Monday, 3 May 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

Get down, Boogie oogie oogie,
If you're thinkin' you're too cool to Boogie,
Boy, oh Boy, have I got news for you,
Everybody here tonight must Boogie,
Let me tell ya, you are no exception to the rule,
Get down, Boogie oogie oogie, listen to the music. By, A Taste of Honey

Play that funky music, White Boy
Play that funky music now..
Lay down the boogie and play that funky music
Till you die, till you die! By, Wild Cherry

And when you feel the beat, you are the Dancing Queen,
Young and free, only 17.
Feel the beat of the tambourine, oh yeah!
You can dance, you can jive, having the time of your life,
Watch that scene, feel that beat, digging the dancing Queen. By, Abba

It's the last dance, the last chance for romance tonight,
Yes, it's the last dance, the last chance for romance, tonight...
Oh, yes, I need you , by me, beside me, to guide me, to hold me, to scold me
'cause when I'm bad, I am oh so bad, so
Let's dance the last dance tonight.... Sung by, Donna Summer

Robbie and I were out hitting the discos, making up for lost time, wearing our great 1940's suits. It was just what we needed after her time at Penn State and breaking up with her boyfriend who was a high school sweetheart, like Glen and I. It felt good to be young and carefree again. I kept thinking of what Scarlett's mother said to her, in "Gone With the Wind", a movie Robbie and I saw together in 1973 at an old run down theatre in East Liberty, showing that 1939 classic. Scarlett was morning the loss of her first husband, wearing black all the time, and the quote in the movie was, "There's nothing wrong with wanting to feel young and be young when you are young." Robbie and I loved that movie, quoting lines from it often. And that particular line
suited me down to the ground. Here I was, supposedly the best years of my life, carrying quite unfairly, in my opinion, the weight of the world on my shoulders. Robbie coming home and us out and about was just the remedy. We hit the new disco on Walnut Street in Shadyside, called The Raspberry Rhino. It was a corner bar, disco, and the dance floor was in the middle of the room. If we got asked to dance, we did, and if not, we just danced with ourselves, laughing all the way to the end of the song. I remember that some of the waitresses at the Encore told me that the private club called "The Gaslight", on Bellefonte Street was an after hours club. By the time the Rhino was giving last call, I suggested to Robbie we go there and try and get in.
"But we aren't members, how are we going to get in there?" she rightfully asked.
"I'll tell them I work at the Encore, and you are my guest, all the girls go there, and the bartenders, so they told me. It's worth a try, isn't it? We look older in our suits, they won't know we aren't 21 yet...come on, let's go for it!" She agreed somewhat reluctantly.
"Ok, Shawnny, but I hope you know what you are doing?" Rob took her last sip of her Gin and Tonic. "Come on, let's try, worse they can say is "no!" I reasoned.
We moved off the bar stools and wandered down the street to the Gaslight. In front of the imposing steps to the front door was the Doorman, who clearly was checking memberships.
I winked at her and whispered, "Let me do all the talking, ok?"
She laughed at me and said, "Ok, I'm with you."
"Yes, can I help you, Ladies?" said the well dressed gentleman who was guarding the entrance.
"Hello, I work at the Encore and would like to come in." I said as coolly and matter of fact as I could. The two gin and tonics I had probably helped, too.
"Certainly, Ladies, Have a nice time." and with that, he opened the big leather door to what looked like Paradise inside.
Robbie and I walked in as if we owned the place. A little trick I learned from L.A. and getting into discos back there underage!
The place was a couple floors of bars, classic nudes as paintings on the walls with big Reubeneque women, lush velvet decor and an area with a stage in the back, tucked away with tables. The upstairs was a restaurant as well. We walked past the nude paintings and Robbie said, "Hey Shawnny, looks like we're in the right place!" pointing to the Reubens. I had to laugh. We sat at the huge rectangle shaped bar, and ordered a Grand Marnier each, in a snifter glass. A good bartender would know to warm the glass and put it in this type of glass anyway unless you had it on the rocks. Here were good bartenders, all class, all lighting your cigarettes and all very much attending to the needs of their patrons at the bar. The Gaslight would become our favorite place to go after hours in the months of summer to