Thursday, March 31, 2011

Saying good bye to people and places

Mrs. Hall awoke to the sound of Mr. Hall's pager going off. She was far too sleepy to listen to him rustle around for a slip of paper and a pen to take notes. A half an hour later, (though it seemed like only seconds to her) Mr. Hall was rousing her to attention. “It’s a good thing we’re leaving today. The Monsignor has passed and we’ve got the call.” He placed a cup of fresh coffee on the bedstand. “Com’n- I’ve got a ton of things to do, and you have to pack us up.” She looked longingly out the window at the magnificent skyline and realized that would be the last they’d see of it for this trip.
The beautiful Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (in Syracuse) is right across the street from the funeral home. For years, its champion and chief spokesperson of note was Monsignor Peter Gleba. He had worked tirelessly to place it in the forefront of the city’s consciousness, and even in the face of changing times and a neighborhood in flux, he strove to make it the centerpiece of the West Side. A couple of weeks ago, while saying prayers at the home, Monsignor had gone pale and crumpled. Mr. Hall saw to it an ambulance was called. The good father had a pacemaker installed, but it was really too little, too late. A week or so after returning to work, he collapsed at another funeral and never recovered.
By this time Mr. Hall was a blur. Fielding calls from all over the state was a challenge at home; on the road it was a nightmare. And the Halls had to spend yet another night and another meeting, in Westchester, before they could return. Mrs. Hall resigned herself to living the next 48 hours with a preoccupied dynamo. Of course, as so often happens, when you are in a hurry; nothing goes fast. Piling everything into the tour bus that morning seemed to take forever. A ride that should have only taken two hours stretched on to nearly four. Peering out of the bus window at one point in their frustration, Mrs. Hall noticed a marker bearing the legend “Now entering Elmsford township”. She extracted Mr. Hall’s iPad and googled the same. The first entry returned was a news item, warning all and sundry to avoid the area completely because of flood warnings and rising waters. As the bus was at a complete standstill in traffic, it was easy for Mr. and Mrs. Hall to confirm the news story; they sat for quite a while watching the Saw Mill River come right out of its banks and swallow up most of the main business district just to the left of them. Eventually, the traffic shrugged forward and the bus arrived with its weary load in Westchester. Retrieving the big black car from the parking lot behind the hotel, they foraged about the little town until they spotted A Taste of Jamaica. Mr. Hall opted for the braised chicken, but Mrs. Hall, ever the adventurer, took on the curried goat. For the better part of an hour they ate between phone calls.
By the time they finally pulled into Syracuse, most of the arrangements had been made. The talented Mr. Iltsch, who worked with Mr. Hall, met him there to explain what had been accomplished already. Proper notice having been published, according to diocesan protocol and familial wishes, the crowds began amassing at the funeral home doors and the church.

Thus began the last journey back to the Basilica for the Monsignor. There had been calling hours at the funeral home and also at the church, but the real crowds came the day of the service. Bishop Cunningham presided over 30 priests concelebrating the mass. Monsignor was finally laid to rest at Sacred Heart Cemetery, in the company of his peers, in the Priests’ Circle on the hill overlooking the cemetery itself. "It's hard to believe he's gone," remarked Mr. Hall sadly, as they turned off the lights in the funeral home. "He was the heart and soul of the basilica for so long. Sacred Heart Church and the West Side will never be the same." Amen to that, thought Mrs. Hall, and may he rest in peace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kitchen Mavens and Savory Cravings

