REPORT A PROBLEM
Due to overwhelming public demand, including a near-riot at the production studio, a barrage of impassioned email, and several very well orchestrated sit-ins – mostly nationwide, but also in London (special thanks to Nigel P.!), Madrid (besos to Leni!), and a remote village in South America (muchas gracias to Alma R.!) – we are pleased as punch to announce that this month we will resume the airing of the runaway hit series,
The Very Charitable Mrs. Wertheimer
, which we introduced last month.
(First, please reacquaint yourself with the first 13 entries from April, including a few words from our sponsors.)
Although she knows she should not, Mrs. Wertheimer is immersed in reverie, the subject of which is Alejandro Esteban's sizzling Latino lips pressed upon every inch of her wispy Wasp flesh. She has not obliged such fantasies in years and is thus shocked that she would recall them now, especially among such unsavory surroundings and with a mind that was, until the thug's uttering of "fuck", not even remotely interested in any activity inspired by that word. She thought she'd packed Alejandro Esteban in a sealed carton in her mind, along with the black lace panties worn during their encounters.
But enough of that. Mrs. Wertheimer has what she calls a "situation" on her hands, and she has no blasted (she apologizes for the vehemency, but such matters demand it) idea how she is going to handle it when no one seems to want to come to her aide.
Until a young girl, no more than 11 years old, takes pity on the well-dressed society woman whose hair is about to curl from the anxiety, and asks if Mrs. Wertheimer needs assistance.
"That would be lovely, dear," Mrs. Wertheimer says, charitably disregarding the girl's scuffed shoes and obviously homemade haircut.
So now Mrs. Wertheimer has a Metrocard with $12 worth of rides ($2 each!) on it. She worries for the briefest of moments if she will be compelled to ride the subway other times in the future to make sure she's not wasting any money. Because say what you will about Mrs. Wertheimer, she's not wasteful like many (most!) of the ladies in her social circle. Indeed, she's even been known to drop her spare change in the cup on the counter at Starbucks! And look at her now, offering the helpful little girl a quarter for all her trouble.
Something inside of Mrs. Wertheimer perks up when she slides the card through turnstile slot hears a "beep" signifying the accpetance of her fare. She feels like she's won something. Because, you see, for all her riches, she's still thrilled when she's presented with something unexpected, such as when she bought a jacket at Bergdorf and it scanned at a lower price than its tag indicated or when, just last week, she found a five-dollar bill in the pocket of a jacket from last season that she was handing over to Bettina rather than turning it over to for consignment.
Mrs. Wertheimer finds herself standing on the subway platform. She is pleased to see that not everyone has neglected to wash his or her face and that a few of the women even seem to have made at least a moderate effort to look pulled together. She is even more pleased to see that no one possesses her sense of style or is quite as polished. This compels her to bestow a complacent smile on the woman she deems the best-dressed of the bunch. She can smile at this woman only because she poses no threat to Mrs. Wertheimer's standing.
The woman notices Mrs. Wertheimer's smile and returns it with an arched eyebrow and tentative half-smirk/half-smile, accompanied by a steady gaze into Mrs. Wertheimer's blue-grey eyes. Mrs. Wertheimer, not accustomed to brazen eye contact, not even from someone in her own household or circle, gasps.
To disguise this gasp, she feigns a delicate, dry cough. And then addresses the woman: "Excuse me, but I couldn't help but notice your watch. Do you mind my asking whose it is?"
"Mine," the woman says.
Mrs. Wertheimer doesn't know if the woman is attempting humor, so she doesn't know if she should chuckle.
You're in suspense, aren't you? You're on the very edge of the edge of your seat (vinyl? poly-whatever? cotton? velvet? plastic? denim? macrame? wood? steel? bamboo? rattan? fur? toilet?), dying to know what the unpredictable (and, yes, of course, very charitable) Mrs. Wertheimer is going to do or say next.
Will this reserved society dame retort with a flippant comment of her own? Will she laugh with a freedom and mirth she hasn't known for what seems like (and is) years? Will she cry? Will she chew on the edge of her Metrocard?
