Peg And Ed Get Married

June 30, 2009

By Shirley Lupton

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My sister, Peg, is a contrarian. An introverted petite blonde, stunning and smart, she never wanted to be a wife or a mother. But then she turned 60 and her health insurance premium (individual plan) jumped from $500 to $1,200 a month. So she did what she could to keep herself insured. She decided to marry Ed, with whom she had lived for the past 28 years. He had a job with health benefits. Oh, we joked, hope you aren’t rushing into something. Do you really know him?

Ed describes himself as a poseur, a charlatan, and a gourmetician. To contrast her size 2, he is short, round, size 50, a gregarious Sicilian; also a former restaurant chef and now teacher of the culinary arts. In Philadelphia, where they live, Ed is a sort of Pied Piper. People come from doorways to greet him as they walk down the streets. He spends an hour in a sausage emporium on 9th Street in Little Italy talking to the “regulars” while Peg is around the corner, alone, puffing a Marlboro regular. “To marry or have health insurance—I picked marriage, a Hobson’s choice,” Peg said. “So—let’s make it an ironic wedding.” Ed replied, “Anything you want dear.”

Peg insisted on secrecy, so the site she chose was a mountaintop in north central Pennsylvania where we had spent our childhood summers. An old friend there, Al, a retired clergyman, agreed to conduct the service. Aside from me, the only other participants would be Dick and Judy, a couple we had also known as children on the mountain. That was it. No fuss, no cake, no expense, and none of the friends from Philly, who would hear about it later. At the rehearsal dinner, which was held at Dick and Judy’s cabin, we all drank too much wine and annoyed an abstemious Al by making up vows that pressed hard on the irony concept. In fact, Al got a bit huffy and left after Ed said that he would take this woman in holy matrimony only if she agreed to wash her cereal bowl and forsake country music.

The next day we stood in front of Reverend Al’s fireplace, ready. He had brought out his best cut glass wine goblets and a decanter of communion sherry. Judy had picked the wedding bouquet in the woods, an armload of blooming ragweed. Al wore his full black clerical garb and, caught up in the mood of irreverence, rubber flip- flops. We milled around a bit and then Peg, wearing denim, hugged the raspy flowers as Al began the ceremony. As he intoned, I watched a hummingbird at a feeder outside his window, and when I turned back I saw liquid reflecting light off Ed’s eyes. Peg’s eyes were glazed, like a cat full of tuna. Al was reading the traditional vows and they were answering—in tradition. This was a wedding. After Ed kissed the bride, Peg tossed me the ragweed and we stood around not knowing what to say but feeling rather graceful. Ed opened a bottle of vintage champagne from the year of Peg’s birth to find it had turned to vinegar. No one said, How ironic. We toasted with Al’s sherry.

Peg selected the Jamison Hotel for the “reception,” a place far in the mountains where the dress code was wife-beater undershirts and the all-you-can-eat buffet was on top of Bunson Burners in big aluminum trays for $8.50 per person. A pitcher of cold lager cost $3.00. I can tell you the ham and green bean dish was delicious. An eight-point buck’s head looked down at us from its wall mount. An old guy from the bar came in and played his harmonica so we could waltz the bride.

Last spring Ed lost his job in the recession. Now he and Peg are both uninsured. But in the four years that Ed and Peg have been married, they have been content. Willie Nelson instead of Puccini? — no problem. Whatever my wife wants, Ed continues to say. And soon, of course, there will be Medicare.

Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.

Shirley Lupton has been a contributing writer and photographer for Aishti, a Middle Eastern lifestyle, fashion and travel magazine published in Beruit, Lebanon. Her work has also appeared in the Irish Herald, San Francisco, and in the Baltimore Sun. Shirley is a member of Margaret Osborn’s Deepdeen Writers’ group, which is were we met a few years ago. I’m happy to report that her witty contributions have become a popular feature on this blog.


