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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

(2) BRADLEY'S BRAND OF HUMOR CAN DRAW BLOOD.

(flashback)
February 1993
      I've been seeing a lot of Bradley Harper lately.  Or a lot more of him, I should say, since I've known him almost fifty years.  He’s a tall, fine-looking man with an IQ high enough to qualify him for membership in Mensa, or so he mentioned several times during our first date.  He also showed me a letter from his niece, enumerating all the reasons he was a great catch.  
     Bradley says he always enjoyed cooking before he was so suddenly widowed but now finds himself doing the laundry, hanging it out to dry (he and Eleanor didn't believe in dryers), ironing shirts, napkins and tablecloths, and doing all the other chores he used to take for granted when Eleanor was doing them.    
     I told him he needed a wife.  
     "I don't need a wife," he said.  "I need someone to travel with." 
     Through the years the Harpers traveled a great deal, especially to Scotland, playing golf at dozens of different courses, and attending famous golf tournaments.     
     I have made it clear to Bradley that I don't like to cook, I'd rather wear a potato sack than iron, and I'm getting too old for the complications of travel. 
     One of his daughters said, "What are you going to do with the rest of your life, Daddy-o?"   He said he was just going to take it one day at a time.    
     That's what I'm doing with this relationship.  Until he finds a woman to travel with, I'll enjoy what there is to enjoy about Bradley and try to grin and bear it when he pokes fun at me.  His brand of humor sometimes draws blood.  My daughter-the-psychologist says I  should let him know when he hurts my feelings.   
      "I wouldn't hurt you for the world," he says.  "You're just too sensitive." 
     An example of Bradley-being-funny:  when we had dinner recently with his daughters and friend Glenn Boyd, Glenn described an incident that happened to him when he applied for his visa.  Time was running out for the tour of Europe he had booked.  When he at last received the birth certificate required for the trip, he hastened to the visa office and presented it.      
     "Wait a minute," the clerk said.  "This says you're a female.  Moreover, it says you're black."  Everyone at the table burst into laughter except me.    
     "You received someone else's birth certificate?" I asked.    
      "No," said Bradley.  "He'd had a sex-change and applied for his visa in black-face."  
     Then he looked at me and chuckled, "Ask a dumb question and you get a dumb answer."  
     I felt like telling Bradley he should go to Mensa school and learn to avoid adjectives like "dumb" when speaking to his intellectual inferiors.  But then he would tell me there's no such thing as a Mensa school, since he takes my quips literally.  
     “All right, make it Charm School,” I could retort.  Bradley would be amazed if he knew how many of these dialogues go on in my head.       
     Anyway, he's interesting and even appealing in his sand-papery way.  Folks say of him, "Bradley is not one to mince words," but once in awhile he actually says something complimentary. 
     That could be why Eleanor dropped dead of a stroke: he paid her a compliment.                          
     Bradley says being suddenly widowed is a much greater shock than divorce or a protracted terminal illness.   "She was as healthy as a horse."
     Among the adjustments he’s had to make is cleaning up after fixing meals for guests.  Nor is he thrilled about ironing shirts, napkins, and place mats.  I asked him why he didn't use wash-and-wear products. 
     "I don't like them."
     The last time I ironed anything, I scorched a golf shirt and the belt of an evening gown I'd planned to sell at the Consignment Shop.  I'd rather wash windows any day.
                                                                                                                                