come. It wasn't long before two men in their 30's came over and started flirting with us. Suits came in here, no jeans. They bought us another round, introducing themselves as both lawyers. I checked out Robbie, while they were busy talking to themselves for a second, to see if she liked either of them. She knew just what I was thinking because she very casually gave me a nodding head, "no". Me neither, as I let her know with a wink. That was enough for us both to know that we could move on, and we did. This was the way it was in "bar land" and we all knew the rules. We went to the back room and listened to the Folk Band that was playing some soft rock music.. "Now Valerie's a Woman..." the singer was singing so sweetly and gently. We sat and listened and relaxed. "Shawn, I could get used to this." Robbie leaned over to tell me. "Me, too, Rob, me, too." I smiled back at her. We could still see who was coming in the door from where we were and I noticed some of the night waitresses coming in from the Encore. They saw me too and came over to say Hi. I introduced Robbie to them and asked them if they wanted to join us. They didn't, as they were meeting some other friends but thanked me. "When are you working now, Shawn, we never see you?" asked Terry. I told her that they had put me on dayshift and were waiting for an opening for night shift. I had already worked a week of it, and it was ok, but I did prefer nights. "You need to call the secretary again and ask her if there is any opening because we sometimes need a night off. Once you are in, you'll stay in, so keep calling her, ok? " I liked that Terry wanted to work with me, and I felt like I wanted to work with them, too. They were all nice, fun girls, more my age, well... in their 20's at least. They wished us a great evening and went off to meet their friends who were waving at them at the door.
"They seem nice, Shawnny." said Robbie. I agreed.
"You want to go to Ritter's Diner for some coffee and something to eat after this?" Robbie suggested. Ritter's was the late night place to eat after a night out. It was a diner that had been there forever, off Baum Blvd. and I know, because I worked there for one summer when I came home from L.A. ,after college let out. Robbie had worked in Eat and Park. We knew it wasn't grand but it was extra money for college. "Yeah, why not? I feel hungry," I said. We made our way to the door and I decided it would be best to introduce us to the Doorman, least he should forget us if we wanted to come back another night.
"Thank you very much." I said to him as we exited. He smiled and said, "Did you Ladies enjoy yourselves?" he asked politely.
"Yes," we said together and laughed. "Let me introduce us, this is my friend Robbie, and I am Shawn, and I suspect you will be seeing us again." I said giggling. He said, "Nice to meet you both, two beautiful ladies are always welcomed at the Gaslight!" That was enough for us. We asked his name and he said, "Tommy." We said our good-byes and he hailed us a cab to Ritters and were in there in about 10 minutes. Not a lot of traffic at 4am.
When the coffee was on the table and the eggs and bacon and toast, I asked Robbie if she thought about working at the Encore with me. "No, but I might work at The Top Shelf", she replied. Robbie's brother was a young and amazing jazz musician who had played there. She knew it and felt like she could enjoy working there. It was downtown, on the same street as the Encore II, but just down the road on the opposite side of the street. They too, had nightly Jazz there. "Oh, well, I just got to get on nights if you work there, otherwise we'll never see each other." I realized.
"If I get the job, yeah, but so far I haven't applied yet, just a thought." Robbie stated.
"My mother wants me to go to this therapist, and you know, I am going to go this week. I have an appointment. I am only doing this so she can leave me alone. It is ridiculous, but she seems to think I need someone to talk to."
"Well, tell her that now that I am home, you don't!" Robbie said with a wink in her eye. I laughed. I agreed but offered her this,
"You know I always had these strange dreams. Maybe he can make something out of those?"
"Yeah, you sure can dream, and some of them come true which is pretty strange." Robbie offered back.
"Yeah, I often know who it is on the phone when someone is calling. My brother likes to tease me about it. I just know, I don't know why."
"And isn't there some story about your Grandmother being psychic or something...the one you were named after...Maggie!?" Robbie loved to tease me with my middle name which was Margaret, named after my Irish Grandmother. Her and all my High School friends called me "Maggie" as a joke when Rod Stewart was singing "Maggie May" in 1972. The nickname stuck.