Well, go on and find out!
Alas, Mrs. Wertheimer does not have to concern herself with this dilemma, because as soon as the woman delivers her line, she turns her shoulder, takes several steps away from Mrs. Wertheimer, and resumes reading a well-worn, dog-eared paperback.
"She may not be the friendliest woman," thinks Mrs. Wertheimer, "but at least she's literate."
She sneaks another glance at the woman, who hair has fallen from behind her right ear, thus prohibiting her from seeing Mrs. Wertheimer regarding her.
"The watch is probably one of those cheap knockoffs anyway," Mrs. Wertheimer thinks. "Poor thing can't even afford a hardback book!"
Like many in her circle, Mrs. Wertheimer has dabbled in charity. Unlike most, however, Mrs. Wertheimer never understood the fuss. The way she saw it, if she was going to help someone, the least she expected in return was a personal "thank you". It didn't have to be hand-lettered on fine ivory vellum, but it did have to carry a personal touch so she'd feel appreciated.
Now Mrs. Wertheimer prefers being charitable on a smaller scale, when she knows she'll be guaranteed individualized gratitude. This makes her cause a bit more challenging, but she is willing to live with that.
Take tomorrow, for instance. When she tells Davis that she'd considered calling him at his mother's house, to tell him to come back into the city to drive her to her appointment, but then decided she should just let him have his day off, well, he'll not only be grateful that she refrained but will thank her – more than once! – for not disturbing him.
And what about today? The little girl who helped her with her Metrocard almost refused to accept the quarter Mrs. Wertheimer handed her. So when Mrs. Wertheimer insisted, the little girl's thanks were even more generous.
What, too, of Alejandro Esteban? What of her Latin lover, and the individual thanks he heaped upon her shoulders? Shoulders upon which he placed his strong (yet gentle!) hands (oh, if she closes her eyes she can still see the signet ring!) every time Mrs. Wertheimer knelt before him to bestow upon him the same gift that, when presented to her husband as a way of apologizing for her affair, was met with snarls of "I don't need your charity!"
What of her long-ago lover? What of the Latin Lothario and his hands – so olive-bronze against her shoulders, so cream-peach?
Mrs. Wertheimer wishes she had a book into which she could bury her nose, so she could feign insouciance and a sense of normalcy in this situation in which she feels anything but carefree. She ducks her head, embarassed to admit even to herself, silently, inside her carefully coifed head, that she actually envies the people for whom riding the subway is commonplace.
These feelings, completely out of character for Mrs. Wertheimer, rush toward her as insistently as the subway that now approaches the platform. She knows the subway will stop (right?), but what of these feelings? Will they, too?
Mrs. Wertheimer is not prepared for the crush of human flesh pressing against her from all sides. An amorphous mass rushes from the train onto the platform, at the same time another swollen mass presses from the platform onto the train.
She cannot budge.
Mrs. Wertheimer starts to recall a physics principle from her undergraduate studies.
If she stands still, will each opposing flesh-wall render her incapable of advancing? Will she remain in one place, fixed to the platform? What if she lifts one foot from the ground, and then the other? Will the crowd lift her? Carry her forward?
Mrs. Wertheimer wrinkles her nose. (Only one nose job, thank you. She's not obsessed, like Kiki Owen!) Is it just her imagination or is the air down here ... oily? Gray?
Someone behind her reeks like a rancid platter of day-old antipasto. A jelly-bellied girl to her left, with skin like a topographical map of Peru, wearing yellow-gold earrings bigger than her ears, cracks bubblegum that smells like a crack chemist's idea of strawberry. Someone sounds like he's going to spit.
Mrs. Wertheimer decides her appointment can wait. She tries to turn around to go back to street level.
Mrs. Wertheimer shrugs her right shoulder closer to her ear and clutches her handbag in front of her body as she tries to turn to her left to remove herself from this bloated mass. If she had time to think, she would marvel at her survival instinct. But as it is, her gentle, well-modulated plea of "Excuse me, may I please get out of here?" is met with a thick, bored, "Oh, for fuck's sake. Just get on the fucking train."
