MISTY

It was one of those stormy evenings, the kind of weather that could make people think twice about going out. But “The Divine One”, the legendary Sarah Vaugan, was set to perform at the Blue Note.

Founder and owner Danny Bensusan’s policy was well known: if he brought big acts into a comfortable environment with great food, he could pack the house night after night. He managed to do exactly that and the place soon became the city’s premier jazz club..

I’d been working as a coat check girl at the Blue Note for a couple of months when I was “discovered”, if one could even call it that. The crew was cleaning up after the final show, me in the “Lost and Found” cubicle of the coat room. It always amazed me how people could leave behind such things as mink coats and diamond-studded cigarette lighters! Were they that drunk or was money no object for the elite slumming it on West 3rd Street in “The Village”?

Well, there I was, stashing a forgotten très chic cashmere scarf in the bin, absentmindedly singing ‘Misty’, when I heard a familiar voice behind me.

Hey, you been holding out on me, kid? You got a great set of pipes!” It was Danny. “What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked.

Michelle” I replied, tapping my name tag with long red fingernails. “Michelle Grant.”

Pointing his index finger and winking, Danny clicked his tongue as if in cahoots with me over some kind of secret and walked off.

About two weeks later I got called into Danny’s office – something that never happened. I thought for sure I was gonna get canned but that wasn’t the case. Danny offered me a singing gig as part of the group that performed with the house band. It was nothing special – just singing ballads while the patrons dined and danced – but it got me out of the coat check room and in front of people. I also got a nice little increase in my paycheck and the clientele started recognizing me as one of the singers. Plus I got to hang out with some pretty big names back then: Lionel Hampton, Carmen McRae, Oscar Peterson and the one-and-only Ray Charles who Danny booked for a full week every year.

So there we were, ears glued to the weather report on the radio, hoping people would still come out in this September nor’easter. We were not disappointed. Slowly but surely the house filled up with fans eager to hear Sarah Vaughan. Danny was beaming, grinning from ear to ear. This was going to be a night to remember. There was just one little hiccup: Sarah Vaughan was nowhere in sight.

Danny kept pacing back and forth, checking his watch every fifteen seconds. I could see him starting to sweat. Then the call came in: “The Divine One” and her crew were stranded on the flooded FDR Drive. They’d get there “as soon as they could” but who knew when that would be?

By now the natives were getting restless and calling out for the show to begin. Danny grabbed me by the elbow and said “It’s up to you, kid. Stall ’em as long as you can. Just get out there and smile and act like everything’s fine.” Before I could object, Danny shoved me onto the stage; hundreds of eyes stared at me like “Who the hell is this chick?”

I stared back like a deer in headlights. You could hear a pin drop. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Danny gesturing for me to get the show started.

I walked up to the mike with feigned confidence and in a hushed tone said “Good evening and welcome to the Blue Note. I’m Michelle Grant and this is ‘Misty’.”

The audience gasped in unison; that was Sarah Vaughan’s signature song. Even Danny and the piano man, Erwin “Sweetness” Brown, looked up in stunned disbelief. I sang the all-too-familiar first three words, “Look at me”, a cappella and “Sweetness” joined in just like it had been planned.

I sang like my life depended on it. When I was done the place was silent, then all hell broke loose, everyone standing on their feet cheering and applauding. I was floored, thrilled that they liked me that much! I twirled around in delight and as I spun I saw “The Divine One” standing behind me. That’s when reality slapped me in the face – the crowd wasn’t applauding for me; the people were cheering the arrival of Sarah Vaughan.

I wanted to disappear. Sarah took my hands in hers and whispered in my ear “Nice job, honey – but you do know ‘Misty’ is MY song, don’t you? And you ain’t ever singing again, ‘cept maybe in the shower!”

I nodded mutely and started walking of the stage but she stopped me and said to the audience “How about a round of applause for my protégé, Michelle Grant?”

And this time they were clapping for me!

