Thursday, May 29, 2008

Neurotic or Not?

Despite the frequency of friends’ funerals in my parents’ social schedule, their perennial good spirits are undimmed. I can’t help but wonder how they do it. As I reel from a bout with the Fates at their Mean-Girls-worst, I ask Mom, “Is life always like this after fifty?”

She cheerfully reassures me with the wisdom of her seventy-five years, “Oh no. It goes in cycles. You’re just having a bad round.”

Bad round indeed. I think I’ve aged more than the requisite four years in the leap from forty-eight to fifty-two. My kids left home for college. I’m menopausal. George Bush won the election, 9/11 changed life forever, and my friend Hove assures me that Armageddon is not an “if” but a “when.”

In maudlin moments, I yearn for life to return to normal, but what, exactly, does that mean? The anxieties that rocked me in my thirties and forties are behind me, safely resolved. From my current perspective, those days look positively rosy. Is “normal” then, a fictional state of smooth and easy fabricated by hindsight?

In trying to delude myself into a sense of control as life makes it clear I do not hold the reins, I have become a mite compulsive. Where I say “a mite,” Dave would argue for “anal.” While I know better than to take he-of-messy-counters-and-buried bureaus as my guide, even I find it worrisome when I catch myself counting footsteps during my solitary morning walk.

Smooth-skinned beeches and oaks shade my street. Warblers try out tunes that might lure in a mate. I stride the asphalt ribbon threading among them, but I see and hear nothing. In the words of an old prayer, I walk sightless among miracles, counting. “Whoa! Up and out!” I berate myself. “Get out of your head and look up at the trees.”

Dutifully, I lift my chin to seek peace in the spread of leafy limbs. As if a switch from “count” to “pray” has been thrown, like an automaton I begin my recitation: “Thank you Lord for watching over my dearest Dave, my treasured kids, Mom and Dad, my sisters and nephews, my friends, my grieving friends, my sick friends, suffering people I’ve read about in the newspaper, the soldiers in Iraq, the refugees in Darfur…” I worry that I might leave someone out – I need to cover them all. It’s another compulsion, I know, but I feel helpless in the face of the world’s threats, and my litany is my talisman; I feel I’m doing something.

I press the Lord’s patience, yammering away, and as I ask His help in remaining open to His guidance, I can almost hear Him thunder, “Maybe if you’d shut up for a minute!”

He’s right, of course. I never shut up, at least not in my head. My calm expression masks, at any given moment, a stew of thoughts: lists, worries, and the morning newspaper’s rarely-glad tidings. When the harangue takes the form of a feverish dialogue between my worst and better selves, I feel like a referee, mentally holding at bay two punch-swinging sluggers.

The other day, I was cozy in bed, enjoying a well earned sleep-in when I was jolted awake by the slam of a drawer and 183 pounds of husband weighing on my feet.

“Hon? Hon! What are you doing?”

“I have to take my car in for servicing.”

“Do you have to sit on me? It’s Saturday.”

“I sit on the bed every day to put on my socks. I didn’t know your feet were there.”

Lea–Be-A–Jerk was incensed at Dave’s lack of consideration. She was shoveling fuel into the fires of indignation, remembering other mornings when Dave hit the snooze alarm two, maybe three times releasing some wailing violin or storming tympani to wake me again and again. Why couldn’t he slip noiselessly from the bed, striving not to disturb his peacefully slumbering wife?

Lea-Be-Nice could not be restrained; “Oh please! You’re impossible! You loll here until 7:00 while Dave wakes at 5:30 am, drives a forty-minute commute and works all day! Maybe it would be nice if you got up once in awhile to keep him company, or, heaven forbid, make him breakfast?! You make me sick!”

She’s right, she’s right. I hate myself.

I wonder at my internal ravings. Does everyone live like this? Can I blame it on menopause?

My friend Gail has cautioned, “Don’t judge your interiors by other people’s exteriors,” and I know there’s wisdom in that. Everyone else appears to be on top of things while I wail away inside, counting and bickering and scolding and worrying, yet I know that I, too, have a convincing public face. I’ve been told more than once, “You’re always so upbeat!” Indeed.

