Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Air Conditioning

After 5 years of living together Freddy and Clara decided it was time to get hitched. They had met in high school and dated for a while, but after graduation they lost touch with each other. Clara became a social worker and Freddy became a teacher in the New York City Public school system. They met again because Clara was doing part time counseling for troubled students in Freddy’s school and they literally bumped into each other one day during a class change. Clara was a nice person, a bit on the plump side, but Freddy was into pump or even heavy women. He had just gone through a rather messy divorce and had custody of his 8-year-old son Noah. Clara was also married once, and was also divorced. Her ex-husband had left her for a man and Clara was so distraught over this that she had to go into therapy. They started dating. Clara lived in Queens in a small non-descript house, the kind that you never notice when driving by in a car. She had ordinary taste, knew nothing about art, movies or literature and was the kind of person who knew what she liked, and in her case it was bad landscape paintings that she would buy at those tacky art fairs that would be held around the tri-state area in malls and motels. Her house was full of them. She also adored the Greenwich Village outdoor art show and would make a point of going to them every year. Once she asked Freddy to go along with her, and he shrugged his shoulders and went. Her taste in reading material ran to self-help books like those awful chicken soup books that she would sometimes pass on to me. I promptly filed them in my garbage can and books by those best selling women romance novelists. Ugh. Freddy knew about art because of his friendship with me. Occasionally we would go to museums, especially the Met and the Museum of Modern Art, and he would absorb the beautiful paintings like a vacuum cleaner loads up on the dust from rugs. We had been doing the museum thing for years, and Freddy had developed quite a grasp of modern art, and would be able to talk about what he liked and why with tender intelligence. Clara on the other hand could not understand modern anything and the few times she had come with us to the museums had been a disaster. As we ran from gallery to gallery Clara would need to rest and would plop down on the nearest bench, “Pick me up on your way back” she would say, as she lowered her rather large behind onto the cushy couch or bench that stood lonely in the vast galleries of the Met or the MOMA. Afterwards over dinner Freddy and me would talk animatedly about what we saw and liked and disliked while Clara sat quietly and looked on with a sad almost imbecilic look on her chubby face. She was of course not stupid, she just lacked curiosity. Sad. I kind of liked her though, as she could sometimes be generous (she did buy one of my sculptures) and helpful with day to day problems that we all come up against. She had a grown son from her first marriage, a rich brother who was in real estate and an elderly mother who lived in Brooklyn in the house where Clara grew up. Sometimes Me Freddy and Clara would go to the theatre, but more times than not Clara would cancel out at the last minute usually because she was not feeling well and Freddy would stand outside the theatre and try to sell the extra ticket. I really didn’t see what Freddy saw in her, but it was not my place to say anything. I saw Freddy quite a bit, and his relationship with Clara did not interfere with our friendship. Clara understood this, and one time she even said “That she would never come between my friendship with Freddy.” I said that “Nothing could ever come between our friendship” which I think took her aback, as I think she thought I would thank her or something for allowing our friendship to continue especially since Freddy was now living with her in her house in Queens. Freddy was a pretty passive sort of guy, he took after his father Henry in this way, and when I would get exasperated or annoyed with him over his passivity I would tell him “Don’t be a Henry.” He would giggle but Clara would get annoyed with me, and once even asked Freddy “Doesn’t it bother you when Ira Joel calls you Henry?” “No Freddy said”. You see Clara didn’t understand our secret language, which went back to our childhood, and my use of “Henry” was part of that secret language. It just went right over her head. Clara and me started to have issue problems, and I would see her less and less. My regard for her really took a nosedive when a terrible girl in one of his classes accused Freddy of “touching her breast”. Now I knew that this charge was ludicrous, and Freddy would never do such a crass and illegal thing, but the story took hold and was believed by the higher ups in his high school. Happily the girl could not prove this lie was true and nothing came of the charge, but Freddy decided to take an early retirement and get out of the dreadful situation. Clara was freaked out and worried that her private clients would get wind of it and not use her anymore. “What if it gets in the papers?” “I could lose my practice, my friends.” She suggested that he might have to move out. When Freddy told me this I was appalled by her lack of moral courage and forthrightness and my opinion of her hit a low. For better or worse Freddy stayed on in that dismal little house in Queens, and then shortly after that incident they decided to get married. I bought a new suit and went to the wedding even though I thought that their getting married was a bad idea. I hoped for the best and wished them lots of luck at the nice reception that was held in a restaurant that was situated in a park in Queens. I assumed that their marriage was ok, but trouble was brewing big time. One of the big problems between them was Clara’s use of the air conditioner. From early April till Late September the machine was turned on full blast and on high cold. This was very uncomfortable for Freddy who didn’t like air conditioning at all, but he was helpless to do anything because Clara would not budge on the subject. She was always hot, maybe it was because of her being overweight or maybe it was menopause setting in. In any case nightly arguments would ensue, with Freddy usually sleeping in the guestroom with the ac turned off and just a small fan blowing in the summer heat. When he told me about this I suggested he put on a sweatshirt or warmer pajamas, but Freddy would not budge so their relationship got worse and worse. One night after we had been to a movie and was having dinner he told me that Clara had left him a two page letter complaining about some of the things that he did that bothered her. Among them was his sloppiness, which I had to agree with as Freddy was a total slob, and his inability to make cole slaw the way Clara thought it should be done. Now this I thought was nuts and told him so. “And you know what else she did?” “I rented Fanny and Alexander the other night and in the middle of it, she got up said it was boring and left the room.” “That is definitely grounds for divorce,” I jokingly said. “Yes it is Freddy said.” And he was serious about it. The thing that Clara did not understand about Freddy was that he loved to do things. He used Manhattan like his private playground, he would always be on the go from museums to puppet shows, it didn’t matter, Freddy had a great interest and curiosity about anything and everything He would go to off-Broadway musicals about Ezra Pound, the Joffrey, opera, Paul Taylor, exhibitions at all the museums, bookstores, the botanical gardens, movies. You name it and he would want to go. But Clara could not care less about all the great cultural offerings New York had for us in the palm of her lovely hand. Freddy would say “But I want to share these things with my wife.” I would agree with him, but when on Saturdays or Sundays when Freddy would say to Clara, “let’s get tickets for Martha Graham” Clara would respond with “But why would I want to do that.” And that was her stock answer. Why would I want to do that or go there or see that. She would much rather stay at home all day with the three televisions going all at once and knit or cook or eat. This was finally getting to Freddy who would moan and groan to me every time I saw him. “You’ll put up with this until your unhappiness is so great that you just can’t take any more” I told him. “Yes you’re right.” And then finally after 2 years of an unhappy marriage Freddy and Clara agreed to get divorced. I don’t know if Clara is happier, but I do know that Freddy is.


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