My friends Roger and Fred escaped the Holocaust, but barely. Peggy and friend Earl had Dickensian early years. I was deprived of a deprived childhood which forces me to fabricate my beginnings without the sterner stuff to work with. Myth-making is a privilege granted every octogenarian. Here’s my story and it’s all true with a few embellishments……….
In June of 1932 my mother and father are seen in the photo album frolicking on a hill in Hunter New York. They never went on vacation but that year they did to escape the heat and hard times. There was a twinkle in my father’s eyes and a coquettish turn of my mother’s head. It was the morning after. What a concept! His sperm had reached her egg and the following exchange took place:
Sperm: What’s a classy dame like you doing in dump like this? No, strike that. Nice place you’ve got here.
Egg: Do you come here often?
Sperm: No I don’t get out much.
Egg: Enough of this small talk. Let’s make music together.
I was that music splashing in an embryonic sea through a sweltering summer and blustery winter, through FDR’s alphabet of agencies and Hitler’s rise to power. I could faintly hear Roosevelt’s fireside chats and even slurped a drop or two when he ended Prohibition.
Meanwhile, a few miles away across the East River, in June of '32, Peggy got into a car with Aunt Tillie and Cousin Jeff, starting a cross-country drive to spend one year in California. When she got car-sick in Kansas it coincided with my mother’s morning nausea.
It was nine months after that Hunter weekend in the Catskills and Peggy’s car trip to L.A., on a sunny afternoon in March, 1933 when lamps shook and books fell. The Long Beach earthquake, 6.5, was my auspicious entry into the world, 3,000 miles away. I don’t remember ever thanking my mother for putting up with my seismic backstroke down the birth canal. Born March 21, 1933, two days after Phillip Roth and nine days after Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
This was the beginning of Peggy’s and my French movie in which we didn’t quite meet for another 24 years. Though we may well have been in the same subway car in Manhattan or brushed up against each other in a crosstown bus.
When Zeus or Yahweh or some other great puppeteer put us together in 1957 with a UCLA extension series for six weeks of Tuesdays at her house, it was a non-event. An imperfect first marriage and three perfect daughters later, fate gave us another chance.
She had no memory of me but I remembered her 23 years later when we connected after a Robert Bly poetry reading. Aphrodite had her way with us. The earth still shakes. Why just last night ....