NAR © 2021

GUEST POST: TWO WEEKS IN NEWBO

FINDING SOMETHING OR SOMEONE YOU TRULY CONNECT WITH IS A REAL TREAT AND THAT’S JUST WHAT HAPPENED WHEN I READ THIS DELIGHTFUL POEM BY PAUL GRIFFITHS, MY FRIEND FROM ACROSS THE POND. THE BEAUTY OF PAUL’S WRITING SPEAKS FOR ITSELF BUT THE FACT THAT THE POEM BROUGHT BACK MEMORIES OF PLACES IN MY OWN BACKYARD SUCH AS CONEY ISLAND AND ATLANTIC CITY MADE IT EVEN MORE SPECIAL. I’M SURE YOU’LL ENJOY “TWO WEEKS IN NEWBO” AS MUCH AS I DID. COME ALONG WITH ME ON A LITTLE VACATION. THANKS, PAUL!

New Palace Amusement Arcade

I’ll tell ya I love New Brighton.
Locally known as little San Tropez.
It’s a fantastic little place.
A place to while those hours away.

Just looking out across the Mersey.
Getting lost in life’s constant ebb and flow.
Hoping that my ship will come in.
Wondering where that ship may go.

Sailing off to the far horizon.
Disappearing beneath the setting sun.
Kid starts screaming at his fallen ice cream.
Then he starts screaming at his mum.

Snapped back to reality.
Right back to the here and now.
The ice cream man ducks for cover.
He reads the Mother’s mind somehow.

She grabs the cornet from her sobbing son.
Then she marches to the ice cream van.
For a moment there was a Mexican standoff
Between her and the ice cream man.

The kid got his 99 with raspberry sauce.
At the expense of a few expletives being said.
These New Brighton fish wives speak a strange local dialect
Unbeknown to us Posh folk from Birkenhead.

That’s why I love New Brighton.
There are so many things to see.
This little village is a hidden Pearl of a place
Nestled on the banks of the Great River Mersey.

I love the grand Art Deco design for the tuppenny arcade.
To be hit with that unmistakable smell of doughnuts freshly made.
Ticker tape parade of yellow tickets thousands of them in all
Gets you a paper aeroplane or a multi-coloured little bouncy ball.

New Brighton’s bygone days are over, those crazy golden years
Of grand ballrooms and iron towers, and sepia photos of the pier.
But that was a different time and time always shapes a place.
I guess that’s what makes New Brighton a special little space.

Grab a bag of fish and chips down by the seafront.
Take a healthy slow stroll along the prom.
Nod my head in respect for the Black Pearl.
Can’t believe it’s gone.

But the flotsam and jetsam is a gathering
Right where the Black Pearl used to be.
To be built on the bones of fallen pirates
Rising once again to sail the seven seas.

You see New Brighton is a magical place
Full of music, poetry and art.
I’ve even heard that you can find little fairies
Hiding in the woods somewhere down in Vale Park.

Or grab yourself a deckchair and hit the neo-classical bandstand.
Sit and listen to the little amphitheatre’s almost perfect wall of sound.
Chill and listen to some of the best of the local talent.
Bands come here to play from miles around.

Better still go and hit a pub, relax with a well earned beer.
Keep your eyes peeled for cut throat pirates or buxom buccaneers.
The pubs and taverns are all welcoming, easy come easy go.
.Just be patient with the yokels, some are just a little bit too slow.

But that’s the real beauty of New Brighton.
You slowly feel you’re traveling back in time.
And being a bit of a time traveler myself
I find that very concept in itself is absolutely fine.

So I’m not going abroad this year.
No, I’ll be going to little San Tropez.
Rhyl is so last year.
New Brighton is the future of local holidays.

We all like to escape to somewhere if only but for a day.
New Brighton is only up the road but it could be a million miles away.
I guess we all need a bit of a holiday, and with that being said,
I’ve Booked two weeks in Newbo for August, a mini break from Birkenhead.

PTG © copyright.

ARR, MATEY!

It was a beautiful Saturday morning when my son Tom called.