As I face fifty-three, and the dread morning news, I slip on my cheery mask and clamor for the Lord’s attention. I can almost hear His sigh of resignation as I launch into my list.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Racing to Casey...Slowly

Casey on-stage fills my heart with a joy that banishes every other thought or feeling. I smile, all light, listening to my daughter sing.

It has been awhile. She last sang onstage three years ago, at college. Dave and I had been anticipating her upcoming cabaret showcase for months. But we almost didn’t make it.

It seemed reasonable to depart at 2:10 in order to arrive when the theater doors opened at 4:00. Dave’s brother, Steve, and his wife, Debby, were meeting us at the commuter lot on Route 58 at 2:20.

I cut Dave’s hair after his shower, then meandered outside to clip some lilac boughs for Casey. Zach, Casey’s boyfriend, arrived promptly at 1:45. Our friend Joan pulled in about 2:05; she’d stopped to buy brownies from two kids at a road-side stand. We left our house right on time, picked up Steve and Deb, and cruised onto the Merritt Parkway.

We zipped along, boppin’ to “Love Shack’ and “Disco Inferno.” The lilacs perfumed the car. The day was sunny; we were off to New York City to see Casey’s show; and we were all together.

As we crossed into New York state, the weather turned. The sky clouded over and it started to drizzle. Then it poured. Oh well!

Traffic slowed to near non-movement as we passed a phalanx of Trump buildings overlooking the Hudson River. It was 3:30. Plenty of time. “How far do we have to go?“ I asked.

“Still quite a ways,” Dave answered.

Joan was sitting next to me and we are one in our anxieties and vulnerabilities. Her antennae were quivering, invisible though they were, swiveling my way as she tuned in to my angst.

We crept along. Sort of. “I’m getting off,” said Dave.

The pace was not much better on the crossroads of the city. We hit every red light. We were daunted by one-way streets. Our path was barred by sawhorses put up for a street fair.

Finally, we went right on 7th Avenue, turning toward our destination-address of Christopher and 7th. We don’t know the city well, and this turned out to be a bad choice. “Is that Times Square straight ahead?”

Of course it was.

It was Times Square with its mammoth neon signs, come-on posters and head-thrown back gawkers; with its press of visitors from Japan, Germany and France; with its babble of voices and its streets clogged with vehicles that do not move.

It was 4:00. Somewhere out there, on Christopher and 7th, the doors of the theater, The Duplex, were open.

I wish I could say that my mantras were working, that “faith in the unfolding” was reeling peacefully from brain cell to brain cell, keeping me calm and resigned. But, no.

Through gritted teeth I said, “I may have to walk. I am not missing this show.”

We were blocks from The Duplex. Blocks and blocks away. Walking was not a sensible option.

Hysteria was an option. And I took it; quietly, and in my own head. I pictured my girl walking onstage – beautiful, a little nervous, but ready to belt. I imagined her face as she scanned the audience, peering past the stage lights into the dark… and seeing that we were not there.


My mind shifted to blame-mode, always a good release. But there was no refuge there; this was no one’s fault. My eyes darted from frozen car to frozen car. “I’ll grab a cab,“ I thought, ever so rationally.

In my self-centered stewing, I gave passing consideration to Zach who sat, quiet and patient, in the middle seat with Debby. He’d opted to ride with us rather than take the train. This would be his first opportunity to hear Casey sing.

I flickered a thought in Dave’s direction as he sat white-knuckled at the wheel, yearning to see Casey as much as I was. I gave a mental nod to Joan, Deb and Steve, Casey’s faithful godmother, aunt and uncle who’d attended every show in which she’d appeared.

And we were all stuck in traffic at 4:15.

Dave, my generous, most-beloved husband said, “You all take the subway. I’ll deal with the car.”

I was already gathering up my umbrella and coat. I felt badly for Dave, but I’m a selfish mother. I was not going to miss Casey’s show.

