With my wife’s brother and his family in town, their trip would not have been complete without a visit to the Cobalt Club.
So Saturday evening found us in the library, Carrie, Ted, and Angelle ensconced in comfortable chairs and engrossed in conversation while I finished the story I was reading to our niece Elle, “The House of the Peacock” from G.K. Chesterton’s underappreciated masterpiece The Poet and the Lunatics, one of my favorite books.
“And he continued his walk along the suburban road, unconsciously taking in the new tint of the lawns by moonlight,” I read. “But he did not see any more peacocks; and it may be accounted probable that he did not want to see any.”
I closed the book and looked down at Elle, who looked back at me with her big blue eyes, blinked twice, and emitted an ear-splitting cry as only an upset eight-month-old can.
Angelle was already halfway across the room as I scooped the child up and tried to provide her with some comforting words.
“I agree it’s one of the finest paragraphs in the English language, but it’s not often someone finds Chesterton so moving.”
“She prefers Jane Austen,” Angelle said as I made the handoff.
“Or The Official Ferrari Magazine,” Ted added.
“Elle got off easy,” Carrie said. “Remember Leslie’s daughter Meghan? Buddy once read to her for half an hour from a biography of Charles de Gaulle.”
“I could try that, if it would help,” I offered, turning to the shelves. “I don’t know that we have de Gaulle here, though. She might have to settle for Basil Rathbone.”
“No,” Angelle said, cradling the now-calmer Elle over her shoulder. “She’s probably hungry.”
Currie suddenly appeared at her elbow. “What shall I bring for the young lady?”
“That’s okay,” Ted answered. “We should have some prunes for her in the bag.”
The waiter’s left eyebrow raised an eighth of an inch, a clear sign of disapproval. “Prunes, sir? May I recommend instead the blended pasta with lentil Bolognese? Or the puree of Cornish hen with rosemary and broccoli? Both are very popular with our infant guests.”
“Currie, how about bringing the Cornish hen for Elle and some iced tea for the rest of us?” I suggested.
“Very good, sir.”
“It’s really too bad you guys don’t live closer, Budman,” Ted said as Currie disappeared. “You’d get a lot more experience at baby-sitting.”
“Maybe it’s a good thing for Elle that we don’t,” Carrie said. “Her life is probably less stressful this way.”
“You make it sound as if I have no idea how to entertain children. Remember when we took care of the twins?”
Carrie chuckled. “Oh, yeah, that was a great night.” Turning to Ted and Angelle she explained, “Vince and Gladys went out for their anniversary and asked if the twins could stay with us.”
“Right. And after that experience, the charge can no longer be brought against me that I haven’t done my part for the enlightenment of youth and the betterment of posterity.”
Angelle’s impish grin appeared. “Been worried about getting hauled in on that charge, have you?”
I gave her the glare I reserve for sarcastic sisters-in-law while the sage Ted, as always, got right to the real point. “I wonder who would haul someone in for that. Come to of think of it, where would you get hauled in to?”
“If you recall,” Carrie resumed, “the twins weren’t babies. They were 10.”
The perfect age, I thought at the time, to expose them to a gem from my video collection: More of the Best of the Hollywood Palace, a television special from the early 90s hosted by the saccharine Suzanne Somers which featured clips from the variety showcase that aired between 1964 and 1970.
Great stuff, even if Ed Sullivan did it better. All the old comedians were on the show, as were the singers, dancers, and novelty performers of the day. Some of the clips are now almost half a century old, and I must confess to some uncertainty about how the kids would enjoy it, but my faith in good entertainment remained intact at the end.
The twins stayed with it from first minute to last. Starting out on the sofa and moving to the floor halfway through, lying on their stomachs with elbows propped on pillows, they watched John Byner do impressions. They listened to Jimmy Durante sing with Ella Fitzgerald. They laughed at Milton Berle. They recognized Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, and The Temptations. Sid Caesar and Sergio Franchi did a sketch – mostly in Italian –that had them rolling on the carpet. They sang along to “For What It’s Worth” while seeing Buffalo Springfield for the first time and with Johnny Rivers on “Secret Agent Man.”
Bless their blood vessels, they even laughed at Groucho Marx as he bantered with Margaret Dumont. Kathleen didn’t get one of Groucho’s jokes, and her brother explained it to her. It was great.
So they made fun of the pants the guys in The Fifth Dimension wore. (So did I.) So they thought John Phillips and Denny Doherty could’ve done with a visit to a good barber and a better haberdasher. (Again, so did I.) They were still entertained by the old masters: the singers who were around years before anybody’d heard of Star Search or American Idol, the flat-out funny comedians who could make people laugh without resorting to raunchiness, entertainers who paid their dues before they were stars and are still entertaining years after they left the scene.
“Sounds like you just took advantage of a captive audience,” Angelle said as Elle ate Cornish hen. “You don’t still have that video, do you?”
“Certainly. After all, Elle will be ready for it in a few years.”
“Your concern for your niece is very touching.”
“Hey, what are uncles for? Somebody has to bring these kids up right.”