Morey Amsterdam’s corset, a Christmas story
“Remember Morey Amsterdam?” David Okin said.
“Of course,” said Ethan Liss. “I remember him from the Dick Van Dyke show with Mary Tyler Moore. That dame was gorgeous, I wanna tell you. And Amsterdam was a damn elegant name? Those were the days.”
“And don’t forget Rose Marie,” Okin said, and gulped his coffee. “But did you know what a boozer that Van Dyke character was? And crazy when he drank, boy! You’ve no idea.”
“How would you know?”
“I’ve read some stories.”
“The stories you’ve read,” Ethan Liss grinned, “they come out of those rotten tabs you buy at the grocery store checkout.”
“So shoot the messenger. I’ll tell you this, though, I heard this one story about Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie from a very reliable person who was in New York at the time.”
“What story?” said Liss, flagging the waitress for a refill.
Okin leaned across the table and said it in a hushed voice, “They had an affair those two, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie.” Holding up his right hand, he said, “Swear to God.”
“So? Everyone in TV in New York was having affairs during the fifties, though the thought of them together is a little hard to conjure.”
“Well, that ain’t nothin’,” Okin said. “This fella who told me about it said that Morey Amsterdam was a transvestite. I mean, he made himself out to be a real lady’s man, but he was a dyed in the wool crossdresser.”
“I don’t want to hear this,” said Liss. “Let Morey Amsterdam rest in peace.”
“Rest in a negligee, you mean,” Okin said. “Anyway, it’s a Christmas story and this is Christmas. It’s gonna warm yer heart. Just cast yer mind back to Christmas Eve, 1958.”
“New York was a different town back then. Not like now; now it’s just a toilet without a handle for flushing, which is beside the point, grant you. The point is that Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam were staying the Waldorf Astoria, a nice place. And it was the year of the Park Avenue blizzard, if you remember. The one that shut Manhattan down tighter than a gulag in February. Rose Marie had taken Amsterdam on a crossdressing shopping spree that morning, all over the city. It’s strange what some women will do for love, eh?”
“Vera married you,” said Liss.
“Ha, very funny. So, the two of them, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie, get back to the hotel and it’s starting to snow. They need help with all the boxes and bags so there’s these three bellboys and the cab driver all carrying stuff up to the tenth floor, because they’re in #1005, which is almost immaterial to the story but it just goes to show you how detail oriented I can get when I focus. Thing is, they’re so busy with all the boxes full of Morey Amsterdam’s ladies wear that they miss seeing this guy at the front desk checking in. He’s some big, fat, oily Texan with more money than any hayseed like him should be allowed to have. And he’s pinching the women’s asses and yelling ‘Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas, girlies.’ I mean this guy was a real clown. And he’s got this stinkin’ cigar in his pie hole that’s polluting the whole place. So, guess what suite he gets.”
“That’s right, #1006. Right next to #1005, the suite belonging to Rose Marie and the soon to be voluptuous Morey Amsterdam. So anyway, up at #1005, Morey Amsterdam is handing out one dollar tips to the cab driver and the three bellboys at the front door when the elevator spits out this Texan who is now drinking from a bottle of Jim Beam. He’s followed by his own bellboy who is straining under the weight of the Texan’s luggage. Morey Amsterdam watches the Texan and the bellboy disappear into #1006, and when the two of them re-emerge the Texan tips the bellboy twenty-five cents, cheap bastard. For a moment, Morey Amsterdam’s and the Texan’s eyes meet, and the Texan says, ‘Merry Christmas, little feller. Saw you walking through the lobby, looked like yer little lady done bought out the whole city of New York. Hope she’s worth it.’ When he said that last bit, he gave Morey Amsterdam a big wink. Amsterdam smirked and closed his door. Then, ‘Little fucking Jew,’ the Texan said and retired into #1006.”
Okin paused and sipped his cooling coffee.
“Then what happened?” Ethan asked.
“Time went by, my friend, and snow kept falling in ever increasing amounts and intensity, and if our POV remains the hall, nothing more than that happened. But, if we go into #1006, we see the Texan stripped down to his boxer shorts, tank top and overpriced socks reclining on the bed, gulping down his sipping whiskey and seemingly contemplating the incendiary possibilities of his odious smoke. Suddenly, he is struck by a thought. Where, he asks himself, does a guy get a dame in this town? He picks up the phone and gets the hotel switchboard.
