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Dramatis Personae II

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PART II: ANNA

Dramatis Personae II
Rafi sat at the Abington Club bar, with Dimitri standing in front of the fireplace like it was a Hindu god.  The sharp bite of the Torpedo microbrew beer shot Rafi’s imagination like an arrow back to another moment of trouble between Anna and Dimitri. The sun circled over her shoulder that cloudless day in August. Anna looked like a cigarette sweated through, formless and wilted. “Shit!” she screamed, realizing that she would not get to the early childhood Spanish class she would be fired from. “Shit! Mierda!” she cried more softly, wondering what to do and cursing the tar that had left her lungs unable to handle the hilly five-mile bike ride to Chestnut Hill. She flagged a cab, but left the cab in tears when the meter exceeded her last penny.  This was a time of tzuris, trouble, between Anna and Dimitri; Rafi heard it all. She would say, “Intellectually, Dimitri is as wide as a football field and, emotionally, as shallow as the Astroturf.” “Agreed, but he’s got a good heart, and he’s pulled my stones out of the fire more than once. Beside, if you want to be understood, that’s my role in the relationship.” Or he would gasp, “She’s way over our head, she needs help.”  “Yeah, I’m helping her get a shrink without being admitted and fucking deported.” So it was little surprise on that day, stranded in Mt. Airy, all the pain came out trimmed in passion.
Running his rescue errand, Rafi saw her crumpled up under the schist walls at the Lutheran Seminary across the street from Wawa convenience store. She didn’t know that if she had gotten there just a little earlier, she could have ridden the #23 up to O’Doodles, the boutique toy store, to teach her class. But she could barely raise her head, and there were no tears to cry.
Without speaking, Rafi cradled Anna’s left arm under her shoulder and helped her to her feet. Despite the puddle dripping off her school T-shirt, Anna collapsed on Rafi’s chest. This hug of gratitude rippled into an embrace of passion when the cocktail of pheromones and sweat hit Rafi’s nose. Fast did their lips meet, and faster their arms encircled the other, fingers in search of aching skin. Rafi hadn’t even taken his sandals out of the car. For her part, Anna had flip-flops. She preferred to teach the class barefoot, like the children in her classes. So as ankle met ankle, toe met toe, and instep met calf, there flowered the fragrance of what could have been, what Rafi dreamed about, what Anna had even called Rafi a “Puta Madre!” for not pursuing after he lost his job with the Philadelphia School District.
Dimitri did not know any of these things. While Rafi relived all the times they would have become lovers in a sane world, Dimitri rediscovered the meditative nature of the fireplace. “No quiero me hacer un paracaidista,” “I don’t want to become a parachutist.” Rafi finished his beer, wishing that she had been alone when he had first met her, and that the afternoon saw them become two naked wood sprites, climbing trees and making love, but Anna’s son Gabriel was visiting. Now, there could be three outcomes. First, she would remain in Texas. Rafi would begin with e-mails, move on to calls, use everything in David DeAngelo’s and Vin DeCarlo’s programs to keep her attracted and off-balance (because, after all, she chose Dimitri because of just why she was now through with him. Wide as a football field, deep as Astroturf). I’d get her to pay for her own ticket back here, but then I’d propose at the station. My right brain to God’s ears.
Second, she could fly back up here, and be so pissed off from the drama that they fight and break up. She sleeps in my extra bedroom, until… Third, they forget the ill feelings, keep on hitting the therapy, and muddle through somehow. With my luck, though Rafi, it’s gonna be #3. Where’s the bettor’s windows?
His cell phone battery was dead. Rafi had been fired from a job earlier in the Great Recession, and he had started his work day with no computer and a phone that didn’t remember where its charger was. When he started that day, he suffered the same frustration he had when trying to get his child support obligation reduced when he lost his job. By the time the hearing happened, his unemployment started, so he was making enough money that if he paid no utilities, he could be that revenue stream for the Rhinoceros. Segal and he were so much in love once, but then he lost his music career, and she lost her soul. The two events were separated by a time lapse of two years, but the Rhino even admitted to the causality. Both prisoners of that ill-fated bond knew the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. People with brains and souls morphing into monomaniacal half-ton beasts in front of a barely comprehending audience. She admitted to his characterization, but blamed him for beating her soul out of her. Facts, like he never touched her in anger, she threw objects in fury at him, and that their children revered him, were as disposable as truth in politics.