     Bradley and I played golf almost every day of this summery November.  Last Saturday he had a dinner party for four, followed by a bridge game. He was on his best behavior most of the evening, but one wisecrack wasn't funny.   
     During the game, I made a lead that gave him a problem.  After pondering for a few minutes he said, "I'd like to pour my drink on your wig."    
     It’s no secret that I prefer wearing a wiglet to struggling with my own skimpy hair, but I didn’t appreciate his comment. As we set out for another round of golf the next day, I quoted what he’d said the night before, expecting him to tell me again that I was too sensitive.  Instead he apologized, said he couldn't believe he'd said such a thing, and admitted he could be pretty unbearable at times.  He also said he's been biting his tongue a lot lately.  .  
     I have mixed emotions about this friendship.  It could be fun having a man in my life after all these years, but on the other hand, Bradley can indeed be unbearable.  He pointed out this afternoon that he's seen my condo only once.  There's a good reason for that.  My dining room's feelings are still hurt over his crack about the simple lighting fixture over the table
     “And oh, that chandelier!” he said to a group of us at a party, shaking his head as if it were an ornate affair in terrible bad taste.   
     I would have thought Bradley would have given up long ago, but he perseveres.  I won't take a turn cooking a meal?  No problem, he'll do it five nights a week. Last Friday, having consulted me regarding my opinion of frankfurters as a main course [no] and beans [okay], he substituted a piece of chicken for me.  After dinner he asked me how I liked the beans, and I said they were delicious.  He read his recipe aloud:  2 cans baked beans, 2 diced onions, celery salt, 1/2 cup black coffee, 2 pieces of bacon. . .”        
     "What was that again?" I asked.    
      "I actually used only one piece of bacon."    
      "No, the one before."    
       "One-half cup of black coffee--ohmigosh!"    Poor Uncle Brad, as he calls himself, had forgotten about the caffeine in coffee, guaranteed to give me insomnia.      
     
      I sent Uncle Brad a greeting card that expressed the way I felt about him and included a limerick stressing the platonic nature of my feelings.  The next day when I met him at the golf club, I began telling him about my allergic reaction to newsprint—I had sneezed all morning over the Sunday papers until I remembered that Alka-Seltzer Plus helped these symptoms.    
      Bradley gave one of his great scoffing laughs, because he thinks taking medications for my allergies and insomnia is ridiculous.  And now I was admitting I had resorted to yet another medication.  The golf club parking lot was practically deserted, so I felt free to blow my stack, loudly and long.  After I got my frustrations out of my system, we walked to the first tee.  There stood John Kenyon, about to drive.  When Bradley asked him if he'd like to join us, he said, "No thank you, I'll just hurry along by myself."    
      Undoubtedly John told his wife about my tirade, and she told her best friend who told her best friend, so by now the entire membership must know Bradley and I are a couple.  The question is, a couple of what?                                                                                                                  
      Bradley revised the greeting card I sent him.  He interspersed the words on the card with some of the names I call him when he makes me angry. 
     “If you weren't so darned charming [but snobbish], attractive [but too big for my condo], considerate [except after too much booze], witty [but too critical], intelligent [but too superior], and fun to be with [but not too often], I probably wouldn't like you at all!  But you are [sometimes] so I do! [once in a while]”
                                                                                                                                 
       My fine romance with Bradley keeps running into snags.  Last night he prepared a meal of roast chicken made with his own stuffing (I was glad to hear this because most stuffing mixes have msg in them), buttered carrots, acorn squash, and baked sweet potato.      
       I tried the stuffing and found it scrumptious.  I also found delicious chunks of meat in it.  I asked what it was—bacon?  Ham?   "Sausage," he said.  Poor, long-suffering Bradley got the package out of the freezer, and sure enough, one of the ingredients in Jones's sausages was msg (monsodium glutamate), a guaranteed insomnia-producer.  
      This meant I was going to have a bad night for the third time in a row.  On Friday our foursome had gone to the Thai Restaurant on Route 53.  At bedtime, my circling rat-in-a-trap brain told me I'd been msg'd by the Taiwanese.  At 11:30, resorting in desperation to a second sleeping pill, I grabbed the wrong medication accidentally and swallowed it.  I put my finger down my throat in an effort to cough it up, but didn't succeed.   Another bad night. 
       Bradley wants me to go to Sebring, Florida with him to participate in a golf tournament.  He said I could have my own bedroom, but his invitation didn't tempt me.  He is trying his best to adapt to my idiosyncrasies, but the safest thing for me to do is stay home and dine on my own food and GET SOME SLEEP.    
      The only time I ever slept normally was when I was pregnant.  Bradley thinks someday scientists will figure out what signal it is that nature turns on or off in pregnant women and then synthesize it.   
      He regards me as an ideal candidate for traveling with him because I play golf and bridge.  He can't believe there's no way I can sleep in the same room with anyone.  I told him from the beginning that my problems would drive him crazy.  Instead he drives me crazy with his conviction that the insomnia and allergies are all in my mind.   
      While I was recovering from  a cold, I noticed how calm and peaceful life was without the routine of going to Bradley's for dinner. I’m going to tell him I'll decline such invitations in the future but will continue to be his friend, if he wants.  At seventy five, Bradley should be looking for someone more compatible.             
       My latest traumatic experience with Bradley started a few weeks ago when I was compiling a group of Mom's poems for a middle-school workbook.  Rereading "Barney O'Marr" for the first time in decades, I realized it wouldn’t be appropriate for children because of its stereotyping of the Irish as drunks and braggarts.  In Ernestine's day, people didn't know any better, and she didn't dream her poem would ever be regarded as offensive. 

