(May 27, 2010) I am at Eden’s Department Store right on Fifth Avenue. Being from the country, I am thrilled to be in New York City for the first time. I certainly don’t mind waiting to get waited on. After all it was Milton who said, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
As I wait and I wait, I enjoy the gossamer beauty around me. The blues and golds and greens. The racks of satins in black. The place even smells good, like perfumes of France and gardens of amaryllis facing in opposite directions.
Finally I decide that I am doing something wrong, that maybe the local custom is to search out a clerk. So I poke around and end up at a mahogany desk, where I lean in hope that eventually a clerk will come by.
I notice the advertising brochures in multiple stacks, the papers on the desk with lots of red ink, the calculator with patterns of raised dots.
The phone on the desk starts its lullaby. After five rings, I begin to think that maybe I should answer it so I pick up the receiver and say, “Eden’s on Fifth.”
On the other end of the phone is an incensed man saying in no uncertain terms, “Eden’s! You screw up my credit card. You screw up my order. You screw up my delivery. You screw up my engagement. You ruin my life.”
“You have every reason to be angry,” I say to him empathetically.
“Angry?” he shouts, “My blood vessels are swelling. My heart is pounding.”
“Eden’s seems to be trouncing all your arteries, veins, and capillaries,” say I, adding, “all 62,000 miles of them.” I’ve noticed in life that statistics usually create a lull. Of course in reality there is only one statistic, either it will or it won’t.
After a momentary hush, I say, “My name is Evelyn. And what is your name?”
“Charlie Baker Able, I’m Charlie Baker Able.”
“Charlie Baker Able, I’m sure you are a very nice man however – ”
“I am not a nice man, I am an irate customer.”
“You must be disappointed in Eden’s,” I respond as I wonder why I sort of like this man. “Excuse me for saying so, sir, but maybe you shouldn’t think of Eden’s.”
“What kind of torturer are you?” he shouts.
My life experience in the country taught me that only one creature can be angry at a time. Even when a horse kicked me as I was nailing in his shoe, I let the horse be aggravated instead of me.
“I am one block from Eden’s on Fifth headed for a showdown with you and maybe I will stop thinking of Eden’s forever.” He continues, seemingly to himself, “Don’t think about Eden’s. . . . Think about anything else but don’t think about Eden’s.” He moans, “There it is.”
“Did you just think of Eden’s again?” I ask with concern about myself for feeling so connected to this impossible man.
“Every time I think of Eden’s,” he answers, “Eden’s gets stuck in my mind. My goal is not to think of Eden’s.”
Being a country girl, I am accustomed to getting tangled up messes, so I say, “Am I to understand that Eden’s on Fifth is the one thing you are trying to avoid and yet Eden’s keeps looping through your mind as your brain checks to see if you are making progress about not thinking of Eden’s?”
“Exactly,” he says.
I continue, “And yet the follow-up thought itself is about Eden’s?”
Contemplating, he says, “My mind keeps searching for whether or not I am thinking of Eden’s. Yes. That’s right.”
“Have you considered not monitoring whether or not you are thinking of Eden’s?” I continue. “You seem to be creating an Eden’s Table of Contents in your head.”
More than a little defensive, he adamantly says, “Quit telling me to quit thinking about how I think.”
“I am not trying to control your thinking. You are,” I say.
“I am searching for Eden’s in my head only to make certain it’s not there,” he says impatiently.
Calmly as when I trim a horse’s hoof so that it keeps its correct orientation to the ground I ask, “Why don’t you just think of Eden’s any time you want and not worry about checking to see if you have been thinking about Eden’s?”
“Why does it always snow in March and I end up talking with someone named Evelyn?”
I want to tell him that I respect our differences but instead I say, “Maybe your problem is that it is March, the Roman god of war, and you are at war with yourself.”
Furious he says, “Evelyn, dear, what do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Be a farrier,” I honestly reply.
“Ha. I should have guessed it. You there at Eden’s on Fifth. Of course you would dream of being a furrier. Ha.” he says.
“A farrier. You know. I want to shoe horses, balance the horse’s hoof, be a farrier,” I explain.
