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- The Rise of David Levinsky - 70/102 -
in the accepted meaning of the term, and in those days I was even less so than I am now, perhaps, but I was always fond of music, and had a discriminating feeling for it. At all events, I knew enough to realize that my would-be fiancée was playing execrably. But her mother, her father, the hostess, and the swarthy woman with the golden teeth, were shooting glances at me that seemed to say: "What do you think of that? Did you ever see such fast playing?" and there was nothing for it but to simulate admiration
The woman with the great golden teeth, Meyer Nodelman's cousin, was even more strenuous in her efforts to arouse my exultation than Ray's mother. She was the wife of a prosperous teamster whose moving-vans were seen all over the East Side. Gaunt, flat-chested, with a solemn masculine face, she was known for her jolly disposition and good-natured sarcasm. There was something suggestive of Meyer Nodelman in her manner of speaking as well as in her looks. She was childless and took an insatiable interest in the love-affairs and matrimonial politics of young people. Her name was Mrs.
Kalch, but everybody called her Auntie Yetta
When Ray finished playing Auntie Yetta led the applause, for all the world like a ward heeler. When the acclaim had died down she rushed at Ray, pressed her ample bosom to her own flat one, kissed her a sounding smack on the lips, and exclaimed, with a wink to me: "Ever see such a tasty duck of a girl?"
Miss Kalmanovitch was followed by a bespectacled, anemic boy of thirteen who played something by Wieniavsky on the violin, and then Miss Kalmanovitch "obliged" us with a recitation from "Macbeth." There were four other solos on the piano and on the violin by boys and girls, children of the invited guests, the violinists having brought their instruments with them. Not that the concert was part of a preconceived program, although it might have been taken for granted. The mothers of the performers had simply seized the opportunity to display the talents of their offspring before an audience.
Only one boy--a curly-headed, long-necked little pianist, introduced as Bennie Saminsky--played with much feeling and taste. All the rest grated on my nerves
I beguiled the time by observing the women. I noticed, for instance, that Auntie Yetta, whose fingers were a veritable jewelry-store, now and again made a pretense of smoothing her grayish hair for the purpose of exhibiting her flaming rings. Another elderly woman, whose fingers were as heavily laden, kept them prominently interlaced across her breast. From time to time she would flirt her interlocked hands, in feigned absent-mindedness, thus flashing her diamonds upon the people around her. At one moment it became something like a race between her and Auntie Yetta. Nodelman's cousin caught me watching it, whereupon she winked to me merrily and interlaced her own begemmed fingers, as much as to say, "What do you think of our contest?" and burst into a voiceless laugh
I tried to listen to the music again. To add to my ordeal, I had to lend an ear to the boastful chatter of the mothers or fathers on the virtuosity of Bennie, Sidney, Beckie, or Sadie. The mother of the curly-headed pianist, the illiterate wife of a baker, first wore out my patience and then enlisted my interest by a torrent of musical terminology which she apparently had picked up from talks with her boy's piano-teacher. She interspersed her unsophisticated Yiddish with English phrases like "rare technique," "vonderful touch," "bee-youtiful tone," or "poeytic temperament." She assured me that her son was the youngest boy in the United States to play Brahms and Beethoven successfully. At first I thought that she was prattling these words parrot fashion, but I soon realized that, to a considerable extent, at least, she used them intelligently
She had set her heart upon making the greatest pianist in the world of Bennie, and by incessantly discussing him with people who were supposed to know something about music she had gradually accumulated a smattering acquaintance with the subject. That she was full of it there could be no doubt. Perhaps she had a native intuition for music. Perhaps, too, it was from her that her son had inherited his feeling for the poetry of sound. She certainly had imagination
"Some boys play like monkeys," she said in Yiddish. "They don't know what they are at. May I know evil if they do. My Bennie is not that sort of a pianist, thank God! He knows what he is talking about--on his piano, I mean.
You saw for yourself that he played with head and heart, didn't you?"
"Indeed, I did," I said, with ardor. "I liked his playing very much."
"Yes, it comes right from his heart," she pursued. "He has a golden temperament. The piano just talks under his fingers. I mean what I say.
People think a piano is just a row of dead pieces of bone or wood. It is not. No, sirrah. It has speech just like a human being, provided you know how to get it out of the keyboard. Bennie does."
In a certain sense this unlettered woman was being educated by her little boy in the same manner as Dora had been and still was, perhaps, by Lucy
There were at least three girls in the gathering who were decidedly pretty.
One of these was a graduate of Normal College. She was dark-eyed, like Miss Kalmanovitch, but slender and supple and full of life. Everybody called her affectionately by her first name, which was Stella. At the supper-table, in the dining-room, I was placed beside Miss Kalmanovitch, but I gave most of my attention to Stella, who was seated diagonally across the table from us.
I felt quite at home now
"What was your favorite subject at college?" I questioned Stella, facetiously.
"That's my secret," she answered.
"I can guess it, though."
"That's right," she shouted, amidst an outburst of laughter
"Well, have you learned it well?" I went on
"Why don't you ask me for a waltz and find out for yourself?"
"I wish I could, but unfortunately they did not take up dancing at my college."
"Did you go to college?" Stella asked, seriously
"I don't look like one who did, I suppose. Well, I should like to say I did, but I haven't the heart to tell you a lie."
"Never mind," Nodelman broke in. "He's an educated fellar, all the same.
He's awful educated. That's what makes him such a smart business man. By the way, Levinsky, how is the merchandise?"
"This is no place to talk shop," I replied, deprecatingly. "Especially when there are so many pretty ladies around."
"That's right!" several of the women chimed in in chorus
Mrs. Nodelman, the hostess, who stood in the doorway, beckoned to her husband, and he jumped up from the table. As he passed by my seat I seized him by an arm and whispered into his ear: "The merchandise is too heavy. I want lighter goods." With this I released him and he disappeared with Mrs. Nodelman
A few minutes later he came back
"Be a good boy. Show Ray a little more attention," he whispered into my ear.
"Do it for my sake. Will you?"
I became aware of Mrs. Kalmanovitch's fire-flashing eyes, and my efforts to entertain her daughter were a poor performance
The Kalmanovitch family left immediately after supper, scarcely making their farewells. Portentous sounds came from the hallway. We could hear Mrs.
Kalmanovitch's angry voice. A nervous hush fell over the parlor. Auntie Yetta gave us all an eloquent wink
"There's a woman with a tongue for you," she said in an undertone. "Pitch and sulphur. When she opens her mouth people had better sound the fire-alarm." After a pause she added: "Do you know why her teeth are so bad? Her mouth is so full of poison, it has eaten them up."
Presently the younger Mrs. Nodelman made her appearance. Her ruddy "meat-ball" face was fairly ablaze with excitement. Her husband followed with a guilty air
"What's the matter with you folks?" the hostess said. "Why ainchye doin' somethin'?"
"What shall we do?" the baker's wife answered in Yiddish. "We have eaten a nice supper and we have heard music and now we are enjoying ourselves quietly, like the gentlemen and the ladies we are. What more do you want?" "Come, folks, let's have a dance. Bennie will play us a waltz. Quick, Bennie darling! Girls, get a move on you!"
I called the hostess aside. "May I ask you a question, Mrs. Nodelman?" I said, in the manner of a boy addressing his teacher
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