Steve said to his brother, “You’ve got to see her too. I’ll take the car. You find a subway.”

Steve and Dave ping-ponged briefly over who’d take the car, or more accurately, who’d sit in the car in traffic. Debby said, “I’ll stay with Steve. Hurry up and go! You can’t miss this!”

Subways, oh! They are scary. I don’t really trust them. What if we chose the wrong line and wound up in some god-forsaken place?

We asked the man at the cubicle for directions as we purchased a ticket. We confirmed with another man as we waited on the platform. We checked with a third man once we boarded the train. We were not going to miss this performance.

I asked Zach, ‘What’s the time?” and he glanced at his watch. ‘”Don’t tell me!’ I said. “I don’t want to know.”

His blue eyes were kind, indulgent, forgiving. “We’re fine. We’ll make it. We’re fine.”

The lilacs I’d gathered were drooping. The scent was a comfort, the lavender flowers and heart-shaped leaves a happy splash of color in the underground tunnel. Each time the train lurched, I stumbled, thrusting the lilacs into a stranger’s face. Each time, the stranger smiled.

28th street. 24th street. 23rd street. A local. These trains usually fly. We were moving so slowly; could something be wrong? A technical failure” A blockage on the tracks? Were we on the right train?

“Christopher Street!” Joan shrieked as we shuddered to a halt. We pushed out the sliding door and bolted up the stairs.


“That’s it,” said Zach. “Across the road.”

“It? You mean The Duplex? We’re here?!”

We raced across the street, the wilted lilacs bobbing and shedding a trail of spent blossoms on black asphalt. We thumped up the stairs and took our seats.

The lights dimmed and there was a slight commotion in the back of the theater. Steve and Debby smiled and waved as they inched down the aisle.

We made it. We all made it. And Casey singing onstage filled my heart with a joy that banished all else. I smiled, all light, listening to my daughter sing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

First in the Casserole Line

“I probably shouldn’t say this…. and I swear I don’t mean it sexually, but I just want to take your husband home.”

The winsome brunette graced me with a pert smile as she sashayed toward the front door. She’d just left the Parent Support Group, a womb of conversation and guidance that my husband moderates at Eagle Hill School. I nodded indulgently and shot her a bright grin of my own, thinking, "another babe in the casserole line."

My mother introduced the casserole line concept. At age seventy-five, she has a preponderance of widows among her friends. “I’ve counted! There are ninety-eight. It’s so difficult to plan a dinner party with a nice balance of men and women.”

Given these odds, if a wife passes away, the widower can barely draw breath before a line forms at his door. “Of course most of our male friends don’t cook,” explains Mom, “so the women drop by saying, ‘I brought you a casserole.’” With this thinly veiled courtesy, they stake their claim.

While I’m not planning on dying anytime soon, Dave and I have joked about the casserole line since we started dating at Trinity College in the seventies. My husband’s queue of admirers is long because the man is a saint.

The benefits of marriage to a man this good are many. He’s an excellent chef and does most of the cooking. He shares in housework and parenting, and knew more about babies and diapers than I did when our son, Tucker, was born twenty-seven years ago. When we’re apart, no matter which one of us is traveling, I find, in my luggage or under my pillow, a poem, of the “roses are red” variety, wrapped around a piece of chocolate for every night of separation.

The man is good. You can see why the casserole line is so long.

Oh, he has his flaws, although some would dismiss them as trivial. Every night when he comes home from Eagle Hill, he leaves a trail of his wallet, keys, glasses, and files strewn across the kitchen counter like animal spoor. We’ve discussed this, many times, but I’ve lost that small battle. And I’ve learned not to worry about the top of his bureau either. He’ll clean it when the teetering piles cascade to the floor. Scattered belongings and messy surfaces are traits as distinctively-Dave as his black hair and mustache.

