Lunch with Sandy Meraux

March 13, 2009

Concrete Evidence

Lunch with Sandy Meraux
      I am having Friday lunch at a popular French Quarter cafe with the youthful, as well as entertaining, Sandy Meraux, an engagement fueled by the upcoming renewal of my lease on her wealthy father’s building where my fledgling business, the Nightwing Testing Laboratory, is located. I’m most fortunate to be offered a long term lease in a section of downtown New Orleans where scattered islands of redevelopment have begun to gain a foothold. Also, I am cultivating her acquaintance because my Uncle, Sam Friendly, says she’s a nice, socially connected young woman, and that I am becoming entirely too antisocial spending all my time working at my business. I suspect that Mr. Meraux has asked that Sam arrange for his daughter to rub shoulders with us lower classes—an equal exchange of survival skills for both of us women.
      Sandy is class conscious—though she’s not a snob about it. I tend to look at differences in personality; she would probably describe our differences mirrored in appearance and socio-economic class.  I’m wearing jeans and a permanent unpressed shirt while Sandy sports an almond silk blouse with delicate lace trim.  The almond color matches the small stripe on her designer skirt.  Even our shoes follow personality type—Birkenstocks versus casual pumps?
      Sandy’s carefully coiffed brown hair resembles a fashionable sculpture that is held together at the top of the swirl by an impressive diamond stickpin. She has told me at least twice about how she inherited the piece of antique jewelry from her great, great, maybe another great, grandmother. The lady was supposed to have been a French Duchess who escaped with her head during the revolution by posing as a peasant class model for a famous French painter—Francois someone-or-other that I’m supposed to know.
      I went down the list comparing points: Sandy with lustrous brown hair; me with dark strands highlighted in dull patches of sun damage; Sandy with clear, olive complexion; me with the raw scrubbed polish of a school girl; Sandy with her pert nose; me with one that is too straight; Sandy with her manicured nails; me with yellowed nails from the spill of mild nitric acid under the fume hood last week. No need to go on.
      In contrast to my friend’s causal elegance, I am wearing faded jeans and a checked cotton short sleeve shirt that has grown too tight across the middle. My hair is what I made of it in five minutes in front of the mirror earlier in the morning. My Birkenstocks are suffering from cork depletion where water has soaked through the soles. A mosquito bite on my big toe itches, but I can’t lean under to scratch because someone’s chair behind me has locked me against the edge of the table. Dave’s Eatery attracts a crowd from the headier altitudes of New Orleans society, give or take a few obnoxious tourists that wander in by mistake. Some of the beautiful people are probably wondering what charity case Sandy is working, today.
      Adolph, our waiter, is poised with his pencil against the pad. “How pleasant to see you, Miss Meraux,” he beams at my companion. “I see you’re back, Miss Nightwing,” he adds me to his scene like I’m a movie extra infected with plague. He takes our order for raw oysters, uses his brush to dust off the few specks of pepper flakes on the table in front of Sandy, and moves my glass of mineral water slightly further from the edge of the table.
      “I promise I won’t spill another one,” I try out my best smile on him.
      Sandy smothers a giggle, “I think he’s beginning to like you, Morgan.”
      Somehow I seriously doubt that, gazing at Adolph’s back as he dodges between tables and disappears through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
      A middle aged man that reminds me of a mushroom, a tourist type sporting a Marine haircut and a green T-shirt with Ketchup stains and an “Edwards for Governor” slogan, trolls by our location. Mr. Marlboro’s slacks are sliding down the inverted pyramid under his beer belly. He’s carrying a Miller Light and a sausage sub crushed together in one hand. Grease leaking from the shield of French bread has congealed on the sides of can.
      “You girls need some company?” He’s already reaching out with his free hand to hitch up a chair from the next table.
       Sandy’s appraisal reminds me of someone rejecting a slab of spoiled meat at the butchers. I don’t see her vigorous shooing motion as being very effective, though.
      “Fuck off, asshole,” I smile. Sandy’s eyes widen slightly.
      Our Marlboro man pretends to sweep his eyes on past us to the next table where a pair of more experienced looking women promises an easier rail to hitch his horse. Perhaps I should have warned him that Marge and May are off duty police officers.
      Sandy and I have met for lunch regularly, and we usually wind up discussing her interest in my lawyer, Noel Webster. Why I’d consider discussing Noel with another woman is beyond me—certainly it isn’t because I’ve extended that kind of trust to Sandy. I mean, I kind of fancy Noel for myself. On the other hand, we’d be left discussing Sandy’s professional interests in social psychology and Louisiana’s creative financial programs for the preservation of graft in welfare, or mine talking about mine—save me from this boredom—in the field of engineering sciences. She works for the Center of Governmental Studies, a soft funded think tank that seems to spend most of its time finding funding for itself, while I slave in my own business and plan to starve at an early age. I suppose we could discuss politics, but I suspect my friend tips the scales at the other end of the spectrum from me
      Anyway, my Nightwing Testing Laboratory seems to have benefited from the association, and I’d like to think that Sandy’s social skills with the masses have broadened by association with the educated peasant class. Sandy extracts a brown envelope from her Gucci purse and passes the package over the table. She handles the paper gingerly, as if her psyche will be damage by mere contact with the dirt of business. I’m certain that her old man would laugh.
