Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Running into Joe

I had just arrived in Albany, New York from the Deep South. With the help of my best friend, Trudy, I found all the things I needed for a good life up North, a drycleaner, a hairdresser, and a cheap manicurist. However, on this day, my baby’s infected ears were redder than my nail polish, and I needed to find a pharmacy. He had been wailing since we left the doctor’s office. The prescription for his eardrops was in hand, but where was I to go?
It was 1988. I grabbed the yellow pages, but they were useless. The print was too small, and I was getting eyestrain trying to decipher it. I threw the book out. I couldn’t dial directory assistance either. My husband had put his foot down on 411. I had called the operator so often that the phone company mailed me a free T-shirt. No one gets freebies from the phone company. I had also received an engraved thank you for being such a wonderful 411 customer. I was thrilled. My husband was not amused. He explained that I could have purchased a lot of T-shirts with the fifty dollars they charged for happy dialing. I was wearing my free fifty-dollar shirt, when I realized that I should call my buddy Trudy for help finding that pharmacy.
I met Trudy at my “welcome to the neighborhood” dinner party, that I threw in honor of myself. My transition north of the Mason Dixon Line had been horrible. No one brought me brownies, deviled eggs, or came over to say, ”howdy.” I decided to welcome myself. My party was a huge success, mostly because of the cocktails. Yankees can drink like fish. When it was all over, I had a new best friend- Trudy.
Trudy was at work. As I waited on the phone for her to answer, I realized that I had made a huge social faux pas. I was makeup-less, and my hair was in a dirty ponytail. I was dressed in sneakers and sweats. What would my mother have thought? In the South, judgment would be passed with a, “poor dear,” but only for non-family members. Like all southern belles, my mother could cuss like a convict. She would have had a hissy fit, if she had seen how I looked that day.
The secretary told me that Trudy was on her way. Trudy was the speechwriter for Senator Joe Bruno. He was an important guy. He was second only in prominence to the governor of New York. He was tall and good-looking, with grey hair and flag pins on his lapels. He looked like a senator. This was all that mattered in politics. Coming from upstate New York, being an Italian Republican didn’t hurt him either.
Trudy looked good beside Senator Bruno. She wore tight suits and high heels. With the exception of her accent, she could have been a southern gal, an executive from Atlanta or Richmond. She knew how to bat her eyelashes. The wind from those lashes could knock a full-grown man down from a hundred paces.
In a breathless whirl, Trudy finally picked up the line.
“ You have got to come down here and meet the Senator.”
Every time I talked with Trudy, she wanted me to meet Senator Bruno. I am a democrat, a donkey, and had moved into a republican town. Trudy was trying to teach me how to embrace my inner elephant.
“I can’t. I got a kid screaming in the background.”
“Joe’s not in today anyway,” she said, and continued with, “…the senator this, and the senator that…” until she finally gave me the directions to the pharmacy at the Mall.
I crammed my son into his green snowsuit, and wrapped a blanket around him. With his sweating red face and his green outfit, he looked like a martini olive strapped into a car seat.
We were finally off to the Mall. I sang in the car to amuse him. I burbled to get him to smile. He retaliated with his bottle; a quick left to my head. Formula spilled down my jacket. I could smell myself, and it wasn’t Eau de Channel. There were only five more miles to the Latham Circle Mall. I tried to think of happy thoughts, of a palm tree and a sandy beach, or wait, perhaps a job in a suit with high heels. I needed to tell Trudy that I could write speeches too.
When I turned into the parking lot, I blasted by the handicapped area, covering an old man with a cane in a spray of snow. That’s when it happened. My car began to skid. It had been years since I had been in an accident. I resorted to a string of expletives. I have always wondered if my language at that particular moment impacted my toddler. I am sure that both of our mouths were rounded into the shape of the word “Sheeit!” which we were screaming simultaneously in southern accents.
My beautiful, unscratched, wood paneled station wagon was fishtailing down the parking lot toward the mall. We could have slid easily through the entrance doors to retrieve the eardrops, drive thru style, if not for the large white Mercedes sedan that stood in our way. “Sheeit!” my baby and I screamed as we careened closer to the fanciest vehicle in the parking lot.
We bounced off the Mercedes like a billiard ball, slamming back into the bumper like a banked shot, and then came to rest around the corner by the curb. I jumped out of my car to survey the damage. The side of the Mercedes was streaked with black gashes and a huge dent. I had really done it now.
I knew how snooty people were about their Mercedes Benzes. You always knew if they owned one. They pontificated about S-Classes or C-Classes, and God help you if they went to Germany to buy the thing. They would never shut up. I had just crunched the magnificent CL-Class Coupe, the biggest Benz of all. My husband would be furious. My insurance would skyrocket. I would be in the papers in the morning as the Mercedes murderer.
Three tall grey haired men, dressed in identical cashmere overcoats, emerged from their battered sedan. I could see that things were getting worse. They looked like attorneys. I had hit a carload of attorneys. I needed to take control. I grabbed my purse and rifled through its contents for paper. There was none to be found. I tore out a deposit slip on which to write. If push came to shove, the men in cashmere could drop some money into my bank account. After this, I would need a bundle of cash to pay for the accident. I scrawled my name and contact information on the back of the slip.
With lightening fast wit, I initiated a preemptive strike. In my sweat pants and formula splattered jacket, and with as much bravado as I could muster beneath my dirty ponytail, I shook hands with the driver and thrust him my note.
In a rapid fire I began, “Hi. It’s all my fault. I’ll pay for everything. Here’s my information. I have to go. My baby’s in the car. Sorry. Bye.” Then, I fled in my sneakers. I don’t remember any of the men saying a word as I ran back to my car, slammed the door, and drove off.
Later that afternoon, when life had returned to normal, the telephone rang.
“Hi. This is Senator Joe Bruno. I am calling to see if you are all right after the accident this afternoon. You left so quickly. I was concerned.“
Senator Bruno! My friend Trudy’s Senator Bruno? I had not only killed a luxury car, but I might as well have hit the governor! I began apologizing profusely.
He also apologized for my ramming into him. Boy was he smooth. He chatted on and on, concerned for my kid, and asking questions about me. As he talked, I felt my eyelashes begin to bat. I was helpless to his powers. In one short conversation, he had turned me into a Republican. Weak kneed and giggling all over myself, I was ready to write a check to the Republican Party.
As soon as I hung up the phone with the Senator, I called Trudy. With great glee, perfect timing, and in my thickest southern accent, I said, “Trudy. I ran into Joe Bruno today.”
“Really? Where?”
It was easy, like shooting an elephant at close range, but I delivered the punch line with style. It was the well-timed closing to the joke of my day.

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