Nathan and Mickey emigrate to Canada after the war. Nate opens a radio repair shop shortly after their arrival in Toronto. Mickey joins a secular Jewish organization that is supportive of the socialist movement and the Soviet Union, a precarious decision, considering the rising “Red Scare” originating south of the border. He attends their holiday dance and meets a Goldie, a precocious girl whose father owns a successful slipper factory. After a steamy night, the girl promises she will call him to set up another meeting. Finally, Goldie calls Nate long distance and arranges for them to meet at a swanky restaurant located in the Simpson’s department store in the city’s downtown. Goldie is no wallflower. She has a sailor’s mouth and a hatred of phoneys and hypocrites. She decides to have some fun with the staid diners with Nate’s assistance. The couple puts on a hilarious theatrical display that leaves the diners and staff horrified. It is important to note that the chapter takes place in 1950. In this context, many people of a younger age will be puzzled by some of the language which was relevant in those days eg: “yodel my groceries, bees knees, sissies, etc. The main theme is the intolerance and bigotry which was prevalent in Toronto, a city still controlled by the powerful WASP establishment. Ironically (and thankfully) the city today is the most ethnically diverse in the world.
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December 30, 1950
A few weeks later, on the The Saturday night before New Year's Eve, I was returning to the shop after a game of pool at Wrigley's place. A light dusting of snow had fallen earlier, and was now quickly melting in the mild air. It had been over a month since the Chanukah dance. Goldie still hadn’t called me so I had reluctantly relegated our little dalliance to my memory's bookshelf, a disappointing short story to revisit in future dreams.
Nate and Gina had left last evening on a weekend jaunt by train to Niagara Falls. I was greatly puzzled why anyone in their right mind would ever want to visit there in the heart of a Canadian winter. Since their initial meeting, they had become inseparable, adrift in the exquisite space and time of early infatuation, still savouring the pristine novelty of each other's company.
The phone began ringing as I opened the shop's door. Who would be foolish or desperate enough to call a radio repair shop at midnight! I thought. I reluctantly picked up the receiver.
“Hello. This is the long distance operator calling from Buffalo, New York. I have a call from a party here for a...a ...‘Gotcha’...I believe.”
I reckoned it was either someone horsing around or a wrong number. Since it wasn't a collect call, I played along—I could use a bit of respite from an evening’s tedious boredom. “Go ahead operator.”
A female voice responded. “My little katchke! Happy New Year!”
“Who's this?" I asked.
“Don't you recognize my voice?”
It sounded like the speaker was young. Her words were slurred.
“Are you sure you have the right number?” I inquired. “Who are you wanting to speak to?”
“Oh stop playing so hard to get, Mr. Okker! It's your favourite socialist-hating princess, Goldie!"
My heart began to pound. “What are you doing in Buffalo at this time of night?”
“Playing the protective parent are we?” she replied. “Pops and me and his so-called secretary are coming back from a business trip to New York City. Pop decided to stay over in this crap hole so he could check out his new line of slippers at the J. P. Penney Department Store—they're sort of the American version of our Eaton's or Simpson's. Anyway, I'm in the hotel bar here surrounded by some very dreamy boys who keep insisting on buying me drinks! I'm having a swell time! Are you jealous?”
“Does your father know where you are?” I asked.
She laughed. “He's in his room, most likely mattress dancing with his little Girl Friday! Or should I say Girl Saturday! It still is Saturday isn't it?” She started giggling. I was getting concerned about her state of mind.
“Where's your step mother?” There was a long pause.
“You mean the bimbo? She’s back home at the Sharp Castle, her lovely empty manor. Her housekeeper is away for the weekend, which probably means she's going at it with some schvartze horn player she picked up at the jazz club where she and her floozie girlfriends go.”
I sensed that she was getting upset. “Goldie, are you okay?”
“What, you think all families are like Ozzie and Harriet on the goddamn radio or a phoney Norman Rockwell painting? Anyhow my little Dutch lover boy, we're taking the train back home tomorrow morning. I promised Pop I would check out the new sock displays at Eaton's and Simpson's next week. He wanted to make sure they don't throw us for a loop and hide the inventory somewhere in a back corner. He keeps worrying that the managers are conspiring to sabotage his displays since word got out that he was Jewish. Why do you think my family changed our name.”
“You mean ‘Sharp’ is not your real name?”