      “My father must really like you,” Sandi says almost wistfully. “He never agrees to such generous improvements, especially on that old brick building. And five years!  You aren’t sleeping with my old man, are you?”
      She’s teasing me, I hope. Her father’s never yet shown the least interest in anything except my money. “I think he’s guided by future investment rather than quick returns,” I snort. “I’m simply a place holder on the way to higher rental rates.”
      “Oh, if you say so. Mom thinks that older men always have affairs with younger woman,” positing a theoretical situation that seems to reflect her own thinking.
      “No, definitely not.” My friend looks slightly disappointed. I wonder if she harbors secret ambitions?
       “About those symphony tickets,” Sandy sips at her wine and changes the subject.
      “About those tickets,” I echo.
      Today I am plying my villainous lower class interests with the hope of obtaining a pair of symphony tickets to next week’s sold-out performance of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. The piece is a favorite in the repertoire of the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra—possibly because most of the patrons have peaked at the cultural level of “Fantasia” in their musical education. There’s this guy named Mark that I hope to bribe who rigs sailboats and has never heard of fractal mathematics.
      “Don’t you just love the Sixth,” Sandy gushes. “I called him Uncle Ludwig when I was a little girl. I thought Disney was really smart getting someone like Beethoven to do Fantasia.”
      I think she’s just trying to get a rise out of me because she knows I prefer contemporary music. Yes, I would prefer an occasional John Cage to an unending diet of old world classics punctuated by yet another variation on Appalachian Spring. The bright and pungent energy in that piece of music is painfully foreign in flavor to the languid courses of springtime in New Orleans, a season that passes like a lazy yawn which we enjoy sharing with mosquitoes and happily mating alligators. Of course, I don’t mention any of this to Sandy who would find this image much too disturbing.
      “I can hardly wait to see how they’ll do Copland, this year,” she goes on. “Billy the Kid is just about my favorite piece of music. Maybe they’ll do Fanfare for the Common Man next year. I’ll bet Popeye’s would sponsor that concert,” she goes on. “You know, Aaron Copland—Al Copeland.”
      Different spelling, add the “e” for the owner of Popeye’s Fried Chicken, but I keep this to myself. Besides, I think Sandy’s family is old line Republican, and I seem to recall that the Fanfare has been used as the musical theme for opening the Democratic National Convention.
      “Oh, I’d never doubt that,” I encourage her. “Al Hirt could play the lead trumpet,” I add playfully.
      “Really? You think so?” Sandy is positively radiant.
      Our restaurant is not far from the French Market at the edge of the tourist-crowded feeding trough surrounding Lafayette Square. While I’d go along happily with the notion of a certain charm about the place, I’m not sure if Sandy actually “sees” the dirty brick sidewalks or smells the ripeness of spoiled food fouling this section of the city. The shocked expressions on the faces of my European friends as they wade through the filth that collects carelessly on the sidewalks, the streets, and in alleys embarrasses me; also, the way they politely fake an interest in our adolescent sense of decadence impresses me. Not that many of the natives would notice the insincerity—or care. People in New Orleans, like many Texans, seem immune to introspective behavior.
      The window next to our table is streaked with brown syrups of cooking oil and nicotine tar which warms the basic gray color of the brick in the gutter. A steady October drizzle is trying to flush logjams of cigarette filters and flotillas of soggy fast food wrappers from the streets. I try to picture the wind blown debris masquerading as oak and maple leaves in fall colors. A colorful poster promoting Ernest Morial for Mayor of New Orleans in the upcoming fall elections decorates a light pole in the latest political graphics style.
      “I do love the fall,” my lunch partner sighs. “So romantic; all those colorful leaves….”
      I wonder what she’s seeing.
      Okay, what I’m thinking isn’t too nice. But, while I do like to have my little fun at Sandy’s expense, I’ve grown very fond of this woman who is my chronological, if not street, age; I sympathize with the way she has been brought up as an only child without a lot of affection from her parents; and I know that in some ways she knows far more about the wider world and its pressures than I do.
      Also, she’s not as soft as she pretends. Sometimes, when she’s angry, her large hazel eyes remind me of an experienced sparrow hawk calculating the weight and fat content of a mouse trapped in the middle of an empty parking lot. And she has weapons. She has a string of real pearls, not cultured, that divide the swell of nicely developed breasts. The almond colored silk blouse she is wearing does little to obscure her nipples that are puckered out under the influence of the air conditioning and are attracting the attentions of two handsome guys picking at boiled crab one table over. Damn; no one looks in my direction.
      Is this neglect of my person caused by faded jeans and a checked cotton short sleeve shirt gapped at the middle? I run my fingers back through my unruly hair and try one of those sexy head shakes. And why doesn’t the chilled air have any effects other thatn give me unattractive goose bumps down my arms?
