|JUST AS I SAT DOWN TO WRITE THIS the doorbell rang. I
had seen the Post Office truck pull up and the driver, a young woman with
a huge head of curly brown hair, jump out with a fat package, a brick-sized
something packed in a padded envelope. From my perch up here by the window
I could see that the padding had torn open, and was leaking kapok. I was
already on my feet and heading down the first of three flights of stairs
when the bell rang.
The fuzzy, gray kapok clung to my housecoat, leaking like
powdered blood from the open wound in the side of the envelope. I hefted
the package from hand to hand as I walked back upstairs. I knew what it
was as soon as I saw the sticker with my address on it.
Gingerly easing the contents out, powdery kapok spilling
all over the place, I pulled out a shrink-wrapped set of videotapes, the
complete run of episodes for "Jazz", the new Ken Burns documentary series running on PBS next month.
I'm supposed to be writing about the series, after I interview
either Burns or his co-producer, Lynn Novick, sometime in the next two
weeks. To that end, I've already been sent the big-assed, glossy coffee-table
book for the series, and half of the twenty-eight CDs being released by
two different music conglomerates for the show. Not a bad haul for one,
little 1000-word feature.
These are the perks that make up for lousy pay, the carrot
on the stick that keeps writers working to fill the pages of entertainment
sections and glossy magazines. It's been a long time since I've cashed
in on this particular gravy train, but hey -- after years writing about
jazz, I think I deserve this payback.
JUST TWO WEEKS AFTER he was voted back into office, our
tacky little joke of a mayor was hit by a paternity suit filed by a woman
he began an affair with in the late fiftes, and the two adult sons she
claims are his children.
You have to understand that the mayor has always made
a major deal out of his wife, Marilyn, a shopaholic who was busted for
shoplifting a year or two ago, and whose portraits -- as Cleopatra, as
Queen Elizabeth the First, as Madame Pompidou -- hang, rendered in atrocious
oils, all over their monster home in the suburbs. Mel made his money as
a furniture salesman, and his political bones as mayor of North York, a
Toronto suburban municipality. No one has ever accused Mel, or his family,
of having good taste, and now this sordid little scandal has prompted little
more than a wave of eye-rolling and bemused chuckling across the length
of the town.
Frankly, Mel always seemed like the kind of guy who had
little flings on the side while the wife stood by his side -- as long as
the money held out, of course, and it always held out for lucky little
Mel, proof that fortune doesn't always reward the wise. It's the kind of
thing that, obviously, never entered much into the consciousness of the
million or so people who, over the years, could be relied upon to return
Mel to power. The worst part of this whole sad interlude isn't the effect
it'll have on the city -- frankly, Mel has always run his turf largely
by stepping aside and letting developers do their thing, a kind of political
aikido maneuver that works well in Toronto -- but that the city, as a whole,
is suddenly forced to consider the less-than-palatable image of the mayor
It began, apparently, while she -- a married woman --
was working as a secretary at one of his furniture stores. It was 1957,
and you can imagine the camera rolling past the blonde wood bedroom suites
and space-age recliners as the credits roll, when a male voice, in a faintly
suggestive, agitated tone, calls out over the p.a.:
"Mrs. Louie to shipping, please."
The camera passes through the frosted glass walls at the
back of the store and pans through the four or five desks in the secretarial
pool. Knowing glances are passed around as one of the women, a fetching
but not stunning young thing, gets up from her desk, passes her hands down
over her hips to smooth her dress, and checks her stocking seam as she
makes her way past the other desks on her way to the back room. The door
shuts behind her, and a giggle breaks out in the room. One woman, a bit
older than the one who just left, hasn't looked up from her typing the
whole time. The giggling dies down when everyone notices that she's just
sitting there, her fingers resting on the keys of her machine, silently
The camera cuts to the storeroom. The guys in back are
out on deliveries, and the garage doors have been locked. The sounds of
grunting and squealing can be heard as the camera pans past piles of boxes
and drifts of headboards and mattresses. Finally, the camera stops in a
space carved out amongst the boxes, where a bed has been put together on
the warehouse floor, and a bare mattress supports a couple copulating desperately.
His pants are around his ankles, her dress hiked up, one stocking undone
from its garter straps and collapsing in a diaphanous bunch past her knee.
His buttocks, pumping mechanically, are covered in a thin growth of sweat-coiled
hair. A chorus of grunts and squeals, seeming to answer each other in peculiar
kind of dialogue, is suddenly cut short when he barks out a single word.
He knows what he's done as soon as he's done it, and they
stop at once. The camera cuts to a close shot, over his shoulder, as she
looks up at him, her hair a mess, lipstick smeared across her cheek and
down to her jaw, her eyes wide with shock and the first hints of rage.
She scrambles out from underneath him, making small noises -- "Hmm.
Hmm. Unh. Unh. Nuh." -- with her mouth closed.
"Baby, I'm sorry." he says, still lying on the
mattress, holding his torso up with his arms, his pelvis pressed against
the satiny, flowered quilting.
"Oh my God. This is a mistake. I just knew this would
be a mistake, Mel." She's barely opened her mouth to say these words as
she struggles with her stockings, the dress, a search for a shoe.
"Baby, what can I say to make it up to you?" His voice
is desperate. He notices that he's still in flagrante delicto with
a piece of his inventory, and springs up from the bed, grabbing for his
trousers and boxers, pulling them up and frantically tucking in his sport
shirt before realizing that it's the guayabera he'd bought in Florida
the summer before, and meant to be worn over pants. Only this last thought
makes him take his eyes off of her. His anxious gaze is a mix of fear and
need. Already he's running a mental balance sheet that calculates the cost
of a necklace, a month of dinners, a vacation, even, that might buy off
the inevitable, at least for a year or so.
You see what I mean? So sordid. So many cliches.