Alexander J. Cameron
The Lost Tale of a Vasilija Vukotic
In 1998, I was attending the first Women’s International Networking Conference in Milan. A wet-behind-the-ears journalism graduate from Columbia University and male, I suspected my Pittsburgh-based editors were having a bit of fun at my expense. On my way home, a little vacation time banked, I stopped at Hotel Fortaleza do Guincho, a resort on the Estoril Coast in Portugal. Sipping my vodka gimlet on the terrace, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, my only companion that late fall afternoon was a woman of that certain age where propriety and nobility is her all-encompassing demeanor. She seemed to me a very well-kept late eighties or early nineties. She was sipping an alvarinho. I asked the waiter if he knew her and his response, “She is here every day. She is a crazy old lady who thinks she is the Queen of Bulgaria or something.” My knowledge of history is not everything it should be, but, what the hell, I am American. Generally, I remember that after World War II, the Soviet Union put a nail in the coffin of the remaining monarchies in Eastern Europe. Forgetting that I was on vacation, I dug into my online data services (pre-Google) and tracked down the facts of Bulgarian royalty. The last Tsaritsa of Bulgaria was born in 1907 and would be 90-something. In exile, she had fled to Alexandria, Egypt to be near her father, who, similarly, was in exile from his kingship of Italy. Later, Franco had given her sanctuary in Spain. Eventually, she had settled on, of all places, Estoril, Portugal. I am no statistician but if a 90-year-old woman in Estoril purports to be the exiled Tsaritsa of Bulgaria and she is spending every day at its most expensive resort, I am willing to place a bet. The next afternoon, I am there, she is there. “Princess Giovanna, what an unexpected surprise!” Her response to her Italian title would be telling. “Young man, no one has called me that in almost 70 years. I would have liked to know you when I was that young girl.” Even now, she was able to affect a coquettish expression. Feeling more convinced, “My apologies, Tsaritsa Ioanna. It is not every day a boy from Pittsburgh, America meets anyone so interesting.” “Interesting?”, was her sole response. Her English was impeccable, which for a woman who spoke, by necessity, Italian, French, Montenegrin, Bulgarian, Spanish, and Portuguese is extraordinary. My response, “Yes, intriguing”. She talking with me intently listening, we spend the next two hours reliving her last fifty years. A lull, I shared my assignment in Milan. Her response was unexpected. “You young people think that you invented everything. Let me share a story my mother told me, frequently, of a woman, my cousin, stepping up in a way that few men can imagine.”
A Decade of Love
The two-hour drive behind me, sitting/fidgeting, impatiently, at the airport, waiting for him. Ever since we met at the whelping pen, he is all I can think about. As I stood off to the side of the other puppies, a litter of eleven, he walked over to me, and I knew he was mine. Now, finally, after six long weeks, we are together.
The Abridged Diary of a Workaholic
September 16,1967. Ten days ago, I started my sophomore year of high school. Not yet 15 years old, dad decides it is time for me to start working at The Depot, a restaurant where he is employed. As the name implies this upscale steakhouse is a converted NY Central Railroad depot on the Erie Canal. Until today, my vocational pursuits include mowing lawns and running a pop-up soda stand on the 14th tee of a local country club. A budding entrepreneur, I cajoled each of my family members to purchase a discount case of soda (one case per customer) for five cents per can. I, in turn, sell them to golfers on hot summer days for fifteen. It is my first lesson about supply and demand. Knowing I am embarking on my first real job as a busboy makes me excited and anxious. It is work with regular hours, a boss, and a paycheck with a stub documenting my social security withholding. Getting and holding a job is one more “rite of passage”, another step closer to being a grown-up. Nepotism gets me the job, but holding the post is another matter. Each weekend, I must prove I deserve another week.
