This is a story about how fleeting fame can be. Or at least it started out that way. It begins with a card with notes attached sent to me by a friend named Joe. Joe prefers sending cards and notes to emailing and texting. These cards and notes have become something my wife and I look forward to receiving.
We received such a note from Joe the day after Thanksgiving (This year, coincidentally, my birthday fell on Thanksgiving Day). As usual, Joe’s card contained a hilarious cartoon made even funnier by his accompanying note. It included a poem by Frank O’Hara titled THE DAY LADY DIED with a personal note mentioning O’Hara and jazz pianist Mal Waldron, who often accompanied singer Billie Holiday, the “Lady” in the poem. Joe noted that both men were once famous, but are hardly remembered today. But thought I might remember them. I wrote the following reply…
“You were right on several points. I DID remember Mal Waldron and played some of his recordings back in the day when I was deejay on WHAT-FM. In fact, as I write this, I’m listening to YouTube recordings of Waldron accompanying Billie. But your card caused some confusion on my part.
I loved the poignant poem THE DAY LADY DIED, which I thought was written by John, not Frank, O’Hara. In my original response, I waxed eloquently about John — not Frank, and how I’d read APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA in college, which also led to reading BUTTERFIELD 8 after I saw the movie with Elizabeth Taylor (who could forget Elizabeth? Certainly not Richard Burton, who married her more times than I’ve complained about our current president. Well, maybe not. But I’m betting that none of what I wrote would’ve impressed Frank O’Hara. I was all set to mail my letter when I suddenly realized that I may have referred to “Frank” in my letter instead of “John.” In truth, I didn’t know of “Frank,” poetry being yet another gap in the chasm that separates me from cultured folks on subjects like modern art, poetry, ballet and how many sonatas Beethoven wrote.
So, I threw out my reply, carefully saving the stamp. But then I realized that I DID write “John” and not “Frank” O’Hara. Satisfied that I hadn’t made an error, when in reality I HAD, I got another envelope, affixed the saved stamp, retrieved my reply from the waste basket and was ready to mail the letter again. It was about that time your friend and mine, Mickey, came to visit. Fran mentioned your card, which she mistakenly thought was a birthday greeting for me. At which point, Mickey asked, “How did Joe know that it was Tom’s birthday? I never told him.” I checked your card and replied that it was NOT a birthday card. And then I handed your card to Mickey, who after reading your note, exclaimed that you mentioned Frank and not John O’Hara, which frankly threw me into a tizzy.
I should mention that it was during this time that Fran was trying to persuade Mickey to a take a leftover turkey drumstick with her, I know not why. Mickey was steadfastly resisting the drumstick. Fran took her refusal as simple politeness. I was forced by Fran to swear that under no circumstances would I ever think of eating our leftover turkey drumstick. I’m uncertain how this whole turkey drumstick dispute was resolved because at that point I was fixated on correcting my reply to you about it being John and not Frank O’Hara that was the subject of your note.
Once again, I threw out my reply. By now, the envelope was quite battered. As for the stamp, it was barely clinging to the battered envelope, having been re-licked, if there is such a word. I decided to use my computer this time to write a corrected reply. As you know, I am on the cutting edge of technology, and I have a flip phone to prove it. I changed “John” to ”Frank” (sorry, John, but “hello” Frank). At this point, I found another envelope and a fresh stamp — why was it I didn’t use email anyway?
Joe — I must confess that it WAS my birthday on Thanksgiving and that’s why Fran thought you were sending me a birthday card, but then again, Mickey didn’t tell you, did she? I DID think that the enclosed poem, apparently by Frank O’Hara, was beautiful. It was about Billie Holiday, wasn’t it, not Judy Holliday? And, of course, you’re right that no one remembers any of them. Except us. It was Judy Holliday who won an Oscar for BORN YESTERDAY, wasn’t it? At least for now, it’s good that we remember each other, don’t you think?
See you soon. Hopefully, we’ll still remember each other.
p.s. Fran somehow convinced Mickey to take the turkey drumstick.
p.p.s. Mickey fled our apartment before Fran tried to foist off another drumstick on her. Turkeys have two, don’t they?
p.p.p.s. Didn’t you graduate Cardinal O’Hara? I think the Cardinal’s first name was John, but now I’m beginning to think it might’ve been Frank. ••
Tom Cardella can be seen on Monday at 6 p.m., streaming live on wbcb1490.com with guest Fred Barnett. Rebroadcast Tuesdays at 5 p.m. on 610 ESPN Radio. We think Cardella’s first name is Tom, but it could be John or even Frank.