Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Second Day I Knew Andrew's Mother

This is the text of an email message I sent to a friend of mine recounting what happened on Saturday, March 4, 2006, the second day I knew Andrew’s mother.

That day was a beautiful, beautiful day for me.

As is clear from the message, Andrew and my father were not getting along at the time.

That is another long, long story.


On Saturday morning, we first woke up at 7:00, when we heard Tim crying.

Andrew said to me, "I'm going to get up now, but why don't you sleep a little longer, Josh."

"No, if you're getting up, I'm going to get up" I said, and Andrew and I went into the kitchen and Andrew made coffee. While the coffee was brewing, Andrew went to the door, opened it, retrieved the newspapers and brought them back to the kitchen.

Soon we were joined by Andrew's father, in pajamas and robe, and then by Alec, in pajamas. Alec wears the same thing to bed that Andrew (and now I) wear to bed. They are unmistakably brothers, and if I met them on the street for the first time, I would immediately know that they were brothers. If I had never met Andrew, and if Alec were gay, Alec would be my choice as the person with whom I would most want to spend my life, I have decided.

The coffee was soon ready, and Andrew poured everyone coffee and we all sat down and flipped through the newspapers. Lizbeth, in pajamas and robe, soon brought Tim in and began heating him his bottle. Alec held him while the bottle was heating--and of course Tim was fussy.

In about another thirty minutes, Mrs. Van came in, also in pajamas and robe, and she sat down. So here we all were, gathered around the kitchen table again, just like last night.

"How about a little something to eat before breakfast?" Andrew asked.

"Sure" Andrew's Dad answered. "Lizbeth and your Mom could go for some fruit, I expect, and we could have some cereal."

Mr. Van turned to me and asked "Cereal, Josh?"

"Sure" I said.

Andrew then said "Ladies, melons, berries or banana nut?"

"What does that mean?" I asked.

"Would they prefer a plate of cantaloupe and dew melon and watermelon, or a bowl of strawberries, raspberries and blueberries in cream, or a dish of bananas, walnuts and honey?"

Mrs. Van said she could go for a plate of melon and Lizbeth said she could go for a bowl of berries.

"Josh, what about you? Something to go with your cereal?" Andrew asked.

"That banana nut concoction sounds good" I said.





And Andrew went to work, and made his Mom a melon plate, and two bowls of berries and cream for Lizbeth and his Dad, and he made three dishes of bananas and walnuts and honey for Alec, me and himself.

He passed these all around, and then he brought out shredded wheat with skim milk for his Dad, and granola and whole milk for Alec, me and himself.

And this was just "a little something to eat before breakfast"? Yes, it was, as the "real" breakfast was to come soon enough.

But the "pre-breakfast" breakfast wasn't done yet!

After he had had his bowl of berries, Mr. Van thought he could go for a little melon, too. After Mrs. Van had had her plate of melon, she thought she could go for a bowl of berries, too. After Lizbeth had had her bowl of berries, she thought she could go for a little melon, too. After Alec had had his bowl of banana-nut-honey, he thought he could go for a bowl of berries, too. I, after my bowl of banana-nut-honey, thought I should do some berries, too, just to stay in the swing of things with everyone else. Andrew made himself a berry bowl, too, to eat along with me and Alec as we ate ours.

When we were all done with this round, Andrew asked if anyone wanted some more melon, as the melons were already cut open. All of the men said yes, so we men all ate a plate of melon, too. That meant that Alec, Andrew and I all got some of each.

When this was done, Andrew said to me "I'm going to go get cleaned up now, Josh, so I can get a head start on breakfast." Then Andrew said "Everybody, just leave your dishes in the sink, and I will wash them when I come back. What does everybody want for breakfast, so I will know what to start?"

Everybody looked around, as if they didn't have a clue.

"No requests?" Andrew asked.

No one said anything.

"How about Eggs Benedict, then?" he asked.

"Yeah, that sounds good" everybody but me said all at once, and Lizbeth turned to me and said "Andrew makes his own Hollandaise sauce from scratch. He can do it without lumps."

And Andrew asked me "Josh, can you go for Eggs Benedict?"

"Sure" I said.

So Andrew went to get cleaned up, and I was left alone with his family. I wondered if they would take advantage of this opportunity to ask me anything, and I did not have long to wait.

"Well, now, Andrew cooks for you, doesn't he?" asked his mother.