“Dad, Allie’s gone into early labor! We need you to stay with Molly.” He sounded excited and nervous.

I’m on my way!” I immediately answered.

As soon as I arrived Tom and Allie left for the hospital.

Grampy, can we go to the school fair?” Molly asked. “Daddy was gonna take me today.”

Sure, pumpkin. Let’s go!” I replied – anything to help pass the time.

The playground of Molly’s school, St. Cecilia’s Elementary for Girls, had been magically transformed into a carnival with food stands, games of chance and a giant inflated pirate ship.

Look, Grampy! A bouncy ship!” Molly tugged at my sleeve. “Can I go on, please?”

“You bet, honey! Looks like fun!” I gave my granddaughter a boost. I was half in and half out when the ship started bouncing, taking me for a ride I’ll not soon forget!

Well, a bouncy anything is no place for a 60-year-old man and 20 little girls. They were rolling all over me and every time the damn thing came to a stop, I tried getting out but kept losing my balance.

Then, just when I thought things couldn’t get worse, the pirate ship was surrounded by police. One cop with a megaphone shouted “Sir, this is for children only. You’re in serious trouble. Come out now or we’ll come in and drag you out!”

I finally managed to crawl my way out. My clothes were in total disarray, little girls were crying and I heard someone yell “You sick bastard!”

Arr! I made the news that night. My fifteen minutes of fame!

NAR © 2021

ON THE ROCKS

Ancient Greek temples dotted the hillside of Agrigento. “Aren’t they magificent, Helene?” I tried engaging my wife of seventeen years in conversation.

Helene always wanted to visit Sicily; now we were finally here but our vacation had been marred by the news of the death of Ruth, her friend since college. Actually, Helene had been depressed ever since Ruth’s cancer was diagnosed two years earlier. She became obsessed with illness and death and every little pain sent her running to the doctor. It had become tedious; I thought a holiday abroad would lighten both our moods.

I don’t like this place, Richard” Helene remarked. “It reeks of death and decay. You can practically see the blood stains on the altar.”

Good Lord, Helene! Why are you allowing your mind to go there?” I questioned impatiently. “Look at the glorious Mediterranean surrounding us. Let yourself be transported to another era.”

I’ve got a pounding headache, Richard. Take me back to the hotel!” Helene demanded.

But we just got here! Look at these fabulous gnarled olive trees. Impressive, aren’t they? Let’s sit and enjoy the view. You’ve always dreamed of coming here, Helene. Enjoy it!

How can I enjoy myself knowing Ruth is gone? She was my dearest friend.” Helene buried her head in her hands, sobbing.

I know it’s difficult but try not to dwell on it. Here, listen to this.” Retrieving a brochure from my pocket, I began to read. “‘In mythology, Agrigento was founded by Daedalus and Icarus.’ Just think of it – these temples have been here since the 5th Century B.C.! The contemporary glass and steel buildings back home can’t compare to these majestic structures!”

Richard, please! You think I give a damn about any of this? It’s meaningless without Ruth. She was the light of my life.”

Helene stared at me with frenetic eyes. I was beginning to believe she was losing her mind.

Your life is meaningless? What about me, Helene? I’m your husband, for crying out loud!”

Oh, come on, Richard! It’s about time we admitted the truth. Our marriage is a sham! And now Ruth is gone! There’s nothing left for me!” Helene turned and started walking away.

Ruth! All you ever talk about is Ruth!” I yelled after her. “You’ve been consumed with her for years! I always wondered but now I know why you were never interested in sex, laying in our bed like a cold fish. You were in love with Ruth, weren’t you?”

Helene started running; I caught up with her, reaching for her arm. She screamed “Don’t touch me, Richard! Just go away and leave me alone!”

Pulling away, Helene ran toward the craggy cliffs. In a horrifying instant she was gone, plunging headlong against the rocks and disappearing into the sea.

Aghast, I stood staring into the abyss. “Goddamn, you, Helene!” I shouted. “Go be with your precious Ruth!”

