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Harry Buschman

Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone’s marriage was marked by a quiet disenchantment. It was not unusual for the age we live and the places we choose to live, the feeling was shared by many upscale couples living on Manhattan’s upper east side. They worked hard to get to where they were, only to find it wasn’t the place it was advertised to be. Perhaps they got there too soon.

Mrs. Gladstone never missed the opportunity to grieve over the opportunities that had slipped by and the occasions Mr. Gladstone had picked up the ball and run with it only to drop it before he scored. She did this not in a mean or bitter way, or in the presence of their more successful friends, instead, she would emit a bitter sigh or a sad smile to indicate her resignation for something that might have been. It was a powerful feminine tool, well worn, yet certainly powerful enough for her husband, to suspect he was responsible.

Therefore ... receiving an invitation to the Henderson’s dinner party this Friday was a coup for Mrs. Gladstone. She had already removed her own name as a candidate for chair-ladyship of the New York Chapter of “The American Poets Society” which permitted Mrs. Henderson to run unopposed. She hoped the dinner invitation was a response to her act of sacrifice and would signal a step up for her and her husband in the literary and social world of New York. It would be a paradise indeed to sit next to a poet at a chapter luncheon – instead of at the end of the table.

The couple stood at the elevator in the lobby of The Barclay on this warm Friday evening. She reminded her husband that the Henderson’s elevator was operated by a silver-haired man in a white uniform with brass buttons, while theirs was self-service, and she had to push the buttons herself. Furthermore, she often found herself in close proximity to delivery men or unwashed service personnel. Her anticipation had been dampened earlier by the disgraceful behavior of her husband and the taxi driver who brought them there. They had played double or nothing for the taxi fare.

They arrived at the 38th floor. The hushed elevator doors opened and the operator saluted the Gladstone's smartly as they left, reminding them that the Henderson’s apartment was 38A ... “the gold door at the end of the hall, sir.”

“All too posh for my taste,” mumbled Mr. Gladstone under his breath. Not far enough under, however, that his wife didn’t hear it plainly. She, in turn, reminded him the Henderson’s must have a lovely view of the river from the 38th floor.

The door was not really gold of course. All the doors to apartments above the 35th floor were painted gold as a status symbol – the Barclay’s tenants also received a neatly folded Wall Street Journal gratis at their door every morning – except Sunday.

The Henderson’s uniformed maid answered the door and her normally blank expression was momentarily switched to one of bewilderment as she fumbled for something to say. All she could think of was, “Wait, I get Madam.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone immediately sensed something had gone wrong. They glanced at each other nervously and Mr. Gladstone remarked to his wife something to the effect of the situation being out of joint ... “Why do I feel like I’m selling girl scout cookies?” he asked.

It wasn’t the warmest of greetings for invited guests to a dinner party ... no doubt about that. As the Gladstone’s stood shifting their feet on the thick carpeting outside the golden door of the Henderson apartment, they had the uneasy feeling that they would not be eating dinner there tonight.

Mrs. Henderson could be heard inside accompanied by piano music .... “The Gladstone’s! Really! Whatever for?” The piano hesitated ... “Go on Leopold ... don’t stop ... I’ll just be a moment.” She appeared at the door in lounging pajamas with an unlit Galouise in her cigarette holder ... “Helen! Arnold! What a surprise.”

After several false starts as to why the Gladstone’s were unexpected, and why she wasn’t dressed formally, and why her piano teacher was inside, it became clear there would be no dinner this evening. Her husband was in Cleveland ... would be back tomorrow morning ... the dinner was tomorrow night ... he wouldn’t be in Cleveland if the dinner was tonight, now would he? “How embarrassing. I’ve never made a mistake like this. If indeed I have ... Helen, you or Arnold must be mistaken. I’m terribly sorry. You can make it tomorrow, can’t you? I’d never forgive myself.” Red faced and chagrined, they retraced their steps to the elevator.

“I’m positive it isn’t my fault, Arnold. It must be yours ... now what do we do?” Mrs. Gladstone remarked as they stood in opposite corners of the descending elevator.” (This time the operator ignored them completely.) Her husband casually remarked they were all dressed up with no place to go. It did not sit well with Mrs. Gladstone, who insisted she planned on an evening out, complete with dinner, and under no circumstances would she go home unsatisfied. Furthermore, if her husband thought she could appear at the Henderson’s golden door tomorrow night in the same gown she wore this evening, he was mistaken.

