GILBERTINE & THE EXCHANGE (Volume One) — Chapter 14 (“Lois the Confessor” Part 2) Early September 1964

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A minute passed, then another. It’d be a few more years until a whimsical trip to a bookstore and an intoxicated night in a hotel room would combine to introduce me to Broken Wings, which, aside from a change in tense and shift to second person, she’d just quoted to me.

At the time, I’d no idea.

Then her face became animated again; she resumed talking as if nothing had happened. “Oh, befoah ah fo’get, someone stopped me on the way ovah, and asked me t’give y’this.” With that, she handed me a dark ivory envelope with strange writing in Blackletter all the way around and Reggie Stone written in Edwardian script in the center. I’d no idea who it was from, but I thanked her, and assured her I’d read it when I got home:

“Y’know, it maht not be mahn t’say, Reggie,” she continued, “an’if so, ah hope you’ll pahdon mah presumptuousness – but it seems t’me y’li’l Connie’s suff’rin’ from a double po’tion of insecurity.”

Connie? Lacking in self-confidence? The very idea seemed completely ludicrous.

At first, I thought Lois was trying to make me laugh. But I gulped down a rising chuckle when I saw the earnestness on her face.

“I think she’s testin’ ya – t’see if you’ll run after her and continue t’coax her, an’sweet-talk her an’plead with her.”

“How much more’d I hafta do?” I asked.

Lois was thoughtful a moment, but not lost in reverie – or whatever had happened moments earlier.

“Lemme answer that question with a question,” she said at last. “Which one d’ya want t’be – her boyfrien’ or her lap dog?”

I groaned. “That bad?”

She tried to smile supportively, but it was lopsided, apologetic.

“Can ah be brutal, Reggie? Can y’take it?”

I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she had to say, but I knew Lois was saying it from a place of friendship, so I nodded anyway.

“Yer a brilliant boy, Squirt. Y’sang opera at 12. Y’travel with an ‘in’ crowd over at Johnson. And – if y’don’t mahnd mah sayin’ so – yer not a bad lookin’ little guy – in yer own way.

“Y’got a whole lotta stuff goin’ for ya. But, it can create problems for ya, too.

“Y’see, Reggie, I’m not sure how much of what Connie feels ’bout ya‘s a love thing, an’ how much is a prahd thing.

“I get the idea she kinda sees you as a kind of prahz – or tiara – or trophy – something she sets store by ’cause it certifies she’s worthwhile. Yer someone t’give her status – or make up for loss of status – ’stead of someone she loves an’cherishes in’is own raht, for himself. An’so yer bein’ wi’this Gilbertine, or even perceived as bein’ with’er – it tarnishes th’prize in her eyes. And ah dunno what y’could say or do t’polish it up again – that’d be enough t’make ’er feel validated again th’way she wants t’be.

‘Ah could be wrong, Boog – ah do hope ah’m wrong – but it’s kahnda how this looks t’me.”

I definitely did not want to hear this, and I must have looked as dejected as I felt.

“There’s a way t’fahnd out f’y’want,” she continued.

“Wozat?” I said gloomily, not looking up.

“Well, raht nah, evah since she blew up at you, it’s lahk y’playin’ tennis with y’self. Maybe y’double-faulted on y’ firs’ serves – OK that’s her round.

“But now y’all have hit the ball squahly ovah th’net, smack dab in ’er court. An’ she ain’t doin’ nothin’ – wuss ’an nothin’, she’s knockin’ th’ball away then throwin’ down her racket. An’ what y’seem t’be wantin’ t’do is serve th’ball, run over t’her side, return th’serve for her, an’then run back t’your side an’hit th’ball y’hit back for her.

“Thing is, Boog, even if y’all could do it physic’ly, you’d just be runnin’ y’self ragged, whahl she’s just stands theah with a big ol’ droopy, scowlin’ pout on ‘er face. Score’s tahd, an’she’s gotta decide if she’s in th’game, or gonna go home, sulk, an’lose bah d’fahlt. All y’all can do is send her a couple more serves as good as th’one y’sent her t’day.”

“She obviously didn’t like the flowers and poem,” I said miserably.

“She won’ let awn,” Lois said. “Trah somethin’ else.”

“Like wot?” I asked.

