Central Park at Sunset, NYC by Francisco Diez
When you lose someone so important to you, who feels larger than life, sometimes you act a little crazy while going through the grief. Maybe it is to counter the silence and life’s unfairness, but at the time, your actions can feel magically vibrant. This is one of those stories.
The day was St. Patrick’s Day 2002 and I drove his 1986 baby blue unvacuumed Econo van, with our kids and his ashes, into the Known Center Of The Universe (K.C.U). Whenever Bob Kaiser drew a map for anywhere, he always put a dot where New York City was, even if the map was for Africa, and wrote K.C.U.
It was the year anniversary of my husband’s death. His remains sat in the back seat between our children, Rhapsody and Bucky, in a clear giant deli pickle jar that had our bright colored handprints surrounding him. We picked up my best friend Kim who lived on the Upper East Side where she gave me a one-year-death-anniversary gift: matching Patagonia periwinkle pullovers. We each put them on. Then Kim sitting in the passengers co-pilot seat said, “Today, I don’t know if I am helping a friend or a felon — let’s go.”
I met Bob in 1988 while commuting into Manhattan on the #164 bus from Glen Rock, New Jersey. I was born in 1964. He was born in 1950. He was wearing black, got on the bus ahead of me and sat in the back. This is what he used to tell people when they asked how we met: I saw this vision of white. She had shoulder length blonde hair and a white sweater set welded to her thin body. She had a warm smile. If the bus driver saw out of the corner of his eye her running late for the bus, he would stop and wait for her. There was a whole glow about her. I looked at her and saw, this is the woman I am going to marry.
Bob watched me for two months before making his move. He’d say, “Katie did more things on a bus in an hour than most people did in a day.” I read my New York Times, wrote in my journal, read my book (Bonfire of the Vanities), listened to music, occasionally napped and spoke with my fellow passengers.
I always sat in the front row. I like seeing, and being the youngest of eight I make myself first when I can. This one morning Bob sat in the front row with Bonfire of the Vanities on his lap. Bob was a Broadway scene shop owner for twenty years. He knew what props were and how to use them. I said, “Great book.” Bob replied, “Just got it,” and our thirteen-year dialogue began.
When we arrived at the bus terminal I got off onto the platform and inhaled fumes. Bob was the last passenger to exit. He stood at the top of the bus steps with black bags. He had such a sweet boyish face, little lips that smiled closed, brown eyes and brown hair. The solidness of his body attracted me, his thighs had the density of 100-year-old oak trunks.
Bob carried an IBM portable computer. They weren’t so portable then. He liked being first in technology. As he stepped down the three bus steps, I remember him turning sideways a little to fit himself and his bags. I smiled when we stood side-by-side; blonde and thin, dark-haired and a little hefty. I gave him my home phone number. He said I gave him the wrong number and he found me where I worked, backstage at The Metropolitan Opera.
One sunny spring day I sat by the Lincoln Center fountain waiting for my date. In my periwinkle suit, I watched yellow taxis and black limos pull up. I saw a white van with red lettering, “Rent Me, Rent Me, $19.95 a day!” and immediately I thought, “Please God no, not me, not my date.” It was Bob arriving distinctively.
This next part of the story I like to leave out but Bob always told it. When he opened my car door, he saw the door was covered in vomit. He drove a colleague home the night before who drank too much. I never mention that part; I tell people Bob picked me up, we went to Armstrong’s for dinner and we talked a lot. He thought I was older, I thought he was younger. He was the most engaging man I had ever spoken with. He was smart and he listened to me. He thought I was bright and beautiful.
On St. Patrick’s Day 2002, the one year anniversary of Bob’s death had, our first stop in the van, after Starbucks, was Lincoln Center. I scattered some of Bob’s ashes in the fountain of well wishers. Next stop was outside the restaurant Armstrongs, located on the corner of 59th Street and 10th Avenue, where we’d had our first date. Then I drove us downtown to the meatpacking district. This was before the whole gentrification. Bob had introduced me to fresh-killed pigs for our pig roasts here. He’d taught me that a twenty-five-pound pig was $4 a pound, a fifty-pound pig was $2 a pound and a one-hundred-pound pig was $1 a pound, so just buy the hundred-pound pig! So I left some of Bob near the pigs in every size! Then I sprinkled some of his ashes outside Balducci’s where he bought his oversized veal chops and then on the doorsteps of Mario Batali’s restaurant, Babbo. I felt these last sprinklings were a tad cruel on my part; to leave him outside looking in, unable to sniff and taste and snack, ever.
Then I dropped Kim off outside her apartment and drove to Central Park’s Delacorte Theater. When Bob began his Broadway career, in the late 60’s, he built the boulders for that open-air theater and it made tremendous sense to me at the time and karmically proper that Bob’s pebbles be placed there during his close. I sprinkled a handful of him over the wooden fence, but it did not feel very satisfying, so the kids kept watch for cops while I hopped the fence. With each hand holding some of him, I walked onto center stage. In front of me was an empty audience, willing to listen to anything I had to say. Behind me was a pond, swamp grass and castle. I looked forward, closed my eyes and began to spin.
I thought about his twenty-year career on Broadway. I thought about how he used to say, “I got the needle out of my arm,” when he summed up to his scenery buddies why he left Broadway. I thought about all the dinners we used to charge and I did not enjoy because we were always broke and then one day I let go and began to enjoy them because some how, year after year, we made it. As I spun I let his ashes drift in a circle around me, coating me, surrounding me in his dust. He always told me I was one drink shy, but as a widow I was a drunk high without alcohol and I loved being with him and leaving him in this open space. I also loved breaking rules to do it. Before leaving I bowed to the audience and smiled, as I often do, wondering what he’d think.
Kate Kaiser is an artist who loves finding the sounds in poem, prose and song that suit her. Fitting language is like finding a perfectly fitted dress, it’s not too big, it’s not small and the color illuminates. www.KateofHoboken.com