Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me By, Shawn M. Cohen

The next three weeks went by like a whirlwind. I was training with Gilbert every day from Monday to Friday. Because of my request, I asked if I could have another week's worth of training. Gilbert understood and let me. I was faster in my second week and now I was taking cash as well, from my small corner of Gilbert's bar and the waitresses, serving their station. Learning to use the register, how much all the drinks cost, and adding it all up in my head, when necessary, was a real challenge. Thankfully my math skills worked, even if I was not great at math in High School. During this time, the summer came in, and you could fry an egg on Walnut Street. We had air conditioning, so this was not a problem for us working at The Encore nor our customers but when you stepped outside, day or night, it was a warm humid blast of hot air that hit you, 80degrees plus were the constant temperatures.
In my sessions with Dr. Rivers, I had read the book he gave me and I learned what it meant to be in an "adult state" from the psyche, and also what it meant to be in a "parent state" and a "child state", as Transactional Analysis had described. The best, I had learned, was to come from an "adult state", when you are an adult, that is. I was trying my very best to understand this, and implement it. However, I could now see that my mother was lost to a "child state" in her malaise of being abandoned by my father. It was beginning to look like Miss Havisham's house from "Great Expectations", every time I entered our home. The den where my father's office was, where he had his own private red business phone, which we were never allowed to use, was still there along with his desk, file cabinet and swivel chair. But my older brother had taken down all his pictures,at my father's command ,and brought them to his new home. The ones of him fishing all over the world, catching the biggest fish with his buddies and his big stuffed marlin were not missed by me. He was gone but still some left over remnants remained. "Ma, why don't you take Daddy's stuff and throw it out?" Was what I wanted to say. But she could not cope with this. She was furious with him and this fight, I feared, would go to the bitter end. She talked to her girlfriends, who all agreed she was better off without him but to no avail. She was going to be taken to court for divorce, and he, having the money and power to get the best lawyer, was going to win no matter who was "at fault". He would owe her alimony and child support for my younger brother, Jake. But she was already informed he would fight not to pay it. When my Bubba was alive, my father's mother, she could only speak Yiddish. Yiddish was her language, she never learned to speak English in all the years she lived and raised her 3 children in the United States, in Pittsburgh. When my father would bring her over to the house, as she didn't drive, she would start baking from 6:00am, kuggle and raisin cookies and cholla bread and all manner of delicious Jewish foods and pastries. It was Jake she loved the most. He was the baby of our family and he was cute and funny. Now, as I walked into our kitchen, the one my father's Aluminum Siding and Home Improvements company built, had added on to this house, I got a vision, a memory of her short round body with her white apron on, flour on her face, hands, flour on the counter where she had been preparing what she was baking. Her saying to my little brother when he, and all of us kids, woke up to the delicious smells which filled the whole house, of her wonderful and love filled cooking. We'd run into the kitchen to see her, to see what she had made for us and eat her wonderful food, "Dance, Kin- da- la, Little Jake, Dance!" She would clap her hands in rhythm for him, and he would move and twirl to her delight. She loved to see my younger brother dance, when he was 5 years old. I wondered, as I made the coffee, and the nearly empty fridge which held no trace of her ever being there, what she in Heaven must be thinking now? I wondered what she would say to Jake now...."Dance, Kin da la, Dance"? What future did he have? Or any of us for that matter without a college education? The irony hit me, as I poured my coffee, for that is just what I am doing to help my family...dancing...but not at the Disco, not that kind of dancing but at the Encore bar where I will be making my "debut" as their upstairs restaurant's bartender next week. If my mother hadn't been suffering from her heartbreak, I might have been able to ask her, the actress, for advice. But no, my mind somehow drifted back to my "Bubbie", for that is what we kids all nicknamed her and called her.
