By Michael G. Glab
— Forty-eight —
Anna’s seen the little flyer taped up on the post at the Oak Park Avenue stop the last two times she’s gone downtown on the el. “Sisters,” its headline blares, “There’s More To Life Than Ring Around The Collar.” She’s read it thoroughly each time she’s seen it.
Anna thinks of Ma, scraping her knuckles on the grater, creating mountains of Parmigiano every time she had an argument with Daddy, or Joey got into trouble at Holy Cross, or — Anna cringes to think of it now — every time the two of them had a spat, which was an everyday occurrence when Anna was a teenager. That’s how Tree Dudek handles stress — by grating cheese. Or doing housework.
Ma’s life has always been consumed with nothing more than grating cheese, slicing zucchini, vacuuming, window-washing, polishing silver, baking anisettes, smoking Pall Malls, amateur interior decorating, packing lunches for Al and Joey, whacking Joey on the side of the head two or three times a week, polishing Al’s dress shoes, ironing Joey’s school shirts, unclogging the kitchen drain, plunging the toilet, replacing the batteries in the transistor radio, changing the clock to daylight savings time, arranging and rearranging her three-by-five recipe cards, and all the other things that have to do with the smooth running of a Galewood home, all those things that…, that…, that are nothing!
That’s what Anna thinks her mother’s life is all about. Nothing at all. Not a thing.
It’s a rotten shame. It’s a crime. Ma is the hardest woman on the face of the Earth to get along with but, still, she’s a human being. A woman. And if these Galewood men had their way, a woman would be nothing more than a slave. And guess what! These Galewood men have their way!
Well, Anna thinks, I’m not gonna be anybody’s slave.
The flyer explains that there’s to be a meeting of sisters who wish to throw off the chains of bondage at the hippie record store, Nirvana, not far from the Oak Park Avenue el stop, Sunday afternoon at 2:00. Anthony gets his albums at Nirvana, even that damned Chicago Transit Authority that she’s sick of hearing, but Anna’s never been in the place. She’s only ever bought her 45s and LPs at Sears at North and Harlem because her friend Janine, who worked there, let her use her discount card. That is, until Janine was caught doing so and was promptly fired. But that was just a couple of months before Anna got married and, what with the all the chaos, she hadn’t any time time for records although she really would have liked to get Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel but, well, you know.
Anyway, Anna’s always thumbed her nose at Nirvana. She figured it was a cheap knock off of Bizarre Bazaar in Old Town, which even today remains one of her favorite places on Earth despite the fact, she must concede, it’s where she re-met Anthony. And, yeah, Bizarre Bazaar always had flyers and posters up that began, “Sisters…,” but she never really paid any attention to them because she’d never felt like anybody’s sister. Besides Joey, but, you know.
After two and a half years of sheer loneliness, even with Anthony now in the damned house every second of the day, Anna feels the need for sorority. And my husband, my own husband thinks I’m a ditz. The very first day I friggin’ met him he started in on me, telling me how stupid I was, Anna thinks.
I am not stupid. And I am not a slave.
So Anna finds herself in the classical music section of Nirvana, normally the least populated area of the store on a Sunday afternoon — or any afternoon — waiting for this consciousness-raising meeting of sisters to begin. A dozen or so folding chairs are set up in a circle. There will be no lectern, no single place where a leader holds forth because in this new, sisterly world, there are no leaders. Leadership, you know, is so patriarchal.
Anna’s wearing her white Keds with Levi’s. She has on an old University of Illinois sweatshirt underneath her winter coat and scarf. She has laid her coat neatly over the back of her folding chair and dug into her shoulder bag for the book she read a couple of months ago, Love Story.
Love Story, of course, was one of the two bestselling books of the year 1970. That and The Godfather. The last thing in the world Anna wanted to read was some love poem to the animals that make up the Mafia, even if the animals in Mario Puzo’s book are New Yorkers and not the real mobsters she’s known like Tony Accardo and Paul The Waiter Ricca and Sam Giancana and Tony The Fist Pontone.
So, Love Story it was, but that was back in the end of October. Anna knocked off Love Story in two sittings. She sobbed uncontrollably when Jenny died. When Oliver emerged from the hospital looking forward to the rest of his life she could have tossed the book aside and run to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to console him and ultimately marry him because he was handsome, athletic, principled, romantic, dashing, and — the main reason of all — he wasn’t Anthony.
Anna has brought Love Story with her for a couple of reasons. One, she wishes to carry a book to convey to these sisters that she is as literate as they surely are. And two, this particular book is set around Harvard University. Harvard. Hah-vahd. Having immersed herself in Love Story for two intensely emotional days a couple of months ago, Anna feels she is part of that great institution of higher learning. Harvard. JFK and Bobby went to Harvard. No one from Galewood had ever even come close to going to Harvard. If Joey ever even thinks of Harvard, he thinks of some femme place where fairies run around reading poetry and blowing each other behind the bushes. Harvard.
And the coup de grace for Harvard is that it’s light years better and smarter and more refined and cultured than Northwestern — Take that, Mr. Anthony Pontone, you insulting jerk!
Anna opens Love Story to a random page. Oh, yeah, this is funny. Jenny’s on the phone with some guy named Phil — that’s what she calls him, Phil. As in “I love you, Phil.” Oliver overhears this and flies into a jealous rage. “Who’s Phil?” he demands. Turns out Phil is her Daddy-o. Oh, these crazy, exotic, delightful Hollywood Italians — hehe, they call their fathers by their first names! I mean, alright, it’s not exactly true to life; after all, Anna didn’t even know her own father’s name was Al until she was seven years old and had finally put two and two together. Calling him Al would have been a mortal sin, the first step on the slippery slope to something evil and unspeakable, like incest.
Anthony Never Played Hockey For Harvard
Anna reads and rereads the passage, allowing herself to chuckle over it again, a knowing, wise chuckle, the chuckle of someone who reads important books set among the ivy-covered walls of academia. She’s not watching who enters the room.
That’s why, when the woman who sits next to her first speaks, Anna jumps. “Girl!” the woman says. “Whatchu readin’ that commercial bullshit for?”
Anna places her right hand over her sternum. “Oh my God. I thought I was gonna have a heart attack,” she says. She takes a couple of deep breaths until the woman’s words sink in. Now Anna wants to to her to go to hell. But when she looks into the woman’s face, she’s disarmed. The woman is smiling. Her eyes stare directly into Anna’s.
The woman, already sitting, begins to struggle to take her coat off. Anna helps her with it and even folds it neatly and drapes it over the back of her folding chair as the woman straightens herself out.
She wears an Angela Davis-style ‘fro and a yellow and black dashiki. She has on floppy bell-bottomed jeans and knee-high black boots. Her skin is the color of Boston coffee. Her eyes flash with energy and kindness and excitement. Anna thinks it’s as though this woman lives on some higher plane, in a different world, a place where people do things and see things and know other fascinating people. Anna comes to this conclusion merely by looking into the woman’s eyes.
“Oh, girl,” the woman says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to freak you out. I was just teasin’.”
“That’s okay,” Anna says.
“What’s your name?”
The woman extents her hand and clasps Anna’s in a soul shake. “I’m Tami. I don’t know anybody else here. Let’s be girlfriends.” With that she laughs loudly and deeply. Anna can’t help but join in.
Yeah, Anna thinks. Yeah. I’d like that.
To be continued
All fictional characters, descriptions, and situations are the property of the author.
That’s a interesting bit about calling a parent by his or her first name. I remember just after High School thinking the Earth was spinning off its axis when my friend started doing that to his mother.