Condo Confidants Struggle to Frame Their Friendship
We met in the breezeway connecting the two buildings and the lobby of our 600-unit condominium complex.
He said I looked as if I needed a friend.
I got one.
We became tennis buddies, and during the summers we went to the pool together.
He spoke more than a dozen languages - a little. Our multinational building became the oyster of our world as he greeted the tenants, owners, and employees in their native tongues when meeting them in the elevator, or the lobby, or on the spacious grounds of the Towers Condominium.
I understood few of these foreign exchanges, as I am not a linguist, but whenever it involved a pretty girl, the meaning was clear enough to stir up my reaction.
"You are territorial," he observed. "You are like a cat my friend had that always ran into the bathroom and disappeared when another cat was allowed in the home. It never came out until the other cat went away.
"I could never desert you," he would say. "It would be like leaving a puppy out on the highway."
We were both news hounds, flicking on the tube for various news broadcasts or turning to CNN in between hours. He scoured The Washington Post and sometimes wrote letters to the editor, as well as almost devouring the Monitor on a daily basis.
"Why do they always have so much on Israel?" he inquired with keen interest, but somewhat defensively.
He is my Jewish mother. He marks my calendar way ahead of time for monthly condo fee payments. And then there are those special breakfasts at his place on an occasional Saturday morning.
I enter a bachelor's apartment with no table. In the kitchen there is an old black swivel stool at the counter, its torn vinyl mended with duct tape. His lean form is already hovering over a frying pan, and orange juice is set out, as well as cups for hot drinks.
For his own seating, he retrieves a rickety chair from the next room. It is not tall enough for the counter. The yellow pages of the phone book serve as a cushion to make it higher.
But he doesn't sit down until he has made four small butter crisp pancakes for me, and then four for himself. Soon he is back at the stove making seconds.
"When are we going to hear wedding bells?" query the stylishly dressed Uscocovich sisters from Ecuador.
"There is an important ingredient missing," my friend remarks.
"Do you want to get married?" I quip back.
"No," he replies.
"I couldn't handle it 24 hours a day," he says, nodding toward the newspapers and clips strewn across my floor. "But thank you anyway. This way I get to go home and rest up for the next time."
"It wouldn't be fair to you," he adds, referring to the fact that he is much older.
Not only is he more orderly and punctual than I am, but he also takes the brunt of my unhappy feelings when things seem to go awry in my life. Afterward I apologize for this.
"It's all right," he says. "I know my customer." Then there are the times when he exclaims, "How did I ever get myself into a situation like this? I don't have any breathing room."
At other times I receive the supreme compliment, "You are the best thing that ever happened to me."
So we go on with our undefined relationship - often meeting for breakfast where we discuss the agenda for the rest of the day. But where are we going in the long run?
"These things have a way of working themselves out," he states prophetically. And looking down his Sephardic nose at me, he says, "One day at a time."
Then taking the stance of the ancient Masada, he just waits.
And I, mimicking the child of a more frivolous society, I say, "I'll think about that tomorrow."