Fred-Ho

May 5, 2009

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By Shirley Lupton

I can’t help wondering what my manicurist thinks as he bows his head close over my hands. They retain a scent of garlic and onions from the preparation of a stew I left to walk over to this new salon in my neighborhood. He examines them with Asian solemnity and without discernible judgment brings a bowl of hot suds and guides both hands into it. Then with a dancer’s swing he dips under the table to remove his tools from the sterilizer. With the clank of metal on his tray my mind flashes back to the preparation for surgery ten years earlier and the chemotherapy that destroyed my nails. The smell of yellow flesh and fresh gauze comes, but leaves fast, a hit of angst in one intake of breath. Then back to onion and garlic worry as I exhale.

We proceed. Our right hands are locked as he files and pares in silence. Pinned on his shirt pocket is a small metal plate with an improbable name, Fred-Ho. He is small, under a hundred pounds, so delicate and young, with intermittent black fuzz around his chin and upper lip and his black hair is slicked back Alec Baldwin style. His hands are strong as he gives me a hand massage, the mid-point ritual. He hurts me. He presses on arthritis points I forget I have. I practice my own inscrutability and study the empty chairs.

Suddenly his face lights up from an internal jolt and he speaks in that lyrical Vietnamese sing- song trill and somewhere in the salon, like a parrot in the jungle, another manicurist answers in the same trill to share a joke. Then he cues me to leave him to wash my hands of the flaky material used in the massage. I pad over to the customer sink against a far wall, set about with soaps and dried flower scent baskets. I see him in the mirror talking on his cell phone, smiling – no – laughing – free of me. As I wash away the crusty stuff I feel like a hostage. I look like one too, distress all over my face. Why so tense? You don’t have to re-write Atonement. It’s a simple manicure -not a massacre. I imagine us as in a musical where I return to him dancing and singing, all the manicurists rising from their stations bursting into a chorus and we high kick past the pedicure island happy and united.

“Fred-Ho?” I ask, as he paints my nails in quick strokes, a colorless gloss with a hint of frost – my choice. I bring my own Chanel, White Satin. “Is that your real name?” “My name Ho,” he answers, “my Vietnam name Ho.” He frowns and signals for the other hand I offer. I want to ask him why did he leave Vietnam? I want to apologize to him for the war – to tell I did protest marches and sit-ins and leave out the parts about sex, drugs and the Stones at Altamont. But I say nothing.

Ho leads me to the nail-drying bin – a long chin-high table with UV blue light glowing in a slot for hands just under the top. Without the use of my hands there is nothing to do but think. Ho’s grandfather or uncle could have been the child who begged on the side of the road and blew away the GI who handed him a chocolate. Or, maybe some Marines, while passing through a hamlet on the way to nowhere and for no defensive reason, gunned Ho’s cousins down. But Ho was born ten years after the choppers lifted cringing Americans off the embassy roof in Saigon. If I believe what I read about his generation, he knows or cares little of the war. It was your government – not you, they say. Even the older people there say that.

At the cashier I watch Ho sitting on a stool bent over the bare feet of a young redhead in a pedicure chair. As he scrubs her pink heels she is reading Newsweek. The cover shows a man in a black turban and the caption says War Escalates in Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.


Lunch In Lyon

March 11, 2009

By Shirley Lupton

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My son, Robert, and I were having an argument on the train platform in Avignon. He wanted to stop in Lyon to have a look around and have lunch and I wanted to go straight back to Paris where we had rented an apartment for a few weeks. Robert is a travel writer and I do not see him much except the rare times we can travel together. “Mom,” he said, Lyon is the food capital of France. I guarantee that after two hours in Lyon you will not want to leave.” “You win,” I told him but I held in my head the impression that Lyon would be a city of damp unadorned buildings with menus that featured Lyonnaise potatoes.