Mrs. Wertheimer decides against repeating her plea. She obeys the thick, bored voice. And gets on the fucking train.
All right, so it's not as filthy as she'd imagined. It's brighter and quite well-lit, if not a touch too fluorescent. If Mrs. Wertheimer were asked to name the color of the seats, she'd have to go with persimmon and mango. Not the colors she or Patricia, her interior designer, would have chosen, but she's fairly certain the MTA didn't consult with the region's top design team. Still, it's not as awful as she'd thought.
What is awful, though, is that there isn't a seat for Mrs. Wertheimer. And it doesn't seem as if anyone will be offering her one.
Mrs. Wertheimer is nothing if not adaptable, though, so she resigns herself to standing where the crowd has forced her, which is against a pole in the aisle separating the inward-facing rows of seats. She is a bit taken aback at the collection of hands grasping the pole, and at first tells herself hers won't have to join them. She can stand on her own two feet. She won't need anything other than her own sense of balance.
The train lurches into motion, and Mrs. Wertheimer topples forward in her demure kitten heels. Instinctively, she reaches out for the pole.
Mrs. Wertheimer's hand has no time to fret over the unkempt appearance of the other hands or the unclean appearance of the pole itself. It just reaches out and grabs the closest part of the pole. That part happens to be the same part inhabited by a hand comprised of five stubby fingers whose magenta fingernail polish is chipped and whose cuticles could use more than just a little pruning. Mrs. Wertheimer compares her own petal-smooth hand, with its perfect application of pale pink polish on each of its elegant fingers. Not a ragged cuticle in sight, she notices proudly.
The hand reminds Mrs. Wertheimer of the hand that reached out to shake hers when she was introduced to Bettina, her housekeeper, seven years ago. She couldn't believe that a woman who sought employment in her beautiful house would have the nerve to hand her that less than beautiful hand. She hated to be judgmental, but she couldn't help but doubt the impressive credentials Bettina presented to her during the interview. Did Lisabeth Michelin really allow this woman to dust her foyer floorboards, polish her brass bathroom fixtures, and serve her her 4:00 tea on the terrace ... with these hands?
Despite Bettina's lack of a proper manicure, Mrs. Wertheimer grew to love Bettina as if she were a member of her family. She even defended that sentiment when, during an alcohol-drenched lunch, it stumbled from her lips onto the starched white tablecloth, where it was met with smirks and raised eyebrows (these were the days before Botox) by the three other ladies. What did Kiki Owen know, anyway? That woman went through housekeepers like they were cabana boys.
She loved Bettina more, though, when Bettina made good use of the salon gift certificate Mrs. Wertheimer presented to her at Christmas.
Mrs. Wertheimer's lips form themselves into the closest approximation of a smile possible, given that, what with her hand grasping this filthy pole, the last thing she wants to do is smile. She directs this fabricated smile toward the bearer of the stumpy hand, on whose overly made-up face is an expression that would make a catatonic's look positively jubilant.
Mrs. Wertheimer wants the person attached to the hand to acknowledge her apparent lack of aversion to this unwanted but necessary sharing of the pole. She wants the woman to reward her with a smile of appreciation for her charitability.
A smile from the other woman is not forthcoming, either immediately or for the next minute or so that Mrs. Wertheimer allots for it, so Mrs. Wertheimer removes the smile from her own face and replaces it with what she thinks is an approximation of everyone else's expression. She finds it's easy to affect this blend of boredom and weariness. And then recognizes it as the same expression she wears at home every morning when Charles drones on at the breakfast table.
Mrs. Wertheimer's hand remains touching the other woman's hand, even though there is now room to move it.
The subway comes to a stop at Times Square. As the bulk of the crowd extrudes its way out and onto the platform, a wad of new flesh replaces it. Despite a fair amount of unnecessary (and quite rude) jostling, Mrs. Wertheimer does not surrender her position at the pole. Her right hand retains its grip above the other woman's right hand.
