Green Door – Part VIIDec 19th, 2009 | By Lois Bassen | Category: Series, The Green Door | 826 views
How I celebrated my 26th birthday; Apples, Macintosh and Big.
I was walking west on Main Street from the library toward The Green Door on a forgettable afternoon in March. In the residential area, melting piles of yellow-pocked snow were lumped about the curbs and roots of tall, old trees lining the avenue. Steam appeared to rise from the mounds of snow. The sky was steel gray and misty, which characterized early Spring in Isle End altogether, though a pale lemon disc of sun daily strengthened and expanded a warming round. Occasional yellow or purple crocus, like elves, popped up from muddy or snow-covered ground.
I remember the forgettable afternoon precisely because I recognized it was one; if I didn’t make a real effort to notice the steaming snow and ascending sun, they would be lost forever to me. As a mnemonic device, I attached the day’s images to my library research for the play I was working on. I’d been trying to get my hands on film archives of the Army-McCarthy hearings and the more recent tapes of Watergate. I planned to buy a VCR to watch the tapes. I hoped my sister could get one for me at cost since she was an executive with a Japanese electronics corporation, currently “stationed” as Carole described her “tours of duty” in Chicago.
My intention that March day was to stop by to see how the rehearsals for “The Foreigner” were going and to ask Jenny about dinner since she was in one of the Barry plays that night, either “Hotel Universe” or “Second Threshold”. The two plays rotated every four nights for the 18 night run of the series. I never knew which one was playing which night.
Such were the vagueries and vagaries of memory. As Jenny walked toward me up the green-carpeted aisle, a frown between her dark brows, I contrasted the image with her early rehearsal breaks with me. Much had happened in a short time. I saw her frown, heard our dialogue about supper, and I felt married. It wasn’t uncomfortable, only weird, as if I watched it happening to someone else I knew.
“Your sister called,” Jenny said. “She’s arriving tomorrow.”
“Here. I didn’t know it was your birthday. Does she know about us?”
“You answered the phone? Then she knows.”
“I could be a one-nighter.”
“When did she call?”
“At lunchtahme,” Jenny drawled. “She called herself Carole Doucette and she called me ‘chere’ the way you do. Kinda freaky. So that’s your real name, Doucette, huh?”
Pamela called, “Arthur!” from the front row — her pronunciation always made it sound like “Author” — “Break’s over!”
Jenny leaned in and kissed my cheek adieu. “Carole said your birthday’s the 13th. This year, that’s Friday. I’ll see y’all later,” she said and scurried down the aisle.
A week later, by the time my birthday arrived, so had my sister Carole. She’d also accepted an invitation from Pamela to stay in her house during the visit. This, I knew, meant a big birthday party for me because Carole was Carole, and Pamela, despite the rehearsals for “The Foreigner”, was never so happy as when she was planning Events. Also, it seemed to me that Carole’s bed & board plus the party were a creepy kind of intended reconciliation on Pamela’s part.
The day Carole came to Isle End, Jenny welcomed her with a huge Italian lunch. Dinners were impossible because of nightly performances. That night, I took Carole to see the play; Jenny had said beforehand that she’d get a ride home, obviously to give sister and brother time to be alone. Carole was excited after the show; she talked nonstop as we walked along Main Street. Carole was always excited about something. I hadn’t seen her for five years, but she hadn’t changed. She was a few inches shorter than I, and blond like our mother. She had a square chin, like our father, but her gestures and emphases were also maternal reminders. It was a starry night and very cold as we walked toward the few lights in the Main Street shop windows. Carole’s teeth kept chattering as if she’d never lived in Chicago. I dreaded the intimacy I could feel coming.
“Papa says hi,” she began after a long and laudatory review of “Second Threshold” and Jenny’s part in it. “The kids are 6 and 4 now, can you believe it?”
“He can afford them.”
“You should see how happy she makes him, and the kids are really nice. Maybe we were like that,” Carole said wistfully.
“Who? Us? Nice?”
“I was nice.”
I kicked something on the sidewalk, a stone or sycamore seed or tin can for all I knew or cared. “You still like traveling?” I asked in the same spirit.
“I used to. Now I don’t. So I’m going to stop.”
“It’s thrilling how interested you sound, Bobby. Yes, I am going to stop. I’m going to separate from the corporation, settle down someplace, and do what I started out to do, not getting sidetracked this time because there aren’t any jobs open.”
As we walked, I’d been examining my loafers, wishing I’d worn warmer socks. I was glad we were nearing the apartment where there would be heat and bourbon.
“Since you ask,” Carole went on, “I’m finally going to teach.”