“Thelma Bickel answers. She’s a senior member of the Bronx First Baptist Church and a Waldorf Astoria switchboard operator of thirty years. ‘Waldorf Astoria Hotel switchboard,’ she says, ‘how may I help you?’
“‘You know this town, Missy?’ the Texan asks.
“‘What do you need to know, sir? I’ll try to direct you.’
“‘What’s your name, honey?’
“‘It’s Hotel policy for employees not to provide their names to guests, sir. My employee number, however, is 237.’
“‘Well don’t that beat all?’ says the Texan. ‘The first woman I talk to in New York City is called Miss 237. Well Miss 237, where’s a guy pick up a squeeze in this burg?’
“‘Yah know, a girly, a dame, an inamorata. Somethin’ in a skirt, for crying out loud.’
“‘I’m afraid that I’m unable to provide that sort of information, sir. I can, however, provide you with information about city bus tours, museums…’
“‘Only thing I want to tour right now, Miss 237, is the behind of some tightly clad wench with a sweet face and an accommodating nature. Would that, perhaps, come close to describing you?’
“‘Would you like to talk to my supervisor, sir?’ Mrs Bickel asks.
“‘Hell no,’ says the Texan. ‘Guess this is something a man’s gotta do hisself. Where’s my damn hat?’
“This last question Mrs. Bickel considered rhetorical” Okin said, “and allowed the Texan to hang up without further utterance on her part. In suite #1006, the Texan dresses and prepares himself for a night on the prowl.
“Now, if we secretly enter #1005, we see something very different: ‘I want to do my makeup now,’ said Morey Amsterdam.
“‘Let’s get your corset on first, honey.’ Rose Marie insists. ‘It may be a bit of a struggle getting you into it, and I want to get it over with.’
“‘Why do I have to wear a damn corset anyway?’ says Amsterdam. ‘It’s torture.’
“‘You wanna be a lady, Blanche?’ Rose Marie said. ‘Then you’ve got to dress like one. The corset is designed to give a girl a wasp-like waistline.’
“‘None of the women in the Amsterdam family has a wasp-like waistline,” says Morey Amsterdam, ‘or any waistline for that matter.’
“‘Whatever you say, Blanche,’ said Rose Marie. ‘But it’s time to strip, time to hit the silk.’
“So,” Okin said, “Morey Amsterdam undresses and mentally prepares himself for the battle to come.
“Now, we men are arrogant in our position of comfort. Our trousseau consists mostly of comfortable clothing that fits only snug enough so as not to fall off. Women, however, have for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years endured the anguish and affliction of a myriad of garments and undergarments, mostly devised by men, that bind, lash and fetter the female form into what men believe to be a more natural configuration. And, though in the past the odd fop was known to wear a man’s corset in order to cast a slimmer profile, the man’s corset has always been a pale shadow of the woman’s equivalent.”
“This is a dissertation or a story?” Ethan Liss asked.
“Hush, my friend,” said Okin. “I’m on a roll.
“So, cast your mind back to the day when Morey Amsterdam was on every television screen in North America. He was, to be fair, a short, flat footed, stocky, swarthy man with a regrettable over abundance of body hair. His facial features were those of a bull dog. He was an extraordinary comedian , great timing, but he looked like an overfed hell-clown. But there he stood in #1005 in front of a floor to ceiling mirror wearing nothing but a pair of lace panties while Rose Marie presented him with the corset.
“The corset was purchased at Lady Olga’s Corset Shop in the Village. And Lady Olga herself had quite a story to tell.”
Ethan made an ‘hmm’ sound into his coffee cup.
“She came to New York after the war,” said Okin. “And she was what was then referred to as a displaced person or a DP. Today she would be called a refugee and granted a gentle hand up by a compassionate and welcoming government, but not back then. In fact, the United States government wanted to send her back to Poland, but she disappeared long enough to find Mr and Mrs Brodski, relatives to sponsor her in America. The sponsoring Brodskis weren’t really relatives at all, but the husband and wife owners of the Little Poland Borscht House in Brooklyn. They welcomed Olga into their midst and rented her space on the bare floor on which to sleep and employed her washing pots and peeling beets for which she was paid $5 a week, perhaps not coincidentally the same amount they charged Olga for renting her space of bare floor.
