Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For (3 page)

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
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I always try to eat light the night of my class.

Once a week I teach memoir writing at the Shalom Retirement Home. There’s not much teaching involved. Mainly, it’s listening. Each week my students, mostly women in their eighties, show up, health permitting, with their treasured memories. Most of their essays are scratched out on old-fashioned lined paper. Only Mrs. Horowitz has a computer, a laptop her son bought her, which she confesses she uses as a plant stand. Their stories aren’t written with the greatest of skill, but they are written from the heart, and I consider it a privilege to hear them.

The only fly in the Shalom ointment is Abe Goldman. The lone man in my class, Mr. Goldman is an argumentative old coot who bears an uncanny resemblance to Mr. Magoo. Just my luck, he’s madly in love with me.

That night when I showed up at Shalom I found a box of Tic Tacs at my spot at the head of the table.

“For you, cookie,” Mr. Goldman said with a wink. Or maybe it was a blink. Mr. Goldman has an unfortunate tic so I can never tell whether he’s winking or blinking.

“Thank you,” I said, smiling weakly.

“To make your breath kissing sweet,” he added, with another wink/blink.

“So,” I said, deftly changing the subject. “Who wants to read their essay?”

Mr. Goldman’s hand shot up like a piston. Mr. Goldman was always eager to read another chapter in the saga of his life as a carpet salesman.

I looked around the room, desperate for another volunteer. But my ladies, unlike Mr. Goldman, were often shy about reading their essays, especially the first essay of the evening, before the literary ice had been broken.

“Anyone?” I called out, ignoring Mr. Goldman’s hand, now waving frantically.

I shot a pleading look at Mrs. Pechter, a round powder puff of a woman with bosoms as big as throw pillows, but she just popped a Tootsie Roll in her mouth. I switched my imploring gaze to her best friend, Mrs. Rubin, but she shook her head no.

Finally Mrs. Horowitz, she of the plant stand computer, raised her hand.

“Mrs. Horowitz! Thank goodness. I thought we’d have to listen to Mr. Goldman yammer on about the joys of broadloom for the next twenty minutes.”

Okay, so I didn’t really say that. What I said was, “Go right ahead, Mrs. H.”

Mrs. Horowitz was an imposing woman with steel gray hair and a purse the size of an overnight bag. She fished out her essay from the depths of her purse, then took a deep breath and began:

“A Day at the Boardwalk.”

Mrs. Horowitz wrote about going to Coney Island with her parents as a child—riding the steamy IRT subway from Flatbush to Brighton Beach, eating hot dogs with pickle relish, wearing long one-piece bathing suits, and teasing her father, who never ventured out from the shade of their beach umbrella.

As Shalom essays went, it was excellent. Lots of interesting details and, like most of my students’ efforts, written from the heart.

“Very good!” I said when she was through. “Any comments, class?”

“Wonderful,” said Mrs. Pechter.

“I liked it, too,” said Mrs. Rubin. A tiny birdlike woman who played Robin to Mrs. Pechter’s Batman, Mrs. Rubin often echoed her best friend’s sentiments.

Mrs. Greenberg and Mrs. Zahler chimed in with their praises.

Only Mr. Goldman looked unenthused.

“It was the BMT,” he said.

“What?” Mrs. Horowitz blinked, puzzled.

“It wasn’t the IRT subway,” Mr. Goldman said. “It was the BMT that went from Flatbush to Brighton Beach.”

“Mr. Goldman,” I said, “we’re talking about the quality of writing. About imagery and feelings. What does it matter if it’s the IRT or the BMT?”

“It matters plenty if you want to get to Brighton Beach.”

I fought back the impulse to hurl a Tic Tac at him.

Mrs. Horowitz’s eyes blazed with fire.

“Don’t tell me it was the BMT, Abe. It was the IRT.”


“You’re saying my memory’s no good?”

“That’s exactly what I’m saying.”

“Look who’s talking,” Mrs. Pechter piped up. “The man who forgets to zip up his fly.”

“I never forget to zip up!” Mr. Goldman shot back. “Sometimes I forget to zip down, maybe, but never up!”

“If Mrs. Horowitz said she rode the IRT,” Mrs. Zahler chimed in, “she rode the IRT.”

“Not to Brighton Beach, she didn’t.”

“I loved Mrs. Horowitz’s description of eating that hot dog with relish,” I said, eager to put an end to the subway debate.

“Feh,” said Mr. Goldman. “I don’t like hot dogs with relish. I like mine with sauerkraut.”