"My mother told me some story that she read the tea leaves, was interested in making herbal concoctions, and was pretty psychic herself. Aparently when I was born, she was in Brooklyn, New York and my mother and father were here in Pittsburgh, at Magee Hospital. My mother had me, and something like "I was born with the call", which is some old wive's tale that this child will be born psychic. Some Irish wive's tale, I think. And when my father called her to say I was born, calling her in New York, she said she knew because she heard a baby cry all that distance away!"
Robbie listened and said, "Wow, that's a pretty interesting story."
"Yeah, guess so." I agreed for what it was worth.
And with that, we turned to the waitress and asked for more coffee.
The next time I worked at The Encore I was in as usual at 10:30 am. I laid out my tables with the placemats and the silverware, ready for the lunch crowd who wanted to eat quickly and get back to work. These were the two martini lunch crowd, usually locals who worked nearby, or ladies who lunched, and wanted a good lunch with a drink as well. It all began as usual until Gilbert, the daytime bartender, called me over to the service bar. "Shawn, can I ask you a question?" "Yes, Gilbert." I said. Gilbert was the legendary bartender who everyone liked here. "Isn't your father Nicky Cohen?" he asked with some embarrassment. "Yes, he is." I offered back, surprised he knew this. Suddenly, I could feel all eyes at the bar on me. I walked away to serve my drinks to my table. I was made aware of many of the older men at the bar all whispering to each other and then looking at me. I took the empty glasses off my table and was headed back to the bar when I got stopped by one of the older men at the bar. He grabbed my arm, stopping me and said, so all of them could hear and even Gilbert was looking at me, "Honey, isn't your father Nicky Cohen??" I shook my head, "yes." He continued with a shocked look on his face. " Well, what are you doing here?? Your father is a rich guy, why on earth are you working here?? Geez, You look just like your mother! I know your mother and your father for years. Does he know you are working here, Sweetheart?" They were all watching me for my answer. I realized then that this was the afternoon den of all the siding guys who knew my dad. Worse than that, they knew my mother, too. But what they clearly did not know was after 22 years of marriage what my father did to my mother, how he left her, and us, to make our own way in the world! I had a moment to reflect, thinking how angry I was. And I decided to give them the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth! I pulled my arm away and said to the ringleader but loud enough for all the lookers- on to hear. "I am working here because I need the money. My father left my mother months ago, ran off with his secretary,took all his money and left my mother with nothing. He refused to pay for my college anymore, so I had to leave school or anything else for us kids. I am working here to support myself and my mother and my younger brother. Now...does that answer your questions? "
It's amazing the feeling. I felt so proud of myself! Why should I be ashamed??! Their ring leader spoke after a few whispered, "wow's" and shaking heads that turned back away from me. "Sorry, Honey, I didn't know." he offered me, clearly embarrassed and shocked. I began my walk back to the service bar thinking that most of these guys were probably at my Bas-Mitzvah, 7 years ago ,with their wives and said, "Now, you do." and left it at that.
When they all left, Gilbert pulled me to the side. "Shawn, you handled that like a "Champ", as Art would say. I know your father too, and I am sorry for you. But you are a sweet girl and a nice girl, you're all right in my book!" and he smiled at me.
"Thank you, Gilbert." I felt his genuine concern. The red in my cheeks slowly began to reside.
Now it would be all over town. My father would hear about it through these wise guys, the Jewish siding Mafia. What did I care? If he cared at all he would never had done this to any of us. I knew that, and it wasn't my problem. My biggest problem would be to get away from these guys and get on nightshift, and now I knew that was what I needed to do next.

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me, by Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010. Some names have been changed for privacy, but all events are true. These are excepts from the book I am currently writing.