Saturday, 20 March 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M.Cohen

"Three waitresses all wearing black diamond earrings,
Talking about Zombies and Singapore Slings,
No trouble in their faces, not one anxious voice,
None of the crazy you get from too much choice."
BarandGrill by, Joni Mitchell

My favorite Aunt came to Pittsburgh from New York. She was worried about my mother coping, so drove the 8 hours from New York City to Pittsburgh. It was good to see her. I felt like I could talk to her much more than my mother. Maybe it was because she was younger than her by 8 years, or maybe it is because she knew what I had to put up with in dealing with my mother, The Scorpio, as we both called her. One thing was for sure, she loved my mother, whatever had come and gone. When my Aunt B would come to town, there were always songs sung and little dances danced with each other, until they would finally break into a rendition of "Sisters, Sisters" and laugh their way to the end of it. Aunt B slept in my room, in my sister's empty single bed. My sister was away at school in Erie, Pa.,somehow able to stay. Aunt B was tired from her long drive and after a couple hours of dinner, coffee and gabbing to my mother and I, she went off to sleep. I was sure glad she was here. I felt less of the pressure of having to be so grown up and worried about everything. I had no understanding of how to "fix" everything but I was sure Aunt B. could.
In the morning, things began to change. I woke up to find Aunt B. starring into my mother's bedroom, looking at my mother laying there asleep.
"Mornin', Aunt B..."I said as I wiped the sleep from my eyes.
"Shh! I just saw the Archangel Michael standing next to your mother's bed! Wings and all!"
"HUH??!" I managed to grunt, needing coffee bad.
"Come in the kitchen...!" she took my arm and led me down the stairs to the modern blue kitchen my father had his company put in when we moved in here in 1965. I started the coffee and sat down ready to listen. Aunt B. got the Coffee Rich out. She and my mother only drank their coffee with that, I preferred semi skimmed milk.
She poured us coffee and sat down as if to tell me something difficult. She began...
"Shawn, I think you are old enough and mature enough to know what's going on here with your parents." I nodded "Yes".
"Look, you have got to get a job. Your brother Kalvin isn't going to help your mother, you know that. He is with your father, and your sister and younger brother aren't grown up is up to you to help her. I just saw Michael, and I can tell you, your mother is in serious trouble if He came."
"I don't know what that means, Michael..?" I knew she was right about my siblings but the other stuff...must have been the Catholic stuff I didn't understand.
"I know this is going to kill your mother. I know your father and all the problems here, but really, she hasn't worked a job since she was a dancer at the "Copa", not for real money and that was before you kids were born! You have just got to get a job, now. I think Michael came because she is not in a good way. Take it as a warning that we must help her."
"OK, but who is the Archangel Michael? Sorry, but I don't understand all that." It's not that I disbelieved her, I just didn't know who or what he was.
"Archangel Michael is the Greatest of all Angels, and when he comes to you for help, he is answering a real prayer for help. I did pray for your mom, because I know that in spite of all the upset and heartbreak, she did love your father."
I thought about this, how many arguments they had over all the years I was their daughter. I never remembered a time when he was kind to her, unless other people were around. Hell, he was exactly the same with all of us. I easily recalled how much he bullied her, and belittled her, and never listened to her. How unhappy she always was unless she could go out and act in a play, which he absolutely forbid...but the rebel in her defied him and snuck out anyway. How he would spend so much money on himself, new Caddys every year, and we, my 2 other siblings and my mother, were always afraid to ask him for money, even for the necessaries of everyday living. Not my older brother, of course..he always gave him whatever he wanted and then some which we all hated my father for, and resented my brother as well. We knew Kalvin had problems but this just seemed so brutally unfair. The only time it was different was when he was in front of his Jewish Mafia friends. Then he would be so generous, over generous in fact. It was a joke, we all knew it, so I had to question this.
"Look, you know I was away at school and quite frankly, I have already given up my apartment in West Hollywood, my college education which I left before I could even complete my finals, and my best friends in L.A, which was my dream. You know, my dream to get out of Pittsburgh and be a "somebody"! It's not that I don't want to help her, but Jesus, she is 51 years old and I am just 20, what the hell can I do to help her??" I was really angry this had all been put on me.
"What about working as a waitress at The Encore, Downtown? I am booking some Jazz acts there and I know the manager, who's a friend of mine, Bobby Davis. I can ask him for a job for you. I'm going there tonight, OK?" She seemed to have it all worked out for me but I was not sure about this.
"Don't they sell alcohol there?" I asked her.
"Yeah, so..?" she replied in that Brooklyn accent.
"But you have to be 21 in Pennsylvania to sell alcohol, even to go into a bar, and I just turned 20 last week!" I argued back.
"So LIE!" was her only reply.
It never dawned on me to do that. I did it to get into Nick's Fishmarket on Sunset in L.A, a great disco there, but it never dawned on me to do it to get a job.
"But you know the only waitress experience I have is in a diner. I don't know alcoholic drinks." I knew I was losing this battle but it was my last ditch effort to get out of this.
"The other waitresses will teach you, you'll get the hang of it. OK, I'm going to get dressed. I have Anita O'Day coming in today to sing at the Encore tonight. I'll see you later, OK?" She reached over and kissed my cheek. The deal was done.

My mother woke up, but my Aunt was already gone. I said nothing about what we had spoke of. Somehow it might not be real, if I didn't speak about it, and maybe that man she knew at that nightclub wouldn't hire me. My mother asked me if I wanted to go with her to Shadyside. I was not into leaving the house since no one knew I was back. But since she wanted my company, and the Angel had appeared to my Aunt, (whatever that meant)I figured I better go with her. I got dressed and off we went. We went grocery shopping and I saw her bring out the food stamps again. It broke my heart, and increased the rage I felt at my father. I wanted to call him and scream obscenities at him, but he was just too frightening. I didn't dare. My mother's last stop was in the Rite-Aid on Walnut Street in Shadyside. She was going to run in for a prescription and I could have stayed in the car, but I needed cigarettes, so I went with her. As we came back out of the pharmacy, there right in front of me was one of my best friends, Anne, just on the sidewalk. She must have been shopping there and probably just had the shock of her life!
"Shawn! What are you doing here???!! When did you get back??" I was mortified. Not because I didn't love her, like all my best girlfriends, but I was so depressed, so ashamed of what had happened, I just didn't have the heart to tell them yet. With my red face of shame, I put my arm around her, and began..."Hi, Annie, listen..I need to tell you something..." My mother stood back and watched as I revealed the "story" to her.

"The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me" by, Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010. Names may have been changed to protect people's privacy but all events are true.