Mrs. Hall met the Grand Matron and her entourage downstairs in the lobby. There had been a lottery for the few tickets available to watch the taping of “The Martha Stewart Show” and Mrs. Hall had not made the first cut, but some folks were unable to attend and Mrs. H.’s name came up next. Back in 1983, when she and another chef used to cater, using many of Ms. Stewart’s recipes, Mrs. Hall had become quite a fan, so she was eagerly looking forward to the show. After waiting patiently outside in the cold for some time, and then filling out the necessary paper work, they were finally admitted to the studio and given a seat, appropriately enough, according to the color of their clothing, presumably to create a pleasing palate in the audience. Who knew hosts were so sensitive to such things, thought Mrs. Hall. But then, it was just such well documented devotion to the little details that made Ms. Stewart the kitchen icon and OCD poster child that she was. “I hope we get some nice parting gifts this time,” whispered the Grand Matron. “The last time I was here, I think all we got was a candy bar.” Oprah Winfrey, having set the bar fairly high when it came to audience giveaways, must have made it rough on daytime television producers all over the country. But the GM was not to be disappointed this day; everyone, including Mrs. H. came away with a book, a hypoallergenic pillow and matching linens from Ms. Stewart’s collection (available at Macys!) some candy bars, a CD and a voucher for a free large floor standing air purifier (“a $200 value!”)- no doubt the upshot of having a doctor explaining the dangers of airborne menaces on the show. Mrs. Hall peered into her goody bag as she waited in line for her free breakfast (also included) from the chuck wagon on the street outside the studio. One of the other guests was Joan Rivers and her daughter, but as Mrs. Hall sighed, there didn’t seem to be any free passes to Ms. Rivers’ Las Vegas show. That’s a tie-in she would have enjoyed, she mused, a good deal more than a pillow case and a noisy fan. The morning being frittered away, Mrs. Hall met up with Mr. Hall and they headed on over to Bryant Park and the New York City Public Library. A number of adverts around the old metrop had been ranting the merits of an art display called “Radioactive; A Tale of Love and Fallout” about Pierre and Marie Curie, and Mrs. Hall was anxious to see it. As the locals will tell you, the really good stuff is on the third floor, and that was certainly the case. Almost as imposing as the stone lions out front, was the cold and frozen stare of the librarian with the carved hairdo from another century, posting guard in front of one of the reading rooms. They stepped into the room and breathed in the dust and old leather binding. “Finally!” whispered Mrs. Hall, and she reached into her purse for her trusty reading glasses. As she pulled them out, they dissolved into pieces in her hands. “No- it’s not fair, I’ve finally got time- time at last!” she groaned. “Oh stop being so dramatic” said Mr. Hall. “Get out yer other pair.” It was tempting to stay but they wanted to make the most of the day. Only by utilizing the most persuasive means was Mr. Hall finally able to get her to leave. Realizing that all that concentration and learning had likely put a strain on her, Mr. H. suggested grabbing a quick dog at one of NY’s venerable street vendors on the way. As good as she knew the coney dogs would be, (and as the Gentle Reader knows, everything tastes better after a bracing walk in the fresh air) Mrs. Hall mentioned that the restaurants inside the dining concourse- the Oyster Bar in particular!- looked even more enticing, but to Mrs. Hall’s surprise, Mr. Hall waved them off. Convinced he was simply distracted by the lure of the rails, she let it pass, and for some time Mr. Hall just sat happily listening to the sounds of the station. It was a pleasant afternoon imagining where all those busy travelers were racing off to, but a quick glance at the old clock in the main terminal told them it was time to head on back. "You would insist on swinging through the lobby of the Chrysler Building on the way back," complained Mr. Hall, as he dashed into the hotel room. "Now we'll have to hope we can flag a cab in time. Hurry up and get dressed!" Puzzled, Mrs. Hall could only wave at her bags and wonder what level of dress was required; and then a sly thought crossed her mind as she recalled his vivid cravings earlier that week, and she suddenly understood why he only popped for hotdogs at lunch. "Dress for the expanding waistline, my dear. We have 7:15 reservations at Smith and Wollensky's!" Though the restaurant was packed, they were seated immediately. "I think I'd like a nice red with dinner," said Mrs. H. and she chuckled as the waiter handed her the Wine Tome. Though the menus came framed as if they were pieces of art, it was the entrées that were truly masterpieces. Absolutely no dessert was required; nothing could have possibly successfully followed those magnificent steaks. A stroll through the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria went a long way towards burning off the extra calories. Looking out for her best interests as always, Mr. Hall yawned and asked if Mrs. Hall might be tired from her heavy repast and perhaps she would like a cab. She smiled at his sleepy eyes, and said, yes, she would.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's the song I love the melody of

Pride of the Yankees

This can’t be good, thought Mrs. Hall, when she realized she could only open one eye. “Did you know they start fencing in the building across the alleyway at 7:00 a.m.?” Mr. Hall chirped, as he placed a large steaming cup of mud on the bedstand. “What would you like to do today?”
Mrs. Hall dragged herself out of bed. As she drew back the shower curtain, she could hear Mr. Hall offering his review of the bathroom situation. The fixtures were designed to imitate a spring shower, he said; clearly the engineers were unacquainted with Mrs. Hall. If they were, they would have realized that had she encountered anything even remotely resembling precip, she would step right out of the tub in her desperation to hail a cab.
Mrs. H. was in no mood for levity. Finding it difficult to produce a withering glance monocularly, she returned to the task at hand. The fixtures seemed to be set not so much on “shower”, but “drool.” There followed the usual five minutes of swishing sounds, then suddenly Mrs. Hall called out, “Baseball Cards!” What might ordinarily sound like a complete non sequitur made perfect sense to Mr. Hall. “It’s the shampoo” he said. “It smells like bubble gum. And not Dubble Bubble or Juicy Fruit; it’s definitely Topps baseball card gum.” It was undoubtedly that happy fragrance from her youth, and she emerged somewhat brighter, blotting off to inspect the damages. “Looks like it’s time to get out the spackling compound.” After a few minutes of spin control, it was time to once again hit the streets. “Com’n, my dear-“ she said, “Gotham awaits!”

