Friday, June 3, 2011

Maureen Shapiro Thompson

Maureen and Peter
Time Traveling........

I don't know where to start, so I'll start in the middle, with a story I've told so many times... remembering the velvety black of the night and Maureen and I leaving the pub in Colchester, lurching home past the house we were certain was abandoned and sneaking a clutch of flowers from the yard ... to be stopped by a policewoman who in memory is nine feet tall with a shadow double her height stretched behind her on the sidewalk.

You there, she bellowed. That's private property.

But it's empty, said Maureen or was it me? That's what's happened with some of the stories over time, which of us did what. Could have been either of us by that point.

I remember things scattershot.

How unwelcoming I was that first day in New York, spoiled brat. Someone phoned to say that Bea Shapiro's daughter Maureen is in town from California. She's on her way to Europe.

My mother nudged me, "Call her. Ask her to dinner."

"Maureen Shapiro?? What kind of a name is that?"   

But I called her and invited her and she showed up all laughing eyes and flying curls, clutching a bottle of Blue Nun (back then we could drink in New York at 18). And by the end of dinner somehow I was being bundled off with Europe via Iceland.

We were in Iceland 5 days. In a Salvation Army hostel in Reykjavik where the water in the shower stank of sulfur and the few hours of daylight were dirty grey in mid-March. The people were grey too, like zombies they seemed.  Cheerless. We swam in an outdoor pool, heated by hot springs. The air was warm and sweaty up to our chins. Our faces were freezing.

One night we went to a disco. She was curious about the people (she always was).

It must have been very early since the place was near empty.  We stayed for a bit, had a drink, and were just about to leave, figuring (at least I was) that this was a dud, when the lobby doors flew open and a torrent of drunken crazed young people flooded the space and suddenly Maureen was grabbed up by a group of young men and dragged to the floor behind an empty bar station. I don't know where the hell I got the power to reach into the mob and grab her arm and haul her out. In my memory she flies free and we're suddenly out in the street, door safely slammed behind us.

I understand the Icelandic people are still very strange.

From there we flew to Scotland, intending to start in Glasgow but dissuaded by a man we spoke with on the flight. Or was it just after we landed?  He said to skip Glasgow; it was industrial and not very interesting.  He said:  Go to Edinburgh.

As we had no particular timetable (we could be traveling for a few weeks or for years,) who cared? But we listened. Maureen played her recorder and we took a train.

Edinburgh might have been beautiful. Maureen told me it was. We were there for days. I don't recall leaving the room -- or the bed heaped with blankets. I was fucking freezing. Meanwhile she skipped off every day to explore the city and poke around the university. All I know is that it was sunny; I could see the window from my bed. 

At some point -- it felt like months, but the trip was her idea so I was being somewhat good and she was enjoying herself -- we left and hitch-hiked south to England. I remember the castle in Nottingham, but only because the tour dumped us directly into the gift shop where we were clearly expected to buy something but didn't. We stayed in bed and breakfasts, a series of homes with room heaters and water heaters that needed to be fed with coins and frumpy women that woke us with milky tea at unpleasant times in the morning. It was all astonishingly cheap.

Could be Cambridge--Why Else Would I have Taken It?
Wending our way south one miserably rainy day, we were standing thumbs out on a roadway, dripping wet and a half frozen when a green MG blew past then skidded to a stop maybe 50 feet up the road then cartoonishly screeched backward. A rather handsome young man peered out, said "I thought you were guys," and offered us a lift to Cambridge where he was visiting friend--if we were interested.  Whatever was he thinking? We were dripping and bedraggled. Peter, he said his name was, and he was awfully cute, the car was dry, and Cambridge? Cool.

How did we get in that little car with our overstuffed backpacks? It must have been a far thinner time.

A jumble of memories here -- suddenly there were three of us, though Peter couldn't run off with us just yet. He had to buy his way out of the air force first, is that right?  Maureen was the attraction, and that seemed entirely correct, though we would continue traveling together.

Where were we while we waited for him? Did he find us that group house on the outskirts of London where one of the housemates ran over a rabbit on his way home from work and brought it home for dinner? That's the first time I'd heard the term "road kill." Maureen probably ate it. I did not.

We went to London for a few days, where did we stay? We took a taxi somewhere. I got out first, Maureen struggled out after, losing her balance as she exited and falling with her backpack jammed between the curb and the car, lying stuck like a turtle with her legs in the air and laughing so hard she couldn't get up.

We were meeting someone at the London Playboy Club. Where did we pick him up?  All I remember is the lobby of the place and a towering blond bunny looking at us suspiciously. I think the guy we were meeting had promised to find us a place to stay.

Soon enough, Peter extricated himself from his military dilemma and we headed for Paris. 

 Or I did and then they did or vice versa.

Interlude here while I go off to visit my first love living somewhere on the Left Bank....

And then we resumed. There was a hostel we stayed at, though I only recall the bath. You had to sign up to use it and could only do so a few times a week. It was on the top floor and all white, rather clinically so, but with French doors that opened onto the rooftops and chimneys and billowing white curtains and a claw foot tub.  And I stayed in the bath until someone banged on the door.

We ate in little bistros, where the food was wonderful and wonderfully cheap. As was the wine.  I don't recall seeing a single attraction in Paris. We ate croissants in the morning and baguettes...and walked... and went to American Express to pick up our tissue thin pale blue aerogrammes with plaintive notes from our parents (as we did whenever we bothered to let them know where we were going next--if we knew).

