Courting Coincidence



Neighborhood: Morningside Heights, Uncategorized

Courting Coincidence
Photo by Michela Simoncini

With amorous eyes I looked forward to the summer of 1976. Not long out of law school, I had just landed a job with a landlord/tenant law firm in lower Manhattan, and had rented a beach house on Fire Island for the season. I was dating a girl named Elizabeth, and though we had not discussed exclusivity, the times we sought each other’s company were getting more and more frequent. I had dreams of romantic weekends lolling on the beach and sneaking into the dunes, followed by strolls into town at sundown for Martinis and lobster dinner on the deck. Of course, I would still have to work during the week. After all, these fantasies would not fund themselves.

Elizabeth was half Korean, with lustrous dark brown hair and large, mysterious eyes. Her smile was demure, but she tossed her head like an untamed stallion. She had the perfect posture and gait of a dancer, and indeed, by night she danced ballet, while by day she worked as a graphic artist for Family Circle Magazine. That summer Elizabeth would be prima ballerina in a production of Coppelia at Columbia University.

Then came bad news. My law firm was disbanding and I was being laid off. This could ruin my summer plans. I had to find another job.

My family lived in Washington DC where my father worked for the State Department. I called with the news, and to my surprise my father offered not just sympathy, but connections. He knew a lawyer at the Ford Foundation in New York City. The next day I received an invitation to lunch with Mr. Anthony Riolo. It was for Friday, the same day as opening night of Coppelia. A full and important day: first an audience with counsel for the Ford Foundation, and then in the audience for Elizabeth the prima ballerina.

Mr. Riolo and I chatted freely about our lives, and the ups and downs of living in New York City; so crowded, yet so much culture. He seemed to have everything. He worked for a prestigious foundation, owned a brownstone in the East Village, and drove a Lamborghini for God’s sake! Far from a stuffy, pinstriped corporate lawyer, he wore a trimly tailored off-white suit with bright red bowtie. Like Elizabeth he stood up straight, dancer-straight you might say. He couldn’t offer me a job, but gave me names of people to call.

On the way to Coppelia, I stopped at my neighborhood flower shop for a dozen red roses with baby’s breath. Elizabeth and I had just watched the first televised production of Swan Lake at Lincoln Center, with Natalia Makarova as Odette/Odile. At curtain call, Makarova was presented with a grand bouquet of roses, and I wanted the same for my ballerina.

Outside the theater I ran into Kitty, one of Elizabeth’s ballet friends who was helping out backstage.

“Roses for Elizabeth at curtain call,” I whispered, “Where do I take them?”

“How lovely,” said Kitty, “I’ll make sure she gets them.”

Elizabeth’s performance was enchanting. She danced with such elegance and grace, while her face captured the impish humor of the story. I was so proud that we were together. Then came curtain call, and the moment I had been waiting for. Kitty appeared on stage with my stunning bouquet of red roses. She presented it to Elizabeth, who beamed and took it under her left arm, then bowed graciously until the curtain came down, just as Makarova had done in Swan Lake.

A perfect moment, but over too soon. I wished the curtain would open again, so I could once more see her cradling my roses. The curtain did rise, but not for what I expected. Kitty appeared again, this time with another bouquet of red roses, identical to the first. Again Elizabeth smiled, gathering the second bouquet under her other arm. With her arms full of roses, she stood bowing for two, three, four curtain calls until the applause subsided and the house lights came up.

I wondered, Does she have another lover on the side? I dashed down the aisle, vaulted onto the stage, and slipped between the curtains to backstage, where I found Kitty.

“Who gave Elizabeth the other bouquet?”

“Oh,” she said. “That was Tony.”

“Tony? Who’s Tony?”

“Uh, that’s him,” she pointed over my shoulder. “Right behind you.”

Turning around, I found myself face to face with Mr. Anthony Riolo.

I gasped, “You know Elizabeth?”

“Oh yes,” he replied. “She’s my favorite.”

If this was her other guy, what would she want with me? Successful lawyer, brownstone in the Village, and drives a Lamborghini for God’s sake! Then I noticed what he was wearing. No tailored suit or red bowtie, but a dark green iridescent jump suit that zipped up in front. It was open down to his navel, partially exposing his bare chest.

He reached out and placed a firm hand on my shoulder. “She’s my favorite ballerina, and I’d marry her in a shot,” he said, “if I weren’t gay.”

* * *

Tony was a good friend to both of us. He died of AIDS on March 28, 1989. He was 46.

After thirty years as a public service lawyer in New York City, Cullen McVoy is semi-retired and doing what he always wanted to do—writing about his life. His first essay, With these Shackles I Thee Wed, won first prize in Literal Latte Journal’s annual essay contest, and is due to be published in the spring.

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§ 5 Responses to “Courting Coincidence”

  • Thomas Lipovetsky says:

    Great short story. Amusing and funny, especially the ending. Keep up the good work.

  • Maggie Perez says:

    Cullen I love your love story I think it’s great I hope to read more I know more about and Elizabeth thank you so much I enjoyed it very much I hope to see me love Maggie

  • Maggie Perez says:

    Cullen what I meant to say I know more about you and Elizabeth that I did not know before it great I hope to see me of it Love Maggie

  • Karen A Bauer says:

    Dearest Cullen and Elizabeth,

    WOW! What a WONDERFUL surprise to have this forwarded to me. It was a GREAT and sweet story. I look forward to reading more of your creations…

    Think back to the mid 1990’s when you had the circles in your home… Ro-Hun was a phenomenal tool for my spiritual development.

    You may remember me as Karen Ricci. I was a client of Marcy’s and used to come up with Nancy Y and the shore crowd!

    Wishing you and Elizabeth incredible journeys.
    Creating PEACE…
    Karen A Bauer

  • nancy says:

    My husband met Tony in college and they became life-long friends. I have heard so many wonderful stories about this remarkable human being. I only wish I could have known him.

§ Leave a Reply

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