Sunday, January 03, 2016

January 4, 2016--Snowbirding: Adieu to Balthazar (Part One)

Adieu to Balthazar

Breakfast at Balthazar
"You're going where?"  This edgy query from Peggy Samson, the noted performance artist and Balthazar regular.  For the past five years, she and Alice and I and a group of others have been gathering for morning coffee and talk at this impossible-to-get-a reservation-at brasserie in Manhattan’s Soho.
"You know where."
"To do what?"  This from George Wyatt, architect to the very rich and almost famous.
"You know for what," I said feebly.
"And for how long?"  This from Sharon Short, the gorgeous and brilliant executive editor of one of America's leading fashion magazines who is best known in the business for being the first to take note of the flip-flop revolution.
"A week or two," Alice added quickly. "We'll be back before you know we're gone."
"Florida is where you're going," Peggy said, "Don't try to hide the truth from me. You know how intuitive I am.  You’re going to Florida where everyone is waiting to die."
"That's what Florida means in Spanish," world-class sociologist, James Hilberson chimed in with his faux British accent and the beginnings of a derisive smile.  He first became well know for his research on Bangkok rent boys. "'Waiting to die' is what ‘Florida’ means in Spanish.  The Conquistadors went there looking for the Fountain of Youth but instead discovered Medicare." 
Everyone, including Alice and I joined in the laughter.
"We're just going there to spend a few days with my 99-year-old mother,” I said.  “She had a small stroke.  One never knows about things of this kind for someone that old."
“You won’t be turning into one of those Snowbirds, will you?”
“What kind of bird was that?” George Wyatt looked puzzled.  He is not known to be much of a naturalist.  He spends all of his time indoors in chic cafés and 30,000 square foot houses.
“The kind of bird that goes south for the winter,” Sharon said.  Environmentally minded, she is a patron of the Audubon Society.
James added, “Like the Arctic Tern.  Except that Snowbirds fly south on Jet Blue.”
“Aren’t they extinct, like the Dodos?” George was showing off his erudition.
“Far from it,” Sharon laughed.  “Snowbirds are very much alive if you call going to Florida for the winter living.”  I chuckled along with her and the rest of our friends.
Looking to change the subject, Peggy still couldn’t resist saying, "And while you're down in Florida maybe look for a condo for yourselves.  You're not that young, Lloyd.  Alice, on the other hand is another matter.  She's still a child.” At that Alice nodded in agreement with her newest best friend. “And you have the time--you're between documentaries and Alice's job at the university doesn't require much of her.  She can telecommute. Or just like always continue to have coffee until 10:30 and then drift in for a few hours. Not like the rest of us who have real jobs."
"You call running around naked on stage splashed with paint a real job? " George said sotto voce but intentionally loud enough for all to hear.  But then, full voiced, looking directly at me, added, "If I hear that you're wearing a white belt and going to early-bird dinners I promise you I’ll fly down there and . . ."
"On one of your client’s private jets, George?" James needled him.  He thinks of himself as a man of the people in spite of his endowed chair and penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park.
Ignoring that, with a flip of the wrist, George continued, "As I was attempting to say, if I hear that you’ve taken up shuffleboard, I'll be on the first flight to bring you to your senses and put you on the next plane north."
"Look, we hate it there too,” I was quick to assure them, “All those gated communities and shopping plazas.  Where everyone is hard of hearing.  Did you ever go to the movies in Florida? It's a nightmare. Everyone talking so loud you can't hear the soundtrack."
"Exactly,” Peggy gleefully chimed in, “I can hear them now talking to the screen--'What? What did he say?' ‘Who? Her? What did she say?' And they bring all that food with them.”
“In insulated tote bags,” I said.
“Sandwiches and fruit,” Sharon chirped.
“And cans of Ensure,” James added with a derisive grunt.
Again, we all laughed.
“Speaking of the theater,” Peggy whispered—we all leaned in close so that our heads were almost touching—“Is that Meryl?”
“Who? Where?” Sharon twisted in her chair to get a better look.
“Keep your voice down, will you. Yes her.  Meryl.  Over there in one of the booths.
“You mean across from Yoko?”
“She’s here too?”
“God I just love Balthazar,” Peggy said.  “I wouldn’t want to be caught dead anywhere else in the morning.  And where will you darlings be?” she asked turning back to Alice and me.  “I mean in Florida.  The coffee is just awful.  It must be all the chlorine in the water.”
“As I said,” Alice said, “we’ll only be there for a week or ten days at the most.  Remember, she’s in a coma.”
