• Gary Seigel

A Very Haskell New Year's

[An exclusive excerpt from the Journals of Haskell Hodge--January 1, 1965]

Last night my mom blew her stack. “What is wrong with you?” she shouted, poking her head in my room. “It’s 9:00 p.m. and you’re still in your underwear? We will be late!”

The problem was I couldn’t decide on a blue bowtie or a red one to go with my dark grey suit …and I did not want to leave my room until I placed my comic books in their plastic sleeves and all my records in their covers …and I had not set the alarm before I took a nap, so I overslept – by almost an hour.

How many ways can I tell myself I don’t want to go to this party?

“Haskell, get a move on!”

Finally, bowtie it would be. I tied my shoes, shut off the lights, and followed my mother down the hallway into the open elevator. She was leaning against the padded wall, arms crossed, foot tapping, her face taut with anger. I now noticed she had on a tight, black-beaded cocktail dress, a few inches above her knees. Maybe this was appropriate for a 16-year-old high school student, weighing ninety pounds, but not a 45-year-old realtor on Weight Watchers. I wanted to ask her how many “Peter Rabbits” had died so she could wear that coat, but I wisely kept my mouth shut.

The doors opened onto the first floor, and Fred, the doorman, greeted us.

“Okay, bundle up!”, he said, cheerfully. “Have a wonderful New Year’s, Mrs. Hodge! Mr. Haskell! You’re off to the Gottliebs, are you?”

Nothing got passed Fred.

Mom handed him a tip, and we headed out into the cold. Well, it was in the mid-forties, quite comfortable for a winter night in New York.

“I want a good attitude, you understand?” She asked, in a scolding voice.

“Easier said than done,” I answered.

“My suggestion? Network. Make the rounds. Meet at least twelve interesting people. Last year, Art Linkletter was there, and Gary Moore. Even Agnes Moorhead stopped in for a quick cocktail, and where were you? You spent the entire evening with that old Polish Communist.”

“Mom, that was Maurice Koslow. He once co-wrote films with F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was huge until he got blacklisted. You know what he’s doing now? Cartoons, making a fraction of what he used to make.”

We now fast-walked down Eighth Avenue toward Times Square. The crowds were getting larger as the numbered streets grew smaller. Once we got passed 48th street, we zigzagged through side streets to avoid the thousands and made our way toward Third Avenue.

“Even more of a reason to find people who are successful. My God, I had a lovely conversation with Lorne Greene. I wished you could have met him….”

“I’ll tell you one thing: Lorne Greene did not know Trotsky personally!”

“…And kibitz with those who can maybe help you one day. Lorne Greene would have been perfect. He stars in the #1 show on television. Creating a connection like that might land you an audition someday.”

“So, you’re asking me to work the room.”

“Exactly, and when you talk to people, choose appropriate subjects to talk about. The fact that you learned the myth of Sisyphus in 11th grade English doesn’t mean you have to share it with the world. Keep it to yourself.”

“What brought this up?”

“Marjorie in Claims said at Thanksgiving, you went on and on about alienation in an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths and values. She said she went home and drank the entire liquor cabinet. Called in sick for three days after that.”

“That woman asked a lot of questions.”

“Don’t answer them.”

“What am I supposed to do?”

“Stay clear of subjects that depress people. What am I going to do with you, Haskell? You’re going to cause someone an HIHA.”

“HIHA” stood for a Haskell-induced heart attack, a fictional disease she claimed was named after me, one that initiated stress and high anxiety leading to hypertension, even stroke.

We now turned onto Alcott Street, and then we made our way up the path to the front door.

“One last rule: there is a chance, a slim one but a chance, one of your favorite and most beloved Hollywood stars will be here tonight.”

“Shirley Jones.”

“No. This person is a client of Burt’s.”

“Shirley Booth.”

“Stop it. I was not going to say anything, but I want to remind you. Network. Don’t overstep your welcome.”

“Shirley McClain."

“I’m not going to tell you.”

“Just give the initials.”

“If this person’s not here, you’ll be disappointed.”

“I am already disappointed.”

Mom let out a deep breath, closed her eyes, shifted her weight to the back of her heels, and mumbled, “You’re driving me crazy.”

I was a little monster last night. Okay, I admit it. I hated it when my mom micromanaged my conversations at parties. I was also angry that my friends never invited me to their homes for New Year’s. Sheldon and Debra were going into Times Square. They never asked me to join them. Patsy was having a party. Invited most of the class, but not me. Even our neighbors had a big canasta party. Never sent an invite.

I was pissed.

We were on the front stoop. Mom closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. "It’s GL.”

“GL? Who the hell has the initials GL? Genevieve? Jerome? Gigi? Gene? I don’t know a GL!”

“You’ll just have to walk in and find out, won’t you?” and with that, she smiled, lifted her gloved hand, and pressed the doorbell.

(This exclusive entry from Haskell’s Journal is only available in this blog. If you’d like to read Haskell Himself, it will be available wherever books are sold.)

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