“Isn’t it legal? I just told you why.”
“You make an awful lot of money now,” I said.
“Awful plays a role… Anyway, I invested – for me and Papa – and we have done real well.” She made a familiar gesture, finishing the thought, and I saw my mother; it felt like fabric tearing inside me. I was glad to be distracted when she continued, “Do you remember the play you forced me to read when you were 14?”
“I don’t remember being 14.”
“Menteur. It was about talking insects that collected huge balls of dung.”
“That’s Capek’s “The Insect Play.”
“Creative title. It was summer vacation from college for me. I was a senior. You walked into my room, interrupting a phone call from a boy I’d waited a long time for, and you took the phone right out of my hand and hung it up. You ordered me to read that play or you couldn’t talk to me for the rest of my life. Those insects pushing their dung balls around have followed me everywhere. I went over to Japan in the first place to be an English teacher, not to be a Japanese account exec. I need to be closer to home and make a home like Papa’s and have some nice kids – like us – before it’s too late.”
“To be or not to be. But teaching?”
“What do you have against it?”
“I just can’t see you doing it. It’s a locked-in little world.”
“Oh, I could be bounded in a nutshell – ”
“Nut is right … Lafayette, nous voila!” I said as we entered the door beside Ellis’s Four Star Bakery.
When we got upstairs to the apartment, Jenny was already there, pouring boiling water into a big blue tea pot.
“Where were you two?” she asked.
“Bobby and I were walking slowly to catch up,” Carole said.
“Bobby?” Jenny said. “Bobby! Superb!”
Carole’s expression apologized, but she didn’t stop. “What you said about teaching is not true.”
“I don’t listen to myself and I’m always amazed when other people do,” I said. “I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space. Do I get an A?
Carole accepted tea from Jenny, who said, “Bobby here giving you a hard time about teaching? I thought you were both –“
“Our mother always told us she wanted us to have ‘roots and wings,’ but she put the emphasis on the wings. I want roots,” Carole said.
Jenny sipped from her tea.
“Bobby and I are from a small town no bigger’n Isle End – probably even smaller. Little town on a bridge of land between Lakes Ponchartrain and Borgne. Hardly a reason for a town.”
“Near New Orleans,” I said, trying for summation.
“I love biography,” Jenny said.
Carole also ignored me. “It’s part of a tidal estuary of the Mississippi, like the Nile at Cairo. I used to lie in bed at nights thinking about how where we lived was like in the Bible. I’d pretend I was the princess who lifted Moses from the river.”
Jenny laughed. “I used to pretend I was Mary Magdalene and the Lord’s secret love.” Then she turned on me, “Why do you keep secrets, Bobby?”
“Why does anyone?”
Carole frowned at me. “Teaching attracts me because, in the cosmic sense – ”
“Carole,” I begged, “please!”
Jenny immediately mimicked me, “Oh, he’s always talking about the cosmic sense. It must have been in your mother’s milk.”
“I am embarrassing my brother. I didn’t mean to.”
“It’s what sisters are for,” Jenny said, “according to mine.”
“I never thought of you as having a family,” I blurted.
“Really?” Jenny said, unsurprised.
Attempting to cover my confusion, I said, “Hank Feit’s wife, Marion, is an English teacher at Isle End High School. I can introduce you,” I offered Carole. “She says everyone is retiring.”
My sister stood. “That’s a welcome idea. As would be a ride to Pamela’s house right about now. I’m as tired as you must be of me.”
In the car, Carole leaned her head against the seat and shut her eyes.
“I like Jenny DePinna very much,” Carole said. “I’m sorry about revealing your name.”
“What’s in a name? A rose is a rose.”
“I would like to talk to that teacher.”
“Are you staying in New York? In this area?”
“They’re already moving me… to the NY office. That’s what this trip is for. What about you, Bobby? Are you staying? In this area?”
I knew what she was asking, but I said, “This guy, Roy Olds, he’s got my one-acts on cable TV outta Dallas—“
“No, I mean, I don’t know how many directions I’m going in at one time, and there’s the possibility of New York, the Great White…”
“…Way? …Shark? …Hope? You’re in love with two Isle End females at once.”
“I’m not in love with anyone.”
“You have always spent a lot of time in the bathroom, Bobby.”
“What did Jenny tell you?”
“I liked her immediately.”
“You like everybody.”
She opened her eyes and looked straight at me. “I’m irresistible. Admit it.”
“Just try to limit some of your gushers.”
“Pamela does look like Mother,” Carole said.
“It’s the eyes, Bobby,” Carole laughed. “Those green eyes.”