                        Barney’s Trip to the Moon
 A flashlight, my friend, was the cause of it all!
                                     It belonged to one Barney O’Marr---
                                     That very same Barney whose boastin’ and blarney
                                     Enlivened Pat Finnegan’s bar.
                  
                                     One evenin’ he stood with his foot on the rail
                         Swiggin’ suds with a crony or two
                                     When over his flagon his tongue started waggin’
                                     As only old Barney’s could do!
        
             “The beam of me flashlight is powerrful strrong!
             Said he to his pal, Mike Muldoon.
                                     Bein’ nimble and skinny, I bet I could shinny
                                     That beautiful beam to the moon!
                                     “I dare ye to try!” was his crony’s reply.
                         “Your flashlight’s a good one,” he said.
                                     “But I’m doubtin’, old timer, you’re able to climb `er
                                     As far as the top of me head!”
                                     Well, flashlight in hand, Barney quitted the bar
                         With a dignity pickled in rum;
                                     And actin’ unhurried and not a bit worried,
                                     He turned on the switch with his thumb.
     
                                     Then handin’ the flashlight to Michael Muldoon,
                                     Who pointed it into the night,
                                     O’Marr, very solemn, took hold of the column . . .
                                     And clambered the beam out of sight!
                                    Yes, hand over hand, like a sailor he went,
                                     Full of courage, bad likker, and hope,
                                     Upward, begorry, and hell-bent for glory,
                                     He shinnied that shimmerin’ rope!


                                      No doubt he'd have reached either Venus or Mars,
                                      (I never know `tother from which)
                                      But Mike got affrighted and over-excited, 
                                      And groggily turned off the switch
                        
                                      What happened to Barney, ye ask me, my friend
                                      ‘Tis worried about him ye are? 
                                      Well, his coattails unraveled as downward he traveled,
                                      Headin’ for Finnegan’s bar!


                                      His end might have been quite unpleasant, no doubt,
                                      But a happy surprise was in store
                                      For he landed, by gum, in a barrel of rum
                                      Which stood near Pat Finnegan’s door.

                                      Having drunk it all up, he then turned to McGrew
                                      And remarked, did old Barney O’Marr:
                                      “I’m needin’ a sip, for I’ve had a long trip!
                                      “Come!  Steady me up to the bar!”