Rafi parked his car in front of his garden. Every plant there served a function to make a little postage stamp environment with three seasons of interest. Tonight, the gardener ignored the garden. A quick kiss to Whisper, who had climbed up to meow out from between the indigo-pink blooms on the hydrangea and the yellow leaves on Rose of Sharon. Unlocking the door and leaning into the pressure of Serena, rubbing against his leg. Dashing into give the cats milk, to drop a pinch of Brightflash’s food into the little Betta tank. Ripping the electronics out of the canvas bag with its broken clasp. Hunting for plugs. The charger – oops. stepping on that. The modem. Check. The computer charger. Latex – that’s how he’d been saying “later” for twenty years – to the computer charger; it was pretty much charged from work. Charger to cell phone, modem to computer, modem booting. Cell phone charging.
Rafi’s messages all pointed to the same thing. Anna’s family had forgotten to set the alarm clock, Anna had, in a moment of self-sabotage echoed from her time drinking, had not attended to this at all. Anna saw that she wouldn’t get a connecting flight to Philadelphia until very late. She might have to sleep in Atlanta. Anna changes her reservation.
Dimitri cuts off Anna’s phone. The whole Garcia clan starts texting, e-mailing, and sending magic owls out for help. Rafi’s unsuspecting e-mail full of wishes for happiness whispers into this maelstrom to which it is irrelevant.
Rafi picks up his phone and calls. Anna’s phone’s back on. “Anna, I hear there’s some mierda pesada going down. How can I help?”
This was going to be another day in which nothing counts – until everything does. Raf knew he had been on the exercise bike only by the fact that his butt hurt and since the hot water wasn’t on yet, he could smell his man-sweat. Not that this will happen, but I wonder what Anna’s reaction would be if she made me like this. Rafi made a desultory gesture, a wave really, at the housework that needed done, and locked into his data. Cell phone on. Computer, check. NPR, must have. Rosetta Stone Russian discs? Loaded.
Rafi was well aware that the possibility of reading texts, checking e-mails, fielding voice-mails, listening to Marti Moss-Coane, and learning Russian at the same time was nil. The research says we don’t really multitask, anyway. It’s more like sequential minitasking (You heard it here first, thought Rafi. But if I’m doing stuff, I might be able to stop worrying about other stuff.At one of Anna’s meetings, someone said that “planning” was different than “projecting.” Rafi’s crystal ball was looking pretty opaque right now.
OK. First, an e-mail. “Dearest Annochka,” he typed, using a Russian diminutive for Anna’s Mexican name, “I spoke at length with Dimitri last night. He feels betrayed on two or three levels. If you are coming back, and not staying in Texas, you need to read this e-mail carefully. If you are leaving Dimitri, then remember that I have pledged to you my love and I will bring you back to me.
“Dimitri is a teacher, just like me. He doesn’t understand when you do things that wind up costing money. Of course, the car, but I convinced him to segregate drunk Anna from sober Anna. So now, he’s focused on the $200 for the flight, and he’s in his head over the $200 – it’s, how do they say, emblematic. He also is afraid you are getting drunk again. He doesn’t believe your aunt. He also thinks that the only thing he can trust you for is to make drama and upset. So you have to regain his trust by spending a lot of time doing normal things and producing predictable results.” Rafi wanted to finish with, “If you think you can’t handle it, stay there a month, leave him, and marry me. If we’re so chingado that we wind up on the street, at least we’ll have each other.” How he longed to add that.
He grabbed his Kyocera Melo and shot a quick text. “Check your e-mail. I love you.” Rafi always spelled out “you,” even when texting. “It shows respect,” he would say.
Then he e-mailed Dimitri. “She’ll be there when you are. Let me know if I can help.” Dimitri texted back. “Rafi, I have to handle this on my own. WCB after schl.”
The day became a blur from then until a moment that froze like scrawled text on an oil painting.  Rafi texted them both, “I am here if you need me.” Within minutes, Dimitri called back
“Everything’s OK. In fact, Anna and I are closer than ever. Thank you for all your help.”
WTF? Thank you for all your help? If that fucker only knew…
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Lounge Lobster

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“Hey Sam, did you know there’s a really nice upright piano locked up behind the spare wash basins?”

Samantha Frankel placed the opal-polished index finger of her right hand on the next evening’s reservation book, checked that her new Macintosh reservation system and the hostess’s notes agreed, and then raised a laconic eye to Dimitri. “So?”
“Why in hell is it here if nobody plays it?”
“Don’t ask me; I just work here.”
“But you’re boss. You know everything, don’t you?”
“Don’t you forget it. I can set up a party for New Year’s 2012, but I don’t know about pianos.”
Dimitri froze. The world’s ending in 2012, don’t’cha know? Just ask the Mayans.
“Don’t you have tables active, Dim?”