Then she started humming a Cajun lullaby. She paused and murmured, “When you were a toddler, I would tuck your curling hair over your ear, singing that, and see the alpha rhythms bobble your tired eyes—“
“And stop speaking French, too,” I said, finally turning into Pamela’s driveway.
Carole leaned over and kissed my cheek goodbye; without thinking I turned for the other side and kissed her the same European way.
“I hear you, cher,” she said. “I’ll try. Wait till you see what I have for your birthday. And Papa sent something, too.”
“Well, you’ll be getting both, Robert Doucette. I’ll say good night and you turn this car around and turn yourself, toimeme, around 180 degrees by the party, or I’ll hear the reason why.”
Carole opened the Oldsmobile door and got out. I saw Pamela standing at the front door, bathed in hallway light.
“And bienvenue to you, too,” I called at her, driving off in a gravel spray, pitying students who might one day face her.
My birthday party was on a Friday afternoon. At the start, only Carole and the theatre company were there: Pamela, Frank, Jenny, Hank, Liz and the other actors, and I-Beam. Looking strung out, the teacher contingent arrived after 3:30. Everyone brought a present. I felt like a 4 year old, but there were 27 candles on the cake, one to grow on. Pamela had iced only a HAPPY BIRTHDAY greeting, avoiding the problem of my names. I leaned over the cake and blew out the blaze, followed by the requisite song.
Carole said, “Two weeks ago, did you see, cher, a star that went supernova 170,000 years ago? Its light finally reached us here.”
Jenny turned to Hank Feit. “See, I told you. They both do it.”
Marion spoke to Carole,” I hear you want to join the ranks of the underpaid and unappreciated.”
“And give up a big promotion,” I added.
“Does Carole want to be an actress?” Liz Prager asked. She was digging into a slice of yellow cake thick with coconut icing. Everyone was either eating cake or blowing birthday honkers.
Carole said, “Is it difficult to get certified as a teacher around here?”
“Certifiable is certainly what you need to be,” Richard Limb said.
Carole eyed him welcomingly. Then I saw her glance take in his wedding band, and the switch in her eye flicked OFF. She saw me looking at her, and I put up my palms in a peace offering.
“I think teaching is noble,” Pamela said.
“Historically, I believe, nobility has been unevenly divided between sacrifice and greed.”
“Thus spake the Merling Winner,” Hank said.
“There’s no sacrifice on my part,” Carole said.
Marion offered her a cup of coffee and said, “Richard? From “Lear”?”
Apparently Richard Limb was held responsible for all Shakespearian allusion and casual mind-reading. Good-naturedly, he said, “You’re thinking of “The Tempest”…’Tis new to thee.”
I-Beam joined us, working away at a slab of cake that Pamela had cut for him. Carole’s face lighted up again. Now we’d see what sort of broken field runner I-Beam really was.
Talk went on about teaching, the play in rehearsal, and then to politics and the Iran-contra scandal.
“How far up do you think that really goes?” Marion asked.
“The fish always stinks from the head,” Hank said.
Richard Limb shook his handsome head. “Always thought/ That I require a clearness,” he quoted Macbeth’s advice to henchmen who commit crimes for bosses.
“What does that mean,” Frank said irritably.
“Oh, Frank, for you, politics is no different from sports: your team or no team,” Hank said.
“The only good idealist is a dead idealist,” Frank muttered back.
Pamela brought out crystal decanters of liqueurs, which signaled the end of coffee & cake time. She moved us into the living room where a fire was warming the red chair and ottoman of my recent past. I looked at Pamela’s face and saw she also remembered.
Carole settled in another club chair by the fire with Jenny by her feet, her back to the flames. Carole’s green sweater made her look very blond. I-Beam stood behind the red chair, opposite her, but his bulk overshadowed it. Puffing away at his pipe, Frank sat below I-Beam. Pamela brought in armfuls of presents for me, which I, sitting on the floor facing Jenny, began to open. At the mention of the Persian Gulf and increasing tensions there, Carole perked up as if she’d remembered something.
“My brother,” she began carefully, “has a classmate from high school and Duke,” she paused, recognizing my alma mater was news to her audience, “who is a fighter pilot stationed there. In the Persian Gulf.”
I was opening Frank’s present, a pipe and a pouch of tobacco. Everyone applauded. I bowed to Frank.
“An additional vice,” he said.
“Good,” Jenny said.
Carole went on, “Papa forwards all your mail to me, cher,” she said, “and your classmate Chris is flying all over Turkey, through Alexander’s Pass – think of that! – and he’s getting married next year. She’s a scientist.”