So, after the warm October sun and the infinite yellows of southern France we stepped into a chilly plaza coated with light rain. As we walked along its streets even he agreed that Lyon’s buildings were stolid and Germanic. It will be better by the river, Robert said, and so it was. The River Saone flowed with a grand sweep under stone arched bridges and a seducing sun came out as we walked along. img_0284_3He was eying a white cathedral high on a hill on the opposite bank. I could imagine the thousand steps up to it and suggested it was time for lunch. Because part of Robert’s job is eating he has acquired a sixth sense about restaurants. He needs only to walk by the entrance, and sniff the air. “This is it, Mom.” His choice, Le Bistrot de Lyon, was no different from dozens of others along the cobblestones of Rue Merciere, which, with its beat and bustle, seemed to be the food heart of Lyon. It felt right to me too.

Le Bistrot opened itself to us. The maitre de was brisk but welcoming in that nuanced way the French have to be OK with Americans. We were seated at a small table with a white tablecloth and a pot of fresh flowers in the non-smoking section where smoking was still done without guilt or irony. Nearby a table of businessmen, six or eight of them in dark suits, were finishing up a platter of pork roast and sausages. A waiter poured from several bottles of wine set about and discussed their desserts. Good humor flowed between the waiter and the men in their rumble of conversation.

The décor was all polished brass and Persian carpets of faded reds, oranges and blues, The sconces on the walls were converted gaslights. In the mirror behind the men I could see our heads; Robert’s curling black hair, and mine, graying, had developed that “certain age” sway. Had I worn a cloche it could have been 1944. The waiter turned from the men and at once became our waiter as he placed a basket of bread on the table. When Robert spoke to him in fluent French his surprise showed in two dots of red on his cheeks. He wore a white shirt and a bold cerise tie and an apron with a casual hitch up the front. We ordered the specials and a half carafe of local red wine. The bread had deep crust and yielded dough that was thick and nutty, the color of caramel. Two small salads arrived –arugula with herbs and a garlic mustard dressing. The wine, hearty and fruity, tasted of grapes laced with primroses or cherries. And then the entrée, mine a slice of medium rare beef lightly covered with a sauce of orange cognac and butter and potatoes cut with edges crisped by caramelized onions. Another waiter joined up with ours, a dark skinned younger man, an apprentice perhaps. He observed our pleasure in the food and gave us two desserts instead of the one with the special. A small cheese plate, and an apple crisp that was so good I wanted to stand and scream. It crunched with the light, buttery shell and sugar and the freshness of the apples.

The check was modest and correct for such a simple lunch. But the confluence of care in the cooking, the colors, the way it was served by waiters who enjoyed the work, their reserved humanity and the happy hum of the businessmen, all this did something to us. It opened our feelings, which is a rare thing for a restaurant to do. In the past Robert and I had wounded each other after the divorce from his father. That day my faith in his judgment, his willingness to take me in hand and the mysterious magic of the Bistrot softened some of what had been hardened from all that. Outside the streets of Lyon looked entirely different. img_0283_2Robert went on to the white Cathedral and I walked about the shops and plazas in a daze. Later, on the train Robert wrote the following in his Journal.

The city had seemed sober and northern and monochromatic –completely without spark—when we arrived, hungry, into a gray noon, with apparently a fine mist between us and any color the city might have had. By the time we headed back to the train station at 4 PM, the invisible mist had lifted, my belly had been satisfied, I had sweated my way up to the city’s heights, my intellect, or rather my vision, had been braced by an extra post lunch coffee, the sun had grown stronger behind the clouds. So that now the martial rows of houses along the river revealed previously unseen blues, pinks, and yellows–still all very restrained. Gradually too, more direct rays had penetrated the weather and produced their shadows, and with them the facades and the very bend in the River Soane with its curving heights were revealing the nuance of a third dimension.

In Paris we had many fine meals but never one like the lunch in Lyon.

Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.

I met Shirley Lupton in a writing class and was impressed by her cool, sardonic (is “sardonic” a combination of “sarcastic” and “ironic?”) Dorothy Parker-ish take on life, at least as expressed in her manuscripts. The first story by Shirley I read had the wonderful title “Nicole Kidman’s Bathrobe,” and was every bit as funny as the title suggests, but it also contained some very interesting insights into human relationships. Later, as I got to know her as a friend, I concluded that my initial impression held up. Shirley proved to be as witty and as insightful in real life as she was on the page.