Wednesday, March 2, 2016
The Naked. And the Nude.
Raped by Moon Maids? Please, it's ones from Uranus you have to look out for.
So, what can't Cookie go into, but after seeing this, he cannot stop himself from doing?
The bit about the "Piano Recital in the Nude."
That shook a memory loose. Not of a piano, but about a lady and a her double pedal action concert grand harp.
There was a woman in our neighborhood - a bit of an eccentric who lived on our street in Shaker Heights. She had a large, formal harp. And she had a picture window.
Said woman had attended Juilliard, and had arrived in Cleveland after scoring position with the Cleveland Orchestra as a harpist. (NOTE: Cookie's step grandfather was concertmaster under George Szell for the Cleveland Orchestra.) She stayed a bit, met a guy named "Guy", gave up her position to become a mother.
She was a bit bohemian in that she was into organic before it was chic and if you mentioned Woodstock she would recount a lovely day spent in Woodstock, New York in the early 1950s in which she had a picnic in a field with a handsome boy who attended Colgate with her.
I, of course, being in that seven to eight year old age range had no idea what Colgate was, other than a toothpaste.
She was brilliant, but a bit off. Enough off that she simply ignored housework, a pack rat husband and her two sons and two daughters just enough. She told my mother "I send them off in the morning and if they come home at night, I have done my job."
Mrs. X was also had an annoying habit of showing her agreement with someone while they were speaking of softly saying "Truth" after every statement she believed. She dressed in folk dresses while the rest of our mothers were still shopping at Bon Wit Teller and Halle's.
And there was her cat, named Katz, named after her rabbi, Rabbi Katz.
But her harp, in the window, overlooking the thoroughfare we lived on was magnificent, and it's golden skin sparkled in the winter sun when she would open the drapes. For all the chaos around her, the harp was the one thing nice thing that she owned. We all had pianos. But only they had a harp.
And when she retreated into her harp, for a couple hours each day, everyone was banished from the house. Outside it sounded lovely, but as son number three would point out - "It gets on my nerves."
One day, my mother, out of the blue, said that I wasn't to play with the children from that house. I tried the usual childlike debate tool of "why? why? mommy, why?" which was met with "Because, that's why."
Well, since ignoring one's mother is what children do, I continued to go over to their house, I just didn't tell my mother where I was going. I was smart enough to know that if I went too often, verily, my mother would be onto me.
One winter's day, I went to the house of the children on the other side of the harp lady. And we were shooed outside and a game of tag with snow balls commenced. The snow in their yard had been compacted by the thundering feet of children in the neighborhood, while the harp lady's yard was pretty much untouched.
So I went into her yard to gather some snow for the game. And I heard the music from inside.
And I looked up.
And in the window, there was Mrs. X, seated on her stool, playing her harp.
Without anything on.
I stood there transfixed.
Soon, another child joined me.
And another. And so forth and so on.
We could see her boobs. And she was cold.
In retrospect I would like to think she was playing Beautiful Dreamer or some other like song that she had lost herself in. But when she finished and came back to earth, instead of the after glow or a performance instead of serenity, there were about ten of us, just staring.
She smiled, then reached for a robe, which she draped over her shoulders. She disappeared into the dark part of the room and the shear curtains closed, just like at the concert hall. Minus the standing ovation.
Well then. Us kids had to talk this one out.
"We shouldn't of looked."
"Is she going to call our parents?"
"But she was naked and we saw her boobies."
"She wasn't naked," said the eldest amongst us - a fifth grade girl who had just gone to see the Red Shoes with her mother, and who was wise beyond her years as all ten year girls who have seen the Red Shoes are.
"She was nude, in the classical sense." Well that didn't make any sense to me.
And we never once considered that we had had intruded on her. Sure, she was sitting in the window with the harp, and the curtains were open. But maybe the idea of her being seen by others never crossed her mind. On the other hand, the light was on in the room, and cars were flying down the street.