It was Annie's birthday and Judi and Anne and I were getting together to celebrate. She was turning 20, like me and Judi already had. I had the evenings free, so this was a good time to finally catch up with my other friends who didn't live the night life, like I had. We all went out to dinner and gabbed away. It was great to see my old friends, they always made me feel like I belonged to them, even if our paths were shifting faster than Bubbie's baking flour. Judi would go back to Penn State again, studying horticulture, and Anne would go to College here in Pittsburgh, starting September. I would be working at the Encore, as far as I knew and that was that. I didn't talk about what happened there, as I knew they would not understand. Yes, I spoke of training as a bartender, and my parent's divorce. I grew up with these girls, I was like the adopted sister in Judi's family. We were the first to be friends, in 4th grade, and her mother was very loving and kind to me. Her father paid for me to go horsebackriding with Judi, and when Judi got a horse, I wanted one so badly, too. "Daddy, can I get a horse, like Judi has, Please, Please!" I braved it one day to ask him. "Are you out of your f***ing head??!! NO!" was his reply. I was 10 years old and heartbroken. Judi's parents must have known something was wrong, as they took me in as their own. I loved them and Judi. I was invited to synagogue with them. They took me every Saturday to shul, and on the High Holidays, I also attended and sat with them. It was something I would have never experienced in my own home, nor did any of my siblings. I heard the Rabbi recite his prayers, and the Cantor's beautiful and rich voice sing his songs, but because it was all in Hebrew, I really didn't understand. Judi would tell me when to stand up when God's name was mentioned and then tell me when to sit back down. That is all I knew. But I went religiously, when I was a kid as all my Jewish friends did. This is why I had a Bas- Mitzvah, because Judi and all my friends who were Jewish were all having one. Kalvin had one, two years before me, too but he was a boy and it was expected. I was surprised when my father agreed to my request, and he enrolled me in Hebrew School, like he did with Kalvin. We went to the Hebrew Institute, in Squirrel Hill. I don't know how they accepted me or my brother, since our mother had never converted to Judaism. It was always my suspician my father paid off the school with some big donation, so they would keep stum, and let us do it. Children are what the mother is, in the Jewish religion. The Catholics believe you are what the Father is. Clearly we were in No Man's Land, according to both. So we kids joked that our Dad must have paid off the Rabbi to turn the other way, when we came along to get Bar and Bas Mitzvahed. The event was a success. My father let me keep my presents, after I stood there in my 1968 styled, flared sleeved, white with lace short dress with the yellow bows on the elbows. I was singing the words of my Hav Torah with the Rabbi, " Baruch ata Adonia", but I really didn't understand what they meant. Judi and her parents came, and so did all my friends from school or the Jewish community center, which is where I met Reva, Rae- Gayle and Robbie, also the non Jewish side of my family and my cousins. It was a real mixture of Jewish and "Goyam". But I did it and to my knowledge, I did it well, the Rabbi told me, "Good,no mistakes!" I had recieved much money, through checks as gifts. When it was over and we were back at home, after the party, I was upstairs in my bedroom, looking at the sealed envelopes, some already open with cards saying, "Congratulations Bas-Mitzvah Girl!", and taking down the names of who gave me what, to send thank you cards. My father came into my bedroom, still in his Armani suit and Italian leather dress shoes. He said to me, "Give me all the money." with his hand out stretched to me. "Why? I am just writing down who gave me what for thank you cards." I said back explaining myself. "Just give it to me!" I didn't understand why he wanted this. "Why do you want it?" I braved it once again, figuring he had to be nice to me, it was my Bas- Mitzvah day. He answered me back in a raised, angry tone of voice, "Your Grandfather needs it, I have to give it to him to get him back home, he hasn't got any money, so just give it to me NOW!" I handed it all, checks and cash, to my father, thousands of dollars, who took it away. My grandfather was my mother's father who lived in Brooklyn, New York. An older Scotsman, nearing 70, with the thickest brogue you ever heard. No one understood him when he spoke but mostly he was also always drunk whenever we saw him, and he never had any money. I felt the tears run down my 13 year old face. I knew I would never see that money again, money for my future. And I never did. I told my mother at the time, but she argued that I had had a party, which was true, and I had received some other presents, which was true, and that was enough. It was patently clear then to me that they had no concern for my future. I knew then that I was truely on my own. Which is why I left home to Los Angeles to be with Glen the very next day I had graduated from Peabody High School at 18 years old. I figured my future was with him, but I was wrong again. These were the things I was telling Dr. Rivers. These thoughts and memories about myself and my family. It wasn't that I didn't want to help my grandfather, or my mother, or my younger brother but why me? My father was wealthy, we all knew that and so did everyone else who knew him or heard of him, so sayeth his friends at the bar also. Trying to be a grown up and come from an "adult state" is good when you are a grown up but can be very damaging when you are a child. Now I was a grown up. So what would happen now? I drove to work once more, only this time, it was the early evening of my "debut" at the upstairs bar at the Encore. It was now the beginning of August. I made sure I was dressed for success. I had opening jitters to say the least, but there was Art, who I hadn't seen now in weeks, waiting for me. He greeted me with a huge smile, "Hello Shawn. How ya doing? You ready for your big debut??" He came close to me, enclosing me with his big presence. "I hope so Art, I have been training like a soldier!" he laughed and corrected me, "No, like a Champ! Now don't be nervous, I will be right here, sitting at the end of this bar, so don't worry! Let's see what you got, Kid!"