Punctuality is another arena where we’ve come to blows. Well, maybe not blows, but we’ve had words about it, harsh words. More times than I’d like, I’ve waited fuming in the car as he fiddles about searching for his wallet, keys or glasses. You can bet that a snide, ”Did you check the kitchen counter?” has peppered a few exchanges. On my own, I am never late for appointments. With Dave at my side, it’s part of life.

Who cares about such things; they are, one might say, endearing flaws. And I recognize that. So clearly. As mid-life has wrenched away delusions of security, I am more grateful than ever for Dave’s support and solidity. But it’s hard to be cheated of righteous anger, to feel, whenever a skirmish arises, that I am picky and childish.

When I explode with shrewish shrieking after biting my tongue to the point of dismemberment in frustration at his procrastination or clutter, he’ll say, “You’re right. I’m a terrible person.” And so, I am dis-armed, because he is, in all ways that matter, so good.

I met him through his older brother, Steve, when I was a freshman at Trinity College in Hartford.

I graduated in June, 1971, third in my class and head of the cheerleading squad, from Miss Porter’s School, Jackie Kennedy’s alma mater. I was a preppy, although I’d never heard the label until my college roommate asked if there were any books in the library about “your kind of people.”

“My kind of people?”

“Yes! Preppies!” she said. “I want to write a research paper about you!”

Hmm. I couldn’t help but wonder what the public school equivalent was termed, but it was evident that being a preppy was not particularly desirable. I changed gears, as much as I was able, and embraced the trappings of being a hippie, while avoiding the risky experimentation. I wore my brown hair long and straight like every other girl my age, and turned in my letter-sweater and pom-poms for embroidered peasant blouses and patched bell-bottom jeans. I studied, played guitar, dabbled in papier-mache, and focused primarily on hoping people liked me.
I’d been raised on the mantra, “What will people think?” and spent considerable time agonizing over just that. Orchestrating my life around my perception of what peers, parents and teachers might think was tricky enough, but, having attended girls’ schools from kindergarten on, when it came to boys, I was hopeless. What do you say to them? God only knew what they might be thinking. College life – with boys in class, at every meal, even at the adjoining sink in the bathroom, for heaven’s sake - was new territory.

I met Dave’s brother on a snow-covered slope above the soccer field on a wintry evening in January. A group of us had borrowed trays from the dining hall to serve as sleds, and Steve and his friends were among the sledders. From that chilly night on, to my lasting wonderment, Steve adopted me as the sister he’d never had.

In those days, Steve’s upper lip was masked by a mustache, and the red bandana tied about his head gave him the look of a pirate. A cute, fun pirate. Unlike me, a preppy disguised in bell-bottoms and tie-dye, Steve and his friends were legitimate hippies, plus, they were seniors, and they were cool.

I was so not cool. When Steve asked me, one spring afternoon, if I’d like to go with him to watch his little brother play baseball, I agreed with as much nonchalance as my inner puppy-dog would allow. Subduing the urge to wag my tail and prance was not easy.

We walked across Trinity’s tree-shaded quad to reach the baseball field at the far side of campus. Dave was warming up, feet planted wide, swinging a bat. With his long black hair, tan skin and full mouth, he would have looked at home on a pinto, galloping the plains with his fellow braves.

After the game, Steve introduced us, then we drove Dave back to his dorm. It was an uneventful first meeting and if heavenly cymbals were clashing, I didn’t hear them. I was dating someone else and Dave had a crush on my roommate.

It was 1972, a wrenching time for the country. People our age were dying in Viet Nam. Draft numbers were posted in Mather Hall and students dressed in Grim Reaper attire flanked ROTC recruiters when they visited campus. The seniors, Steve’s class, organized outdoor parties and concerts; they projected movies on sheets draped from Northam Towers, a prominent dorm on the Quad. Their creative spirit helped balance the anguish and fear of the war, and when they graduated, the school’s walkways and common rooms seemed empty and cold.

Dave and I naturally came together; we both missed Steve.

Before long, Dave told me he liked me. Whoa. This guy was different. What a change from the guessing games that had been part of the deal with other boys.

My friends cautioned, “Don’t blow it; the man’s a saint.” It’s a refrain I’ve come to know well.

