. She was an appealing woman.
“Do you still go by the name Dinky?” I asked.
“Only with old girlfriends. It’s a name my parents gave me, and comes from my infant attempt at saying daddy.”
“It has a nice ring to it.”
“I never minded it. Maybe it’s not so fitting for a woman of a certain age, but call me it if you like.”
We began talking about the old days in West Rogers Park, about some of our teachers at Mather, about the kids we grew up with. Lots of laughter. Looking across the table at her, I saw the attractive girl I knew from high school. It was as if the forty-odd years since that time had never happened. I, Jerry Rappaport, was on a date with Dinky Weiss, and enjoying the hell out of it.
I looked at my watch. It was 5.30pm. I should have been back at the restaurant for the dinner hour. We’d been together two-and-a-half hours, schmoozing away. I walked her to her car — a three-series white BMW. At her car door, she offered her cheek for me to kiss. She asked me not to wait too long to call so that we could meet again. When I got to my car, parked on Southport, I found a $60 parking ticket, but didn’t mind, so much did I enjoy myself with Dinky Weiss.
She was good company, with a sense of humor, and an interesting outlook. She’d been around the block a few times, but she didn’t come back from the trips empty-handed. She was no dope. As for Kizerman’s telling Feigenbaum she needed protection, about that I wasn’t so sure. I was fairly sure that if she really did need it, Hal Kizerman, in his middle eighties without much dough, wasn’t in any position to provide it.
Kizerman came into the restaurant the following Friday. He greeted me as always, curtly, and took a booth, ate his lunch alone reading the Sun-Times. I was awaiting some sign that he knew I had met with Deborah Schapiro, but he gave none. My best guess is that she never bothered to tell him. No reason for her to do so, really. Maybe she was no longer seeing him. She said she “was” seeing an older man, past tense.
I waited a full week to call Dinky Schapiro. She was free for dinner on Friday, and I took her to a dark and rather noisy Italian joint on Clark Street in Andersonville called Calo. She ordered salmon. I thought of ordering the barbeque ribs, but decided I didn’t want the mess that ribs bring. I ordered the white fish, tail portion.
“Why the tail portion?” Dinky wanted to know when the waitress left.
“Fewer bones in the tail portion,” I said, “Old Jewish wives’ wisdom. I learned it from my grandmother.”
The restaurant was darker and noisier than I remembered. I don’t know what I hoped for from the evening, except getting to know Dinky Weiss — Shapiro, as I started to think of her, better. Nothing that Feigenbaum said about her checked out, at least in my reading.
She told me she never went to college, and resented it. Lack of money wasn’t involved. Her father, an old-fashioned tough guy, didn’t believe in college for women.
“He never said so directly,” she said, “but he believed women functioned best in the kitchen and on their backs. In not getting to go to college I’ve always felt I missed out on something major. Not that I was such a hot student, because I wasn’t, but I felt a hole in my life that I could never fill in.”
“I went for a year, to Drake in Des Moines. I found nothing there, at least for me. I would sit in a class in biology or political science and ask myself what am I doing here anyway? I decided I’d rather spend a week at the Drake Hotel than four years at Drake University. At the end of my first year I never went back. I’ve never regretted it.”
“At least you had a shot at it,” Dinky said. “That’s something.”
“True enough,” I said.
“What not going to college did to me was to turn me into a professional wife. I went to work for my father at 18, and at 19 married a man, also in the liquor business, 20 years older than me. The marriage lasted 12 years, which was 11 years and ten months longer than it should have lasted, but I didn’t want to admit failure and so rode out all those years of misery.”
She didn’t mention her other two marriages, which was fine by me. The conversation jumped around. We had a bottle of wine with our dinner, a Cabernet Savignon.
“I don’t know anything about wine,” I said, after ordering it.
“I prefer that you don’t,” she said. “My last husband was a great wine connoisseur. He didn’t mind dropping 200 dollars for a bottle of wine, and making goo-goo eyes at the bottle as he drank it. Someone once told me that there are three kinds of people: highly educated people who talk about ideas, normal people who talk about other people, and trivial people who talk about wine.”
We were out of the restaurant by 8.45pm I asked her if she’d care to catch a movie.
