Tuesday, July 7, 2009

My demon lover, Ned Silverman

My demon lover Ned Silverman might not have been a demon and was most definitely not my lover. He was also not many other things.

Long ago, in a kingdom very far away but near 51st and 1st, on a balmy spring Sunday I set out for the neighborhood park with Bleak House under my arm. When I arrived at the park, there sat neighbor Bob (from the next apartment) reading the Sunday Times. So I settled near him. Periodically Bob would read to me from the arts section and we would talk of opera and Carnegie Hall performances. People near us came and went. One fellow, about my age, looked up as we talked music and finally he joined the conversation. He was very knowledgeable.

I left and returned in a while and Bob and the other guy were still talking. Bob explained that his new friend was a conductor and composer. In those days I had an English accent, so when Bob got up to leave for a while, the fellow asked if I was English. I explained that I had lived in London for several years and only recently returned to New York. A coincidence! He too had recently returned to New York from the Netherlands — so recently that he didn’t even have an apartment yet but was staying with friends. He was a vice president of Philips and had been working in Europe for several years. He wasn’t sure about getting an apartment since he’d be spending the summer in Portland as conductor of the Portland Symphony’s summer program.

When Bob returned we continued to speak of music. The stranger was an Eastman graduate and been a fellow at McDowell. I mentioned an old friend who’d gone to Juilliard and written advertising jingles on the side. Another coincidence! He too had written many jingles, working a lot for BBDO. He sang some of his jingles, which Bob also knew. “What a great guy!” Bob said when he left. “He knows his stuff.” Bob went home, I dug into Bleak House, and the mysterious music man reappeared.

“Say, I’d like to call you,” he said to me. To my immediate and irrational panic. I was a single woman living alone in New York and this strange man might be an axe murderer! But I conquered my panic and gave him my card. Since the office was at 44th and 6th, I felt that my business card preserved my privacy somewhat. “By the way,” he said, “I’m Ned Silverman.”

A good tactician, that Ned. He didn’t call Monday, but he did call Tuesday. “I’m just leaving for Portland so I can’t chat, but are you free for dinner Thursday evening?” Well, hey — he was smart and knew a lot of cool stuff, and was nice looking and cosmopolitan. What was not to like? Of course I said yes, and (blushes with embarrassment) told him where I lived.
Just as I was hanging up the phone it occurred to me: what if something happens and I have to cancel? “Ned? Ned?” Dang — he was gone.

For some reason, knowing how to reach him “just in case” suddenly seemed like the most important thing in the world … and I was stuck. But no! I called the Portland Symphony to leave a message, asking him to call and leave me a contact number.

“I’d like to leave a message for Ned Silverman,” I told the person who answered at the Portland Symphony.
“There’s nobody here by that name,” he said.
Oh, of course — the board had probably contracted with Ned and he wouldn’t be known to people in the office.
“He’s coming to Portland today — he’ll be conducting your summer program this year,” I explained.
After being connected to one person, than another, who did not know Ned would be there in just a few hours, I spoke with the executive director. “We’re not having a summer program this year,” he said.
Well, in a word, ????? Had I misunderstood? “Perhaps I misunderstood, and he was conductor of your summer program last year,” I suggested.
“I’ve never heard of Ned Silverman, ma’am,” said the executive director.

So I called Neighbor Bob. “You remember that fellow we talked with in the park on Sunday?” I asked. “His name’s Ned Silverman, and he called to ask me to dinner Thursday, and I didn’t get his number. Didn’t he say he was going to be conductor of the Portland Symphony’s summer program?”
“Well, congratulations,” Bob said enthusiastically. “He’s an interesting guy. Bring him by for a drink after dinner! And yeah — he did say he was going to Portland. You could always call him there if you have to.”

I looked out the window at 6th Avenue and drummed my fingers on my desk. What to do, what to do? So I called the alumni office at Eastman School of Music. After some waiting, I learned that nobody named Silverman, with a first name that could possibly be shortened to Ned, had any degrees from Eastman, and in fact no such person had ever even taken a class at Eastman.

