Suburban Soliloquy #49


The night appeared all the more dark because of the overcast sky and the damp roadway. My old eyes didn't help either. They become blinded by the headlights of oncoming cars and are then slower to recover than they were in my youth. I was driving with Ms Keogh, my more significant other, along the winding River Road that traced the New Jersey side of the Delaware River. We were en route to the Artists' Gallery, a cooperative gallery of about twenty painters, sculptors, and photographers.

The Artists' Gallery is located in Lambertville, a small Victorian town that hugs the river, a community dense with antique dealers, galleries, and fine restaurants, peppered with bed and breakfast residencies. It is a great place to stroll. Artists' Gallery is where Ms Keogh has been hanging her paintings ever since she graduated the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The artists meet on the first Monday of the month to concoct and discuss strategies, to resolve problems, and to start replacing the art work. The exhibit changes every month.

At the monthly meeting of the Artists' Gallery, I stayed alone in the front room and read from the book I had brought along (The Club Dumas, by Arturo Pérez-Reverte). Ms Keogh sat in the second room, the middle of three rooms, where the fellow members of the gallery formed a circle on the floor and some chairs for their monthly meeting. Ms Keogh could not find the appropriate moment to make her declaration. It almost went unsaid. When the meeting was breaking up, she tried to capture everyone's attention for her announcement, but already the group had dissolved into several private conversations and no one was paying attention to her. To Ms Keogh the time did not feel auspicious and she considered postponing her decision.

She mentioned to Stacie, fellow artist and the gallery's Recording Secretary, that she wanted a statement put into the minutes. Stacie responded by quickly taking the initiative, and with a command that the sometimes shy Ms Keogh lacked, called everyone to order. Now everyone was listening with keen interest, curious as to what Ms Keogh would have to say.

Ms Keogh announced how she would be quitting the gallery at the end of the month. She gave as her excuse the difficulty of preparing work for the monthly deadlines. The deadlines forced her to throw work together in a haphazard manner and without heart. The work she produced was a disappointment to her. The others were shocked and obviously saddened by the news. It was not a decision that came easily to Ms Keogh. She has been tormenting herself for a long time with the pros and cons.

We weren't even out of the door of the gallery and my darling began to cry, slightly - although she insists it was a single furtive tear. I rushed her into the privacy of the deserted street. Once we were outside and a few feet further down the block, I hugged her to bolster her strength. She insisted she still felt she had made the right decision, but it was nothing less than a momentous occasion, a milestone in her career and life. Ms Keogh determined that it called for a Compulsory Compensatory Commemorative Meal. Now I must explain the tradition of the Compulsory Compensatory Commemorative Meal.

In 1987, mere days after we were married, with the suddenness of an assassination, Ms Keogh was fired by her employer. They gave "incompetence" as the reason for her dismissal - a curious thing considering they gave her a glowing report on her last review. She had never been fired before, and she had never been declared incompetent in her vocation, Physician's Assistant, a role for which she feels a profound enthusiasm. She was devastated, her life shattered. I did not want to burden her further by taking her home to a house occupied by two adolescent children and my father, an unmanageable old man. I drove east and we talked it out. Fifty-two miles later we were in Sea Girt, where the Atlantic Ocean blocked our further progress east. In Sea Girt, I took her out for dinner and drinks.

It was meant as an act of defiance to the cruel rulings of Fate. It was a show of confidence to buttress Ms Keogh's faith. It was also an effort to force what would have been a gloomy day in the history of our lives into becoming an absurdly joyous day that we could remember proudly. I was absolutely certain that she was not incompetent in her job and that she would find a better one, and I meant to prove it by gambling with confidence, buying a meal we couldn't afford on credit. And that is what it was, a day when we, in typical Ms Keogh and Bruce fashion, defied misfortune by imposing happiness. That was the night of our first Compulsory Compensatory Commemorative Meal.

Rather than leave my reader hanging, I should point out that it was discovered that Ms Keogh had actually been fired because of an unfounded and misguided concern about the cost of insurance to the employer. Ms Keogh has a chronic illness. Firing her for that reason is against Federal and State laws, which is why they lied. They settled out of court. She didn't want to return to her employer, someone who in order to protect their budget would be willing to destroy her self-esteem and career. She didn't want to hurt her employer, who does good work for society, so the settlement was for a check of one dollar and a written reference. And Ms Keogh went on to a blossoming career elsewhere of more money and accolades for her abilities.

We now return to this recent night, when Ms Keogh resigned from that excellent body of artists who occupy the Artists' Gallery. This time we traversed the winding River Road that traced the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware River, returning home to where only our cat was waiting. This trip brought us to the Yardley Inn, built in 1832. Mind you, we couldn't afford such an expensive restaurant for dinner. We are once again suffering a financial crisis. But this was our Compulsory Compensatory Commemorative Meal!

We decided to forgo the tables overlooking the river. After all, it was a dark night. We sat at the bar, and actually this is a general practice with us. The practice originated as a way of avoiding long waits for a table, but we have also discovered we enjoy watching and interacting with people while we eat.

We began with a bowl of tomato and crab bisque. This was followed by escargot in puff pastry sautéed with hazelnut, roasted shallots, and Pernod; also, a shrimp cocktail with lemon and cilantro cocktail sauce. And then, for our main course, we ordered the eight ounce filet mignon topped with jumbo lump crab and black trumpet Maderia sauce, accompanied by mashed potatoes and asparagus. The steak was Pittsburghed. [Pittsburghed: quickly cooked in a very hot oven so as to burn the surface to a crisp, but leave the interior rare.] With our meal, she drank a mandarin cosmopolitan and I had two glasses of St. Francis Cabernet Savignon. We shared everything else, but the dessert. We ordered separate Grand Marnier crèmes brûlées. My sincere thanks to Executive Chef, Alecia Angioletti for making Ms Keogh happy again.

Artists' Gallery

Yardley Inn

Bruce Bentzman

This is the forty-ninth in a series of regular reports from the life and times of Mr Bentzman. If you've any comments or suggestions, the writer would be pleased to hear from you.
For further reading, Mr Bentzman's book "The Short Stories of B.H.Bentzman" is available from Amazon.