92 Wooden Shoe

Bert spent Friday morning on the internet, researching jokes. For every one he liked there were dozens of pathetic ones, endless variations, or just plain repetitions. The longer he looked the less funny the jokes sounded, just like the proverbial guy at the party telling too many and who, desperate to be the life of the party, bored a fixed stare onto any trapped listener, who then drank to excess to compensate for social paralysis.

Condo, bank, and office towers looking south along Prospect Avenue and the Gold Coast.

Condo, bank, and office towers, looking south along Prospect Avenue and the Gold Coast, with Lake Michigan in the distance.

Bert persisted, needing a few more corkers to add to his quiver. Not knowing Gina’s taste in comedy, only that she liked to joke, he included a number of genres to be ready to pivot. For business meetings, he generally lined up only the one joke to deliver during any remarks he might give. Now he had to be prepared to trade, possibly a joke for a joke; anything to get her interested and say she’d go out with him.

And this was all on the off-chance that she’d arrive at the building at the usual time to drop off the girls. He was hoping to seem to bump into her then, be amusing and casual, and strike before she was on her way. Would his attempt at witty and spontaneous demeanor persuade her, or would he muff his chance? The timing was so uncertain; all Bert knew was after school on Friday. He hadn’t a clue when school got out. He’d have to trot up and down looking like an idiot, all along Prospect, hoping he wouldn’t be suspected of loitering or something worse. Pocano would have his legs walked off, playing his part in the scene.

*    *   *   *   *

The concert finale was timed to coincide with dismissal and the plan was that Gina would take the girls directly to the POPS. Georgia and Gina had arrived at school separately and each looked forward to a free Friday evening, a respite they used to recover from the week, to catch-up on whatever had been missed or mislaid along the course of it.

Greg, as instructed, had avoided even so much as eye contact with them while at school. After the extravaganza, sitting in his car and retrieving his missed calls, he observed Gina’s departure with the girls, and Georgia’s, on her own. He took an unpremeditated chance and rang Georgia’s cell.

“Hi. Thanks for including me. Any chance we could meet and talk for a bit?”

“Wait. Aren’t you supposed to be rushing back to take care of the girls?”

“Mrs. James will be there,” he sheepishly admitted. “She’s much better at that preliminary sorting out than me. I’ll catch them later.” He didn’t add that he’d just failed to even recognize his daughters amongst their classmates. “How about a quiet drink, someplace nice?”

“It’s a bit early for me, and I’m not dressed for someplace nice.”

“I can meet you at home in an hour,” Greg offered. “Please.” Please had worked the last time. Maybe he should say it more often. “I’d like to have the chance to discuss how our new plan is working out so far.”

Georgia weakened. It had been a crazed week. The thought of a nice, quiet bar seemed more pleasurable than not, even though she was apprehensive about what he wanted to talk about. She was beginning to feel a bit silly constantly using Gina as an intermediary, though Gina never objected. She knew that Gina cared about them all and would do anything for her but maybe she and Greg really should be talking again, one on one. He’d looked so patient standing there at the gym door and she’d wished for just a perplexing moment that, well, that it could be different. Then, she’d been annoyed at herself for imagining that it ever could be.

“Oh, all right then. I’ll see you at the house, in an hour.”

An hour and a half later, small talk completed, and next to him at the little table that held their adult beverages, she sank back into the plush of the chair, sighed, and gazed at him. She’d almost forgotten how good-looking a man he was, how she’d always felt like a million bucks just being beside him and had loved being the object of his attentions. It had been awhile. She couldn’t help but see something of their girls in him, though she’d always fancied that they took after her side of the family, resembled her even. That joke was on her; she chuckled.

“What’s the joke?”

“Your daughters are starting to resemble you.”

“Is that such a bad thing?”

“No, unless polished and handsome is bad.”

“Thank you, I’m sure.” What is this all about now, Greg wondered but pressed on. “Time for a refresher?”

“Sure. I’ll have another.” Georgia quite liked being treated tastefully by a gentleman in a public place. She could just about imagine what Gina would say to her. She’d left a message saying she was out for a drink with Greg and that she’d tell all when she got home. The second round served, Greg raised his glass to her.

“Wooden shoe!”

“Wooden shoe!” Georgia chorused. It was a long-standing toast between them from their courtship days, and referred to his career of coaching skating, and his childhood love of Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates, a story set in Holland about a boy who wore the traditional wooden shoes to skate in a race, inspired to win to save his family.

Chapter 92 Wooden Shoe

“Good to hear the girls singing Mairzy Doats, wasn’t it? Do you think they learned it in the cradle?” This bit of supposedly unintelligible WW2 doggerel was employed for coded messages, and ended with the phrase ‘wooden shoe’ that translated meant, ‘wouldn’t you?’

“Greg, you’re an idiot. That wasn’t the girls’ class singing that at the concert, it was the junior kindergarten class. Didn’t you look at the program notes?”

“The programs were all gone when I got there.” Greg looked abashed. “I guess I just got carried away remembering that it was special to us, um, our family.” Georgia then informed him what the third grade classes had actually performed and promised to give him one of the programs that she and Gina had each, apparently greedily, taken. Into this concession, Greg dared to dump the problem of the play dough project.

“That was Gina’s idea. She wanted to hand you the ultimate test first.”

“Here’s to Gina. Let me guess? She didn’t want to do it either and pawned it off on me?”

“Exactly so. That project’s on my list to discuss with the teacher. Too much to ask, if you ask me. Of course, you can do conferences, too.”

“We seem to have run out of beverages before we’ve run out of talking points. Would you consider going on to supper, to continue?”

“And Mrs. James?”

“Mrs. James will roll with it. She’s the best.”

“She must be, to put up with you. Now that I’m all dressed up, are we going someplace even nicer?”

*   *   *   *   *

Mrs. James, unsure of the girls’ arrival time this afternoon – something special was happening at school – had fallen into customary conversation with Gervase while waiting in the lobby, this time about faith and religion.

“Are you a believer?” Gervase led in gently, for fear of offending.

“I’m Episcopalian.”

“What does that mean, exactly?”

“Oh, that we needn’t bother with such questions. It’s all self-explanatory.” This formed her standard reply to such inquiries.

“But you do respect others’ beliefs?”

“I respect anyone who’s sincere about practicing his, and still respects mine. Ah, here they come! Let’s pick this up another time, OK?”