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Magic Mystery Honeymoon

by David Westheimer

 


Newly home from the Stalag, 
I am ill in bed from a surfeit of seafood. 
My best friend comes visiting,
Bringing with him, under protest, 
The girl I used to like
Who had written to me in the Stalag
Though, I thought, she was married.
Now I know she is a war widow.
When she steps through the door, a vision,
 I know I am done for.
 My plans to make up
 For all the complaisant girls 
 I'd missed in shards.
 It is July.
 In October we are married.

     Yeah, I know other peoples' honeymoon is not a topic of great interest to married couples who have their own memories of their post-nuptual expedition but I think my wife's and mine has a bizarre, almost dreamlike quality that lifts it out of the  ordinary.
     It is October 1945.  I am less than six months out of a Luftwaffe POW camp and my bride is coming out of more than a year of mourning for her first husband, a tank  commander killed in action in Belgium who never saw their baby son.  We have known each other forever. 
     We were never introduced.  She was the bratty little girl who was around when I visited her slightly older brother and sister.  Her Uncle Louie wants to give us a honeymoon for a  wedding present.  Two weeks in New York, where I had never been.
     There is one little problem.  The newspapers are publishing stories that  say, If you  don't have a hotel reservation, don't come to New York.  It's jammed.  There are no rooms. 
    Walter Winchell says the same thing on his radio show.   And even with  reservations a hotel stay is limited to five days.  I tell my bride's Uncle Louie, But we don't have reservations.
     And he says, Don't worry about it.  You get to New York, you take a cab to the Waldorf-Astoria, you go up to the cigar counter and ask for Joe.   He'll take care of it.
     I do not like the sound of this.  I have spent too many months not taking chances.  But my bride says, My Uncle Louie says it will be all right.  We'll go to New  York.  We have only been married one day but already I am learning to heel.
     So we get on a train for New York.  We climb aboard behind two old ladies.  They must be over fifty.  They beam when they learn we are on our honeymoon. 
    Dody's sister is on the platform with my bride's almost two-year-old little boy in her arms.  He is a little doll in his gray flannel suit, blue shirt and white shoes.   My bride is afraid he is going to cry when he  sees his mama leave.   He doesn't even look at her.  He is too fascinated by the steam squirting out from under our car.  The old ladies are standing with us.  They want to know who that darling little boy is.  My bride says, "Ours."  The old ladies are shocked.  Only moments before, we have told them we are on our honeymoon.
    We have a little compartment all to ourselves, courtesy of Uncle Louie. 
    Though in a cloud of connubial bliss I worry.  Were going to get to New York and not have a place to lay our heads. 
     When we get to New York we take a taxi to the Waldorf.  I almost ask the driver to wait because I know we are not going to get in.  A doorman carries our luggage in and we go to the cigar stand.  Feeling stupid, I ask for Joe.  The man I ask is Joe.  I introduce myself.
     He has been expecting us!
    Joe guides us toward the reservations desk.   There are lines of prosperous looking men haranguing desk clerks, most of them being turned away.   I know my bride and I are in trouble.  But Joe doesn't take us to the desk.  He takes us to an office next to it and introduces us to an assistant manager sitting behind a desk.  The assistant manager registers us and asks how long we'll be staying.
     Say five days, Joe prompts.
     I say five days though I know we want two weeks.
     A bellboy takes us and our luggage up to a door marked Pennsylvania Society and conducts us to a handsome room.  I am so relieved I tip him 50 cents a bag, for which he appears grateful.  We have a room in New York at the Waldorf.  For five days, anyway.
     My bride's Uncle Louie has given us a name, Hugo, and Hugo's phone number. 
    We want to see any Broadway shows, call Hugo and he will get us tickets.  We call Hugo.  We see 14 shows in 16 days, including Carousel and Oklahoma the same day.  Hugo apologizes for that.  It is the only day he can get tickets.  Hugo takes us out to dinner and to tea dancing at the St. Regis.  I am not allowed to pay for anything.
     On our own we go to the Latin Quarter and the Copacabana, where we see comedian Joe E. Lewis' shoe and part of a trouser leg when he kicks his foot out because we can not see the stage from our table behind a mirrored column (innocents from Texas, we do not know that to get a decent table you must tip a captain or head waiter).  We hear Louis Jordan at Club Zanzibar and Josh White at Cafe Society Downtown and hear Art Tatum at a jazz joint on 52nd Street.  We go to the Stork Club and to the Blue Angel for Alice Pearce and the Village Vanguard and we see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall.  We go to the top of the Empire State Building.   We take a carriage ride through Central Park.
     My oldest brother is a lawyer.  His senior partner is an urbane gourmet who has been taken into the Army as a general to do lawyerly things for the War Department in Washington.  He has made a list of the best restaurants in New York and what to order at them for officers going to the big city from Washington.  My bride and I have the list.  We go to the Grotto Azura for the lobster fra diavolo, to 21, Divan Parisienne, Du  Midi, Charles a la  Pomme Soufflé, the Chambord (we like French restaurants; there are none in Houston), Dinty Moore's', Lindy's and Reubens.  We have the corned beef and cabbage at Dinty Moore's', which is the general's recommendation.  The only meal I don't like.  The cabbage is too much like what I had cooked for my roommates at Stalag Luft III.  The Chambord is supposed to be the most expensive restaurant in New York so I am not surprised or outraged when lunch is $6 each even though a multi-course dinner at the best restaurant in Houston is $2.  We pay for these meals but Uncle Louie has given us $250 cash walkaround money, which in those days is real dough.
     In our spare time we go shopping (I have 28 months of back pay burning my pockets). 
    My bride buys a gorgeous hand - embroidered suit at the Peasant Shop and I buy a handsome blue, price controlled suit at Rogers Peet.  We shop Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Gimbel's and Sulka and Brooks Brothers.
     We are at the Waldorf 15 nights.  Uncle Louie foots the bill.
     It is perfection.  Almost.  On the way to Grand Central Station our taxi  blows a tire.

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