“Wonderful job, Mrs. Horowitz,” I said, ignoring Mr. Goldman’s culinary preferences. “Now who’d like to read next?”

Mrs. Zahler and Mrs. Rubin read their essays, and then—with a half hour to go before the end of the class—I could no longer ignore Mr. Goldman’s hand, waving frantically in my face.

“Mr. Goldman,” I said, with a forced smile. “What’ve you got?”

My eyes glazed over as Mr. Goldman started reading his latest installment in the story of his life as a carpet salesman. This time he wrote about going to see Debbie Reynolds’ show at a carpet sellers’ convention in Las Vegas. I can’t remember the details because, frankly, I wasn’t listening. Instead I was deciding which flavor of ice cream to pick up on the way home from class. I was debating between Chunky Monkey and Rocky Road when something Mr. Goldman said caught my attention:

And then after the show, Debbie Reynolds said to me, “So, Abe, how about coming up to my hotel room for a little hanky-panky?”

Inwardly I groaned. In Mr. Goldman’s memoirs, every attractive woman he met had the hots for him.

Modesty forbids me to divulge the details of what happened next,
Mr. Goldman went on,
but let’s just say that when Debbie gave me her autographed picture, she wrote, “To Abe Goldman, I’ll never forget our night of bliss in the jacuzzi. Yours very sincerely, Debbie Reynolds.”

Mrs. Pechter snorted with derision. “You and Debbie Reynolds? Don’t make me laugh.”

“Now look who’s getting the facts wrong,” Mrs. Rubin chimed in.

“This isn’t a fiction course,” Mrs. Horowitz said with a sneer. “You’re supposed to write the truth.”

“That is the truth,” Mr. Goldman insisted.

“Are you sure you’re not taking a little poetic license?” I asked.

“No, I’m not taking poetic license. It really happened!”

“I don’t believe it!” Mrs. Horowitz snapped.

“What do you know?” Mr. Goldman said. “You think the IRT stops at Brighton Beach.”

“Well, class, I see our time is up for tonight.”

“No, it’s not,” Mr. Goldman said, checking his watch. “We still got ten minutes to go.”

“Time’s up,” I repeated in the steeliest voice I could muster.

The ladies gathered their purses and back support cushions and headed out into the hallway. Only Mr. Goldman lingered behind.

“So, cookie,” he said with a wink/blink. “Want to go for a moonlight stroll in the parking lot?”

Not in this lifetime, I didn’t.

“Sorry, Mr. Goldman. I can’t. Why don’t you give Debbie Reynolds a call?”

Okay, so I didn’t make the crack about Debbie Reynolds. I just grabbed my Tic Tacs and ran.

I made a pit stop at the market to pick up some ice cream and came home to find Prozac still curled up on my keyboard. I scooped her off and checked my e-mails. Just a message from someone named Heidi who had pictures of hot girls with barnyard animals she wanted to share with me. And some letters from my parents.

After an evening doing battle with Mr. Goldman, I didn’t have the strength to deal with my parents. Don’t get me wrong. My parents are lovely people. But high maintenance. The two of them attract trouble like sofa bottoms attract dust bunnies. Everything in their lives somehow evolves into high drama. Drama that worries me half to death, yet manages to leave them unscarred.

To paraphrase the late, great Henny Youngman, my parents don’t have ulcers. They’re just carriers. No, I’d wait to read their letters in the morning.

In the meanwhile, I got undressed and headed for the tub, where I spent the next half hour up to my neck in steamy water. Just me, my rubber duckie, and my good buddies Ben & Jerry.


To: Jausten

From: Shoptillyoudrop

Subject: Big News

Hi, darling—

Keep your eye out for the UPS man. I just sent you the most fabulous cubic zirconia engagement ring from The Shopping Channel. Two carats, set in platinum over sterling silver. It was on sale, only $39.95, plus shipping and handling. And before you go jumping down my throat, yes, I know that technically you’re not engaged, but you can always wear it on your right hand as a cocktail ring. And besides, a mother can dream, can’t she?

Big news here at Tampa Vistas. We have a new social director, a genuine Broadway writer and actor. Everyone’s very excited. His name is Alistair St. Germaine. Maybe you’ve heard of him? He’s done all sorts of plays, mainly Off Broadway. Not only that, he used to be a brain surgeon, too. Although it seems strange, doesn’t it, him being a writer and an actor
a brain surgeon? Anyhow, he’s written a play that he’s going to produce right here in our clubhouse. Daddy is going to audition for the lead. Isn’t that exciting?

