I call it a “mail box surprise”! Amongst a few bills and some irritating political adverts, a letter. A real letter! A good friend chooses to communicate with me not by phone, not by email, or texting… but in the “old fashioned way”, with pen, paper and stamp. I include the contents of this missive in its entirety.
But before… a few more prefacing remarks.
My friend and I go back a ways. To say that we are cut from the same cloth is an understatement. We love telling stories and jokes. Long stories and long jokes. The longer and more involved the better. We discovered years ago that our manner of thinking entailed side tracks and digressions (many), an occasional loss of train of thought (too many Tanqueray Martinis) and a casual disregard for whether anyone else cared. In writing we pay little attention to grammar, preferring to write in phrases and fragments joined together by ellipses and some dashes. Parenthesis’s are employed to indicate an embellishing detail, or an amusing detour.
Further, we have a similar sense of humor: that rare combination of 8th Grade funny, locker room vulgar, post-collegiate smart-ass & a touch of Jewish angst. Maybe that’s why we get along so well. How can I argue with someone who has proclaimed that the greatest advancement in the 20th Century was the creation of the mango pitter.
After years of conducting our correspondence we haven’t decided which is worse, the writing of the letter (which can take forever) or the reading of it. I mean… what happens if the strategic reserves of gin run out in the interim?
To you, who is living proof that Montezuma’s Revenge is real:
I don’t think you know the Gordon’s. They have a home in Greenwich, a place in Guilford on the water, a pied à terre near Columbus Circle and a ski lodge in Stowe. He majored in downhill skiing at Dartmouth, grateful that his Grandfather invented the clothespin, or something just as stupid. His wife is a partner in Milbank,Tweed and thinks that Genghis Khan was a liberal.
We met them several years ago because their Daughter Michelle and our Sydney were on the Sharks Swim Team. And then we got included in their For-Adults-Halloween Celebration. The invitations for the party get sent out just after the school year starts. This is done both as a courtesy and, as I was soon to learn, to provide enough time to make, or acquire, suitable costumes. Hard to believe that I got into this? Well… I did.
The first year we went as Dorothy and the Scarecrow. Margie was perfect… the blue gingham pettifore over a short sleeved white blouse with puffy shoulders, the ankle socks and ruby shoes. Pig tails with blue ribbons, too. And I was a credible Scarecrow. That goofy hat, olive burlap shirt, baggy canvas pants and lots and lots, of straw (that straw gave me a horrible body rash and a case of rectal itch that lasted for days).
We got an Honorable Mention in the costume judging. The Gordon’s took first prize as Gomez and Morticia Addams. And they did look very good (did I mention that Mitchell Gordon is head of QC for White Castle’s Frozen Hamburger Division). We apparently lost points for not having Toto as part of our costume. Go figure.
But this only strengthened our resolve to take first prize the following year. I wanted to go as Rameses and Nefretiri. But Margie said I would have to shave my chest, and besides, my pec’s weren’t good enough (can you imagine?). We settled on Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Margie was splendid again, and was earning a reputation for looking very good as a pre-teen. My Wolf costume cost a bundle, made me sweat like a stuck pig (wolf-pigs? See how that works?) and by the end of the evening no one could come within of five feet of me without the aroma causing their knees to buckle. We got another Honorable Mention. The Gordon’s as Juan and Eva Perón took first prize. Did I mention that Desirée Gordon was a scratch golfer?
The next year I vetoed Alicein Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. I told Margie that she was contributing to some of the male guests’ sexual fantasies for bopping under-age girls! I also declined to switch roles. We decided to change things up. I went as a Carrot and Margie went as Belgian Endive. Another Honorable Mention, although I had to endure several mildly insulting remarks about the size of my “carrot”. I thought that we deserved at least a Second or Third Place. I think I must have polished off 20 White Castle Hamburgers during the course of the night.
The following year we went as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. There were three other Tweedle Dee and Dum’s there! We didn’t finish “in the money”, we didn’t get an Honorable Mention… we weren’t even the best Tweedle Dee and Dum. The Gordon’s took First (again!) as Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter! Margie didn’t talk to me for a week.