“Olga was no sucker for punishment, however. She endured for as long as she had to, until the day she was able to walk away from the Little Poland Borscht House with a temporary form of American citizenship that afforded her greater freedom to pursue her bliss. As it turned out, her first blissful act was to burn down the Little Poland Borscht House in the night while Mr and Mrs Brodski slept in their apartment above the restaurant. All that was left of Brooklyn’s king and queen of borscht was a few bone fragments, and Olga never looked back.
“To her credit, Olga had been trained as, and become, quite accomplished as a corsetiere in Warsaw before the war. During the Nazi occupation, she had made most of her meagre living creating gloriously feminine silk and satin corset confections for crossdressing Nazi officers, of which there were many. Soon she discovered that the occupying German forces were chalk-a-block full of crossdressers who minced like delicate little fascist ballerinas during their off hours. It was there that she grew accustomed to fitting men in ladies wear. At first it was difficult for her not to laugh or be repulsed. But the Nazis had hard cash, and Olga had a growing reputation.
“And now she had transferred her seamstress’s talents to America and welcomed customers of both sexes to her dainty storefront.
“Weeks before, Rose Marie had measured Morey Amsterdam for the corset Lady Olga was to make for him and sent the information by mail along with an approximate description of what the finished product should look like. She emphasised that it must be full in construction and be made completely of the highest grade of corset satin. It must not be pink, but Parisian Lavender with Niece Lavender, a subtler shade, used for the lace trim. There must be no whale bone used to reinforce the garment, but there must be laces, the tying kind, on the back so the corset could be tightened or loosened as need be. It must have removable shoulder straps and the bust’s top line must be accentuated by faux gemstones and silk rosettes consistent with the overall lavender colour scheme.
“And so the corset appeared that Christmas Eve in 1958 when Lady Olga brought it out from the backroom of her shop. As Lady Olga removed the corset from its box and held it up for all to see, there was a hush of respectful astonishment throughout the shop. Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam were both pleased with the license Olga had taken in the placement of lace, the depth of the cleavage and the placement of garters.”
“‘Do you approve, Mr Amsterdam?’ Olga asked.
“Morey Amsterdam said nothing. He just licked his suddenly parched lips. ‘It’s wonderful, Lady Olga,’ Rose Marie said, and wrote a cheque.
“Soon they were in a cab being driven through the ever snowier streets of Manhattan. Their next stop would be the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where the cabbie and a couple of bellboys helped transport the bags and boxes up to the tenth floor.
“‘In we go, Blanche,’ Rose Marie said to Morey Amsterdam, and working together they were able to finally confine Amsterdam in the pleasingly tight corset.
Rose Marie had to place her foot on Morey Amsterdam’s mid-back in order to obtain an effective purchase while tightening the laces. Morey Amsterdam, for his part, smoked and even took a moment, while his paramour grunted with effort, to bend over and place a call to order a bottle of Chivas Regal from room service. In the end, he’d achieved the coveted hourglass figure and was ready to don his stockings and the frothy layers of snow white crinoline that would provide further shape and dimension beneath his satin lavender evening gown.”
Here Ethan Liss interrupted, “It sounds to me as though Morey Amsterdam was lacking in gratitude.”
“This,” David Okin said, “is a true and a worthy observation on your part. It’s always gratifying to know that one is being listened to whilst telling a story of importance. As for Rose Marie, who can know what sentiments she harboured toward the now corseted Morey Amsterdam, as he twisted and posed in the mirror like a sinister she-homunculus. But her actions later in the evening may give a clue. For now, however, as Rose Marie guides her boyfriend cum girlfriend to the makeup table, we might take a moment to revisit the Texan in his search for, if not Miss Right, at least Miss Without-Further-Ado.
