I heard her name before we met. At a teacher meeting, I asked a question and was told to speak to Barbaramogelhoff. I thought it was one word; like the name of rare Russian caviar. To this day, I can’t say her name slowly-it always rolls off the tongue in a hurry. And that’s how my friend Barbara rolls; quick witted, quick to share a laugh and like me, very quick to befriend. Our joke is we met in a hotel room which never fails to draw attention. It’s close enough to actual events that in a way, it’s the truth. The teacher’s union needed two volunteers to attend a weekend conference in Washington DC. Barbara and I conspired to get the free trip (keep in mind we barely knew each other.) While the UFT spends like sailors on shore leave, they drew the line at single rooms; making Mogelhoff and Leslie roomies for two days and nights.
Don’t ask what I learned at the workshops. Don’t ask who the keynote speaker was. Actually it was supposed to be a little known community organizer named Obama who didn’t show up. His replacement was less scintillating. I do remember the little Italian restaurant Barbara and I dined in, the cute buses that took us to the Smithsonian ancient jewelry exhibition and laughing all through a night when we were drunk-not on booze but on a make-shift holiday we wangled on a whim. One afternoon we talked and laughed about school bathrooms for four hours. The Seinfeld Show may have invented a show about nothing, but Barbara and I perfected it. We were so engaged that day in DC, we missed our dinner reservation which only led us to peals of laughter.
Our friendship flourished as we talked-talked-talked our way through exercise walks, lunches and train rides to meetings. We were such good yappers, it once got us lost. After a meeting in Manhattan we began a conversation on our LIRR ride and kept it up as we got off in Floral Park. The sun set and we were still in our discussion when we realized we were lost in a suburban neighborhood with no discernable signposts. (NOTE: This was before phone GPS) We had to stop a boy and his dog for directions, only to learn we were in walking distance of both our homes. Sadly, our car was parked at the opposite side of town. No problem—we gossiped and giggled all the way back!
When I created the character of Ilene in Alice Again, I modeled her after Barbara who’s my most amiable dinner partner. What began in DC, remained for all our meals to come. Barbara would glance at a menu then ask what I was having. No matter my choice, Barbara’s answer was the same, “That sounds good. I’ll have it too.” I have friends I cherish who aren’t as accommodating. Everything from questions about gluten and fats to demanding the air conditioning be lowered then raised has been ordered by my dinner mates. Only Barbara relieves me of eatery embarrassment.
Then one day, Barbaramogelhoff earned the title of quickest mover in the east. She called and in one sentence, told me her house sold and she was moving to Manhattan. A friend you can take early morning walks with doesn’t live a train ride away. The city might have well been San Francisco, since while I’m in NYC for business, I rarely go for pleasure. We haven’t seen each other in two years.
So, dear reader, when you read Alice Again and I sincerely hope you will, you’ll know why in the scene at Mr. Silver’s Gold Mine Jewelers, there’s a customer named Mr. Mogelhoff ;)