The continuing saga of of Robert’s lifelong love affair with Karen.
I know that I have to do this. I know because, well, because I’ve seen it in the movies. You go into your fiance’s father’s book-lined study and you say, “Sir, I’m in love with your daughter and I’d like permission to marry her.” And Spencer Tracy, wearing a red velvet smoking jacket, reaches over and hugs you and with tears in his eyes saying, “Welcome to the family, son.”
And so, I’m over at Karen’s house in Bensonhurst and I tell her, “I’m going to speak to your father.” Karen looks at me like I’m absolutely insane.
“Speak to my father, about what?”
“I have to ask his permission to marry you?”
Karen says, “Are you sure about this?”
I nod my head, “Absolutely.”
Karen rolls her eyes, “Okay, but…”
“But don’t blame me if it doesn’t go the way you think it should.”
Like a moron, I say, “It’ll be fine.”
You’d think that by now I’d listen to Karen. But I’ve seen way too many movies. They have distorted my view of reality.
I make my way down to the basement. Remember the basement bathroom? I still wait for someone to mention that the floor is kind of… soggy.
Rabbi Singer is sitting behind his massive oak desk. It is piled high with volumes of Talmud and notebooks filled with notations and comments in Rabbi Singer’s beautiful script. He wears a black suit and tie even in the house.
“May I speak with you?”
He stares at me. Karen has his eyes, his penetrating gaze.
“Nu?” His voice is deep, like an oboe.
I take a deep breath. “I love Karen very much. I’d like your permission to marry her.”
He lights his cigar. He studies the glowing tip.
“How do you propose to support my daughter?”
“I have a job. I make a living.”
“And what are your prospects?”
“I’m going to be a Hollywood screenwriter.”
That was a mistake.
Karen’s father gives me a dubious look and blows out a thick stream of smoke.
“Karen is very special you know, don’t you?” he says
“I know. I know that.” Helloooo! I’ve been in love with your daughter since fourth grade!
“I don’t know anything about this Hollywood… I just want Karen to be happy and to have a good life.”
I’m so articulate. And I feel about two inches tall. This is not going like that Spencer Tracy movie. Not at all. I should have listened to Karen.
Rabbi Singer nods his head as if listening to some inner voice.
“I trust you will learn?”
“Not just movies, Torah.”
He smiles. He’s making a joke. And I’m drenched in sweat.
He comes out from behind his desk and it’s going to happen. The Spencer Tracy moment. I’m going to get The Hug. The welcome-to-the- family-gesture. But no, he just sails right past me. Goes to the landing of the stairs and calls up to Karen. No doubt she’s sitting in the kitchen worrying about the incredibly dumb things I’m saying to her father.
Karen descends the stairs. Gosh, she is beautiful. I should not stare at her like this in front of her father. It’s just not right. I’m practically drooling.
“So?” Says Karen’s father
“So.” Says Karen.
They speak in a powerful shorthand.
“When do you want to get married?”
Karen says: “August?”
He says: “Why not sooner?”
Karen says: June?”
He pulls out his pocket OU calendar, thumbs through the pages. Karen pulls out her calendar, whips through the pages. I don’t have a calendar. I stand there, useless. I think about The Kurosawa Film Festival coming to New York in a few months. Karen and her father discuss wedding dates. I’ll finally get to see The Hidden Fortress, the one great Kurosawa film I have never screened.
“Is this day good for you?” he asks.
“It would make it exactly a year after we met, sounds good to me.” She says.
“Um, sure.” That’s not the day The Hidden Fortress is being shown. I have that day memorized.
“Good, it’s settled. Karen, tell your mother.”
Karen goes upstairs.
I turn follow Karen.
“Robert?” says Rabbi Singer.
I turn back. My future father-in-law steps forward and hugs me.
I can’t help it, I have tears in my eyes.
My Spencer Tracy moment.
Karen adds: I always told Robert that his fears of being rejected based on “poor prospects” were groundless, in fact, my parents wanted to speed up the whole engagement process, the sooner the wedding the better. Why wait till the end of the summer, all you need is three months to prepare for a wedding. Needless to say, I never knew of the conflict of dates with the film festival until today. Good move, Robert, for not telling me at the time.