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Robert A. Mills

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Blogs by Robert A. Mills

NEW YORK, NEW YORK PT. II (continued)
10/30/2009 12:32:03 PM

My knees buckled when the elevator suddenly stopped, but I retained my balance. The petrified black lady, her eyes gleaming saucers and her mouth a perfect red tennis ball, fell against me and I embraced her; the older fellow in coveralls grabbed the polished brass security railings, muttering “What the hell . . . ?” I conjured up a headline for Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle: LOCAL TV STAR KILLED IN NYC HOTEL ELEVATOR PLUNGE, and my first thought was I’d never see my two kids again, toddlers then of three and one.

The elevator car, slightly off kilter, did not move. The man in coveralls—he turned out to be a maintenance man—scampered up on the railings and pushed open an overhead trap door, revealing the dark apparatus of steel cables and circular hoists; one cable was frayed and dangling loose beside the others. “Sonofabitch,” he hissed, “cable’s snapped!”

Pulling himself up through the square opening like an Olympian mounting a pommel horse, the maintenance man disappeared atop the car. It seemed an interminable time before he leaned down again and extended his hand. “I got the doors pried open! Gimme your hand, lady, lemme pull you up. Be careful! The car’s wedged in the shaft! Don’t jiggle around!”

As though she weighed less than a wet towel, the maintenance man lifted the trembling woman up through the opening—and I never saw her again. He apparently pushed her to safety between the pried doors, and by the time he had similarly hoisted me atop the car and squeezed me, on my hands and knees, through the maze of greasy cables and out the doors, onto the hallway carpet, she had disappeared, never to be seen again. To this day, I do not know the name of the lady who had nearly died in my arms.

On my hands and knees, my face and hair streaked with grime, my tie askew and my pale linen jacket blotched with chunks of grease, I looked up at the muumuu clad woman, all 310 pounds of her, hands on her hips and staring down at me, laughing like a manikin into front of a Fun House, “Bobby Mills, I presume, Lizzy’s grandson! Welcome to New York!”

Aunt Dora, her white, luculent hair neatly coiffed and her makeup a shade less than gaudy, wore sandals barely visible beneath the hem of her muumuu; her toenails, painted bright red, stared back at me in my position of submission. “Hi,” I said, lamely.

The maintenance man came up from behind and helped me to my feet. “This here your nephew, Miz Maugham? He saved that black lady’s life.”

“I did?”

“Well, you hadn’t boosted her up I coulda never lifted her.”

“I did?”

Aunt Dora thanked Carl Erasmus (I thus learned the name of the maintenance man) and told him the fire department had been called and was on its way. Mr. Erasmus, bravely ringing for the other elevator, said he would go down and meet them; Aunt Dora thanked him “for delivering Bobby here in one piece.”

“All in a day’s work,” he stoically philosophized, as Dora led me into her apartment.

The first thing I noticed about the apartment was the piano dead center in the living room. It was a studio spinet and attached to the back was a huge mirror; this obviously was where Dora held her voice, dance and singing classes. “Go in the bathroom and clean yourself up,” she commanded. “We can visit for about an hour, then Gogi Grant is coming over for a lesson. Eydie Gormé is coming in at five—Peggy should be home by then, you and she can watch TV or something. Tell me all about Lizzy and the rest of the brood. By the way, do you know Eydie?—maybe I can fix you up. She’s single, looking for—someone. Do you know Ken Greenglass?—he’s her agent. She’s been seeing a lot of Steve Lawrence, from the Tonight Show, but it’ll never amount to anything—he’s Orthodox and she’s Reform, you know how that is. We were going to take you to see the Jackie Gleason Show, but they’re dark this week—he’s in Hollywood making some movie with some new kid. . . . Oh, I know! We can go see the Perry Como rehearsal. Peggy’s doing a costume fitting for their dancers. Do you know Perry?”

I met Gogi Grant, said hello to Eydie Gormé who came in at the same time Aunt Peggy got home, and Dora flushed us both into the “bonus room” to watch the news on TV while she and Miss Gormé practiced arpeggios and scales in the living room.

The TV set was the biggest I had ever seen: a black and white Philco, 25-incher. Bigger than the monitor in WVET-TV’s lobby. Bigger than my own set, which maxed out at 19”.

I liked Peggy immediately. She may have been a year or two younger than Aunt Dora, but there was no similarity. Dora, immense and robust like my grandmother, was loud and dramatic, whereas Peggy, spaghetti thin as Dora was barrage balloon massive, was soft spoken and demure. Why she never married was a mystery I wasn’t mature enough to solve (I did not know then that the love of her life had been killed during World War One, and she chose devoting care to Dora over remorse in a convent—of course, anyway, she was Episcopalian.)

Aunt Dora, a ship in full sail, swept into the bonus room after Eydie Gormé was gone. “We’re not going out to eat after all,” she announced. “Peggy can whip up some pork chops under tomatoes and peas. There’re rolls from North Bakery in the Fridge. Besides, your jacket is a mess from the damn elevator. We can dine right here on TV trays and watch What’s My Line?” Noticing my inadvertent frown, she added, “It’s a game show. Then we’ll go see the Como rehearsal. You’ll love Perry!”

TO BE CONTINUED TUESDAY

Copyright©2009 by Robert A. Mills


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