“I thought loose lips sank ships,” I said.
I opened Hank’s present. It was a box of computer floppy disks. I didn’t know what to say because I didn’t have a computer to put them in, but then everyone hushed, and I-Beam carried in three big boxes.
“From Papa,” Carole said.
This was the only way she could have gotten away with it, and she knew it. My father had sent her the money and the instructions. It was the whole state-of-the-art number from PC to printer.
“I can’t—” I began, but Carole cut me off.
“—It kinda puts what I got you deep in the mossy shade,” she said.
I-Beam, on cue, returned from the dining room with a space-age VCR from Carole’s corporation.
“Oh, excellent,” Jenny clapped her hands, “now we can tape Lowell!”
“Lowell calls Brian all the time” Hank said. “Everyday.”
“That’s what you gotta love about Lowell,” Liz Prager said.
“Me, now,” Jenny said, bringing her present to me and tucking her legs under her while I opened it. It was a music box that played the Beatles song Yesterday. It made everyone quiet.
Then I-Beam handed me a museum quality pen-and-ink drawing for the set of my play MOTHERBOARD (which became its Playbill and published cover). Pamela’s gift was a glass snowball with a Main Street like Isle End’s inside. I shook it, and the snow swirled. I tried to say thank you to everyone, but what came out was, “I don’t know what to say.”
“A moment your audience can be thankful for!” Carole teased, and there was laughter, everyone dispersing.
But I-Beam moved beside Carole, leaned down and asked her something; I heard the end of her reply in her most liquid Louisiana accent, “…because I had become fluent in Japanese, I suppose.”
And Richard Limb’s wife, Roberta Powers, picked up the music box and opened it again. She had a lovely, distant expression on her thumb-like face as the little metal music lightened the dark corners of the room.
I stood outside a French restaurant on 56th Street in New York City. The sun was bright on its white wooden façade. A menu was displayed framed in a black-paned window. Carole and I were to meet there for lunch. Both sides of this street on the first block west of Fifth Avenue had been townhouses converted to businesses above with restaurants or boutiques below. I was rattled by the noise and crowds even though I had been into Manhattan on several prior occasions. Trucks were routinely double-parked, causing traffic to slow or coagulate completely. Horns honked and voices cursed. It was late March, and winter was taking one last swipe at the City. I remember the biting wind and the feeling of being lost.
Carole met me outside the restaurant. She was bundled up in a red coat with a big scarf-collar. She had come into the City from her north-Jersey corporate headquarters. They’d found her a condo near the George Washington Bridge. Over a delicious dessert, Carole had repeated her intention “to trade the Big Apple for a slice of Apple Island.”
Outside again after lunch, I looked around to try to regain my bearings.
“Are you sure you know the way back to the Broadcasting Museum?” Carole asked.
“It’s on East 53rd.”
“That’s over there,” she pointed toward the Hallmark store on the corner. “A block to Fifth and then just three blocks north.”
“I wish I had your sense of direction,” I said. “I’ll walk toward the smell of my Oldsmobile.”
She got into a cab and waved as they drove away. I started walking; there was a strong smell of coffee in the cold air. The rush I felt was stronger than caffeine; it was New York. I walked toward the East River on sidewalks straight as lines of cocaine. I spent the afternoon as I had the morning, doing research at the museum. At a parking garage, I paid my car’s ransom and drove out of the City over one of the bridges. It was dark, and I had at least 3 hours’ drive ahead. In the rearview mirror, Manhattan was a red-white-yellow hallucination of lights. I refocused on my hands on the steering wheel and out the windshield at the slow-moving traffic. Yellow cabs en route to the airport cut in and out of non-existent spaces. Eventually, the busy miles of Long Island highway narrowed into unlighted farm roads, and the welcome nest of Isle End.
“Did you find what you needed at the museum?” Jenny asked.
“Primo. But I have to go back. The McCarthy hearings were in black and white. Watergate’s in color, and it looks like TV; the other one’s a movie…”
Jenny went to the kitchenette where she steamed up a witch’s brew of hot soup. The next day, I found out that Roy Olds had found producer-angels for “Green and Golden Girl” and a theatre on 46th Street. Following that news, I stayed indoors for a week, alone, sitting in a bathrobe by my supersonic computer, writing at a strange, unearthly speed. I pictured my classmate Chris, in his jet flying through Alexander’s Pass… I watched words spring green into existence on the computer monitor. We were both flying high and fast, very far from home. I needed to have a finished draft of the play for Easter. I knew I would.Help Support T21 with your Dollar Donation Today
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