“But you bought it special,” he reminded her. “Just for tonight, remember?”

“I’ll buy another in the morning! How do you like that! And my hair ... it will never do. I’ll have to make an appointment at Antoine’s tomorrow afternoon!” In Mrs. Gladstone’s play book no respectable woman could appear in the same dress on the following night, even if her husband misread the invitation in the first place. She suddenly turned to him when the elevator doors opened and asked him, “If it’s not your fault, Arnold ... although it has to be ... do you suppose ... ?

“She did it on purpose?”

“It would be just like her.”

“Didn’t that kind of thing go out of style with Machiavelli”?

“I don’t know. I don’t go back that far.”

Her husband suggested that maybe they could eat at home. “ ... not in these clothes. I’m dressed, Arnold, Do you expect me to cook supper in the kitchen. The cook is out. We are out, we are therefore ... dining out!”

Across the street, a subdued blue neon sign announcing “Chez Internationale” beckoned them. They were tempted, but skeptical. They were in unfamiliar territory. The restaurants they frequented were midtown, all of them bordering on Fifth Avenue ... this was Tudor City. United Nations territory, alien and unpredictable, therefore Mr. Gladstone in deference to Mrs. Gladstone, asked her, “What do you think?”

“Well, they have an awning ... that’s something.” All the midtown restaurants had awnings from the front door all the way out to the curb. It was a sign of status. She thought, maybe it applied here as well.

“Let’s go for it,” said Mr. Gladstone.

Save for another couple with a small boy, the restaurant was deserted. Mrs. Gladstone hesitated ... “I don’t know Arnold ...”

“Madam ... Monsieur ... “ A distraught, dark-suited man, possibly a head waiter, yet obviously a man concealing great emotional turmoil burst through the kitchen door, weaved his way through the unoccupied tables and appeared at their side. “Please be seated. Anywhere will do. Reservations are not required this evening ... as you can see, we are trying to recover some degree of normalcy. I assure you everything is under control. Here? Or there perhaps ... I will light a candle. We’ve had such an emotional afternoon.”

The Gladstone's decided to stay. They chose a table as far from the couple with the small boy as possible. The distraught head waiter confided to the Gladstone's that his name was Gregor and he would see to it that they would receive his personal attention.

“Our sommelier is recovering in the kitchen, Monsieur, but here is our wine list, it is second to none in the city ... and very reasonably priced let me assure you.” He went on to explain that in the cellar of the Chez Internationale rested rare Cabernet Sauvignons at only thirty dollars a bottle, and ... “A Bordeaux, Monsieur for $69.99 ... its nose has an astounding intensity, reminiscent of cigar smoke and roasted coffee beans.”

Mrs. Gladstone, after studying the menu, cleared her throat, “Gregor, may I ask what was the problem in the kitchen?”


“You mentioned there was a difficulty in the kitchen.”

“An altercation, Madame. May I suggest the rack of lamb?”

“An altercation?”

“, yes Madame. Old wounds ... dating back to the great war. Cook was a dedicated patriot – Greek you know. The pastry chef was a Turk. The sommelier was French of course ... the combination was unstable.”


“I’m afraid so ... there was an altercation, as I mentioned,” he turned to Mr. Gladstone. “The Bordeaux, sir? ... I’m sure I can reduce the price if Monsieur and Madame have it with the dinner.”

“Sounds good,” said Mr. Gladstone.

“Did you hear what he said, Arnold ... there was a fight in the kitchen! Someone may be dead ... aren’t you listening?”

“Not really, dear. I’m looking at the wine list. We’re having a hell of a time getting dinner tonight, you know that?” Mr. Gladstone looked up from the wine list in surprise as his wife stood. “What is it Dear? Are we leaving?”

“For all I know there’s a dead man in the kitchen. Do you think I can eat under such conditions? Arnold, I want to leave now. I want to get a cab and go to some restaurant we’ve been to before.”

Mr. Gladstone put the wine list down and wearily got to his feet. He looked at the head waiter and shrugged his shoulders philosophically ... “I guess we’re leaving, Gregor. My wife is sensitive about such things, even when they’re said in jest.”

