A Very Haskell Valentine's Day
On Valentine’s Day last Sunday, Mom strutted into the house singing, whistling and snapping her fingers. Unusual behavior after a day of open houses and real estate transactions.
“I’m so excited, Look what I have!” She beamed.
Every year we exchange silly, usually pink and red Hallmark cards. This one was especially ridiculous showing a bear holding a heart in his hands. “I can’t bear to be without you. Love, mom.”
“Nice note,” I told her.
“There’s more. See what’s inside.”
I pulled out two tickets to the Gala Valentine Day fund raiser for the Academy of Motion Pictures. Sunday. February 14, 1965 at 5pm — Ziegfield Theatre, featuring a screening of West Side Story. Champagne and Appetizers to Follow with Surprise Guests.
“You couldn’t find a date?” I asked her.
“A client gave me those tickets. Who else would I ask but you?”
“A man in his thirties, maybe someone with a house in the Hamptons?”
“Don’t be snarky..”
I wasn’t going to press it.
I put on a black suit, my favorite bow tie, and a brand new pair of Florsheim shoes. I had a test in history the next day but I figured how often does one get invited to a hoopla like this?
“Think we can get a cab? Might be 14 degrees outside,” I asked. A little Valentine humor. “Maybe we can walk? It’s only twenty blocks."
Still, no response.
I sauntered into her room and there she was, stretched out on the bed, still wearing that day’s blouse and skirt. She even clutched her purse to her chest.
“Mom? It’s 4:00. You too tired to go?”
She sat up and wiped her eyes. “Oh, honey. I am exhausted. It’s been a tough week. Go invite one of your friends. ”
“Like whom am I going to ask at the last minute?”
“Ask Dolores next door. She never goes anywhere.”
Seventeen and only two years older than me — Dolores has been a neighbor for umpteen years, but the two of us rarely speak. She is a lot smarter than me. Skipped two grades. Got into Harvard but now attends Columbia University. Double major — English and Comparative Literature.
Last week, we were stuck in the lobby, waiting for the elevator to make its way down, so I made some conversation.
“What are you reading these days?”
“Mind your own business, boy!” She snapped and then dropped a pen. When she bent down to pick up the pen, a paperback fell out of her satchel. On the cover featured two women, one only in a white bra and panties and the other, snuggled up against her, wore a slip.
“See what you made me do?” She was almost in tears. At that very moment, I had no idea what kind of book that was nor did I care.
“Don’t worry about it,” I told her. “I’m really sorry. It’s all right.”
I made a point of remembering the title and the author of her paperback so when I went to the Strand, in the Village, I asked the manager if he had The Unashamed by Marge Hastings.
“Why would you want that book?” he frowned.
“It’s for my mom. She’s a fan.” It was the first thing that came into my head.
The man chuckled and then he whispered. “You’ll find it in the pulp fiction section in the very back room.”
Half-naked women donned the covers of most of these books and on another wall were shelves and shelves of paperbacks showing half-naked men.
I spent most of the afternoon there, and so when mom suggested I invite Delores to the screening of West Side Story, I figured it was a good way to let her know I was just fine with her taste in literature. I liked the fact she was adventurous.
Her grandmother opened the door, and when I explained my purpose, she said, without hesitation, “My granddaughter does not like musicals. Thanks for stopping by.”
I was about to turn around when Delores called out — “Grandma? Whose at the door?”
“You know, Miriam’s child. That boy on the cereal box.”
When I was nine I danced with an animated tiger on a sugar flakes commercial. My claim to fame.
Dolores poked her head out of her room. “What do you want, boy?”
I swear she sounded just like Estella in the movie version of Great Expectations. I’m not making this up. Same tone of voice as Jean Simmons, just without the British accent.
“I have an extra ticket for West Side Story. It’s a Valentine’s Day fund raiser. Wanna go?”
“You usually go to those things with your mom, don’t you?” She asked.
I wasn’t going to lie.
“She’s too tired.” And then for good measure, I added. “ Natalie Wood’s going to be there.”
I didn’t know for certain Miss Wood would show up, but I thought this added ingredient would make the offer more enticing.
A half hour later we were sitting in the back of a cab. Delores’ pigtails unravelled. Raven hair fell to her shoulders. She took off her glasses and placed them in a soft case.
Good-bye Tom Boy. Hello, Veronica Lake.
“What? Why are you staring at me?” She asked.
“You look very nice.”
“No, I don’t.”
“I like your hair that way, especially when it falls across your forehead.”
“I didn’t even have time to wash it.”
“i won’t tell anyone.You look quite nice.”
Traffic was tough this night, but we made it the Ziegfield in time to hear Rita Moreno and Robert Wise introduce the movie.
For someone not fond of musicals, Dolores seemed quite captivated, clapping along with the audience, smiling and even singing at some point. When Tony is stabbed by Bernardo, I was surprised to hear Delores sniffling, tears streaming down her cheeks as Tony and Maria sing “Somewhere.”
I handed her my handkerchief.
“Did you blow your nose in this?” She asked.
“Of course not. It’s freshly laundered. You don’t know me too well, do you?”
“Well, thank you. I am sorry I got so choked up. Poor Maria. In Romeo and Juliet they both die, but in this version it’s even sadder because now Maria is all alone. What will happen to her? How will she survive? Who will take care of her?”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “But why don’t you ask her yourself. She’s sitting three rows behind us.”
About fifteen minutes before the movie ended, I noticed Natalie Wood sneak into the theatre and find an empty seat on the aisle.
Dolores tapped me on the shoulder. “How do I look?”
“Terrible, Your eye make-up is all smeared.”
She grabbed a mirror from her purse, wiped her face with the handkerchief, and dabbed her skin with make-up.
“How about now?”
“You take my breath away.”
“You’re an idiot.”
Dolores dashed down our aisle, over to Natalie Wood, and I watched as she held Miss Wood’s hands, smiling and laughing and chatting away.
I was stuck standing in the aisle, waiting for the people to move so I could head toward the exit. Finally, I edged through the crowd and met Dolores out on the curb, where a long line now snaked around the block, everyone waiting for taxi cabs.
Delores ran up to me, squeezing my arm. “Haskell, would you mind if we went to the party? It’s just two blocks away.”
“Sure,” I said. “Are you having a good time?”
“I’m having the best time. Thank you. Happy Valentines Day. And just so you know, I loved this movie. I only wish Natalie Wood used her own voice. She told me how upset she was that they had it dubbed.”
‘I think they were all dubbed.”
“That’s awful, isn’t it? Shame on Hollywood!”
As we walked over to the hotel, Dolores had a noticeable skip in her step. She was probably thinking Natalie!~ Natalie!~And jabbered on and on about what a wonderful performance, and how much she loved Natalie Wood in all her other movies, especially Miracle on 34th Street. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a crush on a movie star, do you?” She asked.
That would be hypocritical of me. My heart did backflips when Russ Tamblin, the athletic star of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, took a bow on stage, and I kept staring at George Chakiris who sat directly a few seats to the right of me.
“Your secret is safe with me,” I told her as she gripped my hand.
“And yours with me, Haskell Hodge.” She winked.
This excerpt from Haskell’s journal is only available in this blog. If you’d like to read Haskell Himself, it is now available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.