Under the Clock, 1946
About six months after the end of the war, the Philadelphia hotel where Anna’s father was working decided to replace him and his ensemble with a pianist, bass player and drummer who played popular music and jazz. This time, however, he’d sensed management might be up to something and was able to jump before he was pushed. When “they” came to give him his pink slip, he informed them he would be leaving in any case.
Anna tried to visualize this scene as her father, the wonderful raconteur, waved his fork in triumph over his plate of Sunday roast beef and mashed potato. Who was the “they” who had come to him with the dreaded piece of pink paper? Surely it had to have been a single person. She imagined a balding bulky man in a dark business suit, with a white handkerchief folded just so in his breast pocket and gleaming gold cuff links at his wrists. Dressed exactly like her father when he went to work, as a matter of fact. Well, her father wasn’t bulky. Although he was getting there. He must have been eating very well in Philadelphia.
“Where are you jumping to?” she asked.
Her mother’s eyes shone with happiness. “He’ll be playing at the Biltmore!” she announced. “Under the clock. Isn’t that wonderful? They’ve put his picture up all over the hotel already.”
“The clock in the cocktail lounge off the lobby,” said her mother, as if she were explaining something to an idiot. “It’s a well-known meeting place. Haven’t you ever heard the expression, ‘Meet you under the clock at the Biltmore’?”
She’s just showing off, thought Anna. As if she ever met a friend for cocktails in the city!
All the same, the next day she dragged a friend from her Latin class to the Biltmore after school let out. The friend was for moral support. Clutching their strapped books and notebooks against their winter coats, the two tiptoed through the hushed resplendent hotel lobby towards the cocktail lounge. No one stopped them. Anna looked up. Her mother had been right: there was a large clock face suspended from the ceiling.
“We’re not old enough to go in,” whispered her friend.
They didn’t have to. You couldn’t miss the important-looking photograph of her father holding his cello — wearing his best dark suit and gold cufflinks, with a white handkerchief folded just so in his breast pocket. It was to the side of the lounge entrance on a tall stand, above an announcement in beautiful lettering:
Beginning March 1
the music of
and his ensemble
For cocktails and dinner
“I didn’t know your father was famous.” Her friend was still whispering.
“He’s not so famous,” said Anna as they backed away on the plush carpeting. Her father’s photograph and the announcement were also on the mirrored wall by the elevators in two places. She felt proud, and at the same time ashamed of being proud. After all, it was just an advertisement, wasn’t it? And she herself had had nothing to do with its being there.
“My father doesn’t have his picture up all over the place in fancy hotels,” said her friend.
“Your father probably comes home for dinner every night.”
“What’s that got to do with it?”
It was too complicated to explain. “Never mind,” said Anna.
They walked out of the hotel and as far as the subway at the corner. “Are you sure you know how to get home to Brooklyn from here?” Anna asked. This friend wasn’t the sharpest tool in the box. But Anna was glad she had asked her to come along. It was very pleasant to be envied, if only for having a father with his picture in a hotel lobby.
[To be continued at a later date….]