Our fathers were friends. They were reporters and drinking buddies. They were men who revelled in the end of each day. There was no defining moment for the end of the day. For our fathers the day might have ended when their stories went to press, or when they sat side by side at the bar of the Little Ritz
Our fathers were men of words. They were also wolves. Aggressive in acquiring the story, asking the tough questions, getting to the point. Day in and day out writing the news was their life. They never stopped being newspaper men, even at home.
The Little Ritz was a place where the stresses of the day could be released. The jovial atmosphere of this dimly lit bar was kindled by a full time prankster, my Uncle Nick, the bartender. A joke and a drink were served to our fathers. After an hour or two Mike Moyle and Rusty Cowen reporters for the Patriot News were ready to go home.
In grade school I never had the opportunity to go drinking with Mike and Rusty. I was familiar with the smells of alcohol and smoke he brought home. As a child these were acceptable odours of adulthood for I loved my father.
In grade school I did attend several grown up parties. Rusty and his wife hosted a party of smoking, boozing and sexual flirting, which I didn't really understand but our parents seem to like it. At that time I didn't play with girls, so I first met Maura from across the room, which was a safe distance to consider my options for escape. Our mothers attempted a brief introduction between us. This introduction resulted in a stare down and then an immediate dispersal as if we had collided. For the duration of the party I stayed in the basement where Maura's brother kept snakes and turtles.
In high school I met Maura again. Approaching Maura was never intentional I tried to keep my distance. Even though I was a few inches taller than she, I seemed to shrink as I approached her. On many occasions my shrinking was unavoidable because we shared the same home room.
Maura was smart, attractive and cool. To be cool was to be understated and indifferent, but surprisingly adept at responding at the right moment in a remarkable way. Maura emanated coolness from her pores. She projected a sense of confidence that appeared unwavering. These traits that Maura had were unusual for any 14 year old to possess, and she had command of them.
Confidence wasn't something I could rely on. It would crack in a moments notice. Faking confidence only amplified the awkwardness that seemed to never go away. I found Maura intimidating and nearly unapproachable as a result of my own insecurities. The intimidation factor was very high, compounded by the simple fact that I liked her.
Every morning in home room we stood up to say the Pledge of Allegiance, except for Maura who continued to stay seated. She must of felt pressure from our home room teacher ,who asked Maura to stand. She responded in a cool controlled manner, not what I would call defiant, and she stayed (remained) seated for the rest of the year.
Why she wasn't standing I found perplexing. Even though I wanted to ask her, why she preferred to sit, I wasn't going to get caught, not knowing. It was embarrassing to be caught, not knowing something in school. I am surprised any student could muster up enough courage to ask a question in the class room. The safest solution despite my curiosity was not to ask.
In the early years of high school, dinnertime with my family was a time to have a conversation. I never challenged my parents in their views and they in return had the patience to answer my questions no matter how naive. I mentioned to my parents that Maura didn't stand for the pledge of allegiance. My father told me, "Maura's a non-conformist" I asked what that meant, which my father made clear to me, I was a conformist. This was true, I yearned to fit it and wanted to stay that way.
The beginning of the following school year I had made a plan to speak to her. Plan A was the first plan there never was a plan B or C . There were no amendments or room for improvisation. Just stick to the plan, which was to ask her a question. "Hey Maura what section are you?" I said as confident as I could. She coolly responded, " That's for me to know and for you to find out." I wasn't prepared. What could I say? Plan A was a complete failure. I responded in startled silence. I wasn't going to try that again.
After college and several more years of living I met Maura again. Our mothers didn't introduce us this time. Instead it was a simple phone call that bridged the gap between us. I made a brief introduction:
"May I speak to Maura Cowen,"
Alex: "This is Alex Moyle, I was with Dennis when we ran into you at the pizzeria."
Maura: "I remember, it has been many moons since the last time I've seen you."
This is typical Maura language, with metaphors thrown in there to make you stop for a moment and listen to what was actually said. We spoke for a few more minutes, leaving the details of our lives out of the conversation. It was a hot muggy day and Maura suggested to go swimming. Maura picked me up and we headed out the borough.
As a passenger in Maura's car one quickly realises that she travels at her own speed. Maura is not an anxious, or an aggressive driver. Maura's pace implies we are going to get there when we get there. This simple fact should be obvious but it wasn't to me. I still think I can coax, encourage, or even will the pace of my destinations. As she slowly drove through the borough I forgot about the destination, and if there was an agenda I had forgotten that too.
Our conversation was interrupted by the car making a slow but gradual stop. We had arrived upon a meadow near the Yellow Breeches. Maura got out of the car and I followed her as she swaggered towards the stream. Immersed, we continued our conversation as her pregnant belly bobbed up and down in the currents. This day with Maura had an ease to it. I had an adult moment. There wasn't any smoking or drinking just Maura's company, and perhaps a little flirting.
I don't know what happened to the intimidation, most of it, must have floated away.