I went under the bar,as it was the only access in, by the waitresses' station and started the routine of making the bar ready. The waitresses were beginning to come in, and greeted me with a big smile and hellos, and a few funny ribbings as well. I saw my hands shaking a bit, as I cut the lemons and limes for the fruit tray for the cocktails and Art, who was sitting staring at me from the corner of the bar, asked me for some coffee. Terry poured it, passed it on to me and I walked down to where he was sitting and placed it in front of him with a nervous smile. "You'll be alright, Shawn." He said winking at me. "You look very pretty tonight, too." he added. I blushed. "Thanks, Art." was all I could say, getting my heel caught in the wooded slats again. I knew I shouldn't have worn them but I wanted to look my best. Now I thought that that was silly since no one saw them, however much taller (and hopefully thinner!) I looked. The customers came in, and I started to fill the orders. Art read his paper when he knew I was up and running. The waitresses were all nice to me, and forgiving when I forgot a beer, or didn't mix the drinks as fast as they wanted. Art ruffled his papers and watched me all evening, never leaving his post. I was really surprised. He actually did what he said he would do and I couldn't believe it.
My second evening went well too, until a wine glass slipped out of my wet hands and went right into the ice well, breaking in there. We were busy, too, and I just looked over at Art. He jumped up as quick as lightening and said to me, "It happens, and it happens to the best of them. Just clean it out, I'll get you new ice." I was so disappointed in myself. All production behind the bar had to stop until this was emptied out, cleaned of any broken glass and then refilled. Art helped me and it was done very quickly. I just looked up at him , feeling like I had let him down, as he was standing next to me pouring the big bucket of ice in the well. He winked at me, "Now, don't do it again!" and I laughed.
The third night was like no other, and never will be. I was giving Art his coffee, again as he sat there, as he had done now each night, all evening. He was dressed in a very stylish suit and lovely tie and shirt. I could smell his cologne which was heady and strong, but pleasant, just like him. The evening began with customers coming in, and there they were eating at the tables. There was alot of noise downstairs and you just knew that part of the Encore was filling up. I had on black tailored trousers and a pretty light blue, flowered patterned silk shirt, with the top two buttons undone. Three men in their late 20's came in, drunk. You knew they were drunk as you could hear their rucuss on the stairwell as they came upstairs. I saw Art sit up, alert. They came in staggering and set eyes on me behind the bar. As they came to sit on the barstools in front of me, one spoke, "Hey Baby, you come along with the drinks, too?!" he slurred his words at me, looking at my chest not my face. The other men sniggled. I caught Art's eye glaring at them, ready to pounce but I let him know quickly I was ok with a wink and said, " Now, Gentlemen, settle down, what drinks would you like?" The next one said, "Let me see those tits!" and with that I heard this big BANG as Art jumped up, lept over and knocked down 4 barstools, grabbing the one who said that to me by the back of his shirt with his big boxer hand, yelling at him as he threw him down the stairs! "Don't you EVER speak to her like that again!! Get Out of my Bar!" He took the other two and pushed them down the stairs as well, "GET OUT OF HERE!" I heard him shout as he ran down the stairs after them and threw them all out on the street, screaming "You fucking bastards, who do you think you are, talking to her like that?! NEVER come back here again, YOU HEAR ME?!!"