Our friends saw Dave as a thoughtful and insightful confidante, although as a teenager, he had no idea that listening would play a key role in his life. If anything, to this day he complains about the brotherly image he projected at Trinity. If ever a co-ed drank too much at a fraternity party, she could count on Dave to see her safely to bed.

“And then what happened?” I now ask teasingly.

“I tucked her in and went back to my dorm.”

Even knowing the truth of the stories and the character of the man, I poke a bit further, just to get a rise. “Oh, come on. You can tell me…”

“Humph,” he scowls. “You know it’s true. All those missed opportunities!”

After we married in 1975, we moved to Greenwich to help open another branch of Eagle Hill. Dave earned his masters degree and became the school psychologist. With his intuitive ability to work with kids and an unflagging willingness to be available for others, he was beloved and respected. He knew what he wanted to do with his life; he was doing it and doing it well. I was a little flicker beside his flame; Eagle Hill-Greenwich was his place.

When we moved to Easton in 1990, I transferred to Eagle Hill-Southport while Dave retained his position at the school in Greenwich. For the first time since college, I had an identity of my own; I was not just Dave’s wife. I settled into multiple roles as a wife, mother, teacher, and activist and joined the town’s conservation commission. I had found my place.

Dave continues to draw accolades. I swear, even my parents would take his side if we split. Friends, family, school parents, and acquaintances tell me, “Your husband’s a saint.” They are kind enough not to say, “Don’t blow it.”

I pass along the latest raves, “Ruth Ann says you’re a hunk. Libby says you’re hot. Carey thinks you’re cool, and wants to be first in the casserole line. My sister, Rita, claims that’s her spot. She wants to keep you in the family.”

Dave rolls his eyes, refusing to believe the compliments.

He maintains that people carry with them the self-image of their adolescence. As a teenager, he was a school baseball star with an acne-ravaged face. “People told me I should wash more, as if I didn’t scrub my skin raw every day.” He believed he was ugly, and wife- and mirror-evidence to the contrary, it seems that adolescent boy is still hanging about.

He was intrigued when I described an encounter with another Eagle Hill mom, a handsome blond, by the punch bowl at the Greenwich spring benefit. Upon discovering my identity, her demeanor changed from casually polite to sultry interest. “You’re Dave Sylvestro’s wife?” With bedroom eyes and a gutteral purr, she said, “You are one lucky woman. He is quite a man.”

She did not say, “Don’t blow it.” I believe she hoped I might.

Dave chuckled with pleasure at this saucy tale, while I looked at him with new eyes. “All right, Honey! She’ll be joining the casserole line!”

The line has more significance as recent years have been liberal with reminders of our mortality. Steve, now fifty-six, has prostate cancer. Dave’s father has been immobilized by a stroke. After a visit to the nursing home, I mention a likely casserole-bearer and Dave growls, “Don’t you dare leave me.”

But of course one of us will go first. Dave says there was never any danger of my blowing it and insists that if he’s left alone, he’ll have no interest in women bearing casseroles. Instead, he says he’ll enter a monastery to copy Bibles.

That is unlikely.

He’s far too ADD to sit that long, and he is none too fond of organized religion.

“Well, I like the robes, “ he retorts when I dispute his plans.

But I know the casserole line is forming in theory. Carey, my college roommate, is planning a nice mushroom ragu over polenta, while Rita favors shrimp gumbo.

I wonder which dish Dave will choose?

Thursday, May 8, 2008

On the Bongo

November 2003

When I was a kid, my friends and I embraced a new fad at school every few months. Collecting stamps briefly held our interest, but it was too sedate. We moved on to pogo sticks, rendering recess a wild, kangaroo affair. I’m pretty sure that fad ended by virtue of school decree, (too dangerous, too loud! All of that leaping and sproinging!) but Bongo Boards were quiet and a case could be made for their benefit in enhancing coordination.