“Yeah, I wonder if they’d like to hear Chopin or show tunes.”
This time, Sam froze. Something had always added up wrong about this guy. Twenty-three, vaguish accent, claimed a degree from Western Galilee College in Israel. She knew she should have taken Hebrew seriously at Temple Beth Sholom. How the hell did she know that she’d never leave South Jersey, and still have to verify a diploma from some place that could be hit by a Katyusha rocket?
“Go ask ‘em.”
Dimitri disappeared. Samantha punched a few keys on her Mac, set the beach ball screensaver rolling, patted the hostess on the butt in a way that would have drawn a scowl or a come-on from a man, and headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Dimitri had two tables still eating dinner at 9:40. Dimitri’s section reflected his seniority; he had the tables nearest the windows on the side parking lot.  For the waitresses, the section nearer to the bar was a better bet; proximity breeds orders, and orders breed tips. The side road, Buttonwood Street, looked out on a new theme restaurant and bar that seemed destined to run the Red Lobster out of Maple Shade. Bartenders wore football referee’s uniforms complete with whistles. The draw was the wait staff. All female. All young. All in orange go-go pants. Most with bare midriffs. All paid to smile nonstop and to put some extra bounce in more than their steps. More than a few evenings when the weather was warm, the server in that section would “work” through a break.
This evening, Dimitri had other thoughts in mind, especially since with snow on the ground, even the most exhibitionist Hooters waitress arrived in sweat pants and an overcoat.
“OK, folks, our manager Samantha wants to know, would you rather hear Chopin or show tunes?”
It took most of the diners at the two adjoining tables several seconds to hear “Chopin” instead of “show-pan.”
“No, for real. We have a shiny black upright in the back. What would you rather hear, Chopin or show-tunes?”
“Right now?” One patron spoke up after the general twittering subsided.
“No, I have to tune the piano, but you come back on the same night, at the same time, and I’ll buy the pitchers.” Did Dimitri really say this? He began calculating, “twelve people, half a pitcher each, a few glasses left over, say, nine pitchers. I can get Sheila to give me half-off, that’s $4.50 a pitcher…”
Five votes for Chopin, three for show tunes. One person came up with a suggestion of a nocturne or intermezzo, and then two suggestions from the house.
“OK, this time next month good for you guys?”
Dimitri ignored the inconvenient fact that the two groups of diners never saw each other before in their lives.
“Done.”
And so “Second Tuesday By Request” was born. And now, Dimitri had a piano to practice on that didn’t require a bus ride to the JCC, or to the synagogue he’d never set foot in.
___
Setting up “Second Tuesday” was no problem. Samantha saw a wasted evening converted to a profit maker. She even let people enter their mailing addresses into her Mac Office mailing list if they wanted a reminder postcard. Response had been surprisingly strong. Samantha took stock near closing time on Saturday night, just over two weeks to go before Showtime in Maple Shade.
Database of 60. Ten tables already booked. That could be half the dinner crowd for a Tuesday in February. Now we’ve got an event. I’m SO toast if the kid can’t play.
“Dim,” Samantha tossed her golden curls with just a touch of flirtation. Up and over her right shoulder crept a designer lock. She flicked it away without setting down the pen she held in her right hand.
“Yes, Sam.” Throwing his left hip forward, and placing his hands on his hips, the would-be lounge lizard upped the ante.
“When do I get my private concert, huh?”
 Dimitri knew what was up, but his thoughts flashed back to a girl he’d accompanied four years ago, on the Kibbutz. Same height, same hair past the shoulders. Smoker. He couldn’t tell exactly with clothes on, but same slim waistline. Yasmeena. OK, I can do this. Just pretend, but keep in check. You don’t make garab where you eat.
“I’m coming in to tune the piano on Monday morning. You’re here to open, yes?”
“I get here at 10.”
“Well, because you gave me the key, and trusted me not to take all the seafood, I come at 8.” But only because those lazy bums who clean up won’t let me get to the piano until 2:30.
“See you Monday.”
“Formal wear. Backless.”
“In your dreams.” Samantha flipped the curls, tilted her head, and swished over to the bar.
 Samantha had more than a little trouble getting to sleep that Saturday night WMMR. Nope, Aerosmith at 3am?! WLIT. ABBA? Gag me with a spoon. OK, WRTI. Jazz all night. At least…Ornette Coleman. Shit. Who goes to sleep with Ornette Coleman on? Samantha had a screaming flash. It’s Sunday in Israel. They don’t have to go to church in Israel. Now did he say Western Jezreel University? No, it’s not a university, it’s a college. Shit. All I know is the Technion. Oh, yeah, and Bir-Zeit, but isn’t that Palestinian? No, Galilee. That’s it, Western Galilee College. If he’s lying, it might as well be Western Gethsemane College, and his name is Judas. OK. How do you say, “What’s the number?” in Hebrew? I can’t even remember how to say, “Bat Mitzvah.”
