This dear, dear child will be a revelation for our daughter-in-law, Jaymie, and our son, Miles. They will be surprised, I imagine, at the enveloping nature of love; I suspect they will realize that the unbound devotion held in their hearts for so long has now found a home. In short, they are now parents. Need I say more? I don’t think so.
Rather, I’ve included a couple of pictures. That’s what granddads do. Besides, a picture is worth a thousand words so why struggle to express what the new world looks like to me and Nettie, Poppi and Nonni as we are now called.
Now let me shift briefly to the fantastic experience of reading at Spark Off Rose. The generosity of spirit from everyone involved is what I will remember most. My nervousness backstage, the dry mouth, the shaky hands and stumbling feet, all that will fade.
What will last and remain distinct are the kindness and support, the gentle assurance offered by all to each other, and especially to me, a newbie. What a wonderful evening. What good tales were told by all.
I look forward to attending more Spark readings in the coming months, and highly recommend that you check out their upcoming reading schedule here: Spark Off Rose.
And now for my truth story, The Dinner Jacket.
The Dinner Jacket
I worked so hard to become popular at Portola Junior High in Tarzana, wearing the right clothes, being nice to everyone. By Eighth Grade I decided I should run for school Treasurer and then more people would know who I was.
I gave a funny speech about my unpronounceable, immigrant name, Zajaczkowski.
And I won! I couldn’t believe it.
The Student Council teacher took the winners to a victory luncheon. And just like that I was sitting with the most popular kids in the school.
They ignored me, of course, but thank god Diane Brown, who was Treasurer last year, sat next to me and showed me how to compute the tip. I mean, I had no clue what 10% percent was of anything!
I had another reason for liking Diane, she was best friends with the most beautiful rich girl at Portola, a dream girl I watched drive away each day in the back seat of her mom’s Cadillac.
I called her My Cadillac Girl.
After the luncheon, Diane handed me an envelope.
“I’m having my birthday party at Doeville Country Club this Saturday.”
Wow, I thought, maybe my Cadillac Girl would be there.
I knew I’d have to ride my bike, no way would I chance having my dad’s crappy Dodge spotted.
When I opened the embossed invitation later, my heart stopped cold. The last line read: Dinner Jacket Required.
Dinner Jacket? Where would I get a dinner jacket? I didn’t have enough money from my paper route and my mom sure wouldn’t buy it.
Then I had an idea…and it seemed genius. I’d go to the school Lost & Found and look for one.
As luck would have it, there were two jackets hanging among the lost items.
Mrs. Gersmann ran the Lost & Found, and even though she knew I was Treasurer, she was a tad suspicious when I picked one of jackets off the rack.
“Did you lose it at the Council Dance last Friday?”
“Yeah, that’s right, I got hot dancing and took it off.”
The coat was big on me with my fingers just peeking out of the cuffs. But it did have lapels and three buttons down the front. Close enough to be my dinner jacket.
The night of the party, cars whizzed past me as I pedaled up Reseda Blvd, headlights shining on the silver bike clips that kept my pants from catching in the chain.
Beatlemania had broken out all over the world, and I could have cursed my mother for sending me to speech class to lose my British accent when we first emigrated to the U.S.
Now all I wanted was to sound like John, Paul, George and Ringo.
As the lights of the Country Club appeared, I tested a few phrases: “‘ello dere,” I’d say with a Ringo laugh. “Fancy a drink?” with a George Harrison smile, all those crooked teeth.
For the first time in my life, I felt I could be somebody like them, some kind of star. Tonight could be the start of all that.
I hid my bike in the bushes, hurried across the parking lot, and opened the glass doors of the club. I expected someone to tell me I didn’t belong. Instead, kids rushed past and I followed them down the main corridor.
I noticed the bike clips on my pants, ripped them off, and stuffed them inside my jacket pocket.
It was Diane. God, I hope she didn’t see me take the bike clips off.
Her mom is next to her in a gold dress that hugs her like a mermaid’s tail. She checks my name off a list. I like that. My name on an official list, as if I do belong here.
The ballroom is loud, large, and decorated with balloons that say Happy Birthday, Diane. A DJ’s playing fantastic music. Everyone is dancing, eating and laughing.
It’s like I’m walking into an enchanted movie set.
I say hi to Craig, the Student VP, trying not to sound too impressed with everything. He barely gives me a nod.
There’s another guy I notice far across the room who keeps staring at me. A big oafish guy, familiar looking, but I don’t know from where.