     Then I had second thoughts.  I would revise the poem, eliminating the stereotypes but retaining the humor.  Fast forward to a few days ago.  I came across "Barney O'Marr" and thought, "Uncle Brad would love this."  With nothing more in mind than entertaining him, I mailed him a copy of the original poem, enclosed my revision and explained why the changes were necessary for a school activity book.
      I arrived at Bradley's house, all smiles in anticipation of his comments.  I was greeted with the following denunciation:
     "You ruined your mother's poem!  You're like one of those amateur painters who paints over masterpieces and destroys them.  How could you have done such a thing?"
      I was not merely stunned; Bradley shocked the pants off me. (I put them on again real quick.)
      He went on to growl about this "political correctness" nonsense, which in his opinion was being carried to absurd extremes.  I tried to convince him that the revisions were essential.  Never mind political correctness, how about sensitivity awareness?  Getting Bradley to see my point was like trying to persuade a rock to move over a couple of inches.
      That's all the steam I'm letting off for now. Gotta keep some in reserve for future scrimmages.
      Unlike my ex-husband, Bradley is not a character l enjoy writing about.  My funny bone thinks he's not funny.  A recent episode, however, had its comical aspects. 
      It was the night of the Cabaret at the Cohasset Armory, and the plan was that Uncle Brad would follow me to the parking lot next to the Community Center so I could leave my car.  ("Or you could stay overnight," he said, a suggestion that always makes me laugh.)  He had tried to explain where Central Street was, but I couldn't visualize it well enough to meet him at the Armory.
      It was a dark and stormy—and foggy—night.  I lost my bearings after I passed the Hingham library and had no idea what street I was turning right on. .
     I put on my blinkers and pulled over, wanting to let Bradley know I was lost.  The problem was, the car behind me didn't have Bradley in it.  He had made a U-turn after remembering that he’d left his bag of snacks at home.     
     He must have taken a short cut, I concluded when driver after driver sailed by me, caring naught whether a dowager might be in distress.  I'd better go to our designated meeting place, although it was after curtain time by now.  Bradley wasn't there.  I parked my car and trekked several blocks over icy sidewalks to my destination.
     Since my frozen fingers lacked a ticket, the ticket taker wasn't sure I should be allowed to case the auditorium for my escort.  Then a tiny, arthritic woman poked her head through the double doors and said, "Are you Barbara?  Come with me, I know just where to take you."
     She tucked her arm firmly in mine, obviously feeling I needed a lot of help, and ushered me past several tables toward one lit only by a shiny dome.  Meanwhile she was peering up at me and shaking her head disapprovingly. 
     "You shouldn't go losing your man like that," she said.  "They aren't that easy to find.”                       And if they're Mr. Harper, they're not that easy to lose.  I recently gave notice in unvarnished terms. He called a few hours later, wanting to know if I'd like to see "The Pirates of Penzance."
     "I don't think so, Bradley." 
     "That sounds almost like a yes," said Bradley.  "I'll call you tomorrow."
     Kathie thought I should go, so I did and had an almost pleasant evening.   
May1994
      Bradley has broadened his artillery to take pot shots at my family.  His daughter Judith, he told me, said she once went on a roller coaster ride with Ted and was more afraid of Ted than of the roller coaster.  (Ted has no recollection of dating either of the Harper girls, but allows that it's possible.}    
     The next day Bradley said, "Ted used to wear an earring, didn't he?"    
     "Where did you ever get an idea like that?"
     "I suppose because I always thought he had a piratical look." 
     When we had dinner at a table for eight after a mixed tournament, Bradley made leering remarks to the woman on his right, hinting that he and I were intimate.  Kathie says I should tell him I don't like these innuendos, so shut up.  (She didn't recommend using the last two words, but I've been mentally resorting to them a lot lately.)     
      A couple of days ago, I was getting my clubs out of my car when Bradley ambled over and peered into my trunk; it was slightly littered with dried grass. 
      "Isn't it about time you tidied that up?"
     I told him to mind his own bloody business.  The appearance of the trunk didn't bother me, so why should it concern him?
     "I should think for the sake of your self-esteem . . . " he observed pompously. 
     The man drives me wild.  There are a million things I'd rather be doing than vacuuming and tidying anything, let alone the trunk of my car.  I was so mad I could hardly hit the golf ball.    
     "Self-esteem, self-esteem," I muttered. "Anyone as rude as you should worry about his own self-esteem."
     I had planned to have our bridge foursome come back to my condo for a game after dinner at the golf club next Saturday.   Now, however, I will never let that stuffed shirt strut his way through my doorway again.  I could clean house for three days, and he'd still find a way to disparage my housekeeping.  Do I want my epitaph to read, "She was known far and wide for her immaculate housekeeping"? No. Judith is welcome to the honor.
       Bradley wanted to know why I had "blacklisted" him, as he put it, by leaving a farewell note at his door instead of telling him in person.  Then he demonstrated exactly why I preferred to terminate the association in writing.  I wanted to avoid our who-said-what-to-whom-and-when arguments.  Trying to hit on a diplomatic reason for Dear John-ing him, I reminded him in my message that last fall he had said we were exact opposites.
     "You were the one who said we were exact opposites," he said, "but now that I've thought it over, I agree."
     I brought up this phrase a few weeks later when I was still trying to convince my suitor I wasn't the person he was looking for.   
      "Opposites attract," he said. 
      I brought it up again at one of our bridge evenings.  Bradley was being his aggravating self, and I said to our friends, "Our host says we are exact opposites, for which we are both profoundly grateful."
     Usually Bradley takes my jokes literally and stone-facedly, but this time he laughed, for which I was profoundly grateful.
     Tim's Kathy was hostessing at the Hingham Bay Club when Bradley walked in with an attractive redhead, expensively dressed and bejeweled.  Kathy heard her refer to the man at her side as Bradley and said, "Hello, Mr. Harper.".
     "Who are you?  How do you know me?" Bradley demanded.
     "I'm Kathy Malley.  I'm married to Tim Malley."
     "Congratulations!" said Bradley.
     "Well, we've been married for eight years," said Kathy.
     "That's what I mean," said Bradley.
      A typical Bradleyish dig. Anyone who could stay married to  my son for eight years deserved congratulations.
      Roberta Carson called to ask if I'd heard the news.  "I was introduced yesterday to a woman named Diane who is" [dramatic pause] "Bradley's fiancée!"
      I told her I was flaspergabbered, to use Blake Thaxter’s rum-inspired word.  
      "So was I," said Roberta.  "They've known each other two months.  They're going to be married in February, honeymoon in Hawaii, and move into her Los Angeles mansion."
     A man picked me up on the second hole last Saturday.  He spoke to me by name, asking if I'd like to join him.  It turned out he was Jim Benett, husband of excellent golfer Vivian. 
     "I hear you've become a member of an exclusive club," he said.
     "What club is that?"
     "People Who Refuse to Play Golf with Bradley."
     Jim said he used to play regularly with Gus Arden and Bradley. "Without question, he used gamesmanship to try to throw me off.  He would stand in my peripheral vision; I would ask him to please move, he'd say excuse me and move, and then he'd do the same thing again and again.  It became so irritating that when Gus moved to Florida, I told Bradley I wouldn't be playing with him anymore."
      Now that the golfing season is over, I've got my Bradley-demolished swing back.  (A truism from Michael Bamberger's To The Linksland:  "Without hope, there is no golf.")
     
