Thursday, September 16, 2010

L.A. Blues (Ch.10 Pt.3)

"I'll have a refill," my mother said to the waitress with a red-haired bee-hive at Bob's Big Boy.
"I just filled the cup, ma'am, just a moment ago."
"But, it's cold." My mother looked up from the table in desperation.
"Here you go." The waitress poured the remaining coffee from the carafe until it spilled over into the saucer.  
"My scrambled eggs?"
"Out any minute."
"Thank you. Remember, no butter on the toast. Dry. I'm counting calories. And please. Don't let those eggs get too hard."
"Okey Dokey." She gave my mother a once over.
"Because I like them fluffy."
The waitress cast a sidelong glance at me.
"How 'bout you, honey. Can you hang on a few minutes for that tuna melt?"
I picked up the water glass and sipped slowly.

We had spent the month of July in Los Angeles. After each violin lesson we stopped at Bob's Big Boy Restaurant for the Early Bird Special. Weeks one, two, and three, my mother listened with rapt attention as I recounted my lessons with Claire Hodgkins, the endless scale work and repetitions of countless etudes, including the first study in Dont Opus 35, a real knuckle breaker. Miss Hodgkins had suggested we visit Ben Rosen's Music Store to pick up the Hřimaly Scale Studies. Rosen's shop, Globe Music, was a dilapidated house on Western Avenue filled with sheet music stacked from floor to ceiling. We fawned over the new books during dinner the way normal people do with babies. We had bought the two volume Joachim-Moser edition of J.S. Bach's Six Solo Sonatas and Partitas, Hřimaly Scales, and Leopold Auer's Graded Course Book 7. When my mother complained to Ben Rosen that I had difficulty learning scales in double stops, the octogenarian pointed with his shriveled fingers to the back pages of the Auer. "There," he snapped. His misaligned false teeth added staccato to each word.  "This is what your daughter needs. Like Auer, like Heifetz. Farshteyst?" And the two landsmen, my mother and Mr. Rosen, completed the transaction in Yiddish.
But by week four, my mother lost interest with my studies and had one obsession: my father's whereabouts.  

John and Harry Kransberg
"He doesn't answer the phone," she said dejectedly. "I call the furniture business. I get Uncle Harry. I say, Harry, where's Johnnie? You know what Harry says to me?"
I shook my head. French fries were just around the corner. I sniffed with anticipation.
"He has the nerve to say that your father's making deliveries."
"Maybe Daddy is. It's not implausible." 
"Margie. That's what your father hires movers for—for deliveries. I hear Uncle Harry's nervous giggle whenever I phone. He's protecting his youngest brother. 'You're worrying for nothing, Frances,' says Harry. He's a character, your Uncle Harry. Something's off. Those two can't be trusted. You know, the Kransberg men are vilde khayim."
"They're what?"
"Like wild animals. I never told you this before because you were too young, but now that you're fourteen, I'm going to tell you. I found your father's eldest brother Sam one night after business hours—"
She buried her face in her hands and let out a painful, "Oy!"

"OK, Ladies! Here you go."
The waitress plunked our dishes on the table. The mound of fries on my plate was staggering. 
 "More coffee?" asked my mother, anxiously tapping her cup.
The waitress spun on her heels and left. 
My mother continued. "Marjorie. I call the house. The phone rings and rings. Nobody picks up. Where can your father be? All hours of the night, yet."
"I dunno, Mom." I wasn't concerned about my father at that moment. I squirted ketchup all over my fries. Culinary Heaven. The crisp sourdough of my sandwich oozed with a buttery blend of melted albacore tuna and layers of sharp, cheddar cheese on a bed of Iceberg lettuce, tomato, and dill pickle. I alternated between sandwich and fry, sandwich and fry, in a Tempo agitato.  

My mother joylessly nibbled on her egg. She surrendered her fork to the plate, and drained the coffee cup in slow, steady gulps, as if fighting back tears.
"Do you really like it here in Los Angeles?"
I shrugged.
"Don't you miss our beautiful home on Lord's Hill and life with father? I know he's kvetchy at times but that's him."

I missed the Meadowmount School of Music in New York. It was my first summer away, after three years of having been a camper there. It dawned on me, though my stomach was now about to burst with tuna and fries, that a year ago, I had been placed in solitary confinement for sneaking into the boys' dorms with my friends, Jackie and Felicia, in the middle of the night. The three of us had gotten caught by some whistle blower at Main House—the house mother? Anyway, old man Galamian lost an entire night's sleep on account of us. Punishment meted out was severe: one week of solitary confinement in our rooms except for meals accompanied by kitchen staff, and a threat of dismissal if we broke any more rules. But, heck, it was our claim to fame at Meadowmount. I had won the admiration of the cutest boys and star players:  Chin Kim, Lynn Chang, YoYo Ma, Robert Portney, Daniel Phillips, and Gil Morgenstern. Gosh, Meadowmount was the Land of Plenty, I thought.

My mother leaned closer from across the table and whispered. "When that waitress hands us the bill, follow me closely and walk out quickly."
"Why, Mom?" I could barely raise myself from the booth after stuffing myself, let alone a brisk walk.
"Firstly, I'm not tipping, and secondly, I need to reach your father. We're not staying; no way. Maybe when you're old enough for college, but that'll be another story."