"Yes, all the time" I answered. "I cannot believe how good Andrew cooks."

"Well, he does breakfasts best" said his mother. "If he offers you fried chicken, run."

"Or that shrimp-tomato-rice dish" said his father.

"Or Swiss steak" said Alec.

"Yes, we don't want to forget about that Swiss steak, do we?" said his father. "Better to turn that down, Josh. Stick with Swanson."

"He still doesn't 'get' meat loaf" said Lizbeth. "Of course, neither do I."

"And I can't understand that" said Mrs. Van. "I have provided him with four fail-safe recipes for meat loaf, and I can't understand what he does wrong. Generally, if it is something that goes in the oven, he does fine. It is when something must be cooked on the stove that he seems to have problems. And that's why I can't understand why he can't do meat loaf. That's such a puzzle to me."

"But Andrew does excellent Wiener Schnitzel, and that is cooked on the stove" I said. "I've had it, and I thought it was superb."

"Yes, he can do Wiener Schnitzel" said Mr. Van. "When he cooks, it's like there is no midway point--it is either superb or . . .or . . . or . . .inedible. There is no in-between."

"I cannot do soufflés well, but HE can, and I cannot understand that" said Mrs. Van.

"You, Josh, will have to learn to cook the things he can't" said Lizbeth. "I am sure you will both work things out."

"I have thought that everything he has cooked has been wonderful" I said. "There has been nothing, not a single dish, that I did not find perfect."

"Then he's been leading with his strengths" said Alec. "Give it more time."

"And absolutely no fried chicken" said Mrs. Van. "Never."

"Josh, do you like to cook?" asked Lizbeth.

"I really never have" I said. "But I am going to learn, because I think we would enjoy cooking together. I enjoy being in the kitchen with Andrew when he cooks, and I like to wash and dry dishes with him. So I want to learn to cook, too."

"Joshua, there is a question I have to ask you" said Andrew's mother. "What's going to happen after graduation?"

Mr. Van immediately came to my rescue. "They are in the thinking stage about that, and not ready to decide anything yet."

"Yes, I know that" Andrew's mother said to Mr. Van. "You mentioned that." But then she turned to me and she said "But we are so curious to know. Does Andrew plan to relocate to Boston?"

"You know, we just don't know yet" I said. "We have discussed that, but nothing is firm. We're just not sure what to do."

"Do you know what you will be doing this summer, Joshua?" she asked.

"That's probably up in the air" said Mr. Van.

"I just wanted to know what he thought he might be doing" said Andrew's mother. "That's all."

I thought I at least needed to mention what Andrew had suggested for the summer. "Andrew has suggested that I spend at least part of the summer in Minnesota" I said. "But, again, that is entirely tentative."

"We would enjoy having you, Joshua" said Mrs. Van.

"Thank you, Mrs. Van" I said. "I know I would enjoying being there. But everything is still unsettled."

"We need just to let them mull things over" said Mr. Van. "I'm sure they are just focusing on getting through the school year for now."

Then Mrs. Van went in for a killer question, although I am sure that she did not do this purposefully or with any realization of what a can of worms she was opening.

"Joshua, do you think that Andrew will be able to get along with your father? Andrew's Dad says they are a case of oil and water."

"Well" I said. And I could not think of anything to say that would be both accommodating and truthful.

Mrs. Van paused for a moment, and said "That doesn't sound promising."

I was trying to think of something nice, and not worrisome, to say, and I still could not come up with anything truthful.

"If Andrew doesn't like someone, he doesn't like someone. He doesn't change his mind" said his mother. "And that can create problems. He shows them that he doesn't like them. They suffer under no misapprehensions--he lets them know what he thinks about them. He has always done that."

"And he saves up" said Andrew's Dad.

"Just like he did against [the former fiancé of Andrew’s middle brother]" said Alec "when he gave her everything at once."

"And that can create problems" said Andrew's Dad.

"And he won't budge" said Andrew's mother.

"Lose credibility with him, and you lose it forever" said Alec.

"Once Andrew has decided that a person is not worthy of attention, he ignores them or, if he has to have contact with them, he plays games with them" said Lizbeth.

"As in the case of [the former fiancé of Andrew’s middle brother]" said Alec.

This is sounding eerily familiar, I thought to myself, reflecting back on Andrew's phone conversations of Monday and Tuesday nights with my Dad.