With a totally different tone in his voice, he asks, “Am I presently discussing the inner workings of my mind with a specialist in equine hoof care at Eden’s?”
I begin to wonder if the frenetic pace of the city affects people. Biting my lip I say, “And what do you want to do when you grow up?”
For whatever the reason, he says seriously, “I wanted to be a professional soccer player but I was not good enough and so I am stuck in advertising on Madison Avenue and this is my lunch hour and I am starving but instead of eating I am headed to Eden’s on Fifth to murder you.”
“In addition to working with horses, I also want to be a John Milton scholar but I don’t know if I am good enough,” I confess.
At the mention of Milton, Charlie Baker Able melts, saying, “I’ve memorized lines and lines of the poetry of Milton.”
Suddenly his whole tone changes and he simply asks, “Who are you?”
“Actually I am a customer who cannot get waited on and the phone started ringing so I answered the phone saying ‘Eden’s on Fifth.’ ”
“I came all the way up here to New York City to buy a gown for the beauty pageant but I can’t get waited on.”
For the first time, he says with interest, “What beauty pageant?”
I want to say, Now if I look good, you are interested so what else is new? but I answer, “The Maid of Cotton contest. I’ve found the most beautiful silk gown I’ve ever seen. With lace and pearls.”
“Go home. Now. Get out of there. Get yourself a gown made of rural cotton. If you buy that dress, misery will follow.”
I finally see a saleswoman, and I say, “Isn’t that odd, Charlie? The clerk has a walking cane.”
“Eden’s has redeemed itself. Regardless of our disability, we all have a role to play, we all have a place in the world.”
Incredulous he says, “Eden’s on Fifth hired someone with a walking cane?”
“She’s blind,” I say just at the moment when some foreign particles enter my nose. “Excuse me, I’m going to sneeze.”
“That dreadful clerk will enter your body and control you. What floor are you on? I’m coming to get you out of there.”
“The top floor,” I answer. For this man to care so much for a stranger, to connect so much with me, filled me with light. I wanted not to sneeze but I did.
“Gesundheit!” rattles the new hero Charlie Baker Able, “God bless you! I am on the way.” The phone clicks off.
The strikingly elegant clerk with her narrow body approaches slowly, meandering like a crawling wind, confidently interpreting the vibrations of the floor.
I begin to think about what Charlie said about rural cotton and I wonder why that is not good enough for me and why I have such unquestioned acceptance of silk and lace and pearls.
The clerk stops at an artificial tree to read something in Braille, and after many moments continues toward me but trips on a small round red object lying in the aisle.
Like a marble rolling on wood, the runaway apple rushes my way.
I hear a voice calling, “Evelyn, it’s me, Charlie.”
I turn around at the very moment that he kicks the firm ball of fruit into a net of accessories and scores with my heart as he approaches with Milton’s words, “Who best bear his mild yoke, they serve him best.”
Who knows why one person loves another? I don’t even know why tourists like me want to see, to visit, to be part of Eden’s. Does the attraction that causes me to gravitate to this historic building have the same power as the chemistry I feel that causes me to shift the grid through which I look at life the moment I hear Charlie Baker Able reciting, “His state is kingly: thousands at his bidding speed. . . .”
I search his eyes and feel that he has been with me forever and will always be as he continues, “And post o’er land and ocean without rest. . . .”
I smile at him and say, “They also serve who only stand and wait.”
Charlie touches my hand. “You gave me comfort when I was disappointed. I like you, Evelyn.”
I laugh, “Oh, yes, a principal goal in marriage I suppose.”
“What is?” he says.
“I don’t presume you would let me take you out to lunch?”
“Well, Charlie, that’s appropriate.”
“Because of the only two words in English that end in g-r-y.”
“And what’s that?”
“Angry and hungry.” As we walk toward the elevator, I touch the silk gown, “This is the dress that I will never wear.”
“Nor will my ex-fiancée,” he says sheepishly. “Didn’t you wonder why the operator put me through to the Bridal Department?”
And that’s how I met my husband, Charlie Baker Able.