After a long while alone on the cliffs I walked back to my rental and drove to the hotel. I saw no reason to rush back home. Perhaps I’d head to the Amalfi Coast. Too bad Helene had to end her stay so abruptly.

NAR © 2021

GUEST POST: FORBIDDEN LOVE – PART 1: SEPARATED AS ONE

It is a thrill and a delight to post a story written by my 11-year-old granddaughter, Mckenna Richy. A smart, funny, talented and loving young lady, Mckenna can be just about whatever she wants to be in life, excelling in whichever profession she chooses. It’s obvious she’s already a very good writer! I’m extremely proud of her for writing this incredible love story. I hope we get to read Part II very soon!

“Hello.”

Jasper heard a voice. He looked up to see a girl angel about the same age as himself on the other side of the border. “Who are you?” he asked.

“The opposite of you” she responded.

“Yeah, I get that. I mean, where did you come from?” Jasper said.

“I came from my home on the side of the border that I am standing on” the girl replied.

“I’m Jasper” the boy angel said, hoping to make an unusual but true friend.

The girl angel smiled. “I’m Cameron.”

EIGHT YEARS LATER

“Cameron! Could you come here please?” called Cameron’s mother, the Queen of the Angels. Cameron walked down the hall of the palace and approached the throne room where her mother was seated.

“Yes, mother?” she said.

“I would like you to meet someone.” Her mother motioned to a boy angel about the same age as Cameron. “This is Alex. He will be your husband” her mother said.

Cameron was taken aback. “H-husband?” she weakly said. “Uh … can I use the restroom? I had a huge glass of dragon fruit juice!” and with that Cameron ran out of the throne room and flew out the window.

Cameron flew to the edge of the border, the place where she first met the love of her life, Jasper. She sat down near the edge and started crying.

Cameron?” she heard Jasper say. “Are you okay?” he asked.

No, I’m really not, Jasper! I’m sorry” cried Cameron, “but I’m being forced to marry someone else – someone I don’t love!” Cameron continued to cry.

“Is there any way out of it?” Jasper asked, trying to help.

None that I can see. I’m doomed!” Cameron whined.

“I’m so sorry, Cameron” said Jasper.

Cameron got up and stood on the edge of the border. “What’s to stop me from jumping over?” she quietly asked.

Huh?” said Jasper. “If you jump to this side there’s no going back!”

“That’s the point” Cameron replied.

You really want to be with me, don’t you?” Jasper asked.

Yes, Jasper. I do” Cameron responded.

I’ll be waiting for you” said Jasper.

Just as Cameron was about to jump, Alex came out of nowhere. “There you are! Everyone has been so worried about you!” he said.

Cameron was surprised to see him. “AHHH! How did you get here?!” she asked, clearly annoyed.

“Your mother sent me to find you. Besides, I would like to get to know my future wife” responded Alex.

Yeah … no!” snapped Cameron.

Well, get used to it. In two weeks you’ll be stuck with me forever” said Alex in a sarcastic tone.

“Well, as you can see I’m fine! Can you please leave? I’m trying to talk to someone who actually means something to me!” said Cameron.

“Ooh. He just got roasted” said Jasper quietly.

“Cameron, you’re friends with this monster?” asked Alex.

Cameron got angry. “He’s not a monster! I’m in love with him!” she firmly said and without thinking she pushed Alex away and jumped off the edge of her side of the border. When Cameron opened her eyes, Jasper was standing over her. “Jasper, did I do it?” she asked.

Jasper helped her up. “You did it, Cameron!” he said.

Cameron hugged Jasper without any care that Alex was watching from what used to be her home.

“What did you do to yourself?” asked Alex, as white as a ghost.

Cameron was confused. “What do you mean?” She looked at herself. She had wings and horns almost identical to Jasper’s and her blond hair had become as black as coal. “Looks like crossing over has some benefits” Cameron said with a grin.

