The Waldorf Astoria (Family Album, New York, August, 1963)

I thought of bellhops and Ginger Rogers,
sitting at the Fairfax Theater in Los Angeles.
Kiddie Matinee. I was, in fact, thirteen that summer
but looked younger: quiet, did what I was told
I liked the movies / lived in them

We had been the promised ones
two pet schnauzers / a leather harness to keep
my brother from straying
me, a head taller,
reticent, rarely photographed

We wanted to be liked
I sniffed and curtsied
I’m a little teapot short and stout
he gallantly threw footballs and baseballs
in front of the white stucco house on Norton Avenue
while we waited for Davy Crockett to save us

But what we must have meant to my father
“the family”
then, driving back to his boyhood home in upstate
New York / a transcontinental journey in a Cadillac
convertible with fins and a blonde shiksa wife
the baby brother who made good
the two of us, their offspring, the cousins from California
didn’t know egg creams or the Automat
but were good kids(might have to smack ‘em
around now and then)

I put Mad Magazine on the backseat floor
as we crossed the George Washington Bridge
slipped my shoes on and looked up at slab after slab
of buildings liked up in rows, blocking the sky
until I see flags and a man with gold epaulets on his uniform
standing outside a revolving doorway on Park Avenue
and Dad glides the Cadillac up to the curb,
runs his hands through his hair.

Comes back out, says, “Helen,
we’re staying at the Waldorf.” Inside, my brother
slides across the polished marble floor of the lobby
like we belonged with the popular young president
who reigned in Camelot —

Nothing bad could ever happen to any of us.

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