Samantha got the international exchange code. She called the operator for the number.
“KJFGHJGHFF azor l’cha” Samantha could barely think, let alone remember a phrase she probably hadn’t learned in Hebrew school.
“Eastern…Galilee College…”
“Tov, tov, connect you now.” The operator bypassed procedures and connected the call. So do they charge me for an international collect call, operator assist?
“Oniversitat Galil Mizrachi, OUYFYUYUF azor l’cha?” crackled the voice across the Atlantic.
“Diber Anglit?” Samantha asked hopefully. She didn’t know that she had just said, “He spoke English.”
“Yes, sure.” The receptionist lost her Hebrew accent. “I was born in Columbus. How can I help you?”
Several points fell off Samantha’s systolic blood pressure, and the rushing of blood in her ear stopped competing with the receptionist’s voice.
“Shalom, thanks, I’m from Cherry Hill. Can you verify a student’s enrollment? I’m a hiring manager.”
“Does the student go to school here now?”
“No, he says he was there from 1985-1987. He lived on Kibbutz Halivat… Halivat…”
“Hadarat Haderech. Most of their olim go here. But I don’t have the records for former students.”
“Oh, shit – sorry, I didn’t mean that. Just transfer me to someone who speaks English?”
“I’ll get Shachar Dvoretzky in Student Records. She’s from New York.” Please, please don’t be a Giants fan.
Samantha was relieved to hear that there was music on the line while she held on. At least the connection was still live. For what I’m paying, this better be the best music in the Middle East. It was Gevatron, the most famous Israeli live music group. R’kudei am, Israeli dance music. Barefoot in the fields. “Hava netzei b’machol…” Sam was, despite her insomnia and anxiety, tapping her toes against her nightstand. When Sam was in Hebrew school, people knew Israel for the dances. And Jaffa oranges. And June 5, 1967, her birthday. No, not Israel, Samantha. The Six-Day War started on Samantha’s birthday. Had she been a boy, it would have been over before her circumcision. The music switched to a driving hora. Up went Samantha, wide awake, pretending she was at the dance hall at Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech. The full-length mirror on her closet danced in time, glancing back at the dancer in a T-shirt and all legs. I’d’a killed ‘em.
Shachar Dvoretsky, whose first name means “dawn,” answered in a voice that sounded like it was born on a mucosal, gravelly February morning. The receptionist from Columbus introduced the manager from Maple Shade to the registrar from Queens, and they tracked down the records of the renegade from Rhawnhurst there in the Jezreel Valley. Sure enough, Dimitri Katz had earned an associate’s degree with a performance diploma in piano.
“Todah rabbah.” Samantha thanked the women, who answered, “B’vakashah” two octaves apart. Within five minutes, still before the dawn in Maple Shade, the dancer fell asleep.
Less than thirty hours earlier, Samantha couldn’t sleep worrying if her multinational waiter was a fraud; now she had arrived at work more than two hours early on a Monday morning to listen to Dimitri play a few numbers. She pulled her shiny black 1988  BMW 325i into the handicapped spot nearest the door. She wrinkled her upper lip at the 1978 Datsun 280ZX with the low-hanging muffler sitting in the other handicapped spot.
At least he has some conscience. She experienced no cognitive dissonance with this thought.
She unsnapped her Lobster key ring from inside her fake Fendi bag, inserted it into the lock on the glass doors of the restaurant, and almost tripped on the doorjamb when the door opened itself.
“Dimitri, if you don’t want to serve breakfast, you’d better lock the door, yo!”
Duingduingduingduing. The response was that of a piano string being lowered, and then raised in pitch until the Russian-Northeast Philly-Israeli-Jerseyite was satisfied with its temperament.
“Samantha, since when does anyone eat seafood for breakfast, yo?” Two can play that game.
“Since when they invented shrimp cocktail, yo!”
Check and mate.
“So do I get my concert now?”
“I still have some work to do on the piano.”
“How much work?”
“I think a half an hour, no more.”
 Samantha was none too interested in hearing the squawks and peeps of a half-hour piano tuning session, and Cherry Hill Mall was right down the road.
“Dim, I’ll be back. Want anything?”
“Yes. Lox and a bagel from Bain’s. Lobster pays.”
“You’re pushin’ it, Dimbo.”
“Yep, I love you too.”