Annoyed, I corrected her, “That’s not true.  She only had a small stroke.  That’s hardly being in a coma.”
“But Lloyd, doesn’t this mean that you’ll be missing the TriBeCa Film Festival?  Aren’t they showing one of your things about the Beat Generation?  And isn’t Bobby De Niro going to introduce it?  I mean,” Peggy said, “if your mother’s not in a coma can’t you postpone your trip.  I mean, Bobby will be there.
Mother Sterling In the IC
Later that day Alice and I were sitting at my mother’s bedside in the neurology ICU, sipping watered-down coffee from a paper cup.  She was sleeping, snoring loudly enough to blot out the sounds of the beeping telemetry devices and the incessant chatter on the hospital intercom.
“Do you think she knows we’re here?” I asked, speaking softly.
“How could she, she’s in a coma.”
“I don’t know why you keep saying that.  I spoke with her doctor and he didn’t say she was in a coma.  She just had a stroke.  A small one.”
“At her age, 99, there is no such thing as a small stroke.”
“So what are you saying?”
“Well, we’re scheduled to be here for a few days, but one never knows . . .”
“Again, you keep saying that.”
“And again you’re in denial.”
“And, I say, if she wakes up, I mean,” Alice quickly corrected herself, “when she wakes up I think we should tell her we’ll stay in Florida for as long as she’s in danger.  And—listen to me calmly—considering her age and condition, I think we should tell her we’ll be staying here indefinitely, not put a time limit on it.  Until she, until the . . .  Do I need to be more explicit?”
“But . . . ?”
“I know you hate it here.  You never seem to tire of reminding me about that.  You hate everything, including the coffee.   But coffee isn’t the meaning of life.” 
She saw me  staring into my cup.  “Well, I admit it, it’s important to me.  Both literally and metaphorically.”
“You and your metaphors.  And I know you can’t stand all the driving.  You’re so addicted to taxis and restaurants.  We’re staying in a nice place on the beach.  And we drove by a few restaurants that look halfway decent.  Look,” I kept peering at my coffee, “how long are we really talking about?  She’s been a wonderful mother to you, to both of us.  Neither one of us would have a problem being away from work for a few more weeks, so why not make her last days happy?”
“Is that you, darling?”
“What?  Who said that?”
“I know you’re hard of hearing. It’s your mother.  I think she’s rousing.”
“Come to me my darling.  Come here.  I am breathing my last breaths.” 
I turned to her bed and, pushing aside the numerous wires and tubes connected to her so I could get closer, took her hand and with a voice expressing deep concern, said, “Yes, it’s me mom.  Lloyd.  We’re here to take care of you.”
“Do you get anything to eat?” she asked in a voice made husky by the tube in her nose.  “They tell me they serve brisket in the cafeteria.”
“This you heard while you were in a coma?  I mean while sleeping.”
“You wouldn’t believe what you hear when they think you’re dead.”
“Please don’t talk that way.”
“I heard that the end for me is near.”
“No, no, Ma.  You must have been dreaming,” Alice assured her.  “You look fine to me.  You have good color.”
“You must need new glasses,” my mother said, brushing aside Alice’s attempt to make her feel better.  “Take a good look at me.  I look like a corpse.”
“I wish you wouldn’t say that,” I said as gently as possible.  I took another sip of tepid coffee, made a face, and handed the empty cup to Alice.  “The doctors say you had a very, very small stroke and should make a full recovery.  You don’t even have slurred speech and you’re not drooling from one side of your mouth.”
“For me a full recovery means they get me ready for the cemetery.  So I’m happy you made it here so I can say a final goodbye.”
“We just got here, mom.  No need to be saying any goodbyes yet.”
“You are not using your eyes.  Look around.  What do you see?  Someone who’s 99, on her last legs, and who looks like a corpse.”
Ignoring that, Alice moved closer to the bed and, taking my mother’s other hand, with as much love as she could express, with tears in her eyes, said, “Ma, Lloyd and I have made plans to stay here for as long as you need us.”
“You mean you’re not racing to the airport like you always do when you come for what you call a visit?”
“No, we do not even have return tickets,” Alice fibbed, “As I said, we’re here for as long as you need us.”  I nodded in agreement.
Gasping for breath, my mother panted, “Considering my condition . . . that shouldn’t be very long.  If I were you . . . I’d call Jet Blue this afternoon to book return tickets.”

We ignored that as well.  “And remember,” she said as we tiptoed toward the door, “promise me you’ll eat something.”  And with that she fell back to sleep or into a . . .
End of Part One . . .

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