Thursday, August 7, 2008

Do I Remember?

Arsenic and Old Lace
by Mortimer Brewster (I mean, Charlie Leck)

In the few years before I married this incredible woman I sleep with these days – the most wonderful woman and most extraordinary human being alive – I had the opportunity to date a real, barn-burning knock-out. I’d been fixed up by a cousin. He convinced me to fly to New York City to meet this extraordinary lassie. He said he’d been telling her all kinds of wonderful things about me. Me?

Let me cut to the chase here. I found her incredibly good looking. We spent an evening wandering around mid-town Manhattan, had a lovely dinner and laughed enough together that we decided to try another evening out the next night. I promised I’d get tickets for a play or concert.

Back in my room at the hotel, I checked the paper and saw that Joseph Kesselring’s farcical comedy, Arsenic and Old Lace, was playing at an off-Broadway theater. Wow! Did that bring back memories! We did that in my junior year in high school and I had a wonderful time with my classmates putting on that crazy, light-hearted production. Nostalgia made me do it. The concierge assured me he could get good seats for me.

“Wow, really? This late?” He smiled politely at me.

The next evening, when I stopped by her parents’ apartment to pick her up, I had forgotten how stunning she was. Indeed, she was spectacular. Her smile was as bright as Times Square itself. Her eyes sparkled like Gloria Vanderbilt’s diamonds. I floated to our taxi and found myself all aflutter at being with someone like this woman.

What a surprise I had for her! Arsenic and Old Lace, boy!

I laughed and giggled my way through it – almost to the point of choking. I watched Mortimer, the character I had played in high school, like an absolute hawk – I mean I watched him like a hawk… I didn’t play him like a hawk! Come on, stay with me here.

As I looked up at the stage, I recalled Nick Steneck writing in my ’58 graduating yearbook: “You sure are good at remembering lines!” I was stunned that I remembered most of Mortimer’s lines even then, more than a decade and a half later. I whispered some of them out, even before Mortimer said them. People love it when you do that, don’t they?

I clapped and whistled wildly when the production was over. I left the theater in an entirely wonderful mood. Now, why not try to get in for dinner at Delmonico’s I suggested.

“Sure,” she said, smiling politely.

I guess I talked too much about Arsenic and Old Lace as we ate dinner.

“Frankly,” she said, “I found it really boring. Can we talk about something else?”

“Of course,” I answered, but you know how it is after someone says something like that. I couldn’t think of a damn thing else to talk about. I hadn’t even gotten around to telling her how wonderful I thought the guy who played Teddy Brewster was – or how great Ginny O’Rourke had been, playing one of the Brewster spinster sisters in our production in 1957. I didn’t suppose she’d want to talk about what a great year the Vikings were having. I avoided that! I had a massive boil on the back of my left shoulder and my starchy shirt was irritating it. I wondered if she’d find that interesting.

I had planned to tell her about playing Hal in a summer stock production of Picnic in a little theater out in New Jersey. I had gotten to kiss the beautiful young thing who played Madge Owens every single night for the week that the play ran. I sure was no Tab Hunter in that play, but I had a great time. I got shaky about telling her.

And, I also had wanted to tell her about being the President of the Drama Club in high school and that I just ought to know something about whether or not a play is good or boring, for goodness sakes!

The walk back to her place was pretty stiff and silent. She chatted a bit about New York and her important job downtown. She had a lovely voice and she was obviously very smart.

She wondered if she could come up to see my room at the Plaza. Man, I hadn’t hung up my clothes from that afternoon and I’d left the bathroom a mess.

Another time, I suggested and squeezed her hand as I said goodnight. Damn, she was beautiful. She actually said that she wanted to see me again.

Well, none of my friends would accuse me of having an elevator that could make it to the top floor! You know, I wasn’t good at that come-in-out-of-the-rain stuff. Yet, I had this one figured out okay.

The next day, I made sure my cousin let his friend, the beautiful young woman, know that I was kind of bored with her.

“No, no special reason. Just somewhat bored.”

“Don’t you want to see her again?”


“Are you crazy, man?”

It went on like that for a while. I still had a little fuse burning away inside me. It needed to be snuffed out before I exploded. I’d grab a plane a couple days earlier than I’d planned and get out of town.

I’d had some of my most wonderful memories trampled on. I didn’t care how beautiful she was. My memories were more precious to me than, than – well, than nearly anything in the world.

By his photograph in my high school yearbook, Charlie Apostolik had scribbled: “Remember the play last year!” Remember? Man, are you kidding? I remember it as clear as can be – even now – fifty years later!

Well, lordsy-me, how did this happen?I found myself standing in front of the little theater just off Bleecker Street and, yes, they just happened to have a ticket available for that night’s production of Arsenic and Old Lace. What a wonderful way to spend my last night in New York!

Start roaring, Teddy.


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