“I’m not very comfortable in the new Cineplexes,” she said. “I also find myself disappointed with lots of movies. Why don’t we go back to my place? Maybe there’s something we can watch on television.”
I am in Dinky Weiss-Shapiro’s bed, in my boxer shorts, waiting for her to emerge from her bathroom. I’ve been in this position before with other women, awaiting them, listening to jars opening and closing, atomisers spraying, and whenever I am I have the same slight feeling of doubt whether I am the successful hunter or instead the prey subdued, the seducer or the seduced. I feel some of this at this moment. But I also feel strangely elated. A high-school fantasy of mine is about to come true 40-odd years later.
During my high-school days guys practised what was then called kiss-and-tell. My own suspicion then was that there was a lot more telling going on than there was kissing. I’m not going to attempt to describe what Dinky and I did in her bed. I’m not that great at description. I’ll only say that at the conclusion I didn’t want my money back and leave it at that.
“It’s times like these,” she said as we were lying in bed afterward, “that I most miss smoking. Were you a smoker?”
“Practically a professional,” I said. “Two packs a day. Kools.”
“Why did you quit?”
“Little thing called fear of death.”
“May I ask you a question?” I said.
“You know a man named Harold Kizerman?”
“I know him very well. He proposed marriage to me three or four weeks or so ago. I must have given him the wrong signals,” she said, “either that or he misinterpreted my kindness to him. I told him that I was honoured to be asked but I’ve already had all the marriage I can handle. Three marriages is a lot-four practically makes you a sociopath, or something.”
“You’re serious about never remarrying?” I asked.
“Absolutely,” she said, “I have come to the conclusion that I am not a good judge of men, present company excepted, at least so far as I know. I also receive a decent alimony payment from my last husband that is an additional inducement not to marry again. If I remarry, he’s off the hook, where, if I may say so, he richly belongs.”
Listening to this, naked, under a sheet, I thought of Kizerman. Did being turned down leave him heartbroken? Defeated? Feeling that life now really was at an end for him? I also thought of Morrie Feigenbaum, who got the woman lying next to me so wrong, Feigenbaum who sacrificed a friendship of so many years through the need to give unnecessary advice. What a stupid muddle the whole thing was!
Four days later Feigenbaum drove his chair into Rappaport’s. He took his usual table. I had greeted him at the door, but now walked over to his usual table.
“How goes it, Jerry?” he said.
“Not so bad, Mr Feigenbaum,” I said, “not bad at all. But I wanted to ask you if the situation with you and Mr Kizerman has changed.”
“Why should it have changed?” he asked.
“Because I heard that your friend isn’t going to marry this woman you told me about a few weeks ago.”
“Where’d you hear that?” he asked.
“From her, actually,” I said. “She told me she never had the least intention of marrying him.”
“Really?” He looked up at me, his right eyebrow raised. “Where do you come to know her?”
“Turns out we went to high school together,” I said, “and I had dinner with her the other night. I found out that she doesn’t need your friend Kizerman’s money, doesn’t require his protection, and never had any intention of marrying him. Oh, and there was no canoodling going on, either.”
“Ex-friend, you mean,” Feigenbaum inserted. “I miss the son of a bitch.”
“I wonder if you shouldn’t call Mr Kizerman.” I said, “and confess you had everything all wrong about Deborah Shapiro and apologise? Not, you understand, that this is any of my goddamn business.”
“It isn’t,” said Feigenbaum, “but in this instance you happen to be right. To be out of line is one thing, but be both out of line and completely wrong is worse. I’ll have to get up my nerve, but I’ll make the call. At least I’ll think about it.”
“Lunch today is on the house,” I said, and left his table.
The following Tuesday Hal Kizerman walks into the restaurant, and holds the door open for Morrie Feigenbaum and his electronic chair. I am at the register. Kizerman doesn’t bother to nod to me, Feigenbaum winks as he drives past. After lunch, Gladys reported they were reading aloud to each other, back to working on their play, I guess.
As for Dinky and me, I almost wish I could say that I was still seeing her and we were going strong. Wasn’t in the cards. We went out together another five or six times, and found ourselves running out of things to say to each other, both before and after sex. Can’t live in the past, I guess. A damn nice place to visit, though, at least for a while.