Author’s program note. She was the best of wives and the best of mothers. She was such a Yiddishe momme right out of Sophie Tucker, we used to laugh about it. She was the life support for a feckless husband born into cozy wealth who discovered at mid life that he wanted to be a mime (no, I am not making this up) and left her to explain as best she could to her inquisitive Brookline neighbors that Joel had selected grease paint, vacant stare, and rigid immobility in preference to her and the 3 kids.
She was on the cutting edge of every progressive issue, as every good Jewish mother is. And this meant the whole feminist shtick, especially gender equality. She was also a card-carrying member of the “Thatsa my boy” club in which the beloved elder son accepts for a pampered lifetime not just praise but sacred veneration and constant service. And that’s why I’m starting my story here, the place you discover just how very splendored love can really be.
The first part takes place the year Ruth and Joel finally hit the divorce courts in the most amiable of actions. She was down but most assuredly not out and wanted to show her nosey friends and relations that she still had what it takes; that she’d had it with clowns of any age or shape, and that she’d snagged herself a wow of a man for her big come-back, one impressive dude, a Harvard man, someone cute and brainy, a goy of a boy, and what a kisser.
Using these enticing features and a slew of others made up to enhance the brew soon had her BBF Marie salivating, a Wagnerian sized shrew who hadn’t a single feminine attribute or charm of any kind, but made up for these unfortunate lapses by being really REALLY rich. Marie, interested, became Marie, nagging. When could she meet this prodigy who put her own male lapdog in the shade? And the sooner, the better… “So, stop with the excuses, already”. It was put-up or shut up. How about a Valentine’s Day dinner for 4 at the Cafe Budapest in Boston? There would be their famous cherry soup, tokay and Gypsy violinists, all on Marie of course. As I told you, she was REALLY rich.
“Jeffrey, I have a BIG favor to ask you.”
The white stretch limousine was ontime to the minute, 7:30 p.m. All the characters were present. Marie was over dressed in what she called a Hungarian hussar costume; a tight fitting blue bodice with miles of gold thread and epaulettes that would have made a minor Habsburg archduke proud. I didn’t know whether to laugh or salute… so I muttered the usual “glad to meet yous” and scrunched down to get in the Guido-mobile. But where was Marie’s ’til death do us part?
Marie later told me she thought it would be “fun” if she dressed him as a Viennese coachman, circa 1880. No symbolism here, of course. He looked ridiculous, of course. Maybe that was Marie’s intention. If so, she got her wish. His uniform was clearly two or three sizes too big for him. His top hat fell over his eyes… and his boots, while polished, were like flip-flops. I saluted him and tried to limit my smile to the appropriate length Emily Post recommended when you meet hubby the lap dog. I made it just a bit bigger because I felt sorry for the schlemiel. After all, he looked like Marie’s lunch.
Ruth looked… well, I was bowled over. She was cute as a bug in a rug with a (was it?) mink collar. “Ruthie,” Marie said,”you look…” and then she said it again as if she didn’t quite believe what she was seeing “Henny, doesn’t Ruthie look…” As her eyes took in every feature of my winsome self, you could see she was licking her lips, thinking Mazel tov… Mazel tov! And as if to answer Marie and establish ownership, my friend Ruth planted a kiss on me that was a lollapalooza of the genre, the real deal. I never saw it coming.
Okay, I looked terrific that evening. For a guy as disinterested in clothes as I was, (except for the blue cape with red silk lining I got on Carnaby Street in London), I could look like the well turned out gentleman my mother always demanded. I was wearing black tie evening dress, the duds cut by Oxford University’s comme il faut tailor.
I was washed, brushed, combed, ironed, buttoned, zipped, bow-tied, with a smile nicely calibrated to be just proper enough to meet her friends and just wicked enough that she’d want to dump them as soon as possible. Rarely has any friend done so much to achieve the desired result. As I was complimenting myself, extolling my finesse and magnanimity Ruthie snuggled up as if there was no tomorrow. As for Marie, she never took her eyes off Ruth, which meant she never took her eyes off me. There was certainly a lot to look at…
“Madam, I understand today is a very special day. These flowers have just arrived for you.”
With that the waiter handed over the biggest, most entrancing bouquet I had ever seen. And I got a real smacker as thanks. My initial was on the card… along with that fatal word “love.” Only problem is, I didn’t send them. I could guess of course, but I couldn’t ask. The sender counted on my discretion, on not blurting anything out but playing my part in the play with consummate skill… and I did.
Ruth got up and hoisted a piece of exquisite crystal which featured the double-headed imperial eagle. The sommelier, standing by, filled it with the finest tokay, and then filled the other three glasses, too.
She never looked more beautiful, more determined, more certain of what she must say or how she would say it. The game had suddenly become very serious indeed. And every diner in the Cafe Budapest that memorable evening, immersed as they were in their own rituals of love, knew it.
Ruth, a practised thespian of so many years, had what every actor wants… a dedicated and sympathetic audience, in rapt attention, waiting expectantly for whatever she might say or do. She took her knife and hit her glass three times in prescribed fashion… then she turned and looked at me… her song beginning.
” I am one of those the world looked down on. I’m not what they think I ought to be. Love has made me do things people frown on. But love is life and everything to me.”
She was singing to me. Her hands stroked my hair. Her eyes locked on mine. Her look was plaintive. She wanted me to know her, love her. She needed me to know that love wasn’t just an important thing…. it was the only thing.
She breathed, she loved. She laughed, she loved. She cried, she loved. It was who she was… what she did. There was no beginning to it… no end. She was the Biblical Ruth of old… whither thou goest, I goeth.
Every person in the restaurant knew he was hearing searing honesty… total integrity. There was no art… no artifice… nothing but one woman and the man she had selected, giving everything, hoping for everything, too proud to ask for anything.
Then the song was over, its last words hanging in the air,
” If the after years bring me tears, it’s all right, I’m satisfied. I’ve broken man made laws, but heaven will forgive me because I’m doing what I’m doing for love.”
I wanted to say something, but everything that needed to be said had been said. She knew. And so before I opened my mouth, she touched my lips and whispered “Thanks for tonight. Thanks for everything.” I should have gone down on one knee and said them to her…
Sophie Tucker (1886-1966) was known for her brassy, over-the-top style.. Where men were concerned her tastes were insistent and voracious, entirely appropriate for the “Last of the Red Hot Mammas.” But in 1929 she showed the world a very different, tender, beseeching side. The song was “I’m Doing What I’m Doing For Love”, and it was that song that was sung for me that evening that is one of a handful of perfect occasions of my eventful life. 67 this year, I haven’t married. Go now to any search engine and play this tune and remember your perfect moment and what you did for love… or might still do.
By Dr. Jeffrey Lant
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business
when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois,
publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned
four college degrees, including the Ph.D. from Harvard.
He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities, quite possibly the
first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 20 books, thousands
of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television
He has founded several successful corporations and businesses
including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” have garnered five prizes
that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs
of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” You’ll enjoy the read by
this man of so many letters.
Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of
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