“What—are you brain dead? Everyone knows a Jew can’t do business in this pathetic town with a name like Shapiro.The goddamn goyem would boycott our business, and don’t bet all your shekels that our garage and doors wouldn’t be sprayed with swastikas! Listen, I’ll call you when I get back home. Maybe you can keep me company—we can have lunch at the Acadian Court. It'll give you a chance to see how the privileged live! But only if I pay. You'll be my guest.”
"But you said you'd call me last time and more than a month went by!"
"Don't be such a sore baby—this time I promise—swear to the Jewish Torah!" The operator interrupted.
"Time's up Miss! Please deposit your coin or end the call." There was a long pause followed by the empty echo of a dial tone.
Surprisingly, Goldie did keep her word. We decided to meet on a Thursday afternoon at the downtown Simpson's department store. Gina, who had a half day off school, volunteered to relieve me at the shop for the afternoon while Nate did his repair calls. She told me it would be a good chance to test her office skills. It was a relief to be able to release myself from Nate's recent moodiness, made worse by the upcoming final exams for his TV repair certification.
The massive Arcadian Court restaurant was located on the eighth and ninth floors of the department store. We endured a convulsing ride in a rickety rundown elevator operated by a starchily uniformed woman brandishing a pair of white gloves.
Goldie told me that the upper mezzanine level was restricted to men—a kind of sequestered boys club, where they could chew over business and politics, safely isolated from the banal female chatter below.
The rooms were done up in Art Deco style with lush carpeting throughout, huge arched windows, and ornate chandeliers hanging from the lofty ceiling. According to Goldie, who had a strong eye for chic fashion, the chandeliers mimicked the style of Rene Lalique, the famous French glass designer.
Approaching the noon hour, the room was starting to fill quickly, the perfectly aligned rows of white linen covered tables awaiting their fastidious diners. Some of the high-backed red velvet upholstered chairs were already occupied by prissy matrons, most of them crested with an assortment of antique haute couture millinery shapes and styles. They sat in a courtly rigid posture, their hands placed on the spotless white napkins laying perfectly on their laps in the careful manner of well bred civility. Their expensive perfumes could not mask the pungent odour of mothballs lingering in the static air.
We were quickly seated by a young hostess in the backwoods of the vast room, near the buffet table and kitchen. I glanced at the table next to us. Two sour-looking elderly women were glaring at us, whispering covertly. I moved my head slightly with a contrived gesture directed at Goldie, suggesting we listen into some of their conversation.
“Might be interesting!” I murmured. I did my best to concentrate, my ears straining, but all I could detect was a faint debris of disconnected words:
“Too many...changing our beloved city...what....expect...Prime Minister...Catholic...Quebec...Jews...too uppity...into our neighbourhood...can't get good.... anymore...coloured...so lazy...streetcars...dreadful smell...God knows...in their lunch pails...Catholics... those people...”
We rolled our eyes. Goldie tapped my elbow and gave me a conspirator's wink.
“Boy, that Chanukah dance was a hoot, eh Moishe!” She raised her voice a notch. “The band was downright smashing!” She began singing softly and then louder:
I have a little dreidel. I made it out of clay.
And when it's dry and ready, then dreidel I shall play.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, I made it out of clay.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, then dreidel I shall play.
It has a lovely body, with legs so short and thin.
When it gets all tired, it drops and then I win!
Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, with leg so short and thin.
Oh dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, it drops and then I win!
A dead silence veiled the tables surrounding us. The two old goats beside us, their bitter mouths’ agape, looked like they were going to pass a kidney stone. Some of the women further away gave us a contorted look as if they hadn't had their morning constitution for weeks.
The maitre'd scurried towards us with a supercilious gait. He was dressed in funeral director’s garb: dark suit, maroon waistcoat, black bow tie and perfectly fitted white gloves. He had a bony, hawkish face and a sparse crown, looking like the stoic-looking butler characters seen in the movies. His breath reeked from gin.
“Miss—I must implore you to refrain from singing here! Our guests do appreciate their privacy.”
Goldie smiled. “We certainly understand your concern sir! I guess I got a little carried away.” Would you please have our waiter come over—I do believe my husband and I would like to order a drink before our lunch.”
Goldie turned towards the back of the room. “Gebn a kuk, boychik, she whispered, motioning me to turn around. Behind the kitchen window, two coloured ladies and an Oriental man, each wearing white kitchen aprons, stood smiling at us.
“Observe carefully, Mickey. These rich old fakes are gonna get some real entertainment—Goldie Sharp-style! Watch me bubala—you might wanna learn something valuable from me instead of from all those fancy assed books you read!”
