Friday, November 02, 2007

Finding Brenda Sue

It happened, more or less, like this: I left California and moved to New York, for the second time. I had lived on lst and 53rd in 1968-70, but neither that move nor the husband who came with it worked out so good. But I loved New York, and I was young enough and nuts enough to feel that I wasn't quite done doing the City thing. So I talked the owners of the public relations company I worked for into opening a New York office to serve a couple clients I had acquired for them, and, oh by the way, I'll run that office for you!

It's important to know that I had no friends in New York. I knew a few people---is two a few?---who I'd met at trade conventions (in Chicago) when they were working for trade papers and I was trying to get them to cover my various clients' products. I was a pretty good match for the reporters because I, too, had been a reporter and editor for a few trade papers, mostly covering the consumer electronics industry. I can't remember how it all happened, but one of the two people with whom I had a passing acquaintance knew somebody who knew somebody who had a friend who was looking for a roommate. It sounded less than ideal for someone who hadn't seriously called anyone I lived with a "roommate" for nearly 15 years. But this was to be a real roommate. I vaguely remember procrastinating about calling her, and as the time for my departure neared, I was more concerned with how to get my brand new white Corvette to Manhattan since I was flying. I got that sorted out with a friend in California who needed a free ride to New York and a Corvette sounded more than OK. I did worry about what condition the car would arrive in, but as time would prove, I should have had my head examined for bringing such a vehicle into that city.

And then my phone rang. She spoke with a drawl, but it wasn't quite Southern. It was that familiar twang/drawl that my relatives on my father's side talked with. My mother usually called them "them." Actually, the whole scenario would go like this: "He" (my father) came from "them" and "you" (me) came from "him," and "...quite frankly, you're all alike." I could never be certain, but I'd be hesitant to call it a compliment.

Anyway, I loved that drawl, and it belonged to someone who introduced herself by two names. Two first names. Just like all my cousins...the ones from "them."

"Hi there, it's Brenda Sue, how the hell you doing? I've heard all about you, and it's all good!"

Clearly, she had not heard all about me or she wouldn't sound so cheery. But I liked her enthusiasm.

A week later, I took the cab into the City from JFK airport and felt the growing excitement as we neared Brenda Sue's brownstone. Well, it wasn't hers, but she had two floors of it, and it was in a "good" neighborhood on 76th Street near Riverside Drive. The first thing I noticed was that all the cars were double parked, and it didn't look like "for just a minute" while the driver ran into one of the buildings to pick something up. These cars were lights-out-doors-locked-honk-if- you-need-to-get-out parked. The front of the brownstone, which was actually a red stone brick I think, was gorgeous. The owners, a young upwardly mobile couple who lived on the first floor, had renovated the building beautifully. On the outside. I got out of the cab, looked up the stoop at the handsome front door, and was still staring at the door when I realized the cabbie had driven away. That's when I realized the First Law of New York: Do not tip until your bags are inside the door.

I rang the bell and Brenda Sue answered back through the intercom. "I'll be right down!" she drawled. About 10 minutes later, she threw open the front door, gave me a big hug and said "Welcome, home!"

Somewhere on the landing of the third floor, after I had said, "How many more flights?" about three times, she smiled and said, "We have the whole fourth and fifth floor!" I'm sure my gratitude was more muted than I intended as I lugged two huge suitcases up the stairs. Brenda Sue was a half flight ahead of me with two more.

It was a great apartment, and I have many, many happy memories from that period in my life. Brenda was a great roommate, a wonderful person and just the best person to know in New York. She was a tall, willowy blonde with a perpetual grin. We had a few escapades together in New York and tore that town up pretty good on more than one occasion. Not that anyone can remember the details, mind you. Oh well, there is one story that would probably be better left in the underground morass of memories that ought not to be let loose, but it shows who Brenda was...and is.

