#44 It’s Time To Speak Of Ivan

I’ve mentioned my best friend in Manhattan in the late 70’s to early 80’s. I use the term “best friend” though I grew up with many close friends and didn’t understand that official title. But Ivan and I spent so much time together it probably was apt. For a time we worked together all day and then we’d talk on the phone at night. If we weren’t in relationships we provided each other with a social life.  We loved theatre, saw everything and shared season opera and ballet tickets.

I speak of him by name because I’m told that he is dead. If that isn’t the case, to quote a friend, “you’ll have this.”

Ivan and I first worked together at WNBC Radio. He was an Account Executive and I was Traffic Director at the time. Since I had a spacious office he would visit, trying to get favors for his clients, or just smoked and relaxed. Everyone smoked then. And everyone wanted favors for their clients, so I had a lot of visitors.

The inciting incident was when he closed the door of my office and said that I was the first straight person he had ever told that he was gay. At least he thought it was a secret. He thought it was a secret for several years, because it was unclear back then how employers, or even clients would react. He was right of course but it was heartbreaking. So it was still his secret with me. Growing up in our town I never knew what “gay” was. I knew a couple of very “athletic” girls and some less than “athletic” boys. That’s as far as that thought ever went with any of us. When I first worked in New York there were some colleagues whom I knew were gay and it meant absolutely nothing. Now Ivan was letting me know that he had to hide who he was. That was a big click in my learning curve. He had often been brutally beaten as a boy just for being alive. His trust in me instigated our friendship.

Ivan was a particularly handsome, immaculately dressed and athletic man. We were the same age and about the same height. We came from two different worlds, east meets west, but our humor was razor edged. He was smart and very funny and successful. I had a good job. We were both working our way up.

For the most part it was a work-related friendship.  When I moved to Manhattan with the man I was dating (The Air Vent Conversation II) I gave Ivan my car, the fabulous Opel.  He needed to visit clients outside Manhattan. My car was only about four years old but it had been first crushed by a deer, then a bus and finally by a falling tree. So giving Ivan the car was a quick solution for me and a great deal for him. He’d pay insurance and parking without having to buy a car.

But in the middle of summer I got an angry call. The Opel had decided to stop running on a scorching hot day in the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge. Ivan abandoned it cursing and screaming and I believe kicking it. It was towed to the city impound and then to a garage in our neighborhood. The price for repairs went up daily so I sold it to the garage owner for a dollar.

When I moved to Milwaukee (The Air Vent Conversation II), Ivan and I stayed in touch and when I returned to New York Radio in 1978, we worked together again at WINS Radio now with the same jobs.

I needed a car since I decided to live in Connecticut so Ivan immediately wanted to sell me his hot orange Audi that he had acquired during my out of town experience. Except that I didn’t want an orange Audi and knew about its cranky engine. In case he might want to get even with me for the hot afternoon on the Brooklyn Bridge, I bought a perfectly sufficient Chevette for my daily drive to the train station.

Our desks were side by side; we covered each other’s accounts, often lunched together, and occasionally entertained clients together. I’ve written previously that when we walked down Manhattan streets I always assumed that men were looking at this handsome gay man. It wasn’t until I moved to Pennsylvania that at last I understood that sometimes, just once in a while, men might have been noticing me.

His mother dubbed me a mensch. I socialized with his friends. When we weren’t otherwise occupied we spent holidays together. I remember one great Christmas Eve when we dined at the Plaza and saw the opening of On Golden Pond. When I started seeing the man from So I Bought Him A Humidifier, we had all worked together years earlier so that too was an easy fit. My relationship had many ups and downs and Ivan was there for each chapter as I was for the many in his life.

Being a city guy Ivan had usually rented a summerhouse on Fire Island and we both needed investments. He knew the value of summer rentals so we set out to build a house in East Hampton to do just that. Rent it out for the summers. We found the land and a great builder and created the perfect rental house. Ivan could use it for winter holidays. I had Connecticut.

Ivan had a couple of panic attacks about the investment. It was his first. “What if we had another depression?” he said. I told him that if that happened everyone would be in the same boat and at least we’d have land to grow food. After that we breezed ahead, had very few problems with construction. We had a madcap weekend buying furniture, linens, china and appliances. And it was ready to go. I was by then busy in my personal life becoming a weekend stepmother. He took over finding renters for the house.

The problem was, he never rented out the house. Instead he started spending his weekends there.

