It’s not that I can’t distinguish fact from fantasy. It’s just that in the world we live in there’s often overlap.

Perhaps that’s why I get such a kick out of Richard Castle. Mystery writer by trade, the man tags along with police detectives and assists in their daily grinds. It’s not how he puts “the bread on the table”, but it sure feeds his spirit.

Is that why I love doing theater?

The FACT is that while we’re taught not to lie and not to “live a lie” — and as experience confirms: in the long run the truth is best… well, still…. sometimes life (as we know it) mandates a blur.

This tenet— as it often does— brings me to Aunt Helen.

Whatever she was or she wasn’t, in her first four score years she’d gripped well her reality. It may have been coincidental then that only as her landlord Mrs. Stein sold the house in the 90’s and new landlords appeared, did she become disgruntled with her tenancy.

How quickly she forgot her upset when Mr. Kay (living below her on East Overlook) told her it was normal for the TV antenna to cause a fluttering picture. “It’s the weather,” he’d pronounce and she’d moan.   How swiftly too she let go of her angst for the nice Mrs. Stein. “Why does she insist on bringing our newspaper inside?” she would shry.  “It is not hers to move.”

No— when the Poras showed up on her doorstep— our aunt did three things. First, she lost hold on realty. Second, she sainted Mila Stein. And third: she began an eighteen-year tirade.

“Evil”, she called them. (For why— I don’t know).
When I’d point out the always-present other side to the story, she’d rail then at me:
“Why must you always defend the indefensible?”
“They are EVIL, I tell you.”

— And so it was that over time I learned and it would then go like this:

“Mr. Pora didn’t return my call today,” she might say.
“He is EVIL, Aunt Helen.”

Ours was a reality cleansed in (shall we say) preventive fantasy?  I’d arrive there mid-day after no more than one hour of snow fall:

Why isn’t the driveway shoveled?” she’d lash out.
“Because the Poras are evil,” I’d tell her.

“Why do they block the driveway? They know you come visit.”
“Because the Poras are evil,” I reassure her.

“Why did they tell you they are selling the house? Why not tell me?”
“Aunt Helen,” I just happened to bump into them in the driveway.”
“Yes, but I am the tenant, not you. You don’t pay rent.”
“Because the Poras are evil,” I reaffirm.

Nonsense I thought, but well-played, I knew. (Just like the bi-weekly chalk talks with Hal. “Now did we discuss this or not?” we’d review with each other. “Do I know this or not? And if I do, when did I learn it? And if I did, did you tell me?”

Banded as brothers, H and I deftly pressed forward for years. On the whole, I found it somewhat fascinating, rarely tiring of it. Harold: not so much. Indeed, naysayers surrounding each of us have rolled their eyes but long applauded the serenity of our shenanigans.

Enter Carmen.

I met the new landlord a month ago. He’s a nice guy, a breath of fresh air, and genuinely friendly. I was delivering food last December and there he was — with his Dad — carrying boxes outside. (He can’t be thirty).

“I’m one of Helen Bogart’s nephews,” I offered.
He put out his hand.
“Sometimes she doesn’t hear the phone. Let me give you my number if there’s an emergency.”
That was it. Less than a minute. We spoke not again — ‘til last Monday.

“Bruce, this is Carmen,” the message said. “Can you call me about your aunt?”
(I’d just dropped off food … maybe two hours hence; I knew she was fine).
“Your aunt doesn’t want to pay the water bill,” he explained when I called him right back. “I told her I would call you.”
(Our aunt’s lease, as she well knows, requires that she pay her pro/rata share of the water bill based on how many people live in the total duplex. A few years back there were 6: 5 downstairs and he upstairs. As such, she paid one sixth.
Now, there are only 2, and she owes ½. But she doesn’t get it).
“She won’t talk to me,” he continued.
“Wait a few days,” I urged, but he interrupted:
“It’s not the money—only $48 dollars, but she won’t talk to me.
“Give me a few days. It’s not you.”
“No problem,” he advised. “Like I said: she just won’t talk to me.”

Within moments my phone rang. It was her.

“How well do you know my landlord?” she asked me.
“Not at all. I met him last month.”
“In the driveway” I uttered, voice now stumbling.
“He told me this afternoon he would call you.
“I can’t imagine why.”
“I miss Emil Pora,” she whined.
“The new guy seemed nice enough.”
“He is EVIL, I tell you.”
“You’re right. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Quick as the call ended I was dialing again:

“Hello Carmen, this is Bruce Bogart. Sorry to bother you….Listen, you can call me whenever you want, but if my aunt asks you haven’t spoken to me, don’t recall what I look like, and — in fact — you can deny we ever met.”
(He was quiet, and I sensed it was sinking in).
“It’s easier this way,” I concluded. “Trust me.”

We hung up the phone with camaraderie — indeed with serenity. Carrie was laughing; she’d heard the whole thing.

“Let’s go upstairs,” I urged her. “We taped last night’s ‘Castle’”.

One Response to “FANTASYLAND”

  1. Joel says:

    I think this has all the makings of a sequel to “Driving Miss Daisy”. You should write it.

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