Well, keep your eye out for that engagement ring. And for a fiancé to go with it, haha!

Lots of love,


To: Jausten

From: DaddyO

Subject: Your Daddy, the Actor

Hi, honeybunch—I guess Mom has told you the big news. I’m going to be starring in a play at the Tampa Vistas clubhouse. We’ve got a new social director, some hotshot writer from New York, a real smart guy; I can just tell he’s oozing with talent.

He’s written a hilarious British drawing room comedy, sort of like Noël Coward used to write, called
Lord Worthington’s Ascot.

I’m going to play Lord Worthington. I haven’t actually gotten the part yet, but it’s a shoo-in. Most of the old farts here can’t remember their middle names, let alone thirty pages of dialogue.

Besides, I’ve had lots of theatrical experience. Did I ever tell you I starred in my high school production of
Romeo and Juliet
? The local paper came to review it and said, “Hank Austen was more than adequate as Romeo.” I’ve got the clipping in a scrapbook somewhere.

If I do say so myself, I’ve got a real flair for this sort of thing. Well, I’ve got to get busy and learn my lines.

Hope all is well in sunny California.

Your loving,


To: Jausten

From: Shoptillyoudrop

Subject: P.S.

P.S. I was wrong about Mr. St. Germaine. He wasn’t a brain surgeon. He just played one on TV.

Chapter 4

woke up the next morning to the sweet sounds of Prozac howling for her breakfast. After sloshing some Fancy Mackerel Innards into her bowl, I did my usual fifty sit-ups and fixed myself a continental breakfast of fresh brewed coffee and croissants. Okay, I didn’t do any sit-ups. The only exercise I got was brushing my teeth. And my breakfast was instant coffee and a Pop Tart. Okay, two Pop Tarts.

Then I hunkered down at the computer to read my parents’ e-mails.

So Mom had sent me yet another piece of jewelry from the shopping channel. That’s one thing you should know about my mother: She’s a TV shopaholic. In fact, she actually convinced my father to retire down to Tampa, Florida, so she could be near the Home Shopping Network. She claims this way she gets her packages sooner. I tried to explain that the stuff isn’t actually shipped out from the TV studio, but she insisted on moving there anyway.

My mom has enough CZs to open her own zirconia mine. Most of them are gaudy rocks the size of Tootsie Pops. Every once in a while she decides to send me one. Usually I just toss them in my underwear drawer and hope they’ll morph into ladder-free pantyhose. But she means well.

Of course, I could do without her sledgehammer hints about getting married. I tried matrimony once and found it about as satisfying as athlete’s foot.

I call my ex-husband The Blob. Mainly because Dostoyevsky already has first dibs on
The Idiot.
It’s all too depressing to talk about. Let’s just say The Blob was the kind of guy who was intimately acquainted with his own ear wax.

As for Daddy having the acting bug, I wasn’t the least bit surprised. Daddy’s always been a bit of a ham. When I was a kid he used to act out all my bedtime stories. For years, I thought Cinderella smoked a cigar.

My thoughts of Daddy’s theatrical ambitions were interrupted by the phone ringing. I picked it up and a childlike voice chirped:

“Hi! It’s me, Becky!”

The voice sounded so young, for a minute, I thought it was a wrong number, some high school kid calling her girlfriend to meet her at the mall.

“We met yesterday, at Passions,” she said.

Right. The orange-haired angel who was going to get me a job interview.

“I spoke with Grace, the lady who owns the store, and she said she’d be happy to meet with you.”

“That’s wonderful. Thanks so much.”

“Can you make it tomorrow morning at ten?”

After assuring her I could make it at ten, I hung up and turned to Prozac.

“Guess what! I have a job interview!”


No, that wasn’t Prozac talking. She’s a clever cat but she hasn’t mastered the art of speech yet. That was Lance, standing outside my screen door.

“Becky just called me,” he said, when I let him in. “Now the first thing we need to do is get you something to wear.”

“Lance, I’ve got plenty to wear.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” he said, making a beeline for my bedroom closet.

“Oh, my God,” he wailed, holding up a perfectly lovely tweed blazer. “When did you buy this? In the Carter administration?

“And who designed this?” He plucked a striped blouse from the closet and held it between two fingers like a dead mouse.

“I got it at a flea market. The label’s missing but the saleslady swore it was Ralph Lauren.”

BOOK: Jaine Austen 4 - Shoes to Die For
4.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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