“Just inside of the front entrance of the Waldorf Astoria, our Texan stands looking out of the rotating glass doors watching the snow fall. In his home state he had never seen much of this thing called snow, much less a blizzard. The street had become a blank still-life without a right angle to be seen. Where cars were once parked, there were now only round rapidly disappearing humps. Roads, curbs and sidewalks had long ago disappeared and now signposts and lamp standards were succumbing to the same fate. A wind from out of the north east blew in gusts that at once seemed to promise to blow away all of the accumulated snow, but only delivered more from elsewhere. Our Texan was a picture of dejection, his once firmly held hopes of gaining a gal dashed like an empty bourbon bottle against a brick wall of unmitigated, unanticipated and undeserved catastrophe. ‘If this ain’t the damnedest place on Earth,’ he said and pulled a fresh bottle of Jim Beam out of his coat. After cracking the seal and taking two considerable gulps, he cornered the concierge at his desk.
“‘I’m looking for action, there brother,’ the Texan said. ‘Where’s a fella go in this here town to have a little fun?’ Looking up from his copy of the December, 1958 Vanity Fair, the concierge, with platinum blonde hair, said in a crisp Scottish accent, ‘What type of fun did you have in mind, and just how, in this storm, did you intend to access it?’
”The Texan’s jaw went slack for a second then he recovered. He squinted at the concierge like he’d just discovered something rare and alarmingly subversive. He said, ‘You’re just a little light in the loafers, ain’t you, boy?’
“’What a delightful use of euphemism, Mr um… What room are you in, sir?’
“‘Right, then,’ the concierge said running his well manicured finger down a typewritten list of hotel guests. ‘Just let me check. Oh here we are, #1006, Mr Jeremiah Matthews of Fort Worth, Texas. What a delight it is to have you as a guest, here at the Waldorf Astoria. We regret to inform you that we have been instructed by the New York Police Department to strongly recommend to all hotel guests that they not venture out of the hotel for the duration of the blizzard. Guests who do leave the premises do so at the own risk and are not the responsibility of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel.’
“The concierge blinked twice. Jeremiah Matthews of Fort Worth, Texas, gnashed his teeth, ‘Look you little fruit cake, I want you to call me a cab and…’
“‘But there are no cabs, Mr Matthews,’ the concierge interrupted, holding up his hand. ‘There haven’t been since noon.’
“‘Then what the hell am I supposed to do on Christmas Eve in a hotel full of homos, Jews and degenerates?’
“‘Well, Mr Matthews,’ the concierge said, ‘you might start by remembering that Jesus was a Jew.’
“‘I don’t need a damn Sunday school class,’ Matthews bellowed. ‘I need me a dame.’
“‘Sir,’ the concierge said, ‘in my estimation Christmas Eve can be a magical time, with farmyard beasts speaking in tongues and all. Anything is possible, no? And just in case you think I’m wrong, let me tell you this. ESAP, or the Eastern Seaboard Association of Proctologists, has been having its convention here all week. Tonight was meant to be the highlight of the gathering with all participants meeting after seven in the main dining room for a Seasonal Gala dinner with entertainment and awards. As it turns out, however, nearly half the delegates can’t make it because of the weather. So, the organizers have opened up the gala to any and all hotel guests who wish to attend.’
“Matthew’s shoulders sank. ‘Proctologists?’ he said.
‘Why yes, Mr Matthews,’ said the concierge with new gusto. ‘In fact, tonight the Waldorf Astoria Hotel is not only full of homos, Jews and degenerates, but proctologists as well.’
“The Texan was suddenly aware of having been defeated by a Nelly Scotsman in the Gomorrah of New York. ‘I’m going to my room,’ he said.
“‘But do come down for the gala, Mr Matthews,’ said the concierge. ‘Perhaps you’ll meet a dame proctologist; perhaps you’ll fall in love; maybe you’ll even be married, and, as a result of your serendipitous romance caused by a blizzard in Manhattan, all of your future proctology needs will be met by the woman you love.’
The Texan turned and faced the Scotsman, pointing his fat, stubby finger in what was meant to be a threatening gesture.
Smiling the concierge returned to Vanity Fair.”
“So what about Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie?” Ethan Liss said.
“Ah, our lovers in #1005,” replied David Okin. “Their afternoon is progressing well. Rose Marie has left Morey Amsterdam to do his own makeup. He’d always considered himself an expert at this, perhaps even an artist, but Rose Marie always secretly believed that he ended up looking like a tramp when left to his own devices. But who can dictate how a man should do his makeup – I ask you?”
