Georgette worked at Columbia University and lived close by, on Morningside Heights, with her husband, William Kennedy. She handled international affairs with teachers from all over the world. Her job, which seemed important and interesting, was not exactly clarified to me. She talked with professors but what was the extent of the conversations? Was she responsible for giving certain teachers positions in the university or was her role more like a hostess chatting about our country’s traditions compared with those of another? If the natural progression of her explanation about her job led her to divulge details about what she actually did, that would be fine; and it was fine if it did not.
William looked like he could have been in a rock band in Liverpool during the nineteen sixties. He was a professor at Columbia. He used to be a psychologist years ago but teaching was a more rewarding way of presenting his views because he was not limited to a specific patient’s case when advising the person on the best course of action. He could talk about the ideas of the major psychologists like Freud or Jung or Laing or Fromm within the context of a classroom. He also taught a humanities class, giving lectures on a wide range of subjects like the use of trauma in mainstream media and the comparisons between commercialism and impressionism. He told me that I could sit in on one of his lectures during my visit. I replied that the only thing about college I did not like was the tuition fee but the college vibe was something in which I was extremely interested.
Since my last six months dealing with Janet were filled with stress, Georgette wanted to make sure I was ready free and clear to get out of Oakland for a while. She asked, “Are you sure everything is okay? Remember when your next door neighbor kept hounding you for money?”
I answered, “He moved away to Wyoming.”
“That’s good. Do you remember that other friend of yours who used to own a restaurant and then became homeless and begged you to let him crash at your place? Did he also move to Wyoming?”
“No. He’s still around but he’s found another place to live. He’s squatting with a group of people, none of whom work and all they do is try to find ways of obtaining beer.”
“Sounds intriguing… but I hope not intriguing enough for you to want to get involved with them.”
“No. That stuff was in the past. Things are better now.”
“You say that and I want to believe you but you have to admit you’ve been through an awful lot during this year, having to deal with members of your birth family passing away like dominoes and then Eliza going unexpectedly. It was brave what you did for Janet but I would not have blamed you if you had decided never to be involved with any of those people ever again.”
“I couldn’t turn my back on the one person with whom I could count on to tell me the truth about what the relatives were like and the things they said. When I needed to borrow money she let me have it and never insisted on when I needed to pay her back. Of course, her fear of going in a living situation where everyone was a non-relative was a bit much for both of us to take but thankfully she saw reason before we would have had to 51/50 her.”
“Yes. I wasn’t in physical contact with her. I’m in New York so I wasn’t as stressed as you probably were.”
“I mean, I can understand missing one’s family but none of them were any kind of role models and there was always a new catastrophe every hour. I already told you about the feces and how I’d have to make sure they washed their hands before making dinner. Sometimes they already started cooking something before I could say anything.”
“I remember, unfortunately. You were not brought up like that. Our family was dysfunctional in a lot of ways but we managed as best we could and we didn’t have to worry about if we forgot to put on our clothes before going out to get the mail. When you told me about what your uncle Paul did that time, I was like… oh, it’s too much!”
I laughed. “I knew already what type of situation I could be getting into when I chose to have contact with them. I found myself able to observe everything like a scientist watching a strange patch of mold suddenly appearing where it shouldn’t grow but the mold keeps growing, getting taller and then, at six o’clock PM, it calls everyone to come eat dinner.”
“Haha! I’m glad you have a sense of humor about it. I don’t know if I would have. Anyway, let’s discuss everything you need so you can get on the airplane and have a good flight.”
She asked if I had my identification card. I answered yes. Now, I had it. Two years ago, I did not. I had not figured I had a problem. Before I had lost the card, I had one but it had expired several years earlier and I used the excuse that I was too lazy to renew it. So, if she spent time asking if I had luggage, clean clothes, deodorant and various other things that other people would not imagine being without, there were reasons. I was not as bad as the Goldmans but I had to admit I had a few of their behavior traits. Most of those traits had been conditioned out of me through diligence. There were a number of years when my parents, Michael and Amy Kauffman, had indulged in a few drinks too many and sometimes preferred to buy bottles of good alcohol when the choice was either to do that or pay the electric bill. Either Hal or Georgette would help financially during those times when I was a teenager. I had a mindset that life would always get worked out and no situation was unsolvable. Because of my attitude, I saw myself thinking that the situation with Janet was no big deal. The other part of me knew that at any moment I could have been caught by my manager and get evicted and that part of me did not dominate but I renewed my identification card and have not lost it since.
Another aspect of the trip was more metaphysical. I had visited New York ten years ago and the whole scene was magical. There were book stores selling books that I had a difficult time finding in California. There were mothers, with their families, who looked like fashion models. The location of the state was higher up than California and I felt higher in quality when I was there. A regular moment in New York could have been a movie scene in any other area. I was hoping to be reacquainted with some of the magic.
There were other details about New York that made me feel as if serendipity was merely a fancy name for little pleasures a person had a right to experience once in a while. In California, I felt self-conscious about my looks. I felt I looked more like Buddy Holly than Clark Gable. When I visited New York, I noticed women who looked like ultimate dream girls, holding hands with men who looked like me; or they were walking alone, staring at me with love gazes.
I loved how women looked in tucked-in shirts, especially with belted jeans. In California, I was lucky if I saw more than two women wear that style in one day. In New York, if I saw twenty women wear that style in an hour, it was a slow hour. Some women also wore tucked-in sweaters, like in those old Escada ads in magazines like Elle and Vogue, or the rarer tucked-in sweatshirt with pushed-up sleeves, worn by a woman who composed herself as if she did that every day and had not thought twice about it. In California, a tucked-in sweatshirt would be viewed as something as strange as a purple chicken in a marching band. I realized that life was filled with a wide assortment of many different people. That was why I did not run from panic the first time I noticed a member of the Goldman family do something very disturbing. They were behaving in their business as usual way.