The waiter arrived—a plump middle aged man with a tooth brush moustache and a red hued face. Slightly out of breath, he inquired politely if we wished to place our order. I was about to request more time to examine the rather extensive menu, but was promptly interrupted by Goldie.
“My husband and I would like to start off with a carafe of wine.”
“May I see your proof of age, madam.”
Goldie started to fish around in her purse. She spoke with an overly contrived English accent. “Oh dear! I believe I left my driver's license at home. It's so seldom I drive, now that my treasured Bentley has been in the garage waiting on parts from back home!” She kicked my ankle harder.
“I'm very sorry madam, but we cannot serve you without proof of age.”
"Well then, can my husband please order a drink,” Goldie asked.
The waiter expelled a fake cough ending in a half smile. "May I see your proof of age, sir."
I took out my wallet and proudly handed him my recently acquired Ontario driver's license. He removed a pair of reading glasses from his suit pocket and carefully examined the document.
“Thank you sir. What would be your pleasure?” the waiter inquired.
Goldie spoke before I could decide. “Moishe here would like a carafe of Manischewitz kosher red. He tells me it’s the only God-gifted grape that suits his discriminating pallet. Isn't that right dear?” I was desperately trying to refrain from bursting out into uncontrollable laughter. The surrounding diners looked on, horrified.
“I'm sorry sir, but I'm not familiar with that vintage,” the waiter replied.
“You must be misinformed! It's quite widely known that our people drink Manischewitz on Friday nights with our shabbos dinner! It makes the trip to our temple and the tedious sermon afterwards so much easier to tolerate!”
An awkward silence shrouding our neighbouring diners, was quickly detoured by the clinging sound of fallen cutlery and sporadic fits of affective coughing. A group of men sitting above us, their heads leaning over the wrought iron railings, stared down at us, curious as to the source of the sudden hush below. I glanced back at the three kitchen workers who were busy replenishing the buffet soup urns and hot plates. They were grinning, hanging on Goldie's every word.
“Well then, my husband will have your house wine,” Goldie said.
The waiter glared at me. “Would that be a red or white sir?”
Goldie abruptly intervened. “A red would be appropriate. Isn't that right honey?”
I nodded, obligingly.
“And of course, kosher if you please,” Goldie added.
I heard more cutlery falling and the sound of a plate breaking at the buffet table. Some of the wrinkled fossils near our table, looking aghast, began to quaff their wine.
“I'm very sorry madam—you said kosher?” the waiter asked. I noticed the maître'd standing near the buffet table, fidgeting with his white gloves, looking like an alley cat ready to pounce on an unsuspecting mouse.
“Oh, never mind!” Goldie sighed. “Will a traif red suffice, Moishe?”
“Certainly dear!” I replied, thoroughly enjoying my bit part in our little performance.
“And if you please, two glasses”, Goldie requested.
The waiter looked at her with a vexed expression, now fully aware of his role as the dupe in our conspicuous antics.
“My husband needs the extra glass for tasting!”
“As you wish,” he replied, catapulting us a look like he had just ingested a glass of putrid milk. I looked back again. The three kitchen workers were gone. I checked through the oval window—they were giggling and elbowing each other, seeming to have thoroughly enjoyed the hilarious scene just played out in the dining room.
The waiter arrived with the carafe and glasses, delicately placing them on our table with an exaggerated refinement. I hated pretentious eateries, not that I ever frequented them. The image of waiters standing nearby, like palace sentries, minding my every movement, as if I had no clue how to dine with dignity, made my skin crawl.
We quickly ordered lunch, both of us choosing the restaurant's signature dish: the chicken pot pie. Goldie slowly raised the carafe and poured each of us a half glass, making sure our pissy looking haut monde neighbours were clearly aware of our roguish intents. I looked around, expecting a stern reprieve from the waiter, but there was no response.
“Goldie, I'm curious...just how old are you?”
“Jesus Mickey, did you not learn proper etiquette growing up? A gentleman never asks a girl's age! It's very rude, and none of your goddamn beeswax anyway!”
After the second glass of wine I started feeling emboldened. “So Goldie, do you think you'll ever get hitched?”
“Keep it down sweetie! The old bats might overhear you and think I'm a bigamist. I'm already married...to you, Moishe!”
“But seriously Goldie, do you think you’ll ever get hitched?”
“I don't know,” she sighed. “I guess if I meet the right guy.”