“I imagine that makeup is a very personal thing for some men,” Ethan Liss said. “And, if I guess right, lipstick is the most personal of all makeup items.”
“That’s a very interesting thought, my friend,” Okin said, “but you’ll forgive me if I don’t pursue it as a topic of conversation.
“For her part, Rose Marie went to the hotel coffee shop and had a Rueben sandwich and a nice green salad with grilled asparagus dressed in a wonderful virgin olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette for four dollars and thirty-five cents.”
“That’s an excellent value, even for 1958,” said Ethan Liss. “But she didn’t have the Waldorf Salad?”
“For many people,” David Okin said, “the Waldorf Salad is a celebratory meal. Rose Marie was one of these, and, feeling a little out of sorts, opted for the Rueben. But, the point is that when she signed the bill for her meal, Rose Marie was fully informed by her waiter of the disaster that was the Manhattan blizzard of 1958 and that hotel guests were invited to attend the proctologists’ gala that evening rather than venturing out into the snowy wilderness of New York. The offer was a generous one, but she and Morey Amsterdam had planned to attend a different Christmas gala at Club Sheba where Amsterdam would be more in his element. Club Sheba being the gathering place in New York for all gender-benders and their dates. But Club Sheba was twelve snowbound and taxiless blocks away.
“She lit a Chesterfield and thought. Morey Amsterdam would not be amused. He probably didn’t realize how wicked the weather had become. She looked at her watch; he’d probably be putting on his wig at the moment and needing her to do up the zipper and fasten the clasps on the back of his evening gown, and check his back for any rogue hairs. She snuffed out the cigarette and went to the elevator, greeting the attendant as she boarded.”
“That’s what this world needs,” Ethan Liss said, “elevators with attendants. I never got used to riding in pilotless elevator cars going up, up, up, then falling like a stone without someone there who had a handle on things.”
“Elevator attendants have been made redundant by technology,” David Okin said authoritatively. “Besides, one never became an elevator attendant unless he was a bit of a dim whit. Anyone who places their life in the hands of someone with a single digit IQ deserves what he gets.”
“I was just saying,” Ethan Liss protested.
“Well, you’ve said it,” David Okin said. “Now we’ll move on.
“When Rose Marie entered their suite, Morey Amsterdam was hopping around in one silk lavender high heel shoe while trying to put on the other. His brunet bouffant wig sat sideways on his head and he had only one falsie installed. Finally, on seeing Rose Marie, he fell backward onto the sofa. As a result, his multi-layered crinoline puffed up like a bowl of popcorn. He let his freshly shaven arms fall at his side and the unused shoe fall to the ground.
“‘Where were you?’ he pouted.
“‘Having lunch and you might want to delay your beautification for a moment, there Blanche. The whole city’s snowed in. There’re no cabs, and it’s doubtful any of the delicate flowers that run Club Sheba are even going to make it in to open up tonight.’
“‘That’s impossible,’ Morey Amsterdam said. ‘This is New York City, it’s not going to just roll over and die because of a little snow.’
“‘Have you taken a look out the window of late? We’re on the tenth floor; it’s a great view. Just take a look.’
“Amsterdam got up and limped over to the widow, and looked out. There was nothing to see, really. The snow fell so thickly that one couldn’t see even a few feet. The wind blew ferociously. He had a chill run up his spine.
“‘Well, what then?’ he said, as his wig fell to the floor. ‘What do we do? I was just starting to feel pretty.’
“‘We’ve been invited to attend a seasonal gala downstairs.’
“‘Golly, I don’t know. What kind of seasonal gala?’
“‘A proctologists’ seasonal gala,’ Rose Marie said as she lit another Chesterfield. ‘There’ll be a lot of empty seats on account of the snow.’
“‘You mean ass doctors?’ Amsterdam said, and paused for a moment. ‘Well I guess I’ll get changed back into my man clothes, then.’ He moped and lopsidedly hobbled toward the makeup table.