The plane ride seemed longer than my first trip but maybe the length of duration was the same and my memory could no longer be an accurate guide to what happened. I spent most of the time listening to music on my cell phone until only two more hours before we landed and then only four more hours.
When I arrived finally and met Georgette and William at the airport, she looked older until I adjusted to the difference and then she seemed younger. William looked exactly the same. He had the appearance of one who always looks good, even in older age, and no amount of wrinkles would change that. He could have looked fifty at age twenty but he would continue to look fifty at age two hundred.
As we rode to their house, Georgette asked, “So, does any of this look familiar to you?”
I said, “I’m not sure. It’s now night time and I was last here during daylight hours. I remember the orange and yellow leaves on the trees, definitely not something I’d see in California.”
“Well, it’s been ten years. I wouldn’t expect this to be all up front in your memory.”
“This seems like a second date with someone, after the ice was broken and now I can focus on things with less anticipation.”
William smiled. “Oh, you’ll find something that will cause you to feel anticipation. I’ve lived here for over twenty years and I still haven’t gotten bored of it.”
I said, “I am curious if the bagels are really better over here or if that’s a myth.”
Georgette nodded. “You can definitely find out. There’s some great bagel places around here within walking distance from where we live. There’s Absolute Bagels on Broadway between 107th and 108th Street. There’s also cafes that serve bagels and coffee if you want to just sit and read like what the students at Columbia do.”
William winked. “So that’s why they aren’t attending any classes. They’re in cafes, sipping coffee and eating bagels.”
I said, “Maybe, but they’re probably reading one of your books.”
“Quite possibly. I’ll have to check my bookshelves and see if any of my books are missing. You can’t trust students these days, especially the ones who like to break into professors’ houses and steal their books.”
Georgette and I talked about how sad we felt when Hal died. He was a talented guitar player who knew a few big-name musicians in the San Francisco area. He never did much with his music other than make a few demo tapes back in the nineteen seventies, which were rejected by the major record companies. He worked at various jobs, making enough money to get by so he could afford a small run-down apartment in San Rafael, California. He did not do much in the way of going out and having fun. He allowed himself to eat at a restaurant once a week as his trip of adventure. He chose not to visit with his old high school friends, some of whom still played in small bands at the local pubs, because he thought that they were silly to believe they had a chance at the limelight this late in the game. They were over forty years old and should grow up, according to him. He acted as though he wanted to suppress any sense of youth he still felt.
Georgette explained that she still liked to sing and sometimes performed in a small cafe for friends when the place was closed for the evening to the general public. The owner was a good friend and arranged for her to sing for him and five of her friends during an informal half-hour concert.
She would bring her piano player, a co-worker at Columbia. She would sing jazz standards. She said, “I took to heart what happened to Hal and I told myself I wasn’t going to stop doing what I loved to do. I have no interest in touring or playing in a large nightclub but Freddy, the guy who owns the cafe, lets me sing for my friends and I love it. As long as you have the passion to do something, I say go for it.”
I said, “Maybe that’s what I’m feeling in New York, the energy of passion. Just from the little bit I’ve noticed so far, people seem to have an acknowledgment of their own existence. They may be more caught up in themselves than in noticing anyone around them but they have an awareness of self. That’s what I sense. In Antioch, the only stores are convenience stores and dollar stores. There’s a mall but there are no little hidden gems or places for anyone to go to and have fun. It’s all overweight families who work every minute and get tired and spend their leisure hours watching sports on television. The energy is almost non-existent. There’s no sense of individual purpose. If there’s any art in Antioch, it’s the art of waking up and facing another monotonous day.”
Georgette nodded. “That could be why most of the Goldmans were like they were and stayed that way until they died. Eliza had an electric keyboard, right? But you said she never played it? Maybe she had talent but there was no one who appreciated it and she decided to give up. Is that possible?”
“She played a few things for me and she was creative but, from what other members of the family told me, she was always a little bit off and never wanted to seriously pursue anything.”
“We were lucky. Mom gave all of us piano lessons and dad exposed us to good books. We had the choice to pursue art. I think that the Goldmans might have benefited from being exposed to more art.”
“I could answer that but it would take too long.”
We all laughed. Finally, we made it to their house. After the car was parked and we went inside, William said, “That wasn’t such a bad ride.”
I said, “Not at all. You have a nice place here.”
He nodded. “Feel free to look at whichever books seem to your liking. As you can tell, I’m a book junkie.”
“You and me both.”
He took a book from the shelf and handed it to me. He said, “I don’t know if your literary tastes run towards the surreal but I definitely recommend her. I’ve met her and she comes on campus occasionally. I think she lives around here. Check it out.”
The book was called Energy Mirrors and the writer was Ann Nowak. Her picture was on the back cover. I noticed she was wearing a button shirt tucked into belted trousers with her shirt sleeves rolled up. She was good looking and dressed in a great outfit. The title Energy Mirrors was definitely interesting. I sensed that she was going to be my new favorite author. I was a believer in how energy and change were key components to the creation of the universe. Seemingly, an energy mirror was an energy source that reflected an identical or similar energy source. I let my imagination run wild by thinking that Ann Nowak was the energy mirror to people like me who were attracted to her style. When I read what the stories were about, I was amazed at how correct I was. Each story was about how fate intervenes in people’s lives, causing couples to meet, sometimes on agreeable terms and sometimes violently. I looked at the writing. I was tired from my long trip and did not want to delve too deeply into the stories until tomorrow, but I could immediately tell that she crafted her literature as attractively as she crafted her appearance. I said, “Thanks for sharing this, William.”
He smiled. “You’re welcome. Maybe I could also arrange for you to meet her.”