"One thing I can say, with some confidence, Joshua, is that you and Andrew should probably never move to Oklahoma" said Andrew's Dad. "I don't think that would be a good idea."

I smiled, but I did not say anything. That probably told them everything they needed to know.

I knew I had not offered a proper response, so I thought I should say something.

"Our family is different from yours, Mrs. Van. Everyone sort of goes his or her own way. We don't look to each other for closeness or moral support. We are a collection of individuals who happen to spend part of our time under the same roof."

Mrs. Van looked hurt when she heard what I had said, so I added "But we are all happy in our own way. We just don't have the same kinds of bonds you have."

She still looked unhappy, so I added "Not everyone is as fortunate as your family, and stays close and loving and together. 'Things Fall Apart', as the poem says. 'The Centre Cannot Hold' ."

Then I realized that I had probably made things even worse, and that I should just shut up and quit while I was ahead, and leave Keats out of this entirely.

"Isn't it time for everyone to get ready for the day?" asked Mr. Van, and I was glad that he had come to my rescue once again.

Alec and Lizbeth stood up and Andrew entered the kitchen at that very moment.

"You're all still here!" he exclaimed. "You must have taken advantage of my absence to grill poor Josh to death!"

"You hit that nail on the head" said Mr. Van. Then he looked very kindly at Mrs. Van and added "But only out of an excess of concern for you both."

Andrew turned to his mother and asked "What's wrong, Mom? What's got you concerned?" And he walked over to his Mom, who was still sitting at the table, and he placed his hand on her shoulder.

"Oh, I didn't ask anything any other mother would not have asked" she said. And she got up and she kissed Andrew and she said "And we all need to get ready for the day. It's 9:00. Goodness!" And she and Alec and Lizbeth all left the kitchen.

"Everything OK?" Andrew asked me and his Dad.

"Yes" said Mr. Van, and he got up and left the kitchen, too.

"Everything OK?" Andrew asked me.

"Yes" I said, and I got up and I walked over to him and I kissed him. "And I'm going to put back the sofas now and get cleaned up."

"I already took care of the living room" said Andrew. "All you need to do is to get cleaned up."

And I went and got ready for the day.

When I came back to the kitchen, the dishes had been washed, the table set, something was baking in the oven and Andrew had assembled everything he needed for the Eggs Benedict, ready to get started as soon as everyone re-congregated.

"What's in the oven?" I asked. "It smells good."

"An apple-walnut coffee cake" said Andrew.

"You're determined not to let anyone starve this morning, aren't you?" I asked, and I laughed and Andrew laughed, and he put his arm around my neck, and we stood and leaned on a kitchen counter, waiting for everyone else to return.

Soon everyone else came back into the kitchen, and Andrew gave everyone glasses of orange juice and milk and he got started on the Eggs Benedict. We played with the baby and engaged in idle chitchat during this "real" breakfast. The Eggs Benedict were perfect, and so was the coffee cake.

After we were done eating, Mrs. Van announced "OK, I am going to do the dishes. Why don't you boys all join Mr. Van for his walk?"

Apparently Mr. Van takes a morning constitutional, and Alec and Andrew and I got our jackets and we joined him.

We walked for about an hour, just strolling along, on the streets. Alec and Andrew walked side by side in front of Mr. Van and me, who also walked side by side. We really did not do much talking, but just enjoyed a nice leisurely stroll.

I could not help but notice, watching Alec and Andrew in front of us, how incredibly close they are and how easily they can communicate with each other, without the use of words. They always seem to know exactly what the other is thinking and planning to do. They would change directions without so much as a word between them, and not lose half a step between them.

Occasionally they would turn back to us to say something, or point out something, but otherwise we just walked.

Halfway through the walk, Andrew traded places with his Dad, and Alec and Mr. Van walked in front, with Andrew and I behind them.

It was a nice, almost-but-not-quite bracing walk, and I enjoyed it very much.

When we returned to the apartment building, Alec said to his Dad "Why don't you go on in, Dad? We may continue on for a bit."

And Mr. Van went back into the building, and we three walked around some more, but in a different direction. We walked three abreast, with me in the middle, between these two incredibly handsome and sweet brothers. We did not talk, but just walked. Once in a while Alec would point out something, but otherwise no one said anything. I was completely happy and content the whole time.