A Bongo Board was a flat wooden plank resting atop a solid wooden cylinder, as awkward and heavy as an overweight Labrador puppy. Once aboard, once we’d mastered the thing, it was goofy fun, imparting the same galumphing joy as that smiley dog. With arms out straight and feet planted on black rubber treads at each end of the plank, we'd calculate the spacing to spread our weight evenly on either side of the cylindrical roller. We'd practice at home, our spastic tries leading to giggling tumbles and floor-shaking crashes that brought Mom to the foot of the stairs to call, “What was that? Is everyone all right?”

But eventually we were up to stay, knees bent just so, adjusting with the cylinder’s movement, gyrating our hips, increasingly Elvis, as we became confident with the rock and roll.

It was all about balance, and that did not mean standing grimly complacent, square above center. Balance was wrested from those first clumsy attempts and the learning gave license to move, to adjust even while directing the roller into some tricky new position.

Life at age fifty-one is still about balance, but I just don’t seem to have the hang of it. I feel fragile and overwhelmed. How much of my angst is hormonal? How much a flawed personality? How much this troubled world?

I spoke to my cousin Julie today and she recently suffered another bout of colitis, leaving her afraid and weak with pain. Jules and I share the same head and heart; we quail at life’s daggers, even when none are specifically directed our way. She was weepy with worry about her debilitating illness, conflicts at work and the blunders of the Bush administration. In seeking to buoy her, I dragged myself from my self-stirred quicksand and, through the phone lines, we held hands – steadying each other on the sliding board, trying to find the center of the Bongo.

Tearfully she said, “Everyone has hard stuff - illness, nasty clients, dismay about Bush - but they all seem to deal with it. What’s my problem?”

Tweak the words a mite and I heard myself, "You have a dear husband, great kids, and a wonderful life. What’s your problem?"

It seems like everyone else is up on the Bongo Board, smiling broadly, rolling easily from side to side, making adjustments and staying on top as I lie weepy on life’s floor. My friend Gail would say. “You see other people's public faces. You know nothing of what goes on inside.”

I told my cousin of Gail’s wise words, “Don’t judge your interiors by other people’s exteriors.”

“Say that again,“ said Jules. She knew truth when she heard it.

I said it again and we conceded that balance is key. But we live in the Northeast where “balance” is a four-letter word, and aspirations to “busy” earn honors. The corporate model of life-to-the-fullest means efficiency, production and profit. Those of us who harbor a yen for peace, creative expression, and only occasional exercise feel terribly out of step. As I consider a job change to allow more writing time, I think about the innocuous question that is sure to come my way, “So tell me, what do you do?” I remember the reactions when my kids were little, when I’d answer that I was a stay-at-home mom. “You are! How wonderful!” Genuine as margarine.

As Jules and I chatted, she laughed sheepishly in relating her vision of being forced to sell her house to move into a two-room apartment as trade-off for jettisoning a mean, but profitable, client. She loves her work as a graphic designer, but has a hard time when people are nasty.

Is balance a luxury few can afford? Is balance a state to be afforded? Does money enter this picture? How much did those Bongo Boards cost?

It is a surprisingly difficult internal dialogue. Do I have to buy into the whirl? Am I a wimp if I want to withdraw?

What do I say if someone asks what I do? “Um, I’m doing a little writing…” I can picture the stretched smile and pitying eyes in response to my negative when they ask, as of course they will, if I’ve published any books they might have read. Is that worrisome enough to continue a path that makes me feel crazy and vulnerable? Old lessons – old, old lessons - rear up as I fight off my concern about what others might think.

I must stand, feet planted on the Bongo’s rubber treads, knees bent to absorb surprises, then take deep breaths and roll.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Three Good Girls Go Out

The year was 1979. I was one of three good girls, young women actually, who had planned a trip to Daniel’s.

Daniel’s was a classy male strip joint in New Haven.

Hmm. Can the words “classy” and “joint” be used to describe the same place? Can the word “classy” even appear in the same sentence with male strippers? And what in the world were three good girls, and I mean that sincerely, three ridiculously good girls, thinking to plan such an outing?