The Gladstone's’ walked through the deserted restaurant and the waiter, professional to the core, reached the door before them, opened it and bowed stiffly at the waist. “Please do come again ... there will be better days I assure you, Madame.”

The door closed behind them, and as if it had broken a connection, every light in the street went out! The light inside the Chez Internationale and its blue neon sign in the window, street lights, traffic lights, lights in the high rise buildings around them and even the lights in the Barclay Apartment across the street, where presumably Mrs. Henderson’s piano lesson was suddenly interrupted.

The Gladstone's clung to each other in the sudden darkness. “This is definitely not our night, old girl,” was all Mr. Gladstone could think of to say. He realized that for the first time in his married life he must make the decisions in a situation he’d never faced before. “I better not blow this one,” he thought to himself.

“It would be a good idea to stay away from the curb, Helen,” he stated in a voice that surprised him with its air of experience and authority. He took his wife’s arm and steered her close to the dark wall of the Chez Internationale. “The traffic can’t see where it’s going,” he explained. “They’ll be up over the curb and run us down.”

Mrs. Gladstone was more than willing to take orders from anyone, even if they came from a man as undependable as her husband. It seemed to her that it was natural for a man to cope with emergencies in spite of the fact that to her knowledge he had never faced one before. She suddenly turned to her husband’s voice in the dark and said, “Arnold. Someone’s at my leg!”

A disembodied voice in the dark replied, “It is my dog, Madam. A thousand pardons ... he is as blind as you in the dark.”

The incident didn’t seem any stranger than the rest of the night to Mrs. Gladstone, but she managed to put her husband between herself and the dog ... “please watch your animal,” said Mr. Gladstone.”

“He is a ‘seeing-eye’ dog sir ... I’m afraid that’s impossible.”

“You’re both blind then ... “

“When it’s dark, yes. He is as blind as I in the dark. Everyone is blind tonight.”

“My name is Gladstone .. Arnold Gladstone. My wife and I live in town. Once a week we go out for dinner ... I think we picked a bad night.”

“Barry Hyper here. My dog’s name is ‘Escamilio’, it was his idea really ... his name I mean. I wrote three different names on three pieces of paper – and my dog picked ‘Escamilio’.” Mr. Hyper reached over to pet his dog who was trying to get another whiff of Mrs. Gladstone. “You might wonder how I knew he picked Escamilio, since I could not read the note. The amazing thing is ... I kept repeating the three names and Escamilio was the only name he responded to.” The blind man straightened up again and stared into the blackness. “Life asks as many questions as it answers, Mr. Gladstone. Do you have a dog?”

“I had one. Many years ago, when I was a boy I had a cairn terrier ... why did you bother to write the names if .... ?”

“Then you were a shepherd.”

“Oh no. I was a city boy ... the dog was purely a pet. I don’t think he’d have known a sheep if he saw one.”

“Nor would I, Mr. Gladstone. Nor would Escamilio for that matter. Gladstone is a very proper name, isn’t it? Formal, I mean. Mine is not. Hyper, to me, infers a person obsessed – a certain bubbling inside about to erupt. There, there Escamilio ...” Mr. Hyper attempted to distract his dog. “Leave Mrs. Gladstone to Mr. Gladstone. You have other duties, pressing dog duties – remember. Guide me. Can you guide me, Escamilio, guide me in the dark ... or must I guide you?” Escamilio slowly, and somewhat indecisively walked off with Barry Hyper in tow.

Together again, Mr. and Mrs. Gladstone considered their next move. “This is ridiculous,” Mrs. Gladstone remarked, “can’t we get a cab and get out of here?”

“Traffic’s at a standstill, my love. It’s hard enough to drive in this town when things are working, It’s suicide without traffic lights.”

“Let’s see if Florence Henderson is through with her piano teacher.”

“Are you willing to climb thirty eight stories, Helen? That’s seventy six flights ... two flights to a story.”

“Let’s find a policeman, or a church. Churches are always open aren’t they? You can always depend on a church.”

“I’d settle for a movie, the seats are more comfortable ... and they’ve got rest rooms. I could use a rest room about now.”

“Let’s walk,” Mrs. Henderson said. “Maybe we’ll get lucky.”

