The Night Flossie Went To The Opera

A Moe Minsky Tale
Written By Al Geto


   There were nuttier things I have seen in my life but whenever I think of Florence Schwalberg and what happened to her the night she went to the opera I bust out laughing no matter where I am, alone or in a crowd. Right now, right this minute, I canšt stop. The picture of the two of them trying to get out of the subway train tied together like that, everybody in the car watching them and not knowing whether to laugh or cry, was better than seeing your algebra teacher flop on the ice.

   Of course, knowing something about Flossie, her style, the way she walked and spoke and rolled her eyes, is necessary in order to get the full impact. Flossie, a couple of years older than me, must have been about nineteen at the time. She wore dresses so tight they were like road maps of her body. When she walked everything moved as though all of her parts were wound up separately but coordinated. Even when she stood still she was flirting. Her mother, a heavyweight, wore more makeup than the whole chorus line in Radio City and spent most of her time playing a Chinese game called mah jong which lost favor after a rumor it was being investigated by the FBI. Flossiešs father, a little nut-brown guy, was mainly interested in fiddling with his radio, still a new gadget. Later, he developed his own home-made speakers with sound that cracked all the glasses on the sideboard they had got as a wedding present thirty years ago, and also made their dog deaf. Mr. Schwalberg's other hobby was his daughter. He never put her down or refused her anything. If she grew up believing nobody could compare to her, he was responsible for it. Both her parents doted on her. He thought she was the best dancer, the best dresser, the best looker, even though she wasn't that pretty. She had huge brown eyes, more nose than she needed, a good jaw but bad skin, which Mrs. Schwalberg taught her how to cover up. But she did have that slinky figure which didn't only turn heads, it twisted them off.

   When Mr. Schwalberg came home from work one night he had two tickets to the opera given to him by his boss. He gave them right to Flossie. They were box seats, which explains how things turned out, even with what happened. Flossie was as excited as a hummingbird at a feeding site and all her parts were moving. Going to the Metropolitan Opera was another boost out of her Borough Park roots and would give her some class. She was already a member of the Book-of-the-Month Club although she didnšt read because she wouldnšt be caught wearing glasses. Flossie intended to marry a millionaire as she had seen a number of girls do in the movies. What she knew about music you could put in a kazoo, and though to her Tchaikovsky could have been a Russian chicken sandwich, Flossie took the opera tickets so naturally she didn't even ask what was playing.

   She also had three different boyfriends, one from the Bronx, one from Queens, and one from Manhattan. In that way none of them would know about the fourth one from Brooklyn. But for this special night she picked Skelly, the Manhattan one. For openers he knew something about music, as he played the mandolin. In the second place he was the only one who had a tuxedo. She arranged to meet him on a side street near the opera house so they could walk up to it together after she gave him the tickets. She looked great in the evening gown she borrowed from Tillie Lasher whose mother ran a second hand clothing store. To complete the outfit she got a loan for the first time of her motheršs long fur piece, the foxšs head with its glassy eyes staring out over its pointy teeth and mean lips at one end, and six short little tails added to the other end. It hung right down to Flossiešs knees. It was a stunner. The whole neighborhood knew Flossie was going to the opera, what time she would leave the house, and what she would be wearing. Everybody was looking out their windows as she walked the couple of blocks to the subway line. She was already on the train as I made it through the doors on my way into the city where I had a part-time job as a theatre usher. I got to see a lot of plays that way.

   The car was pretty crowded. Flossie was clutching a strap for support. She wore high heel shoes and a string of pearls. Her fur piece dangled down, swaying with the rocking of the train. As people got on at each station and the crush got worse, I was shoved closer to Flossie as she hung on to her strap over the people sitting in a row, including a couple of men and a kid about twelve years old who was right in front of her. None of them would get up to give her a seat. And as the train sped over the bridge and down into the tunnel again, one of the men sitting next to the kid whispers something to him. The kid looks down at his pants to find his fly open. He catches Flossie looking at him, turns all red and reaches for his zipper to pull it up while he is sitting down, which is not easy. The rushing train sways into Fourteenth Street, Flossie and her furs swaying with it, the six little dangling tails sweeping over the kid's fly as he yanks it up catching the hairs of three of them in the zipper. At first Flossie doesnšt notice it, but the kid does and is trying to pull them out. As the train is rolling out of the station Flossie is doing a tug of war with the kidšs fly. By the time the train speeds in and out of Thirty-fourth Street they have not solved the problem and a fourth tail is hooked in. The kid stands up hoping that will do it while Flossie keeps yanking at her fur piece dragging the kid after her to the doors which open at Forty-second Street with the kid yelling, "I donšt get off here!" But she drags him out by his fly on to the platform and the last I see of them they are screaming at each other while Flossie is pulling him after her up the stairs to the street.

   The way I heard it, Flossie gave the kid two dollars, never looked for her boyfriend, and made the kid button up his windbreaker so that it partly covered him over. She had him stay real close to her until they got into the box at the opera. When the lights went down she managed to tear her fur loose and the kid took off with two of the tails sticking out of his fly. But Flossie stayed until the second intermission when she left only because she thought it was over. She did say she enjoyed it a lot although she never heard such screaming, but she was most impressed by the chandeliers.

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Copyright Š August 3, 2000-


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