      “So, how’s your incredibly handsome Noel?” Sandy stabs a raw oyster with her fork and flicks it through a pool of Tabasco and horseradish on the way to her mouth. My friend first met my lawyer, Noel Webster, at the party Uncle Sam threw a couple of years ago in celebration of my business startup. She’s maintained a feral interest in him ever since that night. I watch her roll the soft lump of meat over her tongue and let the oyster slide down her throat without swallowing. She flashes me a look of hunger and curiosity packaged in a benign smile.
      “Oh, aren’t these oysters simply too delicious?” she dabs her lips with the corner of her starched napkin and poises her fork over another open shell.
      Noel Webster: my dear friend, my first adult love, the father of my best friend, my legal guardian when I was seventeen, and an object of considerable frustration in my life. I first remember him as my white knight riding in to rescue me after my mother died. I was a teenage girl; of course I fell in love with him. His daughter Holly, only a little older than I, quickly became my best friend. Tragically, she died at the hands of my despicable father, Percy Nightwing, who tried to murder both of us. My guilt is that I lived. After Holly’s death I became like a substitute daughter in Noel’s eyes—unpromising for my romantic ambitions with Noel. 
      Am I trading Noel for two symphony tickets? I want to change the subject. “I ran across an interesting definition of pornography last Sunday.”
      “Really?” her eyes sparkle with unfeigned interest.
      Rats! Trapped by my clever subconscious. She is probably picturing herself dancing naked in front of my lawyer. “Do you know Chalmers Lehman?”
      “Daddy does,” her eyes lift up towards the stamped tin ceiling that used to be white while she’s thinking about her father’s circle of friends. “Isn’t he kind of old?” she looks puzzled.
      “Christ, I’m not dating him,” I snap back. “I’m saying he had an interesting spin on identifying pornographic situations.
      Sandy is not fazed. “There was a situation?” her eyes spark with amusement.
      I give up. “He defines a pornographic solicitation as what takes place when the woman’s value is considered less than the sum of her parts.”
      “Nice,” Sandy chuckles, “although there are times when we all like to let our ‘parts’ take the lead, don’t we? Do you suppose that makes any physical relationship with men pornographic?”
      I have to admit that there are ‘parts’ I am dying to try out in the most pornographic way possible. I post a mental bulletin of my offering: seductive outfit, preferably black; expensive perfume, probably French; female-type human, equipped and willing. I try not to picture Sandy unleashing her ‘parts’ on Noel. I’ll be pissed if Noel ever flips over this gorgeous piece of ass sitting across the table from me. If he pats nice little Morgan on the back while telling her how I have a new step mother named Sandy, he’ll get a sample of my left hook.
      “Do you think Noel would ask me to the concert?” Sandy wants to know.
      Once again I wonder what I am planning to give up for two symphony tickets.
      When Sandy scraped all but the last tablespoon of Cajun gumbo from her bowl—one tablespoon being the socially correct amount to leave—and I have pinched the last crumbs of my shrimp po-boy from the tablecloth, Adolph manages to show up with the desert menu. Both of us shake our heads—Adolph’s expression is a truly mournful sight.
      “I’ll pick up the tab,” I beat Sandy to the declaration. I grab my scarred old Penny’s solid vinyl bag and begin digging through the archeological layers. Somewhere below the layer of mysterious and useless keys but before the soil of used Kleenex, I find my shiny new credit card. Adolph straightens his shoulders and continues to look past me at Sandy who forgets herself by scraping the last bit of gumbo out of her dish. Adolph is scandalized.
      I’d felt a stab of jealousy last week when Sandy had whipped out her credit card and offered it to Adolph. Maybe it was the way she held it out between two fingers like it was a rare Turkish cigarette that she was waiting for him to light up for her.
      I hand my card to Adolph with my best flourish. He accepts my card gingerly, as if it were something about pass on influenza, and promises to return with my credit slip.
      “I thought you were against using credit cards,” Sandy comments slyly.
      From my superior technological perspective, I envision a world where intelligent software would offer us a way to fulfill our lives beyond our wildest dreams. Why, someday Adolf might carry a portable device around that he could use with my card that would report my transaction immediately to my bank. Such fluidity could usher in an age where we could lift the rigid burden of cash and enter the community of barter. More importantly, could I sell the idea of equipping meter readers with portable devices to the gas and electric companies?
      My Uncle Sam, on the other hand, warns me of a future in which credit will be used to trap ordinary people into enormous burdens of perpetual debt maintained at ruinous interest rates. His vision of credit cards is the merchandizing of expensive junk, constant replacement, and a rate of obsolescence that sounds obscene to me. I think his idea is ridiculous. He just doesn’t have any faith in cooperative enterprise, having come out of that magically mysterious era of rugged individualism.
      While we’re waiting for Adolph to return, I consider licking a bit of mustard off of a finger tip. I decide I don’t like the look of the nitric acid stains.

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About charles frenzel

I've been writing all my life. I've also painted, composed, sculpted, contributed to molecular research, advanced some mathematical concepts, lived on a sailboat, and worked for a Nobel Prize winner. Nothing in my life has pleased me more than to share my life with my wife and friend of over forty years.

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