“‘Oh no you don’t,’ Rose Marie said blowing smoke through her nose. ‘I put a lot of effort and money into the woman you are this evening, and I’m not going to let you have a tantrum and ruin the fun. Now let’s start with you cutting your damn toenails like I told you to do a week ago.’
“So now Rose Marie is clipping Morey Amsterdam’s toenails?” asked Liss.
“No. As the story goes,” David Okin said, “Morey Amsterdam clips his own toenails. But Rose Marie watches to make sure the job is done right, and then she applies a pretty pink coat of Chanel nail polish. What’s interesting, however, is what’s happening in #1006.”
”The Texan has grabbed a maid and is chasing her around his suite?” Ethan Liss said.
“Don’t be vulgar,” Okin said. “Our Texan has thrown an unopened suitcase onto his bed and has begun to undo the buckles holding it shut. When he opens it, there’s a pair of western style six shooters in a tooled leather holster. He runs his fingers over them as though he’s caressing a woman’s thigh, but then he takes the weapons out and throws them on the floor. Having removed the guns from the suitcase, he now looks down upon a tuxedo. He didn’t think he’d need it on this trip, but now he was glad to have it. What was unclear was just how well it would go over this evening at the proctologists’ gala. Though it was classically cut, it was a sky blue oeuvre of rhinestones and western embroidery. The opposing silk lapels each depicted a coyote howling at the full moon that hung in a sky filled with multicoloured stones. Across the shoulders and upper back, gun fights and stagecoach robberies were precisely hand stitched and featured even more rhinestones. The trousers had a silk stripe of a slightly darker blue running down the outside of each leg. Lifting these two pieces out of the suitcase revealed a pale blue shirt with ruffles, a gold and onyx bolo tie, a pair of suspenders and a highly polished pair of ostrich skin western boots.
“He held the boots up and took a deep breath. Then he checked the time on his Rolex. The shindig began at seven. It was now half past six. He wasn’t going to be the first lone wolf through the door. He could wait until eight or even later. He pulled a fresh bottle of Jim Beam out of his other suitcase, opened it and drank deeply.”
“And our beauty queen in #1005?” Ethan asked.
“Thanks to Rose Marie, things were coming together in #1005. She’d used a hairdryer too dry the toenail polish, and Morey Amsterdam had both shoes on. His bouffant wig sat straight upon his head, and his back was now free of rogue hairs.
“For her part, Rose Marie had put on a red silk evening gown with black lace trim. On another woman it would have been garish, but it was what her fans had come to expect from her. She spent what time she had fixing her hair and applying an unusually heavy layer of makeup, the better to be seen in the dimly lit ballroom.
“As she made herself up, Morey Amsterdam sat on the couch with his layers of crinoline once again puffed up like an angel food cake. He’d place an open hatbox on the floor several feet away, and now tried to flip a deck of cards into it, one at a time.
“As seven o’clock approached, Amsterdam poured a drink for Rose Marie and himself, and they drank to being stuck in the Waldorf Astoria in a blizzard on Christmas Eve. And at that moment, Rosemary asked herself if that was a glint in Morey’s eye. It may have been, because they put down their glasses and fell together in a long and tender kiss, the intensity of which sent them both looking for their tubes of lipstick when they’d finished. Ah, romance. It was this romantic interlude that truly made time pass, for before they knew it, it was eight o’clock and time to make their way down to the ballroom.
“‘I don’t know about this, Rose,’ Amsterdam said.
“‘Don’t worry, Blanche,’ she said. ‘I’ll be right next to you. Besides, I look like such a train wreck in this gown, everyone will be gawking at me not you.’
“‘Okay then,’ Morey Amsterdam said taking deep breath. ‘Let’s go.’
“And so they did, lace gloved hand in lace gloved hand. Out of their suite and toward the elevator just in time to meet our Texan standing there, waiting for the next car down. He was wearing his pale blue western tux with a big buckled belt and black ostrich skin boots.
As Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam approached, he looked over and said, ’Good evening ladies.’ He smiled especially at Rose Marie and then looked over at Morey Amsterdam in his lavender gown and frowned, shook his head slightly and looked away. Rose Marie nudged Morey Amsterdam and smiled as if to say, See, you’re fine. Amsterdam didn’t share her enthusiasm.