Nobody like Ned Silverman had ever been a fellow at McDowell Colony either. Ned Silverman didn’t work for Philips Records, in this country or in Europe.

My last hope was Mu Murphy, who had been my aunt Billie’s roommate decades before, and who had spent her career booking various types of talent for BBDO. I explained the whole thing to Mu. “Honestly, this sounds like something Billie would have done,” she said dryly. She agreed that the world is full of crazies and you can’t be too careful and told me she would take some time after the office closed to go through old files. The next day she confirmed that Ned Silverman had not been employed by BBDO and had not been a contractor either.

I had all day Wednesday to think about it. When I got home from work Thursday, I talked to the doorman, Avi. “A guy named Ned Silverman is coming by at 7.30,” I said. “Before calling me, give him this note. If he leaves, buzz me when he’s out of sight.”

Avi buzzed me at 7.40 and I went out to the front door. “Your friend gave me a different name — I think he’s Israeli,” Avi said. “So I told him I had a note for Ned Silverman, and he said, oh, yeah, that’s me, so I gave him your note.”
“And what did he do then?” I asked.
Avi pointed to the front garden’s retaining wall. “He sat down there and read your note.”
“And?” I prompted.
“And he laughed and laughed and shook his head and said he couldn’t believe you went to all that trouble, and he went down toward Second Avenue.”

My note had told him that I had learned that he wasn’t who he said he was, and I listed all the places I had checked. However, I also told him that I would be happy to meet him for dinner, but he would have to have his passport and driver’s license and proof of employment. And so Ned Silverman disappeared from East 51st Street. Neighbor Bob was really disappointed!

Years passed. I was married and pregnant with Lydia, renting office space in Boston from A Better Chance. The ABC ladies and I often ate lunch together, and one day talk turned to Strange Situations With Men. I told of my encounter with Ned Silverman and pretty much walked off with the prize for weirdest story. Months later, several hours after Lydia was born, I was dozing when an aide bustled in with a lavish flower arrangement. “It must be from your husband,” she said. “It’s really beautiful. He takes good care of you.”

I reached for the card. “Yours always, Ned Silverman,” it read. Even with stitches where you shouldn’t have stitches, it was worth a good belly laugh. The ladies of A Better Chance remembered!

More years passed. On Lydia’s birthdays I always tell her when-you-were-born stories, and (when she was old enough) I told her about Ned Silverman, adding the coda of the wonderful flowers. Sometimes she’d ask me to tell stories when her friends visited, and the story of Ned Silverman was always a hit. A few years ago, I had surgery in Mount Kisco. Waking up in the hospital the next day, I found a lovely arrangement of flowers.

I reached for the card. “Eternally yours, Ned Silverman,” it read. Lydia in action! The card is on the fridge door even now.

So, two weeks ago when Lydia left for Swaziland and I found a lovely bouquet of snapdragons waiting at my door, my first, wildly irrational thought was: Ned Silverman! But then it appeared that the card, which read “Moms need flowers” was from Lydia’s dad. But no — it was an additional layer of mistaken identity. Having thanked the wrong person here, I want to give a shout-out to my college sweetheart Green Tanager (left), who has known me so long he used to remember my mother telling him not to wake the baby, i.e. me.

Whoever the Israeli music man might be, I have had infinitely more fun telling that story than I ever would have had if I’d gotten to know him. But inquiring minds want to know: was The Man Who Wasn't Ned Silverman a demon?

Long ago and in a kingdom far away, that thought hadn't occurred to me (axe murderers were the then-current trend). But now that I work in Bookstore C, I see all around me proof that there are indeed demons, and vampires too. I could look it up! But I like my story better, not knowing.

1 comment:

Priscilla said...

Love the story! It entertained me from start to finish. Thanks!