I went out from the city one evening to visit my mother. It was the early 80s. I was living in the second Institute with Natvar. There, it was a time of trying to “improve” ourselves, infiltrate another level of society of which none of us had ever been a part, but which Natvar was now visiting every morning as he went from one rich woman to the next, giving them a private yoga class, making each of them feel special, important and cared for, listening to them while drinking coffee from gold-rimmed cups, wrapping them around his little finger. Natvar was a poor boy from Greece and Fifth Avenue looked pretty good to him and none of us, when he came home at lunch – quite measured up. So he was trying hard to shape us then, force us into something better that would ease his own passage into better circles.
Mark – with a good hair cut – could spruce up really well. He’d learned from Natvar how to iron a button-down shirt, how to wear trousers with a crease and hang them properly afterwards, how to shine shoes. Mark, after a shower, all dressed up, looked shiny, fresh and new, his eyes bright, his smile wide – or his eyes lazy, his smile languid, or his whole appearance stern when that was the order of the day.
The women – me and Tracy – were more difficult, and of the two I was much more difficult. Somehow, Tracy could put on a pair of sassy little sling-backs and a tight skirt, could enthusiastically apply the new lipstick and she was pretty as a picture – trouble was she wasn’t as educated as Natvar would have liked. He teased her for being a small-town girl – a “git” he called her, a “git” being someone who said “git” instead of “get” – but she was a good cook and sexy.
Marta was just a problem. Smart, yes. Pretty well read. But clothes did not sit properly on her. Not the navy wool skirt, straight to her knees, that came out of a client’s closet, nor the battered pumps that did too, nor the white stockings that Mark thought would make us look better. Hellish clothes, I hated them, I felt ugly in them, but felt I must ear them, must leave my childish hippy clothes behind. I was in the grown-up world now, I thought, Natvar’s workd, and I so wanted to keep up with him. To fail at this was to fail utterly.
My mother was living with my father then. They were both working minimum wage jobs, renting or living rent-free is some place my father’s church had found for them. They were scraping by. I had sent them my tax refund check when it came.
My mother said she’d like to take me out to dinner. She drove to Mount Kisco and walked me into a pizzeria, the kind where the menu is posted up behind the counter with black moveable type on a lit white background.
I knew Natvar would be horrified at such a place, could hear his voice in my head, crashing about it. I was supposed to be learning that I was better than this sort of place.
“Can we go somewhere else?” I asked my mother. I had never asked anything of her before, nothing that questioned her choices or taste, especially when she was giving me something. It felt horrendous to push against her choice of the cheap pizzeria.
She took me instead to a place called The Brownstone Café where you sat down and a waiter came with menus and the desserts had real whipped cream.