By Lydia LaFleur, a member of Get Your WordsWorth
What do elderly ladies do on a bright, sunny afternoon in New York City? Why, ladies lunch, of course. And that’s what Sharon, a former library co-worker, and I do on a recent September day. We meet at the French restaurant La Monde on B’way between 112th and 113th Streets. Sharon is always gracious and warm, and being in her company makes me feel good. Over quiche, salad and lots of hot coffee, we talk about family, travel, problems of ageing, and the current state of the library, the changes and cuts in its services, agreeing that we had worked during its Golden Era, noting who has retired and who has deceased. And we talk about Baron whom I have known since he was in eighth grade, and I in my late thirties. He started bringing me his poetry to read when I was working in the Countee Cullen Branch of The New York Public Library as Supervising Young Adult Specialist on the North Manhattan Project in Harlem. Sometimes Baron wrote long epic poems on subjects, so seemingly at odds with his age, experience and background. He has ever since devoted himself to his passion, creating poetry that is moving and perceptive of the human condition. He had one book of poetry published which was up for the National Book Award, but that was some time ago. Now he is self publishing a new book of poetry, and since he will be publicizing it himself, he asks how he can get his book into library collections and for the names of reviewing journals in the library field. Sharon, who retired only four years ago as opposed to my twenty-three years, is a fountain of information, and I will pass it on to Baron. We have such a good time talking that we are there for two hours.
When we emerge from the restaurant the day is so beautiful; the sun is my friend today, and I can finally walk. Gone are the rocks in my legs induced by this summer’s hot and sticky weather, and I’m so high on coffee that I am propelled to go to Lincoln Center on a friend’s recommendation that I see the edifice that has been put up to house the tents for Fashion Week. The tall structure is quite impressive, of material aping the New York State Theater and the Metropolitan Opera House and covering the Damrosch Park area and all the way to 10th Avenue. I learn later that the back part is quite shoddy, but most people only see the facade and the wide entrance which is reached by a ten step staircase. The Plaza is teeming with photographers, reporters and on lookers like me, but, of course, we can only enter by invitation, so we stand gaping and wondering who are the beautiful people entering and leaving, most of them young, probably designers, models and fashion magazine editors. All the women are attractively dressed with no one looking outlandish, but it’s not the clothes I look at, because the fashion statement they make is through the shoes they are wearing. All the extreme styles of this season, most with six inch heels and some also with platform soles, making the steps quite a challenge. A male friend said they look like horses’ hoofs, and I tend to agree but still marvel at the originality. The men are less interesting looking, except for two who wear short pants decorated with tassels hanging from the waist and one man in a short black skirt of some flimsy looking material. I don’t recognize any celebrities, except for an older woman, who may be the designer Betsy Johnson whom I saw on Channel 13 the night before. Blonde hair, heavily made up face with bright pink lipstick and wearing a bright pink dress with matching shoes and boa around her neck. Having a great time being interviewed. Only one young woman is wearing a beige military jacket that is supposed to be one of the trends this season. Standing near the entrance is the tallest woman I have ever seen, made all the taller by at least six inch heels. I remember seeing her weeks before on the Met Museum’s roof garden of bamboo.
It’s fun, but now all that coffee is propelling me to look for a ladies room. The one in Alice Tulley Hall is closed for cleaning, and I don’t want to walk down all those stairs to the one near the Museum Shop, so I’m told to go around to the other side of the building and press C. There I meet a workman who takes me down the elevator to C to be sure I get there. I do, but then what? I’m all alone in a small walled in cement enclosure looking out at nowhere and a small escalator that will lead me to where? Two ladies appear who say they are coming to get their car. They tell me to stay where I am, that they will go down and ask a guard. Then nothing. I am on my way back to the elevator when one of them calls me to come down the escalator but tells me to be careful. I have noticed that strangers are so solicitous of me lately; I do not think of myself as being that old until I see myself through their eyes. Sometimes tentative in my walking and balance and responses, stooped shoulders when I forget to stand up straight which is most of the time and the gray hair. I must look frail to them. The women are waiting down below, and walk me to a gigantic underground parking lot and point across one of the driveways to a booth manned by a young man and woman, saying there’s a bathroom right next to it. They have truly gone out of their way to help me, and I am so grateful. The woman in the booth tells me how to get back to the elevator. I arrive, much to my surprise, in the Metropolitan Opera House gift shop. I’m about to go back and watch the fashion people, but my eye catches sight of the gigantic billboards heralding the Met’s next season. They are doing ’Don Carlo!’ Years fall away, and I am sitting one night in the living room of a flat over a taxi stand in the mill town of Hudson, Massachusetts. My husband Louie is working the night-shift in a mill. Our one year old son Christopher is asleep in his crib. The future looks bleak, and I’m depressed. To divert myself, I turn on the very small screen TV in the living room. They are televising the performance of an opera from the Metropolitan Opera House. I’ve never seen an opera in person or on TV and decide to give it a look. I am soon mesmerized and watch all three hours. The opera is ‘Don Carlo.’ Now here I am sixty years later with the opportunity to actually see it live. Surprisingly there are only two people before me in the ticket line. Knowing I can never afford the orchestra or first ring, but don’t want to sit in the heavens either, I ask for the second ring. The box office clerk says he has one seat in the Grand Tier of the second ring for $170! Unthinkable! The most I’ve ever paid for a theater ticket was $100, and that was for a front row seat in the orchestra for ‘A Long Day’s Journey into Night’ with Vanessa Redgrave. I ask for the third ring. All sold out! There are still seats available in the fifth ring. No way. But I am so exhilarated by the beauty of the day, the congenial lunch with Sharon, the fun of participating in Fashion Week, and the kindness of strangers, and by the coffee, that after only a few seconds’ hesitation, I say, “I’ll take that ticket.” I come out into the fresh air and with it back to reality. I must be mad! What have I done? The ticket is for a matinee in the middle of December, the only month ‘Don Carlo’ is to be performed. It will be cold, maybe freezing. What if it snows and there’s ice on the ground? Well then, I’ll call a car service; surely it’s the only way to go if one will be sitting in the Grand Tier!
Lydia LaFleur worked thirty-two years for The New York Public Library as a librarian specializing in work with teen agers. After retiring in 1987, she has continued to enjoy life as co-founder of The Morningside Players, a community theater in Morningside Gardens where she lives, performing in many roles over the past twenty-eight years, and also as a participant for the last fourteen years in the writing workshop “Writing from Life Experience” led by Susan Willerman. She is the mother of two wonderful children, a son and a daughter, and four grandchildren.