It’s the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and the only people you see coming into work in Boston are those who either have to be here–like me–or guys like my partner the Old Curmudgeon, whose wife can’t stand to have him around the house.
“Hey there, Bink,” I call to him as he approaches the elevator bank. He has a look of consternation on his face, a sign that the brooding omnipresence that is the American holiday spirit has descended upon him. “Family home for Thanksgiving?”
“When I was a young man your age I was already an old man.”
“Yes,” Bink says, his voice lowered for once to a volume slightly below that normally associated with the horn on a fishing boat coming into Chatham harbor. I sense there’s trouble on the home front.
“How are the kids?” I ask, assuming he’ll take the easy way out and say “Good, good, couldn’t be better.” That’s Bink for you; if he was incarcerated in Walpole State Prison he’d say the food was terrific and other than his 300-pound cellmate’s snoring things couldn’t be better.
“Todd’s fine,” he says, and tries to leave it at that, but I’m having none of it. I’ve become Bink’s close confidante over the years thanks to my uncanny ability to read his mind when he’s most troubled.
“How about Sarah,” I ask. “Is she a lesbian yet?”
Bink gulped audibly, but the noise he made was overpowered by the loud “DING!” that the elevator made when it arrived at the ground floor.
In search of . . . something.
“Why do you say ‘yet’?” Bink asked, trying as best he could to communicate sotto voce.
“Well, last time she was home she told you she was a vegan, right?”
“It’s a natural progression, as night follows day, like from Socialism to Communism. As a matter of fact, I read somewhere that lesbians actively recruit at vegetarian restaurants, dropping flyers at the tray return.”
Try the prime rib of lentil.
That didn’t seem to mollify Bink, so I tried to soften the blow. “It could be only temporary,” I said.
“Really? Like a head cold?”
“No, it takes longer to get it out of your system, but she could be a LUG.”
“What’s a ‘LUG’?” Bink asked.
“A ‘lesbian until graduation,’” a young woman in the back of the elevator piped up.
“Thank you,” I said, and turned my head around as far as I could to offer her a smile.
A look of relief flowed down Bink’s formerly troubled countenance, like still waters after a summer squall. “So, at the same time that I’m writing her last tuition check, she’ll be . . . getting over this little fling?”
“And return to the comforts of Presbyterianism? Probably not.”
“But there’s a chance?”
It was time I “pulled Bink’s coat tail,” to use a hepcat expression that’s fallen into premature desuetude. “There’s nothing wrong with the Sapphic rites,” I said, appealing to the classical erudition I know Bink picked up in prep school. “Did you know I was married by a lesbian?”
“How is that possible?” he asked, confounded by an image he’d formed in his mind of some acrobatic contortions.
“He said married by a lesbian,” a bicycle messenger with dread locks said. “Not to a lesbian.”
“Oh,” Bink said, a trifle embarrassed. He’s losing his hearing.
“She was the real deal,” I said, reminiscing fondly over the woman who’d married me to my wife 35 years ago this month. “Clunky boots, mullet–the whole nine yards.”
“That’s a stereotype,” the young woman in the back pronounced with authority.
“Sorry, I guess we got the last one they made before they broke the mold. Anyway,” I continued, turning back to Bink, “there’s a long and proud tradition of lesbianism in the art form I care so deeply about.”
“That boogie-woogie or whatever they call it?”
“The blues, man,” the bike messenger said, even though my guess was the kid probably thought that Eric Clapton was the greatest blues guitar player ever.
“Close enough,” I said to Bink. I need to stay on his good side with year-end bonuses coming up. “Like for example, did you know Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey . . .”
“Only the Queen of the Blues.”
“Never heard of her.”
“She used to swing both ways.”
“Is that a–what do you call them–double entendre?” Bink asked.
“Yes, but it shouldn’t be too hard to decipher,” I said. “She sang ‘It’s true I wear a collar and a tie, talk to the girls just like any old man.‘”
“Hmph,” Bink hmphed. “Dinah Shore never sang about that.”
“Holding Hands at Midnight”–that’s all the further you’ve gone?
“And then there’s Alberta Hunter.”
“Don’t believe I know her.”
“For my money,” I began.
“You don’t have as much money as me . . .”
“. . . but you’ll fix that at the end of the year, right? Anyway, for my money, the best version of Sweet Georgia Brown ever.”
“So what?” Bink asked, sincerely missing the point.
“One woman singing about another and how ‘sweet’ she is?” I replied.
“Okay,” Bink said. I noticed he wasn’t taking copious notes, the way he used to advise me to do whenever he’d drag me along to a meeting when I was a mere neophyte to his hierophant. “Anybody else?”
“Well, there’s Bessie Smith.”
“She royalty too?”
“The Empress of the Blues.”
“What did she sing?”
“That ‘Boy in the Boat’ song I taught you,” referring to a female organ that is the seat of exotic stimulation and which–as the song says–vaguely resembles a boy in a rowboat. “Remember how it goes?”
Bink searched his memory for a bit and then, like the Moodus Noises, a strange sound began to emerge from his cavernous corpus:
“When you see two women walking hand in hand . . .”
“Um hmm . . . ” I hummed.
“Just look ‘em over and try to understand–“
“They’ll go to those parties—have the lights down low . . .”
“Sing it, brother!”
“One of those parties, where only women can go . . .”
We finished in unison: “I’m talkin’ bout that boy in the boat.”
There was a moment of silence in the elevator, not unlike that which follows a deeply moving string quartet at Symphony Hall here. Finally, as the bell rang for our floor and I started to get off with Bink, the young woman in the back of the elevator spoke up.
“It’s really nice that you guys are businessmen,” she said with a wistful note in her voice.
“Why’s that?” Bink asked, glad to know that someone appreciated his change of heart.
“Cause neither one of you can sing for shit.”