The following week held the prospect of being nothing but a blur of satin gloves, bus schedules and boutonnières. They were finding out every bus ride had a lottery; every dinner begged a raffle. It was amazing how much scratch it took to keep the wheels of the Good of the Order lubricated. When they returned to home base, the rain kept the other ladies inside most of the time; but the Halls were made of sterner stuff, and trudged on to Times Square and the theatre district. At one point, Mr. Hall turned to an advert for a musical when he realized Mrs. Hall was no longer behind him. Nearly at the point of alarm, he managed to catch a glimpse of her being gleefully swept up into a group of elementary school children heading into the giant Toys Backward R Us. He finally cornered her in the stuffed animal department clinging to a huge penguin. “No, no and no!” he stated emphatically, and dragged her back out onto the square.
The rain began to come down in earnest now. Towards the ABC studios, a legion of local law enforcement was setting up barriers for an upcoming political rally. “That’s all we need” said Mr. Hall. “Come with me.” And he steered her down 42nd St. and into Sardi’s. “Let’s stop here for a while and have a quick bracer.” They slid on up to the bar on the second floor and the bartender put the traditional cheese and cracker platter in front of them. Mr. Hall ordered and looked around; the room was fairly quiet but closer inspection revealed a couple of patrons whose faces they recognized from stage and/or screen. They left them to their relative anonymity, and returned to planning their evening's mischief. A few hours later, fortified against the damp and ready for yet another touch by the tour bus crowd, they left the cozy pub and headed on home.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Staying Awake in the City That Never Sleeps

The Empire (State) Strikes Back

"Do you realize that we are paying almost as much for the pet motel as we are for our own?” Mrs. Hall pretended not to hear him. “And that fellow had the nerve to ask if I wanted to go ahead and get the spa package for the dog, as well.” Mrs. Hall had other concerns. Her appointment as Associate Grand Marshal required her to purchase several gowns in patriotic colors, none of which seemed (in her opinion) to flatter either her figure or her complexion. Nevertheless, there they were, taking up valuable real estate in her luggage. By four o’clock a.m. the big black car rolled out of the hanger. Mr. Hall had filed a flight plan for Westchester County, and around late morning they joined the rest of the Grand Matron’s entourage. Thirty or so other officers banded together to commandeer a tour bus, whose driver seemed hell-bent on destroying their spines in the process of ferrying them into Midtown Manhattan, and their center of operations for the next week.
Almost as soon as they arrived, they suited up and the tour bus whisked them off again to the Nassau district for their first official meeting. As they sat in that perpetual parking lot known as the Long Island Expressway, Mrs. Hall had plenty of time to reminisce. The last time she had been to NYC was when she attended the 1965 World’s Fair. Waiting out the traffic in Flushing Meadows that evening, she noticed a few things had changed since then.
Sitting on the sidelines for a couple of hours holding Mrs. H.’s purse did not really qualify as Mr. Hall’s idea of a large evening, but he was glad to see her honored and besides, the food was halfway decent. The bus ride back to the hotel lulled the weary travelers to sleep and it was all they could do to rouse themselves and trudge back upstairs to their room.

Gin is not your friend, though it keeps some lovely company

Saturday’s meeting was a luncheon, held in Grand Lodge at 71 W. 23rd St., only about six or seven blocks away from the hotel. A number of their merry band, decked to the teeth in chiffon and taffeta, were attempting to hail a fleet of cabs, but the Halls, the game sports that they are, donned their formals and their sneakers, and walked the short sprint to the lodge. The Halls had often been to meetings such as this; exhausting affairs that proved to be mainly endurance contests. But Grand Lodge turned out to be grand indeed, and the afternoon passed by quickly. By the time they had returned to their room to change, the sky was taking on that lovely glow that signaled an effervescent twilight and an evening of pleasures to come. A gentle breeze beckoned them to walk to the most romantic point on the planet. “I give you- the top of the world!” said Mr. Hall as they stepped out on to the observation level of the Empire State Building, and Mrs. Hall caught her breath. The view could not have been lovelier, and for quite some time they just stood there together, taking it all in.
Exhilarating sights, said Mrs. Hall, tend to make one long for a little something, so gliding over to the Setai Hotel, they slid into the Bar on Fifth Avenue and ordered some smart cocktails and a light repast. The bartender whipped up a batch of Bombay Sapphire martinis with a splash of grapefruit bitters and a twist. A happy glow washed over Mrs. Hall, and as they walked on to Rockefeller Center, she explained how she truly believed that was the only civilized drink in the city. Though it’s true the gin may have been well-bred, the lemon was decidedly twisted. It spoke to her in dulcet tones that somehow rose above Mr. Hall’s gentle admonitions that perhaps skating in Rockefeller Center that night might be ill advised. The multicolored flags skipped brightly over the freshly zambonied ice. As Mrs. Hall slid into the fray of skaters, Mr. Hall moved to a prime viewing location. He thought to himself, now would be a good time to acquaint himself with the “video” application on the camera.

However, after a half an hour or so of uneventful laps, his attention waned a bit, and he became distracted by the presence of a well known character actor from a television series getting a snack. It was unfortunate decision; when his eyes returned to the ice, they centered on a crowd of skaters closing ranks on a fellow reveler who appeared to be attempting to finish the lap squarely on her pants.

She pulled herself up to standing on the rail and waving jauntily, skated in.
“That’s a quite a shiner you have there,” remarked Mr. Hall as seriously as he could manage while suppressing an urge to laugh. He helped her pull off her skates. “Who taught you to skate on your face?” As they walked up the stairs Mrs. Hall took a long last look at the happy skaters and twinkling lights and smiled. “Thank you for a glorious evening!” she said, but Mr. Hall just shook his head as he flagged a cabbie to the curb.

Tell your friends!