The tide turned after Thanksgiving. That’s when Margie applied herself to the task of promoting us to the “winner’s circle”. Quiet at first. Just books and brochures accumulating on the kitchen island. Then came the fateful day when she announced that we were going to win the next costume judging with Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn! I could see no reason to object. Besides it would give me reasons to say stuff like “anon” and “forsooth” for an evening. As in, “Forsooth, me thinks I will have another White Castle Hamburger, anon…”
Little did I understand Margie’s full commitment to winning this thing. In February she signed up to audit a course in Costume Design given at NYU’s Tisch School. And at course’s end, she decided to put her knowledge to practical use by volunteering to help the wardrobe mistress at the Delacourt Theater. She cut, sewed and mended the costumes used for the summer Shakespeare productions in Central Park. And of course she began making our costumes. Our house filled with silks, brocades, fine linens and all manner of things. I was fitted out with silk hose, a doublet, one of those weird coats with those oversized square shoulders, a dagger (useful for spearing burgers), a fake beard and that funny flat hat they wore back then (I actually think the hat is great, and I still wear it when I take Charlie out for his walk). Margie’s costume was beyond belief… chemise, silk hose, petticoat, farthingale, corset, bumroll, parlet, kirtle and gown. It took her an hour to get dressed! For sure, she looked every part the Queen!
It would have been a tragedy if we did not win. But win we did! The Gordon’s finished with an honorable mention for Douglas MacArthur and Chiang Kai-shek (Desirée as the General). First place prize was a Fabergé looking egg made of milk chocolate. I am sure that it cost a small fortune. A week later, Sydney and her girl friends ate the egg during a “sleep-over.” Margie had to be sedated.
For Margie, more than losing the egg, that victory just took the starch out of the sails for future endeavors… the energy spent on Henry and Ann extracted too high a toll. Come August, not even a peep about what we would wear this year. And when the invitation arrived just after Labor Day, it remained unopened on the kitchen island.
When I asked her about it last week, she just shook her head “no”. Not only was she uninterested in making or renting a costume… she didn’t even want to go to the party! I reminded her about the White Castle Hamburgers and that it was my one time in the year when I looked forward to indulging in the “garnish” sized burgers (do you know that Refrigerator Perry one time ate 136 White Castles in 25 minutes… what took him so long?). I could understand not wanting to spend on costumes. I knew that between Henry VIII, Ann Boleyn, the Carrot and Belgian Endive we had blown our costume budget for a decade. I suggested that we could just go in some innocuous attire… I thought that it would be easy for me; I could part my hair down the middle, wear a brown suit, walk around with a cigar and tell folks that I was H.L. Mencken, “Distinguished Man of American Letters” (he, who declared that the Martini was the only American invention as perfect as the English sonnet!).
She agreed that Mencken was easy to pull off, and that with the Martini quote, it was a great connection to me. And, with the White Castle Hamburgers not withstanding, she was still firm in her decision to miss this year’s festivities.
On Saturday night she caught me sulking during my Martini Hour, and she finally relented. She would go as “Harvey”, the invisible rabbit that Jimmy Stewart envisioned in the movie!
After my second Martini, I agreed that it was a superb idea (but part of this may have been the Martini’s!). I will show up at the Gordon’s door as Mencken while Margie is at home darning socks or putting up bread & butter pickles… and when Desirée asks me where is Margie, I will say, “Why Desirée,” pointing to my vacant side, “Don’t you recognize Harvey, the invisible ‘pooka’ rabbit? Now, kindly direct us to the room containing the treasure trove of burgers that your generous husband has so graciously supplied… Come along dear, er… Harvey! Desirée, we will speak to you anon.”
Call me Meyer; but I think that we are going to win! Creativity untethered!
Sorry dear friend; but I don’t have the strength to inquire about you and yours. But you have to understand my strain. And now that I think about it… maybe you do know the Gordon’s!
In full sincerity, and wishing you all the best, I remain now & forevermore,
H.L. Mencken or Elwood P. Dowd (the choice is yours)