     When I saw Bradley on the course a few days ago, he asked if I was interested in  playing winter golf before he moves to Los Angeles.  Dumbfounded, I just shook my head.  The man never gives up, even when he has a fiancée.
      Bradley's fiancée has joined our Cohasset bowling group.  We chatted briefly but candidly.  Diane said Brad has hurt her feelings a number of times, needling her frequently about the weight she has put on in recent years.  The wedding is supposed to take place between Christmas and New Year's, an ideal time, Diane said, since all the relatives will be on hand.  Where Mr. Harper is concerned, no time is an ideal time, and I hope she regains her sanity before it's too late.  I could tell she was having qualms—she said it wasn't her style to needle him back, which is what Judith used to do.
      My second book, the one I've been working on for over two years, was read and rejected by Colleen.  Another crushing letdown, but I'm not going to let it ruin my life.  Half a day was enough.  Colleen wrote:  "The problem is that there is no one subject to the book and a family memoir about everything that happened in one family, spanning many years will, frankly, be of little interest. If asked, an editor or agent cannot just say, `Well, it's about the Malley family,' without getting blank stares.  Your other book worked precisely because it was about a certain aspect or angle in your life.  It had the theme and gimmick of a burlesque-ish romantic life, and it had the consistent tone of humor—that's what the book was meant to be and could be pitched as a humorous look at marriage."
     She once suggested I write about the dating game from an older woman's point of view.  I have three or four possibilities in my computer (my title, "Msadventures") but don't know how I could expand my material unless I went looking for Moldy, Dried-Up Mr. Goodbar.  Not an appetizing assignment. 
     Then there's Bradley, even less appetizing.  Our theater, symphony, and bridge dates were more of a treatment than a treat.  He never stopped proffering insults as if they were roses and never stopped imagining he was the best catch on the eastern seaboard. And now, remarkably, he seems to have found someone who agrees with him. 

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