Homage to Suzy

Jane Fishman

May 27, 2014


Many people bring Champagne when they visit (well, a few). Suzy brought a Champagne stopper, a tight-sealed, spring-loaded, double-hinged jobbie, so when I got home from my job at the newspaper she could pour me a bit of bubbly. I never heard of such a thing, drinking Champagne before dark, in the middle of the workweek, for no particular occasion at all. She was in Savannah on a hunt, to visit me, yes – the South, she said, was so exotic – but also as a stop-over on her way to visit some family in Kansas or Nebraska or some other place in the middle of the country, and she needed to find Bakelite. I had never heard of Bakelite, either. Who would want plastic? What was so special about something from the ‘50’s? She tried to tell me, but I still didn’t get it. She was in a buy-sell, capitalist mood, way before eBay (was Pierre Omidyar even born?), and Bakelite, she insisted, was all the rage. It could bring in a few bucks. She needed to bring in a few bucks. She had a suitcase of clothes and schmatas, colorful doodads she’d wrap around her hair when she was having a bad hair day.

I knew as much about Bakelite and shopping, as Suzy knew about tennis and sports. But she wanted to learn to play tennis (“I do. I really do!”). Artist turns athlete. Well, OK, then. Let’s give it a try. We met in the morning – I think the early hour was challenging for her – at the Waveland courts, me with a bunch of tennis balls, and Suzy, with some cute tennis shorts, me on my bike, Suzy in some station wagon (?). She was tall. She had a good wingspan at the net and a mighty stride. This could work. She was motivated. At least in her mind. Did we play three times? Four? Keep trying, I said. Eye on the ball. Racket back. Hit off the front foot.

After our lessons I think we ended up at Nicole Hollander’s apartment where she lived on Aldine in a red brick building where I shared an apartment across the hall with Janice, where Nicole and Bruce and Suzy and Frank and Janice and I and a few assorted others would gather for group dinners with themes (for one occasion we could only cook food that was white), where Bruce and Frank would talk their esoteric, arcane, obscure talk and Nicole and Suzy and Janice and I would talk ours. We watched television. We laughed. We chortled. We sniggered. Suzy was droll. She was ironic. She was a storyteller, a raconteur, a good friend.

I last saw Suzy at Nicole’s “Will You Step Into My Parlour?” show at the Lillstreet Gallery. She was hard to miss. She was still tall, still droll, still wearing a schemata. I recognized many of the items from Nicole’s living room. The best, for me? One of Suzy’s paintings, the back of a woman on the beach. I had one from that series once – lots of warm blues – but I can’t find it. That makes me very sad. I loved that painting. I loved Suzy.

Was it something I said?

Savannah Morning News Column, Feb. 16, 2014

Dear Big Girl: Please call home.

Seriously. I am worried. And I miss you. One minute you were balanced on the fence, standing tall, all puffed out, looking around, catching a breeze, studying a cloud, maybe staring at a flying squirrel, considering your options. (This, after you and the others discovered you could fly, that those things wrapped around you weren’t just there for window dressing or to keep you warm, that they had actual purpose.).

OK, I thought at the time. I get it. I’m not stupid. You found the broccoli safely planted on the other side of the fence (before you knew you could fly, which doesn’t count the one hysterical time during the Tour de Coup when some kids ruffled your feathers and you took off, straight up). So get your fill. Do your nibbling. I know where I can get more broccoli. Do your exploring (I understand the urge). Spread your wings. What a glorious feeling that must be, to fly, sort of like the Olympic ski jumpers in Sochi, gliding, soaring, defying gravity. Oh my. And you can do it without studying any of the physics. I get it. You’re trying to see what kind of stuff you’re made of.

But then you didn’t come back. I didn’t worry too much. I thought for sure you’d show up the next morning, swooping in from some high branch, startling us all, ready with some tall tale to tell of the outside world especially when I promised some Thin Mint Girl Scout cookies, some peanut butter patties. But you didn’t. I looked everywhere.

Aha, I thought. Maybe you flew as far as Daffin Park. Maybe the cry of that errant rooster three blocks north piqued your curiosity, tickled your feathers and you decided to join your brothers and sisters in exile, that band of merry fellows, orphans I’m assuming, that have made a home for themselves under the azaleas, near the tennis courts, close to the pond. So I went over to look. But you weren’t there.

Then I thought it must be a hawk that snatched you. I’ve seen a few around here, ravenous looking things. Big, too. But then someone told me when hawks catch a chicken there are always feathers left behind. But I found no feathers, anywhere. Then I thought it must be a cat (although it would have to be a mighty big cat to do you in). Again, no feathers. No beaks. No feet. Nothing. No sign at all.

(Was it something I said?)

Of all the chickens we have back there in your little cobbled together nuclear unit I never thought you’d be the first to go (if you don’t count Big Red; she died in her sleep, in the coup). You were the most vital, the most lively, the most friendly. You were the leader. Frankly, I thought we had something special between us.

Anyway, you’ll never guess what’s going on in your absence. You know those three bantams? The twins and the one outcast? Well, they have not wasted a minute filling in the gap. The outcast has become the leader. Whatever she does, the twins copy.

But here’s the really weird thing. Now she is crowing. No, really. This chicken I took for a hen is crowing. She looks bigger, too. At first I thought she was just verbally mourning your absence but then I listened closer. She is actually crowing. She has assumed Top Chicken status. I go to feed them and she steps in between me and the Twins. But mostly she’s atop the highest perch she can find telling the world that she is in charge and she is hungry. But that’s the problem. We don’t really want any crowers, any boasters. We want our neighbors to like us. Next thing you know she’ll – or should I see he’ll; these gender transformations are hard to keep up with – will grow spurs and start kicking me when I go to feed the worms.

You never crowed, Big Girl. You were modest. You led from strength. Where are you? Please call home. Better yet, please come home.