Lemon Meringue and Laughter

This morning I received an e-mail from IACP asking me to contribute a tribute to Bert Greene. Bert died in 1988 but he lives on through the annual Bert Greene awards for journalism excellence. I thought you might add your own memory of this beautiful guy too? Here’s mine.

Bert Greene was an enormous mountain of a man.  When he hugged you, you almost lost your bearings in the vast expanse of his chest. His arms were as thick as a tree.

When I think of Bert, he is always laughing.  His laugh is so loud, so overflowing with unrestrained joy and happiness. There is such a roaring of delight that folks in the street turn round to see what’s going on. He just throws back his head and bursts forth like Pavarotti.  His laughter rollicks over the orchestra seats to way past the traffic lights.

Bert looked a lot like Tweedledum. Stephen was the opposite. He was thin and silent: a kind of Alice B. Toklas to Bert in the guise of Gertrude Stein. Stephen shadowed Bert and made all the important decisions. Bert was the front man, the accomplished writer, and the ringmaster in a world he viewed as a circus. He lived large in a big tent with all the seats filled with his admirers. We all loved Bert.

The first time I was invited for dinner at their home, he opened the door wearing a paisley floor length robe and slippers. I can see the entire space of the living room in a microsecond.

It is a miniscule; a teeny — teeny-tiny doll’s house with dark walls and crowded to the gills with miniature, fragile, furniture. I feel like Alice in Wonderland who gulps the bottle that says, “Drink Me.” My head is touching in the ceiling and I squish between the walls. I am a giant in the land of the Lilliputians.

Bert laughs.

“Here’s the kitchen,” booms Bert. It isn’t really a kitchen.  It’s a narrow two-sided closet without a door. There is a handkerchief-size cluttered counter with a refrigerator about the size of those that hold drinks in a hotel room and a surface with two burners. There’s a kettle boiling on one of them. It sends forth a billowing cloud of steam. Bert says the vapor helps his alleviate his allergies.

The other burner is for testing the recipes for his book, Greene on Greens.  When he needs ingredients, Stephen runs round the corner to grab them from Balducci’s.

The dining table faces the “kitchen.”  It is so small there is only enough surface for two plates and two wine glasses. The two chairs are the size of bicycle seats so our buttocks overflow them. There isn’t a space for Stephen so, like the Cheshire cat, he slowly recedes and either vanishes completely or goes out.

Bert unapologetically explains it is too hot to cook. He reaches under that table — and behold — like a rabbit out of a hat, he produces — a lemon meringue pie!

We eat the whole thing and drink all the wine.

Bert is still living there in that magical clearing in the forest in downtown Manhattan.

Tomorrow, I’ll post a few suggestions about writing your own memoir. This is quite enough reading for you for today. Have a good one.