Friday, January 19, 2024

A Night at JFK.

About 50 years ago I made a trip out to San Francisco.

I stopped in a curio shop, the dusty kind of places run by 3/4s- smoked cigarettes attached to the lower-lips of old men that don't exist anymore. The place was stuffed with junk of the highest order. Old brass sextants. Rusted Bowie knives. Hunks of rope that might come in handy for something someday. Ships' figureheads with heaving wooden bosoms. My second favorite kind.

In the dustiest of the shop's four dusty corners, I saw it.


It wasn't made by slave-labor in China.

It might be the real thing.

Or a real replica.

Of the original fake Maltese Falcon.

The Black Bird was heavy and solid, like a bowling ball. It made no sense to buy it then lug it back home in my baggage from San Francisco. It had to weigh 15 pounds. That's a lot of peregrine.

But this was the Maltese Falcon.

Nearly as precious to me as it was to Joel Cairo, Kasper Gutman and Brigid O'Shaughnessy in Dashiell Hammett's novel and John Huston's film.

I've see lonely women looking in the window at Cartier's or Tiffany's. Or hungry men looking inside some old school steak house with old school plate-glass windows. Or drunks lasciviously window-shopping outside a really good liquor store.

I made them look nonchalant.

I was agog. I had to have the bird.

And so I do.

I still do.

It's in Connecticut, holding a place of honor in my dishonorable office digs.

Not too many years ago, I flew back to JFK from LA, landing around midnight. I flew first class--I've earned that luxury after 40 years of work, besides I'm 6'2" and on the wrong side of 200-lbs. I was among the first passengers at the rickety baggage area carousel. I also take long strides

I took up a good position, just to the right of the slope the bags slide down to start their slow circles of airport linoleum. Soon, a woman stood next to me.

Tall and dark. I imagined she looked like Mata Hari might have looked had she not been executed by a French firing squad in 1917.

(I have to say, if I had to be executed by a firing squad, I hope it's a French one. Generally speaking, the French have no love for cranky old Jews. But I'd bet I'd still get a good last meal. Their Croque Pastrami is to die for.)

To steal directly from Hammett, I checked the dame out. Allow me to  talk about myself in the third person for a moment. "He’d’ve looked you up and down and licked his lips and gone grinning from ear to ear—and then you could’ve stood as close to him as you liked in the dark and put a hole through him with the gun you had got from Thursby that evening.” 

That was me looking at her. It was late. I was tired. And she was Angelica Huston, at baggage claim, at midnight.

"Wow," I said to her. "I love your dad's movies. And your grandfather's," I said. (I didn't realize till some time after, that my praise for John and Walter Huston might have been something of an insult, though I didn't mean it that way.)’

"Thank you," she said, slowly lowering her eyelids. The effect was coy and inviting. "I didn't realize until recently it was your dad who carried the Falcon in from the Paloma, wrapped in rags and newspaper."

She relaxed, realizing I was an actual fan, not a poseur.

We talked for a while. For the first time ever I was happy that baggage-handlers in New York are unionized and only have to work, according to union-rules, about twelve minutes every four hour shift. Every other week.

We went through about one-hundred movies while we were waiting. She was happy I was interested in her family's art. She was thrilled that I was thrilled with her.

"Are you in the movies," she finally asked. 

"No. I just love old movies. I'm an amateur," I admitted. "But not a dilettante."

I tried to casually lift the baggage of the carousel with the strength
of Ward Bond (Detective Polhaus). A fedora probably would have helped.

Finally, my bag came and I lifted it off the ragged carousel as gracefully as I could. I wanted her to think I was as heavily muscled as at least Detective Polhaus. 

Her bag came a minute after mine.

It was the size of a $4,000/month New York studio apartment. I lifted it like it was a Chiclet and set it at her well-turned ankles with the delicacy of a tiptoe-ing dancer. I was positively Vestal about it.

Again she slowly lowered her eyelids.

"Thank" she said as they closed.

"You" she said as they opened.

I probably should have asked her if she'd like to share a taxi to the city. But this was real life, not a movie, and my head was more than a bit discombobulated at this point.

"See ya," I said as I trundled off to the cab-line. I gave her a New York specialty, the back-hand "seeya" wave.

I didn't even have the wherewithall to say, "Here's looking at you, keed." That line didn't come to me until I was finally on the Van Wyck.


"You" she said.

That's the stuff that dreams are made of.

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