I bet it was my husband Dave’s idea. Although I don’t remember if that’s true, I do remember that he gave each of us a copy of “Playgirl” magazine as a party favor, as a pre-outing-prep, about a week before we went.

Anyway. Some background on the three good girls.

In the early seventies, Janice and I had been roommates in college. We’d worn tie-dyed shirts and patched bell-bottom jeans, but given the times, we were exceptionally well-behaved. We’d both been cheerleaders at high school. We both loved literature. We both worked hard and got good grades. We were both risk-avoidant. Even to this day, the thought of getting in trouble makes my stomach knot.

Janice is fair-skinned, of Lithuanian descent. She is soft-spoken and I’ve never heard her swear. She is kind, dependable, and she loves animals.

She’s 5’ 4” while I’m 5’9.” I’ve kept my hair long and straggly since college, but Janice cut hers into a blunt, neat bob. I’d say I’m kind too, and I certainly love animals, but I swear a lot more than Janice does.

At the time of our trip to Daniel’s, Gerry had long brunette hair permed into the shaggy wave popular in the late seventies. She is dark Irish, with that distinctive combination of fair skin, flashing blue eyes and dark lashes. We became friends when she started teaching at the school where Dave, Janice and I worked. Like Janice and me, Gerry was kind, worked hard, and I assume she loved animals.

What an unlikely trio on the male-stripper circuit! But that was the point! It was daring!

We were greeted at Daniel’s by tall, handsome men, well-swathed in shin-length camel hair overcoats. This was clearly a respectable – wait, make that “classy” - place.

We took seats at a table toward the rear of the club. It was immediately obvious that we were novices among an audience of devotees. We were also, at age twenty-six, the youngest of those present. In addition, somehow, we’d not received word that a lengthy feather, preferably that of a peacock, was de rigueur at such an establishment.

We ordered our drinks and waited.

The house lights dimmed and a rotating barrage of red and blue lights heralded the arrival of “Luscious Luigi” onstage. I’m not sure I’d agree he was luscious, but he looked, well, classy in his pin-striped business suit.

That didn’t last long.

To the howling and appreciative hooting of feather-waving women, Luigi slipped off his jacket and shimmied out of his pants. I would think that the tickle of countless feathers on his thighs would have been terribly annoying, but he strutted gamely on, dipping and thrusting to accept dollars and kisses.

We, at the table of good girls, had not planned to tuck bucks and as I’ve said, we neglected to bring feathers. For us, all of those matrons with their whistling and calling were as much a part of the show as Luigi.

“Barry the Bod” was up next in a snappy navy police uniform. Oh yes. The ladies loved Barry. Janice, Gerry and I sipped our drinks and grinned at the spectacle.

Once Barry, clad in his g-string, manfully made his escape from his tickling, buck-wielding fans, the lights dimmed once more for the grand finale.

Tony the Italian Stallion was swarthy and athletic as he strode past our table in his cowboy regalia.

“He looks familiar,” murmured Janice.

Familiar? Gerry and I exchanged a glance.

“Yee Haw!” screamed the ladies as the Stallion shed his calico shirt. “Giddy Yup, Baby!” they shrieked as his chaps hit the floor.

“I think he played soccer with my brother in high school,” said Janice as she watched Tony flex a well-muscled bicep.

“Are you kidding?” Gerry and I squeaked in unison as the crowd went wild.

Tony was down to his boots and g-string, his ten-gallon hat still perched on his sleek black hair. He strutted down the aisle toward our table, a man confident, basking in the adulation of hundreds of women.

“Tony?” piped up Janice as the Stallion drew near.

“Janice!” gasped Tony, whipping that big flannel hat off his head, suddenly modest in trying to shield his, um, package.

Jan smiled her sweet little school-girl smile. Did I mention she still looks sixteen? Then she hopped from her seat and gave Tony a hug and they trotted off together to catch up.

“She knows him!” Gerry and I cackled and touched our glasses in a toast, to our soft-spoken, fellow good-girl and her friend, the Italian Stallion.