The music gets even better; and though I’m not a very good dancer, I figure I should ask Diane as thanks for inviting me. I look around the room and that’s when I see her…My Cadillac Girl.
She’s saying hello to Diane. I’ve spotted her just as she got here. Something made me turn in her direction at this very moment.
The DJ puts on I Saw Her Standing There, and it’s like my English Beatles are singing just for me. It’s destiny. That’s why I won the election, that’s why I got invited to the party, that’s why I found the dinner jacket.
It’s our night. The Cadillac Girl and Me.
I walk across the room. God, she’s gorgeous in her yellow sweater. Her eyes widen as she notices me.
“’ello, dere,” I say in my best British accent.
Diane’s looks uncomfortable, probably surprised by how much I sound like a Beatle.
“This is Alexis,” she says, “This is Frank.”
Alexis! I’ve never heard that name before. She is one of a kind.
“I really…like…this song,” I say, my accent a bit garbled, “You wanna da-dance?”
She nods yes. Diane fades to a blur, the whole room fades to a blur an we begin to dance and dance. Song after song.
I’m afraid to look at her for fear she might disappear, afraid to stop to take off my dinner jacket, which is making me sweat. Afraid the night might go poof like Cinderella.
But it isn’t a dream. Alexis is real. Real when we slow dance together. Real when I hold her close to my heart.
At last, the party begins to end. Diane’s mother matches arriving parents with kids.
As Alexis and I walk from the dance floor back to solid ground, the guy who’s been staring at me all night comes up quickly.
“You’re wearing my jacket!” he says loudly.
I hesitate. Pierced instantly to the heart.
“No, it’s me jacket,” I say in a stupid British-American mess of an accent.
I look to Alexis, hoping desperately she’ll say something, just a word, to save me.
Instead, she steps away becoming witness to my murder.
“You stole it at the Council Dance last week!” his voice is nasty now.
I shake my head, “No I didn’t, no I didn’t,” looking for an escape.
“My name’s written on the inside pocket… Ricky Stander!” He tries to grab the lapels. “Give it to me, asshole!”
He grows tougher from the strength of my weakness, and now the whole ballroom has its eyes on me.
Diane’s mother pushes through the crowd.
“What’s happening here?”
“He’s a chickenshit liar!” Ricky screams.
“Stop yelling,” she says.
Diane comes up behind her.
“What’s he talking about?” her mother asks.
I never hear Diane’s answer because I’m already hurrying through the opening she’s made in the crowd.
I break into a full run at the carpeted corridor. Down the tiled stairs, through the glass doors, across the parking lot, and dive into the bushes.
A few minutes pass. No one follows me, but I’m too afraid to come out. I’ll stay here all night if I have to. They might even call the police. Jesus!
I wait and watch as a thick line of white headlights turns slowly into red taillights filing down the Country Club driveway like a funeral procession, my funeral.
Finally, I feel safe enough to push my bike out and I pedal as fast as I can. Of course, I’ve forgotten to put on my bike clips and nearly kill myself when my pant catches and the bike slams to a stop under a street lamp.
I open my jacket, pulling the clips out of the inside pocket.
And that’s when I see it. Printed neatly as can be, Ricky Stander, above the pocket.
How could I not have seen it before?
I throw my bike to the ground, tear off the goddamn jacket, run down the embankment. I don’t go very far because it’s too dark to see and my eyes are suddenly blurry.
I get down on my knees and claw a shallow grave for the jacket, covering it with leaves.
As I stumble back up, I swear I will deny the truth of that jacket to the end of my days. I’ll never admit it wasn’t mine. No one can prove me a liar.
But, of course, no one needs to prove it.
All that matters is that I know what I’ve done, and what can’t be undone.
Above all, I knew then I would never be a member of their club.
Over the years, I’ve struggled with being accepted, feeling the immigrant outsider. It’s in my head, I know that now.
Being insecure is the one thing we all have in common…even the pretty girls and the rich kids.
I have a good family and close friends…that’s the only club I care to be a part of…it’s a club that would never kick me out for not dressing right.
I retired early, and my wife and I spent some years on the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean; when we moved back to the U.S., we did something that surprised not only our friends and family, but ourselves…we joined a Country Club.
And, yes, it has dress code.
- You can’t wear denim on the course.
- No hats at the bar.
- And in the dining room? Dinner jackets required.
As luck would have it, I’ve got a few of my own these days.
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