“Y’sing beautif’ly, play guitar, write songs – serenade her,” she said. “It don’ have t’be classic; it maht help if it’s kinda ragged, or even a little goofy under th’circumstances – so long as she knows yer intentions are serious, and yer not treatin’ her as a joke.”

“I can’t serenade her at her house,” I sighed “’cause I can’t find out where she lives. An’ I’d get in trouble for bringing a guitar t’school – besides, it woodn’t fit in m’locker and I’d hafta carry it ’round all day.”

Lois looked thoughtful again. “Let’s trah another serve squahly into her court – see how she responds. Ah don’ go t’mass way I shud, Reggie, but I think, if y’check with friends who do, you’ll fahnd she goes t’mass at St. Dymphna’s[1] on Sunday. Serenade her theah. I don’ think she’ll blow y’off in front of th’congregation, so you’ll have that goin’ for ya.”

It was brilliant, and I said so.

I could easily walk from St. Cyprian’s to St. Dymphna’s; The Storms went there for High Mass. I’d check with Angles to learn if he’d ever seen Connie. There was a fly in the ointment, though: St. Cyprian’s let out at noon, just as high mass started at St. Dymphna’s. I’d be left to cool my heels for two hours, with no lunch and no way to get home. But, Lois said if I met her in the park Sunday she’d drive me.

I was ecstatic – so much so that I forgot myself and kissed her.

We were both embarrassed for a moment. Then she mussed my hair and acted big sisterly – at least how I think a big sister would act. Then, she left, saying she had to shower and change in the locker room by the pool before class began.

After school, I checked with Angles and learned that – yes – the Capulettos did also attend High Mass. I told him what Lois had suggested; he chuckled at the idea, but agreed to help me to write the new song straight away, and to be there to sing it.

It was a Thursday – not one of our usual songwriting days – and he hadn’t brought a guitar over, but we went to my room and worked out the rough draft of the song in about an hour and a half.

 

We came up with five melodic snippets and only used four of them. At Angles’ suggestion, we tweaked the one we didn’t use and in about half an hour had a contrapuntal theme with lyrics that Angles could sing at the end of the song while I sang the verse melody.

We met for lunch in the park the next day and polished up the song up. It was only a rudimentary version of the song that we’d ultimately perform publicly: One sufficiently ragged, I thought, for Lois to approve, but not so appalling we’d embarrass ourselves or make Connie lose face.

Angles said High Mass let out at 2:00, and Lois agreed to pick me up in the park at 1:30 so I’d be able to get there and set up in time. She suggested I keep the slacks, shirt and tie I’d wear to St. Cyprian’s that morning, leaving only the suit jacket at home.

She said it would look more respectful, and make much a better impression with the adults – “that’s imper’tive, Squirt, ’specially if y’gonna show up with all that hair.”

Nicking Ringo’s line from “A Hard Day’s Night, I’d replied that my hair was “stuck on good and proper.”

But, I agreed to dress as she recommended. With Lois’ guidance, I knew I couldn’t fail.

 

[1]  The original Catholic Church, Our Lady of Harvest, had been built in Old Town in 1889, the year the town was founded, and was sufficient for its purposes at the time. But, as the postwar population grew and resurces and space grew scarce, St.Dymphna’s had been built on Leighton, a half-mile west of St. Cyprian’s, a block north of South Street, across from the hospital and five minutes above the northern fringe of Campestral Village. When the same earthquake that demolished most of the original Hiram Johnson Junior High damaged Our Lady of Harvest beyond repair, the congregations had merged.

St.Dymphna’s had started out among the many more or less “cookie cutter” Catholic churches hastily erected in the early 50s. Once the number of parishioners grew exponentially, it acquired adjoining land, becoming bigger than St. Cyprian’s in terms of land and square footage. It had been regularly expanded and remodeled, over the years.Like an ecclesiastical cross between San Simeon and the Winchester Mystery House, it seemed that new buildings and extensions were forever being tacked on. New features had been added, the grade school expanded, a Victorian façade affixed. Strangely enough, for all the extensions and add-ons, no one had ever thought to build a bell tower. It had no Saturday mass in those days. Aside from a Morning Prayer at 6:00 and a Spanish mass at 7:30, “actual” Sunday masses, i.e., the ones with a homily in English, were said at 9:00, 10:30 and noon – the last a High Mass.

 

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