Now here it comes. Ivan and I had no written agreement about renting out the new house. No contract. The only articulated part of any deal was that if one of us wanted out, the other had to buy them out at fair market value. Or we would put the house on the market.

I was supporting the man in my life and two houses. For a while we also had his apartment in town so it was hectic. Fortunately my business was wonderful. But I didn’t have the simple psychic energy to approach Ivan about renting the house as intended.

It was about a year later when Mr. Humidifier disappeared and my life fell apart. The one person I needed to lean on was Ivan. But it just happened that he was taking a three week vacation at guess where? Our house. And who was covering his business in town? I was.

Ivan was surprisingly unsympathetic I thought at the time, about Mr. Humidifier’s disappearance. I’ve described the ridiculous way I was subsisting on no sleep, coffee and cigarettes. But I knew one thing. I could work and work really hard.

After several weeks of learning about how the so-called love of my life had been involved in drugs, and many other details about the woman he left me to marry, more shocks landed and my head was reeling.

One afternoon as the gossip was still whirling, Ivan and I had lunch at his apartment near our office. I had just been warned by my then ex, that Ivan was no friend to me and had been buying drugs from him (the ex). That I couldn’t believe. It’s not that I didn’t know Ivan had had a relationship with drugs, I just didn’t think he would be involved with the man in my life in that way. When Ivan heard that, he slammed the glass of vodka in his hand on a table and screamed in his very deep voice, “that’s a lie.” He broke the glass.

But after that there were more puzzle pieces fitting. He confessed a thing or two. I was pretty numb, still operating on little food and sleep and lots of work. To me, he was my friend, there was nothing easy about it and I let it go. It wasn’t his fault that the man in my life was a louse.

A year or so later I decided to leave my wonderful job. And who was in line to take over most of my business? Ivan. No one tried to talk me out of it. They were all in line for my business. And it was no one’s responsibility but my own. Ivan was also still enjoying the Hampton house.

After a few months I was moving to Pennsylvania, starting a new business and it was time to cash out of the house. Ivan presented me with a deal. By this time he had added a pool onto the house, at his expense. He couldn’t buy me out, but had found another piece of property where he wanted to build a smaller house for himself. I remember it was on Wigwam Drive. I always hated that name because of how complicated this all became. He eventually realized he couldn’t afford to build the new house so he sold that property, and I was paid a monthly amount by a third party. He paid me what he thought was fair for the furnishings. But we never settled on the value of the house itself. I never researched paperwork on the sale to find out how much he made.

After I moved to Pennsylvania I still went often to New York and stayed sometimes at Ivan’s apartment. And later when I promised to visit a sick friend in Russia I stayed at Ivan’s new cottage on Long Island. I’m sure I felt it was the least he owed me since I never saw a dime from the sale of our fabulous house.

At about that time he had written his first play and he wanted me to read it. Though I was writing plays then myself, no one had ever asked me to read their work. We were both new at this. I didn’t know if I should talk about plot. So I took baby steps forward and noted some grammatical and spelling errors. I didn’t know how much he wanted. But that sure wasn’t it. And it was at that lunch when he announced that my trip to Russia caused him to believe me a spy, maybe a double agent. (As mentioned in Russian Adventures Part 5 1/23/13) Though he now knew better, he had been worried about his association with me. I thought he was joking so I laughed. It wasn’t a joke. I took a bite of food and slid his play back across the table.

I returned to Pennsylvania and our communication faded. I wasn’t in his world any longer. I was completely unskilled at negotiating a fair conclusion to our home ownership. I also had always lived by a very strange rule. I don’t mean the Golden Rule, because I do hold on to that. But as a very young girl I had another rule all my own. It went something like this. I might know that someone, anyone, was taking advantage of me, but somehow my knowing it was enough, or made it okay. What a fakakte rule!

I heard that Ivan moved to San Francisco.

There have been a few moments, not many but a few, in the past 25 years when I’ve thought of Ivan and our friendship. I missed our laughter and his wit and intellect. I have not missed being taken so stupidly to the cleaners. I didn’t miss him I suppose since I found so many others who were quite worthy of taking his place.

Neil Simon wrote the movie Only When I Laugh. It was all too familiar when I first saw it. It’s very New York. I thought of Ivan and many other friends in those days. As in that movie, we all often had long lunches and talked about the drama in our lives. Someone was always in a relationship tragedy and we fed off of that more than we did the meals before us. So few were really my friends and I don’t miss that.





