It’s strange how a person who would ordinarily be insignificant in one’s life, who should already be forgotten, remains in the memory simply because of an association with the first intense, passionate stirrings of love. Some dull, remote co-worker who introduced you to the man or woman of your dreams, for example, will forever be a part of a whole series of magical recollections, a minor character in one’s own personal fairy tale. For me, ugly, middle-aged Pauley Reddy, a ticket-seller at the Field Museum in Chicago, was just such a person.
I worked for a time at a weekly tabloid-format entertainment publication in Chicago, where I held the inflated title of Film Editor. We had a Music Editor and an Arts Editor, as well as a Publisher—who my father-in-law would have called a “success story,” i.e., a trust fund baby—a motley group that along with me constituted the entire staff. All layout, sales, and production work was contracted out. I fell madly in love with the Arts Editor, Eliza Oberwitz, from my first day at the paper.
One morning, the Music Editor, Mark Betts, and I decided to accompany Eliza to a traveling exhibit at the Field Museum that she was planning to review for our publication. The exhibit was called “The Search for Alexander the Great,” and I don’t remember a whole lot about it except that there were a bunch of Greek artifacts and stuff. Actually, I don’t even remember that much. I’m just assuming that there must have been. I spent the entire tour of the exhibition staring at Eliza, studying her smile and her walk, watching the enthusiasm in her eyes. She was born in England, and still retained a soft West Midlands accent—which sounded like music to me. Her family had moved to Chicago when she was fifteen. She still considered herself British, and had a snobbish preference for all things English. The only times I ever saw her act peevish or defensive were on those occasions when someone made negative comments in her presence about something related to England, however remotely. I remember her scathing response to an article Mark had written that was critical of the direction Kate Rusby’s career had taken. She told him in no uncertain terms that he knew nothing about English folk music, and had no right to pass judgement on what did or did not constitute genuine musical development. If it could be said that Eliza had one fault, it was her “Anglo-touchiness,” as Mark so aptly christened it. Eliza is the most wonderful person in the world, so it’s terribly unfair of me to focus on one of her only flaws. But her lovely English accent was part of what distracted me from putting more effort into “The Search for Alexander the Great,” as I listened delightedly to the questions that she asked the guide at every turn, comprehending little of what was actually said. Continue reading