Closing the Deal

Written By: Ken Miller

Aunt Leah who lived in Miami Beach loved coming to visit me each summer in East Hampton. She called it “my other beach” and we took many long walks along the shore. She loved the shops and was tireless in window shopping, while all dressed up, handbag and matching high heels at age 80. One day, to my complete amazement, despite deteriorating vision she spotted a $10 bill on the sidewalk on Main Street. My friends adored her and she would spend hours on my deck regaling them with amusing stories about her life and about Miami Beach and the people who lived there.

One of her most touching stories was about Isaac Bashevis Singer the Nobel peace prize winning writer for literature who lived in her building. He and Aunt Leah were both born in the same small town in Poland. He knew her mother and said she was the most beautiful woman in Bilgoraj. Imagine hearing this story in East Hampton about connections in Miami Beach and Bilgoraj, Poland. Aunt Leah had had her own retail shop in Harlem, and finally married a man she had been dating for twelve years. Why it took twelve years is another story.

Aunt Leah was a thoughtful and sensitive woman. At age 10, I was chosen by the school principal to be a bell monitor in the 4th grade back in Williamsburg Brooklyn. It was a great honor to be selected for this formidable and responsible job and required having a good wristwatch. 36 levers had to be pressed at 11:55 a.m. to prepare for lunch, at 12 noon for the start of lunch hour and then again at 2:55 p.m. to prepare for dismissal and then at 3:00 p.m. for dismissal. Preparing for dismissal meant packing your books and then each row of children was called to go to the closet for their coats. Each lever was connected to a bell in each classroom. My mother requisitioned my Cousin Della’s Orphan Annie wristwatch. The cartoon image of Orphan Annie was on the face of the watch and the hands were really big as they were Annie’s. Noon and midnight must have been difficult for her. Naturally, I had to keep this watch covered all the time to avoid being teased. In addition, it kept terrible time and had to be wound every few minutes. I was a wreck. There was a 37th lever that I was told never to push. Curiosity overwhelmed me and I pushed it. It set off the gong for a fire drill. We had been taught that the 3 sequential gongs meant “Get Out Quick!” What was really bad was that none of the teachers took their classes out of the building because they had not been told there was going to be a fire drill. The school building had been built in 1869 and we had lots of fire drills. The principal was livid with the teachers and with me. I was fired for pushing the forbidden lever and for frequent lateness, thanks to Orphan Annie. The job had lasted two weeks. Wonderful Aunt Leah bought me a new Superman watch, when she heard what had happened. During one of the many trips I made to Miami Beach to visit Aunt Leah, we went to the movies at 6 p.m. one evening. At 9 we went out to a restaurant that was a diner type of place that had about 200 items on the menu. Aunt Leah would ask “So what do they have?” I would answer “you could have whatever in the world you want.” A somewhat frazzled and unfriendly waitress told us we could take advantage of the early bird special, which ordinarily was served from 4 to 6 p.m. When I expressed my surprise, she said it was always available. Imagine all those people who thought they had to eat before six to take advantage of the lower price. When it came to ordering the side vegetables she rattled off, “beets, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, corn, green beans, peas, spinach, zucchini.” Aunt Leah asked for carrots. “No carrots!” was the somewhat nastily tinged reply. We then had to change tables because the air conditioner vent was directly above us. We were assigned to a new server and had to re order our whole meal. This waiter had carrots. I think the waitress was just worn out after the early bird invasion.

The story that amused me most was about her next door neighbor and good friend Doris. They were both widowed and lived in mirror image apartments facing the ocean with side by side terraces they never used. Aunt Leah’s apartment was furnished in the style of faux French provincial, while Doris’s had an oriental motif. I always felt like I was in the reception area of a fancy Chinese Restaurant. I named it Som Luck. Every time I visited Doris, I came down with a headache, overwhelmed from the perfume which she copiously sprayed in her living room. The two women visited each other or spoke on the phone about twenty times a day. Every happening in the building, every phone call they received, every ache and pain and any ambulance visit to the building was discussed.

There was a whole social stratum of groups in the building. The widows were ostracized by the married women who feared their husbands would be seduced. So if you went down to the pool, there were the elderly married couples sitting separately from the widows. Aunt Leah and Doris knew which husband or wife of a couple were having affairs with spouses of the group they socialized with. The widows were further broken down according to level of income, the professional background of themselves and of husbands and mental capacity. One woman who had been an attorney was completely alone all the time down at the pool. My Aunt Leah did befriend her and was invited to Passover dinner. There was no Seder ceremony, just Aunt Leah, the maid and the widowed attorney. At the end of the meal when Aunt Leah was leaving, the widowed attorney asked her to pay $12 for her share of the dinner. A very flustered Aunt Leah forked over the $12. When Aunt Leah told me the story, I laughed and asked if that included tax and gratuity.

Doris had been married three times. Her first husband left her for another woman, the second who was the great love of her life had passed away and the third managed to clear out her jewelry and some of the money the second had left. Nevertheless, Doris wanted to marry again and was always eager to meet new men, either at dances or through dates that were set up by her nephew Irving who was a big Miami Beach real estate mogul. Doris would have at least one date or a few and then the relationships would flounder and end.

Irving’s lament was that Doris could not “Close the Deal.”

Doris started dating Sherwin, a snow birder from Milwaukee who Irving had introduced her to. She felt that Sherwin was a keeper and she was very determined to make this relationship work. A high indicator of his interest was his invitation to dinner out on Thanksgiving. Doris and Leah spent a good part of the day deciding on what was to be worn and which accessories were to be used. Sherwin was going to pick her up at 4 p.m. and Doris started her preparations around 3. When Leah had not heard from her between 3 and 3:45 she went next door and found Doris in the tub with the water just starting to run over as Doris had a back spasm and could not reach over to turn the faucets off. Nor could she get out of the tub and Leah could not lift her. While mopping, Leah said she would call the building superintendant but Doris screamed no – she could not have him see her naked. Leah said she would call the police, which elicited more crying and screaming from Doris. Simultaneously, Sherwin arrived. Sherwin was a cool, take charge guy. He took off his raincoat, his shoes and socks, rolled up his pants, had Leah throw a bath towel over Doris and stepped into the tub and lifted a cold but blushing Doris out and put her on the bed. Leah was somewhat taken aback when Doris asked her to get her blue dress out of the closet. It was a miracle recovery. Doris was determined to close the deal.

A few days later, Sherwin advised he had to go back to Milwaukee to attend to some business. Doris said she would like to go with him, but he declined the offer. Doris continued to pressure him and Sherwin finally confessed that he was married in Milwaukee.

The deal could not be closed. Irving continued to lament.