Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Local Heroes

He sat in his tux in the gaping hole of broken glass in the storefront of her father's store, a little before dawn of a long night of galas and receptions and paparazzi and other photographers and movie stars and politicians and billionaires, sat there ready to fend off would-be looters or stray cats or owls or whoever else might try to violate the perimeter. She showed up before the cops did, and I watched the two of them, unnoticed, I'm pretty sure, from the black shade under the old oak across the street. I'd been watching them for most of our lives. You couldn't help but stare. They were godlike, even now, pushing 50: just a little bit more good-looking, graceful, charming and witty, both of them, than mere mortals could ever hope to be. She hiked up the skirt of her ball gown as she stepped around little piles of glass behind him, inspecting the damage. She stopped once and touched his shoulder and he shrank involuntarily at her touch. It still seemed she could make him nervous; she, and nobody else I knew of. They spoke for a little while, their voices just a little too low for me to hear what they were saying.

The three of us had gone to the same public schools in this neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were three grades ahead of me, king and queen of the proms, took turns as class president, and most likely to everything. I know now that nobody's lives turn out as expected, but even with huge expectations, their lives hadn't disappointed. She went from the kind of photographer whose pictures are shown in art galleries to a weather girl when arty photography wasn't paying the bills. And although she got the job because of typical weather-girl va-va-voom, amazingly, she subverted the job with feminist irony and wit, and was also actually way above average with the meteorology. Besides the usual reasons, people actually watched her because her forecasts were more accurate than the rest. From weather girl she moved very quickly to local reporter to anchor to network reporter to... what she is, there's only one. She hosts a weekly network news show and frequent specials. She's outspoken about politics. She might become President. And all along, she's made a point of not hiding her very active sex life. She said she made a point of not hiding it because when a man was active in a similar way it tended to make him a hero, and she refused to allow herself to be shamed for something natural and healthy, and more to the point, something a man would be admired for.

She was always very generous with her time and help for people starting out in the business. For me, for example: she hooked me up with my first TV cameraman gig, said, "Okay, I'm vouching for you, Champ, don't let me down," and gave me a smile which made me shiver, and a kiss on the cheek which made my heart pound, and made me want to make sure I didn't let her down more than I've ever wanted anything in my relatively lukewarm life. I guess I didn't let her down. I'm still employed as a cameraman and occasionally lately as a news segment producer.

He became a tennis god right out of high school. He became world famous right away, and rich from product endorsements and commercials. The fame and money had much more to do with his looks than with the quality of the tennis he played, as was the case years later with Anna Kournikova. And just as with Kournikova, if you complained that he wasn't such a great tennis player, you were missing the point.

His tennis career didn't last nearly as long as Kournikova's: he had been a pro for just a year and a half when he severely broke his racquet arm in a car crash. All the bones in his forearm were broken through in several places each. It's not often that an arm fracture is so severe as to require hospitalization. They kept him in the hospital for a week just because of his arm.

And during that week -- how much on purpose on his part, I still have no idea -- pictures of him behaving inappropriately with several female nurses and one female doctor -- not all at once -- became public. He had already been seen out and about with many different women during his brief tennis career.

His arm never healed enough for him to play tennis vigorously again, but very soon it had healed enough so that he could type, and soon he was writing newspaper stories good enough to surprise people who'd had him pegged as an airhead stud. Besides the reporting, he began to publish well-received short stories and novels. The combination of his reporting and his looks lead him pretty soon into the same TV-news world as his former schoolmate.

Neither of them ever had time for a day of college.

Then, in their late 20's, after a decade of each of them having very famously dated a lot of people, it happened: very strangely, he suddenly fell very publicly, extremely awkwardly and embarrassingly, and unrequitedly, in love with her. He sobbed like a baby in front of live TV cameras when he was supposed to be reporting stories, talked about her and cried on talk shows -- which certainly didn't discourage talk shows, the vultures, from booking him. He made about as big a public spectacle of himself as possible without getting himself fired from all of his gigs. She stayed composed, and was about as nice about it all as anyone could be who honestly just didn't like him that way.

The crying and making a spectacle of himself lasted for months. Then finally he got a grip on himself and started to behave more normally again. But it seemed obvious that he never got over her. He kept right on with his extremely busy romantic life. He kept right on with that even during the crying and saying embarrassing things phase. But he never seemed to see a contradiction there.

They both went on being godlike -- Olympian -- in their sex lives. That very night, one of his latest relationships had gone very public, with a just-turned-legal former gymnast. She was dating an actor not much older than the gymnast. The general public reaction seemed to be that whoever they dated was not being used, but was very, very lucky. The young women who'd been with the former tennis god, the young men who'd been with the former artsy photographer -- they all seemed to wander around in a blissful daze, as if they been blessed by supernatural spells most of us can never hope to experience.

And during his public freak-out over her 20 years earlier, although she didn't return his passion, they became good friends, and they had stayed very good friends, with that unrequited thing hanging there between them the whole time. Strangely, that kind of made sense.

This evening, this long night of galas and other parties, he had ended up with some others of us from the neighborhood, and we all rode the subway together in our tuxes back to Brooklyn, and someone had a football, and he had for some reason been standing in front of her father's old store when someone fired a pass which sailed over his head and was thrown hard enough that it actually shattered the decades-old plate glass storefront. Her dad's appliances and furniture were exposed to the night air and potential looters and stray cats and owls. He immediately took out his phone and dialed 911 and sat down amid the broken glass to guard his beloved lady's father's store. Why had he been standing right there waiting for someone to pass him the ball?

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