I stood frozen holding on to the back wood of the bar behind me. Art ran up the stairs and came right to me, leaning over the bar, out of breath saying, "Don't be afraid, Shawn, don't be afraid..." For that split second it was as if all time had stopped. I noticed my hands were actually holding on to the back of the bar, from fear and I released them. I saw Art's face, as if it was the very first time I had ever seen it. I never in my life saw anyone do that, just to defend and protect me. The look on his face, it said it all...."I did this for you, I did this because I care about you, I like you, don't be afraid of me, I like you more than you know..." The restaurant had completely stopped as if stuck in a time warp, and Art looked over at the restaurant and said, "Show's over now, Folks!" straightening his tie, and fixing his hair out of his eyes. The people went back to eating and the waitresses went back to serving. I thawed at that moment as his eyes looked deeply in my face for some sign, some hope that maybe now I would realize just how much he cared for me. I smiled, first to myself, thinking of all the antics he had done along the way; the bringing me up to the Encore from Downtown the day after he met me, the wining and dining me when I arrived, the way he got me to go in his car, saying he was afraid, which I knew wasn't true but thought he wanted to see me safely to my car, the way he stared at me, all along thinking he was just watching over me, how he always introduced me to the best tippers, most famous patrons, and finally, he offered me this bartender's job, where he sat, true to his word, every single night, all evening during my shift, talking to me, laughing with me, helping me....that lightbulb was finally over my head! He likes me! He has been coming on to me all this time and I didn't realize it, oh my God! I walked toward him, with a big warm smile and a new found feeling in my heart. I leaned over the bar which seperated us and I said, whispering to him, "I'm not afraid, Art." He lowered his eyes, and he blushed. I couldn't believe it, he was blushing! He looked up at me and in a voice that no one else could hear but me, he asked, "Would you like to have a private drink with me this evening, after work?" He was asking me out on a date! My mind raced. It dawned on me in that moment that he was married. Oh, no! I had to be sure, so I asked him. "Art, aren't you still married?" He replied with this, "I filed for divorce last April, over a year ago, I am living alone and I haven't been with my wife for over a year. I am getting a divorce now, so will you please do me the honor of having a private drink with me, Shawn?" His eyes were hopeful and I looked at him, standing there, waiting for me to say Yes. "Yes, Art, I will. Where shall we meet then?" I was excited. His face lit up. "Meet me downtown at The Encore after it closes about 2:30am. We'll have it there, ok?" I was a bit surprised and asked, "Why there, why not somewhere else?" and he said to me, "By the time I finish cashing out everything will be closed. Don't worry, I have the keys, so since you'll be done first, can you come down there later on? Then we can talk in private, no one else will be there but me." He was right, everything would be closed except any after hour clubs which I gathered he was not into going to. He wanted us to have our drink alone. "Ok, Art, what should I do, knock on the door when I come there?" I asked him. "Yes, I'll be there to let you in, see you there then." He said with a grin. The rest of the evening Art kept looking at me as he resumed his barstool vigilance, protecting me. I couldn't believe it, I smiled to myself all evening, and him whenever our eyes met. How could I have missed the obvious gestures he was making towards me? I was really looking forward to seeing him later on, just us two, alone.

(Please see the video on the bottom of the page,"Someone To Watch Over Me", it will take you to You Tube to view it, when you click on it because of embedding laws. It is from the 1954 film, "Young At Heart" where Doris Day finally gets that Frank Sinatra is into her in a big way! The look on her face is priceless...mine was exactly the same at this time!)

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen (c) 2010. All events are true but some of the names have been changed to protect people's privacy. All video and film content is copyright to the writers, composers, and performers. No copyright infringement intended.

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