It was almost 1:00 when we returned to the apartment, and I was very glad just to have had this chance to walk around the city with both Alec and Andrew, and enjoy their company. It was a very pleasing walk.

"What time do you think you will want lunch?" Mrs. Van asked us as soon as we returned.

"We're in no hurry, Mom. I'm sure no one is hungry yet" said Alec.

"Then let's shoot for 2:30" said Mrs. Van. "We'll have a late lunch since we didn't finish breakfast until 10:30."

And we all went into the living room and joined Mr. Van, who was watching television. He was holding Tim and watching basketball, just as Andrew had predicted. Lizbeth was sitting next to him, and Mrs. Van then sat down next to Lizbeth.

Alec and Andrew and I sat down on another couch, with me in the middle, and we just watched the games.

At 2:00, Andrew's mother got up and went into the kitchen, and Andrew turned to me and said "Let's go help Mom" and we followed her into the kitchen.

"What's for lunch, Mom?" Andrew asked and she said she was going to grill some fresh tuna steaks and make a salad.

"What do you want us to do?" asked Andrew.

"You really want to help?" she asked.

"Yes" we both said.

"Then I'll have you make the salad, but I want you to do exactly what I say" she said.

And, step-by-step, she told us both exactly what she wanted us to do while she herself prepared the dressing for the salad and started preparing the tuna steaks. She told us how to wash each ingredient of the salad, and how to tear or to cut each vegetable, and her instructions were extremely precise.

While we were working, I said "Now, what's this about fried chicken, Andrew? Your Mom said never to allow you to make fried chicken for me."

And Andrew and his mother both laughed, and Andrew said "I don't know what the problem is, but I cannot get it to turn out right. However, I have learned to fry chicken in the oven now, and that works."

"Yes, he CAN do it in the oven" said Mrs. Van. "And it is OK. But it would be even better if he could learn to do it on the stove."

"In the oven? You're talking about Shake-And-Bake, you mean?" I asked.

"No. I fry it in the oven, in butter and shortening. I season the chicken, and fry it in butter and shortening in the oven for 45 minutes, and then I turn it and fry it for another 45 minutes. It works."

"What happened when you tried it on the stove?" I asked.

"Well, it didn't work" said Andrew, and he and his mother laughed again.

"It was perfect, if you were going for a blackened, burned taste on the outside, and red on the inside" said Mrs. Van. "With blood still oozing" she added, and she laughed, and Andrew laughed, too.

When lunch was almost ready, Mrs. Van told Andrew to alert everyone in the living room.

Lunch was nice, the salad was excellent--a bit different and a bit piquant--and the tuna was very good. Mrs. Van said the excess "fishiness" had been seeped out through multiple soakings in ice-cold water, and then prepared in a lemon and white pepper baste.

Andrew and I washed and dried the dishes, and cleaned up the kitchen. When we were done, we returned to the living room and Andrew asked Alec and Lizbeth whether they were going to go somewhere this evening.

"No, we decided we didn't want to" said Lizbeth. "But you should go somewhere if you want to. Go alone, or take your parents. You should try to do something while you are here."

Andrew looked at me and said "What about taking my Mom and Dad to see 'Light In The Piazza' tonight? My Mom wants to see that show." And Andrew turned to his mother and asked "You still want to see that, don't you, Mom?"

"Well, I wouldn't object" she said. "But you might want to go alone."

"The show closes sometime this summer, Mom, so this may be your only chance" said Andrew. "If you want to go, we will go. If you don't want to go, we will not go."

"Let's go see that with the boys" said Mr. Van to Mrs. Van. "You want to see that, I know, and Andrew is right--this may be your only chance."

And without further ado he turned to Andrew and said "We'll go."

"Is that up at the half-price booth?" Mrs. Van asked Lizbeth.

"Normally, but this is a Saturday night, so it may not be" said Lizbeth.

"Well, it might be sold out on a Saturday night" said Mrs. Van.

"No, that show does not sell out" said Lizbeth. "It has not managed to attract a substantial audience."

Andrew turned to me and said "Josh, let's go down to Times Square and check the half-price ticket booth. We'll get tickets there if they are on sale. If not, we'll walk up to Lincoln Center and get tickets at the theater. And you'll get to see some more of New York. Will you go?"

"I'll go!" I said.

"We'll take the subway. And Dad, I'll call you if we get tickets, and then we can just meet you at the theater. It's already 4:15, so we won't come back here before the show."

