Friday, June 25, 2010

Meeting Miss Ella Fitzgerald

Starting a new series of summer posts.
Boston, 1982.

It is a steamy Massachusetts August evening, and I've just returned to my Beacon Hill apartment after a long weekend at the shore. The phone rings. It is my energetic and fun-filled friend, K.

"Hi, Poll. What are you doing tonight? Are you free?"

I'm always a sucker when questions are phrased this way.  I forget to ask "Hmm, what did you have in mind?" Instead, I quickly mentally prioritize the probabilities and give a hasty yay or nay.

"Oh, K, I'm just exhausted. I was with [new beau] at the beach house all weekend. And I simply have to go to Lewando's and do my laundry. Can we get together some other night?"

Then the killer.

"Oh... sure," says K.  Then, slyly, "It's just that I have two free tickets to Concerts on the Common, and Ella Fitzgerald is singing." Pause. "Do you like Ella Fitzgerald?"

My heart hurtles out of my forehead or somewhere, and my voice catapults from exhausted to panicked. "OH-GOD-OH-GOD!! I'd love to see Ella Fitzgerald in person! Forget laundry and everything else, this is a dream come true!" After all, I'd been faux-scat singing along with Ella at least since I was 12.  I knew all of her songs. I owned most of her Verve records on vinyl. She was my idol.

K sighs or snickers or harrumphs faintly on the other end of the line, I think. Like, "Oh thanks, you wouldn't want to get together if it was just me, but you will if it's Ella Fitzgerald?"

But wouldn't you?

So we hastily arrange to meet in half an hour in the middle of the Boston Common, outside the enclosed area for the concert.

"Concerts on the Common," to me, sounds like a picnic-and-blanket affair, so I stuff my red canvas LL Bean rucksack with an old tablecloth, some Triscuits and cheese, a swiss army knife and a bottle of wine, and climb up the hill to the concert area, wearing tennis shoes, ragged old shorts, and a faded polo shirt, my salty hair pulled quickly into a high pony tail to keep cool in the hot summer evening.

I circle around the chain link fence, looking for K. Finally I spot her, outside a gate marked "VIP entrance." She is bubbly and blonde and wearing chic summer whites. "C'mon," she admonishes, "we're the last to arrive."

She steers me over to the rows of seats (seats?? where on earth are our fellow picnickers and blankets? I'm wondering.)

But no. Are we to be sitting in an anonymous 18th-row seat where my abominable outfit will go unnoticed?

No, we are not.

Are we on the fourth or fifth row where I could at least attempt to hide my grungy get-up?  No, we are not.

Are we in the second row of the VIP section, with the silk-and-linen-clad dignitaries from the City of Boston?  Yes, we are.

Is it dark enough so that no one can see me? No, it is not.

Can I hide under a rock?

Not if I want to see and hear Ella.

K, um, has neglected to tell me that her father is Ella's Boston PR agent. There is no escaping.

I try to sit demurely on the folding chair and be incognito until the concert begins. Covering myself with the vintage tablecloth is a fleeting option that I quickly abandon. Blessedly soon, the lights go on, and the show cranks up. Oscar Peterson warms up the crowd, then Ella -- MY Ella -- arrives on stage. I am in heaven. She is dazzling, warm, fabulous.

-- to be continued
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