After a great deal of discussion, and an increasing level of discomfort by what we had witnessed, we decided to each go to our respect homes. We were all certain that she was going to call our parents and complain, and woe to us when they found out. But the phones were silent.
Several days later I saw the kids from that other family as they made their way home from Catholic School.
"Did she call your house?"
"Just my grandma called yesterday, and Mrs. X doesn't know her. Did she call your house?"
"Did she call your house?"
"How would I know," said the worldly ten year old girl. "I've been in the school all day."
She never called our house, and I certainly never told my mother. But then I stopped playing with her children, because, well, I saw their mother, naked.
How do you face your friends when you see their mother in the midst of rapture playing her harp in the nude? And because they went to private schools, I never had to encounter them in the halls of our local school.
As time passed, I wondered if my mother knew but didn't say anything. You know, the old lets pretend that the parent doesn't know to see if the kid will confess and redeem themselves? Nope, not a thing. I even got so bold as to asking my mother what the difference was between "naked" and "nude".
"What in heaven's name brought that up," my mother asked.
"Well," said she, "Venus, the greek goddess is nude, and that is art, and art is beautiful. Naked is is what's in those magazines that your father hides under the mattress."
Still, I couldn't figure out if Mrs. X was naked or nude. If she was nude, in the classical sense, that was beautiful. If she was naked, well that was something that made you pull the curtains. And why would anyone put a magazine under a mattress?
By the third grade, the woman, her husband and their sons moved on. They sold their house and good Lord knows what happened to them, but they were gone. Their home was purchased by a family from India. And the mother was as far from naked or nude as you could get - she was dressed in yards and yards of brightly wrapped silks and gauzy materials.
A year later we moved out of the neighborhood as well to Fairmount Circle, on the northern edge of Shaker. From my new bedroom window, I could see John Carroll University, and that fall students at the college joined their brethren nationwide in the "Streaking" craze.
When I was in my forties, and this had faded long into the past, one night we were finishing dinner at our house in Columbus. My mother - in town for one of her many doctors appointments - had consumed an entire glass of wine. She seldom drank anything, so the wine got her extra tipsy and talkative. The conversation got a bit nostalgic, and I asked her why she laid down the law years ago and told me to stop playing down at the X's house.
"Well," she said, "the kids were good kids, so it wasn't anything that they did. Evidently, Rabbi Katz had come to call, on the 'X's' one day and as he walked up the front walk, there was Mrs. X, playing the harp without a thing on. Rabbi X had told his wife, and his wife had told one of her friends, and she told to friends, and so on," and evidently it got back to my mother.
"And," she continued, "I didn't want you around that weirdness," said my mother sipping from her wine glass. "We had enough weirdness in our own house." My mother never drank, as a rule, but a little wine loosened her up a bit. "I thought Nancy Gallagher," (the mother of the worldly fifth grader who is now a talking head on the national Sunday News programs) "was going to have an utter stroke when she found out."
"So was she naked, or was she nude?" I asked. "I mean did she play it naked, or was she playing it in the nude, in the classical sense?"
"What difference does that make? She was sitting in the front window without any clothing playing that harp, Cookie. Nothing that the vice squad would be interested in, but if word got out it could hurt the property values. And your father would have had a fit had he ever seen her do it. He was convinced that woman was a member of Jews for Jesus."
A sip of wine and she continued. "I'm not saying that she did anything immoral, like seduce the rabbi, but I bet the postman didn't have to ring twice at that house; he just had to stand on the porch..."
Another sip and her eyes narrowed. "Did you ever see her do that?"
"Did you?" I asked.
She pointed out that she had asked me first.
I denied everything. "No, I had just heard rumors." In my mind I could still see her sagging bosom.
"Besides, what effect would it have on me?"
So alas, I will never know if she was naked, or she was nude. But she was certainly without her clothes.
But everytime I see a harp, I think of that day, forty some odd years ago, and imagine in her mind she was nude, playing for the gods. "Beautiful dreamer, wake unto to me..."
Unless a Satyr happened by; then she was most definitely naked.