#43 New Bed

A friend started to browse for a new mattress. She and her husband were considering the miracle of memory foam, but she wasn’t convinced they needed it. She was shopping as a pre-emptive strike to keep her husband from buying something extravagant. I tagged along. First stop, a giant store that sells beds and nothing but beds. When we entered that airplane hanger we each turned into characters from a bedtime story, scurrying to find the mattress that was “just right.” A saleslady escorted us into a little room with the super duper bed, the sound of ocean waves, and oh my, comfort.

My friend who was determined not to buy anything was signing a deal for a new bed that had so many bells and whistles that the only thing it didn’t have was bells and whistles. She was in shock over buying the first thing she saw. I was no help. But today she might give up just about anything, even her husband, but not that bed.

About a year later on the advice of my physical therapist, two surgeons and my pissed off back, it was my turn to shop. The rump was sprung in my mattress. At night I tried to cling to the edge where it still had an inch of support. I swear the mattress had attitude when I tried to flip it. I wouldn’t make an impulsive purchase though. So the same friend with mattress experience went with me. I just needed support for my back. No bells or whistles. Might as well go to the same big store to start my education. And of course two heads meant more sales resistance.

There are pieces of furniture we buy more than once in a lifetime. In my case starting life over several times, I’ve had to furnish homes again and again. As the decades pass, a bed becomes more important. Our backs are less like a hydraulic lift, and more like pasta al dente. So in order of importance these days comes a comfortable mattress, then water and then food.

On a rainy summer day we went to the same big store, not to buy but to learn. When we arrived we were greeted before we could shake the rain from our clothes. A salesman in a dark suit wearing a huge diamond-like pinkie ring educated us on mattresses at full throttle. He impressively answered every question we batted at him. About two hours later I was approved for an interest-free loan on my new bed, for less than five but more than four thousand dollars. WHAT? I live on a budget. I’m an expert at my budget. My budget keeps me levelheaded and terror free. Nowhere but nowhere in it was a new bed that cost more than my first car. (I’m guessing that airfare to London has gone up too.) It would be delivered in two days.

The next morning in the shower I knew what a stupid thing I had done and found relief when I decided to cancel the order. There was no answer at the big store. No one picked up a phone. I was so determined to cancel the order that I called the corporate headquarters in Massachusetts and was pretty quickly connected with their cancellation department. Now we’re talking. They actually have a cancellation department. So they weren’t going to fight me. It would be just as if it had never happened. I’d be good this time. I’d shop for a modest enough bed to support my cranky back.

And then Christian came on the line. He was kind with a warm voice and he listened to me. But he didn’t so much cancel the order as he cut the price exactly in half. Yes, he cut the price in half and had a new contract on my computer screen within three minutes. I can’t send anything to anyone’s computer in three minutes.

What was I thinking? Was I thinking? Half the price, no matter how much it was originally must be a good deal. Two young men arrived the next day and set up the bed that moves in nearly any direction and vibrates. This wasn’t a mattress. It was a vehicle.

I went online to research the mattress and the motor. Yes, after it was delivered. I thoroughly confused myself by reading the polar reviews. But I found comfort in the fact that the price seemed reasonable by comparison. Not compared to a simple everyday mattress. But reasonable compared to beds that light up underneath so you can find the motor’s battery if it gets stuck in any one position.

I rationalized everything but one major detail. It was bloody uncomfortable. It wasn’t a mattress to sink into. It was a platform that had no forgiveness for my aging Northern European bones. I was in agony flopping all night to stop the pain. I went out to do what I should have done before. I shopped. I found a reasonable mattress for a quarter of the reduced price. I called Massachusetts again to have them come pick up the “rack.” They told me what the salesman had not, that it could take two weeks to adjust to a new mattress. (You mean like a new part in my hair?) They assured me that if after two weeks I was still uncomfortable they would find a solution. But of course that was inching up on the no return date. I could change the base and motor, but not a mattress. The cost would go up, not down. I was beaten, depleted, done.

After wrestling the mattress to cut a hole in the bed skirt for the bar at the front of the bed that keeps the mattress from sliding into the next room when the head is propped up, getting a handyman to take away the mysterious parts the delivery guys left behind and moving the night stand out two feet because the bed moves so far forward I can’t reach back for a simple glass of water (and giving it more than two weeks) it got more comfortable. I’ve added a featherbed on top of the rack.

The one feature I’d hate to give up now is the anti-gravity position. One button on the remote control nestles my back into instant relief. Who knew that such a monumental mistake could do that? I think I’ll go home and go to bed.