So they walked. They walked in the dark, in the half-light of candle lit store fronts, flashlights and disembodied voices. Crowds gathered around portable radios. “Even Detroit ... from Maine to Virginia ... the airports ... the west side of Staten Island has power.” The Gladstone’s kept well back from the curb. They held each other’s hand for the first time in many years and tried to work their way back home.

In less than ten minutes Mrs. Gladstone discovered she could not walk another step in her shoes, they were strapless dinner pumps, not walking shoes. They stopped at a Nike’s sport shoe store, open, but lit only by a candle. She chose a supremely comfortable pair that appeared to be black and yellow. They were inappropriate to the rest of her attire but it was not apparent in the darkness. Mr. Gladstone had to pay by check ... the credit card machine would not function without power.

The East Side Cinema had thrown its doors wide and they found seats in the back. They sat and watched a young woman with an acoustic guitar who sang folk songs on the narrow stage in front of the dark screen. She asked for requests but none were forthcoming. Emergency lighting flickered weakly from from the side walls of the theater; the scene was reminiscent of old Battle of Britain WWII movies.

“If she’d be quiet we could take a nap,” said Mr. Gladstone.

“I don’t think I’ll ever sleep again ... too much has happened. I’ll be awake forever.” Mrs. Gladstone hadn’t sat down since they left the restaurant and the comfort of the plush upholstery had a telling effect on her. She turned to her husband and used his first name for only the third time this evening. “Arnold, I’d really like to go home. I don’t like the way this evening is going at all.”

“It’s twenty-seven blocks ... in the dark, Helen. Feel up to it“?

“You mean walk I suppose.”

“In the dark ... and when we get there we’re really not there, you know.”

“I know. There’ll be stairs ... but maybe there will be a miracle. We’re due for a miracle.”

Mr. Gladstone stood up and offered her his hand. “C’mon love. Let’s give it a go.” They walked out of the theater and into the dark street. The city was in turmoil. Nothing that was supposed to work, worked. It was like a biological experiment that could no longer continue because a simple thing like a fuse had blown. The mice were on their own. In the dark and left to shift for themselves.

On the long walk home, Mr. Gladstone remarked to his wife that New York City was a lovely place to live so long as nothing went wrong. “You go along,” he said, “never giving it a thought. Everything ticking along like a Rolex ... and all of a sudden ...”

“The hostess tells you it’s tomorrow,” replied Mrs. Gladstone.

“Or there’s a fight in the kitchen,” added Mr. Gladstone.

“Or a blind man with a four-legged nose.”

“Imagine being a seeing eye dog in a black-out ...” he smiled to himself when he remembered the incident. “Do you suppose they spay them.”

“Not this one.”

So the conversation went, block after tedious block. By the time they reached their midtown apartment they were sick of the black-out, their miserable evening, and to a good extent, themselves as well.

The landlord advised them to stay downstairs in the the lobby. “All power is off, folks. Can’t get the generator to work. There’s nothing you can do up there anyway. No water. Pumps are out. You can’t cook. You can’t use the john. You’re safer down here.” He tried to smile. “Ain’t much of a fun city tonight.”

Mr. Gladstone nudged his wife ... “Let’s see if the German deli is open. I could use a Pastrami and a Heineken.”

They watched the chilly dawn break somewhere over Brooklyn from the dirty window of Scherer’s take-out German Delicatessen . The beer was not quite as cold as they’d like, nor was the pastrami piled as high as they liked it, but the Gladstone's’ were in no mood to complain. The long night had passed and somehow the people in charge of such things would put them right again.

But, as they sat there in the dimness of the dawn, their trust in things as they knew them was shaken. They would find it hard to push a button, turn a switch or flush a toilet with the same blind confidence they once had. But it was all they knew how to do ... they’d have to be satisfied with that.

The light returned, but not the power. Mr. Scherer graciously offered the Henderson’s the use of his combined men and women’s toilet facilities while he offered a confused and disorganized interpretation of the cause and effect of the previous evening’s power failure. “Infrastructure,” he shouted as he arranged yesterday’s bagels behind the glass window, “You would think somebody is watching out. How long would a car run if you didn’t put in new plugs ... a distributor ... a battery now and then?” He straightened up. “Tell me. Do you think these bagels look a day old? You can fool some of the people some of the time, but next time they don’t come back again.”

©Harry Buschman 2009

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