Alex ran back to the castle, probably to tell Cameron’s mother that her daughter was now a demon. But Cameron couldn’t care less. She and Jasper were finally united. Cameron didn’t care what she looked like or what side of the world she was on.

And neither did Jasper.

MFR © 2021

BEWARE THE MALOCCHIO

Rule number one: When you meet your Italian girlfriend’s parents for the first time, which is usually for supper, don’t show up empty-handed. No matter how many times you hear “It’s-a no necessary for you to bring-a anything-a; just the pleasure of-a you company is enough-a”, you bring something.

Believe me, I learned that the hard way. Cara’s mamma insisted I not bring anything; her papa even said they would be insulted if I brought something. In his head, my bringing something meant they weren’t able to provide whatever was needed for a respectable meal.

I wasn’t raised that way. My southern belle of a mother brought her famous peach cobbler to every luncheon she attended. The thought of showing up without so much as a bunch of wildflowers was a cardinal sin.

So when I asked again for what must have been the fifteenth time what I could bring and was told “bring-a nothing”, I brought nothing.

Well, from the moment I arrived at Cara’s house all I got was the ‘malocchio’; as a joke Cara bought me a big red evil eye to hang from my rearview mirror. I didn’t think it was very funny.

When I asked Cara why she didn’t warn me, she said “Everybody knows ‘nothing’ means ‘something’!”

Cara and I have been married six years now. We have three beautiful kids and a nice house. Still, her parents refer to me as that “cheap sum-a-na-bitch-a” who brought nothing.

Go figure!

NAR © 2021

OUR ‘ENRY

Commemorated through the region
for his prowess and pugilistic might
was the one and only Henry Cooper,
a champion born and raised for the fight.

He and George were born on the third of May;
the two brawny lads were identical twins.
By the age of fifteen Henry excelled in boxing
with seventy-three out of eighty-four wins.

This proud son of South East London was a giant,
a lefty with a formidable uppercut jab;
cut-prone and no great defensive technician,
yet his glove on one’s jaw felt more like a stab.

Tall, broad-shouldered and athletic,
he cut an imposing figure.
With powerful fists licensed to kill,
his look was of sternness and rigor.

In September ’54 he fought Harry Painter;
it was his very first match as a pro.
The battle took place at Harringay Arena
where Henry soundly defeated his foe.

Our ‘Enry took off like a house on fire,
for nine bouts in a row, no one got in his way.
But he lost number ten on a technical knockout;
how ironic that match was at old Harringay!

Henry bounced back, never one to stay down;
every match for him was compelling and vital.
But he suffered a big loss on February nineteenth;
Joe Bygraves took the Commonwealth heavyweight title.

Henry was no fly-by-night flash-in-the-pan;
undefeated champ for twelve years was he.
Our ‘Enry fought with the greatest and best
including “The Louisville Lip” – Muhammad Ali.

The young champ was still known as Cassius Clay;
the year was nineteen hundred and sixty-three.
A great deal of ticket-selling for this long-awaited bout
created a massive amount of world-wide publicity.

In the fourth round Henry was leading on points,
Ali making little attempt at effective aggression.
Henry felled Ali with a left hook to the body;
“‘Enry’s ‘Ammer” it was called in the profession.

Well, Ali’s manager brought him to the corner,
administering smelling salts banned in the UK.
The prohibited act was witnessed by no one
and a rejuvenated Ali defeated Henry that day.

Decades later a vital extra six seconds
showed up in a long-missing recording.
If all things had been on the clear up and up
the headlines would have had different wording.

For a second time Henry went up against Ali
who was now world heavyweight champion.
Though cut and tired, Henry never hit the canvas;
a TKO was the decision and again Ali won.

Henry won forty out of his fifty-five matches
and in 1971 it was time to hang up his gloves.
But Henry was never really down for the count
and he had a rich life full of many great loves.

Jump back to the late 1950s
when Henry met the love of his life.
A Gina Lollabrigida look-alike
who he courted and took as his wife.

