Thursday, September 9, 2010

Dog Days of Summer (Ch.10 Pt.2)

My father tried every technique to make amends for his violent outburst which, fortunately, caused no physical harm to my mother. My parents negotiated a peace treaty: my mother and I would undergo a trial period in Los Angeles for the summer of '73. My father would find a furnished rental unit for us, send my mother her weekly allowance, and I would begin studies with Claire Hodgkins, assistant to Jascha Heifetz, in preparation for the class. The bi-coastal agreement would buy my parents time to sort things out. Neither one of them were fazed by a summer of separation. In the meantime, I envisioned Miss Hodgkins to be a carbon copy of Miss Thomas, as if all female teaching assistants were made out of the same materials. I stuffed a wad of Kleenex into my purse for the introductory session.

♪ ♩ ♪

Claire Hodgkins was tending to her front garden when we arrived at her Spanish style home near Hollywood on Wilcox Avenue. A brown sausage dog barked furiously by her side and bared its teeth. "Caesar, Caesar, no!" scolded Miss Hodgkins. I stiffened with alarm. Miss Hodgkins laughed. "Oh, don't be afraid. He has a little dog complex, that's all."
My mother edged up the front steps. "You must be Claire Hodgkins. I recognize you from the masterclass series on TV. You're even prettier in person."
Miss Hodgkins smiled and patted the dog's head. He rolled over to expose his belly and yawned. Miss Hodgkins then removed her gardening gloves, and reached to shake our hands.
"I'm Frances Kransberg. Just call me Fran, though. And this is—"
"Marjorie," gushed my mother.
"Hello Marjorie. Won't you both step inside?" offered Miss Hodgkins, pushing open the front door. "We're having perfect weather today, don't you think? I can't seem to get enough of the outdoors!"
"I'd take this dry heat any day over East Coast humidity," said my mother. "But I walked up quite a shvitz."
Miss Hodgkins giggled with amusement. She removed her broad-rimmed, straw hat and shook out her blond curls.   

"You're such a beautiful lady!" My mother persevered, standing at the doorway.
I rolled my eyes. How many times would my mother use this refrain?
"So long-legged and slender. That olive skin against light hair. I'm envious. If you don't mind my asking, Miss Hodgkins, what is your ethnicity?"
"Come on into the living room ladies, please. Caesar, no!"
The dog plowed between my legs and barreled into the house, nearly causing me to drop my violin case.
Miss Hodgkins chuckled. "Oh Caesar, you're hopeless. I apologize in advance for my dog's behavior. With my husband away on business trips, Caesar has taken on the role of protector. He's really harmless, though. Oh, but getting back to my heritage. Fran, is that what you said your name is?"
My mother nodded.
"I'm sort of a mixed breed. But the height and 'flaxen hair'—as Mr. Heifetz teases—I get from my Finnish roots—maternal side, that is."
Finished, I thought?
"Watch out for these steps," Miss Hodgkins warned. "I've had people spill right into my living room. Marjorie, you can get set up and tuned by the grand piano. I look forward to hearing you play."

My mother gasped as she entered the sunken living room filled with art pieces, musical objects and artifacts. "This is a charming house, Miss Hodgkins."
"Call me Claire."
 "Just look at all these treasures, Margie. It has the feel of an artist's home. Do you know what I mean?"
"You mean messy," giggled Claire. "My husband acquires all sorts of trinkets from Indochina. He's become quite the collector. If he keeps this up, I'll need extra storage space."
"If we move to Los Angeles, I'm determined to find a Spanish style home similar to this one. My husband, John, dabbles in real-estate, so he'll know a good deal when he sees one."
"Sounds like you've got a wonderful man."
My mother's chest puffed with pride. "In addition to real-estate and Kransberg's Furniture, my husband owns a warehouse. If a client dies, and their possessions go unclaimed, they're his. One time John surprised me with boxes full of out-of-print, leather-bound sheet music stamped with the mysterious name H.A.Poole, from Japan yet. I guess those acquisitions make my husband sort of collector, too."

Miss Hodgkins cast a sympathetic glance at my mother. "It must be difficult being away from your husband. I can commiserate. Mine comes home perhaps twice a year. I do miss him."
My mother grew quiet, then adjusted her wristwatch. "I didn't mean to hold up the lesson by kibitzing. Shall I stay and listen or do you prefer that I wait outside?"
"Oh, soak up the rays, Fran. Marjorie and I will begin our routine. As you know, Mr. Heifetz is a stickler for scales."

I waited for the front door to close, then checked my strings. The pure gut A and D strings that Mr. Heifetz insisted all students use kept going out of tune. Miss Hodgkins sank into a floral sofa and crossed her legs. "Let's get down to business. Begin with a C Major single-note scale in three octaves. Start in first position. Remember, open strings going up, and fourth finger coming down, but we use 4-4 on the half step as the scale descends. The trick is to shift into third position on the D, and again to fifth, seventh and ninth positions on the E string. Go on."
I nodded and smiled. Her words made as much sense to me as hieroglyphs.
"Maintain the same bow speed as you slur two notes, then four, eight and twelve. Don't forget to add the two additional notes going up as well as coming down, so that you have a total of twenty-four notes both ways."
"OK," I said, futzing with my pegs. When did she say to shift?
"After C Major, we'll turn our attention to A Minor, the relative minor, in melodic and harmonic, but not  natural. Then we'll work on three octave arpeggios followed by scales in patterns of thirds, sixths, octaves, fingered octaves, and tenths."

My eyes glazed over with these directives. I steadied the bow above the string to pull out a C. Just then, the four-legged beast whipped across the living room floor and barked furiously, as if sensing a poltergeist or chasing a rabbit. He skidded along the oak floor to my feet.
"Caesar!" snapped Miss Hodgkins. "Hey, C Major for Caesar," she giggled. "No, Caesar, down boy, down!" The canine sausage grabbed my leg with his front paws. I could feel his nails dig into my flesh and a blast of hot breath penetrate my skin. The dog mounted my leg and jerked spasmodically. I tried to shake the demented beast off by thrashing my leg, and felt blood rush to my face. Miss Hodgkins tilted her head back, slapped her thigh, and exploded with laughter. "Oh Marjorie! Caesar likes you!"
"Yogi" by soggydan@photobucket