Murder at Silver Point
Tommy Mulhern’s Audi cruises the 30 minutes from Cork to East Ferry by way of Midleton. He reminisces the lazy afternoons spent in the swimming pool at Silver Point, June sunshine’s warmth juxtaposed with the cool breezes from the harbour. It was twenty years ago, or it was yesterday. The brain plays tricks with time. As he speeds south from Ballinacurra to Saleen, Tommy muses at how little has changed, a patchwork of farmettes and postage stamp lots with comfortable houses for Ireland’s prospering middle class. He makes the turn west. It is all nostalgia. He remembers the smell of her hair, that bed of seductive black curls that owned him for a summer. Likely, the scents he recalls are the sweet roses and bluebells peppered with the fresh saltwater air. But again, the brain has its own way of sorting. The gates with the oversized S and P are already open, he speculates, in anticipation of his arrival. He drives through and heads towards the Main House. The entire plot is less than five acres crowded against the water to maximize shoreline. Where there are not dwellings, there are lawns, the cabana, and that pool where, bikini-shod, she had, in not-so-subtle fashion, seduced his eighteen-year-old self. Today, all the activity is at the pool. As he approaches, there she is, still beautiful, sunlight glistening on the droplets in her black hair. It seems she is alight. She is much as he remembers her, floating on her back, eyes closed, ruminating some rumination. The too-tight bright orange bikini is iridescent against her alabaster skin. He would be transported back to those unhurried days if not for the man, face down in the water. Tommy, deep in his remembrances is brought back to the present by Philip Montclair. Philip yells, shaking his fists in Tommy’s face, “Who would do such a thing? Who would want to hurt my angel, my Fiona?” Then, just as quickly as the rage flares, it subsides. Philip queries, “Don’t I know you? Sorry, can’t put a name to the face.”
The Baker's Dozen
My eldest son loves roller coasters. He loved them as a child. He loves them still. I am, and have always been, indifferent. However, roller coasters are a great metaphor for our perception of time. I remember sitting in a boring lecture for some course arbitrarily required by the university curriculum. That is how, leaving the station, the unhurried, quiet uphill train climb feels. The cart is swaying and creaking, gravity pulling against the tow chain, its passengers, “scream-less.” But then, in an instant, we might plunge into momentous events. Those moments provide exhilaration that confirms we are alive. As I dip towards the banked sharp curve, left or right, I hope I make the right choices and then navigate them cleanly. This is the nature of the thread of time as we wind our way through life.
Growing up, our family dentist loved his props. He had serious dental models appropriate for most patients from my conventional Upstate village. He had “fun” cartoonish ones for the kids. Then, he had a reserved cache of items shown only to the unconventional. No family was less conventional than mine. The term I heard, most often, was quirky. I suppose from the outside looking in, we fit no mental model to which the neighborhood conservatives could relate. Dad drove British sports cars and Mom never set a table without silver and candlesticks, candles alight through the window of our miniscule dining room. Despite our “airs”, we were living in a cinder block rental abutting the highway. We were tolerated by our neighbors although never socially accepted. This did not seem to bother my parents who had plenty of friends elsewhere.
A Cross-country Outing
Amanda is shivering outside their neat one-hundred-year-old bungalow on Sycamore Street. She adores the location. She can walk to her teaching job at Fort Stanwix Elementary. The house is roomy enough for her and Philip. The yard is a postage stamp, though. Even after four years, she has not acclimated to the “generous” 40 feet of frontage. It is a far cry from her parent’s dairy farm in Vienna.
Chocolate and Silk
“It is unique to our species that each is bound to the other by a filament, indiscernible yet indestructible. Viewed as a whole, it is the fabric of mankind characterized as much by our individuality as our sameness. Of all God's creatures, it is this cloth of silken thread that sets us apart.”
Celebrating the American Diet
Recently, I developed a friendship with a guy from Long Island. He wrote to a group of us his bemusement with the term “flexitarian”. It was his first encounter with the word, not certain that it was a real word at all. For those with better things to know and do, a flexitarian is “one whose normally meatless diet occasionally includes meat or fish.” Two decades ago, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution may have nailed it, “The icky neologism touted by the Food Channel…, which is a meat-eating semi-vegetarian who determines his/her eating preference based on mood rather than ideology.” This struck me as akin the flexibility NFL referees demonstrate enforcing “roughing the passer” calls on Tom Brady.
She sleeps very little
When she is not sleeping, she is hiking, a perpetual motion machine. Her baby is approaching two years old but is still not weaned so hikes include the toddler, in tow. Likewise, she has a teenage son who joins these walks as do a couple of neighborhood female friends with their kids. An orphaned foster child that she took under her wing also joins the cadre on these strolls. There is safety in numbers. Hiking is a dangerous business in the 21st century. She is the wisest and most stoic thus despite no official nomination or election, she is the recognized leader of the peripatetic band, usually setting a brisk, but measured pace, permitting the younger of the troupe to keep up.