Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Try to remember: 1979 Beaux Arts Ball, Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., a fundraiser for the Corcoran School of Art. I was a gawking spouse of a student, having slipped in with a $5 pass on the ruse of offering free help. My used penguin costume came from a formals rental shop on 18th Street (when I bought it for $40, the proprietor tossed in a stained cummerbund and ragged suspenders; the same outfit served me well at music gigs). My left hand held an eye mask on a stick and I felt like a peeping tom as the evening loosened up, particularly when men kissed on the grand staircase and a transvestite in a skimpy nurse's dress invited all comers to touch the bulging breasts his partner, a cosmetic surgeon, had recently installed.

Thirty years later, I searched for a dark suit and tie. Whenever I choose one I hope it still fits. I'm not retired, but my suits are. Only my original tuxedo's replacement regularly sees moonlight.

Karen barely recognized me when I greeted her in a patterned stripe suit, hung by a black and white tie. Pinched black wingtips tipped me toward the car. After a short drive, we parked for a few minutes, watching our neighbors arrive. Most seemed like strangers, having abandoned overalls and camouflage. They looked surprisingly normal. Perhaps we should attend church more often. We joined the crowd descending a hill to the cemetery and exchanged greetings, smiles and a few stories and jokes. A tent and glistening Confederate magnolia wreath led us to the appropriate gravesite.

Our murmuring stopped when a bagpipe sounded its off-key salute. Knowing nothing about bagpipes, except what my Kurzweil keyboard produces, I wondered if a sharp were missing. We watched as the family slowly left a line of parked cars and hunched into the dozen pillowed chairs clustered under the tent. Each member grasped a red rose. The family matriarch, aged 96 with a repairing hip, didn't look familiar in her wheelchair. We remembered a spry Democrat who bounded down basement stairs to iron her and her daughter's laundry. Now the two would not even share a room. Her over-sized sunglasses looked very sad.

Virginia went shopping after she found a dinner invitation in her mailbox. She had nothing nice enough in her backpack wardrobe and no one to dress her.

1 comment:

  1. Going to try again..my comment was going to be on yesterday's post, but then I read today's, so maybe I'll do both. Anyway, were you really a "gawking spouse of a student"? I can't actually picture you gawking. Doesn't fit my image of you. Hmmmm...interesting perspective on the funeral. I can't imagine outliving my child -- especially at that age. I imagine she's quite lost. Now, as for your "selfishness" post, my guess is that we (you, me, the other "boys") can do without a lot of the things others consider to be necessities because we never really had them. I don't remember feeling that I lacked anything. Do you? When people talk about this and that purchase, I sometimes just want to laugh. That would be rude, so I laugh inside.