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EL PASSOVER

by

Gordon Polatnick




I met this girl in a Hollywood bar. My brother and I had dinner there, then a couple of drinks. We retired to the backroom as the joint began to fill up. She was sitting there with her girlfriend, both of them with beautiful shampoo ad hair. I tossed off an unmemorable line as I ordered my round of beers and the girl to my right—to my delight—responded.

To a guy like me the ease of conversation with this stunning Californian was miraculous. We were on the same channel and in the same mood almost immediately. We tossed the remotes over our heads and relaxed into the show at hand. Her girlfriend, though, was a pumpkin after midnight—no magic left—so much for double dating. My brother would need a carving knife to get her to smile, and even then all he'd be left with would be a scary jack-o-lantern that wasn't going to give him a ride. He was resigned and I was relaxed.

As the moments eased by, our conversation yielded these important facts: My name was Gordon and I was passing through L.A. with the Joe Cocker tour, working as merchandise manager, and she was Shelly Brandt—waiting to meet up with friends from the law office on the eve of her returning home to El Paso, or was it Houston.

When I guessed her age by the smoothness of her skin, I was thinking of the Snake in the Chinese horoscope. "You are 28 years old." "That's right…Year of the Horse," she said, reading my mind. Why was she thinking of Chinese horoscopes? It didn't matter that I’d gotten the animal wrong—I guessed her correct age and she comes up with "Year of the Horse." I loved that about her. So I proposed to her. I didn't expect an answer right away and I didn't get one. I didn't bore her with a quick list of the reasons we were made for each, I figured she already knew them.

We were truly connecting. My brother saw it too. As we stood arm in arm in front of him, waiting for his blessings, he smiled and said she was good sister-in-law material. It felt like something was happening. It felt like it was our turn.

Shelly's friends started showing up and reserved a table outside by the patio bar. She excused herself promising to return. Her eyes reinforced her lips when she said, "I'm very flattered, I've never been proposed to before." I was intoxicated. Half an hour later when she bounded back to our part of the bar she seemed so proud of herself for keeping her word. My faith in our bonding she wanted to reassure. I whisked her away to a neutral corner to seal our friendship with a hug and a kiss, and to say good-bye. By morning I would be in San Diego and she would be in Texas. We agreed that if we were to be, we would see each other again, somewhere. She had my card. I hit the road.

For the next month and a half I zigged and zagged my Ryder truck across the continent following Joe Cocker from one old vaudeville theater to the next. Encounters like the one I had in L.A. happen often enough in a life like mine…soon all the faces and names settle themselves deep in the palm of my heart or brain, only to resurface when I scratch those places in loneliness. The name Shelly Brandt of El Paso never would settle though. It floated lightly and lovely and gently on my mind, keeping me company around the country. Making me smile.

When I took time out to stop in on friends, I couldn't help but drop her name. I felt that the story was not over. At one point near Dallas, Texas I got up from dinner and called the El Paso directory assistance lady and she assured me that there was no Shelly Brandt listed. I asked her to give me any Brandt (fate being what it is, maybe I’d luck into a relative). So I dialed Terri Brandt’s number and casually asked to speak with Shelly, and Terri said, "Hold on, I’ll get her." I love fate! There was no mistaking it-- the voice on the other end of the phone was not my Shelly Brandt. Oh well, it had been worth the cheap thrill. For those few heart stopping moments, the usual order of things had been upended and it suddenly became my turn again for a minor miracle.

As the Joe Cocker entourage moved out of Boston, I was reassigned to work the eastern leg of the Tony Bennett tour. Driving south through New York State toward my parents’ house on Long Island, my childhood home. I became uncharacteristically nostalgic about the place. Symbolic metaphors around the meaning of "going home" were swimming behind my eyes and making me weepy. But I was in a great mood. For no reason at all, I was feeling good about myself and my life. Spontaneous euphoria is sometimes the byproduct of highway driving.

My imagination was in overdrive and wouldn't let me continue the midnight ride. I kept pulling myself off the road to write down scenes for a screenplay that was threatening to write itself. I wanted some control because it's autobiographical starting in my future. A new theory occurred to me in a Motel 6 room back in Kansas City: I now believed that I could create my own future by remembering how I’d always imagined it would be (in the days before I’d become cynical and defeatist). I could have the exotic foreign adventures, the epic modern romance, the serious talks with artistic friends over Turkish coffee and baba ganoush in a hookah bar in New Orleans— whatever the hell I wanted. The stuff that got into the screenplay would be the things that would actually happen! I would make it so.

This is the closest I’d ever come to feeling like the master of my own destiny. The possibilities of my life finally gained enough in weight and stature to fit into an adult suit—even if it wasn't the same style of suit I was brought up to desire. Where had my confidence gone, and how did it find me in the middle of the night on the New York Thruway?

When I finally reached the shores of my home the euphoria had strangely not ebbed. My mood was consistently elevated. Reality refused to sink in. There was one Tony Bennett show left to do in Hartford, then I would have to join up with Julio Iglesias for three shows in



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