"What about dinner?" asked Andrew's mother.

"Josh and I can get a snack before the show if we need one, and then we all can have dinner after the show" Andrew said. "We can go out to eat after the performance, and not have to bother Alec and Lizbeth."

"That's a good idea" said Andrew's Dad. And, turning to Mrs. Van, he said "Let's do that."

"We can if you want" she said. "But I did have a dinner planned for here."

"Is it something that won't keep?" he asked.

"No, I guess not" she answered. "If you guys want to eat out, then let's eat out."

"Then let's do that. Dinner out after the show."

And with that Mr. Van got up and reached for his wallet.

"We've got it covered, Dad. You can pay for dinner if you want to" said Andrew.

And, turning to me, Andrew said "Josh, let's go." Then, turning to his Dad again, Andrew said "We'll call you when we get tickets." And, wishing Alec and Lizbeth a nice evening, we left.

We took the subway to Times Square, and we went to the Tickets booth and we saw that tickets for "Light In The Piazza" were listed on the board, and we got in line and we bought four tickets to the show. Andrew called his Dad and told him that we had obtained the tickets and he told his Dad that we would be in front of the theater, waiting for them, no later than 7:30, and that there was an 8:00 curtain.

"You want to walk around for a bit?" Andrew asked me after we got the tickets.

"Yes, of course" I said, and Andrew took my hand and we held hands and we walked around the Broadway theater district and examined theaters and theater marquees for quite some time. Andrew had never held my hand before in public, and he held hands with me, nonstop, as we walked around for the remainder of the afternoon and early evening. He was very subtle about it--we walked shoulder-to-shoulder with our hands down at our sides (at thigh level, in fact), between us. No one would have noticed unless they were paying very close attention to us. He held my hand very gently some of the time, and very tightly some of the time, and some of the time he would massage his fingers in and out of my fingers. It was very exciting and very beautiful. Every time we arrived at a street corner and had to stop, Andrew would turn to me and look into my eyes and smile and squeeze my hand.

After we were done walking all around the theater district, we walked down to 34th Street and walked around The Empire State Building, and then we reversed course and headed toward Lincoln Center. Andrew stopped and showed me Carnegie Hall along the way, and in front of Carnegie Hall he asked me if I was hungry. I said "No, not in the least" and he asked me if I needed to eat before the show. "No" I said. "OK" he said. "I was only asking because there is a good delicatessen near Carnegie Hall."

We did stop to have coffee shortly after that, just to sit down for a bit and get a jolt of caffeine, and then we continued walking up to Lincoln Center, going out of our way to see the Plaza Hotel and a couple of other notable buildings Andrew wanted to point out to me. When we arrived at our destination, we walked around Lincoln Center for a while, just killing time as it approached 7:30.

We were standing at the fountain and just getting ready to head over to the Vivian Beaumont Theater when Andrew saw his parents get out of a cab in front of the plaza. We went over to them and escorted them to the theater.

At the theater, Mr. Van sat next to Mrs. Van who sat next to me who sat next to Andrew. Mr. and Mrs. Van had changed clothes, and they were very nicely dressed, which gave the event sort of a sense of occasion.

The show was interesting, but not completely successful. The book was not good, and the show was not properly shaped. A good writer needed to have been called in, and to have re-shaped the show and re-written the book. A few moments were near magical, but most of the show fell entirely flat. It was easy to see why the show only appeals to a specialist theater audience. Everything was just ever-so-slightly off key, but the serious intent of the authors was never in doubt.

Over dinner, we talked about the show, and practically nothing else. Mrs. Van, apparently a great lover of theater, said "interesting but flawed", Mr. Van said "a total failure, but a dignified failure" and Andrew said "no one associated with the production had the talent level to sustain their vision, including Adam Guettel, whose musical range was not wide enough to encompass the show." I said I withheld judgment on the music, needing to hear the score a few more times. Andrew said that he would get me the cast album and that we would listen to the music again--and make it a memento of our first evening in the theater together.

Dinner was at a Mexican restaurant near Lincoln Center, which was supposed to be highly regarded but which was over-priced and not very special, and after dinner we took a cab back to the apartment. It was after midnight when we returned. Alec and Lizbeth were already asleep, and everyone went straight to bed.

It had been a wonderful and very special day in New York City.

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