She was dark-haired, petite at just five feet tall
and her name was Albina Genepri;
a waitress at Henry’s favorite restaurant,
a beauty from the Apennine region in Italy.

Two people who grew up hundreds of miles apart
from similar backgrounds – both working middle-class.
Henry was a cockney bloke from Beckenham in Kent.
When Albina learned English, her accent was like cut-glass.

It was ironic but Albina hated boxing
yet she remained Henry’s strength and his shield.
He constantly asked her to come to his fights
but only one solitary time did she yield.

Henry was known as a prince among men
and a king of the ring in many a fight.
In 2000 he was dubbed “Sir Henry Cooper”
joining the ranks of paladins and knights.

One night on his way to a sporting event
Henry received a call from his son.
“Come back home, dad!” was the pitiful plea.
“Something terrible’s happened to mum!”

Their’s was a love that movies are made of.
Lives full of happiness and very few tears.
They both were the real deal, genuine article
and their marriage lasted forty-seven years.

Albina had suffered a heart attack,
her devoted life had come to an end.
Henry never truly got over the shock
but like a willow he learned how to bend.

Just three years later Our ‘Enry
quietly passed while watching TV.
His son said it was quick and painless;
“He’s with mum now for all eternity.”

He was a lovely gent and a good fella,
a great husband, dad and true friend.
All those dear mates of Our ‘Enry
were loyal right up to the end.

Henry & Albina Cooper
Henry Cooper was the only boxer
ever to be knighted.

Henry vs Muhammad Ali


NAR © 2021

SWEPT AWAY

The afternoon was damp and raw, sleet stinging my eyes. I huddled deeper into my parka, pulling the hood tighter over my head. As I waited at the busy Brooklyn intersection for the ‘walk’ signal, I caught a fleeting glimpse of a woman in the distance. It was just a brief sighting but she bore an uncanny resemblance to my late fiancé Maggie.

The woman’s clothes were nondescript – dark jeans, a silver puffer jacket and a knit scarf – but it was her black and silver sneakers and the all-too-familiar shock of flaming red hair blowing wildly in the wind that gave me pause. She ran up the front steps of a condo – the same apartment we shared for three years before Maggie died.

My mind raced back to the day of Maggie’s death. We were vacationing by Lake Michigan with our friends Jeff and Rachel. Looking for a bit of adventure we decided to go jet skiing, something new for all of us and rather dangerous considering the lake’s infamous rip tides. Feeling overly confident, we took off like the daredevils we were. We all fell off several times, laughing, but kept on going. It was an exhilarating experience.

Maggie was a gorgeous creature. I couldn’t take my eyes off her as she rode the waves, her exquisite breasts barely contained in a tiny white bikini while crimson tresses whipped around her face like the tail of a dragon. She and Jeff were natural athletes and it was difficult for me and Rachel to keep up.

Rounding a bend in the lake, we were thrown off our skis by a large wave. I lost my bearings in the current and when my head finally emerged from the water, I spotted my jet ski and swam to it. Rachel wasn’t too far away, clinging to her craft, but Maggie and Jeff were nowhere in sight. Mounting our water bikes we began our search, frantically calling out their names as we scoured the area. Unable to locate them, we headed for shore and alerted the authorities. Maggie and Jeff’s jet skis were found but there was no trace of them. After two days the search was called off. Rachel and I had no choice but to accept they had been swept away.

After the accident I returned to New York but didn’t have the heart to stay in the condo where Maggie and I lived. I drove to our beach house in Amagansett, leaving the apartment untouched; I hoped one day to return when I summoned the courage.

Now I found myself back in Brooklyn staring at my old condo and seeing ghosts.

An overwhelming force drew me closer. Slowly I entered the building and climbed the stairs to my apartment. Approaching the door I could hear faint music, laughter and the sound of familiar voices. A man and a woman were inside, unaware of my presence. I stood outside the door for what seemed a lifetime. My heart pounding, I raised my fist to knock on the door, then stepped back. Resolutely and silently I walked away.

NAR © 2021