Thank You Oh Calcutta Or Two Things She’ll Never Know

(the very first all-nude play/musical)

or

Two Things She’ll Never Know

She rescued me from emotional devastation / I changed the direction of her life.

In the mid sixties, after a very ugly divorce which left me emotionally devastated, nearly penniless, physically exhausted (in the mid-sixties, it was always the man’s fault no matter what…and had to pay and pay) and out of necessity, sharing a very small Manhattan upper East Side studio apartment with a friend, I was struggling to get my head back above water and to perfect my only remaining asset, photography.  I literally spent almost two solitary years alone and socially isolated, (except when I could spend time with my daughter, Jody) walking the streets of Manhattan with my camera, searching for a photographic style and picking up small promotional portfolio assignments for starving actors and actresses.

From time to time, I would gratefully apartment-sit for my uncle who had a fabulous designer two-story apartment in Chelsea, the very fashionable area in the West 20’s habituated by musicians, artists, writers and actors. Little did I suspect that this apartment would precipitate a change to my bruised emotional and social life, for the better.

In Manhattan and surrounding boroughs with a population of over of over eight million, it makes me wonder if our lives have been pre-ordained. The odds of what I’m about to recount are in the eight-million-to-one category. Perhaps you’ll agree after reading the following:

One Friday afternoon while walking south on busy mid-town Madison Avenue, I recognized “her,” walking northward. She walked a bit further past me, then miraculously stopped to look into a store window. Had she not stopped, the balance of our lives would not have radically changed from that moment on.

With all the dumb courage I could muster, I walked over, tapped her on the shoulder and said, “Excuse me, didn’t we go to the same university? She looked at me and said, “Yes, of course, I remember you.”

This was the very lady I had a huge silent crush on for most of my four years at university. She was amazingly attractive. I was secretly obsessed with her. She belonged to a sorority considered the crème de la crème of good looking, high society, hard-partying girls.

University society at that time was defined mostly by the social status of family, fraternity and sorority, with those norms rarely transgressed. I was not one of those university “rich kids,” the sons-of-wealthy-parents, with fancy cars with cash to spare, who romanced and partied with the ladies of that sorority. I hung out and dated with a different and perhaps more intellectual crowd, but secretly I watched “her” from afar, as she socialized and partied with her rich boyfriends.

How in the world did she know me on Madison Avenue when I had never spoken to her or was ever in one of her classes?

But there she was, recognizing me on Madison Avenue. All I could say was, “Hi, I’m Larry.”  And she said, “I know that too.”

OMG! Could this really be happening?

Now on nervous autopilot, the only thing I cold come up with to say was, “Look, I have front row tickets to an off-Broadway play for tonight. Would you like to go with me?”

As I had friends who were in theatre, and for whatever reason they couldn’t use those tickets, they had offered them to me. And that off Broadway play was none other than “Oh Calcutta,” a highly controversial play that received infamy or praise (depending on the critique) as the first-in-the-world all-nude musical. It was the talk of the town.

Then I realized that I had stupidly shot myself in the foot asking “her” to an all-nude play. I almost died on the spot. Why didn’t I just play it safe and ask her to go for a coffee?

She said, “I’ve heard so much about that play. I’d love to go.”  

“Omygosh!”

And so we met later on that evening and proceeded to the play.

Now, please understand, this twenty something recently divorced male and a lady whom he had a huge four-year crush on, watching this two ad a half hour all nude female and male spectacle of comedy and dance, did, in fact, have a certain effect on both of us.

After the play, I did what any self-respecting gentleman would do. I invited her back to my temporary designer apartment in fashionable Chelsea for a drink. (Sko, I was house sitting Sandy’s on W. 20th)

That drink lasted from that Friday night to Monday morning.

And so started an exciting, wonderful, lovely and lustful one-and-a-half year relationship with Deena.

Soon I was to rid myself of my buddy roommate and had that East Side micro-studio apartment all for myself. Coincidentally, Deena lived with a sorority sister roommate only five blocks away. It was very convenient. I could call her or she could call me almost anytime if we wanted to spend days and/or nights together.

To give you an idea of the benefit of having a romantic relationship with Deena residing only five blocks away, here’s a little vignette: a client of mine, an art director at an advertising agency, invited me to a private party held at the then popular Electric Circus nightclub. What I didn’t know until I got there with my client was that it was a party hosted by an all-nude theatrical group…styled after the cast of “Oh Calcutta.” It was quite an experience.

When I got back to my bachelor apartment at around 2 am, fresh from yet another all-nude experience, I called Deena, who immediately understood the reason for my call, and in a very short time appeared at my door in a trench coat, without a stitch on underneath. Oh the joy of having a good neighbor.

Deena and I spent almost every weekend together when I was not allowed to visit with my daughter.  We’d loll in Central Park, at the beach in summer, at museums and plays; we were really enjoying each other on many levels. By then I was beginning to make a respectable living with my photography and being a tech-rep for a photo- retouching laboratory.

Then one lovely blue sky summer day in the park, Deena brought up the subject of marriage. I did love her but was uncomfortable with the notion of getting married…again. She’d leave the subject for a time and but then bring it up again. To be honest, I hadn’t planned for another “binding legal relationship” and would be just as happy to leave things as they were. But Deena by now had her agenda on the front burner.

Therefore, I conjured up a very gentle plan to become, bit-by bit, more distant from her, perhaps motivating her to date and, hopefully, become aligned with another man. There was no way I would do a hard breakup with Deena because I deeply cared for her. I just wasn’t ready for what she had in mind.

Then one night, when Deena and I were at a party, an acquaintance who had just graduated from dental school and was practicing at one of the Manhattan clinics happened to be there. The new dentist, Deena and I spent most of the evening chatting.

The following weekend, when we were hanging out in Central Park, who, but the dentist from the party, happened to glide by on his bike (another against all odds happenchance). I hailed him over and we three, again, spent some time together. I thought I was being clever but also gentle, by steering the conversation to more of a Deena and dentist dynamic. 

Next thing I knew, to my delight, the dentist had asked Deena out. However, she thought she was in a delicate position vis a vis her and me, but I played my role (reluctantly, per design), and said it was ok by me that she go out with him.

They dated for a few months. By then, Deena confided that she and the dentist were becoming quite serious. I was truly happy for her.

As you can probably deduce by now, Deena was quite a sexually liberated woman. She also wanted to play her cards skillfully and not rush into the dentist’s bedroom. So she devised a brilliant plan and asked me to become a co-conspirator. The plan was thus: after each date with the dentist, she would come to my apartment with a change of clothes, stay the rest of the night with me and leave for work from my place the morning.

As a good friend, I agreed.

I’m glad to say this story has a happy ending.  Her brilliant plan worked! After several months the dentist asked Deena for her hand. When the diamond was placed on her finger, Deena and I automatically dissolved our brilliant plan. They were married a year later.

Epilogue: Deena and I found each other on Facebook some forty years later. We agreed to meet for coffee (instead of an all-nude play) when I was next in Manhattan. 

We met at an uptown Madison Avenue coffee shop (coincidentally the same street where I met her way back when). We never revisited our post university relationship but exchanged our present life experiences and information about our respective spouses, travels and jobs. She’s still happily married to the dentist and has a son who has just become a dentist and is interning at a New York dental clinic.

Deena never realized, way back when I tapped her shoulder on Madison Avenue, that she would rescue me from the emotional devastation of a divorce. Nor did she realize that I would change the rest of her life. Two things she’ll never know.

…thank you “Oh Calcutta.”

photo © Larry Frank

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