When the elevator arrived, the attendant called out, ‘Going down!’ But he couldn’t be heard over the singing and conversing of the eight or so proctologists and their guests already in the car. The Texan and Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam hesitated at the lack of space, but were informed by the elevator attendant that his was the only car running due to the blizzard, so they’d better try to get on if they ever wanted to get downstairs. They squeezed on, the Texan standing next to Amsterdam, his size thirteen boot dwarfing Morey’s much smaller satin pump.
Amsterdam felt a strange tingle like a runaway electric current pulsing through his body. The scotch, he thought. And, maybe it was, but as he looked up at the tall Texan standing next to him, he saw that the big man was looking down at him with a curious smile. Amsterdam, in his silk evening gown, felt the tingle all over again, only stronger this time. Silently, he begged the elevator down to their destination faster so that he could escape. He was about to scream like a little girl when the attendant opened the doors and said, lobby.
“‘Why are you squeezing my hand so tight?’ Rose Marie asked him.
“‘Sorry, it was just too crowded in there,’ he said, verging on hyperventilation.
“The Texan came up to them and made a gesture like tipping his hat, except he had no hat to tip. ‘I’ll see you ladies inside the ballroom, won’t I?’ Then walked away after giving Amsterdam a little wink.
“‘What was that all about?’ Rose Marie asked.
“‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘Let’s just get into the ballroom and out of this light. It’s turning my skin yellow.’
“The tables inside the ballroom were already peopled with hotel guests enjoying cocktails and conversation. Morey led Rose Marie to the back of the vast room, far away from the dance floor, to a group of tables where a knot of men spoke together, and the few women present drank with bored expressions on their faces.
“‘These have got to be proctologists,’ Amsterdam said. ‘Let’s sit here.’
“‘You sure, Blanche?’ said Rose Marie. ‘These guys look real square.’
“‘That’s the point,’ he said. ‘They’ll ignore us. I’ve never wanted to be so ignored. To think I could have met Christine Jorgensen tonight.’
“‘Well, I want a drink,’ Rose Marie said, holding up a beckoning hand while seating herself.
“Immediately, one of the men sitting at the table stood and walked around to introduce himself.
“‘Hello, ladies,’ he said. Rose Marie could have sworn that he clicked his heels. ‘My name is Dr Wilfred Hand. May I welcome you to our table?’
“‘Oh, why thank you, Dr Hand,’ Rose Marie said. ‘I’m Rose Marie and this is my friend Blanche. Well, I call her Blanche. Other people call her other things…’
“’Is it just Blanche?’ Dr Hand said. ‘Is there no family name?’
“‘Yes, what is your family name, Blanche?’ Rose Marie smiled.
“‘Ah, Amsterda…,’ Amsterdam began, but saw Rose Marie shake her head slightly. ‘Ah, Dubois,’ he said instead. ‘Yeah, Blanche Dubois.’ He held out his hand for the doctor to take. ‘A pleasure to meet you, Dr Hand.’
“‘The pleasure is all mine, Miss Dubois,” the doctor said taking Amsterdam’s hand into his. ‘I trust it is Miss.’
“‘Why yes, doctor. Regrettably, I remain a Miss.’
“‘Well then,’ Dr Hand said. ‘I recommend that you be most careful tonight, for many of us, including myself, are bachelors at this table. And we outnumber the ladies.’
“Having said this, the doctor kissed Morey Amsterdam’s hand. Amsterdam blushed. Looking away, Rose Marie rolled her eyes. Then she quickly did an inventory of those at the table. The doctor was right. Men outnumbered woman two to one.
“Taking a cigarette from her purse, she turned to Amsterdam and said in a low voice, ‘Dubois? Blanche Dubois? What does that make me, Stella? This isn’t a drag show here, you know.’
‘I know,’ he said dreamily. ‘But who’d have ever thought that I could be Blanche Dubois in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on Christmas Eve with a catastrophic blizzard blowing outside, and have my hand kissed by a proctologist?’
“‘Don’t forget, Missy,’ Rose Marie said. ‘I’m your date tonight and you’re going home with me.’
“‘Ladies,’ Dr Hand said, having returned with a friend. ‘Allow me to introduce Dr Abraham Nebbler of the Nebbler Institute where some of America’s most important proctology research takes place.’
