As You Like It: Hearts and StarsBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
We used to sit on the lifeguard chair on lazy summer nights, hold hands and watch the stars. The voices from the boardwalk and sounds of Coney Island fun were the background for our conversations. We would talk about school and then later, when we were older, about the future. The summer before he left for college in Boston I held him tighter, knowing that there would be weeks ahead when I couldn’t. We bound our hearts together on that lifeguard chair, hoping the future would be kind.
I met my Shatz when we were sophomores in high school. He sat on the other side of the room in history class and the only thing that I really noticed was his name — I mean how many people were named Shatz? Not that our very serious teacher, Mr. Asnien, ever used his nickname. To Mr. Asnien he was very definitely Steven or Mr. Schottenfeld.
There was only one teacher who called him by his nickname, Mrs. Bruckner, our math teacher. She had a dry sense of humor and enjoyed our crazy names. Steve’s friend Alan Applestein was “Apples,” and I was “Spumoni,” believe it or not. It rhymed with Joni and was definitely better than Joni bologna! The agony of trigonometry would be delightfully broken by the sound of Mrs. B calling out, “Apples. What’s the answer to number two?”
Shatz and Spumoni became a couple during junior year thanks to a shared English class. We sat next to each other in the back of the classroom so we could finally get to know each other. It was in English class that I invited Shatz to a party. At the party he got up the nerve to ask me out for a date on February 17,1968. I know the exact date because I found the date in my diary years later after we were married.
Upon reading the entry, though, I realized that at the time it was not the milestone that it has come to be. It seems I was dating four boys back then and having a blast.
My chief love was someone called Ronnie, who I only vaguely recall, but who evidently was driving me crazy so I had begun dating another guy named Lee, who would eventually break my heart — but that’s another story entirely. I was also going out with Charlie, who was Shatz’s friend, and neither he nor Shatz realized that I was going out with the other one. Got all that? It seems I was quite the party girl. How did I ever keep it all straight and not get into trouble?
My entry notes that Shatz and I had a great time at the Broadway play I Never Sang for my Father, that we had burgers at Schraft’s, that the only time he held my hand was crossing the street and that he was sweet. No fireworks, no heart-wrung sighs of passion, no hint of the love that we would find later in our lives. A pretty tame beginning to a lifelong passion.
But even though the next few years were filled with boys that changed places like musical chairs in my heart, Shatz was a constant. He was the boy who I always turned to for advice, for support, for understanding. He was the one I could trust — even then he was the haven that I ran to.
Our ice-skating nights in Prospect Park, television dates when money was short, Sundays in Central Park rowing on the lake or biking. Our walks on Fifth Avenue staring into Tiffany’s windows, downtown movies, restaurants, Saturdays on the swings in the neighborhood park, all slowly bound us together, so much more than a flamed out passionate beginning ever could.
It’s amazing to me that all these Valentine’s Days later we’re still together. In today’s world the odds are very much against any couple not only staying together, but doing it so very happily. When I talk to my girls they tell me that among their friends, Shatz and I are an anomaly. Very few of their friends’ parents are still together. It makes me so sad. So much passion turned to dust.
This past week was a perfect illustration of us. Snowed in by a blizzard, the first thing that we both thought of was that we would be able to have dinner together. We were positively giddy at the thought of being able to simply sit at the table enjoying each other’s company. The conversation may not have been Noel Coward sparkling, but it didn’t matter. So often sparks are overrated. I’ll take a slow burning fire every time.
Shatz doesn’t like Valentine’s Day. He thinks it’s just an overhyped commercial invention that doesn’t deserve the fuss and frenzy that it generates. I know he’s right, but I can’t help being captivated by romance, hearts, chocolate and true love. I bring out my red sweaters, my heart scarf and earrings, and give my girls chocolate. It’s always been one of my favorite holidays.
But then I’ve been lucky. I always had someone to share it with. Someone I’ve loved and who’s loved me right back since February 17, 1968. So happy Valentine’s Day, dear heart. Know that my heart has been yours since the day we sat on the lifeguard’s chair and counted the stars.
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