Sunday Afternoon with Mark

March 18, 2009

Concrete Evidence

Sunday Afternoon with Mark
      The fact that I never finished my conversation with Chalmers about Mary bothers me. If my engineer is feeling distracted, I haven’t noticed—but then I’ve been distracted and so I’m not so sure I’m paying much attention to that sort of thing.
       When Mark caches up with me in the church parking lot, we have trouble keeping straight faces seeing as how Mrs. Perkins doesn’t know that we already know each other. We watch Matilda drag Chalmers off, wanting to be out of range of his mother’s hearing. Mark explains loudly that he’s certainly glad to finally meet this mysterious woman after having heard so many interesting things from Mrs. Perkins. I would give up a slice of cheesecake to know what Mrs. Perkins has been saying about me.
      Mark wants to know if we are still on for the afternoon. I’d intend to say no, but wind up saying yes. Saturday, I had thought Mark to be ordinary—well, a guy from Akron, Ohio who doesn’t like hot chili peppers is kind of mundane in New Orleans no matter what else a girl might find attractive. However, Sunday I picture him in a new dimension after I see him in his suit and tie. Women are ever so shallow.
      The day is gorgeous. We head over to West End Park and Seymour’s for a light lunch.  We get there ahead of the crowd.  The restaurant itself has been there for years; though the name has changed a few times.  Even though it is Sunday, I am feeling good, maybe just a little guilty, that I am not at the office going over the finances.  Mark orders a gin and tonic; I decide on a Bocce Ball because I suddenly feel tropical.  I explain to Mark, who is unfamiliar with the Bocce Ball, that my drink is Amaretto hiding behind the guise of orange juice.
      He seems to be thinking about something for a while. “Isn’t bocce a kind of Italian lawn bowling?” he laughs. 
      News to me, but then I didn’t take Italian in college. I think back; when I once had three Bocce Balls in a row, I remember being bowled over. Maybe there is a metaphor.
      I have just uncovered the bits of anchovy in my Caesar salad when I see Mr. Pancrazio arrive at his regular table.  The Man has a tangible aura of power that surrounds him. His thin, leathery, face is crossed with sharp angles and is dominated by an Eagle’s nose inherited from a Roman patrician. He is wearing his white seersucker suit, a flashy, black and white dotted tie, and a wide brimmed Panama hat set squarely on his head. He is escorted by a well dressed young woman who sees him seated, takes care of his hat and helps him with his napkin before she fades back to another table near the kitchen door. Sam has told me Seymour’s is “The Man’s” place and that Pancrazio means something like “supremely powerful.” He certainly commands the immediate attention of the maitre de who is already on his way across the room with a silver coffee carafe and a pitcher of ice water.
      Sam said that the Pancrazio ate lunch every day of the week at the same time in order to meet with his public and to do business. I wonder if Sunday’s are special. Sam laughed when he told me about the long string of mafia charges that never stuck. “The police are looking at the wrong people,” he had said.  “You want to find someone, or you need money for a sick relative, ask Mr. Pancrazio. If you want a fair deal, see Pancrazio. If you’re greedy and looking for trouble, talk to a politician in Baton Rouge. Folks around the Crescent City see the Old Man as their protection against the fat politicos in Baton Rouge.
      I am so fascinated that I forget all about Mark. I observe that after a few minutes, a parade of supplicants starts a shuttle to The Man’s table.  One by one, in some pecking order that I can’t discern, they come to the table and engage in a short conversation. Inevitably there would be a slight bow acknowledged by a nod from Mr. Pancrazio. Then another person shows up.  The people are very respectful.  It is like watching a movie. I know that Italian business men are an influential part of the New Orleans heritage, but I have never had the opportunity to watch the nuts and bolts of the transaction. I also know that the Chinese have a similar sphere of influence, but I have no idea how their business is conducted unless it is through Fong’s in Kenner.  Am I seeing the special Sunday dispensation at Seymour’s?
      I certainly have no reason to do business with The Man, yet I am sufficiently intrigued to consider how I might approach the old man.  I knew from Noel that The Man was a source of ready cash, quite willing to consider any proposition, but insistent on the full balloon payment in the end. I don’t need cash or anything like that, but I wonder what he might know about Laz’s disappearance—that is if he is as well informed as Walter and Sam have suggested.
      In the background, Mark’s conversation fades to a stop.  When I look back at him, he is turned completely away from Pancrazio.
      Mark actually drops his napkin and bends under the edge of the table pretending to do something with his shoelace. He looks up at me, panic in his eyes. “We’ve gotta go. Now!”
      Bemused, I mention that I am haven’t finished my salad.
      “We’ve gotta go. Now! Please!” Mark repeats in a desperate whisper.
      I shocked. What’s the emergency?  We get up and, to my mind, beat an undignified retreat with Mark keeping me between him and Pancrazio’s table. Does this have something to do with Pancrazio? Is Mark in trouble with the old man? We get to the register; I pay the bill. I’m getting rather angry because I was looking forward to the turtle soup with sherry on the side.
      Outside, “Mark, what the hell happened just now?” I try to keep my voice down.
      Mark says “I used to date one of Pancrazio’s daughters.  It didn’t end happily.”
      I can’t help it, I have to laugh. “Mark, that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” I’m wiping the tears out of my eyes, trying to catch my breath while he stands there looking vexed with me. Wounded male pride, I’m thinking.
      But something about the hurt in Mark’s eyes sobers me up—a little. “I’m hungry,” I announce, knowing this will give him a problem that he can cope with. “Sorry to laugh,” I add, trying to seem contrite.
      “Let’s just walk over to Smitty’s, get a crab chop sandwich, and watch the boats.”  Mark suggests.
