Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a lady who lives in my building who I see frequently...on my own floor when I'm coming or going, or occasionally on one of the floors to which I go when I'm trying to find an available washing machine...always with a mop or broom, diligently cleaning the hallways. She is not employed by the building, which has its own maintenance staff, so why she does this I have no idea. But it doesn't matter whether I know or not. She wants...for whatever do it, and she does.

There is a lady slightly past “a certain age” who frequents a coffee shop not far from my apartment. She always, summer or winter, wears an ankle-length gown and gold high heels upon which, it seems to me, she walks a bit unsteadily. She can be easily picked out of the throngs of people coming and going on the street, but she neither notices nor, if she does notice, cares. It is what she wants to do and I admire her for it.

When I lived in Chicago the first time, in the late 1950s, there was a woman I've commented on in a previous blog some time ago. She would pass by my ground-floor apartment frequently. She was probably in her late 70s at the time, and toothpick-thin. She carried herself like an empress and always dressed stylishly in a tight black dress, with a large, wide-brimmed hat with a bright red cabbage rose, and black, elbow-length gloves. Though pale, she wore lipstick to match the cabbage rose, and her cheeks were brightly rouged. I would love to know her story; I'm sure it would have been a fascinating one.

Her counterpart...though I never saw them together or even at the same time...was a gentleman of probably her same age, though he was neither gaunt nor heavy. He also passed by my apartment frequently and always wore a spotless white suit with, if memory serves, white shoes. And I never saw him without a flower in his lapel. I always wished he and the lady in black could have met. How wonderful for them to have combined their two very unique worlds.

When I was a teenager, when going to or coming from school, I would frequently see a plain, ordinary-looking lady standing at the same bus stop. Yet she never got on a bus. She was, I learned, something of a neighborhood legend, and she was standing at the bus stop waiting for her son, who had been killed in WWII. It broke my heart then, and it breaks my heart now.

I recently did a blog about an elderly gentleman I'd seen in a coffee shop who, though sitting alone at the next table, commented on the weather and the menu, and I could not determine if he were talking to me or to himself. I do know I felt...and even as I type these words, still overwhelming sense of guilt for not having at least acknowledged his presence. Was he homeless and a bit deranged, or was he hoping that someone might say something to him to verify that he was indeed visible and a valid human being?

I have never forgotten my friend Ursula, on whom I also did a blog a couple of years ago, whose life was incomprehensibly hard. A half-Jewish German whose father being a gentile saved her from being gassed, Ursula never spoke of her experiences willingly, but she did relate being on a cattle-car train being shipped from one camp to another when the allies fire-bombed the city of Dresden, killing over 100,000 people, and how she and the other prisoners were forced to go through the city picking up the remains of the dead. How can anyone not be scarred forever by something so horrific?

In a more positive vein, one of my favorite fictional characters is the little lady from the play The Madwoman of Chaillot, who every morning reads exactly the same edition of her favorite newspaper because she likes the news in it. My kind of woman!

The fact is that the world abounds in fascinating men and women who have the courage to dance to their own music or who face and survive unimaginable hardships with grace and dignity, and I stand in absolute awe of them.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Kage Alan said...

Part of your post reminds me of a wonderful, wonderful film I caught many years ago on TV and has never been released on home video. I recorded it off of TV one night on an old VHS tape. It's called Someone To Remember. Have you by chance heard of it?

It's about an apartment building that's been purchased by a local university One tenant, an elderly woman, won't move, so she makes it her mission to look after the boys there while she waits for her son to return.

It's a beautiful story and very, very classy. If you haven't seen it, I think it would be one you would greatly enjoy.

Dorien Grey said...

Thanks! I'll see if I can find it on Netflix.