I got it into my head that I liked my neighbor across the street, an Israeli woman with a live-in girlfriend. I had met them within a few weeks after moving in because everyone socializes from a starting point on one's stoop. If you don't have a stoop, you don't let it stop you. People without a stoop just wander into the streets and come over to your stoop to get to know you. So, anyway, against all my better judgment, better judgment not always having been my strong point, I decided that since this heartthrob was taken, I'd at least send her a Valentine, just something nice.

I can't recall when the brilliant idea hit me, but at some point I thought maybe sending a Valentine card in the mail wouldn't be the most discreet thing to do, so I came up with something more original. I went home and told Brenda. She looked at me like I was crazy, but the next day she materialized with the reference books I needed.

We made the sign, in Hebrew, and the only thing left was to convince the brownstone owners to hang this big banner outside their front window because our fourth and fifth floor walk up was in the back of the building, and Dafna (that was her name) was in the lower front of the building across the street. Everyday Dafna sat at that window and had coffee---no way would she miss the sentiment. Brenda said she'd handle the details about hanging the sign with the owners.

We spent the evening painting "Happy Valentine's Day to Someone Special" in Hebrew. The banner was some kind of white cloth, and the printing was, naturally, bright red. We didn't exactly find that greeting in one reference book, but we found all the words individually and just strung them together. I was so excited to imagine Dafna's complete look of surprise when she had her coffee the next morning. As soon as the paint dried, I was ready to take the banner to the owner's apartment. Brenda Sue said, "Uh, why don't I go talk to them first, for a minute."

Turns out she forgot to ask them if we could hang this big honking Hebrew sign outside their front window, but she didn't want to spoil my evening, so she hadn't said anything. Somehow, though, she did talk the owners into hanging the sign, but it was very windy that evening, so they said they'd hang it first thing in the morning. Where were the hooks? Hooks? All we had was masking tape.

"Well I don't know what this thing says," said the husband, "but if it's important, you better have some way of hanging it out our window. It's not going to cause a riot is it?"

Brenda looked at my face and said, "I have just the thing, upstairs. I'll bring it back down. C'mon, let's go, T., and thanks you guys. Let's go T!"

I backed out the door assuring him there'd be no riot. Boy was I wrong.

The next morning the sun was shining and the wind was blowing 50 m.p.h. I couldn't wait to get dressed, get ready for work and go outside to walk up to West End Avenue to catch my cab. My plan was to just casually wave and smile at the person in the window across the street. As I opened the front door, a gust of wind took my neck scarf and wrapped it around my head about three times. I couldn't see a thing, but as I stepped out the front door, I heard the flapping overhead. I pulled down the scarf, and there, hanging perpendicular to the window, instead of horizontally across the front of the building was my Hebrew handwriting. Well, it wasn't quite the presentation I had hoped for, but it was still neat. I walked down the stairs of the stoop, and when I got to the bottom, I couldn't resist. I looked across the street and into the window. I believe my eyes crossed and my knees buckled because there, standing at the window, holding a cup of coffee and bending her head sideways as if to read upside down was Dafna's "friend," the live in. Unbeknownst to me, Dafna had come down with the sniffles and didn't want to sit too close to the window for fear of catching the draft. So the bent neck was reading the banner to her. How could she read it? Easy---also unbeknownst to me, she was taking Hebrew classes.

I heard later tha Dafna spilled her hot coffee all over her nice warm cuddly pajamas while she was trying to come up with some reason the neighbors would hang a sign to "someone special" out their front window. "I thought that couple was married with a baby," the bent neck said to Dafna. "Who's the special person?" Evidently Dafna shrugged and muttered something about the mother-in-law. Dafna and bent neck broke up a couple years later, and I'm pretty sure my slapstick comedy of errors had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

And then I moved back to California, and later Brenda Sue moved to San Diego, and we talked on the phone quite a bit but we could never pull off that free couple days to go visit one another. Then Brenda moved back east, and I got some emails and I sent some. One day I got an email telling me that somewhere in her Fifties, she had finally graduated from college and got her degree. She also sent out an email to me and a half dozen others asking us not to send her any downloads because her computer was made in Jurassic Park. And thank g-d she sent that email.