We went to Barcelona on a train and Peter told us his favorite book was Catch 22, which is now mine. There was a single room shared in a hostel because the woman at the desk looked at us with a cocked eyebrow when we asked for two rooms. She didn't see the sense. That was odd in a Catholic country and (one time at least) a little awkward, but then it was fine. We saw the zoo on a foggy day and drank wine and ate shrimp with the heads still on.

Hitchhiking again, we traveled south to Alicante and stayed at a white washed hotel or hostel with a balcony overhung by a palm tree -- or was it an orange tree? And we could sit out in the hot sun in the morning and someone would go and get bread and fruit...and couldn't we see the ocean, just a bit?

It was 50 cents a night for all three of us I think I recall.

Here it was that we heard about Majorca, Menorca, Ibiza, and Formantaro...and we should go, we were told. We checked on flights and the overnight boat...and chose the boat which seemed cheap and exciting.  It was cheap and exciting...Maureen and I (where was Peter?) shared a cabin which didn't lock and by night most of the passengers were drunk and vomiting, lurching past the cabins and rolling open doors and laughing and singing and puking and...

We went up on the deck where all the young people were sitting stoned and watching the stars. A guy gave me a black djellaba from Morocco that I'm sorry I abandoned. Somewhere.

The first stop was in Majorca. We got a roast chicken and some bread and sat in a park with a small clot of young people discussing what next...several were headed for the caves on Formantero. Others to Ibiza, since Majorca was developed and kind of touristy...Ibiza was then a somewhat rough little island, still a decade or so from becoming a tourist mecca.

How did we get to Ibiza?

Majorca, Me and Two Brits. Was the right one Graham?
But we did. And we found a little white adobe house near the sea with two bedrooms and a living room with a table in the center and a vase that Maureen kept filled with wildflowers. An outside stairway ran along the side of the house and up to the roof. I picked up a guy somewhere, it seemed the thing to do. He had dark hair. I don't recall his name.  He and Peter found some construction work at the disco in town. Maureen and I wandered the narrow sleepy hot streets, getting tan through our clothes. The women there wore long black dresses and head scarves and in my memory resemble dried apple dolls.  

Some of the houses had tiny shops, or stalls, or just sales windows giving out onto the street. I bought a ribbed black tank top that I still wear -- and it is still black.  I've thought of taking it to a textile museum to find out what the dye is. I have worn it countless times -- there were entire summers, in fact, when I wore it daily, washing it in the sink at night and sometimes putting it on damp.  I wore it while I was pregnant. It returned to shape. This is all an aside.

House in Ibiza
There was a sandal shop run by some hippies where we first heard Crosby Stills and Nash. Wooden Ships.  And a cafe that always seemed open. It was run by a Brit who'd retired from something and spent his days behind the bar, serving beer and making breakfast on the griddle behind him. The fried bread was revelatory.

One day Maureen and Peter rented a motor scooter and went off to tour the island, returning green and retching from a lunch of maggoty chicken at some cafe or roadside stand.

The public toilets were holes in the ground, sometimes stuffed with a broom (why do I recall that detail?)

But I was the one that really took sick. My weight dropping to well below 100 pounds, though we didn't know that until I was home, bundled off onto a plane to New York with a raging fever.  The doctor never figured out why.

Maureen and Peter left Ibiza, returning to England and settling for some reason in Colchester.

I did mention how cheap it all was, didn't I? When we started out I was given a thousand bucks by my parents--a HUGE sum I'm thinking now.  After a trip of several months I don't think I'd spent a third of it.

So a few months later I was back with Maureen and Peter, in Colchester. Eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch each day; this incredible English cheddar on big slabs of bread. Maureen baking apple pies--it seemed daily--as we listened to Joni Mitchell singing Night in the City and Michael from Mountains...

At night we went to the pub.

One night Peter dragged home without us, he was tired (from what? what was he doing?) and Maureen and I lurched home later. There was a house on the High Street that seemed abandoned; it was overgrown weedy and ramshackle with an iron fence dividing it from the sidewalk.  And the garden was sprung up with flowers among the weeds and we tumbled in and were gigglingly picking bunches when a shadow appeared still under the streetlight.

"You there!"  A female cop was standing there looking grim. "Stealing flowers are you?! I could have you deported!"

Clearly we must have spoken or babbled something to be threatened with deportation.

We have come full circle.

The copper ordered us to return the next day and apologize to the old lady that lived in the house but was apparently seldom seen.  To this we agreed, managing to stifle the laughter until she disappeared and we'd staggered back to the house to wrap the evening by scaring the shit out of Peter. He'd been having nightmares over The Exorcist, which had recently come out.

We found a tree branch long enough to reach their second floor bedroom window and I waited outside while Maureen tiptoed in, making her way upstairs and crawling under the bed. When I figured she had enough time to get settled I hefted the branch and started tapping and scraping at the window... Maureen waited until he was coming awake and started shaking the bed from underneath, gently bucking it up as I scraped and tapped, until he was screaming in fear and we were laughing hysterically.

I stayed a month, leaving to resume a relationship started between trips.

The next time I saw them it was years later, in Fallbrook, California.  They married, had children. We lost touch.

Maureen died a few weeks ago. Her heart gave out and, unlike mine, couldn't be repaired. As these things happen, I didn't realize how much she meant to me until she was no longer there.  

A memorial service will be held tomorrow. 

Maureen, I miss you. 

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