"Move it," a surly thug says to the other woman as he crams his way behind her in his rush toward an empty seat. The woman ignores him, and is shoved forward, into Mrs. Wertheimer, as he passes.
The force of the woman's body causes Mrs. Wertheimer to stumble backward a step.
"‘Scuse me," she mumbles to Mrs. Wertheimer.
Mrs. Werthimer almost loses her grip on the pole, but is kept from falling backward by another body just behind hers. This body is as solid as a wall and does not suffer from the impact.
"Oh! So sorry," she says over her right shoulder. "Excuse me."
"No problem," the body says. Its voice is deep and smooth and inexplicably reminds Mrs. Wertheimer of devil's food cake with thick, rich frosting.
She turns back to face the other woman.
The subway, an express, is now racing toward 14th Street, and Mrs. Wertheimer has to fight to keep from doing an inadvertent dance in her kitten heels. If only she didn't have an aversion to rubber-soled shoes, she wouldn't be at such risk!
Mrs. Wertheimer notes that the other woman's hand has slipped down the pole and is not touching hers anymore. Her own hand still retains a tight grip on the pole, which now feels slick from the sweat of her palm. She inches her hand down the pole toward the woman's hand, letting its dampness assist the glide.
Just as Mrs. Wertheimer's hand is within six inches of its destination, the woman removes hers from the pole to cover her mouth during a phlegm-heavy cough. Mrs. Wertheimer, without any concern for her own precarious balance, removes her gliding hand from the pole and quickly reaches into the outside pocket of her handbag for the little bottle of hand sanitizer and a tissue.
She extends her bounty toward the woman.
"Please be my guest," she says, smiling.
"What?" the woman says.
"Your cough," she says.
"You afraid I'm gonna put my hand back on the pole?" the woman says.
I'm afraid you're NOT,
Mrs. Wertheimer thinks.
On the contrary, I'm afraid you're going to keep your hand away and I won't get to touch it again. I'm afraid that if that's the case, I won't have any real human contact with anyone for who knows how long. Charles III is away at school and when he visits home doesn't let me hug him. Alejandro Esteban is just a memory. Dr. Wertheimer ... I mean Charles ... well, I can't just start touching him after years of absolutely nothing. And Bettina and Davis? One doesn't go around pawing one's housekeeper and driver.
Mrs. Wertheimer holds the woman's unwavering gaze for a full three seconds. Enough time to fast-forward to this afternoon's destination. CEO Roger Michelin in his three thousand dollar suit, custom-made shirt, cashmere socks, and hand-sewn shoes. Roger Michelin and his pristine, leather-sofa'd, Persian rugged, many-windowed office high above the bustle and filth of the city streets, ignorant of the rumble of the subways beneath them. To her on her knees before him, her mouth filled so completely that she couldn't utter the words, "I can't go on doing this anymore," even if she wanted to.
Today, she finally wants to.
"Not at all," Mrs. Wertheimer says. "I just thought you might want to freshen up."
Mrs. Wertheimer nods her head toward the items. "Here. Please." She smiles.
"‘K," the woman says. "But if I touch this stuff, I'll get germs all over it." Mrs. Wertheimer sees a smile on the woman's red lips, a glint in her black-rimmed eyes.
"I'll tell you what," Mrs. Wertheimer says, smiling back the woman as she flips the bottle open and removes a tissue from the pack. "Hold out your hand."
She squeezes the bottle over the woman's hand and hands her a tissue.
"Thanks," the woman says with a broad smile, revealing a glimmer of gold on one side of her mouth.
"You're welcome," Mrs. Wertheimer says. "And here," she says, pressing the pack of tissues into the woman's palm. "You might need them later."
"Absolutely," Mrs. Wertheimer says. "I don't need them anymore."
"Thanks!" the woman says, grinning gold.
She replaces her hand on the pole, level with her hip. The woman does the same, but her hip is lower, so their hands do not touch.
When the subway stops, Mrs. Wertheimer gets off and takes another train back home.
The Tip Jar