“Yah, you’re knight in shining armour.”
“Are you kidding, knucklehead? More like a serf in rusted tin. I've learned that the “shining armour” crap is just a bunch of fairy tales that little girls listen to at bedtime.”
“So who would be your ideal husband?"
She swallowed the last dregs of her wine and paused for a moment. “Well, first of all, he would have to be presentable—I don't want a guy who stinks or looks like a pig's ass. And there's gotta be some kind of physical attraction, you know, chemistry. Also, I want him to be comfortable with himself—able to stick to his guns and not have people piss all over him. And, absolutely no mama's boys—that's a must! I don't want a guy running home to mummy every time we have a tiff. Loyalty is crucial. I don't want a guy whose head is full of memories of his trophy molls, telling me he's working late while he's double-crossing me.”
She looked up towards the mezzanine. “See those hoity-toity mumzers up there, looking down on us with their expensive suits and important jobs? You don't think they're not carrying on with all kinds of dames? Most of those snotty putzes up there are married to broads like the one's down here, either for their money, or the convenience of breeding children. You know, all perfectly moral and righteous. Any idiot can see right through them. Meanwhile, they sniff around the floozies like goddamn alley cats! Makes me want to yodel my groceries!
But you know what really gives me the creeps—it's the frightening mental image of these old bats tossing their husbands' the keys to their chastity belts! No wonder the pigs wander. You know, if I do get married, I'll hire myself a smart Jewish lawyer who will draw up a good contract for me. If the schmuck wanders, he gets none of the marital assets, just a kick in the touchas or worse, a toss right out the door with only the clothes on his back, and hopefully a night in some bed bug infested hell hole hotel! And finally, I know this sounds weird, but the guy I marry cannot be prettier than me! She continued:
“Last summer I went out with this really dreamy guy. His name was Forest—a shegetz. It was a blind date set up by a friend which I later learned was a practical joke. So the boy rings my front door. I look out and see this nicely dressed fellah looking at his reflection in the glass, primping himself like he's a high school flunky getting ready for the prom. I open the door and holy tamale —he's drop dead gorgeous—looks just like Montgomery Clift with those hypnotic green eyes, dark hair, the whole magillah! Outside on the driveway I see a cherry red Chevy Bel Air flip top with its lid still on. The real bees knees!
“So, we’re on our way downtown to see a triple bill at the Rio. I can't even remember what films they were, except two were westerns. I hate cowboy movies but it was his choice, after all he was springing for it. It was a warm evening, so I asked him to put the top down on his car—it would be fun to let the wind blow through our hair. He tells me it's a bit too chilly, but I'm starting to think that maybe he doesn't want to ruffle his perfectly combed hair!”
“So anyway, he parks his car on a side street and we walk towards the cinema. We pass girls who give him the once over—some turn right around, even the ones holding hands with their dates. I even see a few pretty boys staring at him. He stops to primp at every goddamn shop window that we pass.
“I'm starting to wonder about this guy. The theatre is half empty so we get ourselves a nice quiet spot to snuggle and hopefully make out a bit. He doesn't pull a move until the newsreel starts, just before the second film. He takes my hand—it feels like a dead fish! I give him the benefit—maybe he's just shy, although a guy with those kind of looks can't possibly lack self confidence. I put my head on his shoulder, and I feel his body stiffening. I think to myself, ‘what’s the deal?’
“Finally we get home, he kisses my cheek, and thanks me for the date. Just to make sure the guy isn't playing me, I invite him inside. I tell him my folks are out of town and we have a full bar downstairs. Can a girl be anymore forward than that? And ya known what he says? ‘I gotta get up early for work!’
“Listen to this: two weeks later, I'm downtown coming out of my hairdresser's, and I see Forest leaving the men's entrance at the Brown Derby Tavern, and get this—he's holding hands with another guy! Don't get me wrong, I got nothing against sissies, I mean they have feelings too. But why waste my time? That’s what really soured my cream more than anything.”
“Maybe he was confused, “ I said. “Could've been he was trying to cross to the other side just one more time, you know, to make sure about himself.”
Goldie curled her lip and frowned. “Then the schlemiel shoulda hired a street walker! A fellah I know, once told me that a lot of men get really hot when they pay for their fun. They do things to guys that I will definitely stop at. I heard awhile ago that the Mounties are now starting to sniff out the fruit cakes.”
“I guess they got bored with only harassing socialists and commies!” I joked