I can't even tell you what, besides the living of life, happened, but one day I sent Brenda Sue an email, and it came back Unknown Name. I tried to call the last phone number I had, and, nothing. I knew that I had moved, that all my phone numbers had changed, and that Brenda didn't know where I was either. I got busy again, and another couple years passed, when I had another of my brilliant ideas. Hire a plane to fly over West Virginia with a banner that said "Brenda Sue Call Me!" In English of course. Just kidding. I decided to send an email to all the people Brenda had asked not to send her downloads. I apologized for the imposition and asked if any of them knew where Brenda was and how I could find her. Three or four wrote back and said they were trying to find her, too. It was decided that whoever heard from her first, let the others know.

The thing about Brenda is that she has this great, big, huge heart. When those fires erupted a couple weeks ago, she left a message with an old friend of hers in San Diego. Last night, that friend wrote to me, saying, "Brenda has been found! Phew!" She gave me her number, and I called Brenda today.

The last year or so, Brenda Sue has seen her share of difficulties, with both her and her Mom suffering some debilitating effects of a couple bad falls. Brenda is not able to work, and she is the original worker bee, so not being able to has been depressing and demoralizing for her. "Let's put it this way," she said, when I agreed she's had a tough year, "the whole last decade has pretty much sucked."

I've been there, too. When Brenda lived in San Diego, the highlight of my day was going to the grocery store. I was depressed. I was demoralized. I was diminished, and I couldn't tell you why. Oh I could have done he said/she said....but it was all so much more than that, and so much less. For me the cure came in the form of a very willful Pug named Charlie Girl.

No, I probably won't be shipping a Pug to Brenda, but I just want her to know that I've always thought of her as a survivor, I've always loved her happy countenance, her wry sense of humor, and that dimpled grin. I promised to entertain her with some pages from the book I'm writing because she's always been a great big fan and supporter of mine. But until I get some time to choose what I want to send her, I thought I'd just send her this post.

Everyone: Say hi to Brenda Sue---I found her, and I intend to keep track of her.


Robin Mizell said...

Brenda Sue! How are you?

T.T.'s a born storyteller. I suppose the trait suits her well in finance. (ha!) I have other plans for her. (laughing)

I'm not one to jinx my plans by talking about them, but I may need travel advice from you and T.T. someday. Please consider joining us in the blogosphere. There are no rules to the game, contrary to what some may say. Just make them up as you go along.

Can't wait to meet you virtually.


Jo Jardin said...

Welcome, Brenda Sue, from Sarah Jo!

That was a fantastic memoir TT...I read it three times...

T.T. Thomas said...

Ah, thanks Jo. Updating the story a bit, Brenda Sue finally fired up her tyranicalshouriswreaks computer, and sent me an email after she read the blog. It was something along the lines of...well, let me quote her because she's way too shy to post, and considers herself technologically challenged.

She said: "By the way - you took a heck of a lot of license w/ "our story", it needs some serious editing. Southern drawl my ass! Anyway, I'm overjoyed you are not computer-challenged like me-and was able to use your pc to track down some of my friends who knew my whereabouts but then, you were never a dummy). So, my resourceful friend, I'm so glad you called because I was heartbroken when my emails & cards were returned, thinking I'd lost contact w/ someome I love dearly.

Thank you! Thank you! thank you! I love you, as always & I'm so glad you're happy."

I told you Brenda Sue has a big heart! Anyway...maybe someday Brenda will take a quantum leap into the 21st century and post something herself, and if she reads between the lines of some of these posts, she'll realize I'm your basic techno dummy, but fortunately, or otherwise, I don't let that stop me! I just ask Robin how to do things.