Talking to Myself by Stephen Halpert
Several weeks before the onset of the Covid Virus 19 we were attending my annual reunion of cousins at the Biltmore Hotel in Providence.
Tasha was engaged in a lengthy conversation with my cousin Hyacinth over the virtues of a gluten free diet. “But wheat is the staff of life,” Hyacinth kept insisting. “Don’t tell me you’re one of those health food tofu types.”
I thought about having a beer. But it was a cash bar and all the brands were domestic. I wandered past the buffet and smiled at a few cousins so many times removed they had no idea who I was. Nobody seemed particularly interested in striking up a conversation with me. Finally, I saw a full-length mirror by the exit and thought this was as good a time as any to try out engaging myself in a worthwhile conversation. I grinned at my reflection and said, “Steve, who are you supporting in the ’20 Massachusetts Primary?”
“Probably Bernie, or maybe Liz.” I heard myself say. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Good choices,” I agreed.” Bernie’s the best candidate to hit Presidential politics since Eugene V. Debs.”
“You know,” my reflection began. “If Mrs. Debs had shared her chocolate chip cookies recipe with the rest of the country Eugene might have been swept into the White House.”
“Excuse me!” I turned and saw a short heavyset woman squinting at me. She wore a long flowing scoop necked red velvet gown and had on enough elaborate jewelry to warrant a Brinks escort. She looked at me intently. “You were talking to yourself, weren’t you?”
“Only at parties,” I smiled. “Well sometimes in bookshops when I can’t decide which book to buy.”
She swirled the ice in her glass, cleared her throat. “I’m Roz Rackatansky.” She said almost defiantly expecting me to know exactly who she was. “But you’ll probably remember me as Roz Garfinkle, from your mother’s side of the bed.” She chuckled. “Lisa Rackatansky the author’s my sister-in-law. You might not recall but you and I were both in Mr. Sharkey’s home room at Classical.”
She paused, sipped her drink, lowered her voice. “I had thought after we had necked at Ronnie Stevens New Year’s Eve Party you might have called and asked me out but somehow you never did.” Disappointment tinged her voice.
I smiled. “You probably didn’t miss much. I used to like taking dates to Night Court in Providence. More fascinating to me than going to a movie.”
She wrinkled her nose, persevered. “My husband’s Dr. Chaim Rackatansky,” she said proudly. She pointed to an older gentleman with a well-endowed paunch nicely camouflaged by his dark silk suit.
“Chaim come here a minute,” she called. Her voice leapt two octaves to an ungodly shrill.
Dr. Chaim turned and dolefully headed towards us. I noticed that his rug seemed costlier than any Persian carpet you’d find in Bagdad. He was sixty something, around five seven and two hundred pounds. His immaculately starched white shirt and muted tie reflected his seemingly quiet bland nature. He smiled as though I were a long lost relative.
“This is Cousin Steve.” Roz said waving her manicured fingers. “Give him your business card, dear. Steve talks to himself.” She looked at me and lowered her voice. “Chaim’s the best psychotherapist in Providence.”
“Stress,” Chaim diagnosed it right there on the spot. He reached into his jacket, pulled out a gilt-edge business card with a gold embossed caduceus engraved above his name and handed it to me. “Ten, fifteen sessions on the couch and we’ll knock all that stress back to kingdom come.” He promised. “Call my office and let’s set up something soon.” He made it sound like a golf date.
“Sounds good, Chaim.”
“Chaim is Chair of the Pawtucket Republican Caucus,” Roz said proudly. “One day he’ll be our Governor.”
I smiled. “A Republican Governor in Rhode Island? Really? These days that idea seems remote.”
His face tightened up. “You’re not one of those tax and spend Dems, are you Steve?”
I smiled. “Didn’t Sacco and Vanzetti start out in Pawtucket?”
“Who?” He had no clue who I was talking about.
“With the Paw Sox,” I said casually. I think they were traded to the Reds for a lefty?”
“Don’t follow baseball,” he sniffed and started to turn. “Get into the GOP Steve. Only way you’ll ever get rich in this country,” he nodded as he drifted away.
Roz wiggled her fingers like Van Cliburn playing Tchaikovsky on the piano at someone who had just arrived. She made her way past me toward another bejeweled matron; a distant cousin I vaguely remember being said to be the Belle of Fall River.
“See what happens when we do this.” I chided myself in the mirror. “Maybe we better cool it. Too controversial for the average mind to comprehend.”
“Never!” Came my reply. “We have not yet begun to babble.”
“Who were they?” Tasha joined me and handed me a slip of rye toast where a slice of green olive and a dab of asparagus hung on for dear life amidst a sea of mustard.
“She’s a distant cousin. He’s a shrink. Met her while I was talking to myself.” I grinned. “She seemed concerned.”
“Oh dear,” Tasha said. “I hope you didn’t say anything too scurrilous.”
“I was talking to me about politics. Her husband’s a Republican chair. I didn’t think that after Trump there’d be any left.”
“Chairs?” She grinned?
“Any furniture at all. Price of electric heat these days and soon people will be forced to burn up their sofas and coffee tables just to stay warm. Ready to go home?”
She grinned. “I’m always ready to go anywhere with you.” She put her arm through mine.
As we walked past the mirror I smiled and waved at my mirrored reflection. He winked and waved back at me.
About Stephen and his work…
A graduate of Emerson College, Stephen Halpert has been a published author since the 1970s. Most recently, his weekly column “American Scene,” which ran in The Grafton News from 1989 to 2022, featured humorous vignettes of his life with his wife, Tasha, and serial fiction. Since 2020, Halpert has authored a trilogy, The Loves of Gilberto, which he describes as, “a love story with a hint of murder.” In 2018, Halpert published his first collection of fictional tales, Abracadabra Moonshine and Other Stories, available on Amazon. His next writing venture is titled “Mona Lisa’s Eyebrows and other stories.” Contact Stephen to learn more.