“‘My good friend, Dr Hand, exaggerates,’ Nebbler said bowing. He was five feet tall and shaped like a beach ball.
“‘Not at all,’ Hand said putting his arm around Nebbler. ‘You get all the funding because of the quality of your work. And, what is it you always say – the words they have engraved in stone for all time above the main entrance of the Nebbler Institute?’
“‘It’s nothing really,’ Nebbler said. ‘Just a few words I provided in order to establish context.’
“‘Such a humble man,’ Dr Hand said. ‘If you won’t tell them, then I will…’
“‘No, no my friend,’ Dr Nebbler said. ‘I will recite it from memory: Give me the sphincter, and I will give you the man.’
“‘This is poetry, no?’ Hand gushed.
“‘Poetry, not,’ Rose Marie mumbled so only Morey Amsterdam could hear her.
“‘Well,’ Dr Nebbler said proudly. ‘My friend and I have come to invite the two of you to come round the table and sit with us as our dates. I know that Dr Hand has already been captivated by Miss Dubois’ charm. And, Miss Dubois, just let me say what a lovely name you have. So, if I might be so bold, Rose Marie, may I ask you to accompany me throughout the festivities this evening?’
“Things were getting stranger by the minute,” said Okin. “Rose Marie found her cigarette package empty and looked down at her ashtray. There were the remains of eight Chesterfields there, each one having been lit by the previous. Dr Hand was about to steal her man, who may have been a transvestite, but at least he was her transvestite. And now, she was about to be sacrificed to a four hundred pound dwarf with sphincters on the brain. Compared to this, the drag soiree at Club Sheba would have been more like a Tupperware party.
“Dr Nebbler reached out to take Rose Marie’s hand, and when he touched her she felt cold fingers. She looked at them, manicured and slightly stained with cigar smoke; on his right hand ring finger was the golden ring of a mason. The back of his hand was marbled with blue veins. They were the hands of an elderly man who should know better than to try to pick up a woman of her age. Then she looked over at Morey Amsterdam who was now speaking attentively with Dr Hand. They looked at one another in a tender almost syrupy way.
She stood, shaking her head, wanting to yell obscenities and was about to do so at the top of her lungs when the sound of gun fire filled the room followed by a hearty ‘Yaaahoooo!’ and ‘Ho! Ho! Ho!’ and ‘Merry God Damn Christmas.’
“It was the Texan with a six shooter in each hand and just starting to feel the effect of the three bottles of Jim Bean he’d consumed that day.
“‘What li’l filly wants to sit on Santa’s knee and tell him how bad she’s been?’ He said. There was silence for a moment and he fired his guns again. ‘Gol dang it,’ he said. ‘I got me one hundred thousand acres of prime grazing land down in Texas and each acre’s oozing oil. I’m not a bad sort of fella, why can’t I get a dern girl?’
“‘Oh Mr Texan,’ a woman’s voice sounded from the back of the room. ‘Just hang on there, Mr Texan.’ Rose Marie excused herself from the table. Dr Hand was talking with Amsterdam about moving to Florida, and Dr Nebbler took on the look of a man who’d been disappointed before and would be again.
“Rose Marie ran across the half empty dance floor like a school girl, and when they met, she and the Texan embraced like they’d been in love all of their lives. So inspiring was their embrace that the band, that had been setting up for a nine o’clock start, began early by playing a whole Yuletide suite beginning with White Christmas. The dance floor filled up fast. Soon the strangeness of the night faded, and the room became a romantic chamber filled with soft and swirling colourful lights and long awaited promises. And, because on Christmas Eve they say anything can happen, or maybe because they were just plain crazy from a life in New York show biz, Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam were both surprised that night to find their real true loves. And the snow just kept falling.
“But hang on,” Ethan Liss said. “Morey Amsterdam was no Blanche Dubois. Dr Hand must have found out eventually that his girl was a guy.”
“I guess,” said David Okin.
“Hand had a practice in Baltimore,” Okin said. “So, they lived together there for a while. In 1963, they moved to Tampa. And that is all there is.”
“This story is very hard to believe.”
“You lack romance,” David Okin said, and signalled for more coffee.