On Sunday afternoon, while I was sitting in the bridal room of Neiman Marcus, I had a head on collision with the past and the present.
I was not in the bridal room to buy a wedding dress; I was there to store my mink coat. While I waited for a sales clerk, I imagined myself in the chic trench coat with diamond buttons hanging from the rack. If I did have to choose a bridal gown, it would have to be something unconventional, like my mother chose. She wore navy blue taffeta to her wedding. If I did get married, I would have to save my coins for a long time to pay for the reception. Where would I get married? At one time, I dreamth of the Bel Air Hotel, but that was in the 1970s. With inflation, the wedding would cost no less than $200,000 today. By the time, I saved that much, I would be 100 years old! Besides the hotel is not the same. The last time I dropped by, I was chased out of the river walk for taking photographs of the swans.
Just before my father took ill in 1982, he told me my wedding would be at the Flamingo in Las Vegas. I remember it, as if it was yesterday.
We were walking together in Holmby Park, where he walked his five miles everyday. Very often, he stopped at the public phone booth and made a few calls. He whispered so I could not hear his conversation. I know now he was laying his bets for the day. I waited on the green lawn watching the older men and women playing Croquette. When my father returned from the phone booth, he looked perturbed. That meant he lost money on that day’s sporting event. We walked a long time in heavy silence until he decided to break it.
“You know, I’m very proud of you.” He said looking straight ahead.
“You are?” I was stunned.
“Of course I am! I hope you don’t think any different. I have not said it often, because I’m coaching you all the time, so you will be independent, and know how to look after yourself, after I’m gone. I don’t want you to fall into a rut with the wrong fellow, like so many women. It can ruin your whole life.”
“But I haven’t accomplished anything really great…. like you.”
“What the hell are you talking about!” he stopped in the middle of the path.
“ Are you kidding sweetheart, I broke all the rules, and made some new ones, and I’ve paid. Like I’ve always said, you make your bed, and you lie in it. I’m proud of the career you made in real estate, without any help from me. Now you have to concentrate on the right fellow. When you do get around to finding the right one, we’ll have the wedding at the Flamingo.
“The Flamingo? Do you still know people there?” I asked timidly.
“Of course, I was a major stockholder … at one time.” Then he cleared his throat, and I wondered if he was choking on the memories.
“That’s where Mommy and I had our wedding reception.” I thought of the photographs of Mommy cutting the white cake. It was the first time he ever mentioned my wedding. It was the first time, he seemed to say, okay find a fellow, and I’ll let you go. I sensed his detachment from everything around us except for me.
“I would like that. How long has it been since you were there?”
“I didn’t want to set foot in that place after Benny… (Benjamin Siegel) I didn’t care if the whole place burnt to the ground. There’s no reason why you can’t have your wedding there. I can still arrange a few things.”
The vision of father, my future husband, and me was an aberration without incident or purpose at that age. However, he was dreaming that the day would come soon.
When the sales clerk finally appeared, I was glazed over, in some marbled state of melancholy, clutching the mink coat on my lap. The mink is the oldest garment in my closet, vintage 1978. It’s as if it happened yesterday.
My father called one Saturday and asked me to meet him at Mannis Furs in Beverly Hills. When I arrived, my father was seated in a chair, facing a three-way mirror. Manny rushed over to greet me.
“This is my daughter, Luellen, “Manny bowed and kissed my hand. In the other hand, he was holding a mink jacket.
“Try it on for size,” my father ordered. I hesitated, and looked at him for explanation. It never occurred to me I would be trying on mink coats. He was always asking me to meet him in shops, and restaurants. He held meetings wherever he knew people, so I assumed he had a meeting with Manny.
“Go on—try it on. I didn’t say I was buying it, I just want to see what it looks like.” Manny tucked me into the mink coat, and pulled the waist sash through. He stroked the fur up and down, and then I did the same. The coat felt like a cloth wall that buried my body in warmth. I stood before the mirror and watched the transformation.
“Turn around, “my father ordered. I took a few steps in a half circle and slipped my hands into the pockets, and turned around slowly as I’d seen my mother do. Suddenly his eyes welled up with tears and he took out his handkerchief.
“If you dressed in a proper outfit and not those silly jeans all the time, you might look like something!” he barked.
“Well I didn’t know I’d be trying on minks today.”
“What the hell did you think you’d be trying on, pianos? For crying out loud!
“I don’t know what you’re thinking sometimes. Take it off.”
Manny untied the sash and took the coat. My father was in a mood, it was my fault again. I shouldn’t have worn jeans. Why did he start crying? Manny disappeared, and my father stood in front of the mirror to affirm his reflection. After he took off in his Cadillac, I stood in front of Manny’s and looked at the mink coats. He never mentioned it again, but I knew the coat was going to show up one day.
Six or seven months after that first meeting at Mannis, the mink appeared at Chanukah.
“Daddy, this is so extravagant, I won’t have any where to wear it.”
“Oh yes you will! Just wait and see. If you quit going out with those misfits and find yourself a decent fella you’ll have numerous occasions. That’s the reason why I gave it to you, so don’t misuse it!”
When I left Neimans I was drenched in his memory. The mink coat has outlived all of my possessions. Every time I put it on, I’m reminded of his wisdom. It’s not the expense or signature status. When I put it on, I feel transformed.
I discovered the bill of sale from Manny’s, and the balance due, after my father died. I called Manny and asked him for more time, to pay it off. He told me to forget about it, my father had brought in so much business to the store.
When the sales clerk took the mink away, I made a speedy dash out of Neimans, before I started buying things I couldn’t afford, or trying on bridal gowns.