        That sounds good to me.  I still want lunch and I’m not ready to tackle the office.  Besides Mark is a GREAT diversion after the previous Friday night without a place to go and I don’t want to be a total bitch, do I?
      After our sandwich and a Dixie, each, at Smitty’s, we stroll around the perimeter of West End Park, both of us enjoying the fresh air and the parade of sailboats headed out of the inner harbor for an afternoon sail. We pick up a couple more ice cold beers at the refueling dock on the canal and continue around the edge of the park, crossing the footbridge at the parish line and stopping to talk to with the sail maker who owns the Hard Sail loft that is furnishing the sails for a boat that Mark is currently rigging.
      An argument is brewing over the rigging design. Mark is recommending the roller furling head sail with a separate wire cable head stay, the sale maker wants to use the new single head stay design in which the sail is pushed up into a slotted aluminum replacement for the wire rigging normally used to brace the mast fore and aft.
      As a conservative sailor, I prefer slightly less performance and the sure knowledge that I wouldn’t jeopardize my mast in case the jib jammed and wouldn’t furl under a heavy wind loading. On the other hand, I have a certain sympathy for the designer who knows that some owners are going to like to race their boat occasionally and will change their mind about performance—usually blaming the initial design of the sail rather than the owner’s choice of rigging.
      My answer to most of this always comes down to how good you are at setting and trimming the sails you have. Most people flatten the canvas too much, sail too close the wind with too much heel angle, and think in their excitement that the boat is going fast—until a wiser sailor crosses their bow and takes the wind right out of their sails.
      It is a long and taxing argument involving the ideal placement of winches and the use of boom vangs with reefing point during which time we walk over to the seafood market and grab more beer. Finally, thoroughly bored and a little sloshed I drag Mark away and suggest a choice between an evening sail on Sam’s boat or, hinting broadly, a sample of my very special Creole cooking at home. The fact that I pick up my special dish at Sal Piazza’s Seafood Market need not complicate the issue. With typical male insensitivity, he appears enthusiastic about an evening sail.
      The time is drifting beyond fifteen hundred hours, three P.M., when we dodge past a group Southern Yacht Clubbers who are absorbed in extracting their Lightning one-designs from the water on the east side of the outer harbor. We take the north walkway to my Uncle’s sloop where I intend to filch a bottle of Sam’s best wine and suggest an early retirement to my humble cottage. Complaining of the heat, Mark strips his shirt off and I’m wondering what I can take off to get things going.
      We arrive at the boat slip where the “Lady” is gently lounging against the dock lines. I am thinking that a late evening sail could work out if we anchor off of the amusement park where we’d be safely out of the channel and wouldn’t get run over by a barge. I consider the idea of going for a swim sans suits and toweling each other off—the water is certainly warm enough for a quick dip.
      In fact, when Mark follows me aboard I am so absorbed watching his body while he tests the tautness of the shrouds that I don’t see Sam sitting below when I push the hatch open. Sam just smiles up at me and lets me make a fool of myself explaining why I forgot to go sailing with him.
      Finally I remember my manners and introduce the two men.
      “Open up and come one down,” Sam invites us in. “I was going to go through the wine cellar and see what needs drinking,” he adds.
       “You have a wine cellar on board?” Mark seems to find this interesting.
      “Well, nothing quite as grand as it sounds,” Sam replies. “The temperature in the bilge stays pretty constant being below the waterline, so I had a waterproof locker built in under the extra drinking water tanks.”
      Then he suggests that I select something from his cellar. Knowing Sam, he won’t mind if I select something from the premium end of the collection—something perhaps like the five year old French cabernet.
      While I’m making my way towards the bow to open a hatch under the eight track music player I hear Sam engage Mark in conversation. “So, how’s the rigging on that new Morgan going?”
      Mark’s eyes are on me, so I give him a good view as I bend down to sort through the wine bottles.
      “Oh, I remember you, now,” he exclaims, turning away from me towards Sam. “You were watching us trying to step the mast last week.”
      “Looks like you were having a devil of a time slipping the mast through the blocks on the cabin roof,” he comments.
      Mark goes on, “Well, the watertight boot was too small, so the whole thing seized up half way down. We had to winch it out twice before we could get it all the way to the keel block.”
      By now I’m kind of pissed at Sam for distracting Mark’s attention. “Merely a minor nuisance,” I announce by thumping a bottle of Sam’s best wine down on the galley top.  I locate the corkscrew under the sink and cut the foil seal off the top of the cork with my rigging knife.
      “I see you found the better stuff,” Sam comments.
      I give him my most enigmatic smile. I see he’s got a log book open in front of him. “What are you working on?”
      I handed the bottle of wine to Mark and Sam and I wait patiently while he struggles with the extraction, making it seem a lot like a dental exercise. The cork makes a nice pop coming out and Sam looks a bit pained. I bet he’d been saving this bottle for a long time.
      “Let it breath?” Mark asks Sam.
      “A few minutes,” he starts to explain about breathing but I grab the bottle and pour a little into my glass. A quick swirl shows the film climbing up the crystal.
       “Ready.” I pour two more glasses and top mine up.
      Touching glasses with Sam and Mark. “To life, love, and sailing,” I offer up.
      “Here, here, “Sam finishes the sentiment.
      I feel a stab of guilt. What am I complaining about? Sam’s just arranged to give me the perfect reason to drag Mark straight to my place. I feel the heat spreading over my face.
      “Got a bit of sun, I see,” Sam’s eyes twinkle.

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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